Start Somewhere

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As part of my challenge to myself to face my own fear of failure, I’ve encouraged myself to try new things. I emphasize crafts in this pursuit because if I’m bad at it, there’s not a whole lot of fallout. There’s definitely a belief amongst people my age and my generation that hobbies can and should be money making. Time spent on hobbies shouldn’t feel wasted. So many people I know start a hobby and then feel the need to make a YouTube channel about it or open a shop. While that extra cash is nice, it puts pressure on what should be a relaxing side project. Rather than coming home and reading for fun or making a sweater for their cat, there’s a pressure to make profitable projects or create content surrounding that effort. Sometimes I find myself feeling guilty that I haven’t posted twice a week or I missed a month’s worth of posts, but at the end of the day, I’d hope that my hobbies (including this blog) are more about flexing that creative (or physical) muscle rather than about getting attention and/or making money.

So I’m telling myself that not only can I try new things without the fear of failure, but I can be bad at them and not have to give up or expect more from myself.

Example #1: Quilting. Over the last year, I started making scrap quilts using my mother’s massive pile of scrap fabric. There’s a few things I like about scrap quilting. One, it’s using scraps and crumbs from other projects – if I mess up, it isn’t a big deal because the fabric is already scrap pieces. Second, I can practice skills I first learned almost two decades ago without fear. Third, because I’m borrowing my mom’s fabric and thread and machine, I only really get to quilt on the weekends; this means that I rest during the week and can spend my weekends enjoying my new hobby or I can skip a weekend without feeling guilt about wasted opportunity. Could I finish a quilt in a weekend? Probably. Do I have to? No.

For me, quilting is nice because I can use it as an opportunity to chat with my mom about our weeks or our favorite fabrics. Each scrap came from a finished quilt and we enjoy rediscovering certain bits and reflecting on what quilt they came from and whether they were donated or not. Starting a skill is a lot less daunting if you have a friend with the skills (or the same interest to learn the skills). Hobbies don’t have to always be solitary activities.

Example #2: Watercolor. When I was in college, one of my jobs was working the front desk of the residence hall I lived in. Because the desk was open all weekend, I often found myself awake at weird times. 4 a.m. wasn’t the best time to follow along with a convoluted tv show or to try and write that paper. Instead, I found a cheap set of watercolor paints at CVS and a thing of watercolor paper. During my shifts, I would listen to music and watercolor. I hadn’t taken a painting class since middle school and I can tell you honestly that despite my best efforts, I’m pretty bad at it. I don’t have the patience or the technique or really interest in trying to be better. I found the flow of a paintbrush on paper to be calming. Rather than stress about getting better, I accepted that I am bad at it, but I enjoy it regardless of that fact. I enjoy the fact that I’m a beginner and I may never get past that point – it doesn’t make the relaxation effect any less useful.

Because I’ve accepted my beginner status, I haven’t spent much money on this particular hobby. I’ve acknowledged that no amount of fancy watercolors or nice brushes is going to change what I enjoy about watercoloring and they definitely aren’t going to suddenly make me into Monet. Instead, I’ve avoided that dreaded mistake of over-shopping on supplies for a hobby. I’d rather save my money than overspend on something I might not participate in all that often.

Example #3: Cross stitch. During my Master’s program, I had a bit of free time and went down the Instagram rabbit hole of quirky embroidery and cross stitch patterns. It looked fun and relatively simple. So I hopped on Etsy and found a beginner’s kit for a cross stitch pattern. The kit came with just the essentials and a little video explaining how to cross stitch. It seemed simple enough and I got a cute little cross stitch out of it. When I came back home, I mentioned it to my mother, who of course went through a cross stitch phase and had all the supplies tucked away in the basement. So I made more, trying harder patterns as I grew more confident. I had to remind myself to start with the easy patterns and stitch types. I knew I was just a beginner and I knew I needed to start small and grow.

For all of these hobbies, I had to start at the beginning and remind myself that I was not an expert and may never be one. There’s something nice about focusing less on whether I can one day make a living off my hobby and focusing more on the intentionality of stretching my creative muscles and doing something that relaxes me and brings me joy.

A Smooth Sea: Quilt #3

quilting

Over the last year, I’ve started to get into quilting. I recently completed my first two quilts and while I enjoyed the experience, my Pinterest board of scrap quilt ideas is a little overflowing. So by the time the binding was on Quilt #2, I had three or five ideas ready to go for the next one. One problem with following my quilter mother on Pinterest is that many of our quilt related pins are the same. We had both been eyeing a design, unbeknownst to the other, of a boat floating through strips of blue water. She wasn’t quick enough, so I got to take on that challenge first.

The quilt we were both inspired by is called Seafarer and after some math to determine its size, we acknowledged that the quilt would work well to get rid of some of the blue scrap strips that had made it through Scrap Quilt 1 and Scrap Quilt 2 unused, but we also realized I’d need to learn to paper piece.

Paper piecing is a type of sewing that using a piece of paper (in our case a bunch of old phonebook pages and newspaper) to build the piece. Essentially, I used the phonebook page as a guide to keep each strip straight diagonally across the square. I spent many a weekend sewing blue strips to blue strips to blue strips until we eventually got 40-something squares of diagonal blue strips.

I’m saying “we” because despite being in charge of sewing this quilt, my kind mother assisted me by acknowledging every time I forgot the seam allowance and then kindly assisted in strategic cuts that meant I wouldn’t need to get out the handy-dandy seam ripper.

After all the big blocks were built, the same idea was used to build the side “half” blocks and the two corner blocks. The last task was to create the boat that would be sailing through the sea. With a little more paper piecing and some wiggling, we had a little boat. The last step in the paper piecing journey, was sewing all the blocks together and then removing the paper. If you think quilters are covered in threads, let me tell you about the little pieces of ripped newspaper and phone book that I am still finding weeks later. The satisfaction of pealing the paper off was completely overshadowed by the itty-bitty scraps of paper that just would not let go. But once it was done, it looked good.

With the front of the quilt done, it was time for quilting. I’m planning to use my mother’s massive retirement present and then bound the quilt on the little machine. (After all the quilting this little machine has been through this year with both my projects and my mother’s, it might need a vacation.) Instead of using a pattern to quilt on the long-arm machine, I’m planning to free style it. But I don’t quite have the skills or the confidence to do it yet. But soon!

After the bright colors of the last two quilts, I was looking to work with more calming colors, but still wanted a quilt that would be visually interesting. I think it turned out pretty alright. I’m sure the corners don’t match up perfectly and that there are ways I could have quilted or organized the quilt for better visual, but for a scrap quilt, I’m proud of it.

And like any good quilter, I’ve already got Quilt #4 started. Wish me luck!

Music Festivals as a Solo Act

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One of my favorite decisions from my early 20s was uncharacteristically spontaneous. After graduating from college, I decided to go to a music festival that summer with the idea that I would live a little before heading to grad school. I had never been to an overnight music festival, nor did I know anyone who planned to be there, but I went for it and had a fantastic time. Before you follow in my footsteps and plan a solo trip to a festival, here’s the things I learned from my solo journey to Manchester, TN for Bonnaroo in 2017 and 2019.

Pick your festival wisely. One of the reasons I felt comfortable going to Bonnaroo solo is the festival’s reputation for “good vibes”. And I learned very quickly that the folks who enjoy Bonnaroo genuinely are the nicest people. Multiple times throughout my adventures on the Farm, people would come up and check in on me, whether I had ever seen them before or not. Spontaneous deep conversations were common and of course everyone on the Farm loves a high five. Before you venture down to any festival by yourself, check the reviews online or with friends; not every festival has the same reputation.

Volunteer. For both my trips to Bonnaroo, I volunteered through their C’roo program – I was given free entrance to the festival, free showers, free meals for shifts worked and all of my shifts were over before the festival even really began. 10 out of 10 would recommend it. Plus, I befriended my neighboring volunteers who became friends that I still talk to regularly. If you’re on your own, the structure of the volunteer program can help you meet people (especially if you’re a little more introverted like I am).

Make your schedule. Most festivals post their schedules in advance for you to peruse, others might post online the day of or give you a printed schedule the day of. Whatever the festival’s system, pick your “most see”s and make sure you know where you want to be and when. Once you know those, be flexible with the rest. One of the great things about festivals, instead of a classic concert, is the opportunity to stumble upon a great new band you never would have heard of. If you only see the bands you came for, you might miss out on the next big thing. But if you find yourself floating from stage to stage based on what your neighbor’s cousin’s best friend recommended, you might be disappointed in your experience. Find your balance.

