Learning Things

Perks of Being a Guinea Pig, or Unraveled ... but Without Knitting

One of my friends is an artist here in town -- and she is developing a series of workshops she plans to offer in her studio beginning early next year.  As part of her "development" she's running prototype workshops -- and she invited me to be one of her guinea pigs!

So a couple of weeks ago, I sat down to a whole new set of tools . . . 


and an overwhelming array of paper choices . . . 


to learn how to make paper-covered boxes.

I love "making things" -- and I love learning new stuff -- so this was right up my alley.  And lots of fun, to boot.  (Also a huge mess.  Which is also fun.)


And look what came out of this prototype workshop . . . 


A fully-functional and super colorful . . . 


paper-covered box!


I'll be doing another prototype workshop with my friend this coming Friday.  More boxes.  Maybe some covered journals as well.  (She wants to smooth out some rough edges we encountered in the first go-round.)  (Kind of like . . . test-knitting.)  

I LIKE being a guinea pig!


Be sure to check out other Unraveled posts over at Kat's!




Stepping Way Out

Last Friday, I stepped way, WAY outside my comfort zone and went to an all-day, outside "sketching" workshop . . . 

in an unfamiliar location

with not one person I knew

sketching (publicly)

I'm still not sure what possessed me to sign up and go, exactly.  (Although I've always wanted to be able to sit and sketch a landscape.)  

(And . . . because journey.)  

So I went.

I got a little bit lost on my way there.  I almost just bailed and turned back for home.  

(But I didn't.)

The location turned out to be a fabulous private garden property (way out in the country on a totally unmarked road, which led to the getting lost part) that made me gasp at every turn.


I delighted in exploring the grounds with my gardener's eye.

And I was so very glad I had my camera with me (because sketching alone, for me, would never have done the place justice).


It really was a perfect day -- comfortable weather, not too much sun, bird song in the air, and lovely vignettes and vistas . . . 










Most of the other workshoppers just plopped down in front of some incredibly picturesque view, got out their easels and their watercolors, and sketched/painted the day away.


I was a bit more restless (and a lot less accomplished).  I moved around from place to place . . . and mostly sketched various leaves.


(Because . . . just beginning.)

The very-patient-and-incredibly-supportive instructor kept phrasing all of her feedback to me with the following statement, "for those returning to the visual arts after a very long pause."  (Cracked me up every time!)


It was a lovely day, all the way around.  I'm glad I didn't head home when I got a little lost, because the overall experience was worth a little personal "thrashing about."  (Journeys are just like that.)

Flower Power

On Tuesday, I went to the annual meeting of the Kalamazoo Garden Council (a luncheon, complete with chicken).  (Natch.)  The speaker (because there's always a speaker) was the owner of this most excellent floral design studio here in Kalamazoo, and she was going to demonstrate how we could create our own floral "masterpieces" from whatever was blooming in our own gardens.

(Right, I said.)  (Floral arrangement is just not one of my things.) 

We all needed to bring flowers that were blooming in our own gardens to the event, and Dorothy would use whatever we brought.

(There were lots of peonies.)  (And iris.)  (And one woman brought blooming cuttings from her recently-pruned mock orange tree.)  (I just brought a bucket of Solomon's Seal.)  (Because I have way plenty.)  (And I'm selfish with my best blooming stuff.)

I was pretty skeptical.  But I soon changed my tune.

Because Dorothy . . . made magic from our garden cuttings!


She's a professional . . . so she made quick work of putting just the right flowers and foliage together.


And she knew just how "tall" the plant material needed to be.  (One of my biggest floral arrangement issues -- everything I put together is always too "tall" or too "short," and always, always too uniform in height.)


She created amazing floral displays.  (Not sure if you can see it in this photo, but Dorothy lined the clear vase in the middle of the arrangement above with giant hosta leaves - underside facing the glass. It just looked amazing!)


Each time she created a new design, I said, "Oh, THAT's my favorite."  (Each time.)


And, I was pretty much right.


