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. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

February Books

My pile of purchased and unread books - both in print and digital - has gotten a tad out of hand, so I'll be working over the next couple of months to read down that pile. 

1.  The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver - I decided to start cleaning up my to-read piles this month, both on the shelves and in my ipad.  I bought this one on sale through ibooks quite some time ago, and while I like Kingsolver she's not my normal cup of tea so it's gone unread for quite some time.  I really enjoyed it, but truth be told it didn't make much of a dent.  For me it was a pretty fast/easy/lighthearted read for all that it touches on some pretty deep subjects.  Ultimately, and I hate to admit it, it was pretty forgettable, though. 

2.  Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente - I'm not entirely sure why I bought this, other than because it was on the sale page.  I've shared before that I've had Valente fatigue, much as I admire her for what she's done.  This book, though....this was something else, and that something was pretty darn amazing.  It's a Wild West version of Snow White, and it's both achingly beautiful and pitch perfect.  (Truthfully, it reminded me of Susan Lowell's delightful children's books, which are southwestern versions of classic tales.  My husband's aunt lives in AZ, and she sent us many of the Lowell books when our girls were small.  Dustylocks was a great favorite!)  I kind of felt like the ending was a bit weak, but I'll forgive it because the rest was so good.  I'm a sucker for a good fairy tale, and reworkings of the classics have always been dear to my heart. 

3.  Six Months, Three Days, Charlie Jane Anders (short story) - I wanted to read more from Anders, so I picked up this short story.  I've got to say, the idea that the story based on was truly, truly original, and while it wasn't a story I particularly *enjoyed* it did give me a whole lot to think about.  (Incidentally, just the day before I read it I'd listened to an interview with one of the writers from the X-Files, and one of the subjects they talked about was very close indeed to the subject of this story  Fascinating!)

4.  Court of Fives, Kate Elliott - I adore Elliott, and so I quite naturally snapped this up - her newest book, and her first attempt at YA.  I most certainly enjoyed reading it, devouring it in 24 hours in a binge reading haze....but I'm not 100% sure how I feel about it.  Loved the idea, loved the characters.  Elliott specializes in feisty female leads, and Jess was wonderful as expected.  Maybe it's just that I love her *regular* novels so much, which made this feel a bit washed thin in comparison.  Maybe it's that there are other writers out there (ahem, Leigh Bardugo) who have done such a brilliant job with YA fantasy that everyone else pales in comparison.  Not quite sure what my problem is, but something was a tad off from a normal Elliott reading experience.  Nevertheless, I immediately went and preordered the next in the series!

5.  Carry On, Rainbow Rowell (audio) - Much was made about Lev Grossman's The Magicians trilogy...a so-called grown-up/more realistic take on the Harry Potter/Narnia books.  (and by realistic, I mean that the characters act like real, totally screwed up teens/young adults)  I enjoyed them, but I found them hard to relate to and wasn't quite so enamoured of Grossman as the rest of the world is.  All that to say that I had some reservations about trying Rowell's book, which I knew was also a riff on the "Chosen One" theme that permeates fantasy.  Silly me, Carry On was pretty darn amazing.  It's very much a take on Harry Potter, and it calls out all of the things that maybe niggle in the back of the head.

6.  Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D'Art, Christopher Moore - This was a gift from a friend, which I received well over a year ago.  I'm rather embarrassed I hadn't read it until now because that particular friend is an amazing person who tends to like the same sort of books I like.  I have a hard time describing this book, other than to say that I adored it because it included all of my favorite artists as characters and was generous about including some of their art, which was woven into the storyline.  It was a lot of fun to read!

7.  Rose of Fire, Carlos Ruiz Zafron (short story) - Truth.  I bought Zafon's Shadow of the Wind on the advice of a trusted book friend...and I've never read it.  Can't seem to get past the first chapter, for whatever reason.  Why I then bought this short story and a sequel...just because they were on sale?  Who the heck knows!  This short story was absolutely lovely, so I need to try again. 

Truth Time:  I spent a lot of time this month finishing up books that I'd left undone for whatever reason.  Sooooo....they are listed in other months, and I'm not going to move them around, but I will make a few additional comments. 

1.  All the Birds In the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders - I just listed this last month, but wound up not having the time I expected over the last couple of days of the month to finish it.  It's an amazing book, and is definitely on my list for the best of 2016.  I've been recommending it to everyone. 

2.  Tower of Thorns, Juliet Marillier - Truth be told, I didn't finish this book back when the preorder for it arrived because I was rather disappointed by it.  That was weird because I generally love Marillier.  I finished the second half of the book, and I'm quite happy to say that it not only returned to form, but that there were sections that were quite frankly amazing.  Will I get the next one in the series?  Probably...but maybe not immediately upon release. 

3.  Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Craner - Just as the podcast needs to be digested in smaller chunks, so does the book.  I still love it, but a little goes a long way sometimes.  I found it in audio format through my library, and as I was out of stuff to listen to I went ahead and borrowed it so that I could finish the book a bit quicker.  Honestly, this stuff is more fun to listen to than to read. I'm not sure the book was either necessary or a good idea. 
4.  The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin - It's better if you wait until the entire series is released, which is part of why I'd set this aside after my initial review.  Plus, Jemisin's one great flaw is that her writing is so literary and her universes are so unique that it can be difficult to really settle into them.  I find that when I start a new series with her it takes half of the first book to really get attached and start enjoying my reading.  In a lesser author, I wouldn't bother to push past that initial phase.  With Jemisin, it's totally worth it.  Not ashamed to admit I was sobbing by the end.