Saturday, January 31, 2015

Magic Balls and the Russian Join

I just finished a couple of knitting projects (slippers and a beautiful shoulder wrap of my own design) and I have a small ball of yarn left over from each project.  I hate having leftover yarn, and I love it.  

I love it because it means I didn't run out in the middle of a project, without being able to match the dye lot.  One sweater with mixed dye lots was truly enough for me. It's a little jarring to look at.  It also means that I have a little bit of yarn to experiment with on a new idea.

And that leads to the hate it part.  My leftover amounts of yarn inevitably unroll and tangle everywhere in the house if I don't corral them.  I've learned to put them into Ziploc giant storage bags, but I don't have adequate space to store the bags.  The more yarn, the higher the tangle potential.  The more tangles, the more likely there's an inevitable cutting and trashing session, which means wasted yarn.

I must have lived through the Depression in a previous life, because wasting resources bothers me.  Even a piece of yarn as short as a foot.  Sometimes a massive tangle results in some painful cutting with leftover pieces that it hurts to throw away.  ...but those pieces really do get in the way and trash up the place.  

A few years ago a friend gave me a big garbage bag of a loved one's yarn stash after they died.  I immediately organized it and made three totally different afghans from the yarn.  And now I still have a considerable amount of leftover that I can't really coordinate with anything, yet I still want to make it useful. :D

I'd much rather have a pile of scrappy afghans to consider gifting than a room full of balls of yarn too small for any one project.  

I was researching (yay Pinterest!) an attractive way to store those leftover balls attractively (because out of sight is out of mind with me, leading to redundant collections of yarn) when I came across the Magic Ball.  A magic ball is a ball of yarn created by melding all those short lengths of yarn into one crazy-quilt colored length, then rolled into a ball.  People actually sell magic balls on Etsy.  Wow.  

Now, you're supposed to weave in all of your ends securely. If you don't, it makes your work look like it is falling apart, as one of my nephews complained of the blanket I made him.  After that complaint I learned to fabric-glue all my woven-in ends, to make sure they stay put.  I hate weaving in.  I did do it on all those blankets, but they popped out into view after several washings.  Argh.  

Some people simply knot those ends together and have a million stray ends showing deliberately.  I don't care for that look much. It makes me feel that I did some raggedy work.  I would rather have a classy look than a funky one.  (Magic Balls, knotted - their pic, not mine)
I love the insane mixture of bright colors, buuuuut.... The thought of all the ends showing, shagging out, potentially becoming untied.... Well, I had yellow shag carpet in my bedroom as a little girl in the 70s. It looked pretty awful after a few years.  Because, acrylic, you know? 

I buy acrylic yarn. Wool isn't practical where I live. I can't afford to be a yarn snob, anyway.

Enter the Russion Join.  It's a way of splicing together two yarn ends so that the ends are plied back into the original yarn, with NO ENDS left to weave, as they are worked into the stitches, rather than stitching over the loose ends.  Not a spit-join -- this will work with other yarns than wools.  I'm going to have to try this. (Magic Ball, Russian Joined - their pic, not mine)
Can you see why I love this version? It's already tidy, and when you finish, you have two ends to hide, not thousands. :)

Then I need to attach a note to my Magic Balls (LOL) explaining what I plan to do with them when I have enough viable scraps.  :). I've got a bad habit of starting scrappy projects that I can't finish nearly instantly, then losing interest and letting them become a total mess.  

My point in my crafting life is this: use all of my materials appropriately.  Don't waste stuff. I love the challenge of recycling, upcycling, and repurposing leftovers (though not food), rather than throwing them out.  I suppose I have a bit of pioneer spirit.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bring Back The Sunnnnn......

Not that I'm a sun-worshipper, but the lack of light in the winter really messes with me.  I'm seriously beginning to consider a tanning bed. Not for the tan, just for the warmth and light. Yikes, I'm dyin' here!

Fact check:  I'm exhausted.  So I'm going to start juicing again.  I was convinced that I wasn't getting enough protein, so I should quit juicing, and now I've regained the 20 pounds I lost and I'm tired all over again.

Something tells me this isn't purely a nutritional issue. Hmm, ya think?  Lol. I'm sure it's a combination of factors nutritional, emotional, hormonal, but especially environmental. They're all twisted together to make sure I turn into a slug, though.  

At least I accomplished something this weekend, and that should placate me.  I completed a lovely reddish brown buttoned shawl yesterday (because I'm an Outlander fan), and matching boot cuffs (bowing to a current trend) today.  I could go on and make matching arm warmers, headband, belt, and any number of matching accessories, but I won't, because that would be ridiculous.  So, I have a new outfit to wear to work tomorrow.  Yay me.  

I'm thinking about buying some chia seeds, to see if they really are a good energy-boosting protein.  I've been so dog-tired lately.  Part of that is a lack of fresh green vegetables, and part is my lack of appetite.  Oh, and my ever-present dehydration.  I just hate water.  Chia seeds will cause me to take in more water and maybe make my tummy act more normal.  Maybe. It might just be too out of whack permanently.  

Chia seeds in water should be fun at work, if I tell the kids I'm drinking frog eggs.  Why not?  They already think I'm a witch.  :). I wish I could think of a way to mess with their heads, just ever so slightly, and then they can have a good laugh about it later.  But I'm sure someone would be so offended I'd be fired one day and burned at the stake on my front lawn the next.  Yup.  That's my hometown.  Full of redneck superstitious types with no sense of humor.  

