Sunday, December 31, 2023

Reflection/Looking Ahead

I came upon part of this Mary Oliver poem in the epigraph of a book I just started. I love the imagery and all the beautiful ideas that the words conjure up. It's not about the New Year but somehow it still conjures up that sense of reflection and looking ahead that I'm feeling. 

In Blackthorn Woods
by Mary Oliver
Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.


I hope you are having an enjoyable New Year's Eve whatever you are doing. I'm knitting, reading, and beginning as I mean to go on. May the coming year bring you health, joy, contentment, and a renewed sense of purpose. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2023

A Year of Reading: 2023

In past years, I've struggled with how to do a year-end review of my reading. I think that what I did in 2022 worked fairly well, so I'll try that same format again this year. This has turned out to be a pretty good year in reading. I think I set an arbitrary goal of reading 75 books on Goodreads back in January, but the number of books I read isn't terribly meaningful to me. This fall and winter there seemed to be lots of enticing books recommended by various Goodreads friends and also available from my libraries, so I kept borrowing and reading. And then reading some more. Goodreads tells me I've read 120 books so far, but I'm still reading two books right now, so I'm not sure where I'll end up on the 31st. And like I said, numbers don't really matter to me. 

It's the enjoyment of the books, what I've learned, and where the books have transported me that matters most to me. I don't want to bore you with numbers, statistics, and ratings, so I'm just going to write about some of my highlights. The links will take you to Goodreads so if you are so inclined, you can read more about the books and decide if they might be for you. 

Some of the books I've enjoyed the most include:

Wellness by Nathan Hill



 Absolution by Alice McDermott


So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan


James Herriot's Cat Stories by James Herriot


Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey

A few of the books I have learned from:

The Art Thief by Michael Finkel

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Pérez

Fatty Fatty Boom Boom by Rabia Chaudry

What An Owl Knows by Jennifer Ackerman 

Of Time and Turtles by Sy Montgomery 

Special books that transported me:

Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

Above Ground by Clint Smith

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

The Revenant by Michael Punke

That last category is a little bit different. I think of it as books that made me want to keep reading along with those that took me to different countries, places, and times, even if I didn't end up awarding the book too many stars. That's how I ended up with "romantasy", literary fiction, and poetry together in one list. 

For the sake of some conciseness (and because I don't want to bore you!), I've limited my list to 15 of my favorites. This is not exhaustive by any means, especially because it only includes about 10% of the books I read. The books I'm currently reading are The Bee Sting and Heaven & Earth Grocery Store (our current Read With Us selection). One is good, the other one less so. 

I would love to hear about the book(s) you loved in 2023, what you are reading now, or the one you can't stop thinking about. I need to make sure I've got some good books lined up for 2024, and many of the best recommendations come from youSome books slated for publication in 2024 that I am really looking forward to are Fluke by Brian Klaas, The Bright Sword by Lev Grossman, and The Alternatives by Caoilinn Hughes. Here's to another enjoyable, educational, and immersive year of reading in 2024!

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Unraveled Wednesday: 12/27/31

There is not an "official" Unraveled Wednesday linkup this week, but it's such a part of my week that I can't resist one last post in 2023. How about Unraveled: The Year in Review? Also, a big thank you to Kat for hosting all of us all year. Like I said, it's a big part of my week and I appreciate your hosting, Kat!

I'm one of the world's slowest knitters, but I managed to complete 12 projects this year. 

I would call most of them successes. Half an 1898 was an experiment to see if I could knit a warm headband after knitting John an 1898 hat for Christmas last year. I've never worn it but it turns out I don't like or use headbands too much. I gave away the Sophie Scarf, and have worn most of the other items regularly. Except for the Sparkly HotM. It's still too small but I can't quite give it away because I like the yarn. The biggest disappointments were the Warm Waffles for Winter I just finished for the boys. After I tried them on, I had the nagging feeling that they might be too small for their huge hands. They can get them on but the thumb ribbing is tight. I offered to fix them but they both said they were fine (even though I know they're not). Next time I knit them fingerless mitts, I'll use the Jacoby pattern that I've already modified for Ryan's large hands, or make hats. Ryan told me that he could use more potholders (he only has two). After looking at potholder patterns I may be crocheting some more this year. Many of the ones I like are crocheted, so I guess I was not done with crochet after my snowflakes. 

