Goodreads Review: Blood Stitches by Erin Fanning

Considering all the knitting I’ve been doing lately, it was fitting that the author of this novella reached out to me to give it a read. Magical knitting is a pretty legit premise, and this was a short but fun read. According to Goodreads, this releases on May 15th,2015, so be on the lookout. I’ll be watching out for more stories in this series, as this is one of the few knitting themed fiction stories I’ve truly enjoyed. 

Blood StitchesBlood Stitches by Erin Fanning

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In theory, I should love novels about knitting because I love novels and I love knitting. However, many of the works I’ve read where knitting was featured were not great. I went into the reading of this novella with a hopeful, but critical eye.

Both technically and thematically, this short work was refreshing. It wasn’t just about knitting…it was about magical knitting. While the potential for campiness was there, the author delivered well without dosing the story in cheese.

The basis of this novella is a family granted the power to knit magic with their needles…The Touch of the Moon. While the main character, Gabby, doesn’t have the power, her sister does. Unfortunately, in her sister’s quest to make money with the gift, she’s sold her magical work to a buyer who could use it to cause a catastrophe. To stop this from happening, Gabby and her friend Frank set off to destroy the works before this can happen.

The main setting of the story was fun, as the characters travel to a fantastical underground club where strange creatures are found as well as the mysterious customer who wants to use the power of the knitted tapestries to further his own means.

The plot was solid, the characters were interesting and quirky, and I really enjoyed the premise of magical knitting. There were a few places where I got lost in the action, but overall, the story flowed well.

Though this was a novella, the author left it open for more stories, and I look forward to reading them.

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Weekend with the Phantom

Last weekend was dubbed #phantomweekend by my friend Forsh and I, as I made the trek to St. Louis to see her and she treated me to one of the things I’ve always wanted to do: see Phantom of the Opera on stage. It’s currently touring the US, and I didn’t think I was going to get to see it, but she made it happen.

The weekend started on Friday morning with the drive to St. Louis. It had been a really long time since I’d made a substantial drive by myself, but I didn’t mind it. I had some podcasts downloaded, so I stayed entertained the whole way. FYI, Podcast Addict on Android has become one of my favorite apps.

I rolled in early in the afternoon and chilled for a bit with Forsh and Little Forsh. When Mr. Forsh got home, we went to one of the local restaurants, a pizza place called Deweys. The wait was a bit longish, but we drank beer and luckily I wasn’t having many pain issues, so it was all good. The pizza was great. I kept it simple since I’m picky and had their meatball pizza and a salad that completely rocked my world.

After dinner, we rolled back to their house and Forsh and I commenced watching the Phantom of the Opera movie, the one with Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum. I did some knitting, though most of that knitting was spent fighting with some cabling, which I’ll talk about more in another blog post.

Saturday morning was another relaxing one while we waited for the babysitter to get there. The site had warned play goers to get there early, so we made sure we had plenty of time to find it, get parking, and find our seats. Things couldn’t have worked out better. The drive wasn’t long, and even though we sat in long lines of traffic downtown, we still found parking and got into the theater with about a half hour until showtime.

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The Fabulous Fox Theatre is huge and gorgeous and the lighting was amazing and the seating was comfortable. We found the bathroom, which was this whole lounge area, then found our seats and settled in. I’ve mentioned my love of theater before, but the anticipation for this one kind of had me emotional, and when the play actually started (with that opening piece of Phantom that always does good things for me) I may have shed a few tears of happiness.

The view when you walk into the Fox theater. So awesome!

The view when you walk into the Fox theater. So awesome!

As expected, the show was wonderful and I enjoyed it thoroughly. At intermission, I went and bought one of their specialty drinks (appropriately named The Phantom), so I even got my drink on. The music was good, the actors were good, and the things they did with set and stage design blew my mind. The only thing I wasn’t expecting was the difference in how the guy playing Phantom sang his parts compared to every other version I’ve seen or heard: less angry, more manic. It was still good, though.

After the show, we had dinner at Sweetie Pie’s. I’m kind of out of the loop on anything having to do with the Food Network or endorsed by celebrities, so I hadn’t actually heard about this gem, but Forsh had and was super excited about trying it out.