I'll admit that after this many decades as a teacher, I'm running low on sparkle for the kiddies.  I wish I wasn't.  Maybe chia seeds and green juice will make me sparkle!  ...probably more like my colon will sparkle after a few rounds, Ha ha ha. Okay, sorry, that's gross, but likely true.

I remember being on my first juice fast and having ridiculous amounts of energy, so I probably should put it back in to at least supplement my diet.  Reasons I quit: I had a hard time staying warm last winter after losing the weight, and my juicer kept spraying the kitchen from leaky sides.  Well, I'll just have to put on warmer clothes and fix those leaks with some Sugru.  I don't sell or advertise for them, but I love all the things I've been able to do with that stuff so far.

I don't have any energy for the gym lately, but I have been going to physical therapy for my hip again, to get my hip capsule limbered up and stretched out.  Normally having my legs pulled out of the socket doesn't bother me, but the last couple of times my brain has done this really inappropriate allusion to Fifty Shades of Grey.  I'm lying on a table, holding myself still with my arms, and there's someone tying straps around my leg and pulling until the femur slides out of the socket.  Then I start thinking about that book, and I forget to keep my hip relaxed because I'm having a thought I can't even understand having.  I'm not attracted to my professional leg-pullers! What's up with that?  It's like giggling in  church during a funeral. So wrong. 

 *giggle* See? There I go.  And yes, I'm going to see the movie next month, because it'll be my birthday. :D No qualms about that here.  

Last week I had them bump up the voltage on the electric shocks they give me, which was a mistake.  It was too high.  My leg was doing a gruesome hanged-man's ballet (I've got video!), and it felt like the electrodes were burning my skin.  So much for me being tough.  I'm still not sure I understand the point of that technique, as it never feels good to me, and apparently it's supposed to. I'm figured that if the shocks were beneficial, it would be more beneficial to raise the shocks to the most I could tolerate, right?  

Don't think any of this is their fault. I could have yelled for help to turn it down, but I was beyond embarrassed by then.  Let me put it this way: I'm sure I could survive being shocked with a car battery, but I'm never gonna boastfully say that I can take it!  Don't mind me, I'm just gonna fade into the background.  We mages know to stay in the rear with the gear.  Lol

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Imitrex and Handmades

Eww... Another headache, 100 mg of Imitrex, and here come the side effects. My jaws are tight and aching, and so is my neck.  I'll wager that's my blood pressure going up.  It's making me pretty lightheaded and clumsy, too.  So I've gone to bed early, to attemp sleeping.  It might happen.  

I finished my shoulder wrap tonight.  I knitted on it for a week, and added 7 buttons so I could have options for wear. I didn't have a pattern.  I'd just been eyeing a cowl that Catriona Balfe has worn on Outlander, and decided to try my own design.

I started last week with my favorite color of Homespun yarn, Wildfire.  It took me a few hours that day to crochet it, and when I was finished....

... I hated it.  It wasn't wide enough, and the thick yarn killed what drape it could have had. I blame the fact that I crocheted it.  Crochet makes for thick, stiff stitches at times.  I also became frustrated after trying for two hours to end a stitch pattern I've been successfully completing since I was a teenager.  It suddenly didn't make sense to me.  

Twilight Zone time indeed.  I wonder what was going wrong in my brain.

So it hurled it aside and decided on a knitted shawl instead. It would take forever to complete, unskilled as I am at knitting, but it would certainly drape when finished. 

And so it does, in a very warm and color flattering way.  I just have to choose a day to wear it -- a day when my give-a-damn about others' opinions of my clothes is broken.  I could have a wider variety in my wardrobe if I wasn't so insecure about being judged for my handmades. I had a lifetime of that already, and I can't say I've gotten over it. I should just accept that I'm an artist and I will be different in the things I create. I need to forget the lifetime of ridicule I've endured for expressing my talent.  (Though one could argue that it's just well-learned skill, after all, and I'm just good with my hands.)

I wish people would ask something other than, "You made that, didn't you?" Because you have to be really cautious with tone when saying that. Most of the time it sounds like judgmental scorn.  I would much rather be asked in a delighted tone, "Where did you get that?  I love it!"  I need to hear a flattering response to my work, not one borne of jealousy that someone didn't want to invest the time in learning a handcrafting skill.  

As the kids say, "Haters gonna hate."  My response is, "Don't hate -- appreciate."  It usually earns some giggles.

My 14 year old nephew asked me to teach him to knit a few days ago. He also wanted tips on how to replace the button that broke off his favorite pair of jeans.  (Last year at this time he had a huge list of items he wanted me to make for him -- hats, gloves, sweaters, hoodies...). He has had a serious liking for knits for years.  Now he'd like to try making some himself.  It's probably because I'm too busy to whip up a hat whenever he wants one, and because he has some unexpressed creative talent himself.  

We were sitting in the local coffee shop, and I was working on my shawl.  I said that I wish there were knitting groups locally that I could join.  I'd even be willing to teach a few people if it didn't become all about me spending my time and money doing things for them, and not getting to do anything for myself with like-minded crafters.  

But when I've tried, people tend to think that because you're a teacher, you should spend your time serving them whenever they want.  At your own expense and to the detriment of your own relationships and personal time.  They get downright snotty about their supposed entitlements.  They don't want to buy their own materials or tools for learning, because you should buy for them -- or worse, loan them your supplies, and just never get them back.  I'm a teacher -- get it?  Teacher = poor.  The only things I'm wealthy in are learning and skill -- intangibles.

