Year in Review

Year in Review: The Books

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This week, Carole asks us to list our Ten Favorite Books in 2014.  This task is so much easier, now that I use Goodreads fairly faithfully.  (I say "fairly" . . . because my list of books on Goodreads doesn't quite reconcile with the list I maintain in the sidebar of my blog, so I've clearly erred in the tracking somewhere along the way.  But.  Close enough.)

I just sorted my Goodread list for 2014 by "rating", which shows some of my favorite books in the past year.  

Voilà!

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(Because I'm setting my own rules for this post, I've decided to remove re-reads and poetry from my final list, including only novels I've read for the first time during 2014.)

My Ten Favorite Books in 2014 (minus re-reads and poetry):

  1. All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr) - My hands-down favorite for 2014!  The critics kept calling it "dazzling."  I'd have to agree:  This one dazzles.  (Read it!)
  2. The Spinning Heart (Donal Ryan) - This story unfolds as a kind of oral history, told by a series of narrators - all neighbors in a contemporary Irish town.  Compelling.
  3. The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton) - Don't let the page count keep you away from this New Zealand gold rush tale -- part love story, part mystery, part ghost story -- all told under an astrological theme.  (Winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize.)
  4. Hunting and Gathering (Anna Gavalda) - A perfect weaving-together of lives; bringing wounded people together . . . finding that, together, they are greater than the sum of their parts.  Translated from French, this book is beautiful to read.  (The French title was "Togetherness is Everything," which seems more appropriate somehow.)
  5. We Are Completely Beside Ourselves (Karen Joy Fowler) - This one is worth the read for the narrator alone (such a witty and engaging character!) -- but there is so much more!  (This one is probably best read without any prior knowledge of the story, so that's all I'm going to say here.)
  6. The Children Act (Ian McEwan) - One reviewer compared this book to choreography, and I think that's the perfect description!  There are never easy answers -- even when it seems like there are.
  7. Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) - A truly global love story that covers so many topics your head might spin!  Race, feminism, immigration, emigration, interracial relationships . . . and natural hair.  Enlightening.
  8. The Secret Place (Tana French) - The 5th in the Dublin Murder Squad series, and probably not the strongest of the 5, but I love this series - and thought this was a terrific read.  
  9. Burial Rites (Hannah Kent ) - This is not a happy book (just sayin'), but it is stark and lyrical and makes you realize . . . how many stories are lost out there.  Because not every voice is heard.
  10. How to be both (Ali Smith) - Okay.  Technically this one probably shouldn't be on my list.  Because I'm not quite finished yet.  But.  I think it needs to be here.  Because up is down and down is up, inside is outside and outside is in.  I've never read a book like this one!

How about YOU?  What are your favorite books this year?

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Year in Review: Playing in the Dirt

I have mixed feelings about reviewing my gardening in 2013.  On the one hand, it brings me a glimmer of joy and hope -- much needed after last week's Polar Vortex and nearly 2 feet of snow . . . followed by this weekend's warm-up and melting, icy, mess.  But on the other hand, it makes me just . . . sad.  Because gardening time is still months away.

Oh, well.

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For most of 2013 gardening season, my garden looked pretty great.  I ripped out some shrubs, transplanted and divided many perennials, added beds and plants, and directed Tom's efforts in a whole new project.  It was looking great!

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Then. . . Jo Jo arrived.

And made a total mess.

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(There's always next year. . . )

The things I was most pleased with out in the garden in 2013?

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1.  My pergola looks pretty much just how I imagine it might ... when I designed it 5 years ago!

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2.  My hops!

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3.  And the new arbor to contain them!

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4.  We lost a huge black cherry tree in the spring (good riddance, actually) -- but I had them leave the stump.  While I'll be fighting black cherry shoots for a while yet, the stump makes a nice design feature in the landscape.

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5.  We also took out a diseased dwarf white pine (that wasn't so "dwarf" any more) in this garden bed.  Although I agonized about taking out that pine for months, once it was gone . . . it just opened up space and the Japanese Maple (there all along) really got a chance to shine!  (It also gave me a chance to . . . plant other stuff!)

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6.  I created a couple of little fairy gardens out under the trees.  A bit of charm and whimsy in unexpected places.