And as a last interesting (to me anyway) note, Ryan had a suggestion for the snowflake that I wasn't able to figure out. He recommended that I try typing the instructions that I was having trouble with into ChatGPT. I was skeptical but I tried it with just one round and was rewarded with simple steps that I think I'll be able to follow! I haven't given ChatGPT the whole snowflake yet and taken my crochet hook in hand but I'll be crocheting with AI later this week. 

How was your making this year?

Friday, December 22, 2023

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas, a wonderful Friday, a peaceful winter season, and whatever else you might be celebrating!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

A Gathering of Poetry: December 2023


It's the third Thursday of the month so I'd like to welcome you to A Gathering of Poetry. My SiL sent me the above photo and I thought it was so lovely that I was compelled to find a poem that went with it. As is so often the case, Mary Oliver had written the perfect one. 

The Place I Want to Get Back To
by Mary Oliver

The place I want to get back to
is where
in the pinewoods
in the moments between
the darkness
and first light
two deer
came walking down the hill
and when they saw me
they said to each other, okay,
this one is okay,
let’s see who she is
and why she is sitting
on the ground like that,
so quiet, as if
asleep, or in a dream,
but, anyway, harmless;
and so they came
on their slender legs
and gazed upon me
not unlike the way
I go out to the dunes and look
and look and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward
and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life
bring to me that could exceed
that brief moment?
For twenty years 
I have gone every day to the same woods,
not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
Such gifts, bestowed,
can’t be repeated.
If you want to talk about this
come to visit. I live in the house
near the corner, which I have named


Oliver, Mary. "The Place I Want to Get Back To." Thirst, Beacon Press, 2007.

You can read more about the poet here


Thanks for reading and joining us for our monthly Gathering of Poetry. You are more than welcome to add your link below if you would like to share one of your favorite poems. The more the merrier!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Unraveled Wednesday: 12/20/23

I'm joining Kat and fellow Unravelers on this penultimate Unraveled Wednesday of 2023. It's hard for me to understand how quickly this year has flown by. But my year has always contained knitting, some unraveling, and even some crochet. That's what I'm going to tell you about this week. 

John's grandmother was an excellent crocheter and I was lucky enough to get some of her snowflake patterns after she was gone. My mother and father went to Sweden to visit relatives a long time ago, and I crocheted 30 or more snowflakes for them to take as lightweight gifts. I didn't make any for myself but this year I finally got the patterns, crochet hook, and thread out to remedy the situation. 

I stiffened them with a 50% solution of white glue and water and pinned them out. When they dried, I hung them in various places so I could admire them. 

I really like the shooting star pattern so I made several of them. 

Nothing celebrates the holiday season like a crocheted star for the top of your rattlesnake skin. 

I crocheted several other snowflakes but ran out of places to hang them. 

There was some unraveling during my adventures with crochet. My favorite snowflake is the one on the far left below but despite multiple attempts and much frustration, I just haven't been able to get farther than the center. Someday I'll take my feeble attempt to John's sister and see if she can help me out with it. 

In reading, I did finish A Midwife's Tale, the nonfiction book based on Martha Ballard's diary. It provided more of the factual information that I felt was missing after I read The Frozen River, a work of historical fiction. I'm glad that Martha Ballard's diary survived and through her detailed accounts historians recognized that women's work does matter, but reading large sections of her diary came across as scholarly and a little dry. I'm also glad I read both the fiction and nonfiction books, and can better see how there is a place for both books about Martha Ballard and her life.

What are you making and reading this week?

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Tiny Needle Tuesday: 12/19/23

So many of you have made stitching look like so much fun that it's been in the back of my mind for a while. I used to do counted cross-stitch long ago and my sister and I made some extensive pieces for my parents. I don't know what happened to them when we were cleaning out my parents' house, so that's another thing that has me thinking about stitching. Last weekend I was at my BiL's house and while he and John talked about boring man stuff, I took a look at some of the things on the walls. One was a sampler I had made for my MiL and both of my sisters-in-law are skilled at needlework and had stitched samplers. One of them had a saying I was quite taken with: "Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have."

I came home, perused ebay for 20 minutes looking for a not-too-cutesy sampler with this sentiment, and found one for a reasonable price. It's not here yet but it should arrive this week. With any luck, I'll be doing some stitching with a tiny needle by next week. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Unraveled Wednesday: 12/13/23

I'm joining Kat and fellow Unravelers for Unraveled Wednesday with what may be the last of my Christmas knitting, two pairs of Hot Waffles for the boys. 

The waffle pattern is hidden in the variegation of the yarn but I thought they might be a little warmer if I knit them in dk yarn in the waffle pattern. My sons both have large hands so I'm a little concerned that they might be too small, but I know they fit me quite well. I can always knit them replacement mitts in my usual Jacoby pattern if these don't fit. 

Reading brought three finishes this week. Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich is nonfiction that details how pervasive positive thinking has become in American culture, but I'm not sure that it is undermining America (I blame certain politicians, Congress, and the Supreme Court for that.) I do agree with Ehrenreich's premise that we are confronted with relentless positive thinking which can do real harm in some situations, and this is made clear in the opening chapter where she writes about everything she is confronted with as a cancer patient. Cancer patients need and deserve to feel happy and hopeful but I don't think commercializing and infantilizing them will help with a serious disease.

"To me, the most disturbing product, though, was the breast cancer teddy bears. I have identified four distinct lines, or species, of these creatures, including “Carol,” the Remembrance Bear; “Hope,” the Breast Cancer Research Bear; the “Susan Bear,” named for Nancy Brinkler’s deceased sister Susan; and the new Nick and Nora Wish Upon a Star Bear, available, along with the Susan Bear, at the Komen Foundation website’s “marketplace.”

The biggest problem I had with this three-star book was that much of it felt redundant. Ehrenreich has written some excellent articles on the subject for Mother Jones and The New Yorker, and this book would have been better if the pertinent information had been edited down to a magazine article.

The second book I read was another piece of nonfiction, Poverty by America by sociologist Matthew Desmond. I had just listened to Mitt Romney's "Meet the Press" interview, and while he didn't speak specifically about poverty, I'd love to invite Senator Romney and Liz Cheney (while I disagree with her politics, I think she is a brave person who does the right thing) to dinner and ask them what their thoughts are about this book. Matthew Desmond's basic premise is that poverty continues in America because the rest of us benefit from it. To understand poverty we have to look to ourselves — "we the secure, the insured, the housed, the college educated, the protected, the lucky." That is a bitter pill to swallow but after reading Poverty, by America, I can't disagree. “Capitalism is inherently about workers trying to get as much, and owners trying to give as little, as possible,” Desmond writes. The news and people's lives are full of examples that show how true this is, and poverty persists because workers have lost so many battles with owners.

The toughest part to read is Desmond's "solution": “Poverty will be abolished in America only when a mass movement demands it.” Given politics today, I simply can't see that happening. However, after reading this book, I can better understand my personal involvement.

Last was The Frozen River, a three-star historical fiction. The best thing about The Frozen River is that it has an intriguing main character, Martha Ballard, who was a real-life midwife in the mid-1700s in Maine. She kept a detailed diary from the time she was 50 until her death 27 years later, so many details are known about her daily life, especially the 816 babies she delivered. In addition to attending births, her duties included observing autopsies and giving testimony in court. Ariel Lawhon brings all of these together in this book when a man accused of rape is discovered dead and frozen in the Kennebec River.

