Hello, 2022, or: A Sign of Life and It’s Cold AF

I didn’t expect to go almost 2 months without a post! I tried opening up my WordPress app a few times in that span, but for some reason, the words just weren’t coming.

Anyways, it’s the day before my best friend, The Lady Bryan’s, birthday and right now it is what we would call in Florida, “Cold AF”. It’s not supposed to get above 50°F today and where I’m at lows are going to dip into the 20s tonight. My readers in the Northeastern U.S. and Atlantic Canada (where, yes, I do have a few Twitter followers) are experiencing a heck of a Nor’easter complete with blizzard. I hope all of you are keeping safe and warm in these very cold conditions. Currently, I’m under a fleece lap blanket trying to keep my feet warm.

Before I get into 2022, let me share how we ended 2021. When I last posted, it was just a few days after Thanksgiving. My dad and I spent quite a bit of time last month getting ready for Christmas, which included trying to figure out what to get for two girls. I did get a gift for Nipote, but as he was only about 5 months old at the time, safe toys for a baby that age are a bit scarce. I ended up getting him a rattle and teether set, with the rattle in the shape of a donut and the teether was a chain of plastic macarons. I later saw a toy piano that would have worked nicely for him, but I haven’t gotten it for him at this time. For the girls, we ended up getting them dolls, dinosaurs, drawing toys, a toy makeup kit and a toy fish for R., a fire truck and Potato Heads (both Mr. and Mrs.) for The Bambina, and both of them got toy airplanes, too. I wrapped every single one of them and took them over on Christmas Eve.

While we were there, my brother and sister-in-law gave my dad a set of towels and washcloths, a blanket, and coffee thermos and matching keychain that both have the same “Scat Pack” logo as his Dodge Charger. I got a fleece blanket (which immediately went right onto my bed), a wall hanging, and a USB reading light. I don’t normally use reading lights, but it will be incredibly useful for when I do visit my brother’s house and the political discussions start to get so awkward that I need my “in case of emergency” book to mentally tune it out, especially after dark. We didn’t get them anything in return (totally our fault, we just got caught up in getting stuff for their kids), but my SIL’s birthday is coming up next month, so there’s an opportunity there.

My dad ended up taking the first week of 2022 off from work as a vacation/reset week. I don’t mind those weeks, but it’s always nice to get back to a normal routine.

What else? I had some spare cash on hand and I got myself a gift card for more ebooks because I hadn’t gotten one in a while. I still haven’t spent all the money from that one, but here’s what I’ve gotten so far:

  • Lovingly Abused by Heather Grace Heath. This is a memoir written by a woman who was raised in the same (for all intents and purposes) fundamentalist cult that the controversial Duggar family also belongs to, IBLP/ATI. I actually heard about this book from a podcast, Leaving Eden, whose co-host was a former member of a similar fundamentalist cult called the IFB. I read this book in about 11 days and Heather’s story is just incredible. She lived in a different state from the Duggars and she does not mention them by name in her book (but does reference them a few times), but she provides a great, first-person account about how the IBLP/ATI and similar groups cause more harm than good, and in her acknowledgments at the end, I found a few more podcasts to check out. (Side note: I kind of have a fascination with cults, from real ones like The People’s Temple and the FLDS to fictional ones like The Chosen from The Tribe.)
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. My third Murakami in my ebook collection, but I want to read Kafka on the Shore first before I take on this one, which is nearly 1000 pages long and was originally published in 3 volumes in Japan)
  • Me by Elton John. Yes, his own memoir…I’ve heard a lot of great reviews for this one, but as I have memoirs coming up in my physical TBR, I don’t know if I want to be reading two memoirs at once)
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. This one has been on my Bookstagram radar for a while. From what I’ve gathered, this is a historical novel set in Ghana (where the author and her family are originally from) and traces the stories of two half-sisters, born in different villages and sent on two very different paths. One sister ends up being kidnapped and sold into the transatlantic slave trade, while the other marries an English man and lives a life of privilege on Africa’s Gold Coast.

And finally, I did finish two shawls, but I have not yet woven in the ends and gotten them ready for pictures. What I’ve been primarily working on is a pullover sweater in some heather gray yarn, although I’m currently only on the body portion. I still need to work on the sleeves, too, so it’s not ready to wear yet. But it is coming along, and I promise to share some pictures when it’s finally ready!

So, anyway…that’s what I’ve been up to lately. There just hasn’t been a ton going on lately. But I am on the countdown to a milestone birthday now…less than two months to go until I turn…gasp 😱…thirty-five. What?! That also means my five-year blogiversary is coming up! I might have a lot of reflecting to do soon! Until next time, readers!

The Bane of My Backlist

I figured it was time for another summary of my reading and book collection as of late.

First up, what I’ve recently been reading (and the reason why this book is the inspiration for this post title).

My edition of “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck.

I started reading this one, often regarded as an American classic, towards the end of August, just after I finished reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I read that one after finishing Rebecca and it only took me 12 days to read it. It was 200 or so pages compared the 400 or so in Rebecca and the 600 pages in this book I’m about to talk about.

Now, The Grapes of Wrath and I have a complicated history. I first obtained this copy when I was assigned to read (or, as it turned out, attempt to read) it for my AP English class (one of two slightly different English courses I ended up taking) in my junior year of high school. And I know it was my junior year because I distinctly remember my teacher (who was also my English teacher in my freshman year) explaining the origin of the book’s title: it came from the opening lines of the Civil War-era patriotic song “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. For those unfamiliar with the opening lines of the song…

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword

His truth is marching on.

Julia Ward Howe, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”

Anyway, my school had a deal with a local independent bookstore where they would share the reading list for the AP English courses each year, and not only would the bookstore order more copies of those books for their inventory, they would also bundle the books together and sell them as a package with a discount. I have maybe a dozen or so books in my collection that were bought in this manner. Not only did we not have to borrow books from the county and were free to mark up our own copies with margin notes and highlight relevant passages, it also provided the bookstore with extra business. This bookstore is actually still open all these years later (although I think the ownership and management has changed since my high school days), I have since returned to that bookstore one more time, which I detailed in this previous post back in 2018. I’d love to go more often, but…yeah, money.

My attempt at reading this book in high school (as with many of the books I was assigned in high school English) did not go well. When you have to balance reading with a bunch of other coursework, especially in the math courses where I tended to struggle more and thus placed a higher focus on getting homework done there, reading often fell by the wayside. And it showed in the quizzes and tests on those books. To be honest, the reason why I passed all those English classes was because of the written portions. Essays I tended to do well in. Needless to say, I started The Grapes of Wrath, but I never finished it. I think the only novel I may have finished during those courses was Native Son by Richard Wright.

It took many years for me to rediscover my love of reading, and once I did, I decided to revisit some of those novels that had fallen by the wayside. One of the first was The Great Gatsby. Over the ensuing years I have also read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Awakening, The Sound and the Fury, and Beloved. I still have some in the collection that are awaiting a full revisit: Crime and Punishment, Native Son (I attempted a re-read a few years ago), Heart of Darkness (although I have not found my copy). But somehow, Grapes kept eluding me. I remember trying to start it at a family friend’s gathering. No luck. I remember at least one other attempt to start it. No luck.

So, you can see why I call this book “The Bane of My Backlist”. The fact that I have never finished it has been annoying me to no end ever since high school. Which is why I was determined to set a goal this year to finally read it and finish it. I even decided to try and dedicate the summer to not only reading this book, but some of John Steinbeck’s shorter novels. At this point, I have only read Tortilla Flat, which I’ve read in fits and starts. But it does have sort of a humorous element to it that keeps it interesting. Grapes, however, has fared much better this time around.

