Thursday, September 22, 2016

warm fuzzies

Happy autumn! I'm finding myself more sentimental than usual about the aesthetics of the changing seasons. And no wonder, in Texas, there's no change so far. Yesterday it was 95 degrees outside, yuck! I keep myself in denial by wearing sweaters to work at the library. Luckily the air conditioning is low enough to justify it, even if the walk to the DART station requires that I peel off a few layers. I'm planning on buying a kitschy autumnally-scented candle, too, and there has already been a lot of hot cocoa drinking and pie baking in the house.

It will eventually get cold down here, but probably not until late November or December. The one good thing about this is that it gives me a lot of lead time to knit and crochet warm fuzzy garments! I've finished off two this month. One represents my first complete work in crochet:



Classic granny square scarf! It's definitely rough around the edges; I think the gauge of crochet hook suggested for this yarn was a bit...er, generous. So the work is kinda loose and floppy and it took me a while to hit my stride in stitch style. Nevertheless, I'm chuffed! It's really soft and the autumnal colors make me happy. I'll probably give it to my sister for her birthday. Sssshh, Emma, you didn't read that.


My other finished product is this multicolored scarf, from a design by Martina Behm of Strickmich. This is a pretty special garment, as I knit it from the wool I bought in Iceland -- Icelandic knitwear is top-shelf as far as souvenirs go, so I only bought a headband from a grocery store while I was there (and even that was about $28) and promised myself I would make something special out of wool instead of draining $150 on a lopapeysa I could never wear in Texas :)

If I ever move up north again, though, I'd love to have a real Icelandic sweater, and my next trip will definitely include that $150 in the budget.

My knitting skills have always been rudimentary -- until this summer I didn't know anything beyond rectangular combinations of knit and purl! This pattern was the *perfect* introduction and confidence-booster into the world of patterns beyond that skill level -- it only used knit stitches, but built them up and alternated colors in a triangular in-the-round shape, which involved simple additional pattern skills like YO, m1, and Sl1. I love how many different ways it can be turned and draped!



What's your favorite part about fall?

****

Kira xoxo

Monday, September 19, 2016

september so far

Hello! Ok! What is this blog now, anyway? Have I totally given up fashion posts? Where has the sewing been? Why does it seem like everything I've posted all summer long happened back in May?

To be honest, nobody wants to see my everyday life, at least not how I'm currently enacting my Best Self -- sitting at my desk, sipping coffee, reading, waiting for a bra to come in the mail all the way from England (I have to sign for it??) and trying to keep Cricket's tail out of my face. She likes to hop up onto the desk when I'm having my Morning Coffee and Computer Time, which gets hairy real quick.

Anyway, since I set some lofty-ish goals in early September for what I want to get done this month, I've been having a very productive time! Especially with the reading -- for some reason, I thought that I would struggle the most with that goal (read two books, at least one of them must be a hard paper copy) and I've already finished six! Such is when you work at a library circ desk, I guess -- it looks good if you read while idle rather than surfing, staring into the distance, or even knitting. Plus, all of these have been amazing reads:


Okay, okay, two of them are graphic novels. But that counts! Don't ever let anyone tell you graphic novels don't count. I have a crush on Lisa Hanawalt and her work, and My Dirty Dumb Eyes and Hot Dog Taste Test were hilarious and bizarre and difficult to safely read on public transit, which made them amazing. I was able to get Hot Dog Taste Test from my local library, but I was bemoaning not being able to find a library copy of MDDE to my boss, who immediately ordered it and it was in my hands within Amazon Prime shipment time. My job is amazing.

I practically ate Where am I now? For brunch. I picked it up before getting on the train to work, read it on my commutes and during my shift, and dropped it off at the library drop box on my way home from the train station. It was so good. Highly recommend! It was kind of amazing to read her chapter on OCD and anxiety right after I published my last blog entry, too -- her description of having OCD as a preteen was spot-on to my own experience. If you're interested in learning more about what it's like, I would immediately go read Wilson's book, before you Google anything else.

The other three reads, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Lingo, and Bad Feminist were also excellent. Right now what I've got my bookmark in is This Cold Heaven, by Gretel Erlich, about her explorations of culture and life in Greenland. I guess I have not only the Scandinavian bug, but the Arctic ethnography bug, too.


As for my other goals -- I have not made time every day for violin practice, so I've already flunked the shoot-for-the-moon, but I have practiced a LOT. I've made 13/19 days so far, every day for between 15-45 minutes, which has made a drastic change in my playing. I'm still terrible, but practicing really consistently has made a noticeable change from just picking it up when I felt like it. And the better I get, the more I feel like playing, so that's a virtuous cycle!

