When I was in Korea, I did very little reading, particularly the first year. I discovered e-books my second year and consumed a good number of those, mostly of the fluff variety. With the English book selection small, expensive, and far away, I was fairly limited in what I could read.

But I read several book blogs. I have favorite authors whose books I must read. My friends read great books. So inevitably, my ‘To Be Read’ list grew quite a bit while I was there. Now that I’m home again, I’ve been reading as much as I can. Some were fantastic, some were ‘meh’, and some were terrible and I choked my way through them. As far I remember, I have finished all of them.

I thought I’d pass on the love and recommend some of my favorites. Most of these are fantasy novels, as per my usual taste. [Click on the book’s cover to go the author’s page for it, which usually contains purchase links.]

Hundred Thousand Kingdoms The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, Orbit Books
So, this was pretty much the best book I’ve read recently (that being the last few months). I’ve read fantasy novels since I was young. My mother practically raised me on them. So it’s not surprisingly I still prefer them now that I’m older, and it’s not surprising I’ve read a lot of them in my day. So The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a breath of fresh air. Yeine is summoned from her small country of Darre to Sky, the city which rules the world. It’s master is Dakarta, the head of the Arameri clan, and Yeine’s grandfather. There she finds her life intimately entangled with the gods of her universe – whose salvation lies with her.
The writing is fantastic, the plot takes some very nice twists, and I really liked Yeine. The book has gotten some nice press and I really can’t encourage it enough to anyone who likes fantasy. While the gods are at times bigger than life, they ultimately are moved by the same things as mortals: family, love, and hate.

The sequel, The Broken Kingdoms, is also really, really good. Most think it’s better. While I don’t think I can say quite that, it’s another excellent book. I really enjoy authors who can make you care for a character you hated in a previous book, and Jemisin does that fantastically in this book. The world which Jemisin so carefully built comes to life in this book, and again the heroine, Oree, is a complex young woman with a secret which may turn the balance of the world. I do recommend reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms first, but it is possible to read this one without the previous book.

Nation Nation by Terry Pratchett, HarperCollins
I’m not sure there’s anyone left on the internet who doesn’t know Sir Terry Pratchett. His Discworld books are internationally popular (and generally good reads). I’m rather behind with the whole Korea shebang, but I made sure to pick up Nation because I wanted to see Pratchett’s take on Robinson Crusoe. Dear readers, I was not disappointed. A giant wave destroys all of Mau’s tribe except for him. But the wave also left something new: a ship with a single survivor, a young ghostly girl named Daphne. Mau and Daphne try to build lives for themselves alone on the island, but soon other survivors arrive, both friendly and nefarious, and they discover a secret which turns the whole world around.
The main thing which fascinated me while reading the book was the themes behind it. How to survive when it seems impossible. How far mindless devotion will take us. The value of science and knowledge in a world of fear. I’m not going to lie, high schoolers should all be forced to read this book. It doesn’t get bogged down with romance, there’s plenty of exciting things going down, and it’s well written. Both Mau and Daphne are delightful characters, both hilarious and beautifully tragic. It’s one of the best YA books I’ve read and a credit to the genre.

The Native Star The Native Star, by M. K. Hobson, Spectra Books
Emily Edwards is in a rut – everyone is buying spells via mail-order now, and as the resident witch of the small California town in an alternate 1800s, this is a big problem. Her solution only makes everything worse, and soon enough she’s on a cross-country trip with the world’s most annoying man, Dreadnought Stanton, to take care of a powerful magical gem that’s made its home in her palm.
Steampunk is the newest overplayed genre these days, but Hobson manages a unique twist on it. Emily’s story is delightful fun, and at times truly nervewrecking. Hobson isn’t afraid to make her characters hurt, and both Emily and Dreadnought go through some terrible events. Both are well-developed characters in their world, too. Emily is a pretty amazing heroine with some very realistic flaws but the guts to see through the end of her adventure. It’s an excellent mix of fun, adventure, romance, and world-building. Hobson’s world, particularly the magic, shows lots of careful thought and planning. I’m looking forward to the sequel to see if Emily manages to keep her happy ending.

