Spring Knitting and Crocheting (2018)

spring knitting

Here’s a philosophical question for you? What’s the point of having skills in the internet age unless you’re going to show them off to the online world?

Since I have a blog, I thought I’d share what I’ve been knitting and crocheting over the last couple of months. Please indulge me, because I love seeing other people’s finished crafts!

Most of these are wintery items, and that’s partly because we didn’t actually get real spring weather here in Canada until halfway through April. Knitting was a cheering activity when I was feeling miserable and cooped-up.

Fingerless Mittens

fingerless mitts malabrigo

Info on Ravelry here. Pattern from this book.

After I knitted Lydia a pair, a friend requested a pair as well. I ordered my first boutique yarn for the job — Malabrigo Arroyo, in the colourway Vaa — and it was positively dr-e-a-m-y to work with. Photos cannot capture the beauty of this marvelous hand-dyed yarn. The subtle variations of green — from emerald to lime to olive to aqua — shimmer like jewels in sunlight. I am completely in love.

Adult-Sized Fox Hatfox hat blog

sly fox hat adult

Info on Raverly here. Free pattern here.

After I crocheted Lydia a Sly Fox Hat, my little sister admired it so much I decided to make her an adult-sized version. (The original pattern doesn’t include an adult version, but offers some suggestions.) It took a couple of tries to get one big enough, but I finally managed it and I’m quite pleased with the finished product.

Chunky Cabled Hats

easy cabled hat

cabled hat red

Info on Ravelry here. Free Pattern here.

I really wanted to learn how to do cables, and I conveniently realized I didn’t have a nice winter hat for myself, so I bought some chunky merino yarn and knit myself a Northward hat. I added a faux fur pompom to make it super on-trend. (Because as you know, I am sooooooo trendy. Evidence: I am still writing on a blog in 2018.)

Then I knit one for my middle sister, so she wouldn’t feel left out of the homemade hat club.

Whimsy Pixie Bonnet

whimsy pixie bonnet

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

….And finally, another pixie bonnet. Details on Ravelry here.

For some reason I just LOOOOVE this silhouette on young kids.

I had “inherited” some hand-spun, hand-dyed, fingering-weight alpaca wool from a friend’s grandma, and I didn’t know what to do with for the longest time. But I knew it was a really expensive, high-quality yarn that I didn’t want to go to waste. I finally landed on this pattern. I adore it. I’m a very slow knitter so it took me forever but it was worth it. And I finally had to learn how to make I-cord, and I’m a fan.

Juniper Bonnet

juniper bonnet flat

juniper bonnet

Details on Ravelry here. Pattern here. Okay, okay, one last thing. I participated in an Instagram knit-along and knit this lovely little bonnet. It was my first time knitting lace and it was a real challenge at first. But I’m delighted by the result!

Okay, that’s everything! Dang, I just realized how many new skills I learned over the course of the season. My kids definitely don’t need this much knitted headwear but I just love tackling new challenges.

Thanks for sticking around! And I always enjoy seeing/hearing about what you’re making!

What I’m Into: April 2018

geese blogGuys! It finally stopped snowing! I could not be happier about the arrival of spring.

We’ve been really busy with homeschool field trips this month and it’s been great! I’ve also continued to do an unreasonable amount of knitting, but I’m going to save that for another post. (You can keep up with all my shenanigans on Instagram.)

Right now, I’m just going to get to my lists.

I haven’t written one of these posts in several months and I have read so many good books in that time . . . but I decided that if I was going to cover books retroactively, I would never get to them all. So I’m just picking up with what I read this month.

Books

The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever – Jamie Wright. I have been waiting for Jamie’s book to come out for a while and it was everything I hoped it would be. Hilarious, gutsy, insightful, relatable, inspiring, and somehow full of wisdom, even though it doesn’t take itself too seriously. She shares her early spiritual formation as a “Jew-ish” girl, who later drops out of school and gets pregnant at 17, and eventually becomes a good Christian missionary with her husband and three kids. The bulk of the story covers her five years in Costa Rica, as she gradually becomes disillusioned with the whole missionary industry. I loved finally getting a behind-the-scenes look at Jamie’s life, and how she became “the very worst missionary.” It’s such an important book and a complete delight to read. I highly, highly recommend it, whether you’re super-churchy or totally not. Be forewarned, though: she likes her swears.

All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr. I finally got around to reading this Pulitzer-prize winning novel. If you need a reminder of why war is bad, here’s another one! (Okay, that’s probably not fair . . . it’s just that I’ve read three newish books set during WWII in the last few months, and it’s starting to bum me out. How are humans so horrible?!) It’s an achingly beautiful story, written with resplendent prose. There are two main story arcs: the story of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl who escapes with her father to her reclusive Uncle’s house in Brittany; and that of Werner, an orphaned German boy who gets trained by the Nazi army to find the senders of illegal radio transmissions. Eventually, their stories beautifully and tragically converge. There’s also a fantasy element in the story, as Marie-Laure is unwittingly carrying a diamond believed to hold supernatural powers.

For The Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards – Jen Hatmaker. This is such an encouraging book for the tired Christian woman. Jen is funny, warm, and soothing. Part entertainment, part pep-talk, this book is like comfort food for the soul. It’s not particularly challenging or illuminating, as I know Jen can be, but it was just what I needed when dragging myself through the grey days of endless diaper changes and temper tantrums.

