Friday, December 31, 2021

A Final Look Back


Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico from last week

Here we are, friends: New Year's Eve, the final day of another chaotic year. There were many highs and many lows, on both a personal scale and a global scale. This was the year of vaccination, and we thought it would lead to the end of the pandemic (and we all know how well that worked out). For a period of time, though, things were definitely better. We were able to gather safely with family again, to travel a bit, and to celebrate some major holidays together. I really hoped, though, that the world in general would be in a better place than we are now.

I don't want to dwell on the negative, though. It's been, generally speaking, a pretty good year for me. I've accomplished a lot this year, in no small part because I've continued to work from home full time (a situation that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future). Here are some numbers, seeing as it's a stats-heavy time of year:

  • I read 141 books this year (see yesterday's post for details). I'm unlikely to read the 300+ pages I have left in my current library book by the end of the day, so that's most likely the final number.
  • I knit or crocheted 48 projects this year, using up close to 19,000 yards of yarn. These included three sweaters for me, one for Rainbow, two baby sweaters (gifts), three blankets, 22 hats (of which 13 were for charity), two shawls, and eight pairs of socks.
  • I spun more than 7,700 yards of yarn, including the oldest fiber I had in my stash and yarn for two sweaters.
  • I walked 1,714.58 miles on my workouts -- and those were just the miles I was tracking with an app. Google tells me that's about the distance between New York and Fort Lauderdale!
  • I have written in my journal almost every day this year, keeping up with a practice that started on January 1, 2020, at the very table at which I'm typing this post and that became a constant during the most troubling early days of the pandemic.

I've gotten out of the habit of making new year's resolutions because they never get kept, but I certainly think about some general intentions, and they're often similar year after year: make healthy choices, focus on what matters, learn more, spend time with family.

For all of you, dear blog friends, I wish you what I hope to have for myself: good health, happiness, satisfaction in work and crafting, good books to read, the company of family and friends, and many moments of joy and beauty. Let's hope by the time we get to this day next year, things are better for all of us.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

2021: A Year in Pages

2021 isn't done yet, and there are still two days of reading left, but today is as good a day as any to look back on my reading this year. It's been a really good one, not just in the number of books I've read but in the quality. I've tried to make smarter choices about what to read, choosing books that challenge me to think in new ways, to take perspectives I wouldn't have otherwise, and that push me outside my comfort zone.

I know this is hard to see; you can click to make it larger, but if you'd like to see all the books I finished this year, you can see them here. As of yesterday, I've finished 141 books -- I blew my initial goal of 65 out of the water! For the record, I didn't feel like I artificially set that goal low on purpose; I had done something similar in 2020, but I was hoping 2021 would be a more typical year and that I wouldn't have as much time to read, so I'd increased my goal from 2020 (60) by a very modest five books. Of course, we all know how that panned out. I will likely set a goal for 2022, but I'm really torn about the number. It's something to ponder.

For the record, here are the books that I rated 5 stars in 2021:

These books, I think, are representative of all my reading from the past year. There's a mix of genres (fiction, nonfiction, magical realism, autobiography, historical fiction, etc.), a mix of authors, and (though you can't tell from just looking at the list) a mix of formats -- print, ebook, audio.

Some general observations:

  • I greatly increased the number of books I read "with my ears" this year. 27 of the books I finished (19%) were on audio.
  • The books I read were overwhelmingly borrowed from the library -- 110 of the 141 to date (78%). Some of these books I've gone on to purchase in hard copy so that I can reread them.
  • I only read 17 books on paper this year, and they tended to take me longer to finish, usually because I prioritized books from the library that I only had for a limited time. I'll also confess that I sometimes was more likely to choose digital books because they were easier to read while also doing some kind of crafting.

Overall, I am satisfied with my reading this year. I've read a lot of very good and great books, in no small part due to the recommendations of reading friends. Many of the books I didn't like as well were read to fill a bingo square or were an unknown commodity in that other readers whose opinions I value hadn't read them.

What do I want for 2022? More reading that challenges me -- books that give me new perspectives, that cause me to rethink my opinions, that come from voices I may not have heard. I want to continue reading the back catalog of writers I enjoy (Maggie O'Farrell, Louise Erdrich, Ruth Ozeki, Lauren Groff, etc.). And I definitely want to keep reading books that I can discuss with others, both through organized efforts like the Erdrich-along and Read With Us and more casual discussions.

How did your reading year shape up? Were any of my favorites of 2021 also on your list? What are you looking forward to in 2022?

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Unraveled, Week 52/2021

I think the days are going by faster as the number of them we have left on vacation get fewer -- and this is also the last Wednesday of 2021! Thank you to Kat for hosting this weekly link-up; as Bonny noted in her post today, having an Unraveled post each week has been a great anchor and something to look forward to.

I don't have a terribly exciting knitting update this week because I'm still working on the same two projects: my May(be) Queen and my doubled sock yarn hat. After focusing more on the sweater for a period, I pulled out the hat a couple of days ago and have been giving it more attention.

I know these projects looks like they're almost the same size, but it's a bit of an optical illusion -- the hat looks larger than it is because it was closer to me when I took the photo. I won't be finishing the sweater before vacation is over, but I'm hoping I might finish the hat. I haven't weighed the yarn that's left, but I'm pretty certain I am more than 50% done and finishing up the rest in the next few days is quite reasonable.

Reading has been been a bit more productive; this vacation is typically a time when I get a lot of reading done, and this year is no exception. I have finished three books in the past week and will likely finish at least one more before the year is over.

When I was trying to find an audiobook to listen to while out on my longer walks, I remembered that it had been more than a year since I last listened to a book in the Maisie Dobbs series, and luckily the third in the series, Pardonable Lies, was available from the library with no wait. I've really enjoyed this series so far, and I liked this one, too, even though I figured some things out fairly early on (though the final reveal was still a surprise to me). It kept me company for three long walks, and then I finished listening to the last hour or so one night before bed. I gave it 4 stars.

