Friday, January 28, 2011


There's a small and not-so-known section of my office that's open to the public, meaning that a part of my job is fielding questions from people who come in. Because it's small and not-so-known, there aren't a whole lot of visitors; but there are some regulars. (This is sometimes good, sometimes not.)

One such party stopped by not too long ago (they ask for me by first name, like we're old friends; it's kinda weird but what can ya do?) to say hello. We struck up some smalltalk as we usually do. And suddenly the conversation heads thusward:

Mr. A: So...if I may... May I ask, how old is Jean?

Me: Jean is old enough.

Mr. A: You're not in your 50s, are you? 40s?

Me: [Incredulous, unsure if this is a joke] ... Umm... Try somewhere in my 30s...

Mr. A: oh, really? Because you seem so old.

Me: [Incredulous, unsure if this is a joke] ... Umm, really? Are you serious? Is that a ... compliment?

Mr. A: Oh, of course! Young people these days are just so .... But you're nothing like that. You've always carried yourself with such maturity. ... And I have this friend, who I thought, maybe... He's 61--

Me: [Still incredulous, still unsure if this is a joke, but not caring to find out] -- That's almost double, sir.

Mr. A: Oh, well... [mumble mumble]...

Me: I have to go back to work now. Bye.

Good grief! I've never been told that I look old before! Is it because of my new haircut? I don't think so! People have told me that I look more like my mom, but also that it's a cute cut. What do you think?

[self, cowled]

While I'm at it, allow me to introduce my first FO of the year. It's the Stripes to Keep Me Warm pattern (Ravelry link) with a few mods: knit in fingering weight yarn, with shortened neck part, because I knew I would never use it as a hood/wimple. I actually didn't quite like the 'scrunch' factor, either, so ended up folding the edge inside. I wore it the other day over a sleeveless black dress and grey flats, and felt very chic.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Confession:  one of my guilty pleasures is Craigslist.  I am always trolling for my dream apartment, wonderful mid-century-get-it-for-a-song piece of furniture (for said apartment or for my awesome future home), or something I totally don't need.  Like an RV (blame it on the summer issues of Sunset magazine).

I started looking -- seriously, this time... well, sort of -- for a daybed a while ago.  Because I can't afford won't pay for the one that I want, and because I don't want to buy new. 

Then I found a daybed.  Not the one that I originally wanted.  But one that was okay. And it fit my style more than all the other daybeds listed (white curved heart frames, ceramic finials, wood and iron combos -- no no no).  And it was cheap.  So I went for it and contacted the poster.  We traded emails, phone calls, and texts during the week, and I made arrangements for my brother to drive out with me to look at it.  By the time we got there I already felt like I had to buy it: to make the (long, traffic-ridden) trip worthwhile?  Because after three or four emails I already felt so invested in the piece?  And guilty over my brother's and the seller's time?  I told myself that I was helping  out the sellers, who had bought it, probably impulsively, for their baby (who still fits in her crib), and who were selling their house.  Besides, it was less expensive than it would have been had I bought it retail (at Ikea).  They're entirely acceptable reasons, and I did end up buying it, but in that self-imposed guilt or sense of responsibility or whatever, I forgot that the purchase was solely for me and that I should have given the choice entirely to myself -- my wants, not just my needs.  I should have asked:  Do I really want this?  Is it worth it?  Can I negotiate for a lower price?  Do I have to commit to it at all?  Rather, I ended up justifying a "for me" purchase with "for them" reasons. 

I'm not beating myself up too much over it.  After all, it's just a piece of furniture.  That I like.  And will use.  And was cheap.  And can be resold.  Yet the whole episode made me realize that, despite trying to change with this year's resolutions theme, I simply don't love myself that much.  And that I'll settle, while putting others -- even strangers -- ahead of myself.  It's humility taken to the extreme.  Which can't be very healthy.  This stark realization has been a good wake-up call; I intend to be more aware of and conscientious about my self and my decision-making.

