Thursday, October 23, 2014

Another quick time-management/organization update

I have recently been using the Pomodoro technque to get things done. I often get distracted easily, especially when I have to work on tasks that require concentration or tasks that I don't enjoy. The Pomodoro technique allows me to focus on the task at hand, but for a limited amount of time with a break after.

It is also good for making sure that I don't sit for too long. It gives me reminders to get up and stretch, get a drink of water, and generally move around.

I use a simple timer, the XPomodoro app, to help with this. The app costs money but I got it when it was free for a limited time. You can use anything, even just the timer on your phone or watch. It needs to give you an audible signal because you want to be concentrating, not looking at the time!

The app has a 30 min repeat built-in. That is all it is. I work for 25 mins and then I take a break for 5 mins. Lather, rinse, repeat till the job is done or it is lunch-time or time to go home.

I find this is attractive for jobs that I don't like doing because it is a finite time that I have to commit to it. Then I can have fun for 5 mins! Or, as I said, I use it a lot when I have to concentrate but my mind is resisting the concentration. Once I commit to the 25 mins, I find that I get absorbed in it and don't find it unpleasant. It is all just mind-games, but it works.

I don't use this for things that I enjoy doing, but I probably should. I am quite capable of sitting and spinning for more than an hour without a break. That is not good for body or mind.

I find this simple technique really easy to incorporate into my day and it helps me power through work quite effectively.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Happy Diwali!

Today is Diwali, the festival of lights in India. It is India's biggest festival.

I am not very consistent in my celebration of Diwali. I try to light lights and make sweets if I can. I did not do this in China as I didn't have my lights with me. I have tiny glass cups in which I put tea lights as they extinguish themselves and the glass keeps the flame contained.

This year I took out some lights that I had bought in the Grand Bazaar in Turkey. I offer you a view of the lights in our study reflected against a dark, rainy, stormy night.
You can see two of the Turkish lights in the middle.

Diwali is the celebration of the triumph of good over evil. In North India, lights are used to outline windows and doors. In South India, we don't light lamps for Diwali. Instead, we get up very early in the morning, have a ritual oil bath, put on new clothes, and then set off fireworks before dawn. The rest of the day is spent visiting friends and relatives and eating sweets.

A very happy Diwali to all of you!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rhinebeck 2014

It was fabulous to be back at Rhinebeck. I have been enjoying the fall colors, which I missed in China. Rhinebeck gives me the opportunity to see them as I drive up and down and walk around the fair grounds.

I was there for most of 4 days this year. I signed up for two classes on Thursday. i took self-striping yarns with Abby Franquemont. We went through many different striping options and I spun two. I finished only 1 single in class so I have to finish up the other single for both of them and then show you what I did.

In the afternoon, I took Thick and Thin Coils with Jacey Boggs. I was pretty pleased to end up with coil-looking things on my yarn! Jacey and Abby are both wonderful teachers who can work with people of different abilities. I had fun and learned a bunch along the way.

On Friday afternoon, I volunteered to scribe for the fleece judging. I had done this for the skein judging and learned a lot but I knew I needed to learn more about fleeces. We scribed in pairs which worked very well. There was a lot to do. We had to take down the jedge's scoring on Uniformity, Density, Crimp, Length, Weight and Handle along with any comments they had. On the sheet we also had to put the number of the fleece (in case it got separated from the fleece) and a sticker indicating if it was excellent or merely good quality. It meant juggling a clipboard, sticker sheets, a pen, paying attention to what the judge said without dropping anything. The evaluation had to be peeled off the sheet after it was done and stuck on the fleece bag.

Our judge was responsible for the medium and long wools in the white category. There were some beautiful fleeces and also some really dirty ones. Really, really dirty. I didn't envy the judge having to get up close and personal with those fleeces. We went through a lot of fleeces. 3-4 tables of closely packed fleeces occupying the entire top of all of them.

Once that was done, he had to select the top 3 from each category. We had been putting aside the best fleeces so we didn't have to go back and find them. These were opened up and spread on the table and examined in more detail to select the #1, #2 and #3 fleece in each category. I learned a lot about crimp and fiber breeds and also found a couple of farms that breed prize winning spinner's flocks. If I want to buy one, I know where to go.

All in all, that was about 4-5 hours of standing. We took a few breaks but they were just for a drink or potty. Not very long at all.

On Saturday, I went up early as I had volunteered to help Jennie the Potter with the morning rush. Jennie was sharing her booth with Jill Draper, so there was more stuff to set out and organize. But also more help. I am always amazed at the crowd and the desire to buy stuff - as in 'must have' stuff. People stood in line for hours to buy things from the booth. I would not have the patience to do this.

