Monday, August 31, 2015

What I Read: August

I thought that this month's post was only going to include the Wildwood trilogy, since that's what I spent most of August reading! But thankfully I managed to squeeze in a few more quick reads over the past week. :) As always, the titles are linked to my Goodreads reviews.

Wildwood, by Colin Meloy. This was a reread, but I actually enjoyed it more this time around! I reviewed the whole trilogy on the blog here.

Under Wildwood, by Colin Meloy. Another reread. You can read more of my thoughts here.

Wildwood Imperium, by Colin Meloy. A really nice, though somewhat frantic, conclusion to this series. Again, my trilogy review.

And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie. This is definitely my favorite Agatha Christie novel so far. (Okay, so I've only read five, but still...) Once I got all of the characters straight in my head, I loved this book. The setting and plot was wonderfully sinister and creepy. Because of the nursery rhyme that the plot is based on, you're sort of anticipating what is coming, but at the same time you don't really know. So, so good. I'm hoping to watch the 1945 adaptation soon.

The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde. Here's the thing: I don't like reading plays. I don't know why. And apparently I'm weird about written humor. Sometimes humor that will make me laugh in a film or TV show does nothing for me in a book. (Examples: Jeeves and Wooster, The Princess Bride, etc.) The humor in this play is really absurd. I liked it in the Colin Firth film, I loved it in the In Earnest web series, but it didn't make me laugh in the actual book. Basically...I'm glad I read it, but I didn't love it.

Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, by Bill Bryson. This book is typical Bill Bryson. He travels around, complains about ugly buildings, has a hard time finding good (cheap) food, takes a lot of walks and a lot of baths, etc. (His travels aren't thrilling but I find them oddly fascinating.) Sometimes he's quite funny and insightful, but other times he's negative and his sense of humor is way too crass for me. I liked this one much more than A Walk in the Woods, but less than Notes From a Small Island (which I read back in January).

Only two more books until I've finished my summer reading list! Once I'm done with those, I'll probably do a recap post with my favorites, least favorites, etc. from that list.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


It's been quite a while since I did one of these random posts, but it seems like a good time for one since I've been feeling scattered lately. The past several weeks have been a little strange. I've been off from my babysitting job because of health issues in the kids' family, so I've had a lot of free time. I've been trying to use the time wisely, to get ready for craft fairs this fall: knitting, spinning, dyeing yarn, and making lots of soap. (If I end up not selling much, my family will probably have enough soap to last us for the next year, ha.) But there have definitely been days when I feel like I'm just going in circles...making lots of lists but not actually accomplishing anything.

Knitting: Hats. Lots of hats. That stack shows the eight hats (varying from baby sizes to adult) that I've knitted over the past two weeks. It feels like reasonable progress until I look at my list and see how many I still need to make (and realize that the first festival is less than six weeks away!). I'm running out of larger quantities of yarn now (yarn that I'm willing to part with, that is), so I'm having to get creative with stripes. I weigh little bits of yarn and calculate how much I can squeeze out of leftovers. My favorite hat so far is one that uses leftovers: yarn from my first sweater and handspun from this made rainbow-ish stripes and worked out much nicer than I anticipated.

Reading: Right now I'm reading Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. (So good! Probably my favorite of her novels so far.) I'm still doing my summer reading list...I'm giving myself through the first day of autumn to finish it. I only have four books left so I'm determined to follow through. :) But I'm so ready to be able to spontaneously pick my next book instead of having to choose it from my list! Especially because I recently got some new (used) books and I'm so excited about reading them. The Ginger Rogers book wasn't a recent purchase, but I can't separate it from Fred Astaire's autobiography because they look so darn cute together. I love that their books were rereleased in matching covers!

Listening: I've mentioned Look Homeward's debut before, but I still love it (and it's still free on Noisetrade). And then there's Holly Arrowsmith's new album For The Weary Traveller. When I first listened to a few of the songs, I thought it was a little too traditionally "folk" for my taste, but no. This music is gorgeous! I tend to get obsessive over new music that I love, so I've been listening to this album every day for most of August. Her lyrics are really beautiful. My favorite songs are Lady of the Valley, Flinted, and Voices of Youth (but let's be honest: I love them all).

Watching: I'm rewatching two of my favorites through again: Sherlock and Gilmore Girls. Sherlock still amazes me each time. And even though Gilmore Girls has some little things that bug me (the constant bickering between Lorelai and Emily gets on my nerves), I still enjoy it. I've also been watching Foyle's War through Netflix and really liking it so far!

