Monday, January 28, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: Right... Now

I'm an imposter. I'm sorry, but I've been fooling you (and myself) for a long time.

I like to think I live the slow life. I like home cooked meals made from scratch. I try to garden organically. I admire painters, sculptors, weavers, and of course, crocheters and knitters. A month or two to knit a sweater is fast for me.

But... I am addicted to efficiency. For example:

Yesterday, I got up, did a quick Zumba workout in the basement, made some oatmeal bannock and ate it with yogurt and applesauce. While I was chewing that, I was preparing some yeast to make pita. When that was ready, I mixed up the pita dough, threw it in the bowl to rise, then took Rascal out for a 35-minute walk. Came home, packed my swim bag, then punched down the dough, portioned it out, rolled  it out, left it to rest for 20 minutes while I washed the dishes. I put half of it in the oven, set the timer for 4 minutes, went into the bathroom and sprayed cleaner onto the tiles, tub and sink, and ran upstairs and did the same to the bathroom up there. The timer beeped, I came down, flipped out the cooked pita, tossed in the next batch, set the timer, then ran back into both bathrooms and wiped them both down. Beep beep, pita out, oven off, shoes and coat on, off to the pool, swam for 30 minutes, walked home, made lunch, washed those dishes, and then I sat down to knit. In the meantime, I'd also squeezed in about 20 minutes of plank pose for a plank challenge I'm doing this month.

And it wasn't even 1:00pm. What the frack was that about?

I don't know when I decided I'd try to be Miss Efficient, but I'll admit: I get a high when I know I've knocked a bunch of stuff off my list for the day. But I think it might be hurting me a lot more than I think. I want to take care of my mind, because, as Andy Puddicombe says in his video below:
This is the same mind we depend on to be focused, creative, spontaneous, and to perform at the very best in everything that we do. And yet, we don't take any time out to look after it. In fact, we spend more time looking after our cars, our clothes, and our hair...
I think I'm going to try giving myself 10 minutes a day to just be mindful of what I'm doing... and I doubt I'll just be sitting there whilst I do so. But during those minutes, I'm going to try to use all my senses and practice using the phrase "right now."

Right now, I'm listening to Rascal's teeth as he gnaws through his rawhide bone.

Right now, I'm feeling the heat pad on my sore lower back loosen my muscles in preparation for my Zumba class.

Right now, my feet are warm and cozy in my slippers.

Right now, I'm breathing in and out, slowing down.

Right now, I'm typing to you, hoping that I'm reaching someone who needs this post today. I know I needed it, and I didn't even know I did...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

M*A*S*H, Sun and Yarn

It's hard to believe I was in sunny California only a week ago. That's the problem with having a few short days in the sunshine: it goes by in a flash! It was exceedingly lovely. We had perfect weather, ate lots of nice food, walked and hiked in the sunshine... all my favourite activities in one of my favourite places.

The day we left for L.A., we had to get up at 4:00am to drive to the city to get to the airport in time. We had breakfast before we left, then halfway through the flight, we both had a second breakfast, and by the time we arrived at 11:00am local time, we were ready for a third. Regular hobbits, that's us. We stopped at a cafe in Manhattan Beach that we've visited before and sat in the sunshine and had a meal: breakfast for the hubby (again) and a "Luigi Sandwich" for me (grilled zucchini, eggplant, provolone, pesto and tomatoes in toasted sourdough). And we managed to eat two more meals and many more snacks before the end of the day. Geez, that's what happens when you're awake for much longer than you're used to!

To my surprise, it was the hubby who suggested we stop in at a yarn shop. He had them bookmarked in his phone from previous visits, so we stopped in at Twist, Yarns of Intrigue in Manhattan Beach, where Cathy welcomed us with cups of tea, a soft couch for the hubby to sit and relax on, and plenty of beautiful yarns for me to fall in love with. I was gratified that she remembered me from a previous visit. "You had long hair before, didn't you?" she said. I am nothing if I am not memorable, it seems.