Mosquitoland – David Arnold. This was my YA pick of the month. It was fine. A quirky, slightly mentally-ill teenager decides to run away from her dad and step-mom to go save her mom, who she finds out is sick on the other side of the country. Along the way she meets a lively and interesting cast of characters who join in her adventure. I can imagine young girls (and guys) really relating to her struggles and aspirations.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas. (Okay, I squeezed in another YA book.) This is such a powerful and important book, you guys. I think it offers invaluable insight into the Black Lives Matter movement, and should be required reading for anyone who doesn’t “get” the movement. But in addition to that, it’s just a good book.

I’ll admit that when the narrator’s friend gets shot by a cop in the very first chapter, I was worried I was reading a book that was going to end up a utilitarian “Topics in Race and Law Enforcement” type of story. But as I continued I discovered a beautiful, rich story with believable, complicated characters. Starr is a relatable, authentic narrator, and her family and friends and neighbours feel like real people. If you’re white, it will open your eyes. Highly recommend.

TV Shows

The Good Place (Netflix, season 1). This show is stupid and wonderful. The lovable Kristen Bell has died and found herself in the afterlife — in The Good Place, where everything and everyone are perfect. The only problem: there’s been a mistake, and she’s not supposed to be there, because she’s actually a terrible person. Can she become good enough to fit in before everyone catches on? It’s kooky and irreverent and hilarious, and full of plot surprises. The twist in the last episode caught me completely by surprise and now I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in the next season.

Movies

We finally saw The Greatest Showman as a family. And guys: I know it’s all kinds of problematic. But we LOVED it. It’s just so joyful and fun and spectacular. Why don’t people wear coattails and top hats anymore?? And how is Hugh Jackman still so sprightly when he’s almost 50??

Okay, it’s kind of dumb that the movie starts with an epic, celebratory musical number. And it’s dumb that the opera singer never sings any opera. And I’ve heard that real-life P.T. Barnum was not a particularly good person. But it was still a complete delight and I don’t care what you say. We’ve been listening to the soundtrack nonstop.

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*As always, linking up with Leigh Kramer!*

Five Things I Learned This Winter (2017-2018)

Whoops! Guys! I didn’t realize I’d missed the boat on sharing what I’d learned this winter!

Because around here, it still looks like this:

lydia at point

Winter is still in full swing, but we’re getting close to the end now.

(Emily Freeman hosts a linkup every quarter, where we can share the things we’ve learned in the last season. I’m too late to join the official party, which happened at the end of February, but here’s my list anyway!)

Here are five things I learned this winter!

1. You can take photos of what you see through a microscope.

snowflakes through a microscope

I discovered this by chance: I was in awe of the snowflakes I was looking at, wishing I could permanently capture their fragile beauty, when I thought I’d try to snap a picture with my phone camera. I wasn’t very optimistic, so I was surprised to find that it worked! I tried again with my “good” camera, just on auto, and was amazed by the results!

(I also learned that in order to look at snowflakes through a microscope, you have to thoroughly chill all your instruments, and do all your viewing outside, because snowflakes will melt in an instant if anything is even room temperature. It’s actually quite a tricky process. I wrote all about it here.)

2. I’m too much of a pedant to fully appreciate most contemporary YA fantasy fiction.

Ever since I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in fifth grade, I’ve been a devoted fan of children’s fantasy. But starting in university, I haven’t have much time for leisure reading, and fantasy kind of lost its place in my life for several years.

I’ve recently picked up fiction reading again, thanks to audiobooks. But unfortunately, I’m finding myself a little too critical when it comes to fantasy. I’m constantly like, “Wait a second — if these faery cultures have been separated for hundreds of years, wouldn’t their dialects have diverged so much that they’d have difficulty understanding each other?” or “Wait, how do they have access to foreign imports like silk? What is international trade like in this country?” Anachronisms and linguistic inconsistencies jump out at me, making it hard to suspend my disbelief.

I want all my fantasy worlds to be as meticulously thought-out as Tolkein’s Middle Earth. But it turns out, most contemporary fantasy isn’t written by elderly linguistics scholars who have been obsessing over their imaginary worlds for several decades.

Bummer.

3. Different Crafts are for Different Seasons.

knitting blog

I’ve written before that I’ve become obsessed with picking up new skills in recent years.

But I felt kind of ashamed when I completely dropped knitting and crocheting over the summer, in favour of watercolour painting. Maybe I wasn’t a real fiber-crafter after all?

But then winter hit, and I found myself drawn to knitting and crocheting again, and completely dropped watercolour painting. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I stick to a craft?

Suddenly it dawned on me that maybe my pull to different crafts is simply cyclical, based on the seasons. I’m not fickle; certain crafts just lend themselves to different seasons.

In winter, we don’t have enough sunlight for watercolour painting. There’s only a tiny window of opportunity every day for working with colour, and I just can’t catch it while mothering small children. Luckily, knitting can be done anytime of day, even by lamplight.

And knitting in summer just isn’t appealing because I don’t want to hold wool in my lap when I’m hot and sweaty.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ll pick up watercolours again in a few months.

4. Spending a few weeks in a warmer climate in the winter is the absolute best thing ever.

beach

I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than I was in Florida this February. As long as we can afford it, I want to make this happen more often. (Hooray for homeschooling and working from home to make this possible!)

5. But winter can be quite beautiful here too, if you just know where to look.

We’ve made a few trips to Point Pelee National Park this winter — a park situated on a small peninsula of land that juts into Lake Erie. The wind blows lake water over the trees and freezes it there, turning them into absolutely stunning sculptures. It’s breathtaking. Take a look at the pictures we took just yesterday!

Point Pelee National Park 1

Piont Pelee

point pelee frozenAnd that’s all I’ve got time for today!

Anything special you learned this winter that you’d like to share?

Do you gravitate to different crafts during different seasons, too?

Any recommendations for really well-thought-out fantasy fictions?