One of the hard-copy books I brought with me to read was Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich's first novel and the first book we'll be discussing in the Erdrich-along next year. I wanted to get a bit of a head start, but I also wanted to read this at a time when I could give it my full attention. Technically this was a reread for me, as I know I had another copy (now long gone) in high school, but I remembered none of it. Perhaps I never actually read the full book, or maybe I was just too young to fully appreciate it the first time. It's everything I've come to love in Erdrich's books -- funny, sad, heartbreaking, life-affirming. There are hints to later books (particularly The Night Watchman), and I expect to see echoes of this first novel in her later books. I gave it 4 stars.

Finally, I read State of Terror after my mother finished reading it (it was one of her Chanukah gifts this year) and passed it along to me. Both authors are good writers whose other books I've enjoyed, but this one fell kind of flat to me. It was a good vacation read -- I didn't have to think very hard to read it and it kept me turning the pages -- but not a great book. It certainly had the humor that I've come to expect from Louise Penny's books but not the character development that I love about them. And frankly I had a hard time keeping some of the characters straight. I told my sister-in-law (she and my brother joined us here yesterday) that I thought it read like political revenge porn -- there is no wondering at all who some of the characters are meant to be. I gave it 3 stars. Not great, but not terrible.

I'm currently reading two books: Libertie, which I am listening to on audio and am about halfway through, and Still Life, which I finally got from the library after a long wait on the hold list and only just started before bed last night. The latter is 460+ pages long so may not be finished until next year, but I'm listening to the former at 1.5 speed and should make it through the rest of the book over the course of my walks in these last days of 2021.

Tomorrow I plan to post a wrap-up of my reading this year, and on Friday, I'll take a broader look at this year we're about to bid farewell to. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you're working on and reading in this last week of 2021 and what you may be looking forward to starting soon.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Balance in 2021: December

Hard to believe it, but it's the last Tuesday of 2021 and time for my last One Little Word reflection. 2021 was only my second year with a word; when I chose my word for 2020, I obviously couldn't have anticipated the chaotic and strange year that would come or that my word would turn out to be so meaningful in the face of so much uncertainty. For 2021, I knew that things were still likely to be unsettled, even as I hoped they'd be more "normal," so I chose Balance as my word as way to remind myself to keep all things in perspective and all things in moderation.

While my choice of word was initially chosen with things like work/life balance in mind. But as the year has gone on, I've come to see how there are so many other aspects of life that require a give and take: my daily schedule and when I do certain daily things, how I choose what to read, how I allocate my crafting time. In this last month of year, and especially these last two weeks of the year, I've realized that an important part of Balance for me is physically getting away from my usual daily life. In a typical year (i.e., one not in a global pandemic), I'd take a few trips, though usually some of those would be working trips -- like the trip to Rhinebeck. This trip that we are on now, which had been an annual trip since 2011 until last year, is one that I've found I've really come to rely on to recover from the year that has been and recharge for the year ahead. I think I've found it to be particularly so this year, not just because we couldn't travel last year but because home has become my office, and physically getting away from my house for an extended period of time has allowed me to finally feel like I'm getting away from work for a bit. And that has been very freeing and rejuvenating.

I think the biggest lesson I'm taking away from Balance is that I don't have to demand perfection from myself all the time. That is a difficult thing for a perfectionist to reckon with, and it's one I'll likely still fight with all my life. I expect a lot from myself, and no one is harder on me if I don't meet a deadline or do something perfectly. The reality is, though, that no one else is expecting that perfection, and keeping Balance in mind has made me realize that while there are some things that can be done perfectly, the converse of that is that many things don't have to be or perhaps even shouldn't be.

Case in point: my 21 in 2021 list. I haven't checked all things off the list, and that's okay! When I created the list, I wanted a variety of things that would encourage me to experience many different facets of life. Some would be easy to accomplish and others would be more of a challenge. I had to change some of them as circumstances changed. And some of the things I didn't check off the list are things I still want to do and will do, but they're probably better done without a ticking clock in the background.

I'm grateful to those of you who have been on the OLW journey with me this year and especially to Carolyn for hosting our monthly link-ups and giving us prompts throughout the year. I'd thought I'd reveal my word for 2022 today, but on further reflection, I've decided to wait. I'm taking this week to wrap up 2021, and next week we'll start things anew.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Last Monday

Friends, can you believe we've reached the last week of 2021? Intellectually, I know that it's been a full and busy year, but emotionally I feel like it was just the final days of 2020 and we were so full of hope for what the new year could bring. I am sure many of you, like me, are sad that this year didn't turn out quite as we'd hoped, even if we're not surprised.

Normally I don't blog every day, but I thought I might try it just for this week, as there's a lot to wrap up and reflect on. Tomorrow I'll post my year-end reflection on my One Little Word and reveal my word for 2022. Later in the week, I'll take a look at my reading and crafting for the year. Today, though, is a more typical post, an update on my May(be) Queen.

The pattern advised trying on the sweater before splitting for the sleeves and body, in case more length was needed in the yoke, but I didn't do that. I'd gotten almost perfect gauge when I swatched, and I really felt that trying on a yoke before there was fabric under the arms wouldn't give me an accurate sense of fit. So I gambled a bit, but it all worked out just fine.

Please excuse my tired face -- these photos were taken yesterday evening, after I'd walked 7 miles and gone for a swim. The bottom of the sweater is flipping up because of the cable in the needle, but I can tell you that the fit is perfect. I am making the smallest size, which is technically a size smaller than I should be making for my bust size, but I wanted less positive ease than the pattern recommended. I should end up with 2-3 inches of ease in the end; it's looking a bit more fitted here mainly because it hasn't been blocked yet, but as the yarn is a superwash merino/nylon, I'm fully expecting the fabric to relax some once it's blocked.

It's interesting to me that the yarn has started pooling/spiraling despite the fact that I am alternating two skeins. It's not bothering me at all -- just an observation! The next part of the body involves some short rows, though, so I imagine that will get broken up a bit in the rest of the body.

