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NaNo Update, Slippers, Weight & Nail Grinding

You may have already guessed, but last week was not the week I got everything together and caught up on NaNo. I did write nearly 5000 words on Friday when I was off, but that was about it, other than the odd hundred words or so during the week. I’m honestly pretty sure I’m not going to make the 50k by Nov. 30th, but that’s okay. I’ve been wanting to write this particular story for ages, so whatever word count I get done on it is good progress.

One of the other things I’ve been working on is a pair of slippers. I thought I’d make my husband a pair first, and then if they went well, I’d make a couple pairs for gifts. The first slipper I made exactly to the pattern, but it’s really not…tall/wide enough for his foot. So I need to tweak the pattern a bit, and use the same length, but the width for the next size up, and see if that makes them a bit more cozy. It’s a fun stitch (Tunisian Knit Stitch), and works up quickly, so I’ll start the new one tonight.

I’ve been working on them in the evenings while we’re watching TV, which is generally better than staring at the computer screen all night. Better for my hands/wrists/fingers too. they’ve been getting kind of wimpy lately, and I need to build those muscles back up. Strong hands/wrists are really handy!

I’ve also been trying desperately to figure out when I might be able to hop on the treadmill for 20 minutes, and still can’t seem to find the time. It’s frustrating, but my weight is creeping up again (badly), and I really need to get a handle on it. Like…yesterday. So that’s a major goal for this week.

And, I really should find some time to fix my nails before the week gets too far. I was late getting started with my manicure Saturday night (due to dying my hair, of course), and by the time I had them cleaned, filed, buffed and ready to paint, I was *so tired* I couldn’t even really pay attention and did a pretty bad polish job. But the worst of it is, I went to bed too quickly, and smudged several fingers, and then when I was grinding down the dogs’ nails, I managed to grind holes in two of the poorly done, smudged polish on my own. *sigh*

Talented, I am. But the dogs’ nails are in much better shape. So there’s that.

This week is a normal, mundane 5-day work week. Let’s hope that means I can get my writing schedule back on track, if nothing else…and maybe a treadmill schedule as well?

Self-Sufficiency in a Loom

Last weekend, I went to a Fiber Festival here in town (the first one I’ve ever heard of). No, it didn’t feature prunes, beans and high-fiber foods…we’re talking textile fibers. Alpaca, yak, sheep and various blends of wool, plus silk, bamboo and other fibers that people who work with yarn like to turn into clothes, blankets, bags and other fun stuff.

In any case, there was an overwhelming amount of beautiful handspun and dyed fiber there (and raw fiber too, for those who spin), and I brought home several skeins of wool and one of cotton, and left a silk and bamboo blend one there that I really wish I’d picked up too. But it was expensive, so probably just as well I didn’t nab it. *sigh*

Anyways, at one of the booths where I bought some wonderfully thick and soft black handspun, the woman had a small “lap” weaving loom for sale. I thought about it, and thought about it some more, and ultimately decided not to buy it. And then I kicked myself for leaving it there the whole rest of the weekend. I even mentioned to my spinning/knitting friend at work that I couldn’t stop thinking about this loom, and how much fun it might be for the thinner lace-weight yarns I have but don’t want to knit or crochet with (I prefer thicker yarns – the small hooks/needles hurt my fingers).

As it turned out, my friend knew the woman selling the loom, and contacted her to see if it was still available. It was, and long story short, I sent a check, and the loom was delivered to my house this past Saturday. An hour, maybe 90 minutes later, I’d learned a whole bunch of terms I didn’t know before, and had woven my first inch or so of fabric from some recycled silk yarn I had in the closet.

My first weaving project - some recycled silk fingering-weight yarn.

My first weaving project – some recycled silk fingering-weight yarn.

I was actually kind of surprised, to be honest. The method described in the instructions made the motions far less tedious than I thought they might be, and I found the whole experience very relaxing. I spent another hour weaving another couple of inches yesterday, and again, found it a very calm and restful activity. It does take a lot of time, especially with the thin yarn I’m using, but it’s relatively mindless, and will result in a gorgeous piece of fabric.

While I ran the threads back and forth, I thought about why I was so drawn to get the loom and learn to weave. Or why I’m interested in any of the fiber arts I take part in – crochet and knitting, mainly. I mean, I do them because I enjoy the work, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that not only do I feel a sense of connection to the past when I do these types of crafts with my hands, but it also gives me a feeling of self-sufficiency.

I’ve always been a very independent person (too independent, says my mom), and I’ve also always been interested in homesteader-type activities. Crochet was one of the first hobbies I learned as a child, and it feels good to know that I can make both warm and useful things with just some yarn (or whatever) and a hook. I started knitting just because I think knit stitches are better for clothing (tighter), and weaving will broaden what I can make even more, in terms of household items and possibly even blankets and scarves.

Making things with my hands using simple tools gives me a sense of connection to the past that very few other things do. These crafts have been passed down for generations on to the next, and there’s just something that feels very important about keeping the hand-made version of them going as people cycle in and out of life. Not just because there’s value in knowing how to take care of ourselves without the technology of mass-production, but also because of that feeling of self-sufficiency that comes with knowing how to take raw materials and turn it into something useful and practical (as well as beautiful, in many cases). The more self-sufficient I feel, the more confidence I have, and that applies to all areas of my life, not just my homesteader-style hobbies.

Which is justification enough to learn how to spin my own yarn one of these days too, right? Although we may need a bigger house…

But I draw the line at raising sheep outside an actual apocalyptic-type situation. I helped a friend with 4-H sheep in high school. They’re cute, but stupid. I’m not a fan.

Alpacas have personality, though…

Gifts, Knitting/Crocheting & Stored “Stuff”…

To all my US peeps, Happy Independence Day – a day late. I have to say, it was quieter this year than most, which was a really nice change. We watched a couple of loud movies that drowned out most of the smattering of neighborhood fireworks throughout the evening, and I gave Mica some of Murphy’s anti-anxiety spray. Between the two, the dogs came through without too much undo stress.

In any case, I’ve been thinking about Christmas(?!) and gifts lately, probably because I’m working on knitting a pair of fingerless gloves (a kit I got in one of my monthly yarn packages) and I got another package of silk sari ribbon yarn a few days ago that reminded me I want to crochet gift bags out of the ribbon yarn I’ve been amassing.

I wish I was a better knitter – I’d love to make sweaters for everyone one year. But I haven’t been knitting long enough to be very good at it yet, so it’s gonna be awhile before the sweater thing happens. I can crochet them, but the texture of crochet isn’t quite as nice for clothing (in my opinion). I just need to knit more…practice makes perfect, so I’ll keep working at it. In the meantime, I have some crochet gifts planned (that I dare not mention just in case) for this year – I just need to get started on them. And I’d really like to make a few more pairs of socks, just to get better at it. Learning different techniques might help too. You never know when you’ll come across one that just “clicks” and makes everything that much easier.

And those gift bags. I have all this lovely sari silk ribbon “yarn” from Darn Good Yarn – a company that sources all their products from women in India who need work/money (so I’m happy enough to support it) – and it will make perfect gift bags if I just grab a large hook and get to work. They won’t even take that long – I just need to get to it.

Another thing that had me thinking about all of this recently is a project I’ve started to clean out our storage unit. It costs $100 a month to rent (a little over, actually), and a good chunk of the stuff in there is mine from when we got married and moved into this house. Nearly 12 years ago. I was using the storage unit as a “temporary” place to keep things while I packed up my old house and sold it, but somehow I never got around to actually bringing the stuff from storage to the new house. So there it’s sat for all this time, along with a bunch of other stuff from when hubby moved in. Which is pretty ridiculous, when you think about it.

For the foreseeable future, I’m bringing one box home from the storage unit per week. It has to be dealt with before Monday morning – so either I have to make room for the “stuff” at our house (preferably by getting rid of other things), or I have to get rid of the stuff in the box. And when I go get a box, I scope out the remaining stuff so I have an idea of what’s coming up soon, and can plan for how to deal with the next things I need to bring home.

Like a big batch of jigsaw puzzles, or…a huge tote or two of yarn that I inherited from my paternal grandmother when she passed away. I want to keep both – the puzzles I’d like to put together, and also the yarn, which is quite lovely and good quality fiber. And most of it was meant for use with a knitting machine (I inherited that as well, but gave it away), so it’s very thin, which makes it much better for knitting than crocheting. Another good reason to get better at knitting.

Also another good reason to get to work on more Christmas gifts and gift bags. All that yarn needs to go somewhere, and it can’t stay there. Which means it needs to come to the house, so I need to clean out my yarn stash to make room.

I was going to punctuate this post with pictures, but it’s late, I didn’t get around to taking them yesterday (or I’d have posted this then) and I need to head for bed about 15 minutes ago so I can get up for my favorite staff meeting tomorrow. So…pics will have to wait for another time. Stay tuned…

2016: The Year of Threes

I have a lot of things I want to accomplish and improve on in the next year. And when I first wrote out my list of resolutions, it was pretty long. I looked at it, and decided to distill everything down into three sections (personal, writing, and work), with just three goals each for the year. Anything I accomplish or change outside of that is just gravy, so to speak. And I have, in fact, already made some changes not on my lists that mean (among other things), that I had more time on Sunday to get this blog post written and scheduled.

I’ve also started changing my attitude towards certain aspects of my life – it’s a process, but since I’ve started that shift (with my vacation in mid-December), my head has been a lot more clear, and life in general has felt much less overwhelming. My main goal for 2016 is to keep it that way as much as possible.

Leaving out the work list (because it just doesn’t need to be public), here are my personal and writing resolutions for this year:

Personal
– Read *every day*, even if just for 10-15 minutes.
– Treat hobbies with the respect they deserve.
– Engage in more analog, tactile activities

Writing
– Write three novels in 2016 (I have them chosen)
– Write eight short stories: two per quarter for each pen name (just writing under two this year)
– Focus on just two drafts at any one time (one novel, one short)

Last year, I was so focused on meeting my writing obligations that when I was on vacation and tried to remember the last time I’d picked up a book, I couldn’t. Reading is my escape, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day. It’s one of the few things that pulls me out of my own head, makes me stop thinking about my own life, and forces me to live in the mind and life of someone else for a little while. And I underestimated the importance of that to my mental well-being. Ever since my vacation, I’ve made a point to drop everything – even writing – by midnight and go to bed so I can read for half an hour before sleeping (the only time I’m guaranteed to get). And my mental state has improved significantly just by making that one little change.

One other thing I found I was doing was making hobbies into “mini-jobs”. Whether it was crochet/knitting, or comic books, or stamp collecting, I was getting to where I felt guilty for not making/finding time for them, but also guilty if I *did* indulge because I should be doing other things – stuff for the writing business, or writing, or housework, or whatever. So I felt like I “should” work on them, but always felt bad when I actually did. Not healthy.

This year, I’m going to engage in my hobbies guilt-free. It’s healthy to explore a variety of interests, and I don’t want to stifle that just because I feel guilty that something else has to wait. My hobbies will all have a weekly spot on my schedule where I can work on them if I want (or not, if I don’t feel like it that day). No obligation, and no guilt.

I should note that for priority purposes, my writing is going to “major hobby” status in my brain this year, rather than “second business”. I’m done feeling guilty for working on other things because I “should” be writing (or working on something regarding writing/publishing). My writing doesn’t have to pay the bills, and since I like my job, there’s no reason to saddle my writing with the responsibility of making money. It’s fun, and that’s why I want to do it. It’s okay to write as a hobby. It took me awhile to be okay with that attitude.

Writing does help to keep me mentally healthy though – I get a bit angsty/anxious when I don’t write. So writing is a higher priority hobby, and has a set spot in my schedule Monday through Friday. But business is not fun for me, it’s work, and worse, work I don’t want to do. Writing is great fun. I have no need to make writing pay, therefore I’m going to pay far more attention to what’s “fun” than what’s not.

My writing goals are there more to give myself limitations, rather than give myself deadlines. I love writing so much and have so many ideas that I tend to tackle way, way too many projects all at once, which is part of why I was in such a pickle with it last year. It ceased to be fun, and became just another obligation. My three resolutions are there to rein myself in, so I keep it fun, rather than trying to do too much.

