I have a weird love of year-end lists. I don’t know what it is about them that makes me so happy, but they’re just so desperately satisfying. Mmm.
This list isn’t of books that came out this year (with one or two exceptions), but rather of books I loved reading in 2017. I had a pretty odd year, and lost my reading mojo for a fair chunk of it, so the vast majority of books I loved were ones I read aloud with my six-year-old (he loved these, too). And now that he’s reading on his own, I’ve included some that he loved reading solo as well.
Adult Books I Loved
Cookbooks I Came Back to Again and Again
- My Bread, by Jim Lahey. This was the year I got into making bread, starting with Lahey’s perfect, simple no-knead recipe.
- Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen, by Richa Hingle. We aren’t vegan, but amongst us we have a variety of food restrictions that leads us to mostly cook non-dairy, and I’ve long been what I like to call a lapsed vegetarian. This book is a gem.
- Modern Jewish Cooking, by Leah Koenig.
- Oh She Glows Everyday, by Angela Liddon. We aren’t vegan, but I pretty much never cook meat. These are vegan recipes made with everyday ingredients, and every one I’ve made has been delicious.
Kids’ Books We Loved Reading Aloud Together
- The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate. Hands down our favourite this year (amongst many strong contenders). Even if you don’t have kids, read this one. It’s touching and thought-provoking, and expertly crafted.
- Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome. It took us around two months to read this tome aloud, and though the sailboat terminology can be tedious to non-sailors, it was a true delight.
- The Sisters Grimm, by Michael Buckley. The kid picked this one off a shelf at the bookstore based on its cover, and we loved it. We just found the next two books in the series at his school’s used book sale, and I’m excited to read them with him in the coming year.
- The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall. I didn’t know this was the first in a series when we picked this book up. It was so thoroughly enjoyable, and so cozy to read curled up together, that I’ll insist we read another one next summer (summer, it must be!).
- Ollie’s Odyssey, by William Joyce. An utterly delightful tale of a little boy and his best friend-slash-stuffie.
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. A classic for good reason. And yes, we skipped The Magician’s Nephew. After this we read Prince Caspian, followed by The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’.
- The Contract, by Derek Jeter. My baseball-obsessed kid has demanded we read many a mediocre baseball novel, and I admit I was not very confident about this one, about Jeter, the former Yankees captain, when he was a kid. I’m pleased to say I was not only pleasantly surprised, I absolutely loved this book (and the others in the series so far), and of course the kid did, too. They’re full of Grand Life Lessons but aren’t at all preachy. And since we already know that as an adult, Jeter does indeed fulfill his childhood dream of playing for the Yankees and indeed becomes one of the most celebrated short stops in baseball history, those lessons seem even more impactful.
- The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events), by Lemony Snicket. We’ve been babysitting a dear friend’s hardcover collection of this series, and though I’ve never read it, I started to suspect the kid would be ready for it. Ready is an understatement. He’s absolutely riveted by the literal series of unfortunate events the three Baudelaire children endure. I admit I’m quite pleased to see he shares his mother’s appreciation for dark stories. (Next year, look for some Neil Gaiman on this list…)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The Illustrated Edition, by J.K. Rowling and artist Jim Kay. We continued the tradition we began on the kid’s fifth birthday, giving him the newest illustrated Harry Potter book (this year the second book for his sixth birthday; and yes, we have the third book wrapped to give him on his seventh at the very end of the year). Not only does this schedule allow us to progress through the books slowly, which I’m keen to do because they start to get more intense after the third, it also forces us to enjoy the series over years and years. Not that we wouldn’t anyway; I’ve no doubt he’ll read these books over and over throughout his life, as I have (well, throughout my adult life, that is).
Books the Kid Loved Reading on His Own
- Dog Man, by Dav Pilkey. Indeed, the kid has read all three books that are out so far in this series. He finds them hilarious, and they totally are.
- The Notebook of Doom #1: Rise of the Balloon Goons, by Troy Cummings. Scholastic’s Branches imprint publishes series of books aimed at emerging readers, and I’ve yet to find any that are terrible. The kid definitely wants to read more in this particular series, which engaged him thoroughly and creeped him out mildly.
