In addition to picking out our wedding favors these past few days (which, by the way, is still not a done deal: s’mores or candy rock?) I’ve also been looking into handmade wedding thank-you gifts for family and friends who’ve helped out. Naturally I’d like to knit and crochet some of these gifts. And I don’t just want to knit pretty flower pins and small gift bags either; I want my gifts to be personalized, practical, and something people would want to use or wear because, let’s be honest, the handmade movement is at its best when made-from-home crafts compete with factory-made items for usefullness and prettiness.  Otherwise, why would people bother with handmade? So picking the right gifts/patterns is key.

The other factor is, of course, time. Seeing as it’s taken me three months to get through half of a shawl for my sister’s wedding gift turned birthday present (granted, I was in the middle of finals), I know it’s better to be realistic than optimistic — game day is, after all, under three months away. Yikes!

But because I’m stubborn, I’m determined to at least try. Plus I’m sure these adorable gifties won’t take too long to whip up. What do you think?

1.) I love this Crocheted Hemp Flower Necklace from Crescendoh, which I’m thinking would be an adorable gift for the mothers and/or my soon-to-be sister in law. The kit comes with hemp yarn, a crochet hook, 40 hand-dyed buttons and intructions (v. important!). Of course, I think I would use different colored buttons and maybe throw in some novelty items, i.e. felt leaves, shells, and wooden buttons. We shall see.

2.) For our somewhat “green” wedding (whatever that means), I  thought this simple yet lovely market string bag from Erin Vaughan would make a nice gift.  You can never have enough of these washable, stretchable  bags, especially now as farmers markets are regaining popularity across the country.

3.) Here’s one for the winos and, incidentally, the men in my life.  I hope they wouldn’t feel too girly caring a “handbag” even if it is for wine. I don’t care either way. They’re cute as all.

Harry wine bottle tote by Tante Sophie.

I’ve never tried felting before but the instructions look pretty straight forward. I’d say now’s as good a time as any to give it a try.

4.) In the same vein, these crocheted baskets are darling. Perfect as fruit baskets, napkin holders, anything really.

5.) Finally, who doesn’t love an adorable, multi-purpose tote? What’s more, it’s made from recycled bread bags. Again, this would complement our eco-conscious wedding theme, plus it’d be great as a market or beach bag.

I love the colors on this one. Wonder what bread they used... Sarah Lee?

So will I have time for all these projects on top of writing this novel, on top of planning the wedding, on top of applying for real jobs? Okay, probably not. But one can dream, right? Besides, they’re great projects to put on the backburner if I don’t finish them before the wedding.

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As many of you may know, I’m getting married in August and I’m currently in the process of planning a mountain wedding for a (gulp) modest guest list of over 200 people. Yeah, not so modest, I know.  Well let me tell you, no one has been more surprised than me at how gun-ho I’ve become about planning this here shin-dig. After all, I am the girl who in high school ruined my sister’s and every other girlfriend’s dreams of a white wedding when I decided there were undeniable symbolic similarities between the modern white wedding in the West and virgin sacrifices of yester-years. Not to mention I’m not a spot-light kind of girl, and I didn’t relish the thought of spending beaucoups of money on a party that would last a couple hours when that money could go towards a down payment on a house.

But then a friend and fellow bride-to-be gave me an awesome gift: The Green Bride Guide by Kate L. Harrison.  Swooning starts here.

One of my former hang-ups with planning a big wedding was that I couldn’t see how I could be a good steward of my money and the Earth’s resources and still throw  a whoppin’ good party. Take the meal, for instance. My fiancé and I are vegetarians. Would we force our guests, mostly good ole’ country folk and meat-and-potato-lovin’ brits to eat quinoa salad and barley loaf? Or would we give in to our guests’ culinary tastes and decide our wedding was worth the price of four pigs’ lives and a pretty penny to boot?

Not only did Harrion’s bride guide give me a lot to think about in the food arena, but she helped me realize that planning a green wedding can be fun, challenging and, best of all, it can be an excuse to get crafty. And by the way, we ultimately decided not to have meat. Hurray, the pigs can live!

