Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Best of 2015 - My Year in Review

My word for 2015 was CHANGE, and indeed, there has been a lot of that in my life this year.
 
I started the year looking like this:
 
And I ended the year looking like this:
Truth:  Losing weight was a side effect of becoming fully compliant with my allergy diet - it was never the goal of doing so.  My life is better in so many ways now...none of which have anything to do with my size...but the pictures tell a story that others can see and understand easily.

Another side effect - I was able to fulfill an old promise to my husband, of being able to wear my real wedding ring again.  It's better than I thought it would be.
 
  
Along the way I fell in love with running, finding a peace that I didn't know was missing and becoming totally obsessed with the yes that is my body in motion.
 Early mornings on the trail by myself became church,
And I drank in the beauty that was all around me.

PS.  I took a whole lot of selfies along the way.  Once upon a time I thought they were silly, now I think they are not only a fantastic way to document life by inserting yourself into the photo album, but they are also a great way to celebrate achievements.
 
 
We welcomed a new, and completely unplanned, cat:
Seriously, how could we have said no to this face?!
 
My friendships strengthened with three amazing women - a miracle that I am grateful for each and every day, having been someone who for years and years struggled with female friendships.
Jenn,  my BKB - Best Knitting Buddy
 Danielle, my BRF - Best Running Friend
and Carrie, my heart-sister
 
I knit 22 projects, including 6 pairs of socks, two (!) sweaters for myself, four shawls, and one super-cool Star Wars scarf.


 

 
I read 109 books...and gave up trying to finish books I didn't like.
For the record my top picks of the year are:
Uprooted, Naomi Novik
The Martian, Andy Weir
A Little Life Hanya Yanagihara
Magonia, Maria Dahvanc Headley
Six of Crows, Leigh Barduga
Cold Magic Trilogy, Kate Elliott

I started to build a wardrobe, much to the joy of my daughters and husband, who are delighted that I'm finally taking pride in my appearance and have developed some confidence.

 

And, of course, my family.  We had an amazing 2015, and I have loved every single minute with them.  I'm particularly blessed with my husband and girls...who are my everything.








Thank you, 2015. You were amazing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas Reading

In which I finally found the books I've been looking for!

1.  The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (audio) - LOVED it!  I added this book to my wish list quite some time ago - and in fact I can't remember exactly where I picked up the recommendation.  I was really excited when I discovered that it'd been added to the library's digital audio services, because I needed something to listen to while working on a Christmas project.  It was soooo much fun.  In some ways, it's very typical of a specific type of fantasy - unexpected person inherits the throne - but it's distinguished by the fact that it has real heart. Listening to audio was a plus and minus.  On the one hand, Addison uses a lot of made up names that I would have mispronounced in my head.  On the other hand, I had a lot of trouble keeping track of who was who because of the strangeness of the names as well as the similar sounding titles she used.  That's a quibble, though.  This was Addison's debut novel, and I look forward to what she does in the future!

2.  Ink and Bone, Rachel Caine - This was also a friend suggestion.  I'll admit to a tad bit of nervousness when I went to the author's ibooks page and saw the titles and covers of her other books.  (dreadful looking stuff...YA of the worst degree) but nevertheless I checked it out from the library and gave it a try.  I'm so glad I did.  I was caught up from the very first in the very unique world that Caine has created.  Furthermore, as a book person, I have to say that I felt extra-invested.  Can't wait for the sequel!  It's not by any stretch a perfect book, but I appreciated the originality in the ideas and the fact that it swept me away.  (You aren't imagining it...I had originally posted this last month.  Made it about 1/3 of the way through, but didn't have time to finish.  As the bulk of it was read this month, I transferred the entry to this post.)

3.  Gossamer, Lois Lowry (audio) - Oh my oh my oh my.  This was such a treat!  It's a very little book - 3 hours, which classifies it as a novella - and the reader was absolutely lovely.  Gossamer is a beautiful little fairy tale, which is both very imaginative and extremely heartwarming.   May have even cried a little bit while listening to it in public!  Really need a hardback copy for my special bookshelf. 

4. The Grownup, Gillian Flynn (audio) - This much buzzed about, recently released short story was a lot of fun....but I will admit that I figured out a big component of the story fairly early on because of the name that Flynn gave to one of her three main characters.  There are times when an English degree and a fondness for a certain type of classic literature comes in handy! 

