Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Books

While at the library last week, I walked by the new fiction section and picked up two titles. I had just finished The Snow Child (which I really enjoyed) and needed something new.  The two current releases I grabbed were The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult and And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I had read both authors in the past and enjoyed their work. Both grapple with hard subjects though, so I wasn't sure I would be up to them after reading The Sandcastle Girls.

I chose Picoult's newest work to start. This morning I finished it. It was a good book that deals with the Holocaust from several different perspectives. The main theme of forgiveness is an interesting one. As usual there was a twist at the end. I was a bit disappointed in one of the characters. I had already figured out the twist early in the book. I wish she had responded a bit differently to the request which was made of her. Tonight I will start the Hosseini book. I haven't read much about this one.

After these two books I may need something much lighter. Fortunately I just received Knit to Flatter and my newest issue of Taproot. I am eager to delve into the text of Herzog's new book. I really like the idea of being able to customize my knitting to my figure. I am hoping she offers some good ideas and guiding principles when choosing and knitting any patterns.

As for knitting, I have been sporadically knitting on a shawl for Eamon. He requested this item several months ago, but the yarn was backordered. Once it arrived I was distracted with other knitting. Finally it is his turn. I am using Tosh Merino Light for the shawl. He selected the pattern based on design and name. The pattern is Vulpix by Stephen West. If any of you have Pokemon fans in your home, you will know why he picked it. After this item, I will be knitting a pair of socks for Camp Loopy and a new mystery shawl from Kirsten Kapur. Phew! The knitting queue is filling up again thanks to everyone participating in the Yarn Along.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Wet Weekend

This weekend was spent enjoying the water. Much of our last four days have been spent swimming, with most of that time spent with cousins. After a wonderful birthday celebration for my niece on Saturday, we were joined by my brother and his family again for Memorial Day. The kiddos swam and swam and swam. They have decided the pool is the best place to be. While her aunt was dealing with party prep, Aine helped her young cousin in the pool. We all laughed at the one year old kicking exuberantly while her older cousin supported her in the water. Eamon jumped and swam with another cousin, even carrying her on his shoulders. He later complained about his back and was given the suggestion that perhaps carrying your similarly aged cousin is not a great idea! Benton continued to work on his swimming. He can now cross the width of the pool without any problems. He found a few friends and spent much of his time underwater. Dave and I visited and watch all the antics from the dry pool deck. Perhaps when it gets into the 100s, I will jump in too.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Revisiting the Old

I have always tried to keep my hands busy. As a child, my mother introduced me to many of the fiber arts. I learned to crochet, making caddywumpus creations like a yellow, asymmetrical scarf that was unwearable. There was also a brief fascination with latch-hook, and I loved my potholder loom. I made myself clothing and even studied with a Vogue designer for bit in my early teens. But the medium I chose the most in my early years was counted cross stitch and embroidery. I made many samplers as a youth filling up my parents' walls. My mom would select an image, and I would get to work. I even made Dave a stocking for our first Christmas together that incorporated a vintage Santa Claus. That stocking was the last piece I stitched. I no longer felt the needlework love. I moved on to knitting.
In the past few years I have felt drawn back into the world of embroidery. A friend of mine made amazing pillowcases and dish towels. I was inspired, but still not motivated to pick up a needle and thread. Then this past autumn, I bought Aine a sampler set. She had been wanting her own needlework project. While checking out, I threw a little something for me into the cart. This purchase kicked off my new habit. (I even bought another one from this shop for my niece's birthday earlier this year).
I let the sampler sit while helping Aine with hers. She took off stitching each of her ornaments. Meanwhile I kept knitting and making holiday gifts. Finally I started the sampler in between projects earlier this year. Although I enjoyed the process, it required a bit more attention. I didn't like how my lettering appeared and played with a couple different stitches. Finally this week at the park, I pulled it back out. My goal was to finish it by our close date. It is now complete and ready for a frame and new home. I am so pleased with the outcome. I am gearing up for more needlework. Yesterday I spent an inordinate amount of time browsing etsy looking for new samplers. I am dreaming of my own designs too. My next project may be finishing the holiday ornaments I purchased years ago from Alicia Paulson.
Accompanying my embroidery fervor has been bits of Dar Williams. The kiddos and I love her music. We have also been listening to audiobooks. Our current audiobook is the The Spiderwick Chronicles. It is a favorite with the older two. It can be a bit scary, but it spawns loads of fairy and magical creature talk and exploration.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

While waiting

For several weeks we have been waiting to move into our home. The closing date has been pushed back and still we wait. It has been challenging. I am not very patient in these situations. I like being in control of things, and this whole process has been completely out of my control.

While waiting, I have finished a few knitting projects. My pile of finished projects while waiting includes the shrug as well as a baby sweater. It also includes quite a few washcloths. For some reason these little portable cotton projects are perfect for me right now. I made a few for my mom and have started a small pile for the new house. I tried entrelac and the ball band pattern before settling into a rhythm with seed stitch. I am loving them right. Now and using up a bit of dishcloth cotton inherited from my great aunt.

I have also been reading quite a bit. I finished The Sandcastle Girls as well as the final Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead Ever After. I enjoyed The Sandcastle Girls as it exposed me to another piece of history I did not know about. I did a bit of research afterward to help place the story into context and learn more about the genocide of the Armenian people during and after World War I.  A heavy topic, but one very well done in this book. The final Stackhouse book was okay. I read this series based on a friend's recommendation. The books are not my normal read, but I found them to be addictive brain candy. I am currently reading The Snow Child , which I am enjoying immensely. It is hauntingly sad, but also so full of hope and magic. I still have a bit of the book to finish, and I am eager to see how it ends.

