Friday, December 31, 2010
the adorable stuffed animals, like these felted lllamas
or the many clever felting patterns Bev designed.
Fiber Trends also published many beautiful lace patterns (notably those by Evelyn Clark and Eugen Beuler), bringing those lovely designs to knitters all over the world. All of these and more are available on the Fiber Trends website here, and no doubt at the vest majority of yarn shops in the US.
Bev also wrote one of the best books on felting, Felted Knits:
I only had the pleasure of meeting Bev once, but I enjoyed that meeting greatly. My sympathies to all who knew and loved her. The knitting world will miss you, Bev.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Fifteen years ago I began writing Mr. Toppit when I was a literary agent representing the estate of A.A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh. I learned the story of Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne, who grew to hate the fame his father's books brought him. To reshape that idea in a modern context was the single idea that was the genesis of my novel.
During the years I spent writing, another phenomenon occurred in the world of children's book publishing that made Winnie-the-Pooh's fame seem parochial: Harry Potter. Suddenly, my idea of a modern series of children's stories that take over the world did not seem so far-fetched. What had originally been conceived as a small story about my boy hero, Luke Hayman, suddenly made famous by his dead father's books widened into both an examination of the mechanics of fame and a strange journey towards a literary tipping point that has devastating consequences for the characters in my book.(from Amazon.com's website)
The second book I read was graciously lent to me by Ms. Kathy M.: The Truth-Teller's Lie, by Sophie Hannah. This was a combination of psychological suspense (think Ruth Rendell) combined with a police procedural. The chapters alternate between the first-person account of a woman who is a rape victim, and reports her married lover missing when he breaks all contact with her and disappears; and the third-person account of the police detectives investigating her missing-persons report. It's hard to review this one without giving too much away, but I thought the first-person chapters didn't work as well as the third-person ones, although it was a suspenseful and creepy tale.
Last was Gone to Ground by John Harvey, in which a Cambridge lecturer is found murdered in his house. At the time of his death, he was working on a biography of a 50s movie star, but it isn't at all clear that this has anything to do with his murder. This was a decent mystery, but not as well-done as some other John Harvey books I've read.
Since it's been a bit crazy here, with the end of the holidays, the kids home on break and some knitting deadlines approaching, I'm unlikely to read much more before the New Year, but I'll do a year-end summary soon, along with some reading resolutions for 2011. As always, please leave your suggestions or comments -- I try to respond to them in the comments section.
Check out the WEBS podcast, Ready Set Knit, this weekend, as I join Kathy and Steve to opine about 2010: The Knitting (and Crochet) Year That Was....
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Yep, it's the one-year anniversary of my father's death. In his memory, I'm sharing with you the eulogy I gave at his funeral mass.
My father was a character He was a complex man, and it’s hard to sum him up in a few words, but I'll do my best.
John Walter Sulcoski was born on July 1, 1934 to Stephen & Jessie Sulcoski. His father was a coal miner, and his mother worked in laundry. Both parents had exhausting, back-breaking jobs, which made his childhood difficult.
He was looked after by his mother’s mother, Michelene; we all knew her as "Bobcia." My father loved her so much. She didn’t speak English and so my father knew Polish and English when he was a kid. When his first child was born, no other name would do except his grandmother’s, so my brother is named Michael, after Michelene.
My dad was the oldest child. He was joined by a brother Frank and a sister Jean. He took his job as older brother very seriously and always kept an eye on Jean and Frank. You might say he could even be a bit bossy at times. After my grandfather died in 1973, my dad sort of stepped in his shoes, especially for Jean, who was the youngest. And when she was married to my uncle Ed, he walked her down the aisle.
My dad was the quintessential American success story. He was only a second generation American but with hard work and a tremendous brain, he was able to graduate from high school and go on to get a college degree, the first person in his family to do so. He got scholarships and worked lots of jobs to achieve that. He even went on to earn a master’s degree from Trenton State by attending school at night while he taught during the day. He did post-graduate work, too, in Philadelphia and Shippensburg.
Education was important to my dad, so important that he became a science teacher. My dad was an administrator by the time I was old enough to have chemistry, but I remember asking him once for help with a chemistry problem. I really just wanted to know what the answer was, but by the time he was done, I had his handwritten diagrams showing how a rifle shoots bullets, why rock salt makes ice melt and precise detailed instructions for how to create a nuclear fission reactor.
