Thursday, 10 December 2009

Good News!

1. I received an A+ in my Macro Photography project (concept, images and presentation) plus some good technical feedback on my images to help me improve - very happy.

2. Just in case anyone is interested, I have just uploaded two patterns to Ravelry to make them available as free PDF downloads:

Quick Cowl
Quick Cabled Cowl*
download now

Semi Precious Scarf
download now

3. In a week's time, my feet will be back on UK soil as I am headed home for a brief visit to sort out the contents of my house (to ship/give away/throw away) and see my family for Christmas. Other than going out to my photography classes, I have been a bit of a recluse this autumn so I am really looking forwards to seeing my family and UK friends again.

4. I have received my visa to enter Canada as a Landed Immigrant. I will do this when I return to Vancouver after Christmas. This means that I can apply for a BC Driver's License (yes, I will need to take a driving test) and I can start looking for work in the New Year! Double hurray!

5. My baby bolero and cuddle wrap arrived safe and sound in Marseille (do not prick my happy bubble by asking exactly how much it cost to ship - suffice it to say that it was about double the cost of the materials that were needed to make the gifts in the first place) and I have received a photo of my gift recipient with her wrap and in her bolero - it fits and they like it = gift success!

Okay, relax. As you were. I really need to get back to my Christmas gift making...

...which is why it has been so bloomin' quiet on this blog recently.

I know, I know: Bad blogger - no biscuit.

Monday, 30 November 2009

UBC Botanical Garden & Macro Photography - Part 1

In an attempt to remain active this autumn, the Fella and I have been looking for ways to combine a bit of exercise with the things that we enjoy (photography) and that I have needed to do on a weekly basis (photography homework projects).

So a little while ago, we headed over to the University of British Columbia with our cameras and tripods to see if we could snap a few images of autumn while exploring their botanical garden.

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Just as background, the UBC Botantical Garden is a lovely mix of West Coast forest and lawned areas. It even has a little physic garden, a kitchen garden and a forest canopy walk (if you have a head for heights)! It is well worth a visit if you live in, or are visiting, Vancouver.


We really enjoyed our afternoon out in the gardens. It helped that we were really lucky with the weather. For me though, one of the best things about our walk was the idea it sparked for my macro photography class final project.

I cannot show you my whole project yet. I did not have time to photograph it before I handed it in. However, I can share the images that I submitted. To amuse you while you look at them, I have included a bit of chat between me and the Fella while we were taking the photographs.

As you may be able to tell from our banter, we are not botanical experts! However, the walk did generate a lot of discussion between us which led me to the idea for my final project. So it is sort of relevant!

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Me: Oooh Fella, come look at the inside of the flowers on this shrub - it is sort of looks like king scallops complete with roe or brains or something! I wonder what this shrub is, I cannot see a label for it.
Fella: Me either, we'll have to ask someone or look it up when we get home?

Fella: How many pictures of a water droplet on a berry do you really need to take?
Me: About just as many as you need to take of that extremely small brown bird in that very large, dead bush?!
Fella: Hey! I like birds. You are right though, this is one dead-looking bush - I wonder why it's here?
Me: Perhaps it does something really interesting in the Spring or the Summer?

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Fella: I do not like hydrangeas.
Me: I do. I find the one in our garden really difficult to photograph so I thought that I would give it a go here.

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Fella: I wonder who gets to eat these cabbages?
Me: (spots a sign) All of the produce goes to a local charity who distribute it.


Fella: These seed heads are amazing - I wonder what this plant looks like when it is flowering?
Me: Do you know? I am not sure. I wonder if we would recognise this plant at another time of year?

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Me: I like how there is still a lot of water around in the shade of the trees even though it is a sunny day.
Fella: Rainforest by name - rainforest by nature!

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Me: Crumbs look at this! Talk about determined, the rest of this Verbascum has died back but it is still trying to send up one final shoot - even though it is nearly November!
Fella: What's a Verbascum?

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Fella: Look at these metallic blue berries.
Me: Ooh, I love them.

(However, I did not love the composition of this image, so I went back to the garden two weeks later to reshoot it - only to find the tree devoid of any leaves or berries. They were all on the ground, in the mud underneath the tree. I had missed them!)