I've finished two digital art pieces, which you can see on my Instagram, so one to go! I've also cut and begun the bodice of a dress from a vintage pattern, but I don't want to post any photos until I'm completely finished with it! And, as for my "just keep knitting" goal, I definitely have, except it's mostly crochet:



Did y'all set any goals for September? How are they going? We're almost 2/3 done, and it's almost officially fall! I can't believe it! No, really, I can't, it's still 90 degrees daily here.

Also, if anyone wants to connect with me on Goodreads, I'm right here!

****

Kira xoxo


Thursday, September 15, 2016

on anxiety, OCD, and a crippling fear of flying

I've been trying to write this post since I started this blog. It's a big part of my life and it's an interesting one, and one of the things that helps people with struggles like these is understanding similar experiences in others. The internet is great for group therapy, if you know where to look and can connect with people in a real, trusting way.

A photo I took of Monet's water lilies at L'Orangerie, Paris, 2010
In January of 2014, a murder occurred in broad daylight at my university. I was a senior. So was the victim. It occurred mid-morning in a classroom that my now-husband had just left the period before. I was sitting in a literature class was the first person to inform the professor that we'd gotten an emergency text about a shooting. The murder was perpetrated by a student who had been in my linguistics class. My husband knew both the victim and the perpetrator; they were in his major and our year. It hit closer to home than any violent crime ever has in my life. The university had little to no idea how to handle such an event, but American society rarely seems to have its shit together when it comes to people killing each other in broad daylight anyway.

While that event wasn't my personal tragedy, the fallout wrecked my mental health. I had struggled with anxiety and what I self-assessed as obsessive-compulsive disorder since about the age of ten, but had never sought professional help or medication, because I was always able to function through it. My university's tragedy in 2014 brought it to an unbearable head.

I remember going to my next class in shock, with helicopters over campus as we all nervously shuffled across campus. Purdue finally had the sense to cancel classes for the rest of the day, and I found myself emotionally unwilling to return. Some of my professors personally cancelled classes for the rest of the week, or let students who were too nervous get away with not showing up. Everyone was shaken. When everything was back in session, every professor was obligated to give a fifteen-minute emergency procedure speech at the start of class, as they had all been to a training session on how to deal with such an event should it (god forbid) happen again in the future. I sat through the speech seven times. It frequently derailed class for the rest of the period.

My favorite photo of l'Arc de Triomphe, from my 2010 trip
I was able to keep going to classes and get good grades, but my mental health was the worst it had ever been. I found myself picking seats in every class where I felt I could dodge a shooter if one burst through the door. Sometimes I skipped classes entirely because I just didn't feel safe. Agoraphobia was creeping into my mindset. My self-diagnosed OCD symptoms went through the roof, and I was angry that a random other student's own psychosis could influence my psyche so deeply.

My entirety of 2014 was not particularly awesome -- it's why I started this blog later that fall; as an outlet to enjoy little things when I felt like I was emotionally worthless. I went to therapy sessions, both one-on-one and in a group, and went on Lexapro, an SSRI, to assist with treating my officially-diagnosed OCD and generalized anxiety. Group therapy for OCD helped in a lot of ways, and I have a lot of coping mechanisms to assist me daily now when I'm fighting off compulsive behavior. I'm still literally gun shy in certain situations; I'm sometimes nervous in university environments and I don't like to go to popular movies at peak times.

I mention this whole event because of how it brought my disorders to professional light for the first time in my life. For anyone who's unfamiliar, OCD is not the neat-and-tidy-germophobe disorder, although organizational behavior and fear of contamination can play a role in some people's anxiety idiolect. I've often described my condition to people as "The inability to put worry on the backburner." My brain, at times, has literally been unable to let go of thoughts of disaster or tragedy -- suicide, growing up to become a horrible person, having an aneurysm, losing someone I love in a car accident, etc -- I've gone through periods in my life where each of these is an out-of-proportion, ever-present thought in the forefront of my mind, no matter what I'm doing. Sometimes the only escape is sleeping. It can feel like my brain is just broken -- where most people might find such thoughts disturbing, they can just put them aside and accept them as part of life's risks, whereas I can't stop worrying no matter what else I'm doing, to an degree that is easily recognizable as dysfunctional.

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland, 2016
But that's just the "obsessive" part. The C stands for "compulsive," because frequently what people with obsessive/unwanted thoughts end up doing is creating their own coping mechanisms in the form of tics, habits, and repetitive behaviors. The twisted logic behind it is if the worry is irrational, but it won't go away, maybe I can invest in little behavioral charms that, if I perform them, will superstitiously "prevent" the bad things from coming to pass. It's irrational, but in the mind of someone in the throes of obsessive worry, it makes a sort of sense. If you can't cognitively put away out-of-proportionally terrifying thoughts, you can invent your own superstitions to tell yourself everything will be okay.

