Friday, January 29, 2010

Happiness Project: Nagging Tasks & January Recap

In addition to getting the car taken care of, my nagging task was to pay up my library fines ($4.65 – I had feared it would be infinitely worse). I have many other nagging tasks still lingering, but this will have to suffice for the week. It was crazy-busy at work, plus I’ve been trying to get my exercise in.

It’s sort of amazing, really, how much I’ve managed to accomplish in one month. Well, ok, really six weeks, because I started some of my baby steps mid-December. Still.

1) Vitamins: still taking them most days. Easy to forget, though.
2) Bedtime: I’m still enforcing it, but have not been sleeping well at all these past few weeks. Anxiety, I think, but hopefully this will pass.
3) Reduced electricity consumption: alas, electric bill went up $2 due to rate increase. Boo.
4) Started exercising 3x a week: only third week of this, so too soon to tell whether it will stick. Got some good advice from an ex-boyfriend who is (sort of astoundingly) a certified fitness trainer.
5) Cleaned out bathroom shelves, bedroom closet, and car. Have a good 3 months worth of paper goods and cleaning supplies stocked up.

Some of this stuff has been on my to-do list for YEARS, and so it feels unbelievably gratifying to have finally started tackling them. But what would happen is, I’d see this laundry list of things and get so overwhelmed that I didn’t know where or how to begin. Breaking things down into small steps enabled me to make tiny improvements without getting overwhelmed or stressed out. Right now, I’m struggling to not throw in the towel – like if I miss taking vitamins for a few days, my inclination is to think, “oh forget it”, rather than “start again now”. It’s very much my diet mentality, when I’ll be fine for a week and then one evening I will succumb to my friends Ben and Jerry, and figure well, that’s the end of that…as opposed to starting fresh in the morning.

Another thing not on the official list is that I tried embracing Twitter to capture a one-sentence “happiness journal”. My jury is still out on this one; I have my reservations about adding yet another techie/social media thing to my life. Also? I have to believe that when you start Twittering about the cat’s happiness, chances are you shouldn’t be Twittering. And not 100% of my tweets were happy...but like I said yesterday, only God is perfect.

Mostly, I’ve realized that I can experiment with my life. This is ridiculous, of course, coming from a 38 year old woman who, on little more than a whim, picked up and moved from Boston to Memphis to go to grad school, and who later moved from Maine to truth, my entire adult life has been a series of experiments. This feels different, though, although I'm not sure I could articulate how or why it feels different. Something to ponder this weekend as I hurtle myself to Long Island to have dinner with two ex-boyfriends (yes, at the same table). Lovely.

Speaking of which...February’s Happiness Project challenge focus is Love… things will either get really interesting or terribly boring around here as I tackle that one.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Quilt Project - Hippos, Giraffes, and Elephants, Oh My!

Last week I was browsing in the fabric store and came upon this fabulous Michael Miller print ("Zoology"). I normally am not attracted to bold colors, particularly for baby quilts, but I was overwhelmed with this cuteness:

My "go to" pattern for large prints (in this case, directional) is the Double Irish Chain pattern from the Quilts from the Quiltmaker's Gift book. It's a really easy project; I cut and sewed the patchwork in one afternoon, and then sewed the blocks together and added the borders in an hour or so the next day. I also like that it uses 3 fabrics, and depending on how you place the fabrics you can have three quilts that look entirely different. I am annoyed I ran out of the animal print - I should have known I would need a bit more because it's a directional print. I am hoping the bolt will still be there when I go back to the fabric store!

You know how the Amish say that only God is perfect? Well, I realized once I saw the photo (below) that I should have added another row on the bottom...oh well, c'est la vie, non? I found a tiny bit of turquoise fabric in my boxes and made a small folded border, and frankly it would be such a pain to rip out that I'm leaving it as-is. This is destined to be a baby quilt for a cousin of mine, and I doubt the baby will care that there should be another row.

What I really, really find fascinating about this is that from far away, this looks like some old, exotic Indian print. It's actually quite startling. In addition to a black solid (oh, the cat hair....) I used a multi-colored dot print (also by Michael Miller), which doesn't show up too well here. But trust me, it's fun and funky.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Happiness Project: Organization

I'm following along on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project challenge. Here's the fifth installment:

This week's challenge was "get organized". Now, I am not an organized person - not at home, not in the office, not in my car. Frankly, I am a walking disaster, and have been since I was a child. If I had a nickel for every argument I had with my parents over my messy bedroom, I would have gotten out of college debt-free. It’s not that I don’t mind clutter, it’s that I don’t even really SEE it. And I like being surrounded by my stuff, and I like leaving projects laying about so that I can pick them up whenever my fancy strikes. I was a little vindicated when my youngest niece started demonstrating the same tendencies – but, don’t you know, when a grandchild does something it’s cute and funny and a sign of her extraordinary creative talent. When it’s your own kid, it’s apparently a sign of your failure as a parent to teach your kid how to pick up after herself. I am here to publicly declare my failings in this area are categorically NOT my parents fault – they tried really, really hard to enforce neatness upon me, and the failure to comply is entirely mine.