He had many students who learned from him and loved the way he made chemistry come alive for them. He was so committed to education that he even wrote textbooks, workbooks and other items. At his wake, a complete stranger approached us to tell us that he had my dad for a teacher, and my dad encouraged him to go to college. My dad helped him get admitted and helped him find financial aid. The man was a civil engineer, and he came to my dad's wake to let us know that he never forgot what my dad did to help him.
My dad loved to take photographs, and he often had his camera out, taking photos. He especially loved to take photos of his kids, my brother playing baseball or me playing field hockey, and it’s wonderful to go back and see his visual record of our childhoods. He married his love of photography and his love of education when he created Ed Media Tec, a business that produced educational filmstrips for schools. During the 70s and 80s, EMT produced numerous science filmstrips, the MetriLab kit for teaching kids how to use the Metric system (I just want to say that these were really good kits-- it’s not my father’s fault the metric system never caught on), social studies filmstrips, Pennsylvania history filmstrips and some industrial training materials. There was such demand for them that many of them came in English and Spanish versions. It was always a kick for his family members to be in a classroom, either as a student or in my aunt Jean’s case, as the teacher, and have the kids notice that that person on the screen looks just like you, and to say “it is me.” Over the years, Mike and I, our cousins, our best friends, and our pets all modeled in my dad’s filmstrips. Even my mom, who doesn’t like to have her picture taken, appeared in one as “Sandy Goldberg, wildlife photographer.”
My dad was extremely proud of his Polish heritage. All of his ancestors came from Poland, and he loved to repeat the stories Bobcia told him about her village in Poland, Biala Woda. When I started to trace the family genealogy, one of the most meaningful moments was when I found a copy of the ship’s register showing the exact date that Bobcia traveled to the US in 1911. My dad loved the Polish-French composer Chopin, and he always wanted me to play his favorite Chopin piece, The Raindrop Prelude. One of his science heroes was the Pole Nikolai Copernicus, who proposed the theory that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than vice versa. My dad always wanted to go to Poland, and it makes me sad that he never got the chance to. However, he did manage to fulfill just about every dream he had when it came to hunting. My dad was an avid hunter and hunted all over the place; he even took not one, but two, hunting safaris to Africa. I was going to bring in some of his trophies to display at the viewing, he would have really liked that, but apparently the funeral parlor wasn’t crazy about having a stuffed life-size wildebeest in the lobby.
My dad’s first love was always his family. He was married to my mom for 52 years, and he and Mom could never wait to give each other their Christmas presents. When he was in the hospital, he insisted on telling my mom what her Christmas present would be because he just couldn’t wait to see her reaction. My dad was especially close to my brother, they were best friends, and my brother’s 2 boys, Stephen and Mikey. He babysit for them all the time, and never missed one of their baseball or basketball games or school events.
It’s still a bit bizarre to think that my dad is gone, but what gives me a lot of comfort is thinking about how the best of my dad continues to live on in his family. When I see my daughter Grace lost in a book, I’ll think about how she inherited my dad’s love of reading. When my brother steps into a classroom or puts on his camouflage to go hunting, he’ll feel himself carrying on my dad’s commitment to education and his love of hunting. When I hear my older son James, play a Chopin piece on the piano, my dad’s love of Chopin and classical music lives on. When Jean and Linda make pierogis or do all the preparations for the Christmas Eve Holy Supper, my dad’s love of the old country and its traditions lives on. When my mom asks me in November if I want to open my Christmas present now, I’ll see my dad’s excitement at giving someone he loved a cool present and not wanting to wait to see them open it. When my younger son Nick tells us all some random, obscure factoid, the kind of thing that makes a good question on Jeopardy, I’ll know that my father’s quirky memory for trivia is still going strong in his grandson. When Steve and Mikey put on their baseball uniforms, they’ll be carrying on my dad’s passion for baseball.
So as we all go back to our daily lives, let’s try to work through our shock and sadness at my dad’s sudden passing. Look for him, the very best parts of him, living on in the people he loved.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Summer Search starts by getting referrals from teachers and principals in identifying disadvantaged students who demonstrate potential for reflection, altruism and performance. Once they enter the program, students participate in four aspects of the Summer Search program.
- Each student is assigned a mentor and meets with their mentor for weekly sessions. The mentor helps coach the student, give them insight into their behavior, help them with any problems they are having, and generally gives emotional support. A big emphasis is placed on helping the student to be accountable for their actions.
