Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Slow Month

Thought it was going to be a slow month...made my sort of unofficial goal of 10 books after all!

1.  The Fire of the Dark, 2.  The Walls of Air, and 3.  The Armies of Daylight, Barbara Hambly - Some time ago I purchased these when iBooks was running a book bundle special on fantasy books.  I'd only ever read Hambly once before (Dragonsbane, an excellent book), but given how much I enjoyed it I thought I would take a chance.  After I purchased the bundle - The Darwath Trilogy - it popped up on a couple of recommendation lists for fantasy series, which is always a good sign.  So here's the thing....while yes, there are parts that made me happy, I actually struggled to get through this series because it was so very derivative.  (Cardboard characters, plot that's been done to death, etc.)  I felt like I'd read it a million times before, and there was nothing interesting about it. The fact of the matter is that I stopped reading this particular type of high adventure fantasy years and years ago for a reason...they read as either pretty childish and or they cater largely to a teenage male audience.  Back when I read Dragonsbane, the friend who recommended it flat out told me not to bother with the rest of the series because Hambly bungled it so badly after that first brilliant book.  I'm thinking she's not that great of a writer....   Anyway, about 1/4 of the way into the final book I lost all interest in what actually happened to any of the characters, so I skimmed the rest.  Sigh.  Wish I had found something better to start the month with, or that I had given up earlier....

4.  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler - This book is certainly making the rounds on award nomination lists, and it's very much deserved.  I don't know that I want to say too much about it, because I don't want to spoil it.  I will say that I absolutely adore the unconventional storytelling method that Fowler uses - starting in the middle, and then working back to fill things in as she goes.  (She tells you that she's going to do this right up front, so it's not spilling a big secret for me to say that.)  I was very emotionally invested in the characters - to the point that they've lingered with me long after I put the book down.  May go on my list of bests for this year!

5.  The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters - About 100 pages in, I stopped and went to look and see what else Waters had written on a hunch.  Sure enough...I'd read two of her books before.  One was ok, but slow, the other I didn't finish.  In theory, I should love these books.  The blurbs that describe them are right up my alley, the time periods she uses are favorites, and they get lots of attention from critics I trust.  In reality, I don't actually like the way Waters writes.  It tends to fall into the category for me of being stylistic for the sake of being stylistic.  I've said a it a million can have the most beautiful language in the world, but if you don't make me care about the characters or plot that's for nothing.  (Note to self, no matter how many book recommendations lists she shows up on, this is not an author I stop trying!)

6. Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed (audio, read by author) - This is a reread of a favorite book of mine.  Brilliant.  Probably shouldn't have listened to it in public...many tears!  I soooo wish she was still doing her Dear Sugar column!

7. In A Glass Grimmly, Adam Gidwitz - I needed an actual book to read in the tub.  (True story)  So I grabbed this off of my shelf.  It's the sequel/companion to A Take Dark and Grimm, which I enjoyed very much.  In fact, I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to this! Back when I was in college, fractured fairy tales became all of the rage...and these books follow in that tradition, only they do it a whole heck of a lot better than most.  In addition to telling his mixed up fairy tales, Gidwitz also does some pretty entertaining winks and nudges directly at the reader.  Super fun!

8.  Out of This World (Wildings, book 3) Charles De Lint - Any day with a new De Lint is a good day!  If I'd had more time, I actually would have read through the entire series.  While De Lint has populated many of his books with familiar characters and locations, this is the first time he's actually written an intended trilogy.  Truthfully, the books are very De Lint - filled with concepts and ideas that he frequently touches on - and so there weren't that many surprises.  Having said that, I love what makes De Lint books be so very De Lint.  This time, I'm left with a few ideas I need to ponder quietly for a while! 

9.The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson - I've loved this book for my entire life.  In fact, I honestly don't remember when I first read it (which is a tad unusual).  I don't read it every single year...but I do read it most years.  It always gets me in the mood for the holidays!

