Passionately Pursuing the Good Life

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Life List #20 – I made a quilt! Just don’t look too close

Perhaps one of the lessons learned in crossing things off of a life list is that not all pursuits of life-long interests are going to be a smashing success. And while I’m doing my best to reserve final judgment on my potential role as a quilter after only making one baby quilt, let’s just say this wasn’t a triumphant experience.

After having a great time at the basic sewing class at Home Ec in Silverlake, I decided to enroll in their three part beginning quilting class which involved the making of a baby quilt.

Allow me the small digression to point out the irony that economics were a large part of my interest in quilting. In theory, I should be able to make a beautiful, full size quilt at a fraction of the retail cost. But learning is apparently expensive. Given the cost of the class itself PLUS all the materials…let’s just say I easily could have purchased a new full sized quilt.

Ouchie money part aside, I proceed to gather the materials I need and prepare my fabric strips for the first day of class. This part was actually fairly easy (especially with a handy dandy rotary cutter) and kind of fun! I feel I’m off to a good start!

Class Number One: Sewing Machine from Hell, Anxiety and a Hangover

I start off on the wrong foot by overindulging in a few hefty glasses of red wine the night before and arrive to class with a naggy wine headache. Despite that I’m excited to be there and ready to start. We are instructed to lay out our pieces of fabric in a design we want the finished product to be. Easy enough. Quilting is easy! Then we are sent off to our sewing machines. This pretty much marks the end of my free ride. I’ve only taken one class and I can’t recall how to properly thread this retched machine. I anxiously await help from the instructor which sets me behind my fellow classmates. Finally, the machine gets set up and I’m back on track. I start sewing and….JAM. Argh. Remove fabric, untangle mess, try again. Sewing, sewing…JAM. This happens repeatedly. I again attempt to flag down the instructor who is busy chatting about her day job. It doesn’t help that I can’t remember her name. “Um….teacher?? I decide maybe I should rethread my machine. Again…setting me behind and making me nervous (which is agitating the wine headache). Rethreading works and I complete my first sewing task.

Our next step induces such anxiety that it literally makes my hands shake. We are supposed to cut our fabric pieces to an exact length and width. Which sounds easy enough until suddenly you are faced with rulers and lines and flashbacks of high school geometry (which I definitely did not excel in) and all you can think is OMG WHAT IF I CUT IT WRONG AND RUIN IT??? At this point I start to think maybe quilting isn’t for me. I thought this was supposed to be a relaxing experience? I cut the strips to the best of my ability, am sent back to the evil machine to sew the strips together, and mercifully, our first class comes to an end. I go home. Drink more wine.

Class Number Two: Survival and Success!

I approach the second class in sheer survival mode. I do something that isn’t very nice…I sit at a different machine. While everyone else is gravitating back to their spots from the previous class, one poor girl is forced to sit at the evil machine because I got there first. But did I have jamming problems? Nope. Not once. I spent the remainder of class avidly avoiding eye contact every time I heard her machine sputter and cough.

Our second class is all about quilting! We sandwich the top of the quilt to the back with the batting inside, and smother it with pins to keep it in place. Then away we go! This is what I was most looking forward to. The whir of the machine, the fabric moving beneath my hands, and line by line the pieces of fabric magically turning into a quilt! My confidence restored, I stop short a few inches once our time runs out but our instructor assures us that we can finish the quilting part the final week. We have lots of time! Phew…maybe I’m not the Quilt FAIL I was worried I would be.

Class Number Three: Disappointment

I arrive at the final class feeling good about my work and excited to walk out later with a fully completed quilt. My first setback comes when the instructor looks at my piece and says “Oh, you need to finish quilting? Um, OK…” But Stupid Lady you said we could finish this week!!!! Aw, hell. Now I’m feeling rushed. About a half hour later I finish and…DRAMATIC THUNDEROUS MUSIC…we have to cut. AGAIN. Lord help me. If I had anxiety with cutting the pieces imagine now the anxiety of cutting a fully quilted….quilt. My shakes return. I cut as instructed but my inferior geometry skills have slightly reduced the intended size of my piece. Oh, well. I repeatedly remind myself that this is my first quilt ever, so maybe I should go easy on myself.

Finally we reach the last part of the quilting process: the binding. And, I am not kidding, but the use of a calculator was required in this step. Did I miss something? Should I have taken a refresher math class before attempting to quilt?? Apparently math is needed in order to equate exactly the length and width you should cut your binding pieces. OK. I compute, I cut, I iron, I bind. But something is amiss. Even the teacher is confused when I bring it to her. When I cut my binding pieces I had two strips of the right size and then the leftover fabric. Any guesses as to what I sewed onto my quilt? Uh huh…one correct size and one friggin’ scrap. So my only option was to rip out the scrap and sew on the correct piece. I’m miles behind everyone else and at this point I just can’t wait for it to be over. Binding is sewn on and now I’m told that the quilt has to be finished by hand. Basically, the binding is machine sewn around all the edges of the quilt and then you pull it back with your fingers and hand sew it into place. AT HOME. I leave class with mixed feelings and an unfinished quilt. Boo.

Two Months later: Finished yet Flawed

After mostly ignoring the quilt for a few months, I finally finish it! And, in the process, discover a multitude of additional mistakes. One of them being that I hadn’t quilted far enough up on a few spots so the quilting ends before it reaches the binding. And one part of my binding didn’t get quite sewn on all the way. None of this is detrimental. But I can’t help feeling like I didn’t get a solid educational experience from… “Teacher” (I still can’t remember her name). She repeatedly joked that she was what the quilting community refers to as a “Lazy Quilter,” which is funny and cute when you’re messing about but when I take home a quilt full of mistakes it makes me kind of mad.

So, will I ever quilt again? I honestly don’t know. I guess I took away enough of the basics to fiddle with it later if and when the next crafty mood strikes.

But in the mean time, check out my cute little TV cozy:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Product Review: The Bar Method v. Tracy Anderson Smackdown!

In my younger days of working out, I never thought I could be the kind of person who exercised at home. There was always an inherent need to get out of the house and into a designated “Sweat Here” structure. But…people change. After being a frequent gym member for the better part of ten years I may have achieved Gym Burnout. I also think living and working in Downtown has a lot to do with it. By the time I walk home, I have absolutely no desire to change my clothes and then get into my car and fight my way through traffic to go work out. If you’re already in your car after work, it’s just easier.

I’m also willing to accept the fact that maybe I’m just plain lazy.

Laziness aside, the possibility that I could achieve a high level of fitness in the comfort of my abode had an obvious appeal. So I made the switch from gym rat to home fitness extraordinaire, and without further ado, I present to you my breakdown and ratings of two fairly popular fitness DVDs.

The Bar Method: “Change Your Body” and “Accelerated Work Out”

Length of time: About an hour

Special Equipment: A bar or chair (I use a Fluidity Bar…thank you Craigslist!), a mat, three to five pound weights, and a stretching strap or towel

Level of Difficulty: Moderate to High

Overall Rating: A+

I’ve been using these DVDs consistently for about six months. If you are at all familiar with The Bar Method, then you probably know that this workout can be DANG HARD. The standing thigh work makes your legs shake like they’ve never shaked before! After a couple of months I started getting strong enough to make it through (most) of the exercises without stopping. Even after using them consistently for six months, they are still challenging and I often experience some muscle soreness the day after. All the moves are highly concentrated and low impact, and in fact you don’t wear athletic shoes at all during the workout. The two DVDs are fairly similar in their level of difficulty, except for the arms which are much more challenging in the “Accelerated” workout. The founder of Bar Method, Burr Leonard, who is OMG-fantastic-amazing-looking for a woman in her 60s, leads both DVDs. I appreciate her calm demeanor (I’ve never been one for the overly enthusiastic or Drill Sergeant hosts). She occasionally throws in a couple cute little notes of encouragement like “This makes you look great in jeans!” during some of the tough parts. The two areas I feel I’ve seen the most change are my legs (mainly from the hip to the knee) and my abs. While during both workouts your heart rate does get elevated frequently, I would recommend you still supplement alternative forms of cardio a couple days a week. Overall, an exceptional work out DVD!

