Sunday, August 31, 2014

Summer Reading, Part 3 - August!

AKA, the month I decided that I WANTED to do several rereads but also NEEDED to work my way through the pile of books that I've already bought but hadn't yet touched.  Seriously...the queue in iBooks was getting out of control, and I have several preorders coming this fall!

1. Tam Lin, Pamela Dean - I have a special place in my heart for Tam Lin as it was my official gateway into the world of fantasy literature.  (Caveat, OF COURSE I grew up on Narnia, Tolkein, L'Engle, and fairy tales.  Given how much I've always loved those books, I'm not sure why I didn't travel the fantasy path earlier.  Instead, I grew up on a steady diet of classics and Victoria Holt romances, sometimes struggling to find reading material because the books at the time that were marketed  to my age group were so horrendous.)  I was a freshman in college, and was developing an interesting circle of friends that included fellow alums from Missouri Scholars Academy and the fencing club.  In some instances I can remember who recommended what.  This, sadly, is not one of those cases.  I do remember falling hopelessly in love with Tam Lin, and that love propelled me to chase down the rest of the excellent fairy tale series it belonged to.  (Also starting my love affair with the work of Terri Windling.)  In short, Tam Lin is a modern retelling of an old Scottish ballad set in a 1970's liberal arts college.  It's been years and years since I last read it, and to be honest I'd forgotten how strange the pacing is.  Lots and lots of nothing happens for a very long time, but every single detail is focused on as if it's of immense importance....which is just exactly what it feels like when you first go to college.  The end then happens with a breathless rush.  Incidentally, this is exactly how the pacing of the original Scottish ballad feels.  I'd forgotten how many similarities I felt between myself and the book - English, classics, fencing, the focus on my campus, the importance of all of that reading.  True, I rolled my eyes a bit over the crazy details.  I think perhaps if I hadn't read Tam Lin during college I might not have enjoyed it quite so much.  Timing, sometimes, is everything.  It was a delight to reread!

2.  The Quick, Lauren Owen - This was a BOTNS recommendation, and the thing that made me perk up my ears when it was first mentioned a month or so ago was the fact that Kate Atkinson loved it.  (Recommendations by authors sometimes go a very long way with me...but only of a few select writers.)  Darn it, I loved it....but I soooo wish I'd read it in October, when I start to yearn for stories about monsters.  I'm not sure I want to say too much about it, because I don't want to give away any details in case you'd like to read it.  For sure, this is a book for you if you like Victorian Gothic and/or more classical style horror novels.  As a special bonus, it had one of the most satisfying endings I've read in a really, really long time in this genre.

3.  The Magician's Land, Lev Grossman - Oh my, the first of those preorders came through!  Going to admit, I wasn't too excited about reading this final entry in Grossman's Magician's trilogy because the second book wasn't so much fun for me.  (To be completely honest, the teen antics in the first left me a bit cold, too...I was so NOT that kind of teen.)   Buuuuutttt....yeah, I had to finish the series.  I'm so, so glad I chose to read the final installment, because it was amazing.  In fact, it was probably the best of the three books.  The really awesome thing is that Grossman allowed his characters to truly gain maturity throughout the series, while staying true to his irreverent tone.  In fact, I kind of wish that I had waited until they were all published so that I could read them back to back as it truly would have felt like one big book.  It's a pretty incredible thing to wind up a series in such a satisfactory manner, having seen the writer improve throughout.  Now...I need to reread my Narnia books....

4.  Enchantment, Orson Scott Card (audio) - I honestly don't remember the when I first read this book. I'm guessing it was in the few years prior to my marriage.  I remembered the details only faintly....Russian folklore, a woman lying on a bier in the woods...ah yes, I didn't remember much, but I remembered it was lovely.  When I found it on hoopla, I immediately borrowed it and began reading it even though it wasn't on my list of rereads I'd planned for the month..  (To my delight, it uses both male and female readers, and they are among my favorite Blackstone readers.)  Truth - Card is a little bit problematic because of his personal politics/beliefs, and on rereading I can see how some of that crept into the book, particularly in gender roles.  Having said that, I still really enjoy this book even if it's not quite as perfect as I remember it.  For me, one of the biggest delights is Baba Yaga (and if I remember correctly, this book was my very first introductions to her), who is delightfully wicked.  Plus, Card's take on her house with chicken legs is hysterical!

5.  The Uninvited Guests, Sadie Jones - I can't remember where I first heard about this book, but it does have rather stellar reviews all over the place.  It took me forever to get into it...not going to lie....but wow, the payoff for sticking with it was huge!  It's kind of an old-fashioned, gentle ghost story on top of book of manners.  As I look back, the thing that really sticks out is how funny the book was in places.  I'm going to have to ponder this book for a's the sort that sticks with you, with more and more details emerging the longer you think about it.

