Thursday, December 31, 2015

Friday Books: The Best of 2015

I am posting this on Thursday, since Friday is the beginning of a new year, and I don't have a finished book to review (working on one, but not ready).

I decided to list the 5-star books that I read in 2015. I would recommend any of these for adult readers. I will also announce what I thought was the best of the best.. my favorite 5-star book of 2015.

There were only six books that received a 5-star rating from me this year. I am careful with those 5 stars.. I don't give them out willy nilly...but to be honest, I was surprised I had only six this year. I hope I find more 5-star books in 2016.

My 2015 5-star books:
After Long Silence by Helen Fremont
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (2nd time reading for me)
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
So B.It by Sarah Weeks (a young adult book - recommended for both adults and young adults)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (3rd or 4th reading for me)

My favorite 5-star book of 2015 was The Secret River by Kate Grenville, with her other book, The Lieutenant, coming in as a very close second. I discovered her when I was about to travel to Australia, and I wanted to read a book about Australia, preferably related to their history. Wow, did I ever get lucky. Both books fulfilled my wish to read something related to their history (she did extensive research, and The Secret River is based on her own family stories). She is a fabulous writer!! Both books were excellent, and I still think of them, even months after having read them. I hope more Americans will enjoy reading this wonderful Australian author's works.

Looking forward to lots of good reading in 2016! I shall try to continue posting reviews on as many Fridays as I can manage.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Joy

[Reminder: to see my sidebar, trying scrolling all the way down to the bottom, after my recent posts]

We had a fun Christmas Eve at our daughter's house. Here she is with her fam. Their tree was beautiful (a real one). We had a delicious dinner, opened gifts, played a game, had a lot of fun.

Last year I gave M some fabric, and we looked over patterns and agreed on one for his quilt... this year I managed to get the quilt top done but not yet quilted. He likes the quilt! (Whew!)

Christmas Day we slept in, opened gifts between the two of us, then hopped in the car and took off to visit my side of the family. I enjoyed watching the little and medium kids opening their gifts. (Great-nieces and great-nephews are growing up fast, they're not all little kids any more.) We found out our niece is expecting her third child in July 2016! Yay!
examining his Star Wars light that changes colors
(he seemed to like it)

such nice little cuties.. daddy had to hold little wiggly boy in place.

I gave my sister a quilt. She was quite surprised. She and I made these blocks together several years ago. Then they sat in a pile at my house. I decided to make them into a quilt for her. It was fun to surprise her!

A selfie that managed to cut off most of my self. I call it one of the best shots of me ever taken. And finally... SNOW! Christmas Day wasn't white, but it is now. We got about 4 inches. It's so pretty!

Happy New Year, everyone.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas is Coming!

Last night our daughter invited us to her house for Christmas Eve.. I was thrilled, because I thought we were hosting, and hosting gives me big stress moments. Now I get to have a stress-free Christmas! Hooray! We'll be attending another celebration on Christmas Day, so I'm not hosting that, either.

I realized recently that I haven't been very chatty here at my blog lately. I can't even remember what I would normally have chatted with you about! I have been making a couple of Christmas gifts, so I can't show them to you yet. I have had some fun times sewing with friends, keeping myself busy and out of trouble with tasks at church, reading, helping out a friend in need, and occasionally working.

Why haven't you been chatting with us, Carol?? We've missed you!

We have no snow on the ground, and it has been unseasonably warm here in Minnesota. I actually envy the people who have received some beautiful Christmas snow, but... must admit that life is much easier without it! I could get used to this winter ease. I'm still wearing my fall jacket that is not quite tough enough for the super cold temperatures, and is lightweight enough to feel comfy and no big bulk while sitting in the car. I have only had to wear boots one day. I have not shoveled one flake of snow. Driving has been a breeze. Is this why people become snow birds?? I may have to give that some thought.

I have been thinking a lot about people who are in need. How easy it is for us who are blessed to forget what life is like for them. This year I bought a gift card as a Christmas gift, and the clerk who sold it to me was awed at the amount I put on the card. She got all dreamy about what she could do if anyone gave her a gift card holding that amount. I almost feel like getting another one and delivering it to her anonymously.

And another person, the friend in need I mentioned above, is pregnant and homeless. I have been helping her find housing, and trying to help her get re-connected with services that can help her. Believe me, that is not easy. All the rules and the ins and outs can be so confusing. A person needs an advocate to wade through all that stuff. I'm feeling extra empathetic for all the homeless people out there who have no one really watching out for them. How lonely and hopeless that must feel.

So in this happy Christmas season, let's all vow to be aware of those around us and remember to share our bounty. Even a small gift can make a big difference: a cup of hot chocolate for the bell-ringer, a bus card for someone who has a hard time getting around on low income, a ride to a doctor appointment, a gift of your time and friendship if you don't have money to share.

