Handmade Christmas Presents: Crochet Dinosaurs and a Unicorn

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My creations

Now that the holidays are over, I think it’s safe for me to share the handmade goodies that I made for my favourite 3 and 4 year olds. I’ll let the photos do most of the talking :)

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What little girl could resist this cuddly unicorn?

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A red-spiked crochet dinosaur for a little boy

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A blue-spiked dinosaur

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And one last dinosaur for a friend’s little one

Cute, right? Each creature was made by crocheting individual limbs, stuffing them, and sewing them together. The results are adorable – and so were the reactions of the kids when they opened them up.

The dinosaur was made using this pattern – I used Google translate to get an English version. The unicorn was my own creation.

I’ll definitely be making more of these guys in the future.

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So many parts for such a little unicorn

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Inspired by Weekends That Rock… and Roll

This weekend went off with nothing but hitches.

It was one of those well planned weekends, but with just a little weather it seemingly fell through. But where there was rain, there was also opportunity – which I took in the form of pickling some beans.

Ok – that’s a lot to take in so I’ll just start at the beginning.

On Friday I had the opportunity to attend my first ever Rock Festival: FredRock 2012 in my hometown (Fredericton, New Brunswick). Normally I’m not one for large crowds, but this summer has really had me stepping out side of my comfort zone in a lot of respects; from swimming in open water to fundraising outside of a liquor store, I’ve really tried a lot of things that scared me. Besides, I love live music and I really wanted to review the concert as the new East Coast contributor for Ride the Tempo. 

Matt Mays at FredRock

So I headed out with my friends in tow, expecting rain-showers and dressing accordingly. Fortunately, the rain held off – so I was stuck in my black and white rain boots for the duration of the evening. But I didn’t mind the discomfort – especially when I got to enjoy 8 hours of great performances from Walk off the Earth, Matt Mays, Awolnation, and Matthew Good.

But Saturday dawned as miserable as ever and I soon found that my weekend plans had fallen through. I was expecting to have a stay-inside-and-watch-movies day, when my boyfriend suggested we complete one of our summer goals: making spicy pickled beans.

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My cayenne peppers are almost ripe for the picking, but this was the only string bean produced

This is one of those strange little things that we’d talked about for ages – ever since sharing Spicy Caesars at Cannon’s Cross Pub last winter. We tried our hand at gardening – growing cayenne peppers and string beans – to great success and failure, respectively. And when all failed, we hopped in the car and headed out to one of Fredericton’s favourite fruit and vegetable stands – Moxon’s Country Pumpkin.

The Country Pumpkin was as packed as always. We found everything that we needed for perfect spicy bean making – a 5 pound bags of string beans for 10$, fresh garlic, dill, hot peppers, and a loaf of their warm brown bread. That last one was a snack for me ;) As a bonus, we got to check out their attached petting zoo where I finally came face-to-face with Alpacas. Another random life-goal crossed off my list.

Alpacas at last

The pickling process actually went fairly smoothly, though I must admit that there is a learning curve to it. After two and a half hours of hard work, we came away with 5 – 750mL bottles of spicy string beans.
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These photos that will have to suffice for a fast-forwarded version of a pinterest-worthy bean-pickling post. The recipe that we used is available on Canadian Living – I’ll have to let you know in 2 months time whether they turned out or not! Sorry to disappoint, but this post is already way out on a limb.

I’m pretty lucky. I might be caught without a job at the moment, but I’m pushing forward and looking at new options like never before. To top it off, I have a boyfriend who makes every weekend the best, even if it means chopping through 5 pounds of string beans with me. I can’t wait to make my own spicy Caesars with family and friends this winter.

Sometimes our best-laid plans fall through; both in our leisure time and our career planning. But if you’re open to a little improvisation you might just have a great time trying something new.

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Next Time Someone Else Makes the Signs

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It’s me! In the Daily Gleaner! At Run for the Cure 2011 in Fredericton!

So these days I have been working pretty hard. Not work-working, of course, but instead I’ve been researching the ins-and-outs of becoming a freelance writer. With my measly portfolio and lack of business experience, there are a lot of things that I need to learn. And thanks to a wonderful selection of freelance writing guides and ebooks I’m gaining the momentum that I’ll need to set up shop.

That aside, I find like I have this new and inexplicable need to volunteer my time. I suppose it’s because I need to get out of the house as much as possible – and I enjoy working with great people for causes that interest me. At the same time I find myself offering to do strange new things that are well outside my comfort zone. Like wandering through bogs at night in search of frogs, or designing posters for a Run for the Cure fundraiser.

I was excited when my Run for the Cure team (Breast Intentions) reformed this year, although not so excited about our new team name (Head Shave 2012). That said, I’ve embraced the idea because I’m working with a team that includes a number of 20-somethings and teens who are willing to shave their heads should we reach our fundraising goal. I want to see that part through. (Also, please note that I will be keeping my long blonde locks – for the foreseeable future anyway).