Use social media to your advantage. Now, once you get where you’re going, you may not have great service. Which is totally fine – you’re at the festival for the experience, not for free time to play solitaire. But I’d highly recommend posting on social media that you’re planning to go. Share the line-up or post a picture of your packed car. Maybe someone you know will see it and be there. Or maybe you’ve just inspired someone else to go too. Once you’re there, meet up! Even if it’s just for a show or two, it’ll give you a chance to hang with someone new. I ran into a former resident from my R.A. days in the bathroom line at Bonnaroo, met up with a friend I met in Australia, and spent most of my second festival with a friend I met volunteering the first time around.

Lastly, don’t forget to check in! Tell your roommate or your mom or just someone you trust where you’ll be. Check in before you leave, when you arrive, during the festival, and when you’re headed home. Even though it’s not as crazy as flying around the world alone, it is still a good idea to keep someone informed, just in case.

My Time Down Under: Australia

Travel

In 2015, I spent almost five months in the Southern Hemisphere, studying in Sydney. Partially because I had relatively few interactions with the very dangerous species that populate the island, I had a wonderful time there. I lived in one of the suburbs of the city, close to my university. And while my time spent studying in Sweden involved quite a bit of travel around Europe, my time in Australia was mostly spent in and around Sydney. Because now feels like as good a time as any to reminisce, I thought I’d share some about what I enjoyed while living down under.

Because I lived outside Sydney, I spent the majority of my time in that area. I truly delved into the university experience with four Sociology courses while living in a dorm near campus. My dorm experience was unlike where I had lived in the U.S. The social life was vibrant to say the least and unlike college in the U.S., where drinking for the first few years happens almost exclusively behind closed doors and at frat houses, drinking in Australia was normalized (the drinking age is 18). Instead of hiding from the R.A., we drank with the R.A. It was a mental shift, for sure. Some of my favorite memories involved long conversations with friends late at night over a game of pool or after a big event. One of the best parts of studying abroad is the people you meet.

Now I spent a surprisingly little amount of time on beaches during my time in Australia, but there’s plenty of beautiful waterfront in Sydney. Though I stopped by Manly Beach and Bondi Beach with everyone and their mother, I also enjoyed the lesser known Palm Beach and the climb up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse. My personal favorite activity was the walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach. The walk goes along the coast, giving you views of the ocean, smaller beaches, and occasionally some art to enjoy. I’ve done this walk with friends, as well as jetlagged parents. What’s nice about it is that at any point you can stop and find the closest bus or cafe to take a break. (The whole thing will take about 3 hours or so.)

Other highlights of the Sydney experience included the quirky, like Luna Park, an amusement park on the water, or Wendy’s Secret Garden, a garden built like an art piece. Taronga Zoo featured animals with breathtaking views of the Harbour, Darling Harbour featured cultural experiences and food every time we wandered through, and of course, Sydney featured the Opera House (which I never actually ventured inside) and the Harbour Bridge (which I never climbed).

But I didn’t only stay in Sydney. About halfway through my time in Australia, my parents came to visit. While jetlagged, I took them on the aforementioned Bondi to Coogee walk, but we also ventured outside New South Wales.

We took a plane to the middle of the country to visit the iconic Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. We stuck with your classic tourist adventures, but I’ll never forget a nighttime meal near Uluru with no lights and the Milky Way above my head. (Yes, I cried.) We also took a few hikes around Kata Tjuta and learned a little more about the relationship White Australia has with its Indigenous communities.

We also went South. After retraining our brains that “south” in the Southern Hemisphere meant colder, we made it to Melbourne. Five years later, my parents still reference the cute streets of Melbourne as one of the best places they’ve visited. We loved the graffiti art spread throughout the city and the alleyways turned into outdoor dining and the tram that allowed us to circle the city so easily. But we also wanted to see some of the wildlife – so we ventured down to Phillip Island for the Penguin Parade.

Despite mostly sticking to cities or tourist destinations, my parents got a trip worth the jetlag, but I wasn’t done yet. After powering through four classes’ worth of assignments, I had some free time during the exam period to explore Sydney before flying back home. With the knowledge that I might never get the chance to fly over 24 hours to Australia, I decided to hit up the ultimate bucket list item: The Great Barrier Reef.

Two friends and I travelled north to Cairns in Queensland. We had two goals – snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef and hold a koala. (There are restrictions in Australia about handling koalas, which meant that if we wanted to snuggle one, we’d have to find an appropriate place to get our cuddles.) It was relatively easy to check off our goal of visiting the Reef once we were in Cairns. We were able to not only snorkel on the Reef, but also scuba dive with guidance. I’d never snorkeled, much less scuba dived, but I have to say it was incredible. A full day was spent under the water watching fish and pointing out anemones.

In order to check off the second part of our trip’s to-do list, we traveled by bus to Palm Cove. We stopped at a wildlife zoo and saw all the animals we’d happily avoided for most of our time in Australia, we held koalas (mine was named Violet and she was a sweetheart), and then we grabbed a snack while we waited for the bus home. But we realized we had way too much time to kill, so we did the only logical thing: Paddle boarding. We found a shack along the water where a kind man helped up suit up to paddle board. In retrospect, the crocodile sighting sign just down the beach should have been a deterrent, as well as the man’s warning about “stinger season“. However, we went for it and had no animal encounters on the water.

Despite warnings about crocodiles and sharks and spiders and snakes and dingos and drop bears, I managed to survive down under with only a few sunburns and plenty of memories. Here’s to hoping I make it back down there soon!

Sometimes You Fail

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For a very long time, I avoiding trying anything new. Starting a new job or a new project was weighed down not by excitement, but about all the “what-ifs”. What if I’m bad at [blank]? What if I embarrass myself? What if this is a mistake I can’t come back from? I try really hard not to linger on the what-ifs of life, but they’re there.

I know my strengths and my struggles and I’ve found in my “adult”hood that I lean into my strengths and work around my struggles rather than working the skills I’m lacking. For instance, I would much prefer to write a blog and reignite my writing skills (strength) than I would create a YouTube channel which would require one of my struggles (human interaction/speaking confidently/extroversion). I take up new hobbies that I’m already somewhat prepared for (quilting, writing, reading, cross-stitch), instead of trying to strengthen a skill I don’t already have (athleticism for example).

Don’t get me wrong, I still fail in the things I think I’ll be good at. For instance, a few years ago, I wrote a blog post about taking part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but I never followed through. Life got in the way. Or I wrote a blogpost recently about making my first quilts. I’ve got the basics down, but you can ask my mom about how useful a seam ripper can be (particularly with pesky triangles). Even within my safety net of strong skills, I can fail.

And it’s scary. Failure sucks. Rejection sucks. (Sometimes being an adult sucks.) But it’s part of life.

Because the last twelve months have been such a mess, I was reluctant to make New Year’s goals this year. Especially if I decided to share those goals online or with friends and then ultimately failed. So I’m not making goals this year.

I’m taking my own advice. When I wrote about NaNoWriMo, I talked about being creative for the fun of it, for the flexing of that side of the brain, instead of for perfection’s sake. So I want to make things this year – both physical, like quilts, and written, like this blog – because it is fun, not because I want perfection. I’m leaning into my what-ifs and saying “Yes, I will fail”. That finished quilt may suck, but at least it’s done. That blogpost may be the worst thing I’ve ever written, but at least it isn’t a blank page. I’m going to try that silly YouTube dance workout, not because I’m ever going to be a Superbowl halftime show performer, but because I like the song. And if one of my neighbors sees me dancing through the window, maybe I’ve provided a spark of entertainment in their day.

Will I fail at this non-resolution resolution? Maybe. But for now, it’s a challenge. And the competitive side of me loves a challenge.

Five Favorite Things: Sweden

Five Favorites, Travel

I’m coming up on five years since I flew to Sweden.

For those who don’t know, I spent six months in 2016 studying abroad just outside of Stockholm, Sweden. My time there allowed me to travel extensively through Europe and enjoy Stockholm from darkness to never-ending light. When I arrived in January, the sun began to set at 3 p.m. and it would be pitch black outside by 4. While this didn’t stop me from taking trips to IKEA or adventuring around European cities like Brussels and Prague, it did put a hamper on my ability to enjoy Stockholm. It wasn’t until later months, when the sun never really set, that I found myself learning to love Sweden and all Stockholm had to offer. I thought I would reflect on my five favorite things about Sweden five years later.

