Book Review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

This is my 5th book review for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I’m officially behind! Moving cross country really threw off my reading schedule – I’ve still been reading, but nothing that would be considered a classic.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by Lewis Carroll in 1865 and is often considered the best example of nonsense literature. Little Alice was bored one day as she sat beside her sister until by chance a White Rabbit raced by chattering about being late, pulling a watch from a pocket. In surprise, she followed him and fell down his rabbit hole into a world where nothing seems quite right.

Oh Alice. What on earth have you gotten yourself into?

Although Wonderland is completely imaginary – and beyond bizarre – I’m applying this book to the category of “Classic with a place in the title.” Wonderland is the most unique of places. Nothing makes sense and things happen at random. Words don’t mean the same thing as when one is in our own real world. Animals talk, people grow and shrink, and even playing cards are alive.

I don’t have much to add to this review other than an observation: this book isn’t my style. Maybe I’m just not in the right season of life to appreciate it’s brilliance, but I read it fast in order to be finished. I won’t be reading it again.

I’ve begun my 6th book: The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. It’s very long and hard to read so here’s hoping I can plow through! I have much to read in the next 5 months.

Ruth: A Two Sided Doll

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On Reid’s birthday post, I mentioned I’d just received the beautiful book Wee Wonderfuls for my birthday. I jumped right into using it, sewing him Lumpy the Dragon and the Doxie Dog for a friend. But as I was choosing those projects, I fell head over heels for the vintage two sided doll, called Margot in the book. I knew I’d be making one for Grace for her birthday.

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Because my sewing stuff was already packed and shipped to our new home, I decided that she would be the perfect car project as we drove well over 1000 miles. She is nearly entirely hand sewn – the only thing done by machine is the white cotton body. Originally that was hand sewn too but the vintage pillow case I’d used ripped to shreds. I tried again with plain quilters cotton after we unpacked.

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This is the most hand sewing I’ve done in a long time. I think I like it, though. Hand work is easier to pick up and set down than machine work, which always feels like if I can’t sew for an hour it isn’t worth my time. There is something gratifying about grabbing handwork for five minutes here and there. It feels so productive!

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All the fabric was scraps from my stash. I love seeing them used again. The apron is a dress of Grace’s; the chambray is always around; the green is from a new Sorbetto tank of mine; the lace was on Grace’s Christmas dress the years she was 3 and 4. The only thing I needed to purchase was a skein of yarn for the hair. For some reason all I have is neon or dishcloth yarn.

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Grace thinks this doll is pretty cool – she named her Ruth right away. Grace has a crib full of other dolls but Ruth is definitely unique. The others are all babies; Ruth is, according to Grace, 14.  She’s a big girl for my rapidly growing girl. She wears and apron and “loves to help work.” When all the work is done she goes to sleep in her beautiful night gown. (The original pattern has one side plain and  one fancy, but awake and asleep seemed better to me.)

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I’m very pleased with how Ruth turned out. I’m even more pleased with watching Grace play with her – Ruth seems to be the perfect channel for all the Little House on the Prairie books we’ve been reading lately. It is an exciting season to be Grace’s mommy as she grows and becomes ever more complex. And now she has a doll suited for this next stage of playing.

“I want to look like my cake” Birthday Dress

Five years! How has it been five years since this little princess joined our family!

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Actually, five years and almost two months, because we were in the middle of moving cross country during her birthday and I’m only now getting around to posting pictures of her birthday dress. It was done on time – early actually, as we held a joint birthday party for the kids before we moved.

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This year, I  took Grace to the fabric store to pick her own fabric. We’d already decided that the party would be “rainbow themed” in a very loose way. Simple, colorful decorations. She fell for this immediately then demanded that her brother and the cake match!

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“Choose Happy” is a good message for this season of our lives. There’s a lot going on; we have a lot we’ve left behind and a lot we’re trying to reestablish on the other side of the country. But while we’re honoring those feelings, we’re also trying to “choose happy” at the end.

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The dress is the Fairy Tale Dress from Oliver + S, my reliable favorite pattern company for classic designs and well drafted patterns. I’ve been waiting to buy this one until Grace was in the higher size range – I knew as soon as I bought the small one she’d hit a growth spurt! So, this is a size 5 with a 6 length, which has a little extra space in it. I’ve got years more opportunities to get my money’s worth on this pattern. I made View B with the View A waist detail. I love some of the techniques – the waist seam method was new to me – but be warned that there is a lot of handwork. This allows a very professional finish but I hadn’t budgeted my time correctly.

