Monday, December 31, 2012

Inspiration Mondays: Circles and Affirmations

It is traditional in the Philippines to have circles all around you on New Year's Eve: oranges, grapes, buns, pastries... You wear polka dots and bracelets. They symbolize the cycle of the year, the continual renewal of life.

It is also traditional for many cultures to think about the things we want to accomplish in the new year. This year, I've decided to note down the things I've learned and wish to continue to affirm in the future. So, in no particular order:

  1. There is yet to be a big, difficult task that could not be broken down into a series of small, simpler ones. This means that all things are possible if you just buckle down and get to work.
  2. In this part of the world, there will always be more food. You can always have more tomorrow.
  3. The moment you think you are better than someone else, prepare to be squashed.
  4. If the dentist says you should wear a mouth guard when you sleep, wear the frigging mouth guard.
  5. The hardest person to forgive is in the mirror. Cut that person some slack.
  6. People are usually kinder than you think they are.
  7. Everyone is fighting some sort of personal battle. That means they deserve your kindess.
  8. If you want to get knitting done, get knitting done. Same goes for spinning, crochet, and laundry.
  9. Cookies are not fuel for your body. Do not attempt a workout if you have eaten a bunch.
  10. Stretch.
  11. Sleep. If you can't sleep, at least rest.
  12. Walk your dog everyday. Not only is it good for you and your dog, but you have no idea how happy it makes your lonely neighbours to see you go past.
  13. Be kind to your spouse, even if they break stuff. You're bound to screw up, too.
  14. Smile, even if you don't feel like it. But if you really can't, at least shut the door so the others around you don't get dragged down by your grumpiness.
  15. Be grateful for every single thing you get, even if it's not what you wanted.
  16. Worrying doesn't make stuff happen. Only work makes stuff happen.
  17. Say thank you every single day.

Speaking of, thanks for visiting my blog. Happy New Year, and enjoy the start of a new circle.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Vacation Mode

I'm taking a break from the blog for the next week or so to give myself a chance to recharge. I'm nearing burn out, and I don't want to take you all with me. Until then, I'll be doing what Rascal is doing...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Capable vs. Cocky

Today, we will demonstrate the difference between the words "capable" and "cocky."

Case 1: The Steek

I've been working on altering some of my previous projects so that they fit me better. Since my first adventure in steeking, I felt that I was armed with enough information to steek my burgundy cardigan with little to no difficulties.

Steeking, for those who don't know, is where you sew stitches into your knitted fabric to hold them from unravelling, so that you can cut the fabric without worry. It is often used in Norwegian sweaters that use a lot of strands of yarn. Handknitters will often knit it as a tube, then cut holes for the arms to be added. It works well with wool, because the cut ends will eventually felt themselves together to create a firm edge.

I've learned that you get a tidier finish if you hand stitch a running backstitch along the fabric where you intend to cut it. This allows you to line up the stitches on the right side neatly. Then, I ran a zigzag stitch right next to my backstitches to create an even more secure seam before I cut it.

Voila. It fits. I feel capable.

Case 2: The Dress Alteration

This is a dress made of a jersey knit fabric that I picked up at a consignment store during the summer. I love the animal print and the Madmen-esque neckline, but the length bothered me. I'm a tall person (5 foot 9 inches) and this thing nearly reached my ankles. I was thinking it would be nice to wear it to our company Christmas party, but I wanted to hem it to make it shorter.

I thought about how I would do it for months and months beforehand. I am not a seamstress. I have little to no experience with working with such a stretchy fabric. I can barely cut fabric in a straight line. And yet, I felt pretty confident that I could do it.

Confident... and cocky.

One evening a couple of weeks ago, I jumped up from the couch, picked up the dress, laid it on the floor, and started pinning it. I was going to take a good five inches off the length, and since it's a wrap dress, I had to figure out how to maintain the roundness of the hem. After I pinned it, I tried it on (trying not to swear as the pins pricked me), and it looked pretty good. I thought about pressing the fold I'd created to use as a guideline, but no... cockiness got the better of me.

I sat down and started cutting, leaving an inch of extra fabric just in case. It was a jagged, messy cut, but I figured I'd be sewing it under anyway. I tried it on. Not bad, I thought. But it's a little longer on the right side. I better cut a bit more off there.

Cut, cut. Tried it on again. Hmm, it's a little long on the left side now.

Cut, cut. Tried it on again. Maybe I better use some other scissors and tidy up the edge.

More cutting. Tried it on. Ruh roh. I think it's too short...

I sat down and looked at the mess I'd made, and all the scraps on the floor. Oh crap. Now what?

I went and made a cup of tea, then I gritted my teeth and opened up my sewing machine and started sewing. And you know what?

I lucked out. It was wearable after all. But only just. Any more cutting and this would not be a work-appropriate outfit.