As far as engaging in more analog/tactile activities – it all started with a pack of Harley Quinn cards my husband gave me last month. I decided to play a game of solitaire with them – and found it the most relaxing few minutes I’d spent in a long while. Played a game of solitaire on the computer to compare…and it wasn’t nearly as relaxing. Even though I have a touch screen, there’s still something about being physically engaged with an activity – turning over cards or puzzle pieces, turning pages, writing by hand – that is …well, just so much different than interacting with a computer for the same tasks.

While I have zero intentions of giving up my computers/gadgets/ebooks/computer-based job, I did notice a definite mental downshift when playing solitaire with an actual deck of cards on my ottoman, or working on a jigsaw puzzle laid out on our dining room table. There’s something about the tactile experience that forces me to focus, to engage more with the task, and to let go of all the other things swirling about in my head. Crochet/knitting are similar, along with my stamp collecting hobby, or reading print books/comic books.

More tactile activities seem to keep me out of that overclocked-overstimulated frame of mind that is so deadly to my daily outlook and attitude. So I plan to make a point of setting the screen aside more in the evenings/on weekends, and doing more analog/tactile tasks, even if I’m just “playing”. Good for the brain. Also, good for dexterity. Win-win!

There will be challenges this year, and things I don’t want to deal with, but I think sticking to these few basic “ground rules” will keep me on a mostly even keel no matter what I have to deal with. And that should provide a good basis for the other changes I want to make as I work my way through another calendar (and planner).

Silk & Snail Mucus

“Oh man,” I can hear you thinking as you read that title. “She’s really gone off the deep end now…”

And you would be right, but that’s not what we’re discussing today. Although I have to admit, I nearly didn’t use this title on this post, because as soon as I typed it, I thought, “That would actually make a great book title…” I still might use it, actually. The deep end, indeed. Join me?

ANYways…

I was recently reading Jezebel (yeah, I know – judge all you want), and one of the regular features is a beauty box run-down. You know, those monthly delivery boxes that are all the rage these days? I have been getting a tea box that has just now been discontinued (sad, but I was having trouble making it through that much tea in a month – I’m seriously backlogged and I drink a *lot* of tea), and I still get a monthly yarn box from my favorite eco-friendly online fiber shop, Darn Good Yarn. Their claim to fame is recycled silk yarn…the factory remnants from making silk saris in India, and they also sell said saris as well as oddball yarns made from things like banana fiber (which is seriously soft and silky, let me tell you).

I’ll be honest, the yarn isn’t the easiest to work with, but it’s funky and fun and I love it. And I love getting that monthly “surprise” of sensory deliciousness too. For a not-so-touchy-feely-person, I cannot resist the feel of silky or fuzzy fiber across my fingers. Mmm, mmm, good.

I used to have a couple of real silk shirts (short-sleeved button-downs). I loved, loved, *loved* the feel and drape of them. Sadly, I am really not good at caring for things that require hand-washing…

In any case, back to Jezebel and the Beauty Boxes (sounds like a somewhat risque band, eh?). In this particular round-up, one of the things our intrepid blog reporter was most excited about was…snail mucus.

Apparently, it’s a “thing” over in Korea to collect the slime trail from snails (the snails are supposedly not harmed), and use it to make concoctions that are supposed to heal small wounds and blemishes faster – like pimples. According to said reporter and several people in the comments, this actually works. Who knew?

What I want to know (really!) is…who was it who thought it would be a good idea to put snail slime on your skin? On purpose, I mean. Did someone study the chemical composition of snail slime and think, “hey, this would work great for getting rid of pimples!” Or was someone just laying out in the garden (do they have gardens you can lay in in Korea?) when a snail crawled across their face and instead of jumping up and flinging the snail off and getting all grossed out (you know, like a normal person probably would – ohm…), they just stayed still and let the slime sink in, and then later realized, “OMG! My skin looks great! It must have been that snail that crawled across my face! I should tell everyone!”

