Since finishing my giant squid, I’ve been looking for interesting but easy needlework projects. I made some more crocheted owls but got bored. (Note to self: if you’ve memorized the pattern, you might want to move on to something else.) I got out my copy of Teeny-Tiny Mochimochi by Anna Hrachovec and made a bunch of things I haven’t tried before. Here are a few of them.

More crocheted owls designed by NAME. (Click photo to get to free pattern.)

More crocheted owls designed by Bunny Mummy. (Click photo to get to free pattern.)

First up was chickens. They were cute and fun (and TINY!), so I made several.

chickens (2)_web

Then I tried some other “natural” knits: a pear and a cactus. The pattern has eyes on all these little things, even the inanimate stuff, but I don’t always like how they look, so I left them off of these two. My pear is anemic-looking because my collection of cotton yarns didn’t have the right shade of green in it.

pear_web

cactus_web

Last of all, I finally made one of the projects from the holiday chapter: the Christmas tree. It’s too tiny to be a traditional ornament, so I think I’ll put a pin on the back so I can wear it next December.

Xmas tree_web

What are your favorite cute knit and crochet projects?

There are no new ideas. There are only new presentations. — Deborah Robson

I’m currently reading a book I should love (Hild, by Nicola Griffith). It’s historical fiction set in 7th c. England, only a century later than the setting I’ve chosen for my novelization of Rapunzel. Hild is full of words, concepts, and details I’ve been swimming in for years as I’ve researched pagan Anglo-Saxon England. Reading her book is like returning to a place I’ve visited many times before.

Hild

So why is this novel making me shake in my boots? Mostly, because Griffith is doing her job so well. She’s using Anglo-Saxon terms I’ve never seen before for relationships common to both centuries and has me wondering if I’ve used the wrong ones myself. She even has the thing I’ve been beating the bushes for — an unfamiliar word for “witch” — and again, it’s a word I’ve never encountered. When I’ve finished reading this book, I’ll look up the words she’s chosen to see where they’ve come from. Even if they are perfect for what I want, I may not be able to bring myself to use them, however, for fear of looking like a copy-cat.

This problem of not being able to enjoy reading books that are of great interest to me has been a problem since the day I started working on Rapunzel. Deciding to explore a well-known fairy tale meant sharing the skeleton of my story with other writers. Even Disney has put out a movie version of Rapunzel in the years that I’ve been working on my book, and every variation on Rapunzel out there has scared me. If I weren’t wading through the bog pulling my story bit by bit out of the muck, I’d be diving into these other books, hoping to love them.

My goofy fear is that someone will “beat me to it” and write the book I am trying to write. The writer who won’t tell you their idea for fear you will steal it is in this exact same boat. But no one is going to tell Rapunzel’s story exactly the way I am, and I’m pretty sure no one is going to even get close, because I’ve decided on such a specific historical setting. And yet, this is one of the reasons Hild is scary for me. The familiar world of her book makes it feel like Griffith has beat me to it, even though her heroine is a historic figure, and mine is a fairy tale icon.

The other thing that initially kept me from reading other versions of Rapunzel, and even from seeing the Disney version more than once, is the fear that I will unwittingly incorporate another’s ideas into my story. I have put so much work into this novel already that the last thing I want is someone saying I stole this or that from someone else. But as my writer friend Deb Robson reminded me, there are no new ideas. Everything in my book will ultimately be stolen from somewhere. It’s just a question of how obvious it will be.

I’m a little sad that I can’t just relax and enjoy reading Hild. It’s so exactly my kind of book! Perhaps I’ll be able to read it again in the future in a more relaxed state, maybe after Rapunzel is truly finished, or at least after I’ve made it through once and realized that the book Griffith wrote is not the book I am writing. But what I really do not want is for Hild to scare me into silence.