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Reid matched, too, but I was so displeased with his shirt pattern (Peekaboo Classic Oxford) that I haven’t bothered to photograph it or write a review. Though I probably should so others don’t waste their money…

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All in all, I’m grateful for every day I get to “choose happy” this sweet girl is in my life!

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Lumpy the Dragon

A year ago, the most incredible thing happened: I got to become mommy to another tiny human, this time a boy. Now, I’ve absolutely loved being a girl mommy. We snuggle and read and cook together and she picks pretty floral fabric to turn into dresses. I’ll be honest, I was a wee bit nervous when we found out #2 was a boy. But as he grows and starts showing me who he is, I’m learning that I’m going to really, really like being a boy mommy just as much.

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When Reid was about 6 months old, he declared war on the Tupperware cabinet. He is violent – no two lids will remain stacked together; no piece of plastic is to be within touching distance of the shelf. We started joking that the Tupperware cabinet was like a cave and he was hunting a dragon deep inside. And just like that, he became our Reidy the Dragon-Slayer. So it was only necessary that I make him a dragon for his birthday!

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This pattern is “Koji” found inside the new Wee Wonderfuls book by Hillary Lang. She’s got an adorable rag doll blog and Etsy shop; this book has a collection of 24 projects in her style to make yourself. I got it for my birthday and have poured over the beautiful photographs of charming creatures basically every day since then. I love the variety of shapes, sizes, and techniques included in the book. I could make a house full of dolls each completely unique. But first, a dragon.

She describes “koji” as both cute and creepy at the same time; I think I’d agree.

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The Dragon Slayer had to defend his city from the monstrous beast!

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The pattern is a little awkward with shaping, but sewed together alright with generous use of pins and patience. The bottom piece is too small though so I had to gather the back onto it. I also had a heck of a time stuffing the little arms and legs – I’m pretty sure that’s my own fault. The extremities fall a little flat and he can’t sit up without being propped. But as she says in the book, sometimes the imperfections of a toy are what makes us love it.

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My only modification was to embroider the mouth instead of use felt. The only other color felt I had was pink and that’s just not very boy like! This mouth is inspired by the Yeti project in the book Stitch Love (which I made my husband for Christmas).

Reid loves it. I love it. And I’m quite certain I’ll be back to this book repeatedly – in fact, Grace’s birthday present is another Wee Wonderful already in process! And thankfully, that one is almost entirely hand sewn which will come in handy (ahem…) during our cross country move. I’ve still got birthday outfits to finish and post but that might not happen until after; I do, after all, have to pack everything and get us there!

Springtime “Sugar Horses”

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I love spring time! The tulips pop up, the trees are blooming, everything seems fresh and new. And like all the other things going through the spring growth spurt, so is my adorable little girl. Every dress she owns is too short! So, even though we’re moving in less than a month, I have a giant stack of fabric and patterns to plow through in order to keep her appropriate both here and at our new home in Florida.

She picked every bit of this dress. It’s the Sugar Horses pattern from Ellie Inspired sewn in a quilter’s cotton from Joann’s. The pattern has a full crossover on the front bodice. I like how high the crossover is – a little bit of attention but still modest and age appropriate. The bodice is fully lined which makes the neckline both beautiful and simple to accomplish.

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This is lengthened from the original pattern. Grace likes her dresses long, and I like them to last. I think this length is adorable on her.

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The skirt has a true placket. I love it! True plackets – rather than one of the many cheater plackets popular in the PDF world – help the skirt lay neatly and give a very tidy look. I’ve tried several before with no luck. This pattern has the clearest placket directions I’ve ever followed and I couldn’t be happier with the finished result. Note: EI uses illustrations instead of photographs. I’m personally quite comfortable with this. Just follow the directions slowly and steadily.

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Now onto a couple cons: Something is funny with the back arm hole. It seems to come pretty far over towards her shoulder blade and gapes more than I prefer. Now for a sleeveless summer dress it really isn’t a big deal. However, the pattern also includes a sleeved version. I can’t imagine that sleeve would set well into this arm hole. Not only that but the pattern directions for the sleeve were incomprehensible – I have*no* idea what they are telling you to do and I’ve been sewing for over 20 years. I almost feel like there is a step missing? Perhaps the sleeved version was a last minute add on. Whatever the problem is, I know I wouldn’t be making it.

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Will I make it again? Probably. This is one of my favorite classic-but-not-fussy styles for little girls. Grace thinks it’s awesome and I can bust it out quickly. And she’s in the little girl obsessed with horses phase so calling it Sugar Horses is just icing on the cake.

