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January 2017 Reads

Wendel Berry speaking at the Circe Institute Regional Conference in Louisville, KY, January 20, 2017

Yes, I got to see Wendell Berry do a reading. [Swoon!] I’ve read Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow by him, the latter which was discussed on Close Reads. It was a great evening!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith — I read this soon after I graduated from college and absolutely loved it. One of those books where you wish all books were like this. So when I saw it as the January selection for the Well Read Mom, I wondered if I could possibly love it as much again as I did the first time. I started out pacing myself to read it over the course of the month, but it was so wonderful I could stop reading and finished it in the middle of the month. I loved it just as much the second time as I did the first. Highly recommended.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles — This was the main selection for January in the Modern Mrs. Darcy (MMD) book club. I would give it two stars. It is historical fiction, which I struggle with. I would much rather read about another time and place by someone who lived it or knew those who lived it. This book had several inaccuracies that made me question much of the plausibility of the book. For instance,  someone was singing “It Is Well With My Soul” in backwoods Texas a couple years before the song was written on the Atlantic Ocean. Ugh. However, at the back of the book, the author said it was based on another book which I read and very much enjoyed, namely…

The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier by Scott Zesch — This is a very well researched book about kids who were abducted by Indians on the Texas frontier. Their stories are known because they returned, in varying degrees, to white society. The book gives a history of relations with the Indians of that region going back to the 1820’s including the debate surrounding whether or not to negotiate with the Indians for captives. It describes life in Indian society for the white captives and helps explain why they resisted returning to white society. If you enjoy history, this is a great read.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger — This was a flight pairing along with News of the World as part of the MMD book club. One of the chapters explored heavily the issue of Indian captives not wanting to return to white society. This article is a thoughtful response to the book and sums up my reservations about it well.  I think The Captured lent far more light on the subject than this book. That said, this book was very thought provoking and great fodder for discussion.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty — This was the other flight pairing for January in the MMD book club. I listened to this as an audiobook – all 36 hours of it. Great book. One that will stick with me for a long time. After reading this, I feel like I know what it was like to live in the late mid-1800s in Texas and beyond. It will likely be one of my favorite books for the year.

Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie) — I found this book through Gretchen Rubin’s book club and listened to the audio version on Overdrive. It was written by Agatha Christie who took a pen name when she wrote books outside her usual genre. Joan, the main character, gets stranded on her return journey and has nothing to do for a few days and ends up re-thinking much of her life, seeing it in a very different light. Ironically, it reminded me of reading a book everyone else “gets” while missing what is obvious to everyone else (aka how I feel when I read a mystery). Great read. Highly recommended.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson — This was one of the January selections for Book of the Month Club. I haven’t joined but was thinking about it so I decided to read one of the selections to see what I thought. This was the story of several teenagers going through school. Bad things happen to them, but there was never any exploration of the consequences or what came of it — there were all sorts of things that could have been explored but were just left on the table unopened. I did not like it at all and probably won’t be reading any more Book of the Month Club selections unless they are recommended to me otherwise. When one is accustomed to reading the classics – books that are so good they’ve remained in print, it is difficult to find contemporary fiction that measures up.

War by Sebastian Junger — I picked this up after reading Tribe. It is a first-hand account through the eyes of a journalist on the front lines in Afghanistan. I read a comment about this book somewhere that being on the front lines and observing isn’t the same as being on the front lines and fighting, to which I wholeheartedly agree. This book definitely gives a piece of the picture of what it’s like serving in the US military in Afghanistan, but I don’t automatically assume that everyone who served over there (and I know several who served there and in Iraq) had experiences similar to this. The writing style is rather scatterbrained – jumping from this to that and only sticking loosely to the storyline. Three stars, if that.