While the yoke engaged my attention by having a different increase pattern almost every round, now I'm enchanted by the patterning under the arm:

The variegation in the yarn makes it a bit difficult to see, but there are horizontal welts in the space between the twisted ribbing. It's getting wider every other round (increases that are offset by corresponding decreases on the other side of the ribbing panels), and it also gives a nice hourglass-like curve to the sides of the sweater that I think will be really flattering.

I'd say it's highly unlikely that this sweater will be finished before we head home, but I'll have made a very good start on it, and perhaps in January I'll focus on finishing this one and my long-suffering Shifty.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Fickle Time

Somehow while on vacation I've managed to keep track of what day it is (I suppose technology helps, as does writing in my journal every evening), but that doesn't help me account for the fact that we've already been here almost a week. I have to say, it's been wonderful. Aside from one day when it was rainy and very windy, the weather has been great -- even the past two days, when it's been below average (but still much warmer than at home!). I've really enjoyed being able to take long walks every day. Yesterday I broke 7 miles, and now that I've figured out the route to do it, I plan on doing it every day if I can. We are mainly staying close to home, though we did go out one evening earlier in the week to get ice cream. There were so many people and so few masks that I think we all came home a little traumatized.

I have been making great knitting progress, mainly on my May(be) Queen. Last night I officially finished the yoke and put the sleeve stitches on waste yarn. I plan on trying it on soon, but I'm doing a few more rounds on the body first to stabilize the stitches under the arms.

It looks small to me, but I've held it up and it looks okay, and I'm counting on the fact that the yarn is a superwash merino blend to loosen up a bit in blocking. My gauge was spot on when I swatched, too. With any luck, this will come out just as a want, with a bit of positive ease but not so much that it looks sloppy.

While we obviously aren't celebrating the religious aspects of the holiday, it's pretty hard for us not to remember that tonight is Christmas Eve and tomorrow is Christmas. Rainbow has requested homemade cinnamon rolls tomorrow, and my mother has just put a brisket in to cook for tomorrow's dinner. We also baked some cookies a couple of days ago, and we just might have some left to enjoy on Christmas:

Hot Cocoa Cookies -- using this recipe

I wish I could send you all some warmth and sunshine for Christmas, but I certainly can send you my best wishes for an enjoyable holiday, however you might be spending it. I know we were all hoping that the world would be in a better place this year, and I still have hope that we will be soon. In the meantime, hold your loved ones close, be safe, and enjoy the delights that the season brings!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Unraveled, Week 51/2021

It's the penultimate Wednesday of the year, and I am sorry to say that as a result of trying not to bring too much yarn on vacation, the knitting I am sharing will not be very exciting for the remainder of the year, so I hope you don't mind! As per usual, I'm joining up with Kat and the Unravelers this week.

Over the past couple of days, I've mainly been focused on my May(be) Queen. I said in an earlier post that this sweater is perhaps the most complicated I've ever knit, or at least that I could remember knitting, but it definitely seems less so as I've actually sat down to knit. The pattern starts at the neck with a few rounds of twisted ribbing and then moves into some short rows to lift the back of the neck. That adds a little bit of trickiness in working the ribbing from both sides, but it's not a huge deal. Where it gets complicated is the raglan shaping, and that's because the shaping occurs at different rates for the sleeves, front, and back. The pattern has a full-page chart to tell you what to do on every single round of the yoke before the body/sleeve separation. Showing you this page isn't giving away the secret sauce of the pattern, I think, because there are no numbers or definitions for all these abbreviations. But I think you'll get a sense of what I mean -- and see why I am glad to be knitting the smallest size!

As you can see, I'm about halfway through, and I do feel like I've gotten the hang of what to do where by this point, which means it's a little faster even if the rounds are getting longer. And it's starting to look more like a sweater now:


Back (notice the longer ribbing from the short rows)

At some point I'll reach a point where I can actually try it on to take photos, but I was lazy this morning and employed the chair!

Reading was a little slower in the past week, first due to being busy at work and then due to getting ready for the trip, but I've managed to finish three books.

The Guide is Peter Heller's most recent book, and while it's not exactly a sequel to The River, it does feature the same main character and references the earlier book (and it also contains a major spoiler for The River, so if that's something that matters to you, you'll want to read the earlier book first). I think I read this book in less than 24 hours in total, starting it one day and finishing it the next. It's less than 300 pages in length but is also extremely propulsive. I know some people have described this as a pandemic book, but it's not really; there are references to viruses and face masks, but those are only passing references. There is something creepy going on at the remote lodge where Jack has just started working as a fishing guide, and I was on the edge of my seat to find out what it was and how it would resolve. I gave it 4 stars.

On Sunday, I finished listening to The Leavenworth Case via Craftlit. It took me a good four months to finish because I was listening as the episodes came out, but I wasn't in rush. I'd never heard of this book before, but apparently it's seen as an influence to Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. I really enjoyed listening to it and getting Heather's insights. It's definitely an intriguing book given that it was written by a woman in the 1800s and is convincing as far as a crime novel is concerned. I gave it 3 stars.

Finally, I sat down on Monday afternoon to finish A Gentleman in Moscow. I know this book is familiar to and loved by many of you, and it had long been on my TBR list. When I finally decided to start it, I was expecting to love it right away but found that even 100 pages in, I was waiting for something to happen. I think Mary probably got a little tired of me asking whether or not there was a plot, because it definitely seemed to me like just a series of vignettes about the main character and how he spent his days in a Moscow hotel, but she assured me that there was a plot and that things would really pick up in the last quarter or so of the book. And she was right -- when I got to the last part of the book, I could see how everything that preceded it was setting the stage. I can't say I loved this book, but I very much enjoyed it. I gave it 4 stars.

I've now got two books in progress: Love Medicine, which I am reading on paper for the start of the Erdrich-along, and Pardonable Lies, the third book in the Maisie Dobbs series, which I am listening to on audio on my long walks. My mother also finished State of Terror last night and will be passing it off to me, so I expect I'll be adding it to the mix soon.

What are you working on and reading this week?

