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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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Last summer, before we left Abilene, I went through my friend Grace’s closet. That is, I went through several bags full of clothes she’d purged from her closet, and took what I wanted before she sent the rest to Goodwill. One of the pieces I chose was an adorable striped maxidress from Gap. I loved the cheery colors and thought it would be perfect for long walks on the beach in my new Boston life. I sort of forgot that I’m 5’4″ and have a few curves – which means the maxidress look is, well, rather unfortunate on me. So the dress has been sitting in my closet for a year.

Inspired by Marisa of New Dress a Day, and by my favorite comfy brown jersey skirt, I decided to remake the maxi into a skirt I’d actually wear. I cut off the top part (too small anyway) and the straps, then tried on the long tube of fabric and trimmed it to hit just below the knee. I don’t have a sewing machine, so I confess it was sort of a pain to hand-stitch the waistband, and I left the hem edge raw for now (it rolls naturally). Here’s the finished product:

I also didn’t want to throw away the 20″ tube of fabric I trimmed from the bottom. So I took a cue from a recent fashion trend, and looped the tube around my neck twice. Et voila! Infinity scarf/cowl!

Fall has arrived here in the Northeast, which means I may not wear the skirt much until next summer – but the cowl will be a great addition to my fall scarf collection. (Which is already huge, but hey, you can never have too many cute scarves.)

I love the satisfaction I get from projects like this – remaking something I already own into something useful and beautiful. (No wonder Marisa enjoys it so much.)

Do you remake/repurpose clothing (or other stuff) like this? I’d love to see your projects.

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a bit of mending

Recently, my life feels like a mad swing between two poles on a pendulum. The house is either sparkling clean in preparation for guests, or dusty and untidy, dishes piled in the sink, after they’ve gone. Our weekends are either crammed with social engagements, or they stretch out ahead of us, long and lazy (how grateful I was, this past weekend, for the latter). Our meals are either elaborate and delicious (chicken curry with jalapenos and sweet peaches) or quick renditions of the tried-and-true standbys (homemade pizza, pasta tossed with tomatoes and basil, burrito night). (Tasty, but boring after a while.)

Similarly, my mind is either frantically cluttered, chasing a to-do list longer than my arm, tearing through books to review, trying to keep up with friendships and freelance projects and the demands of the day job, or blissfully serene, affording plenty of time to curl up with a Madeleine L’Engle novel on a Saturday afternoon. There hasn’t been much balance, or indeed much in-between time.

Mending, I’ve discovered, can be an antidote to this crazed back-and-forth – a chance to stop, in the middle of commitments and commutes, present stresses and future worries, and focus on one little thing. I’m no professional seamstress (I knit better than I sew), but I can sew on a button, mend a torn seam, insert a clear snap on a shirt placket in the place where it tends to gap open. And there’s satisfaction in threading my needle with just the right color of thread, and making tiny, precise stitches to close a hole or adjust a fold or hold a seam together. I’m always amazed by the strength of those tiny stitches, and the sense of accomplishment I get afterward.

Again and again, when I get frantic and tired and spread thin, I have to remind myself: the small steps are often the most effective ones. Washing a sink full of dishes. Making my bed in the morning. Sipping tea or savoring fruit sorbet in the evening, over an episode of Friends or The Mary Tyler Moore Show or a chapter of a good book. Sorting the books and magazines into neat stacks on the coffee table. And mending a hole in a skirt or anchoring a stray button back where it belongs.

Does anyone else derive this kind of pleasure from mending, or from another small, tactile (but enormously satisfying) task? And how do you “mend” your life when it all starts to unravel?

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1. A batch of Ron’s oaty scones.
2. A wee baby hat for a friend, out of leftover sock yarn.
3. A patch for some jeans, rendering them wearable again.
4. A few new outfits with items I already own.
5. Quite a few blog posts.
6. A patio container garden. (So far: mint, basil and a geranium.)
7. Packing lists.
8. Order out of chaos in our apartment.
9. Lots and lots of wedding decor.
10. A couple of summery salads.
11. Cream of jalapeno soup on a chilly night.
12. Pages of scribbled ideas in my journal.
13. A strawberry-rhubarb crisp.
14. A few simple, healthy dinners.
15. Packages to send to friends.

What are you making these days? (Check out the wonderful stuff happening at 30 Days of Creativity. Inspiring!)

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