Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tangents and Distractions, Part II

During the blizzard, I actually did get a few things accomplished. First, I finished quilting and binding a small experiment. I used two Anna Maria Horner fabrics (the cream and the brown) with a solid pink for an Irish-chain style baby quilt. The brown fabric gets lost here, though, and those yellow circles simultaneously remind me of jelly fish and alien spaceships. This is a classic case of great fabric, wrong pattern. Or, rather, the scale of the brown print needed bigger blocks to really shine. My niece Grace loves it, though, so it might just be me. It's pretty small, since I didn't put a border on it, but would be a good stroller blanket or a preemie quilt.

I also finished piecing another small baby quilt, similar to this one. Although I'm usually not a fan of this particular shade of green, the happy spring colors were lovely to work with whilst a blizzard raged outside. And it's all simple 5" block piecing and strips for the borders. Easy-peasy.

And then finally, I hauled out a project from at least two years ago. (Yet another) Irish chain project, using a couple of funky Indian batiks. It's an intercultural quilt, tee hee! It's not a great photo, but the yellow is a bit mottled, and the turquoise blue is not a solid, it actually has little gold/orange flowers scattered on it. I started this one for me, and I apparently meant to make a very large quilt as I keep sewing and sewing and the fabric pile does not get discernibly smaller.

I am not 100% sold on the yellow, truth be told. But the blocks are half sewn, so I guess I'm committed to seeing it through. The other thing is, when I pulled this out of my unfinished pile, I realized how much it reminds me of my niece Julia, whose favorite color is blue and who recently painted her room a bright sunshiny yellow (just like her). And I'm thinking this may wind up on her bed, not mine. We'll see, though; she made some comments at Christmas that made me think she was just about ready to help sew her own quilt :-)

And, y'know, *phew*. I was feeling like I hadn't accomplished a thing this week, and after writing these past two posts I feel a little redeemed!

Tangents and Distractions

This is an off week for me, as my employer closes the week between Christmas and New Years. I had all sorts of giddy plans for this week, which in retrospect were just ridiculous: clean the apartment, donate all extraneous clothing, books, etc., get up at 7 am, eat healthy food and not the Christmas sugar leftovers, exercise, meditate, write out my 2011 plan, visit with a friend or two, finish an essay, write every day, a guitar to practice. A nice, quiet, restful but productive week.

Well, none of that got done. There was a blizzard, for one thing, which required hours of staring out into the snow and bad TV and internet surfing. And then it later required serious digging to find my car; well, the back half, to be precise, since the snow drifted so much. This was a tad problematic, as my shovel was in the trunk of my car. Yesterday, I had to take the cat to the vet, and now know way more about feline anal glands than I ever wanted to. I was happy to know hers were just a bit clogged up and there was nothing serious, but phew. The smell was just indescribable, and certainly not fit for public consumption. And for the past few days, construction crews have been in the downstairs apartment tearing out the floor and playing loud Latin rap music, which has sent me into PTSD mode from flashbacks to my NYC apartment, where I endured months of the walls vibrating from the exact same music. (So much for quiet meditation and writing.)

But mostly nothing got done because I got a on a sewing project. I mentioned that I recently joined my local quilt guild, and I'm participating in a friendship block exchange. The way they do it is, you write your name and what you want (a color, a block style, a theme), and then you pick someone else's name. Each month for three months you make and give them two blocks; the last month all is revealed, and you give them the pattern instructions and any leftover fabric so they can make 2 more blocks, and then sew up the quilt top in any manner they see fit (a lap quilt, a table runner, a wall hanging). There's no rule about block size or anything, and is pretty much up to one's interpretation of the indicated theme. (I was boring. I indicated "scrappy log cabin", because I've always wanted one and figured even the most beginner quilter can sew one, and a more advanced quilter would find some way to spice it up.)

The person I picked indicated she preferred "Asian". I assumed she meant the Asian-inspired quilt fabric that I see a lot of, which was a bit troublesome because it's just not my thing at all. I spent several hours raiding my fabric stash to find anything remotely Asian in theme, and came up totally empty handed. That necessitated spending Tuesday afternoon browsing at both of my local fabric stores, trying to buy fabric that I didn't really care that much for, for a total stranger to boot. But I found some fat quarters, and some background fabric, and figured something would turn out.

I also spent several hours poring through old quilt books and magazines, trying to find a pattern to use. I wanted a bigger block, as it would be easier to actually make something useful with only 8 blocks; I wanted something that would complement the Asian fabric I had bought; and I wanted something fairly easy to piece, in case I was handing the project off to a beginner; and I wanted something that would instill a hint of surprise after the first exchange. I found this "T" block pattern from an old Quilter's Newsletter Magazine from November 2001 (why yes, I am a packrat, why do you ask?). It's called "Kimonos and Cranes" by Jan Fecteau, and what I really liked about this was that the T's sort of look like little kimonos when sewed with the Asian fabrics. I also liked that they were 12" blocks, and while the original pattern was more scrappy with the fabric choices, I could use one fabric for each block and still have a little surprise. In fact, with the way some of the fabric is printed, there were some fat quarters where I could make 2 completely different-looking blocks with the same fabric.

The pattern was marked "easy", which was another plus...until I realized that lately (as in, the past freaking 2 years) I've been mostly strip piecing, or sewing simple 5" blocks. And for me, any time triangle points are involved, things immediately become Not Easy. No matter how carefully I cut, or how carefully I sew (and I have a 1/4" sewing foot on my machine), my crisp triangle points are often missing. And I know all the tricks, too - using a pin to match up opposing points, sewing just shy of the point's intersecting seams, etc....but still, my seam ripper and I are spending lots of quality time together. I also have the darndest time squaring blocks up when there is a lot of piecing in them. You can see on the first block below, the lower left side is a tad off...but regardless: I actually really like it.

It's sister blocks are now littering my living room, despite not being due until MARCH, because I am now fixated on sewing these. In fact, I am contemplating hoofing it back to the fabric store for a few more fat quarters.

Oh, and also? I hope the recipient of my blocks is not allergic to cats...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Half the Sky Project Update

Awhile back I mentioned that I read the book “Half the Sky” and it really had an impact on me. I wanted to start a little personal side project related to women’s empowerment issues, and for lack of anything else I’m referring to it as my “Half the Sky Project”. I don’t think the authors will mind, since they want to start a movement, but just so I don’t get sued let me be clear: this project was inspired by the book Half the Sky, but is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by the authors or Mercy Corps.

It’s charitable donation time again! As part of my project, I decided I would contribute to one charity per month that supports women's empowerment. Admittedly, these are small donations ($25 or so), but I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector long enough to know that every little bit helps, particularly when the big checks are few and far between.

I donated to Kiva in October, and in November I contributed to my (nonprofit) employer’s staff campaign (which may seem a little self-serving to some people, but I didn’t *have* to contribute, and our mission is to support women’s economic empowerment, so it counts). December’s little check was mailed today to the Maine Women’s Fund. In addition to leadership programs, MWF provides grants for a number of nonprofits in Maine that build economic security for women and girls. I was in one of the early New Girls Network classes, and one year I got to sit on the grant review committee (which was a truly fabulous experience for me, both personally and professionally). It’s one of the many things I miss about Maine.

One thing that I am trying to do is balance giving to international organizations with giving to US-based organizations. I find that having a small budget makes the international organizations far more tempting – $25 in Africa goes a lot further than it does in Boston, MA. “Feed a girl for a year” is so much more compelling than “buy some new staplers”….until you are the staff person cursing up a storm because you have to snail-mail 10 hard copies of a grant proposal to the one foundation still living in the dark ages, and all the staplers are broken, and the office manager looks at you like you are crazy and says, “I thought they all had online applications now”. I have been that staff person, and let me just tell you: it’s infuriating when stupid stuff trips you up from doing your job, which is directly related to the organization’s ability to achieve its mission. Don’t discount the importance of those staplers, is all I’m saying.