I saw Paddington last weekend and thought it was adorable. I didn't like the trailer at all...I haven't read the book yet, but I remember thinking that they'd probably dumbed it down and made it too modern. But the casting looked really good, so I decided to check it out and wow, it was ridiculously charming! It had a quirky, timeless feel, and the humor was great. It would be the simplest things, but something about how they framed certain shots and set up situations just cracked me up. The escalator bit was my favorite (I can't remember the last time a kids' movie made me laugh that hard).

On a slightly random note, have any of you seen The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? I'd always heard of the show but never watched it. But I really want to see the new movie. I'm partial to 60s spy films, anyway (though generally on the kookier side, like The Glass Bottom Boat), and it looks like they did that well in this film...the sets and clothing look amazing. I probably won't see it until it releases on DVD, but I'm curious as to what people have thought of it.

{Linking up with Ginny's Yarn Along}

Monday, August 24, 2015

Wildwood Chronicles {Series Review}

Several years ago, I stumbled across a book called Wildwood. Most of the reviews for it were written by fans of the band The Decemberists, because the author, Colin Meloy, happens to be their lead singer and songwriter. (Incidentally, I don't know much about The Decemberists. I've tried to get into their music several times, since I like the basic style of it and the album covers and most of the lyrics...but I'm just not a huge fan of Meloy's voice most of the time. I do really like some of their songs, though.) I was drawn to the book for different reasons: mostly the gorgeous cover and how it was sometimes referred to as an "American Narnia."

I read the first book in 2012, and I was a little disappointed with it. I found the writing style so awkward and annoying, and I had to drag myself through the first half of it (though it picked up after that). Then nearly a year later, I read the second book. I had forgotten some details, and the beginning of the book felt so slow that I almost just put it aside. But I kept reading and ended up loving it and thinking it was so much better than the first book. The third and final book came out last year, and I bought it then but held off on reading it because I wanted to reread the other two books first.

So...I just spent the last three and a half weeks reading (and rereading) my way through this series and I'm finally ready to review it. :)

This children's fantasy series is set in present day Portland, Oregon, though in a slightly alternative-universe way. A lot of the locations in the books are inspired by real-life places in that area, and apparently there are lots of stereotypical "Portland hipster" references in the books. I wouldn't know, honestly, because I've never been there. :) But I will say that Prue, the main character, is a 12 year old who is a vegetarian, rides her bicycle all over town, drinks coffee, and browses through vinyl records. Anyway, in the series, outside of Portland is an area known as the "Impassable Wilderness." The Portlandians don't realize that there's an entire society living inside the wood, because the two worlds are separated by a magical boundary.

The first book starts off with Prue's baby brother being kidnapped by a murder of crows (yes, that's the actual name for a group of crows). Prue follows them into the Impassable Wilderness to rescue her brother, along with a schoolmate named Curtis. They're surprised to find themselves in a world of coyote soldiers, owl princes, bandit kings, and an exiled ruler who is planning on using Prue's brother as a sacrifice to take over the whole wood.

I actually enjoyed the first book a lot more the second time through! The things that bugged me at first (more on that later) didn't bother me much this time. I just really love the atmosphere and setting of the story. I like that there are four different "countries" in the wood, and they all have their own personalities. (I would totally live in North Wood.) The whole idea of this place that's a mixture of modern with weirdly old-fashioned aspects...bearded bandits running around in old uniforms, animals wearing overalls and smoking pipes and living alongside humans, a giant owl's basically a jumble of quirkiness that's really appealing to me for some reason. :)

With the way the first book ends, the story seems neatly wrapped up. But as the second book, Under Wildwood, begins, we realize that things aren't going as smoothly as they seemed. There are new threats, so Prue is called back into Wildwood for her own protection.

Oddly enough, I think that after rereading the second book, I liked it a bit less. It was still enjoyable, but it does suffer from second-book-syndrome. New characters and issues are introduced, and things are happening, but the plot doesn't move forward in a huge way. You get the feeling that the author is mostly just setting up for the third book. There are three intertwining stories being told in this book, and that's done really well.

One of my favorite parts is the Unthank Home. That whole aspect of the story definitely has a Lemony Snicket-ish feel to it, which I appreciate. Also, there's a character named Joffrey Unthank who is determined to get inside the Impassable Wilderness, and he's not afraid to use the orphans in his "home" (basically a factory) as experiments to do so. He reminds me so much of Uncle Andrew in The Magician's Nephew! I can't believe I didn't see that before. (That's about the only aspect of this series that reminds me of Narnia, by the way. Except that the Dowager Governess is definitely reminiscent of the White Witch, though with a slightly more sympathetic backstory.)

