Baby gifts that last

unnamed.pngKnitted baby gifts can be a joy, or a pain.  I love making little sweaters or dresses for babies, they knit up so quick and are adorable but I used to have a policy that I did not knit baby blankets.  Knit blankets take so long and I never felt like they would be appreciated enough to make it worth my time.  But a few years ago a dear friend asked me to make her a baby blanket for her first baby.  And that baby got her blanket on her 1st birthday because it took over a year to make.  But a couple of times a year she sends me a picture of her daughter with the blanket and it just makes my knitter’s heart melt.  I still would not make one for just anyone but I love that I could make her something her daughter cherishes.

Now baby books for gifts, I love giving books for baby gifts.  My only problem there is remembering if I have given that book to that family already (any ideas for a tracking system?).  I tend to give in a few categories: the great outdoors, bedtime reads and diverse reads.

In The Great Outdoors category, one of my favorites to give is Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey.  A mother and her daughter go to pick berries in Maine while a bear and her cub do the same.  I love the simple block print illustrations and the relationship between the mother and daughter.  Another Maine book is Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, a story of a woman who strives to make the world more beautiful by spreading lupine seeds wherever she goes.  And finally there is When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike by Michelle Houts, this book is published by a small press so it is a little more expensive but it is a sweet true story about an older lady who decided to hike the Appalachian Trail.  In 1955, at sixty-seven years old, Emma Gatewood, mother of eleven, completed her hike of the trail after two attempts, her only companion her trusty dog.   This story tells of perseverance and adventure and the illustrations are vibrant and lush.

For bedtime stories I like to give classics, I know it’s boring but I still give Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.  If you are more in the market for an adult read this week you can check out In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary (this story is not one for children).  Another great choice for bedtime is The Napping House by Audrey Wood.  The illustrations are really the star- the blue tones are soothing and dreamy but they get wackier and wilder as more of the family piles into the bed for nap time. Finally, I love to give Shel Silverstein’s poetry for bedtime reads.  The simple drawings and melodious rhymes are good for babies but also for older siblings and adults, “Masks” from Everything on It is one of my favorites.

Finally, I love to give books with strong role models.  I had a nursery rhyme book growing up called Father Gander Nursery Rhymes: The Equal Rhymes Amendment by Father Gander, it is no longer in print so it can be a little difficult to find but I have dug up many used copies for friend’s daughters.  I also like the Little People, Big Dreams series of children’s books, which include biographies of Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Frida Kahlo and Coco Chanel (these also come in board book editions).  Lost and Found Cat by Amy Shrodes and Doug Kuntz is a recent favorite- it is a heartwarming story about an Iraqi family’s cat, Kunkush, who travels across countries to find his family at a refugee camp.  Finally, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, is a recent Newberry winner which tells the story of CJ and his grandma riding the bus to church and encountering many different kinds of people in living in the city together.

And finally a few fun picks for everyone.  Dough Knights and Dragons by Dee Leone is a whimsical book and an especially fun for read aloud because their are lots of fun voices to perform.  Zoom by Istvan Banyai is a really cool book to give to families with kids of different ages because there are no words, only pictures. It begins with a picture of a rooster’s comb, the next page zooms out to see a whole rooster, then a farm, on the next page we zoom out to see that the farm is a toy that a little girl is playing with and it continues all the way to outer space.  It’s a unique way for kids to gain a new perspective of the world around them.

I know it’s the seasons of “dads and grads” but hopefully this gave you a few non-knitted gift ideas for those new moms and dads in your life!

 

 

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April showers bring more reading

May has come to Oklahoma and that means: storms, porch reading and the end of the semester!  Thanks to Mom for pinch hitting for me last Tuesday and writing a wonderful knitting books post!  I have now completed my final project for my first library science class and I am looking forward to taking more classes next year but also relieved to have more free time to read and do thinks like the RideOKC Architecture&Art Bicycle tour I participated in last weekend, who knew Oklahoma had so many beautiful buildings?  The one below is the Skirvan Hotel, designed in the neoclassical style by Solomon Layton (and also rumored to be haunted by the New York Knicks, who stayed there during the 2010 playoffs.  Now NBA teams in OKC stay down the street at the Colcord).unnamed-4.jpg

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In April I finally broke out of my reading slump and read a couple of 5 star books in a row.   When I started writing this post I realized that a lot of the books I finished reminded me of other books I’ve enjoyed so I’m going to try some reading pairings in this post.