As we get closer to the end of 2010, don't forget to support your own favorite charity! If you are looking for some inspiration, check this guy out - he's giving $5 a day, every day, to charities. A really interesting social experiment!

Nicholas Kristof, one of the authors of Half the Sky and a NYTimes columnist, has a great list of organizations worthy of support this season - you can find it

Thursday, December 16, 2010

REVERB10 #2: Writing

This week I officially joined my local quilt guild. While I clearly won’t be finding a husband there, so far it seems like a riotously fun group of mostly retired women who have no compunctions about speaking their minds. It’s probably the closest thing to a crystal ball that I will ever have. However: my first order of duty is to sew friendship blocks that are Asian inspired, for someone I don’t know. I’m a little worried about this. Fortunately, I know that one of my local fabric stores carries quite a bit of Asian-inspired fabric, but I'm stumped as to what sort of pattern to use. Cross your fingers for me that delving into my stack of 10+ year old quilting magazines will unearth an idea or two!

But onward. The second Reverb10 prompt was about writing: December 2 –What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it? (Author: Leo Babauta)

Pertaining to my own writing (as opposed to the grant writing I do at my job), I feel like I thought more about writing this year than I actually wrote. I will exceed my goal of 52 posts here on this blog (one per week), so that’s something. I did send three or four essays out, all of which were rejected. I’m actually not so fussed about those rejections, mainly because the pieces I sent out had been workshopped and I know they were well-written enough such that I am not embarrassed about them. I did, however, recently contract with a writing instructor to review one of the pieces; she gave me great feedback, and I will be reworking that over my Christmas vacation. I kept a fairly good personal journal until I changed jobs, but that kind of petered out. Last month I started using 750words, although I have rarely managed more than 3 days in a row. But it’s something. Also, I have about 70 pages of something drafted. I’m not sure what this “something” is, whether it is a collection of essays or the beginnings of a little book. I’m not sure yet what it wants to be. I suspect 2/3 of it is garbage, but there’s enough there to make me want to keep going.

There are a million things that keep me from writing as much as I want to, but the biggest problem is that there is always something else to do. Knit, sew, read, watch a movie, surf the internet, watch TV, play with the cat, call my sister, read in the bathtub, etc. For all that I do to avoid writing, one would assume I hated it. But I don’t – I actually really love it. So, then, why is it difficult to carve out time for something I love? It’s not like I have kids or a husband to take care of. (Although, conversely, this means everything gets done by me or it doesn’t get done – full time job, paying bills, oil changes, trash duty, laundry, dishes, errands, making dinner, cat wrangling, it’s ALL on me.)

Despite all this, though, I actually do a pretty good job most week days of writing something, even if it is dashing off a page or two at lunch. But I need a good chunk of uninterrupted time to really work - to revise, rewrite, mash things up, etc. And the one day of the week I have such time? Sunday. The day I always *say* I'm going to go to church/yoga class/brunch with friends but inevitably wind up sleeping until noon and spending the rest of the day in my pajamas on the couch watching chick flicks and sewing. And I really love having that one whole day with no commitments (Saturdays are guitar lessons and errands and family things. And why, yes, there IS a nagging little voice in my head that is clearing his throat, suggesting that the guitar lessons make an early exit, but I'm committed until June. And I'm determined to be a decent guitar player.) In my fantasy life I work part-time for just this reason, but right now that isn't feasible.

So I don't quite know yet how to solve this dilemma. It's a privileged dilemma, I know, but thorny nonetheless. If I could just function without sleep...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reverb10: The Backlog

I hate it when there’s a good idea floating in the nethers of the ‘net and I find out about it too late. In this case, not TOO late, but later than I would have liked to have known about it, because now there is Catching Up to be done. And right now, “catching up” is just about the story of my life.