Which brings me to the bigger things. Like finding a new apartment.  For the past few weeks I've been looking here and there (on CL of course) and even made some inquiries and gone to see some places.  Some sort of (internal, probably totally fabricated) voice is pressuring me to hurry up and make a decision.  So no one else beats me to a certain apartment.  Because something better might not come up.  And is there such thing as an ideal apartment anyway?  I chatted with the owner of one building and established a good rapport, so although the apartment itself is not ideal, I went ahead and turned in an application. So no one else beats me to it.  Because something better might not come up.  And because the owner and I are best friends now, right? 

OMG it's happening again.

The day after I turned in the rental application, the owner called me because I'd left off some information (I always wait for them to ask, just to make sure it's absolutely necessary).  I said I'd get the info to him and thanked him for his quick response (because we're best friends now, right?) and he replied, "Sure, 'course, it's business.  This is what I do."


The chime rang so loudly.  So clearly.  We are NOT best friends.  I didn't wow a potential landlord over with my personality.  He is looking to see if I my tenancy will be a good financial decision.  And the sooner he verifies my info, the sooner he knows the answer, and the sooner he can either move on to find another tenant, or move me in and start collecting rent.  It's business.  Work.  A job.  His job.  NOT mine.  My job is to find an apartment for me.  Because I'll be the one living there.  So I'd better do what's best for me. What a concept, right?  But it was a HUGE leap for me.

Instead of rushing to get the  information to him as soon as possible (to make his life easier), I am slowing down and asking myself what I want vs. what I can settle with or without.  And:  Do I really want this?  Is it worth it?  Can I negotiate for a lower price?  Do I have to commit to it at all?  Not only am I asking, but giving myself time to think about the answers:  I'm not sure.  I'm not sure (leaning towards no).  Probably.  Nope! 

I feel so liberated!  I am continuing to look at apartments, making the effort -- emailing, calling, texting, getting in my car and driving all over town etc. -- and taking steps towards the change I want to see in my life.  I am upfront with myself and the owner/manager if an apartment is out of my price range or does not meet my needs.  I am not taking an application unless I am truly interested (my car and the environment thank me).  The internal, probably totally fabricated voice is getting fainter. And there is no guilt.  And it's only January, friends. 

Ok, back to Craigslist. (Just kidding.  Sort of.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Goo's birthday sweater, and not

The Goo has a few stuffed toys, but not too many sweaters, so I opted to knit one for him for his birthday.  I finished it a month early so he got to wear it a few times.  No sense in waiting ("He don't know," as my brother says).  I used a discontinued yarn, GGH Soft Tweed (grey with orange, green, yellow, and brown flecks).  It turned out very cute, if I do say so myself!

 [Goo and sweater, and Aunty Jean]

Well, in early December, another set of college friends had their firstborn, and I decided it was finally time to finish up a toy bear that had been in my WIP pile for a while (you may remember it here and here).  It took much less time than I thought to attach the limbs, and I used up some leftover sock yarn to embroider the eyes and nose.  I held off on sending it right away because the head was still a bit floppy and I wanted to f ind a ribbon to tie there.

Luckily -- or unluckily, as the case may be -- my brother came up to me one afternoon with a terrible look on his face.  He was doing the laundry and had simply thrown The Goo's birthday sweater in with the rest of the lot.  He felt awful, asked me if there was anything we could do to stretch it out again.  Nope!  All I could do was laugh.  Here's what it looked like, with my coffee cup for scale:

[sweater, felted]

I was ready to save the buttons and toss it out, until MyKo came over and had a brilliant idea:

[sweatered bear]

I'm shipping it to BabyA this week!  With care and washing instructions.  And I'll make sure The Goo's next sweater will be in superwash.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Crafting creatures

Making toys for babies is my new thing, for many reasons:

  • they stick around a lot longer than clothes

  • it's good re-use for old woolens

  • I have tons of stuffing

  • they're super cute!

For Baby V, I used an old scarf my brother had given me in college (the parents are our college friends, so very appropo), a Martha Stewart pattern, and leftover sock yarn.  Oh, and I used another felted sweater for the ears, tail, and snout (red bits).  I enlarged the pattern to the appropriate size and made sure to cut so that stripes were all aligned. 

