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December 30, 2012

Twenty Minutes

Apparently, my brain believes twenty minutes is just the right amount of time for almost anything. Fifteen minutes is too short to be useful or worthwhile for any task. Why bother on fifteen minutes of anything? And thirty minutes is too much, exhausting. My brain cannot imagine committing to thirty minutes of some stupid self-improvement task each day for a whole month.

Yet I'm totally down with committing to twenty minutes every day of exercise, or decluttering, or conjugating French verbs, or doing paperwork.

Weird brain.

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I have ruled people in under twenty minutes.

Posted by laurie at 1:57 PM

December 28, 2012

My favorite time of the year

The little space between Christmas and New Year's Day is my favorite time of the entire year. I love the possibility that comes with a fresh start. And is there any bigger fresh start than a whole new calendar year?

This is the time when you can let go of all the ways you goofed up or failed or fell behind because you're thisclose to starting all over again. That's how I think of the new year, a reboot, a clean slate, a fresh start.

I usually make resolutions because the only thing I love more than the promise of a new year is the hope-filled temptation of a new list. Some years my lists have been long and detailed, some years my resolutions are just a concept or a single word (or four).

Next year -- also known as "three days from now" -- I've decided to use my life as a little personal science experiment. I vow to spend the 365 days of 2013 doing all the things I keep saying I'm going to do but haven't gotten around to. If I discover that a certain task or activity comes up and I have the deepest urge to postpone or avoid it, I'm going to finally cross it off my life's to-do list and stop carrying it around. Or I might outsource it, or scale it down, or figure out why I'm avoiding it but there is no more postponing. This year is about transforming my day-to-day life not with grand gestures or Big Dreams or radical life changes. It is about finishing what I started and holding myself accountable for all the things I say I want.

Two months ago we hired on a temporary project coordinator for the Art Department. Our schedules had become hectic and projects were rolling in with no tracking and if you have ever worked with a group of artists you may know that we are not the best at things like "budget guidelines" and "email" and "tracking project hours using a spreadsheet." The new coordinator is a tiny little woman who lives on a houseboat and wears Uggs and laughs easily. Entertainment isn't her chosen field and I think we're driving her crazy, but she puts up with us. She's in her mid-fifties and we sit near each other and chat a lot, I like her. We're in different stages of our lives but we're both entering a year of Big Change.

The day before the studio closed for the holidays we were chatting about the break and our plans and she told me something that I can't shake.

"I decided to go to Arizona for the holidays," she said. "I have friends there that I just love and I need to be around them and start looking for a home and a new job -- a permanent place in my field that I feel right about. So I'm going."

"Wow," I said. "That's quick. That's ... tomorrow."

"If I don't do it now, then when?" she said. "I know one thing for sure, if I stay here the months will turn into years and before I know it, three or four years will have gone by and I'm still not where I want to be."

She paused for a minute. Then she looked at me and said, "I don't want to wake up one day and find out I'm 60 years old and I spent the last five years in limbo, just waiting to be happy."

This little off-hand conversation has stayed with me every day since. She's right -- days turn into weeks and months and before you know it you've been living in a temporary apartment for 21 months and putting off finishing your book because you're scared of sucking and working for someone else for 12 hours a day instead of writing.

Wisdom comes when you most need it.

I spent most of last night working on my list, drafting a schedule with tangible dates and little rewards (and a few big rewards) for accomplishment. Planning for a year this way sounds like hell to some folks, but it makes me feel happy and a little overwhelmed and a bit scared and a lot relieved. Mostly I feel hopeful. I'm at my worst when I'm avoiding stuff and ignoring my to-do list or not making a list at all. I'm at my best when I push myself, motivate myself, and keep a schedule. I'm at my best when I'm making an effort.

These next three days are my time to eat, drink, be merry and thankful. It's also my time to be quiet and still and make the list of everything I want to do "someday" and set about a plan to make it happen or take it off the list forever.

If I don't do it now, then when?

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You could feed me now.