The Tracy Anderson Method: Mat Workout

Length of time: About an hour

Special equipment: Chair, mat, one to three pound weights

Level of Difficulty: Moderate to High

Overall Rating: B+

I’ve been flirting with buying this workout for a while. I’m usually wary of anyone or anything that is heavily celebrity endorsed (Madonna and Gwyneth and Oprah, oh my!). And her DVDs aren’t cheap. But I didn’t want to burn out on The Bar Method DVDs and figured I best bring something new into the rotation.

This is a pretty challenging routine. You start with a series of standing leg work, which seems to work the standing leg almost as much as the working leg! Then you do some funky “standing abs,” which involves moving your ribcage around in various movements while keeping your hips still. It’s…interesting. This is followed by the arm workout, and O…M…G, THE ARMS. The arm segment of this workout is probably worth the entire price of the DVD. The first half of it uses absolutely no weights, but involves following Tracy in a routine that has you sort of flapping and moving your arms about. If you can get through this whole thing without your arms collapsing like sad little noodles, you are superhuman! She does a second arm routine (are you kidding?) with light weights, of which I usually have to put down a couple of times and follow along weight-less. Seriously, I’ve never seen an arm workout like this before, and I’m impressed! The workout is rounded out with a second leg routine on the mat (finally the mat appears in this “Mat Workout!”), some ab work and a cool down. The abdominal section is probably my least favorite part of this entire DVD. I feel like the moves hit mostly the upper portion of your abs, when most of us feel that the belleh area on the lower side is what needs the most attention.

While I like this DVD, I have a couple of major beefs about it. First, she has virtually no audible cuing (kind of important when your head is between your knees and you’re supposed to know that we’ve moved on to side stretching) and almost no guidance on form. The cuing I can get over. After a couple of times you get used to the flow of the movements. But without a reasonable amount of guidance on form you can be at risk for not doing the exercise properly, causing you to either not get results from the workout or, even worse, injuring yourself. Even the angles of the camera work supply rather vague clues as to what she’s doing. So my advice to beginners of this workout is to pay acute attention to her body and the movements, and to stop if anything feels wrong.

So, in a head-to-head competition between The Bar Method and Tracy Anderson, Bar Method definitely wins. That said, I’m still happy to have Tracy in the mix for a little variety and challenge.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Book Review: The Good Earth

My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Oh, wow. WOW did I not enjoy this book. Like. At all.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and ask, why? Why for the love of Pete is this book considered a classic? Ok, I get that the concept of a white woman giving voice to a Chinese man in the 1930s is fairly ground breaking. And maybe there are a handful of people out there who thought all women were treated nicely by their male counterparts in China (Spoiler: They Aren’t). But apart from those two possibilities, I see no reason for this book to be included in any kind of must-read list of literary classics.

For those of you looking for a truly depressing story and plan on reading it, allow me to offer a few pointers. First, just approach it knowing that the story is not uplifting. And by not uplifting I mean astoundingly amazingly unbelievably depressing. If you read along hoping for somebody in the end to leap out and give every nasty person their comeuppance, you will be disappointed. There may even be some scratching of the head and furrowing of the brows. Secondly, be advised that if you read this book before you go to bed and then wonder as to why you are inexplicably livid with your boyfriend/spouse/partner the next day, it is probably the book (especially when you get to the part with the pearls…oh, don’t even get me started). As a strong, independent woman, you will want to hunt the fictional male character down and hurt him. Hurt him bad.

I hate to say “Don’t read this book.” Instead, I’ll just say, “Approach at your own risk, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.”