Monday, June 18, 2018

Weekending

We had a lovely, quiet weekend here - with actual RAIN!  We definitely could use a ton more, but every drop helps at this point and hopefully kept the fire up in the Caldara quieter than it would have been with higher temps and lower humidity.

Lizzie and I took several long, 4-5 mile walks this weekend and it was lovely to be up early and enjoying the cooler temperatures and cloudy skies.  We mostly puttered around the house, although I did meet a friend for coffee Sunday morning to celebrate her birthday, which was really nice.

This weekend I put in a fair amount of time working on a WIP that's one of my older cross-stitch works in progress: The Winter Garden.

Here's a photo of what it'll look like when it's finished (not my image - from Stitching Bits and Bobs):


On Saturday, I finished up the central house and most of the cedar tree to the right of it:


Sunday, I powered through the snowflakes in the cedar tree (which I think are getting washed out, but they are there), and then finished the two hellebore plants.


That'll leave me with the pine tree and the holly plant, and the speciality-stitch snowflakes up at the top border on this right-hand side, so I'm in the home stretch!  Still planning to try to get this finished before the end of the month! 


Friday, June 15, 2018

Reading Challenge Update - June 2018

A quick reminder, especially if you are new to the blog here, is that my entire year of Around the World in 52 Books Challenge list has it's own page here.  I have been keeping this up-to-date even if other things aren't as much so!

I've finished 2 books to report on this week.  First up is The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip.


Book Summary: Young Sybel, the heiress of powerful wizards, needs the company of no one outside her gates. In her exquisite stone mansion, she is attended by exotic, magical beasts: Riddle-master Cyrin the boar; the treasure-starved dragon Gyld; Gules the Lyon, tawny master of the Southern Deserts; Ter, the fiercely vengeful falcon; Moriah, feline Lady of the Night. Sybel only lacks the mysterious Liralen, which continues to elude her most powerful enchantments.

But when a soldier bearing an infant arrives, Sybel discovers that the world of man and magic is full of both love and deceit—and the possibility of more power than she can possibly imagine.

My Review:  I initially felt that this book was a little stilted after reading the first couple of chapters.  I was never so happy to be wrong before! I LOVED this one.  It's magical and mystical, has a wonderful heroine who has all sorts of layers, as well as a romance, lost and found, in the loveliest troubadour-worthy tradition.  And the beasts!  Such a wonderful collection of personalities and traits.  I fell in love with Ter (her falcon), who is everything you might want in a protector.  While there is a human love story (which is not an easy path for either of the lovers), this is also a love story of Sybel and her animals.  If you haven't checked this one out, go grab is and read it.  All the best bits of fantasy and epic quests in one book.  Another highly recommended read from this year. 

Next up is Amy Tan's Where the Past Begins.


Book Summary: n Where the Past Begins, bestselling author of The Joy Luck Cluband The Valley of Amazement Amy Tan is at her most intimate in revealing the truths and inspirations that underlie her extraordinary fiction. By delving into vivid memories of her traumatic childhood, confessions of self-doubt in her journals, and heartbreaking letters to and from her mother, she gives evidence to all that made it both unlikely and inevitable that she would become a writer. Through spontaneous storytelling, she shows how a fluid fictional state of mind unleashed near-forgotten memories that became the emotional nucleus of her novels. 

Tan explores shocking truths uncovered by family memorabilia—the real reason behind an IQ test she took at age six, why her parents lied about their education, mysteries surrounding her maternal grandmother—and, for the first time publicly, writes about her complex relationship with her father, who died when she was fifteen. Supplied with candor and characteristic humor, Where the Past Begins takes readers into the idiosyncratic workings of her writer’s mind, a journey that explores memory, imagination, and truth, with fiction serving as both her divining rod and link to meaning.

