Friday, December 29, 2017

My Year in Books

Like many others at this time of year, I can't resist looking back at My Year in Books and reminiscing a bit. Goodreads is a good way to do this, especially because without it, I'm afraid I would have forgotten far too many good reads. The number of books and pages I read doesn't really matter to me; quality and enjoyment is much more important than quantity in my personal reading life.

I did try to choose some of my favorites. While I rated all of these 4 or 5 stars, I chose them as 2017 favorites based more on staying power or how much I've thought about them after finishing. I made a futile attempt to place them in order, but finally realized that even though I consider these my favorites, I enjoyed them for different reasons. Bambi is a beautifully written story (and so much more than Disney led me to believe), but it's completely different from the more simply written but poignant Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Two of these were re-reads (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid and Watership Down), but for me they were even better the second time around.

So what's ahead in 2018? I've already started these books, but don't anticipate finishing any of them in the next few days, so they will be my first books read in the New Year. 

I would love to hear any of your 2017 favorite recommendations or books that you're looking forward to reading in 2018. I wish you the happy anticipation of a pile of good books, along with time to read and enjoy them.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Three on Thursday

Today is for Three Things I Learned in 2017. 

This is not my photo, but I love it and don't remember where it's from so I can't cite it. It's too beautiful not to share.

Change is scary. Just when we think we might have things figured out, circumstances change and that can be intimidating. But change can also be good, a real opportunity for growth and learning. Embrace it.

Say what you mean. No matter whether you're on top of the world or in the depths of despair, don't be afraid to honestly express yourself. I have a tendency to avoid confrontation, and too often I've told people things I thought they wanted to hear instead of being honest. I've embroiled myself in unnecessary confrontations because I didn't pleasantly and simply state how I really felt.

A hot cup of tea, knitting, and meditation are good for your soul. With the zeal of the newly converted, I'm going to say that meditation does have the power to change your life. I've been practicing for only a week now, but awareness, acceptance, a wonderful grounded feeling, improved coping, and reduced anxiety are benefits that even I can't ignore. I intend to continue meditating, and I don't think you can ever go wrong with a warming mug of tea and a few minutes of focused knitted.

By putting these on my list of things learned, I don't mean that I'm crossing them off and moving on. These are three big areas in which I've made some small progress in 2017, and maybe by putting them in writing, I will continue to work on them in 2018.

Head on over here to read more Three on Thursday posts. (Maybe? Carole may be continuing her most wonderful week of doing what she darn well pleases, and that may not include a blog post today.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Unraveled Wednesday

Joining Kat and friends for Unraveled Wednesday.

There was almost some unraveling, but it's been averted. We weren't sure if Justin would be home at all, but he happily surprised us by coming home early and caught me knitting his Just Try It cowl. He said, "I hope you're not making that for me," and I got kind of a sinking feeling in my stomach. After some discussion, it turns out that he's not against cowls at all, and in fact, had just bought himself a new fleece one for hunting. It's not ideal for the way he likes to wear them (pulled up under his nose, high on his head in the back, but with his neck still covered in the back), so we talked about modifications to try and get closer to the ideal cowl configuration. This is on waste yarn so he could try it on this morning before he left for South Carolina, and my plan is to work the modifications and have it finished before he gets back here sometime around New Year's Day. The pattern underneath is our collaboration on a possible pattern so I can sew the ideal cowl out of fleece. The planning has been fun; now all I need to do is see if I have enough skills to make these. 

I haven't done much reading over the past few days, but my plan is to finish several almost-completed books and then continue with some of these books on my pile: The Queen of Hearts, The Woman Who Smashed Codes, and/or Mindfulness. I had a lovely picture in my mind that consisted of loads of knitting and reading happening this week, but so far it's been mainly loads of laundry. It's time to make that imaginary picture a reality!

What are you making and reading?

Friday, December 22, 2017

From Our Home to Yours

Whatever you might be celebrating - Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Omisoka, Yule, Saturnalia, the Winter Solstice, or Monday - I wish you and all those you hold dear health, warmth, peace, joy, contentment, and love!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Three on Thursday

Joining Kat and Carole for Three on Thursday.

Every day after John gets home, we suit up with our fluorescent yellow vests, flashlights, and warm clothing to head off on our walk. We tell each other about our days, and sometimes John will ask, "Did you do anything fun today?" Far too often my answer is no, so even though I had a long list of things to get done yesterday (just like everyone else!), I decided fun was long overdue. Before I could talk myself out of it, I headed to Bucks Country Gardens. It's not wild and crazy fun, but it is my kind of enjoyment.

The first thing I saw was the beauty of poinsettias everywhere - red, white, and in between.

Secondly, I was intrigued by these Princettias. They're compact poinsettias, specially bred to branch more and have more flowers. Even if my photo doesn't show it well, they really are much more full. While I've complained about blue-purple dyed poinsettias (especially when they're laden with glitter), I was really smitten by these. 

I didn't get any because I'm running out of places for plants, but I keep thinking about those beautiful pink ones. Maybe I'll make a return trip next week ...

And lastly, I mainly went to check out the Christmas cactuses, and wasn't disappointed. I repotted one of my favorites (with lovely peach-colored flowers) last summer and accidentally killed it. This replacement beauty came home with me,

and this one also. I could not resist all those buds!

Get ready for "Christmas Cactus Watch" in the upcoming weeks; I'm anxious to see what happens with those ten buds on one segment!

Head on over here to read more Three on Thursday posts.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Unraveled Wednesday

Joining Kat and friends for Unraveled Wednesday.

I did finish Ryan's fingerless mitts, so now it's time to focus on this alpaca cowl for Justin. I put it aside because I wasn't sure he'll really ever use a cowl, and I'm still not convinced now that I've picked it back up again. It is the most calming round-and-round knitting with a simple pattern in yarn I love, so I've decided to quit second guessing his reaction and just finish it. If it turns out that he really doesn't like it, I'll offer to frog it and make something he does want. The pattern is called Just Try It for a reason, and I think if Justin does just try it, he may even like it!

Reading has slowed way down with lots of other things to attend to, but I did finish The Subtle Knife and started The Amber Spyglass immediately. I read this trilogy with Ryan years ago, but didn't remember much about it except for Lyra, bears, and dust. They are solid 4-5 star books and just what I've felt like listening to recently. I haven't thought much about reading in 2018, but I'm sure something wonderful will present itself, hopefully about the time I'm finishing up The Amber Spyglass

What are you making and reading?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Sometimes Monday ...

... is a good day to breathe a big sigh of relief that you finally finished the fingerless mitts for Ryan, and you were the first person in line at the post office on Saturday to send them to Colorado.

It's also a great day to enjoy the peaceful round-and-round knitting of an alpaca cowl for Justin (after you're done identifying the fox tracks in the snow). I've never seen the fox in person, but now I know there's one nearby.

I hope the rabbit keeps a wary eye out.

Friday, December 15, 2017

In Which I Cry on the Way Home From the Library

And this is why. I bought two copies of the book for gifts, with the possible ulterior motive of looking through the book myself before I wrapped it. When the books arrived, they were wrapped in plastic because they're so big and heavy (over 5 pounds; I weighed one!), and I didn't want to risk breaking the binding by removing the plastic before gifting them. I've dithered about buying one for myself, so I was thrilled to see that that my little borough library had a copy. I walked up, happily checked out the book, but had to sit down on the church steps across from the library because I simply couldn't wait for a quick perusal.

Then I started to cry. The top photo is Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' to-do list: eggs, milk, bread, hope, change; the bottom one is Obama discussing health care with Paul Ryan. It reminded me of the glorious eight years when I had hope, and when millions of people had health care before Paul Ryan and his cohorts started chipping away at it.

Obama consoling Joe Biden at Beau Biden's funeral was sad in a different way.

And then there is this photo. I composed myself and started the walk home,

tears welling again when I looked at the photo on the back cover.

There are plenty of photos that made me smile, too. Obama joking, being a father, and coaching Sasha's basketball team,

getting zapped by Spiderman,

and greeting the Dalai Lama.

It really is a wondrous collection, showing Pete Souza's talent and Obama's thoughtfulness, caring, and humanity. The book is beautiful and so worthwhile; I'll be buying my own copy after my budget recovers from Christmas. It reminded me of those halcyon days when I didn't have sleepless nights worrying about the threat of nuclear war and a cruel tax overhaul that is going to change our family's financial picture in a big way, along with millions of others. These photos remind us of the sanity and goodwill that we are now missing, when Presidents used to read, and the time when a decent, hard-working man lived in the White House. I hope you get a chance to look through it and be reminded, as I was, of all the good we must continue to fight for.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Three on Thursday, Randomly

Joining Kat and Carole for Three on Thursday. I don't have anything earth-shaking today, just three random things that made me happy this past week.

