Monday, January 31, 2011

Six Miles

Oh, how I've missed you. This is the distance at which I feel I am finally ready to begin something, the distance at which I actually feel confident in saying, yes, I am a runner. A nice easy six miles on a lazy Sunday, an intense six miles worth of intervals at the track or on the treadmill, a busy six miles for work days when I just have to do a little more but don't really have the time for it. And of course the wonderful six miles plus in a 10K --- long enough to feel worth investing time and money in a race, but short enough to not make too big a production out of it (or short enough to bust my gut on, should I feel so inclined).

I took my six today slowly, slowly, staying on main roads near bus routes in case I had misjudged this returning fitness thing. I ran it with a small pack so that I could end at the grocery store and library --- we have a major storm coming up and I don't expect to be able to run errands during the week. And since I had the day off (worked Saturday) I ran it knowing I could spend as much time stretching afterward as I might need to, as much time in a hot shower as I wanted, and as much time lolling around the apartment feeling absolutely glorious from having run my six miles. And I did, I did.

Blessed be the six-mile run, for you are perfect in all your many forms.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Workshop In Progress - Jan. 26 (two days late)

So, everything is now cut and even mostly pinned together (though I ran out of pins and miscalculated the number of squares I would need in one fabric, which I haven't had opportunity to cut yet).
The basic idea is to have six rows of nine patch, with a thin sashing of the purple cloth between them, the width of the sashing to be determined once I have made my blocks and laid them out. I may also end up repeating some blocks or using some of a single fabric, I like the idea of some breaks from all the shifting colors.

Since I'm using the purple for the sashing I won't use it in the front blocks. I decided this after having cut all my fabric, though, so I'm going to go ahead and make the blocks with purple in them and then use them in the backing somehow.

The overwhelming advice I got about the backing was to NOT use the knit, and as a beginning quilter I'm going to go with that. (Plus tax refund, woo-hoo! So I don't mind so much buying more fabric.) I'll use the knit for something else, maybe a softie. I plan to go back to the store where I bought all my fat quarters and see if they still have some on the bolt, using one of those or something compatible as the backing, with the purple squares as an accent.

No questions this week, just excited to get sewing! It's been very interesting to see how things look when chopped up small and I'm curious to see what it's like once the seam allowance is also taken up.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More Baking

Well I have just become quite the homemaker this winter, baking bread this weekend and then attacking my  mending pile yesterday (and hopefully finishing up tonight).

First time baking yeast bread in years, I can't even remember when I last did, I think before moving to Chicago over ten years ago. But all this past year I've had an odd desire to bake bread, and have just been held up by the quantities involved in the recipes I looked at. (Aside from not needing three loaves at a single time, I just don't feel like wrestling 10+ cups of flour. Ever.)

I hadn't even planned to bake anything this weekend, but The Dude was making soup with the leftover turkey from Thanksgiving and thought how nice a good bread would be to have with it --- and all of a sudden I was volunteering.

I went ahead with a simple recipe for rye bread I had and had forgotten about (one loaf) so that I wouldn't get frozen trying to decide between recipes and approaches, and it turned out pretty well, if a little on the doughy side. From the reading I've done since then it looks like baking it at a lower temperature for longer will help with that, as will making sure the dough isn't sticky from the get-go. But the taste is good, as is the crust. And I've been enjoying bringing in ham sandwiches for lunch made on my very own rye bread.

I even liberated a bread-sized basket from other uses so I think bread-baking may have to become a regular part of my repertoire --- now I want to find the recipe for the oatmeal bread I used to make nearly every week.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Studio Space

Oh, I dream about having a room of my own --- or at least a significant chunk of space where I can lay projects out and leave them there for a while.

In the meantime, some photos from the space I currently work in, which is a corner of our main room.

Actually, I'm blessed by good afternoon light, and a nice stretch of floor and our eating table to lay things out on when I'm working on them. I just have to always, always, put everything away again.

The center table is my "office" space, so I don't use that much for projects. Maybe not the best layout, now that I think about it, though of course all this has kind of just grown up and around my middle desk as I've been doing more with my hands. We plan to do a major re-org of our two front rooms soon, so these are good things for me to think about. 

And while I'm wishing, a bit of wall space would be nice too!

Workshop in Progress - Jan. 19

So I managed to undo, pick threads from, and iron all the strips from the blocks I showed you last week and had started to work on a design when I realized I wanted to use some fabric from another set of blocks I had also done last year... so started over with that set as well. Some photos from the second round:


Thank you for all the design suggestions last week! I love Stacked Coins, but had already been planning to use that for a bed quilt I hope to make after this one. At first I thought I would use the Nine Patch with sashing from Amanda Jean's website that Token Asian Friend recommended, but on continued thought I've decided to stick to fabrics I already have and not purchase anything more right now, and there's nothing I have in sufficient quantity that would work for sashing for this. So instead I will use Nine Patch across the whole top and alternate between fabrics in the same color family to keep the individual blocks separate. I'm working on the drawing for this and will have it up next week.