My Review:  I have read a couple of Amy Tan's fiction works and enjoyed them - maybe not loved them, but enjoyed them.  This nonfiction book, I'm going to be honest, was a bit of a slog for me.  It's subtitled "A Writer's Memoir", but it's more of an amalgamation of bits and pieces from journals and emails and reminiscences about her mother (whose very strong and fairly unpredictable personality and behavior were the model for several characters in her fiction books).  Some parts I found interesting; her thoughts on how she tackles the job of writing and things that affect her (like music and how she uses it as a creative vehicle) I found interesting.  The first chapter in the Linguistics section near the end of the book was just downright painful to get through.  (I skimmed most of it.)

A very mixed bag of information here.  Recommended, I suppose, if you are an ardent fan of her work, but I think there are other better books on the market about the creative process of being a writer and how they pull fiction from reality and incorporate it into their writing.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

WIP Wednesday - 06/13/2018

Lots of WIPs (works in progress) going on right now.  I'm busily working on my Santa Fe Collection samples.  I got the final sweater, a cardigan, up to the point I can start on the sleeves as of last night.  This one will feature some pretty colorwork patterning at the yoke and on the sleeves, but is otherwise a fairly easy knit with lots of soothing stockinette.  It's been very fun to revisit some of the Southwest themes that didn't make my book a few years' back.

I've also been busy doing some swatching for the "up next" project ideas I've had banging around in my head for a bit.  I've got 2 different sets of items I want to work on next - one will be a shawl collection based on locales from the book An Enchantment of Ravens which I read about a month ago and absolutely LOVED.  I won't have these on a specific roll-out schedule, but I do want to get going on the one related to Summerland.  I've created a 5-skein palette for this one on a brand-new yarn base (merino/cashmere/silk fingering weight).


This design will have lace and beads and LOTS of gorgeous color to it.  I wanted a color group that reminded me of summer roses, so I went with pinks and roses and just a hint of a grape-plum color for a bit of contrast.  I ordered a whole pile of beads to play around with, so I can see which ones work best with the yarn colors.  I plan to work on charting and an initial draft for this one on Friday.

I've also been mulling over some ideas for a menswear group (with unisex sizing), and I've decided on yarn and color palettes for the first two.  Sweater #1 will feature some fall colors in a colorwork patterned pullover.  Yarn will be the classic Finullgarn from The Yarn Guys.  I swatched a half dozen or so options this past weekend using this color palette.


But finally decided on a color combo I think will be perfect for fall but not too bright to be guy friendly. 

I am not quite as far along on the other sweater, which will have cabled textures on it, but that will be in a heathery gray in a DK-weight.  I can visualize what motifs I want to use and how to put them together, but I'll wrestle with that swatch once the yarn arrives later this week. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Weekending - Mid-June 2018

I puttered around the house this weekend, finally getting some yard things taken care of I had been wanting to get done.  I watered our big trees in the front yard (although I've been keeping up with that each weekend during our current drought, as I really do not want to lose our two big ponderosas), put mulch down around the stairs to the back deck, replaced a few numbers on our mailbox post that had fallen off and did a bit of weeding.  I think the plan for the terraced section by the back deck stairs will be to put in a large raised bed with some perennials (herbs maybe?), and then plant daylilies around the base of that to have a 2-height feature back there.  I'd love to have a little fountain as well but I suspect we'd have the mule deer standing on the back deck trying to drink out of it if we did.

Otherwise, I hung out with this pretty girl - went for a couple of runs together, and then holed up in the nice cool downstairs of the house.


I did a bunch of knitting, none of which I can show you since it's all deadline/design knitting, but I did put a WIP stitching project back onto the frame to work on.  This is one of my older WIPs - The Winter Garden, design by The Drawn Thread.  I was just shy of the halfway mark when I quit working on it - and I don't think I've put any stitches into it in about a year.  Here's my starting point on Friday night. (Please ignore the wrinkles.  I had it just loosely put on the scroll rods at this point.)


And my progress on the house at the end of the weekend.