10. I have started a year long Bible reading plan, just because.  Ordinarily it's the sort of thing that prescribes 15 or so minutes/day...a little bit of Old Testament, a little bit of New, a Psalm and some Proverbs...but I found it difficult to read that way because it felt too disjointed.  Plain and simple, I was loosing the narrative.  So...what I do is I read big chunks at a time of the books, marking them off in the reading plan as I go.  As I'm reading the New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version, I'm also carefully reading all chapter headers and notes...which are quite fascinating, I might add.  This is the translation of the Bible that our church recognizes as having the most diligent scholarship in the translation, trying to return it to the closest intent of the original language while taking cultural context into consideration....and yet, it hasn't dumped the poetry.  As this will be an ongoing project that will eat up a lot of my reading time, I'm going to start including the books that I read here.  This month I read Genesis, Exodus and Matthew

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sometimes It's Just Not Right

At the end of a morning of knitting this last week, I held up Sean's Christmas Sweater and realized the sleeve looked off.
 Sure enough, when I compared it with one of his favorite shirts, it was clear that the sleeve was way too wide...that in fact it would wind up looking like a puffy sleeve from a poet's blouse if I kept on the way I was going.  Pattern fail!
 Fortunately, I'm an intelligent woman.  It was pretty easy to figure out what needed to happen to fix the problem. 
More importantly, I am a woman who can be ruthless when it comes to her knitting.
 So I ripped out the sleeve that I'd been working on for two weeks....
 Making sure to wind each color as it came free of the sleeve...and keep them in order so that I could reuse them.  (There's not enough yarn left in the original skeins to do two whole sleeves.  Recycling is mandetory on this one.)
I used little stickers to tag them in that order so that they could be safely contained and out of harm's way.  ( other words, where my daughter's cat can't get to them!)
I'll start reknitting the sleeve today.  Basically, I need to double the number of decreases in the sleeve, decreasing every fourth row instead of every seventh, starting 15 rows earlier.
Sean's worth it.
But I admit to being a bit sad.  I had hoped to do some Christmas crafting this year - wee knit angels and bells, maybe some other knit ornaments, for sure some snowflake tatting - and now that I'm having to completely redo the sleeves I'm just not sure that I'm going to have time for that.
It's been a fun project...but I admit at this point that I really rather wish it was done already!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Living On The Edge

I love it when I get to take my scissors to my knitting!
Thought you all would like to see some pictures of the steek process.
Soooo much fun!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Allergy Tale

Ahhh  Autumn...the most beautiful season of the year....the crisp weather, the lovely colors, soups and stews, Halloween, extra blankets on the beds, weather that alternates between glorious sunshine and quiet rain, back to school, apple season, big mugs of hot tea, watching my husband and kids go a bit nuts, Thanksgiving, layers, that fine place between air conditioning and the many things to love!

I would go so far as to say that fall is THE perfect season!


Autumn doesn't love me.

Sigh.  That's not a fair way to put it.

The fact of the matter is that for this complicated, allergy-prone body, fall is THE peak allergy season, and so everything is just tougher for me from mid-August until the we've had a couple of hard frosts.  My heart, mind and soul love this season...but there is a major disconnect with my body.

Why is autumn so tough?  Well...although it is true that spring is a big, bad for allergy sufferers (pollen, pollen everywhere!!!), there are a couple of factors that make the fall more difficult for some of us.  Those include some nasty plants (hello ragweed!!!) that wreak havoc at this time of year, lots of mold created by fall rains, the dust thrown into the air by the harvest, and the decay of leaves on the ground.

Allergies are a load issue.  The more you are dealing with, the worse it is.  You can improve things by taking steps to lower the amount of allergens you are exposed to.  Primarily, this is accomplished by:
- eliminating offensive foods from your diet
- using immunotherapy drops
- keeping your environment clean
- keeping the windows shut during peak seasons
- avoiding, when at possible, your allergens
- make sure to understand what foods are cross-reactive, so that you can avoid them during peak allergy times
- using a saline wash to clean out your nose

The problem is that in the case of inhalant allergies, there's no way to completely protect yourself, and when Mother Nature is providing a veritable smorgasbord of allergens which assault you on a near daily basis...well, that's when life gets tough.

Which would explain why:
- it's more difficult for me to resist toxic foods at certain times of the year
- I have trouble in the fall with some emotional stuff
- my introverted nature really asserts itself in the fall
- I tend to be cranky a lot at this time of year
- even on my drops I still need to use some OTC meds to control symptoms
- I'm blasted tired all of the time

So, things tend to go sideways for me in the fall, which totally stinks because I would really love to be able to enjoy it to the fullest.  