One way I decided to tackle this book was by deciding to narrate portions of it to myself when reading it, usually on nights when my dad was at work and it was just me and the dog in the house. I did this with portions of Rebecca as well. Reading it aloud helps to cement the text in my mind. Sometimes reading silently makes the text pass by with a blur, so reading aloud makes it impossible for me to ignore the text. And I’d adopt different voices for different characters. For example, Tom Joad got sort of a low, flat-ish voice reminiscent of Henry Fonda (who played Tom in the film adaptation of the novel). Jim Casy got sort of a twang. Ma Joad is basically my own voice, but with a more exaggerated accent (which Steinbeck renders out in the text with unique spellings and punctuations). Grandma and Grandpa got sort of raspy voices reminiscent of old people, although Grandma’s voice got a higher pitch to it. And so on, and so forth.

Well…it worked. I finished it last weekend. It had its challenges, though. Steinbeck also employs an unusual narrative device throughout the book. The book alternates between short descriptive chapters (that either set up the environment that the next part of the story takes place in or adds context to what the characters are about to experience) and longer narrative chapters (that sometimes are at least 50 pages in length) that tell the actual story. Those longer chapters I normally could not finish in a single sitting. I sometimes had to read a little, and then put it down…read a little, put it down. This was a book that had to be taken on a little at a time. But much like a marble statue, what started off as a giant, imposing block of text — with a little patience, time, and attention to detail — eventually became a work worthy of the adulation. It wasn’t a 5-star read for me, but because I felt like the challenges I had with it did actually eventually serve a purpose and get me into a rhythm when it came to how the story progressed, I felt it was worth 4 stars.

Currently Reading

I have also been adding to the collection in recent months. The last time I updated you on the physical books I had added, I think it was June and I had briefly shared with you the books I had gotten in January with some of the cash my dad had given me from the sale of my mom’s hospital bed in June of last year (a couple of weeks after her death). I’ve already read one of those books (The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison), as well as one other one, and I took a break from my newer books to read The Grapes of Wrath. I’m now on the second book from that purchase, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.

Hillbilly Elegy is Vance’s memoir about him and his family. I’m only a few chapters into it, but his grandparents (“Mamaw” and “Papaw”) married as teenagers in the 1940s and left their impoverished hometown in the dirt-poor Kentucky Appalachians for the chance at a better life in Ohio. J.D., whose mother was a drug addict, would go back and forth between his troubled mother and whatever man she happened to be dating or married to at the time and his Mamaw’s house; he eventually came under Mamaw’s guardianship. I haven’t read enough to see how his story really pans out, but Vance eventually graduated from Yale Law School and made a career as a venture capitalist. He’s encountered some controversy since this book was published in 2016 for comments he’s made in his bid to become the Republican nominee for Ohio’s open Senate seat up for election next year. (The current Senator in that seat, Rob Portman, is retiring.) One of the more notable comments he made blamed the “childless Left” (as he put it) for the culture wars currently going on. He also proposed that parents be given an extra vote for each child they have. As you may have gathered, I do have issues with the positions he holds, but it’s not stopping me from reading his book (which I bought months before he announced his Senate run and before I even really knew much about him; I had bought it on impulse because I had recognized that it had been adapted into a movie for Netflix directed by Ron Howard).

I brought this up a bit on my Instagram when I posted about this book a few days ago, but I’ll elaborate a bit more about it. When it comes to authors who are known for their careers or influence on politics (whether it’s politicians like J.D. Vance or writers who influenced politicians, like Ayn Rand, or people known for their connections to politicians, like Michelle Obama, who I will be getting to shortly), I try not to read to create or advance an agenda, but rather to get an understanding about them and at least give them a chance to tell their story. And as I’ve said in the past, people have different life experiences that shape their beliefs as they get older. No two people have the same experience. Reading with an open mind is the only way I can stay sane when it comes to this highly politicized world anyway. I wish people on both sides of the aisle would think the same way when it comes to hearing out people they don’t necessarily agree with.

In my e-reader, I’ve currently got The Short Novels of John Steinbeck and Congo: The Epic History of a People as active reads, although I’m considering starting either Foundation by Isaac Asimov or Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut very soon. As mentioned earlier, I’ve only just finished Tortilla Flat in the Steinbeck collection and am now up to The Red Pony, though I’ve yet to start that one.

My Acquisitions

The third book from that “mini-haul” back in January was Educated by Tara Westover, which is about a woman who was raised by a survivalist Mormon family who were so wary of public schools and the federal government that her family did not practice formal education. She eventually was able to study independently and get into college, and earned her doctorate in intellectual history in 2014. I’ve heard a lot about this book and can’t wait to read her story.

More recently, I’ve taken to just getting one or two books at a time when I’m at the local Walmart Supercenter for groceries, so I haven’t gotten all of these at once, and several of them were from the bargain books bin, which has been selling what I guess are remaindered books (unsold books from a particular printing) at a steep discount. This store has been selling them for $5.97 a copy, which, considering the original list prices of most of those books, is a major steal. Anyway, here are some of my more recent acquisitions.

  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (I think this one was described as a Southern mystery novel)
  • The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (A psychological thriller published in 2019; heard quite a bit about this through Bookstagram)
  • The Pioneers by David McCullough (A history book looking into Americans settling the Northwest Territory — which contained parts of what are now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin — in the decades following the American Revolutionary War. I normally don’t study as much American history, but the book was from the bargain bin, so I thought it was worth a shot.)
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama (The former First Lady’s memoir about her life, her marriage to husband Barack Obama, and finding her voice during his time in the White House; she did have some assistance from a ghostwriter, as many celebrities end up doing when writing a memoir, so I’m not going to fault her for that. I do eventually plan to get a copy of her husband’s latest memoir, A Promised Land, when it comes out in paperback.)
  • Wham!: George Michael & Me by Andrew Ridgely (A memoir about Ridgely’s friendship and career with his classmate-turned-Wham! bandmate George Michael, who would go on to become a pop music icon as a solo artist. One of the bargain bin books.)
  • Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton (A thriller novel set in New York City that reportedly borrows elements from The Talented Mr.Ripley. Another bargain bin book.)
  • Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki (A noir novel described as being about a “babysitter gone bad” in the Hollywood Hills. Yet another bargain bin book.)
  • My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (A psychological fiction novel about a woman who was groomed into having an affair with her 42-year-old English teacher when she was 15, and has internal conflict over whether to come forward when the teacher is alleged to have slept with another student nearly 2 decades later. The most recent book from the bargain bin.)

That’s been quite a bit to catch up on, hasn’t it? I hope you all have been reading interesting books as well!

Why I Don’t Do Reading Challenges, and What I’m Reading Now

So, I’ve seen a lot of people on Instagram and Goodreads share the goals they’ve decided to set for their reading for 2021, and these usually include setting a goal for the number of books that they read in a single year. Heck, even my own Goodreads page has a place where I can set a reading goal for 2021, if I so choose.

However…just like last year, I have chosen not to set a goal for a certain number of books, and here’s why:

  • First of all, I usually tend to go for quality over quantity. I’d rather read a dozen good books over the course of a year and really take in what I’m reading than read 100 books and not remember half of what I read or get frustrated over a book that may not be as good as what I hoped for.
  • I’m kind of a slow-paced reader to begin with. Most novels I read for enjoyment take at least a month for me to finish, usually because of the curveballs that life likes to throw at me, and also my energy levels just vary from day to day. This was true when I was caring for my mom, and it’s true now. I enjoy reading very much, but to take the time to sit down and dedicate my mental and physical energy to immersing myself into a book does take a lot. If I really get into a book, then I can finish a book in a matter of days, but it takes a lot of motivation and really investing myself in a book for me to do that. My brain just needs more time to really process what I’m reading. But…when I do come across a novel that I just can’t put down…then I’d say that’s a pretty good novel! I felt it when I was reading Looking for Alaska and The Testaments, both of them very good novels. I’m kind of feeling this with my current read, too, which I’ll talk about shortly.

