Monday, January 27, 2014

Inspiration Mondays: And Now, For Dancing

Interpretive dance has been the butt of my little witty jokes for many years now. "And now," I proclaim, dripping with sarcasm, "I will explain through interpretive dance."

I've never actually managed it. Not yet.

I have sat through hundreds of PowerPoint presentations. Seriously. HUN-DREDS. I once sat through a three day conference, and I swore that if someone tried to click their way through another presentation in my presence, I'd have to scoop my eyeballs out with a rusty spoon, because that would be far more enjoyable.

It's not so much that I'm against the use of a visual presentation. Heck, I make them all the time for work. I think they're useful: they save a bunch of writing, they're easily transferred to people, and you don't have to print out a ton of handouts for people to follow along (although, lots of people do that, too... that's a rusty spoon for another day).

I like to think I'm good at making them, because I don't load them with a bunch of text for people to struggle through and to listen to someone read for them. I like pictures, diagrams, animations, movement. I like to try to make it into a tool to promote understanding through visual demonstration.

So, how about replacing PowerPoint presentations through dance?


It's a shocking title for anyone, but really, it's not so foreign. Check out the commercial below. Whether or not you think it's just a gimmick to make people buy something, you have to admit: you understand how that thing works.


I am also aware that there are people out there who won't ever feel the same way I do... who prefer their information organized in a totally different, more traditional way. That's ok, too.

But we're all different.

Today, I am inspired by people who break through the shackles of what we already do, the things that are "proven to work best," and to challenge what we believe will be effective. I encourage you to watch the video below: it's what brought the inspiration to me in the first place, especially the line where he says:
"This is the great pleasure of science: the defeat of our intuition through experimentation."

Ah, it feels good to see things turned on its head. It's my preferred perspective, any day.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Project Pre-thinks, Illustrated

Since the holidays, I've slipped back into the routine. Gym, work, dog-walking, dinner, stretching, bed... repeat five times, then try something different on the weekends. Unfortunately, I've also fallen back into the habit of thinking about my projects rather than actually working on them.

Perhaps the whole project pre-think is under-appreciated. It's a great comfort to me to daydream about what I'm going to make while I'm on my walks with Rascal, or while I'm falling asleep. If I'm really on the ball, I'll actually pull a skein of yarn out of my stash for a proper fondle as I think about how it will handle the stitches and if it will drape the way I want. The collection is properly loved, if anything.

Lately, I've spent lots and lots of time thinking of my vast collection of sockweight/fingering yarn. It is the yarnie's instant fix, the perfect souvenir whilst traveling, and the most easily justifiable purchase of luxury we can think of. One skein = one project. Maybe a shawl, a scarf, or, shockingly, a pair of socks. Socks out of sock yarn? Will it ever happen for me?

The trouble is, I've amassed quite a large collection of shawls, cowls, hats, and scarves made out of sock yarn. I'm still the selfish yarnie I ever was, so I am ready yet to give away any of my lovingly-made, time-laden creations... but I really don't feel a great desire to make another shawl. Not yet.

Therefore, my project ponderings lately have been centred around the question: How can I make a garment out of so many single skeins of sock yarn?


The answer so far seems to be: stripes!

I've always liked stripes, and luckily, they seem to be in style and aren't showing any signs of going out of style anytime soon. Maybe a cardigan, like Ann Weaver's Tempest. I'm not really so much into cardigans right now, but that's just because I don't really want to deal with buttons and buttonholes. But it is simple and beautiful.


But I don't like to do things simply. I've been searching for interesting ways to do stripes, like Alexis Winslow's Turnstone Pullover. Oooh, bendy stripes. The pattern is written for sport weight yarn, but I'm pretty sure I could finagle a decent version out of my lighter-weight yarn.


And while I'm at it, why stop with stripes when kinks and bends in it? Why not add a little bit of lace, like in this top that I found whilst wandering around Pinterest:


The best part about that one is that, it uses three different colours. Three skeins in one project? Well, that's a pretty good stashbuster, if you ask me!

But where there is inspiration, there are challenges. The ones staring me in the face are:
  1. A lot of these ideas work well with non-variegated, single colour yarns. I have very, very few of those, thanks to this magpie brain of mine that is attracted to all colours, altogether, all the time.
  2. Many of my ideas will take a bit of engineering. That is time-consuming. I don't have a lot of spare time these days.
And the biggest problem?