Our Trip to Florida and Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Harry Potter World family

splash pad

Hi friends! Last month, our family went on our first family trip with Felix . . . to Florida! I thought I’d share it with you, like we did in the olden days of blogging. Not trying to sell anything — just wanted to share our experience for the fun of it.

The last three years since Felix’s birth have been rough for our family. There were times along the way I didn’t think we’d ever experience happiness again. From hospitalization to isolation to ongoing disabilities, we’ve had to face challenge after challenge.

Our ten days in Florida were some of the happiest in my recent years.

I’m a Canadian girl who has always loathed winter, so this was really exciting for me. Sunshine in February! We’d been planning the trip for almost two years already (we’d wanted to go last year, but it fell through due to health insurance troubles for Felix and his “pre-existing condition.”)

At last we made it!

The flight was a bit challenging, since takeoff and landing scared and confused Felix, who screamed through the whole thing; but otherwise things went quite smoothly.

We had lovely weather through it all. Here’s what we did!

Airbnb Home

Florida Airbnb

We spent most of our time living in someone’s home through Arbnb. We didn’t have much for plans, we just wanted to be living somewhere without snow. We got a cozy little house just 15 minutes away from the ocean, 30 minutes away from Orlando.

I cooked most of our meals. We usually went out to a park or the beach in the morning, then came home for lunch and naps/resting. I liked to spend this time knitting on the front porch and listening to an audiobook. Then we did another little outing (ice cream, groceries, park) in the evening.

beach

beach

Harry Potter World

Hogwarts Express

Honeydukes

The main event was one day spent at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was absolutely incredible! But if you’re considering a trip, here are a few basic pointers I have for you now.

1. It is E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E.

ButterbeerI know you already knew that, but if you’ve never been, I don’t think you understand how expensive.

There are actually two Harry Potter Parks at Universal — Hodgsmeade, in Islands of Adventure, and Diagon Alley, in Universal Studios. If you want to see both parts, and ride the Hogwarts Express between them (and trust me, you do), you have to buy a park-to-park ticket. For us, it came to over $200 CAD per person for one day. That lets you on all the rides, but does not include food or anything. Yowsa.

All the food and merchandise inside the park is crazy expensive (obviously). A frozen butterbeer is $7.50. A single measley kabob from a stand (outside Hogsmeade) is $15. An interactive wand is $50, a Hogwarts scarf is $40, and an adult-sized robe is over $100. (We didn’t buy any of these things, but borrowed from friends.) Prepare to empty your wallet.

butterbeer

2. Harry Potter World is not a place for toddlers. Don’t take yours there. Luckily, my parents joined us in Florida for a few days and were able to watch Felix that day. He would have been a nightmare to take into the park. It’s crowded and busy and has nothing for really young kids.

Honestly, I now feel even Lydia (6) was a little young to fully enjoy the experience. The rides turned out to be a little too intense for her. She found the fire-breathing dragon on top of Gringotts terrifying. And since she’s only read the first three books, there was some stuff she didn’t understand. I’d recommend it for kids 10+.

3. Definitely only go during off season. We went during the first weeks of February, and that was perfect. In the morning, the streets were maneuverable, and the lines for rides were only about 20 minutes long. By afternoon is was quite crowded and we left for less busy parts of Universal. I can’t imagine how it must be during peak season. I’ve heard the wait lines for the rides can be 2hrs+. I think it would be unbearable.

Gringotts

Firebolt

All that being said, we had a ton of fun. The rides are thrilling. The inside of Hogwarts castle is magical. I love the attention to detail in every corner of the park. There’s a boggart moving around inside a chest in Borgin & Burkes, for example. You can hear Moaning Myrtle’s complaining in the bathrooms. Stuff like that. And the butterbeer really is to die for.

The highlight for me was Gringotts Bank, and the Escape from Gringotts ride. The animatronic goblins are incredible. The talking portraits on the walls and wizard newspaper clippings on the desk are just too perfect. And the ride was terrifying in the best way.

Bahama Bay Resort

pool

Lastly, we spent a couple of days at a resort. It was also lovely, because of the access to pools and splash pads. We still cooked our own meals here, though. It was divine to eat them out on the porch.

We also went orange picking at a nearby citrus grove, which was really fun.

orange picking

And there you have it — a quick recap of our trip.

I definitely hope to do something similar for future winters!

Have you ever been to Harry Potter World? What did you think of it?

Winter Knitting and Crocheting

winter knitting

(I’ve fallen off the face of the blog world in the last couple of months, so I’m trying to ease back in with an easy post. Here’s a quick update on my creative life!)

I didn’t knit at all last spring or summer.

I started to think maybe knitting had been a phase in my life that I was now over — something that had helped me deal with the trauma of my son’s hospitalization, but was no longer meant to be a part of my life.

But then, all of a sudden in September, I was hit with an intense need to knit. And I have been knitting (and crocheting) up a storm these last few months! (And interestingly, I completely dropped watercolour painting, which was really big for me in the summer. I guess my hobbies flow with the seasons. I suspect I’ll pick it up again when we have more hours of sunshine in a day.)

Because I love seeing other people’s finished project, here are a few of my recent ones. (I’ve already shared my projects from October and November in my What-I’m-Into posts.) If you’re on Ravelry, you can see all my projects here.

Crocheted Cactus Pillow

textured cactus pillow

cactus pillow

(Info on Ravelry here. Pattern here.)

This pillow serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever. I just saw something similar in a friend’s Instagram feed and had to make one for myself.

It took forever and a ton of yarn, thanks to those bobble stitches. But it turned out adorable. Lydia slept with it for the first few nights, and even took it along to Florida. It’s surprisingly cuddly and looks great as a throw pillow.

Fingerless Mittens

fingerless mittens

fingerless gloves(Info on Ravelry.)

Lydia kept eyeing up the fingerless mittens for sale at the farmer’s market, but I didn’t love the quality so I told her I’d make her a better pair. It was a delight to use some superwash merino gifted from a friend a few years ago.

She looooooves them. In fact, you might notice that one of the mittens is quite fuzzy already — she wore it nonstop while I knitted the second one. It’s so gratifying to have your knitting appreciated!

I made a few mistakes on this project, so I’m working on a second pair for a friend which I think will turn out even better.

Pointy Elf Hat

pointy elf hat(Info on Ravelry.)

Again, this was a project that nobody asked for, but I was compelled to make after I saw a picture on the cover of a book. It was just so perfectly whimsical and sweet.

It actually took a year for inspiration to turn to reality because I couldn’t find any suitable yarn (the pattern calls for an extra-bulky thick/thin yarn that’s been discontinued.) I finally found something similar at Joann, which doesn’t even exist in Canada (I had to get in when I was in the US). I was so thrilled that it was finally going to happen!

It was a fast and fun knit, and Lydia loves it.

Well, I’ve still got a couple of projects on the go, but these are the ones I’ve finished so far.

What have you been knitting or crocheting?? If you’re on Ravelry I’d love to follow you there!!

Our Month of Science, AKA Get Thee a Microscope!

looking through microscope

Since we unschool, we don’t follow any curriculum. Instead, we let our interests lead the way. Some months, we end up with a big emphasis on history or art or music. It just so happens that December ended up being a big Science month. We got really excited about looking at small things! Our microscope got a lot of use, and I thought I’d share some of the things we discovered together.

I want to pause to say I highly, highly recommend buying a microscope for your family, no matter whether you home school or use public school! Or heck, even if you don’t have any kids! If you just enjoy being in awe of the natural world, a microscope is a gift. They’re not that expensive, and ours has encouraged hours of joyful discovery and learning. I think it’s a great tool for all kids 5 and up, and the adults enjoy it, too! I have been known to spend hours looking at things through the microscope all by myself, gasping to my family about what I see.

We have the My First Lab Duo-Scope Microscope, which we bought from Amazon for about $70. (For some reason they’re way more expensive on the Canadian site right now). It’s very easy to use, it’s quite sturdy, and we’ve seen some spectacular things! You can turn on the light either from above or below, depending on what you’re looking at, meaning you can examine opaque specimens (like stones) and get a good look at their surface. You can get prepared slides to go with the microscope, but honestly we’ve preferred looking at specimens we find ourselves.

Growing Microbes

Anyway, our Month of Science started when I got inspired to grow some microbes after seeing some cool experiments in The Curious Kid’s Science Book. I asked Lydia if she was interested, and she was; so I ordered a Petri Dish and Nutrient Agar Kit to make it easy (here in Canada).

After preparing the petri dishes, Lydia and I had fun going around collecting samples from different places around the home (including everyone’s hands). We sealed up our petri dishes and let them sit around for a few days. Every day we observed them, to see what started growing. It got pretty gross!

petri dishes

growing bacteria

science experiment for kids

science growing microbesNasty, right? We talked about how microbes multiply and form colonies, and why it’s important to wash our hands.

It was a little tricky to look at them through the microscope through the petri dishes, but we got a few good looks!

microscope mold

microscope microbe colonies

P.S. This book on microbes is great for kids! The explanations are simple and elegant, and the illustrations are lovely.

book

Snowflakes

snowflakes in a microscope

While the microscope was out, we got some of our first snowfalls of the season. I got the idea to look at snowflakes through the microscope.

It was more challenging than expected! I discovered that if any part of the instrument was room-temperature, the snowflakes would immediately melt. If you take the slides inside, they immediately melt. So everything needed to be chilled, and the viewing had to happen outside.

So I chilled the microscope and all the tools outside with a towel over it. Then I left out glass slides to catch snowflakes. But if you leave them out too long, the snow builds up too much and you can’t really see anything. It’s quite a delicate science! After a few minutes we could step out and see if we could see anything.

I was amazed at some of what we saw! And I was equally amazed to discover I could easily take photos of what I saw, simply by putting my camera lens up to the eyepiece. Here are a few shots:

snowflakes through a microscope

snowflakes

snowflakes

snowflakes science

snowflakes microscope

It was very hard to find snowflakes that weren’t severely damaged or in mangled clumps. But the intact ones we found were breathtaking.

And there you have it! Our Month of Science. I hope it inspires you to find something amazing in the world around you!

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What I’m Into: December 2017

Point Pelee National Park

museum jars

snowflakes in a microscopeI am not a fan of winter.

And after spending one Christmas in the hospital with my very sick newborn son, living in a different city from my three-year-old daughter, the Christmas season has never felt quite as magical as it once did. I can take it or leave it. I actually spent Christmas day inexplicably, murderously angry at the universe. Grief is weird.

But we had some good times this December. One of the highlights for me was taking Lydia to the Detroit Institute of Arts and seeing the Ancient Egypt exhibit after having studied Egypt in our homeschool. And looking at snowflakes through a microscope. There is still magic around me; it’s just hard to find sometimes.

I’m a little late posting this, but here are the books and movies I enjoyed this month.