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Sweetie Pies is a home cooking, cafeteria style type restaurant with cozy booths and friendly staff. I was feeling a little adventurous, so I tried the ribs. They were so good! The corn was also fantastic. Pretty much everything was delicious and the portions were huge, so much so that in not planning to take any with me, I ate too much and then was in a great deal of discomfort at our next stop, which was Trader Joe’s. Still worth it.

We finished the evening with Tangled and knitting and then I decided to start my second reading of Unmasqued since I was already in the Phantom zone. After a quick smoothie breakfast with Forsh the next morning, I headed home, finishing off some podcasts and feeling very happy, if not a little sad that the weekend had to end.

The weekend was awesome and I owe Forsh big time for helping me check something off my bucket list.

A.

Sunday Hijinks at the Theater

As happens, if I’m really lazy one day of the weekend, I tend to actually get out and do things on the other. While I completely spaced on having my car looked at, I did venture out to do Sunday afternoon fun things.

That wasn’t before finishing up season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Can we talk about that show for a second? I wasn’t sold when we first started watching it. The first few episodes were kind of boring, but once the show found its pace, it was amazing! After I got home from being social, we started season 2 and I got punched right in the feels. I’m still hurting a little bit.

My faves!

My faves!

First outing of the day was seeing Fox on the Fairway at the Manhattan Arts Center. Unlike the last few shows I’ve seen there, I didn’t have the background on this story. One of my job perks is that the owner of the company will often buy tickets for employees (our company is a sponsor). I love live theater, so I jumped at the chance to go.

I have to give kudos to the MAC staff for hooking me up with a more comfortable chair. Their normal ones are super narrow, and not wide-bottom comfortable. In the past, I probably would have been too shy to say anything, but age is great for no longer really caring and valuing comfort over being afraid to just say “My butt needs a bigger chair.” So I did and no one was weird about it. They got me a comfy one right away and even thanked me for letting them know.

As for the play itself, it was hilarious. The actors were spot on, the story was really fun, and being that it was a Sunday production, the theater wasn’t super crowded, so I didn’t feel claustrophobic.

From there, I went to the weekly Stitch ‘n’ Bitch gathering, which was held at Panera this week. I went early to meet up with a fellow knitter who was giving me a ball and swift winder lesson and winding up a couple skeins of alpaca for me for my next project. Recently I got it in my head that I need these tools, so I wanted to see how they worked and get some feedback on good brands. I kept waffling over the weekend about buying them, but I didn’t order anything yet. I think I’m going to wait for our new yarn store to open and I’m going to see if I can purchase one through them. I’ll feel good about keeping it local, and in this case, I’d like to see what I’m buying beforehand.

We did have a bit of a yarntastrophe, but I suppose that’s how it goes sometimes. We finally detangled and still got some quality knitting time, though I’m a bum and still haven’t taken any pictures of my work in progress to share.

Not much got done in the way of housework this weekend, but I have a free Monday night tomorrow, so after grocery shopping…which I desperately need to force myself to do…I’ll do a little bit of cleaning and prepping for the rest of the week.

On that note, I’m off to bed. Onward to the Monday!

A.

The Balance Between Fun and Responsibility

Last week was a busy and exhausting week. My natural tendency to pull away from people showed itself, and yet I pushed through it to be social. Some of that social interaction wore me down. Most of it was fun though.

In gaming, my halfling rogue was turned into a vampire, which made me sad. My werewolf saw combat, which frustrated me (not the story so much as the game mechanics). I’m also kind of a sore loser, even though that really shouldn’t apply to this sort of gaming.

Frankie

I also played a game called Superfight and found out that it’s tough to beat someone or something that has been turned into a poltergeist.

In knitting, I realized I really need to learn to read a pattern better. I read the length instructions for a hat wrong and ran out of yarn. I figured I’d just use some matching scrap, but it wasn’t working for me, so I completely fudged the end of the hat. I suppose it doesn’t look horrible, but it drives me nuts because the original pattern would have been super cool looking. I’m going to try that one again. Some day.

Thursday was the highlight day of the week.

1. I paid off all my credit cards. Doing this involved going against what many a financial advisor would advise. I cashed out my previous 401k. It wasn’t a decision I made quickly or easily, but when it came down to it, I wanted to free up money to comfortably pay Jon’s student loans each month. I’m glad I did it, even if it means pushing retirement back.

