Tag Archives: crafts

Making time for something fun

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In the comments section of my last post, B wrote “I love that you incorporate fun stuff into your days despite how busy you are. I think it’s so important…”. It was interesting that was commented on , as it is something I have been very conscious of recently. My ultimate downtime activities are sewing, crafting, blogging and baking, but they have had a tendency to fall by the wayside recently.

We all have barriers to finding time to ourselves, and it’s not so much a matter of whose are bigger, less surmountable, or more noble. Rather it is figuring out what yours are, and whether and how you want to overcome them. In a post that started me thinking about seeking creative time, J wrote about her disability hindered her feeling that she deserved time to be crafty (crafts also being J’s “me time”). Its different for all of us, but guilt and tiredness are my barriers.

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I get relatively little time with my son. If I get home at 6 and we have dinner until 6.30, it is just an hour to his bedtime. I realized that I experienced a certain amount of guilt every time I had non-work time and did not spend it with him. One evening I was sewing something on a deadline and I asked Wes to watch Sam. When I heard them giggling together I immediately felt like I had lost a bonding opportunity with my son and nearly stopped what I was doing. But something – perhaps J’s post – stopped me and I finished my project. My son still loved me, we still got quality time together, and I had done something fun.

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Me asleep at my desk at 11 pm – picture snapped by a bemused husband

Work guilt also holds me back – there is an ever growing to-do list in an ever harder funding climate as I become more and more senior with less and less funding (that’s the short and somewhat dramatic version). That’s not going to change, and I know I have to fight it. But I have learned that there is a limit of what I can give outside of 9-5; 3 evenings a week and one good weekend day stint, and I’m probably spent. Realizing this has helped me enjoy my non work time.

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Major tiredness contributor.

The other thing was tiredness – either physical (from my new fitness regime) or mental (see above picture for my working hours!). I used to think that I was only capable of zoning out into Facebook or TV. I’ve realized that a small craft project is just as relaxing, and that I feel much better afterwards. So, despite my Saturday morning gym routine, all Saturday afternoon and evening at work, and a 3-h drive to a rained out water park on Sunday, I still found time for the following ‘me’ activities this weekend:

Making Halloween packages to be posted to friends in Alabama:

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Making pumpkin spice cupcakes to celebrate my MS student submitting her first (first-author!) paper:

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And making a Thanksgiving onesie for Sam’s friend Hadley:

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Oh, and time for a blog post written in the bath with a glass of wine 😉

How about you? I loved all the feedback on my Facebook break-up and health kick. What are your ‘me time’ activities? Do you find it easy to find time for them? What are your barriers if not? Share your ‘me projects’ with me!

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Best app ever?

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I don’t generally ‘app’ – although I am impressed at my ability to use that word as a verb. But I am in love with Groovebook. The idea is simple: you pay $2.99 / month (currently only available to US peoples, sorry) and once a month they send you a photobook of your iPhone / iPad pictures – awesome, no? They either pick the first 100 you took, or you can choose 100 of your photos. If you didn’t take 100 you either get fewer photos, or you can just choose some from previous months.

Sounds great, but I skeptical. Well… Wes was. I trust everyone and everything. $2.99 for 100 photos? Delivered? I decided to give it a go… The user interface was dead easy – you just tap the pictures you want printed this month, and they become marked with a green tick. Hit ‘upload’ and boom – job done. I ordered my book on Saturday, and it arrived today, 4 working days later.

My Groovebook

My Groovebook

The book arrived with a grey, plastic cover which is nothing to write home about. The photos inside were of decent quality. I used my Ipad, and the camera is only .7 MP (how cruddy! I wish it wasn’t my main source of Sam pics now). I imagine if you used an iPhone (oh, I wish I had one) the pictures would be a lot better. They also come with a handy perforation for easy tear-out.

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Honestly? I love it! I just wish my iPad had a better camera. Now, I am just left Jonsey-ing an iPhone and deciding if I should leave the book ‘as is’ as get a neat little collection of them, or whether I should rip out some of the photos to use the for frames / scrapbooking / relatives etc, but this will destroy the books.