Honorable mention: Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers — This is the current selection for the Close Reads podcast from the Circe Institute. I’m only four chapters into it, and it is not something I would ever pick up and read on my own. However, I love and adore this podcast – listening English teachers discuss, argue and debate good books. The third episode covering chapters 5-8 is already up, but I became obsessed with listening to Lonesome Dove so haven’t listened to the second episode yet. So far I’m about as lost as poor Joan in Absent in the Spring, but that’s just another reason why I love Close Reads.

On the docket for February:

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte [Well Read Mom] – this is actually a re-read but I plan to listen to the audio version narrated by Juliet Stevenson which should be excellent
  • This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel [MMD February main selection]
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides [MMD February flight pairing]
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennet [MMD February flight pairing]
  • and several others, hopefully

November Reads {2016}

Recently I tallied up the number of books I’ve read so far this year. Currently the total is 46, not including the 14 books I’ve read aloud or listened to with my kids as free-reads. I have a friend who posts her reads each month, a post I eagerly anticipate and always enjoy (see her November reads here). I’ve decided to revive my blog and begin doing the same.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – This was the summer selection for the Well Read Mom. I belong to a local group – we discussed this the first week of September. I had a crazy summer and had only listened to 6 of the 37 hours of the audio version of this book at the beginning of August when we were originally supposed to discuss it, but then we postponed it a month so I felt I ought to at least try to finish it (I am the leader of the group so I sort of have an obligation, you know). I finished all but the last 4 hours before we met in September. Last summer we read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy which I thoroughly enjoyed, but this one, not so much. I don’t like reading under pressure, which happened with this book and may well have colored my opinion of it. This month I got it back out and finally listened to those last 4 hours so I could say I finished it. My reading nightmare experience aside, The Brothers Karamazov is a family drama complete with a who-done-it and a lengthy trial. I think Tolstoy got tired of writing it at the end – it just seemed to drop without much resolution. Anna Karenina was far more satisfying throughout. Bottom line: If you want to read a challenging Russian novel, I’d go with Anna Karenina.

All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior – This book is about modern parenting. As in, the intense version. I have friends who parent like this and the mere thought of it makes me tired. In fact, reading this book about how intensely people parent their children was exhausting, which is probably why it got set aside when I started it earlier this year. I tend to be more like the dads in this book, who are fairly pragmatic about what they will and will not do for their kids. That said, I really enjoyed the chapter on adolescence, especially the point about how parents who have their own hobbies find these years far smoother than those who have invested all their time and effort in their kids. When you have a life outside parenting, the occasional “failure” when your kid does something dumb is far less daunting when you have other things that make you happy. All the more reason to read good books…

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek MD – This was a fascinating memoir about a doctor doing autopsies in New York City, including the casualties of 9/11. I didn’t realize that autopsies aren’t limited to what the doctor sees of the body lying on the table – sometimes that information must be paired with evidence collected at the scene to make the final determination of the cause of death. Having worked in quality assurance in some form or other since graduating from college, I found it intriguing how the final answer – murder, suicide, natural causes or unknown – can be pivotal, either to an investigation or to the families looking for answers.

No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by Michelle Segar – As the title says, this book is more about motivation than specific fitness routines. One one hand, the author argues that physical activity can be beneficial even if it is just taking a short walk when you have a few minutes. No formal workout required. That takes a lot of the pressure off. At the same time, the ideas discussed in this book don’t just apply to physical fitness. If your job or lifestyle requires a lot of self-motivation as mine does, this book is a goldmine of strategies to keep you going. That said, I have a completely different attitude toward exercise after reading this book. I’ve been going for more walks, too.

Rising Strong by Brene Brown – I’ve read this book sporadically a chapter at a time over the past year. For some reason, every time I pick it up, it has major eye-openers for whatever I’m facing at the moment. They say each of her books builds on the ideas of the last. Since this is her most recent book, I don’t know if I will go back and read others. This book was very powerful. It completely reframed how I see things, helping me to let them go and move on. If you want to be completely unsettled by having to seriously rethink how you perceive something, this book is for you. I may re-read it just for the exercise of gaining fresh perspective.

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah – This novel is about the resistance movement in France during World War II. This fall I read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr which was okay. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read another novel set in France during World War II with all the horrors that go along with it. This book was completely different – very engaging. I checked it out from the library so I had a deadline, but that was no issue as I finished reading it long before it was due. After this ravishing success, I’m seriously considering Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. That is, when I’m up for another war novel.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – Last April we moved to a new neighborhood after living in the same house for 14 years. This book was described as a feel-good book about grumpy neighbors which I thought my help smooth the bumps of adjusting to a new neighborhood. No grandiose insights, but I did enjoy the story.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (audio version read by the author) – I’ve read several books to get a better understanding of the black experience and history of racism over the last couple of years. Some that stand out include The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. But alas! I was told when I cited them during an online discussion about race that if I really wanted to be informed, I needed to read non-fiction – specifically, this book. It was in my library, and the issue was especially hot in our recent election, so I got it out and began reading. There were so many ironies in this book between his description of his life and what he believes it is like to be a white person and what I’ve seen and experienced as a white person. For instance, Cub Scouts. My boys have both been in Cub Scouts since they were old enough to join and I will say two things: 1) boys are full of energy and the pictures you see of Cub Scouts don’t reflect the chaos that happens in real life, and 2) working with other adults to plan activities and agreeing on how things should be run can sometimes be, well, to borrow a certain phrase, all joy and no fun. As a kid, I always thought “Thou shalt not covet” to be an easy commandment to follow. As an adult, I’ve learned it can sometimes be one of the hardest, one that causes intense pain. Looking at what you think other people have and experience and comparing it to your own is a sure recipe for misery. This book is full of misery. Three and a half hours of it. I think this book is an important read because it expresses what so many feel. That said, I do not think it is the last word on the subject or that it provides any real answers for the racism today. Brene Brown’s Rising Strong is a fitting counterpoint.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – I had previously purchased this when it was featured on Modern Mrs. Darcy‘s daily Kindle Deals. Then I saw she had selected it for her Book Club. A gothic novel sounded like something I should have read in October but I decided November wasn’t too late. The first half of this book is rather slow, and many people give up. At the halfway point, there is a pivotal moment and the rest of the novel is absolutely gripping. I reached that turning point the day before Thanksgiving and had to put it down in order to get all the holiday preparations done. I finished it that evening, and I ever so enjoyed it! I watched the movie version by Alfred Hitchcock that weekend, which is also excellent (and sticks very closely to the book, unlike most movies based on a book).

Let me count the ways attempts…

On a doorknob…

Rising Dawn

Over the back of the couch…

Rising Dawn

On the bed…

Rising Dawn

Another doorknob shot…

Rising Dawn

Close-up on the doorknob…

Rising Dawn

Looking down on the doorknob…

Rising Dawn

On the headboard…

Rising Dawn

Nice pose but bad lighting.

Finally, over the mirror.

Rising Dawn

Rising Dawn by Stephen West. Knit with Malabrigo Sock, color Abril.

To. Die. For.

At the moment I am pushing the limits for the number of projects currently on the needles. Here are highlights of the ones I’ve be spending my time on the most as of late.

Rising Dawn

This is Rising Dawn by Stephen West knit with Malabrigo Sock, color Abril.

Last month at our local knitting guild meeting, someone had left two skeins of yarn on the table in the room at Yarn Charm where we meet.


I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to take them home, but to no avail. I found a project suitable for them, bought them, and cast on that evening. At the moment, I am working on the garter border – almost 700 sts per row. There is a chance I may have this with me and be binding off at this month’s guild meeting this coming Saturday.

Life Cycle

The most addicting knit I have at the moment has to be Life Cycle {Ravelry link} by Alana Dakos from her latest book, Botanical Knits 2. I am knitting it with handspun fingering weight yarn from a merino/nylon blend dyed by Sweet Georgia. Each half leaf is 14 rows so before you know it you’ve finished another leaf and have the next one half done. Talk about instant gratification. I have it sitting on the couch next to me, and whenever I have a chance I work a few rows. Not a good project for knitting night, though – I took it with me one week and completely botched it up and had to frog a few rows. Rising Dawn is much better suited for knitting night.

Little Shells Socks

Last weekend I cast on two new projects. Little Shells Socks {Ravelry link} are being knit up with a Cheviot/mohair blend sock yarn I purchased last year at Iowa Sheep and Wool. The pattern is from Clara Parkes Knitter’s Book of Yarn. I’ve found that and her Knitter’s Book of Wool are wonderful sources for yarn with handspun qualities. This pattern by Shelia January is no exception. If you are familiar with the pattern, you’ll notice I am knitting them from the top down rather than the bottom up. The foot will be in stockinette, though, as the picture shows.

Prairie Rose

My other new project cast on last weekend (as though I needed any more projects on the needles) is the Prairie Rose Shawl {Ravelry link} by Evelyn Clark, published in Clara Park’s Knitter’s Book of Wool. The yarn is Zen Garden Serenity Silk Single in colors well outside my normal berries palette. It is a singles merino/silk blend and a bit on the pricey side so I only bought one skein. It will be perfect for this project.


Ironically, here is my current spinning project: Daylilies on South African Fine Merino dyed by Spunky Eclectic (February 2013 fiber club selection). I thought the fiber was pretty when I got it, but it was merino and I was a new spinner and I wasn’t sure how to spin it and distribute the colors like I wanted. So it’s languished in my stash for a while. Our local spinning guild is focusing on merino at our May guild meeting. Since it’s spring and I love Daylilies, I decided it was time to spin it up. I’m making 3-ply yarn with this fiber, and two of the three bobbins are finished.

2013 Children’s Sweaters

Here lies the end of my 2013 obligation knitting – the annual sweaters knit for each of my children:

2013 Portrait

The original inspiration was Guston by Ann Budd. But the gauge was different, the scale was different, and once I got up to the patterned portion on the front of the first sweater, I decided the buttonband was way too much trouble.

So they are simple pullovers made with the same yarn base but different colors and different textured stitch patterns at the top.

I am well pleased.

Now, back to knitting for my own pleasure.


My latest spinning adventure began with this pretty braid from Pigeonroof Studios:


40% merino/40% superwash merino/20% silk

I spun the first half at home on my Schacht Ladybug. Then I began the second bobbin and ventured out with my spinning wheel to knitting night at Starbucks.

Now we are known to have fun at knitting night, and that week was no exception. Lots of laughing and chatting. I noticed from time to time that I was getting corkscrews in my singles, and I would correct it, but then I would notice it again a few minutes later. Apparently, in all the fun, my feet were treadling faster than my hands could draft the fiber.

I spent the next week correcting the twist, which varied widely through those last two ounces. I wound it from the bobbin on my Ladybug onto my Jenkins Swan, correcting the twist in each length of yarn as I went. It’s all a part of the process, right?


I might have minded it more had the singles not been so pretty to look at as I wound them on my Swan.


When all was said and done, I put the turtle from my spindle into my yarn bowl and plied it with the remaining bobbin on my lazy Kate.

This final result was this beautiful, bouncy skein of luminous delight.


It is destined to become a shawl as the drape is just amazing.


As I was working on that spinning project, my sweet Caroline informed me that she wants me to make her a handspun scarf with pink and purple and green in it. I went shopping for fiber and this luscious goodness from Woolgatherings was the closest I could find. I showed it to Caroline and she approved.

Caroline's Scarf

I then showed her swatches in the latest edition of PLY magazine of 2-ply, 3-ply and chain-plied yarn and how the colors mix together in each. She has selected chain-ply for this project. So that will be going on the wheel next.

Here’s to fall and scarves and lots of spinning and knitting!

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