I finished up the front door, added some more windows and the ivy, started the roofline with snow and the smoke from the chimney, as well as the topiaries flanking the front door and the cardinal on the roof.  I'm out of both the Chalk (the white) and Blue Spruce (dark green for the roof and windows), so I ordered another skein of each of those yesterday, but I'll move on to finishing up the Heath plants under the empty windows and keep moving to the right while I wait for those to arrive.  I have 4 plant/trees to complete on the right to finish this one up: Heath, Cedar, Pine and Holly, and my plan is to just keep working on this one until it's done!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Habits

Habit: A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.  Synonyms: Custom, practice, routine, wont, pattern, way, tradition.

I am out of the habit of posting on my blog (obviously).  While I have been doing my monthly check-in WIPocalypse posts, I've not been very good about updating anything else.  I've been taking a really recharging, creative and inspiring online "camp" class, and one of the things that's stressed in it is not to feel like we're behind.  The whole point is to enjoy it and find inspiring moments tucked into our days, so despite the fact that the control-freak aspect of my personality is finding it hard not to feel behind and then having the need to feel like I have to catch everything up, I'm just going to start here, in the middle of things, and try to just re-develop my blogging habit.

One of the things we've done while at "camp", is build a journal of inspirations - images, quotes, lists, notes to self, about things we are interested in.  I fell down the (very deep, very dark) hole of bullet journaling and I've been immersing myself in all things BuJo - Instagram, YouTube videos, blog posts, etc.  I've also been playing around with some different types of page set-ups and I think I finally have something that's working for me that will function as both a daily/weekly/monthly planner AND an inspiration/note-taking/collections repository.  One of the things I'm including in my journal pages is a habit tracker (you see now how this all ties in).

The hope is to remind myself on a daily basis that blogging is a to-do task multiple days of the week, and then actually... you know... DO.IT.  I've got tons of things I'm working on right now in the crafty world, as well as reading, so it's not like I don't have topics to write about and things to say.  Mostly it's getting back into the habit of actually posting!

I've also been reading and working through The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. If you haven't read this book, it's just had it's 25th anniversary of publication and was a really groundbreaking book exploring ideas about creativity and artists (not just fine artists - writers, crafters, etc), and how those things work together in successful artist's lives.  I'm in week 3 of the book (each chapter is a week's worth of exercises) and writing a few pages each morning of random thoughts and tidbits; these are suggested by Cameron as Morning Pages, to do each day. I am finding just dumping the crazy monkey brain thoughts out onto paper does actually free up some bandwidth in there, so that's another habit I'm trying to really solidify as a daily task to do going forward. 

Interested in more info about bullet journaling, here are some sites I found helpful (no affiliation, just ones I've referenced in the last month, although there are literally thousands of videos and blogs out there, as well as Instagram feeds full of beautiful journals):

BulletJournal.com - the original website and start of it all.

BohoBerry (on YouTube):  Kara also has a blog and an Etsy store, but lots of great info in her
YouTube videos.

TealNotes.com:  Some great set-up ideas at her site.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

May 2018 WIPocalypse check-in

I attempted to have a (mostly) monogamous May project month, and I'm actually pretty pleased with my progress.

I finished up A Bowl Full of Scaries.  Pattern by Plum Street Samplers.  Stitched on 36-count linen in the Legacy colorway from Picture This Plus, using Colour and Cotton hand-dyed threads.


Super happy with this finish since it puts me firmly with 3 out my hopeful 6 finishes this year.  I have also FFO'ed it, but I need to get a photo of that apparently.  That finish only took me until May 5th, so I switched over to working on A Stitching Shelf next. 

Also very happy to have achieved a page finish on this one.  (Page 2 done out of a gazillion).  Artwork by Aimee Stewart and charted by Heaven and Earth Designs.  I'm stitching this 1 over 1 full  crosses on Magic Guide 25-count. 


Finally I tackled my Desert Mandala Chatelaine.  I started and finished the first landscape vignette, which is at the top center - Monument Valley, I think?  I've got three days left in May to put in a few more stitches on this one, so I will probably tackle the triangular shaped section just above the landscape before I put this one away until June.  Absolutely LOVING working on this one!