The good news is that despite my fall challenges I'm in a much better place this year than I've been in the past, thanks in large part to the work I've put into improving my health over the last four-five months.  Yes, it's been frustrating because just about the time I would have expected to start seeing major results from all of my efforts I instead find myself struggling to get through each day.  Forward movement has ground to a halt, and things that I thought I had moved past - such as food cravings - have come roaring back with a force.

Yep, frustrating is a good word to describe where I've been for the past couple of months.

And yet...I would be remiss if I didn't point out the good.  Fatigue and a low emotional state are tough, but they are miles better than the month plus of severe bronchitis I used to fight (pre allergy drops) at this point every year.  I may not have been able to maintain a perfect diet through this (and my allergist assures me this isn't all my fault) but my cheats have been mostly contained to just a few things which are lower on the impact scale for me.  None of them have lead to the sort of massive nosedive off of the cliff they once would have led to, and as a result my weight has remained stable.  I've kept on running, and I am able to enjoy tap class.  I've mostly been able to protect the quality of my sleep.  I've been faithful to the few supplements that I KNOW help me out.

Mostly, I'm being kind to myself.  I don't expect perfection because I know it's just not possible right now, and I don't beat myself up for doing what I have to do to get through the day...even if what I have to do is to eat some chocolate.  

I did have an appointment with my allergist a few weeks ago, and she was VERY pleased with how well I've been doing lately.  In fact, despite my current challenges it was the best allergy appointment that I've had in years.  Things are starting to come together, and that needs to be celebrated.

At the same time, I do need to learn to honor and accept the cycles that my body will follow each and every year for the rest of my life. Fall will always be both the best of the year and the worst of the year.  I'm working to accept that..and maybe, just maybe, this year that's getting a little bit easier.

Monday, November 10, 2014

When Messing Up Becomes Making Right

I started this post three weeks ago, and it's taken me this long to work up the guts to share it with you.  Funny...I'm ordinarily an open book.  Some things are just really that big of a deal.  

I stunk up the dance floor in my tap class last night.

My feet were sluggish during the warm-up routine, and I struggled to shift my weight and keep my balance during each component.

I totally forgot the break during the paradiddles, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't quite on the beat anyway.

I could not get off of the ground for the Irishes or the Buffaloes.

There are at least two of our regular time steps that I haven't quite mastered yet, and I lost ground on both last night.

Let's not even get started on the last dance sequence.  Our teacher gave very brief instructions that everyone else seemed to understand, but which to me were gibberish.  As we were doing these two at a time back and forth across the floor it was VERY obvious that I didn't know what I was doing.  Even after four passes across the floor I still had only figured out the first half.

On the way home, as I mentally reviewed the evening, I found myself welling up.  The tears broke free with a sob or two, and I had to take a little moment to pull myself together when I got home.

Believe it or not, this was a good thing.

You see, I wasn't crying because I had failed or because everyone else was so much better than me or because I was frustrated or angry or any other such thing.

I was crying because  realized that I had given myself permission to fail....that it was ok - for the first time in my life - for me to not be perfect...that even if I wasn't the best of the best I could still love it and enjoy it with every beat of my heart.

My friends, for me this was profound.

I was very, very young when I figured out that I had to be perfect.  I want to be perfectly clear that this was really no one's fault.  My parents aren't mean, I'm not crazy, and there was never some traumatic event that would have triggered a negative emotional spiral.  Rather, it was caused by the perfect storm of my own idiosyncratic personality traits combined with normal familial expectations.  (OK, maybe slightly higher than normal family expectations...I do, after all, come from a long line of ministers.)  What my parents SAID was, "We expect you to do your best."  What I HEARD was, "You absolutely must make straight A's, take all of the most difficult classes, win in every extracurricular you do, and hold yourself to a moral standard that would make most grown adults weep."

You see the problem?

It shouldn't surprised anyone that the perfectionism I developed at such a young age has crippled me, and I don't use that word lightly.  I don't really want to go into great detail (Goodness, no one wants to read that.), but for the sake of this post I think you should know about the two big issues that perfectionism has created.  First, I live in fear.  I'm terrified of failing, and so I'd rather not try.  Second, I'm really, really mean to myself.  My self-critic is the size of Everest, and she's nasty.  Like I said...crippling.

