Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of 2014

'Cause you know I can't end a year without one of THESE posts! 

Best Books:
Wow, this was a tough one.  I read a lot of really, really good books this year.  Instead of doing a top 5 (truth...couldn't choose) I decided to do a best book of each month..or two or three...seriously, it was tough.  I read a total of 143 books this year!

Jan: Longbourn, Jo Baker / The Dog Stars, Peter Heller
Feb: The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
March: eh.  nothing on this list stood out enough to warrant the Best Of List
April: Redefining Realness, Janet Mock / Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
May:  All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr / Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
June: Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
July: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin
August: The Call, Yannick Murphy / The Poppet and the Lune, Madeline Claire Franklin
September: Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel / The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell / My Real Children, Jo Walton (sue me)
October: Bellman and Black, Diane Setterfield
November: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
December: Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson / The Book of Strange New Things, Mickel Faber

 
Best Knitting:
Not going to lie, this was not my best year for knitting/creativity.  In fact, I was actually a bit shocked when I went over my Ravelry page and realized I had only completed 11 projects this year.  My average is 26.  Wow.  True enough, I started an additional 8 projects, and at least three of the projects I worked on were major.  But still....11 is kind of pathetic.  (My husband's sweater would for sure have been a favorite had I finished it on time...)  Here are my favorites:
 

Best Moments:
(and yes, I have a goal of getting Sean into the pics more next year.....)








 
 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Books

In which I decide to work my way through as much of my reading list backlog as possible because I knew that any and all gift money this month was probably going to go to MORE BOOKS!!!!!!!!  Also, some library holds came due.

1.  Leaving Time, Jodi Picoult - I don't often rush to buy books by popular famous authors, being somewhat nervous about what the general public considers to be a good book.  I happened to stumble across this book being offered for a special price, though, less than a week after it was recommended on Books On The Nightstand.  First, I love elephants - always have, always will - so the tie in really touched my heart.  (Incidentally, I'm also planning on reading the nonfiction books suggested by the author at the end.)  Second, only two times in my life have I been surprised by the end of a book...call this a side effect of being such a prolific reader...and this was the second of those.  Amazing!

2.  Yes, Please, Amy Poehler (audio, read by the author) - If you are going to read a memoir by a funny lady, it's best to listen to the audio, especially if she gets several guest readers to help her along the way.  (I thought she was kidding when she listed them at the beginning.)  It was a really fun book - and it held some surprising insight within.  Plus, I wound up listening to it during three roundtrips to visit my Grandmother who was in the hospital two hours away, and it was the perfect antidote to the stress I was under.

3.  The Awakened Kingdom, N.K. Jemisin - Jemisin is one of my favorite discoveries over the last few years.  (Thanks Lana!)  I preordered this novela - which was a follow up to Jemisin's brilliant Inheritance Trilogy.  Read it in one sitting, and I loved it.  As with the best of sci-fi/fantasty writers, Jemesin used her alternate world to make some pretty big points about issues in our own world.  Bravo.

4.  Waiting For Sunrise - A BOTNS recommendation that I got on sale. The blurb is super exciting.  The book, not so much.  Lots of pretty writing...no plot or characters that I could get into.  (So much potential...so sad....)

5.  Dragonflight, 6. Dragonquest, 7.  The White Dragon, Anne McCaffrey (Collectively, The DragonRiders of Pern) - Strange fact, for someone who loves fantasy as much as I do, I had never before read these books, which are by most accounts considered classics in the genre.  So here are some thoughts.  First, I probably would have enjoyed these books a lot more if I'd read them when I was a lot younger.  Second, they aren't particularly well-written, which was something of a surprise given their stature in the fantasy world.  Third, the gender politics/relationships are atrocious.  Fourth, I was kind of surprised that I didn't really give a darn about any of the characters other than to loathe them all at different levels.  The exception?  The dragons and fire lizards.  Fifth, No one can argue that McCaffrey's dragons are a heavy influence on every dragon in print that's come since. As I'm terribly fond of dragon books, it was easy to see the connections.  Kind of like literary archeology to read these.  Sixth, despite all of my negative comments, I binge read these books and enjoyed the experience.  They pretty much met my expectation - which was for that of anachronistic popcorn books.  I did not go in expecting brilliance, and so I wasn't disappointed.  I have absolutely no plans to read any other McCaffrey books. 

