Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Knitting FO: Robin the Striped

Robin the Striped
Pattern: Flock by Meg Bakewell

Last year I made a baby mobile for a friend that was adorned with five colorful knit birds. (Here's a look at that project.) Way back then, my mom requested I make her a little bird too, and I finally got around to it for her birthday this month. Mom likes robins and the Denver Broncos, so I decided on a pretty medium blue and a pumpkin orange for her bird. Robin the Striped turned out so cute!
Two tips if you want to make one (or several) of these little guys:
1. When I made all the birds for the mobile, I didn't really like the way they looked where I stitched the wings to the body. This time I cast on my wing stitches with size 3 needles so the stitches would be tighter and not gap as much. Of course, this might have just happened because I'm really bad at sewing knit stuff and just kind of winged it. (Pun intended...) Either way, I was much happier with the wing seams this time.
2. I used black worsted weight yarn to make Robin's eyes, which I think I like better than the embroidery floss eyes of the mobile birds. These stand out much more.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Favorite Lunch: Homemade Tomato Bisque

Today was cold and snowy with gusty, house-rattling wind, and it was the perfect time for my favorite lunch -- soup and a sandwich. There are several soup recipes that we love, but my go-to is tomato bisque. Today we had it with mozzarella-pesto grilled cheese sandwiches. Yummm.

I've been whipping up this tomato soup for a couple of years now and it always tastes amazing. I found it on Allrecipes, where it's known as Creamy Tomato Bisque III (here) and make it mostly as written, with just a few changes:

1. I cut the recipe in half but still use one whole carrot and one entire stalk of celery.
2. I use half-and-half or heavy cream interchangeably, depending on what's on hand, and it's good either way.
3. I add some dried basil (maybe 1 tsp) and some crushed red pepper flakes (just a sprinkle) for zing.
4. I puree all the soup, not just 3/4 as the recipe suggests.

If you've been eating tomato soup from a can, try this fairly quick and easy (and sorta healthy, maybe?) recipe and you'll never go back! It's the perfect cozy, warm lunch for a snowy, blustery day -- I can vouch for that!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Furry Friday

Conan decided to help me fold laundry. I gave him the all-important job of guarding the (snuggly warm, fresh-from-the-dryer) socks to make sure none ran away.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Top 10 Things On My Reading Wish-List

Every week the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish host a fun list-making link-up. This week's prompt is the top 10 things on your reading wish-list, i.e. time period, type of plot, issue tackled. I think I went a little out-of-the-box with my answers, as they are all pretty broad... but oh well.

My list is by no means a must-have list, but rather things that I enjoy and appreciate in a story -- and that may make me more likely to pick up a book.

1. A happy ending.
I'm a sucker for happily-ever-afters -- the couple gets together, the bad guy is caught, all is well in the world. Of course not every book can have a happy ending, but I feel content and resolved closing the back cover on the ones that do.

2. A dog.
If you read my blog even once in a while, you know that my husband and I are just a wee bit obsessed with our boxer, Conan. And that's reflected in my reading. I will always pick up and read the jacket summary of a book with a dog on the cover.

Some of my favorite dog-related books are:
-"The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein
-"Dog On It" by Spencer Quinn
-"The Dogs of Christmas" by W. Bruce Cameron (my review)

3. Knitting.
I'm a knitter myself so, as with dog-themed books, I'll always give a book with yarn on the cover a second glance. Unfortunately, though, I haven't really read many good knitting books. I've been disappointed by the cozy knitting mysteries I've read, and while I read the whole series I didn't love the Friday Night Knitting Club books. I did come across "The Wishing Thread" on another blog and I'm excited to read that -- perhaps it will finally strike my knitting fancy.

4. A good, solid mystery that's not too predictable, but is actually solveable by the reader.
I love mysteries, but I hate when the culprit turns out to be someone we as readers were never introduced to or whom we were never given the proper clues to identify. It's fun to be fed a crumb trail of clues -- with some red herrings thrown in, of course -- and guess who the killer is before the big reveal. It stinks when you find out toward the end that the bad guy is some crazy ex-boyfriend we never even knew about. Conversely, it's annoying when the mystery is too easy and readers can easily solve it from the outset.