That doesn’t mean I’m not setting goals for myself, though! I do have some ideas in mind for what I’d like to accomplish this year, they’re just not quantitative (they don’t have a number attached to them). Here are some of the things I’d like to accomplish in my reading at some point this year:

  • I’d like to do a “Summer of Steinbeck” at some point. I have a copy of The Grapes of Wrath from high school that I have attempted to read no less than three different times…and have never finished it. It is the bane of my backlist. The fact that I have never finished it is a source of great annoyance to me. I want to fix that. I may even bump newer physical books back in my reading list (which I usually read in the order I bought them) in order to assure that I read it. I also have a collection of his shorter novels in my e-reader, and I may read at least one (or perhaps all six of them) before taking on Grapes in order for me to really get in the mindset for John Steinbeck’s work.
  • After I complete Dune (which I am currently reading, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through it), I’d like to read at least one science fiction novel. The front runner here is Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Luckily, one of my friends took advantage of some of his recent stimulus money and bought himself the first four books in the Foundation series…so there could be a potential buddy read there. (Basically, a buddy read is like an informal version of a book club; you and at least one other person decide to read the same book at the same time and then you talk about the book. I’ve been in a couple of these buddy reads and that’s how I’ve met some of the Bookstagrammers that I follow. In today’s world of social media and direct messaging and the wonders of technology, this is easier than ever, can be done by either a group DM or a video chat, and you often end up sharing your thoughts on a book with people all over the world.)
  • I also would like to read some more nonfiction this year, too. I have a few books in my e-reader that would work for this; I could return to The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (which I decided to take a hiatus from, but I didn’t designate it a DNF — Did Not Finish — as I intend to eventually return to it). I have another Wolfe book, The Right Stuff, but I’m thinking of saving that one for July…you know, the anniversary month of the Apollo 11 Moon landing and thus “Space Reads Month”. I also have a book about the history of the Congo region (more specifically the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and a book about the French Revolution…so I have options. I’m also considering buying former President Barack Obama’s most recent memoir, A Promised Land, the next time I go to the store. (I know some people will dislike that choice because they might not agree with his politics, but I think everyone can agree that he is a very intelligent and classy man and I’m genuinely interested in reading what he has to say. Anyone who’s seen my Twitter feed knows where I stand on most issues, so it’s not really much of a secret; I just have made a conscious decision to keep my politics separate from this blog.)
  • I also want to read more “classics” this year. I have a bunch on my e-reader and quite a few in my physical collection that I would love to get to. One of the newer books in my physical collection, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, is often considered a classic.

So…what am I reading right now?

At the moment I am reading Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This is my first time reading any of her novels, although fellow Bookstagrammers have told me they quite liked her previous bestseller, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. This book is about a (fictional) groupie-turned-singer, the titular Daisy Jones, and her relationship with one of the biggest (fictional) bands of the 1970s, The Six. Since most of the novel is set in the 1970s, it’s categorized as historical fiction. I’m only about 100 pages into it (and I took a break from reading it last night), but so far I’m enjoying the narrative device (it’s written as sort of a transcript for something like either a long-form Rolling Stone interview, an episode of Behind the Music, or like a feature-length music documentary — that last one being a favorite film genre of mine) as well as the characters.

Some fellow readers who had read the book recommended that I put on some ‘70s rock music while reading this book, and to be honest…it really helped to set the atmosphere for reading this one! Fleetwood Mac, Harry Nilsson, Led Zeppelin, and Badfinger are some of the artists on my playlist for this novel, and SiriusXM’s “Classic Vinyl” station (which plays exclusively ‘60s and ‘70s rock music) has been a wonderful option as well. My dad listens to SiriusXM in his Jeep and we also have an app on our main TV that can stream the stations. If that’s not an option, I’d recommend either ‘70s Rock or Classic Rock on Pandora and set it to either “Discovery” or “Deep Cuts” mode to expand your station’s playlist.

So…what are your reading goals for 2021? And what are you reading now?

In Search of Knitting Mojo

I have to admit something: one side effect of mourning the death of my mom was that I kind of lost the desire to knit for a while. It wasn’t really her death itself that caused it, but it just seemed like for the last couple of months, I just felt no desire to pick up my needles or hooks. I tried a handful of projects, but nothing stuck. I don’t think it was depression, more like fatigue. Like, there was a lot of feelings I had to sort through before I could start to feel some sort of joy again. And my body just felt tired after all those years of caring for her. I mean, I even sacrificed sleep and my own self-care to make sure she was taken care of.

It wasn’t until the beginning of this month that I started to wade back into trying to knit again. Strangely, it took a designer admitting to the world that she is dying to motivate me to pick up my needles and cast on.

If any of you are familiar with the designer Cat Bordhi, you may know that earlier this month she posted a letter on her website in which she revealed that she has terminal cancer. You can read the letter here, and the letter also provides an email address where readers can send her messages as well as a link to an organization that people can donate to on her behalf if they wish. The letter itself is worth a read. The letter posted on her website also has a link to a free downloadable pattern for a cowl pattern she designed but had not yet published. It’s called the Rio Calina Cowl. It’s basically knit flat in 2×2 rib (k2, p2) and you can choose when, where, and in what direction to place cables. I only have a foot or so of this cowl knit so far (the pattern calls for around 34 inches before seaming), but I love how it’s looking so far.

My take on Cat Bordhi’s Rio Calina Cowl in progress.

I also got some more work done on my current shawl project, Don’t Huffle the Puff!. I may be getting to the point where I’m ready to add another black stripe, but I’m still currently on the yellow.

The “Don’t Huffle the Puff!” shawl is still currently in progress.

My Neapolitan blanket is currently in progress as well, but I will need to get some more white yarn for it, so it is on a bit of a hiatus right now. Hopefully with me finally being able to go shopping on a more regular basis, that will be sooner rather than later. I think I have enough pink yarn to complete that part of the project, not so sure on the brown portion.

The phone I had been using (an iPhone 5s, which was originally my dad’s before he decided to upgrade) basically decided to bite the dust. Basically, whenever it was off whatever was charging it, the phone would overheat and crash whenever I’d try to use an app…any app. It was a 6 or 7-year-old phone, so it definitely had a long life, but much like the Toshiba Android tablet I used to use, the battery and processor in this iPhone were probably seeing their last days. Once my dad realized what was going on with it, he decided to order me a new phone, and it was delivered the next day. It’s an iPhone SE, which is a budget-model iPhone that’s based off of the iPhone 8 (I don’t really need a lot of bells and whistles when it comes to a phone), but it’s got the same chip and guts as my dad’s iPhone 11 (actually his is an iPhone 11 Pro Max). And while he didn’t ask me which color I wanted, I think he read my mind and got me the (PRODUCT)RED model (proceeds from the sales of this model are donated to charities dedicated to fighting and eliminating HIV/AIDS in Africa). He’s not really the kind to donate to a charity unless he really believes in the cause it’s supporting (he’s donated to a children’s camp that was co-founded by Paul Newman that provides children with serious illnesses a fun and medically-sound place for them and their families to have fun; he’s also made donations to the Toys for Tots initiative, which is run by the Marine Reserves and they collect toys and other popular items to give to kids for Christmas that they might not otherwise get during the holidays because their families are poor or facing financial struggles). I also do love the color red, but I’m glad that some of that money is going towards efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, which is still a problem in parts of Africa.