“It” is REVERB10, which is a series of daily prompts to encourage people to reflect on the past year and plan for the next. It's sort of ingenious, really, and complements so much of my blog reading this year, including The Happiness Project and The Art of Non-Conformity (specifically, the author's encouragement to create yearly plans). Plus, I'm a big fan of navel-gazing, particularly my own. I may not post a response to every prompt here, but rest assured I am following along. (Incidentally: one new writing tool I discovered recently is 750words, which is a place where you can write privately about things, based on the Morning Pages concept from The Artist's Way. It's free - right now, anyway- and provides a simple way of making sure I get at least some writing done every day, even if it is stream-of-conscious whining.)

But I digress! On to prompt #1: Find a word to describe 2010, and identify one for 2011.

I love this idea as I like succinct, even if the concept rarely applies to me. And I had actually been thinking about this anyway, as I wanted to spend 2011 focusing on one concept and thought that it might be helpful to find a word to sum up 2010. After much thought, I came up with the startling realization that 2010 was all about “Better”. Things got better in 2010. And, hallelujah…because for awhile there I thought I was truly doomed.

There are a host of reasons for this. 2009 was a really horrible year, for reasons I won't get into, and there really wasn't any way to go but up. My job change in August was a key factor in making 2010 "better", as was getting my cat. Having my family back from California also really helped. My guitar playing got better. My stress levels plummeted. While you wouldn’t know it to look at me, my health got better too, including my tension headaches (while they haven’t completely gone away, they became much less frequent after I changed jobs). And, save for a few icky weeks in October, I did not endure a raging case of seasonal affectedness disorder or a major depressive episode.

There are still a million things that need improvement, but for once: things got better. And there is much gratitude for that in my little heart.

As for 2011...I’m turning 40. Forty!!! My life is officially more-or-less half over, and I have so little to show for it that it is embarrassing. I’ve wasted so much TIME that I get anxious thinking about it. And a couple of recent conversations have left me rattled – one with my friend S. about the notion of ambition, and another with my guitar teacher about having a passion for something (in his case, guitar). At the moment I seem to be lacking in both the ambition and passion departments, and I’d like to end 2011 having one or both figured out. On a less ethereal plain, I need to lose weight, exercise, and start saving money like crazy so I can buy a house or a condo in the next few years so I can retire without a mortgage.

So despite the obviousness that I loathe, 2011 is the year of Forty. I don’t know exactly how this will manifest itself – lose 40 pounds, write 40 blog posts, write 40,000 words, read 40 books, sew a 40-block quilt…at the moment there seems to be enough possibilities to justify the theme. And let’s face it: it’s what I’m going to be thinking about anyway, so I may as well get something productive out of it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Is this insomnia?

Well, so much for bedtime.

I don't know what's happened to me lately, but for the past couple of weeks I have been completely unable to sleep before 2 am. I find myself in bed watching stuff on Hulu -- like old Mary Tyler Moore episodes, and most recently this cancelled ABC Family show based on the movie "10 Things I Hate About You", which wasn't quite "My So-Called Life" but actually pretty good. I was a lot like Kat in high school...and my sister was a lot like Bianca. In some ways, it's kind of scary how close to home it can hit...for example, in one episode an elderly woman chastises Kat and tells her, "I know a lot of girls like you who wound up being old cat ladies", a fate I am beginning to wholeheartedly embrace. (Except that tonight the cat managed to drag my sort of heavy wool coat off the chair and onto her wet cat food, which she likes to cover up despite my regular reassurances that I have no interest in eating it.)

But back to the not sleeping thing. It's not stress. I'm not depressed. It might be caffeine but I don't think so. The last time this happened I had a week of really bad dreams about an ex-boyfriend of mine who was being exceedingly mean, and it got to the point where I didn't want to sleep because I didn't want to dream about him being mean anymore. But there are no bad dreams this time. Mostly it feels like...procrastination. Possibly my worst habit; in fact, sometimes I worry I will procrastinate my entire life away, with a college friend's words echoing in my ears: "I could have wasted my time in much better ways". And it's weird because I have a list a mile long of things I want to do (or need to do...), but I cannot get any of it done to save my life. It's not just finishing knitting projects or cleaning out the fridge, either; it's stuff that is really important to me, like my writing projects. I'm avoiding them big-time. I don't know why.