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7.  Tom took on the facilitation of my next garden dream -- transforming a little-used back corner of our yard and creating a new patio and firepit.  Now that the hardscape is in place, we'll be able to plant and transform the space as soon as we can dig!

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8.  The colors were beautiful; the birds and butterflies and bees abundant!  2013 was a great year in the garden.

Now, in these dark, cold, dreary days of winter, I keep busy dreaming and scheming of NEXT year in the garden.

I can't wait!

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Year in Review: On (and Off) the Needles

I remember a time . . . when I actually knit 12 sweaters in a year.  Twelve!

Well.

Those days seem to be long gone.  Although I still knit pretty much every day (because a day doesn't feel "right" without some knitting), my production has slowed way, way down.  

My Project Count for 2013:

  • 3 hats
  • 1 pair fingerless mitts
  • 4 sweaters
  • 1 baby sweater
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 5 shawls
  • and 3 spa washcloths (gifts)

Out of those projects, which were my favorites?  Why . . . 

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Germinate is, hands-down, my Winner for 2013  I love it!  The yarn, the colors, the stripes-and-lace.  (It's hard to beat the winning combination of Kirsten's design and Kim's yarn!)

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I also love this cardigan - Tinder, one of Jared Flood's designs (and knit in his Shelter yarn).  So wearable and very practical.

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Leftie is a bit of a surprise.  I didn't enjoy knitting is so much, but I get lots and lots of compliments and comments every time I wear it!  (Plus, it reminds me of Margene and Carole, and that's a huge bonus.)

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I also love my Sundry!  I loved knitting it; I love wearing it.  (And this one reminds me of my trip to San Francisco, so another bonus.)

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And . . . this pullover (Tea with Jam and Bread) is pretty darn wonderful.  It got me through our recent "Polar Vortex" with the the three-day-snow-day-extravaganza.  Perfect kick-around sweater.  (And it looks great with pajama pants.  Just sayin.')

For 2014, I plan to Keep Knitting.  I'm not going to set any project goals or quotas for myself; I'm just going to knit what I feel like knitting!  I will say that I want to do some colorwork/fairisle, as I haven't done any of that for a couple of years now.  And I'm itching to knit one of the hats from the recent Wool People issue.  (This one.)  Other than that, I'm just coming to terms with the fact that I cannot knit All of The Things.  Nor do I need to buy All of the Yarn.  I think it's safe to say that for 2014, I'm going to knit what I want . . . with what I've already got.  And I'll just leave it at that!

How about you?  What are your favorite knits of 2013?  And what are you planning to knit in the coming year?


Year in Review: Reading Along in 2013

When it came to books, for me . . . 2013 . . . became The Year of the Epic Tome.

According my annual count, I read 47 books in 2013.

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This is down, significantly, from 2012 -- when I read 56 -- but NOT for lack of reading!  I actually read like a fiend this year -- but books just seem to be getting longer and longer.  (Editors!  Step up!)

I ended up reading a number of Really Long Books this year  (including We Are Water by Wally Lamb - 576 pages, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - 756 pages, Paris by Edward Rutherfurd - 809 pages, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens - 974 pages, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner - 569 pages, The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt - 675 pages, and Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman - 642 pages).

So, you see.  It's not that I read less in 2013.  It's just that I read more pages . . . resulting in fewer books!  (As if that matters anyway.)

I read many excellent books in 2013, including 15 5-star books* (for details on my own, personal rating system, click here).  My Top-Five books for 2013 (in no specific order):

  1. Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  2. Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
  3. Transatlantic by Colum McCann
  4. Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
  5. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (a re-read of one of my favorite books Of All Time)

Just for contrast, I was also . . . disappointed . . . by a few books.  My Biggest Disappointments for 2013 (books I actually finished, but didn't like all that much):

  1. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (Sorry.  Just not all that interesting.)
  2. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I tend to not like Donna Tartt's main characters all that much - in any of her books.  I must admit to being charmed by the first quarter of the book.  After that . . . not so much.)
  3. Heat and Dust by Ruth Jhabvala (Just plain boring.  And, again, I had connection issues.)
  4. The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt (What a slog!  I can't believe I finished it, actually.)
  5. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler (Awful.)

For 2014, I plan to continue reading like a fiend!  Mostly contemporary fiction**, I imagine, with re-reads of some old favorites (Dickens, Austen, and Edith Wharton).  I usually try to throw in at least one or two non-fiction books each year.  And this year, I'll be checking out some travel books, too!

