When I was younger (read:  in High School), I used to sketch all the time, and not just the Metallica logo.  I would spend time in front of the window of my house sketching the tree in the front yard, or drawing flowers from pictures I had taken.   Lately I haven’t made time to do it and have felt a bit stale and rusty as far as drawing skills.  My memory is usually pretty good but I can’t seem to tap into the 25 year old database of information I learned in art class.  I decided I needed a refresher on my drawing skills so I did what anyone in the technology age does, I asked Google to find me free online drawing lessons.  The results weren’t the best but a few photos caught my eye and I checked out the website they came from.  Drawspace.com has a wealth of information and contains over 200 free drawing lessons.  Actually some aren’t even lessons, just informational pages, but useful nonetheless.    I burned through the first two beginner sections and mostly because it’s getting late and I’m tired, I’m waiting to tackle anything more.   Yet what I managed to accomplish gives me hope that I’m not hopeless.

The lessons start with simple line drawing exercises but it doesn’t take long before you start working on shading.  For instance, I was able to draw these horses this evening.

Hand drawn horseDrawn horse

Yes I know the proportions aren’t perfect, I’m working at it, but I’m trying really hard not to just copy what the instructor has done, but actually do my best to see what I’m supposed to be seeing.  That sounds very zen and it kind of is, but it is explained in one of the first lessons.  If you have any interest in drawing but don’t know where to start I’d recommend you check it out.  I have no illusions that I’ll become a Rembrandt, but just being able to draw what I see and have it look the way it is supposed to is good enough for me.

Three Day Free Day

In an effort to not be too perfectionist about my nutrition, I will usually allow myself a “free” meal or treat once a week.  Usually it’s not too crazy, just something that usually doesn’t really fit into my nutrition plan because it’s really carb-heavy or higher in fat.  That something can be a piece or two of pizza (depending on the size of the piece), a cupcake or two, or a serving of a mayo-based salad.

I’ve learned from doing Body-for-Life in the past that a free day to me is ultimately my downfall.  I could easily undo an entire week’s worth of work in one 24 hour period.

My biggest hurdle in losing weight and keeping a healthy diet is self-control.  It was not unheard of for me to finish off a bag or chips, or eat half a pizza, or plow through a bag of cookies.  Because of this (and sadly my kids have the same tendency) I rarely keep junk food in the house and keep even tortilla chips to a minimum.

Well last weekend I made a sheetcake for my brother-in-law’s party and I had a decent amount of icing left over and I promised the kids I would make cupcakes.

I totally didn’t think that through.  One recipe is 24 cupcakes.  My husband doesn’t eat them so that works out to 8 cupcakes a person.  Now I have to give myself some credit for not just eating all eight in one sitting.  I did manage to spread it out over three days.  But those three days I didn’t track my food and I actually rebelled a bit against even paying attention to what I ate.

You know what?  I didn’t die, gain 20 pounds in three days, or go on a complete food bender.  I had cupcakes for breakfast for three days and then had some salty snacks.  But I’m back.  Sure I can make excuses and blame monthly hormones or something, but you know what?  I actually showed some restraint and I’m going to celebrate that.

Perfectionism has it’s place.  It is not in living a healthy lifestyle.  If all I feel is deprived and suffer intense and intensifying cravings without giving in a little, all I am doing is setting myself up for an epic fail.  The trick to it all is balance, and not throwing in the towel and going on a massive binge all because I ate three cupcakes in one sitting.

And you know what?  I feel focused and motivated again.  These little free meals or days have their purpose.  Part of it is to allow myself to enjoy some treats, but another part is to remind myself what that food does to me and how I feel after eating it.  Honestly, I felt a little bloated and mentally I was foggier, but it’s a fantastic reminder to eat clean and healthy for the majority of the time, and that is what I call success.


(EDIT:  I realize this probably seems a little incongruent – or not – following a post about baking a cake!)

Henna Inspired Cake

So my brother-in-law calls me on Thursday to ask if I can make a cake to feed 40 people for Saturday afternoon.  I immediately say yes, hang up the phone, and realize I have no idea how I’m going to do this.

Thankfully, the Wilton Tent Sale is going in full swing, so I grab my mom and head out at 9 am Friday morning to buy a few cake pans, some icing coloring and a few other odds and ends.  I get  home and get cracking.  I decided I would bake and torte two 12″ square cakes, one yellow and one chocolate, then put them together to make one enormous sheet cake.

After rigging together a few cake boards with a plastic cutting board for support, I get to work on assembly.  Torting was, uh, interesting.  no matter what kind of tools or tricks that are supposed to make it easier, it is always a challenge to make the layers level and even.  Still, it was better than I expected.  I filled the layers, crumb coated the cake and went to my daughter’s skating lesson.  Upon our return I finished icing the cake and using the Viva paper towel method, did my best to make a smooth, even surface for my line decorations.

I had spent most of Thursday evening researching and sketching out different henna patterns.  After figuring out which ones I wanted to use I sketched out a basic plan in my notebook.  I went over it with marker to get an idea of what it would look like in color.

Cake Sketch

Now I was ready to decorate, but I hadn’t yet settled on a color.  I wanted to stay away from colors that were too dark considering it’s nearly summertime, so burgundy and dark green were out.  It was a cake for two guys and a girl, so colors like pink and purple were out.  I wanted it appetizing so I voted out brown (even though real henna is more brown than anything).  I settled on some sort of orange.  I started coloring the piping icing and at first it was too pink so I added some yellow.  Ugh, now it was too….fleshy.  So I slowly added some orange and copper until I settled on the color shown.  I started with the pattern on top.

Turns out I’m nearly as shaky as a Parkinson’s patient while trying to do intricate linework, so I tried to modulate my breathing and just look at it as sketching.  Without being able to erase.


After about 1.5 hours I was done with the line work and completed the lettering.

Henna-look Cake

It was starting to get late (about 8 pm) when I started the border.  I didn’t think it would take too long but it turns out that to do intricate work on 72 linear inches takes quite a bit of time.

Border Detail

Everyone was thrilled with the cake and I was happy I had an opportunity to play creatively.

Spark Progress

So now that I am a little over a week into the SparkPeople system, I will share how I’m doing.

I’m doing fantasic, thank you for asking!

After the first week I have lost 3 lbs.  I’m not measuring inches, just going by how my clothes fit, because I’ve learned that for me the measuring tape is more neurosis building than the scale.

Not only have I lost some weight but I feel fucking fabulous!  I was confronted with a pot luck at the dojang this past Saturday (black belt presentations – one of my instructors is now Sah Bum Nim – 5th degree Black Belt), I had 1/2 piece a cake, a potsticker, some fruit and veggies and then I bolted.  Talking with a fellow student I mentioned that I am pleasantly surprised with how much better I feel not just physically but mentally.  He made the comment “Garbage in, garbage out” and until now I never realized how true that is.

One of the things I’ve always struggled with was eating right and not giving into every craving that came my way.  After eating amazingly clean for a week, I now have a very clear reason to keep going – my mental health.  I have struggled with depression and anxiety in the past, and the past few days I feel like I love everything, everywhere.  Never before has any “diet” caused this great a positive shift in how I feel.  On the Zone and BFL I was always cranky and sometimes headachy.  On the SparkPeople plan I am actually enjoying my life and feel like I have the energy to do whatever I want.

Now, I’m  not saying that this system is perfect, there are a few things I would change (like getting rid of any fat-free food items and just use real food in smaller quantities if possible).  Not much irks me more than manufactured foods (think margarine, or fat-free cheese).  That being said, there are more “reduced-fat” items than “fat-free” and to me that isn’t too bad.

I love how they have goals structured as well.  You get a little check-box that you tick when you complete a goal.  It sounds so basic, yet there is something satisfying about marking down that I remembered to take my vitamin, or do sit-ups, or drink water.  I’m thinking of adding one for flossing my teeth, since I always seem to forget that.

Somehow, I’ve also gotten a lot more motivation to just add extra movement to my day as well.  I try to park as far away from the entrance to the grocery store as I can.  Instead of sitting and knitting during my daughter’s ballet and exercise class I go for a walk.  This weekend my whole family went on a 2.5 hour bike ride then followed with a 1.5 hour walk in the evening, and it was enjoyable!

All in all I’m just going to roll with it.  I don’t really care how I’m getting it work, it’s more important to me that it is working.  We’re also planning a trip in the fall to Vegas and I want to feel as good about myself as I possibly can.

That and I want to look slammin’ in a new wardrobe.


You know how I keep joking that when it comes to working for myself I’m a pretty slackadaisical boss?

I’ve known for quite some time that I work well when under somebodies direction.  I pretty much live for carrying out orders, looking for approval, and doing it better than anyone else.  Not only that, but I tend to be task oriented.  I think it feeds into my perfectionist tendencies.  A task can be completed, checked off the list, finished and on to the next one.

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon SparkPeople.  My first reaction was, oh it’s just another nutrition tracking program like FitDay or LoseIt.   Digging a little deeper I had flashbacks of WeightWatchers, and downing so few calories because I filled up on high point items that I would be dizzy anytime I stood up.

Digging deeper still and following the program for a few days, plus purchasing and starting to read the book, The Spark, on my new Kindle I have to say I’m impressed!  It’s not full of empty “Rah, Rah, you can do it!” cheerleading.  It has a TON of articles about everything from food & nutritioin, to motivation, to a whole encyclopedia of health articles.  They also have exercises for you do do (worksheets and such) to help you figure out what your goals are and create reminders that you can use (offline) to help you stay focused.

One of my biggest problems with “diets” is the lack of variety.  With WW, I tended to have my core foods and stick with them.   For a week or two that’s not bad.   For three months it’s brutal.  I had similar problems with The Zone.  Not only did I tend to settle into eating the same snacks – all.the.time. – but I hated having to do all the calculations for myself.  Sure, I could have used some energy to put together an Excel program for myself, but by that time I lost interest.

I’m on my third day on SparkPeople and so far I’m impressed with the variety and quality of the foods they suggest.  For meals I’ve had lightly glazed salmon with veggies & brown rice, pork tenderloin with sweet potato and applesauce,  black bean salad, a lentil burrito with sour cream, cheese & tomato, and an egg white sandwich with strawberries.  There’s enough variety that when I start to create my own plan, I will have a pretty large database of meals to choose from.  Oh, and so far they are all delicious!  I was able to make the pork loin in the slow cooker with onion, garlic & herbs (my addition), I made a light glaze to put on the salmon (added only about 20-30 calories), and they allow substitutions.  The software even suggests them if you don’t like what they suggest you eat.

They suggest three meals a day with a snack.  My only issue is that the breakfasts seem a bit small.  Like a lot of the other programs, there is a way to track water and fruit/veggie consumption.

My favorite part is that it’s structured in stages.  I’m in Stage 1 so I’m following the nutrition plan and I have just three small additional goals I need to follow.  First is to drink 8 glasses of water a day (I can manage 6 – anymore and I might as well put my name on the bathroom door and conduct all business from there), the second is to do a minimum of 30 crunches or push-ups a day.  The third is to reward myself daily.  I think for a reward I’m going to put aside a dollar a day to spend however I see fit.  Either I can get some lip gloss at the end of the week or save it until the end of the month and maybe buy an item of clothing.

I’m not certain what is added in Stage 2, but I will let you know when I get there.

Oh, oh, oh!   I forgot the best part.  Other than the book (obviously) everything is FREE!  That’s right no charge.  For anything.  Ever.  If you are on SparkPeople and want to look me up, I’m MinivanNinja.

Lost in Knitting

Netflix is both a blessing and a curse. I can catch up on TV shows I’ve missed or I can watch entire series I didn’t catch the first time around.

Like “Lost”. Yes, I’m the one person who never watched the show when it was on. Now I can’t stop watching it. Those who were devotees, I have no idea how you handled the intensity and suspense from week to week. It’s dangerous that I can watch episodes back to back to back. Every time there is a cliff hanger, which is every damn episode, I can just click to watch the next episode.

Also, to anybody I ever gave weird looks to when they would have intense discussions about the show, I apologize. I get it now.

Somehow during my marathon viewings I’m getting a staggering amount of complicated knitting completed. I’m working on a sweater, Celtic Icon from Inspired Cable Knits. The sweater is knit in pieces that will be blocked and joined together at the end, seven pieces in all. I only had one piece completed a week and a half ago.

Tonight I started the final piece. If all goes well I’ll have a completed sweater by the weekend.

Migration Pattern

Bear with me, I’m going to migrate some (all?) posts in from DabbleDoIt.

I was reading a post Yvonne at Joy Unexpected wrote about being an “old blogger” in a sea of “new bloggers” who are all about branding, media kits, SEO, etc.  She also mentioned how she misses how blogging used to feel like a community and it’s morphed into this monster that’s all about business and book deals.

Way back when, my old blog was a place where I feel like I did some of my best writing.  A few years of that and I started to doubt myself.  Instead of blogging about something I would analyze my idea, criticize it and never write.  Eventually I shelved it.  I sort of wish I hadn’t but sometimes a fresh start is needed.

Writing is one thing I enjoy.  Everything about it is fun, even the challenge of finding a new way to start a sentence instead of “I” or “It’s”.  So while I’m trying to decide whether to consolidate everything or just double post for a while, I’m going to import some of my favorite posts from over there.  It’s a new blog so there aren’t many.