On deck for June, I'm looking at trying for a page finish for Page 1 of my HAED/Six of Swords project, as well as trying for another page finish (or other small item finish) before moving back to the Chatelaine at the end of the month. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

April 2018 WIPocalypse Update

April was full of a lot of travel and work stuff - but happily, I think those are going to slow down for at least a couple of months.  Here's what I got accomplished:

I spent 3 five-day sessions on A Stitching Shelf.  (Artwork by Aimee Stewart, charting by Heaven and Earth Designs in the "regular" color but large format layout - purchased before I realized I wanted to use a PDF reader to work off of.)  I had page 1 finished and I've been working on page 2.... slowly... like a glacier.....



I have this on tap to work on in May for at least 10 days as well in the hopes I might be able to get a page finish (unlikely, but hey! you never know.)

I put in almost no stitches on a travel project - A Bowl Full of Scaries from Plum Street Samplers.  Seriously - I finished up the tree and started the second one, and started the snake border.  I'm not sure why I think I'll be able to have the mental focus to work on stitching projects after a day on the trade floor, but I haul one along every.single.time.  Clearly, however, I do not. 


Nicely enough, my random number generator felt I should get a second crack at this one, so it's also on tap for next month for a 5-day rotation. 

As usual, I did put in 5 days on my Desert Mandala from Chatalaine.  I'm concentrating right now on the upper landscape section.  I got the border mostly worked for that and started filling in some of the rocks - absolutely LOVING the colors in this one!


Finally, my handy-dandy random number generator picked Shoot the Moon for me to work on for the remaining 5 days of April.  This is another Heaven and Earth charted piece, a mini with the background removed.  I'm stitching it on a gradient hand-dyed evenweave using all the same color - 310 - for the stitches. 


The fabric color is a bit washed out but I did get the central figure started this time around.  Very happy with the progress on this one!

In May, I plan to work on: 
  • A Stitching Shelf (two 5-day rotations)
  • A Bowl Full of Scaries
  • Welcome Autumn
  • Desert Mandala
  • 12 Days of Christmas



Friday, April 20, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Week 16

Woefully behind in updating the blog - it's been crazy busy with travel and shows and work, but I have been reading.  I'm just going to do a truncated "Here's what I read" post and not a full review in the hopes I can then get caught back up going forward.

For week 38: A science book or science fiction book, A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.



I read this in high school originally - my high school boyfriend was very into this series - but it had been a while, so I picked it up as a re-read.

For week 30: A short book, I read Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree.


And finally, for week 24: A book with a map, I read Life in a Medieval City by Joseph and Frances Gies.



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

March 2018 WIPocalypse Check-In Post

March was a busy month for me - and while I did get some stitching done, I didn't get as much done as I would have liked.  (I think this is a recurring theme for many of us!)

March 1 thru 5: I worked on my Mill Hill, Buttons and Beads piece - Believe.  Here's the current progress.


I put in a lot more of the cross-stitches, and I also added a few beads to his cloak/coat in the red underskirt.  This is a deceptively dense stitch - basically full coverage, albeit not a huge full coverage piece.

March 6-10 and 16-20: I worked on my Six of Swords project from Heaven and Earth Designs.  Artwork by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law.  (I'll also be working on this for the next couple of days left in March too).  Still not quite at a page finish and I don't think I'll probably be able to get that accomplished this month, but at least there's some progress on this one. I worked on this for the Air Quarterly Elements SAL in the Full Coverage Fanatics Facebook group.


March 11-15: I worked on my Desert Mandala Chatelaine.  This go-round found me working on the Deco interior border as well as the border for the top-most landscape image.


This go-round found me working on the Deco interior border as well as the border for the top-most landscape image.  I started the first of the feather motifs as well. Fabric is 28-count Lugana from Picture This Plus in Calypso with the called for DMC and various silk threads and beads.  My plan is to work on this top section until it's completely finished.

