WIP Wednesday: Cross-stitching the Squares

12 down, 51 to go.

I finished crocheting all the squares of the Tunisian Terror on April 20, 2015 — one week shy of one year since starting the project.

63 squares in 21 colors.
63 squares in 21 colors.

The cross-stitching of the squares began immediately.  Thus far, 12 squares are completely finished with all embroidery and the weaving-in of ends; two more are partially done.

12 down, 51 to go.
12 down, 51 to go.

The cross-stitching moves quickly. The multi-colored designs make the plain squares lively, and solid color stitching anchors the multi-colored squares. I ran out of the black acrylic worsted yarn purchased for this project before finishing the crocheting but had some black acrylic worsted in stash which works just as well. There’s some slight difference in texture, but no one will notice it.

Stitch Along Wednesday

“Worsted” is a curious word.  Note to self: check origin as it relates to yarn.

In other news, rehearsal continues apace for Harvey.  We open a week from Friday.  Woo hoo!

This post is part of the Stitch-Along Wednesday round-up.  Click that badge over there to see what other folks are working on.

It’s A Thrilling Thursday Throwdown!

Yarn Book Banner 3

The above blog post title came about because I’ve missed WIP (aka Stitch-Along) Wednesday and Freshly Finished Friday for the last few weeks, despite my best intentions.  This evening I found some time to take a few photos and do a little mental composition; thus, a blog entry!  Ta da!

Said blog entry (that would this one, the one you’re reading, right here, right now) will contain:

  • Photos of an unfinished project!
  • Photos of a finished project!
  • Photos of a project that has yet to be commenced!
  • Yarn p04n!
  • And a flimsy explanation for the recent lack of activity (plus a bonus excuse for a future lack of same)!

Isn’t that thrilling?  Get it, thrilling?  Because it’s a “thrilling Thursday throwdown”?  Oh, never mind.  Let’s get started, shall we?

Mom's Tunisian 18First, the unfinished project.  The Tunisian Terror approaches the end of its crocheting phase.  I have one more solid square to finish in the coffee colorway, two to make in the cranberry colorway, and then eight striped squares.  Once the striped squares are completed, the crocheting is done.  Then will begin the cross-stitch component of this blanket.  Yes, each of these squares will have a cross-stitch design embroidered on it.  Have I mentioned I don’t do cross-stitch?  That’s my sister’s craft.  But, for my mother, I will do my best.

Bryony 5Next, the finished project.

Pattern: Bryony Cap by Tammy Eigemann Thompson; found in Interweave Knits Weekend 2010Click here for the Ravelry project page.

Yarn: Malabrigo Rios, colorway Marte, roughly 162 yards

Needles:  Addi Turbo circs, size 9 for the ribbing, size 10 for the cabled body, and size 10 DPNs for the crown

Satisfaction with end product:  Very pleased.  If this hadn’t been intended as a gift, I’d have gladly kept it.  I’ve never used Malabrigo before, and now I understand why fellow yarncrafters fall all over themselves for it.  It’s a dream to stitch: soft and squishy and satisfying, not to mention flat-out gorgeous.  Pure tactile pleasure! The pattern itself was well-written and easy to follow.  I made a few minor adjustments.  The pattern called for Bryony 6using a US 10.5 needles, but the ribbing in the 10.5 needle was far too loose for my tastes, so I switched to US 9s and cast on the same number of stitches that were required for the cable portion of the hat (rather than increasing after the ribbing as the pattern specifies). After the ribbing and a no-increase knit row, I switched to the larger needle (a 10, rather than the 10.5) and carried on as written. Using the smaller needles meant row gauge was short, so I did two and a half repeats of the cable section to get sufficient height before starting the decrease. The extra half repeat meant adjusting the decreases to get the same pattern effect at the crown, so I shifted the k2tog and ssk sections by…um, I think it was six stitches.