8.  The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton - This book kept popping up on year end lists, although not so often as many others.  When I found it in the digital download catalog at my library, I decided to go ahead and give it a try.  I read it in a single day.  In fact, I stayed up until midnight to finish it, and that doesn't happen very often anymore.  (I'm a girl who needs her sleep!)  It wasn't a perfect book by any means, but it was captivating.  I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I will say that I feel about this book very much like I feel about John Boyne's The Absolutist....which is that this is a book which teaches compassion, and that's a very, very important thing.

9.  The Book of Strange New Things, Mickel Faber - I bought this one because it did end up on so many best of lists for 2014, and because the blurbs were so intriguing.  I fell head over heels in love with the characters in less than two pages, and the writing is AMAZING.  I did find the audio available through the library, so I switched part way through from written page to audio...which is something I've never done before.  In fact, I highly recommend the audio for this book because the reader does an amazing job of vocalizing the aliens.  (Not a spoiler...all descriptions of the book  point to it being a missionary in space.)  I've not read any of Faber's other books....he's only written three, and by all accounts the other two are amazing.  The great sadness is that Faber has decided to retire from writing.  Such a tragic loss.  Really can't say enough good things.  It was so much more than I expected...and it was that rare bird of beautiful language being married to a beautiful plot with an amazing emotional connection for the reader.  (Also, I kind of want to reread The Sparrow now....)

10.  We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas - Another book that kept popping up on Best of 2014 lists, I checked this one out from the library also.  It's a curious thing.  I'm not fond of books that are just about life in general (rather being the sort of person who needs SOMETHING to happen in a book), but I enjoyed reading this immensely, but I also wound up putting it down and not picking it back up again.  Just not my cup of tea, I guess, even if it is rather beautifully written and packed full of compelling characters.  May try to have another go at it at some point. 

11.  Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher - Oh my lord, I LOVED this book!  It's an epistolary novel, with the story told through a series of Letters of Recommendation written by an old, cantankerous English Professor, who's struggling amidst budget cuts in his department at a small liberal arts college.  I suppose it's more of a character study than a plotted novel.  Regardless, it was so much fun to read.  I literally laughed out loud so very many times!

12.  Dreamer's Pool, Juliette Marillier - I love Marillier's Sevenwaters series, so I was tickled when I discovered that she'd started a new series. Marillier writes the type of fantasy books that are exactly my sort of thing - largely based on Celtic myth/Irish history.  Her books are beautifully written and I always adore her characters.  Happy to say this book managed to snare my heart just as the Sevenwaters books did.  I can't wait to read more!

13.  Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson - another library hold that came due.  It's a must read for everyone.  Stevenson is a lawyer who's had an amazing career shinning a light on the horrendous problems in our justice system.  I read the book in less than 24 hours, and was frequently in tears.  I'm not naive...I knew things were bad, and I knew that I lived in a place of privilege that makes it hard for me to understand...but I didn't know things were quite so bad.  And yet there is hope, and there are good people who are standing up and doing the right thing.  If you think we Americans live in a country with a fair justice system, or if you are  one of the people who doesn't understand all of the recent protests, you most especially need to read this book.   Compassion, mercy and justice....these are things our country desperately needs to learn.



Some fun:  I made the rather curious decision (for me) to spend all of my birthday money this year on books rather on practical needs.  I wound up with:  The Shadowed Sun, The Killing Moon, A Natural History of Dragons, The Book of Strange New Things, The Faraway nearby, Ex-Libris, Dear Committee Members, An   Woman, How to Be Both, Ancillary Justice, The Painter, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D., I Capture the Castle, The Newlyweds, Dreamer's Pool, Girlchild, The Drowning Girl, Havisham, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Bird Box, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and The Golum and the Jinni.  (Three books were books I'd already read and or wanted in a different format....five or six were on the sale page at iTunes)  It was glorious! 

of course...now it's a tad difficult to figure out what I want to read next....