Mostly capable, kind of cocky. Lesson?

Put the frigging scissors down, Adriene. Just put 'em down...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Inspiration Mondays: The Big Hill

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny. -- Lao Tse

A couple of years ago, I went with a work colleague to a meeting at a museum about an hour's drive away, situated on the edge of a beautiful valley. We arrived at the site in the morning, and since the meeting was scheduled for the afternoon, we had the opportunity to explore both the building and the outdoor paths. After we wandered a while inside, we went out for a walk on one of the paths, thinking it would wind its way back to the building.

About an hour into the walk, we discovered that the path eventually disappeared in the scrub of the surrounding woods. Fearing we would be late for our meeting, we turned back and walked the long path back toward the building. My insides were a little knotted because I knew the last part was going to be a really steep hill... a really, long, steep climb for me.

When we finally arrived back at the building, I was severely winded, sweaty, wheezy... just not the picture of composure I hoped I would be. It was embarrassing. I hate appearing weak. After that day, I pushed the experience out of my mind, and hoped it would never come back again.

Two months ago, I ran my first 10k.

It started with a thought. Maybe I could do it. Then I opened my mouth and told someone. That was the start of a commitment. I registered. I started running for a few seconds at a time, then a few minutes, then I could run for an hour, and I could even run up steep hills. I know now that if I returned to the same hill, I could run up it, at least part of the way. It would not defeat me again.

I have several tough tasks ahead of me. All I can do is start thinking about it, start talking about it, start doing it, then keep doing it, until I can't imagine doing anything else. And I hope that other around me know that they can do the same. Knit it, write it, play it, draw it, sing it, do it, whatever it is.

If not now, then when?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Emptying the Brain

I prevented my brain from exploding this morning. It was no mean feat. There was a lot of pressure in there. I should have worn goggles, but luckily, it wasn't as messy as I thought it would be.

Sometimes, ideas jump around in my head like a bunch of puppies on speed. This often happens when I'm dreaming of projects, even ones that I already have some sort of plan for. I obsess over every step in my head so that, when I actually come to do it, I have some idea of how it's going to work. This time, though, I had no plans, just yarn... these three skeins, in fact:

I'd seen a dress with these three colours together last summer, and the trio had been in my head ever since. These are three skeins of Berroco Ultra Alpaca that I purchased on our yarn trip last weekend. Altogether, there's about 645 yards there, enough for... for what?

I really have no sense of how much yarn I need to make a garment for myself right now. My body has changed so much since this weight loss thing started that all my standard estimates are out the window. Apparently, this could be enough to make me a sweater, or at least a short-sleeved top... I think...

So, since last weekend, I've been thinking about what I could do with these three skeins of yarn. Another shawl? A skirt? A shrug? Throw in the 50% wool/50% alpaca content, and that makes it even more complicated, since alpaca is heavy and tends to grow. Well then... now what?

This morning, I figured that the only way to stop the cycle of images in my head was to draw them out. Since I am by no means a designer, my drawings would be doodles at best, but maybe they could help me make sense of these ideas. For starters, simple colour-blocked stoles. The one on the right is my representation of an ombre-effect in the transition:

Then I found Stephen West's Flagstone, which is a shawl that looks something like this:

Then I thought to myself, That kind of looks like the back of a hoodie. Do I have enough for a hoodie?

And then I started thinking about colour-blocked tees. In a wool/alpaca blend? Maybe...

I've been reading the comments about this yarn in Ravelry, and the consensus seems to be to make a swatch, measure it, wash it, and measure again to see if it grows (as you should with all your swatches). So maybe I have to do that before I decide anything. I've got a few other things I need to swatch for, so they may as well all get in the bath together.

Regardless, it felt good to get out the pencil crayons and empty out my brain. It sounds weird, but there I feel relieved to get some of those ideas out of there. And while the journey to the finished object is by no means over, perhaps I've hit upon something that could help me get through a lot of other stuff that has been overloading my mind recently. One of the guys at work doodles constantly through lectures and meetings, and he's a fricking genius.

Whoa man, I could develop my geniusness with this... but not if I keep using words like that.

Back to the drawing board for now, but man, does it feel good.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Inspiration Mondays: Wait, I Think I Feel It

I'm a bit of a Scrooge. I dread the Christmas holidays: the hustle and bustle, the excessive food, the hoards of shoppers, the incessant Christmas music on repeat on the radio... It gets to me after a while, and I yearn for my quiet days on the couch when I can dream and snooze and knit. I've checked myself out of the holiday over the past few years, and I bear it until it all passes.

Except, this year I'm not.

The hubby took me out to watch a Stuart McLean show on Friday as a delayed birthday present. I was really looking forward to seeing the guy in person and experiencing one of his shows. It really didn't even twig in my brain that it was a Christmas show until it all started. And wow... something happened.