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Happy Springtime!

Book Review: Things Fall Apart

I finished reading this book almost a month ago and am only now writing it up. Why? First, life is crazy. We’re only a few weeks away from our cross country move – I’ve been in a flurry of sorting and decluttering so we don’t pack things that we don’t actually need. Second, this book is one of the most thought provoking I’ve read in a long time. I haven’t resolved all my thoughts about it; I continue to ponder. Let me fill you in a little.

Let me start with a summary. Things Fall Apart is a novel by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian author. The novel is focused on a traditional man living in a traditional village… until things fall apart. Okonkwo is a wealthy man with 3 wives, a bunch of kids, a sturdy compound, and a very successful farm. He has fought for all this on his own strength because his father was lazy and, in his eyes, worthless. Okonkwo makes most of his decisions with the motivation of proving he is not like his father. An accident ends Part 1 and sends Okonkwo and his family fleeing from his village to his mother’s ancestral home to live out a seven year banishment. During this time, English colonists and missionaries move into the region, bringing it under their control. They bring churches as well as government structure. This structure is firmly held by massacres and unfair courts. In Part 3, Okonkwo has completed his banishment and returns to his home in Umuofia with great expectations of picking up where he left off – powerful marriages for his daughters, social status for himself. Yet things have changed too much under the colonial government and he is faced with a crisis: adapt or die.

According to Sparknotes (Yes, I’m well aware this is not the most excellent source, but I returned the book to the library and can’t spell on my own, and ended up clicking around a bit): “Tired of reading white men’s accounts of how primitive, socially backward, and, most important, language-less native Africans were, Achebe sought to convey a fuller understanding of one African culture and, in so doing, give voice to an underrepresented and exploited colonial subject.” Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart in respond to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, seeking to give voice to the indigenous people he identified with. The Igdo people are portrayed as complex, full people, with the divisions and complications found in every society. This shouldn’t be noteworthy. Unfortunately in much of Western literature, indigenous people are not full characters but only tools used by the author for minor purposes – or worse, foils showing how good the main characters are.

Okonkwo is not a likeable character. Although Achebe writes beautifully – often poetically – the things he is writing about make me uncomfortable. Okonkwo beats his wives. He speaks horribly about others in the community and his family. He kills his foster son because it was expected by the tribe and he values his position most. Even his closest friend warns him not to kill the boy Ikemefuna but he does it anyway lest anyone call him a coward. Every action reeks of pride. Although he is the protagonist of the book, I have yet to decide if Achebe is holding him up as one to be respected or just one who *is*.

One element of the book I continue to wrestle with is the handling of Christian missionaries. These men sweep into the communities without respect for the established community structure. They enforce their beliefs without love – in one town, with a massacre. Achebe presents the missionaries as negative overall; though, I can’t gauge his opinion on the kindness they show the social outcasts. As a missionary, this book challenges me to be very careful. Our organization does church planting within tribal cultures, but from what I’ve observed and the people I know, we all seek to be as respectful as possible. When we have been rejected by communities and even martyred in the past, the response isn’t retaliation. We desire to see indigenous people first and foremost as real people living real lives within a real culture. The last thing we want is to forcefully take over, crushing people. And yet, we must be very careful.

I don’t have a lot of clear thoughts after reading this. But I do have a lot of thoughts! There is a lot I still don’t understand even a little, such as the witch doctor’s midnight hike with Okonkwo’s daughter Enzinma on her back. Many parts of the novel don’t seem to tie together. In that way, it’s more of a journalistic style – this is what happened, compared with a more story based novel. Maybe I just need to read it again for the pieces to fit.

This is my 4th book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016. I’m linking this up to category of Classics by a Non-White Author – follow the link to see other reviews within this category. And after this, I’ve decided to do a little lighter reading while we move. I’ll get back on my challenge reading this summer. Most of my book list is heavy lifting!

Book Review: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

This is my 3rd book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016. Unlike most of the rest of my book list, this was a read aloud shared with our whole family. My husband was completely unfamiliar with the story! Not any more!

If you are also unfamiliar, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is the story of four British children who are staying in the countryside with a professor to escape war-torn London. While there, Lucy (the youngest) stumbles into a magic land called Narnia through a door in a wardrobe. At first her siblings don’t believe her and even think her crazy. Eventually however, all four children end up inside Narnia on a grand adventure to end the curse of eternal winter with the help of the powerful lion Aslan.

Past this line, there are spoilers. Consider yourself warned! If you haven’t read the book, go do it, then come back for my thoughts:)

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