Posted by laurie at 10:15 AM

December 19, 2012

Cute Overload: The tiniest little baby cardigan

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One of my favorite friends is about to become a first-time dad. In just a few days he'll be meeting his new son and I wanted to give him something soft and warm to celebrate his happy new arrival. I selected this pattern because it reminded me of the cardigans my friend wears to work, and I thought his son would look nifty dressed just like dad.

The pattern for this tiny treasure is the chunky cardigan from Simple Knits for Cherished Babies and I used supercotton in pure white. Unfortunately this yarn has been discontinued, like every yarn I have ever loved in my life, how do they know? Is there an early warning system deployed to all yarn companies that alerts them as soon as I fall in love with a beautiful fiber so they can immediately discontinue it?

The pattern calls for Rowan all-seasons cotton yarn, which has not been discontinued. I like the Skacel yarn, though, it's incredibly soft and smooshy.

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One of the best features of this pattern is the use of chunkier yarn. I like a knit that won't take me 25 years to finish (especially as babies tend to arrive whether you have completed the piece or not). But I'm torn about whether to recommend this particular pattern to my knitting friends. The final product turned out really well, but the pattern was sometimes hard to follow and had a lot of mistakes (even after finding the errata online I still found math errors). The sweater is knitted in five pieces, which means you're doing a LOT of seaming for such a tiny garment, and those seams can easily become much too bulky if you aren't careful. The pattern looked like I had gone all Beautiful Mind on it by the time I was all done.

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There's a lot of blocking and seaming required in this pattern, but the end result is undeniably adorable. I really appreciated the classic design and the chunkier yarn and it was fun searching for just the perfect buttons. If you're willing to give the pattern some patience the result is really sweet and worth the effort.

I love knitting baby items for dear friends, it's my way of welcoming a tiny new person to the world and trying keep them cozy.

And oh, how tiny...!

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Posted by laurie at 12:26 PM

December 13, 2012

Tree of Life

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I live here now, in this tree.


For the first time in eight years I decided to get a real Christmas tree. Of course I decided this during the one year I am living at the top of a three-story walkup, nonetheless, Happiest Time of the Year!

It wasn't until I got the tree home that it dawned on me Bob and Frankie have never had a real Christmas Tree. Frankie has been living in the tree since Saturday. She thinks she is a wild forest cat.

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Forest cat waits for Meow Mix to arrive.

She has sap and pine needles stuck to her fur and she smells like Christmas. It's wonderful. And those tiny tots, with their eyes all aglow? In my home the glowing eyes are coming from inside the lower 1/3 of the tree. The tree has been summited several times, like cats to Everest they are called to climb it. There was a light incident yesterday that resulted in all the lights coming off the bottom of the tree and the cats gathered 'round to feel the collected warmth.

I found a snowflake ornament in my shoe this morning, how it got off the tree and moved across the room and deposited into a patent-leather spectator pump one will never know.

These are the mysteries of Christmas cat.

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Posted by laurie at 6:10 AM

December 7, 2012

Wild Kingdom

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Posted by laurie at 8:23 AM

December 6, 2012

Come on, feel the noise

That's my neighborhood: just a collection of ridiculous noises that make you want to stab someone in the foot.

Last night we had high-pitched beeps in a wailing Morse code pattern. Most nights there's a symphony of mystery car alarms and helicopters. With the holiday season comes honking from the boulevard, a nice touch. In the mornings we have the excruciatingly loud garbage trucks and the weird dumpster-retrieving vehicle that makes loud quack-quacks when it's in reverse. Last Sunday afternoon a neighbor's alarm clock started going off at 4 p.m.

Brother, I do not know why you needed an alarm set for 4 p.m. or why it played In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida over and over for an hour, but when I find out who you are I will secretly give you the finger when you turn your back.


- - -


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I WAS SLEEPING

Posted by laurie at 8:20 AM

December 3, 2012

Meet you at the crossroads

I'm at a hair crossroads: go lighter or go darker. I thought about this dilemma while sitting pensive-faced in a meeting, I made pro/con lists while driving home in knotty traffic, I pondered this hair dilemma while my neighbor told me some important news about his guitar.

And now I am telling you. Thank God someone invented the internet for us to share this way. Makes you feel good to have lived this long.