Fella: (reading a sign) Dead Man's Fingers.
(looks up and sounds disappointed) I cannot see anything?
Me: Here! Look, here's one! It's split open and you can see its 'seeds in a thick viscous, edible pulp!
Fella: Urgh, that's horrible - I wouldn't eat that!
Me: (laughing) Just think, if you had not been here today, you might not have ever seen one and known what it was like!

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Fella: I don't like hydrangeas. Why are you photographing another one?
Me: Just to annoy you.
Fella: Really?!
Me: No, of course not but if you complain again, I'm going to look for a third one to photograph!

At this point, your two not-so-intrepid botanists from Vancouver retired gracefullyfrom the gardens in search of a warm place serving hot coffee!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Bits and Bobs

As I am focused on getting a final project together for one of my photography classes (more about this another time) and we seem to have spent the best part of the past three weeks succumbing to, enduring and getting over a persistent sort of cold (not flu), there has not been much crafting or blogging over the past few weeks. Just about the only things (of very minor note) that have taken place recently are my birthday and Halloween (not on the same day).

My birthday was very quiet. I received some greeting cards, an Amazon voucher, some photography related presents from the Fella and two very fabulous bunches of flowers:

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They have really made a lovely splash of colour at home and brightened my sprits while it has been pouring down with rain outside over the past two weeks. The flowers on the left are from some of my younger siblings and the flowers on the right are from my in-laws.

Just as an aside, I'd like to highlight the little tablecloth under the vase. Click if you would like to see bigger images. This was a wedding present from my Italian host family's Albanian foster daughter (which is a connection that is far too complicated for me to explain). It was handmade for us by her grandmother in Albania. I do not think that I have never been given anything handmade like this before, so it is really special - I love how well it goes with the cherry dining table that the Fella made last year.

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Not that I can see myself risking this gift being on our table during meals - in fact it was time for a family meal with the Kid shortly after I took these pictures, so I plucked it away to safety:


Oops! In a flash, I was taken back to my childhood and visits to my grandmother's house. I am sure that I remember things like this draped over armrests plus the back of her sofa and armchairs. Ngg.

Here are my photography presents from the Fella in action:

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As a hint, these pictures of my September sewing club output (isn't it sweet?) were taken in my North facing studio with the lights switched off! Yup, photography lights - very useful for Vancouver's dark, damp, grey winters.

As the Kid was here for the Hallow'een weekend, we held our annual pumpkin carving contest:


However, no winner could be announced as we were all far too biased towards our own pumpkins!

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See what I mean? Mind you, I guess that it is just as well that that no prize was awarded as our pumpkins were just not scary enough to keep away the Trick or Treaters. We had an endless stream of children at our front door between 5pm - 9pm. Last year, I think that we were still eating the left-over Halloween candy at Christmas. This year we almost ran out of sweets to give away. We were down to doling it out, one fun sized bar at a time.

It was a bit nerve racking. The children all looked to be very sweet in their Halloween outfits but who knows what tricks they might have had up their costumed sleeves!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Baby Bolero and Cuddle Wrap

These days, it's not often that I manage to drum up a Finished Object to show and tell! However, in between my 'kitchen make-over' tasks this month, I did put together a little knit and sew present for a little girl who arrived safe and sound in September.


Here is a little bit of information about the two projects that compile this gift.

Baby Bolero


Pattern: Baby Bolero – One Skein - Leigh Radford
Yarn: Dyed Cotton – Blue Sky Alpacas - 100% Organic Cotton (purchased from Urban Yarns)
Yarn Comments: I used the recommended yarn and I found the Blue Sky Alpacas cotton really lovely and soft to work with. Forgetting how knitted cotton goes when it is wet, I gave the bolero pieces a good 'Soak' before I seamed them together. Although it was all fine when it dried, I did have an alarming moment when I felt that I was trying to pin out a droopy, loopy dishcloth. If I need to block anything made of this yarn again, I must remember to use the spray bottle, damp-block approach!

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Pattern Comments: I did not modify the pattern but I did stray very slightly from the finishing instructions. I blocked the pieces before I put them together. Then I used a coordinating cotton sewing thread to seam the bolero as the garment is really small and yarn is comparatively bulky. I seamed the sleeves before I stitched them into the armholes (it just seemed to make more sense to do it that way). Also, I could only find 34 stitches, not 38, to pick up where instructed for the ribbed edging. This did not have any visible impact on the edge of the finished garment.