Books

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This was an interesting experience: Woodson tells the story of her childhood, growing up as a black girl in South Carolina and New York during the 1960s and 1970s, in verse. It’s autobiography and poetry in one. It’s also the story of a girl discovering her vocation as a writer. Lovely and powerful.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Another fantasy novel featuring an ass-kicking human heroine who falls in love with a dangerous, magical being. It was exciting and well-paced, but I never fell in love with any of the characters or completely bought the whole Faery world of Prythian.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This was a very moving, powerful, and challenging read. This book is written a letter from the author to his adolescent son, and we get to listen in as he advises him on how to grow up in America with a black body. He tells his own life story and explores his awakening to the issues of race in his country. His writing is incredibly eloquent and his reflections are thought-provoking.

Movies

The Holiday

(The first three are older movies that I’d never seen before that everyone else in the world has already seen and formed a strong opinion about. I rented them and watched with Felix in the middle of the night. I want to have opinions, too.)

The Holiday – The Cameron Diaz/Jude Law story is meh (DON’T SLEEP WITH STRANGERS, GUYS), but Kate Winslet and Jack Black are ADORABLE. I never would have expected Jack Black to be a believable love interest in a rom-com, but he is surprisingly winsome.

Love Actually – Okay, I know this may be divisive, but I found this movie to be utter crap. I mean, it is filled with amazing actors, and I was absorbed throughout the film; but as the credits rolled, I couldn’t help feeling like I had wasted my time. And then I read this review (Ahem – major language warning) and thought, EXACTLY. “Colin Firth falls in ‘love’ with Aurelia at first sight, establishing Love Actually‘s central moral lesson: The less a woman talks, the more lovable she is.” In a movie that’s supposedly all about love, we don’t see anyone actually get to know each other. Most couples don’t have a single actual conversation before “falling in love.” The only couple with an actual relationship gets a sad ending. Thumbs down, guys.

Little Women – I’ve been meaning to watch this film since 2014 when I first read the book. It was good. Um, surprisingly, that’s about all I have to say. (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully appreciate these 20+year-old movies.)

Colossal – Okay. This movie is weird. It doesn’t fit neatly into any genre — it’s a mix of science fiction, horror, comedy, thriller, and romance. I had no idea what to expect from one minute to the next. But I was riveted, the acting is amazing, and it had a surprisingly satisfying ending. I’d say give it a try!

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*Linking up with Leigh Kramer. Join us there!

My Top Ten Audiobooks of 2017

my favourite podcasts

Audiobooks changed my life this year.

Staying home full-time with young kids who never sleep is not very conducive to reading. And until this year, I’d never had a device on which to listen to audiobooks. So for the last several years, most of my reading happened in five-minute snatches while I was on the toilet. I read about a book a month that way. It was something.

Everything changed when Lydia dropped my old phone, and I finally had to replace it with a new one that had enough space for apps. I downloaded Overdrive and signed up for Audible, and my world opened up. My first audiobook felt like a miracle.

I hardly picked up a paper-and-ink book this year, but I did get to read a ton of audiobooks. Here are ten of my favourites, in no particular order.

Nonfiction/Memoirs


Born a Crime – Trevor Noah. This was probably my best read of 2017 in any genre. Those of you who have watched Trevor Noah on The Daily Show already know he’s smart, funny, eloquent, and charming, but it turns out, he’s got a hella fascinating life story, too. He grew up in South African during and immediately after Apartheid. To make things especially interesting, he was born to mixed parents at a time when it was illegal for races to mix (hence the title). He’s a terrific story-teller, and his childhood is filled with wild moments, from his mom throwing him out of a moving car to him accidentally burning down a White family’s house. His reflections of race and racism are illuminating and nuanced. I admire and respect him more than ever. He does a terrific job narrating his book, too — his voices and accents are on point. I dare you not to love him by the end of it.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things – Jenny Lawson. This woman. She can make me laugh until I cry. This is The Bloggess’ second memoir (her first was hilarious, too). Her discussion of mental illness is both needed and weirdly hysterical. She is a strange, strange, wonderful human being. (Major language warning. I’ve never hard anyone use the word vagina as much as Lawson does.)

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. This memoir is Glennon’s second book and it is just phenomenal. It’s a brutally honest retelling of her life story, with a focus on her marriage’s sudden tragic implosion a few years ago, and the difficult path of healing. The book tenderly and bravely explores sex, love, marriage, God, family, and faith. I found her story of self-discovery gripping and inspiring.

Fiction


Jane Steele – Lyndsay Faye. This book was complete delight. If you’re a fan of Jane Eyre, I think you’ll get a kick out of this novel. It follows a young Victorian orphan girl who, like Jane Eyre, goes to an awful boarding school and later becomes a governess. She’s clever and brave and self-aware. And also? A murderer. With a heart of gold, of course. (She only kills horrible men.) From the start she’s aware of her similarities with the famous fictional heroine. I promise, it’s better than it sounds. It reads like an authentically 19th-century novel and all of the characters are stunningly three-dimensional.

A Man Called OveFrederik Backman. A completely heartwarming story from a Swedish blogger. Ove may be the most endearing grumpy old man you’ve ever met. You will fall in love with every single character. I cried both sad and happy tears. The writing is vibrant and lovely. (And the narrator is great.)