I started the month with a quick read at the airport on the way back from Mexico: Tell Me More:  Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan.  Like last year’s Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly I related to the author’s wild Irish Catholic family.  These short essays have titles like “no”, “tell me more” and “I was wrong”.  I enjoyed the casual, chatty tone of the author in some of the essays but they did not feel like they fit with stories about struggling to cope with the death of her father and her friend to cancer. I found myself wanting to reread Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett, her memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy, more than I wanted to finish.  However, a lot of the book podcasts I listen to LOVED this book and the time commitment was short so if anything about it piques your interest I would say to pick it up.

I finally finished my 2nd classic of the year: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (yes, I am WAY behind on my classics goal for the year).  I love his spare writing style and the first half of the book, which focused on two couples in Madison, Wisconsin the 1930s, but I trudged through the second half of the book which focused on their middle age.  Maybe it is just because I identified more strongly with the younger versions and upon rereading one day I’ll appreciate the second half more. I had a bit of a tough time coming up with a read-alike for this one but decided on Let’s Take the Long Way HomeA Memoir of Friendship, by Gail Caldwell.  Gail and Caroline meet while walking their dogs and they quickly become friends, spending long hours walking in the woods and rowing the rivers of New England, until suddenly Caroline is diagnosed with cancer and they both have to deal with the consequences of her illness.

For fans of  wacky nonfiction like Mary Roach’s Stiff try From Here to Eternity: Travelling the World to Find a Good Death by Caitlin Doughty.  The author is a director of a crematory so obviously is not very squeamish, but I actually found this book less graphic than Stiff.  Doughty explores how different cultures experience death and the rituals surrounding burial.  I was fascinated by the Bolivian Natitas, human skulls that people keep in their homes and treat as their personal patron saints- praying to them and providing offerings for small requests and day-to-day struggles.  Plus, once a year the Natitas get a giant party where the priests in town bless them all.

Next I read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.  This Pulitzer winner had been on my backlist for years but I never read it because I was intimidating by the music aspect of the plot (my musical knowledge is pretty much null, always my worst category in bar trivia).  In a series of vignettes, Egan explores the tenuous connections in the life of an aging music producer and his elusive assistant. The stories are not arranged chronologically and it’s sometimes difficult to stay oriented in the plot but I loved seeing Egan weave a story of seemingly disconnected people and the impact they have on each others lives.  Despite a vastly different starting point, it reminded me of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Both deal with people trying to find meaning in their lives through art.  And both feature characters that affect each others lives profoundly, sometimes without ever meeting face-to-face.

Award for most difficult read of the month goes to The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle.  This was recommended by my friend, Nancy, who never fails to find incredibly depressing books. This book was beautiful but DIFFICULT.  The author tells the story of a child being sexually abused by his parents who is taken in by a foster mother who has lost her husband to cancer.   I would not necessarily recommend to everyone, however, in the end it is about building a family from broken pieces, and how tragedy can build us into more compassionate people.  For a read alike for this book I’ll steal another Nancy suggestion: The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward.  This book tells two stories: one of a couple in Austin struggling with infertility, and one of a young girl escaping poverty and hopelessness in Honduras to migrate to America through Mexico.

Here’s hoping May brings some lighter reading, it’s kind of bad when the lightest book of the month is about death.

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Happy reading everyone!

Tuesday Text Q&A (Al’s Day! Qand A)

I love a quick card game, this week a friend from Ohio taught me how to play euchre when we were out at the bar one night.  It is similar to spades but with more rules, and I love rules.  My friend’s mom brings a deck of trivia cards to our beach vacation and breaks a few out every afternoon while we eat our packed lunches. I know a couple who keeps a deck of “Would You Rather” cards in the car to play on road trips.

unnamed-2So I was delighted to receive a very fun little gift this week: LitChat: Conversation Starters about Books and Life created by Book Riot. It contains cards in the shape of books with bookish questions on the back so I thought I would test them out on you guys!unnamed-1.jpg

  • Do you have a favorite place to read (or knit)? Does it change depending on what you’re reading?