Monday, December 20, 2021

It Doesn't Feel Like Monday

Good morning from southwest Florida! We arrived safely after a pretty easy flight on Saturday afternoon. We've had issues in the past (delayed flights, waylaid luggage), but this time the only hiccup was that it was raining when we landed and our luggage got a little wet. Eh, I'll take it. Flying felt a little surreal, but when we arrived at our gate, the flight before ours was boarding and Rainbow spotted one of her classmates in light to get on, and then we saw some friends we almost always see on our way down and the head of Rainbow's school and her husband, all of whom were on our flight. We often say that Pittsburgh is a small city, but this really demonstrates it!

On the plane, I worked on another double-layer hat, which I cast on Friday morning in order to do the cast-on tutorial. It's moving right along, and I'm not in any hurry to finish it, so it's a nice relaxing knit.

The bulb marker shows where I was when I started working on it yesterday, though I didn't spend much time on it. The yarn is Fibernymph Dye Works Bounce, and it's the special "25th day" exclusive colorway that was an add-on to my minis set. The colorway is called Winter Shadows, and Rainbow and I have decided these colors will suit my sister-in-law (the one who's the mother of my nephew).

When I was picking out projects to bring with me, I considered bringing my Shifty to finish but decided I didn't want to deal with all those skeins of yarn. Instead, I brought a new project to cast on, which I did yesterday morning:

This is the very start of May(be) Queen in (guess what?) FDW Bounce in the colorway Runaway. I'd bought four skeins of it several years ago intending to use it for another Boxy but obviously never did. The pattern is pretty involved, so it's not a read-while-knitting project, but it was good for yesterday Zoom session and while we watched Home Sweet Home Alone last night -- very cute and funny movie, by the way! Even the Mister, who often needs a lot of action and explosions to hold his attention, enjoyed it.

Today I am planning to fully enjoy the fact that it is Monday and I don't have to do any work. In a little bit, I'll head out for a long walk (I did 6.5 miles yesterday and intend to do the same today). I'll try to finish my current library book and work on my sweater some more. Maybe I'll take a nap. Maybe I'll dip my feet in the pool. The world is my oyster!

This is the best I can do to share some of Florida with you, for now. I hope that this Monday treats you gently and you can find some way for it not to feel like Monday to you!

Friday, December 17, 2021

Fiber Friday Fun: An Unvention

Happy Friday! Today is officially my second day of vacation, but it started with an early orthodontist appointment for Rainbow and will likely be filled with cleaning and packing and everything else I need to do before we leave for our trip. But first, I have maybe-new cast-on to share with you that I (in the words of Elizabeth Zimmermann) "unvented" when I started the second of my doubled hats.

When I started Rainbow's hat, I used the Emily Ocker method of casting on, but I always find that a bit fiddly because I have to find a crochet hook to do it. As I was getting ready to start my own hat, I started brainstorming ways to achieve a similar look but without needing any tools. It's likely someone else has already figured this out, but I though I'd share with you what I did. I have just photos for now, but if I can get someone else to help me at some point, I might be able to take and post a video.

This cast on is a sort of mash-up of the above cast-on and a figure-8 cast-on. First, you'll start by making a circle with your yarn, large enough for your ball of yarn to fit through. Tie it in a half knot, just so that the circle stays intact (you'll untie it later). Lay the circle to the left and put your needle tip to the right, with the yarn attached to the ball going on top of the needle.

Next, wind the yarn around the needle, bring it up between the needle and the yarn loop, push the yarn ball through the loop of yarn, bring it back up between the loop and the needle, and bring it back over the needle again -- basically making a figure-8 with the yarn.

Repeat the above steps until you have the correct number of stitches on the needle, securing the last stitch around the needle by passing the ball of yarn through the loop. Close up the loop most of the way by pulling on the yarn tail.

Now divide up your stitches as needed on your needles; I'm going to be working magic loop, so I split the eight stitches I cast on in half.

Knit all the stitches for your first round to stabilize the cast-on.

Now you're ready to start increasing! To tighten up the cast-on, just tug on the yarn tail (I've made a little yarn butterfly with mine). You may notice that the circle wants to loosen up a bit as you work, but you can pull it snug again very easily. Once you've got enough fabric knit, you can pull the tail tight and weave it in.

You may find that this cast-on is a little fiddly, but it's easy to tighten it up after you've gotten the stitches on the needle. You can also make the loop of yarn as large as you need to, but keep in mind that more yarn will mean a longer tail at the beginning, and if you're knitting a hat where you want to use up as much yarn as possible, a much longer tail will use up some of that.

I hope this is helpful to you! Please do let me know if you use it or if you have other questions about it. Also, I'm still debating whether I should write up the full pattern for how I knit my hats with the swirl increases and decreases, so let me know if that's something you'd want.

Happy Friday, and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Unraveled, Week 50/2021

Week 50?! Unbelievably, we have only two more Wednesdays left in this year, which is totally bonkers to me. But having posted every Wednesday so far this year, I know it's the truth. This week, though, is a pretty special Wednesday. Why? Well, it's my last workday of the year, for one, but it's all this kid's 12th birthday:

It feels like just yesterday that I woke up on that day in 2009 -- my due date! -- uncomfortable and upset that she hadn't arrived yet. Little did I know that by dinnertime that night, I'd be holding a tiny person! She has grown into a caring, thoughtful, hardworking young woman, and I'm so thankful I get to be her mom. We've got a pretty low-key day planned (she's still in school and actually has a test today, which she is not pleased about), but she got French toast for breakfast and will be having spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread for dinner. We told her we'd take her to Florida for her birthday. ;-)

Knitting has been almost nonexistent this week; aside from the fact that I'm trying to finish up my combo spin singles before we leave for our trip, I've been super busy with work because everyone is trying to fit things in before we shut down for the holidays. That's had an impact on my reading, too, though I did finally manage to finish a book that's been sitting on my nightstand for months:

I think I'm probably the last Louise Penny fan to finish The Madness of Crowds, but I'm honestly glad I savored this one because now that I'm caught up with the series, I'll have to try to be patient while I wait for the next installment. I enjoyed this one, even though having finished it I'm still not sure if I understand who the murderer was or how the case resolved, but I think at this point I'm less invested in the crimes in the series than I am in the characters and their development. This book is set in an imaginary post-pandemic world, one where the virus has been completely eliminated by the vaccine (how I wish it were reality), but one where the value of all human lives is being questioned, and that felt very timely to me. I gave it 4 stars.