So this week’s wedding craft was to come up with an idea for a cute, preferably edible, favor for our 200+ guests. And after much deliberation, i.e., surfing of the blogosphere, I think we have a winner. Of course, in hindsight, it was so obvious. What better favor for an outdoor mountain wedding than personal S’mores goody bags! We’re even having the wedding at camp — so why didn’t I think of this? Of course, we did… we were already planning to have a bonfire with marshmallow roasting in the evening, but the thought hadn’t even crossed our minds to combine the two and make them into wedding favors.

In any case, I’m loving this idea featured on Once Wed with the super cute tag  designed by Miss Pickles.

Not to steal this bride’s style, I’m thinking of making our baggies out of burlap with maybe the Hershey’s logo stenciled onto the front. And I might just have to convoy this Miss Pickles for a similar darling tag.

Also, what do we think about incorporating straightened-out coat hangers, i.e. marshmallow skewers, into the table flower arrangements? I’m picturing them bursting out of the zinnias and hydrangeas like those curlicue, gold sparkley twigs you stick into the Christmas tree… Anyone else? Just me? Okay, so maybe not.

With temperatures climbing into the 80s here in Bristol, I can’t believe I’ve chosen such a hot day in May to post these pics of the winter hat and cowl combo I began back in January. It’s just like me to talk about a winter knitting project in this kind of heat.

Even so, this variation on the simple knitted hat with rim (kind of like this one by Deborah Anne, only I knitted mine in the round) is stylish and cozy enough to make even the most vitamin D-starved sun-worshipper long for those winter months when they can pull this cap down over their ears.  Knitted with Araucania’s lush Azapa wool, hand-dyed by fairly-compensated local women in the mountains of Chile, this earthy moss color can dress up a drap outfit or blend in with other neutral colors.  And did I mention this wool is super soft? It’s the perfect Christmas gift or late fall birthday present, and now’s the time to start knitting up a whole slew of them.

First, let me just say, I adore this yarn.  It’s soft, multi-toned and complex, and it’s the perfec choice for a chunky wool that doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a sheep on your head. However, this yarn likes its static electricity. So as a novice knitter it was a bit tricky trying to tame the hairy, clingy bits, especially when I had to tink a few times (first time using circular needles).  I probably wouldn’t use this yarn for a more complicated pattern with several repeats, because I had to be careful when frogging not to let it get knotted up. Of course, having said that I have a friend who’s knitting a shell lace stitch scarf with this yarn and hasn’t had any problems. So it must just be me. I like easy knitting jobs that use nice, tractable yarns.

Still, I will definitely be using this yarn again for simple patterns. The beauty of Araucania is that a simple pattern compliments the lovely tone and textures of the wool, while a complicated pattern could detract from it.

I made the cowl neck out of the leftover yarn from the hat (150grams for both) and sewed on a couple giant buttons for detail.  I didn’t follow a pattern, just knitted a simple rectangular piece on #13s.  Since these pictures were taken, I’ve added a second button, lending more versatility to the piece. I wear the pair together or each on its own.  Actually, I rarely get to wear the hat at all, since the boy keeps nabbing it!

Ignore the red eyes! 😛

And here it is on the boy on Hadrian’s wall.

Sure, we’ve all heard how important beginnings of novels are, but what about the endings? Check out my guest article for SilverWood Books for lots of tips on how to plan, craft and pull-off the perfect ending.

Recently, I started knitting.  I began for a few reasons, the most obvious being that I wanted to extend my wardrobe with lovely, handmade garments.  Also, it was around Christmas and I was annoyed at all the over-spending that goes on around that holiday, and on gifts that have arguably less meaning that something handmade.  As a writer, you always have the option of writing your loved ones a story, poem, or memoir (hopefully keeping it as cheese-free as possible).  But, let’s be honest, how difficult would it be to write something creative and uniquely styled for each family member while also working on your own projects?  And with the same 25th deadline for each present?  I don’t think so.  Now, with knitting, I’ve got next Christmas in the bag.

One of the driving reasons for my learning to knit, though, was as a way to connect with my grandmother.  Although she is healthy and active now, I know that she won’t always be around.  I feel a great push lately to spend as much time as possible with my grandparents and to accept their gifts of knowledge and skills, which will otherwise be lost.

So those were my reasons, and the time spent with my grandmother in pursuit of this craft produced lasting and precious memory.  However, as I’ve now completed two projects and am working on a third, I’ve discovered another benefit of learning a craft.  Knitting to me is like praying the rosary.  Sometimes I do pray; knit by knit, perl by perl, a prayer for every action, every loop, ever tug, every person in my life, for the stranger I’ve never met.  But even when I am not actively praying, I am meditating.

