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Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Great Yarn Search

I decided to crochet two baby blankets for a couple of my cousins. One had her first baby last year and the other just had her first. I found a pattern that was simple enough for this beginner to do and it even had a video tutorial. Woot!

The first problem arose when I researched the yarn the pattern called for. People mentioned that it was scratchy and rough. Well, I didn't want to give these babies a blanket that wasn't soft. I researched, chose two new yarns (both were patterned/ombre/variegated yarns), and priced them out. With coupons, the local store was actually cheaper than online, so I scheduled a Saturday shopping excursion in my planner.

It was a day of abject frustration. The store hardly had any yarn in little boy colors let alone the specific colors I was looking for. I went up and down the aisles, trying to find something else. I even checked out the yarn the pattern called for and it was as rough as I'd read. Nada.

Off to another craft store that wasn't too far from the first. They didn't have the colors I was looking for either. I nearly bought a couple of soft, one-pound skeins, but they were a solid color and I really wanted the patterned yarn. I ultimately went and returned them to the bins where I found them. Instead of buying a yarn I didn't really want, I'd just go online and order them. No problem.

Famous last words. The patterned yarn I wanted was either sold out entirely or the stores had one or two skeins left. Even the manufacturer's website was sold out of all the colors I was interested in. I tried and tried store after store. I even changed to a different yarn brand, but no, I couldn't get the colors I wanted there either.

I ended up with two bright green patterned yarns when I was really hoping for blues. My one guess for my extremely frustrating day was that the manufacturer is discontinuing these two varieties of yarn. It's the only thing that makes sense.

All I have to say is the selection in patterned baby yarn is slim. I hope my two cousins appreciate this gift after everything I've been through. I haven't even started crocheting yet.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

First Finished Crochet Project

I'm posting this a bit after the fact, but I finished an actual crochet project. My first ever. It was a granny square throw and not the basket (which was a fail) or the place mat I thought would be quick and easy (it wasn't).

I didn't think I was going to make this throw even though it was the class project for my beginners crochet class. Granny squares are so, well, dated, but the blanket looked so cute in the class materials that I thought, well, okay, why not. I bought the yarn and I started doing the granny thing and it crocheted up fast. Yea!

There were a couple of small glitches, like not being able to get one of the yarn colors. Raspberry was out of stock at the store I ordered it from, so I went with fig instead. I ended up really liking the fig, so this wasn't a fail. That came later.

Okay, so it really wasn't a fail fail. Beginning crocheters tend to make their stitches too tight and I am definitely guilty of that. My throw ended up being 10 inches short, which necessitated an emergency run for more yarn so that I could add enough rows to reach the necessary size. Despite this, I think it turned out pretty cool and it has another selling point in addition to the fact that I made it. It's warm. Super warm. I had it on my lap to crochet it and it was so warm, I'd be sweating.

Here's a couple of pictures of my first completed project:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Stand Up Revisited

***No compensation of any kind was received for this post or any other post on my blog.***

Back in June, I talked about an app I'd put on my phone to remind me not to sit too long. It's called Stand Up and you can read my earlier blog post here. After using it for almost a year, I wanted to revisit it briefly.

I've redone my settings so that my Stand Up timer goes off every 30 minutes. The default is 45 minutes and I discovered that was too long for me. However, the big problem is that every 30 minutes is annoying. I've started to curse at the pinging timer. It's also hugely annoying when I get a blank spot in my day timeline because I forgot to hit the button confirming I had stood. The blanks bother me a lot more than they should.

You're probably thinking if it's this annoying, why don't you take it off your phone? Believe me, I've contemplated it. More than once. The problem is that I need it to tell me to stand up.

I always get involved in my work and forget to move. The reason I downloaded the app to begin with is because I would sit in one position for far too long, try to stand up, and feel as if I'd been hit by a bus. This had to change and the app helped. It still helps. It's just so aggravating.

Sigh. So I'll keep on using it and I'll keep on cursing it every time it pings because the benefits are worth the irritation.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: Captain America: Civil War

Warning: There might be spoilers ahead.