Which leads me back to that drive home, and my realization that I had given myself permission to fail.  Can you see now what a huge, amazing gift that was?  It's something that I've needed for more than 20 years....and now that it's arrived it's potentially a life-changer.

As this is such a big deal for me, I've given some thought to the curious question of why it's ok for me to not be perfect in tap class.  What about this particular experience makes it ok for the first time?

I have a few ideas which might explain it.

1.  During the second class I was able to look around and realize that others are having as much trouble as I least one person even more.  There are ladies in this group who've been in the class for a while, and who performed beautifully during the recital last spring.  They are all perfectly human, though, and have good and bad days and different levels of accomplishment.  There's not a single soul in that classroom who gets everything right.

2.  It's a no judgement space.  The teacher has said it, the other students have said it, and I feel it.  Perhaps that's enabling me to let go of the judgement of myself.

3.  Ditto that it's a no competition space.

4.  It's also a happy spot.  Everyone wants to be there...including me.  I've NEVER felt this way in an exercise class before, even though they've all been voluntary classes.

5.  Just as importantly, it's a welcoming spot.  Those are some really, really nice women.  They immediately threw their arms open and welcomed me in...many of them making sure to take the time to either help me or share their own experiences when they joined the class.  (And there is a comforting uniformity to those stories!)

6.  I know I'll get better.  The fact of the matter is that it's been 20 YEARS since I had a tap class, and while the body retains memory - enabling me to jump into this more advanced class instead of starting over with a beginner class - it does take time to fully pull those skills back out again.

7.  Along with that, I know exactly what I need to work on, and that helps.

8.  This class is allowing me to reconnect to a part of myself that I thought was lost years and years ago...and that part of myself lives in an entirely positive heartspace.  

Then again, maybe there isn't a reason at all.  Maybe it was just time.  Maybe I was just finally ready and open enough for the lesson to come into my life.  Maybe I just needed to loosen the heck up.  Who knows!

The only thing I can say for sure is that my future now feels open in an entirely new way.

Possibility, my friends.

Possibility is what happens when you learn that it's ok to fail.

Friday, November 7, 2014


Mandala by Renee Leverington
Jaggerspun Zephyr Wool-Silk 2/18 Cone
7 oz, pale gray
Addi Turbo US 5, 3.75 mm/36 inch circular
Knit Picks Harmony 6 inch DPN's - US 5, 3.75 mm
July 5, 2013 - November 5, 2014
Pattern Selections: 1D, 2D, 3A, 4B, 2D
Modifications:  Dropped edging and did crochet chain bind-off
Finished size: 64 inch diameter
The fact that this took over a year to finish is indicative of the fact that it was yet another troubled project.  I had trouble figuring out what I really wanted to do with each section, and dithered way more than I thought I would.  I spilled coffee on it.  I grew bored with the yarn.  (Face it, Zephyr is an awesome workhorse of a lace yarn, but it's nothing special.)  The edging became a serious issue.  Despite my protestations a couple of days ago that the crochet bind off was the right choice because I needed to get it done, I was honestly concerned that aesthetically I'd just made a drastic mistake.  The fact that my knee - which had been perfectly fine - went out while I was blocking it didn't exactly endear me to anything either.
As with the Spider Queen, all was forgiven when I took it off of the floor this morning.  Now that I look at it, the patterns flow into each other with more harmony than I had thought.  (Good job designer!)  Zephyr is lovely when blocked, as it becomes both softer and crisper.  It's also much lighter and more airy than the other zephyr shawl I have in my collection.  I'm glad I didn't do an edging because without it the entire piece actually looks more like a true mandala.
Happy to be in love again.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Spider Queen

The Spider Queen*, by Hazel Carter
Blackberry Ridge Thistledown
3 skeins, natural
Addi Turbo, 3.0 mm - 36 inch circulars
April 27 - November 3, 2014
Modifications:  border done in the round to eliminate seams, number of repeats in edging increased, and edging knit on.

I believe I've already done a fairly thorough job of documenting the trials and tribulations of this project, so for now I will let the pictures speak for themselves and I'll simply say....

All is forgiven, I'm in love.

*Many of the eliments found in this piece are drawn from the story that accompanies the pattern.  Carter does not say if it's an original story or if it's of Shetland origin.  As it's uncredited, I am uncomfortable sharing it with you here.  However, in the closeup photos you will see spiders, webs, necklaces, crowns and trios of flowers that are all important parts of that story!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Getting It Done

Having at long last finished the Spider Queen, I turned my attention this morning to the also long-neglected Mandala.