Sure... Let me go and spend $100 on special yarn so that you can have that lush blanket you always wanted.  I don't need groceries for the next two weeks.  What's that? It's not easy to make it perfect the first time? You need to practice but you don't want to? Sure, just throw all that yarn I paid for away, along with my tools.  That's just fine.  I can afford it.  After all, I end up buying school supplies for your kids out of my own grocery money.  

When my nephew asked me to teach him, we made the requested trip to Jo-Ann, which is finally here in my hometown.  He asked me a very important and puzzling question -- why are all the learn-to-knit books specifically for females?  They're covered in pink and girly projects.  I explained that knitting used to only be done by the men of the community, in the knitting guild.  Different families had their own sweater cable patterns for fishing.  When a fisherman drowned and they couldn't identify the body because of being in the water, they'd ID him by the pattern of his sweater.  Wool sweaters will keep you warm even when they're wet.  The lanolin also helps to repel water, if it's left in the yarn.  I told him that I figured when men stopped knitting in favor of more industrial jobs, that the women took it over and were so excited that they wouldn't let it go.  So you see, knitting is actually masculine work, and it all depends on what you're making.  Sorry about all the girly books and patterns.  Later I found him lots of examples of men who still knit very publicly.  

I bought him yarn and a circular needle, and we went to dinner with his dad.  He was so eager to get started, we began while we were waiting on our food.  My brother watched him for a little while, and when he realized, my nephew told him not to make fun of him learning to knit.  His dad waited for a moment and told him he wouldn't make fun of him because our mother taught him to knit when he was a little boy.  :). (The only child of a crafty stay-at-home mom.).  The young man gawked for a few moments until his dad advised him not to ask him for help because he's just about forgotten it all.  He did caution him that bragging about learning to knit would likely cause his friends to make fun of him.  

His answer?  "They make fun of me all the time anyway.  I don't care."  I guess that's how boys that age are with their friends, so I'll try not to worry about it.  He's got a pretty thick skin, it seems.  He may or may not have the interest to keep knitting, but I'm proud of him for wanting to learn a new skill.  It's a great way to add to your brainpower.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Things I Learned in Italy

1. There is a particular bus in Rome that is nicknamed the pickpocket special. You want to avoid using that bus.

2.  Watch out for pickpockets at the Trevi fountain.  It's usually very crowded there, but there is a great gelato shop there as well.

3.  If you stand with 1 foot in Vatican City and the other foot in Rome you can stand in two countries at the same time  -- you're in two places at once!

4.  Venice in July makes you feel like you're walking in a stone pizza oven.  Drink lots of water.

5.  Don't even let the costumed performers who pose for pictures see you taking a picture of them as you walk by. Some of them can get violent and demand €10 just because you walked by.  Be assertive and get away from them.

6.  If you're going to see the Sistine Chapel, bring a hand mirror. That way you can comfortably look at the ceiling without straining your neck while leaning backwards.  

7.  In Florence, UPS has miniature trucks. A lot of the vehicles have to be tiny because of the narrow alleyways between buildings.

8.  You are allowed to go up to the roof of the Duomo.   It provides a beautiful view of Florence. 

9.  The Michelangelo statue of David is awe inspiring.  If you don't make it to the Accademia to see it in person, and walk all around the statue, there is a smaller replica at the Piazza Della Signorina. It is right in front of the building in Hannibal where Inspector Pazzi was killed.

10.  A Room With A View features the same piazza and some other amazing statues.

11.  You can't go into the Chanel store to browse.  You must have an appointment (and probably be dressed for the occasion.). :D. Get over it.  Lol

12.  The mascot for Hogwarts is based on Florence's il Porcelino, and you can put coins in the boar's mouth for good luck.  The money benefits an orphanage.

13.  If the bratty kid from another school is next to you on the bus, it won't be a bad thing to give permission for him to sample the monks' wine. He needs a nap.  ;)

14.  The basilica of St. Francis in Assisi has three massive levels.  The tomb, the middle section, representing earthly life, and the upper level. I didn't know beforehand, but when I looked up and saw the ceiling, I realized, this is Heaven.  Take some tissues.  I couldn't avoid crying.

15.  Eat gelato every day.  You'll burn off the calories, and you really should try all the flavors you can.  Brightly colored, neon gelato is mass-produced and isn't authentic.  Less intensely colored gelato is likely made fresh in the shop without a bunch of chemical colors or preservatives.  It will taste the best! Gelato is healthier than ice cream.

16.  There are beggars walking around asking for money.  They'll change outfits and keep coming back.  Don't give them anything.  They are mostly con artists and thieves and will pester you.

17.  Study up on where you're going before your trip so you can better enjoy the sights.

18.  Sometimes it is better to throw away a smelly pair of socks (or other item of clothing) than to wash them in the sink or tote them in your bag for another 9 days!

19. Pack holey old stained socks and throw them away after you wear them.  The same goes for your underwear.  Maybe even for some of your tops and bottoms. Just make sure to hide them in the trash so housekeeping doesn't have them laundered and shipped back to you at your expense.

20.  When you're dissatisfied, don't tell the locals you're an American and have rights.  It gives them the wrong impression and they don't want to help you, even when you have every right to be frustrated and upset.  Not everyone out there likes Americans.  

21.  Take your own washcloth.  Most hotels won't provide them.  Disposable washcloths might come in handy.

22.  If you can freshen up in the airport restroom right after a long flight, you'll feel much better.

23.  Caprese sandwiches are heavenly.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Things I Learned After My Latest Trip

Yes, I'm kind of OCD about packing the perfectly useful but light bag.*

                             * but everyone knows that already and it isn't a bad thing.  ;)

1.  It's best to plan to wear some of those souvenir t-shirts on your trip and home. Trust me -- you won't care.

2.  If your bags are getting slightly too heavy to make it through the carry-on restrictions check, wear a bunch of that heavy stuff to avoid checking your bag, and then go to the bathroom to take it all off and put it in your bag again.

3.  Research before you go how you can ship souvenirs home mid-trip.  I'm not sure what it is, but there HAS to be a way.  I've got a couple of years to research this.

4.  You don't have to bring everyone back a souvenir.  Your shoulder isn't up to it, and besides, they don't bring you souvenirs when they travel. ;) (Hey. Hundreds less you'll spend!)

5.  Bring a tiny pack of Sugru in case something BIG, like a suitcase handle or wheel breaks. Just add it to the fix-it kit with your duct tape (wrapped around an index card for compactness -- why buy a special, expensive travel roll?) 

6.  Washi tape can stick things into your travel journal instead of having loose bits and pieces of paper fluttering around in your way.  You don't even need a dispenser.  It's basically decorated light-tack masking tape, and it comes in fun designs in small rolls. 

7.  You can make a great travel journal out of a basic school composition book.  Create pockets inside for different purposes, secret hiding places, and decorations.  You can write your memories of the day, reminders, stick in receipts and pamphlets, and keep it all tidy.  The sewn-spine kind lasts forever, and you can tear out excess pages if you know you won't use all of them anyway.  Just remember to tear from the center, because both halves of the page come out together.  They usually have a hard back so you can write on your lap or bed if need be.

8.  I added tie ribbons and a cord lock to my inflatable neck pillow's cover.  This kept it in place around my neck.  I usually turn mine sideways for comfort anyway, and without a tie, it would fall off pretty quickly.

9.  An inflatable beach ball is more useful than inflatable water wings.  You can use it for a pillow, lumbar pillow, foot rest, lap pillow, or cushioning for breakables in your luggage.  You can also just play with it if you're bored.  They're so cheap that if you gave it away or it popped, it would be no real loss.

10.  Teva Tirra sandals are awesome walking shoes, and great for flying because they let your feet expand on a flight.  

11.  Rolling clothes really DOES take up less space than folding them.  

12.  I believe that my wiping down my seat, armrests, and definitely my tray table when I first took my seat saved me from some germs that made other people in my group rather ill.  Single-use Wet Ones packets to the rescue!

13.  Bring reliable, travel-proof snacks.  And then make sure to snack a little all through the day on carbs + protein.  Maybe even hard candy if blood sugar is an issue for you as it is for me.

14.  It's possible to crash so hard that you sleep for four hours face down in a pillow and nothing wakes you up, even though you normally can't sleep on your stomach.

15.  Just because someone (me) swaps seats with a lady so she can sit beside her husband on a flight for a few hours, don't think taking your shoes and socks off and sitting there nasty and barefoot will earn you an empty seat next to yours.  That kind person still has to sit somewhere.  And there are things they could do during the flight to make things unpleasant for you, so be polite, you nasty, disgusting, gross mofo.

16.  Dr. Bronner's liquid soap is a serious multitasker in your toiletry bag.  Shampoo, body wash, laundry soap, mouthwash, toothpaste (ICK though!), shaving soap, face wash. 

17.  Eucalan is a great mild hand washing detergent for clothes (especially wool) that doesn't require rinsing, just in case you have a tough time rinsing soap out completely when you hand wash.

18.  Some flight attendants deliberately give you the wrong meal if you dare to be awake an hour after takeoff.  I asked for pasta (to help me get sleepy); I got some Mexican chicken dish that was too spicy for me to eat.  And you know, I do like spicy stuff, but that was inedible.  It's why I didn't give them the chocolates I'd brought for them.  (I'd given some to the flight attendant in my previous flight who had helped me get my carryon stowed -- someone took my allotted space with extra bags -- she seemed thrilled about the treats.)

19.  It's not worth it to bring any kind of jewelry or expensive scarf when you travel.  You become too worried about accidentally losing your nice things. I didn't bring a bit of jewelry, but I regretted bringing my silk scarves, because I didn't wear them.  I did get a lot of use out of my pashmina, though.

20.  The more equipped you are to help other people with their travel needs / emergencies, the more likely they are to expect you to take care of them. Take care of yourself, and stopping worrying about the quality of their travel experience.  Sometimes travelers need to learn from their mistakes.  They can buy toothbrushes and toothpaste, improvise pajamas, and buy their own safety pins when they need them.  Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

21.  Tons of secret pockets in your jacket are awesome.  Just make yourself a list of what's in each pocket so you don't have to dig.  

22.  Baggu still makes great fold-into-your-pocket shopping bags that weigh almost nothing.  I suspect the extra large ones could be worn as backpacks. (The regular ones are a bit too snug across the shoulders.). They're great as carry-ons for the plane, bus, or train.  Attach a carabiner for hanging help.  

23.  Tis better to pin things to the lining of your bag than to go searching for a single safety pin when you need it.  If you leave five safety pins attached in a highly visible location, you'll always know where to find them.  Leave them there forever, until you need them.  

24.  Bring along an external battery for your smartphone.  Although airports are finally starting to add charging stations, it's not always easy to find a seat beside a free one.  Besides, it's a drag running out of battery life when your phone IS your travel camera.

25.  Turn on location tagging for your photos so that later you'll know exactly where you took that picture.  It shouldn't cost you a cent.  (I forgot!)

