About ceciliairene

American twenty-something who reads, knits, sews, teaches, drinks tea and coffee, and loves Jesus

FO: So Breton

I love Breton style sweaters, and I spent a long time wanting to knit one. About a year ago, I got my hands on three skeins of Plucky feet in a gorgeous color named Wentworth after Captain Wentworth from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Captain Wentworth was in the Navy, so I thought that these might make a good base for a Breton sweater. Then I started digging through my (too extensive) stash of Plucky Feet, and I found a yellow-leaning tan skein Great Outdoors that I felt contrasted well with Wentworth. I then decided that So Faded by Andrea Mowry, a pattern that I’d knit and loved previously, would work as a guideline for this sweater.

I cast on. And then I got distracted by another project for a friend. And then along came a few test knits. And other things distracted me too. But in early June, I decided to buckle down and focus on finishing my sweater.

So Faded is a great pattern. Andrea has created a beautiful pattern that is easy to follow and easy to adapt. I love my faded version, and I have a feeling that I’m going to be equally fond of my Breton version.

I did make some modifications for this. Instead of ribbing on the hems and neckline, I knit an i-cord. I felt that it added a cleaner edge. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of ribbed edges, but I love a clean i-cord.

I’m really pleased with this sweater. The colors play well together. Plucky Feet is a great yarn for a lightweight sweater; it’s nice and cozy. I’m looking forward to getting to use this when fall comes…but don’t worry, fall; you don’t have to come just yet.

Raveled here.

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Catalina’s Summer Reading List

“Ms. Hendricks, I’m not looking forward to summer.”

“Why not?” 

“I don’t like summer,” the third grade girl replied blandly.

“Why not?” I repeated myself. 

“I like learning. I don’t want to stop learning.”

“You can still learn over the summer. You can read.”

Catalina looked at me. “But what should I read?”

“Do you want me to make you a list?”

She nodded eagerly. “I read The Wizard of Oz. I liked it.”

I sat down with a pen and a notecard. “You’re nine, right?

“Yep.”

“Give me a couple minutes while you guys work.”


In the end, I made her a list of ten books. She’s a smart girl, and I wanted to give her a list of books that will encourage her to grow into a strong young woman. I thought I’d share this list with the internet in the hopes that it might help and encourage some other book-loving young women.

The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye

I was introduced to this book when I was eleven, and it has long been a favorite with me. I cannot speak highly enough of this book.

I’m not much for princess stories (although Catalina is), but I love this princess story. Amy, the titular ordinary princess, was cursed at birth with ordinariness. That is to say that she is not the stereotypical blonde-haired, blue-eyed demure princess with pink cheeks. She’s much more “normal” looking. She isn’t perfect in personality or appearance. But over the course of her story, she comes to learn the value of ordinariness and what it really means to be a princess.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

When Catalina asked for book recommendations, this book just jumped into my brain. All I could hear was Meg Ryan’s voice saying “Streatfield, Noel Streatfeild..start with Ballet Shoes.” Here’s the thing that I love about this book. It’s about helping your family and achieving your dreams. It also doesn’t attempt to pigeonhole girls into traditional roles, but it tries to encourage girls to pursue their talents, their strengths, and their dreams.

(As I was describing this book to Catalina, her group-mate Eva kept asking “Ms. Hendricks, can I read that too? Can I read it?” Sure, Eva; you’d love it.)

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

This book was a favorite of mine as a child. I’ve always enjoyed a good fractured fairy tale, and this is definitely a favorite in that genre. It is both insightful and funny. The greatest strength of this book is that it reminds girls that they don’t need some charming prince to save them; if they look inside of themselves, they can find what they need to save themselves.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

A girl with magical powers who isn’t afraid to use them? Count me in. I love a few things about this book. One is the fact that Matilda loves to read. Another is the fact that she doesn’t just use her strengths to help herself, but she also uses them to help others.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Both boys and girls look awesome in this book, and they fight in different ways. Regardless, I think that Lucy Pevensie is a valuable friend for any young girl. Eva commented, “Oh, I like witches!” when I said the title, but I cautioned her that the witch is the villain of the piece.

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary

I love Ramona Quimby. She’s just the best. She’s spunky, and I think that all girls need to meet good girls like Lucy Pevensie and brave girls like Ella and Amy, but they also need to meet spunky girls. This book features my favorite Ramona story-The Tiddliwinks Story, but really all of the Ramona books are excellent.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.