Purple Shawl 1The project yet to be commenced is also a gift.  I want to use the yarn pictured, which is Miss Babs Cosmic Handpainted Sock in colorway Swan Princess, because the gift is intended for a purple-loving person. The pattern pictured, Bellingrath, is the current champion of the Ravelry “what’s in my library?” search.  I’m just not sure it’s the right pattern for a colorway with such high contrast.  I’m afraid the lace will get lost in the color changes.  I have another sock yarn in stash that is a much lighter purple and much more subtle in its color changes, and now I’m waffling back and forth between the two, plus still stalking Ravelry for patterns. Thus, the “yet to be commenced” part of this project.  I suppose one could say that the only thing I’ve decided here is to make something purple for a particular individual.  Thrilling, yes?

And now, the promised yarn p04n.  I’ve been on a bit of binge recently.  Ready?

Yarn Acquisitions 1Wait, here’s another angle.

Yarn Acquisitions 2Some go-to workhorse yarn (the Cascade 220, along the back), some vibrant look-at-me sock yarn (four skeins at the front left), and that gleaming alpaca-rayon blend Folio in a deep charcoal on the right.  Heaven only knows when I’ll get to use any of it…well, that’s not true.  I bought the Cascade because I needed those colors for specific gifts.  The rest was whimsy.  It’s the whimsy that gets me in trouble.  I am quickly approaching SABLE status.  (That’s “Stash Acquired Beyond Life Expectancy”, for the uninitiated.) I’ve already achieved BABEL status.  (That’s “Books Acquired Beyond Expected Lifespan”.)

Harvey 1Speaking of books, I’ve read several good ones recently.  No, I haven’t blogged about them.  Yes, I feel guilty.  But (here’s the flimsy explanation portion of this blog entry), I’ve been busy.  With this.

Yes, that is a script for a stage play.  After three years away, I auditioned for a local community theatre production and was cast as…

The female lead.  Veta Louise Simmons, sister of Elwood P. Dowd, he of the white rabbit fame.

It’s nice to know my acting chops have not failed despite their lack of recent use.  It’s not so nice to realize I have over 200 lines to learn and must be totally off book, not even calling for a line, by NEXT TUESDAY!!!

Harvey 2Just look at all that yellow on those pages.  It’s like that throughout most of the show.

Actually, I have a good grasp of about half of my scenes, and between now and Tuesday night will be spending virtually every moment that I’m not working with my nose buried deep in that script.  I intend to drive my husband insane by making him run lines with me every night when he gets home from work.  I expect I’ll make the other riders on MARTA think I’m insane by constantly muttering to myself while commuting back and forth to the office.

We open in May, so (and here’s the excuse for future absence bit) don’t expect much in the way of activity here for the next couple of months.  I hope to get back here and read some of your entries for Knit & Crochet Blog Week, but there’s no way I can take part this year. *sad face*

Hey!  I have one more photo for you, and would like a little feedback on it.  When I sat my camera on my desk to upload the photos I had taken today, I noticed something interesting in the viewscreen, so I quickly snapped a couple of shots.  After some judicious editing and cropping, I came up with this:

Yarn Book Banner 3Books, yarn, music…pretty much everything I ever write about.  And a pen to indicate the writing.  I’m thinking I might make this photo the banner for this blog.  Or maybe stage a better one.  What do you think?

Freshly Finished Friday(Edited to add:  I’m going to link this to Hard Knit Life’s Freshly Finished Friday.  Well, it contains an FO, doesn’t it?  Click the badge over there to go to the link party.  You know you want to.)

Freshly Finished Friday: Hot off the blocking wires

I’ve had busy fingers the last few weeks. Behold:

Before blocking
Before blocking
This beauty came off the blocking wires this morning.