I am currently reading A Gentleman in Moscow, which has been on my TBR list for quite some time. I'm finding it a little hard to get into, but I don't know if it has a slow start or if it's just the fact that I've only been able to read it for short periods at a time. I also just got a notification from the library that The Guide is ready for me, and I'm thinking about which physical books will be packed for our trip. Once today is over and vacation starts, I'm sure my reading pace will pick up again.

Thanks to Kat, as always, for hosting our weekly Unraveled Wednesday link-up! I'm looking forward to hearing about what you're making and reading this week!

Monday, December 13, 2021

Done and Almost Done

Monday mornings are always hard, but I'll admit this one was a bit easier because I realized when I woke up that this is the last Monday of work for me this year! I have just three more days of work, and that includes Wednesday, which is the day we're having our office holiday party (via Zoom), so that's kind of a partial work day. I was anticipating that it was going to be a crazy final few days of work, and it still might be busy, but at least one project I was expecting to hit isn't going to, so I'm feeling less stressed.

Another reason to feel less stressed is that all of my holiday knitting is done! I finished up my nephew's blanket on Friday night and blocked it on Saturday.

Pattern: Baby Chalice Blanket (Ravelry link) by Karen S. Lauger
Yarn: Squoosh Fiber Arts Ultra Worsted in Fresh Cut, approximately 1.75 skeins
Needles: US 6 (4.0 mm)
Started/Completed: December 3/December 10
Mods: used a smaller needle and made it smaller than specified

I'm actually surprised, pleasantly so, that I knit this as quickly as I did. The lace pattern itself isn't very difficult, and while I didn't exactly memorize it, it's intuitive enough that I only needed to check in on the chart at the beginning of each right-side row once I'd done the initial repeat. I didn't know exactly what size to make the replacement blanket because while the approximate dimensions were in my Ravelry project page, I didn't note how many repeats that translated to, but I was at least able to count the number of lace repeats on my photos of it to estimate how many to cast on (83, for the record). I then enlisted Rainbow's help in determining when it seemed long enough, and we decided that nine vertical repeats is enough. I did go down in needle size as well, so I know this version is smaller. The pattern calls for an Aran-weight yarn and size 10/6 mm needles, and on the first version, I used worsted-weight yarn and size 8/5 mm needles. I had noted on my project page that the fabric was rather loose, so I went down another full millimeter this time around and am much more satisfied with the density of the fabric. I did stretch it enough in blocking to open up the lace and give the fabric some drape, but it didn't feel floppy or loose.

Last night we had the immediate family (our parents and siblings) over to celebrate Rainbow's birthday, and we took advantage of the get-together to give some gifts of our own, including the blanket. My sister-in-law said that she though the replacement blanket looked just like the original, and my nephew gave it his seal of approval as well:

I know he looks grumpy here, but that's just because he was tired (if you look closely, you'll see he's in his pajamas already -- it was past his bedtime). The fact that the blanket is in his mouth is a good thing; that is apparently part of the reason the first Green Blankie fell apart. The fact that this went right in his mouth means there was no suspicion that this was not his beloved blanket, and that's a win in my book!

Now that the gift knitting is officially done, I am focusing on spinning again this week. I have about half a bobbin of singles to finish up for my combo spin (the one I've been ignoring for the past month or so), and I'd like to do that at a minimum before we leave for our trip. It would be great to get all the plying done as well, but that might be pushing things, and certainly a lot depends on how much work comes in over the next few days. I have one small knitting project in progress that I'll likely be able to finish up in the next couple of days, and I have vacation knitting to plan!

Friday, December 10, 2021

Finding Joy on Friday

All day yesterday, I was convinced that it was Friday; it's just been that kind of week. Work has been busy, my "extracurricular" life has been busy (Zoom meetings for Girl Scouts and my synagogue board), and of course Rainbow has been home all week for school. A couple of days ago, after notifying the whole school community about a couple of additional COVID cases, the school announced that everyone would be moving to online instruction next week (the last week before winter break) and for the first week of January. I think this was a smart move; even without COVID to deal with, it's a germy time of year, so keeping the students at home prior to and after the end-of-year holidays will limit their exposure to people outside their households. I'm certainly appreciative of it, because our trip to Florida is about a week away and I don't want anyone getting sick before we leave! But the general public health situation is concerning and depressing, so today, I wanted to focus on a few things that are bringing me joy. Finding reasons to be happy in spite of the state of the world has become part of my daily journaling practice, and I'm convinced that it's helped me to maintain my sanity during this strange time we're living in. So here are some things making me happy, in no particular order:

1. First of all, later this morning, I'm taking Rainbow to get her second vaccine shot! She was unable to go for her scheduled appointment last Saturday because of quarantine, and while the school was able to schedule a make-up clinic for the students in her class who couldn't go, it's not until the middle of next week, and I wanted her to get that second dose as soon as possible so she has the most protection possible before we get on a plane next Saturday.

2. Yesterday was a great mail day for me, with a bumper crop of books coming in:

These are four of the six Louise Erdrich books I've ordered from ThriftBooks, most of them for the Erdrich-along that Mary is hosting next year (I ordered an extra title that I've been wanting to read in addition to the titles we'll be diving into), plus Amanda Gorman's debut collection of poetry that I preordered from my local bookstore way back at the beginning of the year. It was delayed from its initial publication date in October, but when it finally arrived at the shop, it took only a day to make its way to me. I'm really looking forward to digging into it!