In order to have handmade things, one must actually use ones hands to hand make things... not play with your phone or change the tv channels or surf the web.

So, I'm going to shut up here and pick up my current project and work on it, because darn it, I want to make stuff. I'm going. Right now. See?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Inspiration Mondays on a Tuesday: This Ain't the Serengeti

If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? --John Wooden
I had somewhat of an aggravating time at work today. I won't go into it, but nothing frustrates me more than being rushed, especially when it is unnecessary. I don't dawdle, don't get me wrong, but I much prefer to plan ahead and do things right than do run through the day in a panic, reacting to everything as if it's a pin prick to the side. I'd much rather take five extra minutes to do a task correctly, than to complete a task incorrectly and early. What's the point?

In the first few weeks at my current job, my boss' boss had a day where he had person after person coming in to see him. For a while that day, I was keeping a wait list of people for him. By 5:00pm, the dust had cleared, and I stuck my head into his office and said, "Wow, you had a busy day. I don't know how you deal with all these people."

And he said, "Oh, you know... I don't let it bother me. I just deal with things one thing at a time."

Simple. Logical. True. But really hard for people like me to do... people with brains that fire at the slightest stimulation, like a freaked out gazelle on the Serengeti.

Today, I am inspired to be more careful and deliberate, and therefore, more efficient. I do this with my yarn projects, and so I know I can do it.

I'm going to live each day, one stitch at a time.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Well, Golly Gee

I like to think of myself as a pretty disciplined person. I go to bed early, get up at 5:15am every day to go to the gym, try hard to eat healthy food, and I don't give up when the going gets tough...

Mostly.

No really, I don't give up that often, but I've confessed it time and time again: I am a procrastinator.

This is especially true when I'm working on something that I'm pretty sure is not going to work out to my liking. It's as though I believe that, by avoiding it, it's going to somehow fix itself to work out perfectly. Do I have a fairy godmother? Not to my knowledge. If I do, man... she's slacking.

I'm still picking away at this top from this Russian crochet site, but it's been slow-going. I've ripped out the stitches more often than I care to admit, and each time I did it, I became more and more convinced that it's going to take a whole lot of fiddling to get this thing to fit. So I've kind of been avoiding it, finding other things to do instead.

I meant to work on it this morning, but I decided to clean Rascal's teeth instead. Yes, you can brush your dog's teeth. Yes, it's good for them. No, he doesn't love it, but yes, he likes the chicken-flavoured toothpaste:


I meant to pick up my crochet project before lunch, but then I decided to make some cottage cheese pancakes, inspired by this recipe. I ditched the vanilla and honey and added some dill instead and ate it with some seared pastrami:


After that, I thought I'd work on it some more, but then... I decided to take the pieces I'd already finished and block them out, just to see what they looked like.

And well, geez... I think it's going to work. It'll be a close fit, but seeing them like this has given me some ideas for options to make sure it fits.


So then... I guess maybe procrastination doesn't really pay off. Gosh. That's kind of a bummer, really. I'm so good at it. Guess I better get another hobby...

Like maybe knitting. Or crochet. Heh.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Inspiration Mondays on a Tuesday: Human Doctors

"Doctors?" said Ron looking startled. "Those Muggle nutters that cut people up?" -- J.K. Rowling and The Order of the Phoenix
I rarely read newspapers. I don't like their clutter, the way the pile up in the house, the way I have to stretch my arms out to get it out in front of me so I can read each page. In fact, the only time I read a newspaper is when I'm in an airport, usually because I've found one sitting on a random seat, or it's been handed to me for free by the airline.

I also rarely like doctors.

I was on another work trip today. I left last night and came home today in a haze of snow and the weariness that comes with sleeping in a hotel bed and eating too many free cookies courtesy of the airline voucher I got from a three-hour flight delay. This morning at breakfast, I sat down and opened up the free newspaper that the hotel slipped under my door. I paged through, skimming through the headlines, and came upon this article written by a doctor. It's an article about how doctors often have the unpleasant job of delivering unpleasant news, and how there are teams of people who are training doctors to deliver this news in the most helpful and compassionate ways.

I have had the unfortunate history of having a string of awful doctors: doctors that scared me, doctors that humiliated me, belittled me, made me feel like an absolutely worthless human being, made assumptions about my life, my education, and my home. Doctors that shocked me into silent rage. Doctors that refused to listen, or forgot about me or my family's problems that required important follow-ups that never happened. I avoided doctors for seven years because of these interactions. It took a lot to make me go back.