Pattern: Ironwork Shawl from Interweave Knits Spring 2012 (click here for the Ravelry project page)
Yarn: Cascade Dolce in Teal, approx 57 yards; Cascade Superwash 220 in Red, approx. 82 yards
Needles: US size 10.5 straight; US size 11 circular
Process/ Satisfaction with end result: This little shawl is a superfast knit with that worsted weight yarn. The pattern is well-written and easy to follow.

After blocking
After blocking
I wish it had a chart, because I prefer charts when knitting lace, but the written instructions were perfectly clear.

I should really learn to trust that blocking fixes a lot of perceived issues. When this first came off the needles, I thought: Well, the colors are nice together, but I’m not too sure about the whole mixing of these totally disparate lace patterns. Then, after blocking, I fell head over heels in love. It’s gorgeous.

Before blocking
Before blocking
Two other projects came out of the same skein of vibrant orange yarn.

This hat is another example of how blocking changes a project from a crumpled mess that doesn’t seem large enough for a child into a fabulous beret suitable for the most discriminating of beret wearers.

Pattern: Rustling Leaves by Alana Dakos (click here for the Ravelry project page)
Yarn: Savannah Sock by Copper Corgi Yarn Studio in colorway “Devil’s Kiss”, approx 152 yards

After blocking
After blocking
Needles: US Size 2; US Size 3
Process/ Satisfaction with end product: Alana Dakos writes the most beautiful patterns. Her instructions are clear and concise; her charts are phenomenal; and I’ve yet to encounter any errata in anything of hers I’ve done, so she must have a fabulous vetting team. She’s easily my favorite designer. (Just because she hails from the county where I grew up doesn’t mean I’m partial or anything. Really.) This little hat is no exception to the high quality work I’ve come to expect from Ms. Dakos. It’s a breeze to knit, and fun, and cute as can be.

Just for grins, here's another photo of the hat so you can see the lacy leaves a little better.
Just for grins, here’s another photo of the hat so you can see the lacy leaves a little better.

We'll always have Paris.
We’ll always have Paris.
The third project completed was also lace: a scarf, this time.

Pattern: Raha Scarf by Nancy Bush (click here for Ravelry project page)
Yarn: Savannah Sock by Copper Corgi Yarn Studio in colorway “Devil’s Kiss”, approx 198 yards
Needles: US Size 4
Process/ Satisfaction with end product: My gauge was way off on this, and by the time I realized it, I was several inches into the scarf and didn’t want to rip it back and go to a larger needle. Knowing that the project would need a good hard block to make the specified width, I added an extra repeat of the lace pattern to make up for the extra tight gauge; even then, the scarf blocked out three inches shorter than the pattern specified. Good written instructions and an excellent lace chart. The lace pattern is not your usual leaves and flowers; it’s reminiscent of filet crochet, in fact. I like it a lot.

Freshly Finished FridayThat’s it from me for Freshly Finished Friday. Click the badge over there, follow the link-up at the bottom of the post, and take a gander at what other folks have accomplished this week.

WIP Wednesday: What Once Was Lost Edition

A funny thing happens when one straightens up the clutter in one’s craft room. One finds a project that one had forgotten one started. By the way, one = yours truly, in case you hadn’t figured that part out yet.

Orange Sampler Afghan 1This is a sampler afghan made from some vintage Rowan Plaid (the orange multi) and a chunky wool blend (the solid) from um, Plymouth? Plymouth Encore Chunky, maybe? The ball band is long gone on the solid rust-colored yarn, so I’m relying on a vague memory. I have enough of these two yarns left to make another square plus a border. Each piece is roughly one square foot, so it currently measures about 3×4. With the addition of a thick border, maybe in simple double crochet or perhaps more decorative in some kind of shell stitch, I can finish it off at about “lapghan” size. Boom! A Christmas present for somebody somewhere.

Mom's Tunisian 16Speaking of presents, I’m also still plugging away at The Tunisian Terror for my mother. Egad, how bored am I with this project? *hangs head in shame* So bored that I look for any excuse not to work on it, but gradually the squares are adding up. Currently at 34 squares, so not quite halfway done. According to the pattern, I’m almost finished with the solid squares; the multi-colored ones are coming up shortly. At least that will be something different.

