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Friday, June 24, 2011

My Silver Lining Detector is in Ovredrive...

Folks, one of the greatest things known to man happened to DH and me yesterday: our old TV blew out.

That's right; I am overjoyed that one of our two outdated sets has finally died out. Before you start thinking that this blogger has lost her mind, allow me to explain why I literally danced with joy when we heard the tell-tale "pop". DH and I are moving to a slightly larger apartment in two weeks, and the TV has been on the fritz for a few weeks now. If it didn't die before the move we would have ended up hauling the behemoth to our new apartment and setting it up, only to have it die on us there. Talk about wasted effort! The TV's timing was perfect, because now we only have our smaller TV to move.

Perhaps the biggest upside to this little incident is that DH has now agreed to getting a flat screen TV this Yule. The idea of the "household gift" took root in our home last year when our home Apple died a few weeks before Yule. As students we could not get our work done without a computer and we used the excuse of a "household gift" to justify the cost. Now that our TV has gone (and we've both been craving a sleeker, more updated model for some time) and the computer is almost paid off, we are going to use household gift this Yule to get that flat screen.

And boy has my mind been swimming with ideas! My decorating style is best described as "Steampunk Modern", mixing Victorian design ideas with the lighter lines of modern furniture. A clunky TV does not fit well in either of these categories. Flat screen TVs can be easily camouflaged, however, and I have spent quite a bit of time researching how.

Paint it Black
Painting the wall behind the TV black or hanging black wallpaper or fabric behind the unit can help disguise it, since most TVs are black boxes. Since we live in an apartment none of these options are really feasible, but they're good to keep on hand for future reference.

In Plain Sight
The design option that I am going with is to hide the TV among other items, drawing attention away from the set itself. Since our TV will be mounted to the wall, I can use a picture frame to dress up the edges (mounted to the wall, not the set of course), then hang other framed photos or works of art around the TV so that it blends in with them. The frame around the TV is not necessary to make this effect work, I just like the idea.

If your TV sits on a dresser or entertainment center, place a vase with flowers or a stack of decorative boxes nearby. It makes the surface more about space usage than a means by which the TV is held up, effectively drawing attention away from the appliance.

The furniture your TV sits on also determines whether or not it takes over the room. Instead of using a specialized entertainment center, which screams "I'm here so you can stare at the TV!" consider using a cute dresser or bookshelf. Just make sure it is large enough to hold the TV safely and that the furniture isn't wobbly at all.

It'll be a few months yet before we get the new set in and probably another month or so before I get the wall treatment just the way I like it. But once I do you can count on photos and details of what we did. There are plenty of other exciting projects in the works between now and then, and I can't wait to share them here!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Little Stocking That Will Be

As I mentioned in my last post, my generation doesn't really create heirlooms to be handed down through the generations. Ours is the age of mass production, and I'm sure it will only get worse as time goes on, though this will probably increase the demand for hand-made items by crafters like myself. How's that for a silver lining?

And this revelation got me thinking. I'm a skilled crafter. I can easily put together heirlooms that my children can pass down, maybe even my nieces and nephews on both mine and DH's side. While I was at it, I could start keeping a detailed account of what went on in our lives so that future genealogists would have an easier time getting to know us long after we were gone. This idea tickled my fancy so much that I set about making needlepoint Yule stockings for DH and me. So that I could brush up on my skills before starting DH's, I began my stocking first. As of today I have been steadily working on it for five days and boy can you see the progress I am making! Yesterday I promised that I would put pictures up as soon as I got them and here they are!

Day the First
This is what my piece looked like after I finished my first day of stitching. Across the top of the photo, inside the hoop, is the top border of the Aida that will be used to stitch the image. The Aida around the borders is essentially slack that will be used when I put the stocking together late this summer. (<-- Hopefully) Eventually these little stitches will become a stand of mighty evergreens... and by eventually I mean by the next day.

Day the Second
Behold the mighty evergreen trees, skirted in glorious drifts of gray-white snow! After I got used to the process, my work really flew. Not only did I finish stitching these bad boys, but I got them outlined too! Check it out...
I balked at outlining when I was younger. The backstitch seemed to tedious and pointless to me, but I have to say that it really makes a difference in the picture. In the case of my lovely stand of pine trees, they have much more detail and definition.

Day the Third

By the third day I was really going. In one night I finished that adorable little robin and the antlers he is sitting on. Eventually the antlers will belong to a cute little reindeer that is only one of several animals posing with Santa in my stocking design. I figure, I've always loved Santa (who doesn't??) and I'm Pagan, so the two went well together. I have to say though, switching from those tiny pine trees and the robin to the antlers on a much larger animal really messed up my size perspective on this piece. Thankfully I was able to get a grip on it after finishing more of the antlers.

Day the Fourth

Quite possibly the most gorgeous picture by far, this is what I have done as of last night. The robin has been outlined and all the snow drifts on this side of the design are completed.

By tonight I hope to have the antlers entirely finished and to be working on the reindeer's head and face. From there I will probably move over to Santa and then wrap up with the rest of the animals. Last but not least will be my name at the top and then the construction of the stocking itself. By the time I get to DH's stocking I will be a whiz at this!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Making Heirlooms

A few years back I became very interested in genealogy. My family thought this was a wonderful pursuit and encouraged me to dig as deep as I could. Turns out my great grandmother had also been a genealogy buff, crafting a family tree that went back several generations on either side. This was well before the Internet of course and resources like were not available, which means that she could only go back so far before the memories and physical clues of our family's past were lost. Which got me thinking...

In this age of digitalization, what evidence will be left behind for future genealogists? Are they going to get in to my e-mail provider's server and mine out every correspondence I ever sent from the numerous addresses I have used over the years? Or are they going to hope I kept a journal, only to find that I write in it maybe once every couple of months? My generation rarely produces physical evidence of their existence any more, other than what other people need of them (paperwork, schoolwork, etc). I moped over this idea for a while before coming up with a bright idea. I would set out to deliberately create evidence of the life I'm living. Christmas letters to family with copies massed and scrapbooked after every season. Photos out the wazoo and as many personalized and gorgeous crafts as my hands could churn out.

With this idea in mind I set my eyes on the goal of creating two hand-stitched Yule stockings, one each for DH and I. I've been doing needlepoint on and off since I was a little girl, so it was nice to get a refresher course and learn a few new skills along the way. After a few weeks of planning and learning the process of doing gorgeous needlepoint, I marked out the area I would be stitching on my Aida cloth and began stitching. My pattern comes from Debbie Kooler's wonderful book Second Edition Stocking Collection.

I don't have any pictures yet, but as soon as I do you can bet I will be posting them. Between the Yule Knitting, my new sweater and this needlepoint I hardly have an idle moment!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Knit One, Kill Two": A Review

I promised myself that I would read 25 books over my summer break, to make up for all the reading I don't do during the semester. One of the books I chose to read was Maggie Sefton's Knit One, Kill Two. Now, I have never really read mystery novels but Sefton's series flew off the shelves when we got them in at my local library. Such popularity indicates an entertaining read, at the very least, and when I was free to read something leisurely I ordered my own copy from the library.

Knit One, Kill Two is the story of East Coast-er Kelly Flynn's return to her childhood home of Fort Connor, Colorado to settle the affairs of her recently murdered aunt, Helen Rosburg. Kelly finds several inconsistencies in the police's theory about the murder and sets out to bring the true culprit to justice, while learning to knit no less.

As a knitter, I have to point out that I have a bias to love this book. Either Sefton is a knitter (I haven't been able to verify that either way) or she had a great consultant because the process of knitting and learning to knit is incredibly believable and true to the way things are. That being said, Sefton does just as good a job at creating believable characters with diverse personalities and filling her scenes with realistic dialogue. She even manages to create emotionally poignant situations that the reader can respond too, all in a book that is fewer than 300 pages. I'm not going to say that she's the best author ever, but she's pretty darn good. There are times when you can see that one person is pulling all the strings, such as when characters use identical euphemisms to explain a situation. And, okay, there are a lot more murders going on in this sleepy little Colorado town than is statistically probable. But those are the only things that I can really pick at in this book. Besides, I mostly read fantasy so I can overlook a statistical fluke in the local murder rate...

I started this book without very high expectations. The "Knit One, Kill Two Series" is one in a long line of "themed" mysteries that started cropping up around 2007. But, as I have said in other posts, sometimes a gimmick can work. In Maggie Sefton's case it certainly has.

Ms. Sefton has a new fan in this blogger and you can count on my spreading the word to my friends. In the meantime, I've got a few pages left and then I need to set about ordering a copy of the next volume: Needled to Death.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Revelations in Weird Places...

It's been a  few days since my last post, but that's what happens when the Real World gets a little crazy. Life in the RW will always take priority over anything I do in the digital world, and there was plenty of life being lived this weekend.

Friday night I saw a couple of bands at a local bar, the headliner being Company of Thieves. I'm no great critic of music, so I will say that I liked them and their style switches up enough to keep me interested. Other than that, you'll have to listen to them on your own to decide if you like them.

The night ended as most good nights do, with a group of friends and I sitting in IHOP at 2 a.m making the waitstaff and other late-night patrons laugh with the random shit that comes out of our mouths. None of us were drinking coffee or smoking cigarettes, and not a damn one of us was being ironic. So foist off the image that only hipsters sit in pancake houses during the wee hours of the morning. It's the great experience that every 20-something living in America should experience. No pressure to be cool or be hard, just good times with friends, fried foods, and pancakes.

Saturday was much more mellow, the highlight of my day being time spent with my little sister. And when I say little, I mean it. My sister is more than a decade my junior, so it's almost like hanging out with a niece or nephew, but much harder because she is my sister and there are certain things sisters do that we just can't. We can't swap clothes, we can't share gossip, and there is no way in hell that she'll come to me for boyfriend advice. But she is my little sister and the time we spend together is always enjoyable. And while I was out and about with her, a shocking revelation came to light. Well to say that it was sudeen would be a lie. It was more like little bits and pieces of information had been floating around in my brain and finally came to rest together in one spot. An esoteric coral reef had been growing in my head:

I'm actually becoming the person I want to be.

When I was younger I would look at my mother and say "gee, I wish I could be more like her." As I got older I became more like my mother at the same time that I realized my mother was not perfect and maybe, just maybe, there were certain ways in which I wanted to be very different. Adding to that conundrum was the inevitable comparisons I made between myself and others my own age. Am I as smart as they are? Am I as socially graceful? Do I look as grown up? More often than not the answers were all no, and I felt like an immature ugly duckling annoying all the swans as they turned beautiful and became important. This feeling plagues me even now, that not nearly as strongly as it once did. Most of the time I feel that I am doing alright. Not an ugly duckling by not a swan. And then there are days like today, where I get a glimpse of my life beyond the moment I am living in and I realize that I am on the right path.

Little things usually provide these insights, things that most people would consider stupid and trivial. The discovery of my personal decorating style, the completion of a rather arduous novel I promised myself I would read, even the successful creation of a new recipe. None of these things seem world-changing and I doubt that most people would put nearly as much value on them as I do. I place so much value on them that I look for any opportunity to try something new. And it has paid off. While I was out with my sister I thought of the sweater I am about to start knitting, my first attempt at a sweater. I thought about the gorgeous blue-green pine color of the yarn, the classic "off the shoulder" neck line, the thick wool I was knitting it with... and I realized that the sweater was not something a teenager would knit for herself. It is not something a child would knit for herself. It is the garment of a young woman who wants something warm and just a little sexy to wear during the god-awful winter months in the American Midwest. Something to brighten up her day when she wears it... I had been thinking like a women when I chose that pattern.

This realization had rocked me enough that I sat down. One of the reasons I am so often unsure of myself is because I feel like I do not think like a "real" adult, but more like an overgrown teenager. DH has argued with me over this more than once, asking me what qualified as a real adult in a world where eighty year old men and women can do the most juvenile of things. I can never explain it to him, most often leaving him frustrated and me perplexed at my own inability to explain the world view in my head. But today was different. Today, had he been awake, I could have explained it to him. A real adult does things for themselves, not because other people think they should. That is not to say that real adults are selfish bastards. On the contrary, they have a moral set that includes their actions' impacts on other people and they weigh them accordingly. But for years I have judged even the smallest things in my life according to what others would think. Should I wear this, should I use that slang term, is this something too dorky to spend my time on... the bullies I faced throughout elementary and secondary school were always in my head, reminding me of the loser they thought I was.

But not any more. Today I forgot they had ever existed and I lived in a moment that was all for me. I made a choice and applied my energies to something because I know I will love the way it turns out, the way it makes me feel and look. Today I healed myself of at least one old wound I never thought I would be rid of. It might reopen, it might not, but for now it is closed tight and I am at peace.

Who ever said self-reflection didn't work?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

An Honest Look at FLYLady By Someone Who Uses It... Sometimes

Sometimes I think that I underestimate myself. Other times I think I grossly overestimate myself. My phases of self-belittlement usually come after I have tried to accomplish something and failed. Rarely are these endeavors craft or school related. More often than not, I feel I have failed in being a domestic goddess. I can tell you right now that my home is not very well decorated. It looks like exactly what it is: the apartment of two newly wed college students who make barely more than minimum wage and got most of their furniture from thrift stores and the picked-over hand-me-downs of relatives. Our wedding provided us with the means to get a few new pieces of furniture but we still have several "toss away" pieces left, like our dining room table and computer desk.
This entry is not meant to be a complaint about how juvenile my apartment is, or how rarely I find myself motivated to clean it. Nor is it a statement on how "funky cool" I think my apartment is. Because, honestly, my apartment is not "funky cool".
This entry is intended to share a wonderful resource I have found that motivates me to clean my apartment, pamper myself once in a while, and shine my sink. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I am talking about the FLYLady website and book.
Picture courtesy of
DISCLAIMER: I know there are a lot of people out there who don't like FLYLady and her suggestions. I also realize that there are a lot of people who think she is greatest thing since sliced bread and that she has saved them from near-hoarder tendencies. I am neither of these people. The FLYLady system was helpful for my life because it gave me a system of reminders and checklists to keep my mind focused for more than a minute or so, which is tough for me. So take this whole review with a grain of salt.
FLYLady provides a basis to help you form daily routines and put some order in to your life. Mara Ciley, also known as The FLYLady, encourages her readers to take baby steps, establishing one small routine at a time. Not all of her suggestions are necessary, but if you think any of them might help you, there is no reason to put off trying her system. Here is a taste of what FLYLady suggests:
  • Set up a before bed routine. This includes laying out your clothes for tomorrow, making sure your bag for tomorrow is packed and on the "launch pad" (more explanation later), your hygiene is taken care of, and your bedtime is not three in the morning.
Sounds simple, right? It really should be, but unless you've been in the habit of doing these things since childhood, they're hard habits to form. I've been "fluttering" (another term to be explained later) for almost a year now and I still don't do my before bed routine.
  • Shine your sink at night and make sure all the dishes are done, or are being done in the dishwasher. It'll put a smile on your face to see a clean sink the next morning, not a pile of dirty dishes.
Her rhetoric gets a little cornier after this, but it works for some people. In her book and on her website FLYLady heavily emphasizes the point of the shiny sink. It is one little thing that can start your day off right... along with the clothes you laid out the night before of course. According to her website, a shiny sink is her way of hugging you and letting you know that you're doing a good job. Is that corny? Hell yes, she even admits that it is. Do I need that kind of encouragement? Not really, I'm fine with a reminder that a clean sink means one less impending chore. Are there people who get comfort from the idea of a hug-by-proxy from a mother-figure? Of course there are, and that is why this system can work.
FLYLady goes on to describe setting up a "Launch Pad", or an area where you keep everything you need in order to leave the house. Again, a simple idea that my DH and I had not considered. After careful discussion and research, we've been inspired to build a custom Launch Pad when we get to the new apartment.
If you think that there are a lot of gimmicks in FLYLady, you're right. FLY stands for "Finally Loving Yourself", and she encourages that. "Do a little something for yourself" is a common theme in her emails and written pieces. But this is something many of us forget, caught up as we are in the race to be "better" and "the best".
If you're not satisfied with your current level of organization but are working on it , you're "fluttering". That is just the beginning of the specialized vocabulary employed in FLYLady, which can daunting but kind of fun to work with. 
But I have a favorite motto that can apply here: Sometimes a gimmick can work.
It really depends on the kind of person you are. Personally, I am consciously choosing to let some of her gimmicks work for me and leaving others out. For example, FLYLady recommends wearing shoes at all time. Lace up shoes, not slip-ons or sandals. There are tons of testimonial e-mails saying how much this has helped some women keep a "can-do" attitude, because they feel ready for anything. But for me, that's a bit much. I don't wear shoes in the house because it is bad for your floors and your feet. Not to mention that I was raised in a cultural and physical climate that encouraged being barefoot or in sandals, so I've learned to have a productive attitude regardless of my footwear. HOWEVER, I can see how wearing shoes could have a big impact on a person's view of their day. I am simply not one of those people.
This is about as far as I can review FLYLady, as I haven't really gotten in to Control Journals, House Blessings, and most of the other stuff that she recommends. If you want to know exactly what I am talking about, check out her website and decide if she is right for you. Personally, she's been a big help in motivating me to do the things I've been putting off, even if I'm not doing it exactly the way she tells me to.
So I'm going to admit that I shined my sink last night, which encouraged me to do all the dishes, which encouraged me to clean my counters, which encouraged me to clean my stove, which encouraged me to do my before bed routine, and I ended up in bed a full hour before I normally do. Since I am someone who needs a lot of sleep, yet rarely get more than four hours at a go, this is amazing. And when I get home I will probably "reboot" my laundry, start my control journal, set a timer for 15 minutes and clean my kitchen table... all because FLYLady told me I could.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Time Flies When You're... Insanely Busy

Wow, has it really been three months since my last entry? Time flies when you're getting married. I certainly didn't write the best wedding blog in the universe, but I gave it a decent try. Maybe I'll write a Wedding Tips entry when I finish processing my wedding!
This entry I am going to write on the Yule gifts I am preparing. As I've mentioned before, DH and I are both members of large families. If you add in my addiction to creating evidence for future genealogists, you've got the makings of a hard-made Yule. I wrote my original gift list in January, but found several people missing after closer inspection. After adding them in and pondering what to make them, I finally got a more rounded list hammered out. The next step is to create a mailing list for the Yule letter we'll be mailing out. DH is iffy on the idea, but I've got my heart set and he is going along with it.
The Train Job
One of the Yule gifts I'm making is a double knit scarf in a train motif, named the train job. The project is based off the Chugga Chugga Pattern by Laura Chamberlin. I've made a few general alterations to her pattern, mostly for personal preference, and after only one day I am more than 30 rows in. Normally this would not impress me (I tend to knit quickly), but I had to learn the skill of double knitting before starting this project and I was rather daunted. YouTube and provide excellent videos, however, and I was able to pick up the technique in a few hours.
Lesson Learned: Never be afraid to at least try.
I must point out that, despite being a fast learner, I've made several mistakes. I actually cast on two days ago and made it ten or fifteen rows in to the engine's chart before I realized I had mangled the first wheel. In my frustration (also born of knitting my first piece of double knit work at five in the morning) I frogged the whole thing, cast on with 24 stitches (I originally cast on with 22) and knit the nine plain rows. The next morning I started the chart again and have only made a few mistakes since. Here are my suggestions regarding mistakes. If you...
*Use the wrong color for a stitch: you have to unknit to the mistake, undo it, then rework back to where you were. I tried the crochet hook method one would normally use and it doesn't work.
*Use the RIGHT color, but have the contrast thread in the wrong spot: Just isolate that stitch (slip all the stitches in your way to another needle) and use a crochet hook to keep the offending stitch from slipping. Carefully move the contrast string behind the stitch (or in front of, as the case may be) and replace your stitches on the proper needle.
*Purl instead of knit (or knit instead of purl): As long as you've used the right color, your standard crochet hook method will work. Just isolate the stitch (see previous tip) and drop the offending stitch from the needle. use a crochet hook to pick up it before it drops too low, then work back up the "ladder" until it's back at the top. This is not a very good description, so here is a video:
The video is for fixing a dropped stitch, but it is my recommended method.
Alterations Made to the Pattern: I cast on 24 instead of 22 stitches. It allowed for the first and last stitches to be outside the chart, making it easier for me to read. I also knit nine rows before beginning the color switches, but that was out of personal preference and nothing more.
Tutorial Videos Used:
Move It and Lose It
 Close on the heels of our wedding and DH's job change is yet another exciting change in our lives.
We are moving to a bigger apartment.
It's still a one room, but we don't need more than that. It simply has more space. Now, I know everyone hates moving. Hell, I've moved more times than I can remember (literally) and I still don't like it. But there is an upside that many people forget about.
Moving provides you with a great opportunity to go through everything you own and weed out things you don't want or need any more. DH and I have been doing this little by little since the wedding, but we never wanted to risk the mess that ensues when you truly tear apart a room and clean it out. Our impending move is our big chance to do this.
We recently packed up a chunk of our living room, in order to move the bed in to it. While this may sound weird, it was the only way we could use our AC unit and feel the temperature change at all. Apartments with AC units are never set up with proper air flow in mind. To remedy our temperature situation, we started packing a wee bit early, and the benefits were plentiful. More stuff will be donated and we got a clear view of what moving our furniture in a month is going to feel like. I'm also a fan of the "slow and steady" mentality, so I was happy to get started on the packing well in advance. You really learn what you can live without when you pack up to move.
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