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July has been a long hot month – and clearly books are one of my coping mechanisms, as always. Here’s what I have been reading:

Other Words for Home, Jasmine Warga
I flew through this sweet middle-grade novel in verse, narrated by Jude, who leaves her native Syria (with her mother) to live with relatives in Cincinnati. She misses her father, brother and best friend terribly, but gradually adjusts to her new life. Lovely.

The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid, Kate Hattemer
It’s April of Jemima Kincaid’s senior year and she’s burning to do something big to leave a legacy at her tony prep school. But she’s also dealing with teenage stuff: learning to drive, an inconvenient crush, friction with her best friend. A fun novel with a likable, flawed protagonist learning to confront her own privilege. (Warning: some truly cringeworthy teenage sex.)

Flying Free: My Victory Over Fear to Become the First Latina Pilot on the U.S. Aerobatic Team, Cecilia Aragon
Bullied as a child in her small Indiana town, Aragon found her way to a career in computer science, but still struggled with crippling fear and anxiety. A coworker’s love for flying ignited her own, and she threw herself into her new hobby, eventually competing on the U.S. Aerobatic Team. This straightforward, fascinating memoir chronicles her journey. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 22).

Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World, Osheta Moore
Moore is a wise, compassionate voice on Instagram and elsewhere, and this, her first book, is about pursuing shalom – God’s vision for true peace. It’s part memoir, part theology, part real talk. Warm and thoughtful.

Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace
I picked up this lesser-known classic by the author of the Betsy-Tacy series for a reread. Emily Webster is one of my favorite heroines: thoughtful, sensitive and brave. She struggles with loneliness after finishing high school and feeling stuck in her small town, but she learns to “muster her wits” and build a life for herself. I love her story so much.

Mend! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto, Kate Sekules 
Mending has existed as long as clothing has, and Sekules is here for the visible mending revolution. Packed with clothing/mending history (chiefly in the West), practical tips for sourcing vintage/mendable clothing, an extensive stitch guide and lots of snark. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 8).

House of Light, Mary Oliver
I’ve been rereading Oliver’s poems over breakfast. They are “lovely, dark and deep,” to quote Frost. Most of them are set in the woods or ponds. She is so good at paying attention.

Deadlock, Sara Paretsky
When V.I. Warshawski’s cousin, a former hockey star, dies under mysterious circumstances, V.I. begins to investigate. She finds herself drawn into a complex case involving corruption in the shipping industry. I like her snark and smarts and will keep going with the series.

Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed
Twelve-year-old Amal dreams of becoming a teacher, though her family struggles as her mother deals with postpartum depression. But then Amal unwittingly offends the village landlord, and is forced to work as a servant in his house. She’s determined to find a way out, though. Bittersweet and inspiring, with a great cast of characters.

Bitter Medicine, Sara Paretsky
In V.I. Warshawski’s fourth adventure, she’s investigating the death of a young pregnant woman, a family friend. What she finds is potential malpractice, corruption and gang involvement – not to mention her smarmy lawyer ex. I especially loved the role played here by her elderly neighbor, Mr. Contreras.

Wild Words: Rituals, Routines, and Rhythms for Braving the Writer’s Path, Nicole Gulotta
My friend Sonia recommended this book months ago, and I’ve been reading it slowly all summer. Gulotta is wise, warm and practical, and this book (organized by “season”) has been deeply helpful for me.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal, G. Willow Wilson
Kamala Khan is an ordinary teenager, until she’s suddenly invested with strange powers she can’t quite control. A girlfriend lent me this first volume of the adventures of a young superhero growing into herself. The plot is a bit thin, but it was fun.

Blood Shot, Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski isn’t crazy about going back to her South Chicago neighborhood. But a high school basketball reunion and an odd request from a friend pull her back in. Soon she’s investigating chemical corruption, chasing a friend’s (unknown) birth father and trying not to get killed. This was a grim one, but (see above) I am hooked on V.I.’s adventures.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident and Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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Several years ago, when my sister had her first baby, I knitted a surprise for his first Christmas: three ornaments in the shape of Weasley sweaters, each with a monogrammed initial, of course. Even my brother-in-law, who isn’t a Harry Potter fan, was delighted, and they’ve hung on the tree every year since.

Harrison, my second nephew, was born two and a half years later, and every December since then I’ve gotten a text from my sister, reminding me: we need another Weasley sweater. (She’s not a knitter, but she is excellent at reminding people about stuff.)

I finally got my act together this year and made Harrison his own Weasley sweater, to match the other three. I’d forgotten how easy and fun they are to knit. And how cute the final result is.

