Merit badges

/ Saturday 28 April 2012 /
The 2011-2012 academic year is coming to a close.  I always find it a slightly bittersweet time of year;  I am certainly thrilled that the preparation for teaching and marking has ended,  but it is always sad to say goodbye to my best students.  This year I had a wonderful mix of warm, bright, and funny young women working in my lab.  Two of them are finishing their undergraduate degrees and the rest are graduate students in our program.  Last night they all came over for Thai takeout and we played a version of Jeopardy based on the things that had happened in our lab over the past year.  I made them each a giant merit badge to mark their contributions to our research project.
I had a great time making these merit badges.  I was on a strict deadline so I didn't have time to take progress photos, but I plan on making a couple more of them, so I'll do a tutorial if there is interest.  You can see in the photo above that these are monster sized merit badges! Here are some glamour shots of three of them.
 Somehow I didn't get single shots of the owl and the skull, but you can see them here:
Not quite Girl Guide badges, but everyone felt very proud of their accomplishments with these huge things pinned onto their bosoms!  Speaking of Girl Guides, I just finished an hugely entertaining and informative social history book, How the Girl Guides Won the War, about the way Girl Guides played a role in supporting the outcome of World War II.  From the back of the book:  "Using interviews, diaries, and log-books, former Guide [and author Jane] Hampton describes the work that these brave young women undertook -- digging bomb shelters, feeding prisoners of concentration camps in secret, constructing kitchens from bombed-out houses during the Blitz, as well as raising huge sums of money. Their determination and good work simply knew no bounds." Wonderful!

Gonging along

/ Saturday 21 April 2012 /
I am in the middle of a wedding quilt that I can't show, because the bride to be has admitted that she is the kind of person who can't resist surprise busting.  She knows she is getting a quilt from me, and although I have banned her from my blog, I don't quite trust her, so I won't be showing any progress shots.  Suffice it to say that it has many small pieces and it's taking a long time. Whenever it stops being fun, I look around for something else to do.  Today I started another project: more gongs!  I'm using Curious Nature by Parson Gray and Essex linen/cotton blend in Carrot for the background.  I'm playing around with two different layouts.  The colour isn't really true on these photos, but which layout do you like best?
This one?
More gongs - Layout 2
Or this one?
More gongs - layout 1
On another topic, I recently saw this article about the perils of too much sitting.  It says that even frequent exercising is not enough to completely offset the effect of too much sitting.  I was thinking about how much we sit when sewing.  Does anyone stand up when they sew?  I had a discussion about this with another quilter who did stand while sewing but I have forgotten all the details.  I wonder what it would be like to rig a stand-up sewing situation.  I'm pretty sure I would like it for FMQ, because I have a hard time at my table feeling like I am high enough above my work.  I'd be interested in giving a try to a standing situation for regular piecing.

Reduce and reward

/ Thursday 12 April 2012 /
Some of you know that I am perpetually waging a battle with avoirdupois, to put it fancily.  As fancy as you can get, it doesn't change the fact that I'm carrying around too much weight, and I'm getting to the age where it is beyond difficult to get it off.  I have come to the point where I feel it is my last chance to proact and take control of the situation myself, and if I don't, it will end in tears.  I have been working diligently at this challenge since Boxing Day, and I've been doing it the old fashioned way: physical activity and keeping my caloric intake under 1500 calories per day.  I've been using two main motivational tools to help me along the way.  The first is a Fitbit.  It's a fancy-pants pedometer that measures steps, of course, but also distance traveled, calories and, through the use of the internal accelerometer, flights of stairs.  It uploads data to a website where you can track your progress in a variety of ways.  For example, here is my record for today:

It also does some neat tracking of your sleep - yes, sleep! - you can read about that on their website.  I aim to reach 10,000 steps per day, and I have been largely successful. 10,000 steps is approximately five miles! It has been enlightening to see how much of an effort it takes to reach that goal on a daily basis.  I wore the Fitbit for about a week at my regular pace just to take a baseline, and found that I was mainly hitting around 3500 steps on a normal day.   I don't pay attention much to the calorie information on the Fitbit because I use another tool for monitoring what I eat:  There are many, many online nutrition monitoring tools, but I like this one for three reasons.  First, it has a very big existing database of food, including Canadian brands.  Second, it has excellent mobile apps for the iPhone and iPad, which allow for use of the built-in cameras to scan the barcode on the nutrition labels of food items and imports the information directly into daily food record, or into the overall database.  So if I have a piece of bread or a glass of milk, I just point my phone at the bar code, scan it, and the calorie and other nutritional information is instantly added to my daily record.  Third, it syncs with my Fitbit, so it knows that I have walked five miles, or however far it is for the day.  My calorie limit is 1500 for the day, but I get an adjustment of a few hundred calories based on my activity level.  I walked over 15,000 steps today, so my adjustment is actually about 550 calories.  In effect, it means that I can eat 1500 + 550 calories and still be on track.  Today I did not "eat my adjustment" - but I need to watch that I don't dip too far into deficit or I will trigger "starvation mode", which is counterproductive for weight loss.  (Everything I am saying here represents my best understanding, but I am not a doctor - well, not that kind of doctor - or a nutritionist, so you should listen to what I say from that perspective.)

If you are still here, you are probably wondering why on earth am I telling you all this! Partly, putting it out in public helps keep me accountable, but there is another reason, too. It is to explain why I have this in my hot little hands:
My reward for losing 20 lbs: Oakshott Colour Box
I have been working on this healthy living project since Boxing Day (December 26 for you non-Canadians or -British) and a couple of weeks ago I hit the milestone of 20 pounds lost.  I was casting about for something to reward myself with, and by chance Oakshott Cottons was having a free shipping promotion.   Add to this the 20% discount on the listed price for not having to pay VAT, and it was too good a deal to pass up.  Plus, I felt that I completely deserved this reward - don't you agree?  (If only I could say that I can stop at these 20 lb! Alas, I must keep going!) Many people have raved about this product, and let me tell you, one cannot overpraise this box of goodness. I do not yet have a project in mind, but one will come, I promise.  If you are looking for a reward, for reducing or any other virtuous behaviour, you could do worse than treating yourself to an Oakshott Colour Box!

She's a (New York) Beauty!

/ Sunday 1 April 2012 /
I finished up this 20" mini for the Doll Quilt Swap round 12 on Flickr. And just under the wire, since mailing deadline for international parcels is tomorrow.  I had the top finished for a couple of weeks, but just managed to figure out how to quilt it this weekend.  Nothing like time pressure to crystallize one's thinking!
Here are a couple of close views of the quilting. This is easily the most ornate FMQ I've ever done.  It was actually quite fun!

This little gem finishes at 20" square.  I'm sending it off into the ether, and hoping for the best.  My partner had practically zero presence on the discussion board and in the comment threads, so I really don't know what she'll think of it.  Never mind, I'm hoping for the best.

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