Rustling Russet 2Further speaking of gifts, and guilt, I’ve officially started my first Christmas gift of the year. I know! It’s a miracle! Here’s where the guilt comes in. I looked at my list of people I had promised to make gifts for (or had decided on my own they were deserving of a handmade item because they were generally all-around awesome human beings), and nearly fell over. This is a list of somewhere around 40 names, because it includes the last three years’ worth of “pay-it-forward” hand-made gifty challenges I had left undone. *more head hanging in shame going on* And one name that had been crossed off had to be added back because his present vanished somewhere in the mail between Atlanta and the West Coast city where he resides. (Don’t even get me started on that loss.) That being said, and no longer wishing to live as a guilt-ridden hag, I started a hat with stash yarn (Copper Corgi Savannah Sock in “Devil’s Kiss”) and a stash pattern (Rustling Leaves by Alana Dakos).

After I had gotten about three inches into the hat, I realized I should have used a long tail cast-on instead of a knitted cast-on because that bottom ribbed edge isn’t really sturdy. I mean it won’t unravel or anything, but it’s kind of wobbly and insubstantial. Stitch Along WednesdayAt that point in the knitting, however, I also realized I didn’t want to rip back the last three days’ work and start over, so I’ll persevere. I think it will be okay. When the hat is worn, no one will be able to tell, anyway, right? Right? Please tell me I’m right.
~~~~
This post is part of Stitch Along Wednesdays, hosted by Gracey’s Goodies. Click that badge over there to see what other folks are up to this week, and link your own WIP Wednesday story!

Book review: The Innocence Device by William Kowalski

The Innocence DeviceThe Innocence Device by William Kowalski
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In the near future, the United States is divided into prisons, and the majority of the men in the country — especially men of color — are prisoners. The majority of the women serve as guards. People are sentenced to prison for the most minor of infractions committed as children, and then sentence after sentence is piled on top of the already-incarcerated individual for things like insubordination (i.e., talking back to a guard), theft (i.e., taking an extra food allotment), or any number of other potential crimes. Here’s the rub, though: virtually everything is a crime. This is “zero tolerance” run wild.

Within the prison, a hierarchy has evolved that determines where one lives and what sort of privileges one may receive. Our hero, 24-year-old Chago, is a poor laborer whose only goal involves seeing his son (by one of the prison guards) as often as he can. When the warden of the prison announces the invention of new technology that can determine one’s innocence or guilt, Chago is eager to step through the Innocence Device. He knows he didn’t do anything really wrong — in fact, he’s not entirely sure why he’s in prison; he only knows he was about six or seven when he was first sentenced — and he’s certain the Innocence Device will set him free. Alas, all is not as it seems, and when a prison riot begins, Chago’s entire world is thrown into chaos.

Great premise, right? It’s why I signed up for this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Sadly, the writing itself failed to live up to that premise. This short novella — hardly more than a short story, really — can’t seem to make up its mind whether it was written for an adult or a YA audience. The language is simple, perhaps written at about a fifth- or sixth-grade level, but the protagonist is an adult in his early 20s. The copy is printed in large type with widely spaced lines, which is why I say it’s hardly more than a short story. Had it been printed in normal-sized book type with normally spaced lines, its length would have most likely been around 50 or so pages: a lengthy short story, yes, but still a short story. Plot development is minimal, character development is somewhat better (for Chago, at any rate), both of which generally can be forgiven in fiction of this length. However, there’s a gaping plot hole in the last few pages that, combined with the simplistic grade-school language, left this reader deeply dissatisfied. This plot hole almost feels like the author wrote something else in between the last chapter and the epilogue that he later took out, but he didn’t go back and smooth out the edges of the excision.