I walked away with two skeins of her hand dyed yarn. This is breathtaking skein of merino/bamboo superwash in a colourway called Vintage Denim. It's hard to photograph, but it has gorgeous silvery/blue/purple sheen:

This generous skein of 650 yards of alpaca sportweight was my favourite find. She dyed it in caramel browns with touches of red here and there. I have an idea of what I want to do with it... something drapey and luxurious to wear around my shoulders... daydreams, here I come...

I also managed to do some knitting while I was away. dkzack has been churning out several pairs of fingerless mitts, and I've been so jealous of them that I decided I needed a pair. I had started a pair of Straightforward Mitts before I left, and had nearly finished one while in L.A., but decided while waiting for our flight back at the airport that I didn't like the increases I'd used, and that I needed a longer cuff, and that I started the thumb gusset too early... Basically, it needed an entire re-do. I ripped back to the cuff, and spent the entire flight re-knitting it. I sewed in the ends today, and there you are: a one-gloved wonder:

In all, it was a good trip. We hiked through Malibu State Park and visited the site where M*A*S*H was filmed:

We hiked through Griffith Park:

We saw cool things:

We enjoyed the sunshine:

And now, we are home, with all the familiar things around us:

And that's not a bad thing at all...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: Loyal to the Face

I saw this when I was in a fitting room in Santa Monica this weekend. I thought it was an interesting thing to find in a place full of women who are so conscious of their appearance.

I've never been afraid of getting wrinkles or grey hair, but maybe it's because I'm not afraid to have them that I don't actually have them... at least, not that I've really noticed. A grey hair or two, a wrinkle here and there. So far, that's it. I like the idea that I actually make my own face, and since I am making it, I can control what happens. Frown a lot? Worry all the time? Then look yourself in the mirror and see what you have created.

Perhaps if I live a life of contentment, it will show all the way through. Then, I can be truly loyal to the face I have made.

I saw also saw this whilst wandering through Santa Monica. I hope we can all remind ourselves of this every day.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Necessary Winter Activities

Living in a place where the winters can be bitterly cold requires a certain amount of creativity to get stuff done... at least, it does if you intend to carry on life without going into six months of hibernation. I actually grew up in Winnipeg, where the winters are way colder for way longer than they are where I currently live (read: suck it up, people, it could be worse). That means that I'm used to carrying on with normal activities, even if it's darker and colder than I would like it to be. I'm a great believer in the old adage: There's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.

One of those things is walking my dog. In this twenty-first century, first world existence, this dog is not a wolf. He eats square meals. He sleeps indoors with a selection of beds to choose from. He doesn't have to hunt. In short, he's soft. Therefore, he needs to walk, but that's not easy to do when he's lifting his paws every three steps because of the cold pavement freezing his pads. So he wears mittens that I buy him from the dollar store. And since everyone's feet are different, I have to make sure they will stay on. Last weekend, I went through a bunch and adjusted the elastic and velcro on them so that they won't fall off as often as he walks.

They're much better now, even if he's not all that impressed by them.

Another necessary winter activity: knitting and crochet. No big shock there, but this is the time of year to crank out mittens, scarves, cowls and hats. My friend asked me if I could make a hat for her daughter based on a photo she saw, and I obliged since it was so darn cute and I would generally never get to work with bubblegum pink yarn and polka dot ribbon. I discovered that you can make ribbon narrower by folding it over by hand and pressing it down with some regular school-grade glue stick, then you can seal it down by running a warm iron over it with a tea towel in between to protect the print. The things you learn on a dark winter's night...

The most difficult activity for most people in the winter is getting enough exercise, especially when the thermometer goes miles below zero. I'm lucky enough to have a basement with enough space for me to do all the necessary jumping around to get my heart pumping, but I am unfortunate enough to be as sweaty as a racehorse after a moderate amount of physical exertion. A friend suggested a sweatband, and I figured that, if we were going to bring the sweatband back, we'd best do it in style.

