Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Well, this book was ... an accident? I finished 10% Happier, but I had a long car ride the following day and had nothing to listen to. Next thing I knew, I was going through the library's list of available digital audio books and most of the books I really wanted to read were checked out (boo). When I came across this title, all I could remember is that "it's a classic", and that was good enough for me at that moment, so I checked it out and started listening. I knew nothing about the story at all, and it turned out a very different style than I was expecting.

Love in the Time of Cholera is set somewhere along the Caribbean coast in South America (the location is never disclosed) from approximately the 1880s til the 1930s and tells the story of many different "loves". The main strain of the story is that of Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza. Florentino is poor and falls in love with Fermina Daza at first sight ... when he is about 14 and she is about 12. Yeah, it kind of lost me right there if you can't tell. I'm not a fan of teenage romances. Anyway, synopsis first, opinion later. Fermina and Florentino carry on a clandestine correspondence for several years before their love is discovered and Fermina's father takes her away to try to rid her of Florentino. Florentino pines for her the whole time she is gone, but when she returns as a mature 17 year old she sees him once in the market and realizes how ridiculous her little love affair was and breaks it off. This launches Florentino Ariza into a sort of self inflicted physical malady - his emotions are so strong that he becomes physically ill. He convinces himself that he will get Fermina Daza back one day though because they are meant to be together. He believes this even after she marries a very wealthy and respected doctor, Juvenal Urbino. Femina has a long and happy marriage to Juvenal Urbino, until his sad death in his early 80s. Meanwhile, Florentino Ariza sleeps with every woman he can find, but never commits to any of them because he always feels that he is technically the property of Fermina Daza. After her husband's death, Florentino starts coming around Fermina, slowly acclimating her to his presence until one day she decides that their youthful love really was something and it's a chame to deny it in their old age as well. The story ends with them (literally) drifting off on a river together in their 70s.

I'm sure you can see in my general tone about this book that I was not a big fan of it all in all. The story started off confusing me on who the main characters were supposed to be. It begins with Dr. Juvenal Urbino looking into the death of an old friend of his. The book goes into details about how it turns out that this dead man had a long time love affair with a woman no one suspected, and that he was actually living under an assumed name to avoid the law. You would think that this sort of detail and open-ended-ness would indicate that this dead man would be the main character, right? Nope. You learn almost nothing else about this man. The author does this several times - giving in depth, yet needless information about characters that turn out to have very little to do with the story at all. Also, I just can't get behind the whole "hopeless romantic" vibe he has going for Florentino Ariza. He is built up to be this great poet and lover, yet still very humble and always very unrealistic ... but he's supposed to be a successful businessman and juggle all these sexual relationships, always mentioning how great a love each was in his life. While I was reading the book, I called foul - it wasn't until after finishing the book and looking things up about it online that I found out that Marquez wrote the story about the love of his life and Florentino Ariza is supposed to be him. Now I understand why he played him up as such a great guy, but I still don't buy it. It's a big effort in self-aggrandizement as far as I'm concerned.

Frankly, I was glad when this book was over. I stuck with it just because I don't like to leave things unfinished. I will say that it is very well written, even if the subject matter isn't to my liking. Marquez is very good with imagery, and many aspects of the story come off almost poetic. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I didn't love the story, but it was well written and just because it wasn't my scene doesn't mean it's not a good book so I will give it the benefit of the doubt there. It does leave me questioning how the man who wrote this as a sort of autobiography could have gone on to receive the Nobel prize for another one of his books. Interesting...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

New Year, New Needle Case (a.k.a. How To Sew Your Own Double Pointed Knitting Needle Case)

It seems I have started a new tradition for myself - it seems that the last Sunday of the year makes me want to make cases for my knitting needles, lol. In 2013, I made this case for my 6" dpn set - this is honestly one of my favorite things I have made, and definitely the best as far as how functional it is. I use that case all the time and it has held up great. This past year, I was given an 8" dpn set for Christmas (this set from Stitchberry) - it's only right to want a pretty new place to put them all :)
I purchased these fabrics last New Year's Day at The Sewing Studio sale. I was on a kick from my recent make and decided I should make cases for my regular straight needles as well. Obviously that didn't happen, but it worked out so that when I decided to make this case I knew exactly what fabrics to grab. Knowing that I wanted to make this case for bigger needles (just not knowing how big at the time), I purchased 1/2 yard cuts of both the outer fabric and lining, but only got a fat quarter for the pockets like last time. The crazy floral print is an awesome Alexander Henry fabric called "Sloane" - I chose this for the outside of my case. It's basically all my favorite things in a fabric, but I knew I probably would never wear it, so this seemed the perfect chance to see it frequently :) The gray is called Quatrefoil Mini by Riley Blake and it will be my "lining" fabric. The teal is a fat quarter of broadcloth that will be my "pockets".

I wanted to write this up as a standard "how to" style tutorial/pattern, so I decided to just use the measurements I figured for my original 6" needle case I made in 2013. You can certainly change the pattern like I did by simply adjusting the length of your pieces - not the width. All widths will stay the same if you are housing a standard set of 15 sizes of double pointed needles - 5 of each size. Literally all you have to do to lengthen the pattern is add you additional inches to the length before you cut - easy peasy :) Everything is sewn with a 1/2" seam allowance unless otherwise noted.

Materials:
  • 3 coordinating fat quarters of fabric, 1 for the outside, 1 for the inside, and 1 for the pockets and strap.
  • Medium weight, Sew-in interfacing (I used Pellon 40)
  • Snaps for closures
  • Coordinating thread
1. First thing, we need to cut out our pieces. Cut 1 outer fabric, 1 lining fabric, and 1 piece of interfacing 12" wide x 22.5" long (for my 8" case, I cut these pieces 12" wide x 24.5" long). Cut 4 pocket fabric pieces and 2 interfacing pieces that measure 12" wide x 5.5" long (for 8" case, I cut them 7.5" long). Cut 1 piece for the strap measuring 4" wide x 21" long (just cut the strap as long as your piece of fabric - I got lucky with my fat quarter and there was an extra inch there on mine). Now you're ready to start sewing!
2. Line up 2 pocket pieces with right sides together placing 1 piece of interfacing beneath them. Sew across one longer side.
Press the seam, then separate the fabric pieces, folding as close to the seam as you can and press again. This seam is the top edge of your pocket. Repeat this step for the second pocket.
3. Lay a ruler across the top of your first pocket piece. Using a chalk marker, mark lines vertically down the front of the pocket at the following increments: 0.5", 1.2", 1.95", 2.8", 3.75", 4.85", 5.95", 7.1", 8.4", 9.75", 11.15". Next, lay the ruler across the second pocket, marking at the following increments: 0.5", 2.15", 3.9", 6", 8.4", 11.15". These measurements are exact to fit sizes 0-15 of needles, so be as precise as you can.
4. Being careful not to rub your chalk lines too much, top stitch a 1/4" seam parallel to the top edge of the pocket. Next, embroider the numbers between each of the chalk lines. The top pocket will have numbers 0-9 and the bottom pocket will have numbers 10-15. I tried to line my numbers up about 1/2" below the top stitched line at the edge of the pocket just for consistency. Be sure to trim all your threads before moving to the next step - you will not have access to the back of this piece again. *If your sewing machine does not embroider, you could certainly embroider the numbers by hand or even draw them on using a fabric marker.*
5. Line up the bottom edges of your first pocket (with numbers 0-9) with the bottom edges of your lining fabric. Pin the pocket in place between the chalk lines (don't be afraid of pins here - you really can't use too many). Starting at the top of the pocket edge, sew down each chalk line being sure to back stitch at the top. Press entire pocket to remove any remaining chalk.
6. For second pocket (with numbers 10-15), measure 7.25" above bottom edge of lining fabric and place the pocket right side down so that the bottom of the pocket is sitting straight across at the 7.25" mark. Pin the pocket in place well (again, don't be afraid of using too many - you don't want the pocket to shift), and sew using 1/4" seam allowance from the edge of the pocket bottom.
Press the seam, then flip the pocket right side up at the seam you just made, pressing across the bottom carefully as not to remove your chalk lines.
Top stitch 1/4" above the turned bottom edge of your pocket. Make sure the rest of the pocket is lined up with the lining fabric, pinning to keep in place, and stitch down each of the chalk lines making sure to back stitch at the top and bottom. Press the entire pocket to remove any remaining chalk.Your pockets should look like this:
7. Line up your piece of interfacing with the wrong side of the lining on top of it. Place the outer fabric on top of the lining right sides together to create a sandwich. Pin in place, then beginning just off the center of the top flap (the section with no pockets on it) back stitch and sew the perimeter using a 1/4" seam allowance down the long sides and 1/2" seam allowance across the top and bottom. Stop sewing 3" from where you began and backstitch, leaving a hole to turn the pieces right side out.
Cut each corner off near the seam junctions to create a sharper corner once the pieces are flipped.
8. Flip the case right side out through the hole in the top flap. Use a point turner or a chopstick to really push the corners out as much as possible.
Once you are happy with your corners and side seams, press the entire case making sure to keep the side seams straight. Fold under the excess fabric at the 3" hole and press well. Top stitch the entire perimeter of the case as close to the edge as you can.
9. Measure 6.5" from the bottom edge of the case and sew straight across the width of the case. Then measure 6.5" from the bottom edge of the 10-15 pocket and sew a straight seam again. These will help the case to fold nicely into thirds to close it up.
10. For the strap, fold the piece in half lengthwise with right sides together and press. Sew down the length of the piece (using 1/2" SA), then cut down the seam allowance as close as you would like to the seam. Press, then turn the tube right side out, and press being sure to keep the seams straight along the sides. Fold under about 1/4" at the top and bottom of the tube and press. Next, top stitch around the perimeter as close to the edge as you can. Press.
11. Place your strap at the center of your top flap, making sure to line up the edges. Pin the strap in place so it stays perpendicular to the side seam, and stitch a rectangle inside your strap to secure it to the top flap of the case. Try to keep the edges as even with your strap edges as possible, and pivot at the corners by keeping your needle down while lifting your presser foot to turn the fabric to stay with the edge of the fabric. Make sure the rectangle in at least 1" - 1.5" long so it is stable enough to be pulled on.
12. Before positioning the snaps, put all your needles in their respective pockets. Fold your case at the "fold seams" and line up the outside edges so you like how it sits. Next, wrap the strap around the case, overlapping it enough to hold the case snugly closed without causing it to buckle. Following the instructions on your packet of snaps, install them in the center of the strap, the first as close to the rectangle attaching the strap to the top flap as you can and the second close to the outer edge of the strap but so that you still have enough of a lip that you can easily grab the strap with your fingers to open the case. This is not an exact science, but a little extra effort will go a long way in the finished look of your case.
13. Sit back and revel in the glory of your new needle case!
Like I said at the beginning, the case in the photos is actually my 8" needle case. You can see my 6" case here. Because this case is larger, I had to do some interesting things to get my pieces cut as long as I needed, such as piecing the lining fabric together at the center and cutting my strap in multiple pieces, sewing them as one long piece, pressing the seam allowances down, and cutting it out in the length I needed in half the width using two pieces instead of just folding it over.  I positioned the joins in the strap to sit at the back of the case, and the seam in the lining is completely covered by the second pocket, so there are no unsightly seams where there should not be.

*If you would like to add an additional pocket piece to the top flap (for notions and what have you), just follow the cutting directions for an additional pocket piece, though you will need to buy extra fabric for this. You will also have to decide where you want the pocket to be separated since I have not measured that part out, but it should be easy to do :) Don't be afraid to experiment!
I absolutely love these cases! I am able to carry my needles around everywhere if I want to, or flip it open and go right to the exact size needles that I need. These cases keep everything at easy access, yet still safely contained and organized. Another cool feature is that you can open the whole case, then wrap the strap backwards and snap the strap around something like a clothes hanger or a rod and the case can hang up. You can see an example of this in the link about my original 6" case.

I hope you enjoy your cases as much as I do :) If you have any questions, please feel free to leave me a comment or shoot me an email and I will answer you the best I can!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Review: 10% Happier by Dan Harris

This was another book I just picked up because it was in the Buddhism section and came on audio cd, lol. I knew nothing about who Dan Harris is (I never watch news related shows ... ever), but just by reading the quick description I decided it would be worth a read. Again, this turned out to be a wonderful strategy, because I LOVED this book. What you must know before getting into this synopsis is that ... Dan Harris is kind of an asshole. I don't mean that as anything personal against him (in fact he mentions at the beginning of the book that he wanted the title to be The Voice In My Head Is An Asshole). I'm glad I hadn't heard of him before this book, because I bet that his interviewing style would have made me think, "Oh, that guy is a total jerk. I don't care what he has to say." But the fact that this guy is a total cynical jerk ended up being what made this book so wonderful.

10% Happier is the story of Dan Harris, a tv news reporter who stumbled upon Buddhism in a very unusual way. After working his way up the system for a while, he landed a job as a young correspondent for ABC news working under Peter Jennings. After he proved himself as a reporter during 9-11 and then on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan during the war, Peter Jennings designated Dan as the "spirituality correspondent", meaning he had to report on anything remotely spiritual that became news. At first, Dan hated this idea - he was mostly an atheist and he had no interest in all these "religious wackos" he would be reporting on. Then Dan had an unfortunate occurrence - he had a panic attack on the air. You can even watch the actual event on youtube. He didn't understand what happened or why, so he went through various doctors and therapists until discovering that his highly competitive live style combined with pent up emotions from his time in active war zones eventually falling into drug use put him in a very unstable physical and mental state. All these things were causing unacknowledged depression, which the ups and downs of drugs caused to manifest itself as an actual attack. After delving into all of his personal issues, he decided to use his position as a spirituality correspondent to his advantage and see what all these people had going for them to see if anything "worked for him." He went from being friends with big names in Evangelical Christianity (this was the early 2000s, when these groups were very news worthy) to having a friend recommend a book by Eckhart Tolle. Dan read A New Earth with great interest, but was left hanging when it came to actual application of the ideas he liked. He just couldn't be ok with all the "metaphysical speak". So he interviewed Eckhart Tolle to try and get more answers - this just caused him more confusion when he found out that Tolle is such a kook. The idea of being happier by suppressing "the ego" though was exactly what Dan Harris liked. Dan went on to hang out with Deepak Chopra for a time, again feeling unfulfilled, but for the exact opposite reason: Tolle seemed genuine but insane while Chopra seemed logical but working on his marketing scheme. After these interesting interactions with famous men, Dan's wife recommended a psychiatrist named Mark Epstein and suddenly things really started to click.

Mark Epstein is a Harvard grad M.D. who combines the teachings of the Buddha with the teachings of Freud is treating mental health issues. Not only did his ideas make sense - they had clinical studies to prove their effectiveness. This is where Dan got the idea of trying meditation. Mark recommends Dan look into other people in his sphere of actual doctors who practice Buddhism without "being Buddhist" (meaning they do not worship the Buddha as a religion). This section of the book references lots of facts about meditation, but Dan also talks about his own personal application of each principle and how it helped him along the way. Dan eventually goes on a 10 day meditation retreat where he officially "sees the light" of what meditation can do for you. Not only does his day to day interaction and sense of self improve, he also sees benefits at work once he works out the kinks. The last part of the book breaks down all the principles he learns in general and then talks about how he applied them to the concept of "without losing my edge". He talks about the pitfalls of becoming "too zen" in a competitive workplace, but he does seem to find his stride in the end and becomes a lead male anchor on Good Morning America.

This book was probably the perfect things for me to read at this time in my life. I've always been interested in the concepts of meditation, even read other books explaining the particulars of the practice and benefits received, but I've just always been a little skeptical until now. Reading the teachings of Buddhist meditation as related threw a guy who is, as I said, a cynical jerk, really helped me see that it doesn't have to be a big song and dance to be a part of your life. You can just apply the basics and fit them into your life where you can. Basically anything is better than nothing when it comes to mindfulness and meditation. This is also an area that can always be improved upon in your life no matter how long you have practice or what levels you reach. I certainly am not one to start this seeking "enlightenment", but even the little things I have tried have made big differences that I can't necessarily give specifics on. I just add my small voice next to Dan Harris' that this can do great things in your life if you devote the time to cultivating the skill of taming your thoughts. I give this book a resounding 5 out of 5 stars (my first 5 star book of the year! Hooray!). I've talked about this book so much that now my husband and sister are reading it too :)

P.S. What was even better about listening to this as an audio book is that it was read by the author himself.

Monday, February 23, 2015

FO: A Lovebot for Valentine's Day

Well, it hit me on the Sunday before Valentine's Day that I didn't have a gift yet for my husband. Our finances being what they are, I knew I wouldn't be running out to buy anything, but having the ridiculous stash I do I figured I would make him something :) I went through my library on Ravelry (seriously Ravelry is the best thing ever for staying organized), and narrowed things down to a few possible candidates. Then I remembered that he mentioned his long time love of robot related films a few weeks ago (it was completely random too, lol), so I put two and two together with this pattern I've always wanted to make and a lovebot was born!
This is lovebot747 (named by my husband when he received him on Valentine's day, lol). I used the Louie the Lovebot pattern by Rebecca Danger. He's a super simple shape, but he does use some fairly advanced techniques as far as toy making goes. I did try to do the heart on the body by stranding the gray behind it, but this was my first try with stranded colorwork ... and I am a notoriously tight knitter ... so it didn't work out so well. After spending my first night making the whole body, I pulled it all out until just before you start the heart - I just knew it would drive me crazy. I decided to knit the body plain gray and then duplicate stitch the heart back on according to the chart and it worked out great :)
 The other slightly tricky bit is making the feet/legs. The pattern has you knit the foot as basically an egg, but one section you knit on a scrap piece of yarn, then pull it out and open the hole up to knit the leg. It's nice and seamless, but if I hadn't done it before when I made my Wee-Ones Elephant along with the Craftsy class, I doubt I would have understood how it works. Just something to keep in mind if you decide to make a bot of your own :)
I used Vanna's Choice yarn in Charcoal Gray and Colonial Blue from my stash, and I went with a pair of 12 mm safety eyes. I figured the gray/blue combo wasn't overly girly so my husband could be seen with his gift, lol. I do love the example in pink and red though :)
I love how skinny and long the limbs are, and I think the selective striping is really nice. I also love how this guy is so pose-able! I was worried he wouldn't want to cooperate, but I just love how this pic came out, so please forgive the poor quality.
I call this photo "The Doctor Is In," lol doesn't he just look like he's saying, "Go ahead, tell me all your problems." He's such a nice lovebot.
He seemed to be a big hit :) My husband likes to make him dance while singing the music from the Mountain Dew Kickstart commercial. It's pretty funny.
For our Valentine's night out, we used some gift cards we had saved up for a long time and splurged at Longhorn Steak house. We got the porterhouse for two (did you know such a monster existed?!) - it was a 30 oz steak! Craziness! We went really wild and had them put a gorgonzola crust on the top. It was delicious and certainly worth the 1.5 hours we waited to be seated (yes, you read that right, lol). I got to have the leftovers for dinner the next night, and Gordo helped me clean that bone off. I think he did a pretty good job, don't you? All in all a good time and a successful Valentine's Day :)

Did you make any of your Valentines this year? Let me know, I'd love to see them!