Monday, December 30, 2013

December Books and 2013 Reading Roundup!

1. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt - Full disclosure, I've never read The Secret History, which by all accounts is an amazing book.  Having heard so many wonderful reviews over the years, I was curious about Tartt's newest book, so I snagged it from the library.  My opinion?  I agree with every single review that I've heard/read about The Goldfinch.  It's an amazing book...but it's way too long....but I'm not sure what Tartt could/should have cut.  For me the first half of the book was insanely good.  Couldn't put it down, was totally engrossed.  It started to lose steam after that, though, and with about 1/4 of the book left I gave up.  I skimmed the last 250 pages or so (I read the ebook version, so I don't know what that translates into in terms of real pages.)  I think my biggest issue was that I just flat out stopped caring about the characters and so it became a slog.  I really wanted to love this book, and I almost did.  Sort of.

2.  After Dead, Charlaine Harris - Having finished up the Sookie Stackhouse books, Harris decided to write a follow-up book that explains what happened to all of the characters after the events of the books ended.  It was a super-quick read, and was super-fun.  Harris has a wry sense of humor, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her vignettes on each of her characters.  I also think it's pretty darn awesome that she decided to do the ever afters on her own terms. 

3.  Lud In The Mist, Hope Mirrlees - I'm a sucker for a good blurb, and when Neil Gaiman's name is attached it becomes a must-read.  Lud is very much a typical fairy tale....although one with a bit more foo-foo language than most.  I had trouble getting into it - partially because of that foo-foo language, which I found to be tiresome and confusing.  (Overly flowery for flowery's sake)  At the end of the day, though, I did enjoy the plot and characters.  Yeah...I enjoyed it, but I don't know that I would recommend it.

4.  Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowel - How to bait a hook really, really well for me:  describe a book as Jane Austin with a magic twist!  I tumbled across this book while looking through the Hugo and Nebula Award winner/nominee lists on iBooks, and could NOT resist.  Absolutely true that it's a very lighthearted read with little of real substance...but it's also absolutely true that it was a lot of fun, and I can't wait to read the two sequels!  It was a lot of fun tracing the Austin influence in Kowel's characters. 

5.  The Golum and the Jinni, Helene Wecker - This book popped up on multiple Best of 2013 lists, and when an online friend urged me to read it I knew I could not resist.  Wow.  Just.....Wow.  I don't know that I really want to say much about it, other should all totally read it asap.

6.  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin - A couple of my college friends have been recommending this book to me for YEARS.  Silly me, I really wish I'd read it immediately!  I immediately fell in love with Yeine, our heroine, and was tickled to find a pretty fresh world in Jemisin's creation.  It was a thoroughly satisfying read, and was probably the most traditional fantasy novel that I've read in a long while.  It made me very hungry for more. 

7.  Shadow & Bone, Leigh Bardugo - A Books on the Nightstand recommendation that I couldn't resist when I discovered it was on sale for $2 on ibooks!  Yay!  (The end of the year deals have been amazing.)  This is YA fantasy at it's absolute best, and I loved the Russian twist to the fantasy world.  The second book came out this year, and according to at least one review I read it's every bit as good as the Shadow & Bone.  The third book is due out next year, and the real question is do I read the second now or wait until #3 is published so that I can read them back to back?

8.  Ironskin, Tina Connolly - Absolutely true, it is Jane Eyre with a fey twist.  (The author recognizes that in the acknowledgements, although it's a tad unclear as to whether or not it was originally intended.  I think it must have been.  It's too obvious.)  Just as with Shades of Milk and Honey, this second few twist on a classic was found on the Hugo and Nebula iBooks pages.  The difference, though, is that there was real substance in Ironskin.  There's much there about appearance, self-worth and finding one's inner value.  I couldn't put it down....which was somewhat problematic as I was reading it over Christmas at my parents' house!