I've also been extremely fortunate to have a couple of really, really wonderful doctors that have begun to restore my faith in the medical profession. They're rare. RARE.

My journey as a kidney donor has led me down the path of meeting lots of and lots of medical professionals that have run the gamut of the very best to the very worst. And perhaps it is because I'm a little bit older, a little bit bolder, a whole lot healthier, and well, a lot more desperate to make this work that I am more aware of what I need from these people... and I'm becoming a lot more vocal about it.

Doctors: I just want you to learn to talk to the human beings you deal with day to day as... human beings. These are people who have families, responsibilities, hopes, dreams, and disappointments. Maybe those aren't your problem, and maybe they don't have anything to do with your day-to-day life, and maybe you are really, really busy, but you know what? That's just too darn bad, because when you took your Hippocratic oath, you made it your problem. People turn to alternative medicine, ignore your advice, or just plain avoid you because they have lost faith in you, and it's your job to get it back.

Today, I am inspired by this article, and hopeful that doctors and other medical professionals (nurses, I'm looking at you) will spend a few minutes to think about their day-to-day interactions, the words they use, and the tone with which those words are delivered. Those minutes you spend with each person matter more than you could ever know. They make the difference between someone getting help, or giving up on their health. I hope you make it count.

I need you to make it count.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Long Way Around

Take your time, don't live too fast. Troubles come, but they will pass. -- Lynyrd Skynyrd
I'm sad to report that my KitchenAid mixer is broken. I discovered it wasn't working properly when I tried to make a batch of bread dough last week, and the dough hook wouldn't rotate all the way around. It would do a few rotations, then just catch and sit there, the motor clicking away, the hook jiggling in one place, and my dough all wet and gooey and yeasty. We did some surgery on it this weekend. With the casing off, it kind of reminded me of the anatomy model we had in my biology class with the skull popped off:


One of the gears is worn, so while we wait for it to arrive, I have to knead my dough by hand. This is a task I don't necessarily mind doing (me, the advocate for the slow life), but it's a task whose novelty quickly wore off once I started making bread regularly. For now, the long way is the only way, but at least we had two fresh loaves of bread for this week.


Yeah, I know it's another bread photo, but come on... bread is photogenic food. Check out this dramatic bread shot:


In the meantime, my yarn projects are also taking the long way around. I'm in this phase right now where I don't really feel like following a pattern. I've got a lot of yarn that I'm just wanting to experiment with right now, and since I haven't really found patterns to my liking, I'm piecing together ideas from all sorts of places.

I'm using a skein from my friend Tara's Etsy shop: a lovely skein of purples, blacks and greys with a generous 750 yards. I've bought it shortly before I moved last summer, and I wanted to see if it was enough to make a top out of.

I've been playing around with this pattern, with the plan to add some kind of sleeves onto it. It's been sort of a struggle. It's not even that the page is in Russian (Chrome has been translating it for me anyway), but there are a couple of things that are making it tough:
  1. The chart images aren't that clear, so I'm just making some educated guesses with them.
  2. My crochet gauge is wonky to begin with, so the fit might be a bit questionable.
  3. The low yardage makes me nervous that I'll run out before I end up with something wearable.
I started working on it at my parents' house during the holidays, but it's been ripped out over and over again while I try to work out the chart, change crochet hooks, and stretch, pull and turn the finished pieces into things that might fit me. Finally, just after Christmas, I gave into my fears, logged into my Etsy account, and bought another skein. I think I was lucky to find one the same colourway:


And well, while I was at it, I got another one (since I was paying for shipping anyway): 650 yards of fingering weight cashmere/merino/nylon in a colourway called "Buttered Popcorn."


And well, since Tara knew I was shopping, she sent me a little present to play with:



I am fortunate to have friends in "dye" places. Nyuk, nyuk.

So, this project will likely be a long time in finishing, but I'm feeling a bit more comfortable with it now that I have some extra yardage to play with. I might have a work trip this week, so I might get some work done on it while I'm traveling. I have no idea how it will turn out, but there's at least one fellow who is enjoying it right now. Seriously, this dog has a yarn habit. You can't stage this kind of stuff:


Anybody got any ideas of how I can get it back from him? I better go get some negotiation tools...

