Sunday, December 25, 2011

Reflections of the season

As I sit here with my hands wrapped around a warm mug of spiced orange tea, watching the snow fall gently onto a blanket of white outside with the smell of Christmas cookies wafting through the house and my parents at the table with me laughing about the memories of the past year, I…..

Okay, fine. The above sentiment is stretching it a bit. To be fair I AM drinking tea, but doing so while looking out at a sea of dead brown grass--the first non-white Minnesota Christmas I can remember in a long time. My dad is sitting in the other room reading random news online and my mom is warming up leftovers for lunch. And I’m getting ready to put in a couple hours of work. Cue the Debbie Downer music….wha whaaaa.

But in reality, it’s not so bad. After thinking about where I was last year at this time—sitting at this same table unemployed—I’m grateful to HAVE a job. And it’s lovely to be back at home on vacation, rather than in a state of limbo wondering where I’m going to end up next. I’m happy that my family is lucky enough to have enough food to eat on Christmas day, let alone a surplus of yummy treats to be considered “leftovers.” And as far as my dad sitting on the couch reading about (get ready for this) “ion propulsion” for “satellites and stuff like that,” well, I’m just relived that I’m not the only one in the family who reads weird articles online for kicks. It’s turning out to be a Merry Christmas after all.

But enough reflection for the time-being—let’s get on to some projects! The below little headband I actually started early this year in MN at my favorite little knitting shop. It’s technically an ear-covering, but I wear it more as an accessory. Kim Ong made a beautiful one as well (and totally put me to shame by finishing it in a proper amount of time; read: anything less than 6 months). Hers has buttons but my button holes left a little to be desired, so I decided to close it with a broach—a decision which postponed the finished product another couple of weeks while I embarked on a broach search. In any case, I’m happy with it except for the fact that I put it on upside down for the picture so you can’t see the cabling. I’m too lazy to do a second take, hence the name “lazy winter headband.” Here’s the link for the pattern:

Project number two was commissioned by my sister as a present for my niece—an owl winter hat. I actually completed this in a decent timeline. It has its imperfections, but I think it’s pretty darn cute.

So that’s what I’ve been up to--projects and reading weird articles online. Speaking of which, here’s an good one. Kim O—I was thinking of Aaron when I discovered this little gem:

Cheers my loves—may you be in a state of contentment, reflection, and perhaps craft-ment this Christmas Day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Christmas Crafts

I know it’s not even November, but there has been talk swirling in the air regarding another craft swap, this time with a winter theme. Some folks thought it would be fun to leave the craft up to the creator’s imagination, rather than having everyone create a specific “thing.” I thought I’d put the feelers out in the blogosphere, and in my infinite wisdom decided to google image search “winter crafts” to get into the spirit. About 90% of what I saw were kid’s crafts, presumably intended as presents. Some of these “gifts” reminded me why I need to mature a bit more before having children, if only in the hope that with time I’ll be able to better appreciate what little hands make. Because right now, I don’t. For example:

Exhibit A:

What purpose does this serve? Is this supposed to be “cute”? I find it rather morbid and depressing. “Look mom, I made you a dying snowman! Merry Christmas!”

Exhibit B:

I really don’t like popsicle stick crafts. I feel they’re a cop out somehow. To make this little gem you need the following: 3 craft sticks for each snowflake; white glue [racists!]; glitter, buttons, sequins, craft jewels, etc. They forgot to mention talent.

Exhibit C:

WTF? If I were a bird, I would turn up my beak at this monstrosity. At least make it in the shape of a bell or something. This looks disgusting.

Exhibit D:

And finally…this. I think it speaks for itself.

Okay, no it doesn’t—I have to chime in. Here is the caption that accompanied this item:

"Q: (from "Christa) Oh, there are so many questions that I'd like to ask, but I'm going to keep it simple tonight. You are all very creative and craft and I'm wondering if you have any great ideas for some fun winter crafts.

A: Well Christa, I don't know how crafty we are but we sure are required to get crafty in the dead of winter. or maybe we get a little crazy? Here is one simple idea of craft fun with some things you probably already have in your pantry somewhere."

Hey Christa--I also have a bottle of booze in my pantry, which clearly I loaded up on before coming up with this fantastic craft idea!

Anyway, I’m confident we can do better with our Christmas craft swap. And if you draw my name, don’t worry—I promise I’ll love whatever you make. (As long as it’s not constructed out of popsicle sticks.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Life has a way of working out

(I wrote this while camping near Pincher this past August, and just found it again in my little notebook. :-) Thought I'd share it.)