The premise of The Innocence Device is one I would enjoy seeing rewritten in adult-oriented language, and greatly expanded with more plot development, more character detail, more of the whys and the hows, the politics and the social disorder that must have led to such circumstances as exist within this novel. As I read through it (which took about 40 minutes — really, it’s just that short), I could almost see the full-length novel lurking in the shadows of each paragraph, waiting for someone like Hugh Howey, maybe, or Ben H. Winters, or (be still, my heart) China Miéville to flesh it out and bring it to life.

Too bad one of them didn’t think of it. Hey, Mr. Kowalski! Will you sell this idea to China Miéville and make me a happy woman? No? Two stars for you, then.

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Book review: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Death Comes for the ArchbishopDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A meditative ramble through the lives of two French Jesuits sent to the United States to take over administering the New Mexico diocese in the latter half of the 19th Century, Death Comes for the Archbishop is filled with poetic descriptions of the mesas and the desert and peppered with bits and pieces of Native American religious belief. It’s difficult to describe how a simple novel that follows the quotidian existence of priests and their parishioners in a harsh, unforgiving land can be so lyrical and so profoundly moving, so maybe you can just take my word for it. And while the title is technically a spoiler, there’s really no surprise here. Truly, in the end, Death comes for us all.

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Book review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Sharp ObjectsSharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although Sharp Objects is my third Gillian Flynn novel, it’s Ms. Flynn’s first, for which she won a well-deserved Edgar. It’s beautifully written, deeply disturbing, and knock-your-socks-off holy-cow-what-the-hell-just-happened good.

Camille Preaker is sent by the editor of the tiny Chicago daily where she works back to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, which is little more than a wide spot in the road, to cover the story of two murdered girls and the potential story of a serial killer. Camille left Wind Gap years ago to escape her toxic family and save her own life. She’s not sure she’s managed to do either; in Chicago, while she may have been suicidal, at least she wasn’t carving words into her own skin. Still, Camille is severely damaged. When we meet her mother and stepfather, we begin to understand why.

Because her newspaper doesn’t have the budget to put her up in a motel while on assignment, Camille must stay in her family home while she is in town. Her mother Adora, with an eye to “what would the neighbors think?”, grudgingly grants Camille shelter but insists she keep “all that unpleasantness” out of her house. All that unpleasantness encompasses not only the murders of the two girls, but anything unpleasant that has ever happened, up to and including the death of Camille’s younger half-sister Marian when Camille was 13. Camille has another much younger half-sister, Amma, whom she barely knows, who at times seems just as sickly as Marian was, but at others is robust enough to excel in her “Mean Girl” “Queen Bee” role at the local middle school. Throw in Alan, Camille’s ineffective and virtually silent stepfather, and this dysfunctional family is complete.

We see all this through Camille’s eyes; we are privy to her inner dialogue with all its twists and turns and justifications and attempts to make sense of how she ended up back in the same hellhole she tried to escape. As she reacquaints herself with Wind Gap, she recalls incidents from her past associated with each place. In the park where one girl, Natalie, was last seen alive:

The dirt from the baseball field hovered a few feet above the ground. I could taste it the back of my throat like tea left brewing too long…Garrett Park was the place everyone met on weekends to drink beer or smoke pot or get jerked off three feet into the woods. It was where I was first kissed, at age thirteen, by a football player with a pack of chaw tucked down in his gums.

And getting ready for Natalie’s funeral:

My mother was wearing blue to the funeral…She also wore blue to Marian’s funeral, and so did Marian. She was astonished I didn’t remember this. I remembered Marian being buried in a pale pink dress. This was no surprise. My mother and I generally differ on all things concerning my dead sister.

Camille is more resilient than she knows, but not quite as strong as she needs to be. She drinks too much and too often. She writes the names of the murdered girls and other words on her skin, using ballpoint pen and lipstick instead of a knife. She has questionable judgment in sex partners. And investigating these murders eventually leads her deep into her own history with devastating consequences.

