Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Millie wore a hole through the knee of her favorite pair of pants and wasn't quite ready to let them go...so we patched them.  A bit out of the ordinary, but she loves it:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Knitting Season

For the past few years it seems that the only season I really get any knitting done is this late winter, post-Christmas season.  There's no longer that pressure to be getting projects done for Christmas gifts, but it's still cold and wintry and thus knitted things still seem like a really good idea.  The appeal usually starts to taper off as the weather heats up, so I'm trying to take advantage of these ideal knitting conditions while I can.  This year seems to be the year of wrist warmers.  I guess I've had cold hands?  These help:

My Saphira's Scales Mitts, so named for Saphira, the blue dragon in Paolini's Inheritance Cycle:

The actual pattern is the Fallberry Mitts by Anne Hanson.

Then I decided I wanted a really, exceptionally soft pair and knitted these Gradient Mitts from some lovely bulky merino:

This pattern is by Lee Meredith.  My elder daughter wants a pair as well, although she chose some lime green and magenta yarn for hers.  She had been going to go with green and yellow in honor of Tolkien's Goldberry, whom we'd recently read about in The Fellowship of the Ring (her first time!), but she decided she really liked a higher contrast between the colors in the gradient.  So...green and magenta.  Those will be next:

Daughter the younger already received these Wee Toshettes in the same bulky merino I used for my own Gradient Mitts.  So cute.  Nothing like cozy, chunky knits over dimpled little hands:

Essie also inspired a detour from the realm of wrist warmers recently when she picked out her first read-alone chapter book from the bookstore.  She chose The Adventures of Sophie Mouse: A New Friend.  Shortly thereafter it occurred to her that Sophie Mouse was so incredibly cute she really ought to be incarnated in doll form.  She asked me to knit her one.  Right away!  Tonight!  It was such a desperate plea that I agreed, if not to knit a doll that very evening, at least to look around online for a suitable pattern from which to knit one.  A week later, she had this wee little mouse to love along with her new favorite book:

I used Susan Claudino's Bonnie Wee Mouse pattern, although I did modify it a bit to make our Sophie Wee Mouse more like the illustration from the book.

Somewhere along the line I also knitted up an ear warmer for my mother-in-law, and I have a couple other gift knits in the works that I dare not mention.  Suffice to say, Knitting Season 2015 is currently in full swing.

(Millie is getting in on the action too, having joined a knitting club at school and recently finished her very first project - a knitted muffler/neck warmer for Essie for her 5th birthday.  All she needs to do now is sew on the button she picked out for it.  Since I started my first knitting project somewhere around 12 years of age and didn't actually finish a knitting project until well into my 20s, I think she's doing great!)

Basically, around here...lots of knitting these days.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


A few years ago, when Essie was just old enough to get around the house on her own four limbs and just young enough to think she could put anything into her mouth, willy nilly, poisonous or not, I got rid of my best house plant.  It was a clearance "tropical plant" I'd purchased on a whim at the grocery store years before.  I've read since that buying clearance plants is a really bad idea, since they're most likely about to keel over and die.  But this one didn't.  In fact, it was one of the few plants I'd ever owned that didn't keel over and die.  And it was nice and big and leafy, like a little jungle right in our house.  But when Essie started to eat it every chance she got, I decided it needed to be put out of her reach.  But it was too big to put up on a table, and the only place on the floor it was really going to get enough light to thrive was also our living area, where Essie spent most of her waking hours.  Given the choice between the plant and the baby, I chose the baby.

Last year we discovered that Essie was having an allergic reaction to a potted plant at her violin teacher's house.  It was an enormous, flowering peace lily.  Hmm, I wondered, could my own, albeit smaller and less successful, peace lily at home be bothering Essie too?  I decided to let it go.  That left me with a single straggly pothos in the way of house plants.  It's one that will never die no matter how I mistreat it and it doesn't seem to be offending the allergy-sufferers in the house.  But I wanted more.  Nothing flowery.  Nothing finicky (I'm not good at plants, as a general rule.)  Something green, though.

