Tuesday, January 30, 2007

So I've sat and I've watched an ice-age thaw

Yesterday I enrolled in a French language course.

After many years of thinking I'd like to learn a language, and at least a couple of years thinking I'd like it to be French, then at least the last few months talking about it... I actually did it.

One of the reasons I haven't done it sooner is that I'm afraid I might not have enough of a reason or motivation to learn a language. It's a big, difficult undertaking. I don't have specific plans to live in a French-speaking country. I don't have French-speaking family members.

Also, you can't learn a language without trying to speak it and making mistakes. I am a big coward and don't want to make a fool of myself. I know that as I progress, I will learn faster if I take every opportunity to talk with people I come across who know French, and I am afraid that I just won't do it. I think of my young cousin in Poland who was studying English at school but refused to even try to speak with me. Even though it would have been great, since almost no one else in the family had any English, I completely understood her embarassment and shyness.

And, it's four hours a week plus study time. That's a big commitment. I haven't been a student since 1997, and although I liked uni, I have never really missed that feeling of always having assignments and study I could be doing. But here's the funniest part. Because I don't want to give up several evening committments, I've chosen the Saturday MORNING 9am to 1pm class. That's ONE FOUR-HOUR CLASS, people!

And I am just not a morning person.

Almost all of my uni courses involved a lot of essay and report writing, even the exams. I never did much that you have to just flat-out memorise. I never really learned how to sit and study for extended periods. For exams I used to just go through my notes a couple of times, and hope that I would be able to handle all the questions based on my understanding of the content we had covered, rather than trying to memorise a lot of specific facts.

So the thought of vocabulary lists has me feeling a bit clammy. A friend described the use of flash cards and that made me feel better instantly. Sounds like a good, practical method.

I know I've taken better photos, but the one above was shot from the window of my charming hotel room, on the morning of my one-night-only trip to Paris (October 2004). It sits in a little frame right next to my desk at work. That trip was magical and I know I'll be back. That's motivating.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

And where are all the gods?

What with Mr Howards's (not-)kicking of multiculturalism, I was feeling a bit bah-humbug about Australia Day. But hey, it's a day off work, and I did wander down to Commonwealth Park with friends on Friday.

We happened across a display by the Canberra & District Historic Engine Club.
I was mesmerised by the many spinning wheels (oh no, not that kind, my fibre-mad friends).

That was also where I found this little pen of sheep. With one dog up the back to keep them in line.

And who could resist this cuddly calf at the petting zoo?

Friday, January 26, 2007

These are the people in my neighbourhood

Actual conversation towards the end of the day at work yesterday:


So, are you going to read Finnegan's Wake on the weekend?

Errr, should I?

Well, the anthem says you should....
"Aus-tralians all let us read Joyce"

Ha ha hardy har - so it doesn't HAVE to be Finnegan's Wake then?

I suppose Ulysses would be just as good

Sigh. I know I read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in college (mumbling now) ...not that I can really remember it.


I wouldn't change my fellow cubicle-dwellers for anything.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I'll be back again before its time for sunnydown

Originally uploaded by Olma.

J and I decided to go to the Snowy Mountains for a few days after Christmas. Originally it was to be a cabin at the beach, but even months ahead of time, that proved hard to book. During the week starting Boxing Day, at least 50% of Canberra decants itself to the south coast. And I hate doing what everyone else is doing. These grapes are not sour at all.

So we got a great deal in Jindabyne and thought it would be a nice break from the summer heat. Of course, that turned out to be an oddly cool week. Nevertheless it was lovely to unwind and do very little but breathe the alpine air.

More photos can be found in my Flickr account.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The air is full of promises

I really thought I wasn't interested in knitting socks. Mainly because I tend to wear dark, plain, thin socks most of the time. But it turns out, socks are fascinating to knit. Also they are quite quick and make good presents.

Sometime before Christmas I was looking through some single balls of wool which came from my sister. There was one ball of thick soft cotton in one of those icky multi-pastel baby colour combinations. It didn't have a label (just stickytape and a Spotlight price sticker) but think it might be Cleckheaton Fiddle De Dee - though I've only seen pictures on the web so I can't be sure.

My first thought? Yuck! What will I do with this? And hard on the heels of that thought....Djaughan Zelmonde just loooves those multi-coloured pastel baby wools, she's enthusiastically pointed them out to me in shops before. I think this stuff wants to be a cute chunky pair of anklets.

As I knit, I quickly realised there wouldn't be enough for two socks. Unable to locate any Fiddle De Dee except for some bulk lots on ebay, I went looking for a similar weight white cotton. I ended up with adding in a pink section of Jo Sharp Desert Garden Aran.

On Christmas Eve I wrapped up ONE chunky cute anklet, and promised to knit the other one ASAP!

Later, I borrowed the single one back to make sure the second one matched. And was horrified to find that I had been in such a rush at Christmas I hadn't even woven in the ends!

There was a further complication. Getting near the top of the second sock, it was clear that there still wasn't enough yarn left. I ended up undoing the cast off and a few rows of the first sock, and finishing both in pink. And in the end I like that look better. I think it makes it neater and more 'together'.

They are toe-up socks using Wendy's figure eight toe and short row heel. I found the toe-up method very intuitive and it was great to be able to try the sock on as I went.

It took me a while to realise why I got that weird spiralling effect (most obvious on the pink section in the top photo - I steamed it out a bit later). I thought it was to do with the yarn twising problems I had with the Desert Garden cotton. But I'm working on another sock now and I realise it's because I was routinely shifting two stitches around each change of needles to avoid ladders. I think I tend to pull the first stitch on each needle TOO tight in an attempt to compensate for the loose one behind it. And now that I have thought that out enough and put it here in writing, I hope I can cure it for the socks I'm knitting now.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


I wouldn't go so far as to say I am a runner. But I do like to use running slow shuffling as a free form of exercise outside the soccer training season, and especially this time of year when basketball and netball games are suspended for a few weeks.

Up until about two years ago, I had dabbled with VERY occasional running , but it took two crucial ingredients to make it really start to happen. One was my small solid-state MP3 player, which I relegated to running duties once I bought myself a 60GB ipod. Wow. Where without music I would run for 10 minutes then want to walk, with the addition of some music to take my mind off boring running and help me drift away into various fantastic scenarios, it was a whole different story.

The other thing was buying proper running shoes. The first few times it felt like I was running on clouds. And after that, the fact that I had spent an embarassing amount of $$ on them meant I had to commit to running at least sometimes. They're actually lasting a long time given that I basically don't use them in winter - I think soccer training and games is enough fitness-wise and certainly time-wise.

About one in twenty runs, maybe more - but I haven't been running very often so it's hard to say - will be just fantastic. I get beyond the first 10 minutes and I feel like I could keep plodding forever. I usually only go out for about 30 min, and this often includes one stretching stop. On one of those days, I feel like I could definitely shuffle my way right through a City to Surf. Or what the hell, a half-marathon? If only I knew how to get that feeling on a more predictable basis. It seems more likely when I haven't run in the last few days. Two days in a row = mild joint pains, and I'm a wuss sensible. I probably should change both my route, and the tracks on the MP3 player, a lot more often, I know both of those things keep me more motivated. But even knowing these things, I think there is some indefinable ingredient... the right state of mind, and body, to just run like we were built to do. Bliss.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

When I get into it I can't tell if you are watching me twirling the stick

Just a few days before Christmas in 2005, my sister and brother-in-law had their first baby. I had just finished making a pair of felted bowls as their Christmas present, so I quickly wrapped those up, added a cute little pair of baby socks and a letter of welcome to my first nephew, and sent it off to Perth by express post.

But. Yes, there's a 'but'. I failed to add a Christmas card or to label the Christmas present in the parcel.

When I talked to my sister on the phone after they had arrived home from hospital and opened the parcel, the conversation included odd comments like "thanks so much for the bowls, they're gorgeous. They are his first artworks".

It dawned on me that it had appeared to them that the whole parcel was a welcome-new-nephew kind of thing. Christmas was not foremost in their minds that year. I had to set the record straight, that the bowls were actually meant for the adults. My sister agreed that that made a bit more sense, but also admitted that she loved the idea that I had made such objects for the tiny baby. So I agreed to make some bowls for him sooner or later.

More than bowls, though, I wanted to make him a more kid-friendly box. A tough, bright, squishy felt box with a lid. It didn't seem right to send it empty so I found a ball that fit. I was looking for a plain ball but this is a licensed one, with Fifi and the Flowertot something-or-others on it. For all I know they could be sweeping the nation in kids TV, but I'd never heard of them. If the box survives toddler treatment - I know it might not - it could be fun to keep little treasures in when he's a bit older.

So here's the obligatory pre-felting picture (I just love these).

The initial sizing of the pieces involved guesswork intuition - I knew from experience that knitted pieces shrink a good bit more in length than width, so to end up with square sides and bottom, I had to start with rectangles. This made the sewing quite interesting. The shorter ends of two of the sides had to be eased onto the two longer sides of the base rectangle.

It was always intended to be a cube, but I had to be be a bit relaxed about the final shape. You can see it clearly in the photos from my previous post - the sides pulled in more at the bottom than the top, probably because they are held in tighter by the base. So they are more rhomboids than true squares. Felting reminds me a bit of ceramics class in high school - the glazes change colour completely with firing and you never knew exactly what colours would emerge.

Even as I was making and felting the box, I wasn't sure about the hinge. I made matching holes in the lid and one side. I thought of hinges made of felt or fabric loops but nothing seemed right - I wanted it to move freely but not flop around too much. Leather was suggested, but that didn't quite hit the spot either. The solution just came to me one day, I guess after the problem had percolated in my brain for long enough - ribbon hinges. I don't even know where I've seen this done, and though I'm sure I have seen it somewhere, I couldn't find any examples on the net. I was so excited even before I tried it, it just seemed the perfect solution. And I was REALLY happy with how they turned out. The narrow craft ribbon is simply looped from one hole to the other and back again, several times. It worked fine with stitches only to hold the ends, but I decided to hand-stitch right across to lend a bit of strength and stability. My guess is the hinge might be the weakest point of the whole thing, but it should stand up for a while.... I have no experience making toys, so will have to wait and see.

The other thing which took some deliberating was the closure. I wanted a big, round, bead-like button. I tried a large wooden bead, but I wasn't happy with the way it looked sewn on. I was also a little bit worried about it being a choking hazard. Finally I made a knot of knitted i-cord and felted it too, to make a ....lumpy toggle-thing. (Yes, that's a technical term). It seemed easier to ensure it was sewn on securely and would stay on, given that sharp or hard surfaces on a button or bead can wear away at the thread.

I embroidered the letters of his name on the sides in a wonky charming free-hand style, just using 4 strands of cotton embroidery thread. That took a lot longer than I expected. I wonder if I could have done it in tapestry wool and even lightly felted it on. Something to try next time.

Want to see the bottom? Of course you do.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

It's a simple message and I'm leaving out the whistles and bells

Nate's box, originally uploaded by Olma.

Only one person got a finished hand-made gift from me by Christmas. And even this one, though it was sent before Christmas, didn't arrive until after. More photos and details to come.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Ever since you've been around

alps view, originally uploaded by Olma.