I’m thinking I need to knit myself one to hang on my own tree – maybe next year. (Also in Gryffindor colors, of course.)

In case you’re wondering, the pattern is from Alison Hansel’s Charmed Knits, though I used another knitter’s mods to make them top-down instead of knitting them in pieces and seaming them. Much easier, and so cute.

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final form: Queensland Beach

Many of my knitting friends will tell you: sometimes a skein of yarn takes a while to figure out what it’s going to be.

Some years ago now, Sonia came to Boston for a conference, and we met up in the South End and walked around, eating pastries from Flour and talking about our lives. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and we became friends via Ravelry, but had never met in person before. She brought me a gorgeous crimson skein of Cassiopeia yarn from Pigeonroof Studios, and I immediately started browsing potential patterns.

The yarn has a bit of cashmere and silk in it – so it stretched waaaay out with the first pattern I used, Regina. I frogged that attempt and made a gorgeous Cocoon Cowl next, but I rarely wore it. (I like my cowls big and cozy in the wintertime, and this one was more on the small and dainty side.)

A few years later, I used some of the skein to make a Gin & Tonic hat for my friend Laura, but I’d had the rest of it kicking around all this time. But it has now found its final form: a cozy, cabled Queensland Beach headband.

I tried it out on our first proper snow day, yesterday, and I’m so thrilled with it. And it reminded me: sometimes you have to try a few paths/possibilities before you find the right one.

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Erie hat pom pom knit table

I used to be quite a prolific knitter.

Especially the first few years I lived in Boston, I was always making something – fingerless gloves for my girlfriends, sweaters for my then-baby nephews and niece, so many hats and cozy cowls for myself. These were also the years of Downton Abbey and Castle, Lark Rise to Candleford and Sherlock and Grantchester. I’ve never been a big TV watcher, but an hour here and there added up to lots of knitting over the years.

And then a couple of years ago, I just…stopped.

We’d moved again, and several of my favorite shows had gone off the air, and I couldn’t really justify knitting myself yet another hat or scarf. I spend more of my evenings running than sitting at home these days, and so the knitting fell by the wayside. But around Thanksgiving, as the hubs and I were watching Modern Family or doing the NYT crossword (possibly both), I realized I had itchy fingers. So I picked up a skein of Madelinetosh sock yarn I’d had sitting around for ages, and I started knitting – just a round or two here and there.

Two months later, I have an Erie hat – cozy and soft. And I decided it was high time I owned something with a pom-pom. (Red, of course.)

It’s been a comfort to have something back on the needles, and to watch the progress, stitch by stitch, round by round. The merino wool feels good in my hands. And when the weather in New England does its schizophrenic thing, I have another way to keep out those biting winds.

I’m not sure I’ll dive back into knitting the way I once did. But I am eyeing the Queensland Beach headband pattern, with some yummy red yarn I have in my stash…

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katie shaw hill cowl purple

“I haven’t felt like knitting for months,” a friend lamented last week. She has an excuse – after all, she had a baby this spring – but I agreed with her. After an absurdly long, cold winter, I couldn’t wait to exchange my heavy knitted cowls and hats for lighter scarves. I put down the needles in May and never looked back.

Recently, though, I’ve pulled out a few handknits as the chill in the air has grown more pronounced. I’m not ready for heavy-duty winter wear yet, but I’m enjoying the chance to wear fingerless mitts, or snuggle into a scarf or cowl with my favorite green coat. (I knitted the purple wrap above this winter, but had forgotten how soft and cozy it is.)

Also, as ever, the good folks at Innocent Drinks are sponsoring the Big Knit, encouraging people to knit wee hats for their smoothie bottles to raise money for Age UK. I’m easing back into knitting with these tiny hats – a few at a time while J and I watch football or catch up on Modern Family of an evening. (Bonus: they are so quick and satisfying!)

All this talk of knitting also has me browsing Ravelry for new patterns, and dreaming of bigger projects to knit for others or myself. My favorite yarn shop in Boston closed a couple of years ago, sadly, but I’m thinking I may have to order some yarn online soon.

Are you a seasonal crafter, like me? Any patterns you’re dying to knit (or crochet) this fall?

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I didn’t do a lot of knitting this fall, aside from a few hats for Nest Maine and my annual batch of wee hats for Innocent Drinks’ Big Knit. I only reached for my needles while watching TV, using up scraps from my multicolored stash.

I know the pitfalls of a huge Christmas knitting list, so I limited myself to two pairs of slippers. My mom’s birthday is at the end of January, so I started knitting her a big, cozy cowl this fall, knowing I could save it for her birthday if I didn’t finish it in time for Christmas.

The slippers, the cowl and the three projects I’ve started since Christmas all have one thing in common: my favorite color.

red cowl

This is the cowl I made for Mom – the pattern is Julie’s Stockholm Scarf pattern, simple and squishy and so cozy. (Now I want to make one for myself.)

pink slippers

These wee slippers went to my girl Bethany, who has size 5 feet and gets cold easily. The pattern came from this book of slipper patterns. I made a similar pair for Abi, in red, to replace the now-worn-out felted pair I made her several years ago.

My sister requested a pair of boot toppers like the ones I made for Mom last Christmas. She wanted red, and I was happy to oblige:

boot cuffs button red

I’ve also been doing a bit of selfish knitting: a cozy ribbed cowl in a deep red and a bright pink cabled hat. Because I need some color to combat the relentless white and gray of winter.

Are you making anything colorful during this gray month?

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Late winter knits

After nearly a decade as a knitter and three winters in Boston, I’ve accumulated quite a pile of winter accessories: scarves, fingerless gloves, lots of hats. But as the gray-edged piles of snow linger and the cold temps refuse to rise, I keep knitting more of them. My two most recent projects are getting lots of use.

First we have Rosebud:

rosebud hat

I coveted this pattern for ages, finally bought it and promptly knitted it up in yellow – but it turned out way too big. So I tried again with this lovely purple skein of Madelinetosh Vintage. The colorway is called “Flashdance,” which suggests ’80s neon, but the color is rich and deep. It’s warm and cozy and I’ve been wearing it almost every day. I love the big braid on the side. (Ravelled here.)

My favorite yarn shop, the Windsor Button, is closing (sad day), so I stopped by the clearance sale and picked up a few skeins of yarn. My new gray Fluted Cowl is made of two skeins of Cascade 128 Superwash Chunky. (I wish I’d had three, but there were only two skeins on the shelf.) It, too, is warm and cozy, either worn long or doubled up around my neck. (Ravelled here.)

fluted cowl

fluted cowl

If winter’s still lingering where you are, what are you wearing to keep warm? (And when, for heaven’s sake, will it be spring?)

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A wee raspberry cardigan

I did a lot of baby knitting this summer, including cardigans and other accessories for my nephew Ryder and niece Annalynn. I’m looking ahead to fall knitting (for me!), but first I had to send a wee sweater down to D.C. for my pen pal Jaclyn, who welcomed sweet Emily in August.

puerperium cardigan girl madelinetosh
Like Ryder’s, this little cardi is made of Madelinetosh Tosh DK (this colorway is called Tart). It’s also the same pattern, which is unisex, simple and adorable. Emily was born early, so it’s probably still too big, but she’ll grow into it and I like to think she’ll look stylish when she does.

Baby knits are so satisfying – they’re super quick and virtually guaranteed to turn out cute. If you’re a knitter, what are your favorite things to knit for babies?

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New niece knits

In addition to my sweet nephew Ryder, I have a brand-new niece. Annalynn Danielle was born at the end of July, and while I haven’t met her yet, I did whip up a little something to send down to Texas for her.

girl baby hat cardigan knitted pink

That’s the Easy Baby Cardigan from More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, and the Children’s Cotton Hat from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. (That’s the fourth of those hats I’ve made. So easy, quick and cute.) Both are made of Blue Sky Cotton.

I’ve done very little knitting this summer, but I did work on a few projects during the Olympics. I’m making myself a shawl (not nearly done, but progressing), and I’ve begun my 2012 batch of hats for Innocent’s Big Knit. I knit these wee hats for smoothie bottles every year (or I have since 2008) – they are fun and quick, and a fabulous way to use up yarn scraps.

If you’re a knitter or crocheter, what’s on your needles lately?

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New nephew knits

The big news of the past week? I’m finally an aunt.

Ryder Andrew was born on Tuesday afternoon – healthy and adorable and now home. My sister is a proud, sleep-deprived, happy mama, and my parents are reveling in their first grandchild.

I won’t get to meet him for a few more weeks, but I did a little knitting before he arrived, and sent a package down to Texas with a few warm, soft accessories for him to wear.

newborn magic slippers knitted

These are the Magic Slippers for babies, knit mostly in Madelinetosh Sock (with a few yards of leftover Malabrigo Sock to finish up). (Here’s the Ravelry link with more details.)

And the matching hat (an Easy Peasy Newborn Sock Hat, also in Madelinetosh Sock (Ravelled here):

newborn baby hat knitted sock yarn

I can’t wait to meet him, and see him model these knits. And since babies grow awfully fast, I wonder what I should knit for him next?

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