Number one: the mixture of the new and the old. Stockholm, in particular, is a great example of how Sweden mixes the new and the old. Gamla Stan (the old town) is filled with rich history and is right across a bridge from modern style buildings. You could spend hours wandering the narrow streets and feel like you’ve been transported back in time, before stepping across a bridge and eating a hamburger (at Max Burgers) in the modern day. Not far away is The Vasa Museum – a museum dedicated to a failed war ship pulled mostly intact from the bottom of the harbor – located right next to the Abba Museum.

Number two: the smaller cities. I’m not a huge fan of big cities – there’s too many people and too much going on. But the smaller cities that I was able to visit in Sweden were wonderful. Sigtuna, Sweden’s first city, is a small town that is a day trip away from Stockholm. You can spend a day wandering the town, hanging out by the lake, and eating along the pedestrian street. Stockholm is nice, but I really loved my time wondering roads in Malmö and Gothenburg; though not as small as Sigtuna, they offered a reprieve from the big city.

Number three: the public transportation. The biggest thing I miss about Sweden (but also Europe in general) is the public transportation. You can get just about anywhere on a train or bus. Relatively easily (and for relatively cheap) you can go from the suburbs where I lived in Flemingsberg (near Södertörn University) to the Royal Palace in central Stockholm, to Drottningholm Palace to the coolest cemetery, Skogskyrkogården, to the airport. Even when there’s a disruption to the service, you have multiple options that will get you where you need to go.

Number four: the adaptability. Though I might complain about how cold it was in Sweden when I first arrived or about how dark it got at 3 p.m. for the first month I spent there, I loved that the country adapted as needed. Sure you didn’t stay out as late in the winter months, but you still bundled up and powered through – a blanket and a space heater to eat outside and some proper shoes will keep you going. And then just six months later, when the sun never fully sets, you spend as much time outside as possible. I try to keep this adaptability in mind when I’m freezing on D.C.’s one cold day a year.

Number five: the Swedes. So much of my enjoyment of my time in Sweden was based on the very basics of life in Sweden. Things were efficient. People were polite, welcoming, and orderly. Everything was clean. There was an emphasis on living with nature, rather than fighting against it. And everything just felt balanced.

Sweden is definitely on my list of places to return to and explore so more, but I might just do that when it’s summer. I’ve had enough cold, dark days for now.

Books of 2020

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In 2019, I read 12 books. My 2020 goal was 24 books. I’m ending the year with 72 books read, according to my Goodreads. That’s accidentally three times my goal and six times what I read last year. Oops?

One of my favorite parts of using Goodreads to track my reading is the stats that come with it. This year according to my Goodreads, I’ve read 18,443 pages over 72 books. (I’d be willing to argue that the page count is probably higher because Goodreads isn’t the best at measuring pages in audiobooks or e-books which made up a decent portion of the books I read this year. But because some of what I read is debatably not really a “book”, I’m not gonna fight it. Plus I don’t wanna do the math myself.) The books span publishing dates from the 1930s to the 1960s to 2020. Of the books that I read, 12 were audiobooks, 11 were physical books, and 27 were e-books read through my library. (The rest were read through another source like Kindle or as Advanced Reader Copies [ARCs]). My average rating in 2020 was a 3.2 out of 5 stars. I gave 4 books a 5 star rating , 21 were rated 4 stars, 32 were rated 3 stars, and the rest were given 1 or 2 stars. I also allowed myself to stop reading a book if it wasn’t my cup of tea with no pressure; in fact, some of the books that I eventually ended up giving 4 or 5 stars to were books that I had put aside at some point and picked back up at a better time. Because there’s more than last year, I won’t list them out, but I wanted to reflect beyond just my statistics.

At the end of last year, I wanted to read from a more diverse set of authors. I think (mostly as a ramification of reading more and reading fewer series than last year) I managed to fulfill that goal. It’s always at the back of my mind that I want to read a variety of stories from a variety of storytellers. I read authors from the US, the UK, Brazil, Canada, France, Algeria, Nigeria, and Sweden; I read from Black authors (both academic and fiction writers), I read from Asian-American authors, from queer authors, and plenty of female authors. There’s always room for more diversity.

In 2020, I reread some old favorites including And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie and The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (both of whom are on my list of authors I want to read more from in the new year). I’ll also count The Martian by Andy Weir and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness as bests of the year (one made me laugh and one made me sob).

I enjoyed a good number of audiobooks this year. My favorites were The Test by Sylvain Neuvel, Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Bailey, and An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten. I read a few books on recommendations from family and/or friends this year which included Normal People by Sally Rooney, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Many more of the books were picked up because a YouTuber mentioned them or because Goodreads suggested them. I tried really hard (and mostly failed) to read a lot of the unread books that I’ve bought over the years. That goal will be continuing into the new year.

Speaking of goals for 2021: I’ve set my Goodreads challenge for 24 books again. I figure I have no idea what this year might bring and I’d rather have an achievable goal to beat than feel defeated in December. I’d like to continue reading diversely, both in terms of author and subjects and in terms of how I read. And lastly, I want to knock some of the books off my physical shelf – books accumulated over Christmases and shopping trips to bookstores and birthdays and stealing from my parents’ bookshelves. But who knows what 2021 will bring?

Quilter Quilting Quilts

quilting

A little over a year ago, the four day weekend encompassing Thanksgiving 2019 was the beginning of a year long journey. After a few days off work, I got a little bored. My mom happened to mention (/complain about) the piles upon piles of scraps that come with making a ton of quilts each year (this year, my mother’s production levels included 750 masks, 100 scrub caps, 50 quilts, and more). My mom is a quilter and has been my whole life, so she’s accumulated quite a lot of fabric. Additionally, she and I share hoarding tendencies that mean we would rather hold on to that little bit of fabric left over at the end of a project than toss it. After listening to her complain, I decided I would aid her in the downsizing of her scrap bins.

The process started with a search for yellows and blues. Fortunately, these were colors found in the scraps box(es and bags) in abundance. My endlessly patient mother spent Thanksgiving break pressing my scraps while I created my first quilt.

I’ve been helping my mom with her quilts since I was itty bitty. I spent many years as a second pair of eyes telling her when she’d placed fabrics too close or when the green went with the rest of the quilt better than the blue. As I got older, many of the pictures of my mom’s quilts featured my toes as I stood on the couch to hold up her projects. Around this time, my mom started to make quilts for an organization called Project Linus. Project Linus donates homemade quilts and afghans to children in the hospital or otherwise in need. I won’t even pretend to count how many quilts my mom has made for Project Linus, but there’s been a lot over the years.

My skillset was expanded in middle school when Project Linus hosted Blanket Days where volunteers got together to make blankets and share skills. I attended a few with my mom, bringing the average age down by 15 years at least. I would often assist with the unloading of the car and then find a back corner to sit down and power through Chinese coins. Occasionally, I would be the runner in charge of bringing strips from a quilter to an iron and back. One year, I even learned how to knit, which I promptly forgot as soon as we got home.

Despite the hours put into helping my mom and various blanket days, I had never finished a quilt entirely on my own. In the past, I always passed the quilt off to my mom when it got complicated.

So, when I started my blue and yellow scrap quilt I was determined to do it myself and actually complete it, quilting and all. I worked most of Thanksgiving 2019 and then over my days off throughout December. Unfortunately, scrap quilts require a little of tiny pieces being sewn together over and over. As my mom informed me, the bigger the pieces, the quicker the quilt. As I don’t live with my parents, nor do I have a sewing machine at my apartment, I did all my sewing on weekend visits. This meant that I completed my first ever quilt in June 2020.

The quilting was expedited by using my mom’s retirement toy: a longarm quilting machine that currently takes up my parents’ basement. It makes quilting the quilt a much faster (and much less frustrating) process. With her guidance, my blue and yellow scrap quilt was finished and sent off to Project Linus to comfort a kid.

And just like my mother, I immediately started plotting my next quilt. I knew I wanted to continue on my scrap quilt journey and I knew I wanted to go outside the blue and yellow that I used before. So I went for a rainbow pattern, inspired by a Pinterest post. After another visit to the scrap boxes and a sorting extravaganza, I got started on Quilt #2.

Quilt number 2 again took a decent amount of time to complete. Starting with 8 1/2 inch squares and then building from there. Both quilts were expedited by my assistant (sometimes known as my mother) ironing and rethreading the machine for me. There are some skills I still haven’t mastered yet. Like the first quilt, work was done on weekends and holidays. It took a little longer due to family watches of The Crown, The Mandalorian, Luther, and a variety of films. But after slight difficulties with the binding, we got it finished!

My rainbow scrap quilt is finished and will soon be properly photographed and then donated to Project Linus. And of course, I’m already plotting Quilt #3. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of scraps to be used up.

Living in Excess

london, Travel

Perhaps because I’ve spent too many hours watching The Crown, or perhaps because I’ve just finished reading Rebecca (or more realistically it is probably due to my current existence in a tiny studio apartment), but I’ve found myself reflecting recently on the grand homes and palaces that I have visited over the years. As a kid, the large estates were home to magical boarding schools and princesses, and as an adult they are home to the question “how many clocks is too many clocks?”.

Home to thousands of years of aristocracy and royalty, Europe is filled to the brim with old historic homes. Of course, the Brits are prominently featured in my current entertainment choices, but my appreciate of palaces in England has been mostly via Instagram accounts. I’ve visited a surprisingly small amount of grand estates in the U.K. Without counting the times I stood outside Buckingham Palace‘s gates wondering if the Queen was home or when I walked past the Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh, the only visit to a home worthy of a period drama that comes to mind was in Brighton. I visited Brighton when I was living in London and my morning was spent in the Royal Pavilion, a strange former palace that brought weird mixes of Asian influences inside its walls.

Another visit included a tour of the Queen’s House in Greenwich with its beautiful spiral staircase. (Many of these grand homes are maintained as museums, allowing you to wander about under the guise of a history lesson, while you’re really trying to decide whether that weird looking panel is a secret door or not.) Unlike visits to cathedrals throughout the U.K., I’ve somehow managed to miss the grand estates so prominently featured in my media consumption.

Scandinavia has provided quite a few palaces over my travels (partially because I spent a decent amount of time there, both alone and entertaining my parents). The question about clocks comes from a tour of a room at the Swedish Royal Palace in Stockholm – apparently royals run out of gift ideas just like the rest of us! I think its particularly interesting to visit the Swedish Royal Palace because you’re in this grand old building, while daily life is happening just outside the window. There’s no distance between the old and the new – unlike Drottningholm, a Swedish castle on the UNESCO World Heritage list, that’s located further out of the city of Stockholm and still maintains a large grounds and garden around the building.

Copenhagen is home to a pretty good Royal Palace or two, but I really enjoyed venturing a little further out for Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød. The castle is now a museum and is genuinely in the middle of a lake. As if that wasn’t cool enough, it also features a really gorgeous (borderline over the top) chapel. [If you’re bored, please feel free to look up the history of royalty in Scandinavia and enjoy the chaos that is the region’s history. Whether they borrowed a prince after winning their freedom or named every single king some variation of Charles Gustav, Scandinavian royal history is fascinating.]

If you’re looking for over the top, the most extravagant palace I’ve ever visited was outside Paris: Le Château de Versailles. Each room is incredibly stunning and filled with an abundance of history. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Versailles and if you’re a fan of ogling at excesses of wealth or the strange French royals, you will be too. The gardens are so ridiculously over the top and the entire place is a good day trip from the city of Paris. I really enjoyed the Hall of Mirrors (an addition to the earlier question about clocks, “how many mirrors is too many?”).

A friend recently posting on Instagram asking if anyone had been to Asheville and paid to visit the Biltmore. A response she received was that it was a “poor man’s Versailles“. They weren’t wrong. The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina is an American’s attempt at the grandiosity of European estates. If you can’t hop across the pond and want to see the excess of a grand palace in person, this is one of your best bets in the U.S. The tickets are a little pricey, but the tour is interesting just to pretend you could one day be rich enough to own an estate like royalty. Another option in the U.S. that isn’t quite the same is the White House. Visiting the White House on a public tour is less of a “princess running down the hall” experience and more of a “history happened here” experience. When you consider how young the United States as a country is in comparison to most of Europe, our half-hearted attempts can be forgiven, right?

Either way, if you’re going to hoard wealth, you might as well build a grand estate with perfect gardens and an interesting story for me to learn about through an audioguide. Until my bank account catches up, I’ll have to live vicariously through Keira Knightley period dramas and the new Netflix adaptation of Rebecca.

Namaste – Things I’ve Learned From Yoga

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My first semester of college I got really into attending workout classes at my university’s gym. One of the classes that I rarely missed was 11 a.m. Saturday yoga. I had done yoga before, but this class was the first time I regularly practiced and I really found myself enjoying it. Unfortunately, as winter hit and school work piled up, yoga was less of a priority and I lost my motivation.

Since moving back to the D.C. area, I picked up yoga again, attending a class each Wednesday with my mom. Quarantine shifted that class online and instead of one class each week, I’ve started to attend Zoom yoga twice a week. I can tell on Tuesday evenings when it is time for yoga and honestly struggle to keep track of what day it is without these classes. But I’ve also learned a lot through my yoga classes.

The hardest lesson to learn is that everyone starts at a different place. Maybe you’re like me and you watch Instagram yogis doing handstands and complicated twists and you think I can’t do that. And you’re missing that many of those “yogis” are former gymnasts or have been doing yoga for ten years or maybe they’re just genetically gifted. Whatever it may be, I’ve found that the more comfortable I become in my approach to yoga, the less I care about their cool handstands in matching workout sets, and the more I focus on the feeling I get when I finally hold Crow Pose for more than a second. (What’s that inspirational quote about not judging your day one to someone else’s day one hundred?)

In addition to remembering that we all start at difference places, I’ve had to learn that sometimes you just can’t and that’s okay. Though my mother and I share a lot of genes and have generally similar approaches to exercise and yoga, there are moves she can do with ease that I can’t even begin to do and some moves that she can’t do that I can do no problem (despite her longer history with yoga and pilates classes). I’m not one to admit defeat and I generally hate saying that I can’t do something, but sometimes its necessary – both in life and yoga – to acknowledge your limitations. Everyone’s body is different and I can tell you right now that my hips will never allow me to do certain movements without collapsing on the floor in pain.

I guess that’s another thing – it’s okay to push through discomfort, but you shouldn’t be pushing through true pain. If it hurts, something isn’t wrong. I hate Downward Dog because the traditional move kills my wrists. So I modify. And that’s okay. I’d rather modify a move to fit my body than seriously injure myself just to prove a point. This point is pretty applicable to real life as well – sometimes you can push through and sometimes you need to modify.

One of the things I love about my yoga teacher is that she emphasizes that everyday is different. Yesterday is not today and today is not tomorrow. What you could do with ease yesterday may be the most challenging move you do tomorrow. Or maybe you couldn’t touch your toes yesterday, but today, your palm is on the ground. Sometimes you sleep wrong or you get frustrated or you hydrate a little more than usual and all of a sudden your body changes. No two days are the same.

Another of my favorite phrases from our yoga classes is “to wobble is good“. Whenever we’re in the middle of a balance pose and my legs start to shake or I start to lose stillness, my reaction is to give up. But sometimes the shake or the wobble is just engagement – forcing those muscles to get to work. It’s a thousand times easier to wobble and quit than it is to wobble and find steadiness again. Plus if you find that stillness again, maybe next time you’re just that little bit stronger to tackle the next off-balance moment.

Then comes my least favorite phrase from yoga (and all other areas of life): practice makes perfect. I don’t love the sensation of being bad at things or struggling through; I’d much prefer to be naturally gifted. But unfortunately, my genetics are not made for me to jump up into a handstand or balance on one finger. Over the many, many yoga classes I’ve taken, I’ve noticed that I genuinely have gotten more flexible over time. I am stronger and more patient with each pose that I do. And from the first moment on the mat to Shavasana I see a difference in my muscles and in my thoughts. Over time things balance out, because I’ve pushed through that awkwardness and that discomfort (but not pain!). Trying over and over again, with modifications and patience, has made a huge difference.

And lastly, at the core of it all – breathe through it. All of this wouldn’t be possible without breath. Every wobble evens out with a deep breath; every stretch becomes a little deeper with the exhale.

Now maybe yoga isn’t for you (or maybe you’re like my dad who does “back exercises” instead of a yoga class), but I’ve found the lessons applicable both in yoga and in life – figured they might help you too.