Saving My Life: Beginning of Fall Edition

As per the phrase by Barbara Brown Taylor, this is a look at the things saving my life as fall begins.

  1. Bath & Body Works Spiced Apple Bourbon hand soap with pumpkin butter

    During my last trip to Bath & Body Works, I discovered they didn’t have the Leaves scent in this year’s fall soaps, which is my all time favorite. I was so disappointed I didn’t take the time to try anything else new this season, but when a dear friend gave us this as a thank-you gift, I was excited to realize it is very reminiscent of Leaves. Washing my hands at the kitchen sink has been an extra special treat, thanks to this year’s new release!

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  2. Cross stitch

    Since mid-August I’ve been experiencing some consistent joint stiffness and occasional twinges of pain in my left pinkie finger. When you look at the sheer number of items I knit in July, it’s no wonder my joints and hands have needed a break! And while I know it’s in my body’s best interest to give my hands time to rest, it’s been so difficult to not reach for my needles and yarn (or sit down at my piano) during this stressful back-to-school time. But I’ve had to go through seasons of vocal rest in the past and have seen God bring about healing in His time, so I am making a concerted effort to trust His faithfulness once more.

    With this in mind, my patient mother-in-law recently gave me a refresher tutorial on how to cross-stitch. As a young girl I loved printed cross-stitch, but was always intimidated by counted cross-stitch. A few years ago I picked up this beginning kit from Cecilia’s Samplers in Branson, MO, determined to learn, so she showed me a few things, but after our visit I promptly went back to knitting. Now that I’m on the knitting DL, I figured this was the perfect time to devote my creative energies to a new craft, while not putting as much strain on my fingers. It’s been a fun, puzzle-like adventure to see take shape, X by X.

    This is “Simplicity” by Little House Needleworks.

  3. Adult coloring books

    As a child I wasn’t a huge fan of coloring. I loved activity books with word searches and dot-to-dot pictures, but the lack of precision of crayons was always frustrating to my small hands. Fast forward about 30 years and now that adult coloring books and colored pencils have arrived on the scene, this has been another way for me to decompress at the end of a long day. This is Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford, a past Christmas present from The Optometrist.

  4. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan on Audible

    While coloring, I have frequently set my phone nearby and listened to this spectacularly performed (not just narrated) middle-grade story that spans continents and time frames, all connected to themes of hope and the power of music.

    It was highly reviewed by Sarah Mackenzie of Read Aloud Revival and it has lived up to her recommendation! Not only so, but it’s one of the best children’s books I’ve ever read and so far my favorite overall book of 2017.

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  5. NCIS 

    And when my brain has needed a vacation, it has often found itself escaping via Netflix to NCIS headquarters to hang out with Gibbs, Ziva, McGee, Abby, and company. The Optometrist and I are currently working our way through Season 10 and I realized the other day, the reason I watch isn’t for the mystery or murders they solve, it’s for the character development between cast members. (I consider them make-believe friends.)NCIS


What things are saving your life as fall finally arrives?

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Learn: Summer 2017

Linking up with Emily P. Freeman and others, sharing the silly and sublime of what I’ve learned throughout this summer.

1. Vacations shouldn’t be divided in order to conquer

The Optometrist and I do a great deal of “dividing and conquering” in life: taking turns fixing meals, tackling different parts of the store as we grocery shop, and handling different household responsibilities and chores. But the decision to travel with each other to his optometry conference in St. Louis and my knitting retreat in Nashville did not ever allow us to feel like we truly took a “vacation” together. While this was just the way it worked out this summer, in the future I think we’ll be more diligent about planning a trip where neither of us is required to be somewhere else for hours each day and then trying to fit in time to explore together.

2. Amazon donation program

Recently one of my dear colleagues and friends shared how you can re-use your Amazon boxes, fill them with items you wish to donate, and mail them away for free! We haven’t tried this yet, but have a couple of Amazon boxes (after cleaning out some cat hair) that could definitely be used to benefit a good will effort.

3. James 4:8 in Practice

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8a – ESV)

Over the summer I continued with my daily Bible reading (current focus is to finish the Old Testament rather than the whole Bible this year) along with Margaret Feinberg‘s Overcomer Bible study of Philippians. Utilizing the color method, I was able to creatively study and analyze names, verbs, repeated phrases, etc. in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, was guided with application principles of what I learned, and also participated in a weekly Facebook Live video series (free and still open to everyone!).