In Camille, Gillian Flynn has created a deeply flawed protagonist who makes bad decisions out of weakness, out of trauma, out of a desire to flee from raw emotion, and she makes us cheer for her even while we shake our heads in dismay at her poor choices. And in the end, I loved Camille and wished her the very best future she can possibly make for herself.

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Book review: Let’s All Kill Constance by Ray Bradbury

Let's All Kill Constance: A NovelLet’s All Kill Constance: A Novel by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My favorite author in the world can write clunkers, or so it seems. How else to explain why it took 11 days to finish a novel that barely cracks 200 pages?

On a dark and stormy night (literally — that’s how the novel opens), circa 1960, Constance Rattigan bursts through the door of our narrator’s rustic beach house — panicked, incoherent, completely rattled — and tosses two phone books at him. Ominously, some of the names in the phone books are scratched through, and some are circled. Those scratched-through names are already dead. Those circled, our narrator surmises, soon will be. But Constance is gone too quickly to be questioned, and thus our narrator sets off on his quest to (a) solve the mystery of the circled and scratched-through names and (b) find Constance. This quest takes him from his peaceful retreat in Venice Beach to the rattletrap Grauman’s Chinese Theater projection room, to the depths of the storm drains running beneath the City of Angels, and many odd points between.

Along the way, our narrator picks up various cohorts, including a police officer, a film producer, and a blind man, and involves each of them in his quixotic search. Copious quantities of alcoholic beverages are consumed, clues are gathered, and Exclamation! Points! That! Don’t! Make! Sense! Pepper! All! Dialogue! (Admittedly, as much as I usually admire the man’s writing, this is a Bradbury trademark that I’ve never liked.) All is revealed in an homage to Agatha Christie locked room mystery, with our narrator as Hercule Poirot and all the players gathered in one room for the dénouement.

The pacing is breathless and breakneck, and much of the story seems to rely on a subtext that I just couldn’t get. I will give The Great Man this much credit: flashes of his customary brilliance shine through here and there, in character descriptions, in some of our narrator’s internal musings, and especially in the “locked-room” bit near the end of the story. Mostly though, I was thoroughly confused.

Thus only two stars for “It was OK.” And I can’t tell you how much it pains me to give my beloved Bradbury only two stars.

P.S. In reading through some of the other reviews of Let’s All Kill Constance, it appears this is the third book in a series, which may explain why I was left scratching my head at times.

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2014 in review: Yarn

2014 wasn’t a productive year for yarncraft. I finally figured out why this past weekend, after Jacquenetta was gone. When she became so ill, she spent so much time in my lap during the evenings that knitting and crocheting came to a virtual standstill. I couldn’t work on projects without getting her fur all over them, but I could read, so I traded yarn for books. Snuggling her for the last few months of her life was worth every moment, and be damned to lackluster productivity in the yarn arena.

Projects finished in 2014: Three.

Wanderer Scarf 2The first, finished on New Year’s Day 2014, was the Wanderer Scarf, seen here modeled by spouse. The pattern and the yarn are from Rowan. It was intended as a gift for a friend in Washington, and finally was mailed off to said individual shortly before Christmas.

Buds and Blooms 21Next was my new favorite cardigan, A Rose in Winter, finished January 31. The pattern is “Buds and Blooms” by Alana Dakos. The pattern calls for endless endless stockinette, but that only serves as a backdrop for the gorgeous details: the buds and vine pattern up the back, the flowers on the pockets, the deeply ribbed collar. I also loved the yarn I used (Chris by Schaefer, now sadly out of business), and that gorgeous pomegranate color.

Penny's Granny 2The only other finished project was a giant granny square baby blanket, made for the new grandbaby of one of my colleagues. I grabbed a variety of high quality acrylic leftovers in my stash and threw them together to come up with the color scheme for the blanket. This is the fastest, easiest baby blanket I’ve ever made, and the pattern become my go-to pattern for quickie shower gifts.