Monday, December 29, 2014

How To End A Year

These are the flowers my girls bought me for my birthday.
If you know them, you will easily be able to guess which girl picked out which flowers....
The amazing thing is that they all look so amazing together!
 
Friends, I've some things on my mind....
Here we go!
  • I spent a while going through my blog archive the other night, looking for some information on a project that I once attempted.  While I never found the info, I did get a big reminder about how much fun the blog once was, and how proud I am of the content.
  • Curiously enough, this wasn't upsetting.  There was no gnashing of the teeth, tearing of the hair, or wailing about why-oh-why the blog has stumbled over the last year or so.
  • Nope.  None of that.
  • Instead, I found myself thinking...I could do this again! 
  • In fact, I WANT to do this again!
  • 2015 can be a year of rebirth.
  • On a side note...it is really, really strange that this OCD knitter has NO information about that specific project anywhere.  Crazy.
  • Anyway...the point is that I've spent the last couple of days working to reorganize my personal space and tie up loose ends.  I feel change coming, and want to meet 2015 unencumbered. 
  • So what have I been doing? 
  • Well, I cleaned up my corner of the basement....which had turned into something that vaguely resembled a garbage dump.  (Seriously....my entire family has a bad habit of throwing my stuff into my corner, a problem which was made worse by several of my own searches for specific items over the last few month in which I basically upended boxes of supplies all over my desk.)  Fortunately, this didn't take as long as I feared it would. 
  • Then I made a new knitting list.  This is something I did on a regular basis up until a year or so ago.  I'm really not sure why I stopped...but that's a question to explore on another day.  My knitting list has always been a record in traditional outline form of K(nits)I(n)P(rogress), planned projects, yarn stash and handspun stash.  It was super fun putting my list back together again.  More on that later. 
  • Step three was to transfer all of my files from my old laptop to my new laptop.  This is a fraught process for me because every time I've had to do it in the past I've had something bad happen.  Good thing my husband is a computer guy.  Still...gives me the shivers just thinking about it....
  • During all of this, I've been pulling any unwanted items to donate to charity.  I am fairly good about doing this on a somewhat regular basis, so I don't have mountains of stuff to get rid of...but every little bit helps.  I come from a family of savers, and while I understand that compulsion I'm pretty anti-extra-stuff myself.
  • I've also been working with the rest of my family to get caught up on the housework. 
  • True story...I paid my older child $10 to help her sister clean her room.  Best money I've spent in a while!
  • I've basically two more days to wrap stuff up, and my plans for that time include to make a few lists of goals and projects I'd like to tackle next year.  I also want to finish getting the house into the best shape we can get it in.  
  • I'm going to admit...I'm an awful housekeeper.  One of those goals is to develop new habits so that the house stays in better shape.  I'm considerably better now than I used to be...but I've got a long way to go.  (Just ask my husband.) 
  • I also want to take some time before the year ends for some reflection and relaxation.  'nuff said on that point!
Honestly, I have no idea where all of this is going to take me...or if/how it's going to affect the blog.  I just know that I feel really compelled right now to take these steps.  It feels important.  It feels like it could be the start of something new.  It feels necessary in order to make room for change. 
 
So thank you for hanging in there with me through the lean times.  Let's see what 2015 brings!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Progress

After numerous setbacks - mostly due to life in general - I finished the sleeve yesterday. 
Then, with a mighty groan, I turned to the second sleeve. Hopefully it will go better now that I've figured out the various pattern problems. 
I made my husband try it on for a preview of how devastatingly handsome he shall be. He's very impressed with having his picture taken at 6:45 am. 
Now...now I start to freak out about whether or not I have enough yarn to finish..especially since those sleeves really should be longer...