Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wily Wednesdays - Dragon Mandala Weirdness

From the archives. I don't know if this colored pencil drawing is from high school or college. Also, I'm not sure what I was thinking when I made this, but it's kind of weird and neat. The image is a little blurry, as I had to stitch it together from multiple not-so-great photographs.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wily Wednesdays - Crochet Demoness Horns

Last year, I crocheted my own version of a viking hat, and this year I got a request for a similar hat, only with more curved horns inspired by the demoness on the left:

Dude, this was fun to make! I was a little nervous about the horns, especially because I was working with bulky, unconventional yarn for 3-D crochet. But once the first one started taking shape, I liked what was happening.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Living in the Moment, Revisited

If I had to pick a self-improvement theme for 2012, "living mindfully" is the ideal I've worked to embrace. In fact, that was how I started out the year on this blog. Whether I've been particularly successful is another matter entirely, but I can say that I've put a lot of thought and effort into it, especially in recent months. Immediately after coming back from Ohio -- perhaps out of coincidence, perhaps out of a greater need to ground myself after spending time away from home -- I found a little group of folks who like to talk about and practice that concept of living in the moment. It's an interesting mix of people, ranging from folks who are more on the naturalist, atheist side of the spectrum like me to more celestial and modern religious/spiritual perspectives. Ultimately, though, we're able to come together on the same wavelength to explore meditation and living in the moment.

With that thought in mind, I came across an interesting article today that delves into the psychology of awareness and looking inward, and how that can empower and heal: The Brain's Ability to Look Within: A Secret to Well-Being. You know me -- I love exploring the science behind everything I do (and think), and this explanation about the two different paths the brain uses for attention is a good example of what I mean when I say I strive to live intentionally.
Learning to tune into our bodies could have other beneficial consequences as well. We are so used to directing our attention outward that we often don’t even really taste food because we are too busy watching TV or distracting ourselves in other ways. However, research suggests that our greatest moments of happiness are times we spend fully involved and engaged in a situation: be it a physical activity, a sensory experience, or intimacy with another person. If we are distracted, we are depriving ourselves of some of the greatest sources of happiness.

Next time you find your thoughts racing and emotions blaring out of control, instead of trying to talk yourself out of the situation or turning to a glass of wine, have a seat, take some deep breaths and tune into your body, or go to a gentle and awareness-based yoga or meditation class. Farb’s research suggests that we have an inbuilt ability to calm ourselves down. We just need to take a deep breath.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wily Wednesdays - Hat for the Hero of Canton

Nothing new this week, so I'm posting an old little crochet project I remembered while going through the craft closet over the weekend. I do love geeky crafting, and I can't wait to reveal my next project (which, sadly, is only in my head at this point).

And yes, for all you diehards out there, Jayne Cobb's hat should be knitted instead of crocheted, but thankfully I don't care about losing geek cred.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wily Wednesdays - Funky Clay Bottle

This week I ventured into polymer clay again. When I was crafting last Yule, I loved sculpting clay around glass bulbs for tree ornaments, so I wanted to try it out with a vase or bottle. Here's what happened:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wily Wednesdays - Treasure Chest

Okay, I've got to own up to something. I have a guilty pleasure (addiction?) for geeky Perler Bead creations. This silly medium lends itself too well to pixel art, and I can't help indulging in some nostalgic Nintendo crafts. I made little Hylian shield, and then I realized it needed a container, so I set out to build a proper treasure chest. What ensued involved a bit more time and beads than I had originally planned, but I'm glad I put in the extra effort.

Here's what the individual pieces look like. For the right-angle edges, I really wasn't thinking, otherwise I would have alternated the beads in a jagged fashion so they locked together on the sides. Oh well, noted for future projects. To create the domed top piece, I only ironed one side and bent it into the proper shape while the plastic was still hot. I had no idea how well that was going to work, but it came out better than expected. Next, I lined each of the pieces with blue felt.

When I was ready to assemble the pieces, I toyed with the idea of sealing them with heat, either using the iron (which is a tad awkward) or a heat gun (which could easily and quickly ruin the box if I messed up). Threading it together with embroidery floss seemed like a pretty good idea, and with Kai's insistence, I went that route instead of using heat or glue. I even sewed on the hinges, because...why not?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Jonesing to get back to school

As I mentioned in June, I'll soon be attending the Lake Washington Institute of Technology to work on a year-long program in environmental horticulture. The best time to start the program is during the fall quarter, obviously, but that didn't quite work out with my schedule. I got the idea just a little too late this year, and I'd already planned my trip back to Ohio in the fall, among other things. C'est la vie. So I'll start winter quarter in the beginning of January, and in the meantime, I'll at least try to keep up with the academic side of the fall quarter so I'm not too behind.

Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to sit in on a day's worth of classes to get a feel for what it was like. Actually, the timing worked out pretty well, as they'd just taken their midterm exams and were beginning the second half of the quarter that day. Class started at 7 a.m., and yeah, it felt weird waking up that early. Even when I did college the first time around, I never had a class earlier than 8 a.m., so it should be interesting to see how well I can pull this off on a regular basis. I was fine for one day, but I really made an effort to wear myself out the night before (productive evening at the gym) and get to bed at a reasonable hour. There is another option available for a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. class, which runs from Monday to Thursday instead of Tuesday to Friday, but it wouldn't work as well with my job.

I walked in to a blessedly small class (I think there were about 20 students), with small groups of students sitting around tables. It was nice to see the diversity of ages and backgrounds -- people have come in from all walks of life. I realize that's probably the norm for community college, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. One group of women welcomed me to their table and gave me a briefing on what they've been doing in the quarter so far. 

The first part of the day covered plant ID. The students' daily homework includes going through a list of five to ten plants and recording information about them to review during the next day of class. The instructor had samples of each of the plants on every table, and we examined and talked about them (scientific name, common name, type of plant, characteristics, pruning, landscape usage, etc.). There's a lot to learn here, but I like the approach, and it breaks things down into manageable chunks. It's a little intimidating to think of a long list of scientific names and traits to commit to memory, but after seeing how they go through the material, I feel better about it -- and excited enough to give myself some homework over the weekend!

After doing that for an hour or so, we went out to the greenhouse for some hands-on practice: re-potting plants, pruning, watering, and filling containers with the proper density of soil. Then we came back in for the botany lecture (and it was great to realize how much I remembered from over a decade ago). The class ended with another outside lesson on all the factors that go into giving plants the right amount of water.

So that was Wednesday's class in a nutshell. I loved seeing what a typical day looked like, and it was nice to chat with other students about their experience so far. I'm still kinda bummed that I didn't get the chance to start the program fall quarter, but oh well. I do plan to sit in on another class (or possibly more, if the instructor will let me), so that's something to look forward to. All in all, I just want to get my hands dirty already!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wily Wednesdays - Nine-point Star Afghan

This afghan has been in the works for over two years, but I finally finished it! It's the second biggest crochet project I've ever completed (the first being the rainbow striped afghan). Inspired by my friend Chaya, who crochets in such a wonderfully free-form manner, I wanted this project to be a little less patterned and uptight. (It's a little sad that something like this is a challenge for me -- guess it says something about my personality and how I need to loosen up!) My original thoughts were to start with a basic shape and move outward, without a predetermined set of yarn, a pattern of stripes, or final dimensions for the afghan. In fact, I purposely committed myself to only using yarn I already owned (goodness knows I've got enough of it). I enjoyed the process, and I'm pleased with the way it came out. I set it aside occasionally for months at a time, but so it often goes with long projects.

Bonus: It folds up in a more creative way. Rectangular folds are for squares.

In 2010, I toyed around with the idea of selling this afghan, but once it took shape, there was no way I was going to give it to a stranger. Happy belated birthday, Chaya!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Literary Gatekeepers

I've written guest post on the Greenleaf Literary Services blog about my observations and speculations regarding literary standards. Now that digital self-publishing is becoming more popular, and the traditional hierarchy is crumbling, we're seeing a lot of changes in how books are distributed and promoted. It means a lot of new authors are being discovered who wouldn't otherwise be noticed...and it also means that an incredible amount of sub-par material is clogging the channels. Without the usual middlemen, how does one find quality books? It's a topic I find fascinating, even if I struggle to remain optimistic.

What are the channels that you use to discover authors who are worth your time? How much stock do you put in customer reviews? Bestsellers lists? Social media?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wily Wednesdays - Chainmaille Bracelet

Or chain mail, or chainmail, or chain maille, or maille, or however you prefer to spell it. I had a couple of small craft nights with my mother when I was in Ohio, so I decided to try my hand at chainmaille. This resulted in a basic box chain bracelet. Unfortunately, and I didn't realize this at the craft store, I purchased aluminum jump rings without thinking too much about it, and turns out they're really cheap. The metal was so weak I could bend it easily with my fingers, so I wouldn't be able to wear something like this without damaging it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wily Wednesdays - Year of the Dragon

This week is a special Ohio edition. When Kai and I went on our grand tour of Oregon this year, I got a little something from the Pacific Northwest for all of the family I'd be visiting. This included a sweet dragon-patterned fabric I stumbled upon in Ashland. I decided to embark on a quick sewing project for each of my brothers. The added bonus is that I didn't finish these pieces before I left (despite being up until 5am the day of my flight), so I had an excuse to use Gram's old Singer machine when I got to my mom's place.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wily Wednesdays - A Study in Representational Art