After 1 pm, I was free to wander around with my friend. We ate Artichokes French and Beans and Greens to fortify ourselves and then headed out. I succumbed to a couple of bags of Jacob roving, a cute hedgehog puppet, some Into the Whirled fiber. I then went to Carolina Homespun to get a flick carder and... fell down a rabbit hole. I fell in love with a supported spindle and ended up getting it, a spindle bowl AND a Zoom Loom.

 It was a pretty exhausting day and we hung around in the car for about 20 minutes to avoid waiting in line to get out.

Sunday was a more relaxing day. I had some errands to run. I needed to get my WooLee Winder bobbins to the booth to get them reamed out to specification. The plastic screw end had collapsed slightly inward and they weren't fitting on the flyer shaft any more. Then I needed to get my Hansen espinner over to their booth to get the soft-stop feature installed as well as pick up a couple of bobbins. My espinner is old enough not to have the newer feature. Thankfully, both vendors held my stuff so I didn't have to carry everything around with me.

My friend and I both bought some paco-vicuña roving from Victory Farms. This was pricey but oh-so-soft and cheaper than buying the yarn. Yes, I am delusional. I also got some one-of-a-kind braids from Fiber Optic Yarns, beads and a set of stitch markers. After that it was time to stop shopping and head off to volunteer at the workshops. I helped people sign in and find their classes, hand out and collect feedback forms, chat with the other volunteers - who are mostly people from my spinning guild - and then start cleaning up and packing stuff to be stored away for next year. It is a big undertaking to organize the workshops and we are not even responsible for the rooms. We have to leave them clean. But there are signs, office supplies, coffee/tea supplies. decorations, and a myriad set of items that had to be sorted and packed away. I didn't stay till the very end as I had to come to work today and I had about an hour drive home.

I am satisfied and content and tired.

Here's my haul in pictures
 This is Adalin - one of the paco-vicuñas whose fiber I bought.
 Clockwise from top left, the paco-vicuña fiber, the two Fiber Optic braids, beads, Hansen bobbins and the Zoom Loom and the flick carder in the center.
 The hedgehog puppet. Isn't he cute?
 My KCL supported spindle. Can you see the lovely shaft and the color on top of the whorl?
From left, the Jacob roving, two ITW braids and ooops! a Gale's Art braid that I completely forgot about.

The only things missing are the little supported spindle bowl and the stitch markers, both of which were put away before I took the photos.

I think I would be totally exhausted if I had to deal with Rhinebeck each week but there is a part of me that wouldn't mind. i'd have to hide my credit card, of course, but there have been many years where I spent very little. I love meeting my friends from out of town who come in for the festival, among them many vendors who I have known for years. I love running into local people unexpectedly - like a long-time friend, someone from work, and the lady who took over my Tuesday night class at the yarn store. I like making new friends like Gloria Smith of Victory Farms who was very patient with us and our questions. I will be visiting her and the animals again, though I may not buy more fiber. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Great Ocean Road

As previously promised numerous times, I now return to travel blogging. I am going to finish up the Australia and New Zealand trip, then finish up the Japan and Korea trip, and then start on the rest of the travel.

The last part of the Australia trip I blogged about was Uluru or Ayers Rock. After our quick trip there, we flew to Melbourne and took a bus trip along the Great Ocean Road.

I had not heard of this till the travel agent mentioned it, but when she said it was a great trip, I decided to go for it. And I have no regrets. It reminds me a little of the drive on Rt. 1 from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Lots of little towns that are mainly there for summer visitors, beaches, and miles of glorious views.

We left Melbourne early in the morning and the first part was pretty forgettable. It was universal suburbia. But then we hit the ocean.

We were lucky to have scored a seat right in the front of the bus, which allowed us to take photos through the windshield. You'll see the windshield wipers in some of the photos.


There is a historical marker at the entrance to the original road that was built by returning war veterans. Of course it is much longer than that now and we went beyond that part.


There is a beach right there and we stopped for a few minutes to see the Great Southern Ocean.



We drove for most of the morning, with few stops. My album is full of photos of a turquoise ocean as the road curves around the shore.

The towns are mostly Victorian in style. We found a little vegan restaurant at the lunch spot. The rest of the bus went for the higher end place that the driver recommended. The upside was that we finished fairly quickly and then went and got some lovely icecream.



The non-ocean side of the drive was farmland, rolling hills, small towns, etc.