So those were some of my top picks! I actually write reviews for every book I read, but at the moment those are private. 😉 They’re mostly to encourage me to think more about the book I read instead of just forgetting about them.

So I did manage to do quite a few crafty goods this past fall. It was the season of the fingerless gloves, I guess. I’ve been knitting on and off for about six years now. I got into it in college, in the dorms, as a lot of women seem to. It was beginning its resurgence in popularity, and it’s honestly a great time to be a crafter. There are so many brilliant patterns out there, especially for the geeky variety. I have a ton of projects on my Ravelry queue I will someday do!

My goal for Sept-December 2010 was to do five projects, which I accomplished.

My first project was a very simple fall hat:

Button Tab Hat pattern (Ravelry link)

It’s basically only knitting, with a touch of purling, and then a sewn button. Cute, right? Nice and fun and simple? It wasn’t particularly warm, but I really enjoyed it.

And then I lost it.

I was shopping with my mother at the mall and dropped it while trying on various winter coats. I hunted around the store, asked at all the service counters, and nothing. Someone probably stole it. 😦 I hope they are taking good care of it. It was quite well done.

Then I moved into fingerless gloves. See, my room has two windows, and my computer/keyboard is right in front of one of them. I usually rolled my eyes at fingerless gloves. If you want to keep your hands warm, use real gloves or mittens! Eeesh.

Then I made my first set.


Susie’s Reading Mitts pattern (Ravelry link)

I pretty much fell in love. I wear these constantly, even though they aren’t particularly comfortable (there is a hemmed rim which is strange). I’m going to make myself another pair, using a different pattern, once I finish my current project. They are nice for typing – not ideal, but better than having cold hands. They are wonderful for playing the Wii. It’s one of those things which people knock until they try them, I think. I don’t regret making mine at all.

I made another set of this same pattern in bright pink, which I forgot to photo, as a gift. My great-aunt bought it off me to give to one of her friends. I believe that is the first knitted thing – perhaps my first creative thing ever? – to be bought off me in fair trade. I actually bumped the price up on her a little because I thought it was worth more than I originally charged. She didn’t seem to mind forking over five extra dollars, at least.

So then I used my new powers for good. My family does a stocking gift exchange every year and I made a pair for my stocking.


Cabled fingerless gloves pattern (Ravelry link)

This will probably be the pattern I use for my next personal set. It’s a nice simple set which can be both casual and semi-fancy-ish. Grey is a good color for a generic gift for women, so that was about it.

So after the success of my own gloves, my sister and my mom both wanted their own pair. It being the Christmas season, their sets became their Christmas gifts.


Evangeline fingerless gloves pattern (Ravelry link)

This is my sister’s set, which may be one of the most elegant things I’ve knitted. The yarn is super soft and the design is deceptively complicated looking. They’re elbow length and quite classy looking! She’s been wearing them fairly often, I’m pleased to say, and was quite delighted with their final appearance.

My mom’s set is what I’m working on at the moment, so no picture/link yet.

In any case, I’m very satisfied with my craft output for the end of 2010. This year I’m going to try and step it up a bit. I’d really like to make a shirt, maybe even a sweater, and maybe a cute bag. I have two or three small projects lined up in front of me, but it will be onto exciting stuff after that!

Well, this is a new year, so let’s have some goals, right? Everyone else is doing it!

I’ve actually only started goal setting fairly recently. I always considered it a bit… strange. Mostly because up until recently, my life ‘goals’ were clear: graduate this level of school, get good grades, etc etc. Now that I’ve started doing it, I do wish I had started earlier. But no use being sad about that.

So, I’m not going to list everything I’ve got. Most of that is pretty private. I’m just going to go over some of the overall topics and discuss what my goals are.