How about you?  What did you especially enjoy reading in 2013?  What are your reading plans for 2014?

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 *  You can check out my 2013 reading list and star-ratings on my sidebar.

**  I make a lot of my reading selections from the long-lists for the Orange Prize (or whatever it's called now; they changed the name last year) and the Booker Prize.

 

 

 


2013: It Was a Very Good Year

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Hit it, Frankie!

 

2013 was, indeed, a very good year!  Ten of my favorite memories . . . 

1.  Brian turns 21 and we all go on a pub crawl.

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2.  We get rid of the bird find a new home for Puck.  (Remember him?)

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3.  I visit San Francisco with my sister.

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4.  Brian shows us around his lab and explains stuff.

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5.  We spend wonderful weekends Up North.

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6.  My sister comes for a visit and we drink a lot of wine.  (And that's all I'm going to say about that.)

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7.  I start running . . . and get a medal in a 5K.

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8.  Erin gets a job!

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9.  We adopt Jo-Jo . . . and Jenny becomes The Bionic Dog.

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10.  Everyone comes home for Christmas.

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A VERY good year -- full of great memories!

How about YOU?  What are your favorite memories from 2013?

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A SURPRISE-ing Year

As I look back over The Year That Just Was (2013), I think it might be best to start with my one little word for the year . . . 

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I very much like the concept of One Little Word -- having one word serve as a focus point through the year -- although I'm not so big on the "project" part of the whole thing.* 

In 2013, I had a great experience with SURPRISE.

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What was most . . . surprising . . . to me was the realization that a SURPRISE can't be planned!  You simply can't intend to be surprised.  You can't decide to surprise yourself.  You can't expect a surprise.**

Because then . . . it wouldn't be a SURPRISE!

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I know this sounds kind of stupid and lame.  But this reality - that you can't expect a surprise - was eye-opening to me.  I came to understand that a SURPRISE can only be recognized as a SURPRISE . . . after the fact!  

I realized that SURPRISES are . . . 

Unexpected.

Unplanned.

Spur of the moment.

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When it comes to a SURPRISE . . . it's simply something you didn't seem coming!  You can't wake up and say, "I'm going to surprise myself today."  It just doesn't work that way.

But.

You can tell yourself that you'll be . . . 

OPEN to surprise in your life.

ALERT to surprises that happen all around you.

AWARE at how many things surprise us every day.

I learned that SURPRISE . . . is simply a matter of opening up your eyes and welcoming the unexpected in life!

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Life is full of surprises. 

Embrace them!

 

My biggest SURPRISES of 2013:

The power of sound.

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Taking on a new job (with a lickety-split Switch-o-Change-o surprise element that nearly swept me over Another Edge) (And still might.).

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Jo-Jo.  (Talk about spur-of-the-moment.)

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Running.  (Still not quite sure where that one came from.  Complete sneak attack.)

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And . . . a hot air balloon landing in the front yard!

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* I am simply NOT a scrapbook kind of person, and I just never will be.  I accept that about myself.  When it comes to One Little Word, I don't really follow along with the "projects."  I just check in each month as a reminder to consider new elements of my word.  I don't create a whole "book."  (Although I usually start out thinking I might.  I never really do, though.)

** This did make following along with the formal One Little Word prompts particularly troublesome, because most of the prompts have to do with intentions and plans for your word -- exercises to make the word "present" in your life.  Can't happen when your word is surprise!


Year End Review: The Milestones

The end of January is fast approaching!  Time to wrap up my review of 2011.  Today. . . the top five "milestone" events of 2011:

1.  Erin's graduation from Denison!

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2.  Tom and I . . . celebrating our 30th anniversary!

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3.  Paris!

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4.  Amsterdam!

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5.  Far too many broken bones. . .

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An exciting year, certainly!  (Although I would've been content with a less of the broken bone variety of excitement.)


Year End Review: The Garden

Today, the weather in my corner of the world is cold and icy and snowy.  A perfect day to look back at my garden in 2011!

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2011 was a good year in the garden -- despite a cold spring and a steamy, hot summer.

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I was generally pleased with the progress of most of my newer "areas."  Like the pergola (in its third season in my backyard), above.  Or my hillside shade garden (in its second season in my backyard, below.