As soon as I finish the revision I am working on, I will return to Rapunzel. I want my fairy-tale adaptation to be a glowing tapestry, to make the rich life of the Dark Ages understandable to a modern audience as well as provide an interesting situation to help explain the odd details of Rapunzel’s story. I’m hoping I can do it half as well as Griffith has done with her Hild. In the meantime, all I can do is work at emulating her example without falling into the trap of copying her.

Are you ever afraid to read? How does the work of others affect you?

Apparently, the number one thing you can do to increase the chance of good health in your senior years is to exercise now. Even the shortest walk is better than not moving at all, so my new goal is to move daily without being too strict about what counts as moving. Gardening and walking the dog both count, as does anything I do while at the gym.

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Of course, setting the goal to do something every single day is scary. I’ve failed so many times before. I hoped I’d develop a daily drawing habit by taking a drawing class, but it didn’t happen. Some part of my brain hates the idea that I need to do something every single day, even if it’s as simple as brushing my teeth.

But I was serious about getting in better shape and moving every day, so I decided I needed to develop a new habit. Fortunately, I found Gretchen Rubin’s new book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. I read it eagerly and reflected on my past experiences with exercising.

When I was younger, there was a period where I exercised six days a week. While belonging to a gym helped, because it provided the classes and equipment that formed my workouts, the real secret to my success was my commitment to exercising first thing every morning. I got up early and went to the gym before I went to work. It was a habit, something I just did without question, and it worked. I’ve argued against this strategy ever since because mornings became increasingly harder as I got older (mostly due to health problems).

morning-yoga-exercising-pup-humor-demotivational-posters-13313548451

Thanks to the changes I’ve made in the last two years (including diet and light therapy), I am now much more of a morning person than I used to be. I wake up easily instead of dragging for hours after I get out of bed. For the first time in years, I was willing to consider the idea of going back to an exercise-first-thing schedule. Some of the tricks I am using to build this new habit are from Better Than Before, but some I’ve learned on my own.

1) It’s easier to do something every day than now and then. Gretchen Rubin has been saying this forever, but it’s one of the harder ideas for me to apply. I think of doing something every single day as a tedious chore or worse, setting myself up for failure. So I’ve made my rule a little less strict: get up early and exercise first thing, Monday thru Friday. I still have the goal to move daily, but on the weekend I don’t require myself to do it first thing. With a husband who loves to hike, a dog who loves to run, a big yard to maintain, and the gym waiting on bad weather days, it’s not hard to get moving on the weekend.

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2) No excuses. According to Rubin, once you allow yourself to miss a day for some reason, you make it easier to skip again until suddenly your new habit is no more. For me, no excuses means I don’t look for a reason to make an exception today. One day during my first week of the new schedule. I was awake for half the night. It would have been an easy morning to rationalize skipping the gym because even though I was awake well before the alarm went off, I felt awful. I got up and went to the gym anyway. I spent some time on an exercise bike and doing a handful of free-weight exercises. It was hardly the most intense or comprehensive workout I ever had, but it met my goal of moving daily, and it kept me on track with building my new exercise-first-thing habit.

In her book, Rubin talks a lot about setting ourselves up for success. The easier it is to make the right choice in the moment, the more likely we are to stick with the new, healthier habit we are trying to form. In the old days, going to the gym before going to work was a great choice for me because I was already getting in the car to go somewhere. Now that I work at home, getting in the car takes effort, so I do everything I can to make the rest of the process easier.

3) Pack your gym bag and lay out your workout clothes the night before. This makes getting out the door in the morning quick and easy, and removes the possibility I’ll talk myself out of going because I’m not ready. The other big advantage to packing the night before is that I can be pretty sure I’ll remember everything. Finding out I forgot a bra or a brush can be annoying to say the least. But a bag I packed the night before is likely to have everything I need in it. (I could make it even easier on myself by making a packing list to use when I get my bag ready. But I’m not that organized… yet.)

