Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Nook - Life of Pi

Life of Pi written by Yann Martel.

Wow!  I just finished reading this book and it is amazing.  I loved it!  It's smart, profound, witty, surprising.  It's the kind of book you think about long after you've set it down.  It's the kind of book that makes you want to re-read it immediately.  It's the kind of book that turns your reading experience upside down.  It's the kind of book that is open to many interpretations.  It's the kind of book that makes you grateful for life & what you may have in life.  It's the kind of book that makes you question everything.'s that good.

Please don't read anything about this book, if you are unfamiliar with it.  I will try to reveal nothing in my write up.  I think this one is best approached as a clean slate.  Allow yourself to be placed on the journey by the author.  The character's surprises will be your surprises.  His grief, hardships, joy and experiences will be yours, too.

I will tell you as much as is written on the back cover.  Pi Patel is a 16 year old boy who is the only survivor of a cargo ship sinking in the Pacific Ocean.  He is on a lifeboat with a 450 pound Bengal tiger (his family owned a zoo in Ponticherry, India and were in the process of moving to Canada when the ship sank).  That's all the information about the story I will give!

But I will tell you that Pi is an incredible narrator.  He is genuine, warm and truthful.  He is humble.  His ordeal at sea is an engrossing read and you will feel that you are right there with him.  I read my book on CD and the reader is also excellent.  When Pi says he can't go on talking about another character, it's too hard for him, the narrator on the CD audibly tears up.  I'm sure reading the paper version of the book is very satisfying, but I believe that listening to it on CD really enhanced the overall experience for me.  Pi is right there in the room with you - I had to set my knitting down on several occasions to give him my full attention.

One thing I would like to mention is that there are a couple of disturbing scenes.  So if you've got little ones, don't listen to the book on CD around them!  As I knew nothing about the book going in, I was caught off guard by these scenes, but they are integral to the story.

What I've written here really doesn't do the novel justice.  In fact, I've painted a picture of doom and gloom.  But it's really the opposite - Pi is such a personable character who has a wonderful way of looking and things and describing things, you can't help but connect with him.  To paraphrase one scene, he describes the sharks that regularly visit his raft as curmudgeonly old friends who wouldn't admit they liked him even though they always came around to visit.  It's a real testament to Yann Martel's talent as a writer that I love Pi so much - he is truly alive, as if he's really the one telling the story.  Martel is out of the scene all together.

There is one more thing I want to add & I hesitate to do so because it is really my only critique of the novel: it starts out slow.  I have had my copy of the book from the library for 2 or 3 months now because I just couldn't get into the story.  Give it time & stick with it.  The beginning chapters are quite mundane (even though we are getting to know Pi and his life and views) but perhaps that's the point: just when things seem pretty boring in life, a tragic event can happen to turn our world upside down.  And what we wouldn't give to be back in our normal houses and our normal lives, when we are lost at sea.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Earth Hour

This evening, the Bachsters and I participated in Earth Hour, where you turn off all your lights for one hour to "take a stand against global climate change."  We actually did it a couple of years back too & when I logged on to our computer this morning and saw that the annual event was tonight, well, we just had to participate!

We did ours a little early since I didn't want to put the kids to bed by candlelight.  We lit tons of candles (with our creme brulee torch!) and sat by the candles & played & talked.  It was really fun!

We also had fun-with-low-light-photography.....I told the Bachsters to move around & I would try to take a "ghost" shot.  This picture was the girls' favorite - they couldn't stop laughing when they saw it.  Rainbow Heads is what they called it - quite descriptive!

It's really amazing how one room lit only by candlelight brings everyone together in a dark house.  And once everything is turned off (TVs, computers, phones...) we come together as a family & just enjoy each other's company.  Along with the environmental aspects of it, Earth Hour should be an every day occurrence just for the fact that it makes for good family fun!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Search for salamanders

Last weekend, I went to a program at Stratford Ecological Center on vernal pools.  Vernal pools are ponds that form in late Winter/early Spring from all the rainwater, snow melt & groundwater there is this time of year.  They hold a wide variety of life & are very important habitats of amphibians such as frogs and salamanders.  Since there are no fish, these creatures do quite well in the vernal pools.  The program was organized by the Ohio Environmental Council, a really great organization that advocates for Ohio's environment.  Thank you, OEC!