Now I have made this bolero before. I make it again because I remembered that it was a quick and easy knit. The instructions are clear and easy to follow and you can make it out of a single skein of Blue Sky Alpacas Dyed Cotton. This is how much yarn I had left over afterwards:


The only thing that I would bear in mind about this pattern, if you are considering making this bolero, is that the yarn weight is ever-so-slightly on the bulky side for such a small garment.

I found this when I made my first bolero. However, I put it down to my yarn substitution. Yet I struggled this time too. Although seaming with sewing thread did help, the seams were still a bit bulky. I think that this contributes to the garment pulling out of shape a little around the armholes. If you click here, I am hoping that the link take you to the Ravelry Bolero Projects page where, if you flick through a few pages, you will start to see the problem I mention in a number of project photographs.

Cuddle Wrap

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Pattern: Improvised but based on a flannel cotton kit that I saw at The Cloth Shop
Materials: 1 metre of white cotton flannel; 1 metre of a quilting cotton in a fun print (purchased from The Cloth Shop); sewing and embroidery cottons
Techniques Employed: rotary cutting; piecing; top stitching; hand appliqué and embroidery

Comments: although this project was very simple, it is the first gift that I have made on my own without any input. It is not perfect by any means, but it still feels like a milestone. I do not think that I would have had the confidence to attempt this project without the input I have received this year from the sewing club and quilting class I have attended. Even if I had plucked up the courage to work on it without this input, I do not think that it would have turned out nearly so well.


Honestly - if you are thinking of getting to grips with your sewing machine but are not sure where to start then I do recommend that you see if there is some kind of a club or class in your area. Even if you are familiar with your sewing machine, it will mean that you tackle a small project once a month - if there is one thing that I have learned from my knitting it is that the more you do, the more you learn and the easier it becomes to get a good result. (Mostly!)


The second thing that I would like to mention is that the shape of this wrap was totally inspired by Knitter Bunny's Baby Chalice Blanket which did not receive a prize in her State Fair this year.

You see, the judges commented that her blanket was an odd size/shape for a baby blanket. Well, it was rectangular. Now, as the overall shape of most babies that I have met has been fairly cuboid (or rectangular parallelepiped, if you prefer), it seems to me that their general shape lends itself quite neatly to a rectangular shaped blanket. So I have made a rectangular one too!*

*Notes: of course, if the parents of my gift recipient complain about the shape of my gift, I will amend my ways and make square or round cuddle wraps in future!


Although both of these pieces are really simple, I am pleased with the way that they sort of complement each other and combine to make a complete gift. I like this idea and I think that I will look for more opportunities to do it again.


In the meantime, I hope that my gift recipient and her parents will enjoy their present. I have requested a photograph for my project files but, as I have still not received one yet for the pink cardigan that I dispatched earlier this year, I am not going to hold my breath!

Monday, 26 October 2009

The View From The Rear

Yesterday, the alarm went off at a most unwelcome hour for a Sunday. I noticed that the Fella ignored it. Instead, he buried his head in his pillow and snuggled deeper into the duvet. If I am honest, he threw an arm around me and promptly went back to sleep.

I lay there for a bit and listened to a CBC radio programme (over the Fella breathing in my ear) - I heard one presenter commenting on how lovely the sunrise was and listened when the follow-up weather report forecast 10-15mm of rain, due shortly after sunrise.

I groaned and poked the Fella awake again, "We've got to get up. Rain is forecast - we'll need to take some wet weather gear."

His face was a picture of misery at the prospect of losing both his Sunday lie-in and going outside when it was due to tip down with rain - simply because I was determined to fulfil a promise to my sister. Now she lives in India at the moment and has probably forgotten what rain and 9 degrees Celsius (without wind chill factor) feels like.

Ok, my promise to my sister? To get off my backside and do some more exercise. My sister decided - in her infinite wisdom and after some googling - that participating in a 9.5km run around the Stanley Park Seawall would be the perfect way to kick-start my exercise programme.

In horror, I told her that I have never been able to run anything in my whole, wide life. She laughed (somewhat gleefully, I feel) and told me not to be so ridiculous. In the end, we compromised on me entering the 'walk' category...this year, at least. Plus I got a promise from her in return. If I do my walk; she has to fulfil a promise to me in India.

Now the problem for the Fella is that he tends to get roped into the things that I do. So if I am going to walk 9.5km on a Sunday morning in Stanley Park... then so is he. Hence the wretched expression on his face.

"Okay, tell you what," I said, "you make coffee; I'll make bacon sandwiches."

His face brightened and he rolled out of bed. I called out after him, "Although, in view of the occasion, I realise that I should probably give you a healthy bowl of cereal or a bowl of oatmeal."

He said something that I didn't catch but from the indignant tone, I think that it might have been something rude.

* * *

A short while later, the Fella sat at the dining table, one hand clamped around a hot mug of black coffee and the other gripping a substantial bacon sandwich. I was similarly equipped (albeit with a smaller portion).

Over our carefully considered pre-race breakfast, we discussed the improbable fact that we were up, dressed and about to take part in a 9.5km run (okay 9.5km walk). The improbability is probably summed up well by the fact that the Fella does not even own a pair of trainers, we have not done any practice walking and the fact that we are have this conversation while munching on bacon.

I can just tell that the Fella was really and truly trying to look on the bright side of being dragged outside on a cold, grey Sunday morning when he said, " least we aren't doing this for erectile dysfunction.*"

I reassured him that it is really only 9.5km; hardly a marathon. The expression on his face suggested that 9.5km may as well be 26 miles, as far as he was concerned.

*Notes: Film: Run Fat Boy Run

* * *

Now if you are any kind of serious runner, you will know that it is essential that you skip the bacon sandwiches and get yourself to a race venue early - at the sparrow's fart, preferably. Not just to avoid the intake of bad calories and do your pre-race warm up but also in order to park close to the race Start/Finish line. Otherwise you are just going to end up parking with the rest of us amateurs, quite some distance away and sad in the knowledge that you are likely to regret your tardy arrival later.

We were oblivious to this, of course. We simply rounded the last corner from our gentle 0.8km warm up walk from the car, saw the race registration tent and focused on the realisation that we had just arrived in a very strange land.

We were in the Land of the Enthusiastically Fit and Lithe. The land where lycra is your flattering friend and the toned body may run free. People were happy and excited; some were even in fancy dress. They were not hunched up against the cold, swaddled in raincoats like we were.

They had that happy glow of people who are familiar with, and happy to be, up early and about to do something that they love. There was even a DJ pumping out high energy versions of tracks like, "It Hurts So Good" while some competitors improvised warm-up routines that other runners were joining in with.

Now please excuse the expression but I cannot bring to mind a different one that would sum it up as well - we felt about as out of place and uncomfortable as a packet of sliced ham delivered wrongly to a bagel shop. Here is the picture that I snapped of the Fella, just after the majority of runners had left the Registration area to go to the Start Line:

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When you look at this picture, you need to know that "The Eye of the Tiger" track was playing very loudly in the background. At this point, I think that I am just lucky that the Fella has not turned on his heel and headed back to the truck! As for me, I just started to giggle nervously.

Now this is the view ahead of us in the race line up, just before the start:

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This is pretty much the same view, just after the start:

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I would like to point out that this was about the last time that we saw the majority of these runners. Not only were we the last two people over the start line, we were walking. The only other participants visible in the distance ahead of us was a family group with young children.

As we left the start line and walked up the road, we became aware that we were being tailed by a woman on a bicycle (apologies that the picture is blurred). She peddled up to us and introduced herself as the race sweeper official:

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The Fella voiced discomfort in my ear and asked why we hadn't just walked the Seawall on our own. To make matters worse, the cyclist was joined by a Transport Authority patrol vehicle (which looked like a police squad car, complete with emergency lights going) who wanted to reopen the roads.

After a bit, the patrol vehicle caught up with us and the official started to make small talk with us out of his passenger side window. First of all, observing our speed, he jokingly suggested that we cheat by taking a shortcut via the totem poles.

When we rejected that suggestion, impressed by our determination, he suggested that we seek to improve our efforts by joining his running group. It meets every Sunday morning at 08:30. This group, apparently, includes a lady of 76, who doesn't run when conditions are slippery.

We nodded like there was a cat's chance in hell of us taking him up on his offer and walked on, studiously trying to ignore him as he announced to other passer-bys and drivers that he had to escort us, the very last people in the race, safely off the roadway before he could open them back up to the general public. The Fella increased his speed, expressing discomfort and embarassment (through gritted teeth) at being followed by someone he kept referring to as 'the police'.