4) Park in the same place in the parking lot. This sounds totally goofy, but I’ve found out that just because I’m awake at 5:30 in the morning doesn’t mean I’m paying attention. My first few days at the gym, it took me longer than I care to admit to remember where I’d parked. So I make it a habit to park in the same section of the parking lot every time, so I have a much smaller area to search if I can’t remember exactly where I left the car.

5) Use the same locker every day, or at least a locker in the same section. This is like the parking trick: it helps me find my locker quickly when I come back from class without having to rack my brains to remember where I put my stuff.

6) Pick exercises you like. I’m currently taking water aerobics three times a week. I love splashing around in the pool and the fact that I can work out hard without getting too hot or injuring myself.

7) If you intend to do an exercise you don’t enjoy, find some other way to make it fun. Half an hour on a stationary bike isn’t my idea of fun. Reading for half an hour is. So I read whenever I’m on the bike. I also make repetitive stretching exercises more interesting by listening to podcasts while I do them.

8) Make friends with the instructor and the other students. This is an extension of #5. Getting to know people in my classes makes it more fun, because then I have people to chat and joke with. I look forward to seeing them, and that’s one more thing to help get me to the gym on time.

9) Get to bed early. (This is also one of Rubin’s favorites.) It’s hard enough to get up when it’s still dark outside. A short night of sleep can make it even harder. Get the rest you need to help make that early morning a little easier to face.

10) Give yourself credit for everything. Whether I spend fifteen minutes walking the dog or a full hour in an intense gym class, I give myself a gold star for moving that day. I still have days where my health and energy aren’t all that great, and if I don’t give myself credit for what I am able to do on those days, I’ll be likely to tell myself “it isn’t worth it” and stop trying at all.

Do you have an exercise habit? What tricks do you use to help yourself stick with it? What things have gotten in your way?

I’ve been trying to figure out how to spend my birthday money. The list has gotten so long that I now have way more I want to buy than money to spend. The list includes everything from new headphones to a new dictionary to yarn for a big project to a new purse. Suddenly, it hit me. What if I combined two of my wants into one? I could cross two things off my list and save a little money in the process.

I ruled out knitting headphones and went straight for knitting a new bag. Not that I need any, really. I’m a bit of a bag junkie. I’ve got plenty of them lying around and yet I’m always ready to add one more to the collection. I’ve knit some bags before, including the colorful East Meets West Satchel designed by Kerin Dimeler-Laurence. So I know the joy of making my own bags.

East Meets West Satchel made by Kit Dunsmore from a kit; designed by Kerin Dimeler-Laurence.

East Meets West Satchel made by Kit Dunsmore from a kit; designed by Kerin Dimeler-Laurence.

As soon as it occurred to me that I might make my new bag myself, I was online looking for ideas. Here are some of the ones that appealed to me most. (None of them actually look like the bag I think I need, but that’s not that important, right?) Some are projects made by individuals, others are available as patterns or kits from distributors. I’m not endorsing or guaranteeing anything or anyone, just sharing the things I found interesting.

The first project that caught my eye was a wonderful crocheted house bag by The Twisted Yarn. An original design, this bag has lots of lovely detail on the outside plus some good design features (like a lining) that would make it a bag you can actually use. (The pattern is not available yet, but she says it will be soon.)

The Twisted Yarn's crocheted house bag.

The Twisted Yarn’s crocheted house bag.

The Twisted Yarn's house bag is lined, and everything. Sweet!

The Twisted Yarn’s house bag is lined, and everything. Sweet!

While I am theoretically looking for a new purse, I found myself perusing backpacks instead. The patterns were more whimsical and appealing to my “I refuse to be a grown-up” tastes. Morehouse Farm carries a bunch of kits for animal-themed bags and backpacks that are probably intended for kids. My favorite design? The elephants, both the backpack and the little purse.

Elephant Backpack kit by Morehouse Farm

Elephant Backpack kit by Morehouse Farm

A lovely backpack by InfiniKnits uses entrelac knitting in rainbow colors for a cheery effect.

InfiniKnits' knit backpack

InfiniKnits’ knit backpack

Just as colorful is Made By Julianne’s string bag. This knit bag would be very handy on shopping day.

Made By Julianne's knit string bag

Made By Julianne’s knit string bag

Most of the bags I’ve knit myself are simple drawstring bags, so I have to include a few of those, too. Knitwhits’ striped drawstring bag (available both as a pattern and a kit) is knitted and reminds me of my grandmother’s afghans.

Knitwhits' Roma bag; a knit bag with a crocheted afghan look.

Knitwhits’ Roma bag; a knit bag with a crocheted afghan look.

I also found a pattern for a drawstring bag covered with cables. It looks like a great project for someone interested in practicing cables without committing to a sweater.

Cable bag (Sandra Singh)

Cable That Bag! (Gardiner Yarn works)

I still haven’t decided how to spend my birthday money, but at least I had fun looking at all these different projects and sharing them with you.

I turned fifty last month. I’m still trying to get my head around the number. When I was a kid, thirty seemed ancient beyond conception. So that makes fifty nursing home material, right? What staggers me most is how I knew it was coming and I didn’t really think about it in advance. I’ve been avoiding sitting down to look at it closely, which is odd. I usually love to pick things apart.

Proof that I'm old.

Proof that I’m old.

A lifelong friend who is smarter than I am realized the distressing aspects of a fiftieth birthday and came up with a way to think differently about this milestone year. She defined a challenge for herself so she can grow older without regrets. Focusing on having new experiences and learning new things is a direct and effective way to challenge our assumptions about aging.

Despite her good example, my birthday came and went without me knowing how I feel about turning fifty and what I should do about it, if anything. I started looking around for answers, but most of what I’ve found has been more disturbing than reassuring.

I picked up a magazine called Fifty & Better at the doctor’s office and started to read an article about conscious aging. I still don’t know what conscious aging is about because the first paragraph had me hyperventilating. It said that when we reach fifty, it’s time to consider how we want to spend the last third of our lives.

Third? THIRD?!? That means it’s over at seventy-five, and I’m not sure I like that idea. Twenty-five years is a blink of the eye. I’ve been out of college for more than twenty-five years now, and it doesn’t seem all that long ago. I’ve got relatives in their eighties and I’d like to think I can make it there, too. My sexagenarian friends were generous and told me fifty is only halfway. Even my conservative friend put forty-five at halfway, meaning that at fifty, I have 45% of my life yet to live.

As I was trying to get that disturbing statistic out of my head, I came across more exciting news. Apparently, the unhappiest adult years are fifty-one to fifty-five, which puts the pit right in front of me. I’d like to think that my unhappiest years are already past. I went through an unhappy marriage and divorce. What could make the early fifties any worse? The only explanation I can come up with is that most people get their first colonoscopy at fifty and it takes a good five years to forget what it was like.

When I think about aging gracefully, I look to my in-laws, who are in their nineties and have been living independently until just recently. My father-in-law has taken some dramatic tumbles over the years, and while he’s had some horrific bruises, he’s never broken a bone. Part of the reason they have been so healthy for so long is all the effort they put in to staying active and eating a healthy diet throughout their retirement years.

As a result, I’ve made daily exercise a new priority. I am getting up early to get to the gym. I’m trying to figure out who to talk to about my mildly cranky knee, because I’d rather do PT now than surgery later. I’m following through on mammograms and physicals and blood tests and, yes, even colonoscopies. I’m trying to make informed decisions about my health. I want a long life if I can get it, but a healthy life would be even better.

Fifty isn’t the finish line, it’s the starting line. The choices I make on a daily basis will determine what shape I’m in when I finally reach the real finish line, whenever that day comes. For me, turning fifty is like living in Colorado: not once in my youth did I ever imagine myself in this place, and yet here I am. Colorado has turned out be fantastic, so I have high hopes for the years to come.

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