Monday, February 26, 2018

Updates to 40 before 40

I have made some progress on the 40 before 40 list, so before my 36th birthday, I wanted to post my progress and note some revisions:

* * *

1. Scuba dive in the ocean (Panama? Hawaii? Both?)
2. Stand in Red Square in Moscow
3. Travel to Turkey
4. Visit the Taj Mahal
5. Tour the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, IL (2017)

(My travel plans are being somewhat derailed by the state of the world...)


6. Get drinks at the Aviary
7. Make chiboust
8. Eat at Calumet Fisheries
9. Eat at every Chicago restaurant on this list
10. Visit Al Bawadi Grill and The Halal Guys

(#6 was a taco list, but I revised. I don't think I have two huge food lists in me.)


11. Read War and Peace (2017)
12. Crochet or knit a sweater I actually like and wear (2017)
13. Practice flute and perform someplace publicly (2017 & 2018)
14. Finish the Time-Life World War II series
15. Participate again in NaNoWriMo (2017)
16. Complete wine cork tray craft project with saved up corks

(This one is going along swimmingly.)


17. Complete an Olympic distance triathlon (2017)
18. Complete a half marathon (2017) 
19. Complete a 5k in under 30 minutes
20. Develop a meditation habit (at least 15 min. / day) (2017-)
21. Get back to Salzburg weight range

(I did get below a major milestone in weight in February and hope to get to Salzburg weight range in 2018. I do NOT think I will ever complete a half marathon at a 10-minute mile pace, so I revised down just to do a half marathon.)


22. See a Bears game, Bulls game, and Blackhawks game (2017)
23. Visit historic Pullman neighborhood
24. Kayak in the Chicago River
25. Take another Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise
26. Tour new yarn shops of Chicago, like Knit 1 LLC, Nina (2017), and Sister-Arts Studio

(I need to bang out a few of these this summer; I am sad not to have made more progress here!)


27. Remain annual fund donor at alma mater institutions (Illinois State and DePaul Law), as well as employer (Northwestern University) (2015-)
28. Complete a blanket for Project Linus
29. Serve on a charity's board (2017)
30. Earn a volunteer award somewhere
31. Do one race via Team in Training

(I don't know if giving $100 to a homeless person is the best use of my charitable dollars, so I revised to completing a blanket for Project Linus.)


32. Participate in a staff mentor program (2017)
33. Author an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy
34. Speak at DePaul Law about nontraditional legal careers (2017 & 2018)
35. Figure out my next career step

(I revised the development symposium / conference item to the mentor program item because it was something I've wanted to do for a while, and it was actually more time and effort than I expected.)


36. Start a weight loss diary and keep it every day afterward (2017-)
37. Watch Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove back to back
38. Watch Seven Samurai and eat sushi (2017)
39. Get another tattoo to expand one of my existing ones

40. At least once per month, see a member of my family (2017-)

(I revised the diary item to be a weight loss / fitness diary because I tried to do a regular diary again - I really did - but it wasn't focused and I didn't get much out of it, so I stopped doing it. The weight loss thing has been focused and helped by daily weigh-ins.)

* * *

I think revising these goals slightly (after creating them months and months ago) has helped me focus them more on what I'm trying to do now. Things change in even a few months and I shouldn't hold myself to the whim of a few moments over a year ago, if that is no longer my goal.

I'll keep updating as I make more progress. That's 11 goals down, with progress on more. See you at 40!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Gradient Cowl

I bought this gorgeous yarn at Stitches Midwest 2017 from my new favorite vendor, Backyard Fiberworks:

Something about that beautiful speckled green, olive, and yellow really struck me. I decided to make the Duotone Cowl, which used about the right amount of yardage and yarn weight. 

I liked how it knitted up, but the bands of color weren't thick enough to really show off the speckle, so I decided to write my own pattern for a gradient I'd be happier with.

Now the pattern. First, I'll tell you how many rows I did of each color, in case you want to exactly copy mine. Then I'll tell you how I figured out how much yarn to use in the gradient, not knowing how much I'd get out of the yarn. You can use this method to figure out how many rows of solid you can knit between each gradient.

The Duotone Cowl starts off with casting 88 stitches onto a provisional cast-on. I used size 8 for this lovely DK weight because the pattern recommends a larger than normal needle to ensure floppiness, despite the cowl being knitted in a tube.

How many rows Val knit

My gradient pattern goes in multiples of 7:

1 row A
6 rows B

(repeat once)

2 rows A
5 rows B

(repeat once)

3 rows A
4 rows B

(repeat once)

4 rows A
3 rows B 

(repeat once)

5 rows A
2 rows B

(repeat once)

6 rows A
1 row B

(repeat once)

The gradient breakdown was as follows:

  • 35 rows green
  • Green to speckled gradient pattern (above)
  • 35 rows speckled
  • Speckled to green gradient pattern (above)
But because I started in green and I knew I'd need a row at the end to do kitchener stitch, I split the green section:
  • 25 rows green
  • Green to speckled gradient pattern (above)
  • 35 rows speckled
  • Speckled to green gradient pattern (above)
  • 9 rows green
  • Kitchener stitch cowl together

Figuring out the yarn yardage

In order to figure out how many solid rows I could do between each gradient, I took the following strategy, which you can do, too, if you don't really know how many rows you will get out of each color and want to maximize the length of your cowl (or better yet, not end up with not enough left at the end of one color).

Weigh color B ("X"). When you have done your provisional cast-on and have knitted a couple of rows of color A, begin your gradient pattern section. When you have completed it, weigh color B again ("Y"). The length of yarn you need for your solid section is "Z."

X = 2Y + Z

In my case, my yarn weighed 111 g at the beginning (that's X). It had lost 39 g of weight in one gradient section (that's Y). I knew I'd need to do another gradient section (Y), so I subtracted 39 g X 2 from 111 g to arrive at 33 g. To be safe, I ended my solid section when the yarn weighed another 31 or 32 g less, and then I started my last gradient section.

Sorry for all that algebra, but I am somewhat proud of myself for this brainwork and how the cowl came out! I want to pass this on so that other people can enjoy.

Look at that gorgeous speckle! If you haven't checked out Backyard Fiberworks, get there immediately. Every weight, ply, and color I've tried has been wonderful. Easily my favorite new vendor at Stitches Midwest.

And you can't even see my kitchener stitch row! Very proud of myself now.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Resolution recap for 2017

It's time for my annual resolution run-down. Here were my resolutions for 2017:

  • Run a half marathon
  • Yarn bomb something
  • Bake a yule log
  • Crochet a yule log and share pattern on Ravelry
  • Say more positive things and less critical things
Well, I am about 50-50% on this one. 

Half marathons: I did run a half marathon - two, actually. One in May, one in September. I don't know if that's my distance - it was a little on the lengthy side for me, so I'm going to focus on increasing my speed for short-distance races for 2018.

Yarn bomb: I didn't yarn bomb something myself, but I did submit squares for a yarn bombing at Women and Children First Bookstore in May. So although I think that counts, I still want to yarn bomb something myself.

Bake yule log: I was all ready to this Christmas, but my in-laws baked way too many sweets for our visit, and by the time Christmas came, none of us really wanted a yule log. Something to put on my goals for 2018.

Crochet a yule log: I am not sure why I wanted to make this so badly, but I don't know what I would do with it, so I decided not to make it. Maybe someday in the future, not 2018 though.

Be more positive, less critical: I tried on this one, I really did. I think I improved overall, but only my friends, family, and coworkers could really assess my progress on this one. 

Resolutions for 2018

I was hanging out with someone yesterday who mentioned a challenge to complete 18 resolutions for 2018. (Inspired by Gretchen Rubin perhaps? Not sure.) I'm nothing if not a joiner and a list-maker, so here it goes for 2018:

  1. Resolution: See a member of my family every month
  2. Resolution: Practice languages on Duolingo every day
  3. Resolution: Meditate for 10-20 minutes daily
  4. Resolution: Listen more, talk less
  5. Resolution: Get rid of more stuff around the house, organize what I have
  6. Resolution: Organize yarn projects, clear out my Ravelry queue (currently at 24 items)
  7. Resolution: Eat more vegetables, bake more bread
  8. Resolution: Be more of a cheerleader for others
  9. Resolution: Hang out with the bunnies more, give lots of attention
  10. Goal: Get back to college weight
  11. Goal: Bake a yule log
  12. Goal: Run a 5k race in under 30 minutes
  13. Goal: Complete German course on Duolingo
  14. Goal: Visit the historic Pullman neighborhood in Chicago
  15. Goal: Scan Salzburg College photos and post online to share with friends
  16. Goal: Finish A Song of Ice and Fire book series on audiobooks
  17. Goal: Emphasize lifting weights more, in conjunction with cardio
  18. Goal: Complete another race on vacation
Note that I have separated the items into true resolutions - general, self-improvement oriented statements with no clear endpoint in mind - and goals - specifically achievable items. I feel like I haven't been as clear about that in the past with my new year's resolutions.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

NaNoWriMo winner!

Just wanted to do a brief post to confirm that I participated in - and finished! - National Novel Writing Month 2017! I got to 50K words on Monday and kept going. 

I plan on editing in January-February. It was a good experience, although I'm definitely glad to be done for a while. Writing that much fiction each day was getting to be a chore. I also feel like this novel went easier and was better written than my effort in 2009.

I won't do it again unless I have a good idea, as I had this year. But maybe someday!

Monday, October 30, 2017

October finished objects

I've been on a crochet kick lately - I am knitting things, but they're not done yet. So everything I've finished in October is crocheted.

First up is my lovely Sophie's Universe blanket, the second one I've made. The yarn is Scheepjes Softfun - the medium kit in the original pattern. 

It's a beautiful blanket. I finished it toward the beginning of the month and I still haven't blocked it. No matter how much the original author protests, the pattern (as well written as it is) will definitely bulge. It needs a redesign, and I'm sure that would be a pain in the butt and would mess with the existing kits out there. Still, this is my second Sophie's Universe afghan, I'm a veteran crocheter of 25 years, and I did as she suggested with changing needle sizes. Didn't stop the bulge. 

The next few things are all commissions for other people. I am happy to have gotten through them so that I can finally start on stuff for myself this winter!

The first commission was a baby gift for my friend from law school. I was able to use up a bunch of brightly colored scraps, and the balls jingle, too! The gift is for his newborn baby. Hopefully he likes it.

The next commission was for a coworker whose family was dressing up in a Star Wars theme for Halloween. Her husband was Darth Vader, kids were Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and a storm trooper, and my friend wanted to go as Yoda. There are a lot of patterns out there for Yoda hats, many of them very crappy indeed. I found a good one with nice, solid ears (worked in the round so that they are double thick and stiff) so that they stick out appropriately:

The next commission is for some stockings for the two children of one of my oldest friends from grade school. I had made them a "mom" and "dad" set of stockings for their baby shower, and a mini stocking for Jake. Now she has two kids and wanted them to have matching stockings. I got the stocking pattern from Ravelry but I improvised the decorations, including the letters:

I'm pretty happy with how those turned out! I will see her in December; she told me that she has already bought new hangers for them on the fireplace.

The last completed commission this month was for a set of octopi twins for a coworker that's having twins. Someone liked the giraffe I did for another coworker, but I said I'd rather not do any more giraffes just now. I think the octopi turned out super cute!

It was a busy month of commissions, but it feels good to have them done so that I can focus on my own stuff. I have like three shawls to make and I'm super excited about the yarn. Onward and upward!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Central Europe: Day 14 (Berlin)

For our last day in Berlin, we trekked out to Potsdam for a visit to Sanssouci Palace, Frederick the Great's version of Versailles.

It's a wonderful lemony confection of a Baroque palace. The rooms were uniquely decorated and beautiful, full of marble and interesting wall patterns. The exteriors were richly decorated, as well.

The gardens were elaborate and fun to walk through - and take pictures of!

Like Versailles, there are a few other buildings throughout the gardens that are worth a visit. We visited the little Chinese House, a tiny little jewel of a building that served as garden decoration and a cute spot for luncheons and other social events. We also visited the New Palace, which is another wonderful Baroque palace that was inhabited by Kaiser Wilhelm II and his family.

We didn't go inside because we didn't have time, but you can see it's equally as ornate as Sanssouci. We had a light lunch at Drachenhaus ("Dragon House" - an eentsy weentsy little pagoda restaurant on the palace grounds) and hit the road back to Berlin for some last beers and dinner.

The nameless spot that had been recommended to us by our wine pourer the previous night was Straßenbräu, a brewery in east Berlin near the Ostkreuz train station. We got a couple of flights to try everything they had!

It was a great spot. The beers were more innovative than you usually see in Germany - there was a sour, an IPA, and more! Big fans.

We took the S-Bahn uptown to Prater Garten, Berlin's oldest beer garden (dating from 1837). Of course, it was a bit chilly when we were there, so you can see it was fairly empty:

Still, the beers were good, local Berlin selections. (If Pilsner Urquell owns Prague, then Berliner Kindl owns Berlin.) I wish we had been there during nicer weather!

For our last dinner, we decided to try a North Vietnamese restaurant called Umami. Boy, am I glad we did. First off, I needed some vegetables and I couldn't take any more huge meat platters. Second, I have never been to a restaurant where I had to sit on cushions and take my shoes off. Third, there is a huge North Vietnamese population in Berlin because the Soviets sent them over as refugees during the Vietnam War.  We have some Vietnamese food in Chicago, but I knew I wanted to try whatever Umami had.

I got a delicious chicken, rice, and veggie dish called "The Golden Bird," and Dave got a dish with duck, rice, and veggies. It was OUTSTANDING. One of the best meals we had on the whole trip.

The dish was so utterly good that I am now convinced that I need to take a trip to Vietnam. (That and a few friends have recommended it.)

All in all, Berlin was my favorite city, followed by Budapest, then Prague and Vienna. Berlin and Budapest made you feel like you were really amongst the locals, and the food and culture were amazing. I am cursing my German ancestors who left the homeland in the early 1900s (and before that). I want to live in Berlin so badly now.

