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Sweater selfie of Cathy Carron's belle curve cardiganFall, It took you long enough to come around, but all is forgiven now that you’re here.  Let’s not waste another moment. It’s time to break out the yarn stash and get knitting! I know you year-round knitters are out there, but so far my knitting habit is strictly seasonal. It comes on strong only when the temperature drops and holds steady through the winter, though admittedly, it’s been slow to progress.  

The first year I did scarves: messy and uneven, with lots of irregularities that I tried to pass off as design features. They were presented to family who had the good sense to politely tuck them out of sight. Next it was hats: ribbed hats, striped hats, much too itchy baby hats, and one unintentionally slouchy Rastafarian hat.

Last year was known in my house as the year of the snood, and so this fall I’ve been determined to make a great leap forward: sweaters.  That was until I picked up Short Story: Chic Knits for Layering by Cathy Carron and my great leap has started instead, with an enthusiastic hop.Book jacket: Short story by Cathy Carron

The belle curve cardigan on page 82 proved to be the perfect middle step between knitting circular accessories and piecing together a sweater with sleeves.  It was relatively quick to knit up, has no seams and was knit on circular needles.  Most important, it passed the test of withstanding frequent interruptions and a five year old ‘helper’ without resulting in a wooly meltdown.

Carron is known for her knitting books, loaded with innovative patterns, ranging from basics with a twist, to over-the-top looks for more daring souls and this one is no different. So if you’re not quite ready to knit a sweater, but can’t in good conscience bestow another hat upon a family member, check out Carron’s Short Story and she’ll get you halfway there.

Looking for more tried and tested books for the novice knitter? Check out my list.

Before I lived in Oregon, Columbus Day was that nice three-day weekend that took the edge off the long working weeks between Labor Day and Thanksgiving (unless you work for an employer who believes Veterans Day is a holiday*). As a newly minted Oregonian, I had a job talking up workplace giving (most commonly associated with the United Way, although I was working for EarthShare) and I started out my pitch on October 8, 1990 mentioning that as an Italian-American, I was really missing the Columbus Day holiday. I cannot express how completely I lost my audience.  Welcome to Oregon, where the arrival of the Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, to the Caribbean in 1492 is viewed a little more skeptically than it is on the Eastern Seaboard. (They have a parade in New York!)

Columbus Day is not a holiday in these parts.  Other cities or states have replaced it with recognition for the people who were residing on this continent when Columbus arrived, most recently our Seattle neighbors.  Most of Latin America celebrates the day as Día de la Raza (Day of the Latino [mixed Spanish and indigenous] People), commemorating the initial meeting of the two.  According to the article from the President of Mexico’s website linked in the previous sentence, the relationship between the indigenous people and their Spanish conquerors was different than that between the native North Americans and the northern Europeans who settled in what is now the United States, and is still worth celebrating.

The new United States held a small celebration in 1792 and a larger one 100 years later, according to the Library of Congress. This latter celebration ultimately led to the establishment of the national holiday by Franklin Roosevelt in 1934. But as the 500th anniversary approached in 1992, the eagerness to celebrate the “discovery” of the Americas had waned. Perhaps it’s time for the day to be consigned to history, or at least “downgraded” to a holiday a la St. Patrick’s Day (there’s another New York parade on that day, but it’s not a national holiday).

Take a moment this weekend to remember a great storm, Thanksgiving in Canada, other things Italian, or even Leif Ericson. Better yet, take a look at these books to see what life was like in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus.

In spite of everything, I'd still like that three-day weekend back.

*My employer, Multnomah County, believes this to be the case, but at the library we’re open on Veterans Day; we take an “official” holiday on the day before Christmas.
 

Are you curious about the history of presidential elections in the United States? Do you need to know how the electoral college works, what qualifications a person needs to be eligible to run for president, or how the candidates are paying for their campaigns? Turn to these sites for answers!

Campaign Finance Institute

This think tank website offers nonpartisan discussion of many issues related to campaign finance in congressional and presidential election campaigns. You'll find reports on developments in federal campaign finance lawpolitical parties and interest groups and "soft money" and how they affect the funding of political campaigns, and information about current issues in the news.

CQ Roll Call Politics

Find political news, information on current campaigns, analysis, data about campaign funding. Use the state map find information about house, senate, and gubernatorial elections around the country.

Election '14

Are you curious about what Americans think about election issues? The Pew Research Center's survey people across the U.S. about their attitudes, habits, and opinions — read their reports on elections and the media, religion in politics, the internet's role in politics, and more!

FactCheck.org

Sometimes when campaign ads make a claim, or when a politician says something important in a speech, it is difficult to find out the background on the issue. This site brings together information that can help you check the factual claims that candidates, political campaigns, and elected officials make.

Fairvote.org

Find the latest news about election reform and the move to increase voter participation, and read reports on a wide array of election issues, from the Center for Voting and Democracy.

Politifact.com

PolitiFact vets statements made by the campaigns in ads, speeches and debates, and provides articles and facts supporting or refuting the statements. Use the truth-o-meter to view the latest statements reviewed.

Long ago, I spent four summers in a small fishing town in Southeastern Alaska. I slimed fish, lived in a tent, met the love of my life, and discovered a lifelong appreciation for hiking. I drank vast quantities of lousy beer with fishermen, cannery workers, and loggers at the Harbor Bar. I caught my first fish, crossed paths with black bears, watched killer whales breaching, saw so many bald eagles that I almost stopped finding them thrilling, and took a skiff out to the local glacier where seal pups cavorted on blue icebergs.

It was an amazing place.

It gets too dark there in the winter for me, so I live in Portland now (with the aforementioned love of my life). I miss it, but I’m so glad that I discovered the books of John Straley, which bring that world to vivid life. There are colorful bits of folk tales interspersed with perfect descriptions of the landscape and the people. The characters are so important and such a pleasure in Straley's books.

In his Cold Storage Alaska, which I listened to on audiobook this past summer, one character asks, "Is everyone in this town a goddamn comedian?"

The man he’s talking to replies, "No, actually most of the people in this town are drunks or depressives, but we have our funny moments."

And they really do. Straley has mentioned that this novel was influenced by his love of screwball comedy and you can tell, although officially, it's categorized as crime fiction.

Miles, the main character of this book, is a medic who pretty much holds together the fictional small fishing town of Cold Storage, Alaska. He's a good guy, but kind of lonely. His brother, the bad son in the family, is coming back home after spending years in jail, bringing with him a whole bunch of money he thinks he's earned and the ugliest and most ferocious dog anyone has ever seen. The ownership of the dog is not in dispute, but someone will be coming after that money. So that's the plot. But really? All this is just a framework to start with so you can listen to the people in this book have wildly entertaining conversations in bars, in diners and out on boats in the untouched Alaskan wilderness.

From whence comes the phrase "chocolate cities and vanilla suburbs"? Why is Detroit in bankruptcy and NYC always bailed out by American taxpayers? In what way is American culture and fashion a re-play of Regency and Edwardian England?

Warmth of Other Suns book jacketDon't know? Ask Isabel Wilkerson and Jacques Barzun. Respectively, they are the authors of The Warmth of Other Suns and From Dawn to Decadence. This is history that Miz Hackett, your 8th grade teacher, never heard of. Wilkerson, a journalist, and Barzun, an eminent historian, have answered history's questions in a personal way. This is not memorize the dates boredom. No, these are the impolite questions you'd ask your neighbors if you only had the guts about what it's really like where they come from and what they think about it all .
 
The Warmth of Other Suns is the story of our cities in the 20th century as told through the recollections of three individuals who lived "theFrom Dawn to Decadence book jacket great migration." They didn't know that they were part of some historical drama, so the stories are straight shooter talk of folk who weren't afraid to change their destiny in the face of tall odds. Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence is subtitled 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present. He does a remarkable job of connecting how we behave to where that behavior begins. I mean seriously, why is there money for opera and classical music but punk rockers have to work at Fred Meyer to support their art? See page 637 of Barzun for a hint.

I read a new graphic novel that is so compelling I couldn’t put it down. It’s definitely a page turner!  March is an autobiography by congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. It is filled with stunning visuals by award-winning Nate Powell. The story starts with the family chickens. His care of the flock helps him build his moral core. As a reader it  helped me get to know him and care about him. At the same time, this comic book is a biography of our civil rights movement in the United States. Important issue, important man: Fantastic read. Don’t miss it.


If you are interested in more comic books about history they can be found in the History through graphic novels list.

plane guy

What’s in your carry-on?

Some people fret about clothes, maps, or hotel reservations for an upcoming vacation.  Me?  I’m too busy worrying about what to read.  While ebooks can alleviate this dilemma, I’m still a physical book guy and limited luggage space makes for challenging decisions.

What makes a good book for a getaway?  Easy reading, light subject matter, and a touch of humor are a start.  There’s also a number of factors to consider such as: flight length, travelling companions, and tome portability. Taking these variables into account I’ve put together a short list of potential travel companions.  

What’s your next vacation read?

 

I recently received a letter from Portland Police requesting an update on my reported stolen car in August 2013. Has your vehicle been recovered? Please tick Y for yes and N for no and return. No, my vehicle has not been recovered, but thanks for asking. 

It’s a good reminder that it is that time of year again. The time of year when you step out of your door to find an empty street. Only it shouldn’t be an empty street—you parked your car there last night...didn’t you? That is the moment it hits you, first with the disbelief, and then with the sickening realization that your car is gone. Missing. Stolen.

Now what? Now you dial 911. Do not phone 911. They will tell you that this is not in fact an emergency. You may respond by saying “Yes, it absolutely is an emergency! My car has been stolen and I am now going to be late for my final presentation.” I would also recommend not saying that, but instead listening to the nice people at 911 and hanging up to dial the local non-emergency number. You will repeat your non-emergency and then you will wait patiently for an officer to arrive so that you can repeat (with grand gestures and possible re-enactment) everything you’ve already said in a slightly less panicky voice. And when asked if there is anything else you can tell the officer about your car and you whimper “only that I love it,” she will manage to crush your hope of ever having it returned when she states “that is unfortunate."

And while that might be true, I did learn many things, like how to file a police report and shop for a used car. Car crime is high here in Oregon, so I thought I would put together a little list to pass the time while you wait for the police to come and the insurance to come through. And if you have not been a victim of car crime, here is some information to help keep it that way.

 

The Bridge photoIn a landscape of endless grey and flowing clouds, a body is found on a bridge, “dead” center, if you’ll forgive the pun, inconveniently straddling two jurisdictions. Who will take the case, Portland or Vancouver… err wait, make that Denmark or Sweden, all that grey bridginess confused me!  And just to complicate things, what if the body turns out to actually be two bodies… the upper half of one and the lower half of another? Diabolical, I say.

What stands out about The Bridge, more than the color-drained Scandinavian setting and the tricky plot, is character. While at first the two detectives seem to be embodiments of a Danish/Swedish culture clash, they soon become fully realized entities all their own. Saga Norén is a leather pant clad, goatlike (I kid you not, her acting in this role is partly based on a small goat ) Swede with a sharply analytic mind and no social skills. In fact, many watchers believe she has Asperger’s syndrome, though that hasn’t been explicitly stated.  Martin Rohde is a fiery Dane, a devoted yet philandering family man, which leads to him being all kinds of tortured. He’s very perceptive of psychology and emotions, and Saga needs him to help her interpret the confusing world of interpersonal relationships. It’s the contrast between these two and their complex friendship that really makes the series. If you like Nordic noir, you must try this.  After binge viewing the entire first season in the space of two weeks, I found myself wandering the house, responding to questions with Ja, ja, and Nej, and brewing up a steaming hot batch of glögg, the better to view season two with. Trailer is here.

Here's a challenge for you: go to your favorite library. Stand away from the traffic. Take a deep breath, now center yourself. Head for your favorite section, cruise the shelves and pick out a book that you are gonna love. No book lists, reviews or friend recommendations allowed, just your innate good taste and curiosity.

If you have been good, maybe the spirits of literature will reward you with a Captain Alatriste tale:

Behold, a roCaptain Alatriste book jacketllicking tale of heroes with swords, hi-jinks in high places and the demands of honour. Wrap it up in writing as literary as it gets, and Bob's your uncle.  Arturo Perez-Reverte's title character is a native of seventeenth century Spain, the Golden Age. Captain Alatriste is hired to waylay and kill two English heretics as they arrive in Madrid. A career soldier who has been impoverished by an inexplicable outbreak of peace, he agrees. In a dark alley, el capitaine is about to do the deed when his pesky sense of nobility intervenes. He lets them go, pisses off some very big hombres and winds up in the sights of a state that likes to burn non-conformists at the stake. This of course gets him involved with the artists of the day.   The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet book jacket

Lope de Vega. Pedro Calderon de la Barca. Names ring a bell? They would if we were not predisposed to associate literature primarily with Anglo-Saxon names. No matter, join Capitaine Alatriste as he leads us into a new world of art to appreciate and explore; even if it must be done at the point of a fast riposte or parry.

In addition to Captain Alatriste, also try The Cavalier in the Yellow  Doublet  and The Club Dumas, a Perez-Reverte novel that's not part of the series. Enjoy.

 

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