Before heading to our first public fundraising event, which will be held outside the NB Liquor Store on Brookside Drive this weekend, we needed signs. And being a “creative person”, I offered my sign-making services. I have no experience making signs, but I thought ‘how hard can sign-making be?!’

Sign making is not for me.

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Here’s the sign – you can see all the smudginess around the word “HEAD” – should I continue?!

Let’s face the facts: although I would love to be paid to write for a living, my hand-writing is frightening. I probably should have used desktop publishing software and taken it to be printed, but I was assured that poster board and markers were the way to go.

Tell that to my hand, which is now stained a blackish-purple from a run-in with a Sharpie.

Now I’m sitting here with a half-smudged sign… and of course the smudged part is suspiciously focused around the team name that I was not eager to accept. (Not on purpose, I promise). Should I continue and deal with the fact that the bottom is all a mess by trying to pass it off as artistic-expression? Or should I just chop it off and stick on something else? (Note: chucking the whole sign is not an option).

I guess it’s not been so terrible and my friends will appreciate the effort that I made. I did learn how to draw on poster-board and I’m starting to get a little bit quicker at it. Maybe next time I’ll come up with an easier design and have someone else do the colouring.

 

If you would like to donate to my Run for the Cure fundraiser I would really appreciate it! Follow this link to my personal page.

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Learning From a Flooring Puzzle

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Usually these floor boards aren’t so vertical…

Last week our basement flooded.

Luckily, the damage was minor and mostly confined to a single room. My Dad acted quickly by removing the affected portion of the interlocking laminate floor boards. Unfortunately, in his haste to save the floor, there was no time to number the pieces he pulled up. A few sheets of plastic and foam protected the flooring from water damage, so we ended up with a bunch of jumbo sized puzzle pieces and a very cold concrete floor.

Dad and I should not be mistaken for carpenters, but we are generally pretty successful puzzle-solvers. So we decided that we would take on the challenge of putting the floor back together, because “there’s really no reason to replace a perfectly good floor”. So on Monday night we headed down to the basement with the agreement that I would write about the task on my blog. I knew the experience would be entertaining.

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This piece HAD to go here… now what else can we remove from the equation?

What started off as a relatively logical and systematic approach involving measuring tapes and neatly organized stacks of various length boards, quickly devolved into a gritty race to the finish line. Where measuring tapes took time and precision, passing over a couple of boards of different lengths for a visual comparison was much more efficient. It was a lesson in adaptation.

We also determined early on that some boards could be removed from the puzzle because of their unique features. Boards that were cut off on both ends had to go in front of the stairs, while boards that were cut to fit into corners were placed in their specific location. We could remove then find the boards that were associated with the specifically tailored pieces and remove them from the equation.

This still left us with a puzzle. It seemed like no matter how we arranged them, the boards just weren’t going to fit. We both left the project more than once to search the house for “misplaced boards”, only to return empty-handed. It didn’t make sense.

That’s when cheating was introduced into the mix.

We discovered a few leftover boards from the original laying of the floor. This gave us the freedom to “trim” the ends off boards that weren’t fitting just so. So we proceeded to find the “best fit” and dealt with the excess. This really sped the process up.

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An inspired team effort.

In the end, we had only cut into one new board and were left with a few leftover pieces. Although the floor is not in it’s original state, it’s better than concrete and can always be improved if need be. Besides, now I have a great memory of the time my Dad and I rebuilt a puzzle of a floor.

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Of course, the kitty oversaw operations from her perch on the stairs.

When faced with obstacles, start by removing the most simple problems and work your way into the heart of the obstacle. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box!

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Another Look inside my Wreck this Journal: Doodles and Disasters

It’s a thunder stormy kind of day, so I decided it might be fun to crack out my Wreck This Journal for a little artistic expression. I hope you enjoy!

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Oh my goodness was this page ever fun. A while back I stumbled across Vi Hart’s blog and was enchanted by her Math doodling videos. I was inspired! So of course I used what I’d learned in her doodling infinity elephants video to fill in this page with an infinite number of circles! I think it turned out pretty well, although my triangle page is a bit of a mess.

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Here’s an example of a time where, despite my best efforts, the book turned on me. After drawing a rather lovely fishy (kind of a theme in this journal), I allowed the book a full day to dry. But upon shutting it, the glue managed to seal the pages shut regardless. Can’t win them all!

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I love this doodle. My significant other and I went all out trying to out-draw each other… resulting in this crazy barking-dogs-and-chemistry-glassware drawing. Oh scientists.

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Gah. Another fail. This page was all about gluing items found items. I went with the theme of “Things I Acquired While Studying Abroad”: my Frosh bracelet, pretty stickers, a fudge menu from a store in Edinburgh… and those 3D glasses that I almost always want to use for one reason or other (case in point – cool 3D youtube videos). Too bad I glued them in AND used staples to secure them.