Word of the Year/Yearly Theme: Onwards and Upwards. Ever since I came back from Korea, I’ve felt really stalled in my life. So hopefully 2011 will have some nice forward momentum.


Writing:
My main writing goal is to get the third draft of my novel done, which should hopefully be the final draft before I consider shopping it around. I’d also like to develop the blog a bit more than I did in 2010. I’d like it to be somewhat consistently updated instead of being forgotten. I’m also seriously considering writing some short stories, which could be very interesting.

Finances: Since writing ain’t going to pay the bills yet (someday it will!!), I’m going to need a regular job. I’d like one which I enjoy and gives me financial security. I have a set amount I’d like in my savings and monthly goals for my retirement fund. Also, I’d like to support 5 charities this year.

Family and Friends: I’d like to widen my social circle, which feels rather small since most of my old friends are now elsewhere. A romance would b3 nice this year. I’d like to keep close with my family and, of course, I want my brother to come home safe from his military tour in the Middle East.

Spiritual: I’m going to keep working at developing a consistent meditation practice.

Health: I need to catch up on basic check-ups since being away for two years. I’d like to improve my general fitness by eating somewhat healthier and adding movement, if not full out exercise, into my daily life.

Organization: I will clean out my stuff from my parents’ basement and cut down on my stuff. Also, since I plan on getting my own place this year, I will maintain that.

Art/Crafts: I’d like to do 12 paintings, 15 knitting projects, and a ‘sketch a day’ marathon. I have a tablet for my computer which I need to improve at.

Joy: I’m going to read 50 books this year, although I may read more. There are several concerts I’d like to attend, and hopefully I can go to a fan convention with my friends. I’d love to go the beach, too.

Travel: I’d like to visit one other country and five other states. I’d like to do my stargazing trip this year, because I’ve wanted to do it forever, and I’d love to hit NYC again sometime this year.

So that’s the gist of it. My actual goals are much more detailed, but there’s no real need to get into that here. I sort of did my goals in the form of the Uberlist again, but making a yearlong to do list is HARD. So I’m not really sure what my goal list is. I make monthly goals derived from my list, and I’ve started making weekly goals from which I make my daily to-do lists. So if this ends up working, I may go into detail on it more later.

Here’s to a great 2011!

So the Reverb project continues.

December 4 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? (Author: Jeffrey Davis)

The problem is, I don’t really have a sense of wonder in my life. I feel like I’ve become rather bitter in the past few years, a shallow pessimist who has decided to be safe and expect low things. It’s a bit sad, but I’ve become a little disillusioned lately. I can’t seem to get back into a meditation habit, as even the meditation group I occasionally go to has become plagued by drama. The people involved are trying to work through it in a conscious and mature manner, but it is still difficult to be there at times. My younger brother is away at war, and almost everyday my parents obsess over his absence (well, we all do, but my parents especially). There is so much grief in the world and it honestly seems like the bad guys are winning most of the time.

So it’s been hard.

That said, I’m sitting here watching a snow fall across the street and yard. Everything is a muted white, and it’s hard to do much but appreciate it. I don’t have to drive in it. I can sit with a mug of hot cocoa and just not worry.

Sometimes I can watch nature documentaries, too, and watch the wonders of the planet without swallowing the thick pill of how much irreparable damage we’ve done to it. I can just watch the beauty I can never touch and feel a little sated.

The belated continuations of Reverb 2010.

December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)

It was my last night in Korea. There had been some drama leading up to it (actually, the four months leading up to it were hellish, but I survived). One of my favorite Koreans teachers took me out for lunch with her family, and then took me to the bus terminal where I caught the bus to Seoul, and from there to Incheon International. It is, quite frankly, the best airport I have ever been to. It’s big and wide, but not in an intimidating manner. It’s just open and bright. But that day, I’m not there to catch a plane. I use the phone at information to call my hotel, which sends their van to pick me up.