Knitting preoccupies the hands in a creative way, allowing the mind to mull over other creative pursuits.

For me it’s a great time to think — sometimes without being aware of it — of my writing projects and to work out issues which, if I stared at a computer screen and forced myself to work them out in an attitude of frustration would, A, be unproductive, and B, possibly, and hopefully only temporarily, snuff out the positive creative  vibrations associated with that project.  There is so much to be said for taking breaks from writing.  There’s even more wisdom, I think, in taking craft-based breaks which keep your creative muscles engaged in a way that might seemingly have nothing to do with your writing, but is actually keeping you in tune to those voices.

I’m officially a knitter, but I realize that as long as I’ve been a writer I’ve always been a crafts person.  In these next few days, I’d like to discuss the philosophy of “craft” and how it pertains to the writing life.  What crafts do y’all enjoy in partnership with your writing?

Pictures of my latest project, a basic hat using Araucania yarns from Chile.

I love how my camera picked up the lovely glints of green and blue of this yarn.  Safe to say it will be a photogenic hat even if the wearer is not.  🙂

Hi folks!

I’m writing a novel that’s set partly in present day small-town North Carolina and partly in the Pacific during WWII.  It’s not a war story, per se, though there are several combat scenes based on Okinawa.  However, the heart of the story lies with my female protagonist, an 85-year-old southern bell who receives a long lost letter from her husband, dated 1945, and begins an investigation into her husband’s past military career.

My question is, can y’all recommend any novels (war novels even) where the narrative shifts between two settings, one in present day and one in past?  And perhaps any which deal with similar subject mater, i.e., war, the unearthing of secrets, old folks (older romance),  memory and memory loss (male protagonist has Alzheimer’s), shame, forgiveness, etc.  WWII Pacific Theatre would be helpful too.

Seems like so many war novels either  center around the combat, or else they harp on about bravery and/ or the futility of war… themes which might come into my story but are not the focus.

I would appreciate any suggestions.

Thanks 🙂

I just read the Forbes study rating the healthiest states in the US and was pleased to find my home state solidly in 37th place.  Go Tarheels!  Incidentally, if I were to rate my productivity from the past 50 weeks (roughly) since I began working on my novel, this past week would figure in at about 37th place.  That’s 37 with 1 being the most productive and 50 being the week I vegged out on the couch and watched back-to-back BBC Life and Ray Mears episodes.  This week wasn’t  as bad as that, but what did I actually do?

I planned.  There comes a time in every writing project when you have to back off from creating and do a little tidying.  For me that meant going back to my chapter outline and cleaning it up a bit.  I’d written a rough and unfinished outline several weeks back, but had abandoned it because I feared (and rightly so, as it turned out) that it would stopper the flow of ideas and words that were pouring out of me.  At the time the story was coming easily too me then and, knowing how quickly the winds of inspiration change, I prefered to let down my sails, cut off my planning engine, and let those winds push me along.  Sure enough, the winds did change and this week my engine seems to be out of gas.

It’s not that making a chapter outline isn’t important.  It is.  Some people say they can write a story, script or novel without a clear plan and maybe they can.  But in my experience, even if I think I have an idea of where my story is going but I don’t actually sit down and plan it all out in detail, I will write myself into a dead-end.   Discouraged and full of self-doubt, I don’t have the confidence to retrace my steps and begin again, this time with a plan.  That’s how so many projects never get finished.

Planning my chapter outline this week was hard going, and not entirely owing to the frustration of improving the logistics of my plot.  There were some details which I had to mull over and rework until I felt like they advanced the overall plot.   But the most frustrating part about planning is, without a doubt, having to take time off from actual writing, which can and does disrupt the flow of ideas.

How to get back into writing the story once you’ve taken off a week to plan it?  That’s my task this weekend and one that hasn’t produced much fruit yet.  Instead I’m left looking at my plan and listening to the familiar voice of my inner critic who’s whispering, “Do you really think you can do all that?”

finish lineI’m celebrating a milestone in my young writing life.  After three years of writing fiction, I did something today I’ve never done before.  I finished a short story.

