Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sadie's Pink Elephants!

So, I've been sitting on this knitting project for kind of a while; it was mostly finished but I just had to block it and sew on the buttons. The pattern is Ella Funt, which I found on Ravelry. Lately, when I do my knitting projects, I'm usually trying out something new, to challenge myself. This is the first time I've completed a project with that fair-isle style colorwork you see on the yoke. It's not particularly hard, as long as you don't tangle the yarn!  On to the pictures! Oh, and some of them aren't as good--the batteries on BOTH cameras were dead, and I found some weird corrosion on my battery charger so I didn't think I should use it. So a few of the pictures of just the sweater are phone pics.

This picture is pre-blocking, but I think it still looks OK.

I told her to dance

I know nothing can compete with my little model, but here are a few closer-ups so you can see the pattern a bit better:

The buttons!

And just a few notes on the "knitty-gritty:" The pattern as written has you making the background for the yoke the same color as the rest of the sweater, but I wanted it to have a different background. So once I got to the yoke chart, I just switched. The elephants are done in a bit of a variegated yarn, so some of them register better than others, but it's a yarn I had in my stash so I went with it.

Well that's it for now! I hope to have something else to show you soon!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sadie's First Parade!

So, I have to apologize up front about the lack of pictures. I didn't bring my camera to the parade for a few reasons:

1) I kinda assumed Sadie would be in the carrier the whole time.

2) I wasn't sure what the parade would be like, if it would even be picture-worthy.

3) I didn't know if it would be weird for me to be taking pictures, if it was a photography-friendly environment.

I know these aren't really excuses, because I could have just brought the camera and not taken it out. But anyway.

"Karneval" here isn't really family-friendly like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. There is really only one parade for kids, and then the rest is basically like Bourbon Street. So the day after we got back from Wuerzburg, we took Sadie to the kid's parade.

Most kids and their parents were wearing costumes. I wish I had thought to bring Sadie's but again, I thought she would be in the carrier the whole time and her costume is too bulky to fit in there with her. We did end up taking her out; I assumed she would try to run into the parade but it turns out she wanted to stay with us because everything was a bit overwhelming to her. When the first float came by, and things were thrown, she freaked out a little bit, but she got used to it pretty quickly and seemed to enjoy looking at everything.

I was standing a little in front of Hunter, so when she wanted to be adventurous she would get me to hold her and then when she wanted to feel safe she would have Hunter hold her. It was really cute just watching her take everything in.

The kinds of things they throw are different from Mardi Gras throws, in that it was almost all edible. Like, we saw someone throwing a loaf of bread! We mostly got candy, as well as a 500g package of Lebkuchen (which is basically like gingerbread). There were a few bands in the parade, but nothing like the ones in New Orleans. Hunter said the parade could probably compete with Krewe de Lul, which I obviously have never seen, but yeah, there wasn't the same extravagance of floats or anything.

It was an enjoyable afternoon, and I really hope next year we can take her to New Orleans Mardi Gras.*

*Neutral Ground side 4LYFE!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Trip to Wurzburg

Last week, Hunter had a small conference in Wurzburg, so Sadie and I went along for the ride. It's about a four hour train trip from Aachen, and Sadie did great! She slept a bit on the longest leg, but even when she was awake she wasn't too much trouble.

Hunter's conference started not long after we arrived, so Sadie and I walked around to explore a little bit. We mostly just wandered and saw a few buildings from the outside. Hunter called to say that there was a dinner scheduled for the attendees that night, so I took Sadie to a Chinese buffet right by our hotel. I haven't seen too many buffets in Germany, and had never seen a Chinese one. It wasn't bad, and they even had a high chair for Sadie. She behaved really well during the dinner. We went back to the hotel and mostly just watched TV/played around until she fell asleep.

The hotel room was pretty big, especially by European standards, and the only outlet Sadie could reach was easily blocked by a heavy chair. This meant she could roam pretty freely throughout the room, moving things from table to table and bag to bag, sorted by a logic I'm sure she understands but I certainly don't.

The next day, Sadie and I went to check out the botanical gardens. They are open in winter, although I think they would be a lot more spectacular in spring. But it is free, and we got a nice walk out of it. I walked probably several hours each day, listening to an audiobook, so that was pretty fun. After that, I headed back and got doner (gyro) for lunch. I had had a headache at that point pretty much since we arrived in Wurzburg, so we spent the rest of the day just kind of laying around. There isn't so much to do there that I felt like we were wasting precious time, and we were saving the big stuff to do with Hunter on Saturday.