- Jim Nasium is a Strikeout King, by Marty McKnight. This one was a gift from my in-laws, and the kid was delighted by it. Interestingly, he had his first experience putting down a book when he just couldn’t get into Jim Nasium Is a Soccer Goofball. I had to assure him it’s okay to put down a book unfinished (see the section of books I loved, above, for an idea of how many books I started this year but didn’t get through – this is my shortest-ever list of loved books.)
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A few months ago, I picked up two rovings that were dyed in a white-to-black ombre. I fell immediately in love with them, and bought two specifically so I could spin enough yarn to knit a shawl.
My original idea was to work in garter stitch, but I quickly realized I wouldn’t quite have enough yarn to make it work, garter stitch being the yarn hog that it is.
So I decided to follow the Maxima Shawl pattern, which is super simple lace based in garter stitch.
I used a 6mm needle for my mostly worsted weight yarn, and knitted the shawl in fits and starts over about a month. I had more than enough yarn to work the called-for number of repeats for the pattern, so I kept going, and then I worked a larger-than-called for garter edging before working the picot bind-off.
Of course, I managed to work one too many rows of garter stitch before binding off, and it became clear to me before I was halfway through the picots that there was no way I’d have enough yarn to keep those going. Rather than undoing the bind-off, I just… stopped making the picots. And managed to get to the end with about 5″ of yarn to spare. The shawl’s for me, so who cares if it has only almost half the picots it should have?
When I laid the shawl out to block, I discovered another shining error that I quickly embraced: Somewhere along the line, I misplaced the centre stitch, so the spine of increases veers off to one side after a few repeats. Ah well. You totally can’t tell when I’m wearing it.
So… The shawl is fairly dramatically more imperfect than the imperfection I usually embrace in projects like these, but I love it anyway, and have worn it every day since it dried.
Here’s the project on Ravelry.
Since it’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday and all that, I’ve put my two most popular books on sale!
Now’s a great time to snag yourself (or someone you love) a signed copy of Make It Mighty Ugly. I’ll send all purchased books out next week so they should arrive by Christmas, anywhere in the world.
The Year of Making ebook is also on sale. Who needs New Year’s resolutions? There’s no time like today to work on establishing a stress-free creative habit.
Craftsy is also having a huge sale! All classes, including mine, are on sale for less than $18 each.
At Knit City a couple of weeks ago, I tried on the Veronika Cardigan and immediately fell in love. I’m not usually keen to knit garments, but I was powerless against this one.
I knew I had enough yarn of one kind or another at home to make it, so I bought the pattern and dug out my Rubbermaid. In it, I found this gorgeous navy yarn I bought a million years ago – maybe at my very first Rhinebeck?
It was intended to become a sweater for my husband, but I didn’t buy enough yardage and the yarn has been sitting in this bin for over a decade. To be honest, as the yarn is unlabeled it’s entirely possible I don’t have enough to make this sweater, either. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
The yarn is perfect for Veronika. The stitches are flying off my needles, and this project has been my constant companion, in addition to my kid, as the Yankees have progressed in post-season baseball.
My kid had a big growth spurt this past summer, and by the end of it, most of his pajama pants fit him more like capris. (Or, as we like to call capris in our family: shpants.)
As we went through his outgrown pajamas and made a pile to donate, he grabbed one pair of pants and announced he loved them so much he didn’t want to give them away – he wanted to make a pillow out of them.
(At some point when he was a toddler, we made a pillow out of a shirt. I don’t remember the project, and I don’t think we even have it anymore, but it’s stuck in his head that we make pillows out of old clothes we love, and I love this idea so, so much.) (Also, I have a growing pile of his old clothes I want to make a quilt out of someday.)
So here’s what we did:
First, Cut Off a Leg
Since these pants were made from a stretchy knit fabric, I held them taught while my son wielded my fabric scissors. We cut the leg off as near to the crotch of the pants as possible, to make for the longest/biggest pillow. We also cut the elastic off the cuff, at the ankle.
(I took this photo later on in the process [scroll down for notes on adding an appliqué], but below you can see one of the cut-up ends of the pant leg.)
Next, Sew Up One End
We could have simply sewed the ankle end shut, but it was way more fun for the kid to decide on a design for felt scales to sew in there, too. So he took a sharpie to some felt, then he got frustrated trying to cut felt with safety scissors and my fabric scissors were too big for him to use for detail cutting. So I cut out the design.