It is amazing how one's life can change in the course of a year. Twelve months ago today I was preparing to leave the home I had known for the past three years and say goodbye to the amazing friends I had made there. If someone told me that I would be enjoying my 27th birthday with some of those same friends by my side, I wouldn't have believed it. After all, we would soon be living in multiple different places, spread out between two countries. And I was moving back to Minnesota with no clear picture of what I was going to do there--a disconcerting thought to say the least.

I used to be a planner. From my profession (a veterinarian) to the number of horses I would have (4), my life was drawn out like a story book from the age of five. I took solace in knowing the title of the next chapter and exactly how many pages it contained. My goals were more or less written in stone with no foreseeable obstacles keeping me from chiseling in completion checkmarks one by one. Fifteen years of planning were suddenly thrown to the wind as I decided in my 3rd year of college that graduate school in Canada would be a better fit for me than vet school in the midwest USA. My concrete goals weren't as indestructible as I had thought, and to say I was anxious about this decision (i.e. lack of planning) would be an enormous understatement. For one of the first times in my life, I was questioning not only my immediate plans, but the plans I had made for the rest of my life. Was giving up vet school the right choice? I just couldn't shake the feeling that decisions could only be viewed as "right" or "wrong," and there was no way to know what to choose except through experience, by which time it would be too late.

Moving to Canada brought with it so many new and different experiences, and I soon realized that I may never know if I made the "right" choice, but I was confident that it was a good one. My entire outlook--including the way I set my goals--had changed. My time here required flexibility, an open mind, but most importantly an open heart. I still write my goals down, but on a medium more malleable than stone. They became adjustable...amendable. I found myself becoming more adjustable too, and discovered how happy and free I felt by keeping parts of my life as a blank slate--ready and waiting for whatever adventure presented itself. It was difficult to maintain this mantra when I made the decision to move back to Minnesota. As much as I struggled to avoid categorizing this decision as right or wrong, I couldn't help but think it was the latter. Six months of job hunting in my home state proved to be difficult and not without some regrets. But I met wonderful new friends and rekindled old friendships as well. My time at home also showed me just how much I needed to rebuild my own soul. I may not have had a plan for myself, but my life had a plan for me.

And before I knew it, I was on my way back to Alberta to start a new job--this time with some past experiences of an old life, but with a fresh outlook to enjoy a completely different one. It's been unexpected at times and hasn't been without its challenges, but as I sit here now, with my friends from multiple different places by my side and the sun on my shoulders, I'm not worried about whether or not the choice was right or wrong. I'm happier than I've been in a long time and that's all that matters.

Friday, October 7, 2011

life of a commuter part deux

3 reasons why yesterday didn’t suck:

1. As I was lugging my ridiculously heavy suitcase to the train station at 7:30 yesterday morning – a small piece of luggage, with no rollies, but filled with beets and potatoes (UNBC has a farmers’ market every week – I can’t help myself!!), so a bit heavy when added to the computer bag, purse and another food bag - a very nice woman saw me struggling and drove me to the train station. Never met her or seen her before in my life, but I like her!

2. When I got to the train station, the woman behind the desk remembered me from previous trips and erased the $22 service fee VIA was going to charge me for changing my ticket. She has chickens too. They’re not laying very many eggs.

3. The service manager gave me free coffee and tea all day. That’s the clincher for me folks. Give me a warm beverage and we’re friends for life!

Summary: Prince George is a city with the heart of a small town, VIA rail continues to rock, and a hot cup of caffeine would go a long way to making world peace a reality.

Happy Friday.

Friday, September 16, 2011

sewing by hand...

My life has turned up the hectic of late. I'm into the first of 2 semesters of classes where I have to actually be on campus to participate. A brief description of the geography of northern BC: Prince George, home of UNBC is a 4 hour drive, or 6 hour train ride or 5 hour bus ride from Smithers, home of casa Clong. So, in a nutshell, I'm living in both PG and Smithers, which means I'm putting in some frequent rail miles on good 'ol VIA.

I could write an entire post about my love of trains. Traveling across Canada, was amazing. China's trains rocked my world. Literally - 330km/hr on the fast train. wicked. Our next big adventure trip will definitely involve the choo choo. I love the train.
On a train, you can walk around, lie down, stretch out. In China, there's unlimited hot water so you can drink tea all day and all night long. You can see some amazing scenery not possible from the road (in places along the Canadian railroad - you're not beside the highway at all, so the scenes seem so much more intimate...just a few rail tracks and the wilderness).
And of course, you meet some interesting people.
When we took the train across Canada we met another couple traveling for Christmas and shared in the fun of going to the dining car to buy pop for mixing with our illegal alcohol. In China we met a few young people who gave us insight into modern China. And along the Skeena route, there's plenty of loud tourists to laugh at, or with depending on your mood of the day.
There's always a few characters - the drunken man who wanted a cuddle with me while i was asleep and Mark was in the viewing car (I was saved by our friends in the next seat), or the man in China who couldn't hold it in any more and emptied his bladder on the train floor at the back....sigh...those were the days!

