Friday, December 30, 2016

Binge Reading the Month Away

The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire:

I read the first book, Rosemary and Rue, last month, and fell head over heals for this Urban Fantasy series.  I'm not going to go into descriptions of each book, but will say that I enjoyed this series considerably more than I expected....and in fact will, at some point, be buying my own copies.  (I checked them out from the library, not wanting to spend so much on a single series just now.)  The truth is that I've been very disappointed before in long-running series by other authors, particularly in this genre.  What starts out great tends to fade into boring or repetitive or diminished quality.  Not this time.  The books maintain their standards without, with characters who do grow and change (albeit slowly).  It's been a long while since I got sucked into a series so compelling that I had trouble putting the books down.  Excellent way to end my reading year!

1. A Local Habitation
2. An Artificial Night
3. Late Eclipses
4. One Salt Sea
5. Ashes of Honor
6. Chimes at Midnight
7. The Winter Long
8. A Red-Rose Chain
9. Once Broken Faith

and the October Daye novellas:
10.  Dreams and Slumbers - Focused on Arden, and immediately following the events of Once Broken Faith
11. Full of Briars - Quentin centric, and a follow-up for Chimes at Midnight.

I should point out that the novellas are truthfully not fully-fleshed out stories, but are rather character builders.  Doesn't make them any less fun or important, just different!  There are other short stories and such in this series available....but after this I felt it was time to move on to something else for a little while.  I'll come back to them later.

12. Books for Living, Will Schwalbe (also library) - I adored Schwalbe's earlier book, "The End of Your Life Book Club," in which he documented the last year of his mother's life through the books they read together.  This time, he writes short essays about the lessons learned through books.  I got to spend the end of my year reading about reading, in a book written my someone who understands what books mean to someone like me.  It was a beautiful way to end the year.  (It also gave me the perfect way to refocus my reading after being so immersed in the October Daye books for so long!)

My audio for the month, courtesy of J.K. Rowling...because sometimes you need to revisit old favorites!

13.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
14.  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Then Came This....

If you look closely at the pictures of the ornaments in progress, you will notice a fourth shape.  The fourth and final animal in the pattern is a walrus.  While I was knitting the first walrus body, though, I couldn't help but notice that it was shaping up to look just like a certain intergalactic gangster....

And I couldn't help myself.

JABBA CLAUS! was born!

Which made my husband very happy.

Also, he says I'm not to ever make one for anyone else....

So our one-of-a-kind Jabba will remain, truly one of a kind.

And he is,without a doubt, the coolest ornament on our tree.

Yes, I did make all of the parts for two actual walrus ornaments....but I think those will have to wait for 2017.  I'm ready to move on! 

Jollying Myself Up

I spent my inbetween time in December making whimsical Christmas ornaments...because they were fun, and because they were exactly what was needed to improve my mood.

I  made two of to keep, and one to gift!

I love them more than I can possibly say...and may have to make more!

Arctic Attire Ornaments, by Annie Watts
in Adorn, by Knit Picks
Yarn: Knit Picks Palette, mostly scraps left over!
Needles: Knit Picks wooden DPN's, varying sizes
November 26 - December 31, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November Books....AKA, A Dry Spell

We can blame this horrible reading month on two things.  1.  The election and all of the stress it caused. and 2. American Horror Story, which I binge watched because I desperately needed something to distract myself.  (It was a lot better than I expected.)

So, the books I actually read:

1.  Den of Wolves, Juliette Marillier - the newest Blackthorn and Grim!  So, so good.  Unlike the second book, which dragged a little bit, I had no trouble slipping back into Blackthorn and Grim's world with this one.  I'm also happy to say that Marillier decided to finish this series up as what's apparently a trilogy rather than drag out the main conflicts as I had originally feared she would do.  Loved the little nods to her other world.  Loved the growth of both of her main characters.  Loved the new fairy tale beneath the plot.  If anything, I think the ending felt a tad rushed.  Would like to have seen it drawn out just a bit more!

2.  The Book of Joy, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams - This has been my early morning reading for a couple of months, and it's wonderful.  I've used quotes in two seperate sermons now, and have found myself refering to passages to help deal with my own life.  My favorite thing....the humor and love between the two men, which kind of suprised me, although it shouldn't have.

3.  Smoke, Dan Vyleta - This one got a lot of buzz when it was published, and I was really looking forward to reading it.  I am left more perplexed than anything.  The concept was unique - I've only read one other book with a similar, although very different, central idea.  I pretty much hated all of the characters, though, and felt that there were some significant pacing problems that made it difficult to stick with at times.  Truly not sure what I think.

4.  The World According to Star Wars, Cass R. Sunstein (audio) - This was just fun.  I'm not near the Star Wars fan that my husband is, but I'm glad I gave it a listen.

5.  Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire- I don't remember how I found this book, and I wish I did so I could give credit.  It was amazing.  I'd had a couple of people tell me they liked it...but I wasn't prepared to be as deeply affected as I was.  It's going on my list of favorites for this year, for sure!  I don't really want to gush or give anything away.....if you like fairy tales, or stories about children who travel through it.  The emotional payoff is one of the biggest I've had all year!