The Inspector Gamache Series – Louise Penny (Dead Cold; The Cruellest Month; The Murder Stone; The Brutal Telling.) Read by Adam Sims. If you enjoy a good murder mystery, Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series is perfection. (I’ve read the first five). Lovable characters, thrilling plots, deep exploration of human nature. I am amazed by the depth of Penny’s characters. (If listening to the audiobook, ONLY accept versions read by Adam Sims, who is spectacular. Ralph Cosham, by contrast, is just AWFUL. I returned my copy to Audible after hearing him read the first chapter.)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. This novel won the 2017 Newbery Award. It is wonderful. It involves a poetry-reciting swamp monster, a tiny dragon who thinks he’s gigantic, and a kindly old witch who accidentally enmagics an abandoned baby girl by feeding her moonlight. As the girl grows up under the kind witch’s care, her magic becomes increasingly dangerous, and the witch has to make some difficult decisions. It’s a refreshingly original fairy tale with unusual protagonists, full of both whimsy and solemnity. I will happily pass it along to Lydia when she’s a bit older (maybe 10-ish). (Note: I didn’t really care for the narrator. I’d recommend reading the print version.)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, read by Dan Stevens. I love a good detective story, but this was my first romp with Hercule Poirot (Why?!). It was delightful! It plays with all the conventions of murder mysteries, and still managed to completely surprise me. Also, I have to highlight Dan Stevens’ (<–Yes, him!) amazing performance. He does all the accents flawlessly (there are both men and women from numerous countries in this book, and he nails all of them.) The story is thrilling and clever and just so much fun. I will definitely read more. (I did later read And Then There Were None, which was also terrific, but a little dark for my taste.)

Cinder; Scarlet; Cress; Winter (aka The Lunar Series) by Marissa Meyer; Read by Rebecca Soler. Ignore the cheesy-looking covers of these books and have an open mind. This series was a ton of fun. If you enjoy young adult dystopian sci-fi, this series is for you! Each book is very loosely based on a fairy tale (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White), but set in the future (and some of it in outer space). Cinder is a cyborg and her only friend is an artificially-intelligent android, for example. Cress is a computer engineer and hacker working from a satellite orbiting the earth. Very addictive. Impressive world-building. And Rebecca Soler’s narrating is perfect.

Recipe: Same-Day Sourdough Boule

easy sourdough bread recipe

(Note: if you want to skip to the PDF version, here it is: Basic Sourdough Boule PDF)

I’ve been having fun baking with sourdough for the last several months. I got inspired by Kate’s gorgeous loaves on her Instagram feed and just had to give it a try. When a local friend said she’d share her starter with me, I jumped at the chance!

I started with Kate’s recipe for a basic boule, which she shares on her blog. I had decent success right away, thanks to her detailed instructions. But every time I’ve made it, I’ve made a few adjustments, until I landed on this slightly altered recipe/method. (I made the loaves smaller, changed the bake temp and time, and adjusted the method so it could all be done in a single day.)

I’ve been sharing my own photos on Instagram, and a few people expressed interest in my recipe. So here you go! I could talk about sourdough bread and look at pictures all day.

This recipe is for a basic white boule — a round, free-form artisan loaf. I love how beautiful it can look! I know whole wheat is more nutritious, but I took Kate’s advice and started with all-white flour, since it’s easier for the beginner. It is absolutely delicious, with a chewy, slightly tangy inside, an open crumb, and a crispy, flaky crust; and it’s healthier than anything you can buy at the grocery store.

I always feel fancy when I serve it.

sourdough open crumb

The whole process takes about 7-10 hours; I usually do it in about eight. Of course, almost all of that is rising time; it only takes about 45 minutes total of hands-on labour. If you start really early in the morning, it can be out of the oven by late afternoon; but usually, I’m wrapping it up in the evening.

Here’s a rough timeline of how this is going to go down:

  • Morning: Mix dough
  • Afternoon: Knead
  • Evening: Shape, score, and bake

The first two parts are super-simple, quick, and flexible — the time between can vary by a few hours as needed. You don’t even need to be home in between.

Part three requires a little more attention and is slightly less flexible.

You can stick your dough or formed loaves in the fridge at any point in the process to delay it, even for a day or two, but my fridge is always so full  there isn’t room for that, so I prefer the same-day method.

A Few Introductory Remarks

1. If you’re a beginner, I highly advise you to read through Kate’s Sourdough 101 post before you start. It’ll answer all your questions about how to acquire, care for, and use sourdough starter. When I got started I printed the whole thing out and underlined the most important parts. It helped me a ton.

2. You’re going to need to get  your hands on a good, active starter. If you don’t currently have one, ask around your local friends. Put out a request on Facebook. Sourdough bakers always have plenty to spare, due to its constantly-expanding nature, and we love to share it. That’s how I got mine. (And if you’re local to me, ask me!) If this doesn’t work out, you can buy it online. I’ve heard great things about Simple Life by Kels.

3. You’ll need a large soup pot or dutch oven with a lid to bake your loaf in. Even better if you have two, so you can bake both loaves at once. (Actually, I have one friend who has used a roasting pan, and another who used a large ceramic casserole dish with a lid. You can get creative. It just needs a lid.)

4. You’ll need to feed your starter the night before Baking Day. (I’ll explain how to do this). Everything else happens the next day. Choose a day when you’ll be home most of the day. 

So: you’ve got your sourdough starter and you’re ready to go. Let’s do this!

(Note: I’ve offered general guidelines for timing, just to give you an idea of when to do each step.)

sourdough bread loaf

Basic Sourdough Boule

The night before baking day, take your sourdough starter out of the fridge and feed it. I feed it about 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cups filtered water. It should fill a quart jar about halfway, giving it room to expand overnight.

(I like to mark the level on the jar with a dry-erase marker to I can see its progress.)

Leave it on the counter to grow.

By the next morning, it should look like this:

sourdough starter

Look at all those bubbles! That’s how you know it’s good and active.

Morning: Mix dough (Between 8:00-10:00am)

Stir down the starter to measure it more accurately.

The recipe:

  • 1 cup active starter
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp honey (or sugar)
  • 4 1/4 cups organic white all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt

(Note: this makes two medium loaves. For your first try, you might want to halve the recipe and do just one loaf.)

