Crochted Christmas Lights

Crocheted Christmas Lights
Crocheted Christmas Lights

My mom recently told me about a cute crochet project she’d seen — Christmas Lights! I decided to make some for her as a surprise (but then I ruined the surprise by telling her about them).

I followed this easy pattern. The project was easy, just a bit slow and tedious. I am pretty happy with the end result, though.

A string of crocheted Christmas lights
I don’t have a mantle …
Crocheted bulb
For scale

Umm … Merry Christmas in February?

Christmas, Christmas time is here …

Books I Read in 2017

I read a total of 56 books this year, surpassing my goal of one book per week!

Below is a list of every book I read this year. (A * denotes a re-read.) After the list, I have broken the books into categories. If you are looking for something to read, check out my best (and worst!) books of 2017.

Faithful Place* by Tana French
Buddha and the Borderline by Kiera Van Gelder
Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
Wild* by Cheryl Strayed
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Veronia by Mary Gaitskill
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams
The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon
Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon
Pretty Girls by Karen Slaughter
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Girl at War by Sara Novic
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
To Kill a Mockingbird* by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve
Beautiful Bodies by Laura Shaine Cunningham
White Oleander* by Janet Fitch
Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
A Good Year by Peter Mayle
The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri
Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana
Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
The Stand by Stephen King
Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
We are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Dolores Claiborn by Stephen King
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Best American Short Stories of 2011 (edited by Geraldine Brooks)
My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler
Born to Rock by Gordon Korman
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snickett
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
The Horse Whisperer* by Nicholas Evans
The Time Traveler’s Wife* by Audrey Niffenegger
The English Assassin by Daniel Silva
Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Dancing with Myself by Billy Idol
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Books About How Shitty/Depressing it is to be Middle-Aged
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Beautiful Bodies
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Woman Upstairs

Books with a Creative/Unusual Premise
Mirror in the Sky
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
The One I Left Behind

Funny Autobiographies
Scrappy Little Nobody
Dad is Fat
Food: A Love Story
We are Never Meeting in Real Life
My Horizontal Life

Serious Autobiographies
Buddha and the Borderline
A Mother’s Reckoning
Truth and Beauty
Dancing with Myself

Kids’ Books
Where the Red Fern Grows
The Bad Beginning

Young Adult Novels
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Mirror in the Sky
Born to Rock
Eleanor & Park

Books About Obsession/Obsessive Love
All He Ever Wanted
The Woman Upstairs
The Silver Linings Playbook
I’d Know You Anywhere
The One I Left Behind

Historical Fiction
Orphan Train
The Book Thief
The Nightingale
The Remains of the Day

Non-Fiction Books About Mental Illness
Far from the Tree
Buddha and the Borderline
A Mother’s Reckoning

Fiction Books About Mental Illness
The Silver Linings Playbook
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

My Favorite Books I Read This Year (that I hadn’t previously read):
Far From the Tree
The Stand
All He Ever Wanted
Feast of Sorrow
Best American Short Stories of 2011
The Power of Now
Truth and Beauty
Eleanor & Park
Dancing with Myself
No Country for Old Men
Let the Right One In

Books I Did Not Like (but finished)
Swing Time
Pretty Girls
The Bastard of Istanbul
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
I’d Know You Anywhere

The Worst Book I Have Ever Completed
Go Set a Watchman

Crocheted Kids’ Trick-or-Treat Bags for Halloween

For the last two months, I have been working on a lengthy crochet project. I wanted to make a trick-or-treat bag for every child in my life. Between my closest friends back at home, I have seven little nieces (and no nephews, but that’s okay. I am digging the feminine energy).

Anyway, my goal was to start them now and finish over the coming months. Then, when I go home (YAY!) next summer, I’ll mail these to my friends’ children before Halloween.

Here’s what I’ve got so far …

candy corn crochet trick or treat bag

The candy corn is my favorite. I followed this pattern, though I modified it a bit. I didn’t chain 2 at the beginning of each row, because that caused huge gaps to appear in the bag.

pumpkin crochet trick or treat bag

I made this pumpkin by free-wheeling it. It is pretty small, and would be best for a baby or toddler. (My mom insisted I add a Jack-O-Lantern face, but after several failed attempts, I quit.)

frankenstein crochet trick or treat bag

I made Frankie by following this very easy pattern, which I have used many times before, and just adding my own embellishments. He turned out okay … he’s not my favorite.

crochet trick or treat bag monster 1
All the better to see you with …

crochet trick or treat bag monster 2

I made this mummy/monster without a pattern. I just took a few ideas I saw on Pinterest (chain handle, wrapped eye, dangling eyeball) and combined them into one thing. This may be too creepy for a little girl … though I think I would have liked it as a kid.

I made a minion.

minion crochet kids trick or treat bag.JPG

I think the minion is so cute that I may scrap the idea of making each girl a unique bag, and just making them all minions. (Isn’t that what a minion is, anyway? One of many?)

I don’t know … would anyone like to share an opinion? Which do you like best?

Happy Halloween! I watched The Shining and The Sixth Sense this weekend with some friends … both excellent movies I hadn’t seen in a long time. 🙂 I hope you are having fun celebrating!

A Little Writing Assignment

I recently took a little 4-week writing class through Coursera, called The Craft of Plot. I thought I would share my final, 1,000-word writing assignment here.

But first, I also wanted to share the following quote. I’ve been reading The Best American Short Stories of 2011. (Why 2011? Because it was available to rent online through the Chicago Public Library.)

“My advice to young writers is, read this book. Enjoy the stories, admire the craft. Then put it in your backpack and go. As far as you can, for as long as you can afford it. Preferably someplace where you have to think in one language and buy groceries in another. Get a job there. Rent a room. Stick around. Do something. Whatever it is, you will be able to use it in the stories you write later. And if that story turns out to be about grungy sex in an East Coast dorm room with an emotionally withholding semiotics major, that’s okay. It will be a better story for the fact that you have been somewhere and carried part of it home with you in your soul.” — Geraldine Brooks


Here’s what I wrote:

Howard Plans to Ride a Tiger by April Gardner

Howard was an old man. His memories tricked him all the time. He remembered riding a tiger, for instance. He was sure he had once done it – he could feel the tiger’s course fur rubbing against his thighs. But then his nurse would come by with a treat or something to drink. His desire for carrot juice would override his memories of tiger riding. Sometimes, he wouldn’t remember the tiger again until the next day. He could feel the heavy bolt in his hand, and the screeching sound it made as he opened the tiger’s cage.

Howard felt like he was in a cage, mentally and physically. Not only could he not trust his memories, he couldn’t trust anything about himself. He would be halfway to the can and his bowels would explode. Filthy and embarrassed, he would have to wait for the nurse to come by and change him. Life wasn’t good anymore.

Howard knew he was going to die soon. His prediction was practical. He was nearing his 90th birthday. Of course he was going to die soon. Accepting the fact of his own death became easier every day. His body was failing, his mind was failing, and he didn’t have much to live for anymore. His only daughter lived in Europe, because she and her husband both had careers with the embassy. Howard couldn’t remember the last time he had seen her.

With the approach of his birthday, Howard wanted to do something outlandish. As a child, his mother had doted on him, and always made certain his birthdays were gloriously celebrated. There had been clowns and magicians, ice cream bars and chocolate fountains, swimming and games. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember the last time he celebrated his birthday. He and his wife used to treat themselves to a nice dinner and an expensive bottle of wine. After Luisa died, so did Howard’s desire to celebrate. But with his 90th birthday approaching, he devised a plan.

He couldn’t get the image of that tiger out of his mind. Of course, the image came and went. But it would sneak up on him and torment him. Sometimes, he would awaken in the middle of the night. The tiger’s roar would still be ringing in his ears. Trembling, he would go to the bathroom and pour himself a glass of water.

Once, he was sitting in the Great Room, looking out at the expansive lawn of his nursing home. Without warning, the hair on the back of his neck prickled, and he whipped around, certain that the tiger was lying in wait behind him. There was no one in the room, except old Mrs. Pinkle, shuffling along with her walker and her ratty cardigan sweater.

Howard wasn’t usually the type to save postcards or letters, but he had saved one. It had a photo of a tiger on the front. The back was blank, except for his name and address, scrawled in a strange hand. The postmark was from Thailand.

With his life winding down to a miserable conclusion, Howard used the times when his mind was still lucid to piece together a plan. He would ride a tiger again, one last time, before he died.

He wrote out his plan on a piece of lined paper, which he kept tucked between his mattress and box spring. When he remembered, he would pull out what he had written and re-read it. Then, he would close his eyes and repeat it back to himself, trying to plant the words into the small, still-healthy part of his rotting brain.

Once, his night nurse had almost found his written plan. Howard had lost control of his bowels in the middle of the night (after dreaming about the tiger again, he was sure, though he could not recall), and the nurse came to change his sheets. As she pulled the fitted sheet free, the piece of paper fluttered to the ground.

“What’s this?” she asked, bending to retrieve it.

Though he was old and feeble, Howard somehow bent and grabbed the note before she could.

“Never you mind about this!” Howard snapped, waving the piece of paper. “A man has got a right to his privacy, even in a hellhole like this.”

“Mr. Jones!” she exclaimed.

As she reprimanded him for his negative attitude, Howard read the list again, and tried to commit it to memory.

His plan: First, he would ask Brad the orderly to take him on a walk to the corner convenience store. Brad was a big fellow, blond and handsome, but he was dumb, from what Howard could assess. He needed dumb people if his plan were going to succeed.

At the store, he would insist that his bowels were bothering him, and ask to use the restroom.

While in the restroom, he would call to Brad through the door that he had soiled himself badly. He would ask Brad to run back to the nursing home to get him a chance of clothes. Orderlies weren’t supposed to leave the seniors unattended in public, but Howard was certain he could convince Brad to leave him alone for a few minutes.

Once Brad was gone, Howard would leave the store and walk to a bus stop in the opposite direction, two blocks away. He used to wait at that same bus stop to take his daughter to school. The bus route passed right by the zoo.

He would have his “shopping” money tucked into his wallet. Since he wasn’t going to buy anything at the store, he calculated he would have more than enough to purchase one-way bus fare and entrance to the zoo.

Once inside, he would check the zoo map and find the tigers’ pen.

After that, he would admit, his plan got a little fuzzy. He was going to walk to the pen, climb the fence, and attempt to ride the tiger.

He knew he might die. But he didn’t care.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet Project

I’m not a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but when I saw this adorable crochet project on Pinterest, I was inspired to try it (the pattern is very easy to follow). Someone in my cohort is a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I decided I would crochet him a surprise TMNT doll.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 1
Totally radical
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 2
Turtle Power!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 4
Back details …
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 3

Fun Fact: The Shqip (Albanian) word for turtle is breshkë.

One of my most successful blog posts of all time is Jennifer the Unicorn, which is amusing but also a little disheartening. I’m supposed to be sharing information about my Peace Corps host country of Kosovo. But, everyone just wants to read about my unicorn.

You can see some of my other crochet projects here:

The Island of Misfit Toys, and Other Adventures in Crochet

I haven’t posted about many crochet projects lately. That’s because most of what I have been working on have been gifts for other people (and I didn’t want to spoil the surprise). Now that I am back from my trip to the States (and have distributed said gifts), I want to share what I’ve been working on over the last few months. I have also included some small projects I didn’t bother posting earlier.

Back in the fall, I crocheted this small heart pillow for my host mother. I followed along with this YouTube video.

crocheted heart pillow

My sister asked me to make her a winter headband. I made two — one for her, and one for my friend Nicole (who I met up with in Paris for New Years). I followed along with this easy YouTube video.

I’ve followed this pattern numerous times to create different scarves. I crocheted this one for my mama, modifying it slightly by adding a single crocheted row of red for extra ridging.

crocheted striped scarf

My mom had sent me this crochet book in a care package. I used one of the patterns in it to create this cardinal for her. (I followed the pattern exactly … I have no idea why its head turned out so big.)

crocheted cardinal.JPG

I modified a “beaver” pattern from the same book to make this panda bear for my friend Chelsea’s birthday:

My parents have an inside joke about alligators, so I crocheted this toy, following along with the free pattern I found here. My critter did not turn out as cute as the one pictured … I thought this pattern was pretty difficult to follow.

crocheted crocodile
In progress and unstuffed …

Isn’t it funny when serendipitous things happen? My friend Lisa sent me this book, after purchasing a copy to support the Michigan Humane Society (which happens to be where I adopted my cat, Sweeney Todd). Then, my friend Christian asked me if I could crochet a hat and scarf for his kitty back home. I said yes, but I told him he’d have to wait until after my trip to the U.S. I wanted to use Sweeney Todd as a model for pictures.

cat crocheted hat
This is why cats don’t like humans …

Last, I followed along with this very easy YouTube video to create a series of crocheted purses.

purple crocheted purse
crocheted purse
purple striped crocheted purse

crocheted beach bag

If you like to crochet, follow along with me on Ravelry at

Jax the Unicorn

I pay attention to my blog stats and lately, I’ve noticed a big spike in the number of times my post, Jennifer the Unicorn, has been looked at. It is by far my most popular blog post to date.

Around the same time, I noticed a big spike in blog traffic from Canada. (Hello, Canadian friends!) I don’t know if it is a coincidence, or if Canadians really like crocheted unicorns …

Anyway, I mentioned to my mom that I was thinking of doing another unicorn project, since the first one had been so successful. (Hey, I’m not above pandering to the masses.) She suggested I make my unicorn, Jennifer, a boyfriend. My mom also suggested that I give my new unicorn a “J” name to go along with Jennifer, so I chose Jax. (And no, I’m not a Sons of Anarchy fan. I just think it’s an interesting name.)

Processed with MOLDIV

I used the same crochet pattern that I did for Jennifer. It was much faster going this time. Jennifer took me weeks to complete, while Jax only took the better part of a few days. Maybe that’s because it was my second time using the pattern.

The only change I really made this time around was to follow a different pattern for the horn and mane.

Unicorn Mohawk

So now I have two crocheted unicorn toys. (Are you worried that I’m cracking up over here? I know! Me, too!) 😛

So happy together!