2. We bought new games. What better way to celebrate financial responsibility than to go out and spend more money. I have no regrets. We picked up Smallworld: Underground and Betrayal at House on the Hill from our new game store. They were 2 games we’ve been wanting and we know they’ll see play.

3. I had my 90-day evaluation at work. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been there for 90 days. Most of the time, I feel like I just started. The eval was good. I’m right where I should be. I was fairly stressy about a week ago with regards to my speed and quality, but at the urging of my boss, I stopped stressing and all has been well since.

The weekend has been lazy enough to offset the . Snow and cold kept me inside watching movies, listening to podcasts, and knitting like a maniac. I finished an easy project and then moved on to a not so easy project. Not sure if that was a great idea considering I’ve been knitting more in social situations, but I realize I do have the power to just start a different, easier project.

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My first cowl.

Onward to finish off the weekend and prepare for the inevitability of Monday.

A.

Goodreads Review: My Best Everything by Sarah Tromp

It’s been a busy week, but I’m trying to make sure I balance some reading time into everything, especially since this is 1 of 3 NetGalley books I’ve recently been approved for. I want to make sure I get these read and reviewed before going back to stuff that’s been on my reader for a few years. This hasn’t been easy since I’m still in hardcore knitting mode, but when I force myself to do it, I really enjoy kicking back and reading. Hopefully I can get some quality book time in this weekend too. As for this book, it comes out on March 3rd and I thought it was a really sweet novel that brought back memories of my youth. No, I never made moonshine, but that whole period of time when I couldn’t wait to be out on my own, and yet when faced with it I suddenly realized how much I was going to miss everything I knew. It’s kind of like that. My GR review is below, and if you read this one, let me know your thoughts. 

My Best EverythingMy Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The book will be released on March 3.

Lulu wants to get out of her backwoods town more than anything, but with her father losing their money in bad investments and her mother being unable to leave the house due to anxiety, she has to find a way to get herself to college on the opposite side of the country. Her money-making avenue? Moonshine. With the help of her two close friends and another young man, Mason, who has a mysterious past and a history of being in trouble, she sets out to earn the money she needs to leave. What she doesn’t count on is that her feelings for Mason are going to get entwined with her plans. What she really doesn’t expect is that she’s going to see her small town in a completely different light that may change her mind and her plans for the future.

Overall, this was a sweet coming-of-age story, even if it seemed to straddle a weird line between going too slow and then moving too quickly.

The strongest part of this novel, for me, were the characters. They were interesting and had depth, their age reflective of the angst they were going through and the choices they thought they had to make to ensure their future. Their naivete was done well and believably and didn’t make the characters too annoying to read. Mason as a recovering alcoholic may have seemed strange in a different context, but the set-up of family addiction flowed well with the setting.

The plot itself wasn’t bad, but the pacing was off for me. I felt that some parts dragged while others jumped quickly forward in the narrative. Luckily, this was a mild problem. The backwoods setting was interesting as was reading about a small town culture and the whole idea surrounding moonshining. There were other things that were presented in the story as well, themes like religion, sex, and independence, and yet the author didn’t have to highlight anything for the reader. Even if there was a problem with pacing, the subtlety of the story was presented perfectly.

The narrative is in second person, and that was a little jarring for me, but the author handled it well. The tone of the story was very prose-like and poetic. The mood of the story was somber, but I also found hope in the story. I think my main issue with the book was that even though I thought the characters were strong, I was never able to really connect with the main character and wanted to know more about the others.

Overall, this was a good read and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys young adult and coming-of-age stories.

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Organizing My Knitting Stash

Part of this whole knitting process has been to pare down my stash, but the disorganization of it was driving me crazy. I didn’t know what I had and was blindly grabbing when starting a project. Also, I’m not well-versed in textures. I know what worsted and fingering weight are, but I was a little unclear on sport and DK, and the difference between chunky and bulky when it came to matching yarn with a pattern.

On Saturday night, I finally pulled my stash out to organize and catalog everything in my Ravelry account. I haven’t utilized Ravelry much in the past, but it occurred to me that if I had a record of all my yarn, figuring out what to knit would be a whole lot easier.