So now we're into the final book, Wildwood Imperium. There is a lot going on in this book. I don't mean that it's action-packed, because it's not (not until the end, anyway). The main characters are separated a lot and there are new characters being introduced, so the author is juggling too many perspectives and it gets overwhelming at times. It worked well with three perspectives in Under Wildwood, but here it feels a little out of control.

I love Esben. We met him briefly in the second book, but he's more present in this one, and he's one of my favorite characters of the series. His friendship with Prue is so endearing. As for another new character, I didn't like Zita at all. I know she changes by the end, but she makes stupid decisions and causes a lot of bad things to happen.

The third book is random and all over the place, but that's keeping in line with the rest of the series. Overall, it was a very satisfying conclusion. I did think that one particular part (with Alexandra) wrapped up a bit too neatly and quickly after all of the chaos. And I thought I was going to be disappointed with something that happened to a main character until the very last page...I appreciated that little twist. :)

I have to mention the illustrations in this series because they are so gorgeous and I can't imagine the books without them. The illustrator is Carson Ellis, who is married to the author. Her illustration style is incredible and it suits the books perfectly. I can't explain why, but her style is so appealing to me (it's similar to Jon Klassen, another of my favorites). These books are some of the most beautiful ones I own. The covers are lovely, the end papers are maps of the wood, and Ellis' illustrations are scattered throughout the pages. There are lots of black and white illustrations, but there are also a handful of full-color plates in each book. It was always a nice surprise to unexpectedly come upon an illustration while reading.

Though I really do love this series, the books aren't perfect. The writing style definitely takes some getting used to. It's overly descriptive and wordy...sometimes it feels like he kept a thesaurus nearby to find weird words to use. The first time I read Wildwood, I found the writing style so distracting. Honestly, I'm not sure if it improves throughout the series or if I just got used to it. Also, the books are longer than they needed to be. They're all over 500 pages, and while they are relatively quick reads (the font is big and there are illustrations, so you can really fly through them if you want to), they're meandering and could use a bit of editing to pare things down a bit. Which is how I'm starting to feel about this review, ha. :)

I would recommend checking out the Wildwood trilogy if a quirky, folksy children's fantasy sounds interesting to you. It does have flaws and the story drags at times. But the atmosphere is so charming and there are lots of memorable characters and aspects. I feel like this is a series that I'll enjoy more each time I reread it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Three knitting skills that scare me.

When I first learned to knit, there were a lot of things about it that I found intimidating. But I didn't want to be limited to knitting scarves for the rest of my life, so each year I focused on learning something new.

First, it was socks. I heard knitters saying things like, "I've been knitting for 10 years and I've never attempted socks!" I heard horror stories about turning the heel. But I found a really good tutorial and guess what? Turning the heel of a sock isn't scary at's actually sort of magical, no matter how many pairs of socks you knit. (I don't really understand knitting. So I'm always blown away when you follow instructions blindly and amazing things happen. After all, knitting in itself is pretty unbelievable. How on earth did someone discover that you could take two sticks and some string and make a sweater?)

Next I tried a sweater. It wasn't the easiest experience, but I've learned a lot and my sweaters since then have been more successful than that first one. :)

Since I recently learned how to read a chart properly and did some simple lace knitting, I started thinking about knitting skills that still scare me...

1. Steeking. If you're not a knitter, you might not know what steeking is. Let me explain: you cut your knitting. You take a pair of scissors and, for example, slice up the front of a pullover that is destined to become a cardigan. You take the piece of knitting that represents hours and hours of your life, and you cut it. With scissors. I think even a non-knitter should be able to appreciate how shocking and terrifying this is. I know that with steeking, you take all sorts of precautions to stop your knitting from unraveling, but wow...I don't know how knitters do this without having a heart attack. Because if you mess up, guess what? It's not like you can frog it and reuse the yarn, which is usually an option if a knitting project goes wrong.

At some point I'll learn how to do this, but I don't plan on it anytime soon. And when I do, I'm going to practice on a swatch about ten times before I cut into my real project.

2. Seaming. Okay, so I've done a small amount of seaming before, on a pair of wristwarmers. But the thought of seaming a whole project like a sweater is overwhelming. Doing the finishing work on a knitting project is my least favorite part (I hate weaving in ends), and seaming adds a whole lot of finishing work. Plus, I'm afraid I would never get my seams to look neat. So for now, if I see that a sweater is seamed, I skip it.

3. Colorwork. I really intend on learning colorwork this year. There are so many adorable patterns that I love that involve stranded colorwork. A lot of people tell me that it's no big deal, but something about it still makes me nervous. I think it's the tension aspect. I feel like my knitting tension is weird, anyway. For the first couple of years, my tension was so tight that I automatically had to go up one or two needle sizes for every project. But now, I often have to go down a needle size, especially with sweaters. Even tension seems pretty important for colorwork, which worries me.

What intimidates you about knitting? Am I worrying unnecessarily about any of these things?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Yarn Along

Reading: Wildwood Imperium, by Colin Meloy. Yes, I'm still working my way through this trilogy! I've just been taking it slow and enjoying the story. The first two books were rereads for me, so it's nice to be on the final book and to not know what's going to happen. :)

Knitting: A baby hat using some leftover yarn. I saw these two colors together, and my first thought was to knit a baby hat that resembles a pumpkin. Dark green ribbing, orange body, a bit of green on top and maybe a little I-cord for a stem? It sounds cute in theory...we'll see how it actually turns out. :) There won't be much selfish knitting for me over the next few months, maybe even until the beginning of the year. I have a few craft fairs coming up in the fall, plus my niece's birthday in October (I want to continue my tradition of knitting her a sweater), and then I'll have to start Christmas gift knitting in November. Hopefully I can squeeze in some sock knitting at some point! :)

{Yarn Along is a weekly link up hosted by Ginny where you can share what you've been knitting and reading.}

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mini Reviews: Stalag 17 and Mrs. Miniver.

About a month ago, I watched two classic movies about WWII that I had never seen before. Since they both took place during the same era, I decided to write about them together (like I did with Into the Woods and Cinderella previously).

As someone who loves classic movies, I'd always heard about Stalag 17, but honestly the only thing I knew about it was that starred William Holden. Oh, and that it was some sort of war movie. I didn't even realize that it was about prisoners-of-war because I didn't know that "stalag" was the German term for a POW camp.

A brief plot summary: Stalag 17 is about a group of American airmen (or mostly Americans, I think?) in a POW camp. After some failed escapes, they all start to suspect that one of them is letting the Germans know of their plans. There's one person in particular who is the biggest suspect. (The film was shot in chronological order, so even the actors didn't know who the informant actually was until the last few days of filming.)

I loved Stalag 17! It was different from what I was expecting, but better. I've seen plenty of classic films (and BBC mini series) set during World War II, but I don't watch many "war films": ones where the war is a major plot point instead of just the setting. And this was the first film I'd ever seen that was about prisoners-of-war. At first, I thought that the movie probably wasn't very realistic...I guess I expected that the Germans would have treated Allied soldiers much worse than was portrayed in the film. But the film was adapted from a Broadway play that was written by real POWs, based on their experiences. So maybe it was more realistic than I realized?

William Holden's character was not at all what I expected! He generally plays a nice guy, but he's kind of a jerk in this film. He's not a bad guy, exactly, but he's not very likable, either. He had grown on me by the end, though. Holden actually won the Oscar for this role, though it's generally accepted that the award was more for his part in Sunset Boulevard (one of my favorites) several years earlier than for Stalag 17.

The guy who did impressions was hilarious...his Clark Gable one was my favorite, though I also loved the Hitler scene. I liked the guy with the wife who "found" a baby on their doorstep who just happens to look a lot like her, ha. ("I believe it. I believe it!") I love that he was knitting baby booties or socks later on in the film. (He was one of the writers of the original play, by the way, and a real life POW.)

I liked the mix of drama, suspense, and humor in this movie, though sometimes the humor was a little too over-the-top for me. (Like in another Billy Wilder film, Some Like It Hot...I don't like that movie.) But overall it was just really good. Also, while it might paint a lighter picture of the conditions that POWs had to endure, at least it brings attention to them. There was a special feature where they interviewed men who were prisoners-of-war during WWII, and it was fascinating and heartbreaking. I can't remember the estimated number of POWs, but I couldn't believe how high it was! It seems like an aspect of WWII that is often overlooked.

(If all of this sounds similar to Hogan's Heroes, that's because apparently that show is a rip-off of this film. I haven't even seen that many episodes, but I couldn't believe all of the similarities.)

