Friday, January 29, 2021

February is almost here, which means it's time to think about book clubs!


Friends! I hope that you're staying warm this extra chilly January day. 🤗 As for me, I'm bundled up in a hoodie layered with a blanket, because both Mike and I working from home means that the thermostat is set at a temperature comfortable to both of us 0% of the time. 🤣 It's a bit rough, but we're makin' it! The weather has taken a definite turn for the wintry here in WNY. Highs today are in the teens Fahrenheit, and I just can't seem to get warm!

But I'm in great spirits, and it's Friday, so life is good. I've been doing a little book club work in the background this month that I wanted to share with you, and I want to start to plan for Lent, so we have a great booky theme for today!

Since the new year, our fab friend Allison Gingras, and editor of the Stay Connected Journals series, has been leading a book club for Our Sunday Visitor featuring the book of none other than yours truly! I've been at two out of the four sessions so far, and they are an absolute delight. They're concise 30 minute sessions featuring a discussion of one chapter a week, group questions and other musings on the chapter theme for that week. You can catch up on the recordings and/or register for the remaining sessions here. They are totally free, and the live sessions take place at noon EST, great for lunchtime book clubbing! If you'd like to purchase the book, OSV's bookstore has a coupon code for 50% off my book, Exploring the Catholic Classics, with the coupon code: CLASSICS. Free shipping with any $20 purchase over there, too! AND, of course, the rest of the books in that series are available there (if you're like me and spend more just to get to free shipping thresholds every single time, LOL!) and the new series themes are pretty amazing! I want to get all three of the new ones that I don't yet have, actually. We have one on living the liturgical year (this is my favorite new theme of the three, I must get it!), managing anxiety and learning to trust, and the theological and cardinal virtues. In fact, the virtues book will be the focus of the Our Sunday Visitor Lenten Book Club, and is available for 50% off with code: VIRTUE. These coupon codes are single use only, but you can order as many copies of each book that you like in that order! I'm plotting my order right now, pretty much guaranteed to get all three of the newer books, ha ha!

But this got me to thinking: what would be like to do for Lent over here on the blog? I tend to enjoy book clubs or related Lenten themes for that particular liturgical season. In the past, we've actually done historical fiction for our Lenten Book Club, which I absolutely loved, since there are lots of other book club choices for non-fiction. We featured the Living Water series by Stephanie Landsem, I remember that very fondly. I could scour for some other title ideas for next week if a fiction book club sounds of interest. We could also intersperse with other Lenten themed posts about liturgical living and even related crafts. Let me know your ideas, and we'll begin exploring these and nailing down our ideas next week! Ash Wednesday is in two and a half weeks, if you can believe it! :-0

Friday, January 22, 2021

Creative Ideas Friday: Try something totally new that you've always wanted to explore!

Happy Friday everybody, and I hope you are hanging in there just fine this gray January day! Despite the bleakness in the sky, I love January, and always find fresh inspiration and excitement for all of the potential that lies ahead for the year. This week, I thought we would focus on a more general concept for our Creative Ideas Friday: trying out something totally new to you that you have always yearned to explore!

Let's face it: these at-home pandemic times, depressing though they may be, present an ideal opportunity to finally tackle that One Thing you were always so curious about. We have more time with which to tackle them, and the availability of online classes mean that the risk of embarrassing yourself in public is pretty low. :-0 For me, that thing was learning to play the finger cymbals. Dun dun dun!

Many dancers learn to play the finger cymbals when they first learn to dance, but that was not my experience. So now I've been dancing and performing for over a decade, and had to Google how to even strap these things onto my fingers. :-0 My sister gifted me a pair of smaller finger cymbals (the traditional starting size), which is what I'm starting with. These beauties are from Turquoise International, well-regarded makers of cymbals:

Oriental cymbals, size 2 1/4 inches

I'm taking a 30 minute class each lunchtime, Monday through Thursday, and it is absolutely perfect for drilling a new skill like this! I started right after the New Year, and now have 3 weeks under my belt. I can honestly say that I'm a lot less bad than when I first started. 😂 I've learned 5 sounds so far (I hadn't even realized there were more than 1 common one!) and can play them in multiple simple patterns. The dancing at the same time part is still a work in progress, 😇 but one can't expect miracles in 3 weeks! I can at least walk around a bit while playing them, that's the first step, and incorporate in some basic movements in time to the rhythm that we're playing alongside. I'm learning SO MUCH about the different rhythms within Middle Eastern music, and I am absolutely soaking it all up! The ability to mute myself during class is giving me life. 😎 Again, the online format is such a low intimidation factor in terms of taking on something completely new!

As my obsession grows, I naturally started going down some YouTube rabbit holes. I found out how to sew the elastic on my cymbals, rather than relying on small safety pins. I also discovered how different sizes, shapes, and metals can affect the sound of your cymbals. I wanted to be able to compare my smaller cymbals with a larger pair (and thought the larger surface size might also make it easier for me to make some of the sounds I was struggling with, and I was right) so I treated myself to these beauties:

Saroyan large Grecian cymbals in brass

Saroyan is a renowned cymbal company, and there are sound clips on their site of all of their cymbals, and I spent a delightful few days listening to all of them multiple times. I found that the bigger cymbals make a deeper sound than the smaller ones, and that brass presents a mellower tone than the more high pitched silver ones. Dancers usually have many different pairs of cymbals for this very reason, depending on the environment in which they'll be dancing (indoors vs outdoors, how large a space, what type of music will they be dancing to) so that they can pick cymbals that will achieve the sound they want. I absolutely love the mellower sound of the brass cymbals, and these Grecian ones are my new bff, but at some point I'll almost certainly add a silver set to my arsenal. I am having SUCH a delightful time exploring this totally new-to-me skill, and am so glad that I embarked on it! I don't know when I will perform with finger cymbals, if ever (though it would be nice to add them to my possibilities for gigs, when those resume again) but regardless, I'm thoroughly enjoying the process and the healthy challenge that they present to me. I'm also learning so much about Middle Eastern music that I can translate to all of my dancing. I plan to continue with my classes next month!

In other creative news, I just had to share this new hat pattern with you that I am currently also obsessing over. :-0 It is called the Lotus Blossom Beanie, and the effect is absolutely stunning, wouldn't you agree?!

Pattern is Lotus Flower Beanie from BKnitsHandmade

There has been some talk in my crafting community about the price of this pattern ($11), which is more than hat patterns traditional cost. However, this pattern includes detailed photographs of the tricky lotus blossom technique, directions for sizes 6-12 months/infant through adult, as well as instructions for knitting it in either bulky or super bulky yarn. I'm already planning gifts for others with finished hats from this pattern too, so I do really feel like it is worth it! If you use the super bulky she recommends (although you could use any yarn you like), which is Malabrigo Rasta, you will get 2 hats by reversing the colors. Here is my first finished hat in a Valentine's theme:

I'm awaiting my order of gorgeous lush pom poms, and I have to share my new favorite pom pom shop on Etsy, which is North Star Stitches! I'm not normally a pom pom gal, but the featured photos on this hat really sold me on how a well coordinated pom pom really makes the design pop! For my pink/mint hats, I ordered a few poms to try in shades of blush, white and blue/green. I'm sooooooo excited for these to arrive! I'm going to be making a lot of hats this year, I'll share more about that endeavor next week!

What skill or idea have you always wanted to take a class on? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Winter crochet projects this week for Creative Idea Friday...

Hi everyone! I hope your wintry January's are moving along nicely. :) I know that I'm in the minority, but I actually like January, gray skies and all. Part of it is that my wedding anniversary is in January, part of it is that I enjoy the cozy feeling of deep winter. Speaking of wedding anniversaries, Mike and I celebrated ours on the 8th (16 years!) and as is the thing this year, it was different than usual. Romantic takeout, cocktails at home, and watching of The Crown marked our anniversary dinner this year, ha ha! But you know, it was absolutely delightful!

In other deep winter news, I've been hard at work on crafting. I started a baby sweater for Allison!

This is a Baby Surprise Jacket, one of my favorite baby patterns of all time. You knit what appears to be a blog, and when you sew 2 small seams, voila! It's a baby sweater. :0 It's moving along quite quickly, hoping to have a finished sweater to show you next week! 

But onto crochet, as that is our main theme for this week! I was listening to the We Crochet podcast this week (which I highly recommend, btw, if you're at all interested in crafts. I listen to their sister podcast, Connecting Threads, even though I don't sew, and really enjoy it!) and they got me all excited for a specifically crochet winter focus. The newest edition of their magazine includes a winter themed collection called Wintertide that I am really jazzed about now:

We Crochet Magazine, Issue 5

I do love projects that are themed after winter, as distinct from the holidays. I love holiday projects too, but they are different to me: there are holiday themed items, and then specifically winter themed items that have a cozy, warming feel, and often inspired by winter colors like blues white, and purples. Needless to say, this magazine is in my cart over at We Crochet. :0

Blankets are one of my favorite winter projects, because they keep you warm *while* you make them, so they do double duty! Each New Year, I am inspired by the Attic 24 blanket CAL (crochet -along) and despite having plenty of blankets in my house, I could not resist this year's edition, especially given our continuing pandemic situation. It's the perfect project to work on while snugged up at home! This year, the theme is a Meadow inspired blanket:

Attic 24 Meadow Blanket CAL

And aside from weaving in ends, I completed part 1 this week!

Once you get the stitch pattern down, this is a great and soothing tv watching project. If you're at all interested in crochet, I encourage you to give this a try! I would say it's advanced beginner level, and Lucy includes a step-by-step tutorial with tons of pictures, so you can do it, I know you can! Any yarn you like will do, but Wool Warehouse has the special yarn packs with the colors the designer picked specificaly for this blanket. Even with the current delayed shipping situation (and Wool Warehouse is in the UK), I got my pack within 2 weeks, which I think is amazing speed! But obviously you could also approximate these colors at your local craft store with a nice soft acrylic in worsted or dk. She just released part 2 of the colors today (it's week by week, but you can catch up super easily and work at your own pace!) and I'm sooooo looking forward to working on this over the weekend!

I've also been busily learning to play my finger cymbals, but that's a post for another day. 🤣 How are you doing this week, dear reader? What projects are you working on this January? Sending you lots of hearts this winter!

Friday, January 8, 2021

Creative Idea Fridays for the winter, and some cute crafting updates!

 Merry Christmas everyone, and happy New Year! I'm very glad to be back with you for another year of fun chatting about creativity, crafty hobbies, wellness, prayer and books. 


I hope that you all had lovely holidays this year. Ours were quiet, we certainly missed seeing family the way we usually do, but we still made a very nice time of it and truly enjoyed it. The kids are happy and healthy, and that's all that matters!

For my part, I did alot of knitting, and with a white Christmas and everybody home, it was the perfect cozy time for it! In big news, I finished frog and toad!

*trumpets blare*

Aren't they cute?

Let's have a closeup on the outfits, please.

Pattern available via Frog and Toad Cast. This includes instructions for both critters, plus both of their outfits!

I definitely enjoyed the challenges involved in knitting these two, especially the steeking for the eyes! I tell you, I needed a sip of wine to work up the courage to make that first snip into my knitted baby frog. 😂 But it worked out, and it's so exhilerating to try new things!

I've also been enjoying my dancing from home this winter. Looky what Santa brought me this year!

I've been taking ballet classes on Zoom, and this portable, adjustable barre is soooooo much nicer to use than the back of Mike's desk chair. 😁 The feet swivel in for against the wall storage when not in use. It's perfect for me, and I absolutely love it! 

The other new dancey project that I have taken on is something within my main dance passion of Egyptian style belly dance, but is completely new to me: finger cymbals.


Finger cymbals are...scary to me. :-0 As you can imagine, it is challenging to both play a musical instrument (one that is completely new to me), plus dance at the same time. Within Egyptian style belly dance, while you certainly see dancers and musicians playing finger cymbals (called Sagat), they aren't quite as common as in Turkish style belly dance. Here in North America, you often see dancers performing a style of belly dance called American Cabaret, which is a melding of belly dance influences, including Turkish. So those dancers are usually playing the finger cymbals (referred to in this context as zills), and American viewers often become familiar with them via seeing a dancer performing in this style in a restaurant. I've never studied with a teacher who instructs in American Cabaret style (though I've taken a few workshops in Turkish dance, which I LOVED, especially the folk dances, although the finger cymbals segment was a total disaster for me 🤣), so I've never received any long term formal instruction in playing finger cymbals. As part of my goals for the year, I have resolved to learn!

It helps that my favorite online teacher started a session for them as part of her daily drills series, and this format is absolutely perfect for a budding learner of finger cymbals. Everyday at lunchtime, Monday through Thursday, for 30 minutes, I sit in front of my laptop and drill finger cymbal sounds and patterns with her. Yesterday we (gulp) stood up to also do some simple hip drops and traveling steps while playing the cymbals. It's structured as a slow building process, which is exactly what I need. Each day this week, I could feel myself being slightly less bad at it, LOL! But it's coming along. And the thrill of taking on something totally new and intimidating like this has me in a very excited place! 

So! What we'll be doing here on the blog until Lent are a creativity focus that I'm calling Creative Idea Fridays, and then sometime in February we'll turn to Lenten planning and strategies. Maybe we'll do a Lenten book club? We'll see! I'm excited to see what kind of inspiration strikes! 

Do you have any goals for the new year? I would love to hear about them in the comments!