This phone holds its charge well, and it barely drained any battery power while I was at the store this past weekend, and that included me texting and sending a picture to my dad (he texted me that he needed me to get some clear packing tape while I was there, so I took and sent him a picture of the tape to see if that particular tape would work). We still need to get a case for it, but luckily there is a version of the case my dad uses for his phone that will fit the iPhone SE. He hasn’t ordered it yet, but he told me he’d do so at some point.

While I was at the store, I also decided to treat myself to an Apple gift card, which I pretty much only use to get ebooks. So far, I’ve bought three with this one, two of them on sale:

  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (she’s from Hawaii, and is of Japanese, Korean, and Native Hawaiian descent)
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (probably one of the most popular authors to come out of Japan; side note, I keep wanting to sing this book’s title to the tune of “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors)
  • Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi (this one is nonfiction, exploring the history of racist ideas throughout American history and how those ideas have played a role in the discrimination of African Americans and people of color)

I’ve also been reading a few other books, although the primary one is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (about a Black teenage girl who sees her childhood friend killed by a white police officer and how she responds to the aftermath of it all). I also finished the first sequel novel to The Tribe (called A New World) and I’m a few chapters into the second sequel novel, A New Dawn.

I’m glad I’m finally starting to get some mojo back into my life. Now, this isn’t Austin Powers-type mojo (because sexuality and me are basically a paradox), but more of the positive energy-type mojo that people within the LSG group on Ravelry (LSG stands for “Lazy, Stupid, and Godless” and is one of the largest and most irreverent groups on Ravelry…my kind of people) send each other in times of sorrow and need. It’s sort of a “thoughts and prayers” for people who don’t necessarily believe in or use prayer. (Hey, if you believe in the power of prayer, more power to you. For me, encouragement and the channeling of positive energy from others works just as well.) Now that life has kind of settled down for us, maybe my sense of creativity is finally coming back. I hope I can showcase more of my knitting soon.

Before I post, I’m going to leave the song I referenced while talking about Kafka on the Shore, “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors. Don’t you want to sing that book’s title to the tune of that song, too?

🎶 Happy Birthday to Me, A Viral Apocalypse, Maybe? 🎶

Even at the beginning of this year, I did not think I would find myself celebrating the weirdest birthday of my life so far. As you all may know by now, the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus (a type of virus that was also responsible for the SARS virus in the early 2000s) has been labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization. This has sent life all over the world into a frenzy. All of Italy is under quarantine, and many businesses and entities here in the United States have basically had to shut down, even including pushing Opening Day of the 2020 Major League Baseball season to mid-May at the earliest. (As a huge baseball fan, this makes me a little sad.) I ended up deciding not to vote in the Florida primary last week out of an abundance of caution, since both of my parents are over age 60 and my mother is bedridden and at higher risk of developing complications if she caught it. My party seems to have a presumptive front runner for its presidential nominee anyway, and I have decided that I will support its nominee in November, no matter who it is. (I’m hoping the virus threat won’t be as high by then.) I will still do grocery shopping, but at a smaller store that is usually less crowded than the larger one I usually shop at…although this has seemed to bring out the worst in people when it comes to panic buying. And I’m from Florida, the Panic Shopping Capital of the World (thanks, hurricanes)!

My dad’s workplace (a major theme park in Orlando) is closed through at least the end of the month, with most of its employees being told to stay home. However, my dad’s job takes place during the night shift and he is not in regular contact with park guests. He’s the lead technician on a crew that performs maintenance and repairs on one of the park’s attractions. Being that all hourly employees at the park (including technicians) will be paid for any time they are forced to miss during the closure (it’s owned by a large corporation, so they can afford to do this), coming in for the technicians is optional (but the attractions still require maintenance in order to meet mechanical and safety standards, no matter what). So, he’s been going in to work, but depending on how many people show up, the situation each night dictates whether or not he needs to stay. Being that whenever he does get sick, he usually gets it from someone at work, it’s probably a good thing at times (especially if any of his coworkers get sick, it’s definitely a good idea to stay home rather than try and tough it out). He’s only been staying at work for as long as the job requires and has come home early some mornings.

I know this whole pandemic situation has got everybody on edge, and me being a highly sensitive person, I tend to have the urge to want to deal with something this distressing by letting it get to my head and I end up feeling incredibly anxious. I’ve been actively trying to avoid panicking, though. So…how have I been coping?

  • I haven’t been watching the news on a regular basis. I’ve been watching some local news, but I’ve primarily been following the news through online aggregate sources like Google News and Apple News. If I need to get away from the buzz for a bit, I close the tab or the app!
  • When my dad has been sleeping to prepare for a work night, I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which is set in Ancient Greece during the Peloponnesian Wars (which took place in the fifth century BCE and was the time when a lot of Ancient Greek notables such as Socrates, Pericles, Aristophanes, Euripides, Herodotus, and Leonidas flourished). In the game, you can play as either Alexios (a male character) or Kassandra (a female character), and the character you play as is a misthios (basically a mercenary). The story to start the game is kinda long and complex, but it involves a prophecy, an oracle controlled by an organization called the “Cult of Kosmos” (a forerunner to the Templars of the series’ universe), a cliff, and a boat that eventually ends up on the Greek island of Kephallonia, where our hero (the Misthios) starts their journey.
  • We’ve been watching a lot of movies when my dad is home and awake. And we finally watched Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a couple of weekends ago. It wasn’t too bad. Not quite as glorious as the original trilogy, but it did play upon the same themes of love and redemption. In order to bring balance to the Force, a character we thought of as good had to confront their Dark Side, while a character we thought of as evil had to confront their Light Side. I thought that was an interesting twist. It’s a little sad to see the Skywalker saga come to an end, but I’d love to see some more adventures with the newer characters. And just today he was watching A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, but he went to bed before he could get to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
  • I’ve got a couple of projects on the needles right now: the ever-active Neapolitan, which is currently in its second round of brown rectangles, and a new project called Don’t Huffle the Puff, a heart-shaped garter stitch shawl in the house colors of the Hogwarts House Hufflepuff, which is the House I was sorted into when I took the Sorting quiz at the Wizarding World website (formerly known as Pottermore). I’m using Walmart’s Mainstays Basic yarn in Gold (three skeins worth, which was lovingly gifted to me by The Lady Bryan and her mom for Christmas) and Black (I bought one skein of it with the intention of adding random black stripes to the mostly gold-colored shawl). I used the project as an excuse to finally add size 10 circular needles to my knitting arsenal.
  • I’m still reading. The last time I made a regular blog post (middle of last month), I was reading Beloved by Toni Morrison (a revisit of a novel we studied in AP English my junior year of high school) and Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. I’m still reading the latter in my e-reader, but I’ve not only finished Beloved, but I also read The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale) in a span of 18 days. It was a pretty good book! I’m currently reading The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys, which is set in 1950s Madrid during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. And although this pandemic is seeing a lot of isolation and “social distancing”, it hasn’t stopped me from stepping outside every so often and sitting in the sun, reading while Roxy either runs around chasing lizards or sitting in the sun herself. I can usually get a couple chapters in this way. But it is starting to get warmer out there. 🥵
  • I’ve been trying to resume my binge watching of The Tribe, whose very premise is about kids and teenagers trying to rebuild their lives and the world around them after surviving a viral apocalypse that has killed off everyone over the age of 18. I’m about halfway through series 4 right now (of five). I also have all three sequel novels in my e-reader, ready to read once I finish watching the series. One of the show’s stars, Meryl Cassie (who played Ebony, a character who I like to think of as this show’s version of Professor Snape), has been getting a lot of shoutouts from fans on Instagram lately due to the pandemic, and she’s been incredibly gracious about it. Her Stories are always interesting to follow along with.
  • And most importantly, I’ve been trying to face this with a sense of humor, however dark it may be. Perhaps we could all use some laughter in these trying times…otherwise, the whole world will be miserable.