I think I felt the Christmas cheer coming on.

I found myself with a silly grin on my face and a look of wonder in my eyes. The music, the stories, the chat... all of a sudden, I wanted to sing the songs and wrap presents and play in the snow. I wanted to be with my family and watch the children opening presents. And I haven't felt that for a long, long time. And it felt good.

The whole drive back, I sang the songs and chittered like a squirrel about all we'd seen and heard, and I smiled and smiled and smiled. It's like someone poured a whole lot of sparkles into my mouth and I was spewing them everywhere. Holiday cheer in sprinkler-mode. That was me.

I sort of have my Christmas gifts in order, and I think that I will spend this weekend putting them together and making sure I haven't missed anyone. And I might hum a few songs and chase Rascal around in the snow. I might dig out all red yarn and plan a few projects for them, and delight in the joy of working with my favourite colour.

Take a hike, humbug. Santa's made it to the Couch.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Escape to Yarnia

There are few things that require a two-month advance planning period: maybe a big anniversary party, or a family reunion, or, if you were really ambitious, a wedding. In the list of the top ten events that require that much advance planning, you would be unlikely to see "yarn shopping" there.

But then, you haven't met my friends.

After a busy few months, Tara, dkzack and I made it into Calgary for a day of yarn adventure. "Escape to Yarnia" is what I kept seeing in my head when I looked at date on the calendar. It was a day that promised a getaway from the same ol' thing, with lots of fun and laughter.

We decided to try to find a yarn shop we'd never been to before: Pudding Yarn. It's a good name for a yarn shop, no? Can you go wrong with either pudding or yarn? Of course you can't. Here's a shot I took from the car just before we opened the doors and spilled out onto the pavement in a mad scramble for the door. I daresay we overwhelmed the lady working in there just a teeny bit with our fibre-crazed happiness. The store had a lovely contemporary feel, with lots of soft light and colour. It felt good to walk around and take in every single shelf.

I rarely have specific projects in mind when we go on these yarn adventures. I usually order yarn online for pre-planned projects, when I can spend time deliberating and calculating. Yarn adventure days are for exploring, touching, ooohing and ahhing. And we did plenty of that. The lady working there soon recognized us as fellow yarn enthusiasts (not just crazy people). When I asked her about a skein of yarn she had behind the counter, she gave me a "wait till you see this" kind of smile and handed me one to feel. I almost melted to the floor: it was 100% cashmere. Heavenly.

Tara finished shopping first, and then went over to the shop next door, which happens to be a gluten-free bakery. That works perfectly for Tara, who is gluten-intolerant, and for me, who is a glutton. We loaded up on snacks, then jumped into the vehicle and exclaimed "Where next?"

We dithered and looked at maps and decided we'd head over to Gina Brown's, an old standby for us. It's a good place to find a wide variety of sweater-quantities of yarn, with sprinklings of the popular favourites: Fleece Artist, madelinetosh, Indigo Moon, and the like. We often find ourselves in deep discussion at one of the tables there. "Do you think this will work for..." "Should I get one or two of these..." "What do think, this one or that one..." "How much should I get for..." I'm useless at these discussions, because my answer is usually, "Yeah, buy it." And why not? I figure, it takes so long to get to these places, the only thing we should leave behind is regret.

Two yarn shops in one day is usually our limit, but we must have stepped into a time machine somewhere, because we found ourselves with time leftover after we stopped our lunch. Three yarn shops in a day? Could we handle it? Really?

What's life without a challenge?

We finished off at The Loop, which is currently my favourite yarn shop in the city, and the others would probably agree with me. There is such a nice, open, friendly feel in there, and we're welcomed back every time. Tara has been selling her hand dyed yarns there for a few months, and this time, she brought in a bunch of hand dyed roving and art batts. I helped carry some of it into the shop. I won't lie: it felt awesome to walk into a yarn shop full of knitters with a laundry basket full of fibre-goodies. It must be what it's like to be a celebrity: all eyes following you wherever you go. You can see some of the treasures Tara brought here.

When we're at The Loop, we're treated to not just the usual standby yarns, but to the amazing variety of indie dyers, most of which are Canadian. I love knowing that there is a shop that takes local hand dyers seriously and understands what their customers will want from them. And I love that you can usually find someone sitting on one of their big purple couches knitting from a skein of locally dyed yarn.

Our conversations there usually start off in yarn-acquisition-mode, but eventually, we settle down on one of the couches and have a chance to pull out our current projects and chat away to whoever is there. And there is no shortage of people to chat with there.

So, in all, we came home after our adventure with our haul of supplies to keep us busy for the next while. I spent my morning walk with Rascal daydreaming about what I'm going to make with it all. I'm so glad we made it to Yarnia yesterday. Now I just need to figure out how I could stay in Yarnia forever...

But maybe I'm already there!