Or was it one of those bets in a bar one night – you know, one of those “hold my Redd’s and watch this” sort of things (do they have Redd’s Apple Ale in Korea? Or hard apple cider? Things that make you go hmm…)?

“Bet you wouldn’t let this snail crawl across your face!”
“You’re on – gimme that!”
“Hey, your skin looks great! We should market this! Think if we eat the snail, it’ll cure tomorrow’s hangover, too?”
“I don’t know…any French people here we could ask?”

I’m gonna get crap for that one, aren’t I? Yes, Americans eat escargot too, but the word itself is French, so…

Yes, I know. Google could probably hook me up with the right answer on how snail-slime-as-beauty-treatment was discovered in a matter of milliseconds, but sometimes it’s still fun to ponder and pretend that we don’t have all the knowledge we could possibly ever want (and plenty we really don’t) at our fingertips. Don’t you think?

No, I’m not planning on trying snail mucus for my complexion (or anything else) anytime soon. And I’m not having escargot for dinner either – I have a pork roast in the crockpot, thanks. But I may sign up for one of those beauty boxes. Ironically, the one that appealed most to me was one mentioned in the comments – Goodebox. Because…goodies. In a box. What could go wrong?

Aside from snail mucus, I mean…


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Of Grapevines, Sheets & Colored Pencils…

Two things tripped me up quite literally this past weekend – grapevines and sheets. I ended up on my butt both times, and I have scrapes, bruises and sore spots all over my poor, abused body. This is a side-effect of something called “ambition” mixed with “distraction”. And it’s funny how every time it happens, I’m reminded of  one of my art teachers in college, who used to insist that we practice “mindfulness” whenever we were creating art.

As mindful as I can be when I want to (I have great ability to focus), he never saw anything at all remarkable about any of the artwork I did in his class, and I was always so very confused as to what it was, exactly, that I didn’t have. I still am, for that matter. I have many talents, but creating art from pencils, pens or paint is apparently somewhat beyond me. It’s probably the same indescribable “thing” I keep looking for in my writing. As I’m far more motivated to keep writing than to explore most other forms of artwork, perhaps someday I’ll find it on a digital page somewhere…

It’s so easy to judge a piece of art, whether painted or drawn or written or constructed, and say whether you like it or not. Whether it speaks to you or not. Whether it has that subliminal quality that takes it from paint or ink or lead or yarn or marble or words to something on a slightly different level.

But it’s nearly impossible to actually describe what that “something” you’re looking for is, and because of that, it’s also impossible to know whether you’ve put it into your own work or not. To add more complexity, other people may or may not see something you cannot see for yourself, in work that you’ve created.

“Art” is a very odd & subjective thing. Mindfulness, not so much.

Enter the colored pencils.

I scoffed when I saw that the trendy new “thing” for adults is coloring. Crayons, pencils, markers, and adult-oriented (no, not *that* adult, though I think you can get those too) coloring books filled with intricate designs and patterns to be filled in however we see fit.

I scoffed, because I am not five, but my fingers and the less-logical part of my brain seemed to think it looked like a very relaxing activity to both focus on and be distracted by at the same time. Like solving a jigsaw puzzle, with less brain-work. The only decisions to make would be what color to use next, and where to put said color. That’s it. No following a complex written pattern, no active reasoning or logic needed, just a very simple task of applying color to already drawn shapes.

So I overrode the logical, adult part of my brain and ordered a couple of coloring books for my husband and I to share, along with a couple sets of colored pencils (in case we both wanted to use them at the same time). And last week, hubby and I started coloring (again).

I’m still not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. It’s a fun, almost hypnotic craft project that does allow the mind to sort of just wander along as the pencils scratch over the paper. I like seeing the black and white patterns start to pop as the colors are laid down. There isn’t any right or wrong, and it’s a pleasant way to sort of just “reset” and relax for a bit. I like the smell of the pencils.

Still, I’m not sure whether it will be a long-term thing, or just a short-term trendy diversion. There are plenty of other relaxing things I want to do and get back to, now that day-to-day life is sort of stabilizing again. That is one thing about coloring though…the materials needed are very few, and the time commitment need only be whatever time you have. I can’t say that about most of my other hobbies.