We'd had a fairy garden full of succulents out on our front porch all summer and it grew and grew and grew, in spite of my myriad faults as a gardener.  And I've always thought succulents were so pretty and slightly alien-esque, which endears them to me all the more.  Finally, my mom had an amazing, gorgeous jade plant and she offered to give me some cuttings, so it was settled: my mission to increase the greenery factor of my household was going to involve succulents.  Jade.  And in a fun, slightly intimidating twist, I was going to propagate the jade myself.  So, when I visited my parents for Thanksgiving, I took cuttings.  Here is Mother Jade and her hopeful offspring:

The plan was for that cut end to dry up and scar over and then for little roots to shoot forth in search of soil and a new home.  I set my cuttings in a dish out of the way where they wouldn't be bothered and I waited.  The cut end dried up.  I waited more.  It scarred over.  I waited some more.  And, behold!  Little roots did indeed shoot forth in their desire to thrive and grow and become part of a great, beautiful, living thing.  Except.  They did it wrong.

All of my jade babies sent out their new roots somewhere in the upper half of the cutting.  Down at the base of the stem, the end I planned to plant?  Nothing.  Valiant effort and all, guys, but that's not where I wanted you.  (Note: I didn't actually say that to the plant.  I don't talk to my plants...maybe that's why I have such a hard time with them: lack of communication is notoriously bad for relationships.)  Anyway, a little research seemed to indicate this was not necessarily the end of the road.  I could still work with this.  With some careful guidance and maybe some counseling, I could still raise a functioning adult jade.  Maybe even a happy one.  I don't know yet if I will succeed, but I'm not giving up.  Grow, little jade babies!  Thrive!  Be happy and fulfilled!

(Okay.  That whole metaphor got way out of hand.  And all because I had to go and refer to my mom's jade plant as Mother Jade.  I'll stop now.)

I did plant those cuttings today, though.  Some rooting hormone at the base of the stems and some bracing in their little pots to keep them stable while they put forth roots where it counts (in the soil this time, I hope)...and now all I can do is wait and see.      

(Except!  This whole jade thing occurred in tandem with some other thoughts I've been mulling over for a while now and it occurs to me that my propagation attempt gone awry makes a very nice metaphor for those other thoughts.  So I'll just begin again.)

My older daughter, Millie, recently told me she wants to write novels and is frustrated by the fact that everything she tries to write comes out like a children's story instead.  Too short.  Too simple.  Not quite the amazing, complex, and detailed epic she has in her head.  I can relate to this frustration, I told her.  Creative writing is tricky because it's not something you master by forcing into a box you've pre-selected.  Millie is a rule follower.  Revels in knowing exactly what the goal is and the precise steps with which to achieve it.  She gets that from me.  

This is a sad confession: some of the most satisfying writing I've done was for the job I worked before Millie was born.  Novels?  Scholarly treatises?  Greeting cards, at least?!  Nope.  I wrote a procedure manual.  And you know what?  Even though about zero people were excited to read it (but they had to anyway) and even though it's probably long obsolete (that job was ten years ago and the systems they were using then weren't exactly state-of-the-art, so I'm sure they've upgraded to new technologies, new procedures), I enjoyed writing it.  It was the sort of writing you can absolutely wrangle into a very small, very particularly shaped box.  Rules!  There are so many great rules you can impose on the structure of a procedure manual that is, itself, a list of rules.  And then there's that special satisfaction in phrasing something in such an exact way that it can't possibly be misunderstood or misapplied.  And in paring it down to be as concise and brief and straightforward as possible.  (I know what you're thinking.  This person has never written anything concise in her life.  Case in point: this post.  Okay.  Well, I was concise then.  Brevity was my superpower.  You'll just have to take my word for it.)

In general, though, most of the other sort of writing I've done has been more like my attempt to propagate jade.  Picture this: inspired by life or by art or by wild, improbable daydreams, you conceive an idea.  That's your cutting.  You make a note of it, you let it percolate, maybe you even outline a little bit.  That's your waiting period.  You're not full-on writing yet, but you're getting there.  Maybe this period lasts a good long while or maybe it's just until you get home and can sit down at the keyboard to get started.  In jade propagation, the waiting period between cutting and planting is important because your plant is likely to rot if you just straightaway stick the green, fresh end down into the soil.  It needs to cure a bit.  For writing, this waiting period simply means that not every idea you have will actually make it to the writing stage.  If you wrote a novel, an academic treatise, or a greeting card for every idea that popped into your head, your brain would rot.  Or your readers' brains would rot.  (This is a stretch, I know, but it's my metaphor and I'm sticking with it, okay?)  At some point, though, you're ready to move beyond an idea and actually do something with it.  The idea is demanding to be dealt with, looking for a greater context in which to thrive and grow.  To become part of a great, beautiful, living thing!  So exciting!  But then you go to plant it and discover the roots are all sticking out in the wrong places.  It's reaching out for a place to take root, sure, but not how you'd planned it to.  Not that character.  Not that tone.  Not that pace.  Whatever.  It's so easy at this point to decide it's just not working.  Darn.

But you can still give it a chance, I told Millie (and I tell myself).  You just have to keep working on it.  Rules are excellent.  A detailed plan is a comfort to many, myself included.  But if the creative flow starts to deviate from the plotted course, starts to demand attention in a direction that you didn't intend...well.  Go ahead and plant it, care for it, see how it grows.  It may not be the jade plant you pictured in your head at the outset, but it can still be a jade plant.  Maybe a smaller one.  Maybe a crooked one.  But...maybe a magnificent one!  You never know.  Maybe that plant will itself be a Mother Jade some day.  Maybe your (her, my) story will itself be inspiration for another artist some day.

ETA: This has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while because I intended to go back and edit it.  It wasn't supposed to be a long post about plants that turned into a ramble about creative writing.  But...since it is essentially about a thing going in a different direction than what was planned, I suppose it makes perfect sense for the post to have done so as well.  I'm just going to leave it as-is this time, relatively unedited, in the spirit of the advice I tried to give my daughter: Keep working at it and let it be what it ends up being.  New life that takes root in an unexpected place is still new life, still worth the effort.  And she has been writing.  Like crazy.  It makes me so happy.

As for my baby jades?  Essie, the bane of my houseplant population (apparently), knocked over my little pots and I had to replant them.  I don't know if that will have been their doom or if will turn out to not really matter.  Either way, I'm not turning it into a metaphor for anything.  Not this time.  You're welcome.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Books I Read Last Year (2014)

I made sort of a really loose "resolution" to read a book for every week of the year in 2014.  This was less for caring about reading 52 books exactly than for just making time for reading.  It's my favorite.  And it's the thing I tend to tell myself to do last, after everything else is taken care of.  Partly, I want to be able to relax into my reading, no distractions.  And partly, I feel that because I actually enjoy it, it's inherently irresponsible to choose the book over the dishes.  Or the laundry.  Or whatever.  And so I let it slide and I'm responsible and I do my chores.  But when is everything else taken care of?  Ever?  It ain't.

So, for the last couple of years, I've made reading into a resolution.  And I don't do resolutions, generally, but it at least gives me a reason to keep track so I can look back at the end of the year and see that, yes, I did actually read some books.  Not as many as I have on my to-read list, not even close, but some!  I think I made it to 52 this year.  I had a computer crash somewhere in the middle that made the list I was keeping hard to get to, and my record keeping was somewhat less reliable thereafter.  It's possible I left off a few titles.  Therefore, I've taken the liberty of just adding the two most recent chapter books I read out loud to Essie.  I don't usually include the books I read to the girls, but...I read them.  So, I'm saying it counts (and I'm only counting two of them).  Some of these had been on my to-read list for a while, some are re-reads, some of the them were recommended to me by friends or family, and some were pre-reads to see if they might be something Millie would like.  Those two at the end were read-alouds for Essie.

As For Me & My House by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
Dust by Hugh Howey
The Sherlockian by Graham Moore
Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
The Yard by Alex Grecian
A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch
Heat Wave by Richard Castle
Codex by Lev Grossman
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
The Wind’s Twelve Quarters by Ursula LeGuin
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Black Country by Alex Grecian
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Reckless by Cornelia Funke
Fearless by Cornelia Funke
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Winter Pony by Iain Lawrence
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The September Society by Charles Finch
The Fleet Street Murders by Charles Finch
Dinotopia by James Gurney
A Stranger in Mayfair by Charles Finch
A Burial At Sea by Charles Finch
A Death in the Small Hours by Charles Finch
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman
The Devil's Workshop by Alex Grecian
The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead
Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg by Gail Carson Levine
Fairy Haven and the Quest for the Wand by Gail Carson Levine