We stopped at a few beaches and eventually ended up two sites called the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge. There were never Twelve Apostles there and a couple have fallen over so now there are only seven.

Those are some of the Apostles.




London Bridge or Arch is a natural bridge that fell down a number of years ago. There were some tourists on it when it collapsed but they weren't on the section that fell. They were stranded on the far side.



We also stopped at another scenic spot called Loch Ard Gorge. There is a shipwreck there which has a story all its own. You can read about it in the wikipedia entry.

Looking down on the beach at Loch Ard Gorge. We didn't go down because we didn't want to climb back up!

Some of the towns were built as shelter from the power of the ocean. They have little beaches, a cove, and their own stories. Here's one of those that we stopped at.


And last, but not least, a very dark picture of a wild koala with a joey feeding in her pouch. They are near the center of the picture slightly to the left. This is a patch of forest that we drove through that koalas are known to live in. We were driving very slowly along the road, trying not to hold up traffic when someone spotted the mother and joey. Unfortunately, since we couldn't stop and the forest trees are dark, this is all I was able to get.

We drove back on the inland highway. It was a long and tiring day but well worth it. I am glad I listened to the travel agent and took the trip. Also, it was nice having someone else drive so we could just drink in the view and enjoy the ride. However, it would have also been nice to have a more leisurely visit, stopping for the night at some of the towns along the way.

As the driver said, this is a sampling of the Great Ocean Road!




Fiber news roundup

Somewhere along the way in moving back, I hurt my right shoulder. I have been icing and resting it (remember RICE? Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevataion) and taking an NSAID. But it didn't get better as quickly as it should have (3 weeks and counting) so I went to the doctor and now am getting physical therapy for it. It is healing very well after even two visits, which means that all my TLC did help in keeping it stable vs. getting worse.

Anyway, the reason for the story is that I've been knitting as I can do that while icing and resting it. Spinning wasn't as comfortable. I finished Nymphalidea from Knitty with a bunch of mods. I should have paid attention to the helpful notes in the finished projects before I started but I don't typically read those and I didn't. Part-way through, I realized two things: one, that it was going to be a very l-o-o-n-g shawl if I kept going and two, it was boring. Then I went and looked at the notes to see what mods people had made.

The comments said that the shawl as written is a tough shape to wear and quite a few people had increased the short rows after about 20 wedges to make it more crescent like. I had already knit 30 wedges which is the size of the finished shawl in the pattern. I had more yarn though, so that was part of my plan. I decided to increase the short row sections and then also finish the top and side with an i-cord to make them one long side - another mod someone had made.

I tried following the short row increases as described in the first set of mods but quickly went my own way. I was winging it here as I couldn't really see what the shawl was going to look like on the needles. But I could visualize it.

I liked the way the wider short-row sections brought out the rainbow in the handspun. It is all done but not blocked as my blocking wires are waiting for customs clearance in NY.

Here is a photo of the finished but unblocked shawl.
The purple long section in the middle is what the rainbow looks like with the original short row sections. You can see the difference between that and the second purple section on the left which is made with wider short row sections.

I started another knitting project. I am tired of shawls and thought about knitting a sweater. I have plans for a couple of handspun sweaters but the yarn is also waiting for the customs clearance. So I went with another shawl but with beads I bought at the wholesale notions market in Shanghai. I had the perfect beads for the yarn.
The yarn is spun from a Miss Babs. It is a BFL in a color called Scarlet Ibis, which is not on her site. I bought it at Rhinebeck a few years ago. I spun it worsted on my Tina. It is a 2-ply and quite even. I am making Dragonfly Wings.

Lastly, in the fiber news roundup, I won a spindle bag in the Tour de Fleece in one of my groups. I had deferred getting it till I was back, which also worked for the person donating the prize. She told me I could get any pattern I wanted so I looked around and found this style. It can be sized to fit a water bottle with the top cut off inside. The water bottle provides protection for the spindle. I thought this was a great idea but I wanted to put my smaller Viewtainer inside. That is the 8" one. Nadine made it for me with padding in the case so it can be used for a larger spindle without the Viewtainer.

For some reason, I can't seem to get it to show up properly in line so here's the link to the photos on flckr. I hope it works. I'll test it after I publish. Else I'll have to work something else out. Edited to add: it works!

And that is all for now. I am busy trying to organize the house. I've been cleaning and decluttering the pantry, the kitchen, my closet and some of the other closets. They all needed to be dusted and cleaned so I am organizing and getting rid of stuff at the same time. it is a slow process and will take the entire winter I think to go through the house but it is a good thing to do.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Goodbye Tibet!