The other thing is, my hair has been giving me fits. It's too long now, to the point where about all I can do is put it in a ponytail. I fantasize about taking my pinking scissors to my ponytail, just to see what would happen. While I'm not a big drinker anyway, I am currently avoiding all alcohol just so that I don't act on the scissor impulse. It's a pretty strong compulsion, actually; even just writing about it is making me think about those scissors, which I happen to know are on the dining room table. The problem is that every time I cut my hair short I hate it and instantaneously regret it. Just...chop. So tempting...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Photo Update

1) First, a kitty update. Callie has settled in, and recently I sprung for one of those cat tree thingamajigs because she seemed like she was a little bored. She's one of those cats that is immune to catnip, which I discovered after buying a slew of new toys for her. She just looks at the toys, then looks at me as if to say, "What on earth am I supposed to do with this?". Same with balls. So I thought one of these would give her a place to play. Instead, after it took her three days to figure out she could get inside it, it became her favorite place to nap. Just don't get too close -- she's keeping an eye on you:

And speaking of trouble...she's not happy about the whole wrapping presents concept:

I suspect this is my fault, as in my quest to entertain/exercise her, we started playing a game that has come to be called "Smackdown". The one toy she likes is a fishing-pole style toy -- a long plastic stick with a string, and a fuzzy toy at the end of the string. Callie doesn't care about the fuzzy toy or the string...she likes the stick. The stupid plastic stick. And she likes it best when I hide the stick under paper or a sheet, so she can attack it. She smacks it repeatedly with her paws, and then when she really gets going she starts racing around and pouncing. Now, before you call the ASPCA, I am exceedingly careful with this, and I don't let her play this without me, as it is all too obvious she could really hurt herself (poke herself in the eye, etc.). I don't let her chew on the stick, and don't let her grab onto it. She just bats it around with her paws.

2) Thanksgiving was really low-key this year. We were up at my parents' in Maine, and the day after Thanksgiving it snowed. Not a lot, but enough for one very determined 8-year old to build a "snow deer" with her father. Note the leftover dinner rolls used as ears and nose:

3) Knitting. There has been an inordinate amount of knitting mittens around here. Alas, the knitting has been accompanied by a ridiculous amount of un-knitting. I knit this mitten for my 10-year old niece J. (from the new Cascade 220 book), using yarn she had picked out. Stupidly, I thought that knitting the mittens just as the pattern instructed would result in mittens that would fit J. I was, alas, hugely mistaken. Thankfully, I only knit one of them, and this one fits her mother (my sister). So not all was lost. But it's taken me several tries to rework the pattern in order to get something that fits J., and that's where the ripping out has come in. I *will* figure this out though!

Meanwhile, I had my own mittens to knit. For the past two years I have knit myself mittens, with matching hats. And for the past two years, I have lost what I have knit. Come spring, these things just disappear. I assume I've left them on the train, but they never turn up in the lost-and-found.

This year, I had a picture of exactly what I wanted in my head, but couldn't find a written pattern so....well....I winged it. And all was good until I got to the increasing part. You'd think I would have anticipated this, it's not like I haven't knit mittens before, but no. Totally didn't occur to me that my two black/one red scheme would get thrown out of whack when more stitches were added. So, there was a lot of "improvising" (also known as, "screw it, its yarn, what's the worst that could happen?"). Ultimately these were a pretty quick knit, but I was honestly *this close* to ripping them out because I didn't like the way they tapered off. In the midst of my indecision, it got cold out, and that was the end of the deliberating. Plus, since it's stranded knitting, they are really warm!