Friday, February 19, 2016

Books of 2015

Books of 2015

I like to read. This past year, I read more fiction than I normally do. Particularly fiction of the fantasy genre. And these were my favorite picks in all genres:

  • The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. - I read two of Barbara Kingsolver's books in a row. Flight Behavior preceded this pick. As much as I enjoyed Flight Behavior, I had to include The Poisonwood Bible in my top picks. Kingsolver will probably go down as a favorite author in my life. Her descriptions are vivid, her characters are complex, her storylines are compelling, and her messages are relevant and poignant. The Poisonwood Bible is the type of classic writing that I would instruct others to read. If I were an English teacher, I would make my students read this novel. Some of them would hate me for it. I would accept that. It could make for interesting discussion on missionary life, the history of the Congolese, issues of race and religion, the extent of personal responsibility, and the role of government – American and otherwise. And certainly, The Poisonwood Bible, as a work of fiction, would only be a starting point to a complex discourse on a variety of issues and historical events. Anyway, you can read it and decide for yourself. The story is told from the point of view of a mother and her four daughters who are brought to the Congo by their evangelist husband and father, Nathan Price. Political and social unrest occurs, corresponding with the unprepared family's struggles with religion, race, and culture. There were times I was outraged, times where I laughed, and other times where I wept. Good job, Ms. Kingsolver!
    • Honorable mentions for general fiction: The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See.

  • The Winner's Crime, by Marie Rutkoski – This is the sequel to The Winner's Curse, which I also loved. The third novel is due out in November of 2016, and this makes me want to weep. I can't wait to find out how the whole story ends!!! Kestrel is the daughter of a general in an empire. The empire enslaves the citizens of conquered countries. In the first book, Kestrel purchases Arin, a defiant man who promises not to make a very good slave. I don't want to divulge too much for this second book – EXCEPT THAT IT IS EVEN BETTER THAN THE FIRST BOOK. Of course there's a romance between Kestrel and Arin, but the world gets tossed upside down. Politics and relationships do not mix well, and I can't wait to see what Rutkoski has in store for her readers with the final book.
  • An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir – This is the first installment to a trilogy, and I am hooked. The second book is out in August of 2016. I don't blame you if you hold off until summer to read this page-turner. Laia is a scholar turned slave. Elias is a student at the finest military academy, and is in line to potentially become the next emperor. The book's POV switches between these two as they undergo challenges – Laia's brother is arrested for treason, and she tries to rescue him with the help of a rebel faction. Elias is trying to leave the life his barbaric mother – the Commandant – and his Empire-worshiping grandfather are forcing him to lead. Of course, they cross paths, but, how will their lives intertwine in a way that determines the fate of the empire? Truly, a thoroughly enjoyable and absorbing read.
  • The Invasion of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen. This follow-up to The Queen of the Tearling left me yearning for August 2016, when the final book comes out. I can't believe that I managed to read three separate trilogies this year that are yet unfinished. It's been painful, but the books are so excellent that it's difficult to complain! In The Invasion of the Tearling, protagonist Kelsea Glynn goes up against the dreaded Red Queen and her invading army. There's big magic afoot here: a dream-induced sort of time travel, enchanted jewels, and a sinister being bent on release. There are contemporary issues like rape, cutting, and theocratic intrigue and violence. None of this is romanticized – it's disturbing. Kelsea is a transformed character, and you have to wonder if she might fall further from the precipice that is the moral high ground meeting the moral grey area. I eagerly await the conclusion in the third installment!

  • The Girl With All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey – This book has a great twist on a traditional monster trope. It's dystopian, it's creepy, and it takes you on a heart-pounding ride through a post-apocalyptic world where what it means to be human is changing.
    • The Road, by Cormac MacCarthy
    • Through the Woods, a graphic novel by Emily Carroll.

Graphic Novel-
  • Saga: Volume 5, by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples – The epic tale continues! Storylines converge as the twists keep coming. This series is the story of star-crossed lovers from opposite warring factions. There are bounty hunters and alien civilizations and dragon-monsters with appetites. I've loved this whole series – the storylines are heartbreaking, funny, smart, crude, and violent. The illustrations are colorful and imaginative. This most recent volume isn't as good as the first four, in my opinion, but it does resolve the cliffhangers of volume 4, and I expect volume 6 will throw some more exciting curveballs our way.
    • Bitch Planet, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro

I did read some nonfiction books like cooking and gardening, and I also read poetry and memoirs. Nothing really grabbed me enough to recommend to others except for the following:

  • Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health, by Les Crowder and Heather Harrell
  • Street Vegan: Recipes and Dispatches from the Cinnamon Snail Food Truck, by Adam Sobel

That's it for the best of my book adventures in 2015! I am so thrilled for the books coming out this year, and books I have in a to-read pile by my bed and racked up on my kindle. Literacy is awesome.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Music of 2015

I have spent a few years simply listening to a variety of playlists. I indulged the impulse to find new music ALL THE TIME. It was part of a collecting impulse – I could easily collect songs and artists into titled and organized playlists. Not to say I never listened to full albums of the artists I came across, because I did for a select few. However, my obsession was always with the novelty of a previously undiscovered song.