Watching Captain America: Civil War might not have been my best choice of movie because I'm not a fan of the superhero genre. I find the movies to be boring, the characters cardboard, and the plots silly or trite. Still, I'd been assured that the new superhero movies were good and that I should give them another try. This one had a nearly 5-star rating on Netflix and I needed something to watch, so I said why not? 

Basically, Captain American and Iron Man are on the outs and the Avengers are picking sides. There was some other plot thing going on too, but I'm writing this a week after watching it and I have absolutely no memory of what it was. That tells you a lot right there.

This movie failed for me on a lot of levels. The biggest was an assumption made by the scriptwriters that everyone watching the movie was familiar with the previous movies. This wasn't true because I'd never seen any of the earlier films. Nothing was explained and I was left confused because there was no setup to explain to me who these characters were or what their relationships with each other was. I think there was a flashback, but that wasn't clear to me either because I had no idea who these characters were.

The characters were flat, their backstories (what little was actually given) were simplistic, and there wasn't much dialogue. I guess they couldn't fit it in between all the fight scenes.

That was the other issue--the constant action. It got boring.

And the plot? Forgettable. What there was of it. I nearly turned this movie off a few times, but because I had nothing else lined up to watch and because I wanted something on while I crocheted, I just let this film play out.

The one part I liked was the young Spiderman character. He was funny and his part in one of the fight scenes was the only thing that prevented it from being tedious.

These superhero movies really aren't my thing and this one convinced me to never waste my time on them again. I liked Robert Downey Jr. I liked Tom Holland who played the young Spiderman, but ultimately they weren't bright enough to overcome a weak script, little dialogue, and no reason to care about any of these characters.

Two thumbs down.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Working Podcast

I found a new podcast that's intriguing. I've only listened to two episodes so far and that's a little too soon to tell if it's going to be something I listen to regularly or not. It's called Working and it's done by Slate. Just the fact Slate is involved put it on my radar. They do a really good job both with the podcasts and with their articles, but I probably would have checked it out no matter who produced it because it has an intriguing premise.

Working interviews people about their professions.

Not astronauts or actors or professional athletes. Normal people in everyday professions. This is so cool that I can hardly stand it!

The first episode I listened to was about what a tailor does. The second was an interview with a nail artist. There are a lot of other episodes already produced that I haven't listened to, but I'll probably go backward strategically and only listen to topics that I'm interested in or ones where I have a character who does that profession.

Anyway, I loved the episode with the tailor. I learned a lot and that was awesome. I also really liked the woman who was interviewed and wish she was in my area so I could have her shop do the work I'd suddenly like done. :-) Sadly, she's in Washington DC. I have a feeling most (if not all) of those interviewed for the show will be in that city since it appears that's where the host of the show is based.

The second episode on the nail artist was less interesting. It might have something to do with the fact there were very few surprises here. One of the few was that she can create nail art in just a couple of minutes (or less) per nail. I guess those woman on Pinterest aren't spending all day on their manicures. ;-)

This show seems like it'll be a valuable resource for writers. So many careers prove difficult to research and here's a podcast that's less than 45 minutes long that covers what various jobs entail. The interviewer also asked some good questions, things I might have asked myself. That's another win.

Overall, I'd recommend giving this a try, but maybe choosing professions you have an interest in.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

First Project Fail

Back in January, I started my first project in crochet. After all, I'd gone through like 5 lessons, surely it must be time to make something besides a swatch. I decided to make a basket. Just a tiny one, but it meant crocheting in the round.

The project was marking as being easy, so away I went. My first challenge was getting the #&*$ magic circle right. This was a huge challenge for me. It required a bazillion YouTube videos and a bunch of websites. Finally, someone on Facebook posted a link for me to try and hurrah! this method worked. My biggest problem now is pulling the magic circle closed correctly. I'm very hit or miss at that. This is a magic circle with a mysterious extra loop. I don't know how I did that.

With my first hurdle crossed, I was off and stitching.

This bottom section involved increases which were actually fairly easy. It was simply a matter of keeping track of when to increase and which stitch I was on. I used a stitch marker to let me know where I'd started.