6.  Rue and Rosemary, Seanan McGuire - I need fairy tales right now, so after the grand success of Every Heart a Doorway I decided to try McGuire's Toby Daye series, which was recommended to me on facebook recently.  Good news - I LOVED it!  Bad news/good news - there are 10 of them!  I'll want to own them eventually, but I think  it's time to head to the library.  (Also for the Naomi Novic dragon books....just can't invest in big series right now, although I'm desperate to read them.)  I absolutely love modern fairy tales, and Toby is just what I needed.


7. The Wonder, Emma Donoghue (audio) - I tried, I really tried.  It's not that long of an audio book, and I thought I'd be able to get through it. The reader is great, and I understand why Donoghue gets such good reviews.  She does rather have a knack for taking a very confined story and making it large.  However, I just didn't care about the characters or the outcome, and with so little going on I gave up at the half-way mark.

8. Emotionally Weird, Kate Atkinson - I still think Life After Life is one of the best books ever written, but I've grown steadily less enamored of Kate Atkinson since then.  This is the last of her books that I'd wanted to read - it's been on my wish list for forever.  Glad I only checked it out through the library.  It was just a bit too much for me...too precious in its language and style.  Perhaps this is a timing thing.  I may try again later.

9.  The Land of Stories, Chris Colfer (audio) - My girls love Colfer's Land of Stories books, so I thought I would give them a try.  After all, I love great YA and kids' books!  Ahem.  It just wasn't for me - although theoretically you'd think it was exactly my thing.  I found the characters to be so flat as to be ridiculous, though, and Colfer's narration bordered on annoying at times.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The First Sunday of Advent

Sometimes in life we are thrown rather unique challenges.  I accepted the responsibility for today's sermon in part because it was an open slot that needed filled and because I felt that it would be easy to come up with something to say about hope and advent and our theme, 'be ready.'  After all, these are warm, fuzzy things to think about...especially at this time of year.

But life happens, and things don't always turn out as you expected them to.

Towards the end of October, I got sick with what was probably the flu.  It lasted forever....close to three weeks.  Then, a few weeks ago I hurt my foot in my tap dancing classes, the results of which you can see with my spiffy new boot.  All of this to say that I lost access to my primary source of stress release and happy endorphins....exercise....specifically, my running, which has also become a powerful time of prayer and centering to me and has allowed me to enjoy God's creation more fully.

The timing couldn't be worse.  Not only are we passing through a season of highly stressful current events, but I'm also at the end of my fall allergy season, which means that my body is just tired because it's been fighting off invaders for quite a while now.  On top of that I have always been prone to a bit of seasonal affective disorder.

All of this to say that my depression came roaring back a couple of weeks ago....and it's really, really hard to sit down and write about hope and the coming of Christmas when you are busy fighting off the black dog, even when you are armed with the type of toolkit I've built over the last 25 years.

But I found myself on the farm Friday, and it was such a beautiful evening that I couldn't help but limp my way out to the sheep pens to visit with the flock.  I watched as Mom and Tanith brought a bucket of feed out to the little girls, where they called to one particular sheep named Chance.  As I watched Chance decide whether or not to trust the stranger with the bucket (Tanith) - she eventually did - I thought of the improbability of her very existence, and I found maybe I did have some ideas after all.

We throw the word "hope" around a lot in church, and I want to take some time today, on this first Sunday of Advent to talk about what hope really is.

I'm going to start with what hope is not.  Some of this I pulled from a poem about Hope by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin that was in today's worship helps.  Some of it is from my own musings.

Hope is not a lighthearted or superficial wish.   Hope is not fleeting or far away.  Hope is not something we use to give meaning to or consolation for bad circumstances.  Hope is not passive.  Hope doesn't sit on the surface.  We use the word hope in those ways all of the time...but they don't reflect the truth.

Biblically speaking, hope means to trust.

Real hope, and I'm borrowing some quotes from the Book of Joy by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama because it just happens to be what I'm reading right now, and because they speak so deeply to this, is:

“Hope,” the Archbishop said, “is quite different from optimism, which is more superficial and liable to become pessimism when the circumstances change. Hope is something much deeper.”

Those versions of hope that I mentioned earlier?  I believe those are more in line with what the Archbishop refers to as optimism.

He goes on....

“I say to people that I’m not an optimist, because that, in a sense, is something that depends on feelings more than the actual reality.”

“I believe with a steadfast faith that there can never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless. Hope is deeper and very, very close to unshakable. It’s in the pit of your tummy. It’s not in your head. It’s all here,” he said, pointing to his abdomen.”

“To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”

“Yet hope requires faith, even if that faith is in nothing more than human nature or the very persistence of life to find a way. Hope is also nurtured by relationship, by community”

“Despair turns us inward. Hope sends us into the arms of others.”

So what, exactly, does a little lamb have to do with true hope?  And why did Chance bring me to reflect on the idea of what hope is and what it isn't?

For the last several years, we've spent most of our spring break on my parents' farm because it just so happens to coincide with lambing season, which is one of the best times of the year to be on a farm.  We spend a lot of time during lambing season out in the barn and in the fields, making sure that all is well with the flock.  For the most part, the breed that my parents raise doesn't need much assistance...but every once in a while we must step in.