If you’d like to give it a go, you can have your first book for free (no P&P even). Just use the code: Frazier-Wood1.

I don’t get any royalties / deals / free books, but you do 🙂

Btw – I learned about this app here from the blog Healthy Tipping Point. Thanks Caitlin!

New Toy-box and a Final Nursery Tour

Homemade toybox

Toy-box

I have been crafting again – I should do more of this as I really enjoy it. I tend to shy away from craft projects due to lack of inspiration, and a general lack of talent (my Mum used to be an artist – how these genes bypassed me, I’ll never know), but my husband and I agreed that I enjoy it so much, it is worth it anyway. I am going to read some craft / home decor magazines, and I also have found a friend here who is going to teach me to crochet something other than long ‘worms’ which will expand my current ‘painting boxes’ and ‘cake pop’ craft repertoire 😉

Crochet stitch

After many failed internet tutorials, this is the most I can do with crochet. A worm. A pink / brown / blue / yellow worm, if you like. But still, a worm.

So… poor Firework will either be a craft-lover, or a child terribly embarrassed at his mother’s homemade, hokey decorations. Quite frankly, I am OK with either 😉

I wanted a toy-box for FW, but ones I liked were all pretty expensive. I had the idea of using an old apple crate to go well with the tree mural in the nursery… but actually finding apple crates, without paying hundreds of $$s for postage was not easy either. Then a quick trip to Hobby Lobby, and 10 princely dollars later, I emerged with a fake, plywood apple crate. Sweet. Some $5 plywood decorations later (including the name letters – hence the blank square) and I am pretty pleased with how it turned out. At least, pleased for $15. He can totally change it up when he is old enough to care.

I also made another ‘letter box’ – just for funsies.

So, unless the hospital puts us back due to being excessively busy, just 4 days to go. Final bits done to the nursery… all the light switches which were really old and discolored have been replaced with shiny new ones, covers have been put on the sockets (not that we need that yet, but hubby was being proactive) and the last things are in place. We have a changing table:

Changing table in nursery

A bed (it is still the spare room for when guests come, and then FW will stay in the pack ‘n’ play in our room – where he might start anyway) / nursing / play / crib area:

Gender neutral grey Nursery

Creepy uber-cam the husband wanted, which scans the entire room (you have been warned, future guests 😉 ):

Web cam for baby

And a closet full of baby clothes for 3 – 24 months – a sight that makes me smile every time I see it:

Baby clothes in wardrobe

See our bumbo? It’s a must have!

If you have sent us something lovely and cannot see it hanging up, this is because it is for 3 months or under, and is in the changing table ready to be worn! It all seems quite real, and very exciting now.

Anything Etsy can do…

My blog writing partner tonight.

Saturday

What a weekend. I got up Saturday, excited about the start of our Bradley classes. Bradley is a 12-week birthing course, designed to prepare the couple as a whole for a natural childbirth. 12 weeks seems a long time (one 2 hour class per week), but Bradley’s rationale is that the woman is preparing for a intense endurance exercise which you should try to enter at peak performance, which takes time – a lot of 5K programs are designed to be conducted over 12 weeks; and heck, running 5K (which I first did with no prep) is quicker and easier than giving birth. So, Bradley is designed to teach you optimal nutrition, exercises for fitness, and also proper relaxation. It is also partner / couple-  centric. The idea being that the ‘other half’ supports the labouring woman with full understanding through helping with positions, breathing and massage. When she transitions and wants to give up, it is him that stops her giving in too early. Maybe it is too much… all this ‘preparation’ – after all, didn’t women just give birth without preparation since forever, and don’t women still do it all the time now? Sure, but Wes and figured a few things:

(1) Babies are bigger, our fitness is not as optimal, and our endurance is probably lower than ‘since forever’

(2) Sure, women do it all the time without preparation; but intervention rates are soaring, and many people do not report a happy experience (many do). Why not prepare to make it as good / positive of an experience as possible?

