Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Inspiration Mondays on a Tuesday: Simple Spring

I'm writing this my phone because simply too tired to walk back downstairs to get the laptop.  It's been one of those days...

Quite simply, today I am inspired by all of the reminders that spring is here, not just for me, but for my family and friends in the Prairies who have suffered through one of the worst winters I can remember. There are people who are still waiting for their water to work again, even after almost three months since their pipes froze in the first place. 

It's a cliche, but it's true: spring is a time for hope. Here's hoping we're happy and healthy and that we remain grateful for every day we get on this Earth. 

Here are a few shots of the blossoms on my little dogwood tree. I've never seen them before in person: I remember seeing a sketch of them in a book as a child. They are as delightful as I imagined.

Happy Spring! 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Good Idea, Bad Idea

Life is about decisions. You either do stuff, or you don't. And sometimes it works out, and sometimes... well... it doesn't. And it's hard to know for sure which way things are going to go.

Good decision: Making these toasted coconut marshmallows. They are the fluffiest, tastiest, toastiest marshmallows I've ever had. I've been enjoying them all week, and there are still lots in the cupboard to treat myself to.

Bad decision: I thought I'd smoosh one between two cookies and melt it a bit in the microwave, s'mores-style. Kind of a mess. Tasty, but kind of a pain to clean up afterwards.

Good decision: Putting chocolate chips into the banana bread.

Bad decision: Putting chocolate chips in the banana bread. (Just kidding. There's still lots leftover, but man is it good.)

Good idea: Making a paella with local prawns and scallops.

Bad idea: Deleting the photos of it off my camera before I downloaded them to the computer. Sigh.

So, I'm making a pullover right now with two skeins of my hand dyed Blue Faced Leicester fingering weight yarn. So the questions are:

Was it a good idea to knit a pullover with such a skinny yarn? (It's taking forever.)

Was it a good idea to knit it with variegated yarn? (It's striping a lot.)

Was it a good idea to stop alternating between two balls of yarn? (It's striping even more now that I am knitting with just one, but it was getting really tight along the column of stitches where I was twisting the yarns.)

There's no way to know for sure until I finish it. The good news is that I tried it on, and so far, it's a perfect fit. I feel like I've gone too far with it to rip it out, so I'll have to decide if I like it once it's done. I have a few back up plans in my head if it looks too weird. One includes a pair of scissors and lots of sewing...

But we won't get into that right now.

So, I guess I'll give it another couple of weeks to decide if this thing is going to work out. Good idea? Stay tuned... But until then, I'll just keep playing the mantra below through my mind...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Inspiration Mondays: Perfect Imperfection

I like to write. I've always liked it, since the time I picked up the thick, red pencils in nursery school. I've always liked to write down my thoughts, and I have rarely shied away from sharing what is in my head.

I came across this article a few weeks ago about a project a woman named Madeline Schwartzman is doing where she asks random New Yorkers on the subway to write a poem. “People have so much to say,” she says. “It turns out everyone can write. It is so touching to talk to people. We share many of the same thoughts, desires, and experiences.”

She displays some of these poems on her website, 365 Day Subway: Poems by New Yorkers. Even a quick read-through of the first ones that pop on on the site makes for an interesting evening, for me anyway. I'm quite amazed that so many are willing to write. I can only imagine how many would refuse, but she says that there aren't that many that say no. Perhaps she can tell who might want to by looking at them...

Or maybe people have a great deal more to share than they think they do.

For me, poems are thoughts at their birth, not crafted into everyday "acceptable" prose. They are the things we are thinking, the words and phrases as the material that makes novels or essays, should we decide to mold them into those forms. Lumps of clay before they become vases.

But even lumps of clay are beautiful.

I suppose I'm inclined to share this because I've met lots of people who claim they are not writers. "I have nothing to say," they say. They pick up pens, or sit uncertainly in front of a blank page, a blank screen.

I think we all have things to say, but we are sometimes afraid that the things that will come out won't be perfectly crafted sentences and paragraphs, that we'll do it "wrong," or we'll "sound stupid."

But the nice thing about poetry is that it's not about sounding scholarly, or wise. It's about letting those "unworked thoughts" out, letting them breathe on paper or on screen. Sometimes, we go back to those words and nurse them up, re-phrase them, make them into a letter, a chapter, or a blogpost.

Sometimes, we leave them as they are: in their perfect imperfection.