Okay, now on to Mrs. Miniver. This was another classic movie that I'd always heard about but didn't know much about. I knew it was a WWII film, but I didn't realize it was set in England. (I know that the war was difficult for everyone, but goodness...the English really had it hard, dealing with air raids and everything!) It's about a lady (obviously the title character) and her family, and how their everyday lives are affected by the war.

I always assumed that Mrs. Miniver was made in the 50s or sometime after the war was over, but it was made in 1942. Even though the film is depressing, it still manages to be hopeful. That amazes me, because at the time, nobody knew how things were going to end. For all they knew, Germany was going to invade England.

Even though I appreciated the film, I didn't love it like I expected to. It won six Oscars, but honestly it didn't feel that memorable to me (though there were some suspenseful moments). Also, I was distracted during most of the movie, waiting for one particular thing to happen, because there was a big spoiler printed on the envelope (thanks a lot, Netflix). But the spoiler wasn't accurate, so I spent most of the movie anticipating the death of one character when it was actually another who ended up dying.

(I later found out that Greer Garson was married to the guy who played her older son in this movie, which creeps me out. Also, you cannot tell me that Downton Abbey didn't lift the flower show scene with the Dowager Countess directly from this film!)

So...two good, but very different, classic movies about World War II. Stalag 17 was definitely my favorite of the two. :)
Have you seen Stalag 17 or Mrs. Miniver? What did you think?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

My favorite Monk episodes.

I recently finished watching Monk through for the second time. I was worried that I wouldn't love it as much because now I would remember how the mysteries were solved. But it was just as amazing the second time through. This is definitely one of my favorite TV shows...I think I still like it better than Psych (and I love Psych!). The supporting characters are great, and Randy Disher is my favorite. He's good-hearted but such a goober. (He probably reminds me of Barney Fife.)

When I finished watching Psych, I made a list of my favorite episodes, and I decided to do the same for Monk. You'll thank me later. :)

1. Mr. Monk and the Kid (season 3). One of my favorite things about this show is how it can have me laughing until I cry and crying (actual sad crying) in the same episode, and this one is the perfect example. Monk calling 911 while attempting to change a diaper is one of the most hilarious moments of the entire show, in my opinion. And then the end of this episode is just heartbreaking. How do they do it? (Also, I like it when we get to see Monk changing a little bit and doing something unexpected. Like taking care of a kid.)

2. Mr. Monk and the End: Parts 1 and 2 (season 8). I love it when a show ends well, and this is probably one of the best series finales I've ever seen. (Actually, they did a good job with wrapping up the show during the whole final season. They tied up everything perfectly.) You know the thing that it seems like is going to happen for the majority of these two episodes? I honestly thought they were going to follow through with that. And while it would have been terrible, it also would have been sort of fitting, in a way (but I'm thankful things took a different turn). Anyway, the finale is amazing. They brought the entire show full circle.

3. Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine (season 3). Anytime Mr. Monk is acting not-himself, it's fascinating in an awful sort of way. Like the episode when he gets hypnotized, or the one where he's impersonating Frank DePalma. In this one, Monk (despite his dislike of medicines) decides to try a new medication for his OCD without telling anyone. It's hilarious and bizarre to see him acting so unlike himself, especially when nobody knows why. (Funnily enough, everyone always assumes he's been drinking, though Monk doesn't drink.)

4. Mr. Monk Is on the Run: Parts 1 and 2 (season 6). These two episodes are probably the most plot twisty, suspenseful Monk episodes ever. When I watched it for the first time, I was like what?? What is even happening here? These episodes include all of the best aspects of the show: a part in the Trudy plot arc, unexpected twists, Monk being his usual self (trying to sew up his pocket while running through the woods?), and some hilarious moments (Randy's song).

5. Mr. Monk and the Actor (season 5). Stanley Tucci is one of my favorite guest stars in the show, though he's only in this one episode. He plays an actor who is going to portray Monk in a film, so he starts shadowing him, and things get out of control really quickly. Apparently Stanley Tucci was one of the three final choices to play Monk in the show, so it's interesting to see him here "as Monk," knowing that he could have really been.

6. Mr. Monk Goes to Jail (season 2). This is one of my favorites just because it's Mr. Monk in prison. And he actually sort-of makes friends with his cellmate, a violent murderer called Spyder.

Some honorable mentions: Mr. Monk Goes to the Asylum (season 1- several funny supporting characters), Mr. Monk and the Airplane (season 1- I always like seeing Tony Shalhoub's wife guest starring), Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico (season 2), Mr. Monk Goes to the Theater (season 2), Mr. Monk Bumps His Head (season 4- this one probably should have made the favorites list, because I really love it), Mr. Monk and the Badge (season 8- another good example of how they brought the story full circle, though not always in the way you'd think), and Mr. Monk Is the Best Man (because Captain Stottlemeyer is a good guy and he deserves a happy ending).