So, needless to say this was a difficult challenge for me. Starting off was fun, as it required a trip to Target to stock up on what Gretchen Rubin calls “needful things” – in my case, paper towels, tissues, contact solution, and miscellaneous cleaning supplies. This in turn forced me to organize my bathroom shelves. The bathroom is actually the cleanest room in my apartment – because whatever else I may be, I am a freak about good personal hygiene. The shelves, however, were a hodgepodge mess, so buying this stuff forced me to throw out a bunch of old makeup, lotion, perfume, and sunblock – some of which I’d had for three or four years. Score one for organization!

After that project, I moved on to my bedroom closet...nothing short of a monumental task that stretched over the course of the week, and is still not 100% done yet. I did end up with several trash bags of clothes to donate, except I have no idea where to donate them locally so they are now cluttering up my bedroom. I also packed away all of the wrong-sized sheets that were piled on the top shelf, making way for sweaters. Then I hung up my clean clothes, and realized most of what I own is black, gray, or purple, which I found sort of odd. I also found a stash of shoes I’d totally forgotten about (alas, all summer styles) and a blue-green sweater, the whereabouts of which I had been pondering for several weeks. But there's still a couple of boxes that need to be tackled. Score a half point for organization.

Finally, this afternoon I cleaned out my car and got an oil change, along with a tail-light replaced. THAT is worth 2 points - one for organization, and one for "tackle a nagging task”, which is this upcoming week's challenge. I have a number of these, including needing to go to the library and pay up on my fines from the summer, when I borrowed a movie and forgot to return it for 3 weeks. (I got confused & thought it was one of my Netflix movies). And, while it is not exactly a nagging task, I am working on a baby quilt and may I just state the obvious? People with a gray and white cat should not sew with black fabric.

Monday, January 18, 2010

It's Hard to Photograph the Back of One's Own Head

Finally finished another knitting project, though! This is the first thing I've ever knit without an exact pattern. I used the twisted rib stitch from the scarf I made a few months ago, and just kind of wung the rest. I wish I could have figured out how to continue the ribbing all the way to the top, but instead I switched to a plain knit stitch when I had to make the decreases. It's a smidge big, though, and I'm contemplating shrinking it up a bit in some hot water since it will most likely stretch more after a few wearings. If I can find another skein of this yarn, I'll make some mittens to match.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Happiness Project: Exercise

I'm following along on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project challenge. Here's my fourth installment:

I was very sorry to have missed Gretchen Rubin’s book tour stop in Brookline this week – as much as I wanted to go, I'm still trying to shake this cold and not only did I not want to be out late in freezing temperatures, I also did not want to subject the other attendees to my coughing fits. It sounds like it was a packed house, though!

So…the second Happiness Project challenge was to get more exercise. Honestly, I was trying to carefully craft my “energy” focus so that I could avoid exercise. I mean, I’ve been avoiding it for years – decades, really, since they first started requiring gym class (I think I was in 4th grade at the time). I’m the sort of person who was GIDDY over the prospect of having 4 impacted wisdom teeth removed in high school, because it got me out of gym for a whole week while I had stitches in my mouth. There’s a part of me that would like to be the perky girl who gets out of bed and runs 3 miles before work, or goes to a 6 am yoga class…but there’s a much stronger part of me that insists upon whacking the snooze button.

I’m also incredibly klutzy. Several years ago I bought a treadmill and promptly fell off, pulling a quad muscle and hurting my knee, resulting in months of physical therapy. Then I took a yoga class for awhile, and everybody would be all blissed out doing their poses when there’d be this big thud from the back of the room – I’d fallen over again. A few months ago I signed up for a Zumba class and couldn’t keep up, as I was too busy tripping over my own two feet.

There are also just infinitely more interesting things I’d rather be doing with my time. If there was a way to walk on a treadmill while knitting or quilting, I’d be there in a second.

But, alas, here I am, 38 and overweight and Something Must Be Done. I’ve been seriously lucky in that I have had not developed any weight-related diseases, but I fear the clock is ticking on that one. It’s just a matter of time before something goes awry, and while I suppose that’s true for all of us, it will really annoy me if I wind up checking out early because I can’t stop eating chocolate.

Nevertheless, I whined and wrung my hands and insisted it just wasn’t possible to find a baby step, I couldn’t possibly start a full-on exercise program, and it’s just so….well, TRENDY to do it NOW of all times, and I don’t know where on earth I could find the time, I barely practice my guitar as it is, and I really need to reorganize my fabric and yarn stashes…oh yes, I used every excuse I could possibly think of.