If I ever write a book on the subject of How I Got to Be This Way, Pippi Longstocking is going to be a heavily featured subject. She made me want to be a pirate. She also inspired me to call multiplication “pluttification.” I wanted to be like her so much that I once (for five all-too-long minutes tried to sleep with my feet on the pillow and my head under the covers. Pippi is a spunky girl. She doesn’t fear much of anything, and I think she’s a good role model for a girl who needs to realize her own gifts and strengths.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

I liked the Julie Andrews movie. I thought these books were The Bomb-Diggity. I read all of them multiple times as a child. Mary Poppins didn’t take anything from anybody, and while she wasn’t the nicest or sweetest person on the planet, she was good. She taught the Banks children to be good people, and I think that’s to be respected. I want each girl who I teach to learn to stand up for herself and for others. I think that Mary Poppins provides an example of striving to do what is best for others.

That’s the list that Catalina is starting the summer with. I also tangentially recommended the Harry Potter books, Heidi, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables. But I didn’t want to overwhelm her. What books would you recommend to a third grader heading into summer?


NB: It ought to be said that neither Catalina nor Eva is the real name of any student with whom I work.

Cooking as Stress Release

When I was in grad school, I used to bake bread during finals week. It was a way of handling my stress. These days when I’m stressed, I’ll find myself exploring cookbooks and Pinterest looking for new recipes to find and ways to let off steam culinarily. In all honesty, that is a large part of the origin of the Harry Potter birthday cakes and my current “Baking with the Saints” project.

I was thinking about this as I made Draco Malfoy’s birthday cake. Now, I’m not a big fan of Draco; he isn’t The Worst Person Ever, but he’s not exactly my kinda guy. Regardless, I make the man a birthday cake every year. Now, I’ll admit that part of it is because I like making “my father will be hearing about this” jokes. But that’s not all of it. I don’t just make this cake because I want to make jokes about Draco and Lucius.

Far more of it comes from the peace of mind that I draw from putting the cake together. For me, there’s something calming about mixing butter and eggs and sugar (and the other ingredients) in a bowl and watching it all come together. I love see the ingredients come together and change into something new. It’s almost magical.

At the end of the school year, there are countless little unpredictable factors in my day. But when I come home at the end of the day, I know that if I mix a cup of butter (or dairy-free butter) and a cup of sugar in my KitchenAid, it will cream. And then if I add more ingredients to that, it will form a stable cake batter. Because I’ve been baking for a while, I know that my oven and dairy-free butter mean that I’ll need to adjust baking times on certain recipes. Those are predictable things. I know what I’m going to get as an end result.

I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but I know that I find that uncertainty is one of my biggest sources of stress. I don’t like when I don’t know what is coming next. I think that I’m pretty normal in that I like to know what’s coming next. I’m not a huge fan of surprises or uncertainty. I like predictability. I like knowing that if you firmly mix up two cups of butter they’ll soften and loosen into a crucial part of a beautiful brioche.

Baking also allows me to play and explore. Over the past two years, my Great British Bake-Off obsession has led me to try numerous new experiments in the kitchen. I never would have tried to make a brioche filled with mushrooms and spinach or one filled with basil if I hadn’t been inspired by GBBO. It’s safe exploration, but it’s exploration nonetheless. I rarely make anything that I’m not sure won’t work out at least reasonably well. (The batch of chili that I put a fruity beer into about five years ago is an outlier. That was awful.) But even when I’m not sure exactly how things will turn out, my previous experiences in the kitchen give me some assurance that things will work out for me.

There is a level of predictability in the kitchen that I don’t often find in stressful season of my life. For a long time, I didn’t know if or when my car would ever get fixed. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever get married. My job is great, but I’m tired and run-down at this point in the year. All of those areas contain a level of unpredictability. But I know that warm (but not HOT) water will activate yeast and butter can slacken and I can bake beautiful things. And some days…those are a few of the only truths that keep me from totally losing my mind.

FO: The Oban Sweater

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a Thea Colman pattern. I love a good warm pullover with cables. So when Thea gave me the opportunity to test her new Oban sweater, I was thrilled. The cable pattern and styling of the sweater was right up my alley.

I bought ten skeins of Brooklyn Tweed’s Shelter in Fossil and knit the sweater as written. I’d heard good things about Shelter, and I really wanted to use it. As one of the owners of my LYS said, a Brooklyn Tweed sweater is the sort of thing that you save your money and frequency points for. Shelter worked beautifully well for the sweater. I can’t say enough good things about the way that Shelter cables.