6.  Her Fearful Symmetry, Audry Niffenegger - I loved the Time Traveler's Wife, and because of that this book has been on my wish list for a long while.  Sadly, I was disappointed.  Oh, I loved the characters....most especially some of the lesser characters like Martin.  (What would I give for an entire book about Martin?!)  I hated the plot, though.  Ultimately, the book left me feeling cold.  You know...I do like books about unlikeable protagonists, but the writer has to make me care about them in some way.  The younger twins I just couldn't connect with.  The older twins...well, Niffenegger managed to pull off the trick of having me love them in the beginning and despise them by the end.

7.  Tea With A Black Dragon, R.A. MacAvoy- This was recommended to me quite some time ago by my fairy godmother, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm only just getting to it!  First off, I'm wondering if the print version is easier to read.  There were some editing issues which I am guessing were caused when the book was transferred to a digital format.  Most noticeably, there were odd transitions between paragraphs where there should be a break in the page.  I got lost a few times in trying to figure out what was going on until I figured out this would be an ongoing problem, and I will admit that it dropped my enjoyment of this book down a few notches.

8. The Sword-Edged Blonde, Alex Bledsoe (audio) - I admit to being curious about Bledsoe.  I absolutely adore his Tufa books, which are some of the best modern fairy tales I've found in a long while, so I thought it would be worthwhile to try one of his other books.  At less than 10 hours, this is a quick audio book...and it was so much fun.  Bledsoe's Lacross books are a mash up between fantasy and the hard-boiled detective novel.  It's a curious combination that sounds like it shouldn't work...but in this case it really does.  Of course, another awesome narrator really added to the experience.  (I actually had to double check because I thought at first it was James Naughton, one of my favorite Broadway actors.)  There are more books in this series, and I believe I'm going to use them as some lighthearted quick reads between weightier tomes.

9. The Call, Yannick Murphy - Pretty cool to fall in love with a book/character on the very first page. Given the slow warm up I felt for so many other new books this month, that was big for me.  Of course, it helps that my dad is a veterinarian, and that I spent my childhood going on call with him, so  it all felt very, very familiar.  The book is written as though it's our narrator's notes for his veterinary practice...with lots of other comments added in.  It could have been an annoying format, but instead it was utterly charming.  This is absolutely going on my list of top 10 books for this year!

10.  The Poppet and the Lune, Madeline Claire Franklin - I have very few FB friends who I don't know in person.  The few I have come from very trusted sources, and are a delight to me.  One of my friends designs covers for indie publishers, and as she has tastes similar to mine I tend to rush to any recommendations she gives me.  A few days ago I accepted the FB challenge of listing 10 books that were important to me, and she suggested this book based on that list.  She said "the Poppet is probably one of the most exquisite faerie tales I've ever read."  I immediately downloaded it, and could not agree more.  It is a lovely, lovely book...and this is exactly the sort of thing I love most to read.  Now...I'm not entirely finished with it right now, but as I'm planning on burying my nose in it this afternoon I'm including it in August anyway.

Special Project:  The Call of Chaos, by Sean Frazier - Yep, my husband has written a book, and so a lot of my reading time this month was devoted to a read through (with editing/notes...making it a slow process for me) of his work.  I'm very proud of my husband for returning to his writing in the last year as it's a passion of his that he put on hold while our children were young.  He's much happier now that he's back to a regular writing schedule, and I'm absolutely delighted to be witness to his creative process.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Hello...and Good Bye.

I really, really needed to see something through from start to finish as quickly as possible.  I also really need to work through the stash. Happily, those two needs were satisfied by this wee shawl, which I shall formally present as soon as it's been blocked. 
Alas, it's time to say good bye to two much-loved pair of socks. They are beyond repair, and in any case have served me well for the last 10 years or so. (Yep, my opal socks last - with heavy use - for 8-10 years, making them well worth the investment!). It's a bit sad to lose them, especially the pair on the left which was the first pair I made for myself.   It's a good thing I have a drawer full of other hand knit socks to comfort myself!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Bug Is Back

My knitting life has been pretty dismal this year.  We could spend hours talking about why...and even then I'm not sure we could come up with a good explanation.  It's just been strange.
However, as of two days ago, my passion has returned - to my immense relief!
So let's just take a little look-see into the workbasket....
 Yes, I'm still working on the Spider Queen edging.  This has been such a troubled project for so long that I've honestly not got a huge interest in finishing it.  I work on it a bit here and a bit there.  It is what it is!
 I also started my husband's sweater last week.  This is the ribbing, which is always the slowest part of a fair isle project for me.  I did have to order a longer 2.5mm needle for the body, and it arrived yesterday.  It will be getting most of my attention in the coming few months.
But while I was waiting for that new needle to arrive, something funny happened.  What was that?  Well, I came down with a major case of 'startitis' on Monday.....
 I started a two color, fingering-weight shawl.  I had originally intended these two colors to be used together in a pair of socks, but there isn't quite enough contrast between them to make the pattern really pop.  (I tried twice.)  Soooo....striped shawl it is!  This will be my fifth small shawl from Rosemary Hill's original 7 Small Shawls subscription/book, and I'm sure I will love it as much as I love all of the rest.
 I cast on my next pair of Opal socks.  I always need more.  Don't laugh.
 Then I cast on a second pair of socks, which will be gifted to my Fairy Godmother.  As luck would have it, I had the perfect skein of yarn in my stash for this gift!
 Then, just for kicks, I cast on a second fingering weight shawl.  This is a bamboo blend, purchased because it was in an 1,100 yard skein specifically for a shawl at some point.  (I had long since decided that bamboo was a horrible fiber for socks.)  This is also a Rosemary Hill design, and is one I had tried with another yarn a few years ago.  That pairing didn't work, but I think this one might.  Besides, I really wanted a new fingering-weight, 'everyday' shawl for this winter.
Before I can continue, I need to figure out if I want to add beads...opinions? (Thought I also had some peachy-pink beads, but I guess not.)
So yes, the knitting bug is back, and it is back with a vengeance.  Casting on four new projects in a single day - while waiting for the needle to continue with a major project that needs a lot of attention - is actually a bit strange for me, but we're just going to go with it!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

In the Nick of Time!

I finished up a new pair of socks for myself just as two older pair decided to die.  Can't be short on wool socks this winter...that would be a disaster!
Basic Socks:
 a la Ann Budd in the Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns
Opal Sparkles
Knit Picks Harmony DPN's in 2.0 mm
May 26 - Aug. 5, 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014

I Ate Some Chocolate...and the World Didn't End.

This is directly from a journal entry that I wrote yesterday morning.  I really wanted to share it with you all, and I decided that I would just go ahead and post it mostly as is with little to no editing.  

I ate some chocolate yesterday, and the world didn't end.

I had bought a bar of Patrick 75% dark the day before in a fit of pique over the fact that I had been feeling so horrible.  It was kind of one of those 'if I'm still feeling like crap over a month into this, than what's the point?!' moments.  I'm not proud of it, but that's honest.  Oddly enough, I didn't eat it immediately when I got home.  It sat in my purse for more than a day.

And the weird thing is, I'm not all that sure I wanted to eat it yesterday.  Actually, I know I was ambivalent about it.  I had thought about it on and off all day, and could really take it or leave it.  When it came right down to it, I ate it because it was there...not because I actually wanted the chocolate.

But eat it, I did.


I didn't enjoy it all that much...Surprise!

True, the first smell was almost overwhelmingly intoxicating.  A girl could get drunk off that smell.  The first taste was good...but no where near the amazing experience I remembered.  It was a bit of a letdown, actually.  I ate it slowly over the course of 30-45 minutes.  By half way through, it had lost it's magic.  By 2/3 the way, I wondered if I really wanted to finish it.  All the way, and huh?  Why had I eaten it?  What was so special about that?  It had done practically nothing for me on a nutritional level and wasn't that much fun anyway.  A little while later, the taste still lingering in my mouth, I was actually rather turned off.  Yuck.

Absolutely, I paid for it.  Chocolate has always been a 'lower consequence' cheat, and so it's not near as bad as many other foods are.  I had trouble sleeping last night, which seems to be the main consequence.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if my face broke out and/or if I had a headache later on.  I'm a bit gassy this AM, which could be the chocolate or it could be the leftover from being sick.  (In fact, I had trouble sleeping two nights in a row, had a sour belly most of yesterday, and I do have a headache.)

The bigger result, though, seems to be that I'm glad I did it because I learned that I'd really rather not do it.  I'd rather eat real food, as boring as it is, that nourishes my body and makes me feel better.  At the end of the day, the taste and experience of chocolate just wasn't worth it...and it wasn't even remotely all that it was cracked up to be.

Now, I'm not stupid.  One of the biggest dangers about chocolate has always been that it's a bit of a gateway drug for me.  Usually one bar triggers an avalanche, and so I know I'm going to have to be on gaurd for cravings for the next couple of days.  In fact, just yesterday in my allergist's office I told Alyssa, the nurse-practitioner, that I just didn't think even 100% dark chocolate was a good idea for me for that very reason.  You don't tempt an addict.  Period, end of story.  For that reason alone, yesterday was pretty damn stupid of me.  I shouldn't have bought the bar in the first place, and given that I did I should have turned it over to Sean immediately.

The more I think about it, the happier I am that I did eat that chocolate bar.  I'm not going to count it against myself at all because I think it was a valuable lesson.  The trick is to make sure that I remember what I learned, and that I use that information to keep myself moving forward in a positive, health-affirming direction.

(The great news is that the whole experience was so overwhelmingly negative that I've had no further temptaions or cravings.  I feel like I am just done.  Talk to me again about that in the future when I've holidays or celbrations to attend with no 'fun' foods...but for now, I'm quite happy to say that I am perfectly content to remain in compliance and it no longer bothers me that I had to give up chocolate.  As that lesson was VERY valuable to me, I am still considering myself to be in full compliance...38 days and gowing strong!)  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Something new...

Two weeks ago my daughter's dance studio held their early registration day for returning students.  I freely admit, I was rather harried that day.  I was late getting on the road for a trip, and just about everything that could go wrong already had.  By the time we got to the studio, I was in a pretty foul mood, and was NOT happy about the fact that I had to go in to that blasted place to sign my daughter up.  If you'd seen me coming towards you on the street, you probably would have turned around and run away.  Nevertheless, it had to be done.  The kid loves dancing, and while she has no intention of taking it to the competition or professional level we are happy to support her.  

While I was there, something curious happened.  My ugly mood faded away as the studio manager and I looked up the notes from last year's teachers so that we could place Gillian this fall.  While we were doing that, I found myself picking up the schedule and looking at it again and again.  It didn't take too long to pay the enrollment fee, but even with Gillian taken care of, we didn't just walk out the door and head on our merry way.

I lingered.  I asked a few questions.  My heart called.  A wistful need filled up my chest.  I found I couldn't go just yet.  Hesitation and desire started a small whirlwind.  I was caught.  

So I did it.

Friends, I signed myself up for the adult tap class....and not just the beginner class.  I signed up for the full-on, grown-up performance class.  After speaking to the manager for a bit, we agreed that even though it'd been 20 years my body would remember.

I'm tearing up right now just thinking about it.

In September, I'll start taking tap lessons again...something that's been in the back of my mind for at least the last five years.  I've thought and thought and thought about it, going so far as to look up the schedules for two different studios in town...but never quite making the step to actually call because I was simply too afraid.

Or I felt I didn't deserve it.

Or I felt I was too fat.

Or I thought I was too old.

Or I was too worried about finances.

Or I didn't want to put myself out there.

Or I was doing the mom thing and was putting myself last.

Pick the excuse.  There were many.

I don't know what pushed me beyond the fear.  Perhaps it was the shear delight and joy I felt watching those women perform at the recitals in the spring...tears running down my face for how beautiful they were, in all of their diversity of age and size...tears for the fact that they all looked like they were having the time of their life....tears for the fact that they brought down the house, that they were so fully supported by everyone there.  Perhaps I'd just hit the point where the contemplation had to become action before the desire withered and died.  Perhaps I just didn't let myself think.  Who knows.  The point is, I stepped beyond the fear for just a wee moment and took the leap.

And signed up for those classes.

One of the greatest regrets I have in life is that I stopped dancing when I went to college.  Truly, that was an instance where my introverted nature ruined things for me.  I was just too shy to seek out a dance studio on my own.  I've spent 20 years tapping rhythms with my feet under the table and going over my last solo step by step in private.

The might have beens are gone, though, and now I'm looking forward to the what still could be's.

On another level - and certainly the thought that's been the most prevalent when I consider what I've done - is the fact that damn it, I've been forced to give up so much pleasure because of my stupid food allergies, and I'm someone who had precious little pleasure to begin with.  Life needs balance.  If you're going to take something away, you darn well better add something back in if you have any hope of succeeding.  (The risk being if you don't balance it out, you will eventually go back to the old pleasures, no matter how harmful they are.)  For me, this is going to be a pleasure.  This is a big, fat replacement - one that is healthful to body and soul, let's me live out some creativity, and won't leave me feeling sick, guilty and depressed.  I say that's a big, fat win.

I'm mindful of the fact that this wouldn't be possible if I hadn't been working so hard for the last six weeks to improve my health.  I've been completely compliant with my allergy/autoimmune for 37 days, and have been hitting my exercise goals perfectly this entire time.   I was in such horrible shape before that I never would have been able to make it through a tap class.  I know it will physically still be a challenge, but by the point I start I'll be capable of running a 5K, and will have 2+ months of greatly improved daily activity and dietary compliance under my belt.  All good.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go pull out my old tap shoes and see if they still fit.  Probably not, but that's ok....I know where to get new ones!