26.  Sugar free gum will ruin your trip if it is sweetened with Xylitol or Sorbitol.  It's horrible stuff!  It does nasty things to your stomach!  (And if you find out accidentally that you're sensitive to it, your whole torso may swell up.  I kid you not!  I suddenly had problems fitting into bras and stretchy pants that had fit me a few days before. Not being a regular gum chewer, the issue snuck up on me. ). You're better off going with good old fashioned sugary Juicy Fruit on the plane and accepting you consumed another few calories.  Read about the pain and nastiness here: 

27.  Eating bread before you fly causes gas.  I didn't find that out from personal experience... Just from reading. Lol

28. If you can sew the most basic running stitch, you can retrofit a travel bag with pockets.  I have a 31 Retro Metro Weekender bag that is a cavern of almost pocketless space on the inside.  I cut up a cheap mesh laundry bag and sewed pockets into the sides of my bag with the mesh because it wasn't working for me. It was so much easier to stay organized that way.

29.  I know people say that adding packing sleeves and cubes will keep your bag organized, but if you are putting all those extra bags inside of bags, aren't you adding some appreciable weight and girth? I'd rather use Ziploc bags... I always end up needing them anyway.  They're almost weightless and take very little space, besides being almost guiltlessly disposable. Besides, if your bag is subjected to a random search, wouldn't you feel better knowing your undies weren't directly touched by some stranger, because they were zipped in a clear plastic bag that's easy to examine without touching your underwear??

30.  After a transatlantic flight, I can't drive.  I just can't stay awake.  It doesn't matter which direction I'm traveling -- my narcolepsy hits hard.  It would be better for me to stay the night in my arrival city after returning, than to attempt to drive home.  Next time, I'll stay the night in a hotel before I head home.  If you want to live, please don't ask me to drive right after that flight.  I can't handle it.

31.  It doesn't matter what kind of hair dryer you buy -- if it was made for American voltage, you might get lucky and have it run for a few seconds, but it WILL DIE before you can use it.  I bought a travel dryer with dual voltage (only set for UK and Ireland voltages - I made sure), used an adapter, AND a transformer, and it died the first time I turned it on in Ireland. Buy one made for your destination.  Amazon UK sells them, though shipping won't be really fast.  This is when I discovered that my hair is healthier when I don't wash it every single day, as I was doing before this trip.  :). Though I'll admit, my hair looked hideous after letting it air dry.

Things I Learned in France

1.  The Metro isn't as clean as the Tube.  It kinda reeks of urine, but the signs and station have a stylish Art Deco flair. (I think that's Art Deco.). Still -- trains -- whee!

2.  If you are on day 9 of an 11 day trip, you're tired, and your seat on the Eurostar is facing backward, you probably will pass out on the train, like it or not.  I missed a lot of scenery I had wanted to see, such as the train going into the Chunnel, and the Chunnel itself, not to mention the French countryside and all the romance of riding on a real train for the first time in my life.   But I think the laws of physics were against me there.  It's like that time I blacked out on the tower-drop ride at an amusement park and came to, just a flash before the end of the ride.

3.  French people don't understand the need for a hearty breakfast. I'm not surprised they're gloriously, gorgeously thin.  

4.  I'm not sure which is worse -- dehydration or walking around needing to pee when public restrooms are hard to find.  Maybe I should head to the Metro. Heehee!

5.  If you sit on the ground in front of Notre Dame Cathedral and have a snack, thousands of people won't join you but you really won't care.  

6.  Caramels are a very bad idea if you don't want a crown ripped off your tooth at an inconvenient time.  No sticky candy while traveling.  (I was home before this mishap, but it made me fear caramels.)

7.  Air France is REALLY stringent on their luggage limits.  Don't try to fight it.  You'll be happier if you check a bag on the way home, if they don't lose it.  Lol

8.  Charles de Gaulle Airport has English speaking expediters who will assist you in getting through that crowded airport check-in. (I think they are employed by Air France for that purpose of clearing check in kiosks faster.)  They have the power to find you an empty line so you can check your luggage much faster.  If they offer to help you, let them. 

9.  Charles de Gaulle Airport is very pleasant for shopping, and there is a branch of La Duree if you feel the need for more of their wonderful macarons. I loved the rose petal ones the best. Expect to pay $1.50 - $3.00 per tiny cookie, so eat them very slowly and just revel in the flavors and texture. 

10.  I regret not buying a baguette and I regret not buying a crepe... ( French law requires that a basic baguette sell for 1 euro.)   I probably would have benefited from the carbs.

11. I don't regret the touristy photo of me holding up the Eiffel Tower, unflattering and cheesy though it may be. :D. I should have more cheesy touristy photos of myself.  

12.  The Louvre is ridiculously massive (and beautiful) and we didn't have enough time there to see much more than the Mona Lisa.  However, I didn't have the energy to walk more than did.  I'll bet some coffee and a chocolate-filled crepe would have helped.  PS - On a bright summer day, under the pyramid, it feels like you're being baked in an oven.  

13.  When you're on a boat touring the Seine at sunset, thousands of people line the river, and most cheer and wave as you go by.  There are a few rude people, though it's just a tiny percentage. Wave back at anyone who waves at you.  We rode in the seats on the side of the boat and the view was magnificent.  

14.  There's more than one bridge covered in locks in Paris.  The weight of the locks is causing whole panels of the railing to fall off into the river.  That charming romantic trend is spreading like a fungus to other Paris bridges, and other cities as well.  I saw several on Westminster Bridge in London.  The general consensus is, please, stop damaging the bridges. It's gotten rather old.  

15.  We had lunch in a cafe on ille St. Louis and discovered that the French love putting eggs on everything -- including hamburgers.  I thought I was supposed to fear excessive mayonnaise, but it wasn't a concern.  I ordered Eggs Benedict for lunch, which of course, already had eggs in it.  One of the best, most beautiful lunches I've ever eaten.  The name of the cafe was St. Regis.  It was definitely worth the cost. 

16.  Paris is difficult to properly appreciate when you are utterly exhausted.  If you go on a trip like this, you might want to snack a lot more than usual.  

Things I Learned in Wales

1.  Wales is wild and gorgeous, once you leave Holyhead.  Our tour guide told us, once we got on the bus at the port, that we were looking at the most beautiful sight in all of Holyhead.... The road OUT of Holyhead!  Lol

2.  Wales is awesomely full of King Arthur legends, especially Llangollen. (Pronounced something like clang-OCK-lan.)

3.  Llangollen closes early!  Like, the whole town!  But it's beautiful and charming to walk around town, because of the old buildings and that white-water river overlooked by King Arthur's supposed fortress on the hill above town, where the Holy Grail is supposedly buried and guarded by possibly a dragon.  Ohh my, I want to back there more each day.

4. The Welsh accent is beautifully sing-songy, but their language makes no logical sense in pronunciation for English speakers.  :). They're lovely people and they speak English too, thankfully.

5.  Always have tissue in your pocket, because there probably won't be any in the park bathroom at Beaumaris Castle on the Isle of Anglesey, which is breathtakingly beautiful, even in the afternoon when all of the boats in the bay are dry docked by the tide.

6.  The Welsh can make a shredded cheese sandwich substantial and delicious.

7.  One day isn't enough to see enough of Wales.  It's ruggedly gorgeous, and too lovely to only see through the window of a motorcoach as you're passing by the natural beauty.

8.  Don't worry about your hotel being haunted. You'll be too tired to notice any ghosts, especially after a lovely half-pint of Guiness.

9.  Welsh meals are as substantial as Irish ones.  They believe in a good breakfast. It's a beautiful thing.

10.  Coffee is your friend.  So is water.  So is a Cool-Max blanket on the bus.  

11. Beaumaris Castle was never finished. It seems the soldiers had to be sent north by Edward the Longshanks to deal with some Scottish rebels. (William Wallace and company.). It's unfinished, but you can still go all through it and climb to the top.  The view is impressive.

12.  Watch out for the Anglesey seabirds.  They have killer aim.

Things I learned in England

1.  Duct tape will work for wrapping your feet in a pinch, when plantar fasciitis is killing you.  Keep walking.  Wrap the pain away.  The sweat from your feet will keep the tape from becoming stuck to your skin.  Thus will probably help you avoid blisters if painful rubbing happens.

2.  KT Tape is a miracle product for sore feet, shins, knees, whatever.  Keep it in your travel bag. Learn the right stretch ratios for different achy parts.  It's lightweight and packs flat.  Get the kind that lasts more than a day.  Don't worry about the residue on your skin.  

3.  The Underground is really a neat transit system.  Riding the Tube is fun when you understand it, and makes you feel like you're in control of your own destiny and transportation.  Get the big Tube map and hoard that thing.  

4.  Print Google maps (street level) of all the area around your hotel so that you don't get lost and walk an extra long way back to your hotel without knowing where you are.  Keep maps on you while you're moving around.  I printed some great street maps of the Watford neighborhood, but then forgot to take them out of my travel journal when I left the hotel. :D. Rookie mistake. 

5.  People will scorn you for being a geek with a bunch of maps, until they're lost late at night and want to go home.  Then they will want to know why your map of central London streets isn't helpful in late night Watford.  Lol

6.  Visit grocery stores for local snacks.  You won't regret it.  They won't bite you.  (And you'll probably need some extra fuel if their continental breakfast isn't sufficient. We stayed in a chain hotel, so that's why the lame brekkie. I'm sure real English people eat better breakfasts.). Sometimes they have a laugh about hearing your weird accent.  

7.  You haven't gotten the message about the water and the coffee yet? Hey, why don't you find a takeaway coffee shop and have an afternoon caffeine boost?  :). Trust me! 

8.  Nobody is concerned with your pants being unwashed between wearings. They don't care as long as you smell and look clean.

9.  Make sure your traveling chewing gum doesn't have Xylitol in it.  You don't want that kind of problem for half of your trip.  

10.  Don't exchange dollars for euros at English train stations and airports.  You'll get charged double exchange fees.  It's better to just go to an ATM when you get to the country that uses euros.  And make sure you have some cash -- credit card fees will kill you if you use one for every purchase.

11.  Cornish pasties are SO amazingly delicious,  but your travel group will be afraid to try them, and opt for McDonald's and KFC instead...

12.  If you are trapped at Heathrow, and you're sick, you're out of luck finding cold or allergy medicine and you should hit the only duty free shop you will be allowed to pass on the way to your shuttle, and buy a bottle of whiskey to knock your sickly self out.

13.  They're really paranoid about immigration at Heathrow.  Make sure you have the name of the hotel where you'll be staying and can prove you're not trying to sneak in and become an English citizen.

Things I Learned in Ireland

1.  Ireland is full of stairs. Seriously. 

2.  The walk up to kiss the Blarney Stone is 525 steps of dark, spiral, uneven, stone staircase.  Just kidding -- it's only 127.  But when you have a sudden attack of claustrophobia and recurrent nightmares of collapsing stairs that fall into a bottomless void suddenly pop back into memory at once, you might have a bit of an anxiety attack going up.  Persevere! When you get to the top you'll be on the open roof, where it will promptly begin to rain on your head!  Lol.     It's worth it to be able to say you kissed the Blarney Stone.  Really. And the view from up there is splendid.  If I ever go back, I'm going to go visit the Poison Garden, which I missed due to time constraints.

3.  Irish people are NICE. And funny.  And charming.  Even when you're a dumb tourist, if you're humble and polite.

4.  Even in June, a Southerner needs a jacket in Ireland.  It's a wee bit chilly on rainy days.  But it's glorious. 

5.  Irish coffee is yummiest when made with Bailey's and cream, from a pub, rather than a touristy clothing shop or that restaurant at the Rock of Cashel.  The best I had was at the Vixen's Den pub in the Bog Village. Moriarty's was okay, but it was FREE, and my first Irish coffee, so I had no comparison or complaint.  

6.  Pubs are cozy, homey, and friendly feeling.  I wish there were more in the US.  I wish I'd visited more in Ireland.

7.  The Lush bath bombs I bought in Dublin really helped me survive my foot pain and sheer exhaustion.  Ahh....  Great way to get ready for bed, but heavy, so only buy as many as you can use up on the trip.  You don't want to schlep them home in your luggage.  (I love Lush, so I over shopped.  Lol)

8.  Make plans to buy souvenir shirts that you will wear on your trip, and bring even less clothing.  

9.  Stretchy leggings are awesome for travel.  You can always double up if it's chilly, or wear them as pajama pants. They take very little room.

10.  Even though you bought a dual voltage travel hair dryer, set it properly, AND plugged it into a voltage converter, that damn thing won't work longer than ten seconds and it'll be dead weight through your whole trip because you won't even be able to return it once you return home.  Buy a travel dryer for European voltage from Amazon UK long before your trip, buy one there, or just deal with flat hair your whole trip because most hotel rooms won't have hair dryers, no matter what the jet setters say.  

11.  Drink a bunch of water once you get to your room.  Carry water around with you.  Accept that you will walk around having to pee a lot of the time.  Hydration helps prevent exhaustion. 

12.  Twisting turning Irish roads and orange juice are not a good combo on a bus ride and may make someone carsick.  Carrying a few recycled plastic shopping bags on you at all times is wise.  (I didn't get carsick, but someone else became EPICALLY carsick on the bus.

13.  Irish music is wonderful, not matter where you hear it.  Apparently Ireland likes Steve Earle.  It was funny to be in a shop in Blarney and hear "Copperhead Road", which is about a bootlegger / drug dealer from East Tennessee.  Remark on it, and not ten feet away will be another Tennesseean. I kid you not.

14.  In the summertime, it doesn't get dark until about 11 pm.  Trippy but neat.  

15.  You might not want to bother with the paperwork for getting your VAT back. They never honored mine that I sent by post.

16.  Runners and bicyclists are everywhere, and it's inspiring.  I wanted to go running in Phoenix Park, in Dublin.  It's the most perfect park I've ever seen.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Grand Plans for the Year

I don't do resolutions. :). But there are some things I'm going to work on.

Decluttering... Well, that's something everyone needs to do.  I put out five bags of garbage the other day and it felt great.  It'll probably take me all year, but I want to clear out and tidy up a lot of things.... Starting with my studio.  

I want to do more painting at home this year.  I've had a loss of confidence lately -- most likely because I want perfection in what I do and some techniques just aren't easy for a beginning oil painter to accomplish.  I don't know what questions to ask.  Maybe I should paint a few simple landscapes and then I won't feel like I haven't successfully painted in forever.  

I finally found an easel for home. :) A lucky flea market purchase for $7, it has an expandable canvas holder, and it snaps into a storage case.  Perfect for me, for now.  

I'll do more acrylic painting too, and craft projects with that paint because it's getting old and needs to be either used or replaced.  Fortunately, the new Jo-Ann store has all the paint I could want... As long as I don't want any kind of oils.  Ha ha ha.  

More woodworking, because I just bought a workbench and I still need a few organizational projects for the house.  (Definitely a couple more underbed drawers!  The two I've made so far have been crazy helpful in keeping up with my shoes -- and seeing that I need to get rid of some). I've also still got a bit of pegboard yet to hang.  

Some of that is destined for the kitchen, which needs to be painted completely white. Or beige. Just some light color since I hated that butter yellow, after all.  I think white would completely change the feel of my depressing kitchen.  I've already started replacing the pathetic compact fluorescents with led lights.  The CFs have been a horrible ripoff -- they don't last two years, let alone 7.

I'm going to let a lot of people go in my life. They haven't been there for me, so I might as well cut the ties.  You know?  Expect little, and you won't be disappointed.  That goes especially when you're looking to friends for a little emotional backup.  Oh, and they aren't there, so you fall off the cliff.  Backwards. Reaching helplessly at empty air.  Bye bye. 

I'll probably do a lot more clothing and vinyl designs. I have a few unique ideas I'm going to try.  I think they'll look nice.  :). I'm still going to sell designs on clothing, if anyone is interested.  I did buy a brand new cutting machine, after all, and it wasn't cheap.  But now I can import designs that aren't on cartridges, and basically any graphics I can get on my computer or freehand, I'll be able to cut out.  

I did have some people interested in buying things, but we seemed to have come to a misunderstanding.  It seems like they thought I'd give them the clothes for free.  I suppose it's easy to assume that God just dropped a bunch of blank shirts, vinyl, and a machine in my lap, but the truth is, I had to pay for that stuff myself, and I do not buy cheap garments to sell to people. I buy the decent quality things that won't shrink in the wash or pill and fade.  I also pre-wash and test wash three times my items to make sure the designs will never peel off in the wash.  

Maybe I should have told them just what little profit I'll make on a multi-colored shirt design.  $18+ for a hoodie, several dollars for vinyl, cost of the design if I had to purchase it, and cost for the machine... I'm still coming up a couple hundred dollars short on my end so $30 for a custom sweatshirt really is a good price. :). Sorry, I can't do cheap work, and I'm already a charity case, so I can't give new clothes away.  

I might just make a bunch of fun stuff for myself.... And that's ok.  I'll have cute stuff for every holiday and mood and I'll have scratched my creative itch satisfyingly.   I've got one person wanting vinyl business decals on his vehicle, and that'll help too.  And then there are my kitchen cabinets... I'll be stenciling those after they're painted whitish / beigeish.  I have classroom stuff that could use decoration.  All sorts of things at home that could use sprucing up. :). It'll be fine.  

Ooh! I've been planning to customize my luggage.... Maybe I'll monogram it...hmm. And some custom luggage tags would be nice too.  I've been thinking about making a combination luggage tag and mini travel sewing kit.  Might need to add some sewing projects to that list for the year. :). I don't know what I'll do with the practice pieces, though.  Some of the handmade gifts I gave this year were scorned, it seems.  I guess I'll save myself the trouble in the future. 

I'm going to do a lot more freezer prepping for meals to go in my slow cooker and repeatable breakfasts. More juicing and more gym time.  After I finish my second round of physical therapy for my hip in a year, I'm just going to stop trying to alleviate the nerve pain. I hurt everyday anyway, have for over a decade, and nobody cares but me.  Nothing for me to do but pretend it's normal, right?  

Undergrad Advice

If I knew then what I knew now, I would tell the younger me a few things.

1.  It's okay to eat in the cafeteria alone.  While kids that age *might* be judging you for eating alone, not all will, and it might help you meet new people, especially if you can pretend it isn't bothering you to be all alone. :). 

2.  A few mason jars would be great for dorm room cooking.  They don't melt, can handle hot liquids, and can easily be used to store staples, even in a drawer.  

3. Don't buy that stupid cube refrigerator!  They're not space-effective.  Get the taller one that takes up the same floor space.  The cubes are a joke.  It only costs a few dollars more for the bigger one, and they actually have useful freezers. :D

4.  Go to the on-campus movie showings, especially the scary ones. It's more fun to watch certain groups of students absolutely freak out, than to watch the movies themselves.

5.  Get a microwave that will hold dishes taller than a coffee cup. :D.  You can use a microwave for more than just making coffee and hot chocolate.

6. Figure out a way to enjoy coffee.  Coffee can be a wonderful thing.  I just never realized until I was in my 30s and discovered flavored syrups and creamers.  Dry milk makes a great creamer too, and it's easier to keep on hand when you need milk than to drive to a store for it in liquid form.

7. If you want to take a class that isn't in your major, DO IT.  They may offer all those nighttime art classes NOW, but by the time you're out there working in the world, they'll only be offered during school days.  Not at night.  Not in the summer.  I lost out.  It's worth taking an overload if the class makes you happy and satisfies you in some way.  Plus -- new people will be there.

8.  Get a wash basin to keep all your cooking stuff in.  Then use it for washing dishes, because the bathroom sink in your suite will SUCK for washing dishes.  They're not big enough.  Use your dustpan to get water into the wash basin, a la Pinterest.

9.  Turn your crummy dorm bed into a loft / bunk bed.  Then you'll have a living space underneath it, or at least some good storage space.  Just lifting it up a few feet will make a major difference and give you some room to breathe.  

10.  Get a little hand broom and a dustpan, because something, sometime, is going to break. Hang it up out of the way where you can easily find it.  

11.  Dollar Tree is your new best friend. ;). That's where you'll find a wash basin and baskets to organize your stuff. (There was no Dollar Tree way back when in my area.)

12.  When you come up with a good recipe, write it down. Research on the Internet for more dorm cooking ideas.  Don't be that malnourished student living on a pack of ramen noodles per day.  

13.  I wouldn't have bought it myself as a kid, but as an adult, I'd send my kid off to school with a Pampered Chef micro cooker (the bigger one). You can brown meat in the microwave with it. :). It has  strainers in the lid and pouring spouts.  It's black, so it won't show discoloring.  And it's really lightweight.  When it's not being used, it can hold kitchen stuff. I hear that you can even pop popcorn in it.

14.  Get a big, sturdy "campus umbrella". One that will easily cover two people and NOT one of those flimsy, fold-up, too small for one person umbrellas that fits in your purse. Chances are you will have some long walks to class in serious downpours, and you need a REAL umbrella or you'll be wet, cold, and miserable.  You don't need to buy it from the campus bookstore. Wal-Mart sells them and you don't want yours to look like everyone else's anyway.  

15.  Get and learn to use a planner / agenda.  Coordinate it with your digital calendars. But remember - a paper planner won't leave you swinging in the wind if you drop it.  They don't break like mobile phones and tablets.  They don't get hacked.  

16.  Buy some cheap metal forks, spoons, and knives. Having your last throwaway utensil break is depressing.  

17.  Go off to college in the early fall, not winter.  There are no get-to-know-you activities in January. Nobody cares if you are new, lost, and don't know anybody in January. 

18.  If you're not feeling the love from your family, half-jokingly beg one of your friends' parents to adopt you when they come to visit their kid.  :)