Today, I am inspired by these people on the subways who shed their inhibitions and let their words come out without fear. What beautiful thoughts appear when we let them out of the confines of our heads. There is beauty being carried around by the people that pass me every single day.

What a comfort, and what a joy.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Trouble with Adriene

The trouble with being on medical leave is that it isn't anything like being on vacation: you spend a lot of time trying (and failing) to feel normal. It's not relaxing by any stretch of the imagination, but I hit a corner about a week ago when I finally did start to feel normal.

The trouble with feeling normal again is that I was also ready to go back to work... but not without a couple of days of actual relaxing.

So, last week was my time to have a little bit of "vacation time." I scheduled myself to return back to work on Thursday, which gave me three days to myself. I made sure I had lunch at a place that isn't open on my days off. I made sure I visited the local bakery and treated myself to some of their goodies. I also made sure I went on a little yarny adventure on my own.

I had a doctor's appointment on Tuesday. My doctor is in a place called Duncan, which is about 30 minutes' drive from where I live. I usually go to Duncan every couple of weeks for my regular grocery run, but I don't spend a lot of time exploring while I'm there. This time, I had all the time in the world. I made sure I stopped at a tea shop that carries some of my favourite teas (oh, Prince Vladimir!), and I also wanted to stop at The Loom at Whippletree Junction. I wanted to stop in because a friend had given me some bits of washed fleece.

The trouble with people giving me fiber-y things is that I want to drop everything to do something with it. The photo below shows some roving my friend prepped for me (which is begging to be spun), and the washed bits of wool (that is begging to be prepared). Leola at The Loom had a couple of carders that she was willing to part with.

Whippletree Junction is an interesting place. It is a bunch of old buildings that were moved out of the old Chinatown in Duncan in the late 1960's. Since then, the buildings have been home to cafes, studios and interesting shops, including The Loom and Leola's Studio. I don't have a picture of The Loom itself (though, it is a wonderful yarn shop, filled floor to ceiling with a fantastic selection of yarns), but here's what the Studio and gallery look like from the outside:

The trouble with me visiting art studios is that I want to see and touch and try everything I find there. The first time I'd ever visited her studio, I stood slack-jawed and amazed at what I found there:

You can take classes at Leola's studio to learn to weave. It would be a really cool place to go and hang out as well, I imagine. It's the sort of place where you could learn by osmosis, I think.

Not that I need another hobby... do I?

In the meantime, I secured a pair of used carders. They have a good, well-used, well-cared for look about them.

I've had a go at prepping some of the fleece, but I think I'll need to sit down with someone with some experience to figure out what I'm doing. Still, it's been lovely to feel the lanolin on my fingers and to watch the fibres slowly align themselves. It's made me want to make sure I go back to my spindles and do some proper spinning, which I haven't really done much of for a while now...

The trouble with that, though, is that I'm back to work now. I guess I need to fund these hobbies somehow, but oddly, I feel like I have more time than I ever did for my yarn hobbies, even with my normal gym-work-home schedule. My projects have been such a great comfort to me that I feel like they have re-secured more of a place in my day. I hope it continues that way.

Speaking of, I'm going to get off the computer now and knit for a while, and then I might play with my spindles, or maybe look at some embroidery, before I get myself into some other kind of trouble. Adieu!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Inspiration Mondays: I Heard a Scarf

I stumbled across this video today. It's one of Vodafone's Firsts, a series of videos in which they help people to do things for the first time. I encourage you to watch it all the way through. It is about a man who is colourblind, but has a special antennae that converts the wavelength of different colours into sounds.

He HEARS colour.

And not only does he hear colour: he composes with it. And he found a way to share that experience with other people. And he put together a concert to share how he perceives the world. I found it very moving. After the concert is finished, he says through his own tears, "It feels like we're sharing the same world."

There was an app developed for him. It's called Eyeborg (currently only available on Android). I downloaded it, and started playing with it. I aimed my phone's camera at different colours in the room, and it played back different sounds for each colour. It was fascinating. I swivelled around, pointing at different things, figuring out how to capture a "score." And then, my eyes lit upon this:

It's a scarf. It belonged to one of my best friends, Sarah. She passed away not long ago, and her sister gave it to me at her memorial. Sarah was wearing it in a photo we took together shortly before her death.