The only “glinch” I encountered is that my gauge is a bit tighter than written, which made the sweater more fitted than it’s written. I can’t really complain about that because I prefer my clothing to be more fitted.

The cables are easy to memorize and the pattern is really easy to follow. I especially appreciate the detail with which Thea writes her patterns. They’re detailed and easy to follow.

Overall, it’s fun sweater and moves relatively quickly. The only impediments that I had in my process came from person conflicts rather than anything in the knitting process.

Raveled here.

Convenience and Experience

I was recently talking to my roommate about the difference between a friend of ours and myself. The friend and I have both obtained new cars in the past few months. She bought hers from Carvana; I went to a car dealership. We were both eminently satisfied with our method of car purchase. Similarly, this friend prefers to have her groceries delivered; generally speaking, I really like going to the grocery store. I don’t object to my friend’s method of getting things, and she doesn’t have a problem with mine. The question that I found myself pondering is why we prefer these different things.

My roommate’s comment was that our friend likes the convenience of not going to the grocery store or the car dealership while I like the experience of being in those places and physically interacting with people and things prior to purchase. Now, my friend has a busy life, and I can see why she values convenience. There are also situations in which I actively seek out convenience. (Hello, Amazon Prime purchases of whiteboard markers!) However, my personal preference is to seek out experiences rather than finding the most convenient way of doing things.

Ultimately, this is a matter of preference. There are no rules that say that one way is better than the other. And I know that there are situations in which my friend would choose experience over convenience and I would choose convenience over experience. It’s a spectrum. There are times when you need to choose convenience over one experience so as to allow you to have another experience. There are experiences that some enjoy (me in the produce department) that would frustrate others. Some people don’t feel an intrinsic need to sniff and squeeze every piece of fruit they buy or do an in-depth examination of 94% of the onions in the bin before choosing one. That’s a preference.

To me, the important thing is that we’re not allowing life to pass us by. I get something out of interacting with the grocery store. (A couple of weeks ago I got a new strawberry plant out of it.) I’m the kind of person who thinks that going to Target is fun. (Going to Trader Joe’s is an honest-to-God adventure in my book.) It adds something to my life. But not everyone feels that way. Not everyone enjoys those experiences. Not everyone has time in their daily lives for those experiences. Do you think that a working mom has time to wander around Trader Joe’s or Target? I work full-time but have no children, and I have to plan those things into my life carefully. Different experiences have different values in different stages of life. A stay-at-home mom would not enjoy scrolling through Teachers Pay Teachers the way that I do.

Enjoying experiences looks different for different people. Convenience looks different for different people. The important thing is to figure out for yourself what really matters for you. What conveniences do you need? If going to the grocery store is just going to drive you out of your mind but a local delivery service works for your lifestyle and budget, then go for it. What experiences make you feel more yourself? If spending thirty minutes in a peony garden or snuggling a friend’s baby is going to calm you down at a stressful point in the year, do it. If getting a manicure will help you hold on to your sanity, make it happen. Then, prioritize those things. Make sure that you’re able to fit those things into your life. There is enough stress in your daily life. Don’t put more stress in your life than you need to. Find the experiences that make your life flow more smoothly and peacefully. Find the convenience that keeps you from losing your cool. Don’t force yourself to do things that will only make your life harder than it needs to be.

It’s That Time Again

On a recent morning, I texted my best friend (who is not a teacher) and told her that it was now the time of year where I had no energy to make plans. I explained that I’m tired and stressed. On that same morning, my facebook “On This Day” feature informed me that last year, I’d announced that while I love my job and my students…my students and I need a break from one another.

Then I began working on my lesson plans for the next week. I opened the file for one of my groups, changed the dates at the top, and saved it for the next week. Then I looked at the lesson sections so I could start writing plans. But then I discovered that I’d already written my Week 34 plans for that group. I just hadn’t adjusted the dates from Week 33 to Week 34, and I’d saved it in the Week 33 file, again.

It’s that time of year. I’m tired. The kids are tired. They want it to be summer. I want to sleep. I’m also getting really passionate about the idea of sleeping in past 5am. The other day, I admitted to a friend of mine that I know that six hours and forty-five minutes of sleep is unhealthy, but somehow I think that I can survive on it.