So, fellow Yarn Alongers, how do you fill your time while waiting?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Hiking Adventures

This weekend was full of hiking. Although the temperatures are in the nineties, there is still a bit of hiking to be done around town. On Saturday, Dave suggested a quick daytrip to Mount Ord. This peak is the second highest mountain in the Mazatzal Range of central Arizona. After a quick trip from home, we reached our goal. The road from the bottom takes you from the plants of the Sonoran desert to a deciduous forest of oaks. It is a rough dirt road that jostled us along the way. The ascent was a bit scary since the road is narrow, and the edge drops precipitously into the valley floor. I must admit I was a bit white knuckled during parts of it, but Dave handled it like a pro. When the road ended, we still had a bit of trail to go before the top. We walked the remaining 3/4 mile and were rewarded by an amazing view. We could see Four Peaks and Roosevelt Lake. There were many radio towers on the top as well as a fire tower. The kiddos were disappointed that we couldn't climb to the top of the tower. They are hoping we can return sometime when a ranger is present who will take us to the top. The temperatures at the top of the peak were much cooler than home in the Phoenix valley. The temperature dropped over 25 degrees. As we walked down to our car, the kiddos all wished they had jackets. Not a normal occurrence at the end of May in central Arizona.

On Sunday, Dave and I woke up early to take a more arduous hike by ourselves. We set out before anyone else was awake to hike to Tom's Thumb in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. With the kiddos safe under grandma's watchful eye, we enjoyed a 5.5 mile hike. The initial mile and a half was a bit tough as we made our ascent. The trail eventually leveled out a bit, so our huffing and puffing eased. The views were gorgeous. We stopped at the end of the Lookout Trail for apples, water and some conversation. We watched a few hummingbirds stop among the cacti as well as a plane flying low between the hills. Our trip down went much more quickly. Dave spotted a snake curled up near the path among the rock crevices. We didn't stick around to determine what type of snake it was. After only a few hours we were back home to enjoy the end of breakfast with the family. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Helping Out

On Friday we joined Arizona Game and Fish, the Phoenix Herpetological Society and the Phoenix Zoo for a bit of community outreach. Eamon, Aine and I helped educate the public about the hazards of non-native turtles and the danger of releasing pet turtles into the zoo ponds. This event was one of the homeschooling programs held by Game and Fish. As volunteers, we passed out stickers to zoo visitors and told them about the traps throughout the entry waters of the zoo. Eamon answered questions from visitors while Aine handled the sticker dispersal.
As part of our volunteer work, the kiddos also were able to process the trapped turtles. During our shift 14 turtles were gathered from the traps. The kiddos helped measure the carapace (upper shell) and plastron (lower shell) with calipers, as well as weigh the turtles. They also helped determine the sex of the turtles. The male turtles have very long nails on their front feet and a longer tail. They needed to know the sex, because all female non-native turtles would be removed permanently from the lagoon waters and taken to the Phoenix Herpetological Society. They would later be adopted to proper homes. Finally the kiddos learned how the remaining male turtles are tagged and identified by the staff. The tagging involved a dremel tool to create small notches along the edge of the turtle's shell.
The final part of our time at the zoo was spent inside the tortoise habitat. A zookeeper led us into the exhibit and told us all about the animals. Each of us was able to scratch the female Galapagos Tortoise. The male tortoise preferred to stay in the small pool of water and watch everyone. The female loved the attention and eagerly came right over for more. Her skin felt both rough and soft at the same time. The kiddos noticed that her neck was very muscular. The kiddos learned the the female continues to lay eggs although she is in her eighties. The nests are often overlooked by the zoo staff and they are sometimes surprised with baby turtles. The kiddos also learned what turtle scat looks like.
I am so glad we have these opportunities available to us. Through these different avenues we are able to learn so much about our world and the environment in which we live.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

By the River

A few weeks ago, our family went camping with nine other families. Surrounded by friends, we spent four days in the sunshine and water. The kiddos scootered, roasted marshmallows and Peeps (who knew!), built debris huts, floated logs down the river and explored to their hearts' content.

Most of the hours were spent along the Verde River. The adults placed camp chairs along the waters' edge, dipping their feet into the cool water. Aine busied herself making structures out of branches and grass. She showed everyone how to whittle and carve branches into useful tools. Eamon spent time trying to configure a fishing pole and trap. He found a crawfish and educated his peers about the merits of catching the creatures with bacon. A more shallow area had been carved out last year along the bank. Benton spent a lot of time in this area building more walls and creating dams. A few determined children can alter the path of a river quite easily with rocks and boulders, however the river reclaims its path, eventually spilling those rocks and walls over.

We celebrated Eamon's 10th birthday while camping. He had a great day surrounded by people he loves. We ate cupcakes and sang around the first campfire. Nightly campfires rotated among campsites and eventually broke into two when the size of the group became a bit too big. Aine learned a new song and became a big fan of one of the dads. We played telephone and a few other games. There was star gazing and a brief talk about Mars and Venus in the night sky.

It was so much fun. Our group had been back only a few days when plans and reservations were made for next time. I cannot wait.