I don’t know what my birthday will hold in store for me, but I hope to come out of this whole situation in one piece. I leave you with a song that is strangely appropriate for my birthday today, given the circumstances: “Happy Birthday” by Weird Al Yankovic.

New Year, New Crap.

Oh my, it’s been a while since my last post!

First things first: the new year has started off kinda roughly. My dad brought home a cold from work and we all ended up getting it. It hit my mom especially hard and it’s been a rough couple of weeks. When she gets sick, it affects her equilibrium/sense of balance (I’m thinking because a lot of that is regulated in the inner ear and when an ear, nose, and throat infection like a cold or flu attacks, my guess is that the vestibular system in the inner ear is affected and the area of her brain that is supposed to process that is having problems due to the damage that Alzheimer’s has done). Last week she was barely able to stand (with my dad having to physically hold her up and balance her). This week she’s been able to stand a little better with assistance from my dad, but can only walk small distances with assistance. We haven’t had her try walking around the living room with assistance yet. I don’t know if she’s starting to experience another decline or if this is just connected to the cold/flu and its effects on her vestibular system. Luckily, she’s been able to hold down food and drink when we give her those. We’ve also been giving her Theraflu at least once a day as well as plenty of other fluids. Today was a little better in terms of her mood. We had her sitting in the La-Z-Boy and she was in a good mood and stayed awake most of the day. My dad had gotten some potato salad this morning (we had run out of pads that we use to line her seating areas because she can’t really walk to the bathroom right now; we’ve been standing her up in the living room and cleaning her on-site a couple of times a day…he went to the store to pick those up and he also got some sub sandwiches, potato salad, and a cake), so I decided to try and feed her a bowl of potato salad when she wasn’t wanting to eat the bread from her sandwich. She ate the whole bowl of potato salad (it was pretty good, too: it’s got a mustard based dressing with sweet pickle relish and hard boiled egg in it). I could tell from the look on her face that she loved it. I think we’ve finally got a system going of where we have her sitting and resting (chair during the day, laying on the couch at night with a footrest up to support her feet), and it’s just touch and go at the moment.

As for me, this cold has been almost entirely in my throat. I actually lost my voice for part of last week. I knew things were starting to go south when I was watching WWE Monday Night RAW last week and I couldn’t say “Whoo!” during Charlotte Flair’s entrance (her dad is the legendary Ric Flair and his catchphrase “Whoo!” has crossed over into her career, so I like to shout it when she makes her entrance; it’s also traditional for fans to shout the phrase when a wrestler performs a knife-edge chop, which was a signature move of Ric Flair’s where the attacker basically slaps their opponent on the chest with the back edge of their hand, on an opponent). The following morning my voice was completely gone. It took about two days for the majority of my speaking voice to come back. I can now speak just fine, but my throat still seems to have phlegm in it and the coughing keeps irritating it. I’ve been trying to keep it at bay by drinking plenty of water and letting an occasional cough drop dissolve in my mouth.

Okay, enough about the crap that’s been affecting us.

Christmas was uneventful for us, although our neighbors got into a fight with someone on Christmas morning. The same neighbor ended up bringing over dinner for us, just because. We ended up having turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, and corn that day and he brought over dessert a little later (what seemed to be a brownie or chocolate cake topped with whipped cream and chocolate and toffee crumbles). I posted about my presents over on Instagram, but I’ll give a recap here of what I ended up getting (most of these were from my dad):

  • A Galileo thermometer and barometer set (the thermometer works via a principle described by Galileo where a set of weights indicating different temperatures floating in a sealed glass tube filled with water rises and falls as the density of the water changes with the temperature; the barometer uses colored water and rises and falls within a spout with changes in atmospheric pressure)
  • A couple of pairs of Sushi Socks (socks that look like pieces or rolls of sushi when rolled up)
  • A vegetable peeler shaped like an orange monkey whose arms are held up and holding the peeler blade
  • Two coffee mugs: one with the Wonder Woman logo, the other featuring a picture of the late painter and TV personality Bob Ross and one of his most famous quotes (“We don’t make mistakes. We have happy accidents.”) and when hot liquid (like coffee or water) is poured into it, a landscape painting like one he would have painted appears in the background.
  • A whole bunch of yarn lovingly sent to me by my best friend and her mom from up in Georgia. I still haven’t quite figured out what to do with all of it yet. The sickness we’ve all been dealing with has kinda knocked me out of crafting for the last few weeks. Luckily, I was sent several skeins in the perfect shade of Hufflepuff gold, so I can imagine some sort of Hufflepuff-themed scarf or shawl may be on the horizon, once I can get a decent amount of black yarn to go with it. (In case you didn’t see it in my Instagram bio, my Hogwarts house according to Wizarding World is Hufflepuff.)

A few days after Christmas, I also got to see my brother and my nieces (my sister-in-law got him an offset smoker as a Christmas gift and we held onto it while they and the girls and my nephew — her sister’s son — spent Christmas on vacation in North Carolina, so he came by to visit us and pick up his present). R. is definitely a threenager (a three year old with the mood and broodiness of a teenager), and The Bambina was all sorts of squirrelly. I even got to hold her for a little bit. She was moving and twirling around in my arms, so I just kept turning her as she kept moving. (She has a walker at home and basically zooms around the house like a human Roomba when she’s in it. She’s got a lot of energy.)

We got Disney+ last month, and one of the first things I started watching on there was The Mandalorian. It’s so good, and not just because of Baby Yoda (although Baby Yoda is pretty awesome). I have not seen The Rise of Skywalker yet, so please don’t spoil me on it! We don’t really do the whole “going to the movie theater” thing, so we’re waiting for it to become available for streaming (which, based on the past movies, will likely be sometime in March), and then we’ll likely end up getting it on Vudu.

Finally, an update on my reading. I haven’t added any physical books to my collection since my last post (although I am waiting for Children of Virtue and Vengeance, the sequel to Children of Blood and Bone, to show up at my local Walmart, even though it was released last month). I finished Children of Blood and Bone a couple of days after Christmas and started The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’m a little under 100 pages into that one, but it’s starting to pick up for me. As for The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, I’ve decided to take a break from that one and start another ebook that I just recently obtained: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, which was the last book she published in her lifetime (released a little over a month before her December 2016 death). And by “recently obtained”, I mean I got it on sale this morning because I had enough credit left over from my last gift card to get it for $1.99…it had been jumping out at me for a couple of days. I figured I’d have a little fun, and Carrie seemed like such an interesting person to be around in her lifetime (and even had a sense of humor in death, as she apparently requested to have her ashes placed in an urn shaped like an antidepressant pill), so why not?

Also added to the ebook collection, a couple of…😱…sci-fi novels! Specifically: Dune by Frank Herbert (which I’d been getting recommendations from everywhere to read it) and is only the fifth ebook I’ve spent full price on (nearly $10, but I think it was worth every penny), the other four being the three Tribe novels and Slaughterhouse-Five; and Foundation by Isaac Asimov (which was on sale for about $3). I’ve never read his novels, but I am familiar with I, Robot and have seen the movie Bicentennial Man (based on a couple of different works by Asimov) multiple times.

That was a lot to fit into one post! I hope you readers are all doing well.

Who Says I Can’t Finish a UFO?

It was well over a year ago when I started Rock Me on the Bias, which was chronicled in the post Motivation Lost and Found, but I finally finished it a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t get a chance to give it a proper photo shoot, though, because of Thanksgiving week and life happening.

Well, it is finally a finished project…no longer a UFO (which means “UnFinished Object” in yarn arts slang).

Here is the finished version of Rock Me on the Bias!