About half way through the week, during a routine check of the fields, my dad and the girls discovered Tanith's ewe, Danette, standing off by herself.  The worrisome part is that she was not able to easily get to the barn when they tried directing her, nor was she obviously in labor.  They eventually did get her to the barn, and Dad sent for mom and I.  After a quick exam, Dad began treatment for bloat.  Unfortunately, it was already too late for Danette.  Sheep are notoriously fragile, and have a tendency to die quickly and easily.  In a way, it's a blessing...they don't suffer...but it also makes it extremely difficult to save them when something goes wrong.  Within a minute or two it because clear that Danette was dying, and we had a choice to make.  She was days away from her due date, and if you know anything about sheep you should know that those days make a huge difference.  The babies weren't likely ready to be born, and it was possible they were already in trouble given what was happening to their mom.

We took the chance anyway.

My dad delivered the twin girls in an emergency c-section.  Trained by a lifetime as a farm girl and the veterinarian's daughter, I stepped in immediately to start rubbing the babies with towels, trying to coax them to life.  Mom joined me when she arrived with more supplies.  There are times when you don't think, you just do.  Both lambs took their first breaths.  We kept going.  Once the lambs were breathing well on their own, we wrapped them in clean towels and took them to the house.  They spent the rest of the day snuggled on our laps.  My dog Winston even helped out, licking them both from head to toe...providing the same type of stimulation that a mama sheep normally does to help get their little bodies going.  It would take them hours instead of minutes to get to their feet on their own, and it would take us several long and patient days to get them to accept the bottle as easily as they need to, but it happened.  Tanith named her girls Chance and Hope, for that's exactly what they were.

Hope would sadly die in a farm accident later in the summer....something that was no one's fault and couldn't have been avoided.  Chance, well Chance would get sick with something called bottle jaw, and it was a very near thing indeed.  Lambs who grow up without their mamas just aren't as healthy and hardy as lambs who grow up they way they were intended.  Once again, we almost lost her....but she came through thanks to the efforts of my parents, who worked round the clock for a week to try to keep her with us, and I believe also because of the many prayers that were said on her behalf.

So you see, Chance is an improbably sheep.  Twice she's survived when everything told us that there was no possibility for her to live.  Twice she's been a living example of hope.  Hope was that deep feeling inside that spurned us to action, that kept us going when everything told us it was time to give up.  That hope didn't deny the reality of the situation.  It wasn't blind to the facts and it didn't try to ignore the probable outcomes.  It wasn't wishful required us to step up and be present and to work for the outcome we wanted.  Hope required us to trust, and it was born from the faith that God had a plan...that life would find a way, even for one tiny little lamb.

And now, as I watch my daughter feed her lamb Chance, I am reminded that Hope is always there, and that I must do my best to work for it.  Chance shows me the beauty and love that can be found if only we hold on to True Hope.

Not only is today the first Sunday in Advent, the Sunday which we traditionally focus on hope, but it is also a day in which we are called to Be Ready.  Our scripture for today reminds us that Jesus stressed the importance of preparation and watchfulness in living each day in this world that God created and loves.  We are called to be ready for the coming of God's reign on earth.

But what, exactly, does that mean?  How are we to do that, and how does it connect to hope?

To answer that, I was drawn to a specific piece of today's scripture.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Matthew 24:42-44 NIV

If there is one truth about the Frazier family way of celebrating Christmas, it's that we LOVE Christmas music.  In our gigantic collection, there is a Reba McEntire story song, The Christmas Guest, which is her take on a very old German tale.  In it, a poor man named Conrad spends a day waiting for the Lord to come to celebrate Christmas with him, after being told of this visit in his dreams.  He prepares his humble home the best he can, looking forward to this visit with great joy.  Over the course of the day, though, God does not show up.  Instead, he is visited by a beggar, an old woman, and a lost child.  In each case, Conrad extends his hand to give what he can.  He finds the beggar a pair of shoes and a coat.  He feeds the old woman, and gives her a place to rest.  He calms the fears of the child and shows her the way home.  At the end of the day, sorrowing that the Lord didn't actually come, he goes to bed where he dreams again, and when the Lord appears in those dreams, Conrad asks him why he didn't come.  The Lord smiled, and told him that fact he had been there.  He was the beggar...the old woman...and the child.

I believe that this is what's meant by that scripture....that we are called to be ready for the coming of our Lord..not to celebrate our own lives, but so that we can bring about his Kingdom on Earth by extending our hands to those around us.  We can be that light of hope for others.  For when we pay attention to the needs of those around us, miracles can happen

My sophomore year in college was rough.  It was the year that depression and stress finally brought everything crashing down around me.  The worst came, sadly enough, on my birthday.  I was in the dorms with a group of friends, watching our friend JM's homemade movies.  To this day, I'm not entirely sure what happened, but something inside of me snapped that night.  I quietly got up and left, in tears before I even got to the elevator.

I was not allowed to leave alone.  My friend Brian noticed somehow that something was off.  He followed me to my car, and insisted on going home with me to the condo where I lived alone.  Brian was very much a trusted brother figure to me.  Without once trying to find out what exactly was wrong, he sat calmly with me until the tears had worn themselves out.  He then read me a few stories out of a fairy tale book of mine, and told me to go to bed....that he would be downstairs on the couch should I need anything in the night.  As I climbed into bed, I heard him checking in with our other friends to let them know what was going on...that something was different, that I needed them.