As I finished the bottom, I was met with a new maneuver that I had yet to learn in my beginning crochet class. Luckily, it was easily understood from the name and I figured it out without having to go to Google. I crocheted into one side of the stitch instead of the full stitch and began crocheting the sides of the basket.

I was happily stitching away and failed to notice I was having a few issues going on. The first was that I would forget to add a stitch that I needed. The second was that I was adding an extra stitch here and there. This was all happening at the end/beginning of the circle, and by the time I was nearly done, it was noticeable and it was ugly.

I folded over the icky side to sort of hide it from the picture. It's on the left where you can see the yellow stitch marker. The side most visible is the part that doesn't look bad. :-) 

The class instructor had mentioned that she often doesn't correct mistakes she makes because they weren't that visible. That might be the mistakes she makes. The mistakes I made were blatant and I decided that I couldn't live with them. I ripped the entire basket apart and ended up with a spaghetti pile of yarn.

Lessons learned. Count stitches. This was what totally tanked my project.

Pattern knowledge gained: I didn't like the little handles on the basket. The pattern also had me going taller than I needed or wanted. Next time I attempt this small basket, I'll stop at the row before the handle row. All I wanted was a small basket into which to toss my car keys. 

Overall thoughts/feelings: Disappointment was high. I actually wanted to finish a project and have something tangible for all the hours I'd spend crocheting swatches. But I'm consoling myself with the fact that I gained experience and learned things I couldn't have picked up without doing an entire project. As they say, experience is the best teacher.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

My Latest Addiction

My latest addiction is a podcast that I discovered from a recommendation on another podcast. There were actually two recommendations. I didn't like the first one I tried, but the one I'm going to blog about today? I love it! The best part? It's a podcast about writing. Not novel writing, but hey, it's still hugely interesting and sometimes what they talk about applies to all writing.

The podcast is called Scriptnotes (it's also available through iTunes and other podcast apps), and as you might have guessed from the title, it centers on writing for movies and television. There are two hosts, John August and Craig Mazin, and they're both working Writers Guild members.

I love these two guys! They're interesting to listen to and even when they're talking about things that are solely issues that a scriptwriter would face, I'm riveted.

There are regular features like when they discuss news stories to decide whether or not it could be a movie. In the episodes I've listened to, the answer has mostly been no. They close out every episode with One Cool Thing--basically something they liked--and there are frequent guests. There's also a regular segment where they read the first three pages of scripts people have sent in and critique them. It's a tremendous opportunity for aspiring writers to get feedback from guys actually working in the industry they want to join.

The Three Pages segment is particularly interesting to me. Good storytelling is good storytelling, but as a new listener who doesn't aspire to write scripts, I honestly am still learning the terminology. It sounds as if there's a pretty large chasm between novel writing and scriptwriting and that's part of what's intriguing.

There have been episodes that have had me reaching for a pen to take notes, episodes that have made me laugh, but best of all, lots and lots of writing talk. When I moved to Atlanta from Minneapolis, I lost my writer friends. I wanted to go to local Romance Writer of America meetings here, but they were too far away from where I live and there is honestly no way I'm driving that far on a Saturday morning. For the last five years, my writer talk has been over the phone or the internet with my friends. Listening to writers talk to each other is a sweet joy for me.

I highly recommend this podcast to anyone who wants to write a script, but I think any writer will probably enjoy it. It might also be of interest to people who aren't writers, but are curious about how Hollywood does scripts.

I'm going to close with something said on the show that had me grabbing my pen and hurriedly taking notes:

"Write what gets you sitting at the computer every day." --Scriptnotes podcast

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Adventures in Online Shopping

I'm not a huge fan of shopping in general, so I tend to order lots of things online and I've been doing it for years. What happened on this order, though, was something unique in my experience and I hope I don't have to deal with anything like it again.