I still feel like I'm forgetting some! Honestly, it would be easier to list the few episodes that I don't love. :)

If you watch Monk, what are some of your favorite episodes?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Wool and Wheel shop is open!

Finally! As the shop opens, here's what is available:

- 8 skeins of handspun yarn. Six of those are hand dyed (not by me...I purchased the fiber already dyed) and two of them are US Cheviot wool in natural white (starting out as a raw fleece, which I cleaned, hand carded, and spun).

- 2 skeins of naturally dyed yarn: goldenrod and onion skins.

- 2 handknitted items: a pair of naturally dyed mitts and a hand dyed, handspun hat. The handknits in the shop will always be made from hand dyed, handspun, or US wool.

- Plenty of goat's milk soap! Lavender, lemongrass, and cinnamon orange scented. There's also a 3 pack of soap, which will save you a little bit instead of buying them separately.

I still have a few things that haven't been listed yet. Within the next week I'll be adding unscented soap (it will be finished curing in a few days), a couple of naturally dyed hats for babies and children, and a skein of pokeberry-dyed yarn.

My plan for the shop is to focus on yarns that are as local and natural as possible. My ultimate goal is to only sell items that are made from minimally processed US wool. I'm not there yet, but I'm working towards that.

(This blog is still going to remain the same...I promise it's not going to become a place where I do nothing but promote the Etsy shop. Nothing is going to change, except that I might do occasional update posts when I have several new items listed.)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Natural dyeing: goldenrod and pokeberries {and Etsy shop news!}.

Last week was one of those weeks where you don't get anything done that you'd planned on doing, but you do a lot of things you didn't plan. I intended to make soap, start knitting some new items to sell, and open my Etsy shop, among other things. But it turned out to be an unexpected week of natural dyeing. Every single day I was either dyeing or doing something related to it.

I'm so thankful that my parents not only put up with all of my strange interests and weird ideas, but they actually encourage and participate in them. They helped me so much last week. My mom and I gathered over twenty pounds of black walnuts from the nearby farm where my dad keeps his sheep. (Those are currently fermenting in water, which they have to do for two more weeks before I dye with them.) Dad picked a couple of buckets of pokeberries, and then the two of us pulled them off the stems (ending up with stained fingers and twelve pounds of berries). They both went with me around the farm until we found a hidden patch of goldenrod, which is apparently blooming early this year. We got the Workhorse temporarily stuck in a hole, while the sky was getting dark and it was starting to thunder, and then we fought briars to get to the goldenrod. And after all of that adventuring, my parents still manage to muster up enthusiasm when I show them how the yarn turned out. Thanks, Mom and Dad. :)

I've dyed with goldenrod before, so I knew what to expect. I think this yarn turned out a bit darker, though. It's a really pretty greenish-yellow. The dye bath still had a lot of color to it and I hated to waste it, so a few days later I dyed some scrap yarn with it. They turned out an equally nice color, though with less of a green tint.

For several years now, I've been wanting to dye with pokeberries. We always have them spring up, but usually I can't find enough berries at one time to use. But I finally got to try it this year, and I'm so happy with the results! We ended up with more berries than I expected, so I had to scrounge around to find more yarn to add to the pot (most of my white yarn is mordanted with alum already, but you use a vinegar mordant with pokeberries...apparently it's the only thing that will keep it from fading). I also threw a few ounces of BFL fiber in there. I've always been afraid to dye spinning fiber, because it's a lot easier to felt than yarn. I might have felted it a bit, but I think I'm still going to be able to spin it. Isn't that color gorgeous? It's definitely my favorite natural dye I've tried so far. The yarn is slightly less pink and more red in real life, but that's the exact shade of hot pink that the water was in the dye pot. It's so bright that it looks artificial! Most natural dyes are muted shades, so it amazes me that such a vibrant color can come from a plant.

{Even though pokeberries are really pretty (look at that perfect little flower shape that's left on the stem when you pull the berries off!) and smell good, they are not edible- they're toxic to humans. I'm sure most people know that, but I thought I should mention it anyway.}

So overall, a very successful week. We have a lot of goldenrod growing in the field behind our house (it's just not blooming yet), so I'm sure I'll be dyeing with it again soon. Also, we have a patch of pokeberry in the garden that hasn't turned yet, and hopefully I'll be able to find enough to make another dye bath before summer's over.