Truthfully, this has been a weird project from day one.  The current incarnation is actually my third attempt at this pattern - the first two having both wound up in the frog pond.  I had intended to use it as a way to loosen me up a choosing each element I included from the limited options preselected by the designer, I felt it would be a very gentle way to ease me into designing my own projects.  Sadly, I think it had the exact opposite effect.

Ah was still beautiful.

Unfortunately, it fell apart when I hit the outside edging.  I hated the edging included in the pattern (and how weird is it that this is a choose-your-own-adventure pattern, with four options for every section...but a single, fixed pattern for the edging?!), and so took it upon myself to find a replacement.  After a few repeats, and with the assistance of my handy digital postal scale, I did some math and realized I didn't have enough yarn to complete the edging that I had chosen.  Back into the WIP basket it went while I contemplated what to do about that.  (Go buy more yarn?  pick a different pattern?)

It's been sitting for months and months and months.

This morning I stuffed it into my knitting bag on a whim before I headed out to Starbucks.  Once I was settled with my tea I rather ruthlessly ripped out the edging I had already completed, and began the quick process of a crochet chain bind off.  I didn't give myself time to think or to second guess or to try to figure out another solution.  It's not the fanciest of edgings, and it may not be entirely the right match for this project....but I can finish it today and then move on to other projects without this particular albatross continuing to weigh me down.

Sometimes you just need to get it done.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Sigh of Relief

Nothing bad happened.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Moment Of Truth

 Well folks, this is it.  Tonight after my tap class I shall block out the Spider Queen shawl, and we shall see if it will live up to it's potential or if it will become a disaster of epic proportions.
Never in my knitting life have I been so nervous about a finished project.
You might remember that this particular shawl has been plagued from the beginning with a series of frustrating problems. 
Primarily, the yarn (Thistledown singles from Blackberry Woolen Mill, purchased with the pattern as a kit) proved to be highly problematic.  In a nutshell - while the first skein knitted up like a dream, I ran into crazy problems with the yarn snapping and breaking when I got into the second skein.  I've worked with laceweight singles before, and I've worked with finer yarns before as well.  NEVER, have I had yarn fall apart so easily.  When I contacted Blackberry Woolen Mill about the problem, they first wanted to blame me for moths in my stash.  After I assured them that I had ordered the yarn less than a month prior to my email, and had started knitting it immediately without it ever having been with the rest of the yarn (and oh, by the way, I am a very experienced lace knitter who knows what she's doing) they replaced one skein.  The new skein was mostly fine...but by this time I'd lost confidence in the integrity of the yarn.  Even worse, I should have frogged the 10ish rows of that bad skein that got left in the shawl, but I was so frustrated with the days and days already lost to the breaking problem that I left them in.  I sincerely regret that now.  Towards the end of the edging, I ran into another weak section of yarn, further eroding my confidence.
Beyond that, there were problems with the pattern - some of which I was able to fix  - others, not so much.
The fixes included doing the wide outer border in the round and altering the edging so that it was knit on.  Those two things effectively eliminated the need for ugly and difficult and completely unnecessary seams.   
The thing I could fix was that the outer border had increases on every single round, instead of every other round as is usual.  The result of that is that there is a lot of extra fabric in the corners.  (You can see this in the picture below.  In an ordinary square shawl, that corner would lie flat as a nice, square corner.)  Even a non-knitting friend of mine noticed that problem when I showed her the shawl a few days ago.  "Are the corners supposed to look like that?"  she said.  I sighed.  Sadly, the only way to keep the integrity of the lace design was to keep the weird increases.
And, drat it, there was a snap in the border that I had to patch before I threw it in to be blocked.  I am ordinarily quite good at fixing mistakes and problems...but given everything else this piece has been through, I'm feeling queasy over the patch job I did.
So yes...blocking it tonight could possibly be a disaster.  In my worst moments I imagine the thing falling apart as soon as I lift it out of the bath....or snapping into a million pieces even with gentle blocking.  At the very least, the corners are going to look funky because they won't block to the same gauge as the rest of the silly thing.
Here's hoping I'm completely wrong!