- - -

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Shut up and turn the toy back on.

Posted by laurie at 11:07 PM

December 2, 2012

The totally do-able 12-month plan

While I love lists and bullet points and I am pretty sure my tombstone will be engraved in powerpoint, I've never actually made a life plan before. A five-year plan is simply too much. This is a post-recession world, people. Who has a five-year plan?

But I've read the financial literature and enough self-help to fill a landfill. What I know for sure is that I hate expensive surprises and I love vacations, so I am scaling a bit smaller and making a 12-month plan.

Hello, December 2012. I heard you were in town. Rumor has it you're the last month ever. Obviously the Mayans just ran out of bricks or whatever and the world is not really ending in 21 days. Just in case, though, I only paid the minimums on my credit cards. Furthermore I had half a tamale and a Bloody Mary for breakfast so consider the source.

The 12-Month Plan
Usually people who talk about planning have certificates of self-helpism and they expect you to floss and write thank-you notes and do sit-ups and take fish oil and eat vegetables.

Not me. I'm faulty at all of the above, but I love planning. I love lists and post-it notes and even little scribbles on the back of envelopes. I plan because it gives me the illusion that I have control over a world that defies controlling. It may make no difference at all but I FEEL better, and that is quantifiable.

The purpose of this 12-month plan is to make me feel prepared, philosophical, and taller.

How and why does one make a one-year plan?
I am making this plan to plot out financial necessities and save up instead of going into debt. You can plan for fun, for obligation and for the heck of it. It's just a year -- flexible, realistic and do-able for 12 months.

Take out a pad and paper, draw some boxes, make it twelve. For this plan I assume you have already mapped out your monthly expenses and know your fixed costs. (Check out the low-fi budget sheet if you're new to this.)

Use the 12-month map to plot out basic needs:

1) Looming life must-haves (dentist bill, car fixed, new phone, larger expenses that fall outside the fixed expenses.) Just jot it on the map. Add any details you have -- amount, date of bill, reason, whatever. This is the stuff you can't put off. Include tax time, insurance, doctor, family obligations, birthdays, whatever touchpoints are must-haves in your life. Think about commitments of time, money, or necessity. Where do you need to upgrade in your life? Is it time to start planning for a car? Computer? Lasik?

2) Happy wants. This is different from must-haves. These are nice-to-haves (a prettier coat, join a club, go on a date, hair appointment, vacation, better electronics, botox, volunteering, new kitten.) Sure, you could live without it but this is the stuff that keeps you sane, motivated, delighted. It adds function and excitement to your life road map. Ideally these goals make you happy and help bring your life picture into focus. Everyone has different wants and needs. You'll figure it out.

3) Personal desires (learn a song on the guitar, credit card paid off in X month, classes completed, paint the bedroom, 10 push-ups by June, read X books each month, one new recipe every quarter, big macs every 4th Sunday, learn basic conversational Norwegian.) Everyone has a few personal wish list items, this is your time to plot them out over the next twelve months. Don't overload. Pick just the most important. This is the future version of you, the version you want to be by year's end. The best version of you loves these goals.

That's it.

This is the process flow of 12 months at a time, a way to start planning for financial bumps and understanding which months have a heavier cost than others. You get to cross stuff out, move it to the future pile, forget it. You aren't caught off guard. You also get to see what lies ahead: Are you over scheduled before the year starts? Are you empty on happy wants? Are you a little light on personal desires?

This drawing activity got me thinking about the year I want to have ahead and what kind of life I want to shape in 2013, assuming the world doesn't end. Come next December I sure would like to know I flossed and read books and remembered my nephew's birthday. I'd also like to know I lived a little, met my obligations but didn't break myself doing it.

It's not about crossing off list items this time -- it's about projecting a picture of yourself into the future. Pick who you want to be and set about becoming that version of yourself. Distill your path into 12 boxes of movement. Plan for bumps and expenses, build in time for expansions and space to grow. Use drawing to get yourself where you want to be.

That's what I am doing. We'll see if it worked next year.

Posted by laurie at 10:12 PM