Then I sandwiched the felt inside the ankle end of the pants leg, threaded some embroidery floss onto a sharp embroidery needle, and taught the kid how to sew a running stitch through the three layers of fabric.
You might think a running stitch – and not a terribly tightly sewn one – wouldn’t be appropriate for eventually keeping stuffing from coming out of the pillow, but (spoiler) it’s worked great.
Maybe, If You Want, Make an Appliqué
The kid didn’t particularly want to make this pillow into a monster, but when I suggested he could cut out a shape of felt and decorate it however he wanted, he decided that would be a grand thing to do. He drew a big triangle, I helped him cut it out (mental note to get him scissors that are sharp enough for cutting felt or fabric), then he took a Sharpie to it.
At this point, he’d lost interest in the slow part of hand-sewing, and he expressed zero desire to sew the appliqué on. No big. I sewed it on, for I love the slow part of hand-sewing. While I did this, he went outside and tossed a baseball against a net.
Now Stuff It
We used basic poly-fil as stuffing. You could, alternatively, use scrap fabric or yarn, or a mixture of scraps and poly-fil, for a more eco-friendly (though lumpier) stuffing. (I love eco-friendly lumpy stuffings, FWIW.)
Use as much or as little stuffing as you or your small friend wants.
Finally, Sew Up the Other End
We again cut out some felt humps to sew into the second and final seam at the crotch end of the pant leg.
Because of the stuffing, I used pins to keep things together, with the humps sandwiched between the halves of pant leg as for the ankle end.
The kid did the sewing after I got it started, and I held things together for him as he went, obviously removing pins as he progressed.
And there you have it: a pillow made out of old, outgrown pajama pants!
The kid’s slept with it in his bed every night since we made it.
What do you do with outgrown-but-beloved clothes?
PS You can see bits of a book in some of these photos. It’s a great book called Sewing School: 21 Sewing Projects Kids Will Love to Make, by Andria Lisle and Amie Petronis Plumley. We didn’t follow instructions from the book to make the pillow, but even starting from a place of the kid flipping through and saying he didn’t like any of the projects for pillows was a great launching point for figuring out what he did want to make. And the book assured me running stitch was a totally age-appropriate skill to teach him. Also, I love this book because the projects are made by actual kids – there is zero room for comparing what you or your kid makes against any sort of “perfection”. It’s all gloriously age-appropriate. And therefore absolutely what it should be!
It was more than a couple of years ago that a friend announced on Facebook that they were looking to sell their barely used 10″ Cricket Loom. As it was my birthday, I decided this was exactly the right thing to buy myself.
My kid helped me warp the loom with an odd ball of variegated yarn, and I chose a second odd ball of black tweed yarn for the weft.
Weaving goes fast! Way faster than knitting or crocheting.
But then something got in the way of me finishing the project. A mental block. Maybe I wished I’d chosen a yarn I had more of, so I could actually finish a scarf-length project (even with the uneven edges that come with any first weaving project)? Maybe I was concerned the finishing steps would be tedious or complicated?
I have no idea. What I do know is that this project stayed on the loom for years after I finished weaving it.
Until now. I finally got the thing off my loom! It took a sum total of about fifteen minutes and the aid of Liz Gipson’s fabulous book. That’s it!
So now that I’ve gotten over the anxieties of my very first project, I’m ready to take on a more deliberate one. Surely for a scarf again. But which yarns will I use?
Fall is the only time of year when I absolutely love cooking. Everything about making fall food makes me happy.
And fall is when we celebrate the Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashanah. As with most Jewish holidays, one of the most salient ways we celebrate is by feasting as a family.
Traditional Rosh Hashanah foods are sweet, for wishing our loved ones a sweet new year. We dip apples in honey, we eat sweet kugel, we make apple desserts.
And to mark and celebrate the cycle of the year, and of life, we eat challah that’s round instead of oblong.
Challah is a mildly sweet, braided egg bread that’s usually braided. Want to make some?
For Rosh Hashanah, here’s my favourite way to braid my loaves into a circle – it’s more like a combination of weaving and braiding.
How to Braid a 6-Strand Round Challah