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I played with color and texture quite a bit in my 2011 garden, and overall, I was pleased with the results.

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There were lots of things to love about my garden last season.  But if I had to choose. . . what were my five favorite garden stories in 2011?  Well. . .

1.  My new pond.

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(June)

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(August)

The waterfall and new plantings were such a delight all season long!  I can't wait to see what this area does in its second season.  (And I hope my fish -- the three amigos Boo, Simon, and Garfunkel -- weather the winter without . . . incident.)

2.  My rain barrel.

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My birthday gift last spring, the rain barrel worked like a charm and was a great source of water for my patio plants all season long.  (Can't wait to hook it up again!)

3.  My bees and butterflies.

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I loved watching the bees and butterflies all summer long, and I was especially happy that my Mason Bee House . . . worked!  It was just buzzin' and so much fun to watch.

4.  Certifying my yard as a Wildlife Habit. . . and as a Monarch Waystation.

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This was really an easy thing to do!  I take quite a bit a teasing from . . . ahem, ALL members of my family ("Mom.  We got another call from the monarchs. . . wondering if you have any rooms available for September 8. . . "), but I'm pleased to couple my love of gardening with my concern for the environment -- and the creatures who live among us.  (So there.)

5.  My "thing" for succulents!

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I've been fascinated with succulents for a couple of years now, but they really became a "thing" for me in 2011.  I added them everywhere -- then created a small succulent bed (near my hot driveway) and experimented with several succulent container gardens.  (Most of the containers are overwintering inside -- and seeing these photos from the summer makes me realize how much they've grown!)

I'm itching to dig and plant again.  For now, though, I'll just have to look at my photos . . .and dream about spring!


Year End Review: The Not Knitting

Last week, I posted about my knitting in 2011.  I mentioned that I wasn't as prolific as I have been in past years.  Maybe.  Just maybe. . . that's because I spent a good deal of my time Not Knitting. 

I got my sewing machine out again.  I did a major crochet project.  I started journaling.  I even started . . . some other (Not Blogged) art projects.

I liked Not Knitting.  Not enough to give up knitting (never), but I enjoyed the diversion.  My five favorite Not Knitting projects during 2011:

1.  My Project Spectrum "True Colors" crocheted blanket. . .

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2.  The lunch bag I sewed for Erin. . .

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3.  The apron I sewed (also for Erin) -- it's reversible!

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4.  The owl potholders I made (again. . . for Erin). . .

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5.  Roll-up shopping bags I made as a Christmas gift (for Erin!). . .

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I never did blog about these bags.  Because life got a little hectic there around the holidays, and I finished these up while my mom was in the hospital.  They're pretty cool, though.

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Simple, quick, neat.  I followed this tutorial.  As a bonus, the bags roll up so you can keep them handy with you when you're out and about.

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Looks like Erin was the primary beneficiary of my Not Knitting in 2011.  (She's not getting the blanket, though!!!)


Year End Review: The Books

I read a lot.  Like. . . I typically read somewhere between 45 and 65 books a year.  Mostly, I read contemporary fiction, but I like to mix in some literary classics and non-fiction books for good measure. 

When I look over my book list for 2011, I see that I read 48 books.  I was on track for 52 (my goal this year). . . but my reading-train derailed when my Mom had her accident in mid-December.  (I actually haven't read a page since. . .)  In review, I can see that I was heavy on contemporary fiction this year; a little lighter on the classics; and there were plenty of non-fiction books in the mix.

I'm pretty picky when it comes to reading, and I have my own "star-rating" system for rating the books I read.  Most of this year's reading fell into my 4-star category (which is typical), but 8 of them were 5-star books (not counting Get the F--- to Sleep, which was brilliant, and definitely worthy of 5-stars, but sort of out of my usual "realm" of categorization).

Here are the five absolute-best books I read in 2011:

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I loved this book so much.  It actually may be one of my favorite books EVER.

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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch.  Fabulous!  Insightful!  AND. . . I now have enough book recommendations to last a good, long time!

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Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey.  Delightful.  Such wonderful contrast in perspectives.  (Plus, I sort of have a secret-love for American history.)

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On Canaan's Side: A Novel by Sebastian Barry.  Lovely writing; compelling characters; heart-tugging story.

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safron Foer.  So moving; I just loved this book.  (But I won't be going to the movie.)

So many great books!