5.  Across the Nightingale Floor, 6.  Grass For His Pillow, 7.  Brilliance of the Moon, 8.  The Harsh Cry of the Heron (audio & print) - The first of these beautiful books was recommended to me by a very dear friend who happens to be a brilliant writing.  Knowing what she writes, and having read books that she's recommended in the past, I was a bit surprised when I looked up them up and discovered an adventure/fantasy series set in a version of feudal Japan.  (This is perhaps silly of me, because my friend happens to also have a deep love for all things Japanese.)  The books are absolutely gorgeous, the writing lovely, and the characters are compelling.  If I had one quibble it's that they tend to end rather abruptly....lots and lots of build up, and then a resolution that seems almost too swift at times.  I'd really like just a bit more so that the entire reading experience feels more complete.  I'll also say that the last chapters of the fourth book infuriated me.  I get why they happened the way they did...but still.  Combined with that, my opinion of one of the main characters swung wildly back and forth, and I'm trying to figure that one out.  It's a bit unusual for a character to be lovely at times and maddening at others, and it felt like an inconsistency problem.  There is one more book in this grouping, a prequel, and I'm saving it for later on this winter. 

9. The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu - This book has made it onto multiple best of 2015 lists.  I almost laughed when I discovered it's another version of a fictional feudal Japan!  This time around, it's a sweeping look at power struggles and war, with petty gods stirring up the pot.  It's a rather long book, and my complaint here is that it's on such a grand scale that I truly had trouble making an emotional connection with it.  There were just too many characters who came in and out, and too many events to keep track of.  I had a bit of trouble keeping track of who was who at times, which is unusual to me, and I really didn't get sucked into the narrative until about the half way point. I finally put my finger on it...there's a slight detachment to the writing, which I think may have been on purpose to mirror the involvement of the gods (?).  A worthwhile read, but I wish I'd taken it on at a time of year when I was less preoccupied with life in general. 

10. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith - Charming and sweet, but there's not much more I can say about it.  I read it out of curiosity because it comes up on book lists all of the time, and I do understand why...but it was maybe a bit too light for me. 

11.  The Demon in the Wood, Leigh Bardugo (short story) - I adore Bardugo, and I love her 'short stories'  (too long for that title, really, but too short to be a novella).  I was looking for fairy tales to finish up the year, and happily found this! 

12.  Twixt Firelight and Water, Juliet Marillier (short story) - Exact same as #11...adore the author, wanted fairy tale...same difficult length categorization. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Christmas Surprise

 My husband is spoiled.  He gets a new sweater every other year, socks whenever he wants, and any other knits on request.  It just so happens, though, that last year was a sweater year, so he was not in any way, shape, or form expecting a knit gift for Christmas this year.
 
Silly man.  He should know me better!
 
I am a woman who LOVES to surprise my loved ones with the PERFECT Christmas gift.  (As a side note...this is a family trait.  We all care much less about what we get than about what we give.  It's almost a game to see who can make someone cry with just the right gift.)  My husband, though, is tricky.  Sweater years are the best because he does love his sweaters...and because then I don't have to plan to much beyond style and yarn.  Non-sweater years...well, my husband is a guy who doesn't want or need much, so they can be tough.
 
Enter Ravelry, and a pattern search for "Star Wars."
 
Oh yes, my husband is a Star Wars uber-fan of the first order, and I do this search periodically just to see what's out there.  When the Star Wars double knit scarf came up, I knew I HAD to make it for him.  It was absolutely perfect for soooo many reasons.
 
But there were a few problems.
 
1.  What kind of yarn should I use?  This is a trickier problem than you'd think because I can't go to yarn shops anymore because of my alpaca allergy.  Generally what I do is look at the yarns that other people have used, and then go from there with my reliable online yarn sources.  I was absolutely gobsmacked when  I found out that most of the people who've knit this gorgeous piece had used cheap acrylic yarns.  (Seriously...why would you put so much work into something like this and use crap yarn?!)  Yarn weights were all over the place, and the pattern itself is nothing more than the charts...so that didn't help.  After fussing about it for a few days I finally solved the problem when I decided to swatch with my leftovers from the shark hats.  I was very happy with the result, so I ordered my KnitPicks Gloss DK....guessing on the yarn amounts.
 
2.  I've never done double knitting before.  All new technique, with a deadline...ummm.....  I did a small amount of swatching, but mostly it was a learn as you go project, using M'Lou Barber's double knit book and Sockmatician youtube videos (found through the notes on ravelry from others who've done this scarf). I'm super glad that I've now learned this cool technique.  I love the fabric it makes, and the fact that it stretches the stitches so that you can use a chart on regular graph paper is amazing.  However, the next time I want to learn anything, perhaps I won't do it under such high-pressure circumstances.
 