I'm digging into the archives again. Okay, I often find representational art pretty boring, but the practice is useful. This is from one of my college drawing classes, in which we were to cut out sections of a black and white magazine image and accurately draw and shade the missing sections. Good exercise, and oh so tedious...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wily Wednesdays - Colored Pencil Still Life

I was recently chatting with my brother about one of his still life paintings, which featured a little R2-D2 unit, and it reminded me of the colored pencil still life I made in high school. Feeling a little nostalgic as I look at some of these objects, and I love that I still have that pendant. I wore the crap out of that thing when I was a young'un.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wily Wednesdays - Beaded Jewelry

This week is another birthday installment of mid-week creativity. Kai's thick, black, stylized glasses have just been asking for a chain, so I finally decided to remedy the situation with a custom strand of beads. The black and sparkly white beads were intentional, as they match the color scheme of her glasses. Moonstone is a particular favorite of hers (and it's grown on me, too), so I added a few of those to complete the pattern. She also has an elegant black and white dress that I drew inspiration from, and I love the way they go together.

The office was covered in beading supplies when I was finished with the chain, so I didn't want to stop. I crafted a dragonfly necklace for Kai, and then a dyed-jade and hematite necklace for myself.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Obligatory Reading: The Ethical Slut

Book Review: The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures, by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy

At the very least, I would classify myself as a theoretical non-monogamist, so I guess I could only avoid reading this book for so long. In polyamory circles, I see it recommended more than any other text, so I felt obligated to finally borrow a copy from the library. My verdict is a half-hearted shrug.

There are good parts worth mentioning. Know yourself, love yourself, communicate, be honest, set boundaries, process jealousy, practice safer sex, shed prudish societal conventions that no longer work for you, etc., etc. – this is all great universal advice for living and relating to others. It provides you with a bird’s-eye view of a different way of thinking about relationships, and if you’ve never pondered any of these concepts for a moment, then maybe this is a decent appetizer to the world of non-monogamy. Mulling over jealousy and insecurity, in particular, are useful exercises for any person, from sluts to monogamists. But if you’re looking for real depth on the subject, or if you’re looking for an answer to a more specific question about polyamory, this isn’t the place to find it.

As pretty much everyone knows, The Ethical Slut is always peddled as the polyamory bible, and because of this, well, it’s got big shoes to fill, so I’m judging it harshly. In a nutshell: it lacks depth, and I don’t think it lives up to all the hype. Some might find the conversational, sometimes cutesy tone friendly and disarming, but I just found it annoying. I would have preferred something far more professional and less anecdotal.

Another aspect that bothered me is the focus on sex. Yes, it’s called The Ethical Slut, so I can’t blame it for going on about sexual exploration with multiple partners. But is it making a case for casual sex, or for polyamory? While the two can overlap, they aren’t necessarily synonymous. Perhaps I should be criticizing the cheerleaders of this book instead of the book itself, but it doesn’t seem like the best go-to manual for educating oneself on the complex nuances of maintaining multiple romantic relationships. Personally, while the idea of sex with several people can be a stressor, it doesn’t really top the list of things I find tricky to navigate when a relationship is opened up to more partners. I find insecurities develop around much more fundamental issues, of which sex is an offshoot.

Also, while the authors do acknowledge the many different ways people may choose to arrange and define their intimate relationships, I feel as though they only pay lip service to those who choose monogamy. It highlights a problem I have in general with many polyamorists, this self-righteous idea that non-monogamy is superior or more evolved than monogamy. It’s different, for sure, but not inherently better. And it absolutely presents some unique problems of its own. Given that we’re representing a minority alternative lifestyle, there’s an advocacy facet to consider when talking about polyamory, and if you treat it as something better, rather than something that is merely different but still acceptable, the arrogance alone is going to repel people. There are perfectly legitimate, healthy reasons to be monogamous, and I feel that needs to be acknowledged more. As a parallel, when I advocate for gay rights and equality (and I myself am queer as the rainbow), I don’t make the mistake of stating that homosexuality is better than heterosexuality (tempting though it may be since I personally feel that way). That’s just my experience, because that’s what works for me. I just worry when I see popular texts like this treating a lifestyle as superior, rather than a different but equal choice, that we kind of set ourselves back. In fact, it makes me not want to identify with this group.

Okay, fine, I guess you could say I’m nitpicking. It’s not a bad book, it does have practical, generic advice, but the end result is that I’m looking elsewhere for a text that does non-monogamy justice.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wily Wednesdays - Bread Llama for Lammas

Since it is Lammas today, I think a pagan entry is appropriate. Kai's groaning at my play on words, but I couldn't resist. I don't often do bread sculpting, so this turned out nothing like a llama, but you get the idea. Kai's bread man is on the left.