[piglet parts]

I sewed exposed seams with sock yarn.  It took forever but was totally worth it!  Instead of using a pipe cleaner for a curly tail, I simply knottted a length of red felted sweater.

[piglet profile]

[piglet front]

It was a hit! My friends appreciated the detail, the eco-friendliness, and the color scheme (staying away from too much pink).  Welcome to the world, BabyV!

Friday, January 21, 2011


Ceramics was entirely new to me when I randomly signed up for a class last summer, wanting to stretch my comfort zone.  It was just a four-week class, but we got to it immediately.  It was much harder to throw than the instructor (a lovely, lovely lady) made it look -- as most things are -- but it was so fun!

Week 1: Get right into it!

[wheel, clay, tools]

[first throw]



Week 2: Carry on, then!

[small bowl]

[more tools]

[cleaned up]

Week 3: More practice

[guess which is mine?]

[more splatters]

Week 4: Glazing

[awaiting glaze]


[best bowl]


Finally: Pick up time!

[first piece (with handle)]

[little things]


I loved being in a creative space.

I learned a lot about rhythms, subtlety, movement, and color.
I loved the sandy clay slipping through my fingers. And splattering all over my clothes.
I loved watching the clay thin out and move. Reacting to my slightest movement.
I loved... creating.

I loved seeing the finished pieces (the glaze is not at all like the finished color; it felt like Christmas! Glazing, by the way, is an art form entirely unto itself).

In review: I'm least happy with my first piece:  I did something wrong with the glaze and it ended up very rough and chalky. I even thought about throwing it away, but then found an acceptable use for it.  My best piece, the bowl, wasn't there when I came to pick everything up!  I'm so sad!  But at least I have a picture of it.

I thought about signing up for the 10-week class to practice more throwing and learn other techniques, but in the end, the fact that I have no space to accumulate pieces kept me from registering.  I'm so happy with what I learned and made during those four weeks, though, and super glad I did it.  I'm committed to learning more this year and pushing my creative boundaries.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Handmade treats

Last year, right after Thanksgiving, I got a surprise package from the ever lovely Marsha.  I opened the box to find several mini-packages, all with little hints and messages!  It was thoughtful, wonderful: an oasis during a rough storm of a time.

[gifts, wrapped]

[gifts, opened]

I mean, it was everything that could possibly touch a heartstring.  I've never received such handmade and heartfelt gifts before!  From flowers and magnets to tea and soap and lip balm, everything was relevant, useful, and beautiful.  And oh, the handmade:  a ceramic bowl, a mug, a knitted washcloth, and a knitted cowl.

I especially appreciated the ceramics because I'd just taken my first class over the summer, and realize that it takes A LOT of work to get a presentable piece (for me, at least).  I feel so special whenever I drink out of my new favorite mug.  It is a perfect color combination, too.  Love that speckled white and blue. 

And the knitting.  Gracious!  What's special about the (red) cowl is that it's made out of yarn that I'd gifted Marsha when we first became Interwebs friends.  I had no idea that it would 'come back' in that way.  I'm still blown away when I think about it.  And I LOVE the design: it looks like a bunch of necklaces.  And it's SO soft and warm.

Thanks, Marsha, for being SUCH  a MAKER and a GIVER.  I am truly honored and blessed by your friendship in so many ways.  Thanks for reminding me of the human factor behind the cyberness. (And sorry it took til now to post.  The Goo had put my memory card in his mouth and I had to reformat it, thinking I'd lost a lot of photos.  I had to do some major reorganization in order to find these!)

Just a bit more reminiscing, and it's onwards with the New Year!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wednesday dinners

Growing up, my mom cooked a new meal and my family had dinner together every night.  I always thought that was what everyone did, until I went to my friends' homes in high school and it was every man for himself!

Over the years, the older kids grew up and lived on their own, and the younger kids grew more independent, and meals became mostly my mom and dad.  They could afford to eat out more often, too.  I noticed take-home boxes more and more in their refrigerator, and after my mom's aneurysm surgery in 2007, I decided to come home and cook for them once a week.  My older brother joined in the effort, and we were having family dinners together twice a week.  Gradually we reduced to once a week and divvied cooking privileges between the four siblings.  It became a family tradition that we are still continuing each week.  This year I decided to document what we cook and eat.

I had a visitor in town over the New Year, so the first week's dinner was moved to Honda-ya, one of my favorite izakaya restaurants in LA.  We went more for ambiance than food quality (their food is good, but there are other places that are better): we sat in the tatami section and ordered pitchers of beer and tons of food, reminiscent of days in Japan (where I met my friend, so brought back old memories).


It's Dungeness crab season, so last Wednesday we decided on seafood shabu shabu, adding salmon and shrimp along with the usual goodies (napa cabbage; spinach; enoki, shiitake, white and brown kinoko mushrooms; tofu; konnyaku; green onion).  We used ponzu and lemon for dipping.  It was delicious!

[seafood shabu]

I'm looking forward to the culinary delights that are in store for us this upcoming year!  I hope to come up with a better name than "Family Dinner."  Suggestions are welcome!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Anyone who knows me knows that I am simply not a morning person: getting out of bed is one of the hardest things I have to do each day.  So I linger, and linger, snooze, just another minute.  And then: oh, shoot, any longer and I'm gonna be late, there's the 15-Minute-Flurry and I practically run out the door.  These days I've been plugging in the kettle before I brush my teeth, and getting the fresh press on while I'm doing my makeup.  The French press is done in just four minutes; dash of milk, and I'm ready to go.  Once in a while I'll even have a couple minutes to get some toast on, though admittedly, those days are rare.  To be honest, I had to force myself to get up and get breakfast, just because of the P52 theme!

I'm working on it, though!  I've been trying to both go to sleep and wake up earlier, and have made it official by naming it one (two, actually) of my New Year's resolutions.  I actually started late last year, getting to bed about 10 or 10:30 and feeling refreshed all the next day.  I could never quite get to it more than two or three days straight, so it's a work in progress.  There are tons of articles out there (like here or here or here) on reasons why it's better to wake up earlier, and how to go about doing it.

This blog makes the idea of waking up and enjoying the morning so much more enticing.  My goal is to sleep by 10:30 and wake up at 6:30 five consecutive nights.  Slowly I'll add depth and variety to my breakfast menu as well: cereal, then oatmeal, yogurt and fruit, protein smoothies, etc.  I'm glad to have started this year with "breakfast" as a theme; it's something I hope to carry on throughout the year!

Here's what I had for breakfast on Thursday (yes, it took until Thursday!):

[water, coffee, read bean toast]

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Preparing to write

There's something about a new year that's like a breath of fresh air, that crisp first page of a just-opened new journal that's waiting to be filled.  That's a good image with which to start the year, especially since I plan on writing a lot more -- both here and with actual paper and pen!

To that end, I spent the lunch hour today cleaning out my fountain pens. 

[pen parts]

Here are two of the three I own.  The top one I bought at a bookstore in Vietnam.  Fountain pens and inks were all the rage with my younger students, so I did it partially for the "cool" factor.  It only cost about USD$1, and it's one of the best pens I have.  The bottom one is a Parker, the first fountain pen I ever purchased, back when I was studying abroad (why did I buy an American pen in the UK?!).  It never really worked very well for me, and I chalked it up to being left-handed.  It's mostly unused, but I hope that after a good rinse the ink will run smoothly from any angle.  I've got one more at home, an old Parker that my dad gave me (rather, I found it when digging through an old desk and claimed it), which could stand a really thorough flushing out.

Most fountain pens these days have disposable ink cartridges, but I like to stick with converters so I can re-ink out of bottles.  That way I can play around with different colors.  Currently I use blues and greens, but I like the look of a brown or grey ink.  Or a deep magenta.