Projects started in 2014 and not yet finished: Three.

Wildflower 6The day after the Rose in Winter cardi was finished, I cast on another of Alana Dakos’ patterns, the Wildflower Cardigan, using Elsebeth Lavold’s Silky Wool in a deep caramel color. This is another cardigan with vast expanses of stockinette but exquisite little details that make those vast expanses worth the tedium. The back of the cardigan is finished; the right front has been sitting here in my craft room, waiting patiently for me to pick it up again. Soon, my darling, soon.

Tunisian Terror squaresAt Christmas 2013, Mom picked out a blanket pattern in one of my afghan books. In April 2014, she bought the yarn and shipped it to me. Thus, the Tunisian Terror was born. The thing that slows me down with this project is the boredom. Each square is the same: one color surrounded by a border of black single crochet. The pattern calls for some multi-colored squares, but I haven’t got there yet. And each square, once finished and assembled, will be cross-stitched, so there’s some excitement to be had down the road. The finished blanket has 63 squares. I’ve got roughly half of those done.

Ultra Pima cardi attemptCome summer, I decided I needed to knit a lacy cotton cardigan to wear over sleeveless dresses, which serves two purposes: warding off the air-conditioned indoor chill that is everywhere during summer in the South; and making said sleeveless dresses appropriate for the office. Yes, I know it’s old-fashioned of me, but some reptilian portion of my brain won’t quite accept that “sleeveless” is now in keeping with professional office attire. I am determined to use this turquoise-colored Cascade Ultra Pima that’s been hibernating in my stash for several years, but have had nothing but trouble in finding the right pattern. I think I’ve started three or four separate patterns with the Cascade and ripped each one of them out after getting roughly five inches into the piece. I’ll keep experimenting until something clicks.

Projects started in previous years but not finished: Nope, not telling. Let’s just say there is more than one (*cough*spouse’s socks*cough*)

New techniques learned:

  • Tunisian crochet: Learning Tunisian crochet (Tunisian simple stitch only) was easier than I thought. I will no longer shy away from Tunisian patterns, even if they call for something other than TSS, because if I can learn that stitch by reading the directions, I can learn them all!
  • Mitered squares: This technique was taught me in a class at Stitches South in April. I have yet to put the technique to use, but the instructions and my practice swatches are sitting right here in my craft room, just waiting.

Stash acquired: Um. A lot. A good sight more than I used, that’s for darn sure. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Stash used: Not very much. As noted above, I only completed three projects. I’ll never go cold sheep, because such is beyond my willpower, but this year will probably be a diminished year in stash acquisition because I’m not going to Stitches in April. It’s been moved to Nashville and the travel budget just isn’t available. So, yay for the bank account? And yay for shopping the stash!

So, here we go, 2015! New year, new crafting opportunities, new patterns to read, new AND old yarn to fondle, new techniques to learn or put into practice. It’s going to be a good one.

2014 in review: Books

I got much more reading done this year than I expected. Part of that was due, I believe, to acquiring a Kindle and being willing to take a chance on Amazon freebies, some of which were hits, others misses. It’s easy to read the Kindle on the train; that extra uninterrupted 40+ minutes of reading time each day added up to a lot of pages. 31,567 pages to be precise.

Goodreads said I read 83 books in 2014. I actually started 83 books. I finished 76. Seven books were set aside before finishing because they were just too awful to continue. (I told you some of those Amazon freebies were misses.) However, one of those set aside was The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos, so even Pulitzer Prize winners are sometimes misses for me. Anyway, out of those 76 finished, five were re-reads. So 71 new-to-me books in a single year. I call that a win.

Several of those 71 books were stand-outs.

The Many Deaths of the Firefly BrothersThe first five volumes of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire cycle consumed a goodly portion of the first quarter of 2014. I expect I’ll start re-reading them as soon as I hear of a publication date for Volume VI. I’m hoping that publication date will be later this year.