3.  One shouldn't complain about a free pattern....but this one was published as simple charts on tumblr, which made printing them out in a format that was usable near impossible.  I finally solved the problem by taking screen shots with my ipad and then printing them out as pdf's...but it took multiple attempts to get them done correctly.
 
4.  My husband had vacation to burn, and so he kept taking days off...significantly reducing the amount of time I had to work on the scarf.  Seriously.  I had a mild freak-out every time he announced another day off.
 
I'm sure my husband thought I was the laziest woman in the world because from the day I started until the day I finished I did nothing but work on the scarf.  Every single day I had free to myself I'd go to Starbucks as soon as everyone was off in the morning, sit and work for a solid 3-4 hours, come home for a bit, and then work until the girls got home from school.  The rest of the time, I'd haul it around the house, pulling it out to work furiously whenever my husband would go down to his basement or leave to run errands.  (I got real good at telling the difference between the sounds each of my family members makes when coming up the stairs.)  If I heard my husband approach I'd frantically stuff it all back in the bag...or under the bed...or into whatever hidey-hole happened to be close by.  I'm kind of surprised I didn't get caught.  Early on, I counted the rows and did some math to find out how many rows I had to do per day in order to finish by Christmas.  Only once did I fail to hit that daily goal....and in fact on all but two or three days I exceeded it by quite a bit. 
 
I was cheered on by my girls, my best girlfriends, and my Starbucks friends....all of whom thought it was brilliant, and who were as excited about the outcome as I was.  At one point I had the attention of every single man in Starbucks, who all thought my husband was a super-lucky guy.  (That was hilarious....one of the baristas had asked what the symbols were, and when I held it up it drew the attention.)  It was a lot of fun.  Knitting is so often a solitary activity, but this once it felt like a community effort.
 
Best of all - although really, was there any question? - my husband absolutely loves it.  I was able to surprise him on Christmas morning with the perfect gift...one which he truly appreciates because of both the finished product and the work involved.

And I am the coolest wife ever.
 
The details:
Star Wars Double Knit Scarf
pattern by notanicedragon (via Ravelry)
Knit Picks Gloss DK
4 skeins black, 4 skeins white
Addi Turbo Circs - US 3, 3.25 mm
November 30 - December 15, 2015
 
and the pictures...enjoy!











Monday, November 30, 2015

Monday Meanderings - Holiday Edition!

Last night my church had a lighting ceremony for our brand new peace tree.
Isn't it beautiful!
 
Let's get right to it today, shall we?!
  • I feel a need to knit silly little Christmas ornaments this year.
  • I'm trying to resist that urge.
  • I really love knit toys and such, but goodness...they are so fiddly!
  • And yet...I'm spending copious amounts of time on Ravelry looking at knit ornaments....
  • My kingdom for buttons!  I have not yet shared a finished project post for my Mesmeric sweater because I can't find any stupid buttons that will work for it!!! 
  • We do NOT have a large selection here in town, and they need to be tiny.
  • I had ordered what I thought would be the perfect solution from KnitPicks...but they were backordered.
  • Sigh.
  • I'm hoping to find buttons before Christmas, because I'd really love to wear this sweater then.
  • Speaking of clothes.  (sort of) We have a family photo shoot lined up for Saturday, and so I have until then to come up with coordinating outfits for all of us.  This is NOT my forte.
  • Seriously...clothes are stressful for me.
  • Also stressful?  Shoes.  The search for winter shoes which fit has begun again. 
  • I am not hopeful.
  • My feet will be cold for the next few months as I will be surviving in Birkenstock sandals and handknit socks....which is a lovely combo, but isn't quite warm enough for our weather. 
  • Christmas!  Yay!
  • I'm seriously considering a significant break from Facebook for the holidays...as in deactivating my account for about two weeks.  I'd thought about shutting it down for the entire month, but there are reasons why I just can't do that right now.  Time away would be good for the soul, I think. 
  • And it would help me be more present for my family, which is a good thing.
  • Time is running out on the stash knit down of 2015. 
  • No worries, it shall continue in to 2016.
  • There are definitely things I'd love to knit that will require purchasing yarn.  It can be frustrating to want badly to make x when you don't have the right materials, but at the same time I am enjoying very much the process of making due with what I have. 
  • And, it's allowed me to make some really fun things. 
  • And I definitely feel good watching the stash go down.
  • It stresses me out to have so much yarn sitting around, not being used.  There's a lot of money tied up in there!
  • Will absolutely be continuing on the stash knit-down next year.  Bet you anything I can get through most of the stash by the end of next year!
  • A side note....will 2016 also be a year of spinning down the fiber stash?
The knitting is calling...time to run.
 