(3) This is a good way for Wes to be involved: reading blogs and talking to girlfriends about birth over coffee is not exactly his style… coming along and learning how to be useful is

(4) The social / emotional aspects are appealing. We are both looking forward to learning massage and relaxation together, and to meeting some people here in Houston (more on that later).

Plus, it is only $250 for 12 weeks… pretty impressive. The only annoying thing, was that I was preparing for a 2.30 class… kind of annoying time. It basically makes it hard to do anything in the morning or afternoon: midday would have suited me better. But, hey ho, I decided to do a manicure in preparation:

RCM Envelope Please

For my birthday, my Mum got me a whole gel polish kit. Gel nail polish is awesome: you apply a basecoat, 2 coats of polish and a top coat, allowing each one to ‘cure’ (read: dry completely) for 45 secs under an LED light. The polish is extremely chip resistant, and your nails tend to be fairly protected against flaking and breaking.

After the final coat was on, I looked up the address for the Bradley class, and found that it was at 12.30 after all. Score one for having a better time, lose one for having missed the class. I was mortified. I texted our class leader to apologise and she was ever so sweet, saying we could come on Monday evening to learn the exercises for the week. Phew.

Not sure what I did after that: tidy up, unpack from NYC, sort and clean out the bathroom. Then I felt at a loose end… which is odd as I have plenty of hobbies I can do at any time: reading, working, gardening, exploring Houston, piano playing, movie watching… but none appealed. Going and getting some craft stuff to start to make things for Firework’s nursery appealed, but didn’t ‘click’ I just felt lonely. I realised: I miss female company. Mostly, I miss hiking with Stella or David, going and playing with Sasha, Liam and Rachel (who will do anything with me), cinema trips and chats with Kat and my bookgroup 😦 It’s fine; we have only been in Houston 6 weeks, and building up those sorts of friendships takes time. But… I do miss it. So, Wes came with me to Hobby Lobby and patiently waited an hour (OK, patiently waited 40 mins, then was a pest for 20 😉 ) while I got some craft stuff. Dinner out, and then home to organize all my craft stuff. Everything put in neat draws and filed away before bed.

For the crafting

Meanwhile… Wes was back in the attic trying to locate the source of water dripping through our ceiling. Joy.

Sunday

Sunday was… dramatic. We left for church in separate cars so that I could go to IKEA after and Wes could go to Home Depot so he could solve the dripping water, which by now was staining our ceiling, causing little holes in it, and threatening to ruin our new laminate floor. More joy.

Wes left 5 mins before me, and then I got stuck at a train crossing for ages. So. I was surprised when Wes was not at church. Very surprised. I called him – no answer. I couldn’t fathom why he had not called if there was a problem… or why he was not answering now. Unless she had been in a horrible accident. So bad, he could not even call to tell me. Cue slow tears descending into complete hysterics as a further 4 minutes passed. Then Wes turned up… no explanation. He forgot to charge his phone and had made his way there. Must have gone a different route. It took me a full 15 minutes to calm down… I do blame hormones.

So, off I went to IKEA. I hate IKEA. The whole thing is stressful. I hate most things in there. I 1/2 believe that Satan sends his minions for training there on a Sunday. BUT, my beloved Clio is coming out, and staying in Firework’s currently empty, save a beautiful changing table, room (also currently called ‘Clio’s room’). She must at least have bed linen and blinds. Blinds are hella expensive (if you want them to look decent), except at IKEA. So, in the interests of Clio sleeping, in something other than bright morning light, I braved IKEA.