It all started because I wanted a hot pink purse big enough to put my 2017 planner in because I wanted to bring it to work with me. I can't tell you how many times I've been frustrated because my planner was at home and I needed to record something. Writing it down on Post-it notes and bringing those home was okay, but I wanted my planner. I found a super cheap bag that I liked at Amazon from a third-party seller, but with Prime shipping through Amazon. It was listed as NEW! Perfect.

I was excited when the purse arrived. It was in a plastic bag and I tore it open, took out my hot pink beauty, and unfolded it. It looked good. I liked the color, the size was about right, and there were convenient outside compartments for my phone and stuff.

My happiness began to fade when I opened the bag to look inside. The zippered pouch on the bag wall of the purse had a safety pin through it, something a person would do to make it easier to open, not something that would happen at the factory that produced it. My brand new purse clearly wasn't new. Someone had it before me and used it enough to want that safety pin there to make it easier to open the pouch.

Still, the bag was in good condition. If it weren't for the safety pin, I never would have known it wasn't new. It was disappointing, but not a huge deal.

Then I noticed there was a bulge in that zippered back-wall compartment. Hmm. I pulled it open and reached in. I found a stack almost an inch thick of cards. Not playing cards. I mean like customer loyalty cards, pharmacy cards, and yes, a woman's credit card!

I'm like OMG! I have some stranger's credit card! I don't want her credit card!

I call Amazon customer service. I get someone in the Philippines. I tell him that I received a purse today that was supposed to be new, but I found a woman's credit cards inside it. He asked if it came in a box or a bag.

Um, bag, but I have a woman's credit card!

It was delivered USPS?

Yes, but I have a woman's credit card!

It came today?

Yes, and I have a woman's credit card!

It's new?

It's supposed to be new, but I have woman's credit card!

He put me on hold. The guy literally couldn't grasp my problem from the phrase, "I have a woman's credit card." I'm guessing that issue wasn't on his list of possible script scenarios. After about five minutes or so on hold, I was disconnected.

At first I was like WTF, but then I decided it was an opportunity to speak with someone else. Whoever I got next had to speak better English than the first man I spoke with. I called back.

And this time I talked to a woman in the United States who immediately grasped the seriousness of the situation when I said, "I have a woman's credit cards!" She was like OMG! And arranged to have UPS come the next day and pick up the purse and its contents to return it to Amazon.

There is definitely something to be said for customer service being staffed by people in the country where the customers are calling from. Like if I was Filipino and had a problem, getting a guy in the Philippines to help me would be fabulous, but since I'm in the US, having an American to talk to was awesome.

My guess--and this is only a guess--is that she wanted a hot pink purse for one event, used the bag, forgot to take her stuff out of it (there was lip gloss, too), and returned the purse. Then the third-party seller just sealed it up in another plastic bag without checking the inside.

I don't have any idea what happened after the bag left my possession, but I'm just relieved that this strange woman's cards are out of my house.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Chaos and Confusion

My email is an organizational disaster. No lie. I also made my situation worse when I decided to consolidate several accounts. Gmail decided to bring over years worth of old email even though I only wanted those that were currently unread. I'm sure there was some kind of setting that I missed.

When I saw thousands of emails staring at me, I knew I needed to do something to mitigate this mess. Surely, there must be a faster method than slogging through them one at a time. I Googled.

I saw all kinds of organizational systems. From one guy saying you should never have more than five email folders (NO!) to another advocating breaking everything down into folders. I saw claims that folders didn't help anyone locate email and that search is faster. Someone else talked about giving emails very distinct, targeted titles. Which absolutely doesn't help since a lot of this email came from other people.

After all of my searching, I found nothing that gave me ideas on how to slog through my mess.

I made a few shortcuts of my own. When I found your item has shipped emails for things I've received (and since some of these emails are ten years old or more, they were most definitely received), I auto deleted them. Loop emails that were years old are gone. I figure any writing advice from ten years ago is obsolete by now. I found other things like this to speed things up.

After hours of work, things are better, but there's still a long way to go. I figure now, I go folder by folder and try to think of ways to shortcut that one particular label if I can, then move on to the next.

I'm estimating that my method will lead to an organized and efficient email collection by about 2057.