A comment about the fabrics being "girly" got me thinking about the colors (and occasioned the desire to use some of my other fabric as well). The baby I'm making this quilt for has not yet been conceived, let alone possess a gender... let's say this quilt is about setting intentions and being open to possibilities. I'm thinking reds/purples and greens/blues.

So, this week I have a specific question. For the backing, I plan to use a very thin soft cotton knit salvaged from a beloved pyjama set. I figure I'll need to use interfacing, but have no idea how to go about it or how to choose the type of interfacing. Any suggestions? I'll need to use it for another project as well, where I'll be lining a denim amp cover with material from yet another pair of PJs.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Following Up (With Visual Aids)

A photo from my kitchen, to illustrate some recent themes...

First, corn muffins, meant for chili that night. In the silicone liners, after all. Because they're not as difficult to clean as I like to complain, I already own them so don't have to spend any money, and because, really, could a girl who still uses cloth napkins from childhood buy something as wasteful as muffin liners for something to be eaten at home?

There's only ten in the photo because two had already been consumed for my lunch. With honey and butter. Mmm.

Then, just behind and to the right --- a pitcher. Currently used to empty the dishwasher when it won't drain completely (a cold weather problem). At least now we have determined that it actually works better when used more, rather than less, frequently, though that has led to some pretty sparse loads.

And finally, in the corner, a toaster waiting to be cleaned, after a certain imp placed the vitamin bottles on top of it (and his in it) and then turned it on. Fortunately, while the plastic bottles softened they did not melt --- unfortunately, this was enough to undo the top of his, creating an unholy mess of fish oil and several months' worth of uncleaned breadcrumbs. Note to self: clean the crumb tray more often.

And then a mug of hot chocolate, because after several hours of wrangling said imp, he finally went down for a nap, and I could sit down and watch the playoffs.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ow, Ow, Ow

Hmmm, did something to my ribs and shoulder and now everything hurts. I don't remember being hugged by a bear. Decided to forego the gym and weights this morning and went for a run instead, hoping that once I warmed up I would feel fine. Nope --- anything deeper than a shallow breath hurts. Well, at least that kept me running as slowly as I should be right now. Best guess is that this is actually very delayed pain from my aggressive weight-lifting on Sunday, maybe made worse by the cold and an always-growing young imp.

It's been disheartening to see how slow I am right now, and how short my runs are. One would not believe that I'd run so much last year. So I'd hoped to do four miles today, my old route. But I changed things up to avoid running in the park (probably still icy), and in the end my USATF route tracker had me at 3.88 miles. Hrumpf. I also noticed that my ITB was a bit louder than it's been when running on the treadmill, even at higher speeds, so I think I need to keep all speedwork to the gym right now, and just slog out my long runs slowly. And be more compliant with my treatment plan (that is, actually follow one).

I did miss the pool today, a swim would have been just the thing for my poor upper body I think (slow steady stretching and letting the water massage me), but I need a new suit first.

Well, at least I'm running, and I got to run outside, and I have other options at the gym as well, now just down the street from me and with working machines. Keeping on.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Baking Again

Oh, and I think I've found the answer to my quick bread woes...


Easier to portion out, easier to freeze extra (as if we ever had any left after a couple of days), more even baking. And any quick bread recipe can be used for muffins instead.

And no more trying to be environmentally conscious by using unlined muffin tins or the silicone cups --- it's paper liners from now on.

Any favorite recipes to share?

Workshop in Progress - Jan. 12

So, I've decided to take part in an online quilt circle, Workshop in Progress, hosted by Cheryl of Naptime Quilter. I'm so excited! And nervous.

I've been playing with lots of different ideas over the past year, and am overwhelmed by the distance between my vision and my resources (skills, time, available fabric, money to buy new fabric). I don't need to go into all that but will stick with what's in front of me.

Over the past two years I've accumulated a small stash of fat quarters, and then last spring I put together a bunch of them in an approximate Urban Amish pattern (since I made all the strips the same width). I'm glad now that I didn't do a true Urban Amish since I don't like the combinations and will spend the next couple of weeks of train time undoing them, but at least by having all the strips the same width I can easily reuse them for another pattern, I'm thinking a Nine Patch. Once I get the seams undone I can play around better with the design.

My batting is a size called "craft," 34x45". I had wanted the "baby" size but also knew that I wanted to work with this brand (I love the feel and color and have read such good reviews) and this is what they had in the store at the time I could go. At first I was disappointed but as I started laying out possible designs I realized this was the best choice for me for a first quilt. Small!