Have a great week everyone!

November Books

1. Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith (audio) -  Heck.  I'm not into hard boiled detective novels or crime novels or mysteries...but I love the Golbraith books!  Though often pretty darn grisly and grim, I do have fun reading them.  The relationship between Robin and Cormorine is the best!  But darn it, a cliffhanger?!?  on a book that's not even been out for a month...thus making me wait how long to find out what happens?!?

2.  Tower of Thorns, Juliet Marillier - Truth, I love Marillier, but I was disappointed by this - the second of the Blackthorn and Grim series.  About 1/4 of the way in I completely lost interest...which is NOT a good sign.  Part of the problem is that I saw one of the major plot points coming from a mile away, and it both annoyed and disappointed me.  I won't give up on Blackthorn and Grim - Celtic Fairy Tales are my favorite - if there are future books I'll try them as well...but it's apparent that this series is nowhere near the quality of Marillier's Sevenwaters books. 

3.  The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, Pico Iyer - I was introduced to Iyer by the lovely podcast On Being, hosted by Krista Tippett.  This slim book was produced by TED in conjunction with Iyer's TED talk, and I imagine it'll lead me down a rabbit hole when I go to watch the talk tomorrow.  It's fall, and I'm in a very quiet, contemplative, withdrawn mood...thus, a book on meditation, on being still, on stepping back from the world.  It's given me some things to think about, and I may be putting some new practices in place because of it.  I also may be tracking down more books by On Being guests.  I'm in the mood. 

4. Slade House, David Mitchell - Readers of Mitchell's The Bone Clocks will doubtlessly recognize key elements of this small book,  although it clearly stands on it's own.  It's creepy, and fun - made special by the fact that Mitchell is so very talented at capturing clear, unique voices with each of his characters. It was a fun read...and I cheered when a familiar character showed up in the end!

5. Epitaph, Mary Doria Russell - Russell is one of my favorite writers, but I had long avoided her first   book about Doc Holiday and the Earp brothers because westerns just aren't my thing.  What finally drew me in was the excellent narration in the audio format...and truth be told I am completely disappointed that my library didn't get the digital audio for this sequel.  These books are amazing.  The characters are richly drawn, the language is gorgeous, and the story sweeps you up and carries you along.  Here's the thing, though....Epitaph is most definitely a Greek tragedy, and you know absolutely what's coming (darn that historical record!) and it can be a bit much at times.  I wound up only reading half of the book because it was a bit more depressing than I really wanted at this time of the year.  I did spend some time online tracking down the historic record about all of the characters, and I think that was good enough for me. 

6.  Mort(e), Robert Repino (audio) - This has been on my reading wish list for a while because of BOTNS, and so when I found it on a routine browsing through the newer titles on Hoopla I thought I'd try it out.  It's very, very hard to describe. (Should I even try?!)  Our Protagonist is a former house cat named Mort(e), who becomes a war hero when the ants engineer a war against human and transform animals into high-functioning two-legged....oh yeah, it's a crazy-cakes story, and I loved every minute of it!  You can't help but be swept up in Mort(e)'s search for his lost dog friend Sheba, and the truly unique story will carry you along. 

7.  Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, Connie Willis - A dear friend suggested this in my FB plea for book ideas this month, and it was the perfect thing to read during the Thanksgiving break.  I'm honestly not sure why I hadn't tried it before, given how much I love Willis.  It was charming and fun and thought provoking.  I loved the twist on some of the traditional Christmas stories that Willis created, and the honor she paid to some of her favorite Christmas tales.  Will definitely be added to the annual Christmas fun. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Handspun Heaven

 Sometimes magic happens when you least expected it.
 
My one and only experiment in spinning a bulky yarn - I always tend towards the finer stuff - was the perfect candidate for the great stash knit down of 2015 as I knew it would knit up super quick.
 
Ravelry was my friend here, as I used it to search my own library for bulky knit projects.  I had almost completely forgotten about this hat, but I knew it would be perfect.
 
Quincy, by Jared Flood
Made In Brooklyn book 1 for Classic Elite
My own bulky handspun - from 16 oz of merino wool by Ashland Bay in Sandalwood
Addi Turbo 24 inch US 10.5 circulars
US 10 DPN's (borrowed from Mom)
November 23 - 27, 2015
 
The really cool thing is that the hat is knit in a wide strip which is then twisted.  I loved the look of that strip so very much - with the built in I-cord on the edge - that I decided to make a matching scarf.  I followed the directions for the hat, but just kept knitting until I had it as long as I wanted it to be. November 25 - 28, 2015
 
I really wish you could see the yarn in person.  The wool was a yellow-orange base with streaks of all sorts of different colors in it, and it made a beautifully heathered yarn with lots of depth to it.  I actually withheld 1.5 oz of the yarn just because it was so pretty, and will be hanging it for display in my corner of the basement!
 



Friday, November 27, 2015

Kusha Kusha No

 I really, really enjoyed playing with the combo of stainless steel yarn and super fine merino.
 
But.
 
At the end of the day, I will NEVER wear this scarf, and the miles of knitting it'll require to be finished does not appeal in any way shape or form.  It's super cool as an architectural experiment, and I don't at all regret buying the kit or trying it out.  I just don't want to continue knitting this scarf.
 
Besides.
 
I have other ideas for the yarn....

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gooseberry

It started as a personal challenge....
But first, the backstory.
 
Years ago my mother and I each bought a Rosemary kit from one of my local yarn shops, which - come to think about it - is kind of weird because we've never done the matchy-matchy thing.  I knit mine up first, and while it was beautiful and I did wear it a few times I ultimately decided that the style aged me too much.  Mom tried it on, and voila...perfect elegance!  So I gave her the finished sweater, and she gave me her unused kit.
 
My new kit then sat around for a really, really long time.
 
 Knitting my Mesmeric sweater this summer was a game changer for me.  For so many years I'd knit sweaters for everyone BUT me, but having completed that beauty I wanted more.
 
However, I also didn't want to spend any money on yarn, as I've been very firmly committed to using my stash this year.

So I turned to my stash....and this yarn was the perfect candidate for my next sweater.
 
I knew from my experiences with Rosemary that this is a yarn that needs a very basic pattern.  It pills dreadfully, and isn't the softest yarn in the world.  There's no sense wasting time on details like cables or lace that could be potentially obscured in fuzz and pills.  It needed something quick and easy to knit up, preferably in a classic pattern that would work for years to come.
 Which is where Ravelry comes into the picture.  Goodness Bless the pattern search page, which allows you to set the parameters of the search as tightly as you possibly can....including limiting it to patterns in your own library.
 After spending several days searching, I found this gem in my Interweave knits library, and after a quick swatch I knew it was the right one.
 
Of course...I ran it by a couple of friends who have better fashion sense than I just to be on the safe side!
 The details:
Gooseberry Cardigan by Hannah Fettig
Interweave Knits Weekend 2009
Anna's Yarn - now by The Unique Sheep - in Natural Saxon Blue Indigo
the kits were sold by weight, and the tag had worn off...so I'm sorry to say I have no idea how much yardage I had.  I got lucky.  I had enough for the sweater with a small ball left over for repairs.
Addi Turbo US 5 - 3.75 mm - 32 inch and US 4 - 3.5mm - also 32 inch
October 19 - November 8, 2015
 
 In case you are wondering -

Yes, that's an incredibly fast knit!
 
As I knew it would, the fabric relaxed in the wash, and blocked beautifully.  It wound up being a smidge smaller than I'd wanted....but as my daughter pointed out I'll, "grow into it, " because my size is still changing. 
 
I'm absolutely delighted with the finished look of this sweater.  It's exactly the classic look I wanted, and the fabric has an interesting weight and a gorgeous drape to it.  The drape is the best part really, and I wish I could somehow convey that through the screen.  As I can't....lots of pictures!  I have no doubt this will be a wardrobe staple for years to come.
 
The one kicker....and I knew this would be the case, so it's not a surprise.
 
It's the darn itchiest sweater I've ever owned.  This is most certainly not a yarn I would ever buy again, and in fact a part of me wishes I'd known better from the get-go.  Having said that, though, it's absolutely fine over a long sleeved, higher collared shirt like the one in the picture, and so all things considered it will be just fine.
 
And now that this challenge has been successfully completed...
 
I'm back to the stash to figure out the next!