Then I remembered that the challenge was to get MORE exercise, not become a triathlete overnight. And when the only exercise you get is walking ~6 blocks a day between work and the train station, it’s pretty easy to increase one’s efforts. So I stopped whining. I briefly (but seriously) considered the Couch-to-5K program, despite the fact that I have never been able to run much more than 10 feet without hyperventilating. However, after reading a number of blogs and articles on the program, I decided that I needed more of a Floor-to-Couch-to-5K program first; I need to strengthen my knee and lose some weight before even thinking about a running program.

So, my baby step is hauling out my weights and stretch bands from physical therapy and using them when I watch TV. [Months ago, I realized that watching too much TV was a bad thing for me – it leaves me feeling depressed and lethargic – so I restrict myself to one hour per night during the week.] I plan to do this for a few weeks and then graduate to the small gym in the basement of my apartment building, which has recombinant bikes, treadmills and a cross-trainer. I’m also signing up for a once-a-week evening yoga class that starts at the end of February.

I can’t say that I am off to a roaring start on this one. To tell you the truth, I’ve slacked off a lot this week from all of my little baby steps…still trying to get over this pesky cold that has me feeling totally run down. I think one of my personal truths is “don’t try to make any life changes when you’re sick”. Hopefully a long weekend will help me catch up again.

The next challenge is organization…the only thing I do less than exercise. Oh dear me.

If you are in the need of inspiration, please visit Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's website, where over 1,000 knitters from around the world are making me proud to be human as they rack up the donations to Doctors Without Borders.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lorelai's House

An excellent new book was recently published called "One Yard Wonders", which contains patterns for a whole host of things that one can make with...drum yard of fabric. One of the cutest projects is a little fabric dollhouse, created by this blogger here. Here's my attempt, for my friend's 4 year old:

That's the front. Here's the inside:

I had some challenges with this, which are so difficult to explain that I'm not going to try. Just know that there is a mistake in the pattern, the correction for which I found online today -- but for some reason, could not find on Sunday. Now that I know what I'm doing, I'm sure I will make it again. It's not hard in terms of the skills you need, but it did take a bit of trial and error to figure out how the pieces come together. I also opted not to embroider my flowers or felt decorations, I just hauled out the hot glue gun!

For other photos of this project (some of them furnished!) made by much more talented people than I, visit here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Happiness Project: Energy & Sleep

I'm following along on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project challenge. Here's my third installment:

First, just let me say that I promise there will be more fiber-related posts here soon enough. It's just that I am thoroughly enjoying my little Happiness Project right now, as well as some other self-improvement related items, and I have a tendency to get just a tad focused from time to time. Going forward, I think I'll probably post on this topic once a week...but in the meantime:

This week's Challenge was getting more sleep. As it happened, a few weeks ago I read a sample chapter of The Happiness Project online, and decided right then that I really needed to try enforcing a bedtime on myself. I frequently find myself up roaming around, surfing the internet, flicking TV channels, reading, or sewing until midnight or 1 am, which makes getting up in the morning for work beyond painful. And (thank God for Gretchen Rubin making me feel like I wasn’t totally alone in this), I also put off going to bed because I just don’t want to take out my stupid contacts, even when they get so uncomfortable I want to scratch out my eyeballs. Consequently, I spend most days in a fog, dragging myself from home to work and back again.

Given that most nights I don’t get home until 7, an 11 pm bedtime seemed the most realistic to shoot for. Initially, I went to bed at 11 but couldn’t fall asleep, so I surfed the internet in bed using my Blackberry until I got sleepy. After a few nights of this, I actually began falling asleep fairly quickly; in fact, I can now barely manage to read a few pages of a book before I’m asleep. There have been a few nights where I’ve even managed to go to bed at 10:30, nothing short of a miracle for me.

I’m still having problems staying asleep, though. Certainly having this bad cold did not help one bit, as it is one of those colds where every time you lay down to sleep you immediately start coughing up phlegm (sorry, TMI). But some of this is also the cat’s fault – he has suddenly taken up yowling in my face at 4:30 in the morning, for no apparent reason (he is on a special dry-food diet and I fill his food and water bowls before I go to bed). I’ve tried shutting him out of the bedroom at night, but that just makes him mad: he’ll go into the bathroom and start banging the cabinet door under the sink, which makes an unbelievably loud ruckus. (Seriously, it’s astounding what this cat can do without opposable thumbs.)

On the upside, I do feel like the earlier bedtime is helping me, mainly because I am having an easier time actually waking up in the morning, and I feel much more alert during the day. I still get tired in the afternoon, but it’s not as bad as before.

