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Stone Bracelet in a Jewelry Box

For the past five years, every January you could find me in my scrapbook space, making layouts about Christmas. Christmas in January—that was my thing, because I never could really manage making any layouts during December. (Scrapbookers who make projects like December Daily make no sense to me. I can barely get Christmas together, let alone an entire daily album.) This was my way of coping with January, of bringing light and memory and prettiness to a month that, in Utah, includes too much air pollution and so many smoggy days.

Well—for the past five years except last year. In January 2019, I spent most of my time with my mom in the hospital, and then at her home while she was in hospice, and then planning her funeral. And then the next three months were consumed with cleaning out her house.

During those months of sifting through the possessions acquired during an entire lifetime (really, more than one lifetime, as there were also my dad’s possessions still in her house, and both of my grandparents’, including some items of my dad’s dad, who died in the 50s), something shifted in me. When faced with the quantities of stuff at my mom’s house, I started questioning what kind of legacy I want to leave for my own children. What possessions matter the most to me? What might matter to them? (Because I don’t think these are always the same things.) I realized that without stories attached, most of her possessions are just items.

For example, I kept a beautiful bracelet I found in her jewelry box, made of a sort of bronzed gold and what look like rocks that have been polished smooth and then sliced into thin slivers. Stone bracelet 01
I think it is striking and unusual, so I kept it and I wear it—but that is its only story. I don’t know where she got it, or if she loved it, or why she kept it. I don't remember her ever wearing it.

I wish I knew the story, even if she just bought it at Dillard’s one day because it was on sale.

Stories matter: this is one of the pieces of knowledge that cleaning out her possessions taught me.

Which should bring me around to more scrapbooking, because I have always been drawn to it through the story aspect.

Instead, I have almost entirely stopped scrapbooking.

I’ve still been taking notes and writing some stories. I’ve still been taking pictures. I’ve even still been buying supplies.

But I only made about twelve scrapbook layouts last year.

This is because every time I sit down to scrapbook, I am filled with the same feeling I had when I first started tackling my mother’s collection of fabric. She had so much fabric. I understand this, buying things you think you might use and then never getting around to actually using them. It’s why I have supplies in my scrapbook drawers that are ten or twelve years old—because I bought it but then never got around to using it. I can look at it (a piece of patterned paper, a sheet of alphabet stickers, whatever) and still see how could use it. But there isn’t enough lifetime left to use it all.

I saw her fabric stash and I thought about how many quilts she finished—in her house, there were only three finished quilts. Dozens of partly-finished quilts, with all the supplies packaged together to be finished—one day. She made and finished others, of course, as gifts for many people. But in her house, three quilts. Four daughters. I decided to be the daughter who didn’t get a quilt from my mother, and I decided that without rancor or passive aggressiveness. I already own quilts I have made. I wanted my sisters to have my mother’s. I thought I will just finish one of these that she didn’t finish and it will be the same thing.  I thought about the quilt I own that was made by my great grandma Amy, and how that should be enough. None of my sisters have that quilt, I thought, so they should have the ones our mother made.

That quilt—maybe that is where it starts, really. This heritage of making things. My earliest memories, which are really only feeling memories (rather than story memories), are deeply attached to that quilt. The patch with the salmon-colored floral, the hue of turquoise that unites the other pieces, the fraying cotton thread, its vaguely musty scent: those aren’t just sensory details, but they are in essence what my childhood feels, smells, looks like. If I hold it I reconnect with the child I used to be, sitting under the quilt in my grandma’s bedroom while she told me stories about her parents.

I treasure this quilt. I “treasure” it by keeping it safely stored in my linen closet, where, true, it can’t really be damaged, but it also can’t make any new connections. Upon my death, my children would find it in the closet and know it was the quilt the grandma I was named for made…but that is all. That is the only bit of connection they would have, because I kept it safely in the closet.

Like the stone bracelet in the jewelry box.

It is all tied together—scrapbooking, quilting, making things. My mother’s jewelry, her china and clothes and the boxes of pictures and the yarn and the fabric and the half-finished quilts. The doll with her head hanging on by a thread, kept because the sound it made reminded her of Michele as a baby. All of her possessions were part of who she was, but our relationship didn’t allow for us, somehow, to know each other’s stories. (If, to flip this, she were to clean out my house because I had died—she wouldn’t know the stories of the possessions I value the most, either.)

So then I must bring this to myself, sitting down to make something. It’s become easier to make quilts than scrapbook layouts. Because quilts—quilts say something. They are useful, and soft, and warm. They are items that touch you. They are intimate, but without the potential for damage that intimacy can hold. They are items that can exist when their maker is gone, and it is almost like touching that person, to touch the quilt she made. You can be gone, as the maker, but the person wrapped in your quilt might still hear a little echo of your voice. They would certainly, at least, feel less cold.

Since I didn’t get a quilt my mother made, I can only have that if I finish what she started, and then it is not from her but from me.

I bring myself to this process of what I want to make. (Not making anything at all isn’t feasible for me. Making is how I cope, even if the making is unnecessary and superfluous.) I want to tell stories but I am, deep down, wondering: why am I telling stories and then shutting them away in scrapbooks? It is the same as the quilt in the linen closest, the bracelet in the jewelry box. It is—it is this truth? Is this the truth:

Am I just like my mother?

Do I keep my stories to myself? Am I shuttered up? Have I made relationships with my children that don’t allow for openness and connection, that don’t really breathe, that aren’t deep enough to allow for the real, actual person who exists?

Do I want to scrapbook not really because I want to leave my memories here before I’m gone, but because I don’t know how to truly connect with the people I love?

I know my mother loved me—but I also know she didn’t really know me. This is both of our faults, and it is also the reality of death. I can’t fix it anymore. (I don’t know if I could fix it even when she was still here. Even if she’d been her for twenty more years.) I wanted her to see me for who I am, not for who she was disappointed I didn’t become, and I’m not sure she did that. I’m not sure she could.

And that is the legacy I don’t want to pass on to my own children.

When I sat down to write this, I thought I would write about my scrapbooking goals. But here I am, in true Amy fashion, mired deep in existential thinking. Which is a pattern I keep repeating, every time I try to scrapbook. I start making a layout and end up wondering if I have managed to make a life with any meaning.

And then I start making another quilt.

And I know I am not following any healthy routes here. I know I am walking toward a cliff, but never jumping off. I know I am not ever managing to address the real issue, which while it grows from the soil of my relationship with my mother, isn’t about my mother. It isn’t even about me. It’s about healing what is in the future. It is about the fact that when I die, I hope the scrapbook layouts and the quilts have meaning for my kids, or for their spouses if they have them, or for my grandchildren if any arrive here. But more, I hope our relationships have meaning. I hope they know why I loved the silver necklace I wore the most (not just because I bought it on a trip to Mexico, but because my mom, Haley, Jake, and Nathan were in the jewelry store with me when I bought it, and because I had gone running on the beach that same day and I had a blister on my big toe from the sand in my running shoes, and because my hair was curly that day and my left shoulder sunburnt but not my right, and because I spoke in mangled Spanish to the store owner when I bought it and because the air smells different there than anywhere else I have ever been, and so when I put on my silver bead necklace it isn’t just a piece of jewelry, but it is the memory of that day in San Lucas and the feeling that my mom was glad I bought it) but even more I want them to know I loved them for exactly who they are.

Those words are repeated over and over in their scrapbook layouts.

Repeated and then put into a sheet protector and closed into books that no one looks at very often. That might become just some other stuff they have to sort through when I am dead. I don’t want them to have to feel what I felt during those three months of sorting my mother’s possessions. The way every choice (keep? discard?)  was like murdering her.

I want that knowledge to live inside of them. Not only after I’m gone, but right now. Right this second. Because I don’t want them to have to feel what I am feeling right now, a year after she died, that my mother loved me but she didn’t really love me.

They won’t be without quilts.

They won’t be without stories.

I hope they won’t be without the knowledge that I love them.

Stone bracelet 02

Book Review: After the Flood by Kassandra Montag

I felt a resistance in my bones. A knowledge that some choices are places and some places are where you cannot live. I had to go where I could live. I had to finish what I started and to keep stretching toward a future I had no right to believe in.

After the floodAfter the Flood by Kassandra Montag is a post-apocalyptic novel. It takes place about 100 years into the future, when the environment has degraded so much that the oceans have overtaken the earth, and the only land still above water are the higher elevations, places that used to be mountaintops that are now crowded with people. Myra and her daughter Pearl are lucky because they have a boat, which Myra’s grandfather built before he passed away. He also taught her how to fish, so she is able to provide for herself and Pearl. They live a fairly isolated existence, spending weeks at sea and only coming in to port to trade fish for supplies. When Myra discovers that her other daughter, Row, might still be alive, however, her circumstances start to change. Row was taken when Myra was pregnant with Pearl, by her father, back when the water was still rising but people could still mostly live on land, and Myra has never stopped missing her.

This knowledge gives Myra a reason to start seeking out connections with people who might be able to help her. She is fairly certain that Row is living in a settlement called The Valley, which is in Greenland, and as everything else east of the Rockies is underwater, this is far more sailing that her small boat could manage. She will need a larger boat, people to help her, a large stock of supplies. And there’s the problem that The Valley is controlled by a group of raiders called The Last Abbotts, who are fond of snatching teenage girls for their breeding ships. She cannot do this on her own.

The story winds out from Myra’s need for a solution to her problem, and as the tries to figure it out, we readers go along with her in the brutal world she lives in. I know you’re likely thinking of the movie Water World, and there is a hint of that, but it’s less campy. The world building makes the bleakness of the ruined world feel viscerally real and miserable, and yet, in a sense, it is a novel about the relationship between a mother and her daughter that just happens to be set after an apocalypse.

Since this genre is one of my favorites, I enjoyed a lot about this book. However, in the middle section it got bogged down by doing something that many other post-apocalyptic stories do: exploring human nature with a sort of certainty that a vast majority of the population would become manipulative, lying, violent people. This leads to Myra being able to trust no one, because she isn’t sure who is really reliable, while at the same time putting people (including Pearl) at risk because of her distrust. (The Walking Dead TV show does this ad nauseam and it frustrates me; maybe I’m thinking too highly of people but I think the majority would remain ethical.) It’s not so much that Myra is an unreliable narrator, but that in her mind she is doing the good, right thing while not trusting that anyone else is good or right, but she is actually harming them. (And thus neither good nor right.) She nearly becomes malicious. I was *this close* to not finishing the book because of this section. I told myself I would read for half an hour more, and if I were still frustrated I could move on.

She finally redeemed herself, though, so I continued.

I galloped through the last half, in fact. There are some unlikely plot devices that annoyed me a little (I don’t want to give any spoilers) and some things that felt predictable, but overall I am glad I stuck with it and finished this one, mostly for how Myra changes. At the end she realizes that “you must become someone you hadn’t had to be yet.” I think this resonated with me because it is a change I am trying to make in my life. Letting myself change to become who I need to be but haven’t become yet. Actually, it’s not really “letting,” it is pushing for that change. Trying to make it happen, to knock down the things that have been holding me back. Like Myra’s journey, this is long and difficult and it requires me to find and make connections I can’t even imagine at this point.

Did After the Flood change my life? No. But it gave me a little bit more courage, and that is much needed so I will take it.

Disappearing Nine Patch: Color and Design

Sometime around the end of December, a friend and I were talking and she said something about "what's that thing you do with a nine patch?" and I remembered how much I enjoy making a good disappearing nine patch pattern. It is the pattern I used for my Thanksgiving quilt (which is one of the posts on my blog that gets the most hits, still—even 9 years after I posted it!), and you can read more detailed instructions about it HERE. Basically, though, a disappearing nine patch is a block made from a 3x3 grid of squares; you cut the big square in half on the vertical and horizontal centers, turn some or all of the smaller squares, and sew them back together.

When I decided I needed to get brave, put on my "real quilter" pants, and try out my new sewing machine (which I must blog about separately, it's so great!), that idea that had stuck in my head really wanted to express itself.

So I made two different versions.

One, a hot pad, is the first thing I sewed with my new machine. I am still definitely figuring out how to move the fabric, so the seams aren't as exact as I had hoped, but that's OK. I made this knowing it was mostly for practice, and it turned out, if a little bit wonky, just fine for using for its intent, which is sitting on my counter and having wet dishes or hot pans placed on top of it:

Dnp hot pad finished

That fabric! I love it, especially the text one I used for the center squares. I fussy cut that part so I could make sure to get the phrases I liked the best. And the colors I think are just lovely.

The second version is a baby quilt I made for my friend's new grandson. (Kendell thinks it's strange that I made a quilt for a friend's grandbaby, because I only know the parents via my friend. But it feels like a way of showing my friend I love her, and to celebrate the new person in her life. Does it really matter if I don't know the parents very well?) I made a quilt with shark fabric for their first baby, but I couldn't find sharks this time. Instead I went with these cute whales:

This one is called "Sun on Waves":

Dnp sun and waves darker

Since I’ve already written a tutorial for this square, I thought I’d just add some details about the process.

The fun thing with disappearing nine patch is that it can give you a random, scrappy look (like the baby quilt) or a more controlled, repetitive look (like the hot pad) depending on how you do it. ​It looks complicated but it's really simple: you make a nine patch square, cut it into fourths, and then rotate the new, smaller squares you made by cutting the larger one. The look you get depends on two things: how you organize the fabric in the larger square and how you rotate the smaller squares.

Fabric Organization

Think of the nine patch as a grid, three rows, three columns. What you put in each of these has an impact on how the finished piece will look. The fabric in squares 1, 3, 7, and 9 will become the large squares; 2, 4, 6, and 8 will become the rectangles, and the center square, 5, will become the smaller squares.

Dnp before cutting

(Forgive the ruler...I should've taken a photo of the block without the ruler but I didn't.)

In both of my examples, I used the same fabric for 1, 3, 7, and 9. These are my focal fabrics. I wanted them to be as visible and as...uncut, I guess, as possible. This is a good position for a fabric with a larger print, like those whales. Any smaller (I started with 8.5" squares) and they would've all just been cut apart and unrecongizable as whales.

The fabric in the center square is also important. Since it becomes the smallest piece, it is also visually noticeable. Especially when you assemble the quilt, this is the fabric that will give a sense of movement. I tend to put my very favorite small print here. 

I think of the fabrics in the even squares as supporting pieces. They set the tone of the finished piece but they don't grab as much visual attention. 

I've never made a disappearing nine patch that was scrappier than "Sun on Waves." I like the repetition that the pattern gives, but I confess, I'm itching to make another one that's even scrappier. What if each of 1, 3, 7, 9 squares were different? Or opposite corners were matching? (So 1 and 9 were the same, and 3 and 7. Or even 1 and 7, 3 and 9.) Or if the whole thing were done with, say, shades of purple but everything scrappy? (If I try it, I’ll share!)

For this one, though, I stuck with repeating the whale fabric in the corners, and then all the other squares are scrappy. I didn't repeat any of the other fabrics, so I used 16 8.5" whale squares and 20 8.5" scrappy squares. Since it was so many different fabrics, I unified with tones and by repeating colors—light blue, a little aqua, yellow, green, and a couple with more than one color but still the same tones. I thought about using a dark aqua for the center squares but in the end decided I wanted those to be scrappy, too.​ When I sewed together the nine patches, I made sure each one had at least one yellow and at least one green. I mixed in some aqua pieces, too. I think the balancing of color gives it a unified feeling—it’s not obnoxiously scrappy—while still appearing random.

(In case it’s not obvious: I really, really love a good scrappy quilt!)

Square Rotation

Once you cut the large 9 patch squares into smaller squares, it’s time to rotate. There are a bunch of different ways you can rotate the squares, and each one will give a different look to the quilt. You can rotate all of the squares one turn, or half of the squares two turns, or whatever else you come up with. If you haven’t done it before, play around with the rotation to see what you like!

Dnp hot pad cut and turned

For the hot pad, I rotated the top left and bottom right squares. I knew I wanted to do that, so when I sewed the nine patches together, I sewed those corners (#1 and #9) in upside down, so that when I rotated, they all ran the same direction. (If the main fabric doesn’t have a directional pattern, this wouldn’t matter.)

For the quilt, I rotated all of the squares clockwise one rotation. This makes the rectangles line up in a sort of spiral that I love. Since I wanted it to be scrappier and not have a repeating pattern, I also shifted the squares in each pile. I left the first one as it was, and then for all of the other piles, I shifted one, then two, then three of them underneath. I wasn’t worried about the main fabric staying the same direction because the whales are kind of swirling around anyway.

Dnp sun and waves cut and sorted

I loved making these two pieces. They came together so quickly and were fun to make!

Just for fun, here are the backs: 

Dnp hot pad with back

I almost always piece quilt backs. This one has a strip of minky, which, gah, means I had a pucker after I finished quilting it...puckers are almost inevitable, I think, with minky!

Dnp sun and waves back

50 Things that Bring Me Joy: A List

On one of the Facebook groups I belong to (it’s called Skirt Sports Women Who Move if you’re interested), we are doing some reset-your-life kind of exercises. Last week’s was to write a list of 50 things you love right now. Specifically, “50 things that bring you joy.” I thought about this all last week but didn’t sit down to write them because I had a nagging thought: anyone who knows me already knows what I love because I talk about it all. the. time. I worry a lot that people must think I’m weird, a grown-ass woman who shares way too much on social media. But I keep doing it because…well, it is a thing that brings me a type of happiness. I don’t have a ton of skin friends (the term I use for friends I know in person as opposed to friends I have never met outside of the Internet) so the people I’ve befriended online help me feel….well, it always comes back to what Luna said in The Order of the Phoenix: “it’s like having friends.”

(Having met a few of my online friends in the real world, I know it’s not even “like,” it is. Real friends.)

At any rate, my psyche just wouldn’t let me write my list until I wrote this first, so I could silence those “you’re so weird” voices for a minute.

Shhhhh. I’m thinking about happiness.

  1. Morning hot beverage ritual with Kendell.
  2. My white “feminist” mug and Kendell’s black “Papa Bear” mug.
  3. Driving Kaleb to school in the mornings.
  4. My recent newly-found ability to get out of bed and go to the gym before 6:00. (one of the ONLY good things about perimenopause.)
  5. Ballet barre classes…specifically the deep-down noodle leg feeling it gives me.
  6. Wearing my brightest, floweriest capris and/or tanks to ballet barre classes, partly because I love them, partly because everyone else wears black.
  7. Hiking on snowy paths and the way the snow silences the world around you, except for the crunch of your feet in the otherwise-silent snow. 20200112_132641 rock canyon 6x8
  8. The feel of spikes crunching into the ice underneath the snow on a snowy trail.
  9. Pretty wool socks. I wear them all year, but admittedly in the summer only inside.
  10. Black and white floral or paisley prints. On anything.
  11. My new purse. Not so much for the purse itself (I like it but it tips over all the time) but because Kendell pushed me into getting it.
  12. Every single text I get from Nathan, and just the fact that he CAN text now. (Boot camp silence was hard on this momma.)
  13. Austin sending me pictures of Haley, and me sending him pictures back of her when she was little.
  14. That Haley & Austin found each other. They seem good for each other and most importantly she seems happy.
  15. When Kaleb comes and talks to me. He’s in a taciturn, stoic phase so this doesn’t happen often, but when he does hang out and talk, he’s just…he’s just awesome, smart and thoughtful and spunky and just him.
  16. Photos of wildflowers. In winter the world is nearly colorless and I am starting to feel starved for color. I love looking at photos from our spring and summer hikes so I can remember that color, and especially flowers, will come back into the world.
  17. Reading a book I love and don’t want to put down.
  18. Reading a book that speaks to me, so I have to go find a pen to start underlining and commenting, or if it’s a library book I have to go order my own copy so I can start underlining and commenting.
  19. Reading poetry, especially when I find a poem that helps me understand something I couldn’t put into words before the poem.
  20. Flannel sheets.
  21. Flannel pajamas.
  22. Talking with Jake. He has some great insights and interpretations of the world.
  23. Messaging with Becky and Suzette. Mom’s last illness and her death drew us so much closer.
  24. My silver bead necklace. It’s the jewelry I wear most often and has so many good associations it’s like a wreath of happy memories banging on my sternum.
  25. Wearing my mom’s turquoise bracelet. I wish I knew if there is a story to go along with it. Where did she even get it? Did she love it or was it just a random piece? I don’t, though, so I guess I will have to make my own stories while wearing it.
  26. All of my post cards from art museums hanging on the wall in my crafty space.
  27. Perfect corners when I’m binding a quilt. Not necessarily that they’re perfect, really, but the way it feels when that 90° just works.
  28. Looking at old pictures. Kayci found some when she was visiting last week that broke my heart and lifted me up all at once. But also photos of the kids. I’m grateful for every single one of them.
  29. My new cell phone case. The new cell phone is nice, too, of course, but the photos aren’t as amazing as I thought they’d be. (They’re still cell phone pics.) But I love my aqua and white case!
  30. Watching Kaleb’s body language when he makes a bucket in a basketball game. Also how happy his new basketball shoes make him.
  31. Having a protein of some sort prepared and frozen, so making dinner is so much easier.
  32. When everyone’s home and we can eat dinner together at the kitchen table.
  33. Baking: cookies, bread, biscuits. I’m trying to love this less because I know sugar + white carbs aren’t good for me. But I love the actual process of baking as much as I love my chocolate chip cookies.
  34. On Instagram, FB, or my blog.
  35. Email from friends (instead of just endless ads.)
  36. Thinking about where our next travels might take us.
  37. Wednesday nights, about 7:45-9:00. I’m working at the library and usually it has quieted down; it’s dark out and that is when I feel most focused and productive and loving of my job.
  38. Talking with my library friends. Librarians are a unique breed (and for me, “librarian” really has not much to do with what your college degree is in); while we are wildly different we also have this similar thing that I haven’t quite named yet, a way of looking at the world that is informed by so much reading. I’m so grateful to have so many kindred spirits.
  39. A handful of almonds. It is my go-to fast snack so I don’t always notice, but sometimes I do: the flavor, the crunch. It’s tied to eating the insides of peach pits, and so summer and so my childhood and so almonds make me feel a sunny sort of happiness.
  40. Speaking of nuts: when I am snacking on a few from my bag of mixed nuts during a hike and I get to a pistachio. A little, meaty-sweet bit of salty perfection.
  41. Drinking a zipp fizz with Kendell at the top of mountain.
  42. That feeling when there is only about ten minutes left of your run and you’re both relieved it’s almost over and sad it’s almost over. The thought of getting home and stretching gives me a little burst of energy to push on through whatever tiredness I might be feeling.
  43. Stretching after a run. My favorite is stretching outside and I can’t really do that right now, but stretching in my front room is still lovely.
  44. Puffy stickers, especially of the squishy variety. I haven’t done much scrapbooking over the past year but it is still a hobby I will never give up. (I woke up just this morning with an idea for a layout!)
  45. Script fonts. I especially like them on book covers.
  46. Getting packages. It is so exciting to spot it on the porch, bring it inside, and open it. Doesn’t matter what is in the package: new Skirts, a book, scrapbook supplies, fabric, clothes. I wait until no one’s around and make a little ritual of opening and going through what I bought. Is it the most emotionally healthy thing? Probably not. Do I need anything new? Absolutely not. But a package still makes me happy.
  47. The clean, decluttered, simplified feeling of a house in January.
  48. The new kitchen paint. Kendell did a great job and I love the grey we chose. (Now to finish the ceiling, stair wall, hall, and front room. Painting does not bring me joy.)
  49. My creative space. I write, blog, scrapbook, quilt, and dream in here. I know it is a luxury to have an entire room dedicated to doing stuff I love, so I am grateful I get it.

I’m challenging you: If you read this, try to write your own list of 50 things that bring you joy. You might find, like I did, that it’s both harder and easier than you think. I tried to make mine really specific to right now, the middle of January at the start of a new decade, when I am 47 years old and it’s just barely snowing outside. Share with me if you do!

Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

“Let that be a lesson to you: If you are too good and too quiet for too long, it will cost you. It will always cost you, in the end.”

“Page riffling is an essential element in the process of introducing oneself to a new book. It isn't about reading the words; it's about reading the smell, which wafts from the pages in a cloud of dust and wood pulp. It might smell expensive and well bound, or it might smell of tissue-thin paper and blurred two-colour prints, or of fifty years unread in the home of a tobacco-smoking old man. Books can smell of cheap thrills or painstaking scholarship, or literary weight or unsolved mysteries.”

I checked out The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow twice, checked it out, kept it a few days, and then returned it so the next person on the hold list could have it. This wasn’t because I wasn’t sure I’d like it—I was pretty sure I would—but because I wanted the exact right time to read it. That time finally came at the end of December, once the busyness of Christmas was past and I had some time off from work for relaxing. And I had an entire Sunday when Kendell and I didn’t go hiking (he is recovering from a baker’s cyst in his calf) and so mostly I just lay around and read.

I literally cannot remember the last time I just lay around and read.

Ten thousand doors of januaryIt was lovely, and this book was perfect for that time, because in addition to being a book about adventure between the worlds, it’s also a book about books—how they shape and influence us, how they let us escape sometimes, how they sometimes save us. In a round-about way, it is also a book about the importance of every individual’s story, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Early in the 20th century, January Scaller is a girl growing up without a father. She has one, but he is often away, pursing antiques for his employer, Mr. Locke. She lives in Locke’s Vermont mansion, which is stuffed with all sorts of strange objects, first with a series of nannies and then with her dog Bad and companion Jane. One day, when she is a young girl traveling in the south, she runs away from the hotel and finds herself in a field that’s mostly empty, except for a crumbling ruin with a blue door frame. When she crosses through the door, she finds herself, very briefly, in another world, looking down at a white stone city on an island. She finds a coin near the doorway but hears Mr. Locke calling for her, angrily, and so grabs the coin and goes back.

This formative experience is the starting point for January’s adventures. They are wound up with a book she finds in box in Locke’s house, which is a sort-of scholarly telling of the concept of Doors, connections between different worlds. I could tell you what happens but really: it’s a book best read by discovering it. January compares books to Doors quite often, how you can slip through them and be somewhere else, somewhere foreign you can come to understand, and this is a book just like that.

One thing I can write, without spoiling it, is how the story resonated with me. One of the threads is the concept of a girl who has to figure out how to be who she really is, not who the people who "love" her want her to be. (If we really love someone, don't we want them to be exactly who they are?) As this is a process I feel I am constantly experiencing, I enjoy reading about it in novels, too. That January figures this out via words is especially satisfying.

The fantasy elements, too, resonated. I was a dreamy child, of course, since I read so much, and after I read the Narnia books I haven’t stopped, on some subconscious level, looking for the door in the wardrobe, the way into some other place. But I also loved old objects. One of my favorite things was to stand in my grandma’s bedroom and riffle through her jewelry box. It smelled of cedar and had old things in it, buttons and necklaces and broken watches and silver coins. I would hold something and wonder: what is its story? Where did it come from? Who wore it, how was it broken, why is it still here in this box?

So the objects from other worlds in this book, and even the very concept of other worlds—my 8-year-old self responded as well as my adult self, because I still love old objects and still wonder about their stories and I still—even at almost 50—I still have a part of me who watches for Doors. I wouldn’t have put it exactly that way before reading the Ten Thousand Doors of January, but it is a useful construct so I will keep it. Logically I know no one really finds Doors (except maybe that is what death is) but the part of me that was shaped by imagination doesn’t care about logic. She just loves that stories like this exist, and that books will always open.

Read Alikes: (This year I am going to include a few read alikes for every book I review. Just a few books that are similar in some ways to the one I just read.)

The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Wayward Children series by Seanan Mcguire
Darker Shade of Magic series by Victoria Schwab
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Strange the Dreamer series by Laini Taylor

My Year in Books: The 2019 Edition

I realized as I wrote this list that I didn't finish a single book of poetry. I read poems and parts of poetry books but didn't finish any of them. I read almost all of Joy Harjo's American Sunrise but not the whole thing; most of Lay Back the Darkness by Edward Hirsch, and some of the poems from Eat this Plum. And quite a few (but, again, not all) of the Best American Poetry 2019 poems. So yeah, that is high on my list of resolutions (read more poetry) because a life without poetry is blah.


Here's the list of books I read this year, organized by genre:

2019 books collage

General Fiction

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson. Another favorite, because museums and antiquities and Wales and Denmark and trying to figure out who the hell you really are.
Conviction by Denise Mina. Thrillers aren't my favorite, even though everyone loves them right now, but I enjoyed this one. (By "enjoyed" I mean...I liked reading it, I'm glad I read it, but I didn't LOVE it.) Partly because it was set in Europe which I enjoy.
The Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiavarini. I donated a set of 12 of this book to my library's book club in my mom's name. I liked it but it's a little bit cozier of a story than I usually read. Which has made me wonder if an edgy quilting novel is possible? :) 
Sula by Toni Morrison. This one ripped me open, tore all my guts out, and left me empty. But in a good way. It helped me understand a few things about some of my relationships. And it reminded me of just how good Toni Morrison was. The second book I cried over in an airplane, on my way to Denver this fall.

Young Adult

Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza. I enjoyed this story of a girl who tries to seek out the family of the person who donated his heart to her, but I don't think it's one that will stick with me.
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline. Post-apolaclyptic story with elements of First People mythology. Another one I loved. 
The Furies by Katie Lowrie. A novel set in a small English town about contemporary witchcraft. I wanted it to be better than it was.
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves behind Them All by Lara Ruby. This historical fiction/ghost story blend is one of my favorite YA novels I've *ever* read.
Unpregnant by Jenni Hendricks and Ted Caplan. The "funny book about abortion." It was OK to me. I liked many things but the humor is not my style.
The Burning by Laura Bates. Another one I have mixed feelings about. Loved many things about the story but the structure felt clunky to me.


Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. A reworking of the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale, with other threads woven in. I LOVED this one.
The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. Fantasy based on Russian mythology and the second book in a series I loved.
The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden. The third novel and an excellent conclusion. This series is a perfect read for January.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. Another excellent read. And a wild ride. And sort-of unlike anything I've read before. Pondering the meaning of life via alchemy, plus adventure and books and repeating time and OH MY. I loved it!
Naamah by Sarah Blake. The story of Noah from the bible, but from his wife Naamah's perspective. An amazing, gorgeous, moving, memorable book.

Science Fiction

Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. The book that kicked of my women-in-science-fiction streak (that I didn't really start on purpose). A scientist from earth sets out to figure out the secret of reproduction on a planet with only women.
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey. A crew on a simulation of a flight to Mars.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. Science fiction set on a planet that doesn't rotate. Still thinking about this one.
Contact by Carl Sagan. Wrapping up my quartet of science fiction with women protagonists. This book has shaped my thoughts for decades now.

Graphic Novels

Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal. What if men vanished from the world?
Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva vs. The Patriarchy by Liv Stromquist. Don't be afraid. It's really interesting and made some feminist points I'd never considered. 


The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. How to leave behind only what matters. I read this and thought "I wish I could share this with my mom without offending her" but it might've offended her, and then before I had the courage she passed away and she had definitely not done any death cleaning.
The Soul of An Octopus by Sy Montgomery. I read this when I was the host of my library's book club. So fascinating. I finished it on my way home from South Carolina and it was the first book this year I cried over in an airplane.

Middle Grade

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly. A story based on Polynesian mythology. I will never forget the scene with the turtle shell.