In the morning, we drove back to campus for finals.  He deposited me in our friend Jay's room.  They'd clearly decided I needed watching, and I don't think they were wrong.  As Jay and I talked, he caught me saying that I thought they would all be better off without me.  Jay just looked at me.  He told me I was wrong, and he told me that no matter what, I could call him over the break whenever I needed him....that even if he happened to be gone, his family would know how I could find him.  He was true to his word.  The one time I called, his Mom greeted me with incredible warmth.  He wasn't home, but she knew exactly where he was and had been left with instructions to contact him immediately so that we could be in touch within minutes if I called.

And one more.  JM...he of the movies...pulled me aside shortly before we all went home for Christmas.  He had noticed a few things, and wanted to talk.  It wasn't long before he was finishing my sentences, to my complete surprise letting me know that he knew exactly what was going on in my brain and in my heart.  He then shared about his own experiences with depression...including what it was like to take an antidepressant.  I would call him the day I made an appointment with my doctor, and again the day I took that first pill.

Three beloved friends, all of whom were paying attention, and all who were ready to step in and do what they could for a friend.  All were beacons of hope...shinning lights in the dark.  All helped to get me through that holiday season so that I could begin the process of putting my life back together in the spring by making sure that the hope in my own heart was not allowed to die out.  All of whom brought the Kingdom of God just a tiny bit closer by doing what we are all called to do...which is to love and care for each other.

And so, as we begin the process today of preparing for Christmas, I would ask each one of you to take some time to reflect on Hope and on what it means to you.  Are there stories in your own life where real, true, deep hope has carried you through dark times?  How has Hope called you to action...for yourself or for others?  Have there been times when you or others in your life have been ready and have been able to answer the call?  What can you do to make sure you stay focused?  What can you do to prepare?

May God's blessings be on each and every one of you.

May Hope live in your heart for now and for always.

May we all Be Ready with open hearts.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

At Long Last

 Such a 'basic' shawl usually doesn't take this long.

It went through a complete redo when I got through the first half of the charts only to decide I needed a bigger needle.

Then there were months of agonizing because I hated the original border.

Months of agonizing that were followed by weeks of attempting to reverse engineer an edging done by wonderful knitters from Russia.

Weeks of attempting to figure out the edging that ended in glory when one of those knitters finally published a pattern.

And it's just about perfect.  

I only wish it were a tad larger....should have used a needle one more size up.  As is, when worn it drapes almost to my waist in the back.

Kodama by Andrea Jurgrau
Fiesta Yarns Gracie's Lace, 1 skein of Brownie
Addi Turbo US 4 (3.5mm), 32 inch circular needle
size 8/0 seed beeds in shell/antique pink
December 24, 2015 - September 22, 2016
Alterations:  I added an extra leaf pattern repeat at the bottom (5 instead of 4)
Edging pattern by Arya9 on Ravelry (who is an amazing lace knitter!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Progress Report

Remember my Winter Wonderland sweater, knit from Mike's beautiful fleece?

I finished knitting it well over a month ago.
 Last week I finally got around to sewing up the seams,
 And weaving in the ends.

Despite the not so helpful cat.
Yesterday I washed and blocked it - it's going to take forever to dry - after a quick try on for fit.*

My gorgeous sweater still needs buttons and a collar....

And some cold weather so that I can wear it!

*spoiler alert...the fit is perfect, and my wee alterations were exactly what was needed!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

This Is How I Say "I Love You"

Oh yes, it's time to knit my husband another sweater.

(Color is true in first picture)

The challenge time: to only use materials I already owned.

The yarn is Simply Shetland Silk and Lambswool that I bought on major discount about 8 years ago, and the pattern is from one of my Elsebeth Lavold books.  I have had to make a few small adjustments to the pattern because this yarn works up at a smaller gauge than the pattern called for, but that's ok.  Most of Sean's sweaters are on the heavier side, so he is looking forward to having another lightweight sweater to add to his collection.

I'm a lucky knitter indeed, who has a husband who loves it when I knit for him!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Knitting Fail

They don't always work.
 I spent much of October working furiously on Marnie MacLean's beautiful Pas de Valse, thinking it was the perfect solution for a gigantic skein of hand dyed yarn that's become a bit of an albatross as it's been hanging around in my stash for a decade.*  

I was partially right.  The pattern is perfect for variegated yarn because the design elements do a pretty good job of preventing weird pooling of the colors.  

But I was also pretty wrong, and if I'd listened to my gut I would never have gotten as far as I did.


The pattern actually calls for a fingering weight yarn, but it's knit at an incredibly loose gauge.  There are good reasons for that - it gives a garment incredible drape, for example, which is key in this type of sweater - but it can also create problems with sloppy looking joins, which is exactly what happened to me.

Here are three examples, which are driving me nuts.
 The sleeves
 The back of the neck
 Elsewhere along the neckline
Truthfully, if I wore this thing in public, probably no one would notice anything.

But I would know, and that's what counts.

Those places where the different sections are joined are driving me absolutely crazy.  I finished them, trying to convince myself that it would all work out in the end with some patient finish work and excellent blocking.  Big sigh.  I was fooling myself.  Some types of sloppy you just can't fix.  This is a pattern that needs a heavier yarn...wouldn't have to be much heavier, but even a little bit would help.

Plus, I'm not crazy about the fit.  Yeah, it would look more like it's supposed to with some pretty extensive blocking (which would hold, given the silk content), but I'd be better off in a bigger size.
So tomorrow I'm going to rip the whole thing apart, and I'm not going to be even a tiny bit upset about that decision.  Something better will come along for that yarn, and a better yarn will come along for that pattern.

 I don't regret the time spent on this project.  It was useful to see how the yarn behaved in an actual project, and I do love MacLean's excellently written pattern.  The yarn feels amazing to work with, and the simplicity of the project gave me some much needed stress-relief.  It was definitely a learning experience! 

*The yarn is Ellen's Half Pint Farm Merino Silk DK (although it's truthfully a fingering weight yarn) in a generous 1,675 yard skein.  I actually have two skeins of the stuff, bought before I realized how tough it was to work up variegated yarn into anything even remotely nice.  Dumb to have invested in two skeins of the stuff!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Spooky Books for October Fun!

As many of you know, I've spent the last few years reading only spooky books during October.  It's been a lot of fun...but it's also become more and more difficult to find 'good' books.  I seriously doubted whether or not I was going to repeat my tradition this year...but then inspiration arrived in an unexpected place.

Then came Penny Dreadful, the amazing Showtime series that seems to have been written specifically for this Gothic-loving/classic-horror fan.  And what better way to celebrate Halloween than to go back and read some of the books that helped launch the genre?!

The Penny Dreadful Inspired Classics:

1.  Frankenstein, Mary Shelley - Seriously, this is one of my favorite books.  Frankenstein is the FIRST book I read in college, and I had an amazing honors college teacher who helped me to explore it in ways that deeply touched me and have stuck with me for years.  (Creepiest part of the book?  Frankenstein's father kept a picture of his wife crying over the coffin of her father over the mantel....)  My first college English paper was entitled, "Crying For the Monsters,"  and my teacher said it was publishable (with some work, of course)  Shelley's book for me has never been's deeply, deeply sad and it breaks my heart every time I read it...which I do often.  For the record....Penny Dreadful got the creature right.  So, so right.

2. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving - I always forget how much fun Irving's book is.  I can just picture Irving, chuckling to himself as he wrote by candlelight on a crisp fall day.  (I'm completely making this up...humor me.)  His characters are so beautifully drawn, and a sense of humor infuses every paragraph.  When I was a kid, I wasn't so fond of the Disney cartoon version....but as an adult I see how very right that is.  Speaking of Disney, the most magical thing I've ever in my life seen - the one thing that this girl, who's actually worked for the mouse a bit and thus knows what's behind the curtain, went slack-jawed in amazement at - was the Headless Horseman who led the parade at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World.  For just a moment, when he rode by, taking me completely by surprise, I believed!  (No, the horseman wasn't in Penny Dreadful.)

3. The Picture of Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde - Curiously enough, I'd never read it.  That's odd, given how much I love Wilde.  It was necessary to correct this oversight as Dorian plays a big part of Penny Dreadful.  There were parts of this book that left me smiling....Wilde can be so very, very himself when he writes sometimes, and I'd recognize his style anywhere.  Overall, though, it just wasn't my cup of tea.  Not sure why.  I actually find the publication history and subsequent trial to be more interesting than the story itself.

4.  The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Lereaux - No, the Phantom was not in Penny Dreadful, but it was the second book I used for that English paper all of those years ago and it remains a favorite of mine.  (Once upon a time I listed to the soundtrack for the musical....rather more than is normal....and I will forever be indebted to the parents of one of my college friends who took a group of us to see it!)  I had forgotten how funny much of the book is.  Seriously.  O.G. is an amusing sort of haunt!  A complaint I have during the reread is that it ends almost too suddenly, with a  lot of the important details just kind of thrown in there.

5.  The Turn of the Screw, Henry James - Truth be told, I skimmed it.  Despite it's reputation, it's never been a favorite.

I had planned on rereading Dracula and The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, but I just ran out of part because I started watching horror movies instead of reading....

New Spooky Books:

6.  The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black - I discovered Holly Black through my FB requests for Halloween book recommendations a couple of years ago, and rather randomly decided to look her up in my library's digital services to see if she had any other books.  I'm so glad I did.  This is a tale of the darker side of fey, which is right up my alley!  I'm not sure what else to say about it...I don't want to spoil it for anyone who might be interested.  As with the other Black book I read, it's a mature sort of YA, with enough of a cool twist on an old type of story to make it feel fresh and new.

7.  American Ghost: A Family's Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest, Hannah Nordhaus (audio) - I searched 'ghost' in my library's digital services, and this is one of the first books that came up.  Man, oh man, am I ever glad I did that!  So.  Much.  FUN!  What happens when you discover that your great-great-grandmother is supposedly haunting the hotel that her house has become?  When the stories of the haunting don't match up with what you always thought you knew about her? Write a book exploring your family history, of course!  I loved it.  (I also had a lot of fun going online and researching Julia Staab when I was finished.)  Nordhaus did an excellent job of researching family history and of infusing her story with enough history to place it in context and help it all to make sense.  Interwoven throughout are her experiences with psychics and mediums and the like...all of which are pretty darn funny.  (As they were intended to be....I read a few interviews with the author.) She did throw in a couple of sections that could have been trimmed, but all in all it's an excellent read!