I recently complained about poor customer service from Amazon and Comcast, so it seems only fair to shout gleefully about good customer service when it happens. I wanted to get a gift card for my sister-in-law and her husband for a place that they have raved about, but wasn't sure it would work out because I'm four hours away. I called the merchant, chatted with a very pleasant and helpful woman, and she created the gift card and sent it immediately, just as promised. She did apologize for having to charge an additional $0.47 for the stamp to send the card, but said she would use a Christmas stamp (and did, as promised)! If you happen to be near Mansfield, PA, I highly recommend Papa the Butcher. They are a wonderful butcher shop, also serve delicious meals, and have excellent customer service!

Does this sky remind you of anything?

This is what came to my mind right away. John thought I was nuts when I told him we had a Simpsons sky, but Ryan knew just what it was when I sent him the photo. 

We live just ten miles west of the Delaware River, so it's only fitting that Santa left the sleigh at the North Pole and hopped in a canoe for a recent visit.

 I was glad to see that at least one elf wore his waterproof boots.

Head on over here to read more Three on Thursday posts.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Unraveled Wednesday

Joining Kat and friends for Unraveled Wednesday.

I'm feeling a little unraveled, but luckily the knitting is not. In my mind's eye this was going to be a photo of a finished pair of mitts being lovingly placed in a box of gifts to send to Ryan, but instead it looks a lot more like a terribly-lit picture of one mitt only 60% completed. The other mitt is done, and this one will be very soon, but I got a call while I was at the grocery store this morning to meet the ambulance taking my mother-in-law to the hospital. I was checking out so I threw my groceries in the car and raced drove sensibly 45 minutes to the hospital. The good news is that everything looks stable for my mil, and the prime rib roast that I bought on sale and sat in my car all afternoon is fine because the temperature never got above 20 degrees today. I also learned a very valuable lesson today -- take your knitting and reading with you everywhere (even to the grocery store)! You never know when you'll get called away and have to spend interminable time waiting without yarn, needles, or a book. It was as painful as it sounds.

I'm listening to the second book in The His Dark Materials trilogy, The Subtle Knife. It's wonderful, and would have been even more so if I had had it with me. I won't be making that mistake again!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Gluten-free and Great!

We had a cookie exchange over the weekend, and since my sister-in-law has found that eating gluten-free is better for her family's health, she brought gluten-free cookies. I was a little unsure about gluten-free baking (especially cookies!) but she made some that are my new favorites.

I've never been a big fan of biscotti, but I think that may be because the ones I've had before were rock hard. These do have a crisp snap, are perfect for dunking in tea or coffee, all without the danger of chipping a tooth. And the flavor is really wonderful because of the almond flour (which I was surprised and happy to find at Walmart along with arrowroot flour). It never dawned on me that I could control the hardness of biscotti by baking them myself, but an old dog can learn new tricks.

My sil also made some chocolate biscotti that were delicious. She was wary of using xanthan gum, as it can have some unpleasant digestive and other side effects, but her family hasn't had any issues with it in small amounts like the teaspoon in this recipe. She also told me about GF flour. Gluten-free all-purpose flour is a mixture of various GF flours, but she found that each producer makes their own blends and you have to find what works best for you in your recipes. King Arthur GF flour is a mixture of white and brown rice flours, tapioca and potato starch and has worked well for my sil. Pillsbury GF flour is a different blend of rice flour, pea fiber, potato and tapioca starch, and xanthan gum, but when my sil tried it, she ended up with biscotti that were "a pile of glop" (your mileage may vary). 

I don't know that I'll make the switch to only GF baking, but I do know that I can barely resist the cranberry-almond biscotti. They are gluten-free and simply great!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Friday, December 8, 2017

Decorations Delivered

I like using greens to decorate for Christmas, and debated buying some bunches when I was out searching for glitter-free poinsettias. I decided against it at the time, thinking that a walk in the woods at my mother-in-law's this weekend would do me good, and I could cut plenty of pine, cedar, and holly myself.

But then these guys pulled up early yesterday morning. They are "my" tree guys, but they were here to trim my neighbor's trees. They wanted to use my driveway, apologized for the noisy chipper but chuckled politely when I asked them to use it on the quiet setting, and got to work.

I got a little more excited when they moved the truck and I saw that they were also going to trim my neighbor's pine tree. I ran out to talk to the guy on the ground and after he handed me a hard hat, I asked him if he minded if I cut some of the greens that they were trimming. He told me to take all that I wanted, so I got my clippers and stood back in my hard hat. (Sorry there's no selfie; he already thought I was a little odd.)

Thanks, guy in the bucket. The best greens are a little higher up.

Yes, please trim some for me from the very tippy-top!

How lucky I am to have a big basket of decorations delivered! I haven't done anything with them yet, but my hands smell delightfully piney and I've got loads of greens to decorate with. Thanks, tree guys!