Project: Rock Me on the Bias

Pattern: None used; this was knit corner to corner, casting on 3 stitches and increasing by two stitches on every right side row (working each color until it ran out or I was satisfied with the width of the stripe, then I’d work six rows in white in pattern) until the edge was my desired length. Then I worked six center rows in white with no increasing or decreasing. Then I attached the next color and started decreasing by two stitches on every right side row (adding white stripes when another skein of color would run out) until three stitches remained. I then bound off those stitches and wove in the ends.

Yarn: Red Heart Super Saver in various colors and Soft White

Needles: U.S. #10 1/2 circular needles, 29 inch cable.

What was not seen in those outdoor shots:

  1. We’d just had a cold front come through and the outside temperature was around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (kinda chilly for Florida standards), and it ended up dipping into the upper 30s. It was kinda windy, too.
  2. Our neighbor was having their septic tank pumped. It was pretty noisy.
  3. It smelled like exactly what you’d expect a septic tank being pumped to smell like.

I also finally got to meet my youngest niece, The Bambina, three weeks ago (she is 9 months old as of yesterday). My brother and sister-in-law were supposed to take a short trip to Colorado (without the girls) early last month, but then everybody got sick just days before the trip, so they stayed home. My sister-in-law, A., decided she needed some alone time to herself, so she sent my brother and the girls out of the house and they ended up visiting us. I immediately gave the Bambina Baby Blanket to my brother as soon as they arrived, and they spent about two and a half hours with us catching up and R. eating what was left of our Halloween chocolate. Both R. and The Bambina are very happy girls, with The Bambina being especially cheerful for the most part. In the three years since he became a dad for the first time, my brother has become a great one so far. Being a dad suits him and he’s a natural at it. I wish I could say the same about my own maternal instincts. R. and Bambina seem to get along very well and R. loves being in the Big Sister role. Makes me think back to my childhood, when I was also the Big Sister. J. and I didn’t get along very well as kids, and we argued all the way into our teens. These days we get along very well, and I think that’s due to both maturity and the fact we don’t live under the same roof anymore.

The latest in Books for me: a few weeks ago I got The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys, a historical fiction novel set in 1950s Madrid, during the regime of dictator Francisco Franco. It will be read after I finish The Testaments in my queue. I also redeemed another gift card and got the latest sequel novel from The Tribe, The Tribe: (R)Evolution; a collection of John Steinbeck’s short novels; and The Days of the French Revolution by Christopher Hibbert (which is a narrative history of the French Revolution) for my ebook collection. I finished The Color Purple and am now reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, my first nonfiction read in over a year.

Finally, we’ve decided it is time to bid farewell to our Ninja Coffee Bar after a year and a half. It wasn’t that it made bad coffee, it’s all due to faulty electronics that have frankly made brewing a pot of coffee more difficult than it should be. This particular model has a bad clean sensor that comes on after just a couple of brews following a cleaning cycle; we can delay cleaning it by a week or so but inevitably the brewing cycle will turn off mid-brew, and it will even sometimes stop a clean cycle while trying to clean it. I know Florida water is hard to begin with, but we were cleaning this thing pretty regularly and the gadgetry still decided to turn on us. Yesterday morning my dad ordered a new brewer that has a self-filling reservoir, meaning that it hooks up to the same water line that one hooks up to their refrigerator in order to fill and run their ice maker and water dispenser. One problem: we haven’t had a water line in our refrigerator for a few years because our old water line wore out and started leaking and had to be removed. We’ve had the parts to replace it for a while, but for one reason or another my dad hasn’t gotten around to it. Since the new brewer will require him to fix the water line anyway, he’s essentially gonna be tackling two jobs at once. I’ll keep you updated on how the new coffee maker turns out.

Easing My Way In

Well, it’s been a little while since my last post…again. I promise you, I have not dropped off the face of the earth, and I have been busy.

Neapolitan is coming along fine, I’m already onto the next round of brown rectangles. I also started a crocheted shawl, a pattern called the Shell Wave Shawl by a Dutch designer named Wilma Westenberg who has quite the following on Instagram. Her patterns (including the one I’ve linked to) are free through her website, but ad-free PDF versions are also available for purchase through her Ravelry store if you’d like to support her. (I would if I was in the position to be able to, but since I can’t personally, I figured I’d spread the word to others who can if they’d like.) This particular project uses Lion Brand Mandala Baby (a very light worsted/DK self-striping acrylic, almost sport weight) and a US size J hook (but you could use a heavier yarn with a hook a couple of sizes larger than recommended to produce a nice drape). I don’t know what it is about crocheting shawls in particular, but it does just enough to satisfy my crocheting urge, even though I prefer to knit everything else. It’s coming along well (with maybe just a repeat or two left), and I hope to be able to share pictures of the finished shawl soon!

The biggest change lately is that I’ve finally joined the world of smartphones. (For those not in the know, I’ve been writing my blog through tablets, first with an ancient third-hand Toshiba with a ridiculously outdated Android operating system, and then when the battery on that one finally crapped out, my dad ended up getting me an iPad to replace it, which I still have and use. I love it and have had almost no problems with it, other than the occasional app crash. I draft and publish my posts using the WordPress app.) The phone itself is a hand-me-down, an iPhone 5 that used to be my dad’s (he decided to upgrade to the newest model available, an iPhone 11 Max Pro…and it is huuuuuuuuuugggggggggggeeeeeeeeee). Technically, my iPhone is obsolete when it comes to what kind of operating system it will run (it will not be able to upgrade past iOS 12, with the exception of security patches and stuff like that), but it is functional and will make and receive calls, send and receive texts, and run apps compatible with anything higher than iOS 10.

Speaking of apps, the reason why he decided to let me have the phone in the first place: a little app called Uber. My mom’s condition makes it very tricky for her to want to get into the Jeep, and sometimes she gets overstimulated from getting dressed or things like that, and it takes time for us to all get into the Jeep, time that we may not necessarily have. I also don’t get much of any opportunities to go out and just get away from the situation at home for a little while other than getting groceries. So, my dad decided to set me up with an Uber account (in my name but billed to my dad) so that I can get opportunities to leave the house without having to worry about my mom’s mood or state of mind getting in the way of me being able to go (as long as my dad is there with her). I’ve so far only used it to go grocery shopping, but I’m thinking of getting groceries again a little later this week (on one of my dad’s days off) and then the next day going to the local library to get a new card and check out their book sale (which this particular one holds every three months or so). My county’s library system allows patrons to check out books electronically (hence why I’m looking to get a new card), and I’m hoping to be able to try that out with some nonfiction books that I’ve been interested in reading. I can always take a break from whatever ebooks I own that I’m reading so I can read an ebook I’ve checked out from the library.

I was a little nervous about taking an Uber for the first time, as I hadn’t ridden in anything resembling a taxi since I was a child and my grandmother (who didn’t drive, surprise surprise) and I needed to get home from a grocery store. So, she called a cab and we rode home in that. She died 15 years ago, but she probably would have loved Uber if she were around to see it. The drivers there and back were both very nice, and the driver back was very accommodating about me getting my groceries into the trunk (there’s a field in the app where you can provide any extra information that you need to let the driver know about the trip if needed), which my dad and I were able to unload when I got home. The cars rode smoothly, and I was able to tip the drivers pretty easily. I’m easing my way in for now, but I’m happy that there are opportunities opening up for me. Maybe not necessarily shopping, but knowing I could go to a park or somewhere I could just walk around for a while to clear my mind and return home feeling a bit more refreshed gives me a good feeling. (I also have a friend who lives in the general area who also takes Ubers when he can afford it. He’s already invited me to join him for lunch when the opportunity arises. Before you jump to any conclusions, this guy is squarely in the Friend Zone.) I know I should be more independent at my age, but given the circumstances I’m glad things are opening up a bit.