My next free day for machine sewing is in a couple of weeks (my toddler makes it hard for me to use it when awake and I don't dare run it during his increasingly spare naptime), so by then I need to have my seams undone, a design chosen, and fabric cut. I won't get another machine day until March. For this and other reasons I'm planning to just use a whole-cloth backing.

I have my seam ripper and my graph paper out --- time to get started!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Apologies and Insecurities

Half of me wants to go back and delete everything I've written here about art and not post again until I feel halfway proficient at something.

I look at my past work (mostly painting and drawing) and think, "How did I do that? No, really, how?" Such a mystery, how one mark against another resolves itself into something more.

And now I find myself mostly wanting to work in fabric --- quilting, embroidery, perhaps painting and printing too. A whole new world to feel insecure in.

Well, hopefully that last bit of self-pity is out now. One last spurt of "pardon-my-hubris-for-thinking-of-sharing-anything-at-all-and-go-gentle-on-me" before I participate in an online quilt group and start posting some of my other work.

Toddler Fun

Oh, the mind of a toddler.

Note how he's sorted by type of animal.

Like our low-tech child-proofing?
I am constantly fascinated by his inventiveness --- when it doesn't make me feel like banging my head against a wall.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What I've Been Doing (And Reading, And Thinking)

So what have I been doing over the last couple of months? Making gifts for people, mostly. Beaded bracelets (still in process),  card sets of quilt designs, and lots and lots of felt bird ornaments in different color combinations. And I still owe my husband a cover for his amp. (And photos, here, just waiting for time and good light to coincide.)

I do most of my sewing on the train, and the movement of my hand combined with the movement of the train and of the cityscape going by lends itself nicely to thinking...

about the question of "modern" quilting (this post is what really got me started on this), and how the word "modern" applied to painting has a pretty precise meaning which, despite my art history major, I don't know all that much about, which then sent me to the library...

and then my reading about the lives of artists has given me a better sense of the movements they were part of than any of my textbooks ever did, which makes me want to learn more...

but reading those lives shows me how little work I've actually done in my life and how ill-prepared I've been at any time to even contemplate trying to make a go of it professionally, either as an artist or off the arts.

Disheartening, yes. But at least now I've finally started, and while I don't have five hours a day to devote to becoming the next Gabrielle M√ľnter, for example, I can spend five hours a week becoming the next me. (Oh, cheesy, I know, but still true.)

Recently read:
Leavened with memoirs and urban fantasy.

And currently on my reading table:
And then many more goodies on my to-read shelf, thanks to Christmas presents and my own year-end book buying.

Friday, January 7, 2011

2011 Resolution #3

Spend a year exploring my work (and the work of artists I admire), without thought of selling it, and document what I learn.

Some history here.

I have a lifelong history with making art --- and then stopping. Wanting to find a way to make a living from it --- and getting scared (and really, not having the necessary life skills to be able to do so anyway). A few months ago I got tired of stopping, as I wrote a while back, and since then have been making things consistently again, helped by my decision to make Christmas presents for a number of people (still finishing some of those up).

During this time I have also been exploring the world of entrepreneurship in general, and specifically the possibility of selling my work online through Etsy. I've done a lot of back-and-forth, round-and-round on this. The more I research the more it's clear that I could indeed sell my stuff online, if I wanted to. There's a market for anything, if you find it and promote yourself well, and I know that certain items I make would have a market. I've also grown up a lot since I last seriously considered selling my work, and I have a lot more of the necessary skills to make a go of it, emotional and otherwise. 

But what I'm also seeing right now is that all the thinking about selling my work is getting in the way of the exploring I need to do. One thing I've lost in all the starting and stopping over the years is the opportunity to really develop a vision and a style of my own. And I want that, I want to discover my artistic voice and learn what it is I have to say. Despite all my turning away from art, I keep coming back to it. Why? What it is I need to say, what is it that art-making offers me? I need to explore this, without any additional distractions. My life offers enough distractions all on its own.

So, I'm giving myself a year to just explore my art without thinking about selling it. And I will commit to documenting what I do and what I learn. I'm curious to see where I end up --- already in the past two months I've been much surprised at what I feel pulled to do, once I let myself play without self-imposed limits. And at what deep happiness I've felt doing it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How I’m Doing My Resolutions

Just a side note here to explain how it is I actually plan to carry out these resolutions, since what I’ve written so far is almost comically vague. I’m using some guidelines from the website The Simple Dollar, which I’ve elaborated on here.