5. A likeable, relatable protagonist.
I have actually stopped reading books simply because I hated the main character. I can't stand protagonists who are naive, vain, snobby, overly weak or clueless.

6. Humor.
Books that make me laugh out loud always get extra points. Not all books are meant to be humorous, but I appreciate authors who can add a little levity to a serious story.

These books made me LOL:
-"Let's Pretend This Never Happened" by Jenny Lawson (review)
-most of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series
-"Mad About The Boy" by Helen Fielding (review)

7. Teach me something.
It's always nice to learn something under the guise of reading an engrossing tale. I haven't read a ton of non-fiction but the memoirs and biographies I've read seem to fit the bill. And I've read a ton of fiction that's based in fact and from which I've gained all kinds of knowledge that I wouldn't otherwise want to spend the time researching.

A few examples:
-"Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand -- WWII (my review)
-"A Walk In The Woods" by Bill Bryson -- the Appalachian Trail (my review)
-the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books by Rick Riordan -- Greek and Roman mythology

8. Set in locations I have lived or want to visit.
Stories set in locales I dream about visiting are always appealing. I love books set in cities like New York, Seattle, London, Paris... And it's always fun to read tales that take place in familiar locations, like Colorado or Florida.

9. Food.
My husband and I love to eat, and thus I love to read about food. Books like "My Life in France" by Julia Child and "Paris in Love: A Memoir" by Eloisa James are full of mouthwatering descriptions. After reading James's book, I am now determined to get a hot chocolate in Paris.

10. Fosters a cozy ambiance.
Back in October I wrote a post called Books For a Blustery Day. Some books -- Gothic tales, historical fiction, mysteries, ghost stories -- just make you feel snug and warm and cozy. It's the "It was a dark and stormy night..." effect.

So we have 10 things that I enjoy -- or wish for -- in books. What makes up your literary wish-list?

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Knitting Run-Down

Happy Monday evening. I hope you all enjoyed a three-day weekend! I actually don't work on Mondays so I didn't get a free day off, but Jarrod was home and the animals and I were happy to lounge around the house with him this morning. We had to take Conan to the vet for his chemo this afternoon -- which turned into a many-hour excursion -- but we are home and fed and about to hunker down with some chocolate pudding cake and start episode 4 of "Top of the Lake," the Golden Globe-winning miniseries starring Elisabeth Moss of "Mad Men."

I'm also about to pick up my knitting, which always soothes and relaxes me if I've had a stressful day. That's fitting, because I started putting together this post about knitting this morning when I was happy and relaxed, and after our rather long and frustrating day my hands are now itching to pick up my knitting needles!

Until recently, I've been a pretty monogamous knitter. Of course there might be exceptions if I needed to whip up a quick baby hat or something, but for the most part I only worked on one project at a time. The past few months, though, that's changed. I currently have needles in five separate projects, just finished a sixth one, and am about to cast on for some baby gifts and a Valentine's Day decoration. Phew!

The problem with this ADD sort of knitting is that some half-finished projects inevitably get put on the back burner (i.e. in the dark depths of the coffee table drawer), not to be picked up for weeks or months at a time. I really hope to get those forgotten garments back into the knitting rotation soon. So what are these five WIPs, you ask? Behold:
1. Follow Your Arrow Mystery Knit-Along

I love mystery knit-alongs to begin with, and this one is even more exciting because not only do you not know anything about the finished product other than that it's a shawl, but you have not one but two options with each of the five clues! Usually the only thing that varies with an MKAL is the color, but there are (according to someone much better at math than me) 32 possible shawl versions.

(If you're unfamiliar with a mystery knit-along, it's where a bunch of people come together to complete a new pattern at the same time, except you don't know what your knit will end up looking like -- only the needles, yarn weight and yardage necessary. Pieces of the pattern, or clues, are released weekly. Participants are encouraged to post "spoiler" pictures after each piece of the pattern is completed, and once you've finished you can go check out how everyone else's clue turned out. Such fun!)

I chose pattern B for the first week, and the second set of clues came out today. I'm excited to look them over and "follow my arrow."
Yarn: Cascade Yarns Heritage Silk 
2. Lace Ribbon Scarf

A couple years ago, when I was much more of a novice knitter, I made one of these scarves for my boss as a going-away gift for her move from Hawaii to Oregon. I thought it was the most beautiful object I had knitted to date and vowed to make one for myself one day. So here we are -- and living in a place where the winters necessitate the wearing of such things!

This Malabrigo yarn is absolutely stunning, but I just couldn't get it to photograph properly on one of Ohio's rare winter sunny days. The color is more green than blue -- a lovely teal -- with varying shades of green, blue and turquoise flecked throughout. While the yarn is amazing and the pattern is easy TV knitting, I now remember why I haven't made a scarf in ages. Row after row after endless row of the same thing repeated. Booooring. But I'm nearly finished and I know all the work will be worth it as this is sure to become a favorite winter accessory and get tons of wear (and, hopefully, compliments.)
Yarn: Malabrigo Sock in Solis
3. Mittens for the Mantle

I knew months before Christmas that I wanted to make this garland but ended up getting a start on it way too late. I adorable-little-mittened my butt off but about two weeks before Christmas when things really started getting busy I had to concede that we just wouldn't have a mitten garland to adorn the mantle this year. I actually only have 1 1/2 more mittens to make (and I have to sew the hanging loops closed on all of them). Then I have to figure out how I want to string them up (I'm thinking twine for a rustic look). There's no hurry to finish this project since, once finished, the garland won't be seeing the light of day until next December.
Yarn: various and sundry cheap acrylics
4. Splitsone Vest

This is project #1 of 2 that has been neglected for quite some time. It's my first sweater vest and I liked the way it was coming along... then other projects just kept coming up that took priority. I'm sorry, vest. We shall meet again soon.
Pattern: Splitstone Vest
My Ravelry project page
Yarn: Lion Brand Wool-Ease in Dark Rose Heather
5. Overly-Bright Library Cardigan
I actually made quite a bit of progress on my first sweater this summer. All that's left is the sleeves and the ribbed edging along the collar and front. But it's been tossed to the side for quite a while. Probably that's because I don't love the yarn color and I'm afraid I'll never wear it. I bought the yarn on eBay and from the poorly lit pictures assumed it was a raspberry pink. Not quite.
Pattern: Shapely Boyfriend
My Ravelry project page
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Merino Aran

Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Review: "Mad About The Boy" by Helen Fielding

"Mad About The Boy" by Helen Fielding
Bridget Jones #3
First published in 2013
384 pages
My rating 4.5 out of 5
(image source)

Friday January 17 2014
150lbs, alcohol units consumed 0 (so far), British words learned 5, times laughed out loud 26 (v.g), times laughed out loud about bodily fluids 7+, entire bags of grated cheese eaten 0

It's a rare pleasure when a book I thought would just be a fine, ok, nothing-amazing read turns out to be better than expected.

"Mad About The Boy" was hilarious. I can't remember the last time I laughed out loud so many times reading a book -- one of the early Stephanie Plum novels, maybe? Sure, some of the jokes involved things like vomit, diarrhea and farts, proving that I have the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy, but they still made me laugh. And that's a good thing, no matter how it's achieved.

Behind all the humor about sex, head lice, online dating and comfort-eating entire bags of grated cheese, the book does actually have some more serious themes. After several years of wedded bliss and two babies with Mark Darcy, Bridget suddenly and tragically becomes a widow and is plunged into single-motherhood. "Mad About The Boy" opens five years after Mark's death, and Bridget's friends are urging her to climb out of her black hole of grief, and to start taking care of herself and dating again. This involves an unnecessary trip to an obesity clinic, a Botox disaster and drunk posts on Twitter, but we also watch Bridget try to cope with her guilt about moving on with her life after Mark.

A younger co-worker coincidentally read "Mad About The Boy" at the same time as me, and she mentioned that she sometimes had a hard time relating to Bridget. I actually noted while reading the book that I never seem to meet up with Bridget Jones at the right time in my life. In the first two books, Bridget's in her 30s and constantly being reminded by her family and "smug-married" friends about her lack of boyfriend. I read those novels back in high school, and though I found them interesting and humorous I'd undoubtedly have more of a connection to Bridget now at age 28. And in "Mad About The Boy," Bridget not only has two (adorable) young children (4 and 6) but is 51 and coping with middle age. I did, however, find that I thoroughly enjoyed all the anecdotes about Bridget's daily parenting woes. Perhaps that's because so many of my friends have babies now -- and because Bridget is the sort of wonderful but somewhat hilariously bumbling mother I would probably be.

"Mad About The Boy" can stand on its own no problem, but I think it would be beneficial to check out the original "Bridget Jones's Diary" (book or movie) before reading if you haven't already. It would be helpful for readers to know Bridget's background story, particularly with Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver.

Favorite quotes (of many):
"Have got onto Twitter site but do not understand. Is just incomprehensible streams of gibberish half-conversations with @this and @that. How is anybody supposed to know what is going on?"
(Still setting up Twitter account) "Cannot figure out how to put up photo. Is just empty egg-shaped graphic. Is fine! Can be photo of self before was conceived."
"Call me old-fashioned, but I did read in Glamour that one's shorts should always be longer than one's vagina."
"We've been texting for weeks. Surely it's rather like in Jane Austen's Day when they did letter-writing for months and months and then just, like, immediately got married?"

"Bridget. Sleeping with a twenty-nine-year-old off Twitter on the second date is not 'rather like in Jane Austen's day.'"

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Book Review: "The Diviners" by Libba Bray

"The Diviners" by Libba Bray
First published in 2013
578 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
(image source)

I'm happy to report that for the first time in months I've come across a young adult book that I thoroughly enjoyed, with a page-turning plot, interesting characters and fairly well-done writing.

Set in New York City in the 1920s with 17-year-old Evie O'Neill at the helm, "The Diviners" is a light paranormal thriller with some humor and a bit of romance thrown in. Evie is a diviner, someone who has some form of extra-sensory perception, such as the ability to see the future or talk to the dead. Evie can see into a person's past and discover their darkest secrets by touching an item of his or hers.

After a debacle at a party in her Midwestern hometown in which Evie drank too much and displayed her "party trick," inadvertently revealing something nasty about a town golden boy, she's sent to live with her Uncle Will, proprietor of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult, in Manhattan. Evie, a flapper in the '20s, is thrilled to be sent to the nexus of it all and has high hopes of making a name for herself in the big city. Shortly after her arrival, her uncle is asked to consult on a grisly murder case, and Evie realizes she can use her gift to help identify the perpetrator -- who just so happens to be a serial killer come back from the dead to usher in the End of Days.

There are other characters and diviners in the tale too, and their stories all begin to intertwine at the end and set the stage for the next book in the series, like Mabel, Evie's conservative best friend; Theta, a beautiful performer in a famous revue; Memphis, an aspiring Harlem writer whose power to heal people with his touch vanished suddenly after his mother died.

I found "The Diviners" to be a sort of cross between the Fox TV show "Sleepy Hollow" and the movie "The Bone Collector." None of the ideas in the novel were particularly original -- special powers, the coming of the Antichrist, serial killers working from a book -- but nevertheless I enjoyed the way Bray put them together.

I did have a few complaints about the novel, though. After the excitement and thrill leading up to the climax, I found Evie's (inevitable) confrontation with the killer pretty underwhelming. And, while I really liked the atmosphere the 1920s setting lended the story, I thought Bray went a bit overboard with the (endless) '20s cliches: "She's the elephants eyebrows!" "You bet-ski!" "It must be the duck's quack to be famous!" etc., etc. ... etc.

Favorite quote: "I'm a librarian, not an oracle!"
Oh, how many times I wished I could say that to patrons at my last library job, where we all filled the role of reference librarian!

*I'm using "The Diviners" to fufill the Young Adult Fiction requirement in the Reading Outside the Box book challenge.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Furry Friday: Surviving Subzero Temperatures

As you undoubtedly heard or experienced yourself, it was ridiculously and agonizingly cold from the Midwest to the east coast this week. Monday was the worst for us; it was in the negative digits all day with a "feels like" temperature in the -30s! The biting, gusty wind was the worst part -- it cut right through every layer of clothing. We had to take Conan to the vet for his chemotherapy Monday at noon and there was hardly a soul out braving the slippery roads and frosty weather. We had lunch at the always-busy PF Chang's while Conan was getting his treatment and there were fewer than 10 other diners!

Even with the fireplace and a space heater running, our furnace struggled to attain 65 degrees and couldn't make it a degree more. We actually resorted to sipping some of the moonshine we bought on our Tennessee trip to warm up our insides! On Monday night I was bundled up in two pairs of socks, slippers, sweatpants, a thermal shirt and sweatshirt, a scarf and fingerless mittens -- in the house! Our upstairs is actually colder than the downstairs, and when we finally make the chilly trek to bed I mounded four extra blankets on top of us, animals included. Monday was the coldest day I've ever experienced -- and I hope it stays that way!

Yup, that says it felt like -32 degrees at 4 in the afternoon.

This is how Conan spent the day -- bundled up under several blankets with just his face poking out. Lily curled up by the fireplace.

I thought I'd include these pictures too. They're from the weekend, before our arctic blast, but they're just so cute. For Christmas I made my grandma a Colts no-sew fleece blanket. Conan insisted on "helping" -- i.e. settling down right in my way on top of the blanket and then pretending to be a sack of potatoes when I asked him to move. So I decided to make him his own new blankie (new because he already has a few dog-themed blankets, but they're not handmade by Mommy) and both Conan and Lily just love it.
Rarely will Lily snuggle this close to Conan, but I guess the appeal of a cozy new blanket is warrants some sacrifice!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

2014: A Great Year For Book-Based Movies

My mom recently shared with me this Buzzfeed list of 16 book-based movies coming out this year and it turns out I've read almost half of them and another is on my to-read list. There were even a few great books on the list that I didn't even know were being made into movies, so I'm quite excited! 2014 promises to be a good year at the theater!
In order of my excitement level, here are the books I've read that made the list:
1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (December 25)
* My Book Review
This amazing true WWII story of an Olympian turned airman turned plane crash survivor turned POW is one of the best books I've ever read. Angelina Jolie is directing the film and I have faith that she'll take it in the right direction.

2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (October 3)
* My Book Review
Gone Girl made my list of top books I read in 2012 and I'm excited to see the movie, especially since it stars Ben Affleck, one of my favorite actors. Gone Girl was gripping, thrilling and oh-so-deliciously twisted. The movie should be a good one. Another book by Gillian Flynn, Dark Places, is also coming out in movie form this year.
3. Divergent by Veronica Roth (March 21)
* My Book Review
I definitely enjoyed the Divergent trilogy, though I thought the writing and plot development could have been a bit stronger in places. The movie has a great cast and I fully expect it to be amazing. I will definitely be dragging Jarrod to see it at the theater!
4. The Maze Runner by James Dashner (September 19)
* My Book Review
This is another YA dystopian trilogy, not as good as Divergent and nowhere near as good as The Hunger Games, but the books kept me turning pages. I'm not sure if this movie is theater-worthy, but I'll definitely check it out when it's released on DVD. I suspect I may actually enjoy the movie better than the book (gasp) -- sometimes having a visual depiction of environmental and plot elements that are the author's own invention help the story come together better.
5. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (June 6)
My Book Review
Lots and lots of people of all ages were blown away by this bestselling YA love story of two teenagers both battling cancer. For some reason it didn't have such a major impact on me, but I still want to see the movie. I do love Shailene Woodley! And maybe, as with The Maze Runner, the film will have more of an emotional effect on me. I'll make sure to have tissues handy just in case.
6. The Giver by Lois Lowry (August 15)
I read The Giver back in elementary school, and all I really remember about it is the killing of babies and the overuse of the word "tunic" -- which, at the time, I had no idea meant a long shirt. Perhaps it's time for a re-read of this quick little book. Did you know The Giver is actually the first in a four-book series? A friend of mine read the books recently and gave them a positive recommendation.
On My To-Read List:

1. Wild by Cheryl Strayed (sometime this year)
This memoir of hiking and finding oneself has been on my TBR list for-ev-er! Maybe it's finally time to move it to the top of the stack.