With the phone also came the opportunity to finally join Twitter. I am now on Twitter as @snwlssknttr (that’s “snowlessknitter” disemvoweled) and I have a handful of tweets on there already. I’ll be updating the page on here where my other public social media handles are listed. Feel free to give me a follow on there if you like. I have already tweeted about the weather, football, Charlie Brown, and Keanu Reeves, and I have no clue what the Twitter world holds in store for me. I have a lot of interest in sharing my opinions, but no desire to start or join in flame wars. I like to think of myself as a preferably drama-free poster/commenter.

Finally, on the books front, I am still currently reading Children of Blood and Bone as my physical read (over 100 pages in, although some days I haven’t had the energy to read) and The Color Purple as my ebook read. Great thing about having a smartphone (especially an iPhone): since both of my devices are on the same ID, I can switch back and forth between devices when I’m reading in the Apple Books app. This is especially useful if I have to…um…use the 🚽. (Come on…just about everybody reads on the toilet! It’s not exclusive to men only!) The phone is not quite as big as a tablet and I can just set it off to the side when needed. The tablet needed extra steps. I also got a copy of The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (which is the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale) when I went to the grocery store, and I plan on reading both of those back to back once I finish Children of Blood and Bone. (The sequel to that one, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, is supposed to come out in December, if I remember correctly.) Children of Blood and Bone has been a fun read, though, when I’ve had the energy to do it.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. We’ll see if my venture into Uber takes me anywhere interesting.

Looking for the Fountainhead

I initially started drafting this post solely as a review of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, with the full intention of taking my time to read the next physical book in my reading list, Looking for Alaska by John Green before reviewing that book. But then something incredible happened: I ended up finishing Alaska in a matter of days. Crazy how I follow up a book that took me months to read with one that took me just three days of reading to finish (four days total, I took that Sunday off). So this post will instead compare and contrast my reading experiences with both books.

First, a little bit about each book.

The Fountainhead

It took me four and a half months and several fits and starts, but last month I finally managed to finish The Fountainhead. This was the second time I’ve read or studied an Ayn Rand work, the first being when my freshman English honors class studied Anthem, although frankly I don’t remember much about reading it back then, as was the case with a lot of books I remember studying for high school English. I remember touching upon how my experience with high school English classes affected my love of reading, in that it turned me off from reading books for several years into my twenties, and it wasn’t until my late twenties that I started reading books again on a somewhat regular basis. (If you want to read about it, check out this post from 2017.) If I get the opportunity, though, I am considering revisiting Anthem, which is considerably shorter than The Fountainhead, and even possibly reading Atlas Shrugged, which is much longer. I figure, I might as well complete the Ayn Rand Trifecta.

So, first of all, what is The Fountainhead all about? And why is it called The Fountainhead anyway if there’s no mention whatsoever of anything to do with a fountain? First of all, the book’s title actually refers to the book’s protagonist, Howard Roark, and his role as the “source” (or “fountainhead”) of the ideas that Rand is trying to put forward in her novel. It’s important to note that Ayn Rand thought of herself as a philosopher more than anything else, and her books were her way of perpetuating her ideas, most specifically a philosophy called “Objectivism”, which basically says (among a bunch of other things) that the individual is superior to the collective and that one’s purpose in life is to pursue their own happiness, to which she felt laissez-faire capitalism was the best way to achieve that goal. (It is worth noting that Rand was born and raised in pre-Revolutionary Russia and her middle class family was greatly affected by the Revolution, at times nearly starving, and she was almost forced out of her university studies because of her family’s status as part of the bourgeoisie, so she saw the effects of communist rule firsthand before immigrating to the United States in the 1920s.) While much of Ayn Rand’s thinking and writing is heavily associated with the political (which was always a part of her personality, even going so far as to engage in political debates with her friend Olga Nabokova, sister of writer Vladimir Nabokov, at the age of ten), The Fountainhead is actually one of Rand’s least political works. It sows the seeds of what would become her philosophy of objectivism, but these ideas wouldn’t be fully expanded upon until the publication of her other most famous novel, Atlas Shrugged.

The Fountainhead‘s plot spans nearly two decades, beginning with a 22-year-old Howard Roark being expelled from architectural school the same day his rival, Peter Keating, graduates with top honors…all because Howard dared to buck years, maybe even centuries of architectural tradition that claimed that Classical architecture 🏛 should be front and center of any building designed by any self-respecting architect. I could summarize the entire plot here, but it is so long and complex that it would fill up a ton of space here, and I mainly just want to talk about my experience reading it. This YouTube video actually does a really good job of summarizing the plot and is worth the view if you don’t want to read the book yourself.

Looking for Alaska

Unlike Ayn Rand, I had never read any of John Green’s books before tackling this one. I had known that a couple of his books were made into movies, but most of my knowledge of him came from what I had seen of him in his and his brother Hank’s Crash Course videos on YouTube. I later found out that the Green brothers had grown up in Florida, which was pretty cool. I have seen every single episode of Crash Course Literature released so far, and I must say that there are quite a few books John has covered on there that have made me go, “I so wanna read that now” (like Slaughterhouse-Five and One Hundred Years of Solitude, both of which have been added to my Book Bucket List).

Looking for Alaska tells the story from the point of view of a 16-year-old named Miles Halter (based on John Green himself at that same age) who transfers from a public high school in Florida to a private boarding school in Alabama (again, John Green did something very similar at that age). He meets a motley crew of people there that become his friends (including the title girl, Alaska Young), and they end up in a bunch of misadventures until a tragic accident halfway through the school year changes everything, leaving Miles (also known by his nickname, “Pudge”, given ironically because of his tall, skinny build) to question a lot of things spiritually and philosophically and wondering why what had happened, happened. There are no traditional chapters, but the book is divided into “___ days before” and “__ days after”, beginning 136 days before the accident, and ending 136 days after.

My Reading Experiences

So what can I say about my experience reading The Fountainhead? Well, it wasn’t an easy effort for sure. This novel’s genre is best defined as “philosophical fiction”. Many of the characters speak in very philosophical or intellectual terms and mannerisms (especially Howard Roark, Dominique Francon, and Ellsworth Toohey) and do not engage much in casual conversation. Conversations in this novel have a purpose and Ayn Rand does not waste time in getting her ideas across through her characters. (Think sort of like Ernest Hemingway, but writing a philosophical treatise instead of about masculine adventures.) While this novel is not quite as political in nature as her later work, Atlas Shrugged, there are still seeds of its relevance in political circles, especially in the book’s final part, titled “Howard Roark”. (Each part is titled after the central figure in that part’s plot: “Peter Keating”, “Ellsworth Toohey”, “Gail Wynand”, and “Howard Roark”.) Roark’s speech in his criminal trial after he blows up a housing project he had designed for Keating and whose design had been altered against Roark’s wishes lays the groundwork for the Objectivism philosophy that would be explored more in-depth in Atlas Shrugged (which, again, I have not read, but I am aware of its reputation and have some basic knowledge of the novel and its plot). The reading experience itself was a bit on the difficult side and often came in fits and starts. It was sometimes a test of patience that eventually paid off once I got to the final part of the book, but I did occasionally go weeks without reading it. Starting War and Peace at the start of 2019 was one reason, but at times the narrative seemed to progress so slowly that I had to back off from it for a little while. The third part, “Gail Wynand”, was the shortest part of the book, but it strangely took me the longest to read. And Wynand also seemed to be the most interesting character in the book because he came from such humble roots and probably understood Roark’s struggles the best out of any of them, but he ends up betraying Roark by allowing himself to bow to Roark’s enemies in the media (including Ellsworth Toohey), although Wynand does get some slight revenge on Toohey at the end. Rand’s characters are written very much in black and white terms of who they are and what they stand for. Nobody (save for maybe Wynand before he turns on Roark) has a moral gray area, they’re either treated as good (Roark, Dominique) or evil (Toohey). At times, War and Peace seemed more interesting and The Fountainhead ended up falling to the wayside, but earlier in March I made a determination to myself to finish it, which I eventually did.