I enjoyed the midwifery details along with Martha's herbal pharmaceuticals, but for me, there were too many complications added by making the story a mystery. In addition to the dead man, a judge is also implicated in the rape, and he happens to control the Ballard family's lease on their property. One of Martha's sons was seen fighting with the dead man before he died. Martha Ballard in the book comes across as somewhat self-righteous and the use of modern prose felt disruptive for a story that was set in 1789. The misogyny, hardship, and disease that Martha and many of the other women experienced in the late 1700s do come across clearly. Debbie was kind enough to recommend the nonfiction book A Midwife's Tale which is based on Martha Ballard's diary without fictionalization. I'll be reading that one soon. 

What are you making and reading this week?

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Unraveled Wednesday: 12/6/2023

I'm joining Kat and fellow Unravelers for Unraveled Wednesday on this first Wednesday in December. Only three more "Unravelings" before the end of the year! I have a pair of not terribly exciting, not completely finished Hot Waffles that is my Christmas knitting for Justin. I have already cast on for the same thing for Ryan in the blue-purple yarn and I'll do all the thumbs after I'm done knitting the mitts. I have some electric blue yarn to knit a pair for myself. Fifteen years ago I made myself a pair out of slightly boring beige Encore and they are my favorite mitts, maybe because they're my only mitts? It's definitely time for a nice new pair for me, too. 

I finished two books last week and they were pretty much polar opposites. The first was Fourth Wing, a fantasy novel that it seems like everyone is reading. As I'm writing this, the Goodreads page says that 80,800 people are reading it, and 118,000 people are reading Iron Flame, the second book in a planned series of five books. Carole was reading it and assured me that it was great entertainment, and Justin's girlfriend Jess thinks that this may be one of the best books she's ever read. I'm not much of a fantasy reader and I'm also decades past the target audience but decided to read it because I didn't have any other promising books and I wanted to see if it lived up to all the hype. I can understand some of the reasons why this book is so popular, and the biggest one for me is that it definitely is entertaining.

The book follows Violet Sorrengail, who was trained to be a Scribe her entire life but after the death of her Scribe father, her mother forced her into the deadly training grounds of Dragon Riders. During her time at Basgiath War College, Violet faced mental and physical challenges but somehow managed to stay alive. Violet has friends and possible love interests but people are also trying to kill her at every turn. I don’t fully understand why the War College is so invested in killing off its cadets or having them kill each other. The weak recruits are weeded out, die, their names are read, and everyone else goes on trying to survive. At the same time, the reader is reminded frequently that there are fewer riders and fewer dragons every year. It was never explained how or why Violet decided she did desperately want to be a Rider.

The best parts of the book for me were the dragons. There are different types and I enjoyed the internal conversations with them that the Riders had after bonding. I have other questions about the dragons that were not explained in this first book, but they are entering spoiler territory and may be answered in later books.

I had issues with plenty of things when I started to think about them more deeply, but as a fantasy novel (with plenty of "romance", i.e. lust) told from a female perspective, it's highly readable and entertaining. Three and a half stars rounded up because of the dragons.

The whole phenomenon of this book is fascinating to me. Reviewers are railing on Goodreads and elsewhere with one-star reviews saying that this is the worst thing to ever happen to the fantasy genre because they feel it's not fantasy. I think the fact that the story is presented by a strong female may have something to do with the "it's not real fantasy opinions. I'm not here to pass judgment on genres, just to tell you that I found the book to be a wild ride and will consider possibly reading the sequel someday.

The other book I read was No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is a wonderful collection of blog posts that Ursula K Le Guin started writing in 2010 after being "inspired by José Saramago's extraordinary blogs". She really did think and write about what matters in this collection, which runs the gamut from age to letters from kids, swearing, feminism, and the annals of her cat, Pard. I've found her fantasy writing dense and ponderous but these nonfiction pieces are anything but. I highlighted so many passages in this Kindle library copy that I may need to buy a copy of this four-star book for myself. 

“This is morally problematic when personal decision is confused with personal opinion. A decision worthy of the name is based on observation, factual information, intellectual and ethical judgment. Opinion — that darling of the press, the politician, and the poll — may be based on no information at all. At worst, unchecked by either judgment or moral tradition, personal opinion may reflect nothing but ignorance, jealousy, and fear."

What are you making and reading this week?