It all went quite swimmingly, with me hankering after this for FW’s room:

For the nursing

until I got to the actual blinds. The walls are going to be a fairly dark grey. I could not picture wooden blinds against that. I just couldn’t. I had been all set on them, now I couldn’t see it. I called Wes. 45 minutes I spent discussing / researching blinds and alternately thinking I might like white drapes against the grey. Wes said everything right; from offering opinion, to saying ‘if you like something, get it and I will love it – really, this is your room’. But, I was overwhelmed. Possibly precipitated by the fact I had just fallen down the stairs (shoe broke as I was descending) and in an attempt to protect the bump had bruised my ass (isn’t there enough cushioning there now??) and smashed my teeth into the railing, I just dissolved into more tears draped over a stack of blinds. Not a few – but streaming, snot inducing, dress staining tears. The sight was quite pathetic: pregnant woman in floaty floral peasant-style dress, with broken flip flops weeping into the textiles at IKEA. I grabbed dark grey roller blinds, white drapes, fixing and high tailed it out of there.

To decide on the way home that maybe white blinds would be best.

Which made me cry.

I made it home. Just. My broken and emotional state was faced with the news that the plumbing is up the spout, can’t be fixed until we can get someone in, we can’t get someone in until we speak to the people who deal with our home warranty and so no air conditioning for us. Let me repeat: no air conditioning. It is some 90-100 degrees during the day and 80-100% humidity. NO. AIR. CONDITIONING.

Yes, this is a story of first world problems… but… still.

Wes took me out to buy me a craft table from Walmart ($35 steal) and insisted I bough a ‘chocolate turtle cake’ and bottle of wine. He is a wise man. I went up and crafted myself into calmness (see? I need Bradley. I need to learn how to relax). I am quite pleased with what I made for FW’s room (not Clio’s room, she shall be spared the infantile decor):

To be bookends?

I will make several of these into a tableau

and came down somewhat better. If not. Hear my no air con plea? Yeah. Hot. Comfort food of pizza, and turtle cake and wine later, and I was ready to tackle my plants, which had survived my NYC trip with varying success. They had dried out somewhat, and needed restaking – sadly, some of the stems had snapped under the weight of the leaves 😦 Hoping that they can regrow?

Quite a forest here – hoping they will be ready to acclimatise soon, and be put outside for increasing periods of the day.

So, as above, my seeds grown in a mixture of potting soil and perlite were doing very well. My seeds grown in peat pots, not so much:

Ugh.

But, whatever the outcome, gardening further calmed me. I am now sitting downstairs (it is slightly cooler) on a made up bed, with the dregs of my wine, preparing to read this:

Walter is sitting with me. He got into my chocolate Philadelphia and ate a pot of it, and would have been told off, had he not been looking so ridiculous:

My pot

So proud was he of his steal, that he carried the empty pot EVERYWHERE with him, even into bed with me.

Oh, some good news though. 2 crafting episodes, 1 IKEA trip, 1 gardening trip and 2 sorting binges and check out my manicure:

LOVE gel nail polish 🙂

A trio of thanksgivings, a triad of pies and a trillion things to be grateful for

Pies for Thanksgiving

The festive season is here, its advent marked by Thanksgiving. A full holiday in the US, and much more like a UK-Christmas than Christmas. I am feeling full, blessed and nostalgic, which I think is the point of this time of year and marks the end of a psychological evolution in me, which I  can illustrate through my three thanksgivings. It also marks the start of my love for pie (the psychological and pie developments may be interlinked), and I share 2 recipes and 1 drool-worthy picture below. Finally, I do as I am supposed to, and muse on what (or whom) I am grateful for in my life today.

So, 2 years and 2 months ago (give or take) I arrived in the US as somewhat of a mess. 6 months previously I had been all lined up to complete a postdoc with a wonderful woman at Oxford University. Then I dated a Yank (actually, a Brit transplanted to Yank-dom some 25 years previously) and got a job offer at Yale. Then David Allison, in the space of a single phone-call, convinced me to chuck that in to come to UAB. What can I say? He was charismatic. And I am extremely impulsive. Said boyfriend-of-questionable-Yankdom hit the roof and said: it’s him or me (it’s OK, he doesn’t read this blog). I now kind of understand his reasons, which I will not share out of respect. But back then – I didn’t, so I didn’t believe the Yank-wannabe, so I just blithely signed the documents for UAB and sported their sweatshirt for the remainder of my PhD. Which, strangely enough, I am wearing as  I type now. But I digress from my digression. Mr Failed-Brit was deeply unimpressed. To the extent that he started cheating on me, fairly obviously, which I did not admit to anyone else, except myself. Occasionally. (But everyone knew anyway).