So that was my Europe trip; I hope you enjoyed traveling along with me, and hopefully you can go get some Vietnamese food right this second to quell the cravings that I'm sure you're having.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Central Europe: Day 13 (Berlin)

On our second to last day in Berlin, I decided to go for a morning run - I'd gone for a run in each city, so I wanted to check off this one, as well!

I decided to go for a little 3-4 mile jaunt around a local park, the Volkspark Friedrichshain. The entrance was grandiose:

"Yep, just a little run in a palatial garden..."

On the run, I saw people walking their dogs (which always makes you feel like you're really hanging out with the locals), lots of other runners, a bird sanctuary, soccer parks, hiking trails, statues (apparent Soviet relics), and lots more. It is obviously a well-loved park!

I think it was at this point in the trip that I also started smearing Nutella on the marbled Bundt cake in the breakfast buffet. Went a little European there...

To start the day, my travel book recommended that we "ponder the futility of war" at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. It was not rebuilt after WWII as a reminder of the carnage, destruction, and sadness that remained after the fighting. You can see the open tower where it was bombed. (More awkward German history...)

At this point, we were feeling fairly confident in the Berlin S-Bahn and U-Bahn systems, and we headed out to Schloss Charlottenburg with no problem. 

The beautiful baroque palace, full of white and gold and pastels, was commissioned by some German nobles and eventually became one of the homes of Fredrick the Great. It's closer to the Berlin city center than his other Berlin home, Sanssouci (which we'll visit tomorrow), although back in the day I'm sure it was quite a journey on horseback.

The gardens and grounds were beautiful, definitely worth a walk. The tour of the castle was worth the trip, too. Of course, the castle was bombed - like everything else in Berlin - but they have reconstructed the rooms as well as possible. 

We also got to see some of Fredrick's silver service; it wasn't as extensive as the collection in Vienna's Hofburg, but if I remember correctly, this is where I learned that Fredrick would melt down his silver collection to pay for his wars, then he'd have it reconstructed after the wars were over. 

The New Wing was constructed at Frederick's direction and contains some truly spectacular gilded rooms. You could almost hear the harpsichord and flute!

After we'd had our fill of Fredrick's baroque wonderment, we took a friend's recommendation to visit the Hamburger Bahnhof modern art museum.

Like the Musée d'Orsay, the museum is constructed in an old train station. I love modern and contemporary art, and this museum boasted some beautiful and thought-provoking exhibits. 

I couldn't even tell you about all of the exhibits we saw. One room had an infinity mirror display, one room had rocks on the floor with projected images of water flowing over them; it was just a really visually stunning museum. And of course, because it's German contemporary art, some of it was rather bleak, including a black cross-shaped room within a room by Bruce Naumann entitled, "Room with My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care." Wowza.
I'm not sure why, but all over the museum were these red balloons that were on motors to rise and fall on a string. 

They probably would have creeped me out anyway, but especially so because the remake of the movie "It" was about to be released in American theaters. You'd turn a corner and BAM, red balloon. Pennywise would approve.
After the mind-expanding experience at the art museum, we headed over to the Turkish area of Berlin (Kreuzberg) for some hedonistic food pleasure.

Dave is a big fan of Döner kebabs, and my coworker had given me an article of the best spots in Berlin. We visited the granddaddy of them all, Hasir, where we got kebab platters and delicious beer. It was so good not to feel any guilt over stuffing my face because of how much we walked around on the trip.

I found a yarn store in the Turkish area, then we visited the Jewish Museum for, yes, more awkward German history.

The building itself is stunning - it's an angular precipice with swaths of empty lines that seem to be tearing the building apart. We later read that the empty spaces represent the murdered Jews of Germany (or those that emigrated to avoid the oppression).

The history in the museum was so interesting and new to me, but the museum building itself was the most impressionistic experience. 

You start by choosing three paths - emigration, annihilation, or life forward. The museum shows you what happened to the Jews that took each of these paths in the years before the Holocaust. Obviously, it was a very emotional and moving experience.

After that, you had to meander around through the exhibits, seeing the missing sections of humanity that should be filled by generations of Jews that died in the Holocaust or earlier pogroms. We stayed in the museum almost to closing time; it was so full, like the Deutsches Historisches Museum, that you could spend a whole day and not really take it all in.

We had reservations at a Turkish restaurant, Defne, where I had delicious spinach manti and Dave had stuffed eggplant. If anyone can rival Indian cuisine for miraculous transformations of vegetables, it's the Turks.

In the area, there was a bar I kind of wanted to visit, but we had a little trouble finding it because the guidebook actually had it switched with another bar on the map. At any rate, we eventually stopped at Otto Rink for a flight of German wines!

We had whites and reds, none of which we had tried before. The pourer was a very nice German-Hungarian Berliner who told us about a great brewery to try on our last day. Yay for networking about booze!