8.  The Night Sister, Jennifer McMahon - This has been on my wish list every since it was published, and I finally got around to checking it out of the library. McMahon's Winter People remains one of my favorite past Halloween selections.  She's an engrossing writer, and her ideas feel different.  The books are more atmospheric than scary (in my opinion), and they always surprise me with where they end up going.  (hard to do with someone like me who reads so, so much)  I love the way the three separate - and very authentic - timelines were woven together, the characters are all marvelous, and the Tower Motel is one of the best settings I've come across in a long time!   I devoured this book in a single afternoon!

9.  The Bell Witch: An American Haunting, Brent Monahan (audio) - Reminded me a lot of the nonfiction book I read about the Salem witch trials a year or so ago.  Most of it was pretty familiar territory, but I have to admit I didn't quite see the twist coming at the end.  I think the horror of what life was like back in the good old days (girls marriageable by 12!) was worse than the witch portion.
The Bell Witch is actually quite old American folklore, which has inspired - among other things - the movie, The Blair Witch Project.  (True story, I was going to go see that movie after work with friends, and my boss called me in and very calmly asked me if she thought that was a good idea as it was a stormy night and I would be going home really late to my great-grandparents old farmhouse in the country where I lived alone.  She was right.  I waited until it came out on video and watched it with my husband.)

10.  The Winter Ghosts, Kate Mosse - Really, what I wanted this month the most was a ghost story...something atmospheric and kind of sad.  I found the Winter Ghosts on a list of ghost stories somewhere online, and decided to give it a try.  It was amazing, and was exactly what I needed and wanted.  Though I borrowed it from the library, it's gone on my book wish list because I'd love to have a copy to own and reread.  A young man, damaged by WWI, gets lost in the mountains on a snowy, stormy evening and has an encounter that's deeply moving in the end.  Perfection.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Some Thoughts On Sunday Mornings, Running, and Prayer

Over the last few years, Sunday mornings have become truly sacred to me.  I spend them in one of two ways - either running along the trails in one of two favorite parks, or curled up in my nook in the basement with a nourishing book and my journal.  Sometimes, I get to do both.  

What follows is a portion of my journal entry from July 3 of this summer.  I've debated for a long while whether or not to share it - I've NEVER before published something straight from my private journals - and this morning it felt right to finally do so.  The only editing I've done is to divide it into some smaller paragraphs so that it's a bit easier to read.  

But first....another cup of tea...

And as I came back down to my chair, the thought that crossed my mind was that I wish I lived in a Sunday morning sort of world.  Imagine how lovely it would be if I had this kind of time every single day for quiet reflection, for communion with God.

It would be lovely.

But it wouldn't be the real world.

By the way, when the Urgent Care Doc told me I couldn't run for 2-4 weeks, my 1st thought was, "But that's how I talk to God."  It was an interesting gut response, and one that I think bears some attention to.

I don't actually pray during most runs - I listen to books or podcasts.  I do pay attention to my surroundings, and I like to capture the special things (Morning light, the lake, the stone people) in pictures.  I take selfies to celebrate the successes or to just record the day - making sure I'm inserted firmly into my life - or to just grab another picture of a happy me.  Each run is a success in some way, each run is a victory....over my health or over past expectations, or over my own fears....over what I thought was possible or over what I once knew was true about myself.  I love it, even when it's hard or frustrating, even when I question my sanity or why I keep going.

So while I don't pray i the traditional sense, each run becomes a prayer - a thank you for the yes I can, an appreciation for how far I've come, a challenge to continue so that I can be the best Kristin that God wants me to be.  Despite those stories in my ear or maybe because of them, this is when I'm the most present in my own body....and in the world.  It's when I'm the most focused, and it's when I'm paying the most attention.  I'm rewarded with sunrises so beautiful that they break the heart, still reflective waters that center me and calm my soul, the magic of the rock cairns, the gentle recognition of other souls on the trail, the calm presence of the trees, and the deep knowledge that yes, I can.  It's not always so deep (although Sunday mornings tend to be) but there are always at least glimmers of this.

So yes, I talk to God when I run, and He always talks to me.

Friday, September 30, 2016

September Reading

1.  A Song for Arbonne, Guy Gavriel Kay (audio) - I was completely out of fresh podcasts, and needed something to listen to while running, so I found this while browsing for favorite writers in our library's digital services.  While technically it's a reread, it's literally been decades since I actually read this book, so I honestly didn't remember much at all.  (This is a sign that maybe it's time to start pulling out crates from the basement so that I can reread a couple of series that I remember loving from college.). One of the things I most love about Kay's work is that his female characters are so well-drawn.  I don't find that in the work of many male fantasy writers, so it's always a treat.  I love falling in love with characters, as I did in this book.

2. Mothering Sunday, Graham Swift - This is one of the last recommendations I took from Books on the Nightstand before that lovely podcast decided to come to an end.  It's a slim book - I was able to read it in a single evening - and it packed an emotional wallop the size of which way outweighs the number of pages.  It's the story of a single afternoon, and what comes of it.  I loved the way in which the narrative shifted back and forth over the events of that day, with hints of things to come gradually becoming the full story of an entire life.  I loved the details...the way in which all senses became involved in the telling so that it felt like I was actually a part of the story.  And I loved Jane...just because.