March 21-26: I worked on Tempting Tangles' design - Key To My Heart.


I am stitching this on Briar Rose from Fabrics by Stephanie, with Black Currant floss from Colour and Cotton.  This is the first page and a bit more finished up.

And... the Question of the Month:  What newer designers and product creators out there have you discovered and recommend?  I highly recommend any of Angela's hand-dyed floss or fabrics over at Colour and Cotton.  I'm a member of both her monthly clubs and they never disappoint! 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Week 12

Three books finished to update my list - and kind of a mixed bag.

Flow Down Like Silver by Ki Longfellow for week #12's theme of a book set in Africa of South America.


Summary: From the dawn of history, countless women have marked their times in extraordinary ways. Women have been warriors, Pharaohs, popes, queens and kings, philosophers, poets, mathematicians, composers, painters, writers, revolutionaries and "witches."

But there was only one HYPATIA.

Brilliant, beautiful, accomplished and free, Hypatia of Alexandria was the last of the great Pagan teachers. Her brutal death at the hands of a Christian mob foretold the death of reason, of questioning, of reverence for nature, of the Goddess herself.

My Rating/Review:  3 out of 5 stars.  I loved the concept and focus of this book but I was hoping for a whole lot more.  The book opens well with the chaos of the burning of the library at Alexandria.  It went downhill from here for me.  Hypatia of Alexandria was an amazing women - she would have been amazing in any era, but certainly for 400 AD she was beyond 99.9% of the women of her time.  I didn't enjoy the writing in this book.  It felt stilted with odd lapses into a weird stream-of-consciousness kind of thing in all of the characters.  I slogged through it, hoping I would grow to love it, but that never happened.  

Next up, Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls for week #16, a narrative nonfiction.



Summary:  Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did." So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, in Jeannette Walls's magnificent, true-life novel based on her no-nonsense, resourceful, hard working, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town -- riding five hundred miles on her pony, all alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car ("I loved cars even more than I loved horses. They didn't need to be fed if they weren't working, and they didn't leave big piles of manure all over the place") and fly a plane, and, with her husband, ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle

Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds -- against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn't fit the mold. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa or Beryl Markham's West with the Night. It will transfix readers everywhere.

My Rating/Review:  4-1/2 out of 5 stars.  You'll note this technically was supposed to be a nonfiction book, but this one is written based extensively on the author's mother's remembrances of her mother (the main character), so I'm making it count here.  Lily Casey Smith was a force of nature.  I absolutely loved this book - from the opening sentence, you immediately KNOW who Lily is.  She reminded me a lot of my own grandmother, a spunky, no-nonsense kind of woman who could work a 20-hour day without blinking, was resourceful and capable, and a larger-than-life personality.  I especially loved the fact I know most of the places where Lily grew up and was an adult (since they are here in the Southwest).  An engaging portrait of a remarkable woman.  Highly recommended read. 

Finally, Silver Birch, Blood Moon, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, which I read for week #51 - an award-winning short-story collection.
 


Summary:  The four previous volumes in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's anthology series of fairly tales retold with a distinctively modern edge have been hailded by reviewers as "brilliant," "provocative," and "disturbing." In this triumphant new collection of original fiction, twenty-one of today's leading writers spin the cherished fables of childhood into glittering gold--offering magical tales for adults, as seductive as they are sophisticated.A jealous prince plots the destruction of his hated brother's wedding by inventing a "magic" suit of clothing visible only to the pure at heart...
A young girl's strange fairy tale obsession results in a brutal murder...
An embittered mother cares for her dying son who is trapped in a thicket that guards a sleeping beauty...
In a bleak and desolate industrial wasteland, a group of violent outcasts lays the tattered myths of one Millenium to rest, and gives terrifying birth to those of the next.

Erotic, compelling, witty, and altogether extraordinary, these stories lay bare our innermost demons and desires--imaginatively transforming our youthful fantasies into things darker, slyer, and more delightfully subversive.
 