When we last left our intrepid (NOT!) travelers, they had just returned from Shigatse and were becoming acclimatized to the altitude. Sadly, the next day was their last! So much for the acclimatization.

The original itinerary had us just hanging out in Lhasa till our flight left. But the flight was at 3-something pm so I felt we could squeeze in some sightseeing. I asked the guide if we could go to Norbulingka, the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama. And while he could not make it as he had been allocated to another group on that day, he found a peer guide who could take us.

Unlike Potala Palace, Norbulingka is flat. It is set in a park and there are multiple palaces where the Dalai Lamas spent their summers. We didn't see all of the park, just some parts and then visited a couple of the palaces. We saw the one that was in use till the current Dalai Lama built a new one. And the new one that he occupied for just a few years till he escaped to India.


The expanses are wide and the park is beautifully landscaped.

The entrance to the Summer Palaces.

This building was for performances that the Dalai Lama and Lhasa citizens could attend. Opera, music, etc.

Looking at the palace building. As with all the buildings, there is no photography inside so all the photos are of the outsides of the buildings and the park. The interiors are more open than the ones in the monasteries and have more light.

Each palace has a meeting room where the Dalai Lama held meetings. These are also shrines because that is where he worshipped. We didn't go through the living rooms of the older palaces - just mostly the audience chamber and shrine. The Dalai Lama was the head of state so these audience rooms would be where he met with foreign dignitaries. The decor is mostly Thanka paintings and cloth hangings along with beautiful images of the Buddha and other deities in Tibetan Buddhism.

The palace of the current Dalai Lama (pictured above) is different. It is built like a modern home with rooms for living, prayer and sleeping, along with the audience hall and other public rooms. The furnishings have been preserved. There are couches, an old radio set with knobs, credenzas and tables with items that were donated by foreign leaders. The Dalai Lama also had cars - some of which were gifts.

Since the Dalai Lama was brought to the monastery as a young child and then was raised by lamas, his family didn't get to see him very much. One of the poignant things we saw was a small room where his mother slept when she visited him.

In the audience hall, there are murals on the wall - as there are in many of the monasteries and palaces. But this one is different. The current Dalai Lama is portrayed in a mural here. It is the only place where you can see a picture of him. He looks young and serious. Tibetans revere him. When we were there, there was an older woman who was genuflecting in front of the mural. She touched our hand and pointed to the mural and made sure we saw it. We couldn't speak to her but we communicated that this was a special place.

I am glad we had the time to see this. It was very different from the Potala Palace and yet had the same spiritual feeling.

Beautiful ponds are part of the park.

Lush landscaping with paths for walking, shaded by trees.

Lupines in bloom in the park.

After this, we still had a few hours so the guide suggested we go to see a carpet factory. Since Tibetan carpets are quite famous, we thought this was a good idea. It wasn't a high priority on our list but I thought it would be nice to see the carpets being woven - being of a fiber-y bent. But, it turned out that the carpet factory was just a showroom. The actual weaving is done outside Lhasa. We looked through the carpets on display and were not in the mood to buy. The prices were also not that great compared to carpet prices in India. But a small carpet caught our attention and we ended up buying it. The showroom quickly folded it up and strapped it and made a little bag for it. We were able to check it in on the flight back so saved on shipping. I was also able to bargain the price down to the cash I had on hand so didn't pay the credit card transaction fee.

And then it was time to head to the airport and fly back to Shanghai. All too soon our adventure ended.

We had a connection at Xi'an on the way back - there are no direct flights from Shanghai to Lhasa. It was amazing to me how much easier it was to walk in Xi'an. I walked off the plane pulling my carryon behind me and had no trouble walking at my usual brisk pace. It really brought home how much the altitude had affected us.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


On Tuesday, when I was cooking, I had to stop and think about where we keep the colanders. For a few minutes I was completely confused. Then it came back. I've had a few moments like that when my mind has been on something else and I am working from habit. It is very strange to be acclimatizing to one's own kitchen!

The other thing I've noticed is time. I work with people all over the world. i am used to Europe being 6 hours after me, not before. So trying to figure out when to schedule a meeting with a colleague in Germany took 3 tries! It didn't help that my calendar still thinks my home is in China though my local time is here. I don't know why it does that.

But it is nice to have fast internet, to not have to worry about turning on VPNs to check personal mail and to actually watch TV without mismatches between the video and the audio - which happens quite frequently in China. You have to change channels and then change back to get it sync'd up again.