9.  The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, Catherynne M. Valente - I absolutely adore Valente's books about the marvelous September....but I also am realizing that I find them maybe just a tad too precious.  As much as I delight in the whimsy, I have to admit that these books can be a tad difficult to really get into, and they tend to put me to sleep when I'm reading them.  I'm thinking it's perhaps because I was so fully engrossed by so many good books this month that I finally noticed....or maybe it's just because by book 3 the problems are starting to show.  Not sure.  I still love them, but I just can't give this one as much of a recommendation as I have in the past, and I'm not sure if I'll continue on if there are more books. 

10.  Copperhead, Tina Connolly - Ooohhhh....a sequel!  With another one planned!  Connolly has blissfully moved on from Jane Eyre, and focuses this book on Jane of Ironskin's sister, Helen.   Yep, snapped it up as soon as I discovered it.  Haven't finished it yet, but will by the stroke of midnight tomorrow night!  Love it!

And now....drumroll please....
my 2013 Book and Reading Review!

  •  I read a total of 117 books this year.
  • With about 4 of those being books I didn't complete, that averages out to 10 full books/month.
  • October was my biggest month - with 16 books.
  • Interestingly enough, my October book blog post was my most popular blog post ever. 
  • I had three months of themed reading, which was fun. 
  • Several years ago I discovered the Books on the Nightstand podcast, and since then the range of what I read has expanded greatly.  I think it's been really good for me, and it's certainly introduced me to a wide range of authors that I never would have tried before.
  • Having said that, December brought me back to fantasy, which has long been my great love - and I have to admit that it felt really, really good.  I may focus more on fantasy/fairy tales in the next year.
My Top 10 of 2013
(in order of when they were read)
  1. Wonder
  2. Beautiful Ruins
  3. Tiny Beautiful Things
  4. The Hum and the Shiver
  5. The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  6. A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon
  7. Life After Life
  8. Night Film
  9. The Cats of Tanglewood Forest
  10. The Golum and the Jinni
Thank you for traveling along with me on all of my reading adventures. 

Here's hoping 2014 brings just as many wonderful books!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Taking Stock

Friends, I'm in a mood. 

I've decided I want to start 2014 with a clean slate...which means it's time to take a serious look at any and all unfinished projects, forgotten plans and general messes in my workbasket. 

Let's see what we have, and perhaps figure out what to do about some of it!

1.  A tiny trio:
the minis to match my three most recent pair of knit socks

 I did that today.  Yay!

2.  The Maia Mitts:
 They are now frogged.
The nutshell is that the pattern very clearly didn't work for my hands.  While I was able to figure out the details of how to fix the problem, I just didn't have any interest in completely redoing the mitts.

3.  Maia Shoulderette:
I didn't finish it off because I decided to wait until the mitts were done so that I could use up any leftover yarn in the wee shawl.  Now I have a decision to make.  With almost an entire skein now available, do I frog back the bottom portion of the shawl and add another repeat of the middle section to make it a bit bigger?  Or do I just cast the thing off so that I can move on?  Not sure yet.

4.  Tanith wants mittens.
Goodness help me, this is the leftover from the first hat kit (still haven't cracked open the second kit!) so I might as well make that happen.

5.  Mandala Shawl:
This one is the problematic one....but I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to do.
The fact of the matter is that this is my third attempt at a pattern I really, really love...but wow, I just can't seem to finish it.  I worked through most of the pattern this time around, and then got stuck trying to figure out how much more to do so that I could make it as big as my ball of yarn would allow.  The fact that I never went back to it says something.  Generally speaking, if something has been sitting around for more than three months than it goes into the frog pond.
I'm thinking the yarn would make a lovely featherlight cardigan instead....
and I do need clothes considerably more than I need more shawls.

 6.  Cupcakes!
My cupcake kit has a ton of yarn left.
Make more cupcakes?  Or repurpose the yarn/pass it along to someone else?

7.  Kusha Kusha kit:
This will never be a Kusha Kusha scarf. 
I've had the kit for over three years, it's a basic pattern, and I've never made time for it.
I have an idea...for which this stainless steel yarn will be PERFECT.
Stay tuned....

8.  Quite some time ago I started working on my very own Pi shawl design.
The yarn is my very own handspun laceweight in a merino/tencel blend.
It's yummy...I need to get to work!

9.  Scrapbook Blanket:
Still needs to have about half of the ends woven in...and needs to have an edging added on.
I'm getting there.

10.  Bug Out! Socks.
They are so cool that I'm going to wait until they are finished to share a picture.
I want it to be a surprise!

11.  The Stash:
I've done a really, really good job of working with what I have for two years now rather than continuing to purchase new yarns.  I'm very pleased at the great dent that's been made in what I have, and I want to continue on with that!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Magic!

So I had an idea...... 
 A couple of years ago, my Gillian fell head over heals in love with Kerin Dimeler-Laurence's Andean Chullo pattern in the Knit Picks catalog.  She begged and pleaded for that hat, and so when the kits went on sale I decided to indulge her!
 The kits were being sold at such an amazing price that I decided Tanith would need a hat as well.
Two kids, two hats...two kits, right?!?!
Silly me...there's enough yarn in a single kit to make at least four hats!
Such is the agony and the ecstasy of colorwork.
 I've had all of this extra yarn just sitting around...
and it really, really needed to be turned into something wonderful....
and the girls have totally been into their American Girl Dolls for a long while....
and had practically asked for nothing but doll clothes for Christmas....
 So even though I SWORE after last year I would NEVER knit doll clothes again....
Well, some promises are meant to be broken.
You would too, if it made your children this happy!
Full details - including all notes as to how I modified the original pattern to fit the dolls - can be found on my Ravelry Page.
Yeah...I'm pretty pleased with myself!
PS.  JoJo approves

A Christmas Trio Plus One

While I didn't push myself for a complete handmade Christmas this year, there were - quite naturally - a few lovely knit things under the tree, including a trio of handknit socks!
 As usual, all socks are knit with Ann Budd's Basic Sock pattern
from The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns.
 Sean's socks were made from Ellen's Half Pint Farm Merino Sock...the ONLY skein I had left in my stash with sufficient yardage for his looooong feet.  They are his usual custom fit - 80 stitches, 2x2 ribbing, 78 rows in the leg and 60 rows in the foot.  December 8-13....which is super-fast!
 Totally cheated and gave Gillian my Lucy socks...which I knit for myself this fall.  Her feet are soooo close to my size, and she loves these colors.  I do too, but it saved a lot of time!
 Miss Tanith's socks are knit from Araucania Ranco Multi on size 2.25 mm needles.
December 2-7.
And a pair I knit for myself between Nov 1 and Dec 1....and totally forgot to post.
Typical Kristin Sock:
Zwerger Garn Opal Hundertwasser
Knit Picks Harmony 2.0 mm needles
76 stitches - 23 rib and 50 stockinette in leg, 60 stockinette in foot
I had to shorten the foot a couple of rows because my last two pair have been a smidge too long!

Monday, December 9, 2013

My Brilliant Kid

A few weeks ago we had a pretty significant problem crop up at school.  My fifth grader came home in a very bad mood (which is just not like her), and when pressed a bit for details tearfully admitted that her class was studying nutrition and she just didn't know how she was supposed to answer the questions.  You see, the standard American ideal of nutrition that is taught in the schools does not at all match what our doctors have taught us and what we practice at home.  My poor girl was stuck between wanting to do well on her health unit but not wanting to lie.

I immediately composed and sent an email to her teacher, explaining the problem and asking if she had any ideas as to how we could come to a compromise for my daughter.  Bless her heart, she wrote back within an hour, telling me that she understood and would do some brainstorming.  The next morning she wrote again to let us know that she had decided that our girl didn't have to take the test, but instead could write an essay about the hows and whys of our family's paleo diet.  It was a perfect solution, and I simply cannot thank her enough for coming up with an outside of the box plan! 

The essay came home in her folder today, with a 100% and a big star on top.  I was blown away when I read it! I loved it so much that I asked her if I could share it with you, and she graciously agreed.  (Spelling and punctuation is all hers....remember, this is her first essay test!)

Some people eat chips, sandwhichs, cheez-its, and cookies for lunch.  Other people eat meats, veggies, fruit and maybe some funky looking soup or meat.  I am one of those other people who eat different nutrients. 

I eat what is called a paleo diet.  It is made up of fruits, veggies and meat.  Basically, we don't eat anything with a label on it.  My family doesn't eat one hundred percent paleo but we do our best.  My sister and I take gluten free items in our lunch and we are allowed to cheat at parties and other events.  We have turkey burgers as a snack instead of doritos.  When grocery shopping we raid the produce isle, picking up whatever's on sale.  We basically eat like dinosaurs.  They idn't have cheerios, ritz, or bread.  We still eat nuts though but no beans.  We also don't eat processed foods. 

We eat this way because we have allergies.  Mom being the most allergic and dad being able to eat whatever.  When I eat grains and dairy I get headaches, I get grumpy, I get tired, and I don't feel well.  We believe that grains aren't healthy because grains can be hard to digest and irritate the digestive system.  Grains also have anti-nutrients which prevent and disrupt digestion.  All grain products are refined in some way which means they were changed in the manufacturing.  Then the body doesn't know what to do with them.  It doesn't recognize processed foods.  When grains get digested, they break down like sugars do which can cause swings in blood sugar which causes mood swings and energy spikes. 

If you compare my diet to another persons diet, even though they have more options, paleo has more nutrients.  When I eat this way, I feel better.  We replace flour with almond flour and we have found a way to make paleo pancakes.  We have more options then you think.  We have a lot of great recipes to choose from even though most nights we have turkey burgers and roasted carrots with steamed broccoli.  We get healthy fats from steak instead of bad fats from chips.  When we buy things with labels, they usually have very natural products in them.

When we pack lunches, we usually find gluten-free versions of what other people eat to make us feel "normal."  We buy the healthier versions of chips by buying kettle chips and gluten-free cheese puffs.  When we cheat we have to keep in mind that we won't feel well if we eat it so we have to weigh our options.  When we go to church reunion in the summer we bring a bin of food to help us not get as sick.  When we get meals in the lodge, we usually load up at the salad bar and have our snacks later.

We eat differently because it makes us feel better.  We have different nutrition than some people but allergies get in the way.  That's why we eat like dinosaurs. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Cranky Letter

Dear Family Sitting At the Table Next To Me,

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry that I've managed to offend you by the simple fact that I've chosen an entire table for myself this morning.  I know you would prefer that I sit at the large communal table...because you discussed that, pointing to me and then to the table in as obvious a manner as you thought you could get away with.  I believe the exact quote was "She should be over there."

The irony is that if I had been doing my usual - knitting with my earbuds plugged in and a podcast playing - I likely wouldn't have even noticed.  But today I was doing some Hard Work that needed to be done.

Hard Work that didn't need to be interrupted by a rude family.

I thought about getting up and saying something snide....but that just isn't in me, and you aren't really worth it.  I have no desire to call you out publicly or make a scene.

Besides, I have a reputation as a nice girl to maintain!

But you did hurt my feelings, and I wanted to respond somehow...especially as you kept sending me vitriolic looks the entire time you were here.

And so....

Shut it, dear family sitting next to me.

For starters, it is not MY Fault that the tables and chairs are set up like this.  This place went through a major overhaul this summer, and the powers that be decided that they could get more people packed in here if they redid the seating.  Thus...instead of many individual tables there now exists one big communal table, a computer 'bar' along the window and just a few individual tables.  Nope, it's not really ideal, but it is what it is.  The important thing to remember here is that I DID NOT DESIGN THE TABLES.  Like you, I am working with what I have.

The fact of the matter is that I've tried...I really have tried to sit at that big table.  As I am generally here by myself, I know I probably  *should* sit at the group table.  The fact of the matter, though, is that I was excruciatingly uncomfortable sitting there - uncomfortable at being forced into such close proximity with people I don't know...distracted by so much movement and noise at such a close range...unable to focus - yeah, it was ugly.  I shouldn't have to explain my own neurosis to you.

Nor should I have to explain simple human kindness and consideration.  If it's pretty darn clear to me upon entering a coffee shop that people have chosen their seats for their own  personal needs and comfort, than it should be clear to you.

Besides, coffee shops are first come, first serve.  Blame your own darn selves for getting here at a particularly busy time of day.  Anyone could have told you that it would be difficult to find seating during lunch hour at a busy location.  This is a high traffic store...I regularly see people making the best of it with cheery dispositions.  Maybe you should try that?

So you are just going to have to deal with the fact that you have a smaller table than me.

Tough Sh*t.

One last note.  I LOVED the look on your faces when a friend came in and the barista yelled out pretty loudly, "Kristin, do you know EVERYONE!?!"

Dude...they've got my back.


PS.  In the 10 years that I've been seeking refuge in coffee shops, this is honestly the ONLY negative experience I've had.  All in all, that's a pretty darn good track record.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Starborn Peacock

 This is a big deal, friends.
 Because not only did I knit this scarf....
 ...I knit it from handspun silk.
 The fiber is from Chasing Rainbows Dyeworks in the Starbirth colorway.
It's the first time I'd ever spun silk,
and I'm delighted with how the colors gently stripe in the finished project.
 The pattern is Nancy Bush's Peacock Tail and Leaf Scarf
from her beautiful book, Knitted Lace of Estonia.
I used an Addi Turbo, US 4 to do the work.
 I took my time....I started knitting it on June 23, 2012, and finished it on October 23 of this year.
I did the actual finish work just a few days ago.
It's lovely.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What Turned Out To Be A Sillyish Post

Well Hello Friends!
It's been a long while since we've had just a newsy, chatty sort of here it goes!
  • It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...
  • Actually, not so much.  We're having trouble figuring out where to put our tree.  The orange chairs have made our living room extremely comfy...but also pretty crowded in terms of furniture, and our tree is very, very large.
  • There's also the issue of how to put up a tree so that the rather large one-year-old puppy doesn't destroy it....
  • Yeah, I've got nothing.
  • Speaking of the rather large one-year-old puppy, Winston and I have been taking Pet Manners One.  He's doing really, really well for a very, very immature lab with puppy brain. 
  • Seriously...I am proud. 
  • I've only wanted to throttle him during one of our sessions. 
  • Much better than expected.
  • Winston would like you to know that he's very sad that it is now too cold to go swimming.  I'm sad, too.  It is super-fun to watch him swim.
  • I never in a million years thought I would be a dog park sort of girl...but there you go, I am one.
  • It's taken two and a half years, but my cat has finally - FINALLY - figured out that it is her job to sleep on my feet at night.  She's also finally decided to be a snuggle cat.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much I'm enjoying this.
  • I am not enjoying the ongoing battle I'm having with my daughter's cat over my yarn.  Sigh.
  • My children are still fantastic.
  • My husband is also still fantastic. 
  • I'm pretty lucky that way.
  • Enough about them. 
  • I'm still working really hard to get myself back on my allergy diet.  I've cleaned most everything out except for some occasional potatoes, coffee and some chocolate. 
  • ....and tomorrow is the day when that stuff goes away too.  Fingers crossed. 
  • Nope, I really haven't found the peace I so need with my allergies, nor is the depression gone.  It's going to be a long road folks, but I take pride in the fact that I keep putting one foot in front of the other. 
  • There are signs of life returning, which is a blessed, blessed thing. 
  • For example, I'm almost done with that beaded lace shawl.  It was a simple and quick knit, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It's beyond good to get back to something I love so much. 
  • I mean, really...I didn't knit lace for almost six months.  Clearly that was a red flag.
  • This is completely random:  My hair is now shorter than it's ever been, making the cowlick I didn't know I had a HUGE pain in my arse.  90% of the time I have a big chunk of hair sticking straight up.  As annoyed as I am, I also think this is pretty funny.
  • Back to the knitting...which is what we were sort of talking about, and is now the tangent I'd like to follow.
  • I like knitting.
  • And with that, this has officially degenerated to silliness on a level that is unacceptable for further writing. 
Have  a great week everyone!