In contrast, Looking for Alaska was a much smoother read and the conversations between characters are much more realistic and along the lines of what you’d expect from mischievous, somewhat geeky teenagers. Where Ayn Rand tries to expand upon ideas, John Green makes the reader invest themselves intellectually and emotionally into this coming-of-age story. He writes with an intention for the reader to empathize with and relate to his characters. He doesn’t waste much time on backstory or ideas and instead focuses on moving his story’s plot along. Green’s writing style is very much narrative, while Rand’s writing style attempts to give personification to ideas, almost like a sociopolitical Aesop’s fable, except she’s pointing us toward a philosophical concept rather than a moral.

The Takeaway

All in all, you couldn’t come across two more different styles of writing when it comes to comparing John Green and Ayn Rand. Then again, the two writers have two completely different motivations for why and how they write.

Ayn Rand saw her writing as a way of getting her personal ideas across to a more mainstream audience; she was a woman of ideas and saw her fiction writing as a way to personify those ideas and put them into action. Personally, I find her ideas too idealistic to ever work in the real world the way she intended them to (as hard as those politicians she influenced try to put them into action like they have for the last three or four decades). But she was a woman who believed strongly in what she believed in and made it her life’s work to spread her gospel as far and wide as possible (ironically, given the religious language I just used, Ayn Rand was a very staunch atheist and made her characters in The Fountainhead atheists as well; I have a feeling if she knew how much the politicians she inspired had completely kowtowed to the religious lobby in these last few decades, she’d absolutely be spinning in her grave).

John Green, on the other hand, is a storyteller. The overall purpose of his writing in Looking for Alaska is to tell a story, in this case how meeting and tragically losing a person emotionally, philosophically, and spiritually affects the character who narrates it, Miles Halter. He does not seek to put forth an idea or a philosophical stance, but rather explore the personal growth of a character or characters. The Fountainhead is narrative as well, exploring the growth of Howard Roark, but the story is seemingly secondary to Roark actually attaining his goal of attaining complete and total freedom as an architect (although the plot’s points contribute to his character growth). Roark’s attaining his goal is essentially a personification of Rand’s philosophy, her ideas put into action.

It took me about a month of on-and-off writing to come up with this post, as at times I had a difficult time figuring out how to translate my thoughts into something writable. But I think I’ve dived as thoroughly into these books as I can, and I hope you (the reader) at least find all of this interesting.

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells…

That was a classic parodic take on “Jingle Bells”, which has been around since at least my childhood, which I remember as going:

🎶 Jingle bells, Batman smells

Robin laid an egg…

Batmobile lost its wheel

And Joker’s dancing ballet…hey! 🎶

(Some versions use “Joker ran away” as well.)

Today is what most people would call “Boxing Day”, but as that’s not really a thing here in the United States, we would call today “Just Another Wednesday”. No major shopping or anything like that, we just go on with our day and get ready for New Year’s Eve.

So, how was my Christmas? Not very eventful. I didn’t get anything in the way of presents or spending money, but I’m not bitter or upset at all. My dad is the primary “giver” in the family, and I hardly ever ask him for anything and even when I went on my last yarn run, I chose to spend my own pocket cash instead of using part of the grocery money for it (even though he said he wouldn’t have been bothered by it if I did). I never expect anything anymore and I don’t get my hopes up, so I never get disappointed, just pleasantly surprised if I do get something. Sure, it would be nice to be in a position to exchange gifts every year, but if all I have to offer is my kindness and a good meal some years, then I’m okay with that.

So that’s what I gave: kindness and a good meal. I decided to make a lasagna for Christmas this year, as sort of a nod to my late maternal grandmother, who we affectionately referred to as “Nanny”. (Her parents were from Sicily, and she grew up speaking Italian as a child; I believe her nickname as a grandmother may have come from the Italian word for “grandmother”: nonna. Her ex-husband, my grandfather, we called “Grandpa”; he was of Irish descent and as I previously mentioned was in the Coast Guard and died of Alzheimer’s in September 2014 at age 85, a decade and two months to the day after Nanny. They had been divorced for over 30 years at the time of Nanny’s death, but they remained on friendly terms for the rest of her life and neither ever remarried.) Nanny was an avid cook, and I like to think I learned my own cooking skills from her. She cooked all sorts of things, but she especially enjoyed cooking her own pasta sauces and making spaghetti. Around Christmas, though, she’d make lasagna for the entire family to eat (on top of that, did I mention she was also diabetic?), and it was always a treat when she’d make it. I’ve made my own tweaks to her recipe over the years, even as I approach the age where I will have lived just as long without her as I did with her (she died of cancer when I was 17, just a month before I started my senior year of high school). I like using crushed tomatoes instead of regular canned tomato sauce and oven-ready sheets of lasagna noodles instead of boiling them (I would have to constantly be spraying oil on them if I had to cook them because they stick together). It ended up coming out pretty nicely, with the exception that I didn’t distribute the cheeses properly, and so the top layer of the lasagna was considerably lacking in the cheese department. The good news is that I have enough boxes of oven ready lasagna in the pantry to make another lasagna in the near future.

I spent most of my Christmas Day doing laundry and watching TV with my mom. I’ve been watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus on Netflix, and it’s been many years since I’ve watched the series from beginning to end. I also started trying to watch Love Actually as well (managed about an hour; I have just a week before it leaves Netflix again). Tonight, as Survivor is currently in its offseason (the new season premieres in February), I will likely try finishing up Series 2 of The Tribe and maybe starting Series 3 (I only have 4 half-hour episodes left in Series 2).

The Bambina baby blanket is going well. I’ve finished 3 full rows of squares. Those 36 squares, plus the other 9 squares making up the right-hand side of the blanket brings me to 45 total squares out of 144. I have about 1/3 of my total number of squares finished, and it’s not even New Year’s Eve yet! I’m hoping to get most of the fourth row of squares in this weekend (I’ve been averaging 2-3 squares a day during days that my dad has off from work, and I usually try to get at least one square in on days that my dad does work and I only have the mornings available to myself).

Something else I haven’t mentioned here yet: the last time I went on a yarn run, I decided to look in the Walmart books section to see if there were any interesting books worth buying or if something on my “Want to Read” list was available. The section had considerably shrunk to make room for Christmas sale items, but I did manage to find a copy of a book from my “Want to Read” list to add to my collection.

So, I ended up buying The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I hadn’t heard of this book until this year, but the synopsis sounded interesting to me. It’s been marked as “Want to Read” in my Goodreads list since April. If I hadn’t seen this one, I probably would’ve gotten Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. I’ve heard a lot of good reviews about The Book Thief, and while it is a while off on my reading queue, I’m glad I was able to add it to the collection. Considering that this is right after All the Light We Cannot See, that means I’ll be reading two novels set during World War II back-to-back! As for The Fountainhead, I am only at around the halfway point of the novel, but I’m gonna try to read some more tonight right after posting this.

Anyway, I hope you all have had a happy, fun, and safe holiday season! We’re less than a week away from 2019: two months away from hopefully welcoming my second niece and three months away from both my 32nd birthday and the start of my third year writing this blog. I hope there are good things ahead in 2019 for all of us. Unless something major pops up between now and next Monday, I expect this to be my last post of 2018. And from me and my Bitmoji to all of you…