The more I’ve been in scripture, the more grounded and peaceful I’ve been and the more I’ve been aware of my need to check in with God throughout the day. It’s been a very sweet spiritual practice.

4. Put down your phone and read

Sarah Mackenzie of Read Aloud Revival, posted on Instagram several months ago saying, “I’ve been surprised by how much time I’ve had for reading since I’ve committed to picking up a book (rather than my phone) when I have a few minutes throughout the day.”

I’ve taken her advice to heart (not every time, but making a more concerted effort) to said no to the sleek white baby and yes to the old fashioned monograph awaiting my attention.

5. Have a giant stack of books ready to read

With that in mind, in June and July I read several books from the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide, all of which I requested either from our public library or my academic library’s InterLibrary Loan service.  As always seems to be the case, they all started arriving about the same time, which created piles of books around the house. (a.k.a. the best problem to have)

My trick for not feeling overwhelmed by all the books at my disposal was to write on my calendar the date it was due to give myself a visual cue on how much time was left before it needed to be returned, then alternated the types of stories I read to shift my mental focus – ex. a murder mystery followed by a light-hearted YA novel.

My final selection I chose from the MMD list, The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson, is one I started today and am loving it already!

6. When needing a reading break, have a solid queue of other media ready

Visual media – I tell you what, The Optometrist buying us a Google Chromecast has changed the way we “watch television” (Internet streaming since we don’t have cable). Our BluRay player had been our portal for streaming YouTube and Netflix, but when it no longer supported YouTube (even when it did work you had to still type out your search, one letter at a time) and was consistently cantankerous in connecting with Netflix, he ordered a Chromecast and voila, we’re now able to use our phones (both his Android and my iPhone) to “talk” to the device, immediately relaying what’s on your phone to the TV.

And our summer streaming pick from Netflix? Broadchurch. 

Audio media – I’ve been a podcast listener for over a decade, but discovering some new ones, or really good episodes of shows I’ve long appreciated, have been great ways to be informed, inspired, or entertained. Using the podcast app on my iPhone I rotate what the I’m listening to (like the order of books I choose to read) and use the “Up Next” feature to create a playlist so after one podcast is through, a different one will immediately follow.

Podcasts saving my life this summer:

Shauna Niequist

Making Oprah

Fresh Air

Up First

And after hearing rave reviews about the Audible version of Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, I bought it on sale, and am LOVING this middle-grade WWII novel about hope, kindness, and the power of music; all things I love, but in tandem? Perfection.


What things have been saving your life this summer?

Read: August 2017

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The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith

An embarrassingly long time ago The Optometrist gave me this book as a just-because gift, of which I proceeded to read about 99%. At the beginning of the month, a few minutes and a few pages later, I had finished this encouraging call to make your house a home based around your style and budget. While The Nester’s style is a bit more shabby chic than I prefer, her exhortation of it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful is a mantra I’m longing to embrace wholeheartedly in both my home and work spaces.

Book read via: home library

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Solo by Kwame Alexander

What Kwame Alexander did for basketball in The Crossover, he has now done for music and in Solo.  Check out my full book-review of Mr. Alexander’s recently published YA novel.

My thanks to Net Galley for access to the digital ARC. https://www.netgalley.com/

Kiss-Carlo

Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani is the queen of crafting memorable Italian American stories, and my love of her writing goes back to the early 2000s when my best friend and I discovered and fell in love with Big Stone Gap.

This, her newest novel, takes place in post WWII Philadelphia with a feuding family who own taxi cab businesses, their African American dispatcher who longs to find her passion, a fledgling but loyal local Shakespeare company, and an Italian ambassador with an American doppelganger in South Philly.

Of her work, I must say Very Valentine and The Shoemaker’s Wife have been my favorites, but Kiss Carlo was very memorable and included diverse characters and a firm sense of place.

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC copy. http://edelweiss.abovethetreeline.com/

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Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a Life by Melanie Shankle

Last July I read The Antelope in the Living Room and found it to be laugh-out-loud funny juxtaposed with moments to ponder the less-than-perfect, but still beautiful moments of marriage. So when I had an opportunity to request a digital ARC for the upcoming release of her new book (on October 3), I said, “Yes, please!”

If you are a fan of Melanie’s books and/or the Big Mama blog, I think you’ll also enjoy her newest offering that centers around finding God and appreciating the small, everyday moments of life.

“I’ve learned that the best way to live is to look for God in the church of small things. The church of small things is where God does his best work. The church of small things is where the majority of us live every single day.” 

Look for a more detailed review on October 3rd!

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC copy. http://edelweiss.abovethetreeline.com/

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The Brutal Telling by Louise Penney

I can’t help but think about what the statistical number of murders per capita would be if Three Pines were a real town. Probably similar to the statistics from Cabot Cove in Murder, She Wrote.

5th in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, the beloved Inspector has returned to Three Pines to investigate yet another murder, this time of a Hermit whose cabin is filled with world-renowned treasures, but whose identity and personal history remain elusive, except to a local resident.

Stories of fear and deception and secrets long preserved come to light when Armande Gamache is determined to find answers to these unknown questions and, of course, also find the killer.

Book read via: public library

Book Review: Solo by Kwame Alexander

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Solo by Kwame Alexander

What Kwame Alexander did for basketball in The Crossover (read in April), he has now done for music in Solo. And as in The Crossover, he subtly layers the title with various meanings and applications.

Blade Morrison is a guitarist and songwriter, whose father is a famous rock ‘n roll guitarist and musician. Having grown up amid opulence juxtaposed with perceived neglect, Blade is on the cusp of adulthood and anxious to strike out on his own; away from the limelight of his father’s career and drama of his substance abuse. If only the parents of his girlfriend wouldn’t be so determined to keep them apart, he could confidently move forward into the future, fueled by young love.

In the mean time a heated argument with Blade’s sister and father reveal unknown family secrets, which cause a shift in Blade’s priorities and motivations. These changes result in him taking a broadening journey, allowing him to realize neither his music nor his existence are solo endeavors.

This book trailer features a brief interview with Kwame Alexander about his personal interests and inspirations in writing Solo.

Alexander is the 2015 Newbery Medal and 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award recipient, but to learn more, please visit his website kwamealexander.com

My thanks to Net Galley for access to the digital ARC. https://www.netgalley.com/

Summer Travels: Nashville 

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“Oh Tennessee River and a mountain man, we get together anytime we can.” ~ Tennessee River by Alabama

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Carter Vintage Guitars

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The Aquarium Restaurant at the Opry Mills

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The Scarritt Bennett Center, site of the Super Summer Knitogether retreat and the catalyst for our trip to Nashville. (Check out the link above for a full blog post about SSK.)

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The legendary Ryman Auditorium

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Bluegrass Nights concert series featuring Sara Watkins and The Infamous Stringdusters.

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A visit to Parnassus Books, co-owned by author Ann Patchett, who pre-signed all copies of her books for sale. I’ve previously read Bel Canto and Truth and Beauty and am excited to add State of Wonder to this list. This was a wonderful, independent bookstore, complete with a store dog, and is definitely worth a visit while in Nashville!

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The Parthenon in Centennial Park

Thus ends our summer travels and I relish the comfort of nesting at home as the beginning of the fall semester draws ever nearer.

Knit: July 2017 & SSK Recap!

Super Summer Knitogether (SSK)


Leslie and Laura of the Knit Girllls are the coordinators and hosts of the annual Super Summer Knitogether retreat in Nashville, TN.  When I submitted my name to be in the SSK lottery last fall I was a.) not really expecting for my name to be drawn and once my name was drawn, b.) not really for sure what to expect since it was my first knitting/fiber retreat. Thankfully, other participants on the Ravelry SSK discussion boards were very helpful leading up to the trip and allowed me to have a general idea about what to expect.

Fast forward from November’s announcement to over half a year later, I loaded up my knitting and The Optometrist and I hit the road, heading due east on I-40.

SSK is held on the Scarritt Bennett Center, which was an entirely inspiring place in which to walk (it felt like a real life Hogwarts!), eat delicious meals (including grits), and meet newfound knitter friends.


Since everything and everyone was new for me, my introverted self had to work extra hard to come out of my little shell, but everyone was warmly welcoming and it was an extremely well organized event. I definitely felt like I belonged with my knowledge, skills, and ability (this retreat was definitely not centered around beginner knitters and/or spinners), as well as my understanding of the lingo – awareness of popular patterns on Ravelry, other knitting channels on YouTube, and independent yarn dyers.

During the retreat I took two inspiring classes, which will continue to require further practice: “Two-Handed Two-Color Knitting” with Margaret Radcliffe (who really does have two hands – poor timing on the picture taking)


and “Steeking Your Knits” with Ann Budd.


My yarn stash also got a little boost thanks to an amazing vendor market!


A sweater’s quantity of Bare Naked Wools Better Breakfast Fingering in Mocha in which I’m going to knit the Flax Light sweater by Tin Can Knits, a bar of wool soap from Tuft Woolens in Red Currant and Mandarin, a gobstopper of self-striping Lollipop Yarn in Showers and Flowers, a skein of self-striping yarn from Gynx Yarns in the House Cup (Harry Potter) colorway, and two double skeins (each exactly matched for two-at-a-time socks) from Rock and String Yarn in Caramel Apple Cider and A Hunting We Will Go. We also were kindly given a beautiful skein of self striping yarn from Fishknits in the At Sixes and Sevens colorway in our goody bag along with lots of coupons and knitting accessories. Needless to say I’ve returned home excited to get started on some new projects and revisit others that have been a little bit neglected!

A few lessons learned at SSK (and to remember if I’m selected to attend again):

  • Dress coolly and comfortably.
  • Just pack one, easy knitting project.
  • Don’t bring as many bags – you will receive more!
  • Participate again in the stitch marker swap.
  • Bring a book to read during quiet moments.
  • Immediately look up new friends via their Ravelry IDs (this user-name identity was just as heavily used as their real name).

And as for what I actually knitted in July…

FOs (Finished Objects)

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Pattern: Striped Socks with a Fish Lips Kiss Heel
Cost: Pay for pattern by Sox Therapist
Needles: US 1, 40″ Signature Needle Arts fixed circular needles
Yarn: Patons Kroy – Blue Striped Ragg
Recipient: The Optometrist

Using the Turkish cast on method, CO 10 sts and increased to 64 sts. Knitting these two-at-a-time, toe up, using Magic Loop on my beautiful, personalized Signature Needles (a birthday gift from The Optometrist). I adjusted the two balls of yarn to have matching stripes which is visually pleasing, especially beginning and ending with the same colors!

The feet are knit plain/vanilla, then knit a 3×1 ribbing (knit 3, purl 1) around the leg of the sock to fit snugly, and finished with a 2×2 ribbing (knit 2, purl 2) for around 7 rows at the very top.

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Pattern: Basic Baby Hat
Cost: Free!
Needles: US 6, 16″ circular Knit Picks Rainbow fixed circular needles & US 6, 5″ Brittany birch DPNs
Yarn: Patons North America Beehive Shetland Light – 4739 (fuschia), Plymouth Yarn Encore DK – Cream
Pom Pom Maker: Clover
Recipient: Olivia

Last Christmas I knitted little gifts for my parent’s pastor’s three children: a pair of mittens for the two older boys and a stuffed animal for baby sister. Even though we may not be able to attend church with them near Christmas this year, I’m already thinking ahead to cooler weather, hand-knits, and this year their gifts are going to be hats!

I’ve made several hats from this simple pattern, so this time I decided to design my own color scheme using alternating colors in stripes and rows and had a great time letting the creative juices flow!

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Pattern: Mitt Envy by weezalana
Cost: Free!
Needles: US 3 DPNs
Yarn: Koigu KPPPM 703P
Recipient: TBA

Last winter I knit a pair of these for my Momma for her birthday and enjoyed the pattern so much I bought another lovely skein of Koigu, this time to make them in a grape colorway.

These accompanied me to SSK, but weren’t my primary project (keep reading…), although I did finish the first one while in Nashville and then started and finished the second after returning home.


Pattern: Granny Annie
Cost: Pay for pattern by Hanna Maciejewska
Needles: US 6, 60″ circular ChiaGoo Lace
Yarn: Madelinetosh DK – Molly Ringwald, Stovepipe, Candlewick, Great Grey Owl
Recipient: I’m keeping this one!

When I saw the version knit by the Plucky Knitter, I instantly fell in love with this color combination – pale pink, mustard, dark and light grey, so I loved recreating my own using luscious Tosh DK. This was the other project I took with me to SSK, on which I knit the most thanks to lots of garter and simple increase rows. It was the perfect travel project to knit in the car and around groups of people (read: not a lot of concentration required).

Since I adjusted the gauge, the end product was a bit smaller than I would have liked, but it’s a decent size and we’ll see how it adjusts with a vigorous blocking.

I was also very disappointed with the Leopard (charcoal grey) colorway. It routinely turned my left index finger dark, as well as my hands, as if I had been holding newsprint. Since Leopard often appears right next to Molly Ringwald, the two darkest and lightest colors, I’m not going to block it until I’ve received some Shout color catchers to help absorb any excess dye from bleeding onto the rest of the shawl.

WIP (Work in Progress)

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Pattern: Granny Stripes
Cost: Free!
Hook: Size E
Yarn: various sock/sport weight bits & pieces
Recipient: I’m keeping this one, too!

It’s been several months since I’ve picked up my crocheted blanket, but after returning from SSK, I have been inspired to get more done on this languishing WIP! I now have several sock yarn colors to add – all the Hedgehog colors from my Fade, the aforementioned finished pair of socks and mitts, and an adorable mini skein from Rock and String Yarn included in my purchase from SSK. And as fall gets closer and the blanket grows bigger, it will be the perfect project to have on my lap during cooler weather!

 

Read: July 2017

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At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

This was the perfect book to read at the beginning of the month since The Optometrist and I did quite a bit of traveling throughout July. Granted, it wasn’t across continents with backpacks and children, rather, across state lines in our own vehicles with suitcases and no other dependents. Yet the perspective of an introvert with wanderlust (like me) finding beauty, rest, and a deeper sense of home among the ordinary and extraordinary during her family’s year-long journey around the world was a comforting read. The writing was beautiful, inviting, and focused on the ways she and her family interacted with places they visited and the ways they lived life as a family in huge cities and tiny villages. So rather than serving as a do-this, go-here, make-sure-you-don’t-miss “travel guide,” it was still enticingly descriptive of landmarks and locations around the world.

Wanderlust and my longing for home are birthed from the same place:  a desire to find the ultimate spot this side of heaven. (p. 246)

This was highly recommended by two sources I’ve returned to time and time again this summer: the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide in the Thought-Provoking Stories category and the Shauna Niequist Podcast, where Tsh was her inaugural guest in Episode 1.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

Summerlost

Summerlost by Ally Condie

You might know Ally Condie from her YA novels, including the Matched trilogy (of which I still need to read the second and third installments…), but this is her newest offering, a middle-grade stand-alone story.

Cedar Lee and her family have a new summer routine after tragedy has struck and as Cedar processes this loss and her grief, her new neighbor Leo invites her to take part in the town’s annual summer Shakespeare festival, Summerlost. I immediately developed a strong sense of place as I began reading this book, which is very important for me to connect with the story, characters, and setting. This sweet tale of healing, friendship, and remembering loved ones could be easily read over the span of a day or so, especially during summer vacation.

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

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World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

World of Trouble is the final installment of the Last Policeman trilogy, of which I read book 1 in April and book 2 in June, thus I wanted to finish book 3 before I forgot many of the details and connections among the three.

Now just days away from an apocalyptic asteroid making impact with Earth, Henry Palace is on a journey from Massachusetts to Ohio to find his rogue sister Nico and investigate her belief that there really might be a way for the asteroid to be re-routed in the sky before it makes impact. Final mysteries are solved and the series comes to a likely, if not somewhat depressing, conclusion.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

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Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn 

Given to me by The Optometrist for Christmas, I felt it was finally time to read this smart, epistolary homage to the alphabet, the famous pangram (use of all 26 letters in the alphabet) phrase the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, a struggling Utopian community, and what happens when the literal letter of the law overrides common sense.

There were hints of Fahrenheit 451, which I love, and of course, Ella Minnow Pea is also known as the series of letters LMNOP. Overall a very cleverly written and thought-provoking novel!

Book read via: home library


As July gives way to August, this signifies to me the end of summer and the beginning of fall since school resumes late-month. Therefore, I’m excited to read and report on some upcoming fall books to which I’ve been given access via free, digital ARCs. Look for blog reviews over some of these titles in the months ahead!

Solo by Kwame Alexander (August 1)

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (September 19)

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon (September 19)

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (September 19)

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks (October 17)