About ceciliairene

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

When you read a book as a child..

“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”

-Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail (written by Nora Ephron)

When I was in the third grade, I had a pretty high reading level. I read voraciously, and I read everything that held still long enough. (I knew WAY too much about how much riboflavin was in my cereal, but I didn’t know what riboflavin was.) Somehow, I got my hands on The Diary of Anne Frank that spring. When I told my teacher that I was reading it, she told me that I shouldn’t have been reading it because I couldn’t handle it. I’m not sure what she meant by that, but I ignored her and finished the book. Maybe she thought that I couldn’t really understand what was happening to Anne or I was too young to read about such a dark period in history; I don’t know. I had looked Anne Frank up in the dictionary before I read the book (don’t ask why the dictionary and not the encyclopedia) and I knew that she died in a concentration camp. Also, that wasn’t the first book that I’d read about the Holocaust; I had a pretty clear (but sanitized) idea of what was going on in the book.

Fast forward to seventh grade: I found a copy of A Tale of Two Cities (thanks, Mom!), and I wanted to write a book report on it. I’d read the Great Illustrated Classics version around age eight or nine, and I wanted to read the real book. So I asked my seventh grade literature teacher (Liz Davis, you rock wherever you are!) if I could do a book report on it. She said sure. She told me that if I got into it and found it too hard I could change my mind. I didn’t change my mind. I loved it. Mrs. Davis also let me write book reports on Pride and Prejudice and Oliver Twist. She determined that I could read well enough to understand the text, and I’d handle the material pretty well.

There’s a huge difference between those two teachers. One tried to hold me back to the normal third grade reading level and material; the other let me go explore the world of literature at my leisure-but not unsupervised. As an adult, I can well understand that it can be hard to work with students who are reading above grade level. It can be challenging to find them books that are appropriate for their maturity and their reading level. But I wasn’t trying to read Danielle Steele; I wanted to read good literature.

The books that we read as children are vital. I can’t tell you how many times I read P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins books as a child. I read the Jackson District Library’s illustrated copy of Peter Pan numerous times. I read these books because I was looking for books that I enjoyed and that challenged me. As I got older, my mom (an elementary school librarian) helped me to find books that I would read for challenge and enjoyment. Yes, I read plenty of crappy young adult lit that I’ve forgotten, but I also read a good deal of really quality literature that has helped to shape me into the adult that I am today.

I’ve also reread many of those books as an adult and understood them differently. In my twenties, I am able to relate to and understand Anne Frank and Charles Dickens in ways that I couldn’t when I was a child. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t have read those books as a kid. Meeting Sidney Carton as a kid helped me to understand that heroes don’t always look or act like we expect. As an adult, I understand and appreciate him in a fuller way. But that doesn’t mean that my initial encounters with him were negative or pointless. Anne Frank gave me an age-appropriate window into the tragedy of the Holocaust, and I will never resent or regret that.

The best bit of reading advice my mother ever gave me was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle when I was in fifth or sixth grade. (I canNOT wait for the new AWIT movie coming in March 2018.) That book turned me on to one of my favorite authors, and I read L’Engle voraciously. I love exploring the worlds she created and the characters who inhabited them. L’Engle taught me, among many other things, that intelligence and faith could coexist. I learned so much about science, literature, faith, and life from L’Engle.

The books that I read as a child helped to shape the adult that I became (or am becoming). Anne Frank taught me about endurance through suffering. J.M. Barrie and P.L Travers taught me about the power of imagination. Madeleine L’Engle opened the world to me. She introduced me to John Donne, Mr. Rochester, Fortinbras, time travel, and tomato sandwiches. In fact, I think that I need to revisit her very soon. It’s time for another round of hot chocolate, tomato sandwiches, and time travel.


Making Sounds With Consonants and Vowels

Several weeks ago, I was talking with a friend when she said the word “hell” as a curse and then immediately apologized. I told her not to worry about it especially given that in the same conversation I’d said shit and at least a few variations of fuck.

I’ve come to realize that I have a fairly liberal view towards swearing. I was discussing this mentality with a friend who is, like me, fascinated by learning languages and understanding their structures. Language is just words, and words are just combinations of consonants and vowels. The word fuck is just four letters: three consonants and one vowel. It’s just a word.

In and of itself, a word has no power. About a year ago, my friend’s then three-year-old nephew was wandering around his parents’ house singing it because he’d heard someone say it. He didn’t know what it meant. He had heard it someplace, and it just sounds to him. It was just making sounds with consonants and vowels.