This is a Halle Band, which I found on Etsy from this shop. It's ridiculously simple; in fact, when I opened the package, I was almost disappointed by its simplicity. It is a cleverly cut and sewn scrap of fabric, but it stays well in place and holds back the rainfall of sweat that appears from my skull when I am exercising. It's not just vanity that requires me to wear this, but general safety. No one wants to exercise on a wet floor, and I'm not exaggerating when I say I've had a few near-misses during my Jillian Michaels workouts.

And one more necessary winter activity: escape to sunshine! I'm actually sitting at the airport, waiting for the boarding announcement for our flight to Los Angeles. It's become tradition, and I'm glad to be fortunate enough each year to do it. There may be a stop at a yarn store or vintage shop or two. See you in the sunshine!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: Calendar Geek

A little simplification would be the first step before rational living, I think. -- Eleanor Roosevelt
Whole hog or not at all, that's me. I have problems with moderation. I want the whole cake or none at all. I will leave a huge mess or clean the entire house. I want all yarn or no yarn.

Well, maybe not that last one.

I had some problems last week with nightmares about getting stuff done. I'm at this point in my life where I want to accomplish so much in one day that I end up planning every single minute to ensure that I make the most of it. It's a by-product of becoming a calorie-counter... anything I put in I must work off, and that takes time and energy, which must be found somewhere, and must be done sometime within the day. Plan, plan, plan...

But nightmares suck, so it's time for some simplification. And quite simply, I have to learn to get over the idea that I might not get everything I want when I want it. And not getting it means that I am not a failure. It just means I'm human.

The problem is, I'd rather have a little super-duper-bionicness than be human, but that ain't happening soon.

I'm going away for a few days to sunny California later on this week, and I think that will be a good time to reset myself and stop being such a calendar geek... not to let everything go completely, but to find a bit of balance and to be a bit kinder to myself. I'll do a bit of knitting and enjoy a change of scenery, some good food, and some fresh air. The early morning flight will require a bit of planning (4am wake up call? Yikes!), but after that, it's moderation time, baby. I will be moderate. Watch me be moderate, people. I will moderate the heck out of this vacation...

Tally ho...

Saturday, January 12, 2013


One of the most intelligent things I've done so far this year (and yes, I know we're only a few weeks in) was to take an extra day off before going back to work after the holidays. I managed to give myself three whole days to myself. The first day was a laundry day, the second was a house cleaning day, and the third... oh the third...

The third was dye day. I dyed that day... get it? Nyuk yuk... This is the result of an afternoon mucking about in the dye pots at Tara's house:

Clockwise from the top left : BFL (blue faced leicester) in grey and purple, BFL in coppery reds and oranges, merino with sparkles in blue and green, Berroco Ultra Alpaca in lime green, another BFL in coppery reds and oranges (the sister to the first), MCN (merino cashmere nylon) in wine reds and purples, and MCN in blue and grey.

I might have danced around with them a few times since I took that photo. Ahem...

This is the only the second time I've spent time dyeing yarn, and so it's not a quick process by any means. It took me about three hours to get those skeins done, most of the time spent musing about colours. I usually draw a blank when I'm asked to put colours together. All I know is that I like colour, and I like it rich, deep and bright. If I were smart, I would have planned ahead.

But meh, I plan every moment of the rest of my life, so what would have been the fun in that?

I did have one thing I wanted to do: an overdye job. "Overdye" always makes me think of "overdoing it," like "extreme dyeing" or something... dyeing whilst downhill skiing or bungee jumping. And while it would make for an interesting blogpost, that's not what I mean. I mean dyeing yarn or a garment a whole other colour by putting dye over it.

Behold, a shawl I made from a wild colourway of Araucania Atacama, an alpaca yarn. It's been sitting in my yarn basket for a while now, and I've never worn it outside of the house. It needed... something.

And behold, the same shawl overdyed with some blue-green dye. Yes... I think this will work.

After I pulled it out of the water after rinsing it, Tara, dkzack and I stood there and traded observations of it. The pattern is easier to distinguish, now that it's not battling with the colour., and I think it suits my colouring better. I wish I could take credit for choosing the colour, but it was upon the other girls' suggestion that I did it. Pretty good redo, if I do say so myself. Ah, if only life was so easy to redo...

Think of all the knitting time I would have given myself!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: The Power of a Tiny Push

It only takes one drop of water to start a waterfall. -- Erin Brockovich
In 1999, I moved away from my family to start working in London, England. I was recruited as a teacher and was going to work in inner city London, in some of the toughest, most economically-deprived neighbourhoods in the country. This did not daunt me: I grew up in inner city Winnipeg around children who may or may not have had full meals in their bellies every night. It felt right. It was a job I could do.

What I was not prepared for was the unbelievable homesickness that hit me in the first few weeks. I had arrived just before the school summer holidays, and I had many idle days of waiting for work to come. I would wake up and despair... Where was everyone I knew and loved? Where did I go for comfort? Who could I talk to? It would hit me first thing in the morning like an anvil in the face, and it would knock me back into a dark, dark, scary part of my brain.

What I learned was that I needed to find a purpose in each day. I made plans, things to do, places to see, chores to perform. When I awoke in the morning, before the sadness hit, I would draw up the "to-do list" in my brain, and off I went. And, obviously, I survived. I fought despair, one little chore at a time.

Homesickness is not the ultimate difficulty we could face in life. Some have faced miles worse than that: unemployment, loneliness, being ostracized from a community, being treated like a sub-human... the list is long and depressingly real.

Perhaps it is because of the holiday season, but a lot of feel-good stories have landed in my lap over the past few weeks. The ones below are all about people finding ways to give a sense of purpose and self-worth to people who have experienced difficulties far beyond my own comprehension. And while each of these businesses will not be the kinds that the millionaires in Dragon's Den or Shark Tank will be investing in ("How am I gonna make mun-neeeee?"), they are what I refer to as social economies: sustainable businesses that build society and community, one person at a time. I'll warn you now: the last one is a good-er. I'm waiting for payday for that one...

Yarn Alive - This is an initiative based in Japan that brings tsunami-affected women together to learn how to knit and crochet and support each other during recovery. - I learned about this from a recent Knitty blogpost. They have several fibre-related employment programs that help to promote their mission: “Sistering is a women’s agency serving homeless, marginalized and low-income women in Toronto. Our programs and services help women gain greater control over their life circumstances. Our advocacy focuses on changing the social conditions that put women at risk. And our service philosophy is to ensure that women’s dignity is not eroded by poverty and homelessness.”

The International Princess Project - This organization advocates for women who have been enslaved in prostitution in India. Through their online shop, they help these women to provide for themselves through the beautiful clothing they handprint and sew themselves. "In providing for her basic need to support herself, she sees that she has value far beyond what the lies have told her. She begins to see her rightful place of value - a princess."

Perhaps you know of initiatives within your own community that are to finding ways to give people a sense of real worth. And I hope that you start to work the term "social economy" into your own vocabulary. It ain't capitalism, nobody is going to get rich... not monetarily. But maybe we will make our own communities richer if we all gave each of these projects just a tiny push, a tiny drop of our own human effort...

Imagine the waterfall you might create...

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Dress That Mom Fixed

I found a dress in the closet while I was home visiting my parents over the holidays. I've had it since I was about 18, and it never really fit me all that well until now. I tried it on and was happy with the fit, but I wasn't all that keen on how long it was. It almost reached to my ankles, which, for someone who stands at 5'9", is a long dress by anyone's standards.

If you read my previous post about my latest clothing alteration adventure, you're probably thinking, "Put the scissors down, Adriene. You know you're gonna get into trouble." Luckily, I had my mom there, and she both approved of and supervised the cutting of the dress. Then, as I sat there holding a needle and thread looking at the hem looking uncertain, she gently took it from my hands and hemmed it by hand for me. It's great now.

This is the dress that Mom fixed.

