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 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 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 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!