So, I started aiming my phone towards it, listening to each tone. The app is quite sensitive: it will detect even the smallest change in light, so you get half-tones, sweeping up and down like a guitar string being tuned up and down. I kept playing with it, learning each colour's sound, humming along as I learned...

Eventually, I played a song. I can hear it still.

The unfortunate thing is that the app doesn't record your music. Maybe someday it will. For now, I am grateful for it, because now, when I look at this scarf draped over my bookshelf, I hear a song, short and wistful.

And it belongs to Sarah.

Today, I am inspired by people who find new ways to look at the world, and who work hard to share it with other people. I am amazed by this new way of perceiving things. And this app might seem like a silly little toy, but it makes me hungry for more colours, and makes me want to know what they sound like: I want to experience each tone, hue and shade with my eyes and my ears. And I wonder what new things I can create with this.

See/hear you later.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Climbing Out of the Thorns

It is rare that one of my projects meets a fury so strong that it must be fished out of the garbage bin after I've calmed down. Kids, this one is it. What. A. Mess.

That's what my Irish crochet scarf from my Japanese crochet book looked like earlier this week. Good grief, I hated it. Never have so many cookies have been consumed during a yarn tantrum like this one.

It's my own fault, really. I went ahead an disobeyed CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS about how many rows to work and what kind of yarn to use. This is my inner headstrong child coming out.
Instructions: Work 50 rows on each side of the scarf. 
Me: Only 50? Nah, I've got so much yarn. I'll just work more and figure out how much I need for the other stuff.
And OF COURSE I ran out of yarn. And OF COURSE I had no idea how much I would need for the rest of the project, because I've NEVER DONE a project like this before. People like me should be put in timeout for not listening. Know-it-all. Show-off. Meh meh meh...

So, I unpicked a bunch of my sewn in ends, ripped back, put things back together, and after I connected the motifs for one side of the scarf, I stopped. I looked down at the myriad of ends I had to sew in, knowing I had to do it again for the other side of the scarf, and... well, I just couldn't face it.

Plot change! I decided I was no longer making a scarf, and made a circular cowl instead. Behold: The Irish Rose Cowl.

I must say that this wasn't really any easier in the end. I ditched the instructions for connecting the motifs to the scarf, because it just wasn't working out. I also had to figure out how to connect one side to the other on my own. It was a lot of work, a lot of scowling and ripping back, but I had committed to the change, and darn it all, I was going to do it. And I was pretty sure I was going to hate the end result, but I didn't want to quit.

But you know what? I love it. 

I loved it enough to fix my hair for the second photo:

I even wore it out to dinner and a show last night. And I'm sure I'll wear it again, many times.

But it's just as they say: Every rose has its thorn. And man, did I feel them during this project. I think I might sit back and do some easy knitting for a couple of days. Never before did the idea of intarsia knitting feel so relaxing...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mondays: Staying Soft

Being tender and open is beautiful. As a woman, I feel continually shhh’ed. Too sensitive. Too mushy. Too wishy washy. Blah blah. Don’t let someone steal your tenderness. Don’t allow the coldness and fear of others to tarnish your perfectly vulnerable beating heart. Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to truly be affected by things. Whether it’s a song, a stranger, a mountain, a rain drop, a tea kettle, an article, a sentence, a footstep, feel it all – look around you. All of this is for you. Take it and have gratitude. Give it and feel love. — Zooey Deschanel
One of the strongest memories I have about school is a comment on my report card that said, "Adriene is a moody and sensitive child." I remember many people telling me and my parents that I was sensitive, that I cried too easily. I remember my third grade teacher telling me with great exasperation that I couldn't cry "over every little thing."

I remember biting my lip hard, year after year, learning to keep quiet when my feelings overflowed, when people said hurtful things, or even when I was moved by beauty. I held on tightly to things that moved me, that allowed me to feel emotions as fully as I wanted to in a socially acceptable way: stories, pictures, movies... I treasured them quietly. I put on as tough of an exterior as I could muster, and I learned to stand up and say my piece when I needed to. I was never bullied, nor do I allow myself to be bullied, but when my soft underbelly gets prodded, the experience preys on me for a long time afterward.

Just the other day, I sat at home and wished with all my might that I could be a tougher person, someone who wasn't affected by things so easily, who could go about life like so many other people do, uncaring of what other people's feelings or reactions, just getting on with life. It seems so easy for them, trampling through life, enjoying themselves, laughing at the what is lesser and weaker than them.

But I read the quote above, and it got me thinking.