3. Including today, I have four days of work left this year. One of the perks of working for a university is that we get a long break at the end of the year in addition to our paid time off (i.e., these are extra recess days that the university is closed and that we get paid for but do not have to take our allotted days off for). Usually when we go away, I tack on some extra days at the beginning and/or end. This year and last year, though, as a way to thank all employees for working throughout the difficult times of the pandemic, we were given three extra days off -- this year, December 20, 21, and 22. Those just happen to be the days I would have requested off for our trip and then didn't have to, so because I have enough vacation time stored up that I would have reached my limit and been unable to accrue more if I didn't use some of it this month, I decided to take off next Thursday and Friday. This will give me some extra time to get ready for our trip and to generally relax and get into vacation mode mentally. Rainbow will be off next Friday as well (they were only going to have a half day that day anyway and were going to hold class holiday parties that morning, so they just gave all the students the day off with the move online), so I'm sure we'll find something fun to do that day.

4. Finally, especially for Vera, I want to share my favorite holiday decoration in the neighborhood:

This family's Halloween display was up well into November, and I guess they just decided to keep some of it for their Christmas display!

I hope you've been able to find some joy in your life this week, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Unraveled, Week 49/2021

Can you believe there are only three more Wednesdays in 2021? I don't know where this year has gone, but it's been a great comfort to have the consistency of checking in each Wednesday with Kat and the Unravelers.

This Wednesday finds me still being monogamous (at least for the time being) to Green Blankie 2.0. It's been a Zoom-heavy week, with three more Zooms still to go, so it's gotten a lot of attention. Here's where it stands as of this morning, with the marker showing where I was yesterday morning. I will move it again when I pick it up during today's first Zoom.

I have completed five full repeats of the lace pattern, and I'm not sure exactly how many I'm going to do, but my plan is to try to use up as much of the yarn as I can. If I'd had the foresight the first time I knit this pattern, I would have noted how many repeats I worked so I could recreate it exactly; I'll be sure to make a note this time, just in case there needs to be a third blanket at some point in the future.

I got some new yarn in the mail over the weekend, the second of my three Encore club shipments from Fibernymph Dye Works. This encore was from the Happy Hour club, and Lisa calls this colorway Galaxy Cocktail. It was a lovely surprise to get when the weather has turned colder (we woke up to a dusting of snow this morning) because these colors just scream spring to me!

As with the previous Happy Hour club shipments, this skein came with a coordinating stitch marker, and I just have to share a closeup of this one:

The whole charm is about the size of a fingernail, which I'm telling you so you can fully appreciate the size of that tiny slice of kiwi fruit.

I've finished three books since last week, too, a feat I'm not likely to repeat in the next week given that I have six more days of work this year and a lot of stuff has come in!

I had put Louise Erdrich's latest, The Sentence, on hold at the library without knowing anything about it other than several of you had read it and enjoyed it, and I specifically requested the audiobook because it's read by the author herself. I can now say that I'm really looking forward to reading it again next year as part of the Erdrich-along -- I absolutely loved this book! It's set in the Minneapolis area against the backdrop of the pandemic and the racial justice demonstrations in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, but it's not really about either of those things. It's sad and funny and heartbreaking, and I particularly loved the fact that the author is a character (though not the main one) in the book and her real-life bookstore is a major setting. I gave it 5 stars and highly recommend it!

I spent a couple of evenings reading The Westing Game to finish it and catch up with Rainbow so I could help her with her last English assignments on it. I don't think I'd reread this since I was in grad school (I know that's when I bought my copy, as I'd stuck an address label inside the cover that had my address from my apartment in Philadelphia), and I'll admit I was a little disappointed in it this go-round. The language is a bit dated and even a tad offensive in some spots now, and I guess I've become more critical as a reader because I found the writing just a little too sparse and abrupt. But the mystery itself is still fun, and I was pleased that although I remembered a few things, I'd forgotten enough to still get a surprise at the ending. I gave it 3 stars.

I'd put We Are Not Like Them on hold when I heard the authors interviewed on the What Should I Read Next podcast (this episode) and finally got to it in the past week. This is a very timely novel about two best friends -- Jen, a white woman who is married to a police officer involved in the shooting of an unarmed young Black man, and Riley, a Black woman who, as a news reporter, finds herself reporting on her friend's husband. This book goes exactly where you'd expect, and while it doesn't shy away from the difficult issues, I found it also doesn't go very deep. This had the feel of an easier book club-style read to me -- and by that I mean book clubs that are less about reading and more about socializing. It's not a bad read, but it's not a serious exploration of race and privilege. I gave it 3 stars.

This week, I'm trying my hardest to finish The Madness of Crowds, and I'm trying not to start anything else until I'm done with the 200 or so pages I have left! But I'd also love to hear about what you're reading or anything wonderful you've finished lately, because I do have a vacation coming up!

Monday, December 06, 2021

The Hits Keep On Coming

Monday again -- where did the weekend go? I thought it was going to be a slow and relaxing weekend because we were going to be at home, but it filled up with things around the house as it always does. At least we did not need to rush this morning; because Rainbow will be home for school all week, I don't have to pack a lunch or hurry her to get ready to go. She just has to brush her teeth and her hair and sit down at her desk! I'm happy to tell you that she continues to be symptom free, and in addition to the negative PCR test that came back Saturday morning, she tested negative yesterday on a rapid home test. So I think we're in the clear. But of course things couldn't be too calm around here, and yesterday our internet started having issues -- perfectly coinciding with the Mister's departure for a work trip! It seems to be working okay this morning, so all my fingers are crossed that it stays up long enough for us to get through school and work!

In the midst of all this excitement (is that the right word for it?), I have finished one more holiday gift and made a good start on another. The finish was a very quick project, as you'd expect for a bulky-weight hat:

Pattern: Sagamore Flyover Hat (Ravelry link) by Jennifer Lassonde, size 5
Yarn: Fingering weight scraps -- Dale Baby Ull, Knit Picks Stroll, Knit Picks Essential, and Louet Gems -- held triple, totaling 334 yds.
Needles: US 7 (4.5 mm) and US 8 (5.0 mm)
Started/Completed: December 1/December 2
Mods: none

This was a very straightforward hat to knit and moved very quickly, despite the fact that holding the yarn triple and using such large needles felt very foreign to my hands, which are more used to fingering weight yarn (held single) and size 0 needles. I knit the largest size for my father-in-law, and it seems like it will fit him based on the fact that it's just a tad roomy on me. The only thing that I'm not completely satisfied with is the decreases, which do not sit entirely flat on top. If/when I knit this again, I might try to modify the pattern to have fewer decreases per round to see if that helps.

