Books: A reading challenge and three short reviews

I’ve decided to take on this year’s PopSugar reading challenge. Some self-imposed rules: I can only use a book for one entry and I have to share what I’ve read. This seems like a great forum to share! Feel free to play along. The first three books on my list all fit into more than one category on the reading challenge; I’m sharing the one I chose for each.

A funny book

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. This book made it onto my “to read” list from a recommendation from my favorite podcasters, Barb and Tracie, the 2 Knitlit Chicks (I found them recently and am trying to catch up – I’m somewhere around September 2012 currently). I read this on my Kindle, checked out from the library. It’s a quick, light read and hilarious. I highly recommend not reading this book in public because you will laugh out loud and people will think you’re crazy.

The book is a sort of memoir that reads like a series of essays and doesn’t always proceed chronologically, a format that works really well. Sedaris is just so funny that I’d read his description of a phone book. When he’s talking about his French class trying to describe Easter in French, I laughed so hard I had to dance to the bathroom. I very highly recommend this book and will read anything else by David Sedaris that I can get my grubby, reading eyes on.

A book with magic

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This was another library check-out on the Kindle, and it wasn’t on my reading list. I sometimes log into the library’s e-book site and just browse, and this one was picked because of its cover. I know! It’s funny how often this works out.

The Night Circus is just that – a circus that’s only open a night. It pulls people in, develops its own special followers who go all over the world to visit. No one except the people in the circus troupe knows where it will go next. It appears in an empty field outside a city or town, already set up, as if by magic.

What no one outside of the troupe, and even some people who are actively associated with the circus, knows is that the circus really is magical. It is the forum for a battle between two illusionists, who use it to create more and more elaborate illusions, and who end up falling in love with each other. What happens to Celia and Marco after they find out the true nature of their battle is, in my opinion, the true magic in this story. And I won’t tell you because I won’t give it away.

Again, excellent book. It’s one I would read again. Its many layers of meaning and the wonderfully developed characters felt like they would grow deeper and more complicated on re-reads. And I read so much that reading a book again is a gigantic compliment.

A book set in a different country

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I read this in actual paper form (right?), checked out from the library. It’s been on my reading list for a while. I finished it a couple weeks ago. Since then, I’ve finished three others and am currently reading three more. And it is still stuck in my heart like a burr. This could very likely be one of the best books I have ever read. Ever.

The story follows the life of Ursula Todd, who dies the second she’s born in a small village outside London. She is immediately rebooted and gets to start over. She starts over every time, in fact. What she does with this ability, how it affects her and her family, the things she lives through (over and over again); it is all just amazing. Sometimes Ursula’s choices made me laugh. Sometimes they made me cry. Sometimes I had to tell her aloud what to do (she almost never listened). It drilled into me so deeply that I just had to discuss it with Wayne, who, not reading the book, was also so pulled into the story that he would ask me random questions about Ursula and her lives.

Kate Atkinson picked the perfect time period for Ursula’s lives. She gets to die during and live through the 1918 flu epidemic, the bombings in London during World War II, an abusive husband, and so much more. She is an amazing character with an interesting supporting cast. One of my favorite things about this book (there are many) is the way those supporting characters change when Ursula’s choices change. For them, though, they are living a straight-line life and whatever the current incarnation is, they know of no others.

This book. I can’t say enough good about it. READ IT. I promise you will not be sorry.

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Startitis and the best of intentions

I saw a little red car the other day with a vanity tag that said “K2TOG” and got all excited; a fellow knitter! For you non-knitters, it means knit 2 together (a way to decrease the number of stitches on your needles). I’m pretty sure I could be her, or possibly but less like his, friend.

On the subject of knitting, I am in the midst of a nasty case of startitis, which can be roughly defined as the nearly overwhelming urge to start something new. I have a self-imposed three project limit. I am seriously considering changing that rule because I really want to start a new project. I’ve got a bad case of startitis.