All this to say I met a lovely retired couple from Edinburgh yesterday on the train. We chatted about the trees we saw whizzing by the central interior of BC. We chatted about places to see in Scotland. And then my new Scottish friend pulled out some hand sewing.
I of course was so happy to see this, and struck up a conversation about what she was doing. Turns out she's a passionate hand sewer. She believes in the tradition of quilting, using used materials, and incorporating story and meaning into every element of the quilt. This is not something I thought I was into - a lot of traditional quilts give me nausea due to country-bumpkiness. but then I thought about how, when I first got interested in sewing, it was to re-use/recycle fabrics from home or the salvation army. I wanted to make things new from old. And then I fell in love with designer fabrics. This was no ones fault but my own. They are so fun, modern, and un-country-bumpkin. I love getting a package in the mail full of beautiful. But I have to say that I'm re-inspired by my train companion. What better way to learn about traditional patchwork then go through my scraps and other used fabrics and start making something from other things. It was also happy timing, this meeting, because I recently may have flown to Ottawa for a weekend wedding without asking Mr. ( ladies. Dog house). My pledge to make back the money was to give up specialty coffee (who are we kidding!?!), forgo buying my new grinder (i can do that), and giving up new fabric for one year. This is now my goal. I will use only what's in the house or that can be bought used for the rest of the year for all my sewing needs.
Any hexagon help/good reading material would be much appreciated!
Don't you love this stage of making a resolution - when you're full of hope and optimism that you'll actually do it. You know, before the reality of yet another failed project looming on the horizon becomes obvious...

trains and sewing. love.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Tasty Trail Treats!

John and I planned our first backpacking excursion for the summer this past week, an easy 7 km hike into a lakeside campsite on day 1, a fun mountain scramble for day 2, and an easy return trip from the camp site on the final day. Unfortunately, the summer cold I'd just recovered from hit John the day before the trip and we cancelled in favor of lemon honey ginger tea and less energetic pursuits. Lucky for us the trail snacks were already prepared before we cancelled!

John has been off oatmeal since last summers over indulgence, so I decided to try some Banana Oat Energy Bars to mix it up. I LOVE these! Naturally, I thought it best to share the tasty treat.

The recipe for these came from a homemade binder of back country nutrition information I received on an intro to back country skiing two winters ago. I tried another recipe out of the book as well but it was a major bust. I guess you win some and you lose some.

Here it is:
Cream 3/4 cup butter, 1 cup brown sugar, and 1 egg. Add the following:
1.5 cups mashed bananas (I used 4)
1 cup raisins or chocolate chips (I used 1/2 cup of each)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)
1/2 tsp salt
4 cups oats (rolled or quick)
1 Tbsp vanilla (I omitted this as we were all out)

Spread it all into a greased pan and bake at 350 F for about an hour. Enjoy!!

PS. Check out the lovely trivet under the cookies. Its the one I received from Linnea on the trivet exchange.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Last minute finish

I finished my first quilt...about 20 minutes before I showed up at the surprise retirement party for my Mom where I was giving it to her. Nothing like a little time constraint for motivation. Car trips are a good time for hand binding, but not so much when you get motion sickness. Anyway, here is Derek holding up the finished product in the gas station parking lot. Classy!

Not the scenic photo shoot I was imagining to showcase the quilt. Oh well. Also forgot to take some close-ups of the finished quilt, but here is one of me working on the binding while camping.

I'm happy with the finished product (and my Mom loves it!), but definitely learned some lessons along the way. I already have plans for the next two quilts that I want to make :). 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cowgirl Tumbler Quilt

The Cowgirl Quilt has left the building. I struggled a bit with this quilt. My original plan was to do a quilt like the one shown in the photo below. But, I just didn't like this quilt at all. I felt as though there were too many competing patterns in small blocks and the fun cowgirlness of the fabrics was lost. I also hated the solid fabrics. Baby blue and two shades of brown. They couldn't have been more boring.

I started messing around with the layout of the quilt and eventually narrowed it down to this one. First, I liked that I nixed the solids. I also combined the mirror images of two trapezoids to create a larger hexagon block to show off the kitschy cowboy printed pattern. I felt like this quilt worked.

I also pieced together chunks of batting so I didn't have to buy more. I had no idea how to do this (or if I could). I asked Google and got some pretty good ideas and then went for it. Google said to hand stitch. I would rather have just bought more than hand stitch this batting together. I instead used a wide zigzag stitch which seemed to work.  I hope the batting doesn't separated inside the quilt some day. Oh well. That is what the quilting is for, right?

I used red thread for the quilting. I quilted about 1/4" to 1/2" on each side of the zigzag seam. In addition, I stitched the horizontal ditch between each row to help the batting out a bit.

I didn't love the quilt while I was making it. I certainly liked it, but never loved it. By the end though, I did love it. I hope the new baby, Lilyanna, likes her new quilt.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Crafting in the field

Yesterday I crafted.

Now, before you get all excited, wondering “How on earth does that Mara have time to complete field work AND craft?!” please be aware that I have seamlessly combined the two activities.

You see, I am working on these little guys

Which includes putting up little cameras to spy on their every move. These cameras are powered by big ass batteries that require superior strength to transport and set-up.

The batteries are changed about every four days, so in the meantime are in great danger of battery predators: namely, curious cattle.

Sometimes the cows feel like chewing on the cords, other times they like nothing better than giving the battery system a good kick. Basically, they enjoy creating holes in our data set.
We do have some beautiful cattle guards waiting around for me to pick up, but until that happens, I created the below masterpiece by lugging around various logs and sticks and placing them in pokey positions.


Ain’t she a beaut? I like to think so.

Monday, June 6, 2011


I have an affliction.

Every time I am almost done a simple sewing project, I always decide to make it "better" (a.k.a. complicated beyond words). This usually translates to a disastrous end product.

I blame patterns.  I get near the end of the pattern, the finished project within 2 seams of being done, and I think to myself, "Wow, that was so easy.  This looks so good.  I should probably make my life a complete disaster now by doing something really hard." I swear that those exact words pulse through my brain.

Case in point: This past weekend I decided to make a lunch bag. I found this free and cute pattern:

I duly read the instructions and all the comments.  I noted that Ellen said "zipper...great idea....some sort of suggestion [along the lines of 'don't use this pattern if you want to have a zipper']...would make zipper easier"

Fast forward 2 hours. Outer layer sewn. Lining sewn. Just need to stitch the tops together.

Kim decides to add a zipper.

Kim immediately forgets that it was suggested that this design would be difficult to add a zipper.  Kim goes for it.

Kim spends the next 4 hours ripping, sewing, turning inside out, ripping, sewing, ripping, sewing, flipping, and swearing. Of course, the entire time I was thinking to myself: I could just take out this zipper and go back to the original plan. But I really wanted a zipper!

I ended up having to rip off the metal piece that prevents the zipper from falling off:

The zipper fell off many times.  Often when the bag was guts out.

Speaking of guts bag herniated. A lot.

I almost herniated. A lot. Especially when this happened:

In the end, I finally completed her. It wasn't pretty, but I manage to suture up this puppy after a number of botched surgeries.

I do adore the bag. I love that it is lined with waterproof fabric and that the zipper can either be fully zippable or semi-unzippable,  and I even love that I wish that I had put a pocket in it.

Also, it now has a dual purpose: it's a lunch bag AND a daily reminder that I am delusional at best when it comes to improvisational sewing.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

at home work attire

It's been a good week of posts on Offbeat home - here's one that totally applies to the grad student types - what do you wear when you work from home??

I'm a jeans (only those that are already on their way out) or carhartts with a t-shirt, hoody (or some other large and comfy sweater) and often a tuque (not always because i'm cold...sometimes i just like wearing a tuque) kindof girl.

What do you think...does dressing up increase at-home work productivity? Or do pajamas keep you comfy and therefore productive?


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Love Letter Quilt, check.

Rain over May Long certainly helped me be productive... on my hobbies. I finished my second quilt! It measure 87" by 84". I was thinking I may have to ship it out to be quilted, but I had a hard time swallowing the cost. Fear Not!! I pushed that sucker through the sewing machine. The quilting isn't amazing, but it works.

I definitely had a lot of assistance from the blond girl who tends to be very helpful. Here she is helping me pin fabric together.

My red-headed step child is less helpful. He just makes himself quite comfortable on any project I am working on.

I can't believe I didn't take more photos of the creative ways I tried to hold up the quilt while sewing various parts. Here is a picture of how it was positioned while sewing on the binding. I need a bigger table.