I also cast on for Green Blankie 2.0, the replacement blanket for my nephew, on Friday night. (Actually, I cast on Thursday night, but I wasn't happy with where I was alternating skeins and how the switchover was looking, so I ripped and restarted.) The progress keeper shows where I was yesterday morning, so it's moving right along.

Obviously the lace pattern is a bit hard to see right now (and the rainy, gloomy weather we're having today is not helping things), but it will be easier to see when this is blocked. I managed to knit on this through a couple of Zoom meetings yesterday and while troubleshooting the internet issues last night without making a mistake, so I think I'll be in good shape to get this done by sometime next week so it can be delivered before we go to Florida.

One nice bright spot in each day is opening up my Fibernymph Dye Works holiday mini skein each morning, and I've now officially opened half of them. I am just loving the colors!

You'll just have to imagine how much better they look when the lighting isn't so terrible! I'm still pondering what to do with them but am not stressing about it -- I have priorities for right now!

I hope your week is off to a better start than mine (though certainly I can't complain too much, because I know I have it much better than many people right now!). I will be back on Wednesday with a knitting and reading update.

Friday, December 03, 2021

Oh, Bother

Over the years, I've gotten used to December being a crazy month. Yesterday, though, it became a different kind of crazy. Shortly before 10 a.m., while I was out on my walk, I got a call from Rainbow's school. I immediately knew something was wrong -- they never call in the middle of the day for a good reason. When I answered, I got a recording telling me to check my email for "an important communication," which turned out to be a notification that they entire sixth grade had been exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID and had to immediately go into quarantine. So I had to run home to pick her up, and she will be home until the 13th. Even though remote instruction isn't an option for her school this year, they're going to do it next week because the entire grade is affected. We're going to get PCR tests this morning, though she isn't experiencing any symptoms. The kicker here is that she was supposed to get her second vaccine shot tomorrow, but we'll have to put that off.

Edit: As of Saturday morning, we've received our results -- both negative! And the school has scheduled a vaccine clinic at the school for the girls missing their second shot this weekend. It's unfortunately on Rainbow's birthday (12/15), but it can't be helped!

On a happier note, she opened up her doubled hat last night and was delighted with it! Now we can be matchy-matchy!

We will get test results back in 24-48 hours, so that means we're in for a quiet weekend at home -- and I have zero complaints about that! Rainbow suggested that we finally get to sewing the tote bags we bought supplies for over the summer, and I think that sounds like an excellent plan. Here's hoping your weekend is good and significantly less dramatic!

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Unraveled, Week 48/2021

It's December, already! Doesn't it seem like we were just starting the year and hoping that it would erase the bad memories of 2020? I won't open up that can of worms this morning, but I will say that I'm still bewildered at the fact that this year is almost over. But it's Wednesday, my day every week to check in with what I'm making and reading and to link up with Kat and the Unravelers, so let's focus on that!

I will likely be dragging today and might need to catch a cat nap or two because I was up until late last night (11:30) knitting furiously to finish this hat so it would count for the end of the 90% Knitting Nature MAL:

Staying up late to finish a project is very uncharacteristic for me, but I needed to finish this project to get me my full-year participation in the makealong (which earns me a special skein of yarn). It's a bit ridiculous if you think about it, but I like nothing better than arbitrary knitting goals! This hat -- the same formula I followed for Rainbow's -- used exactly 100 g/400 yds. of the yarn. My skein weighed a bit more than 100 g to start, so there was no yarn chicken being played at the end.

I now find myself with only one WIP, my Shifty pullover, but I have two time-sensitive projects to cast on soon: a hat for my father-in-law, which I'm planning to knit holding several strands of fingering weight together, and the replacement blanket for my nephew. My goal is to knit the hat this week and finish the blanket before we leave for Florida.

You all know that I don't celebrate Advent, but I do like the yarn or fiber sets that are sold around this time of year, and I got one from Fibernymph Dye Works as I have the past several years. This year I opted for twelve 20 g mini skeins plus the full skein of the special holiday colorway. I received my bag of goodies several weeks ago but have been saving it. This morning I opened the first mini skein, and it's a beauty:

I'm planning on knitting another big shawl or stole with this year's collection, but I may wait until I've opened several packages to see how the colors look together before I decide on a pattern.

Reading has been good this week and has been keeping me good company while I knit like fiend. I've finished two recent releases in the past week.

With a weird title and a strange collection of parallel narratives, Cloud Cuckoo Land is a book that's very hard to describe. I really didn't know much about it when I put it on hold at the library but was counting on the fact that I adored the author's All the Light We Cannot See. This book has three separate stories, or so it seems, that come together over the course of the book. At first, they seem so wildly unconnected that you wonder how they'll come together, but they do, though, in my opinion, not as well as I would have liked. The writing is beautiful, though, and the book could be thought of as a tribute to books, libraries, librarians, and the sanctity of the written word. I gave it 4 stars.

I finished Harlem Shuffle yesterday while working on my hat. Despite the fact that it was about half the length of Cloud Cuckoo Land, it took me just as long to read and seemed much slower. This book follows a furniture salesman in Harlem in the late '50s and early '60s who is trying to improve his lot in life and gets embroiled in the world of crime, first unwillingly and then of his own volition. There is no doubt that Colson Whitehead is a gifted writer, but this book didn't excite or move me the way his earlier books have. I think perhaps this was just not the right book for me. I gave it 3 stars.
I'm still reading some hard-copy books that I really want to finish, but I started listening to The Sentence on Monday and am just loving it. I also just got We Are Not Like Them from the library this morning and hope to start it later today. I'll also note that Harlem Shuffle was the 130th book I've finished this year, which officially doubles my goal for the year of 65 books. Crazy pants!