Okay, and finally some Etsy shop news! I'm planning on having the shop open by the weekend. I have a few more listings to finish, so I'm not exactly sure what day it will be, but I'll put up an announcement here when it's officially open.

Here's what will be available: handspun yarn, a few hand-knitted items, and goat's milk soap in several scents. I also have a few skeins of naturally dyed yarn that will be listed soon, but most of them have to be rinsed or reskeined, so they might not be available yet.

I'm really excited for my shop to finally be open. It would be amazing if all of this yarn and fiber stuff could go from being "just" a hobby to being more of a job. I'm trying to move in that direction, with my new shop and the fact that I'm going to be attending a few local craft fairs this fall. We'll see how everything goes!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Cover love: middle grade books.

It's no secret that I love middle grade books. I really appreciate a perfect balance of humor and seriousness, and middle grade tends to do that well (more so than most adult books, in my opinion). Also, they make me feel nostalgic, which is nice.
Recently I was browsing through Goodreads, and thanks to that wonderful little "recommendations" feature, I came across quite a few middle grade books that I want to read. I'll admit that I was drawn to most of these by the gorgeous covers. Apparently I have a thing for silhouettes and illustrated covers. :) Obviously, no matter how beautiful a book cover is, I'm not going to read it if I have zero interest in the story itself. All of these sound interesting to me...a pretty cover is just a bonus.
Most of these books are either new releases or upcoming releases, though a few of them came out several years ago.

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty. This story is set at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The Biltmore Estate is several hours from where I live, and I've always wanted to visit, so of course I'm interested in this book! :) It's supposed to be a spooky sort of mystery about children who keep disappearing from the estate.

Goodbye Stranger, by Rebecca Stead. I don't even know what this book is about, but I was so impressed with her other books that I definitely want to read this one. I've read When You Reach Me (absolutely loved it) and Liar & Spy (really, really liked it). Both of those books have this amazing timeless quality to them: you know how you feel about your favorite books that you read in school as a kid? That's how these's hard to explain. Also, they both have really good plot twists that turn everything you thought about the story upside down.

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. I love historical fiction, and I've heard nothing but good things about this book. It's about a young girl who has never been allowed to leave her apartment because she has a twisted foot, until she and her brother are sent out from London out into the English countryside (like so many children were during WWII).

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley. I've heard this described as a kid's version of Big Fish. (I remember liking that film when I watched it several years ago...I should probably see it again.)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard. I haven't read too much about this one, because it's the sequel to Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, which I own but haven't read yet. But the cover is just as beautiful as the first book!

The Case of the Missing Marquess, by Nancy Springer. This is the first in the Enola Holmes series, which revolve around the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes. Somehow I just found out about this series recently, though the first book came out nine years ago! And the newer covers are awesome.

Nooks & Crannies, by Jessica Lawson. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue." Also, the main character has a pet mouse named Pemberley. That's all I need to know, really.

Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan. This book has amazing reviews. It's historical fiction with three intertwined stories involving a harmonica and the magic of music, apparently? It sounds really good.

A Study in Charlotte, by Brittany Cavallaro. Technically this is YA, not middle grade. But I'm squeezing it in here, because would you look at that cover? Also, it's a mystery featuring Charlotte Holmes, a descendant of Sherlock.

Rules for Stealing Stars, by Corey Ann Haydu. This one has magic and fantasy elements, but it's rooted in reality: it's about four sisters living with their alcoholic mother.

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, by Holly Grant. This book has been compared to A Series of Unfortunate Events, Roald Dahl, and The Mysterious Benedict basically that's my favorite kind of middle grade. Slightly creepy and sinister.

Zebra Forest, Adina Rishe Gewirtz. I love this cover! It's about two siblings who live with their grandma and family secrets and an escaped prisoner holding them hostage in their own house.

Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen. I think this is sort of a reversed Beauty and the Beast retelling? If the girl ever falls in love, she'll turn into a beast, or something like that. Anyway, it sounds good and the cover is gorgeous.

The Wolf Wilder, by Katherine Rundell. Again, look at that cover! It's probably one of my favorites of this post. The reviews for the story itself are a little mixed, but I still think it's worth a try. It's historical fiction set in Russia.

The Key to Extraordinary, by Natalie Lloyd. Of course this one's going to be on the list. :) This is one of my most anticipated releases of 2016. Natalie, besides being a sweet person, writes the most magical middle grade books. A Snicker of Magic was one of my favorite books of last year and I can't wait to read her new book.

The Odds of Getting Even, by Sheila Turnage. This is the third book in the Tupelo Landing series. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy the second one as much as I'd hoped to (I loved the first book), but I hope this one will be good.

The Marvels, by Brian Selznick. Anything by Brian Selznick is sure to be amazing. He tells stories in such a creative way: usually a couple of stories intertwined, sometimes with just words and sometimes with just pictures...his books are always gorgeous. All I know about this one is that there's a shipwreck involved somehow.

Paper Things, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. The cover is sweet, but I think this story deals with more serious issues, like homelessness.

Last in a Long Line of Rebels, by Lisa Lewis Tyre. This is a mystery about a young girl who's trying to save her Civil War-era house from being condemned. I think it also deals with racism and the South (past and present), so it sounds really intriguing.

Stella by Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper. More historical fiction...this one is about the KKK in 1930s North Carolina and a young girl named Stella (which happens to be my niece's name). Again, a lovely, haunting cover.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Knitting: Nurmilintu shawl.

This year, one of my knitting goals was to learn how to knit lace. (Also, stranded colorwork, but I haven't gotten around to that one yet.) So far I'd only done the tiniest bit of simple lace in a couple of projects, like my Multnomah shawl. Up until recently, I'd always avoided patterns that only had charts unless I could find where someone else had posted the written instructions.

But it turns out that charts aren't so scary after all! :) I know that this is relatively easy lace, so it might have lured me into a false sense of security when it comes to reading charts, but I don't think I'll be avoiding charts anymore.

I love how this shawl turned out. First of all, the color is perfect. It's tosh sock in the Jade colorway, which is the perfect shade of green in my opinion. I'm picky about green yarn...most of it is too dark or too lime or neon, but this is perfect. I bought this yarn when we went to Georgia for the weekend last fall, and I knew I wanted to use it for this shawl. It's the Nurmilintu shawl, which is a lovely free pattern. I had about 40 yards less than the pattern called for, so I had to cut the last lace section short. It was supposed to look like the other two sections, but I could only manage the first third of the lace repeat before binding off (a picot binding, another first for me with this project). It still looks nice, though...I like having that little bit of lace right before the bind off.

I didn't have to stretch the shawl much while blocking grew on its own, which is a good thing with shawls (not so much with sweaters). I'm really surprised with how large it turned out! It feels a lot bigger than my Hitchhikers, though those took more yarn (first one and second one). It's amazing to me that you can get a decent sized shawl out of one smallish skein of sock yarn. :)

I never thought I would say this, but I'm getting to the point where I prefer shawls to scarves or even cowls. There are at least four more that I'd like to knit soon. (In case you're wondering: Elder Tree, Stripe Study, Orbit, and Nordic Wind.)

Ravelry project page.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Knitting: local alpaca hat.

When I heard about Kismet Fiber Works' new line of yarn called Rooted, I was really excited. The fiber for the yarn came from an alpaca farm in Virginia, and it was milled in North Carolina. I live in southern Virginia so this yarn is about as local as I can get (unless I was making yarn from my own sheep...maybe someday?).

I bought a skein of the Rooted Slubby Silk, which is 85% alpaca and 15% silk. Instead of being blended in with the alpaca, the silk is left in slubs, so it gives the yarn a tweedy look. I picked the cinnamon colorway, which is a nice brown (it's all undyed). I love the yarn, but just so you know, it's not a super-soft alpaca yarn like you might be used to. I think that the alpaca fiber wasn't de-haired, which does affect the softness some. But the hat doesn't feel particularly itchy or prickly to me.

I originally planned on a plain, slightly slouchy, stockinette hat. I knitted that hat (using a pattern generator for the numbers), and it was huge. I have a big head (and thick hair), anyway, but I think that hat was about twice as big as it needed to be. So I ripped out the whole thing and started over with a cute pattern that was actually in the collection for this yarn: Fawntana.

The second attempt went much better, and I'm pleased with the finished hat! I didn't knit it as long as the pattern says because I wasn't planning on wearing it with the ribbing rolled up. Actually, I probably could have made the ribbing a little shorter, but when I was knitting it, I wasn't thinking about that. The tweediness of the yarn does obscure the lace pattern of the hat a little, but I still like the texture. I haven't blocked it yet, so the lace might open up more and the hat might become slouchier after that.

So...this is my first knitted item made from locally sourced fiber! That's pretty exciting, and hopefully it's the first of many such projects. :)

Ravelry project page.