A mess of yarn: my complete stash as pulled from my closet.

A mess of yarn: my complete stash as pulled from my closet.

When I first piled it on the bed, the project seemed daunting. I realized that my stash is nowhere near as big as those of some knitters. Mine fits in my closet, and I know people who have whole rooms dedicated to their stash. But I’ve developed a minor aversion to clutter, so even this little bit feels like it needs to be used.

The process really didn’t take as long as I thought it would. I found a process that worked for me, which included pulling 5 skeins at a time, taking pictures, logging them into Ravelry, then fitting them into one of my 2 bins. Some of the yarn, like the the scraps and acrylics, went into their own plastic bags and then into a cloth bag I had available.

The "after" picture.

The “after” picture.

Talk about feeling accomplished. The whole process took me about 3 hours, but there was also some time I spent winding some yarn, which, in hindsight, I probably didn’t need to do (and also triggered the idea that perhaps I could use a swift and ball winder sometime in the future). The challenge now will be to find projects to knit with the scrap yarn that I didn’t catalog, as I only put yarn I had information for in the Ravelry stash.

My organization project also yielded a bittersweet moment. Going through my stuff meant finally pulling out an afghan my grandmother started before she passed away. The partially finished granny square project and remaining yarn had been given to me, but I’d stored it away. At the time, the loss of my grandma was still tender, and I wasn’t ready to work on this.

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It’s been several years since she passed, but strangely enough, the afghan still smelled like her perfume. It brought back some good memories, but it also made me really sad and brought to the forefront how much I miss her and my grandfather. But now that the hard part of facing the project is over, it’s now in my plans to finish it up and keep it as a reminder of her.

I’m setting a stash goal for the year. By the end of the year, I’m hoping to have all of my stash pared down to just the 2 tubs (no bags), and that includes anything I pick up at yarn hops and our new yarn store, which I’ll talk more about after it opens up. Let’s hope my current knitting frenzy evens out but keeps steady so I can use up some of that yarn.

A.

Recipe: Easy Crockpot Mexican Chicken

I’m not usually one to experiment in the kitchen, but this past weekend, I got creative. By “creative,” I mean I got desperate to use up some of the things we had in the kitchen to make dinner and avoid delivery or fast food. Even though we go through phases where we cook all the time, we also go through phases where we don’t. Right now, we’re in convenience mode, which means way too much fast food, and it’s getting tiresome.

I need to go shopping and I’ve been procrastinating doing a meal plan and grocery list. In honor of procrastinating even longer, I decided to see if I could hodge podge something together with what we had in the house. The crock pot is pretty much the best invention for this sort of lazy cooking, and I love it. I love everything about it. I like it better when we have liners, because then clean up is easy too.

I was surprised with how well this turned out, and I wanted to go ahead and share it for those looking for an easy recipe. I’m sure it mimics many other recipes out there, but it never hurts to add another variation to the pile, right?

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Ingredients:
Boneless chicken breasts (we used chicken tenderloin)
1 can of Campbell’s Fiesta Cheese Soup
1 can of tomatoes and peppers (Rotel would be good for this)
1 can of black beans
Chili powder
Garlic salt
Pepper
Shredded cheddar cheese
Tortilla chips

Directions:
Throw the chicken in the crock pot.
Season with the seasonings of your choice (I listed the ones I used above).
Pour the cheese soup over the chicken, followed by the black beans (undrained), followed by the tomatoes (undrained). To be honest, you could pour these ingredients in any order you want. The goal is just to get them in there and covering that chicken.
Put the lid on and let cook for 7-8 hours.
Top with cheese and eat over nacho chips (if desired).

We stirred this dish periodically throughout the day, but I don’t think we needed to…it’s just how we roll. About halfway through the cooking time, I was a little worried that it was going to be too watery, but by the time we were ready to eat, it was the perfect consistency and was really good over nacho chips…sort of a chicken chili nacho thing. We talked about some modifications for next time, just to change it up a bit (sour cream, more cheese soup, mexicorn), but the truth is, this recipe as is was delicious. I don’t even like black beans, but they were super tasty in this meal.

This one is going on our menu rotation, and even though it was super simple, being that it was an experiment, I feel proud that it tasted as good as it did.

A.