Mix the liquid ingredients in a small bowl or large measuring cup. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Then pour the liquid into the dry mixture and mix well, first with a spoon, then with your hands. Don’t worry too much about kneading now. You’ll do a thorough job later. Just get it well-blended.

Loosely cover the bowl (I use the lid of the bowl; you can use a damp dish towel, beeswax wrap, or plastic wrap) and put it in a warmish oven to rise. (To warm the oven I do this: turn on the oven to 350 and set the timer for ONE MINUTE. As soon as it goes off, turn everything off. It just warms up the oven a little bit.)

Meanwhile, feed your starter in your jar (I do about 1/2 cup of flour, 5/8 cup of water) and put it back in the fridge. It’s done its job for the day.

2-4 hours later (Between 10:00-noon): Knead Down Dough

Here’s where you do a good, thorough knead to give the gluten its structure so it can rise nicely. Punch it down (it should have risen substantially by now), dump it out on a floured counter top, and knead with floury hands until it’s smooth and elastic.

kneaded sourdough

Put it back in the bowl, sprinkle with flour, cover, and put it back in the warmish oven for a second rise.

4-6 Hours Later (between 2:00-6:00pm): Shape Loaves and Final Rise

Your dough should have about doubled. Punch it down gently and dump it onto a floured counter top again.

Using a serrated bread knife, divide the dough into two (if you’re doing a whole batch). Using a kneading action, shape them into two ovals. Try not to overwork it, though, if you want that nice open (i.e. holey) crumb.

Cut two pieces of parchment paper, sprinkle with flour, and lay down your loaves on them, seam/ugly side down. Now sprinkle and rub the tops generously with flour (This is mostly for aesthetic purposes — it helps your scoring stand out better later).

sourdough - shaping loaves

Cover your loaves with a towel and let them rise for about an hour. They don’t have to double because they’ll rise some more in the hot oven.

1 Hour Later (Between 3:00-7:00pm): Baking the Loaves

Note: you will bake the loaves in two steps: first, inside heated, closed pots; second, on a baking sheet or stone.

After your loaves have been resting for about an hour, it’s time to heat the oven and pots. (The loaves will continue rising a little longer while everything heats up).

Place your pot(s)/dutch oven(s) with their lids into your oven, and set the temperature to 450F. It should take 10-20 minutes to reach that temp.

Once everything is hot, you can score your loaves. This is the fun part!

One of the easiest designs is just a couple of diagonal slashes across the top. It’s very attractive and classic. (I’ll share photos at the bottom.) I typically just use a serrated knife for that.

OR, if you want to get fancy, you can use a razor blade. That’s what I used on the loaves in this post.

razor blade for scoring bread

I cut one long slash along one side, and then a series of short, shallow cuts along the other to make a leaf pattern, like this:

sourdough bread scoring

Once your loaves are ready to go, carefully remove the pots from the oven and place on a heat-safe surface; remove the lids.

With each loaf: lift the parchment paper by its four corners and carefully lower the bread into the pot. (It will bake on the parchment paper for the first part.) Then put on the lids and put them in the oven. (Baking the loaf inside a closed pot at this point will seal in the steam and give you a wonderfully crisp crust). Bake like this for 15 minutes.

oven heating

The next phase of the baking process is done on a baking stone or baking sheet.

After the 15 minutes are up, remove the pots from the oven.

Wearing oven mitts, carefully lift out the loaves by the parchment paper. They should have sprung up in size, and the slashes will have opened up so you can see the finished design. Fun!

sourdough bread oven spring

I find that baking too long on parchment paper burns the bottom, so I want to get them off of there. It’s time for these loaves to get some air, anyway.

Carefully slide your loaves off the parchment paper onto a baking sheet or stone. (I prefer stone, but not everyone has one.)

sourdough bread baking

Pop this back into the hot oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes, until nice and brown.

finished sourdough bread loaves

Ta-da! Remove to a cooling rack to cool. Give them at least 30 minutes to settle down. You don’t want the inside to be all gummy from cutting into them too soon.

artisan sourdough bread

Time to eat!

homemade sourdough bread

Note: this sourdough bread tastes INCREDIBLE the day it’s baked. But it gets stale very quickly. The next day it’s still good, but better toasted. (Delicious when toasted and buttered alongside soup or stew.)

I always freeze the second loaf as soon as it’s cool to preserve its freshness as much as possible. Often I cut it in half before bagging it so I can take out half at a time.

Whatever is left on the counter after my family rabidly attacks it, I wrap in beeswax wrap for the next morning. It’s more breathable than plastic.

beeswax wrapped

Here are some other scoring patterns I’ve tried:

sourdough bread boule(Horizontal slashes)

sourdough boule(Single vertical slash)

sourdough boules(early attempt to get fancy without a razor blade)

Have fun with it! Even ugly loaves are delicious.

Let me know how this works out for you! My own baking method is always evolving.

I’m excited to try out new scoring patterns, and want to start experimenting with whole wheat flour, other grains, and seeds. Poppy seeds would be pretty! Millet would add some delightful crunch! Oooh, can’t wait to bake my next batch!

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Six Things I Learned This Fall (2017)

I’m joining Emily P. Freeman in sharing what I learned this quarter, from science to crafts to social media hacks. Here are six things I learned this fall, in no particular order.

1. The difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon.

cocoon vs chrysalis

This fall, Lydia and I started doing nature walks and nature journaling as a part of our homeschool. As a result, we’ve gotten to know a lot about the creatures around us. And one of those things has been the differences between moths and butterflies, and between cocoons and caterpillars.

We learned this sort of by luck. We happened to catch two different kinds of caterpillars within days of each other, and put them into our butterfly house. Both pupated within 24 hours of being caught. And that’s when we learned this valuable distinction:

Moth larvae make cocoons; butterfly larvae make chrysalises.

(“Larva” refers to the caterpillar stage.)

In the photos above, the image on the left is a chrysalis, made by a swallowtail butterfly caterpillar. You will notice that it is smooth and hard. It is actually made from the shed skin of the caterpillar. Weird, right?! That’s how you know to expect a butterfly to emerge from it.

The image on the right is a cocoon, made by the larva of a white-marked tussock moth. You will notice that it is all fuzzy and hellish looking. (Just me? I dunno, it makes me shudder.) It’s made of silk. You can see the adult moth has already emerged from it!*

*(But wait, you say. How can that be a moth? It doesn’t have any wings!! Well, my friends, that is because it is a female white-marked tussock moth, and it doesn’t have any wings. It just sits there and waits for a winged male to come find it and mate with it, and then it will lay its eggs right there on its cocoon. I know, creepy/gross/weird. I kind of regret having kept that caterpillar, to be completely honest.)

I could tell you more about moths/butterflies/caterpillars/pupae, but I’m sure you’ve heard more than enough.

2. My homemade laundry detergent maybe wasn’t cutting it.

detergent

I’ve been making and using homemade laundry detergent for the last six years. You know, the kind where you mix washing soda, borax, and grated soap. Honestly, I was perfectly satisfied with it. It is SOOOOO cheap, and has no toxic chemicals or fillers in it. Yay!

So maybe my laundry didn’t come out perfect. My whites got a little dingy over time and my clothes weren’t as soft as they could be, but meh. I was saving so much money, and it’s so much better for the environment!

Then I came across this (kind of sensationalist) article on why homemade laundry detergent actually doesn’t work. And, well, her argument was pretty compelling. My clothes and linens were probably all holding onto years worth of build-up in their fibers, making them duller and less soft than they ought to be.

To summarize briefly: The reason that homemade laundry detergent doesn’t work is that it isn’t detergent at all. It’s just water softeners and soap, and the difference between soap and detergent matters. Soap works fine if you’re using really hot water and a really aggressive method of agitation, like scrubbing with a washboard. But modern washing machines don’t work like that. They just kind of swish the clothes around. For modern washing machines, you need an actual detergent. You can read more for yourself on The Trouble with Homemade Laundry Detergent. (<– a much more even-tempered analysis of the issue than the first article).

I didn’t bother with “stripping” any of my laundry like so many writers advise, but I did pick up a bottle of Nature Clean detergent* the next time I went to the grocery store, and I’ve been using it ever since.

*(I’ve been using their dishwasher detergent for years, and trust them.)

3. How to do a bobble stitch in crochet.

bobble stitch

Until recently, most of my crochet projects have been pretty basic and straightforward. Then I saw a textured cactus pillow that I just had to recreate. But I needed to learn how to do a bobble stitch. I turned to trusty YouTube.

For my fellow crocheters: you basically repeat the first part of a double-crochet 3-5 times in the same stitch, creating a bobble that pops out on the other side of the fabric.

It looks pretty fantastic, but it is time-consuming. (if you want to learn, I recommend searching it on YouTube yourself. I had to watch left-handed versions, which wouldn’t help 90% of you.)

4. You can save other people’s Instagram posts to Collections.

instagram collections

I had no idea. Before I discovered this, when I came across an Instagram photo that inspired me, I would take a screen shot of it. And then it was just saved in my “screen shots” folder on my phone. (I know. Adorable, right?)

Turns out, when you see a post you want to save, you can hit the little bookmark icon in the bottom right and save it. And if you hold it in, a “Save To” tab will pop up and you can save it to one of your collections. I quickly made collections of some of my current obsessions — Bread, Knitting, Watercolour Painting, and Home Schooling. I can refer back to them when I need inspiration. Yay!

I’ve been using this feature like crazy! It’s so fun!

(I actually learned this tidbit from Emily Freeman’s last “What I Learned” post.)

5. You can make pretty designs on your artisan bread using a razor blade.

basic sourdough boule recipe

I’ve been playing around with sourdough bread for the last few months. One of the fun parts of the process is scoring the top to make it pretty. I mean, you kind of have to do some scoring to prevent the loaf from falling all over the place, but you can be intentional about making it attractive while you’re at it.

Until recently, I just did a few diagonal slashes across the top. It looked nice. But after browsing (and saving! — see above) a bunch of bread porn on Instagram, I decided I wanted to try getting fancy. You can make lots of small, shallow cuts into the top with a razor blade and create intricate designs. It comes out looking awesome. The leaf pattern shown here is a pretty common one, and I can see why — it’s simple and gorgeous.

6. Taika Waititi directed Thor Ragnarok.

When I watched Thor Ragnarok in the theater, I couldn’t believe how funny and weird it was. The previous Thor movies had all been kind of boring and unconvincing. And I immediately recognized Korg’s distinctly Kiwi accent. I spotted a couple of familiar Kiwi actors, too. A lot of the dialogue just had some of that New Zealand flavour. So I did some digging and realized that the actor who voices Korg — Taika Waititi — is also the director. And he has directed some of my favourite comedies of all time, including The Hunt for the Wilderpeople and The Flight of the Concords.

If you’re familiar with these other titles, you know that New Zealand humour is incredibly unique and distinct. (They refer to it as “the comedy of the mundane.”) I was thrilled that Waititi was able to infuse some of this amazing humour into a blockbuster film. The guy is awesome, I am crushing on him pretty hard. (He’s handsome as heck, too!)

That’s about it for now! Hopefully you learned something you didn’t know from this post! What else did you learn this season?

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