The downside is, I also feel like I’m getting less done – less reading, less sewing, less knitting, less writing, less guitar practicing (otherwise known as the things that make me stay just this side of sane). I haven’t quite decided how to remedy this, although it did occur to me that ever since getting my Blackberry I spend my train rides surfing the internet, and maybe that’s not such a productive use of that time (I now thoroughly understand why they are called Crackberries). I also need to be better about using my weekends, which tend to get filled up with errands....which, alas, is exactly the state of affairs for the next two days. But I am determined to get some sewing done this weekend, so I hope to have something to share in that area very soon!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happiness Project: Energy & Vitamins

I’m following along on Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness Project” challenge. Here’s my second installment:

I am not what you would call a “high energy” person. I am a card-carrying introvert who feels drained by sustained contact with people, and I hate anything that requires groups (including sports). I do not like exercise, and contrary to all published scientific studies I do not find that it gives me more energy. Mostly, it leaves me tired, hungry, cranky, and annoyed that after half an hour on an exercise bike my thighs are not visibly smaller. For whatever long-repressed reason, I require immediate gratification, and exercise just doesn’t cut it. I also seem to never be able to get enough sleep, so much so my doctor had me tested for sleep apnea last year. The tests found no medical reasons for my poor quality sleep, but did show that I don’t spend a lot of time in deep sleep (which explains why I dream so much).

But I had finally had it with feeling so dragged down all the time, and so a few weeks ago I started doing something I’d been meaning to do for years: take a multi-vitamin every day. Now, there’s a lot of conflicting thoughts about vitamins and whether they are truly effective. This is something people need to research for themselves and discuss with their doctor (personally, I liked this “plain English” analysis here at the Harvard School of Public Health's website.)

My own doctor had encouraged me to take a multi-vitamin, partly because of my terrible eating habits but also because I live in the northeast, where most people have a Vitamin D deficiency in the winter, plus I’m at risk for osteoporosis. I had tried taking vitamins before, but stopped after a day or two because they made me terribly sick to my stomach. I discovered that this is not uncommon, and that taking them after I’ve eaten lunch (my main meal of the day) made a world of difference.

The first vitamin I tried was one I had bought awhile ago, some sort of “active woman” formula with a bunch of dietary supplements in addition to your regular vitamins and minerals (stuff like black cohosh and chasteberry extract). You were supposed to take 3 of these pills each day, which included 3333% Vitamin B-1 and B-12, 500% Manganese, and 417% Vitamin C. After three days of taking just one pill per day, I was completely hyper (probably due to the high vitamin B content). As I started reading about some of the supplements in the pills I got a little bit leery of what I might be introducing into my system, and I also realized that this formula included iron. I knew that my iron levels were fine, as I had been tested for anemia awhile back, and I learned that too much iron can be a bad thing (unlike too much vitamin B, which our bodies just expel). I switched to a more traditional multi-vitamin (the one pill a day that has about 100% of everything) that did not contain iron, and that appears to be a better choice for me – no feeling hyper.

The other good thing about the traditional multi-vitamin? It only cost $6.99 at Whole Foods for 90 pills ( the “365” store brand).

After three weeks, I definitely feel better (or did, anyway, until I caught this horrible cold that I am still fighting). I’m still not about to go run a marathon, but I do have a bit more energy. I also seem to not be eating as much, and I can’t help but wonder if I’ve been overeating because my body was just trying to nourish itself, and now that it’s getting basic nutrients it’s requiring less food. (My pants, alas, are not any roomier, but there was an entire tray of baklava at my disposal over Christmas.) I also feel like my head is much clearer, with much less brain fog.

So, all in all, an excellent baby step towards feeling better. Now the challenge is to keep remembering to take them!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

And So It Goes...

Years ago I started using Clinique products, and the sales lady in the white coat said that my skin would get worse before it got better, that the products would bring out all the icky stuff buried deep in my skin. I thought this was the most ridiculous sales pitch in the world, but as it turned out she was more or less correct.

I bring this up because after two weeks of taking vitamins, sleeping more, and eating better...which I will write about later this week...I am sick. This is Day 4 of it, coinciding with a never-ending snowstorm here in the Boston area. I am mostly a homebody, but I am going completely stir crazy and my nose is all red and the Nyquil did NOTHING. And, this is exactly what happens every blessed time I try to be more healthy - I get sick. I'm thinking that much like the Clinique soap, getting healthy means getting worse before getting better, and that this is just my body's way of getting all the crappy residue out. (The fact that my dad was sick over Christmas and several of my coworkers are sick nothwithstanding.)

The only good thing is, I've had plenty of time to sit on the couch and knit, and managed to finally finish my Malabrigo twisted rib scarf in the "Charrua" colorway. With, um, some help: