A World In Miniature

Terrarium workshop @ Terrain

I don’t know what it is about things in miniature that makes me feel all warm inside, but I cannot deny the extreme adorable factor of all things tiny. I love babies and kittens and teeny buttons and all manner of other doodads. The thought of creating a miniature garden ecosystem under glass seemed like a ridiculous amount of fun; the same kind of fun I used to have arranging my PlayMobile dollhouse and its inhabitants as a child.

This weekend, A. and I delved into the newly popular world of terrariums. Terrain at Styer’s has been hosting a record number of their very popular terrarium workshops and we were eager to learn how one can plant, grow, and maintain an entire body of living organisms within a container with minimal effort. The concept of bringing nature inside really appeals to me now that we’re almost mid-winter and I am continually trudging through snow drifts. Creating a terrarium feels like a meditative process as I consider the aesthetic of my design. The fluid motion of the glass vessel; the texture, color, shape, and height of the plants; the rich, loamy smell of the soil…all of these are things I considered as I set about creating a miniature wonderland. It feels wonderful to be under the bright sun streaming through the greenhouse windows on a cold, January day working my hands in dirt and remembering that there are monumental, natural changes occurring beneath all that snow.

Compared to some of the other workshop participants, and A.s spectacular example, my terrarium is rather minimalist with a wide, flat-leafed Strawberry Begonia, cheeky pink Joseph’s coat, a creeping bit of Baby’s Tears, and a strikingly red striped specimen that I cannot name. A layer of deep green moss holds the soil and creates a lush carpet should I ever decide to add a gnome for a hint of whimsy. I added a few smooth pebbles that turn a lovely shade of turquoise when wet and some porcupine quills that I acquired in South Africa for visual interest. I love how the slender, striped shape of the quills are reminiscent of bare trees in winter.

My creation is now happily at home on my desk where it can bask in the diffuse winter light and remind me that spring is, indeed, coming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New “F” Word: Fitness

Oh where to begin, where to begin!

Last week, I cried mid-session in front of my personal trainer. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t devolve into any Biggest Loser-esque whiny, tearful moments. My leg, from calf to tippy toes, had gone all pins and needles and my lower back was hurting so much that I was beginning to doubt its ability to keep my hips and legs going. I had a horrific thought that I’d developed a DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and that a pulmonary embolism was imminent. Why else wouldn’t I be able to feel half of my leg? I think I had a panic attack right there in the middle of the strength training equipment until I came back to hearing my trainer say “come on, keep it up, keep moving, a little faster!”

No, I cannot go a little faster! This IS as fast as I can move in this body. Seeing my distress, he finished the workout with me, distracting me with idle chat about god-knows-what now. I checked my foot – good color, good pulses. I loosened my sneaker laces and wiggled my toes. The leg would be saved. I would not die at 26 from a blood clot shooting to my lungs. I might die of that, though, if I don’t stay committed to this new thing in my life called fitness.

Later that night, I realized my insoles were pressing painfully on my arches. I replaced the original insoles and – voila! – no more pins and needles.

I’ve always thought of fitness as something for perky-breasted women with boundless energy who flit from yoga, to pilates, to spinning classes without breaking a sweat. I am not fit. Never have been. I belong in the dough-ball category of people who squish and jiggle.

This week, as I was struggling to heave 20lbs over my head at the shoulder press machine, the thought crossed my mind that I, too, could be one of those fit people. I’ll never be perky-breasted without the help of significant bra reinforcement, but I could be healthy. I could learn to work with my body instead of against it. I could go to spinning class. I could leave the other dough balls behind once and for all!

My trainer seems to see something in me that I am clearly missing. I think he frequently imagines strength, stamina, endurance, and muscles where there clearly are none. The only way I successfully make it through my time with him is to squeeze my eyes shut and make noises reminiscent of a woman in labor. I have had to look at my manifestation poster quite a bit this week. My eyes immediately found this that I had pasted to it: “Try seeing exercise as freedom, as opposed to obligation.”

What a novel idea! Now, when I am mid-workout and wondering why I am bothering at all given the incredibly slow progress I am making, I repeat “freedom” over and over in my head. I think about all of the things I will be free from or free to do with my new fit self:

– freedom from chronic disease

– freedom to wear what I please

– freedom from airplane seat belt extenders

– freedom to ride roller coasters

– freedom to run and jump and hike and bike and climb

You get the idea. Freedom, however, doesn’t come without a fight.

A New Beginning

It is no secret that I have a penchant for all things craft-y. I think it all goes back to my early days as a creator of abstract art when my mom would set us up with the Spin-Art machine in the breakfast room and I’d have at it; squirting blobs of primary colors onto the whirling paper to form rorschach-like patterns.

There have been many crafting phases since then: embroidery floss friendship bracelets and plastic lanyards from camp, beads collected and wire and all sorts of jewelry-making accoutrements, modeling clay, and so on and so forth. Knitting was one craft/hobby that stuck when I learned 8 years ago on a whim. After years of passing our local yarn shop and staring longingly through the windows at the textures and colors, I just had to go in and figure out how I could MAKE something with all that wonderfulness. Knitting opened up an entire world of creative possibility for me. I felt a great sense of accomplishment in mastering the skill and a deep sense of satisfaction every time I completed another project. It was like being inducted into a sacred society and now I am a kindred spirit to all those knitters who have come before me; those who have whipped out woolens to keep families warm throughout the generations.

When my favorite yarn shop in Philadelphia, Loop, opened their sister store Spool, I was skeptical. A fabric shop? What use could I possibly have for sewing let alone fabric? The shop, though, was just so gorgeous with its cheery, brightly lit rooms and neatly arranged bolts of cotton in pleasing patterns that I just HAD to learn to sew. That was two years ago. Since then I have bought my own sewing machine and lurched through a few basic patterns to find that I love it just as much as knitting. If knitting is the craft that lets me zone out and my mind wander or focus on other things as my fingers work away at the needles, then sewing is the craft that forces me to be present in the moment. Sewing forces me to work slowly and methodically because there are more preparation required and LOTS of cutting. When I sew, I have to be content with the fact that I may not finish my project in a day. Especially since machine sewing is not a portable activity like knitting. I also have to be content with the fact that my sewing skills are just emerging and I will inevitably make mistakes. Fortunately, there is always more fabric and more thread to be had when that happens.

The fabric bin – where inspiration resides.

 

I recently signed up for a beginning quilting class at Spool. I have wanted to take this class for two year, but with nursing school and clinical rotations, it was never feasible. When I completed nursing school in December, reserving a place in this class was the first thing I did. I have just completed my first quilt top and, while my rotary cutting skills leave something to be desired, I am very pleased with the result. Soon I will piece the borders, baste, quilt, and attach the binding to have a finished product that is all my own. There seems something very special about making one’s first quilt given the history of quilting in America and the fact that quilts are synonymous with warmth and love and family. I foresee that quilting will become another tradition I embrace and pass on to others through gifts.

Piecing the strips of blocks to form the quilt top.

These blocks are kind of crazy, but I have a deep love of patterns!

Rock Bottom

Yesterday was my first personal training session of the new year. I have committed to twelve long months of twice weekly workouts with a guy who looks like he has the propensity to inflict a great deal of pain. Either that or he seems like a good candidate for an Eagles running back.

Our sessions are only 30 minutes, but that is just enough time to ensure that everything from my diaphragm on downward hurts. It’s also just enough time to get me realizing that I have really done a number on myself; I am really starting at square one. Moving my body is what I imagine it would feel like to try to lift my car with my bare hands. I’m not even convinced that my lungs and heart know how to work in sync to keep me from passing out on the floor of the LA Fitness. After yesterday’s workout, I could feel every fiber of my being vibrating with adrenaline. Every movement I made felt so spastic that it was hard to control the clutch with my left foot on the drive home. My body just didn’t seem to know what to do with all of the chemical reactions going on inside. Suddenly, entire muscle groups that had never been engaged were being pressed into labor and my circulatory system was forced against its will to keep the blood flowing from top to bottom as I hurled myself through new and uncomfortable motions.

I have a quote on my manifestation poster that reads “Try seeing exercise as freedom, as opposed to obligation”. While my trainer was timing my power-walks around the gym facility, I had to keep repeating “freedom” over and over again in my head to keep myself from breaking down and screaming “I can’t do this!” It felt THAT difficult. The mantra helped me to focus on what I would be gaining from this supposed torture – freedom from lower back pain, freedom from potential chronic disease, freedom to participate in activities I’ve only dreamed of doing, etc.

When the trainer asked how I felt at the end of our session, I didn’t sugar-coat my answer: “Terrible. Out of shape. Like crap. Like I hate myself.” He told me that it would get easier. It’s hard to imagine what “easier” is right now when I’m particularly angry at myself for having let things get this out of hand, but I’m hoping tomorrow’s session will just be a bit better.

One Friday Afternoon

Yesterday was my 26th birthday. I am an odd twenty-something in that my idea of a proper birthday celebration does not involve late nights, high heels or other frivolous attire, or copious amounts of alcohol.

I had been wanting to trek out to Chester County, PA to Terrain @ Styer’s for some time. Terrain is a plant nursery cum home-goods shop situated on land that used to be part of the J. Franklin Styer peony farm whose mission is to bring people and plants together. Unfortunately, you’d never realize this history because of the strip malls and retirement community that have sprung up along the major thoroughfare. Terrain not only features some fantastic finds for your garden landscape but also has a magnificent little greenhouse cafe that serves locally-sourced, sumptuous brunches, lunches, and dinners amid a lush, verdant backdrop.

I asked my dear friend, A., to join me and we had a lovely, “girls” day of tea, pie, browsing in the shop, and chit chat. It has been rather cold here in Philadelphia with temperatures dipping well below the freezing mark and 3 significant snow storms in as many weeks. Yesterday was no different, but the day was bright and clear with a cloudless blue sky and plenty of diffuse winter light.

The drive out to Terrain is all highway, but every so often you will get a glimpse of Pennsylvania’s rural, agricultural past as you dip under a railway bridge, curve around thickly wooded embankments, and pass historic structures constructed of roughly-hewn field stone. The “simple life” is still there somewhere to be found amidst the all that is new and pre-fabricated.

Decisions, decisions!

The Terrain garden cafe menu has many temptations! I decided to start with the Vanilla Honey au Lait – a soul-warming blend of black tea, vanilla, and foamed milk with a delicate swirl of honey on top served in a deep mug.

The cafe is situated in a large greenhouse that is full of greenery, soothing water aspects, and eclectic decor. You can’t help but feel transported while sitting in dappled sunlight. They serve the most delicious bread in warmed terracotta pots. It is accompanied by butter that they whip with sage and sprinkle with coarse, pink sea salt.

 

This plant's leaves look like giant hands!

You can add these wooden doors sourced from India to your garden for the right price.

I ordered the curried quinoa cakes and bbq pulled pork sliders for lunch. Quinoa cakes are actually much more delicious than they sound. Silver-dollar in size, they are browned to a crisp and served with a piquant dipping sauce and pickled vegetables. They are surprisingly most on the inside and have a hearty, nutty flavor. I am a sucker for anything “cute” and mini sandwiches are no exception, especially when filled with dollops of bbq pork. Terrain serves their sliders with roasted fingerling potatoes – much better than any french fry, in my opinion.

After lunch, it was time to browse the shop. A. was looking for some greenery to brighten up her home and I had fallen in love with the assorted Weck mason jars that Terrain carries.

Orchids galore!

I love these colored knobs for indoors or out.

Plenty of books to keep your coffee table company!

I purchased the cookbook “Wholesome Kitchen” which has wonderful recipes utilizing beans and lentils. I am terrible at incorporating legumes into my diet and wanted some unique recipes to get me started.

The warm lighting of the shop makes you want to curl up in the nearest chair with some knitting.

 

These nifty little plants hang in the air!

I also bought a Tillandsia Ionant Ball – a nifty little tropical plant that hands in the air from a wire hook. It’s appears that it would be fussy and temperamental, but only requires a dunk in water every few days and bright light. It has the most unusual purple flowers. I found an iron hook fashioned to look like a tree branch and screw
ed it into the space between two of my bedroom windows. My plant hangs, happily suspended in the winter light, far from prying kitty paws.

A wonderful birthday afternoon, indeed. I’m wishing A. lots of luck with the new plants she acquired as I know next to nothing about keeping things alive indoors! I was so smitten with Terrain that I am already slated to go back in two weeks for one of their famed terrarium workshops. I think it’s bound to become my new happy place.

Think Happy Thoughts

I'd have to climb 2,500 steps to burn off one pint of ice cream!

I discovered the concept of manifestation through the wonderful blog Clean, written by the creator and owner of LuSa Organics. I’ve learned a great many things about little ways to make life more meaningful through Rachel’s writings. She is an inspirational wife, mama, crafter, cook, and entrepreneur. Manifestation is about realizing that we really can have what we want and what we need in our lives if we focus on the feeling and emotion of having that particular something. In reality, we humans can’t just conjure something out of thin air simply by wishing for it, but we can realize that sometimes, we are our own greatest obstacles on the path to what we most desire in our lives. I’ll admit that the idea, at first, seemed much too new-age and even a little hokey for me. I imagined Aladdin with his golden lamp, seeking love, happiness, and wealth from the genie inside.

You mean, I can achieve something just by thinking about it? Well, in that case, I’m going to focus on having a million dollars!

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized just how much manifestation relates to other ways we’ve been taught to achieve goals in life. Everyone from Oprah to Weight Watchers to psychoanalysts utilize and preach concepts like visualization and story-boarding and sayings like “if you can dream it, you can achieve it”. The concept of manifestation reminds me of meditation or mindfulness where you focus intensely and intently on a particular thing in your mind’s eye. You visualize what it would be like to reach this goal; what will you feel like, what will you do with this new found thing in your life, what kind of person will you be with this thing you have achieved? How else would we work towards the things we wanted if we were unable to perceive of ourselves at the end of the journey as well as along the way?

I don’t view manifestation as a way to bring material objects into my life per se. Though, I have noticed that if I am really in want of something, it fulfills a need in my life, and has legitimate use-value, that it just may come into my life by the grace of god or the universe.

In these early days of 2011, I have fully recommitted myself to becoming a happier and healthier person; physically, spiritually, and mentally. To keep me motivated on the physical front, I’m working with a personal trainer two days per week. Given my past relationship with exercise, I knew that I was also going to need to look at something everyday that would remind me of my goals. I created a manifestation poster that I have hanging above my desk with bits and pieces of beauty and inspiration for those days when I’m inclined to be less than accountable for my actions.

Manifestation poster

Nothing fancy: just stiff card stock, some glue, and a few magazines that I cut to bits. I specifically made mine colorful and included a bright pink bloom that made me really happy every time I saw it on the Whole Living Magazine cover. Someday, I’ll have a whole manifestation board where I can add and remove pieces as the needs in my life change.

On Hope and the Hope Chest

I love knitting patterns for children. Why knit an adult-sized sweater that might take me months when I could whip out a miniature version in the better part of a week? When I want to work delicate lace or attempt color-work, I also tend to look to patterns for wee ones as it means I can practice a new technique on a smaller scale. Unfortunately, I (and really just about everyone else I know) am not in the child-bearing phase of life. It seemed silly to knit baby garments when there were clearly no babies to have them. Then I stumbled upon the antiquated, yet completely appropriate idea, of the “hope chest”. Generations ago, no decent woman dared leave her parents’ home for that of her husband’s without a proper trousseau and hope chest filled with clothing, linen, and other little luxuries necessary to make your way in the world as wife and mother.

Now that we’ve got Babies ‘R Us, Baby Gap, and baby showers to rival most weddings, the idea of the “hope chest” has fallen by the wayside. Why knit or sew for yourself what someone else could buy for you? Hand-knitting and machine sewing are also woefully under-utilized skills in this post-modern society where we clothe ourselves in garments of synthetic fabrics from factories across the ocean. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing a child clad in warm woolens created by the hands of a family member.

"Louise Cardigan" from Vintage Baby Knits by Kristen Rengren

Adding pieces to my own personal “hope chest” resonates with the mama deep inside of me that isn’t really ready to be a mama yet, but would like to be one someday. I’ve known other women who rush to complete all manner of fiber and fabric projects the minute they find out that they’re pregnant, but, in reality, there just simply isn’t enough time in 9 months to knit and sew let alone all the other things one needs to do on a daily basis to ready a home for a wee one. A feminist though I may be, I don’t view this process as gendered “women’s work”, but a way for me to more deeply connect with a product because I can control how it is made and what it is made with. I take pride in the skill I have so diligently developed over the years and the ways in which these skills connect me to the inspirational women and mothers who have come before me. The organization-obsessed, super-planner in me loves setting aside tiny projects for “someday”. A little silver cardigan here, several pairs of socks there, a crib blanket, a christening gown….all suffused with hope for the future.

 

Pattern: Louise Cardigan from Vintage Baby Knits (Ravelry link)

Size: 3-6 mos

Yarn: Madelinetosh Merino Light in “Silver Fox” from Loop Yarn in Philadelphia

Needles: US #3 circulars and straights

 

Just waiting for the finishing touches – seaming the sleeves and turning the picot neckline!

Back to our regularly scheduled programming

It’s officially winter. The holidays have come and gone. Now we’re left with extra padding around the middle, an icy chill in the air, and short, dark days. When I was younger I would have loved the snow that we’ve been having here in Philadelphia, but it just seems to inhibit me from doing what I need to get done. Plans get canceled, appointments are re-scheduled, traffic is brutal. Everything feels as if it’s moving in slow motion.

I think that I would likely loathe January if it weren’t my birthday month. It’s always an excuse to get together with friends and have a celebration during that post-holiday slump when the new year seems overwhelming. 26 this year! It’s funny to think of myself as 26 because when I was a child and imagined my future, I don’t think I ever went past age 21. What could there possibly be after 21? It was difficult to fathom myself as an adult with a career and actual independence when I was 10. I know that everyone who is 30 and up is probably rolling their eyes. I don’t feel old, but I do feel more cognizant of how quickly time moves and how fleeting life’s wonderful moments can be. When pediatric patients ask me how old I am, they are amazed that I was born in 1985 – “wow, THAT was a long time ago!” Ah, how I love the concrete honesty of school-aged children. Then there are the elderly patients who think that I look far too young to be competent enough to care for them. “Honey, are you sure you know what you’re doing?” And, somewhere in the middle, are the post-partum mothers I care for who are the same age as me, but on their second or third child. “Could you help me with breastfeeding? I’m sure you know what you’re doing.”

As the economy shudders back to life and jobs slowly become available, those of us who are twenty-somethings will move out of our parents’ homes and move more fully into adulthood. The 20’s are kind of an odd decade, in my opinion. It’s like a certain kind of limbo where you are both autonomous but also probably still tethered in some way to your parents. You have decision-making capacity, but very little life experience off of which to base those decisions. You have very little money. Your college degree may have been rendered useless with the shift in the economy. Few people seem to take you seriously as much of your peer group still spends 3 nights per week at various bars.

I feel particularly anxious in this liminal state as I wait to take the nursing boards and begin my first real nursing job – hourly wage, vacation time, benefits and all. It will still be another year before I consider moving to a place all of my own, but I will feel much more self-sufficient with a bi-weekly paycheck. In the meantime, I’m enjoying doing the things I’ve wanted to do for months, but couldn’t because of school: quilting, knitting, baking, going to the gym…

This weekend I made these little almond-flavor cookies that I saw featured in this PurlBee post. They adapted the recipe from one in the Gourmet Cookie Book. The cookies are light and almost melt in your mouth thanks to all the cornstarch. I made my dough balls a little too big which meant that people had to pull the two halves apart to eat the cookie, but they were a hit nonetheless at our neighborhood winter gathering. Next time, I might try using vanilla or a little peppermint as the flavoring. Williams-Sonoma’s sanding sugars lend a lovely sparkly quality to the cookies as well.

Almond Sandwich Cookies

Glittery goodness!

Reverb 10 for December 31 – CORE STORY

December 31 – Core story. What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world? (Bonus: Consider your reflections from this month. Look through them to discover a thread you may not have noticed until today.)

My story is intertwined with the stories of the people that I love. They make me a better person, they add meaning and depth to my story, they challenge and inspire me, they provide the plot twists. I share my story with the world through the people that I love and the profession – or rather passion – that I have chosen. My words would mean little outside of the context of the relationships I have developed, the good deeds that I strive to do, and the people that provide me with strength and wisdom each day.

Reverb 10 for December 30 – GIFT

December 30 – Gift. This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What’s the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year?

By far, the best gift I received this year was two, uninterrupted weeks of vacation in Maine this summer. Nothing is more memorable than traveling to a new place and having the opportunity to take in some of the most majestic scenes of natural beauty that this country has to offer. I can think of no better way to spend the days than with a hammock, a lake, knitting, and a stack of books.