- Each student gets a scholarship to take two trips, one in the summer before the junior year, and one in the summer before the senior year. These trips are designed to build the student's confidence in his/her abilities, to show them the broader world out there (a lot of these kids have never been outside Philadelphia) and help the student gain valuable experience. Past trips have included participating in Outward Bound, community service trips to the Dominican Republic, study abroad programs in China, and other amazing experiences.
- Each student gets help in applying to colleges, including individualized help with the admissions forms and financial aid counseling.
- Each student participates in a host of "alumni" services, like helping them with networking events, providing internships and finding mentors for them.
Tom and I attended a dinner at a West Philly high school a few months ago designed to celebrate the achievements of the Summer Search students. We were knocked out by these outstanding kids. Part of the process involves coaching the kids on social skills so that they're comfortable talking to adults, including things that seem like common sense but aren't at all intuitive if you haven't been taught them -- like looking people straight in the eye, shaking hands upon being introduced and speaking without mumbling. Tom and I were greeted by so many of these smart, accomplished kids. They were bursting with stories about their summer experiences and rightfully proud of the colleges they'd been accepted to.
Check out the statistics: 99.6 percent of Summer Search students graduate from high school, 96% go to college, 89% graduate from college or are on track to do so, and 72% are involved in some sort of community service.
So if you happen to be feeling altruistic, please keep Summer Search in mind. There are Summer Search offices in Philadelphia, San Francisco, North San Francisco Bay, Boston, NYC, Seattle and Silicon Valley. A link for secure on-line donations is here. Summer Search is also looking for volunteers to do everything from take students on a "breaking-in" hike to mentoring to creating internship positions to writing letters to the newspaper for publicity, and for more ideas on how to help (many of which don't involve giving money), you can go here. I'm going to do a fundraiser through my blog for this group sometime in early 2011, so you'll be hearing more about Summer Search during the coming year.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Today I'm taking Little Miss to the dress rehearsal for her ballet school's Nutcracker performance. She has "graduated" from being an angel (the role that the littlest girls play) to playing a soldier in the battle scene. (I'm praying the guns aren't loaded.) I have to say that I was not prepared for the feeling of melancholy and dread that's come over me with the dress rehearsal an hour or two away. You see, last year, the Nutcracker dress rehearsal -- also the Friday before Christmas -- took place on a cold blustery day with snow forecast for the morning. My dad was in the hospital and he had taken a sharp turn for the worse. As I took photos of Little Miss looking adorable and proud I was fielding cell phone calls telling me my dad was probably dying and I needed to go up to W-B as soon as possible. I flew home with Little Miss, threw clothes in a bag, called my father-in-law to come and hang with the kids until Tom got home, and got on the turnpike.
It was a strange drive; the roads were eerily silent, probably in anticipation of the bad weather to come. That night was the last time I saw my dad really conscious. He died the day after I returned home, just a few hours after entering the hospice.
The really weird thing about grief is that you can be going along, minding your own business, and it hits you over the head, as suddenly and as deeply as Wile E. Coyote's anvil.
Friday, December 10, 2010
First off is, for me, a no-brainer: given my girl-crush on Veronik Avery, and my fondness for her design sensibility, it's no surprise that I'd put her latest book, Knitting 24/7: 30 Projects to Knit, Wear, and Enjoy, On the Go and Around the Clock, right at the top of my list. You'll find a lovely projects -- small ones like gloves and bigger ones like sweaters -- with an emphasis on portability, designed to help busy knitters squeeze a little extra knitting time into their day. All the gorgeousness you'd expect from Veronik, shown off to perfection by Stewart Tabori & Chang.
Another book that I thought was full of stylish but wearable fashion came to us from Rowan, by way of PotterCraft. Fresh Fashion Knits contained a nice selection cherrypicked from the pages of Rowan's Studio Magazine, with a variety of gauges and items ranging from long sweater-jackets to vests and wraps. Also worth mentioning is Julie Turjoman's collection of interesting patterns in Brave New Knits: 26 Projects and Personalities from the Knitting Blogosphere, a multi-contributor collection inspired by the varied world of knitting blogs. And Sally Melville joined forces with her daughter to bring us Warm Knits, Cool Gifts, another great collection of items from sweaters to Christmas tree ornaments, all with a winter theme.
Sock fans had a good year, with a rich crop of sock pattern books. For toe-up fans, Wendy Johnson's Toe-Up Socks for Every Body provided a selection of beautiful, often intricate sock patterns, all knit from the toe up and with selections sized for the whole family. Overachieving toe-up fans had Melissa Morgan-Oakes' Toe-Up 2-at-a-Time Socks to provide them with a smorgasboard of toe-up socks designed for knitting two at a time. For cuff-down sockknitters, Cookie A, sockmistress extraordinaire, presented her first self-published book, Knit. Sock. Love. Even though a substantial proportion of these sock patterns were published in some form before, the addition of new fabulous Cookie A creations -- not to mention the eye candy aspect of the photography -- makes this a great addition to the sock knitter's bookshelf. And last but not least, Think Outside the Sox: 60+ Winning Designs from the Knitter's Magazine Contest, brought to us by the publishers of Knitter's Magazine, was another worthwhile addition to the bookshelves of the sock-addicted. Lots of choices, lots of innovation, plenty of creativity -- and all the fun of a contest.
Another great development in the knit-publishing world this year was the focus on technique. Entrelac fans hit the lotto with the release of two thorough books devoted to that form of modular knitting: Entree to Entrelac: The Definitive Guide from a Biased Knitter (XRX 2010), by Gwen Bortner, and Rosemary Drysdale's Entrelac: The Essential Guide to Interlace Knitting (Sixth & Spring 2010). Nancy Marchant's Knitting Brioche: The Essential Guide to the Brioche Stitch, demystified this particular stitch, applying it creatively to garments. Margaret Stove's Wrapped in Lace provided lace patterns and instruction for intermediate-to-advanced laceknitters. Shirley Paden's Knitwear Design Workshop provided a tremendous amount of technical information for those interested in designing their own knitwear.
Although it's not entirely "new" -- it's a revised edition of a previously-published book -- fans of aran and Celtic-inspired patterns must have been thrilled to see Alice Starmore's Aran Knitting: New and Expanded Edition reissued in its expanded form this year. It's wonderful that knitters so entranced by Starmore's spectacular designs don't have to troll Ebay looking for used copies (and pay jacked-up prices due to their scarcity). I hope we see more of Starmore's work reissued in coming years.
Knitters who love to focus on smaller, accessory projects had two great choices from Sixth & Spring Publishing. First off was 60 Quick Knits: 20 Hats*20 Scarves*20 Mittens in Cascade 220, a paperback book containing 20 patterns for hats, 20 patterns for mittens/gloves and 20 patterns for scarves, all knit in the ubiquitous Cascade 220 worsted-weight wool. And given the popularity of cowls, Cowl Girls: The Neck's Big Thing to Knit, by Cathy Carron, presented an unbelievable array of cowls, from the simple to the complex.
Last but not least, we should give a shout-out to a few books that came from small publishing houses or were self-published; other than Cookie A's book, look for:
- Mim Felton's Twist and Knit, a booklet with lots of her trademark lace designs;
- Grace Anna Farrow's The Fine Line, with a selection of lovely shawls and wraps (Grace also "self-published" her latest work, a beautiful baby girl named Edith Agnes -- congrats!!);
- and Katharine Cobey's Diagonal Knitting devoted to a modular style of knitting which creates diagonal effects (Schoolhouse Press). More a technique book than a pattern book, although a number of patterns are included.
This post is as good a chance as any to respond to some requests I've had to review specific books. As a general rule, I'll only do a full-fledged review of a book if the publisher provides me with a review copy; I don't get paid for these reviews, and it's prohibitively expensive for me to purchase books in order to review them. (It's also not fair to publishers who provide review copies to keep reviewing the books of other large, established publishers who don't send copies.) I will, however, sometimes review self-published books that I've purchased myself, figuring that it's so hard to make any money in this business as a little guy that I can occasionally help out those who have the guts to self-publish by reviewing their stuff.