My favorite place in the world to read is on the beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  But I feel like I have talked about that before.  In my first apartment in Chicago I had a roommate who had a wonderful cushy armchair from Pottery Barn that I loved to curl up in with a book.  One day I’ll find an armchair that is just as cozy. But primarily I like to read outside when I can, I think this is from growing up with a screen porch and spending long summers reading my stack of library books on the porch.

  • Do you ever cheat and skip to the end of a book? Why do you do it?

I am frequently guilty of this, not only with books but with googling the end of TV shows or movies.  If I am too focused on the mystery of a story I cannot focus on the writing.   This is probably why I do not read many mysteries!  I also read an incredibly difficult book this month and I did ask the person who recommended it if it had a happy ending because it if did not I did not think I could continue, she replied “press on” (it did end somewhat happily and I am glad I finished it- more on that one next week)

  •  Where do you get your book recommendations?

I keep a spreadsheet of my yearly reading and one of the things I track is where I get my book recommendations.  My sources have definitely changed over they years- in high school I remember reading BookPages magazines and O magazine for new book recommendations.  I also used to browse the library stacks and end caps a lot more than I do these days.  These past couple of years the majority of my book recommendations come from podcasts.  I love What Should I Read Next? with Anne Bogel (and I like her blog as well https://modernmrsdarcy.com/) as well as Reading Glasses on Maximum Fun (http://www.maximumfun.org/shows/reading-glasses) and two Book Riot Podcasts, All the Books, a review of the new books being released this week, and Get Booked, a personalized recommendation podcast (https://bookriot.com/listen/).  I do still take recommendations from friends but some of my biggest reader friends have very different taste than I do so there are only some friends I consistently take books from (more on that in my May reading round up).

  • What is the funniest book you’ve ever read? Did it make you laugh out loud?

I may do a whole post on this category one day because so many sprang to mind. So I will just pick one of my favorites for now, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?  Her essay about “the irish goodbye” (sneaking out without saying goodbye to everyone) really spoke to me and I remember laughing out loud reading it on the El in Chicago.

  • Last one is of course: what are you reading this week?

Have a great week everyone!  We are finally getting some rain to put out the fires in Oklahoma.

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Tuesday Text Returns: March Reading Roundup by Al

unnamedAfter a brief hiatus I am back on the blog and ready to give you my March reading roundup. I was stuck in quite a reading rut at the start of March so I started the month with a stack of fast reads. I read three graphic novels: Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash, and Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel.  Fun Home is also a musical of the same name that is coming to OKC this week so I am hoping to score some free tickets. In keeping with my theme of fairly depressing reads, this one is a memoir of Bechdel’s upbringing, especially her eccentric father, who killed himself when she was in her early 20s; and her realization that she is a lesbian and her father was gay. I am not sure how this could possible be a musical so I am looking forward to seeing it.

I followed that with a much lighter read: The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory. This is a fun romantic comedy, complete with a meet-cute in a stuck elevator.  It was a light read but I appreciated the diversity of the cast of characters, as well as that the women in the book were portrayed as strong, complete people, not the typical “damsel in distress”.

For Book Club I read Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.  If you’ve ever read Jodi Picoult this is her typical fare (courtroom drama about a hot-button issue) but like most of her books I found it compelling “popcorn reading”.  The story surrounds an African-American labor and delivery nurse who is asked not to care for a white supremacist couple’s baby.  One girl in my bookclub said it really made her think about how racism exists today.  I identified with the nurse, having been a nurse myself, and the impossible situation that she found herself in.

Finally I read my first 5 star book of the year, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. The story looks at a blended family in the 1970s but crosses many timelines, piecing together the stories of the six children and their parents after they are brought together from divorce and remarriage.  It sounds like a simple story but Patchett’s writing was beautiful and the disjointed timelines make the reader feel as chaotic as the characters. I read the whole novel at the beach in Mexico over two days and I would highly recommend it.  I did not love Patchett’s State of Wonder but this book made me want to pick up Bel Canto, which I have had on my list for years.  Anything waiting on your backlist that you’ll be picking up this year?unnamed-1.jpg(have you met Minion?  Isn’t he gorgeous? )