3a.  The Key To The Coward's Spell, Alex Bledsoe - love Bledsoe's short stories, which support his two series of books.  This is an Eddie LaCrosse novel....some time ago I listened to the audio of those books and just fell in love with them.  Super fun!  The short story goes into some rather serious issues, and it's not exactly a light read because of that.  Still, it's good to revisit a character....and perhaps this means Bledsoe is working on a new Eddie LaCrosse book?

3b.  Night Flower, Kate Elliott - and this was a short story/novella that supports Elliott's Court of Fives books!  It's the love story of her protagonist's parents, and while it was a sweet read I'm not entirely sure it was neccessary.

4.  How to Live: or A Life of Montaigne, Sarah Bakewell - An older BOTNS recommendation, that I picked up when it finally went on sale.  It was interesting...but I didn't love it as much as other people have loved it.  I will say that it was an excellent introduction to the life and works of Montaigne, written in a very approachable manner.

5. Sister Light, Sister Dark, Jane Yolen - This is the first book in an older trilogy from an author so beloved by me that I find it difficult to understand why I hadn't read them before.  Hmmm..  They only recently became available in digital format, and I snapped the first one up when it went on sale.  I will soon be procuring the other two books.  I adore fairy tale, folklore, mythology...all of that good stuff!  The fact that Yolen tells her tale through those devices, followed by the 'truth' of what happened to create them makes these books truly special. (As an aside, it's fun to imagine where our modern day scholars do and don't get things right!)

6.  Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel - This is also one of the later BOTNS recommendations.  Probably wouldn't have read it if it hadn't gone on the ibooks sale page, but nevertheless I enjoyed it.  Told through interviews, news reports, official briefings, it's a quick read with some fun characters.  There's a sequel coming out...I may or may not read it.  As much fun as it was, it's not really sticking with me - despite those fun characters and a unique plot.

7.  Chapel of Ease, Alex Bledsoe - I love Bledsoe's Tufa novels.  This is his fourth, and I was happy to find that it returned to form after a somewhat dissapointing third novel.  The fact that it folded Broadway musicals into the narrative perhaps made it even better for this Broadway superfan!  The spin on the main character was unexpected given the general nature of the books, but it was well done.

8. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead (audio) - I'm going to be clear.  This is not a "fun" book to read.  It is, however, and important book to read...and one that I think should be required reading for all students of history in this country, no matter how Whitehead plays with reality by altering time and space and by making the railroad  an actual railroad.  If you don't understand the Black Lives Matter movement, you should read this.  If you care about equality and justice, you should read this.  If you don't understand or want a better understanding of race relations in the US, you should read this.  It's not fun, and it's not easy....but it is neccesary.

9.  Children of Earth and Sky, Guy Gavriel Kay - This is Kay's newest, and it was true to form.  The world he built is rich, and the characters are lovely. Interestingly enough, it was a continuation of his long-ago Sarantium books.  (and I may have to reread those, too....sigh).  Again, I find it amazing that the best characters are the women.  Lovely, lovely read.

10.  Crooked Kingdom, Leigh Bardugo - I adore Leigh Bardugo and her Grisha world.  This is the sequel to Six of Crows, and I have to say that I'm glad it completes the story which that book began.  I don't know if I could have waited another year to finish!!  Take note, this is how you do flawed characters who maybe aren't the nicest people in the world, but with whom you want the readers to be fully connected with and rooting for.  Loved the backstories that were fleshed out in this book.  Once again, I also truly appreciate the diversity among the characters.

The Pile O'Unfinished:

11. The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu, trans. Ken Liu (audio) - Yep, this book was a really big deal in the science fiction world.  While normally I'm not a fan of actual science fiction, I do love Ken Liu's work, so I decided to give it a try.  I appreciate the writing, and I did find it interesting...but for whatever reason it just wasn't my cup of tea and I couldn't bring myself to finish it.

12.  Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton (audio) - I'm a fan of Melton's, and while sometimes her writing style strikes me as a bit much, I generally find her work meaningful.  I think my mistake was in picking up the audio version of her new memoir.  Melton does the reading, and while normally I enjoy hearing the author add to her work, this time it just didn't work for me.  Melton does an excellent job with the narration - adding just the right amount of emotion - but (and I hesitate to actually say this for a variety of reasons) for me, her voice was annoying and childlike.  I'll pick the book up in print at some other time.

13. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, Sarah Vowell (audio) - I tried.  It was annoying.  The humor was just too much for me, although I did appreciate the guest voices that were brought in.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Summer Reading, Part 3 - AUGUST!

My Series:

Didn't happen this month. Whoops!

My Short Story Collection:

1. Points of Departure: Liavek Stories, Patricia C. Wrede and Pamela Dean - I started reading this some time ago, and truth be told it would have been better if I'd been able to get through the entire book in a relatively short amount of time as there were some stories that connected throughout.  I absolutely love the world that Wrede, Dean, and several other writers created to play around in, and part of me wants to track down the rest of the Liavek stories.  Enjoyable, but ultimately not pieces that will stick with me as grand favorites.  At the very least, I appreciated the fact that most of the stories were long enough that it really felt like I was getting something out of them.