In remembering my youth, I recalled that I used to obsessively listen to albums with the booklet in my hand. I would reread lyrics and view the art. I wondered if my increasingly slim attention span had been affecting my musical adventures, though streaming services have provided this procedure of random playlists with ease.

I began putting albums on and hearing them in their entire context this past fall. It's been an immersive journey into the framework of various musicians and groups, and it, I think, has been ultimately more satisfying.

For the first time in years, I have a favorite albums list for a calendar year.

  • Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color : This album is dynamic and sophisticated in arrangement and in song composition. They have a masterful grasp of sound! My favorite songs are “Gimme All Your Love” and “Miss You.” I love the raw power behind both. If you like Southern rock, you'll like this album.
  • Torres – Sprinter : I feel ravished by this album every time I listen. Torres has raw sound and poetic lyrics. If you enjoy indie rockers or singer/songwriters with a steel edge, then you would definitely enjoy this album. My favorite songs are the title track and “New Skin,” though “Son, You Are No Island” amuses me to no end.
  • Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher's Daughter : I am in love with this woman. Her latest album is pensive, catchy, and powerful. She's a folksy Americana-pop-rocker with a mature sound and tell-it-like-it-is lyrics. I wish we were friends. Seriously. Fave songs: “The Stranger at My Door”, “Mainstream Kid,” “I Belong to You,” and “Murder in the City.”
  • Halsey – Badlands : If you're a fan of CHVRCHES, you'd probably enjoy Halsey. They both feature saccharine vocals layered over electro-pop beats, though Halsey is decidedly grittier. I haven't decided which are my favorite songs yet, though I'm pulled most by “New Americana” and “Castle.”
  • Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp : Five stars for the band name. It's so fun to say. Waxahatchee. Love it. Anyway, I'm all for indie albums that are spare, artful, and intimate. Waxahatchee's latest album is all three. The vocals are delicate even as they churn out exposing lyrics. Favorite song on the album is “Bonfire”, a slow burn beneath a heavy haze of confessional smoke.
  • Ibeyi – Ibeyi : These sisters bring about Afro-Cuban beats with an electro-soul vibe, and I love it. I saw them open for Angelique Kidjo in 2015, and it was a real treat to see these musicians live. (Not to mention Angelique Kidjo was AWESOME.) I would suggest checking out “River” and “Ghosts.”

Honorable Mentions:

  • Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
  • Jill Scott – Woman
  • Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
  • Hop-Along – Painted Shut
  • CHVRCHES – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
  • Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon
  • Wolf Alice – My Love is Cool
  • Meg Myers – Sorry

And what's missing from this list that may surprise some? Bjork, who released Vulnicura earlier in 2015. Sorry, Bjork. We just didn't connect this time around. :(

A Fan of Bjork's Earlier Albums (who still appreciates that Bjork experiments and pushes the envelope in music)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Starting 2016

I have to say, 2015 was an awesome year. Even if I didn't blog about it.

Deer in early spring.

It was awesome for many reasons. I lead a fulfilling life full of good things. This doesn't mean that I don't have disappointments, losses, and frustrations. I do.

However, I know I have it good :

  • I have a body that walks, runs, and bends. I get sick, and I have aches, but overall, I'm a healthy person with health insurance and access to whole foods and time for exercise.
  • I am married to an amazing partner – we don't always agree, but we resolve our differences with care and thought. We make each other laugh, support one another, and celebrate one another. We're a team.
  • I have a fulfilling job. Sometimes I get frustrated by my job, or get stressed out or annoyed by situations often out of my control. My livelihood is meaningful, fun, and interesting. It encourages my passions, allows me to be creative, provides variety, and lets me tap into my strengths. Perhaps even more importantly, I get to learn new things all the time in topics that I care about – ecology, science, education, and animal care.
  • I also have wonderful people in my life – a support network. I don't always get to see who I'd like to see, I don't always get along with family members (and I'm always amazed by people who seem to), and sometimes I don't live up to being the best kind of friend. Yet, I have made and cultivated connections over the years that elevate me, and give me the opportunity to elevate others. This is awesome.

Not everyone in the world has such abundance in their life. I am grateful.

I think this mindset is born of the fact that I learned to pay attention. I can have anxious, frenetic, querulous, damaging thoughts and feelings. I can easily allow negative situations become the context which within I live my life. Since I have been learning how to command my attention, I have allowed things to settle into a balance. Yes, I have frustrating and upsetting things that happen in my life. Yet, I don't let these things control me. I don't give it more attention than it actually warrants. I try very hard to let things go, celebrate successes, and know that all things come to pass.

This is due in part to some more consistent practices in my life. I meditate for six minutes a day, almost every day. I practice gathas and mindfulness throughout the rest of the day – and I am practicing, because I have certainly not perfected it. I practice yoga, and this helps me to be more flexible in mind, and more calm in body.

No one is perfect, and no life is perfect. But, wouldn't it be boring if life was perfect?  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Soulful Sunday - Initiating Mindful Thinking

It has been my inclination for these past couple years to be full. By full, I mean, to have a filled schedule, and to live a full and fulfilling life. I accomplished this by accepting a full-time job offer, and beginning a full-time masters program. I also began planning a wedding with my beloved, and attended to my usual suburban farm chores and more impulsive, short-term projects.

Now, I work two wonderful part-time jobs (gladly leaving the full-time job behind), and my classes are done. I am near to graduating from my school of study, and I find myself with less structured time. This, of course, has been an adjustment. My dog and my cat are obviously thrilled with the amount of time I spend at home (as one of my jobs requires I use my home office for most of the time), but it took my easily distracted mind some time to adjust. I could sit down at my office desk and complete work tasks, or I could check out Facebook just one more time. (Or Twitter, or Ravelry, or Pinterest...) Social media is an easy dopamine dump in the brain. Sitting to focus on the task at hand is not so easy.

I still manage to complete my work, but it was taking me longer to do so, than if I wasn't so taken with distractions.

To battle this "monkey mind" of mine, I practice mindfulness. When I feel the impulse to pick up my phone or open a new tab (I opened a new tab three times while writing this), I remind myself of the task at hand. I put down the phone or close the tab, and I take note of the feeling. I bring my focus back to the object - the current object being this blog post. I continue the process, gently bringing my focus back to the object just as I accept the urge to connect to a social network. I have the urge, it is there, and now here is my focus coming back. It has been very helpful not only to my professional work, but to my creative work as well.

I break it down into steps:

1. Note the feeling. (I want to connect!)
2. Accept the feeling. (Yes. That's right.)
3. Bring the object back into focus. (Here is what I'm doing now.)

It's working for me.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Second Loom Scarf - Stripes

I finished the scarf on the loom.

I'm very happy with the way it turned out. It's comfortable to wear and light enough for spring weather.

Pretty soon, I'll have made enough clothing and jewelry items to be able to wear something handmade everyday. I'm excited about embarking on a long-term project to connect the art of handmade with daily life.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Foodie Friday - Soups and Stews for the Cold

Hello all!

This has been one helluva winter here in New England. Each week for the past month and a half, we've had anywhere between 6 and 12 inches of snow dumped on our coastal CT neighborhood. Now, there's a melt happening, and flood warnings are happening all over the state.

Just as I'm writing this, I've spotted a robin on the fence outside the office window. She or he is chirping. Though snow is mounded everywhere and the day is grey and misty, the robin seems to be trying to convince me that spring is just around the corner.

I know it is. It's nice to have the little reminders, however.

Onward to the food. Over the fall and winter, I become a soup addict. It's warm, it's nourishing, most of them are easy to make, and some are made using the crockpot, which can be so wonderful to come home to after a full day and an evening meeting.

I made so much soup, that eventually D began protesting. He's a man who likes his stir-fries, noodle dishes, and tacos.

I still plan about two soup recipes on the menu a week. Because I can. ;)

Without further adieu, and in no particular order, here's a collection of my favorite interweb soup recipes I've made over the past few months:

Mushroom and Farro Soup
This mushroom-centric soup is brothy with a slight tang and a delicious flavor. It was a big hit with D, and I never got a chance to freeze any leftovers.

Portuguese Kale and White Bean Soup
This soup was a surprise - as in, I wasn't sure how much I would like it. I'm not a big fan of fennel, though I do like the subtle flavor fennel seeds can give to a soup or stew. This soup turned out to be a winner. I had a lot of kale from the garden and from the winter CSA, so this was a great way to use it.

Shiitake Ramen
I love the simplicity and flexibility of ramen. D loves noodles. I can swap out ingredients and toppings very easily, depending on what I have on hand. This recipe is a scrumptious and fairly basic ramen.

Lentil Vegetable Barley Soup
This is an easy and filling crockpot recipe. It's also nutritious and yummy! It is vegetarian, but D complained that it didn't have any chunks of beef. Lentils provide enough protein, but you can always add beef.

Slow Cooker Harira
Harira is a tangy Moroccan soup with a focus on lemons, lentils, and tomatoes. This was delicious, and I made a big batch so that I could freeze some and eat it later.

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup
If you like tacos, tortillas, nachos, all those tasty things, this soup is for you. I added extra limes, because I love the limes.

I would add a chili recipe, but D and I make our chili from scratch using whatever vegetables, spices, and beans delight us in that instant. I promise you, this haphazard way of cooking chili always turns out for the best.

Of course, there are soup and stew recipes I have prepared that are found in books - most noted is the Vegetarian Pho recipe in the "Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook." You can find pho recipes online, of course, but this book has a number of fabulous and filling vegetarian recipes.

On the horizon, I will be trying out the Roasted Jalapeno Soup, the Hot and Sour Dumpling Soup (replacing the shrimp with tofu), and African Sweet Potato Peanut Stew. I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out!

I leave you with a photo of that scintillating harira soup.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

WIP Wednesday - Loom Project 2

I am loving the weaving.

I decided to use Spunky Eclectic Panda Sock yarn in the color "Vampire Kisses." It's a self-striping yarn with short bursts of color going maroon to white to grey to charcoal to white and back to maroon.

This color way lead to a surprising effect in the pattern of my scarf once on the loom:

The warp is simply 220 Superwash merino yarn in a worsted weight. I added white stripes between the charcoal strands. The weft, which is the self-striping sock yarn creating the horizontal weave, has created these unexpected stripes of maroon, white, and charcoal in an almost uniform pattern.

Weaving continues to be a delight.

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Harvest Monday - Feb 2014

It's February. All I can show you is the state of my garden beds:

Yeah, that's a whole lot of window screen. Sorry about that. But you can see my beds and trellis are just shrouded with show. It's beautiful. No good for planting and harvesting, though. We received one foot last week, 7 inches another week, 8 inches in the week before that, and 6.5 inches in the week before that. Tomorrow, we get three inches. 

Instead, I try to harvest other things in winter. Ongoing creative projects, my relationships with others, and probably even more importantly with all the hours indoors, my relationship with myself. 

Creative projects include crochet, knitting, jewelry making, embroidery, weaving, sketching, and writing.

I crocheted a set of fingerless gloves using soft, warm angora wool. 

I have another project on the loom. 

Let's not forget the bounty of food. This is a wheat berry and pinto bean soup made with the last of the potatoes from the garden, and a homemade peasant bread. Though I have started growing parsley indoors, this fresh bunch is purchased from my local Trader Joe's. 

This week I will start some onion and cole crop seedlings, and I am looking forward to it. Pretty soon, my Harvest Mondays will have more green.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Foodie Friday - Superb Owl Edition

It's Friday, and I've decided to claim it as a Foodie Friday.

This past Sunday was my least favorite secular/consumer holiday. I don't care for most sports, and I'm not all about the commercials. (Hooray for the culture of capitalism for creating a sensational, national celebration of a consumer activity - "oh, you don't like football? Watch it for the commercials. They're the best!")

But wait, there are things I like about this day.

I like community. I like talking with friends and acquaintances, and connecting over jokes, jests, and jeers. I like the party atmosphere, and the biggest element of that atmosphere: food.

As a vegetarian, I don't go in for the wings and the pigs in a blanket, obviously. I did discover some recipes I loved this year, and will use again in the future!

And here they are:

Avocado Egg Rolls with Chipotle Ranch Dip

These were delicious! To make these babies healthier, you can bake the egg rolls instead of frying. In lieu of sour cream and mayonnaise for the dip, I used greek yogurt.

Buffalo Roasted Cauliflower

Scrumptious and spicy! I sliced the cauliflower in half, and did buffalo for one half and a home-canned BBQ sauce for the other half. Yum yum!

Warm Blue Cheese Sriracha Corn Dip

Of course, you have to have a special dip. I loved this dip. We ate it with a crusty, garlicky, artisan bread from a local bakery. Again, instead of using cream cheese, sour cream, and mayonnaise, I used equal amounts of Greek yogurt. I still mixed in the Monterey Jack and the bleu cheese, of course, plus the other ingredients. I try not to use heavily processed condiments in general. The substitution made no matter on taste, because I could have ate the whole bowl myself if I didn't have any impulse control. I used it in a sandwich the next day. Heaven!

There you have it, some wonderfully tasty, vegetarian-friendly appetizers fit for any party!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

WIP Wednesday - Fingerless Gloves

In honor of WIP Wednesday, here's a sneak peek at my very simple, very warm, angora fingerless gloves:

This, soft, beautiful yarn has a shining blue strand:

It gives the gloves just a hint of sparkle within the halo of angora fur. I really think they're lovely, and I will soon finish the second glove!

Feel free to share any works you may be crafting/arting in the comments!