Some beach, by Allison

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Every summer ,when I was growing up,  we would go to the north woods of Wisconsin and spend a week in a quiet cabin. One day we might go horseback riding or to the bigger town of Minocqua and rent a pontoon or a jet ski.  Mostly.  it was long lazy hours of sitting by the lake,  listening to the loons and, in my case, making my way through stacks of books. I know there were many years I bumped up against the library limit of 10 books checked out at once. These childhood vacations set the tone- I love a lazy vacation with no agenda and plenty of books.  Most summers recently I’ve been lucky enough to go with my friends family to their beach house on the Outerbanks of North Carolina.    So, most of my vacation reading of late has literally been beach reads,( although some fall outside the paperbacks traditionally thought of as “beach reads”)

I love to read a funny book at the beach. This year I read Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson and Yes Please by Amy Poehler.
(this book actually wasn’t that funny and I would not recommend it as highly as Bossypants by Tina Fey or Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kahling).
A few years previous, I read Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.  Hyperbole and a Half deals with the darkness of depression but also the lightness of life and some parts are laugh out loud funny.  This is a graphic novel so you could knock it out in a day with your feet in the sand.  If you think graphic novels might be for you ,preview Brosh’s work on her blog.  This story about trying to move with an anxious dog had me in tears: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/11/dogs-dont-understand-basic-concepts.html?m=1
I also love to tackle a meatier family saga at the beach.  This past year I read Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan. This is a  story about two Irish sisters who immigrate to new York in the 1950s.  The protagonists name is Nora, which is the same name as my grandmother, and she lives a life that reminds me of my grandmother as well.  She raises her four Catholic children in a suburb of Boston, while her sister becomes a cloistered nun.  They are estranged for years until a family tragedy brings them back together.
A few years ago,  I finished Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides at the beach.  This is one of my favorite novels of all time.  This book starts off kind of slow .  It took about 100 pages to get going for me and even then I would hardly call it a page turner.  If I didn’t have hours of time at the beach to read I may not have made it past those first 100 pages,  but I’m so glad that I did.  This is a beautiful story about a Greek immigrant family in Detroit.  The book is about a family, but also about a city; about family, but also about individuals; about family secrets, but also about rising above them.  I absolutely love it and would highly recommend it if you are up for some reading fortitude.
Finally, I do appreciate a quick and light beach read.  I always enjoy Jennifer Weiner’s novels about accomplished, smart, quirky women.  Most recently I read, Little Earthquakes at the beach.  This is  a book about three new moms.  They  become unlikely friends as they learn how to embrace their new role and challenge the expectations of what they thought being a mother would be. I just finished The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory which would be a perfect light beach read.  This romantic comedy starts with a typically unusual meet cute- Drew and Alexa meet in an elevator that gets stuck in a hotel.  By the time the elevator is fixed, Alexa has agreed to be Drew’s date to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding that weekend and surprise, surprise, sparks fly.  This book was fairly predictable but the characters are likeable and real.  I really enjoyed this popcorn read!
Hope you all are getting in lots of reading and knitting (whether or not it’s happening at the beach!)  If you don’t have a nearby beach, a park with a river running through it will do !

Never-ending March

To all my East Coast friends out there, I am sorry to hear that you are expecting another Nor’easter this week.  Here’s hoping that it’s the last one for you. To those in the Midwest, I know that March is the longest month but today is the first day of Spring and you’ve almost made it!

I’m going to start this week with a poetry recommendation, I came upon a poem called The Primer by Bob Hicok, that describes the Midwestern relationship to spring pretty perfectly, I especially like the line “We are a people who by February want to kill the sky for being so gray and angry at us”.  If you’re interested in the whole poem you can find it here https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/05/19/a-primerunnamed-3

On the theme of winter’s last gasp I started  a shawl called “Winter Breath” by the wool club.  I’m knitting with Mrs. Crosby’s sock yarn (Train Case in African Grey. )  I’m obsessed with this color. I also have enough of Hat Box to make a sweater that I’m swatching for,  but I’m not sure if I’m going to stick with the pattern that I picked. I chose a herringbone sweater, Cullen, by Elizabeth Doherty.  I love the way the sweater looks but the pattern requires a lot of paying attention, and I am not sure I am in the mood for that kind of a knit right now. I was thinking about a Gansey, instead, with a large stockinette section.

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Cullen swatch is below:

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But I digress, this is supposed to be a reading post!  Because March can seem like the month where spring will never come, I thought I would write about dystopian fiction.  I know that reading about the end of the world does not always seem like a cheerful topic but I find that these novels, while on the face are about the collapse of society, are really about relationships between people and what matters in the face of an uncertain future.  If you have not read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and have any spark of interest in dystopian fiction I would highly recommend this literary novel, it is one of my all time favorites.  The story takes place twenty years after a global pandemic has wiped out much of the population of the earth and follows a traveling Shakespeare troupe that travels across what is left of America, performing his plays for the small communities that are left.  The book also flashes back in time with multiple perspectives to remember what the world was like before the pandemic happened.  It is a lyrical novel, beautifully written, and explores the purpose of art, even at the end of the world.

If you already read and liked Station Eleven, I would recommend Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton. This book is from the perspective of two characters who have been isolated after a global event that is never revealed.  The first is an elderly man at a research center in the Arctic, who refused to leave his post when the last group was evacuated.  The second is a crew on a space ship that is returning from Jupiter and has lost all contact with the people on earth.  I know this seems a little out-there if you do not normally read sci-fi but the technology aspect takes a backseat to the relationships between people as they face their fear of the unknown. It’s a slim novel if you want to finish it by the end of March and make room for lighter subjects.

Others I’ve enjoyed in the last few years are: The End We Start From by Megan Harris and Tale of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison, and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.

If this week was not your style, stay tuned for next week when I’ll be talking about Beach Reads!  Hope everyone is making it through the first day of spring!

February Reading Wrap Up

Sorry the post is a little late today guys! I was up late watching the travesty that was this season of The Bachelor.  Perhaps because of my dedication to this terrible show I only completed four books this month, only two of them were on theme and I did not finish my classic (although I am really enjoying Crossing to Safety and will probably finish it in March). I think I enjoyed trying to read on a theme but, as is my habit, I was distracted by other new books coming into the library.

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The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo was the first book that I finished this month.  This was my first time reading a Reese Witherspoon Hello Sunshine book club book and I was underwhelmed.  Lucy and Gabe meet as freshmen in college and fall into infatuation.  When he decides to leave the country to pursue wartime photography they break up and she moves on with her life, marrying someone else and pursuing a more conventional life in New York City.  But did she ever really let go of Gabe?  Even though I thought this read like a YA book and I did not love the characters I did feel like it would make a good book club book.  There was a lot to discuss about marriage, love and what it means to have a fulfilling career.

During a weekend trip I read Tiffany Haddish’s The Last Black Unicorn, the actress’s story of her long journey to become a successful female comedian.  For those of you who saw Girl’s Trip you know that this women is hilarious.  If you need a laugh today watch the clip of her meeting Oprah on ellen.  The book also touched on some difficult topics as well- Haddish was raised in foster care, she was in an abusive marriage for many years and her mother suffered from a debilitating mental illness.  However, her infectious joy and honesty carries throughout the book and I laughed out loud on the plane reading about Haddish’s Groupon booked swamp tour with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.

My Book of the Month Club pick was also Oprah’s Book Club pick this month: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.  This book reminded me a lot of Taylor Jenkin’s One True Loves, but addressed more serious societal issues. Celestial and Roy are newly married when Roy is convicted of a crime that he did not commit and sent to prison for twelve years.  Over the years the distance and disagreements slowly erode their relationship and when Roy’s conviction is overturned after five years he does not know what life he is returning to.  This would be another good book for discussion as it touched on the impact of race, class and family in a marriage as well as what success looks like to African Americans in the modern South.

I finished off the month with a book I received for my birthday and devoured in two days: I’ll Be Gone In the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. McNamara passed away from an accidental overdose before this book was completed and her husband, Patton Oswalt, along with her editor, took on the massive task of bringing this compulsively researched true crime memoir to publication. Because it was incomplete on her death I did feel that the book was a little uneven and I’m sad we will never get to see what it could have been.  If you don’t like true crime- DON’T READ THIS!  I had trouble sleeping reading this terrifying story of the Golden State Killer that terrorized California for almost a decade and was never caught. But the sections I liked best were about McNamara’s experience researching the book, how she became obsessed with bringing criminals to justice and her Irish Catholic family. If you were a fan of Making a Murderer or Serial, I would suggest you check out this book.

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Hope there’s a little something here for everyone. In March I am going on a beach vacation so I hope my read pile is a little longer- I need to make some progress on the stacks of books lying around my house!