Books I'd Never Heard Of Before But Sound Intriguing:
1. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin (February 14)
Just last week I watched a preview for this movie and added it to my Netflix "save" queue so I wouldn't forget about it, never realizing it was based on a book! The movie looks great, and it has Syblil from Downton Abbey, but as with most films the book is probably even better.
2. The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (August 8)
It involves food and France, and the movie stars Helen Mirren!
And all the rest of the films (particularly Monuments Men and A Long Way Down) sound like they will be great movies that I'll want to see,!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Reading Outside The Box" 2014 Reading Challenge

I'm excited to announce that I'm participating in my first ever reading challenge: the Reading Outside The Box Challenge hosted by The Cheap Reader. I'd really never heard of (or, maybe more accurately, noticed) reading challenges until recently, when everyone started signing up for 2014, and it turns out there's quite a variety hosted by dozens of different book blogs. I chose this challenge because some of the categories are outside my comfort zone (an audiobook, a translated book) and others just sound fun, like re-reading a book you loved as a child but haven't picked up since.

Here's the game board, which I'll be updating throughout the year, with some explanations below:

•Read a Chunkster: Read a book with 600+ pages.
•Reading by Ear: Listen to an audiobook .
•Accidentally Watched the Movie First: You didn’t realize the movie was based on a book until after you watched it. Ideally you haven’t read the book yet.
•Relive the Magic: Reread a book you really enjoyed as a kid but haven’t touched it since then.
•Gathering Dust: You’ve had this book for years and you still haven’t read it.
•Loved By Others: Other people really love this book but for whatever reason you haven’t read it yet.
•Lost in Translation: This book was originally written in another language.
•Second Chance: You read this book a while back and didn’t enjoy it, didn’t finish it, or were on the fence about it. Time to give it another try!

Knitting FO: Ohio State Earwarmer Headband

My best friend Katie came for a visit in December and she casually mentioned that she'd like a knit Ohio State-themed earband. Since I was supposed to knit her a hat for Christmas and didn't get around to it, I immediately jumped on the earband project.

It was a super simple and it looks adorable on Katie. I knit the headband in soft, creamy Malabrigo Worsted in polar morn, using The Whitney Headband pattern on Ravelry.
The pattern suggested adorning the headband with a crocheted flower, but since I can't crochet (yet) I used a knit flower from a different pattern that another Raveler had used for the headband. Oh boy, did that simple-looking little flower ever turn into a pain! It uses extremely quick increases to achieve the ruffles and I ended up juggling a ridiculous amount of DPNs in two different sizes to divide all the stitches. Knitting those increasingly tight stitches made my fingers hurt like nobody's business but there was no way I was going to let that damn little flower beat me! If I ever make this project again, I won't be using the same flower -- learning to crochet a flower probably would have taken less effort than this one did!

Katie and I took a trip to Joann and found just the right button to complete the flower. I really like how this speedy little project turned out! If you ever need a last-minute handknit gift, keep this earband in mind.

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Top 10 Goals for 2014

It's Tuesday, which means it's time for the weekly Top Ten Tuesday link-up at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's prompt is the top 10 goals or resolutions you have for the coming year, book-related or otherwise.


1. Read at least one of my own books every month.
I have several bookshelves and they're all stuffed with great books -- that I never seem to read! I've picked up lots of bargain books over the past several years (thrift stores, Borders' going-out-of-business sale) but they are always stuck in line behind library books. I have this silly rationale of giving library books first priority because I only have them for a short time, whereas I'll have access to my own books forever. But since I work at a library, that means I'm always bringing home way more books that I could ever read, and I never, ever, ever read the dozens (or more?) books gathering dust on my shelves. So my New Year's resolution this year is to read at least one book that I already own every month.
2. Write more personal blog posts.
I write lots of posts about books and knitting and food and sometimes clothes, but I feel like I hardly ever talk about myself. I guess I feel like nobody really cares about the things, big and small, going on in my day-to-day life, but I find that I enjoy reading those types of posts on other people's blogs. It makes them seem relatable and human and gives insight into who they really are. Once upon a time I had a feature on my blog called Monday Musings, in which I intended to just write about whatever random thoughts I was having at the time, and I'd like to bring that back with a focus on giving readers a bigger glimpse of my personality.
3. Stop letting reviews have such influence on my reading decisions.
Book blogs and Goodreads and the monthly BookPage a the library are all great resources and I have no plans to stop using them. But I've found that I've started letting other people's opinions guide me in my reading selections far more than ever before, and I don't think that's a good thing. I read several books this year that I never would have picked up had I not seen glowing reviews on other book blogs (i.e. "Anna and the French Kiss," "Just One Day") only to wish I had never wasted my time on them. And, lately, I've been checking Goodreads ratings whenever I find a book that looks promising in an effort to avoid reading so many disappointing books (2013 was not a great reading year for me) but I've probably missed out on books I may have loved just because they weren't to the liking of the general Goodreads populace.
4. Talk more about knitting on the blog.
I've been knitting for five years now (hard to believe five years ago we lived in San Angelo, Texas, and Jarrod was going through Air Force intel school!) and I'm always knitting at least one thing. I often post pictures of my FOs (finished objects, for you non-knitters), but I'd really like to make knitting a bigger part of the blog. Maybe I'll try posting a knitting update once every week or two, with pictures and details about whatever projects I've got going.
5. Explore new genres.
I was pretty nonplussed with a lot of the books I read this year, and it's become apparent that I've grown out of some of the authors and genres that used to be old standbys. I generally don't like young adult books (if I ever liked them to begin with), chick lit, cozy mysteries or James Patterson-style murder thrillers anymore. This year I want to try some new types of fiction, and I'm going to start by delving into the realm of fantasy and sci-fi. I plan to read Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Jim Butcher and Connie Willis. I'm also going try more memoirs and non-fiction. Maybe, just maybe, those are more my style these days.
1. Become a better conversationalist.
Well, as per goal #2, let's go ahead and get a little personal. Growing up I was outgoing and gregarious and had no trouble going up to a random kid and saying, "Hi, I'm Lindsay. Want to be friends?" But as an adult, I'm kind of socially awkward. I have some (occasionally lots of) social anxiety. I'm definitely an introvert and I dread large groups and situations where I have to meet lots of new people (and by lots I mean more than 3 or 4). Part of the problem is that I'm extremely inept at making "small talk" and asking the right getting-to-know-you questions. I dread that inevitable awkward moment in a conversation with someone new (or even my co-workers) when we've exhausted the topic at hand and we're both grasping at straws, trying to figure out how to keep the conversation going -- and I usually fill that dreaded pause by babbling about myself. I'd like to become better at listening instead of talking, of asking the right questions to discover more about the people around me, and to actually remember the information I do learn from every conversation (i.e. spouse's name, favorite restaurant, hometown).
2. Make fewer impulse bargain buys and go for quality over quantity.
This applies particularly to clothes. I can't even tell you how many times I've returned a shirt I grabbed on impulse walking through Target or Kohl's this year. Or how many things I've bought and never wear that fit almost right but not quite, or weren't as soft or well-made as they could be, or weren't the exact thing I was looking for. I'm beginning to see that it's better to have a few lovely, perfect-fitting, good-quality garments than a whole overstuffed closet of mediocre shirts you only bought because they were on sale for $6.
3. Find something that stimulates my mind.
I often lament the fact that I don't have a career, and that I'm nearing 30 and have no idea what I want to "be when I grow up." But then I remember that I work part-time for a reason -- so I can spend time with Jarrod and Conan (our beloved boxer dog) and so we have the freedom to travel and explore all the regions the Air Force sends us. That said, my last few jobs haven't been particularly challenging or mentally stimulating and I frequently complain to Jarrod that I feel like my brain is turning to mush from lack of use. I'm hoping 2014 will be the year where I finally find something to keep my mind working and active and stimulated. Maybe it will be taking master's classes, or writing a novel, or even a different job. Let's just hope the right inspiration comes along soon, or at this time next year I might be writing to you with bits of my rotting brain dribbling out my ear.
4. Be more confident, especially at work.
This goes hand-in-hand with my goal to be a better conversationalist. I don't know where my self-confidence has gone, but it has not been spotted in quite a while. And the place where this hits me the most is at work. I have to remember that when I'm sitting behind that library desk I am the person of authority. I should not let lying, defensive teenagers walk all over me or rude patrons talk to me like I'm an idiot (although I may be well on my way, as you read above). I'm still fairly new to this library, but I know that I ask for help or verification that I'm doing things right far too often. I need to just do it -- most of the time I will be right, and if I make a mistake I'll learn from it.
5. Explore Ohio and the surrounding states.
Most of the time, I love the military lifestyle. It can be tough to move so often, but the Air Force has given us a wonderful opportunity to see the country and the world, and to explore parts of the United States that we would never have seen on our own. After Hawaii, Ohio doesn't seem like the most scenic or interesting place, but it really does have a lot to offer and we're in a great location for travel. It's only five hours to Chicago, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail isn't far to the south, and Ohio boasts Cuyahoga National Park, tons of German restaurants and every fair or festival you could dream up. We can go to Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Tennessee. We did see some sights this past year, but we were also busy getting settled into our house and our jobs. At the end of 2014 I'd like to look back and say we really got to know Ohio and took advantage of our second year here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Turning The Page On December (and 2013)

Happy New Year! It's hard to believe 2013 has come to an end... the last few months have just flown by! It was a year of changes for us, as we said aloha to Hawaii and arrived in Ohio last February. We bought a house, enjoyed some visitors, spent two months apart while Jarrod was in Alabama for an Air Force school, celebrated our 5-year anniversary, took an amazing week-long trip to the Smoky Mountains, sadly had to start back up with chemotherapy for Conan's canine lymphoma. I started working at the public library near our house. Jarrod bought a 1967 Camaro.

I knitted a lot, I read some, I started a furniture re-finishing project months ago that I should probably finish, I pulled weeds this summer and cursed the never-ending landscaping that came with our house, I marveled at the stunning fall colors Ohio boasts, I bundled up and realized that it was nuts to complain about missing seasons when we were enjoying 80-degree winters in Hawaii. I got my first cold in over 2 1/2 years. All in all, 2013 was a pretty good year, and December was a great month. Here's my month in review:

Books Read:
Just One Day by Gayle Forman -- 3 stars, my review
The Dogs of Christmas by W. Bruce Cameron -- 4.5 stars, my review
Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews -- 3.5 stars, my mini review

Book I'm Most Excited to Read in January:
 I'm planning to start re-reading the Harry Potter books in January and I'm so excited to return to the magical world of Hogwarts, especially the whimsical first few books in the series. It'll be so nice to snuggle up by the fire with a cup of tea and a HP novel!
Knitting Projects Completed:
I've been meaning to write up a blog post about this headband I knitted for my best friend Katie when she was visiting a few weeks ago. She asked for an Ohio State-colored earwamer and this is what I came up with. Here's my Ravelry project page.
On The Knitting Agenda for January:
I have several projects in the works that I'd like to finish up or make significant progress on: a vest, a cardigan, a scarf, the mitten garland I had hoped to have done before Christmas. I also have some baby knits to whip up, and I just bought the pattern for a cool new mystery shawl knit-along by pattern designer Ysolda Teague. It's kind of choose-your-own adventure style, which should be fun! I'm also considering the Downton Abbey mystery knit-along, which is meant to be knit during the show and the pattern corresponds to events in each episode.
New Recipe Tried and Liked:
Katie lives in Dallas right now and loves to get fried Moonpies at the Texas State Fair. She suggested we try our hand at making them when she was here to visit. I have no idea what recipe we used, but we made up a thick pancake batter with Bisquick, dipped banana Moonpies in the mixture, fried them up in a deep fryer, then covered them with chocolate syrup and powdered sugar. They were sweet and oh-so-rich but yummm!
Favorite December Memory:
We saw Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Zac Brown Band in concert, my best friend came for a visit, I had lots of peppermint mochas from Starbucks and we spent Christmas with relatives in Indiana. But I think my favorite memory from December was cutting down our own Christmas tree.

In Hawaii we'd go to a Christmas tree farm where a guy would trudge along with us until we found the perfect specimen, cut it down and haul it to our car. At Young's Dairy Choose-and-Cut Christmas Trees, we were handed a saw and a sled and sent on our merry way. It made for a wonderfully fun and festive afternoon!

Most Looking Forward to in January:
Downton Abbey!
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