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Books: The Mare

Just barely getting this in on Friday! There is one hour left of the day. I read The Mare by Mary Gaitskill. A girl from NYC goes to upstate NY on a two-week visiting program, staying with a family and being exposed to country life. Next door to her family is a horse stable. She falls in love with a damaged horse, with whom she seems to have a special bond. She continues to visit her family, building relationships with the parents, the horses, the trainers. Questions arise about who is helping whom, what are the appropriate boundaries, is the relationship healthy or self-serving, what is the true nature of love and of family.

The writing is excellent, and I couldn't put the book down at first. It sags a bit in the middle, picks up again in the end. If anyone else reads this book, please share with me what you think of the ending. I'm not sure... the ending feels either like a wimpy ending or a satisfying one. I'm not sure!

I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

(By the way, some people see my sidebar just fine, others can't see it. If you can't see it, try scrolling down to the bottom of my posts, and you may see it there. Hopefully I will learn how to fix that some day.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Quilt, and Other Random News

I finished this quilt recently.. it was made for a challenge at my local guild. We pulled a color crayon out of a bag and used that color, along with white, black, and gray, and tones of the color we chose.

I got yellow. I used pieces I made in a class: brayer printing, gel print, silk screen, and then improvisational piecing (sort of) and applique. I call this quilt "Pages in a Coloring Book."

We showed our quilts at the December meeting, but I didn't have a camera. I love seeing challenge quilts. There are always some that amaze me.

Random news #1: I don't know what's wrong with my blog. Can you see the sidebar? I can't (although I can see it in "preview" mode). It still shows in the layout, as if it should be there, but doesn't show in real life. I recently upgraded to Windows 10. I'm hoping it's that, and that the blog will sort itself out eventually.

Random news #2: December 13 would have been my dad's 100th birthday. It's hard to believe... he has been gone almost 14 years now. That is even harder to believe. My mom will be 95 in a couple months.

Random news #3: We have our tree up, decorated, gifts wrapped, and cards in the mail. Now all we need to do is clean our house and plan a Christmas dinner menu. How are you doing for Christmas prep, or did you enjoy your Hanukkah celebration, or is this time of year just any old time like normal days? (It's that way for my son who is working in Korea... no special days off at Christmas time which is odd for him, but normal for them.)

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Books: A. Treuer

I read Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask by Anton Treuer. I read this book over a few months, because that's the style of the book. It is questions and answers on various topics. Topics include terminology, history, culture, politics, etc. A reader can pick it up and read, learn a few things, put it down, pick it up again after a long-ish break and read/learn more.

Treuer answers the questions thoroughly and respectfully. His answers are based on his vast knowledge, research, and experience. I appreciated how his answers cover so much, even the "but what about..."s that might pop up as you ponder the topic. And may I just brag for a moment and say that the Treuer family is from Minnesota. We are lucky to have them in our midst.

The last chapter is "Finding Ways to Make a Difference." This is a good book and an excellent resource. I will continue to refer back to it over the next months/years.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Some Sewing

I spent a couple of days sewing with my cousin; she helped me make this bag. I love it and plan to make more. I also worked on a Christmas gift which I can't show you yet. I hope you can see this picture. I upgraded to Windows 10, and it is giving me some attitude. So far we aren't getting along as well as I had hoped.

Today I am off to a funeral. My high school friend's husband died suddenly. It is sad, and I am a little shocked. Are we at that age already? Prayers for her.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Friday Books: Buddha's Dinner

Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen is a memoir. Nguyen, born in Viet Nam, came to America as a baby, with her father, grandmother, sister, and some uncles. She tells about the understandably difficult times she had as a child, trying to figure out the American culture, and trying hard to fit in. Her big focus as a child was the food that she wished she could eat: candies and fast food that she saw advertised on TV but which was not her family's usual fare.

Nguyen's writing is very good, and while I read, I was interested. However, the book was not that compelling (I got tired of the food talk); once put down it was easy to not go back to it. The last couple of chapters were superb and very moving as she is looking back to her life and finally figuring out her role in the world.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

I Went to a Hanging

... hanging of a quilt show, that is. One of my guilds has a traveling quilt show. It usually spends about a month per venue. These quilts are made to the theme of "Inside, Outside, Upside Down." I had not seen them all before. It was fun to see them all and help hang them. They look so nice as a collective display.

This last one is mine. I have always felt a little torn about it, but I'll admit it is fun to have it hanging in this show.

If you want to see this quilt show, see it during December through January 7, here.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ghanaian Fabric!

A friend went on a trip to Ghana and offered to buy me some fabric. I gave her money, and today I received the fabric. It is GORGEOUS!!! I wonder how I will use these precious pieces. Feast your eyes:

The third piece was sewn together by the girl from whom she bought it. I may just leave it pieced as is and work around it, but I'm not sure.

I now have in my possession special fabrics from France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and Ghana. Some of them I have been nervous to use, because I want the perfect something to make from them (and hope I don't blow it). With other pieces I have just procrastinated. Time to put on my international thinking cap.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Sewing Day

I went to a one-day sewing event with friends. The day went really fast. It was hard to gauge how much I might get done and therefore hard to guess how many projects I should take with me. I took extras, but that's OK. It's always a guessing game.