I would usually love even Dorothy's "beginnings," like this sweet collection of smoke tree leaves with one sweet pink peony.


But then, she'd just keep adding elements . . . and it would just keep getting better and better!


For her last trick, Dorothy grabbed my bunch of Solomon's Seal as the base for this arrangement.  (A triumph for me.)  (I had felt sort of selfish . . . because I just brought a bunch of greenery, and not the best blooms of my garden.)  (So it helped that she used them!)


Which ended up . . . my favorite.  (Of course.)


It was a lovely and inspirational demonstration.

So much so . . . that I went home and tried one of my own!  

As usual, the Solomon's Seal is too long and my peonies are too short.  But, hey!  It looks pretty great on my dining room table!


The power . . . of flowers!


Right Now - April 2015

April . . .  always a mixed bag.  You just never know what April will bring.  Crazy weather, for sure.  But the beginnings of True Spring . . . with added sunlight and generally warming temperatures.  By the end, April kind of looks like this . . . and I'm thrilled.


Here's what's happening for me . . . RIGHT NOW!

WATCHING . . .  PBS.  Wolf Hall - loved the book; love the series, and Call the Midwife - still charming, although getting a tad routine.  (Where is Chummy???? Did I miss something???  Is she coming back?  Sort of like Sister Mary Cynthia?)  (Just found this. . . she'll be back.)


KNITTING . . . Plugging away on Romi's Mystery Shawl.  (That's it, up there.  I'm sorry if you didn't want to see a spoiler.  But I blurred it, so it's still kind of . . . mysterious.  Besides, there's only one more clue and then it'll be out there anyway.)  I'm not really sold on that middle stripe thing yet.  At all.  But will have to wait to see how it looks blocked and finished.  When I'm not (constantly) knitting on that (to keep up with the clues), I've cast on for this sweater.  So far, so good.  (But I haven't gotten very far at all.)

LISTENING . . . Kinda been in a John Mayer mood lately . . . 


DRINKING . . . More water!  I'm trying to stay a bit more hydrated.

DREADING . . . An upcoming committee commitment that is just . . . well.  Kind of lame.  


REGRETTING . . . Too much too soon, apparently.  A bit of three-steps-forward-one-step-back, so . . . a return to the ice bag.

PLANNING . . . I am planning my "attack" on the last - and hardest - of my Kon-Mari purge zones: my knitting/sewing room, my boxes of "memorabilia," and photographs.  I think a re-read of certain sections of my Kon-Mari "bible" are in order, but I'm nearly ready to DIG IN!

HUMMING . . . A catchy little Weezer tune.


ITCHING TO . . . Sit out on the patio every evening, under my bistro lights, with a glass of wine and something to read.

ORGANIZING . . . All the garden things!


DELIGHTED BY . . . My drawing class.  Why a drawing class?  Because I really want to take a printmaking class.  And maybe a watercolor class.  And "Drawing I" is a prerequisite. So . . . here I am, dusting off the cobwebs (because the last time I took a drawing class was back in college) and - surprise - having a great time!

NEEDING TO . . . Clear off the kitchen island for Tom's return.  (I tend to set out my "projects" on the island when he's away, but never when he's at home.)


ENJOYING . . .  A new morning routine that includes meditation, yoga, and regular journaling.  Sure, I have to get out of bed a bit earlier, but totally worth it!

CELEBRATING . . . An end to physical therapy.  Tom's return this weekend.  My dad's birthday.  And Spring!

How about YOU?  What's going on for you . . . RIGHT NOW?


Knitting: The Dark Side

When I post about knitting these days, it's usually to share nice, finished, well-behaved projects in lovely, staged photo shoots.


Not THIS day!

After finishing this most lovely shawl . . . and then after getting "stuck" on a certain hat pattern . . . I just sort of felt like knitting a sweater.

But . . . which one????

After perusing Ravelry (for far too long), I decided that I was in the mood for a pullover.  And,  ultimately, I decided on this one.

But . . . in which yarn????  (Because I have plenty of options to choose from.)  

After an extensive stash-dive, I decided to try some of this lovely stuff.  It's been kind of burning-a-hole in my stash . . . after I picked it up last year for a song -- at a "discontinued close-out" at my local yarn shop.

I knew, from the start, that I was treading in deep, dark water.

First, I'm not a fan of top-down sweaters -- and especially not when they're pullovers.  (Wonky necklines and such.)

Second, I only have 900 yards of the yarn -- with little-to-no chance of getting more.  (Because discontinued.)  (And I tend to be one of those knitters that always has to break into that one, last skein --- even if just for 3 feet . . . just to bind off.)

But I decided . . . I'll risk it!  (After all . . . this year is all about The Journey!)

So I got started.  And I was right.  The neckline was wonky.  (Although that might be salvaged with the finishing.)  And I was hemorrhaging yarn from the git-go! (All that texture.)  After using three of my nine skeins, I was only this far along . . . 


I got Serious.  I did the maths.  (I was definitely going to be cutting it short on yardage.)  I tried it on.  (Maybe I wouldn't like the fit.)


But I did.

I decided to go ahead and knit the neck ribbing -- and start weighing every couple of rows or so.


I made careful notes.  I did some more maths.  I weighed again.  I knit half a sleeve.


It became ever-more-clear . . . that I had entered the Dark Side. 
I was over my head!
I was definitely not going to have enough yarn.
I didn't want to go through the hassle of begging Other Knitters to sell me some.

Enough was enough.


I called it quits.
I ripped.

Sometimes knitting just doesn't . . . add up!  
And it's best to quit before you drown.

(But I did learn that I want to knit this particular sweater again.  I just want to use yarn that I have PLENTY of from the start!)

Five . . . One Little Words

After participating in One Little Word for several years now, I find myself eagerly awaiting what the new year - and my new word - will bring me.  Because I have learned some important personal lessons with each of my words!

(I know.  It sounds kind of wacky.  But I've discovered that there really is power in having a year-long focus on One Little Word.)

The whole thing started in 2011, the first time I signed up for Ali Edwards' One Little Word project.  My word that year was MOVE .  I chose that word because I felt like I needed some inspiration to get myself moving - basically, to get off my butt!  (You see, I'm a daydreamer at heart.  I can sit, quietly, and think about things all day.  Which is fine.  But.  Sometimes you need to get those dreams in motion.)   That first year, I got totally overwhelmed by the "project" end of things:  scrapbooking, supplies, keeping up with the monthly prompts.  In fact, I was so focused on the "project" that I didn't get much out of the "process."

What I learned that first year . . . is that I wanted to try it again.  (And that was a way to MOVE, when you think about it.)


In 2012, my word was SHINE.   I started out strong with the prompts and my word in 2012 -- but quickly flamed out.  (It was the scrapbooking!  Totally not my thing.)  What I learned from my word that year:  Do it YOUR way!  Shine YOUR light -- and don't reflect someone else's.  I learned to be inspired by the process, without feeling the pressure to do the projects.


In 2013, my word was SURPRISE.  I was hoping to surprise myself that year . . . and I did!  I learned something completely simple -- and very obvious (although it wasn't at all when I began).  You can't plan to be surprised; you can't set off looking for surprise.  You need to be open to being surprised -- and, when you are, why . . . you discover that surprises happen all around you, all the time.  (Surprise!)


Last year, my word was POSSIBILITY.  It turned out to be my most transformational word yet -- which was what I was looking for when I chose it.  (Just in a whole 'nother way!)  I expected to disover "new somethings."  But what I discovered . . . is that I really needed to clear out and create space for possibility in my life.

This year . . . 


And by now, I know that I'll end up someplace I really can't quite imagine right now.

So that's . . . Five One Little Words.

Five lessons.

(But not five scrapbooks.)


If you're joining along in Ali Edwards' class this year for the first time -- and you're finding the scrapbooking and supply lists and prescribed projects a bit overwhelming or daunting, let me know.  I am a completely rogue participant at this point.  I use Ali's monthly prompts as inspiration -- and then I do my own thing.  (It's my way to SHINE.)

Also -- it's never to late to join in.  Click here to register for Ali's class.


More Learnin'


All day yesterday, I had fun mulling over today's Ten on Tuesday topic, Ten Things (Subjects) You Wish You Knew More About.  Just what was I interested in learning more about?

Then, when I got home, I pulled this out of my mailbox:


A catalog from The Great Courses.  (80% off the Pure Joy of Learning!  Act now!)

I get these catalogs from time to time, but I've never actually opened one and looked inside.  Today, though . . . it seemed like serendipity!  So I looked inside.

Their courses are much cheaper than I expected -- and cover the gamut of subjects:  Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior.  Daily Life in the Ancient World.  Practicing Mindfulness.  Fundamentals of Photography.  Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking.  How to Listen To and Understand Great Music.  Nutrition Made Clear.  Latin 101.  Financial Literacy.  Great World Religions.

Truly. . . something for everyone.

But I don't think I'll be signing up for this one anytime soon:


Yeah.  The Joy of Mathematics.  (Although I must admit to being charmed by the lectures titled "The Joy of the Imaginary Number i" and "The Joy of the Number e."  Not so much though with "The Joy of Proofs" and "The Joy of Differential Calculus.")

If not The Joy of Mathematics, then. . . what Ten Things DO I Wish I Knew More About?

  1. Italian.  I wish I knew a few handy phrases . . . like . . . "Another glass of chianti, please."  Or "Where are the bathrooms?"  Or "How much for this exquisite leather bag?"  (I think I can do something about this one before September!)
  2. Photoshop.  I have taken 3 (count them. . . 3!) Photoshop classes.  My problem?  I don't practice enough, and then I forget.
  3. Dog Agility Training.  I think Jenny and/or JoJo (but not both at once!) would love agility training.  
  4. Piano.  It sits right there in my living room every day.  All I have to do is practice.  (See Photoshop, above.)
  5. Art History.  Especially before I go to Italy.  (Maybe I should take a closer look at the offerings in The Great Courses catalog, huh?)
  6. Weaving.  But I need another fiber art in my life like I need a hole in the head.
  7. Astronomy.  I'd love to look up at the sky and know more about what it is I'm seeing.
  8. Quantum mechanics.  Really.  I wish I could get my head around this one even just a little bit.
  9. Electricity.  But I give up.  (Actually, I'd be happy to just understand how to get the MENU to show up - reliably - on my TV screen.  But I guess that's not really electricity.  But I bet some of you will understand.)
  10. French cooking.  Like . . . real French cooking.  

How about YOU?  What do you wish you knew more about?


Join the fun!  Read other Ten on Tuesday posts here, or sign up for weekly prompts here.   

My Closet: A Metaphor for Life, Part III

I developed my personal wardrobe-philosophy over a lifetime of studying fashion, shopping, and twirling in front of mirrors.  

You know . . . 

  • Start with the basics.
  • Invest in high-quality items.
  • You can't go wrong with accessories.
  • Every woman needs (at least one) LBD.
  • Never get rid of a Burberry coat.
  • A scarf will pull it all together.
  • "If you don't absolutely love it in the store, you won't wear it."  (Sandra Bullock in The Blindside)
  • "Once you've dressed, and before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off."  (Coco Chanel)

And, really.  I lived that philosophy.  (Except for the Burberry coat.  Which I have never owned.)

What did it get me?  A closet full of clothes . . . that I thought I loved; that I thought I needed.


Then, I met Project 333.  Talk about another perspective!

Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge that invites participants to dress using 33 items (or less!) for 3 months.

33 items, people.  Including shoes, jewelry, coats, and handbags.  You might imagine my reaction.  (Let's just say it involved the F-word, followed by a reference to myself.)  

But I was intrigued.

33 items?

I read all about it.  I checked out the Facebook page. I read blogs of Project 333 participants.  I even took the Project 333 microcourse because I wanted to learn more about minimizing my maxi-sized wardrobe.  The microcourse was just what I needed, actually, to get me thinking about my wardrobe and my clothes and my philosophy.  To think about WHY.  To think about how it all fits together.  To . . . explore the possibility . . . of reducing my wardrobe.

But, still.  I knew that Project 333 wasn't really for me.  [Because accessories!  I might be able to whittle my wardrobe down to 33 pieces . . . but I would never be able to give up my jewelry or my scarves or my handbags and shoes.  (Just no.)]

So, while I'm not climbing on the Project 333 bandwagon, I am folding many of its principles into my wardrobe-philosophy:

  • Love every piece in your closet!
  • Only wear what looks good and feels good.
  • Be creative in mixing and matching.
  • Shop for what you need; don't just wander and see what "grabs you."
  • Start with the basics.
  • Invest in high-quality clothing that lasts.


And with that, I started a major closet overhaul.  I emptied everything out of my closet(s) and drawers and shelves.  I sorted.  I bagged.  I donated.  I shared.  I sorted some more.  I packed some things away to decide later.  I sorted some more.  In fact, I'm still sorting!  Every time I put something on, I question myself.  Do you love this?  Sometimes I realize I don't.  So out it goes.


Although I know my wardrobe is still WAY too full to achieve minimalist standards, I've come a long way.  It feels really liberating to love everything in my closet; to wear everything in my closet; to be able to see space between the hangers!  

And I'm not finished yet.  The sorting will continue. . .  




Paradigm Shifts

Last week at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, I was thrilled to find this year's exhibit* from Women's Journeys in Fiber --  Paradigm Shifts: Impressions of Change.

Each artist was to create a shift-style dress as a canvas to represent a paradigm shift in her life, science, politics, or religion.  The results were stunning!

This artist (who we got to meet and chat with at the show) created a "shift" to show the "shift" from 50s housewife (her mom) to today's woman (her daughter).  The front of the shift told the story of the 60s through the present . . .


While the back of the dress told the story of the 50s housewife. . .


A gardener told the story of her shifting garden -- from generic lawn to lush flower beds!


And a life-long seamstress depicted her shift from dressmaking and tailoring (on the back) . . .


to an exploration of quilting and experimental stitching techniques (on the front)!


There were several weavers . . .



a knitter . . . 


and many fascinating looks at history, and several poignant political statements. . .


This one contrasts images from fashion magazines with newspaper articles about the textile factory fire in Pakistan that killed more than 300 people.

One of my favorites . . . 


was completely made of words!


Her shift told the story of the power of love (in both English and Korean).


So many shifts!


So many stories!


Such a powerful exhibit!


For me -- surrounded as I was by flowers and gardening ideas, and inspired by color everywhere -- the shifts were the best part of the the day!

Click here if you'd like to see more of the shifts and read some of the artist statements.


*Last year's exhibit featured shoes, and the year before, it was aprons.

Totally Worth the Time

Several months ago, when it was still winter, I signed up for a day-long felting workshop at my local yarn shop.  Not knit-first-then-felt (as in bags and slippers), but felting with roving.  "Wet felting" (or sculpting with wet fiber) in the morning, and "dry felting" (or needle felting) in the afternoon.

Seemed like a great idea at the time.

But, as Saturday approached - and the weather was perfectly-suited to a lovely day in the garden - I really regretted having signed up. 

But . . .

once I got there, I had a lot of fun.

Good company . . .


a bit of a mess . . .


interesting equipment. . .


and the chance to learn a new skill  -- and create something surprising!


I especially enjoyed the afternoon session.  I have always wanted to try needle felting -- but have never taken the plunge.   I'll admit to being more than a little intimidated. 

But what fun . . . to take this . . .


and poke at it with a needle (or 4) . . . to end up with this!


Eventually, this little guy emerged from my fiber pile . . .


Now HE was completely unexpected!


It was tough to give up a Saturday - spending the day inside with fiber instead of outside with plants.  But - SURPRISE!  I loved learning new things and discovering this whole new creative "stream."


It was totally worth the time!