So, Thursday night we all went out to dinner together. Unlike most cities in Germany, where beer is like the main drink, wine is really popular and local to Wurzburg. It's served in a distinctively-shaped bottle:

So we had some rather large glasses of wine and a pretty tasty dinner, during which Sadie behaved beautifully, again. She is really growing up and it gave me a lot of hope for our forthcoming trips to Berlin and America. After dinner, we planned to take some pictures, but while I did remember to bring the real camera this time, I forgot to put the memory card in. Don't worry, we bought a new one, we just don't have any pictures from that night.

The next day, I went to check out some art at the Museum im Kulturspeicher. I had seen posters up advertising it and it was a pretty quick walk from the hotel. It had a lot of pretty cool stuff--I am not sure if I'd heard of any of the artists exhibited, but I really liked the art. It was a lot of geometric designs, or at least those were the ones that stuck out to me most. Sadie fell asleep as I was walking through, so she didn't disturb anyone there.

I still wasn't feeling great so once again, Sadie and I just kinda chilled in the room until Hunter got back--his stuff ended at 2:00. We went out to do some sight-seeing; the first thing we went to see was Rontgen's labaratory (Rontgen is the person who discovered X-Rays).

If you plan to go see this, there are some things you should know: it's just in a university building; the house is marked as being important, but the entrance is just a door that isn't marked as being very special. We weren't really sure we were in the right place, but eventually we just went in and saw there were a few exhibits. They have some of the vacuum tubes he used (because apparently you need those for x-rays? I don't know) and a recreation of his laboratory, as well as some other artifacts. 

We saw their cathedral, which is not all original. Wurzburg was almost completely destroyed in the war, but there were some bits and pieces that survived. Most of the stuff in the main part of the cathedral is very modern though, which I liked and made it look rather different from many of the other cathedrals we've visited.

We also went to buy a memory card, so we do have some pictures from that night!

You may notice that in that picture, I'm just holding Sadie; she isn't in her carrier! While I still put her in the carrier 95% of the time, we took her out so she could walk across a bridge with us. I have a babyleash, which I always judged people for but Sadie is a runner so I wouldn't let her down without it. And of course she got admired while she walked because she is THE CUTEST!

And here is the best night-pic of the fortress on the hill. You can't really see the hills, but they are covered in vineyards. We didn't go up there because I read the bus only runs March-October, and I didn't think I could do the walk while carrying Sadie.

For that night's dinner, we basically just wandered around until we found something. It was kinda funny, I looked at the menu of a place and told Hunter it was "typical German." He took this, logically, to mean, I don't know, sausages and potatoes and German food. But what I meant was that it had spaghetti bolognese, various baguettes and pizzas, the typical random mishmash of food German cafes have. Anyway, it was cheap and tasty and the waitstaff was in love with Sadie so it worked out well.

On Saturday, our last day, we did the main event--the Residence. It's a palace that's similar in some ways to Versailles. There are also some gardens that would probably be really amazing during the spring and summer. Hunter did take a few pictures of statues and things:

One Pan a-piping

Frozen Fountain

Eye of Providence

So anyway we did the English tour and it was really cool. There is a huge ceiling fresco that made it through the war, and some other pretty impressive stuff. Sadie isn't crazy about tours because people are paying attention to someone else, plus it was right before lunch, so we had to go pretty quickly through the self-guided portion.

Near the Residence is a new-ish Protestant church, which has pretty cool architecture:

Anyway, we grabbed lunch at the train station before heading back home. Sadie handled that trip really well, too. At home, she didn't go to sleep quite as immediately as usual--I think she had gotten used to being with us--but she is back into her routine now.

The day after our trip, we went to the children's parade so keep your eyes open for a post about that!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Literary Lundi (Gras) #13

Books Acquired:

The Art Restorer by Julian Sanchez-- This is the sequel to a book I read a while back. It's translated from Spanish.

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson--I've read several epidemic-based books recently, and it's a concept I find pretty interesting.

Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova-- This is blurbed as The Secret History meets Twilight which definitely caught my attention.

Saul's Game by Andrew Kaplan-- A Homeland tie-in novel.

Curtsies & Conspiracies and Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger-- These are the second and third books in a series I started and enjoyed.

Books Finished:

Only one book finished this week.

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)Red Rising by Pierce Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first, I was a bit torn on whether to give this 4 or 5 stars. On the one hand, I read it pretty quickly and generally didn't want to put it down. On the other hand, when I had 30 pages left but felt kind of tired, I opted for sleep. I think a 5-star would have kept me up. So it's probably a 4.5.

The story takes place on Mars, in a society with strictly delineated castes. The cover blurb compares it to The Hunger Games and Ender's Game, and I would say that's pretty accurate, maybe with a little bit of The Maze Runner thrown in. It's action-packed and gets pretty violent, but also puts a bit of a different spin on the basic dystopia plot. There's a lot here to think about and consider, as there always is with these kinds of books. It's a strong addition to the genre and I would like to read the next books in the series.

View all my reviews

Currently Reading:

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Up Next:

I haven't decided yet, but since my last few books have been fiction, I'll probably try to do a non-fic.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Literary Lundi #12

Books Acquired:

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James-- This was a freebie and although it's written by a dead white guy, I don't read that many older books and this one didn't look terrible.

Persuasion by Jane Austen-- Confession: I've only read one Jane Austen book (P&P), but I liked it, so when I saw this one was free, I figured I'd grab it.*

*I know these books are old enough that they are always free, but I've had trouble with the formatting and stuff on some free editions. These ones are from Open Road Media; they seem to have a classic-type book that's usually .99 for free each day.

I also bought this week's Humble Books Bundle, but those will mostly be for Sadie when she gets a bit older.

Books Finished:

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient CodeThe Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code by Margalit Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, there are people out there who might not think that a book about decoding an ancient language could be exciting. Those people are wrong! If you think that in itself does sound exciting, then this book will blow your mind. Fox writes in the popular "narrative non-fiction" style to describe the efforts taken to decode the Linear B tablets found at Knossos. I didn't know that much about this subject beforehand, and the book is written like a mystery so I was really excited to read more to find out what happened!

Apparently, one guy gets all the credit for deciphering the language, but this book aims to tell the story of one of the unsung heroes, a woman who laid a lot of the groundwork but died before she could finish solving the puzzle. If you are at all into languages/linguistics, this book will probably be crack to you.

If I had one complaint, it would be that the book wasn't technical enough. It's obviously written for a general audience in a style that assumes no knowledge of the outcome, which is good, but I kinda wish there was more of the nitty-gritty stuff. I guess there are other books for that, though.

View all my reviews The Good GirlThe Good Girl by Mary Kubica
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I imagine that in some ways, this book is trying to capitalize on the success of Gone Girl, as it uses a few of the same tropes: alternating narrators, and a division of events into before/after. One interesting narrative device is the way the novel jumps in time chronologically, so that we see things unfold out of order. I also think the multiple narrators provided a useful way of showing the story through everyone's eyes but the victims.

I listened to this on audio and the narration was fantastic. Each narrator had a different voice actor and they all were superb, their acting showing perfectly how they perceived the events and characters.

My biggest complaint, and the reason this is only a three-star, is just that it wasn't very exciting. Not that a book has to be exciting for me to like it, but when I see something described as a thriller, I expect there to be a bit more mystery. I kinda could see coming what was really going on, but that might just be a side effect of reading a lot of books.

I could see giving this to a mid/older teen, like maybe if they aren't ready for Gone Girl yet? I don't remember anything too objectionable or graphic (there may have been a few curse words but not as pervasively as Gone Girl) and the resolution wouldn't seem too obvious to someone who hasn't read as many books yet.

View all my reviews

I've noticed that I usually post two book reviews per week, which puts me a bit ahead of my reading goal!

Currently Reading:

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield-- Audiobook. I'd wanted to read this for a while. It has a very old-fashioned sort of feel to it, and the narrators' (narratrixes's? narratrice's?) British accents make me wish I could just drink tea the entire time I listen.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown-- I'd heard a lot about this book (it was a Goodreads Choice award winner) and I'm enjoying it. It's a basic dystopia on Mars scenario. Ender's Game meets The Hunger Games, is how the cover blurb wants me to think of it.

Up Next:

Probably The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion. I've owned this one for a while and heard a lot of good things about it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Games We Play: Cooperative Single Player?

So, if you've known me for any length of time, you probably know I like to play video games. Hunter and I played WoW for several years, and sometimes I still miss it, although I have no idea how I'd manage to play while having a kid in the house. We don't have a console, and since these days you actually need to own two copies of a game in order to play it together, we have been cooperatively playing some single-player games. How can two people play a one-player game? Well, it wouldn't work for everything. But here are some games we've played so far:

Myst-- If you are close to my age, you surely played this game as a kid. It's an exploring, puzzle-y game. There's no animation; you just navigate around different screens. I remember this game being impossibly hard; in reality the puzzles aren't that difficult, but you are just stuck in a game without really being told what to do. When we played this one, we took turns manning the controls and we both worked out the puzzles. We started Riven, the sequel, several times, but it was just too hard to really be fun. Each time we played we would maybe find one thing we hadn't found before.

King's Quest VI and VII-- I played the heck out of these games when I was younger; somehow Hunter missed out on them. With both of the games, Hunter did the controls and I gave hints as needed. With VI, I also made sure he wasn't doing anything that would cause him to lose and not be able to complete the game. There are a few ways this can happen, and even more in the previous games. I think it's a pretty bad design flaw, especially when you can't have THAT many save files. But old games didn't coddle you like they do today!

Tales of Monkey Island-- Neither Hunter nor I had played this one before. It has lots of puzzles in it, which it sometimes took both of our brains to solve. It also has lots of puns and goofy dialogue and references, as well as a fun story. This is the most recent (and possibly last) game in the series, and it really made me want to play the older titles as well.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent-- So far, all of the games have been pretty family-friendly, one might say lighthearted, even. Amnesia is a bit different. It's very atmospheric; you need oil and tinderboxes or you won't be able to see, there are monsters that you can't kill, just run from, weird noises, and some pretty disturbing imagery. There is no in-game map, so I helped both with the puzzles and with navigation. This game will be too intense for some people, but I loved it (even though it made it hard to go to the bathroom by myself at night).

Starflight-- This is another old game, but it holds up really well. Hunter played the heck out of this as a kid, and wanted me to see it. It's basically a space exploration game, where your home planet is going to be destroyed by a solar flare and you have to discover a way to stop it. You go around to a bunch of planets, unearth clues... and there is a twist at the end that I did not even see coming! We also played the sequel, which is focused more on interstellar trade but has similar graphics and gameplay. As you fly around, people tell you about different places to explore, which you pretty much have to write down, so we have just several sheets of paper where I recorded the coordinates of planets we had been to and whatnot. There aren't a ton of puzzles, but there are a few cryptic pieces of information you need to interpret. The Mass Effect games clearly took a lot of inspiration from this series, and I couldn't believe the first game was as old as I am!

Kentucky Route Zero-- I'm not totally sure how to describe this game. Do you like Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Kafka? Lynch? Then maybe you would like this game? I don't know. The art style is really cool and there is a story, but it's mostly just surreal things happening. There are dialogue options, but it isn't clear how much of a difference it makes which ones you choose. Only three out of the five acts have been released so far, so I'm almost hesitant to decide how I feel about this game. Of the ones I've listed so far, this one is the least game-like and the most "interactive-story-like."

So basically, the thing that makes a game good for us to play together is not needing to have the controls. With the exception of a little bit of combat in Starflight, none of these rely on reflexes or reactions; I feel like I got basically the same experience of playing the game as the person holding the controls. (The reason I let Hunter do the controls is that I'm typically knitting or otherwise crafting). I can help solve the puzzles without clicking the mouse or whatever. We do play a few multi-player games, which I will talk about in a future post.

So, does anyone who reads this play games? Any recommendations on similar games we could play? We own the Walking Dead game, which I've started but didn't play through very far. (Also any of the other Telltale Games that have come out recently would I think fit into this category).We also have some of the other King's Quest games, but they are notorious for being unwinnable if you do the wrong thing, and that can be frustrating. We aren't opposed to older games and they are generally harder, which I like. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Literary Lundi #11

Books Acquired:

Cress by Marissa Meyer-- I loved Cinder, the first book in this series, so I'm picking up the other titles whenever I see them on sale.

Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu-- It's no secret I love cozy mysteries. This author of this one is Singaporean, and I'm looking forward to reading the delicious food descriptions.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward-- A blogger I like recently mentioned this book, and it sounded different from my usual reading, but interesting. It takes place in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina.

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis-- I can't resist a fairytale retelling.

Books Finished:

What I KeepWhat I Keep by Jennifer K. Greene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't read a whole lot of poetry, and don't usually have much to say about it, but I was given this book and ended up really enjoying it. It's divided into three sections, and the poems in each section sort of have a different theme. There are poems about the place in Montana where the author is from, poems that take place in the southwest and are mostly about her relationship with her husband, and poems that are stories, slices of life that I didn't assume were about the author personally. In a way, they remind me a bit of Mountain Goats songs, because Greene uses a lot of really specific imagery, and even when the specifics are not familiar, what she is saying is relatable.

View all my reviews How to Build a GirlHow to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I wanted to describe this in a quick blurb, I'd say it's a 90s English Bell Jar with less mental illness. But that doesn't really do it justice. It's a book about being a teenager, but not really meant for teens. It's about looking back at your teenage years and absolutely cringing, which I did several times while reading this book. Even though I wasn't always 100% sure what the British slang terms meant, and though I grew up in a different time and place from the main character, I could relate to so much of what she was saying. This was the first book I'd read this year that I really didn't want to put down; rather than just reading a chapter or two before bed, I read huge chunks late into the night. Any woman who has survived being a teenager, but isn't sure exactly how, will love this book.

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Currently Reading:

The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox-- Narrative non-fiction describing the unsung female hero of the quest to decipher Linear B.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica-- I'm liking the way the story is told, although I so far would not describe it as "thrilling."

Next Up:
Possibly Red Rising, since I've had it for a while and I've been hearing good things for so long.