I went to this program hoping to learn more about salamanders.  I really don't know much about them & I have never seen one in the wild.  They are very shy, elusive critters that are nocturnal.  Many types of salamanders only come out of their burrowing location in the Spring to mate.  The night before the program was a big "migration" night for the salamanders.  Traps were set  that night & so we had a big bucket full of salamanders to greet us as we entered the meeting room:

It's hard to tell how many there were in the container, 40 or so maybe?  They were constantly moving around & trying to climb up the sides, crawling all over each other.  These are the spotted salamander, one of two types found at Stratford (the other being the small-mouthed salamander).

We learned all about the amphibians, invertebrates & plants that call vernal pools their home.  The highlight of the day was a trip out to one of Stratford's vernal pools.  Well before the group reached the vernal pool, you could hear the frogs!  A loud chorus of spring peepers & wood frogs drowned out all the other sounds of nature.  At the pond, sometimes I couldn't hear our guide because the frogs were being so loud!  I didn't see any of the frogs, but another group at the vernal pool had more luck:

Look closely, you'll see two of them!  It's amazing that something so tiny can make such a big noise (I recall my DH & I saying the same thing about our Bachsters when they were newborns)!

Our guide was able to catch a salamander that was hiding at the bottom of the vernal pool.  He put it on a log so that we could all get a better look at it:

Unfortunately, I had the wrong lens for the job.  But it was exciting to see a salamander in its natural surroundings.  I learned so much about these little creatures & their habitats that day.  Thanks OEC & Stratford!  If you're ever in the Delaware, Ohio area, check out Stratford - they have lots of neat programs for families.  I hope to go back with the Bachsters later this season, or maybe in the summer.  Maybe we'll get lucky & even spot a salamander!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Nook - A Knitter's Home Companion

A Knitter's Home Companion: A Heartwarming Collection of Stories, Patterns and Recipes by Michelle Edwards is a little gem of a book.  Each chapter (Motherhood, Home, Community, Legacy) has personal stories from the author that are knitting related.  In Motherhood, one of the stories is how she purchased yarn on her honeymoon and saved it for just the right project, a baby blanket for her first child.  In Home, one of the chapters deals with her and her husband's favorite chairs and how his needed mending.  In Community, she tells the story of her challenge to figure out how a slipper from India was knit and how her knitting group helped.  In Legacy, she tells us a story of how she purchased knit items from a vintage shop and the connection she felt with the original knitter.  These are but a handful of the stories in the book, and each one of them is a sweet tale that lets us get to know the author a bit more, as well as giving us some insights into why we knit and how knitting affects those around us.

Interspersed among the stories are quotes (love that), recipes and knitting patterns.  Sometimes, the recipes and patterns directly relate to one of the stories, sometimes they are just marginally related.  But they are all easy to execute projects and recipes with their own little stories behind them.  I love the updated ripple afghan & I think the lacy washcloths would make a nice gift.  I really liked reading the story about the Indian slippers and then finding the pattern on the next page.  Aunt Charlotte's jam sounds really yummy & very easy.  The spinach & sun-dried tomato quiche sounds awesome.

There are also book recommendations that the author gives, as well as her own little illustrations here & there.  Being a real book lover myself, I loved reading her recommendations & there are one or two that I might seek out next time I'm at the library. (Hint, hint, Book Nook readers.....I love book recommendations.  Bring 'em on.....please!)

Gosh, have I missed anything?  There's really a lot in this little book!  Stories, illustrations, recipes, patterns, book recommendations, quotes - all in the celebration of knitting.  Really, what's not to love?


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Signs of Spring

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley, "The Sensitive Plant"
Hope you're having a nice Spring-like day!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Nook - Charlotte's Web

Lately, our oldest DD, who is 7, has been complaining about our book selections.  She seems to be getting at that stage where she is outgrowing picture books.  So I've been getting her lots of beginning chapter books at the library, but I also thought it would be fun to read the Bachsters some lengthier children's novels as well.  We started with this week's Book Nook, a children's classic that I remember reading when I was a kid.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White is the story of a "Spring" pig named Wilbur who is befriended by a gray spider named Charlotte.  Wilbur learns from the other animals in the barn that he is going to be killed at Christmastime.  Charlotte assures Wilbur that she will come up with a plan to prevent this.  What she comes up with is "some" great idea!

I was a little worried to read this book to them because I thought the parts about the potential killing would be upsetting.  But none of the Bachsters seemed at all disturbed by it.  They really enjoyed the story and having me as their personal audiobook!  Every night at bedtime, they would beg me to read just one more chapter, pleeeeeeaaaase!  Music to this book-loving-Mama's ears!

Besides Wilbur and Charlotte, there are lots of other interesting characters in the story: Fern, Wilbur's original caretaker; Avery, Fern's overzealous brother; the geese, who repeat their words over and over; and Templeton, the rat who helps out, but only when he benefits as well.  The pace of the novel moves along nicely & is just right for young readers/listeners.

When asked what she liked about Charlotte's Web, my 5-year-old responded, "everything."  How's that for a recommendation!


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Another FO!

You might think that I've been really busy knitting myself all sorts of goodies with all these posts about new Finished Objects!  The truth is, I'm using very bulky yarn & needles and my scarf (from last week) & my new hat (featured below) just flew off the needles!  Seriously, the hat took 2, maybe 3, hours to do!  Love that!

Do you like it?  It's a free pattern called Really Warm Hat by designer Melissa LaBarre.  And it is really warm.  I used the same Debbie Bliss Como as my scarf, so they sort of match.   Click here for my project notes (ravelry users).

I was thrilled to have yet another snowy day just when I needed it for photoshoot purposes.  It was just meant to be, I think!

And since I've been so shy about posting pics of myself, I thought I'd get over that & post one!

I could get used to all this instant-knitting-gratification - I might just start doing all my knitting with bulky yarn & huge needles.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Book Nook - One Year Off

One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey with Our Children by David Elliot, love, love this book!  Published in 1999, David Elliot Cohen is a successful businessman (he co-published the "Day In the Life Of" series of coffee-table travel/photo books), with a wife & 3 kids in suburbia.  Around his 40th birthday, he starts to feel uneasy about his life & longs for the carefree, vagabond days of his younger years.  He proposes a radical idea to his wife: sell the house, the cars & travel the world for a year.  His wife, Devi, who also led a free-spirited life in her youth, was game, so after several months of planning, they were off!

Over the course of the year, the Cohen family visited 16 countries.  Some of their stops included Costa Rica, Paris, Rome, Ancient Olympia, Instanbul, South Africa, Mumbai (Bombay), Bangkok, Sydney, Cambodia, Hong Kong & Tokyo.  Each chapter of the book is set up like an e-mail to friends from the author & he tells the tales of their travels with great sincerity & humor.  The family experienced so many exciting cultures, viewed countless works of art, climbed hundreds of steps, ate many great meals.  There were also moments of danger, like when a hippo almost capsized their boat with the intentions of Cohen Family Annihilation.  Or getting lost in South Africa at night, when everybody they talked to said stay off the roads at night because of carjackers.  Dodging land mines in Cambodia.  All the experiences, good & bad, made for the trip of a lifetime.

The author is quick to point out that he and Devi were already experienced international travelers before they took on this adventure.  The Cohens also brought along a babysitter, Betty, who, despite almost getting deported in Turkey, stayed with them until their stay in Sydney.  So, the author & his wife got some help with the kids on the road & got a chance to sneak out & go out to eat just themselves a lot.  The family also knew a lot of people & stayed or dined with friends quite a bit.    They also stayed in Sydney for 6 months & enrolled the kids in it's really like "6 Months Off" instead of a year!  These things all added up to make the trip a little more do-able, I think.

I first read the book years ago, before our kids were born.  I loved the book & loved the idea of world travel.  But now that I re-read it after we have our own kiddos, I really appreciate the travel-with-kids aspect to it.  The Cohens' 2 oldest kids, Kara (8) & Willie (7) fought & bickered the first few weeks on the trip.  I can relate!  But, after a while, this settled down & they all seemed to enjoy the trip without the constant fighting.  The youngest, Lucas, was only 2 at the time of the trip.  One thing that wasn't addressed by the author is the thoughts & feelings of the kids after the trip.  Were Kara & Willie happy to be back in the US, or did they miss all the adventure?  Was it hard for them to readjust to their former life?  Does Lucas remember anything from the trip?  I'd also like to know about the logistics of traveling with the kids.  Did they bring all their bedtime stories with them?  When did the kids play?  Did they bring toys with them?  Was bathnight a real pain?  How did they deal with car seats?  Diapers for Lucas?  My Mom brain can't help wondering about those kinds of details!

I really love the ending to the travel story, but with a caveat.   The family found themselves in a Buddhist cave in the remote hilltops of Laos.  The author lit match after match to see the Buddha statues staring at the family & it was a moment of illumination in all senses of the word.  That experience wrapped up their travels in a very spiritual, thoughtful manner.  I do add a caveat, because after they left Laos, the Cohens traveled to Hong Kong, Japan & Hawaii before making it back to their home state of California.  These 3 stops are barely mentioned in the book & I don't know why, but that bugs me for some reason.  Perhaps because I just want to hear all the details of the trip & since I'm living vicariously here, I want want to go to Hong Kong, Japan & Hawaii, too!

This brings up a good point: I can't help but wonder where I would go if given the chance to roam the Earth for a year.  Would I choose different locations if the Bachsters were in tow?  Here's my Top 10 list of locations for the Bach Family to visit on our fictional one year journey around the world:

1.  France.  This country gets its own listing.  The Cohens sacked out in Syndey for 6 months.....I would sack out in France.  We might not ever leave!
2.  Europe.  I want to see it all: Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain.....we would spend a great deal of time in this corner of the Earth.  Can I sneak Greece in there, too?
3.  Pyramids of Egypt.....a must-see
4.  Great Wall of China.....another must-see
5.  Australia
6.  India - reading about the Cohen's adventure in India makes me want to go there to experience a culture so different from our own.
7.  South American rain forest.  I liked that the Cohens started their trip as sort of an eco-adventure.  I think it would be amazing to see & the travel dollars could help the people of the rainforest regions (so that they won't actually slash & burn it).
8.  Great Britain - England, Ireland, Wales - DH and I saw just a tiny part of England on our trip in 2001 - I want to see more!
9.  Antarctica and/or the Arctic Circle - this might seem like an unusual choice, but years from now, who knows how this area will change, with global warming upon us?  I want to see it now.
10.  USA - there are many, many areas of the US that I would love to visit but have not had a chance to do so....yet!  California, Hawaii, Alaska, New England & Yellowstone/Yosemite/Sequoia National Parks, tornadoes in Kansas!  And I want to revisit some of the places I've been to, but DH & the kids have not, like New York City & Charleston, S.C.!

Word of warning: reading this book will give you a serious case of wanderlust!

What is your Top 10 Destination Dream-List?  Do share!


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sugaring adventure

This is the time of year when those that make maple syrup are at their busiest.  For it's this time of the year that the sap starts to run from the roots to the rest of the tree in preparation for Spring.  As we go through an absurd amount of real maple syrup around here, I was curious to see sugaring done in person, hoping that maybe it would be something that I could take up to help offest our huge maple syrup bills!  I know, it's crazy, but here at the Bach Haus we love our pancakes!

So, last weekend, one of our local Columbus Metro Parks (Slate Run Historical Farm, link here) was having a program on sugaring.....and the conditions were perfect for the sap to run.  We're there!

The first thing you need to have in order to make maple syrup is the right maple tree - the sugar maple tree is the best tree for syrup because the sap is sweeter than others.  You can use other maples, but they're not as sweet, so you'll need more sap to boil down to make the syrup.  It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so having a bunch of trees is best.  Unfortunately, we only have one red maple in our yard - and that couldn't possibly keep up with our demand!

Anyway, we learned how to identify sugar maples from other maples, and took a little walk out to the sugarbush (a bunch of sugar maple trees in the same area).  We saw a tube-system set up for sap collection & also saw buckets attached to the trees.  Now I know why it's best to have all your trees in one area - because during sugaring time, you need to check your buckets daily & transport all that sap to your boiling location.

Here's Little Dude & my DH getting sap right from the tree - it tasted like sweet water:

So, the verdict is that since we have no sugarbush & unless we find a "Rent-A-Sugarbush" we'll be buying our syrup at the store as always.  But maybe someday, we'll have a nice bit of land with hopefully a great selection of mature sugar maples.

Anyway, since we were at the farm, we visited all the farm animals.  We usually don't make it our there in the Winter, so it was neat to be there at a different time of year.

All 3 Bachsters slept the entire way home.

Have you done any fun outdoor activities in these last weeks of Winter?


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A new FO (Finished Object)

Remember a couple of posts ago I hinted that I was hoping for at least one more snowfall this season?  Well, the reason for this is I was hoping for a nice snowy backdrop for my photoshoot of my new scarf!


As you can see, the weather was very cooperative!

This scarf is from the book More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson.  Check out my Book Nook selections for the book review!  Anyway, the scarf was so fast & very easy to do.  I had it done in a couple of nights.  I've been knitting for a little over 7 years now, and this is the first thing I've ever made for myself....seriously!  I have a hat in my queue that I hope to knit soon with the same yarn.  I see a potential selfish-knitter trend on the horizon!

Here's a shot of the WIP (work in progress).  I really loved working with those big fat needles & the chunky super-soft yarn.

The yarn is Como by Debbie Bliss.  The color is called air force & I think the first picture represents the color the best.  See my ravelry notes on the project here.

Super quick, fun, stylish & warm.....what more could a knitter ask for?  Well, maybe more snow!