  1. State your resolution in concrete terms, with ways to measure it. Ie., if your goal is to be “a better mother,” what exactly do you mean? These measures need to be meaningful to you.
  2. Identify precise day-by-day steps to accomplish your goal.
  3. Create a specific daily plan for the first month, and a way to review your progress.
  4. Keep a diary of that progress.
  5. What additional time is needed to achieve this goal? Where will this time come from? What will you give up to get that time? I find this a great reality check.
  6. Write everything down.
  7. Identify how you’re feeling at the start of this goal and then again at set intervals.

Obviously I’m not including all this detail on the website. Talk about mind-numbing! But I have done all this preparatory work for each of my goals and have a way of keeping track and reviewing my progress during the year.

And the most important thing to remember with goal-setting, in my opinion? “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Way too often I’ve stopped short on a goal because I “failed” some smaller step along the way and used that as a reason to stop altogether. But now? “Progress, not perfection.” (I did train as a therapist, after all.)

2011 Resolution #2

Be job search ready by the end of the year.

Now, I don’t mean to scare anyone from work who might be reading this, I have no immediate plans to look for another job. Really.

But we keep getting more serious about moving closer to The Dude’s family, at some point, eventually, before Buddy gets into middle school for sure... and it’s been over ten years and several position changes since I last updated my resume. Ack. And while in general I’m satisfied with my job, there are certainly things I’d like to do more of (and things I’d certainly like to do less of, too!). And I have a feeling there may be changes down the road at my place of work, perhaps even within my department…

Chance favors the prepared mind, and I’d like to be prepared.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2011 Resolutions - #1

Get to 145 lbs. and run the Chicago Half-Marathon in September.

After running the marathon this year, I had all kinds of other, more demanding, physical goals for myself. Triathlons, ultras, lose even more weight, etc. Then, during my official “rest period” I found myself more seriously making things again, sewing, drawing, painting. Then I got hurt, and tried to figure out how I could work out at all. And then with the holidays I got super busy at work during the daylight and twilight hours, and super busy at home during the dark hours. And then somehow it was the end of the year and I had not worked out in five weeks… and had not missed it as much as I thought I would have… and had done a lot of thinking in the meantime about what my goals are for myself and what our goals are as a family. And I came to the conclusion that I don’t want to give the time right now for those demanding physical goals, and I probably won’t want to spend the time on them for a few years.

Well, that’s a shift, I know, and it kind of left me uneasy for a bit, wondering about questions of identity, etc., etc. (this is the sort of stuff that I don’t mind reading about but bores me silly to think about writing down).

But I do miss running, and I do want to lose more weight (dagnabbit, I want to at least be able to say I am no longer officially “overweight,” regardless of how arbitrary that damn BMI measure might be). And I know that I love both distance and speedwork, and that I need a race goal to keep me focused, and that I want to be able to maintain a certain level of running fitness so that when I do want to run another marathon (there are a couple in my sights) I don’t have to spend a lot of time just to get ready to start the training. I figure a half-marathon a year should take care of me.

As for the losing weight… well, just as I am out of condition with my running, I am somewhat out of condition with beautiful healthful eating. But I am moving back in that direction and there is nothing like eating with training in mind to make me eat well. We have joined our neighborhood gym so I’ll be able to switch in more focused cardio and weight-lifting for my swimming (I’ll miss the swim but not that pool and certainly not dragging my wet stuff around with me all day), which should also help with the pounds. And there is certainly nothing like being surrounded by wall-length mirrors to remind me of the extra weight I’m carrying!

Already my training plan for the week is somewhat derailed, as I left work unexpectedly today to get a sick Buddy and will be home with him tomorrow (and then heading in early and staying late on Friday to make up for it). A shining example of why I scaled back my physical goals. A year ago I could be gone all day and he didn’t seem to even notice much --- now I’m out for an evening meeting and the next day it’s “No Mommy – Daddy!” when I come to get him in the morning. He needs me more now and that will be doubly true if we end up having another kid. Well, I went most of my adult life without being marathon-ready --- a few more years won’t hurt me.

Coming up… resolutions #2 and #3.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

La, La, La!

It's been eight weeks since I ran without ITB pain.
It's been 5 weeks since I worked out in any form (not counting the literal running around and schlepping I've been doing for work). It's also been 5 weeks since I did any yoga.

I am stiff, I am slow, and I am sick (so out of breath), but today I went out and ran 3 miles (with walk breaks) and had no pain.


So what have I been up to in the last eight weeks? Lots of work, lots of family, some being sick. Lots of sewing and other gift-making. Lots of thinking about how I want to use my time. Lots of reading about goal-setting and personal finance on the one hand, and modern art and quilting on the other.

I've identified some goals for the next year and I'll be writing about them soon, but for now I'm so happy to be back --- on my feet and online.

Happy New Year!