I went out on Boxing Day and found a pair of boots. They were originally $180, but were marked down to $30, and my size 10 feet miraculously fit into these size 9 shoes, which were the largest pair they had.

These are the boots that go with the dress that Mom fixed.

While wandering around the antique mall in Johnston Terminal at the Forks Market in Winnipeg, I spied a hat I liked. I lifted it off the mannequin and tried it on three times before I decided I'd take it, even though it sort of makes me look like the Mad Hatter. The lady at the till lit up when she saw me walk toward her with it. "That's a cool hat," she said. "I never thought it looked so cool until I saw you walking up to me with it."

This is the Mad Hatter Hat that goes with the boots that go with the dress that Mom fixed.

I discovered a cool vintage store called Rhymes With Orange in Winnipeg and visited it the day I met up with my Winnipeg knitting friend, Linette. There, I found a teapot. I took it down from the shelf and dithered for ages about whether or not it should come home with me. Did I need another teapot? Would it last in my breakage-prone home? I looked at it longingly, I deliberated, then I decided it belonged with me.

This is the teapot that goes with the Mad Hatter Hat that goes with the boots that go with the dress that Mom fixed.

This is a teacup I found in a charity shop sometime last year that has sat lonely in my cupboard. It doesn't really go with anything else I have right now, but it was so sweet and such a lovely colour that I couldn't pass it up. Now that I have the teapot, though, they go together like peanut butter and jelly.

This is the cup that goes with the teapot that goes with the Mad Hatter Hat that goes with the boots that go with the dress that Mom fixed.

And this... this is just a crazy person. Tea time, my lovelies.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Take Cover: Explosion Ahead

There are few things as wonderful as a couple of weeks away from obligation. My hiatus from work, the fitness regimen, and from the blog did wonders for my state of mind. I feel refreshed, if somewhat flabby, and all the resulting spare time meant that I actually made stuff.

I KNOW. I made STUFF. When does that happen anymore? And the stuff came running out like water from an exploding faucet. That happened to me once while I was in a shower... an exploding faucet, I mean... but that's another story...

In truth, I have been working on things here and there over the last few months, but my completion rate was dreadfully low. Slow and steady wins the race and all that, but it gets awfully boring to work on the same thing for so long. Case in point: this version of the Willow Cowl, made with some lace weight alpaca/silk that I purchased a couple of years ago from a lady at Olds Fibre Week. It was a long knit, considering how simple the pattern is (it took me over a month), and I finished it right before I finished work for the holidays. I love, love, love the result, and I've been wearing it frequently. I actually slip it over my head and wear it like a wimple on cold days. It is lovely and soft around my face, even if it does make me look like a nun.

After I finished that, the explosion of stuff happened.

Kapow! Mitts, made during the 13-hour drive to Winnipeg. I made them with Briggs and Little Durasport held double. It's not the softest of yarns to knit with, but these babies will wear like iron.

Kablam! A neckwarmer, based on the Hypernova Scarf pattern. It was supposed to be the full-length scarf, but I got bored and cast off early. It gave me an excuse to use one of my buttons from my button stash to close it off. It's made from some of Tara's 50/50 wool/silk yarn in a colourway called Bodacious. Heaven on the neck...

ThWAAK! (I got that sound from a retro Batman show.) I made this cowl on New Year's Eve from one skein of Berroco Peruvia Quick (a good name for a super bulky yarn). For 100% wool, it really nice and soft. Knitting on size 13 needles was so strange that it was almost like I was faking it... like it wasn't really knitting, but doing a darn good job mimicking it. Three episodes of QI on YouTube, and I had another cowl:

Three projects in a week and a half? Golly geez, that is fracking impressive, if you ask me, even if they were smallish ones. There is something to be said for instant gratification... well, instant-ish. Nothing in knitting is instant, except maybe for the urge to buy more yarn. But even though I did all that knitting, I still managed to find time to do an impressive amount of shopping, so purchasing more of anything is pretty much out of the question.

The next explosion might be my credit card bursting its seams. Good thing payday is this Friday!