The Rest:

3. Arabella of Mars, David D. Levine - Oh man, I loved this book more than I can possibly say! It's another recommendation that came from the Huff post article that also recommended Roses and Rot.  In fact, given how much I love both books, I may have to find that article and read the rest of the books in the list.  Plucky heroine, alternative history/gaslamp fiction, interstellar travel done Victorian was so much fun!  Levine is definitely someone I'm going to keep an eye on.

4.  American Gods, Neil Gaiman (audio) - This was a reread for me, and this time around I had the added benefit of being able to easily google some of the crazy locations mentioned in the book.  (And now I need to go on a big, fat road trip.)  I chose to reread it in large part because of the upcoming television adaptation of the book, which looks to be amazing.  I love Gaiman's work, and it was fun to revisit this book.  It was a lot less action-packed and a lot more rambling than I remembered, but at this stage in my life that's exactly what I wanted.

5.  Throne of Jade, Naomi Novik - AND THE LIBRARY NOW HAS SOME OF THOSE FABULOUS DRAGON BOOKS I TALKED ABOUT LAST MONTH!!!!  Now, there are some issues.  They have books 1, 2 and 9 available in digital ebook format right now, while 7, 8, and 9 are available for audio streaming.  This is somewhat annoying, but it does mean they are most likely working to get the entire collection.  So I happily moved on and read the second book, and I loved it every bit as much as the first.  Now I just keep telling myself to be patient for the rest....

6.  Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow (audio) - With the soundtrack of Hamilton: An American Muscial being the soundtrack for our family's summer, it was inevitable that I should read the book that inspired it all.  Goodness, though, this book is a beast!  I chose to listen to the audio, which clocks in at 35 hours at normal speed.  I was able to speed it up a bit and cut that down to 29ish hours, but that's still a major, major time commitment.  Chernow does a really good job of telling the story of our first secretary of the treasury in an engaging way that feels relevant.  This is certainly not a dry history book.  Occasionally it does get rather bogged down in the details, but that's to be expected.  While that can be overwhelming at times, I'm hard-pressed to come up with any ways that Chernow could have condensed the details without leaving out some important information.  I love that the book began and ended with Hamilton's wife, Eliza, who was fascinating in her own right.  All in all, an excellent read...even if it did rather wear me out!  (Plus, it was super fun to listen to songs from the musical after reading about the events that inspired them!)

7.  Poisoned Blade, Kate Elliott - This is the second book in her Court of Fives YA series, which I've been eagerly awaiting since I finished the first book!  One thing I appreciate is that our plucky heroine is also a very real person, with fears and insecurities of her own.  (Plucky heroines get a bit tedious unless they are fully fleshed out characters, with warts and all.)  Elliott finished the book in such a way that she can continue the series or not, and I'm really hoping that she does.

8.  The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin - This is Jemisin's follow-up to her Hugo winning book, The Fifth Season.  As with the first, I felt it was a tad difficult to really lose myself in this book...perhaps because of the shifts in point of view, perhaps because of the super-dense - and completely gorgeous - language.  The payoff for getting to the end, though, is massive once again.  There is another book to come, and I think when it gets here I'm going to have to start from the beginning and read them all together.  These are not easy books, and they have some pretty powerful things to say.  Much as I enjoyed some of the 'easier' books I read this month, I'm very glad that there are writers like Jemisin in the world.  (Bonus: an article on Jemisin that came out this week.)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Making The Decision

Remember Mike?
Well, I carefully took into consideration all of your opinions about which sweater his wool should become.  I tallied up the votes, which knocked two sweaters out of the running as they received no love at all!  Then I made notes about the gauge requirements for all of the rest.
Then I knit a couple of swatches.
Once the swaches were washed and blocked, I revisited my notes about the gauge requirements for the various sweaters.
This took several other sweaters out of the mix as they were designed for a bulky yarn, and clearly Mike's wool doesn't work up to a bulky gauge.
It came down to two choices....both lovely, both receiving lots of love from all of you.  A few texts to a couple of beloved friends as well as a thorough reading of both patterns (with a close eye on the pictures to see what the recommended fabric looked like), helped me to decide.
A thorough exploration of the finished projects on Ravelry, reading through the notes on all of the projects marked as helpful, was the last thing I needed.
and then I began

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Decisions, Decisions.....

Mike says we must choose something grand to make out of his fine fleece.

Mike is correct...and in any case, with those horns, who wants to cross him?

So here are some of my ideas with a few notes.  
Please feel free to weigh in or vote in the comments!
(Pictures snagged from Ravelry)

1.  The best part of this is that the cables rather marvelously change direction, and go in a flattering angle over the chest.  The big problem is that the pattern is apparently a wreck, and it would almost be more of a hassle than it's worth. (I totally buy it...I did sample pieces for both of this designer's books...she's an artist who couldn't care less about accuracy in the patterns.)

 2.  I hadn't intended lace for this...but I keep coming back to this design. 

3. This one is a party in the back, boring on the front sort of sweater.

 4,  It's a very traditional type of jacket, and it's been in my favorites for years.  

5.I adore everything but the neckline, which would need to be altered to be more flattering.

6.  I'm not sure about the hood...but I adore these cables.

Here are a few other ideas....these actually call for a heavier yarn, but I could make it work with some extra work.  (or I could just save them for later, and make it easier on myself by getting the right weight of yarn!)