I got this top sewn together (the blocks were already sewn into rows). It is for Quilts Beyond Borders.

I finished the fourth of four doll blankies:

I worked on sewing down some applique on this top. I'm over half done now!

I started cutting for another pattern I'm hoping to get done soon. And I made this little block for a person in my guild who has cancer. Her sister is putting the quilt together. I happened to have my selvedges with me, so I searched for words that seemed soothing such as "serenity" and "sun-kissed." Then I added 100% cotton, because that indicates wonderfulness. And the pretty fall leaves as they are always something spectacular. And the best was finding "Giggles by Me & My Sister" ; the sister putting the quilt together loved that, and I scored a hug for that find.
(This is only a 5.5" block.)

All too soon, the day was done. I came home and vegged out in front of the TV. On Saturday's agenda: visit MIL in hospital.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Postponed Thanksgiving

For Thanksgiving this year we decided not to do our usual 150 mile trip to my sister's house. We had planned to stay home, just the two of us, and have a yummy dinner cooked by my husband (pot roast)! Yum. I said I'd do the pies, but I ended up buying them. I'm a lazier cook than ever before.

On Wednesday my mother-in-law landed in the hospital, having terrible abdomen and back pains. They decided it was a gall bladder issue, and it needed to come out. These days that is a pretty routine procedure, but not for my MIL due to many complicating factors. Any kind of surgery for her is risky.

Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, we postponed our dinner plans and stood watch over Mother-in-Law in the hospital. Well, my husband did. I was going to go later, but ... it was snowing, and I just didn't like the thought of going out in snow and possible ice. So I stayed home and sewed, with the intent of jumping in my car and joining the watch if I was needed. (I never was.)

MIL's surgery was a success; now she has a longish recovery to look forward to, because of all the other issues that need to be watched carefully. What a relief! She came through another crisis! She's is one tough cookie. Hopefully the recovery won't be too bad, although she was in a fair amount of pain after the surgery. I will visit her in the hospital after she is fully awake and will know I'm there.

Meanwhile, I finally got back to my sewing machine. I have not spent much time sewing lately, so it felt great to get back to it. I finished this top:

It is for Wrap Them in Love. They gave me one of the fabrics. I have made two tops for them from the pieces they sent. Did I show you the first one? I might not have. I used the Tahoe pattern and am not as excited about it, but I'll let you see it:

I also spent some time sewing together some selvedge edges. I was planning to make some pot holders. As I worked, I decided I had a good start on a quilt, which surprised me. I never would have purposely saved selvedge edges for an actual quilt.. but it's not the first time my potential pot holders turned into a quilt. I'd rather have a quilt any day (being such a reluctant cook and all.. who needs pot holders??)
You can see it's going to be a while before I have enough blocks for an actual quilt. These are 10-inch blocks.

Tomorrow I have more sewing in my future. Hooray! (I still don't know when our postponed dinner will happen... hubby has an all-day event tomorrow.) Have a great weekend everyone.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Books: Out of the Easy

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys; I had high hopes for this book, because her first one, Between Shades of Gray, was fabulous. This one didn't match that level of greatness.

The writing is good, which saves the book, but the characters were too stereotypical - one dimensional, especially the mother and her "boyfriend." It was interesting enough to keep me reading, but I was a bit disappointed overall. It is about a teenage girl whose mother is a prostitute and father is unknown. She grows up in New Orleans, loves to read and learn, and has a burning desire to go to college outside of Louisiana. Twists and turns occur throughout her journey.

Read it for entertainment, but it won't be one of the greats that you remember fondly for years.

photographed in Dakota County Library, Minnesota

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A No-Frills Retreat

I decided to invite several quilter/knitting friends to join me at a retreat at my church (with the church's permission, of course). We ran from 10 AM to 10 PM. I called it a "no-frills" retreat as I had planned no door prizes, no games, no extra frills. Some of us can't help ourselves, however, and brought little chocolates and little hand lotions for everyone.

Nine of us came and went, with sometimes as few as two in attendance. I don't think all nine of us were ever there together. We had a great time, met a new (to us) member of our online Sunshine guild, one attendee joined Sunshine, and we all got a lot done. I hope to do it again, maybe this winter.

I spent Sunday recovering: church, taking a nap, slowly getting my stuff hauled back upstairs to my sewing room, another nap.

First to arrive was my cousin, Beth. And the first project I worked on was Lotto blocks for Sunshine.

My next project was doll quilts. Tops were made; I just had to finish them. These are going to a Christmas toy collection through a friend.

Amy finished knitting this beautiful sweater (in a total of 2-3 years), and Andrea made this quilt top from start to finish in a day. We all have our share of short- and long-term projects!

Various other projects on which we made progress or which we completed:

I found out I'm older than I used to be, because it took me TWO days to recover from this retreat, rather than my usual one. And while we were on retreat, Paris was attacked. I'm so sad for France, but heartened by the responses of love. I have seen some poignant discussions on Facebook and in the news. People are amazing, and I am thankful.