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This page is a sign – what do you want it to say? NEVER GIVE UP! What does it really say? That I’m clearly a terrible sign-maker. Regardless, this page makes me smile because of the sheer desperation to it. It’s the perfect mix of optimism and exasperation.  A perfect note on which to end this post. ;)

Real-life Inspiration Journals: Everything You’ll Need For Graduate School

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My Inspirational "Everything You'll Need For Grad School" Journal

As I have previously mentioned, I love journals.

One of the many journals that I have kept over the years was entitled “Everything You’ll Need for Grad School“. I bought this journal on the day that I was accepted into a graduate program in aquatic biology at Edinburgh Napier University (Scotland). The very first thing that I did was write myself a letter about my thoughts and expectations related to the program. I stapled this shut and decided to keep it preserved.

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The First Page: A note that I wrote to myself on the day that I was accepted into grad school - still stapled safely

I wrote this journal during my final semester as an undergraduate. It was a place to keep track of the main points that I would be taking away from each of my classes and make notes about concepts that I expected to see again in grad school. Summarizing important concepts provided a great opportunity for me to reflect on the most important aspects of each class and how they might relate to future studies.

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Important terms from my undergraduate studies - writing these down helped me to study for exams in addition to being reference materials

I also used this journal to organize important ecological definitions into categories. This was a great studying strategy in my final semester as an undergrad because it got me making connections and defining the most important terms that popped up in my readings. Strangely enough, when I look back on the definitions that I thought were so important in my undergraduate studies, I find myself smiling inwardly because they seem so simple and engrained in my mind. One of the big differences between my undergraduate and graduate studies was the shift from a rigid, memorization-based learning environment to a more holistic, knowledge-based approach.

This was also my first journal where I started to use a lot of diagrammatic interpretations of biological concepts such as phosphorous, nitrogen, and carbon cycles related to freshwater. This marked a significant shift in the way that I studied and took notes in all classes to come.

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A diagram interpretation of the phosphorus cycle. Drawing these out helped me to master the various interconnected phases in the phosphorus cycle as they relate to lake ecosystems.

All in all, the entires that I wrote in my “Everything You’ll Need for Grad School” journal were not as important for my graduate studies as I might have expected. However, the skills that I developed from reflecting and reinterpreting the concepts that I’d learned in my undergraduate studies were a huge part of my success as a grad student. I learned to see the big picture and how the various parts of undergraduate classes could fit together and be used in times to come. It’s a journaling exercise that I would recommend for undergraduates who are in their final year of studies.

Did you keep a journal in your final year(s) as an undergraduate student? Are you interested in a guide for starting your own? Let me know in the comments!

Elle

How I Stifled my own Creativity

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One of my few artistic creations this month - a seahorse drawn in chalk pastels

If I have learned anything this month, it’s this:

You can’t rush creativity.

This month, my personal challenge was to put aside some time each day to get creative. I wanted to encourage myself to get back into art and to try out some new DIY projects. However, despite sounding like a fun way to spend time, I made art into a frustrating activity that had to be completed at the end of long work days and on weekends. Creativity became the challenge.

Essentially I had stifled my own creativity. But at least I’ll take away some realizations. For one, creativity isn’t something you can plan. At the beginning of the month I complied a delightfully long list of potential projects – lists being my personal favorite inspirational tool. Unfortunately, this list stood as a sort of insurmountable mountain of tasks. With the sunlight dwindling,  snow storms, and -30 degree weather, I didn’t feel like working on projects when I could curl up with a good book (the Hunger Games), enjoy a hot bath, or spend time with friends. How could I possibly be inspired to start the longest list of tasks ever?

The second thing that I cam to realize was the variety of different projects that could count (even loosely) as art. I could dance to music, bake cupcakes, doodle on my computer, and even day dream – I mean those count as art, right? In fact, the work I do as a salesgirl, arranging sweaters on a table, or as a research assistant, creating graphs with just the right level of contrasting colors, these are artistic tasks too. At least in the sense that not everyone’s final product will be visually appealing.

There is art and creativity in everything we do.

The third thing I learned… Well I would like to say that it was to relax and let art happen. But it obviously isn’t that (yet?). I was so upset about my lack of follow-through on my art projects this month that I couldn’t think of anything to write last week. I felt so much pressure to live up to my challenge that I stifled my own creativity. And a positive feedback cycle ensued – the more I worried, the more stressed out I became about my challenge, the less I could accomplish. Perfect. I can see now that I just need to step back from life and stop stressing the little things.

So what about the rest of the month?

I’ve decided to just relax. To stop thinking so much about every little thing that I could/should/would be doing if… well you get the picture. I’ll leave myself free to enjoy art if and when I want to. And blog about other stuff in the meantime.

Have you every over-thought a personal challenge? Have you ever stood in the way of your own success? I’m pretty sure it happens to all of us from time to time.

Elle