Right now, I have a dishcloth, a baby blanket for a coworker, and a sleeveless sweater for me active. I did take a side trip into trying out an idea I had for a teddy bear – big fail, his head is so small he looks like he should be in the waiting room scene of “Beetlejuice” – but other than that it’s steady on with the three, all trying to behave and stay within my self-imposed boundaries and whatnot. But then…

A couple weeks before Christmas, my very bright and generally awesome son put in a request for some hand-knit socks. I decided it was an opportunity delivered on a silver platter to learn something new – toe up socks and magic loop! It had been years since I made socks, and then it was cuff down on double points, and it took about a week to make a pair. These socks, though, flew off the needles. And I was mostly winging it because the best circular needles I had for magic loop knitting were size 7, so I used some wonderful sport weight and sort of guessed my way through. And then I called them “slipper socks,” which was a bit of a truth-stretch; they were really “let’s test something new when we only have about 10 days to finish it because that will be super exciting” socks.

Let me tell you, toe up socks and magic loop together is a potent combination of pure awesome and I was hooked, immediately. I was so hooked that I put size 1 Addi sock rockets in our Amazon cart and made sure I still had sock yarn in my stash from way back. Well. The needles came a couple days ago and I desperately want to start a sock. I mean like crazy, like right now, like yesterday. But I have the 3-active-projects rule for a reason.

Ugh.

In an odd coincidental parallel (I believe life is full of these if you just pay attention), the 3-project rule was an intention that I started several years ago. I wasn’t finishing anything I started and I decided that I needed to limit myself so that things would actually come off the needles (or hook, natch) at some point, if only so I could start something new. I’ve stuck to this rule since then but have also eased my startitis by telling myself it only applies to things made from yarn. I occasionally need something new in the midst of the three projects, and I usually turn to sewing for that. Those projects don’t count.

Another intention dates to just last year when I decided to focus on being healthier. To me, that means straightening out my diet, exercising, getting the right amount of sleep, and taking my medications consistently. It worked, in fact it came out better than I expected. I am happier, calmer, more productive, and more self-he. My hair is bright and shiny, my balance has improved, and my general outlook tends toward sunny. Because I know it’s working, this year I added continue being healthier to my list.

Being healthier, though, is shorthand for something so much more. I want to try cutting dairy and eating clean. I am trying to read labels and if something that was a staple has funky crap in it, I am leaving it in the store and figuring out something else. At the same time, I am trying to expand our household diet. We tend to stick to the same things, many of which don’t fit the clean ideal. One thing that’s been on my mind is the idea of working pizza back in. We used to make our own pizzas every other week, sometimes more often, and who doesn’t love a good pizza?

And this is where I hit a brick wall, face-first.

How can pizza be clean and dairy-free? Clean foods are almost unchanged from their original forms. I can do the dough because I can choose decent ingredients that are close to where they started and control what’s in it. I can choose toppings that are close to where they started, like onion and green pepper, mushrooms, homemade sauce, even ground turkey. What I cannot do is find an alternative to dairy cheese that is also clean. The ingredients in dairy-free cheese are nightmarish. And I cannot imagine pizza without some form of cheese. So what do I do?

I think I need to investigate making my own non-dairy mozzarella. It should be an interesting experiment. If I can find all of the ingredients locally, this might be on the menu…

Knitting group!

I’ve been strongly encouraged by my dear and loving husband to get out of the house more. I was fighting it, let me tell you. There is little I like more than curling up on the couch with a book and my knitting (super easy if the book is on the Kindle) for an evening. But then…

A couple months ago, I talked Wayne into joining me at a program at the library. He was miserable but he hid it well and did it for me. I, however, felt that I had found my people. The lady sitting next to me commented on my knitting and asked if I was part of the knitting group that meets at the library. I said no, but the question sort of layered itself on top of Wayne’s encouragements and I thought this might be the thing. I could knit with others, right? Surely the knitting would not suffer from being done at the library?

Well yesterday, I went. And I am over the moon! I thought the book people were my people; I was wrong. The knitters are my people (to be clear, it’s a knit and crochet group – I don’t want to denigrate any of my fellow fiberistas!). They welcomed me with open arms. About two minutes after I sat down, I felt as if I’d been hanging out with those women for months. The stories! The yarn! The patterns! The jokes!

The pizelles!

I copied down the address for the next meeting. I put it on my calendar. I squeed and shook hands and barely restrained myself from hugging every one one them. I’m a hugger, what can I say? But even I know better than to hug people I met two hours earlier. I’m saving that for next time.

This morning, I woke early and refreshed, still feeling a bit of the warm-and-fuzziness from yesterday. I did some yoga and a bit of meditation. I wrote in my journal. And then I went upstairs, pulled out the plastic tub that holds my yarn stash, sorted, and dreamed. Noel followed me up and sat on a box across the room, watching me and making the little cheep-purr noise that she makes to remind us that she’s there and happy. I re-rolled balls and thought about what I want to make next (a pair of toe-up socks, a pencil skirt made from granny squares, a toy for Breccan, baby booties, fingerless gloves – all of them at once!).

Sometimes I just need to feel my fingers plunging into yarn, what can I say?

I closed up the tub and put it in a new spot; front and center so I can see all that yummy yarn waiting to be made into beautiful and warm things. I picked Noel up (she butted her nose against my chin – kitteh kisses), and carried her downstairs. I got ready for work, feeling this wonderful combination of excitement and calm, sort of like I have my feet so well grounded that my head is able to go exploring. I’m catching myself smiling, thinking about the yarn, the knitting group, and how smart my husband is. Life really is good.

Intentions versus resolutions

Happy New Year! As an employee of a state University, I have had the awesome luck to have been off work since Christmas Eve. With all good luck comes bad luck, though, and my long and awesome stay-cation was greatly affected by a sinus infection, which seems to be almost gone now. Since tomorrow is a work day, I’m grateful that I have been feeling better for the past couple days. It’s also a great thing to start a new year on a high note, isn’t it?

To celebrate this new year, I put the Christmas decorations away and did my annual $20 redecoration of the living room, which consists of three yards of fabric, my sewing machine, and an afternoon. Last year, Wayne made me valance boxes, which I covered with some really cute red and black fabric. This year, through the magic of double-sided tape and a staple gun, I recovered them with some pretty gray and black fabric. Curtain tie-backs and new throw pillows complete the change. I love the feeling of newness, and I am particularly pleased that I found fabric that matches the lampshades I got a year or so ago.

We also started, in a slow and easy way, on remodeling the house. Our plan starts with the second floor. There’s a tiny room (my craft room before today), a large room (shared between Wayne’s daughters, again before today), and a weirdly shaped bathroom. We relocated the bedroom to the tiny room and turned the big room into my craft room and a storage room. The chimney is in the big room. Taking it down is the first big step of our remodel and when it starts coming down, the girls’ bedroom will be untouched. The relocation was a simple little thing we could do to start us on our path.

These small things, though, are discreet and complete in and of themselves. What will we do with the rest of the year?

I can tell you one thing we will not do: make resolutions.

I’ve been anti-resolution for a while now. A resolution is “a firm decision to do or not do something” (thanks, Google). When you add “New Year’s” into it, though, a resolution takes on greater significance; it becomes a promise we make to ourselves. According to statisticsbrain.net, the success rate for New Year’s resolutions is between 14 and 39%. That means that somewhere between 61 and 86% of resolutions fail. Personally, I like better odds when it comes to keeping a promise I make to myself.

So instead of resolutions, I choose intentions. I intend to continue my more healthy lifestyle, to do the Seagull Century again and beat last year’s time, to do the rewrites and edits on Handsome Prince Stephen and try to get it published traditionally, to apply for the MLS program at UMCP and accept the decision with grace, to stop letting other people determine where my emotional energy goes, and to give the knitting thing at the library a try. These intentions are like resolutions, with the simple exception that I am promising myself to try and not to succeed.

I’m currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat, Pray, Love” (I know, I am all slow and whatnot) and this line resounded in my soul: “‘Liz, you must be very polite with yourself when you are learning something new.'” I love the idea of being polite with myself. I deserve to be treated with care, especially when I am trying to make myself into a better version of me. More than anything else, this year I intend to be polite with me.