Today, I am inspired by my sensitivity: it allows me to feel the undertones of a conversation that most people miss, and it allows me to know who needs comforting the most. It allows me to watch the world carefully, so I can share its stories with genuine, accurate words. It tells me how to speak to person in the way they need to hear things, and that's a pretty good thing to be able to do. Maybe that's why I'm so comfortable with my fibre crafts - I'm at home in the softness.

I am seeking out more like me. I've found a few, and I like being around them. It's a safe, gentle, happy place.

I won't wish to be like the others anymore.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Like a Narcoleptic Goat

These days, I'm like a narcoleptic goat: up and about, springing around the house, getting into a bunch of things, and even moaning and baa'ing a bit before I crash suddenly on the couch to sleep an hour or two. It's disconcerting, though possibly a relief to the hubby and to Rascal, who've had to put up with me in the house these past few weeks. "Thank goodness, she's asleep," they must say as I lie gap-mouthed and drooling on the cushions.

As my recovery days wear on, I'm finding myself less like the goat and more like a normal person who can get up and do things, like go outside and talk to people. I've been to the bank, visited my workmates, and even fiddled a little bit in the garden. I'm optimistic that my normal energy levels will return in time. It's only been a few weeks with just one kidney, after all.

With the sudden burst of energy yesterday, I determined that I would go ahead and make a Strawberry Coffee Cake with a recipe by Joy the Baker. This recipe had been sitting in my Pinterest board for a while, but it was only while I was assembling the ingredients that I realized that this cake has no coffee in it. This puzzled me. All of the coffee cakes I've made or eaten in the past had coffee in it. In fact, I stood for a good ten minutes in my kitchen reading the recipe over and over, trying to see if I was missing something obvious. No coffee. Well, ok. I guess I had to resign myself to a plain ol' soft, moist and fluffy cake with a strawberry filling and streusel on top. Torture, I know.

This photo is a bit over-exposed, so you can't really see the layer of strawberries in there, but they're in there, baby. I substituted the sour cream for plain yogurt, because 1) sour cream is the sort of thing I buy and only use a little bit of, and then promptly forget about until months later when I find several blue organisms growing in it in the fridge, and 2) plain yogurt is something I always have on hand. I also decreased the amount of sugar by 1/3 of a cup, both for the virtue of health and because I simply ran out. And I ate the first slice with a cup of tea, not coffee. I'm thinking this cake needs re-naming, but soon, it'll just be called "gone."

I've also been out-and-about in my little town. I visited my friend's vintage shop, which always means I discover a few bits and pieces to make my day. I found a sweet little biscuit/cookie cutter, which will be perfect for when I make more Welsh Cakes down the line. The last time I made them, I used a glass to cut them out. I'm thinking this will be a smidge better, and the colour of the handle makes me smile:

I also brought home this bottle opener that has a cork handle. Sweet and useful.

It was only when I was taking photos of it this afternoon that I realized there are words carved into it. They're hard to see here, but they say something like "Carlos San Lucas." Carlos, I have your bottle opener. Bring a bottle of wine and we'll chat, ok?

I also found this tiny little ceramic/porcelain ladle. I was attracted by the blue on the cup:

And the little details on the handle:

And the sweet little painting of fruit on the inside:

And when I turned it over, I found this:

Which reminded me of this cup, which lives on one of my bookcases at home:

That also has this underneath:

Family reunions are beautiful:

And lastly, I brought these little nail scissors home as well. I've been wanting a little pair of scissors for my yarn and sewing kit. I actually came back two days later for it, because I wasn't sure I'd be able to manage having a pair of scissors with such pointy tips. My hazard assessment of them told me that the potential for injury was great, until I stopped in at an embroidery shop in the city and they sold me a little stopper made just for this purpose. Genius invention, and only fifty cents. I cut it down to size, and it's perfect:

I cleaned the scissors up with a bit of Silvo, and then buffed them with a silly little nail buffer I bought on a whim from the drugstore last summer. I used the heart-shaped one to get into all the little nooks and crannies. I put an unused one above to show how much tarnish I managed to take off. Nice, huh?

So, four weeks after surgery, I putter on. I'm thinking I might go to the local pool and try out a few different muscles next week, we'll see. I'm going back to work soon, so it's important for me to try to do a little bit more every day. I can't be the narcoleptic goat forever, after all. It's far too exhausting for some of us around here: