24 January 2015

The Kindness of People I Know in Real Life

Remember a few days ago when I wrote about the wonderful socks that my blog friend Lorraine knit for me?  That was the first post I wanted to write to let you know how lucky I felt - and feel - to have people who care and take the time to show it.  Personally, I long to be more like that, and really want to try to be.  But most creative things I do take me a long time to finish, and I usually spend more time wishing I'd make something than making it.

Anyway, I digress.

Someone I've known for a long time, since we met when working many years ago together at Rosie's, is Carol.  As a matter of fact, I saw the very first yarn she ever dyed and made into a scarf for a fundraiser at her kids' school.  Now of course she is a famous yarn dyer and knitting designer, and knitters all over the place know who she is.  We don't get to see each other all that often, but we are in touch a lot, and trade insults all of the time on Facebook.  Even if she was only an everyday knitter like I am, I would love her, because she is hilarious, caring, and shares a lot of the same social and political views that I do.

While I was recuperating from surgery, she posted a few pictures of square she had cut out to make a quilt, mentioning that she was making it for someone special.  The squares were so pretty, and some quite whimsical.  I've seen her quilts in pictures before, so I knew it would look amazing once it was finished.  I was also jealous of the person who would be receiving it.  A week or so later, she posted that it was in the mail to the recipient, and I thought "Oh that lucky person."

Never, ever, ever, did it even cross my mind that the person she was making the quilt for would be ME!  But a few days later, a nice, cushy package arrived.  The return address was Carol's, but I still didn't expect to find a quilt inside.  But I opened it up, and there was one of the best quilts I'd ever seen, and she had chosen fabrics that seemed to be made for me.

I've tried on more than one occasion to photograph all or parts of it, without any kind of success.  You can get the idea of it, but I have a dinky little digital camera and no real skills, so the things I wanted to be able to show you, I just could not capture no matter how much I tried.

Carol has been nice enough to grant me permission to use the photos she took and published on her blog when she wrote about making the quilt.  So now, you can see what it really looks like.  Take a look:

 Cut out squares

 Arranging the squares

 Look at the variety!

Finished quilt

 Folded quilt with awesome turquoise binding

 !!!

The back

I still cannot believe that someone made me a quilt - and as you can see, it's not a teeny tiny one, it's quilt-sized!  And as if that was not enough, she also enclosed a skein of her Black Bunny Fiber yarn and a hat pattern* - I mean it when I say that I was pretty overwhelmed by the contents of the package.   I see the quilt every single day, and it makes me smile, and feel so happy that I have a loving friend like Carol.  Everyone should be so lucky, you know?

But please don't tell her I've gotten all grateful and mushy here, because that might just ruin the whole relationship ... ;-)


*I will show you the yarn and hat pattern once I have rearranged my stash and it is safe.  Right now, the patterns and yarns are tucked deep into a closet, since the Koodle has recently decided that destroying both is the most fun thing on earth.

18 January 2015

Mindful

Do you do One Little Word?  I have done it for a few years, and have found that for me, it "works" in that I tend to be able to keep it with me and think about it - even better, DO it - throughout the year, and beyond.  I don't actually sign up for the official project, but have been choosing words and trying to make them work with me.

This year, I just didn't have one in mind right away like I have in previous years.  I thought of speak, listen, think, laugh, relax, to name a few.  But none of them seemed right for now.  I was thinking that this year I might not have a word to remind and guide me.  And though that was fine, I knew I would miss the companionship of a helping word.

Then I was reading an article (sadly, I can't remember where) written by a person who lamented wishing her life away.  The gist of it was that, regardless of how good or bad things were, she was still always focused on The Next Good Thing.  One day she realized that instead of enjoying the here and now, she was missing it entirely.  I related to this, and actually used to do it a lot more than I do now, but I still spend too much time thinking "Next week/month/year ..."

Now don't get me wrong.  I think we should all think ahead, and certainly look forward to things that are coming up that we know we'll enjoy.  I'm not talking about that.  I'm talking about only ever thinking ahead, to the point where you fail to see that you are living NOW, and that there are people around you and things happening that you are missing out on because you can't allow yourself to be present.  I used to do this too much, and though I have improved, I still catch myself practicing the it-will-happen-next mindset, even though I am only too aware that it often only leads to frustration and discontent.

Then it struck me - I should try to be more Mindful.  The Oxford Dictionary defines mindfulness as:

"A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations."

Granted, this is a pretty deep explanation - and maybe somewhat touchy-feely, but the important part to me is the first part - paying attention to the present moment and going with it.  Over the next year, I'm going to be working on making this my usual state, rather than one I have to stop and remind myself about.

I think that if I can be successful with my One Little Word, this will be one of the best years - and words - ever.  And really good practice for living a better life.

14 January 2015

The Kindness of (Sorta) Strangers

I realized the other day - with a bit of shame to be honest - that I have been extremely remiss.  This past summer, when The Big Fall led to the Partial Kidney Removal, I was the recipient of some wonderful gifts from fellow knitters.  Some were friends and acquaintances who were local, but the things that surprised me the most were amazing packages that arrived from those I know only through my blog and theirs.

It's a surprisingly good feeling to come home from the hospital and find such things awaiting you.  You feel incredibly crappy, but even just getting the packages makes you smile.  Then you open said packages, and you realize that people can care a lot, even if you have never ever been in the same room with them.  At a time when I was wondering just what the h--- had happened and why, and felt like I just wanted to take pain meds, and go to bed forever, I received things that were unbelievable then, and appreciated even more, now.

One package was from Lorraine, in Toronto, Canada.  (International!  Canada! One of my favorite places in the universe!)  I was thrilled with them then, and even more so recently, during a pretty dramatic cold snap here in Philadelphia.


Look at the wonderfulness of these socks!  Lorraine took time to knit a pair of socks, and send them to me, hoping that their warmth and coziness would make a difference.  From the moment I opened the package, I loved them - the color, the squishiness of them, the fact that they are a little bit heavier than my usual socks, and therefore perfect for wearing when my feet are cold.  

I wore them a couple of times when I first got home, because even though it was hot outside, my feet got cold at night sometimes.  They fit perfectly, and are so cozy, I would happily never take them off.  In the past week, the temperature has dropped to single digits at night and early in the mornings, along with the ever-popular wind chill factor.  

But it doesn't matter to me, because my feet are cozy, warm, and comfortable, due to the kindness of Lorraine.  (And in case you were wondering, I'm not a complete Philistine, only getting around to thanking her now; I did write a her a thank-you note shortly after I was able to put a coherent sentence together.)

Even better than being the recipient was the reminder that it's not hard to do something that will brighten someone's day, even if you have never met them in real life.  I am trying and want to continue trying to keep this in mind, so that the next time someone I know could use some happy, I will actually think to act on it.

Thanks, Lorraine - you're the best!

08 January 2015

December Book Report

OK, let's get things underway again.  The good news about my holiday pictures is that I finally managed to download them from my camera.  The bad news is that I haven't had a chance to resize them, etc.  But I'm sure in the next post or two, they'll be ready.

In the meantime, I'm sharing what I read during December.  I didn't read as much as I would have liked, or even as much as I usually do, but that was largely because I spent more of my spare time decorating, baking, and knitting than I did reading.  It's all good, no matter how you think about it.

Onward!

A Killer's Christmas in Wales, by Elizabeth J. Duncan.  I am not at all familiar with the Penny Brannigan series, and I have read very few things set in modern-day Wales, so I was curious.  I enjoyed this book.

Penny Brannigan and her friend and business partner, Victoria, are busy planning for the opening of their new spa in a small Welsh town.  They have previously owned a nail salon, but Penny received an inheritance that has allowed them to take their business to the next level.  This is the core story of the book, around which all other events swirl.

During the renovation of the building, the skeletal remains of a woman are found, and the police are trying to see if they can identify the person.  Then a well-to-do widow in the town meets a charming younger American man who she believes is romantically interested in her, but turns out to be a con artist.  Penny spies a couple who she can't quite recognize one evening in the dark, who apparently are having an affair. And then, right before the spa opening and Christmas Day itself, the American con artist is killed during a visit by a local arts group to a nearby castle.

Penny and Victoria are asked by the widow to investigate, since suspicion falls immediately on her.  So with everything else that they have going on, they agree to look into it.  Penny is somewhat distracted by the theft of a valuable brooch recently given to her by her policeman boyfriend, and in the end, even that is part of the overall story.

As I said, I enjoyed this book, it was a new setting and some new characters, and of course, takes place at Christmastime.

Not My Father's Son, by Alan Cumming.  Yes, not a Christmas book!  I started listening to this audiobook about a month ago, after going to a presentation by Alan Cumming a the Free Library of Philadelphia's Author Series.  And I just finished a few days ago, so it will be in here with my Christmas books. :-)

First of all, let me state that I love Alan Cumming.  I think it would be a hoot to know him.  I love him on the TV show, "The Good Wife," and think that if they ever created an Emmy for Best Reaction Shots, he would win, hands down, every single time.

