Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Tripping in Asheville, NC

Dave and I took a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, this weekend for beer, food, and a meditation retreat!

And knitting!
On our first night, we hit Wicked Weed & Bhramari breweries, both of which were fantastic. The Wicked Weed complex is immense, hosts a wide variety of pours, and had nice porch seating with fire pits. Bhramari had strong samples, as well, and a very cool bar aesthetic.

The next day was our only full day in Asheville. We shopped around town, including Bender Gallery, Malaprop Bookstore, Purl's Yarn Emporium, and French Broad Chocolate.

Bender Gallery, with cool glass sculptures
Picked up these necessary home office items at Malaprop Bookstore:

A must-have for federal employees and fundraisers
We had a wonderful breakfast at Tupelo Honey, then visited Wicked Weed's Funkatorium and Burial Brewing, which has an obsession with Tom Selleck that we found hilarious.

Life imitates art
Dinner was at C├║rate, a tasty tapas restaurant in the downtown area. We thought about more drinking but didn't have it in us. Balance! Equanimity!

The next day, we had about a half day in Asheville before heading to the meditation retreat. We hit up Vortex Donuts for a tasty chocolate iced ring, then went back to Tupelo Honey for the banana pudding we were too full for yesterday.

On our way out of Asheville, we visited the River Arts District, which had cool galleries and will probably be a lot more finished / commercial in the next few years. Our favorite was the Jonas Gerard gallery; we definitely could have bought a few of his pleasing abstract pieces.

We stopped at the teensy-but-cute North Carolina Botanic Gardens, although I think we meant to go to the arboretum. Either way, it was a nice respite in nature and a good way to get some steps in.

We couldn't resist stopping at one of the new behemoth breweries in town: Sierra Nevada. The facility is truly immense. I bet they have cool outdoor concerts in summer, too. It reminded me of big brewery facilities we've seen in Wisconsin.

Sierra Nevada monolith
From there, it was down to the meditation retreat to get situated and registered. We chose Heartwood Refuge in Hendersonville, NC - it was near Asheville, which we've wanted to visit for a while, and it is associated with insight meditation, which I've wanted to get more into.

I'm a 20-minute-a-day meditator at the best of times, and I hadn't really found a purpose or deepening of my practice, so I thought it would be a good time to really double down on it during a retreat. Dave hasn't meditated in a while and seemed to be forgetting the benefits, although he's having a stressful time at work and could really use it. So the retreat was well-timed for both of us.

It was a transformative experience that I (mostly) enjoyed heartily. It was more meditating than I probably do in a month otherwise - about 7+ hours over 48 hours - so it was both challenging and refreshing. I was proud of both of us for being able to do it. I found new insights into myself and the way I want to live my life, and deepening of my Buddhist meditation practice will help me focus at work, relax in my personal time, and be more mindful generally.

I want to mention how wonderful Heartwood is. They are a small staff with tons of volunteers. The facility was impressive and the food was delicious and healthy. I got to help prepare one of our meals with a Buddhist nun, which was a blast. We each had "yogi jobs," which included sweeping, cleaning, ringing bells, etc., to encourage a practice of dana (giving) from the heart.

No photos from the retreat, since I left my phone in the room the whole time, but I do sort of wish I had taken my phone with me on my walks at least once so I could have gotten a picture of the cute ducks and geese around the pond. There was a family of three adult geese and two goslings that I kept seeing, and Dave and I called them "sister wives" since it's obviously a complex family situation (more so because one of them was a white goose and the other two appeared to be Canada geese).

Thanks for a thoroughly enjoyable and spiritual weekend, Asheville! We'll be seeing you again soon.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Spring yarn progress

I've had a busy spring! I traveled to California in March and got to work from a library with an ocean view...

I've also been working on crochet projects, including to finish my fruit & vegetable centerpiece!

There's asparagus, mushrooms, strawberries, blackberries, apples, and radishes. I love it! My favorite was the blackberry. It was my first project where the beads are threaded onto the yarn and then worked into the fabric. They turned out super cute and realistic.

I am already planning on a lemon & blossom bowl for winter and a fall veggie basket with leaves and pumpkins. I can probably reuse the mushrooms & apples.

I also started on a project I have been drooling over since Stitches Midwest 2018 - Fox Paws, an intensely striped & patterned wrap. 

The yarn is by Neighborhood Fiber Co., a new vendor I discovered at Stitches. It can be a challenging pattern at times, but I love the result. 

That's about it for now - I've got some upcoming travel to North Carolina in April and to British Columbia in June!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Progress on fruit basket

I've been working hard on my fruit basket and am in good position to finish it by my goal date of March 31!





Next month's goal is to finish some radishes, another apple, and some blackberries! They'll be my first project that involves beading while knitting.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

First visit to Arizona!

I got to go to Arizona for work - my first real trip there, unless you count a brief visit to the Grand Canyon with my parents when I was in high school! We didn't visit any cities at that time, so I dunno if it counts.

Dave and I headed out the weekend before to see some sights. My main goal was to try breweries, take some hikes, and visit Taliesin West:, Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and school, the yin to Wisconsin's yang.

We got tickets to a 3-hour tour of the Taliesin buildings and grounds, and it was totally worth the time and money!

Taliesin West
This has been a bucket list item for me, since I've been to Taliesin in Spring Green several times. This is a very different sort of property and FLW design, but you can tell he really built it into the desert.

Frank does love a pergola
We learned all about what living here was like, and we even got to meet someone whose mother was an architecture student under Frank. She lived here as a child and currently works in the archives.

The Cherokee red also worked with this location more so than a lot of his locations; I know he loves it, but it just looks more natural in Scottsdale than Spring Green.

Nearby, I knew there were some hikes all around town, so we searched for one near Taliesin before lunch. We found the Lost Dog trail, which got us up close and personal with some saguaros!

Lost Dog hike

I didn't realize that saguaro cacti were limited to the Sonoran desert in Arizona and Mexico - I guess I thought they were all over the southwest from the movies. They are not endangered, exactly, but they are protected. And they are really cool.

Visiting donors went really well, and I also got to do one of my other favorite tourist activities - visiting libraries!

Scottsdale Civic Center Library

I hit this one on the way to happy hour with a current parent at my school, but I did work at one on Wednesday afternoon in Tucson after some visits. Great place to get work done on the road.

Of course, it was nice to get out of the cold generally, but I really missed some hairy weather this week with the polar vortex. I wasn't sure I'd make it back with the flight cancellations at O'Hare, but I made it. Only two flights went to Chicago from Phoenix on Wednesday and mine was one of them. Phew!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Christmas projects

It was a very yarny Christmas over here at my house! I made three decorations that I have wanted Santa (i.e. my own hands) to check off my list for a while:

Gingerbread house

I found this pattern in a Red Heart booklet called "Crochet for Christmas," although I can't find a link to the booklet anywhere. I bought it at JoAnn Fabrics a couple of years ago, and this pattern was on the cover.

It definitely took some doing and assembly, although thank goodness the pattern actually encourages you to use hot glue (an amigurumi assembly cheat that I am fond of). You do have to crochet 70+ little gum drops, and cutting up the cardboard box to fit the house was kind of worrisome.

Oh, and now I'm a French knot expert because I had to make so many on the roof to simulate cinnamon candies!

French knot expert level 4 unlocked
It took me about three weeks to complete, although I wasn't working on it the whole time. I used the same colors they asked for, but not all Red Heart yarns. The nice thing about the pattern is that most of the colors are in small enough amounts that you can feel comfortable just using scrap yarn from your stash.

Also, the back of the pattern doesn't have anything on it, so I added some candy canes and a wreath. (The front and sides of the house were supposed to have some candy canes, too, but I thought it made it too busy.)

Did holly berries on the wreath as opposed to another bow
All in all, it was a challenging project, but nothing a patient crocheter can't handle.

Christmas tree skirt

Another project I've been wanting to do for a few years is a fancy crocheted Christmas tree skirt to gussy up my tree. 

I thought about a few different patterns, including one assembled granny square pattern and this ripple pattern. Because this one is worked in one piece and could be good with solid retro stripes, I picked it (plus I hate sewing granny squares together).

The pattern is in the same lost "Crochet for Christmas" Red Heart booklet as the gingerbread house, and you can see it also appeared in a few back issues of Crochet Today!

The colors here are vivid pink, turquoise, leaf green, and white, all in Simply Soft.

I'm thinking about crocheting some cookies on a plate to go under the tree for Santa, but that might have to wait a couple of years. (I do have recipes for Hershey Kiss cookies and chocolate chip ones, too.)


This guy has definitely been on my list for a few years, as I have no Christmas tree topper. I thought he would make a great addition, perched up there.

He comes from a book called 75 Birds, Butterflies, and Little Beasts to Knit & Crochet. There are a couple of other birds in here who would be cute but I might have to work myself up to.

I was a little intimidated by the idea of knitting an amigurumi pattern; I've always crocheted little delicate objects like this. But in the spirit of living more fearlessly, I decided to just give it a try. 

The one thing I modified (aside from using safety eyes rather than a bead, and using orange yarn for the beak) was to pick up stitches for the wings and knit them in one piece rather than separately and sew them on. I hate sewing.

Wings knitted from picking up stitches

The main thing you have to watch for when you do this is (1) make sure the stitches you pick up are in a fairly straight line, and (2) the instructions ask you to knit the wings flat, then sew together, and you could do that, but I decided to knit them in the round instead, so I had to modify the ribbing instructions to make it work mathematically.

I'm really happy with all these projects; I want to do more knitted and crocheted decorations around my home, both for holidays and all year round. Next up for the spring is a fruit bowl with crocheted and knitted fruit. I've got pears, apples, berries, and more!

Happy new year!

Friday, December 28, 2018

19 for 2019

In 2018 I established 18 goals and resolutions to live by. I thought I'd do the same for 2019! 

I define a resolution as something you do a little bit each day - a small habit to change your life. I define a goal as a one-time achievable thing that you do and then it's done.

  • See a member of my family each month
  • Walk 10,000 steps per day
  • Travel fearlessly
  • Listen more, ask more questions
  • Lift weights: develop schedule and track progress
  • Get reacquainted with my recipe books and try new things
  • Prep house to move; minimize, pack, intentionally decorate new home
  • Play flute out in front of others more often
  • Get below 160 lb. by January 31 and stay there all year
  • Work outside the home once a week (library, tea shop, etc.)
  • Move in summertime to south neighborhood of Chicago
  • Watch all James Bond movies in order
  • Make yarn fruit and veggie bowl for summer (complete by March 31)
  • Make yarn veggie bowl for fall (complete by September 30)
  • Read 100 books
  • Submit an article to the Chronicle of Philanthropy
  • Run the Shamrock Shuffle (March) in under 50 minutes
  • Pass referendum for the library where I serve on the board of trustees
  • Take meditation retreat with Dave
Here's to a productive and fulfilling 2019!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

2018 resolutions: how did I do?

Time for a self-evaluation - how did I do on my 18 resolutions for 2018?


See a member of my family every month

100% success!

Practice languages on Duolingo every day

95% success

Meditate for 10-20 minutes daily

60% success - I had a weekly meditation group at work and a meditation app, but I didn't stick with it once I left that job and it has been hard to find time since. However, I have done daily walks and watched ASMR videos online, both of which are meditative.

Listen more, talk less

75% success

Get rid of more stuff around the house, organize what I have

70% success - I did get rid of a lot, but there is more to go before our planned move next year.

Organize yarn projects, clear out my Ravelry queue (currently at 24 items)

70% success - the queue is less (15, even with adding some patterns) and I got rid of a lot of yarn, but I also bought a lot of yarn and I need to organize.

Eat more vegetables, bake more bread

75% success - I did well on the vegetables, iffy on the bread, but I did bake a lot of pies.

Be more of a cheerleader for others

90% success

Hang out with the bunnies more, give lots of attention

40% success - it was difficult to find time for the bunnies, and even more so once I got a new job, so we found them new homes and are pet-free for the moment.

Emphasize lifting weights more, in conjunction with cardio

80% success


Get back to college weight

This is really the only "failure" with this section - I never quite got to 155 lb. However, I did keep track of my weight all year on the Libra app, and the graph at right shows that this effort wasn't a total failure.

I'm still ending the year lower than I started, and I spent more time below 160 lb. than I have in years because of this effort. Try again next year.

Bake a yule log

Completed in December - used the Berghoff Restaurant's cookbook, but next year I'll try Julia Child's.

Run a 5k race in under 30 minutes

Completed in October - very proud of this one

Complete German course on Duolingo

Completed in July

Visit the historic Pullman neighborhood in Chicago

Completed in July

Scan Salzburg College photos and post online to share with friends

Completed in February

Finish A Song of Ice and Fire book series on audiobooks

Completed in May

Complete another race on vacation

Completed in June

Pharmaprix 5k in Montreal
I'm coming up with 19 resolutions / goals for 2019, which I'll be posting soon!