Saturday, April 30, 2016

April Books

1.  Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rivelli (audio, read by author) - Not going to lie, I didn't understand all of it.  BUT, I deeply enjoyed listening to this book.  The thing many people don't understand is that mathematicians and scientists understand the beauty of the world....and they are capable of describing that beauty in a way that is full of mystery and grace.  This is a very short book, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

Following that begins my month of feisty females:

2.  Heroines of Mercy Street, Dr. Pamela Toler (audio) - I learned about this book because it was the basis for a Masterpiece Theater show that aired right after Downton Abby's recent final season.  I'm a bit torn.  On the one hand, the subject of women nurses during the Civil War is fascinating, and Toler most certainly dug up some really fascinating information.  On the other hand, there was far too much of an emphasis on the state of medicine during the Civil War, and not nearly enough of a focus on the women themselves.  I get it...Toler needed to establish just how tough it was for those women to take on such a difficult career and she needed to drive home how awful the state of wartime medicine was in the mid-1800's...but I wanted more of a focus on the women.  What information there was was absolutely fantastic.

3.  The Labyrinth of Drakes, Marie Brennan - I have shared before just how much I enjoy the Lady Trent books, and this one didn't disappoint!  I preordered it months and months ago, and devoured it just as soon as it showed up in my inbox!

4.  Unseemly Science, Rod Duncan and 5.  The Custodian of Marvels, Rod Duncan - Having enjoyed the feisty Lady Trent, I found that I wanted to immediately go back to Elizabeth Barnabus and go ahead and finish up the series. No, these aren't perfect books, but they are highly enjoyable and they are also very hard to put down.

6. Jaran, Kate Elliott and 7.  An Earthly Crown, Kate Elliott - I first read Jaran years and years ago, and I loved it.  I was also very sad to find that the three other books that round out the series were out of print, and were not to be found anywhere.  (I think I checked the library and they didn't have them.)  The good news was that Jaran worked exceedingly well as a stand alone, so I called it good!  Well, in browsing itunes a while back I discovered that all four books are now available in digital format...even better, they are packaged as a book bundle with an awesome price tag.  I decided this was just what I wanted to start into some long, engrossing books for the spring and summer.  Jaran was as awesome as I remembered it...although I was kind of surprised with how much I had forgotten.  (Why, I don't's been since before I had kids.)  Tess is one of my all time favorite female characters, and I love how complex she is.  My one quibble is that the space portions bog down the books for me.  When the focus isn't on Tess I drift a tiny bit.  As with all of Elliott's other books, these are super hard to put down....but I had to because I had a bunch of library holds come available, and as they were books I had been waiting for for a long time I set these aside in great annoyance.  Can't wait to finish them!

8.  How To Be Here, Rob Bell (audio) - This was the second of my two 'homework' books to prep for SPEC.  I have to say that I found this book to be very shallow in comparison to the Brene Brown book that I also read for SPEC.  There's a lot of good information...but it's all presented at a very surface level with little to no concrete information about how to do the things Bell suggests we should do.

9.  Evicted, Matthew Desmond - Library hold #1.  This nonfiction book is one of the most damned depressing books I've ever read...but I also think it's a must read for anyone who cares. The cycle of poverty is so much more complex than most of us understand, and when looked at through the particular problems of housing it seems like it's a problem that's insurmountable.  Heartbreaking.

10.  Lab Girl, Hope Jahren - Library #2.  This is a very new memoir which is getting a lot of much-deserved buzz.  Jahren (a feisty female in her own right) is not only a scientist, but is also one of the best writers I've ever read.  Her story is divided up with essays on plant life that are educational and lyrical and compelling.  I want my girls to read this someday.  I want all girls to read this someday.  I also want people who care to read this.  (One of the tidbits that broke my heart  was the knowledge that as a country we claim we need more scientists, but the reality is that we have too many for the funding that's available.)  It's just beautiful.

Friday, April 15, 2016

One Year

Today, my friends.
Today was a good day.
Today was a day of celebration.
One year ago today I had a breakdown that proved to be cathartic...a breakdown that caused an incredible breakthrough.  I have been completely compliant on my allergy diet since then, and the changes in my life have been nothing short of miraculous.
I had planned to write a big blog post about how amazing and awful and everything inbetween this last year has been...a post about how proud I am of my accomplishments and where I plan to go from here...
But I've had almost no free time today, and am now incredibly tired. 
You see, I celebrated by running 10 miles this morning - an amazing feat for someone who has fought chronic illness her entire adult life.  I ran 10 hard miles, and felt my body and soul say yes to the world. 
And I need to honor that work by getting some rest.
So instead of writing a big post, let me share with you the message I posted on FB to a special group of people who have become an important part of my support system.  It read:
"Hey Everyone!  Today is a day to celebrate!  It's my one year anniversary for getting myself totally on board with my allergy plan/diet!  (Trying to come up with an idea for what to call this holdiay...ideas?)   A year ago today I had a breakdown in my allergist's office, but that breakdown enabled me to refocus and make some changes so that I could find success.  Here I am, 40 lbs lighter, free of depression and anxiety, headache and pain free, with a clear mind, considerably better sleep, and more energy than I've had in years...among other changes!  I'll never be "cured," but I have figured out how to manage my allergies.  Most importantly, I've made peace with the limitations I live with, and have found ways to fill the gaps left by all that I've had to give up." 
Happy Anniversary to me.
Today is my very own liberation day.
One last thing before I go:
I would not have made it through this last year had it not been for the love and support of some very special people, and I want to take just a moment to say thank you.
Thank you to Dr. Laurie Fowler, for being the best doctor in the world.
Thank you to Jenn, Danielle, and Carrie.  I've searched my entire life for girlfriends like you, and there are days that I still can't believe my luck in having found you all.  Our time together is truly special, and has been key to helping me find peace.
Most of all, thank you to my husband, Sean, and my daughters, Gillian and Tanith.  All I ever really wanted was you....and you've all gone above and beyond to love, help, and support me as I've taken this long journey towards better health.  Our family makes me the richest woman in the world.
I am so very blessed, and I love you all.

This isn't a comprehensive list of everything I've written about my allergies, but these are the important posts that tell the story:
  1. What the Heck is Smut: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
  2. What Happens When I Cheat
  3. The Uphill Climb
  4. No
  5. Dear Family and Friends
  6. What Is Different This Time
  7. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Fall
  8. Things That I Can't Control
  9. 160 Days And Counting: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Sharon Miller's Princess Shawl
Note: this isn't MY shawl or my picture, but a good detail photo I found online.
In October of 2012 I introduced you to my beautiful Princess Shawl.  It's a project that I dreamt of for almost five years before I took the plunge....and once I did it was a 350 hour/3 year labor of love that both tested my abilities and made my heart sing.  It was my mountaintop, and will hopefully be a family heirloom for decades to come.
Unfortunately, it lives in a box tucked away in my closet for safety.  There just aren't any formal events of the sort that would require me to wear something this special.  (My hope is that one day one of my girls will want it for her wedding....slim hope given how wildly different their taste is from mine, but hope springs eternal.)  Once in a while I take my Princess out and admire her great beauty, her delicate yarn, the gazillion stitches, the perfectly combined patterns, and her amazing drape.

Friends, it's time to knit another.  I'm ready to take up wee yarn and tiny needles again to knit another great masterpiece.
I need the challenge.

I need to be surrounded by that much beauty.
I spent Monday morning going through my options.  I have Miller's pattern for The Queen Ring Shawl as well as her books for the Love Darg Shawl and the Lerwick Lace Shawl.  They are all gorgeous, and I absolutely love the detailed patterns and books that Miller has created.
Then there is the gorgeous Queen Susan:
(Also a picture I found online...this is the one that is printed with the pattern.)
Which appeals to me in part because of the fact that the pattern was developed through the collaborative efforts of a group of dedicated lace knitters who'd fallen in love with a picture of an antique shawl at the Shetland Museum and had set out to recreate it for modern knitters.  I love that story of connection between the past and the present.
Plus, it's gorgeous.
But really, part of what triggered this need for more Shetland lace - although it's been building for a while - was the fact that last week I sat down to watch Outlander on Starz while it was free.  In two bedroom scenes Clair is wearing an absolutely gorgeous (and highly anachronistic) Shetland Shawl.  I lost my marbles over it, and spent an entire afternoon trying to find more information.  I was ultimately rewarded when I found the blog, A Passion For Lace
(photo from A Passion For Lace)
As it would turn out, Monique B. was also inspired by the tv show to recreate that shawl.  After studying screen shots, she contacted Terry Dresbach, the costume designer for Outlander, who sent her a picture of the antique shawl that was used in the show.  As of now, Monique B. has published The Shetland Star, which is a rectangular version, and is working on the pattern for the full-sized square.
Guess which one I want to do?
Yes, I'll wait for that square pattern.
So I have some pattern options.
I also am a fairly intelligent knitter and could probably come up with my own design if I'd get my act together - but that's another story altogether.
I also have some yarn options from a couple of fantastic sources.
One question remains.  What color should I use?
I've always had in mind that I wanted two heirloom quality Shetland shawls so that I could leave one to each daughter someday. (or they could each have a different one for their weddings....wishful thinking again!)  In order to do that, it would need to be another natural white.  Truthfully, I love white lace!  It just feels right.

I would LOVE to have a black Shetland shawl to actually use for myself.  I can actually imagine wearing black.  I've been dreaming about that for a long while.  Big plus, it would be a formal piece that I could wear to the (few and far between) formal events I go to, or church, or whatever!  It could actually also be more casual for wear with jeans and a sweater....not that I'm likely to do that, though.  I have other shawls for that.  The one problem I can see with this idea is that I would very likely go blind working on it.  Black is notoriously awful to knit with, and it has given me problems in the past.
One of the cool things that the collective behind the Queen Susan did was to put a gallery of pictures in the pattern in which the shawl is photo shopped in different colors, and it's kind of are the many pictures of Shetland Shawls done in colors that I've seen on Ravelry.  I will admit, though, that I have a hard time imagining living with a single color for as long as it takes to knit something like this, and I'm afraid it would ultimately limit it's usefulness in the future.  Plus, my color preferences shift a lot. 
So I'm dreaming, dreaming, dreaming...and hopefully by the end of the summer there will be something new on my needles!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Lessons From The Road

We're 9 weeks into our training plan for the Go Girl! Half Marathon, which will be held at the end of May, and I'm enjoying every single bit of the work I'm putting into it.  The journey has so far been even better than I'd hoped/expected.  I've been challenged, and I've learned so much about myself along the way.

With only six weeks left on our training plan, I thought I would share some of what I've learned!

1.  I may not be particularly fast, but I am apparently built for distance.  I LOVE long run days! 

2.  And I must be doing something right, because at the end of every long run I feel like I could keep going for a while longer.  That's pretty darn amazing.

3.  For us, the magic formula on long runs is:  1/5 mile walk to warm up + long run + at least a 1 mile walk to cool down = a happy body. 

4.  I don't have much of an appetite the day of my long runs - but look out, because the day after I will. eat.  everything.  all the food.  all.  of.  it.  Maybe the day after that too.

5.  Epson salt baths immediately following the long run + proper training + foam rolling as needed = no muscle pains whatsoever.  Truth be told, I'm kind of surprised by that. 

6.  Hallelujah!  Unsweetened dried tart cherries work just fine for fuel during my runs!  My doctor gave me the go ahead to experiment with some dried fruit a couple of months ago...that and a few other whole foods that are on my approved list.  It was actually pretty nerve wracking.  You can't run for more than an hour without fueling the body SOMEHOW, but finding something that wouldn't make me sick was trickier than expected. 

7.  I have trouble eating immediately after a long run, but if I don't I get into trouble later in the day.

8.  I did find an electrolyte tab that actually works for me - but unfortunately the company changed the formula and it now includes something I'm highly allergic to.  I'm stocking up like crazy, and am not looking forward to starting the search for a new one when the old stuff is gone.

9.  Selfies when you finish a long run are an absolute must. A girl has to celebrate somehow!  My FB friends and family may be getting tired of seeing such pics, but tough!  (Actually, they all have been super awesome about showing support when I post them....and that support means the world.)

10.  I'm soooo glad I'm doing this first half with my running partner.  Much as I also enjoy solitary runs, long runs are easier and more fun when you aren't alone....especially when you have a partner as amazing as mine is.  Plus, we feel safe running together on all of the amazing trails that our city has to offer. (I would not run many of them alone.)  It's very true...that relationship is special!

11.  Likewise, I'm glad I let go of my original time goals for this particular race.  It is, after all, my first half as a runner.  The important thing is to cross the finish line safely - feeling strong, being injury free.

12.  Having said that, I'm now even more committed to becoming a better/faster runner for the future.

13.  I'm totally hooked.  If I could afford it, I'd be one of those people who races all of the time, traveling all over the country for different events. Realistically, I can justify doing this about twice a year, which is fortunately enough to keep me focused on training since I run better when I'm working for something. 

14.  It's true...physical achievement can also give you an emotional/mental boost.  I'm more confident now than I have ever been, and for the first time in years and years I'm feeling possibility open up in front of me.  If I can do this, I can do anything!

15.  I don't think I've ever liked or appreciated my body as much as I do right now.  That, my friends, is a gift. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

March Books

1.  A Gathering of Shadows, V.E. Schwab - I love Schwab.  I really, really do.  And I love Delilah Bard...who may be the single most fascinating female character I've come across in a really long time. On top of that, this fantasy world really is a lot of fun because it's so much more unique than anything else I've found in a while.  I'm mad at Schwab for leaving this one on a cliffhanger...with no idea of how long I'll have to wait for the next book...grrrr.  (She cops to it in the end notes.  It's the first time she's ever done that.  I sort of forgive her.  Sort of.)  I think this is a series that I need in hardback.  It's just that damn good. 

2.  Columbine, Dave Cullen (audio) - No, this is not a book I would have ever picked up on my own.  I'm not someone who enjoys reading 'true crime' books, or anything even remotely related to that genre.  However, this book is very greatly admired by the hosts of the Literary Disco podcast - so much so, that it comes up in their conversations all of the time, and so I finally decided to read it.  I have to say, it deserves every single bit of praise that it's received.  Columbine is not at all an easy story to read...but it's both exceedingly well-told and well-researched.  Truth?  Many of the things I thought I knew about Columbine were not.  Truth?  I'm not ashamed to admit that this book left me in tears several times.  Completely, and utterly, heartbreaking. 

3.  The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer (audio) - No, I'm not particularly fond of Palmer's music.  It's just not my thing, and that's ok.  However, I adore her and follow with great interest on facebook.  She's fascinating, and she has some really amazing things to say about the power of human connection.  In fact, I've used her TED Talk in a sermon because I find her to be that profound.  I've been meaning to read this for a really long time, but an earlier attempt fizzled for no good reason.  I've got a digital copy that I purchased, but decided to try the audio again because Palmer narrates it herself.  Seriously, I think this should be listened to.  It comes straight from her heart, and wow...such an amazing message. 

4.  The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown - Another book of the sort I don't usually pick up on my own, although Brown has come highly recommended by a variety of sources that I trust. This summer will mark my third experience as a facilitator for the required theme class at Spectacular - an amazing summer camp that is put on by my church every year for high school students.  The curriculum is always amazing, and this book is one of two that we were asked to read this year as part of our preparation.  So I knew it would be good, and helpful for Spec.  I didn't know it would be so very profound in my own life.  In fact, it was exactly what I needed, giving me much to think about and work through in my journal.

5.  On Writing, Stephen King (audio) - A confession.  I've read a lot of King's books, and while I generally find myself fully engrossed, I can't actually say that I enjoy them. Also, some of King's (fairly recent) public (sour grapes) comments about other writers have really turned me off. I bought this book a couple of years ago on the recommendation of a good friend of mine who just so happens to be an amazing writer...but my general ambivalence about King prevented me from actually reading it.  I discovered the audio this month, and decided to give that a go.  Surprisingly enough, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.  The memoir part was mercifully brief, but insightful, and the writing advice part was fascinating.  When I finished, I pulled the book off of my shelf, bookmarked the beginning of the section on writing, and handed it to my husband, who is diligently working on his own books.

6.  The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter, Rod Duncan - Proving once again that my talent for sniffing out fantastic new books during browsing sessions at my local bookstore is still intact!  I found this six months ago or so at B&N, and took a quick pic for a reminder because it because it looked intriguing. Shortly after that it showed up on the sale page for iBooks, so I snapped it up.  It is in some ways a curious choice for me.  Steampunk in general isn't really my thing - although I have sniffed out at least one other trilogy that I really liked.  The thing that probably attracted me the most was the blurb on the cover by Graham Joyce, who's a writer I respect greatly.  I'm quite happy to report that I absolutely loved it and even devoured it in a single, glorious day.  No, it's not a perfect book, but it's fun and has an amazing,feisty female lead, and is different enough to pique my interest. There are two sequels, and I've put them both on my wish list for when I next need an easy, fun 'popcorn' type read.

7.  The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon - I picked this up a while ago because it was an award winner, and the concept intrigued me.  Moon's book is another take on the 'in the near future if we could solve/fix all medical 'imperfections', should we?' theme.  In this case, our protagonist is a man who was born a smidge too late for the treatments that now 'cure' autistic children. Thanks to the many therapies that were available, though, he has been able to build an independent, happy life for himself.  Then, a new treatment becomes available.  Should he take it?  Would he still be himself if he was no longer autistic?  It's not a book I could read quickly, in part because such questions make me deeply uncomfortable, and in part because of the voice that Moon created for her protagonist, which she developed through tons of research into autism.  Kudos to Moon for an amazingly well-written book.  My own discomfort aside, these are questions we should be asking ourselves.  I will say that I had trouble emotionally connecting, though, which contributed to it being a slow read. 

9.  The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr (audio) - This seems to be my month for masterclass lessons in writing.  I came to this book through Karr's NPR Fresh Air interview, in which I fell in love with her because of an exercise she puts her grad students through.  Memoir is not particularly a genre that I enjoy, but the discussion of how to write one is nevertheless fascinating.  I highly recommend this to anyone who either enjoys reading memoirs or has an interest in writing.

10.  Kingfisher, Patricia A. McKillip - A new McKillip book is always a treat, and I ordered this one so fast after learning about it that I think my keyboard was smoking!  (You should see my beautiful shelf of McKillip hardbacks...the design is always lovely.) I love what she does with tying a mythical story into a modern setting, and her language is just delicious.  Sometimes I do have to slow down and puzzle through some of her passages, but that's ok. It's been a while since she's put out a new novel, and it was worth the wait!

11.  River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay - I wanted a long book for Spring Break, and this is what I settled on.  (I got some great recommendations from my friends on FB for other books, and fully plan on reading them this spring/summer.)  Kay's writing is just gorgeous - so lyrical, so magical.  This book is set several hundred years after the events of Under Heaven - which I read recently - so it's basically the same fantasy version of ancient China.  As always, it takes a little bit of work to truly get into Kay's work, but once you do it's oh so worth it.  I find myself particularly intrigued by his female characters, which are every bit as well rounded and interesting as his males - not always the case with men who write science fiction and fantasy.  Once I fell into the book, it was hard to come back out. 

And Now the Shamefully (OK, not really is too short) Unfinished:

1.  Library of Souls, Ransom Riggs - I almost don't know why I decided to read this.  I absolutely loved the first book in the series, but was horrendously turned off by the second book.  I made it 50 pages in...and then realized I just didn't care.  I was very amused by one scene...but not enough to continue reading.  Life's just too short.

2.  Why Not Me, Mindy Kaling (audio) - I really enjoyed Kaling's first book, but the fact of the matter is that that book was an entire story.  This one is a series of essays, and even though I do appreciate and like Kaling's sense of humor, it was too disjointed for my taste.

3.  Out of Orange, Cleary Wolters (audio) - I read Piper Kerman's Orange is the New Black a few years ago, and really enjoyed it.  I was, however, late to the table with the Netflix hit by the same name.  When I started to watch it earlier this month - I'm already finished with all three currently available seasons - I checked out Kerman's book again so that I could brush up on a few details I had forgotten, and in the process stumbled on this book, which is the memoir of the real Alex Vaus.  Truth is, the woman is a really, really bad writer...even with an assist from a pro.  Couldn't get past the gratuitous cursing, and found I really didn't care. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Happiest Socks In The World

These might just be my most favorite pair of socks ever!

My heart and my knitting needles whispered that a dear friend needed a special gift...and my gut told me that this yarn was exactly what was needed, even if it's nothing at all similar to what she wears in her usual wardrobe.  

We all need a cheery pair of socks to wear once in a while - the crazier the better!  After all, Mom always taught me to wear red when it rains, and this is just a different kind of "red."  

These socks made me happy every time I pulled them out of the knitting bag.  They are a smile, and a hug, and I enjoyed every minute of knitting them.

My usual:
Basic Socks by Ann Budd
2.25 mm needles
Opal Sock Yarn - potpourri, paradise
68 stitches
24 rows 2x2 rib & 46 rows plain in leg
55 rows foot
March 14 - 18, 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Something Green

I wanted to knit something green for March and St. Patrick's Day. 
This lovely, old-fashioned thing was just the ticket....and I had the perfect pairing of yarn and beads in my stash.
Funny thing, though.  When I was about half way through knitting it, it whispered that it didn't really belong to me.  It was really meant for my mom. 
Sunflower Blanket
by Andrea Jurgrau in New Vintage Lace
2.3 skeins Knit Picks Shadow
20 grams matte silver 8.0 beads
Knit Picks Addi Turbo, US 5 - 3.75 mm
February 17 - March 7, 2016
As is typical...the color was really hard to capture in pictures.  The closest is this first picture with my mom, who was kind enough to humor me by modeling even though she really wasn't feeling all that great that day.  (Thanks mom!)
My one regret.  I had five skeins of the yarn, and I had really hoped that it would turn out to be much bigger than it did, because I'm kind of fond of gigantic lace pieces as they tend to be a smidge more versatile to wear.  I do like the way it knit up, though, and really wouldn't want to have used a bigger needle.  Granted, I have enough yarn left to make a second project, and that's nice.
The leaf edging is curious.  The stitch count more than triples, which makes it a tad difficult to properly block.  I personally think the leaves would be prettier if they could be pulled tighter...but then again, this gives the edge lots of stretch and a slightly ruffled look that is pretty as well.