It’s a nice hotel but it’s far from the city. It was a brilliant choice, however. It was right on the ocean in a small village. I put my bags down in my room, which is strangely styled to be an Italian villa. After settling, I went out to explore the little village. It smelled like the sea. I can’t say it was particularly exciting. I was alone, there was little to do, and very few people who spoke English. But it was I needed for my last night.

The hotel had a small map of the neighborhood, and I followed it to the hill over the beach.

The air was salty, but not too much, and it was warm but not overly hot. The little village was practically empty. I couldn’t find my way down to the beach itself, so I settled for going further up the hill. A building sat at the top which housed a Korean-Italian restaurant as well as another restaurant. I passed those and went to a wide flat viewpoint.

There were two Korean kids up at the top as well, both elementary students. The little boy was brave enough to yell ‘hello’ at me a few times, and I happily returned them, because, hey, it was my last night. Who knew the next time some little Korean kid would parrot that word at me. His mother was a mix of embarrassment, because he was interrupting me, and proud of his courage and use of English.

After taking a few pictures and breathing in the memories, I went into the Italian-Korean restaurant and ordered a shrimp pasta dish and coffee, jotting things in my journal and enjoying the quietness of it, since it was still only late afternoon. The waitress seemed a little startled to see a lone foreign girl wander into the place, but she was nice and the food was surprisingly good. I know, I know, I should have gone to a traditional Korean restaurant, but they aren’t made for solitary eaters, and with my limited Korean and seafood allergies, I didn’t want a problem to arise.

After finishing there, I wandered around the little village some, looking for a convenience store. Considering the country is covered in 7/11, Family Marts, and Buy the Ways, it was amusing to find a place at the end of the world which didn’t have one. There was a small local store which was by an old guy who did math on a pad of paper. I bought some cookies for later, something to drink, and hard candy to use on the plane to hopefully avoid air sickness.

Then I went back to the hotel room to cuddle in for my last night. There was a big jacuzzi, but I couldn’t get the water to stay in. There must have been a leak somewhere which I couldn’t find, because it would never fill more than 1/3 of the tub. So after that abysmal waste of water and bubble bath, I took a shower. Internet was shaky, but I didn’t really want to talk to anyone on that night, either. I played some Sims (addictions, they run deep) and did some writing, mostly dreaming of home.

I planned on staying up late, but I really wanted it to be the next day, so I tucked in at a decent hour. It was time to go home.

December 2 Writing.
What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?
(Author: Leo Babauta)

Oh, right, writing. That thing I sorta kinda want to do for a living. Right.

Well, what’s been blocking my writing currently is a dangerous obsession with Harvest Moon, the best farming game ever, Farmville go jump off a cliff. I got it twenty bucks off with free shipping on Black Friday! So I’ve been sitting in front of the Wii in a game haze for the last twenty-four hours. I’m restoring life to the island, people. This is important.

So, my main problem is sitting down and actually writing. There are so many other sparkly things – video games! books! the internet! – that I have trouble focusing.

Which means, I suppose, the major problem hindering my writing right now is focus. There are a million distractions, as any lifestyle blog will tell you, and just as many ways to fight back. And it’s not that I don’t want to. I’d love to write and publish a novel (er, not self publish, that is). That’s the great thing! Yeah! It’s going to be a great book! But it’s not being written.

Oddly enough, NaNoWriMo was a big hindrance this year. I shoved out my 50,000 words nearly obsessively, but that’s not the novel I should be working on. I’ve decided, after lots of thought and discussing it with a few other people, to not finish that novel/revise it/get the free copy of it. It would be a several month project. That time could go towards writing the real project novel. I will jot down some notes so I don’t forget how it will end, and then I will go back to my baby.

However, focus is still lingering out there out of reach. Sigh. Honestly, I have found that with these consuming video game obsessions, it’s better to just sail through them. In a week my interest will have abated. My writing will be improved because I’m not forcing it out. So yeah.

Le sigh.

All right, let’s do this. Somehow.

Oh, right, a blog… Apologies?

I’ve been hemming and hawing about what I want to do with this, and I’ve just found Reverb 10, which is a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December focusing on closing out the year and starting a new.

So, why not?

I will start with the 1st and backdate this entry.

Prompt:
December 1 One Word.
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
(Author: Gwen Bell)

Return
2010 was about a surprising about of grief and destruction for me. The middle six months were some of the worst of my entire life, a literal countdown to my time finishing in Korea and moving back home. I did some exploring of my spiritual roots in this time, returning to things which helped me through college. The end of 2010, or at least the last 4 months, were about returning home to my family and my old life, both to the good and bad.

Being back with my family and friends is fantastic. It’s great to see people. So that’s the good. I’ve enjoyed being back with family and my home country, where life is simpler without that nasty language barrier.

It also has lots of problems, as I’ve fallen back into old patterns and habits which Korea had at least been a break from. I’m starting to lose my patience with them, but I’m not quite sure what to do. I’ve also spent a lot of time wanting to return to how things were before which can’t be the same, such as wanting my friends, who are busy with graduate schools and jobs, to be the same as before. I want to play the same games we did before, and it seems like most people have grown beyond that.

Thus, my word for the next year is onward. I’m ready for something new, something to change, something to help me grow more into my true self.

I want to grow outwards, too. I want to find new spaces for me to grow into, new socials circles to develop, and for my life to truly progress in a healthy way. I’m tired of standing still and I’d like to move forward. So, onward!

So last year I also spent some time developing a word of the year, which was connection. I’m not sure how I feel about this. What did connection mean in my life for the past year? I want some explode and reknit others, mostly in the terms of moving from Korea back home, but I don’t really feel like my connections are much different. I may need to mull over this some more.

So, 2010: Return.
2011: Onward.

Let’s do this.

wow tony hawk

So, it was like, I’ve been home for three weeks and haven’t actually seen a friend yet. Absurd! So my friend Annie was like, ‘I’m going to be in town on Thursday!’ and I was like ‘zomg awesome!’ and then she was like ‘I’m going to see Tony Hawk!’ After a moment’ pause, I agreed.

I have very little interest in skateboarding. Until a year ago, when Annie got interested in extreme sports, none of my friends had any real interest in it either. But, what can I say, I was delirious with the thought of seeing someone I wasn’t related to. So come Thursday, Annie picked me up in her convertible (top stayed up) and we went downtown, first to AJ Bombers for lunch. It was good, although I should have been satisfied with my eggroll and burger. The fries were too much and not very good. Everything else was good.

So then we went over to 4 Seasons skate park. Neither of us had been there before, but luckily we only get lost once. It’s actually a decently cool place. It’s an old warehouse that was converted into a skate park, and there’s a lot of the original installations left around the building. We were probably the average age in there, mostly because there were a ton of kids and young teens and then all their parents. I never quite realized how many families are involved in skateboarding. My last real knowledge of skateboarding was from, like, middle school, when it was all ~rebellious~ to be a skater.

So then we did an awkward dance of trying to get a good spot. See, Annie didn’t actually have any idea what was going on, either. So we finally got around to sitting on the only bleachers there as part of the ‘Mom Club’. Ultimately, it proved to be a really, really good idea. So we were right next to the bowl and we watched the few skaters in there. Annie and I tried to figure out the rules of the bowl, which most of the skaters got. They all knew the rules (you could have your turn until you fell, then you had to get out), they all kept track of whose turn it, and they all obeyed the rules. It was impressive! Observing subcultures is really fun, particularly as there were a few moms who were willing to help out a little.

Then exciting stuff started to happen! The place was steadily filling up in anticipation of Tony Hawk, and the little boy next to us returned with the ultimate victory: a skateboard signed by Tony Hawk himself. Apparently, he waited outside the bathroom until the big man came out and sprung then. His mother was ecstatic. She was giddy. Maybe because the board’s value quadrupled.

So more and more people showed up, and more and more guys were taking their turn in the bowl. Most were young adults, but there were a few older men taking turns, and only really sharp little kid who was doing better than most of the older guys.

I’m not a big sporting fan, but usually when sports stars show it, there’s a big deal. Tony Hawk just sort of appeared and just started skating in the bowl, taking his turn like any other skater. Everyone would get super excited, and for the first half-hour it was really fun to sit and watch.

Then it got rather boring. Annie was having lots of fun taping the skating for her friends, and I was fairly content watching, but a few times it was very tempting to pull out my book and start reading (don’t tell anyone!).

Then Tony Hawk just sort of vanished, and no one really knew what was going on. Everyone dispersed from the bowl, and supposedly there was a signing, but no one knew anything about it, and after about 45 minutes of milling around the skate park, we conceded defeat and left.

It ended up being a better time than I expected. While it did nothing to convert me to the skating ways, at least I got to see Annie. 😀

So, yeah, thumbs up, Tony Hawk? Thumbs up!

All right, let’s see how my weekend projects went.

First off, the finished knitted bag:

drawstring bag

Yes, quite nice. It’s sturdy and definitely feels durable. My largest problem is the opening doesn’t close very tightly. Because I’m planning on storing dice in it, this might be a problem. I also only used a single piece of the same yarn to be the drawstring, but maybe if I braid thinner yarn, it would be a stronger string and closer better. So this project may not be entirely finished.

Next, the artwork:

artwork

I have to say, I’m quite pleased by this. The flower theme was spur of the moment- I decided on the red/orange poppy first, and then just chose the other two pictures from the same site.

Here are the close-ups:
red poppy
blue rose
green daisy

This was a pretty awesome project, and I’m already planning on doing a few more. Next up, a sun and moon pair, and then probably something for my mother’s downstairs bathroom.

These still need to be hung up, however, so their completion is really about 90%.

Plenty of unfinished projects still sitting around. None of the framing has happened yet, alas. Hopefully soon. Cleaning has been going well, at least.

So, since I’ve moved home, I’ve been in a flurry to make stuff. Korea didn’t have many options for crafts. Whether it’s because they’re just not a crafty people or more that I had no idea where to find good crafty stuff, I’m not sure (it’s not a culture that often encourages creativity, sadly).

I’ve also moved into my brother’s room, which is not precisely the happiest situation. My old room, shared with my older sister, has become only her room. But I’m not allowed to actually DO anything to this room, because the little boy is being deployed and various people in the family are afraid of the worst. So while most of his stuff is packed up, I have to deal with these awful dark blue walls that make feel like I’m in a cage.

Buckets of joy over here, as you can see.

But I’m working on making some nice stuff for the room.

So here are my current projects:

two mini posters

These are two mini posters from Jessica Swift which need to be set up. I’m thinking of hanging them via a string, hung by clips, against one of the walls.

Next up:

green bag

My current knitting project. Despite having a bajillion needlework projects I want to do, I’m limiting myself to one at a time. This one is almost finished, actually.

It’s a small drawstring/dice bag, Fibonacci’s Dice Bag. I should have it finished by the end of the weekend, hurrah, hurrah.

The other weekend project:

paintings

A paint/pen project which is incomplete, from How About Orange. I did the washes last night, but the pen bit will have to until tomorrow, as tonight is ‘game night’ with the family. Which is code for ‘helping cousin move in’ or something. I’m also indecisive about what I’m going to put on the paint. SO! We’ll have to see.

That’s it for my projects, other than taking care of this:

room

Yeah. It’s slow going.

So, I’ll just end with an obligatory cute cat picture. His name is Merlin, for those who don’t know.

Merlin

He was left outside last night, so he’s not too interested in doing much this morning.

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