You can't see it too clearly, but the ink runs differently out of each of the pens.  There's a different feel to the writing, too, since the pens themselves are so different in weight and texture.  I prefer the top one because the ink runs out much more evenly, albeit in higher volume; the metal case and slimmer body also give this a nice weight in my hand as I write.  The Parker pen is lighter, as the (clear blue) case is plastic, but it the weightiness comes when the cap's on top.  The part that you hold while writing is rubber, though, and while it provides more grip, I don't quite like it as much as the feel of metal in the other pen.  It's also a thicker pen, which doesn't sit as well in my little hands.  I'm glad that the ink's running out more evenly than before (maddeningly start-and-stop), but as you can see at the "h," "j," and "q," where it thins out, the ink flow is still not perfect.  I hope that it will become more so with more use.

My writing is not perfectly straight, so I try always to get journals with unlined pages (which means I usually end up getting sketchbooks) or a grid.  Whenever I start writing a new page, my nervousness shows in uneven writing.  But it smooths out as I get in the rhythm of the pen as well as the content.  I like that feeling of increasing composure and confidence.  

As the year begins, I am still a bit wobbly in many areas of my life.  But as I continue to think about the year's dreams and goals, I find myself more and more ready for all the weeks and months ahead.  And "ready" doesn't mean I see or am necessarily working towards a particular goal, but simply that I'm good to go, whereever the road may lead.  I hope that things will come into greater focus and that I'll pick up speed and strength as I head towards them.  I'm almost done with my list of resolutions for 2011; looking foward to writing them over and over on little cards and tucking them in all of my daily places, and sharing with you here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


The first real coat I ever bought was the year I studied abroad.  In England.  That's the first time I remember being really, really cold.  (It was a lovely navy blue peacoat that I found at a Marshalls- or Ross-like discount retailer, and probably the most I'd ever spent on an individual garment.  I found it the other day as we've been cleaning out my parents' old house.  Yes, I let it go.)

When my  neck, fingers, and toes are cold, I can't function properly.  When my feet are cold (as they are now), I can't sleep.  This is where a good hand-knit accessory becomes invaluable.  Scarves, mitts, socks: yes, please!

During my first winter in Japan, I wore two scarves at a time, wrapping my head and neck with only a sliver open to see as I rode my bike to and fro. No peripheral vision but it didn't matter much because I was the only one on the road, everyone else having access to a car or a friend with a car.  Coworkers would tell me that they saw me riding to work.  "Why didn't you pick me up?!?!" I would often think to myself...  I still remember Japanese winters as the kind that make your marrow cold.  Thank goodness for nabe dishes and kotatsu.

I don't run because my ears get cold.  Most people are incredulous when they hear this.  But it's true.  Even in warmer months, simply brushing up against the air makes my ears cold, which starts a headache, which renders me pretty much miserable.  Someone suggested a headband.  So on my to-knit list: Calorimetry.  Sooner rather than later, as I've got a 10K for which to start training!

Growing up in Southern California sure spoils a gal to seasons.

Friday, January 7, 2011

2011, week by week

I decided to continue with Project 365 this year on my own (though I already missed January 2nd -- I'll be gentle on myself and count the pic I took at 12:42 a.m).  Though I have no idea how it will work out, I anticipate that 2011 will be a significant year for me, and I want to document it photographically.  But I'm still interested in the idea of a group project, so have joined one started by the lovely Marsha, which will follow weekly themes set by the folks at Digital Photography School.

And what with all the synchronized writing challenges, I've decided to jump on that wagon, too.  But I'm not going to do the weekly post using Plinky's prompts.  Rather --and to make things easier for myself -- I'm going to both photograph and write about the same theme each week.  (If you're interested or curious, here's a link to the theme list.)

It's late night Friday/early morn Saturday, which gives me just a couple of days to compose a post about this week's theme: cold.  Wishmeluck!

In the meantime, here's this week's photo:

[week 2: cold]

Only in Southern California can you find fancy ice cream at a farmers market in winter!  (And tomatoes.  And strawberries.)