Monday, January 15, 2018

2018 Sewing Project #1: The Dress is Done

I've literally been working on this dress for years. In a matter of about four hours (only FOUR), I managed to finish it.

I was doing the New Look pattern 6095 because it was marked "easy" (and it was!), it was cheap, and there was an option of a dress with sleeves. I did version A with the sleeves of D. 

The sleeves were not that bad. I actually got stuck on the sleeves step and once I just sat down and sewed it, it turned out that I was making the whole thing into way more of a process than it actually was.  
The final product is way too big on me, which indicates that either my measurements were off or that I was too generous in my cutting of the pattern. The neckline is also way too much of a boat for me. I guess the picture on the pattern indicates that, but I didn't really pay attention. I will definitely be looking for more of a scoop, crew, or square neckline. It's also way too long. Even for someone who is as modest as I am about hemlines, this is ridiculous. It's all really good to know and I'll keep all of this in mind when I am making future dresses. 

I'm keeping this in the closet with the hope that someday I'll be able to alter the dress to make it wearable.  In the meantime, I'm checking this off the list.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Podcast Roundup Week #2

This week I listened to 40 episodes. I had a small operation on my mouth and spent two days essentially lying on the couch attempting to put pressure on the corner of my mouth in a vain attempt to get the swelling to go down and stop tonguing at the stitches and so I mostly just closed my eyes and let the podcasts wash over me.  Here are some episodes that stuck with me.

I listened to the three-part musical podcast 36 Questions. Starring Jessie Shelton and Jonathan Groff, this tells the story of an estranged couple as they ask themselves questions that apparently lead to love. I'm really interested in research on happiness and love and these questions endlessly fascinate me. The idea that if two people have an honest conversation around these questions it will definitely lead to a long-term relationship is endlessly wondrous to me. I could honestly fall in love with anyone, as long as I told them that I don't think my childhood was any happier or less happy (less happier? I don't know) than average?  Anyway, that is not exactly what this podcast is about, but it's something I will talk about for hours if you let me.

If you lie when having the initial conversation with the 36 questions, what are the consequences? Can you ever recover?  Forget about the questions themselves, can your relationship ever be healed if there is major untruth that has been around from the beginning? Should that healing take place? Whose responsibility is it to begin the healing process? What is the responsibility of the other person?  Does this hold true for romantic relationships and platonic ones? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I'm still puzzling over the ending of this podcast while humming the song "We Both" to myself. 
I also listened to the last two episodes of the 10-part Heaven's Gate podcast with Glynn Washington that takes a in-depth look at cult of the same name whose alien-worshiping members committed mass suicide in 1997. There are ups and downs in this series (you can probably skip episode #4 in which Washington talks about his own experiences in a cult if you're solely interested in Heaven's Gate itself, although the similarities between the cults was striking and the episode really nails that; the episodes with interviews with family members of cult members were hard to listen to and riveting at the same time) and Washington's narration style takes some getting used to if you're more accustomed to the NPR-style production, but these last two episodes were a great ending to the series. Washington pushes you to think about whether or not the beliefs of the cult members are so different from the beliefs of so many others and whether or not you would be susceptible to a certain type of brainwashing.  Thumbs way up to this series and the last couple of episodes in particular.
I have been resistant to listening to Gimlet's branded podcasts, but DTR (which is a popular internet acronym standing for Defining the Relationship - you're welcome to people who have not dated on the internet in a decade or more), which is a Tinder sponsored podcast,  has gotten good reviews, so I went ahead and downloaded the first few episodes. I'm both super glad I'm not dating in 2018 and I don't actually think the relationship with Tinder is super positive in the stories it tells, so this worry of mine is maybe a bit overblown. Maybe. I'll keep listening and let you know.

The episode I want to talk about is "Dick Pics" and I learned SO MUCH. I had no idea that sending/receiving dick pics was just a way of life if you're using modern dating apps.  I did a bit of internet dating in the early days and this just did not happen.  It just didn't. And it seems like that's not true anymore. If I have ever felt more like an old fogey than when I was listening to this podcast, I can't recall that time. And to hear people talking about their super complicated feelings about this phenomenon was fascinating. Some people like it? Some people just ignore it?  Some people feel borderline assaulted?

Anyway, I'm going to keep listening because I like learning about "kids these days" and their ethical quandaries which are different from mine, but no less important. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

I asked for it. I asked someone, as is my custom when I'm getting to know someone, what his favorite book was. He said Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and I ordered it from the library that evening. He said he never even liked reading until he read this book.  Why, that's quite an endorsement! Why, it's a book I've never heard of! Why, it meets one of the requirements for the 2018 Read Harder Challenge! Why, this is great!

It's 933 pages is what it is; 250 pages of those are tedious and mind numbing, too.  But then something happened to me. I just couldn't stop reading it. I was late getting dinner started because I just wanted ONE MORE CHAPTER. I was huddling under the blanket after Dr. BB turned off the lights because I just had to get figure out how our narrator was going to get out of this mess. It just somehow turned into a delicious soap opera. 

From the slums of Bombay to the mountains of Afghanistan to the prisons of Australia, this rambling epic is mostly just us wandering about aimlessly with our narrator who occasionally has a purpose in life but more often than not seems to be most just existing. Apparently Roberts actually DID escape an Australian prison and lived as a fugitive for more than a decade, so I lot of the material I was calling hogwash at the beginning was actually kind of true.  

I'm not sure that I can even articulate actual themes from this novel. Roberts seems to think he's quite profound, but his philosophical treatises told from the point of view of the various father figures in the book, are simultaneously overly simple and bombastic.  After my initial reluctance to engage with it, I just found myself more or less enjoying it the way I would enjoy an action movie. Pick one character at a time to follow and once that character inevitably leaves, through death or separation, pick a new character to follow.  It was like watching General Hospital through the lens of being Tracy Quartermaine's (I just had to google Tracy v. Tracey - these are the tribulations of our time) greatest fan. 

This novel seems quite polarizing on Goodreads. Look, I think Roberts is a little stuck on himself. I think he thinks he's a better writer than he is. I think the novel could have been 50% as long as it was. But at the same time, some of the digressions and plot-lines that lead nowhere were fun and engaging. Roberts' overblown sentence composition became a game I could play when I was reading (how many ways can he describe this guy's smile? his teeth? his black hat?).  And I get why this picaresque would appeal to my acquaintance who loves this book. 

Are the kind of person who likes reading about roguish rascals who perambulate around the world committing acts of various degrees of criminality and immorality all the while opining about the evilness of the world? Then this book is for you. Do you like your protagonists to take actions that make sense and have a clear moral compass?  Then this book is most definitely not for you.  It is polarizing because it was written for a definite audience. I'm not sure that I myself am part of that audience, but I can appreciate this for what it is.

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

At some point in the maelstrom of year end roundup lists, I found a list of books that librarians recommend from 2017The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman was the first on the list. Librarians know what's up, so I immediately requested in from my library. Apparently this book is a prequel to Practical Magic, but I have not read Practical Magic and I was immediately immersed in this world without needing any sort of primer.

The Owens family comes from a long line of witches. The matriarch in the family has a long list of rules the family must follow and, of course, as children are wont to do, children break the rules. But when you and I break the rules, it's generally not a matter of life and death. When the Owenses break the rules, it's not always that simple.

I was not expecting to find this book so transporting and riveting, but the lives of Vincent, Franny, and Jet seemed as real to me as my own.  The fear and excitement of the 1960s comes off the page, the deep debates we have within ourselves about self-identity and family belonging are engaged with a way that is meaningful and not preachy, and magic seeps off the page. I'm not generally a magical realism kind of person, but this one is totally five out of five stars for me.  I'm going to go ahead and put Practical Magic on my reading list now.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Podcast Roundup Week #1

I am currently subscribed to 86 podcasts, most of which are active. I actually had over 100 at the beginning of our holiday break and have been slowly purging the ones I don't listen to or are no longer active.  I'm usually about a month behind in my episodes, although I am getting closer and closer to actually being caught up.

When people ask how I listen to so many podcasts, I have to admit that it's because I'm basically always listening. I listen when I work out, when I sew, when I walk, when I drive, and when I clean house. Basically if I'm doing something I don't LOVE to do, I'm listening. This provides me with multiple hours each day to listen to podcasts. I don't watch television or movies much, though, so this replaces visual media for me.
I use Podcast Addict as my podcast player.

This week I listened to 35 podcast episodes and here are a few that I would recommend.

The Adventure Zone: Live in Nashville - I don't think you can actually listen to this episode without having listened to the rest of TAZ, but here's the gist. Three brothers and their father play D&D and make a podcast about it. They are hilarious and the family dynamic is sweet and fun. There was this moment at this live show when the dad, who plays a cleric, uses a spell that he's used before in ridiculous situations for an actual useful purpose and the audience breaks into applause and I'm not going to lie, I did a little fist pump while I was walking in the woods, too, because it was great. The dad in the group sometimes catches some flack because he's not always the best D&D player, but he sometimes has these golden moments. The Adventure Zone is one of my favorite podcasts, and I've never played D&D in my entire life.

What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law: Prosecuting a President - Roman Mars, the host of 99% Invisible, another super popular podcast, puts out this occasional show of indefinite length on Trump's destruction of presidential and governmental norms with constitutional law scholar Elizabeth Joh.  There's a moment at the end of this episode when Joh asks Mars to think about the debate about whether or not we want someone in charge who thinks the president is above the law and Mars has this little laugh and says "no, that wasn't hard at all," that made me laugh out loud as I was, again, walking in the woods.

Code Switch: (Legally) Selling Weed While Black -  I have a complicated assignment in one of my race and politics classes in which I have the students listen to a combo of Johann Hari talking about the early stages of the War on Drugs as it relates to a war on blues (which was largely aimed at the black community) and the racist policies of the Bureau of Narcotics under the leadership of Harry Anslinger and then listen to an explanation of the song "Strange Fruit" as it relates to that, but this Code Switch podcast actually does a lot of that work for me and I don't have to send students off in to so many different directions. I think too many people automatically link Richard Nixon and the War on Drugs, but I think Anslinger should be a household name, too.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

2018 Yearly Goals

Last year was mostly successful in my yearly goals. I've kept many of the same goals in order to keep doing well on those goals, but I've added some more. I'm a bit worried that all of this might be a tiny bit too ambitious, but I'll see how things go in the first quarter and adjust from there if necessary.

Area One: Fitness Goals
1) Workout four times a week - I eventually want to get up to five times a week, but I think since I'm so ambitious about the rest of this list, I'm going to keep this the same as it was in 2017, especially since I didn't quite get to an average of 4 last year.  It's obtainable and keeps me on track.
2) 11,500 steps a day - I know this is doable from last year.
3) Track food intake each day - This third goal is going to be flexible during the year. I think I want to track what I eat in the first quarter, track calories in the second quarter, actually limit to 1400 or so calories in the third with the eventual goal of getting to my goal weight (which is about seven pounds from where I am right now) by the end of the third quarter and then maintain that weight through quarter four. I'm going to just start by writing everything I eat down for now.

Area Two: Communication Goals
1) Update my blog twice a week - I didn't quite accomplish this last year, so it's going back on the list.  I think I'm going to try really hard to actually write more about the many, many, many podcasts I listen to and that will help me to actually have a weekly topic.  That, along with how my reading and sewing goals are going, should allow for this goal to be met fairly easily. I do say that every year and this is year three without actually accomplishing it, so I might be aiming too high.
2) Make contact with four people (MDTT) at least once a week - I did pretty well on this last year, but I definitely want to keep going with it and do even better.
3) See my mom four times in the year -  I accomplished this last year and would like to do so again. I think I can do it.
4) Send a letter or postcard to my grandmother and two of my elderly aunts at least once a month - This was harder than I thought it would be last last year, but I definitely want to keep it up.

Area Three: Finances
1) Track every penny I spend each day - I've sort of made jokes about how we're hemorrhaging money around here, but I'm not comfortable with how comfortable I've been just dropping hundreds of dollars here and there. I think, much like writing everything down that I eat, writing down everything I spend will definitely force me to be more aware.
2) Low buy year - I'm not going to pretend that I won't spend money. But I want to really only spend money on things that are necessary. This means no new clothes, makeup, fabric, and house stuff unless it's essential.  The rules: Gifts I would normally buy for birthdays, housewarmings, new babies, weddings, graduations, and the like are okay.  I am allowed to grab something to eat outside of the house if I'm going to be outside of the house for more than six hours (this doesn't happen all that often, but essentially allows me to eat when traveling, especially on days when I'm in the car for a long time) and I'm allowed a coffee/Diet Coke/snack once a week. I will ease up during vacations and travel. I might add other caveats as I go, but my goal is to stay frugal, not miserable.
3) Save $XXX to savings account each month - Our savings account was decimated when we bought the house and by all the work we've had done or are currently doing on it. I'd like to see this account rebound in 2018. With the low buy year, I think I can do it.

Area Four: Personal Improvement Projects
1) Complete three sewing projects this year - Last year I did terribly on my sewing goals because we were moving and the room wasn't set up, but this year I have three goals. I want to finish the dress I've been working on for over a year. Even if it's terrible and I end up not wearing it, it will be done. I want to sew a quilt for the guest room. I want to sew a quilt with my mother-in-law's holiday shirts that have been given to me to do so.  (I also need to fix a button on a pair of jeans that have been sitting in the sewing room for months.) If I need to buy material to finish these projects, I can, but I need to use what I have available already if possible.
We're going to get rugs from family friends. Until then, I'm using this blanket. Low buy!
 But the sewing room is up!  A tall table has been procured. No more excuses.

2) Spend 10 minutes a day on Spanish practice - I've been doing Duolingo for almost five months now. I'd like to continue this. I also bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in Spanish and I'm going to really try to become more fluent. 2019 might bring a Spanish class into my future, but for now I'd like to just focus on figuring out basics.
3) Complete the Book Riot Read Harder challenge this year by reading two of the books each month - I did this last year, but I didn't really start until the summer and then I felt like I rushed and I didn't always choose the best books. I think if I do it slowly and do more research about which books I choose, I can make this work. I'm a bit concerned that my sewing goals might interfere with how much reading I can do, but I'll do my best.

Area Five: The House
1) Brush Zelda at least three times a week and brush her teeth each day - She really needs to be brushed daily, but she fights it so much that I'm going to start slowly.
2) Clean the house for 10 minutes a day - This can be straightening up, dusting, vacuuming, whatever, just try and make sure there are no problem areas.
3) Water the plants twice a week - My poor plants. I neglect them horribly. I need to at least check their levels a couple times a week instead of once a month.

This seems crazy, but it all seems doable. Also, I'm on winter break right now, so of course it seems doable. We'll check in after the third quarter and see how things are really going.

Monday, January 01, 2018

2017 Yearly Goals, Quarter 4

Quarter 1, 2, and 3, if you're interested.

Area One: Fitness Goals
1) Workout four times a week - The good news is that I worked out for three times a week every week in this quarter. The bad news is that the average was 3.85. Darn it. Not quite to goal, but let's call it a win anyway.  The worse news is that my overall average for the entire year was 3.27. Solid D work here, people. I'm really disappointed in myself. Let's put it on the goal list for next year again.

2) 11,500 steps a day - I missed seven days this quarter for 92.3% rate. That's fine, I think. A couple of those days were around the holidays (my sister lives in the woods - there are no safe places to walk unless you want to get mistaken for a deer) and I was actually under the weather for a few days.

For the year, my average was 12,834 steps a day. I'm going to give myself a solid A on this goal for the year. That's a good thing, too, because there are no other As on this list.

3) Weigh myself weekly - Eek. I weighed myself only five weeks and I put on a few pounds. I have a plan for next year how to lose this weight and get back on track.

Area Two: Communication Goals
1) Update my blog twice a week - I updated 25 times this quarter, so that's 1.9 times a week. Oh, well.  It's pretty close. 1.87 for the year. Not great. Not terrible, but not great. I'll put it on the list for next year, too.

2) Make contact with four people (MDTT) at least once a week - Good news. I'm definitely doing better than I was in 2016.  One person was at 100%, on person at 92%, one person at 84.6%, and one at 77%. Overall it's 88.5% rate. I'll put it on the list again next year, but I'm feeling okay about this.

3) See my mom four times in the year - Check! 100%!! I went to see my mom in January, July, September, and December. I lied, earlier. This is solid A work.

4) Send a letter or postcard to my grandmother and two of my elderly aunts at least once a month - Check! 100%!! Although I am pretty sure that I didn't put stamps on my Thanksgiving cards because a bunch of them were returned to me. Oh, well. I'm counting it.

5) Post a photo to Instagram at least once a day - I was only at 80% for this quarter. I don't think I'll do this again next year. I'll keep my Instagram account active, but it definitely was not easy to always find something to take a photo of and I just don't know if I'm creative enough for these types of challenges.

Top Nine of 2017

Area Three: The Rest of My Life
1) Vacuum or sweep twice a week - 54% rate of completion. Oh, well. I'm not as good at housekeeping as I want to be. New goal next year!

2) Brush Zelda's teeth when I feed her at night  - I missed eight days this quarter. Oh, well. We're getting better at this, Zelda and I. It's part of the nightly ritual and will remain so, I think.

3) Get my sewing machine out at least once a month - 0%. I don't think I've taken it out since we moved in the summer. I have a goal for next year, though, so I can fix this.
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