This lead to a rockstar FIT about 3 weeks before departure in which I announced there was NO WAY I was going to UAB, and this Allison-bloke (of whom I had miraculously never heard) and this nice Arnett-woman (who had offered to mentor me) could stick their data and their postdoc where the sun don’t shine (which is a difficult place to find, indeed, in Alabama). My ex-officemate  heard the howls from literally across the office hallway and talked some sense into me, with a cunning mixture of humour, and gentle pressing on my academic ambition. So, I boarded the plane, bawled my eyes out within 20 minutes of being seated, explained the situation to the hostess and got a swanky upgrade to Business Class.

Nice upgrade not withstanding I arrived in AL not entirely sure I wanted to be here. Heck – I didn’t. By the time thanksgiving rolled around, said not-quite-a-Brit-not-quite-a-Yank had moved in with another woman, still come and visited me (I don’t think that woman knew), been dumped by me, got together with said woman officially while texting / emailing me how we were meant to be, and 1 day before told me that I had harmed his children’s mental health by dumping him, and I could make it better by taking him back (while he was with the woman? That bit I never figured out). Luckily my best friend of much ferocity and protectiveness, Clio, was out for thanksgiving and banned  me from Skype and the telephone. She also set me up with an awesome thanksgiving and I will ALWAYS love her for picking me up and keeping me going.

Mess with my friend, and you'll feel the rough end of this Starbucks, alright?

But, thanksgiving number 1 was marked by a distinct decision to be as British as possible. To cook things in the British way, with another Brit, and experience thanksgiving as a transient piece of fun that wasn’t going to be part of my life anymore.

Thanksgiving no 1

I stayed another year. I got to have thanksgiving part 2. This was spent at the Chinese Buffet, with my boyfriend, and then driving to Tuscaloosa for a very messy night. It was great, but I call it ‘The Lost Thanksgiving’. I had no idea where my future was, and I was scared.

Thanksgiving no 2 did give rise to the best photo ever, however

This year, times have changed. I got married. I fell in love with UAB. I fell in love with the American academic system and how it pushes and challenges you. The opportunities that are here. While I will always love genetic psychiatry, and I hope it will have a place in my research future, I also love lipoproteins and insulin resistance and specifically gene-nutrient interactions (both with genes mediating dietary influences, and diets mediating gene expression). My postdoc mentors taught me about integrity and thus I learned to trust myself and my decisions. I prayed a lot. I didn’t so much accept that I might stay here, but actively pursued doing so, and looked forward to it. I embraced that America, and American traditions will be a big part of my life.

My previous opinion on pie. Note the inverse correlation between my disgust for pie, and my BMI

That is not to say that this has not happened without hardship. I have faced that so much of who I am, and my culture, and my heritage is recessing into the past. It is just not going to be a part of me. Yes, I can occasionally cook British food but it is just that: occasional. An event. I have lost the British way of celebrating Christmas… I don’t dress as I do in London (quite frankly, sick of the back handed comments, or of plotting my route to my desk to avoid them)… it has made it especially hard to lose my name upon getting married. Husband said he ‘didn’t mind at all’ what name I used, so I hyphenated. I was upset to find out he won’t take on the hyphenated name (as is fairly common in Europe) and sick to my stomach to find he expects the children to have his name.  So, not only am I going to be removed from my heritage a lot, but removed from my children too! It never occurred to me it would be a problem – but he just says ‘you came here… you take on American ways’ (AL-ians do often conform to the stereotype of not exactly embracing women’s lib), but it is so hard to do it all the time and lose more and more of myself. I already knew that I would raise my children the US way (it’s not like I am going to make them stand out) – even though so many things just don’t seem right to me…

Anyway, I had a very American thanksgiving and it marked my joyful willingness to embrace many aspects of this culture as part of my own. And it was very wonderful. I spent time with very close friends / pseudo family and felt safe, loved and grateful. I am honored to have been part of such a happy occasion, and will always be grateful to my hosts for making me feel so included for one of the first times since I arrived here. Which is all anyone can ask for, right? That and pie.