I’ve started telling myself “You can do anything for [x number of] days.” I don’t count weekends because I can’t handle thinking about it. When kids ask me how many days are left in the school year, I don’t tell them; I tell them either that I don’t know or I’m not sure.

I think that a big part of the problem is that the kids know that the end is nigh. They know that they’re about to get more than two months off. They want a break. They think that they need or deserve a break. They’re like kids before Christmas. They know that something big and exciting is coming. It’s hard to fault them for their excitement.

As a teacher, it’s important to remember that. It’s also important to remember that we love our students. We may not always appreciate their behavior, but we love them. We want what is best for them. There are definitely days when it’s hard to remember that these hyper children are the same kiddos who worked hard in October, but these are our children. We do love them in spite of their shortened attention spans and random (inappropriately timed) commentary about their summer plans.

This time of the year is insanely hard for teachers. Mercifully, we are surrounded by our colleagues who are all equally tired and run-down. We know that the end will come. But we also need patience from those around us…because oh Lord are we tired.

Would you like a dinner guest?

A few months ago, one of my friends was venting to me about how married couples never invite her (or other unmarried folks) over for dinner. She’s in her early thirties and single. She’s not the world’s biggest fan of eating dinner by herself. But she feels (and I completely understand this) like married couples aren’t really into inviting unmarried folks over for dinner. As she understands it, it’s one thing to have a couple or family over, but she doesn’t see couples or families having single folks over very often.

We discussed why this might be. I suspect that it’s one of two things. Either it doesn’t occur to families to invite single folks over for dinner, or they don’t do it because they think that it would be uncomfortable. Perhaps they’re afraid of the awkwardness of unpaired guest.

Here’s the thing. It might well be uncomfortable. Maybe you don’t know what to talk to a single person about. Maybe you’re not comfortable talking to someone whose life experience isn’t like yours. Maybe you’re afraid that they’ll judge the imperfections of your life. Maybe you think that they’re too busy to fit you into their life. Maybe you think that they won’t like your cooking or they’ll think your kids are annoying. Maybe you’re afraid that they’ll just ramble about their cats and knitting the entire time that they’re at the table.

(True confession: if you have me over for dinner, I promise that I will not mention my cats or my knitting unless you bring those topics up.)

But here’s the thing. You don’t know until you try. You don’t know that it will be awkward, and honestly, what’s wrong with a little awkward here and there anyway? Single people like to eat. They like companionship. They might like you; if they’re your friends, they probably do. Sure, a single woman doesn’t come with a ready-made conversation partner for your husband, but men can talk to women too.

Last fall, I was hanging out with a friend at a social event. After the event, she and her husband invited me to come over and watch a football game at their house. It would just be the two of them and me. I like them. I like football. I went. Was it awkward? No. We sat around, had a beer, and watched a football game. We talked about football. We talked about my planned trip to London. We talked about my friend’s and my shared profession. We talked about kids we know and love. We talked about the fact that I was slowly but surely coming to realize that my crush on Tom Hiddleston had NOT died when he dated Taylor Swift but had just gone into hibernation. Now I wouldn’t talk to all of my friends’ husbands about my Hiddlescrush, but this guy, he can handle it. He can laugh at with me as I realize that tall and nerdy is, in fact, my type.

I really appreciate married couples who can do that. They just integrated me into their evening. It wasn’t a big deal for them. I was free; they were free. They were going to watch a football game; I like football. There’s a plan for an evening right there. Make some popcorn; grab some beer out of the fridge. Done and dusted.

My obsession with The Great British Bake-Off began from something similar. Another friend and her husband invited me over for dinner. After dinner, her husband was looking for a movie on Netflix when he remembered that I’m an Anglophile who loves to bake. Once he’d determined that I’d never seen the show before, he decided that we were going to watch it together. It was simple. He found an activity that we could all enjoy and engaged our interests. He even took the time to consider things that he knows that I love.

Single people are people. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say that. Yes, we don’t come with ready-made dinner partners. But we’re people who like conversation and people and food. Many of us are okay with having our conversations interrupted by your children. We’ll even bring a salad or side if you’d like us to. We love you; that’s why you’re our friends. We want to be engaged in your lives.

So please invite my friend over for dinner. She eats alone at the kitchen counter. (I don’t; the table, the couch, and my bed are much better options.) And who knows? You might find that you really enjoy spending time with your single friends.