How about you -- what are you working on and reading this week?

Monday, November 29, 2021

Balance in 2021: November

It's incredible to me that tomorrow is the last day of November. I know that the last part of the year seems to go by quickly every year, but this year it seems even swifter than normal. As it's the last Monday of the month, that means it's time for my check in with my One Little Word. Thanks as always to Carolyn for hosting our once-a-month link-ups!

Balance has been more of a challenge for me this month. There have been work deadlines and unexpected meetings and holidays and vaccine shots. Some of these things have been good and others not so good; what they have in common is that they've all posed different demands on my time that has sometimes meant given up time I normally would have given to something else. I think the health part of the equation took a hit in particular this month. Twice this month I have broken my step streak. The first time was when I had that unexpected synagogue board meeting, and then it was broken again just this past weekend. In both cases, I was busy with things during the day, and by the time I had a moment free when I could have conceivably gone for my walk, it was too dark and creepy outside to do so. My initial reaction to breaking the streak (especially the first time, when it was several hundred days long) was annoyance and even anger. Moving my body every day has become such a big part of my routine in the last year and a half plus, and it's become one way that I keep my stress in check. But I realized that perhaps part of the reason I was upset was because I was falsely equating missing my walk with being lazy, and laziness has been my biggest obstacle in the past. I had to remind myself that taking the hour or hour and a half every day to walk is a luxury and one that I can't always afford. Having a truly balanced lifestyle means that there will always be give and take, and I have to look at the overall picture. My goal shouldn't necessary be to get 10K steps every day but rather to average that many over the week, the month, or even the year. And really that's the kind of moderation I should be aiming for in pretty much all aspects of my life.

I don't really have a 21 in 2021 update to share because I have no further updates to the list since I last shared my progress in September. At this point, it's looking doubtful I'll finish every item on the list by the end of the year (I don't think there will be much bike riding in the three weeks we're still in town this year) -- but that's okay! I knew when I made the list that some things would be a stretch and it was the stretching that was the goal, not the individual items on the list. I don't know that I'll do a list of 22 items to do in 2022, but I think my One Little Word for next year is going to help to continue the exercise of stretching myself.

How has your word played out in this penultimate month of 2021? Are you finding it hard to stay focused now that we're so close to wrapping things up on this year's word? Have you figured out your word for next year yet?

Friday, November 26, 2021

Feeling Extra Thankful

The blessing and the curse of a long holiday weekend is that I often lose track of what day it is, and I woke up this morning thinking it was Saturday or Sunday. Fortunately, when I turned on the news this morning, all the advertisers did an excellent job of reminding me that it's Black Friday (obviously I am not one of those people who sets an alarm clock early to get out to the sales first thing!). I have done a small amount of online shopping this morning -- I placed an order with LoLo Body Care because I'm running low on my last Body Bar and also wanted to get one for my sister-in-law, and I also ordered my favorite moisturizers from Kiehl's, as they're a bit spendy and also rarely on sale -- but I am not planning on visiting any stores or malls today. In about an hour, I'll be going to deliver the toys my synagogue committee collected through our toy drive last weekend, and other than taking my daily walk, I plan to spend the rest of the day curled up at home.

We had a really lovely Thanksgiving yesterday with a big meal like we used to have in the Before Times. It was the three of us, my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, her parents, her brother and sister-in-law and their three kids, my in-laws, and my uncle for dinner. My brother- and sister-in-law and nephew joined us for dessert. We had SO much food -- the usual turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce (canned and fresh!), and gravy but also roasted Brussels sprouts, green bean casserole, dinner rolls and crescent rolls and pumpkin cranberry muffins, four kinds of pie (apple, blueberry, strawberry rhubarb, and pumpkin, plus an apple tart that my sister-in-law brought), brownies, cupcakes, cookie bars, and dried fruit filled with nuts. There was wine and sparkling apple cider and a special holiday punch made with brandy, sparkling wine, Chambord, orange slices, and fresh cranberries. But above all, there was the company and the fact that we could all be together safely. All the adults were fully vaccinated, many also boosted, and all the eligible kids had gotten their first dose. It felt good to be with people again without having to worry -- Rainbow actually felt a little overwhelmed by it all and had to have some quiet time when we got home!

I didn't do much knitting yesterday, but progress has been made. After I posted on Wednesday, I did finish up the charity hat (though I still have to block it, which will happen soon):

Pattern: 1898 Hat by Kristine Byrnes (link goes directly to the pattern PDF)
Yarn: Fibernymph Dye Works Bona Fide (100% superwash merino DK) in Cake Pops, 0.72 skeins
Needles: US 6 (4.0 mm)
Started/Completed: November 14/November 24
Mods: added an extra inch in length before the crown decreases

I've knit this hat a couple of times before and am always delighted by how clever it is. You start by knitting the band that goes around the ears; it's knit flat, starting with a provisional cast on, and when you finish, you graft the ends together, fold it in half, and pick up stitches all the way around to both join that doubled layer and have the stitches you'll need for the body and crown of the hat. The pattern calls for worsted weight yarn, but I know that Lisa's DK base is only slightly lighter than her worsted and substitutes very well. I also know that the hat as written will come out a little shallow for me, so I routinely add a bit more length before I start the crown decreases. This project served double duty for me, as it's both adding to my pile of charity hats and serving as an entry for the Pigskin Party November Interception (basically a special challenge that's part of the larger events).

I have also started my own Pittsburgh hat and completed the increases last night, so now I'm on the completely mindless part until I have about 10% of my yarn left.

Wonkiness caused by folding the needles/cable under the knitting to hide them

This is another skein of Fibernymph Dye Works self-striping sock yarn, and I like that its stripe sequence is a bit different from your typical self-striping. I'll be trying to get this done by the end of the month, which seems doable considering the extra time off and the fact that I don't have to hide this one.

I hope those of you who celebrated yesterday had a lovely holiday, and I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!