Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Trapped in a train stuck in a snowy bank in the middle of Yugoslavia, an unlikely cast of characters discovers an unlikely murder in their midst. It will be hours or days before the police are able to arrive. But never fear – celebrated detective Hercule Poirot just happens to be on board! With a small pile of clues and a large dose of logic, he riddles out the solution to the crime.

And that’s all the summary I’m going to share – as a mystery novel it would be far too easy to tip off a clue if I gave you more. Know that I did read the whole thing and it had me laughing and guessing the entire way through.

For me, this novel falls into the pure entertainment category. Some of Christie’s characters are brilliantly funny. Mrs. Hubbard is completely ridiculous and over the top in every way. M. Bouc’s main purpose is to stand by Poirot dramatically saying, “No! Surely not! How ever will we figure it out!” Christie’s not-so-subtle jabs at Prohibition throughout the novel are amusing as well and a reminder of the context of the novel: it was written in 1934 when the whole world was in need of some entertainment. There are economic depressions worldwide, the Nazi party is on the rise in Germany, Austria and France experience political crises, and various natural disasters rock the globe including the Dust Bowl in America. I appreciate the camaraderie of the cast of characters – it is very much, “We will all get through this together.”

Compared to a lot of classic novels, Christie’s mystery is definitely a light read. It’s funny but there aren’t many big moral lessons. The characters don’t grow and change. There is a problem, the solution is riddled out, then everyone goes on with their life with justice being served (depending on your definition of justice, and who you consider it being served to). My only real take away is “Everybody lies.”

Would I read another Agatha Christie mystery? Probably. I enjoyed it. But I won’t be grabbing another right away. This is my second read for the Back to the Classics challenge (series intro here), completing category 8. Classic Detective Novel. The category link up is HERE, in case you are looking for other detective book reviews for your own reading!

Book Review: Treasure Island

I’ve completed my first book for the Back to the Classics reading challenge! I started the year off with an epic adventure of pirates, murder, treasure, and escapades on the high seas; in short, none other than Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island fills category 6. Adventure Classic.

I’ll be honest, I’m not much of an adventure reader. My tastes are more in line with historical fiction (especially westward expansion) and girl’s coming of age stories – best matched together in my favorites Little House on the Prairie and Caddie Woodlawn, along with the Kirsten series and a huge portion of Ann Rinaldi’s work. If it hadn’t been for this challenge, I probably wouldn’t have picked up Stevenson until it came up in the Ambleside curriculum. I’m glad I did though! I was on the edge of my seat, reading well into the night to see what Jim Hawkins would come up with next.

I can sum up Treasure Island in one word: Greed. Greed drives the decision making of nearly every character nearly the entire way through the book. When greed isn’t the primary motive, it is greed’s close cousin selfishness.

For those not familiar, Treasure Island is the story of Jim Hawkins. At the beginning of the novel, his family keeps an inn along the coast in England. A rough old pirate boards with them, terrorizing them with his anger and drunkenness. After Jim’s father passes away, pirates descend on the inn. The resident pirate dies of rum and fright. Although Jim and his mother at first run away, they return to sort through the pirate’s chest and claim the money that is due them for his stay – “how I blamed my mother for her honesty and her greed,” Jim states. When they hear the pirates returning they sprint from the house taking with them an oilskin packet they don’t have time to open.

Once in safety, this packet is opened to reveal a map to Treasure Island where the infamous Captain Flint buried his vast riches. The squire of the area and Jim’s friend Dr. Livesey decide to buy a ship and follow the map to claim the treasure. Jim will attend them as cabin boy. The squire heads to the seaside to begin preparations. After Jim and Dr. Livesey join him, it becomes clear the squire has been a bit too free with his conversation – although they have hired some good sea hands (especially the honorable Captain Smollett), they have also found themselves with some unsavory characters. Even before they have left port, the thought of mutiny is on everyone’s mind.

From here on there may be spoilers! Don’t read on if you don’t want to know!

The crew is fairly quickly divided in two: the “faithful hands” and “honorable gentlemen” against the “gentlemen of fortune” also known as pirates. Tensions are kept under the surface while on the empty sea but as soon as the boat is anchored at Treasure Island, the parties split. It isn’t long before they begin killing each other. Yet these two parties are closer together than it may seem: both are motivated by greed. The squire and Dr. Livesey’s greed is the reason they came to Treasure Island in the first place. Long John Silver’s greed has motivated him to keep the peace between the groups while on the sea, since the squire holds the treasure map. Greed leads to infighting among the pirates. Once Ben Gunn is on the scene, the greed of the “honorable gentlemen” leads them to hand over the now-worthless map so they can leave the pirates to their own devices while they leave (this plan is complicated by Jim stumbling into the enemy camp). Even Jim acts in ways consistent with greed, though his is more for notoriety and adventure than material wealth: He wants to do things that will make him a hero.

Craving fortune is never a good thing. Greed kills – in this story, literally, but I see parallels in our modern world as people sacrifice time and peace to pursue ever greater jobs. People work ever more hours not out of a need to survive or even enjoyment, but so they can have more material wealth. For what purpose? You can’t take money with you to the grave – a point confirmed in the book, especially by the pirates as they reflect on Captain Flint and the men he killed when he first buried the treasure.

Jim reflects on the violence inherent to greed at the end of the novel:

I beheld great heaps of coin and quadrilaterals build of bars of gold. That was Flint’s treasure that we had come so far to seek, and that had cost already the lives of seventeen men from the Hispaniola. How many it had cost in the amassing, what blood and sorrow, what good ships scuttled on the deep, what brave men walking the plank blindfold, what shot of cannon, what shame and lies and cruelty, perhaps no man alive could tell.

Although this book is first and foremost an adventure novel, it is also a coming of age novel – Jim at the end is not the same boy who left England. He has killed men. He has saved men. He has made choices of his own and proved himself to be a quick thinker (though not always a wise thinker). At the end of the story he has earned the respect of the other men. We aren’t told what Jim does with the rest of his life, but we do know he remains haunted with nightmares of his adventure to Treasure Island. We have to assume those memories affect his decision making in the future. While I wouldn’t have grabbed this book without the challenge, I was glad to find a familiar and favorite pattern within all the pirate jargon that goes completely over my head.

I wonder what Stevenson wanted readers to understand, beyond the basic story. For me, the lesson on greed stands clear – greed is costly. Ill-gained wealth costs lives, through both death (those who died on the island) and ongoing suffering (Jim’s nightmares). Although not every reader will walk away with the same warning, for me I’m having to pause and question my own motives. What do I desire that isn’t worth the cost?

Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” Luke 12:15

Crochet T-Shirt Rag Rug

I’m on a rug roll. Our hardwood floors are cold (it’s in the teens outside) and it makes me want to cover them all with soft comfy rugs. I’ve certainly got enough material.

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I made this rug for one of Grace’s Christmas presents, making it officially my first rag rug (although I’ve blogged the flannel one before). This is a simple crocheted oval made out of t-shirt yarn. I used single crochet all around and just did increases where I felt it needed it – super informal. There’s a few bubbles because I wasn’t very precise with my increases. That’s really ok though.

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This rug took 7 t-shirts cut into 1.5″ strips. I worked on it for a week or so. Crochet isn’t my first choice of handwork but Shaune hadn’t built my loom yet and I was impatient to make a rug. Grace moves it around her room as she pleases – it is her rug after all. It technically lives by the book shelf, but just sometimes, it makes a lovely monster:

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Flannel Rag Rug

Flannel Rag Rug, or, “Why on earth do we own so many pajama pants?”

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Flannel Rag Rug

This is my first rag rug on the beautiful loom my husband made me. It took just under a week of very distracted work – here a minute, there a minute, pull a bunch out because I messed it up, and another half hour there. Our son has decided he isn’t a particular fan of sleeping so a lot of my rug twining time involved catching the ends out of the hands of a delighted little man. He’s like a cat.

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Just before removing it from the loom

I made this with scrap flannel. Right after Christmas, I was sorting clothes for the family and discovered we own a silly amount of pajama pants, or “fuzzy pants” as we call them. I’m talking easily 20+ pairs between the 3 of us old enough to wear them. It’s a cultural tradition to give new pjs for Christmas and we have whole-heartedly bought into it. I used 8 different flannels in this rug ranging from 6-year-old mostly worn out to brand new scraps from this year’s pair. The varied thicknesses caused the curving you see in the photo above; some of it smoothed out when I removed it from the frame and some will always remain. I’m calling it “character”.

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A bobby pin as a needle makes the last row easier

If you’ve never made a rag rug, the process is fairly simple. It’s the basic over-under-over-under you learned in kindergarten with strips of paper, with a twist – literally. You work with two fabric strips at a time. One goes under while the other goes over, then you twist them before the next warp. As long as you remember to twist the same way every time you end up with a pretty braided effect and a very sturdy woven fabric.

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The edge of the rug – the warp pulls in and hides

The warp for this rug was another scrap from my stash – a cotton printed panel project. Do you know those? You buy the panel which has pattern pieces printed on it, such as a holiday vest. I had a friend bless me with a stack of them. I will never use the projects as designed, but the cotton makes excellent rug warp. I twined the first few rows of the rug out of a coordinating flannel. Once I took the rug off the loom the warp slipped inside and is barely visible. You probably can’t even see it in the photo above.

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Left overs will become warp for the next rug

The left over strips will become the warp for my next rug. There is still so much flannel here…

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All done and in use!

And, done!

Rag Rug Loom

My hubby is awesome.

No, wait, that isn’t the entire post, although it could be! Lately I’ve been obsessed with the idea of making rugs. Specifically, rag rugs. Too much Little House on the Prairie and various other pioneer literature around here lately – makes me want to be all rustic. And as we’re preparing to move cross country, I’m sorting through piles of clothes and my fabric stash to narrow down what will actually be coming with us.

It makes me cringe to throw fabric away. I just can’t.

Enter rag rug making – the perfect way to take unusable fabric and make it usable again. And it uses up lots of it, which I have, thus saving giant heaping piles of clothing from the trash (most of it is too worn out for resale shops).

Last week we drove to Georgia to visit relatives and the entire way my husband and I discussed various loom options. We watched youtube videos at the hotels at night and chatted about what features I wanted. Then we got home and he built it for me using scraps we had around from a shelving project. Total cost? Less than $10 for some oak dowels and the hooks to hold them. And I have fabric for who knows how many rugs.

And here it is! Because nothing is better on a cold winter day than weaving at a sunny window.

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Let me show you some of the beautiful details. This loom isn’t taken from any one set of plans, but rather is a hodgepodge of various looms we saw online combined to our own liking.

The frame is a basic 2.5′ b y 3.5′. The top and bottom are the same so it can be flipped. It’s made of 1×2″ doubled on the vertical so it’s thick enough to insert hooks:

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The base is 1×4″ cut 20″ long with more 1×2″ scraps. The frame slips right into it snuggly. He’s going to add a latch to hold the frame in so I can carry it easier, but for now this works.

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There are 4 sets of hooks on the vertical supports. 5/8″ oak dowels slide in to hold the warp. With this set up I can make a rug any width up to 29″ wide and 3 lengths: 18″, 27″, and 36″ (roughly). For my first rug I’m using the middle (27″) length.

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Dowels are held in place by a super fancy rubber band.

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I’m silly excited about this. In the winter, we watch a lot more tv in the evenings. It gets dark here between 4-5pm and it’s really cold. I don’t like just sitting there; this gives me something productive to do that is essentially mindless once I get the pattern going. And look! I’ve already begun. I’ll post more details on this rug as it shapes up. It’s going to be a hug for our feet, all made up of scrap flannel.

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Any one else rag rug? I’d love to geek out with you in the comments if you do!

Back to the Classics Challenge

I stumbled across this challenge in a homeschool forum I’m a part of and just can’t not participate! The challenge? Read 12 classic books in 12 separate categories within 2016. That’s one a month – totally doable, right? Even though we have a cross country move in process and a daily-more-mobile baby in the house? LOL. Well, it’s definitely called a challenge for a reason! Read the original post here:

http://karensbooksandchocolate.blogspot.com/2015/12/back-to-classics-2016.html

I’m excited to try this! I always need a book on hand, otherwise I just end up surfing Pinterest. For this challenge, I’m limiting myself to 1) Books I own or 2) Books attainable at a reasonable library. I’m on an absolute hold on purchasing more books due to the move. I’m also giving myself freedom to swap and switch as I please and have no set reading order. Life’s too unpredictable for that!

With that in mind, here’s my current, for today, until I change it reading list:

  1.  A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899. Something Mark Twain

  2. A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1966. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later. Something CS Lewis

  3. A classic by a woman author. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  4.  A classic in translation.Le Petit Prince, Antione de Saint-Exupery

  5. A classic by a non-white author. Can be African-American, Asian, Latino, Native American, etc. I’m pathetically uneducated in this category. I may grab Uncle Tom’s Cabin as it is, as far as I know, the only one I own. But I’ll be watching other’s lists as they come up. This may be altered. Many of the books I’m most interested in reading aren’t quite 50 years old yet.

  6. An adventure classic – can be fiction or non-fiction. Treasure Island, Robert Lewis Stevenson

  7. A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic. Dystopian could include classics like Animal Farm or 1984. War of the Worlds, HG Wells

  8.  A classic detective novel. It must include a detective, amateur or professional. This list of books from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction is a great starting point if you’re looking for ideas. Something Agatha Christie, because I never have!
  9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title.  It can be the name of a house, a town, a street, etc. Examples include Bleak House, Main Street, The Belly of Paris, or The Vicar of Wakefield. Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

  10. A classic which has been banned or censored. If possible, please mention why this book was banned or censored in your review. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

    Why was it banned? From Wikipedia: At the time of publication, Steinbeck’s novel “was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event. It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national talk radio; but above all, it was read.”[13] According to The New York Times, it was the best-selling book of 1939 and 430,000 copies had been printed by February 1940.[2] In that month it won the National Book Award, favorite fiction book of 1939, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association.[2] Soon it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[3]

    The book was noted for Steinbeck’s passionate depiction of the plight of the poor, and many of his contemporaries attacked his social and political views. Bryan Cordyack writes, “Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The most fervent of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California; they were displeased with the book’s depiction of California farmers’ attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a ‘pack of lies’ and labeled it ‘communist propaganda'”.[9] Some accused Steinbeck of exaggerating camp conditions to make a political point. Steinbeck had visited the camps well before publication of the novel[14] and argued their inhumane nature destroyed the settlers’ spirit.

  11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college).  If it’s a book you loved, does it stand the test of time?  If it’s a book you disliked, is it any better a second time around? Great Expectations, Charles Dickens. I more skimmed than read in 9th grade English Lit and it is time to remedy that failure.

  12. A volume of classic short stories. This must be one complete volume, at least 8 short stories. Children’s stories are acceptable in this category only. Something Edgar Allen Poe, I have a few

There are some serious books in this stack! I hope I can accomplish some of it; there are “mini goals” at 6 books and 9 books as well as all 12. I’m going to start boldly and see how far I get. I’ll be adding book reviews as I go – another part of the challenge.

Summer Capsule Wardrobe: A Necessary Dress

After a few weeks of planning, I’m starting to sew on my summer capsule wardrobe. I first busted out a couple no-alterations-necessary basics to give me something to cover myself with while I work. Now I’m buried deeply in the piles of tissue paper required for pattern alteration. Because honestly – if I’m going to pour this kind of time and money into sewing for myself, I want to be sure I like the outcome. Especially right now as I’m going through so many body transitions after pregnancy. I love the result – my sweet little Reid!- but pregnancy and nursing are definitely hard on my body. I’ve been doing lots of measuring, followed by re-measuring, sewing test garments, adjusting those test garments, more measuring…

There was a good post on Free Notion on “where do I start” to help establish priorities. For me, our family schedule dictated my top priority – a wedding, followed by the dedication of our son at church, followed by another wedding, then business travel the rest of the summer. I was desperate for a good basic dress that 1) fit and 2) is easy to work on. Goal accomplished!

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This is the Jocole Crossover Dress. I made it last summer as a sort of “wearable muslin.” Based on that I made a couple minor tweaks to the pattern – I added 1/4″ to the upper bodice area and cut the armhole out a bit larger to better suit my arms. I also added 5″ to the length (just added it to the bottom) to get the length I want for a little more formal dress.

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I have a last thought to share. Becca’s most recent post on the capsule wardrobe sew along is all about fitting for your own unique, extraordinary body. These little adjustments seem so small. They would be easy to skip – after all, the dress was wearable straight from the pattern. Not perfect, but wearable. And yet they made me self conscious and super aware of my clothes, not in a good way. In my mind the best outfit fits well and is well suited for the activity of the day to the point that it blends into the background. You put it on and never think about it again.

By taking the time to measure myself and carefully adjust the pattern, I achieved that on this dress. I’m so glad I did. The way I feel in this dress is the motivation to take the time on some of the other patterns I’m using this summer that require *a lot* more fitting. Pants. Woven tops. Things that won’t just stretch over my mommy tummy and look decent even if they’re perfect. This is my kick start to get sewing on everything else!

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If you’re wondering, here are the main reasons for my own #extraordinarybody. These two crazy kids are the sunshine in my day! Grace Abigail, age 4 and Reid Isaiah, 6 weeks yesterday. They’re worth every bump, bulge, and stretch mark!

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