My Rating/Review:  4 out of 5 stars. I absolutely loved this updated collection of fairy tales - definitely not for kids!  Contributors to the collection include Tanith Lee, Neil Gaiman and Robin McKinley to name a few of the fantasy greats.  I loved the creative and imaginative twists on old classics.  Some were updated to the contemporary setting while others still retained a Medieval kind of feel, but all of the updated tales reflect a much more Grimm portrait of the stories.  Another highly recommend read. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Week 10

This week I've finished up 2 books.  First up, The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman, for week 28's topic - one of the 4 elements (water).


Summary:  Iris Greenfeder, ABD (All But Dissertation), feels the “buts” are taking over her life: all but published, all but a professor, all but married. Yet the sudden impulse to write a story about her mother, Katherine Morrissey, leads to a shot at literary success. The piece recounts an eerie Irish fairy tale her mother used to tell her at bedtime—and nestled inside it is the sad story of her death. It captures the attention of her mother’s former literary agent, who is convinced that Katherine wrote one final manuscript before her strange, untimely end in a fire thirty years ago. So Iris goes back to the remote Hotel Equinox in the Catskills, the place where she grew up, to write her mother’s biography and search for the missing manuscript—and there she unravels a haunting mystery, one that holds more secrets than she ever expected. . . .

My Rating/Review:  4/5 stars.  I enjoyed this book quite a bit.  I loved the tie-in between the fairy tale Iris's mother has written and the back story that slowly unfolds about who her mother really was.   A sort of hybrid historical fiction and historical mystery, but one with lots of little details that kept me engaged.  I think I had mostly figured out the details of the whodunit by the end, but I liked how the story was wrapped up and it wasn't too easy to figure out.  Recommended for mystery lovers.  (It's not a cozy mystery, but not much violence or suspense either.)

I then picked up The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser at the recommendation of my new friend, Lance for week #23's topic - a medical or legal thriller. 


Summary:  One museum, two thieves, and the Boston underworld—the story behind the lost Gardner masterpieces and the art detective who swore to get them back.  Shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and committed the largest art heist in history. They stole a dozen masterpieces, including one Vermeer, three Rembrandts, and five Degas. But after thousands of leads, hundreds of interviews, and a $5-million reward, not a single painting has been recovered. Worth a total of $500 million, the missing masterpieces have become the Holy Grail of the art world and one of the nation's most extraordinary unsolved mysteries.  

Art detective Harold Smith worked on the theft for years, and after his death, reporter Ulrich Boser inherited his case files. Traveling deep into the art underworld, Boser explores Smith's unfinished leads and comes across a remarkable cast of characters, including the brilliant rock 'n' roll art thief; the golden-boy gangster who professes his innocence in rhyming verse; the deadly mobster James "Whitey" Bulger; and the Boston heiress Isabella Stewart Gardner, who stipulated in her will that nothing should ever be changed in her museum, a provision followed so closely that the empty frames of the stolen works still hang on the walls. Boser eventually cracks one of the biggest mysteries of the case and uncovers the identities of the men who robbed the museum nearly two decades ago. A tale of art and greed, of obsession and loss, The Gardner Heist is as compelling as the stolen masterpieces themselves.

My Rating/Review: 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.  I read a fiction book (The Art Forger) last year about the Gardner Heist so when Lance recommended this as a good read, I decided to grab it for week #23.  An interesting, in-depth look at the possible suspects and motives behind the theft of priceless artwork from the Gardner Museum in Boston.  Still unsolved, the author cites numerous primary sources and lays out some theories culled from many years of research into the theft about who was behind the original heist and where the artwork might be now.  How the thieves managed to keep the theft a secret and the myriad of possibilities where the artwork might be make for a compelling read - that almost sounds like fiction, except it's true.  

Weekending

We had a lovely, quiet weekend here - with actual RAIN!  We definitely could use a ton more, but every drop helps at this point and hopefull...