I also can’t color while watching TV (not and actually get any coloring done). I can, however, knit and crochet, which I plan to get back to this week. Finally.


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Tuesday Musings: On Chaos, Project Distraction & Tea Pictures….

The Sweater Project - half done.

The Sweater Project – half done.

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday. Monday was…well, chaos, from the time I got up (20 minutes late), to the time I remembered that I’d forgotten to fill the supplement boxes for hubby, Lucy-dog and I, moving forward to when I realized that writing a post, but not getting it scheduled the night before was a serious tactical error on my part due to extenuating circumstances, and on into a work project that suddenly had to be done *right that morning*, and then on to working on something ongoing that is…well, we’ll just call it challenging on a good day. And yesterday was not.

Here’s the thing about my whole stress-ridden Monday: sure, there were a few annoyances out of my control, but most of it could have been avoided had I just stayed organized *before* Monday hit. I could have scheduled my post the night before, like normal. I could have filled the supplement boxes Sunday night. I could have gotten to bed on time, so I didn’t sleep through that extra 20 minutes, and the work project that was all of a sudden due yesterday morning? I knew about it/had the information I needed and could have gotten it done a couple weeks ago so it was ready and waiting (which was the initial plan). I just let it get pushed aside for other things one too many times.

All too often, personal chaos is avoidable with a little forward thinking and discipline. And when I learn how to be consistent with that, I’ll write a book about it and make a million bucks. Until then, well, I’ll occasionally have majorly chaotic days. Though I did modify my schedule somewhat to account for a few of the things I missed last weekend, and this post will be neatly scheduled before I go to bed Monday night.

Part of the reason I was distracted this weekend was that last week, I broke down and splurged on some hand-dyed/handspun wool yarn from a friend in Wyoming. It came in the mail last Friday, and as soon as I saw/felt it, I knew I wanted to work with it right away – no stash time for this yarn. Long story short, I decided to make a sweater (my first – progress pictured above), and spent most of my weekend modifying a pattern to work with the amount of yarn I bought and then crocheting one entire side and part of the other (chunky yarn + a big hook = quick project). Sunday night, I was faced with a dilemma. I could finish the sweater and push back all the prep work for Monday, or set the sweater aside and get my less interesting household & book/blog tasks done.

I begrudgingly put the sweater aside, and decided to get to work. But I didn’t actually get anything done. I tried to start my blog post several times, but had no idea what to write. Tried to find a book sample to send to a narrator, couldn’t, gave up. Thought about starting some promo art or a cover for the draft I just finished, and just…didn’t.

I should have just finished the dang sweater. My mind is like that. When I know I’m close to finishing a project, I just want to focus on that and get it done, to the exclusion of all else. It’s like that with drafts, work projects, crochet projects, household projects…you name it, if I’m near the end, I want it done and over with, yesterday. And I can’t really focus on anything else until I get that particular project done. I know this…and yet, I still persist in working against my natural inclinations…and it never ends well.

Can I say definitively that if I’d finished the sweater, I might have been more focused in doing the other tasks afterward, for less chaos on Monday? No, I can’t…but I suspect that would have been the outcome. Someday maybe I’ll remember I wanted to test that theory and actually find out…

Now for something completely unrelated, but interesting nonetheless, in my opinion.

I’ve finally jumped into the Instagram web space (just JamieDeBree if you want to look me up there – because I’m original like that), now that I have a cell, and that makes taking/uploading photos incredibly easy. As a text-loving geek, I’m doing my level best to find my way in an increasingly image-ridden world, and as a tea-snob/lover, I’m also trying to work my way through a bunch of monthly subscription teas that have been piling up on my counter. So I started posting a tea break photo in the evenings when I make tea before I come back to my office to work.

Odd though it may be, the tea photos actually seem to be the most popular pictures I post. Isn’t that crazy, especially given the number of people who seem to truly hate food photos of any kind? Apparently, a lot of people like the looks of a good cuppa, and I can’t say I blame ’em. Still, kinda weird. But cool.

2014-09-08 22.49.58-1

And on that note, here’s to a far less chaotic Tuesday all around, eh?


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