I don’t know much about the psychology of persevering through a project — I only know it stinks when you’re working at it, but feels oh so good once it’s completed.  Kind of like exercise.  And I don’t have a ton of advice for motivating writers to finish their projects.  I’m learning myself!  Though, I will say, I’m sure there’s a healthy amount of hard work involved with just the tiniest bit of luck.

I guess what I did this time that was different from others was that I wrote, kept writing and didn’t go back and scuba-edit everything I wrote as I wrote it.  Which means, my next task is rewriting.  But there’s something to separating out the writing stage from the rewriting… if only a psychological something.  You feel accomplished when you finish; you feel discouraged when you murder every sentence baby before it’s even born.

So  I’m  properly chuffed.

I began working at 9:45 am and finished at 4:05 and celebrated with a brain-exploding run.  It was a long haul of self-doubt, with my inner editor telling me to take a break after every sentence.  But I didn’t!  How many great stories have been lost because their authors took a break and never had the courage to come back?

It’s a rough story and will need a ton of rewriting, but today I persevered and I finished it.  Hurray!

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
E.L. Doctorow

Ever considered stopping your day’s writing just when it’s getting good?  If you’re like me, stingy for each rare day of free-flowing writing and wanting to squeeze the most out of them when they come, then I understand if you find this suggestion horrifying.

Starting the dernest hemingwayay’s writing can sometimes be the most rigorous part of a writer’s day.  Every writer has his own way of coping.  For all you NaNoWriMo folks out there, as well as the less-daring writers like myself, here’s a tip from a fairly successful writer.

Hemingway reportedly wrote 500-1000 words each day and stopped when he was going good.  That way he could pick up where he left off the next day.  Sometimes, he’d stop mid-sentence so that he’d have at least one-half of a sentence to write the next day.

How’s that for forethought?  How often do we just rush through an inspired days work until we’ve depleated the well of ideas?  Then what’s left for the next day’s writing?

I’m working on a short story today and I’ve decided to  try out Hemingway’s method.  If nothing else, I’ll have half a sentence written day and the assurance that I’ll have at least half a sentence to write tomorrow.

find ideas just by opening your eyes

How do you practice coming up with ideas for fiction?  Here are two tips I’ve learned over the years, which have helped me in my practice.

1)      Be Aware:  Imagine you’re brain’s a Brita-filter.  Every second of every day, our brains process stimuli which we receive from our environment:  the natural world, the people we meet, the media, all of that is part of our environment.  As writers and storytellers, we have all the information we need for coming up with great stories.  It’s just a matter of seeing them.

That squished snail you just stepped on, for example.  The way the grass looked this morning with fog laced through its blades.  The person you just walked past that was in hysterics for having stepped on the snail.  Who among us is completely aware of every little thing that happens to or around us on any given day?  No one.   But maybe we should.

By paying a bit more attention to the world around us,  not only will we feel more alert and tuned-in to this beautiful world, we’ll see something worth writing down.

2)      Ask Questions:  Go through life asking the question “What if?”  “What if there were creatures from another planet?” H.G. Wells might have asked.  “How would they react to humans?  What would they look like?”  See how one question leads to another? And this trick doesn’t just work for fantasy or sci-fi.  Consider Jane Austen:  “What if a snobbish land-owning gentleman fell for a feisty, dowerless girl?” In fiction, anything can happen.  Prod your imagination awake by asking it questions.  Begin by asking, “What if?” and see where it takes you.

As an exercise, think about one thing that happened to you during your day.  It can be anything:  a scene from your day, like a meeting or a coffee break, something someone said, that car that nearly ran you over as you were trying to cross the street, anything.  What “What-if” scenario can you imagine coming from that event?

Here’s an example:  you overhear a snippet of an argument between a man and a woman.  All you catch is the man saying, “What do you mean you forgot to get the dried blood?!”  You know he was probably referring to compost fertilizer, but what if he wasn’t?

But the scenarios don’t have to be that ripe for the pickin’.  With a little bit of prodding, you can turn anything into a story.

Just start asking the questions and let the story unravel from there.

Eileen Hughes goes into more detail about finding story ideas using these two simple ideas.  http://hubpages.com/hub/Tips-for-finding-ideas-to-write-a-story

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"The purpose of art is not a rarified, intellectual distillate -- it is life, intensified, brilliant life." ~ Alain Arias-Misson

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