Monday, January 6, 2014

Inspiration Monday: Three Words

So, apparently this is the week that everyone is supposed to be giving up on their New Year's Resolutions. I hate to admit it, but I kinda look forward to this time: it means that the gym and the pool will be back to normal and I can get my routine back on time (seriously, don't have chats on the equipment, dudes. It's just wasting everyone's time).  On the other hand, it's sad to think that people might be losing hopes in their dreams for this year. I don't like giving up, and I don't like other people to do it, either.

I came across this list of questions the other day. It's a list to help you to reflect on the past year. In all honestly, when I first read it, I was bored with it almost immediately and clicked it closed. It was too much work, really. It felt like an assignment, which I suppose it is, but I wasn't in the homework frame of mind.

But later on, as I sat on the floor stretching out my tight hamstrings and contemplating what I was going to write this evening, my eyes scanned all around me, lighting upon colours and textures and patterns, wondering if I could somehow integrate them into my yarn projects. "Dotted," "bricks," "rich," "wavy..." all kinds of words passed through my mind. And then I remembered this list, and specifically this item:
Pick three words to describe this past year.
There are plenty of words to describe my past year, but it got me thinking: If I can think of words to describe my past year, why don't I choose three words that I want the new year to be?

Words are really powerful to me. For me, once you choose your words, you have made an indelible impression on the world around you. You can't take them back, which is why I think people feel so bad about giving up on their New Year's Resolutions: they know they made a statement, and it feels wrong to backtrack on it once it's out there.

But maybe choosing three words for the New Year is a good way to remind yourself every day of what you want to aspire to. And you know, the word "aspiration" sounds way more attainable than "resolution."

Have I chosen my three words? Not all of them. But I'm thinking the first one is one that I'm still working on each week:

Inspired.

Let this New Year be one where I continue to be inspired, and where I continue to look for inspiration, even on a Monday.

Image generated at wordle.net

Saturday, January 4, 2014

They Go Together Like...

Sometimes, you're moving through life, and your brain makes the weirdest connections. The colour orange makes me think of New Orleans. The smell of hay makes me think of elephants. The words "brussels sprouts" go with the words "stomach flu." When wiping down the counters in the kitchen after dinner, I sing a version of this song in my head, with the words, "It's the final wipe doooowwwnn..." I can go into why these things match up (though, you can probably figure out the last one), but let's just say that our brains associate things together for various reasons.

I'm part of a study of living kidney donors that will collect information on the health of donors pre and post-donation. I'm still not technically a donor yet, but I agreed to be part of the study regardless, either as a donor or as part of the control group (i.e. people who are fit enough to donate but, for whatever reason, are not donating). This study will follow me over the next five years to see how I am doing.

One of the things I have to do is to take my blood pressure a bunch of times, since blood pressure is one of the key indications of kidney function. If you've read my other blog, you'll know I am no stranger to taking my blood pressure, so it comes naturally to me to sit down and strap on a cuff and decipher the numbers. It's almost as natural to me as my yarn hobby.

So, maybe it might not be so strange for you to know that, as I was getting ready to take these photos this morning, I noticed that my new coffee mitts match quite nicely with my blood pressure machine.

Ok, maybe that is a bit strange, but you can't control when these connections are made in your brain:


Anyway, I finished these coffee mitts while I was home visiting my family in Winnipeg, and it's only now that I'm getting around to enjoying them. I used the crochet chart found on this website, and knitted 1x1 ribbing on the upper and lower cuffs and the thumb.


I learned a lot while making these:
  1. My crochet tension is way looser than my knitting tension
  2. I prefer to wing it when it comes to crochet, rather than strictly following a pattern (probably because of my wonky tension).
  3. If I'm making a pair of things, I can make perfect, stretchy ribbing in one item, but usually end up with really crappy, tightly bound-off ribbing on the other. I discovered this even after I ripped out the ribbing and did it over again. First one: great. Second one: meh.
But they do exactly what they are supposed to do: they're nice to wear on a cool day when I'm putzing around the house and when I need a little bit of comfy warmth on my hands.


Now that my brain has tied these mitts together with my blood pressure machine, maybe that means that their soft, cushy comfort will trigger me to relax enough to get a nice, normal reading. That's not such a bad connection. "Mitts" go together with "blood pressure."

Like a wink and a smile: