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!

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Iceland: Day 4

On our last day in Reykjavik, we had breakfast again at our favorite morning spot, Reykjavik Roasters. I could eat that Greek yogurt and muesli every day.

Our ticket to the National Museum had included a pass to the Culture House, which the clerk at the museum had a bit of difficulty in describing. It sounded like it was a lot of things, some of them sort of weird, and if you haven't got that that is the theme for our travels yet (along with beer), then you haven't been paying attention.

It is part art exhibit, part history museum, and part...collection of stuff related to Icelandic culture? 

Also, until now, I realize I have forgotten to discuss the somewhat abject signs around Iceland asking people to behave nicely. There were signs in the geysir and waterfall visitor center bathroom that urged people not to stand on the seat but rather to sit on the seat (I have seen these before, and I think they're geared toward people from countries who typically have toilets that are holes in the floor?). 

The Culture House had one of my favorites:

Is this a problem?

I enjoyed this piece on the ubiquity of sheep in Iceland:

So this is why yarn is so cheap...
Here's some yarn art that was oddly compelling:

Don't ask me what the tiles say.

And speaking of oddly compelling, I found this table near the gift shop - it's a "domino table" sold by a company called Neue Tische. The table top contains piles of plastic domino-sized tiles that you can arrange to make images.

I need one immediately
On our way out of town, we made one last stop to Hlemmur for some pastries from BRAED, a celebrated bakery.

In the airport on our way home, I found two things to love. First, someone yarn-bombed the columns near security (I actually got yelled at taking this photo - whoops). I love that the Icelanders have such a sense of humor about their yarn art.

The second thing was in the duty-free shop, which is unusual for us because we almost never shop there. But I realized that they probably would have some Havana Club rum, which is a tasty and affordable Cuban rum that is not available for sale in the United States because of the trade embargo.

We looked over in the booze section and there it was! Here is Dave with his prize, next to a weird gnome statue in the airport.

Parting thoughts

We loved Iceland despite the chill, and we would definitely go back for a more in-depth visit to the countryside. The Icelandic people are friendly, welcoming, and have a unique culture that is (thankfully) thriving. The food and beer were both surprisingly good, especially the food.

Yes, the food and beer are expensive, but you have to think about Iceland as a Hawaii equivalent where prices are inflated because tons of stuff has to be shipped in if it doesn't naturally occur on the island.

Thanks for a great trip, Iceland! We hope to be back someday.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Iceland: Day 3

On our last full day in Iceland, we decided to try out Hlemmur Mathöll for breakfast. We bought delicious bagel sandwiches at Micro Roast Te & Kaffi, which were probably too much. We could have happily split them. Oh well.

First, we stopped at the Hafnarhús location of the Reykjavik Art Museum (there are three locations, each specializing in a different medium). It was real weird. I have to say, even with the impressive collection of Erró works, I don't think the museum alone would have been worth the entry price without the other two museums (one of which we did later visit).

From there, we walked west to the old harbor area. We had reservations for lunch, so while we were waiting, we got a flight of beer samples at Bryggjan Brugghús, which was pretty decent! By this point in the trip, we were realizing that Icelandic breweries really love pilsners and Christmas beers, and they usually have a few favorite American styles, too.

Lunch was at Matur og Drykkur, a traditional Icelandic restaurant embedded with the Saga Museum (basically the history of vikings). Dave got a fish soup and I got a lighter roasted vegetable item. The restaurant is apparently a local favorite and is harder to get into at dinner than it is at lunch.

On our way back to town, we stopped at the local library branch, which is a mouthful: Borgarbókasafnið | Menningarhús Grófinni (the first word means "library" and the last two are the branch title).

The library had this book about two guys knitting things, which would be up my alley if I read Icelandic.
Interestingly, a lot of the books at the library were in English! You definitely get the impression that although Icelanders are proud of English, they do their best to have excellent English skills, too, for the tourist trade and business.

After the library, we went down to the National Museum of Iceland, where we learned about the history of human settlements on the island. Apparently due to its remoteness and climate, Iceland didn't receive its first settlers until the 1000s. Then the rule became more solid and the country became Christian later on. 

National Museum of Iceland
They also had a history with Denmark that reminded me of Great Britain and the United States, except Iceland didn't become fully independent until much later. Their last tie was severed when Denmark was occupied by the Nazis in WWII! Also, apparently Iceland was occupied by Britain and the United States in WWII to protect it as a staging ground for United States shipping and troop movements.

Scene in Reykjavik near the National Museum

We decided to try to fit in another Reykjavik Art Museum location before it closed for the day, so we walked over to Kjarvalsstaðir, which has a lot of works by the artist Kjarval, an Icelandic fisherman who was sent to art school and came back to paint many Icelandic people and scenes.

One of my favorite aspects of the museum was this tiny exhibit of gingerbread houses that were cut to look like famous buildings in Iceland!

They smelled delicious.
On our way home, we stopped for a flight at RVK Brewing, whose standouts were a couple of very tasty stouts. We asked the owner for a recommendation for dinner, and he recommended SKÁL! at Hlemmur Mathöll! We laughed, and then immediately went there anyway. That night, Dave got a smoked fish sandwich from some other vendor, and I got an arctic char meal from SKÁL! If it ain't broke...

Early to bed after a crazy late night, and then one more morning in Iceland!

Friday, December 07, 2018

Iceland: Day 2

Our second day in Iceland was almost entirely consumed by organized tours - which was fine with us, because we weren't sure we were up for driving all around the countryside.

We booked a Golden Circle Direct tour through Reykjavik Excursions, one of the main tour companies in Iceland. You get on a bus and hear about Iceland's history and culture while you visit sites around Reykjavik, including the historic (and beautiful) plains around the old parliament site, geysirs (spelled as the Icelanders spell them), and an almost-frozen waterfall. 

Bundle up!
The tour guide was great. She told us cultural information about Iceland, which is a tiny, quirky country. The country has some superstitions about "hidden people," which leads Icelanders to be careful about disturbing natural landscapes for things like roads and buildings. She also told us about the language, which definitely has a lot going on.

At Þingvellir National Park (pr: Thingvellir), our guide told us that the old school vikings basically ruled by coming out to a field and fighting out their differences. 

We were hitting the park just at sunrise - which was at noon!

Þingvellir National Park

Definitely a different sort of landscape!

Þingvellir National Park

After the national park, we went to the site of some geysirs (that's how the Icelanders spell it, and apparently the word comes from them). The lodge had some tasty soup to warm ourselves with, then we went for a little hike among these natural steam fissures.

Geysirs and mountains

One of the bigger spouts is on a schedule of about every 6-8 minutes. We got a nice shot with the sun, which is pretty much at its apogee here.

We got to see the big guy erupt a few times!
All of the geysir water is around 80 to 100 degrees Celsius, so it would pretty much boil you up in seconds. But it's really pretty.

After the geysir site, we were only a few minutes from Gullfoss, a huge multi-tiered waterfall from runoff glacier water. Legend has it that the river upstream played host to a romantic story between two sheep-herding Icelanders who fell in love from afar.


The bus took us back to Reykjavik and we enjoyed a nice dinner at Hlemmur Mathöll, a sort of food court that reminded me of the French Market at Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago. It's a bus stop, and they have an indoor market with a bunch of tasty vendors. At SKÁL! (means "cheers!" in Icelandic, pronounced "scowl"), we enjoyed a delicious dinner of tapas, which included fish croquettes, roasted cauliflower, and buttered potatoes. 

I have to say, the food in Iceland pleasantly surprised me. I was not expecting much from a frigid little island nation that can really only grow root vegetables, sheep, and hot house herbs, but it is delicious. I love how they use yogurt and herbs to brighten up everything.

After dinner, we visited Skúli Craft Bar, which had an excellent variety of Icelandic beers. I finally found a beer from Lady Brewery, the first and only brewery in Iceland owned by a woman! The bartenders were also fascinating to talk to; one of them had a degree in comparative linguistics and explained to us that the funny little "th" letter (Þ) used to be used in English, but they didn't have the type key to set it, so they approximated a Y, hence "ye olde," which used to be "the olde." It's just a misunderstanding from olden days!

After we were done with our tasty beers (definitely the best beers on the trip), it was time for our northern lights tour with Reykjavik Excursions. Basically they take you out to a field near the airport and watch the sky, hoping for a cloud break. Apparently this year has been terrible visibility, and we were out there for quite a while. 

In the end, right before midnight, we were about to leave and our guide told us to run outside, and we saw a little sliver of light. Definitely not as sweeping as a solid viewing, but Dave can at least say he saw them now, which was a goal of the trip. No photos of this one because it was too dark, and you need a slow shutter speed camera to catch the lights.

I have to say, the northern lights viewing was not my favorite part of the trip. They specifically tell you to keep your flash, phone screen, and flashlights off when the lights are on, but all these idiots were flashing anyway. It was also cold to stand outside for so long (even though we could get back on the bus at any time). Maybe I'd change my mind if we had had a spectacular viewing.

At any rate, we got back at something like 2 a.m. because our bus company dropped all these people off directly at their hotel before they dropped us off. I was in a foul mood, but at least we didn't have any plans the next morning!

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Iceland: Day 1

We went somewhere totally different this month: Iceland! I have never really been to a wintery destination in winter (except one time skiing in Colorado), but this one made sense because you have a better chance of seeing the northern lights when it is very dark.

And boy, it is dark! But more on that in a minute. 

The flight from Reykjavik to Chicago is around six hours. I tried to sleep but failed. I pre-booked hotel transport from the airport (around 45 minutes) in advance through Gray Line, but you could book when you arrive.

We got to our hotel around 8 a.m. local time and had breakfast and coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, a delightful little shop with high-end coffee and very nice Greek yogurt & granola.

After breakfast, we walked over to the symphony hall for a scheduled rehearsal of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra that the public can attend for a nominal fee.

This picture of the concert hall was taken around 9:15 a.m.:

Harpa concert hall

Yep, pretty much black as night. But the building was mesmerizing and lit very creatively.

I recommend the symphony rehearsal tickets as a great way to hear a world-class orchestra on the cheap, as well as to get an insight into how they craft their performances. The conductor made them practice certain pieces over and over, or called out specific sections of performers.

Iceland symphony orchestra in rehearsal

jsdklfdAfter the wonderful symphony practice, we wandered around downtown Reykjavik for a bit, looking at touristy shops and locating the fabulous Handknitting Association of Iceland. See if you can find me here in the sweater room!

I didn't buy a sweater, but I did get some very cool bulky wool. It was the cheapest thing we found the entire time we visited Iceland, probably because there are more sheep than people.

For lunch, we visited the famous little hot dog stand in the downtown area, which apparently celebrities have dined at. What toppings are on an Icelandic hot dog, you ask? Ketchup, remoulade sauce, fried onions, and raw onions. Also the hot dog is made of lamb, unsurprisingly.

Very nice winter scene in Reykjavik
After a visit to the Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat, which really speaks to Dave's soul as a fellow unknown bureaucrat, we got our first local beers at Icelandic Craft Bar (which was overpriced and under-diversified, compared to other craft bars we visited). And then we took a damn nap.

After rallying with some much-needed shut-eye, we hit some more bars before dinner. 

First was Bastard Brew for a tasty porter and a weird Christmas ale. We had read about the bar in the airline's magazine.

Next was what I had been waiting for: Mikkeller & Friends! It's natural Mikkeller, one of the world's premiere breweries, would have a location in Reykjavik, given the special relationship between Denmark and Iceland. It was tasty, and a very interesting building to boot.

Dinner was around the corner at Dill, a Michelin star restaurant in Reykjavik. The presentations and preparations were as delicious, weird, and interesting as we have come to expect from other Michelin-recommended restaurants.

Suitably wintery presentation at Dill

The wait staff told us that the goose in one of the dishes had been shot by his brother in law, and another told us that the reindeer had been shot by the head chef himself. Allrighty then.

All of it was a wonderful introduction into traditional Icelandic fare. There were transcendent root vegetables, flavorful fish and meat, and brightening herbs. I noticed throughout our visit that Icelanders tend to brighten dishes with herbs and berries rather than lemon, which presumably is outrageously expensive.

It was a great first day, and we hit the hay early to catch up on sleep and the time change.

Gettin' all hygge up in Dill

More tomorrow!