Friday, April 29, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Royal Books Edition

Somehow I managed to completely avoid Royal wedding fever. I certainly wasn't waking up at 3am Alaska Time to watch the wedding. I highly value my 8-9 hours of sleep; I'm not sure I'd wake up at that time for my own wedding. I checked the news long enough to see a gallery of photos and the dress. Then a second time I peeked in to see the hats. (It's all about the hats.)

However I love history books, particularly those with monarcy. So here are five books as my five things that royally rock. They're a mixture of fiction and non-fiction because that is how I roll.

  1. Innocent Traitor: a novel of lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir
    (Historical Fiction) I love Alison Weir's books. She's a very esteemed British historian and one of the most popularly known. Her non-fiction works are great; I particularly recommend her biography, Eleanor of Aquitaine: a life and her work The Princes in the Tower about the fate of the two lost (murdered?) princes during the time of Richard the IIIrd. In the last few years, she has also branched into writing historical fiction. The results can be a bit stilted at time, but are overall wonderful. This book, which follows the life of Lady Jane Grey who was queen for 9 days and then convicted of treason by her sister Queen Elizabeth I is marvelous. The story is marvelously told from the other side, not the one usually told (that of Queen Elizabeth). My favorite part of any historical fiction is the author's historical notes at the end and in this part Weir excells. Because of her background as a historian, she practically falls over herself to apologize for any liberties she took with the history. All told a great story about a reluctant and ultimately doomed queen.

  2. Courtesans: Money, Sex, and Fame in the Nineteenth Century by Katie Hickman
    (Non-fiction) This book isn't about royalty per se. However, many of these women slept with royalty (or were rumoured to have done so). They were never admitted to court, but instead lived in their own world: the demimonde. Besides their prowess in the bodouir, they were also charming, well-read, at the height of fashion, linguists, experts at banter, and a thousand other gifts. At their peak, they were expensive and men paid dearly to even be seen in public with them. Proper society women shunned them outwardly, but could not cease to gossip about them or copy their taste in clothing and fashion. This book follows the lives of five of the most famous and most influential courtesans of the 19th century, the heyday of the courtesan and balances that fine line between history and gossip that manages to be fun, fascinating, and educational.

  3. We Two: Victoria and Albert Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill
    (Non-fiction) It is impossible to measure the effect these two had in shaping history, morals, and society globally for years. They were of course shaped and lived their lives in reactions to the people who raised them. If they were known for their high moral standards, it is a reflection of the debauched rulers who preceded them and their own eccentric upbringing. This book focuses on them individually first, what shaped who they were when they got married, and then later them as a couple. Victoria was very much a traditionalist who would have been submissive to her husband, but British law would never allow him crowned as king or given actual political power, a fact that would frustrate them both. However Victoria did relish her role as Queen and even in that one place where she superseeded her husband. Their marriage (as told through diaries, letters, more) was a partnership and a continual rivalry. The author even delves into their bedroom (given Victoria's many pregnancies) and homelife with some fascinating insights. Before you go on a rant about "those uptight, stick in the mud Victorians" try this book on for size. You'll be surprised. I couldn't put it down.

  4. The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
    (Historical Fiction) Remember how much I like author's historical notes on fiction books? Gregory could do a better job of them. Other than that I love her books. She did a marvelous job with the Tudors and her Boleyn series. Now she backs up a few generations to the War of the Roses with this new series. (First The White Queen and then The Red Queen.) Here we have Elizabeth Woodville who marries in secret a Plantagenet King fighting for his throne. As their house rises to power, she fights for him at every turn. And eventually she would become the mother of the two famously doomed princes in the tower. I loved reading this one and have The Red Queen queued up on my Nook.

  5. Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd
    (Historical Fiction) I love large sweeping historical epics and Rutherfurd does it wonderfully. These two volumes (the sequel is Rebels of Ireland follows a handful of families through the major events of Irish history. The story starts with the last of the Celtic/Druidic prince-priests just as St. Patrick is Christianizing the island. It continues through rebellions, invasions, and more as those formally royal families make their way thorugh history. Obviously not every year and every generation is followed. Quite often there are several hundred year gaps as all the major parts of Irish history are covered. Wonderful stories and well worth the hundreds of pages.

Cleopatra: A life by Stacy Schiff
(Non-Fiction; Biography) I'm adding this one off the five thing list because it is my current friday reads. I've just started it, only 75 pages in, so I can't really judge it overall, but so far I'm really pleased. It's a more balanced look at the life of Cleopatra instead of just saying, "ooh seductress" or "powerful women misjudged by generations of male history". Somewhere between those two views lies the truth of this most powerful and famouns of royal women and I'm enjoying watching Pulitzer Prize winner Schiff sort it out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Thanks to the wonder that is Ravelry I learned about the Iknitarod. The Iknitarod is similar in theory to other knitting challenge events (such as the Knitting Olympics or Ravelympics). During the time span of the Iditarod, you challenge yourself in your sport. The dogs/mushers are taking on a challenge and so can you, if your sport is knitting. Come on now, you've been training for years!

I joined the Ravelry Iknitarod Group and chose my challenge project. The challenge can be anything, a new technique, a bigger project, anything that is a bit of a stretch for you. For me just focusing on one project was going to be the largest portion of the challenge. I'm a non-monogamous knitter always switching back and forth between many different projects.

I fell in love with the beautiful Peaks Island Hood from Ysolda Teague's Whimsical Little Knits 2. It's the perfect thing for the Alaskan winters. The size of it would be enough of a challenge in the 11(ish) days the race ran (though I'd been knitting enough socks I forgot how fast working on size 10 needles would go). Plus it included buttonholes which I had never attempted before. So there was my challenge.

I picked up some Cascade 220 from my local yarn store in a beautiful dark charcoal gray (used their ball winder for the first time - so much fun, I need one) and cast on that afternoon as I was headed to my friend's wedding. I very nicely refrained from knitting during the wedding or reception.

Here's how far I got on day one:

Here's day two:

And at that point I stopped taking pictures. I finished after the first place finisher but before the red lantern (trail sweeper) so that is good. I wore it about three times before our freakishly early spring stopped that. But I live in Anchorage and will never complain about a freakishly early spring.

Mods: The buttonholes as written were really confusing. After reading other people's notes on Ravelry I just fudged it. Bound off 3 stitches and cable cast them back on in the next row. While I had purchased 3 skeins of Cascade 220, it only 2 plus a teensy bit of the third. (I think I used the third skein for the last four rows.) Based off other people's notes I added five rows before starting the buttonholes and two rows between each of the buttonholes. Without the added rows I would not have needed the second skein.

And the final project. I love it!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Teen Programming Edition

I'm updating again! This time is all about the ups and downs of teen programming at our library. As I've said before we share a parking lot with a middle school. We get tons of teens, pre-teens, tweens, and hangers-on. Here, very briefly, are five things that work for us. Or they're working for us as of right now. It's still very much a work in progress. I will eventually write an update with our entire trials and tribulations.

  1. Food. Food brings them in. It doesn't seen to matter what, just food. We were wondering around Costco trying to find affordable relatively healthy edition. We ran into someone else buying for large quantities of teens too. Costco is the place to go. I don't know if it is our neighborhood (very low on the socio-economic scale) that heightens it, but every group of teens I've worked with can be bribed with food.
  2. Popcorn. Popcorn is cheap. We got one of those very large popcorn machines (not the countertop one, the one in its own little cart) and a 50 pound bag of popcorn, 500 popcorn bags, and a ton of oil. We're set for a while. It's simple, but the kids love it. And the coolness factor is so much greater with the machine popcorn than the microwave stuff, plus it is easier to portion out.
  3. Ukuleles. Ukuleles are cool. Teens and hipsters love them. A local store cut us a deal (ask for the educator discount) and we picked up half a dozen ukes. Our youth services librarian plays ukulele. The kids play their instruments, bring their own, borrow ours. I had them sitting out at the teen afterschool program and they were never idle. My favorite afternoons are the ones where we get impromptu concerts of kids singing and playing. One teen is even writing her own songs!
  4. Playing cards. Cards are never out of style. We have a board game cabinet for the teens to use and however many decks of cards I put in there get checked out. I remember from my own teen years always keeping a deck of cards in my backpack. Their popularity does not seem to wane and of course the games that can be played are limitless.
  5. The current iteration of our teen program is an "Open Zone" where they can come/go and hang out, play games, etc. We were struggling with how to keep track of how many teens were coming with all the in/out. So I counted how many cups I put out by the lemonade. A few kids took more than one cup (though they were encouraged to just refill) and a few kids took no drink. If we assume that those kids cancel each other out, and since it makes my life easier we will assume they do, we had 78 kids at our last teen zone event.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Get your vote on!

I've blogged before about how important I feel voting is. Yesterday was a municipal election and as always I voted on my way into work. All day I proudly wore my "I voted" sticker. I work in a youth-centric library. One of our afterschool kids asked me who I voted for and I explained the concept of secret ballot. But they do notice and it is a chance to be a rolemodel without saying a word.

That being said if you're an ALA member, you have until April 22nd to vote. I have, but only about 10% of the membership has. Vote! It's your civic and professional duty. ALA makes it easy with candidate bios and statements of concerns right on the ballot. I wish the municipality did that. (Instead I looked it up and typed who I wanted to vote in a note on my iphone. I'm lousy at remembering names when it comes to the school board candidates.) If you're an ALSC member, you can vote for me (Elizabeth Moreau) for Newbery Award Committee.

So off you go! Go vote!