Plus under all this close scrutiny? It meant that he felt that he couldn't have a cigarette. Now if you know the Fella, you will realise that this is a serious, deal-breaking issue. It simply had not occurred to him that he might have to endure a 9.5km walk without a single cigarette. Luckily, we moved onto the Seawall footpath and lost the patrol car before he had a complete snit.

However, to his chagrin, we could not shake the woman on the bicycle. The poor love was doomed to spend the whole race peddling as slowly as she could behind us. In the end, she realised that she just could not peddle slowly enough without falling off her bike, so she tailed us the rest of the way on foot:

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The Fella's mood worsened - her prescence eliminated any kind of cigarette stop. I noticed that his walk became very purposeful. To the point where I was almost jogging along beside him to keep up. After about 4km, I asked if he might consider slowing down a little.

He glanced over and said, "We cannot slow down. We are gaining on the kid."

There was a short silence while I digested this news. Then, "What kid?!" I asked, scanning the horizon.

"That one. The one with the fairy wings. We are gaining on them. I am not going to be beaten by a kid in a pair of fairy wings!"

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Yup, one of the children in that little group ahead of us. After 4km, we had gained a few feet on the family group who had been ahead of us at the very start. Only a few feet, mind you. It seemed that in order to ignore his cigarette craving, the Fella had decided to focus on overtaking a child aged under 10 years old and adorned with fairy wings.

I thought that this might not be the best time to tell him that he was being ridiculous.

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By this point the child had handed its wings over to a parent to carry. The race wore on and each time we crept a little bit closer to the family group ahead of us, I caught a glimpse of this little smile on the Fella's face:

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In the end though, to his credit, the pace that he set us did mean that we eventually caught up with them. Mind you, it took us about 8km to do it.

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Actually, I have to be honest and tell you that the real reason we overtook them is that they actually stopped in order to take photographs of each other at some rocks by the path:

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However, the smile on the Fella's face was still like this after we passed them:

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Hmm, not a man who can hide triumphant joy very easily - I must remind him never to play poker!

The family group had been joined by two male runners somewhere between the 5 and 6km markers (one of them is the tall person wearing black and a bright red wig). Basically, they had run the race, finished it and run back to find their families trailing behind them - just in order to accompany them back to the Finish line. At one point, the guy in the red wig even ran back to us and offered us some kind of 'Power Energy Bar' that they were giving out to runners at the end of the race.

We refused them on the basis that we were only doing the race in order to shed a few pounds. In truth, I think that we were more worried that if we consumed any runner chow that originated from the 'Land of the Enthusiastically Fit and Lithe', that might be it! There might not be no return to the 'Land of the Sofa Bound Slobs' that we know so well.

At long last, the Finish line came into view and I was not at all surprised when the male runners plus the children, picked up their pace to pound past us down the home stretch - after all, the Fella might not have wanted to be beaten by a kid in a pair of fairy wings but can you imagine how the kid might have felt about being beaten by some old guy who doesn't even own a pair of trainers?!

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Our official race time? The timer above the Finish line said something like 1:54 as we crossed it. I promised my sister that I would try to complete the race in under 2 hours and we just about managed it. Here is a shot of the Finish line that I took after we had passed through and handed in our ChampionChip timers:

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Our actual, personal times were 1:53 something. We came 946 and 947 out of 949 runners!

Ho hum. Well, race done, we stood there and looked at each other. The prize giving had long been held and most of the real runners had pushed off home. It was all a bit forlorn. It was probably at that point we realised that we still had to limp another 0.8km to the truck along Lost Lagoon.

It felt like a very long way. Mind you, it did provide the Fella with an opportunity to chain smoke a good number of cigarettes. The final part of our walk it was very peaceful - no race officials and no patrol cars. We came across a whole family of racoons and we made it back to the car just before it really started to pound down with rain.

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When we got to the truck, I suggested a light lunch at Cardero's in honour of the race's Rear Guard Couple and I was rewarded with this tired but grateful smile:

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Fella: I love you for being just so bloomin' supportive. Last night and this morning, we even discussed working a good long walk into our weekend routine, rain or shine. Yes please.

PS, Little sis'? I did mine - now it's your turn. I believe that we agreed on something that might be a stretch for you? Now, wasn't it something like a 10 mile/half marathon run?!