Anyway, this all starts when he is asked to be on the British TV show, "Who Do You Think You Are?" where they research your roots.  Alan was interested in learning more about his paternal grandfather, Tommy Darling, who left to fight a war, but never really returned to his family.  During the course of background for the show, his father drops the bomb that Alan is not his son, but is the result of a brief affair between his mother and another man.

The story is told in "Then" and "Now" chapters, and details his childhood dealing with a father who seemed to go out of his way to make his child's life miserable.  Actually, not just his one child - both children, as well as his wife.  Cumming spares no horrible detail, and the reader (listener) comes away wondering how he has turned out as OK as he seems to be.  The book details all of the whirlwind of activity and trauma surrounding the information found about Tommy Darling for the TV show (which is not what anyone expected), which was happening at the same time that Cumming's father was claiming no biological connection.

For someone who grew up in what most would see as an idyllic setting, Cumming's childhood was full of fear, confusion, and wondering why his father treated him as he did.

This was pretty amazing. The twists of the story, and the story itself, are both disturbing and upsetting.  The fact that he is able to tell the whole story, and even move on from it, shows that people can overcome the worst.

By the way, if you ever have the chance to hear/see him in person, GO!!

Shakespeare's Christmas, by Charlaine Harris.  Well, this was interesting to me.  I had not read any previous books in this series, and frankly, am not interested in any of the author's other series, but this was a book I liked.

Lily Bard lives in Shakespeare, Arkansas, and when the book opens, she is participating in the town's Christmas parade, to promote her cleaning business.  Lily is an interesting character, not a cuddly, sweet type, more a defensive, tough type.  Which is apparently a result of having survived an abduction, rape, and mutilation.  Anyway, she is headed to her home town of Bartley for her younger sister's wedding, and dreading every minute of it, since her family and former friends don't seem to know how to act around her since the harrowing event.

Shortly before she heads home, she reads a story in the local paper, that is part of a series they run every year, about cold cases.  She is particularly drawn to one about a baby that was abducted from a nearby town, and the parents that have never given up hope.

It turns out that when she gets to Bartley, her current boyfriend, a private investigator, shows up, investigating the very child abduction case that rattled Lily.  With only a few days before her sister's wedding, there are all of a sudden a few murders to solve, and Lily becomes convinced that they are related to the abduction of the baby eight years ago.

This was interesting to me, both as a new series, and with a main character that was not really that appealing, or who put the "cozy" in cozy mystery.  Everything happens shortly before Christmas Day, and Lily wants it all resolved so she can be back in Shakespeare, celebrating the holiday the way that SHE wants to!

I am intrigued by this series, and will probably at least read the first installment for background.

Holiday Buzz, by Cleo Coyle.  This time around, Clare Cosi, coffeeshop owner/amateur detective extraordinaire, has a Christmas murder to figure out.  During the Great Christmas Cookie Swap, where she is providing the beverage service, one of part-time baristas, who also works for a friend of hers who owns a bakery, is found murdered right outside the building where the swap was taking place.  The police are treating it as part of a series of attacks they call "Christmas Stalkings," but Clare is convinced it's not related at all.

During the course of her investigation, the suspects come to include the Irish Mafia, former reality show stars, and a professional hockey player.  With information she is able to gather, and some info rounded up by her detective boyfriend, Clare tracks down the killer and finds out the whys and hows of just what happened.

This was nicely suspenseful, and very Christmasy.

Mrs. Jeffries and the Feast of St. Stephen, by Emily Brightwell.  Honestly I abandoned this.  For whatever reason, it's just not interesting to me right now.  I think I'll try again next December before I decide it is just not for me.  It has potential ...

*****
What about you - did you read anything interesting lately, and/or during December?  I'm always looking for suggestions (even though my to-be-read list is ridiculously long).  I'm on my way in 2015, though, as I started my second book of the year today!

P.S. Turns out that this is my 900th post - who'd have thunk it??

03 January 2015

So Here's the Thing

I have so much to tell and show you - a gifted FO, a pair of socks underway for me, book reports, Christmas and New Year's reports and pictures, my usual mundane riveting thoughts and observations, and any number of other things, knitting and otherwise.

But I haven't even come close to doing any of it.  I guess I'm reveling in the last weekend of Christmastime laziness.  Not that I am a complete slug, but I've pretty much been doing the minimum, unless every single thing just happens to fall into place when the spirit moves me.

I've been so enjoying reading everyone else's posts, and summaries of their past year, and I'll get there.

Just not today.  And likely not tomorrow.

I guess you'll just have to wait.  :-)

In the meantime, have a lovely weekend!