Here she be! The brown is really not that dark. I am not quite sure what happened in this photo.

A view of the back.

Here it is on my bed. I am now in desperate need of pillows. Lots and Lots of pillows. Beautifying the rest of my room will have to wait until I own a house. 

So, who is up for a summer project that is still around Edmonton? I am reupholstering a chair and really have no idea what to do. I am going to rely on online tutorials and perhaps buy a book. If anyone wants to help or wants to have a "reupholster old furniture" weekend, stop on by.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Home ownership...

Hey friends,

I just read this post on offbeat home:

it's got a few good tips on things to think about for all of you who are venturing into the world of home ownership. I don't pretend to be an expert...but i thought she made some good points.

Also - for all of you who have bought fabric online, but haven't responded to my post about fabric shopping...tut tut tut. If you do so soon, I will no longer name one of our meat chickens after you...and we all know what happens to meat chickens...

upon answering my post, I will return to Dustin's name suggestion for the meat birds of "Delicious".

A post about "how to buy chicks before the chicken coop is done and your life turns into a whirlwind of chaos, so I left to go to Prince George for a committee meeting to let Mark deal with the disaster, and stink-eye (the sick) chick died, and that made me sad" to follow....


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Fabric shopping...

Alright. So in case you guys don't know, I live in a pretty small town, that although beautiful in so many ways, lacks in the funky fabric department (read: wolf howling at moon and fish jumping). There is one local online fabric store from a nearby town (which is awesome: Fishskin fabrics - have I mentioned she's a former fisheries biologist who has taken on this new career...hint hint...any one of us can quit science at any time to make beautiful things fulltime...well - in theory!), but so far she hasn't been stocking a lot of the fabrics I'm into.

Basically, wedding season is about to begin, I have a new niece and a home to make things for, so I need some fabric shopping advice that won't put me in the poor house. To date, I've ordered from Sew Mama Sew, Hawthorne Threads and the Purl Bee, depending on who's got a sale on or who on any given day, for whatever reason stocks the exact same fabric, at a totally different price from the other sites!!!! wtf my friends. That's - I said it.

Here's my questions to you:

1. Where do you most often buy your fabric online?
2. Have you found any one site that consistently has better prices?
3. What about shipping?...they all seem to vary in how much they charge to ship to the great white north
4. Are there any awesome sites I'm missing out on?

Many thanks in advance for helping me out with this hugely important, internationally significant issue.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A quilt, some trivets and some decoration

Hey Hey,

So, I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but sadly have been distracted by stats...yup - there's that science component of our blog again! So I've got a few things to show...

First I made some trivets. Are they amazing? not really. Perfect? far from it! But they were completed :) I also apparently forgot to take photos of the completed projects, so here's a few of the process:

The first one is a needle felted trivet. I made it by hand felting raw wool around a polyfill inner that I also needle felted to stick together. This basically involved squishing it all in hot soapy water and letting it dry several times until I figured out how to do this. First time...

Then I needle felted some pretty squirly strips of alpaca fleece (not seen here).
The second trivet was linen with a stipe of cotton fabrics.

I've decided linen is difficult to work with, and yet I'll love it anyways. Here's a pic of my very first homemade bias strip:

Next up, I added a fabric border to a mola I bought years ago in Panama and mounted it on canvas. I should have taken a picture of where it now lives in our house, but sadly, it's been living on the floor against the wall that I'm pretty sure is where I want it...for about 4 months. Gotta get on that!

Here it is. I can't take any credit for the design...all I did was add the blue fabric to the outside.

Did I attach the fabric to the canvas with duct tape? yes indeed. In my defense the duct tape was blue....

Lastly, my first quilt!! The only person worthy of this is my beautiful brand new niece Evelyn! She was born April 9th (a few weeks early), and I was lucky enough to meet her on my way through Vancouver this week. I hope it keeps her warm on those dreary Vancouver nights.

I went with a simple blocky pattern, and had the wonderful plan of free-motion quilting. Needless to say that didn't work out so well (you can ask Linnea - she got the panic call a few days before I needed to get it done!!)

Here's the layout

Making my first quilt sandwich:

The world's best model holding it up after it was all done. I quilted beside each square, and at the ends, just "made" squares freehand. Worked out ok...

I went with a fleecy purple back and plain yellow for the binding. I figured this would work for a spring baby...also I can't handle too much pink:)
Here it is all ready to go. Card curtesy of Unik printshop - as usual!
I've gotta run...hope the spring is bringing in some sunshine and new outdoor crafty activities!!