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Faithful Place by Tana French. I discovered Tana French a few years ago; she's an Irish writer and I really liked her last two mysteries. "Faithful Place" was another enjoyable read. Once I got past the rather unlikely premise (in which a detective basically abandons his current life to immerse himself in the dysfunctional family he's estranged from once the suitcase of a high school girlfriend is found, suggesting she was murdered) I got into the mystery, the characters and the setting. I think this writer has special resonance for me since her characters came of age in the 80s, right around the time that I did.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption* by Laura Hillebrand. Hillebrand previously wrote the very successful story of Seabiscuit. While researching the Seabiscuit story, she encountered references to a man named Louis Zamperini, and telling his remarkable story became her next nonfiction project. Zamperini's life is nearly unbelievable and fascinating on so many levels. He grew up in California as, well, pretty much a juvenile delinquent, taking up smoking at age 3 and drinking in elementary school, followed by all sorts of theft and mayhem. He turned his life around in high school, channeling his energy into becoming a world-class runner. He ended up qualifying for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin along with Jesse Owens. His athletic career was interrupted by World War II, and Zamperini became a pilot flying missions in the Pacific. His already-colorful life took an unbelievable turn when he was shot down over the Pacific. He survived over 40 days on a flimsy raft floating on the ocean, and this part of his story will leave you amazed at the human instinct for survival as he and his companions fought off sharks, dodged Japanese snipers and ate raw birds and fish -- only to wash up on the shores of a Japanese-occupied island. The next chapter of Zamperini's story is equally remarkable as he and his fellow POWs struggled to stay alive and to keep even a scrap of human dignity while being treated abominably by their captors.
Zamperini's story is amazing, inspiring, and often heartbreaking but never boring. A terrific read in which you feel like you have to keep reading to find out what happens next even as you dread hearing what happens next.
More Than You Know by Beth Gutcheon. I stumbled across this novel, and really liked it. It shifts back and forth between the stories of two young couples with doomed romances, set in Maine. Elderly Hannah reminisces about the summer she fell in love with the unsuitable but charming Conary, while the story of Claris --a young woman from the 1850s who defied her family to marry a neighboring man -- is interspersed and provides stark parallels, as well as supernatural ties to the present. Ghostly and suspenseful.
An Academic Question by Barbara Pym. This was a less typical Pym novel, since it was not really finished by the author and was cobbled together after her death by combining two existing versions of the manuscript, but I still found it a very enjoyable look at 1970s British academia.
The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh. Another book I stumbled over, this is also set in Maine and tells the story of twins Moira and Maeve. As the book opens, Moira is a professor at a small New York college. She discovers an antique dagger which is the catalyst for all sorts of strange things that happen in her life: anonymous notes on her office door, a spur-of-the-moment trip to Rome, and most significantly the unleashing of Moira's buried memories about her past. Another ghostly and suspenseful book that I enjoyed reading.
Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian* I wanted to like this memoir, written by a young Harvard grad who becomes librarian at a Massachusetts prison, but after a hundred pages or so, I bailed. I thought the book was slow and needed some ruthless editing, but I also just didn't take to the author's voice. I found him self-indulgent and self-pitying, and his attitude toward those around him, both prisoners and others in his life, was rather condescending. Your mileage may vary.
Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset I resisted picking up "The Hunger Games" for a long time, finding the subject matter -- a dystopian North American country that represses dissent and subjugates its people in part by conducting annual games in which teenage children from each province fight to the death -- so dark and violent that I wasn't sure I'd want to read it. But so many people have recommended this to me that I was wavering. Until my middle-schooler read the first book of the trilogy and really liked it. So as he began the second installment, "Catching Fire," I started "The Hunger Games." I wasn't prepared for how quickly the book would suck me in, or the imaginative power of the world the author creates. Although the subject matter is violent, it's presented not gratuitously, but as a lesson against oppression and brutality. My kid raced through the second and third books and I wasn't far behind. A terrific, brilliantly-imagined, vivid set of books that had me captivated.
P.S. If you're more in the mood for yarn than books, I just updated the BBF website with some glorious cashmerino yarn in a DK weight.
* means I got a free review copy of the book from the Amazon Vine program.
Saturday, December 04, 2010
UPDATE: CORRECT ADDRESS CAN BE FOUND HERE. Cards must be sent via the Red Cross/Pitney Bowes program or they will not be received.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
In the meantime, today's also a special day because it's the twins' 9th birthday.
It's hard to imagine but nine years ago today, they were born (a bit on the early side -- their due date was Christmas Day).
I am grateful beyond words that after infertility treatment and a difficult pregnancy we ended up with these two amazing kids.
They continue to bring so much fun and joy to our lives.
Happy birthday, twins!