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen was a roller-coaster ride through the Depression with a pair of bank robbers who just won’t stay dead. This is one of those books that grabbed me first because of its enigmatic cover art but kept me intrigued by its premise and execution. I read this one on the plane during a flight to California.

Perdido Street StationPerdido Street Station by China Miéville astonished me, sickened me, disturbed me, and amazed me. I seldom give five stars to any book, but this one deserved top billing without doubt. As I said in my review, Perdido Street Station isn’t for everyone — it’s a challenge in both language and content — but I’m going to recommend it to everyone regardless. Seriously. Don’t miss it.

Max Barry’s Lexicon, which deals with a secret government entity that uses the power of words and knowledge of certain personality traits to manipulate people into particular actions, cured me of taking any more Facebook quizzes and posting them Lexiconto my wall. Barry has a gift for plot-driven stories that move forward at Warp 10 but still manage to give the reader decently-realized characters and generally plausible Night Filmstorylines. Lexicon is a fast fun popcorn novel that scared the bejabbers out of me.

I read Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl in 2013 and thought it was excellent. Based on that experience, I grabbed Night Film as soon as I found it in my library’s catalog. I was not disappointed. Night Film explores the aftermath of a suicide, the power of film, and the boundaries of obsession. It’s dark and dreamy and enigmatic and twisted and a disturbing pleasure to read.

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeTell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt introduces us to a grieving 14-year-old June Elbus after the death of her beloved uncle Finn. June’s mother, who is Finn’s sister, doesn’t seem to care much that her only brother has died, and June doesn’t know why. Then June meets Finn’s roommate, Toby, and discovers hidden aspects to her uncle’s life. This novel works on a number of levels: an exploration of society’s reaction to AIDS in 1987, a not-so-typical coming-of-age story as June realizes her uncle had an entire life that didn’t include her, and a dissection of family dynamics when one member of the family is considered an untouchable by the others. Plus it’s gorgeously written. So, yeah, if you haven’t read this one, put it on your list.

WoolFinally, I want to mention a couple of trilogies. First, the Silo Trilogy by Hugh Howey, consisting of Wool, Shift, and Dust. I’ve read a lot, and I mean a lot, of post-apocalyptic stories, and the Silo Trilogy was hands-down one of the most original explorations of that theme I’ve seen in a lifetime of reading. In the not-so-distant future, thousands of people, survivors of an unnamed apocalypse, live underground in a silo. They don’t know how long they’ve been there; they don’t know how long it will be before they’re allowed to live above ground; but in the meantime, there’s work to be done, repairs to be made, and people to feed. Discontent is brewing, though, and revolution is in the air. This trilogy, while very well done, is not without its flaws, especially in Book 3, but its overall excellence makes those flaws worth overlooking.

The Last PolicemanThe other trilogy worthy of mention is technically “pre-apocalypse”, because the world-ending event hasn’t yet happened, but it’s post-apocalypse in the sense that global societal structure has already collapsed. In The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters — The Last Policeman, Countdown City, and World of Trouble — a previously unknown asteroid has been verified to be on collision course with Earth, and the date of impact is approaching. Detective Hank Palace of the Concord, New Hampshire, Police Department keeps showing up for work while more and more of his colleagues and fellow citizens bail out of their jobs, their marriages, and their lives to fulfill lifelong dreams or, as is all too often the case, to kill themselves in despair. Each novel takes us closer to the impact date and deeper into Hank’s efforts to find meaning and purpose in these last months and weeks and days. He clings to his humanity, to his belief in goodness, and to his life itself, despite recognizing that everything he knows and everyone he loves is gone. Hank is a gorgeous, generous, determined character, and this trilogy, although deeply sad, is a testament to the beauty of life even in the face of extermination.

You can see the entire 2014 list on Goodreads here.