The boy bakes a mean pie

This year, I embraced the quintessentially American PIE (not crumble… or tart…. or pastry but PIE). And not mince pies neither. With help (and ensuing hilarity) from the hubby, we made pear pie, and plum-frangipani pie (OK, the last one was not very American as every American I know (with the exception of Stella) shocked my multi-cultural foodie soul by saying ‘what is frangipani?’ over and over again).

Frangipani! Yum!

Here is where I got the recipe:

http://www.passionateaboutbaking.com/2011/07/baking-vanilla-almond-frangipane-plum-tart-the-last-of-the-plums-well-almost.html

Even if you don’t make the pie, check out this blog for some of the most gorgeous food-porn photography. Passionate about baking: I am your slave. It was good – I would have sweetened the base slightly, with Demerara sugar, as that part was quite bland. But otherwise the tartish plums worked well with the sweet (but not overly so)  frangipani. With the addition of some homemade leaves:

Leaves. Not 'eyes' (Wesley) or 'sausages' (Hemant) but autumnal leaves. Got it?

it also looked pretty stunning.

Imagine the leaves on this, and it glazed with melted apricot jam. Drool.

Then came the pear pie. This was easy peasy.

Ingredients

1 Pilsbury pastry case

6 firm slightly underripe pears

1.5 tsp cinnamon

.5 tsp all spice

1/2 cup white sugar

3 tbsp lemon juice

Basically: Line pie tin with crust

Get husband to peel and slice pears. Toss pears in other ingredients. Layer in pie crust and bake. Devour

Don't you just want to sink your teeth in?

And then, Stella brought over a pie for the college football! She made an Amish funeral pie, and it was my p0st-workout carb up with a large dollop of fat-free Greek Yogurt. And it was delicious. Think sweet raisins, with a tart filling, and then an addictive bite with the nuts.

Amish funeral pie

Amish funeral pie a la Stella

So what am I grateful for? I am grateful for many, many things. But, mostly for people. For Wes, who is kind and caring and good at teaching me what true selflessness is. Who is a steadfast and loyal husband, and full of many jokes. Who loves me, and professes his love, through my best and worst. Who counter balances my impulsive ‘let’s do it’ with a considered ‘let’s plan for it’. For Matthew who far more often than me, stands up for what he believes in, and remains true to his values. For Clio, who is going through the worst time, but displays awe-inspiring strength and is still the girl I have the most fun with (and is really my one-true love). For Stella, who not only bakes great pies, but has given me my drive and ambition back, and shown me that it is OK to stand up and go ‘no… I have thought about it, and decided to do it MY way. And if you don’t like that, that’s OK, but I respectfully disagree’. And who also taught me to set goals and strive for them, and be pleased when I reach them, but not lose my sense of self worth if I don’t smash every one. For Donna and David who have been supportive, kind and caring mentors through a tough transition. Who have helped me exceed any expectations I had for my postdoc, and who remain unbelievably dedicated to my future happiness. For David who challenges all my preconceptions of myself, and Donna who stands behind me while I smash them. To all of David’s family who genuinely treat me as one of their own, when the very worst thing to me is that mine are so far away. For my (old) family who are very brave and supportive about me being so far away and for my (new) family who are so welcoming (I got called Auntie Lekki – woo-hoo). And for Walter, Dinah and Bobby. Who keep me warm at night (occasionally because they have peed on the bedsheets, but mostly because they are snuggle bunnies). And that names just a few.

Right! That’s thanksgiving  done. Onto Christmas (the VERY BEST holiday of all).

Check it out - a homemade advent calendar. More Christmas crafts to come.