Those sounds constructed of consonants and vowels only develop power from the situation in which they are spoken. If I don’t know the meaning of the word, it’s just an assemblage of sounds. It’s meaningless to me as a speaker. But if I am filled with rage and I give voice to that rage, then the rage gives meaning to the word. If I speak from bland and casual frustration, then the word has substantially less power. For example, my mild “Well, fuck” when I learned that the movie theater (to which I had driven and where I was supposed to meet my friend) was closed due to a power issue is much different than the time I told the driver who had just cut me off in traffic what he could do to himself. (Not that he ever heard me, but that wasn’t the point.)

Words do not have power in and of themselves. “Hell” or “fuck” or any other word is merely a combination of consonants and vowels. It’s a string of sounds. It is the emotion of the speaker or writer that gives those sounds, those consonants and vowels their meaning and their power.

FO: Flax Light

I suppose that it’s a given that if a yarn dyer that you love creates a colorway that bears your name you must buy a sweater quantity of it. At least, that’s the way that I view it, and I’ve had several knitters of my acquaintance confirm this notion. With that in mind, I bought a sweater quantity of Cecilia on Primo Fingering when the Plucky Knitter launched the color in June of 2016. I bought it with a pattern in mind, and I even wound the four skeins promptly when they arrived at my home. But I didn’t cast on. I had reasons. I was busy. The pattern was complex. But as time wore on, I found my interest in knitting the pattern had waned, and I needed to find a new pattern.

Enter Flax Light. Flax Light is part of Tin Can Knits “The Simple Collection,” which is a collection of ten knitting patterns that are accessible to beginners. They’re simple as the name implies and straight-forward. They’re also classic. I’m not exactly a beginning knitter anymore, but due to some plans that I had for my summer, I wanted a simple sweater project that I could cart around with me to plays and movies and sporting events. Flax Light was perfect for this.

Flax Light also worked perfectly with my goal of creating more lightweight sweaters for myself that I can wear in spring and fall. Because it’s knit on fingering weight, it is ideal for those days when there is a nip in the air but you don’t really need an extra layer yet. I’m looking forward to getting to use it this fall as the school year begins. This should work well both with dress pants and with jeans.

Overall, Flax Light was a great project for me. It flowed smoothly and knit up quickly. I did make some minor modifications to the shoulder and sleeve. First of all, I knit the entire raglan shoulder in garter stitch rather than using the 20 stitch garter tab recommended in the pattern. I don’t love the look of that garter tab, and so I went with the shoulder structure/style used on So Faded, which I really love. I love the look that this creates on the sweater. This garter section is the only deviation from stockinette other than the ribbing at the collar and hems, and I think it adds a fabulous layer of visual interest.

Second, I only cast on half of the recommended stitches at the underarm division. I did this because I wanted to create a more fitted body than that recommended by the pattern. However, doing this meant that I had to add a few increases in the hips to allow for my Italian ass. I love the effect that this has when combined with the drape of Primo Fingering.

I loved the pattern. It was easy to follow (and to adapt when I wanted) and quick to knit up. I’m definitely considering revisiting this pattern again in the future.

Raveled here.

A Selfish Request

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that several wonderful single women whom I know appear to have lost hope of ever getting married. “It just won’t happen for me. I know.” I’ve heard that a few more times that I can count. Or “I’ll probably never get married. That’s just a fact.” I’ve said that one a few times myself. As time passes and you get older while watching your friends get married and have babies, it’s easy to believe that just won’t happen for you.

Now I also know single women who have hope that “it” will happen for them. And I don’t know if this is true across the board, but I know for me having hope requires making a daily choice for hope. I have to choose to believe that someday a man will come into my life and think that I’m “that one perfect person” for him. (There’s no such thing as a perfect person; there are just good matches and people who work really hard to make their marriages work.) Some days, that’s easy to believe. Others, it’s harder.

While I can sit and listen to my discouraged friends and try to encourage them, I often feel frustrated on their behalf. Yes, I pray for them. I pray for myself. I pray for their and my maybe-possibly-someday husbands. And I pray that if we don’t get married (which feels increasingly likely some days) we will still lead happy and fulfilling lives. (I think we already do most of the time.) I selfishly hope that others will see value and goodness in our lives.

All of this leads me to my selfish request for my married friends. I know that some of them pray for those of us who are single. Please continue to do that. We need it. We need prayers not only that we will meet our future spouses but also for hope, peace, and patience in this season of our lives. For me, the prayers for hope, peace, and patience might actually be more valuable at this point. I know that every Friday for the past nine years my married friends have been my daily prayer intention. Please choose to make us your intention at least once in a while. Please ask St. Anne to pray for us if asking Saints for their intercession is your jam.

Also, realize that we’re still there, and we want to be your friends. Engage us in your lives. There’s a good chance that on that Friday night when you think we’re off at the bar drinking margaritas (Yes, people have told me that they think I do that most Friday nights.) we’re actually sitting at home reading a book or watching a movie. We’d love to hang out with you. Invite us over if that’s best for you. Or we could help you get out of your house if you prefer. If at all possible, please do not make us do all of the work of arranging get-togethers in our friendships.

If you know someone you can set us up with, ask us if it’s okay and then do it. (Please ask, but I know that I’d say yes. I’m not the Lorax; I can’t speak for all of the single women.) Truth be told, a big part of the reason that I suspect that I just won’t get married is that the one time someone offered to set me up with a guy nothing ever came of it. See, if you’re spending your evenings reading or watching movies or hanging out with other frustrated singles, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if even your closest friends can’t find you someone they want to set you up with, well that you’re SOL on the marriage front.

Above all, please continue to love us, support us, and pray for us. We know that marriage is not always perfect. We know that our married friends don’t live perfect lives. We don’t either. But I suspect that marriage doesn’t leave you with that overwhelming feeling that you’re either going to end up dependent on the charity of your nieces and nephews or stuck lonely in a nursing home in your old age. That fear is really terrifying and can induce some really horrible thought patterns. So please pray for us. Like I said, I know that I pray for my married friends.

Lessons from Neville Longbottom

If you know me, you know that I love Harry Potter. I see a great deal of myself in Hermione. I have a mild to moderate crush on Bill Weasley. I’m inspired by Professor McGonagall. I think that I might be Tonks. I love both Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. I could keep going on this train. But the elder I wax, the character who strikes me time and again is Neville Longbottom.

On the surface, he seems pretty straightforward. He’s clumsy and forgetful. He isn’t too smart or too attractive. His best subject is Herbology, which is a commonly overlooked subject at Hogwarts. He doesn’t appear to be terribly brave. He didn’t demonstrate any indication of magical ability for much of his childhood. He lives with his grandmother. His parents are permanent patients of St. Mungo’s thanks to the “skills” of Bellatrix Lestrange. And yet, in the spite of all of this-or perhaps because of it, he is a true Gryffindor.

Despite his normal awkwardness, Neville shows strength in difficult situations. In the first book, Ron tells the eleven-year-old blunderbuss “Neville, you have got to start standing up to people.” The Neville to whom Ron is speaking not likely to stand up to anyone. He is shy and nervous. He doesn’t actively seek attention. He isn’t about to stand up to one of his own friends-let alone a powerful Dark wizard.

Now as the books go on, we (and his friends) start to learn some of Neville’s backstory. He lives with his grandmother because his parents were horrifically damaged mentally after vengeful Death Eaters attacked them with the Cruciatus Curse after Voldemort’s 1981 fall from power. (You know, that whole thing where the most powerful Dark Wizard of the age was defeated by a toddler who was born the day after Neville. That.) His parents don’t remember who they are, let alone who he is. This greatly impacts Neville. To be honest, there is almost no way that a child couldn’t be impacted by this experience. Both in word and action, his family constantly tells him that he cannot live up to his parents’ legacy. He has had no reason not to internalize this idea.

However even in his early years at Hogwarts, Neville shows hints of the bravery that will one day be acknowledged even by Lord Voldemort. Near the end of their first year, he is not afraid to stand up to Ron, Harry, and Hermione when he sees them doing something he believes to be wrong. Professor Dumbledore later commends him for this saying that it is harder to stand up to one’s friends than one’s enemies. He also stands up to an enemy (Draco Malfoy) at another point, but that is supposedly easier than standing up to the Golden Trio.

Neville is also capable of remarkable love and faithfulness. He is loyal to his friends, but more than that, he is loyal to his parents. As he tells Harry in the fifth book, he is proud of being the son of Frank and Alice Longbottom. His parents thrice defied Lord Voldemort; that is decidedly something to be proud of. They may not know him; the only gifts his mother gives him may be gum wrappers. But they were good people who fought valiantly for what they believed was right. Neville does his best to carry their spirit on. As he grows older, he works to fight for the cause that his parents supported and to become a person who they would have been proud to call their son.

In many ways, Neville seems to be determined to be someone of whom his parents would have been proud. He wants to live up to their legacy. He isn’t content to reside in their shadow. A large part of this is a desire to make them proud, but I believe that it also comes from a desire to continue their legacy. Just because his parents’ minds were destroyed and Lily and James Potter died, that didn’t destroy the movement. There will be others who will rise to take their place.

Neville Longbottom shows us the importance of standing up for what we believe in and for always striving to be better. Perhaps our world needs more people like Neville.

FO: So Faded

In late March, I was sitting a meeting of a local knitting group that I sporadically attend when we began discussing Andrea Mowrey’s Find Your Find pattern. Another group member mentioned that she wasn’t planning on starting one yet because she was waiting until the similar sweater pattern was released.

Now, I thought that the shawl was lovely although I hadn’t started plotting one of my own yet, but the idea of that concept/design on a sweater…now that was right up my alley. I waited patiently (ish) for the pattern to be released, and then when So Faded was released, I started toying with my stash to produce the best combination for a sweater. I have a couple of groupings packaged together in my stash to use to make future So Fadeds.

But I didn’t use stash for this one. Around the time the pattern was released, the Plucky Knitter had a “Mix and Match” update filled with pairings perfect for So Faded, Find Your Fade, and Starting Point. One of the pairings was almost but not quite perfect for me, so I asked Sarah (aka the Plucky Knitter) if she could think of a good sub for the color that just wasn’t me and she gave me two choices. I picked one and bought five skeins of yarn on Plucky Feet. And now…we have my So Faded. From top to bottom: Fondant, SB005, Biscuit, SB001, and Cecilia.

Joy calls this my dessert sweater. It supposedly makes her hungry every time she sees it. Therefore, I knew that we had to take pictures on National Ice Cream Day. Doesn’t it just look like a dessert sweater?

The pattern is very straight-forward. The directions are well-written and easy to follow. I may have been knitting for several years, but I suspect that this would be a good pattern for a more novice knitter. I really enjoyed knitting it, and I’m planning on knitting a few more out of the pairings that I put together out of my stash earlier this year. I think that it could also be quite lovely if one chose to knit it out of only one color as well.

While it’s too warm for it now, this sweater will be perfect for fall and spring. It goes perfectly into the plan that I mentioned in an earlier post to add more lightweight sweaters to my wardrobe. I really like Plucky Feet for this purpose. It’s a sturdy yarn that knits up in a lightweight fabric that is quite delightful. 

Raveled here.

Intellectual Stimulation

As you’ve probably heard, I recently finished my masters degree. People keep asking me how I’m doing now that I’m done. They ask if I’m resting or recovering. I’m not entirely sure what people envision my life post-grad school to look like, but I don’t think they’re expecting what it is.

I spent about a week reading books that I’d wanted to read for a while. This meant reading two murder mysteries that I bought earlier in the year but didn’t yet have time to read. But towards the end of the second book I got bored. (I did finish the book.) The book was good, but it wasn’t pushing me or challenging me. Over the course of my grad school career, I’d gotten used to being pushed and challenged. And these books just weren’t cutting it anymore. I needed something else. I needed a new challenge. I felt like this:

So I went to my bookshelf and picked up G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. My brain required stimulation, and Chesterton is graciously accommodating me. Thus far, good ol’ Gilbert Keith seems more than happy to challenge me. He’s making me work and think in a different way than my grad school work did, but he is making me work.

It’s funny, but I’m not sure that I want to rest in the way that people might suspect. I’ve always enjoyed working and learning. I do need a rest, but my mind cannot sit idle. It needs to be pushed. Fluff and chick lit make nice resting places, but my brain can’t live there. My brain needs to be stimulated and challenged.

I suspect that I trained my brain into this over the course of my academic career. I’m sure that I have some natural predilection towards this, but I (and others around me) have also encouraged those tendencies in myself. I want to be one of those people who are, to quote Dorothy Sayers, cursed with both hearts and brains. I want to be someone who is always craving intellectual stimulation and seeking what is next.

So…now I need to go finish reading my Chesterton.