It's like an antonym to mindfulness -- instead of letting thoughts pass through your mind and observing them casually, I engage full-force with reality and start doing things like counting, only performing tasks in sets of certain numbers, tapping "good spots" on furniture as I walk by, or re-tracing actions if I do them "wrong." Sometimes if I read something disturbing I'm compelled to un-read it -- that is, I read the passage or phrase backward as if erasing it from my mind.

These things never make sense, so don't try to apply actual logic to it. Appropriately, the rationale for compulsions in OCD people is sometimes referred to as magical thinking, much like any superstitious behavior.

Parliament from the London Eye, 2011
While on the surface it seems quirky, it can be really debilitating for some people, who end up mentally driven to perform their compulsions at the expense of functioning day-to-day. The severity of my compulsions waxes and wanes with my overall stress level -- if I'm generally happy and there aren't any major stressors, I'm less likely to engage with compulsions, but if I'm in a high-stress environment, I allow them to control my movements and choices. I've told my friends and family, if you look closely at my hands even in everyday situations, you can see them constantly moving, tapping, and searching for the "right" spot on which to rest them on any surface I encounter; my coffee cup, tables, the steering wheel of my car. Sometimes I have to remind myself not to compulse with my feet on the pedals when I'm driving, or else my worries about car crashes in DFW traffic might self-fulfill. While for me, OCD is not usually debilitating, it's ever-present.

Girders at Skeiðará Bridge Monument, Iceland, 2016
One of the manifestations of my anxiety disorders is a really severe fear of flying. I haven't ever had any personally traumatic experiences with planes -- quite the opposite, really, I've encountered a lot of really nice pilots and flight staff, gone on some amazing trips, and seen beautiful things from airplane windows. I didn't used to be afraid of flying, just a little nervous during takeoff, like many people.

But for some reason, at one point around age 18, the part of my brain defined by the "O" in "OCD" got the idea that I was definitely going to die on an airplane, and oh-god-there's-nothing-I-can-do-about-it-don't-make-me-go-on-a-plane-ever-again. So I sort of didn't. I started trying to book travel by air, and then backing out due to the incredible stress it caused me. I get quaky, nauseous, irritable, and have panic attacks when I have air travel booked. As my mother learned when we went to Europe in 2016, I get completely paralyzed with panic when faced with imminently boarding an airplane. I freeze up because if I were to move, my compulsions would become so overwhelming they might become obvious to everyone around me, and just not moving seems like the easier option to the possibility of having to count objects, un-read text, and make basic choices like what to drink when the stewardess comes around.

Funny how the possibility of social shame can overcome even the most compelling symptom of mental illness.

Urquhart Castle from Ellie's and my off-seasonally private boat tour of Loch Ness. Our boat captain was a Nessie hunter.
I'm really tired of feeling like a normal situation is a massive, terrifying hurdle to be overcome, rather than just another boring form of public transit. I drive in DFW traffic and ride the very unsecure DART system on a near-daily basis, both of which are definitely bigger risks to my bodily survival than commercial airliners, and yet. Anxiety isn't rational. Phobias don't ask for permission, although I seem to keep giving it.

I don't want my travel pictures to exist in this space without acknowledging the reality that it was really hard for me to even physically get to France and Iceland -- several weeks in advance I told my mom she was literally going to have to drag me through the airports, and that she did. I spent a total of 22 hours completely frozen with fear on planes to accomplish our trip in total. I have a lot of work to do on this fear.

I don't take Lexapro anymore -- it made me really sleepy and was causing dysfunction -- but drugs aren't really what's going to work for a fear of flying, anyway. It needs cognitive behavioral and exposure therapy. One of the problems is that flying is really expensive and a huge commitment -- no matter how boring some people might find it, it's actually a bit of an ordeal to go through it. It's hard to casually hop on an airplane and get low doses of exposure. You commit to a flight or, in my case over and over, you don't.

Ellie sponsored a "therapy flight" for me with our pilot friend from Purdue. It was terrifying but a really great experience. She's an amazing friend, and our friend was an amazing pilot to have put up with my panicking.
I realized that I'm triggered by the experience of flying on a much deeper level than just being afraid once I'm on a plane. The last flight I had booked, I canceled because I was sick with anxiety and waking up panicking in the middle of the night, even though I had been doing okay in the days leading up to my trip. One problematic aspect of a fear of flying is that I have to face the possibility of being stressed out and panicky for the entire duration of a trip, which isn't always worth it.

Purdue's campus from the air, 2014
So, I'm dialing back my expectations and practicing exposure to the stimuli associated with airports and plane rides. I started the other day with a video of a completely normal takeoff from the cockpit view, and it gave shakes and nausea just watching it on YouTube -- but I "toughed it out," so to speak, and didn't allow myself to give into compulsive paralysis. If I don't want to stay limited by ground travel for the rest of my life, I have to go through the experience until it doesn't scare me any longer.


Above: the video I watched today. I didn't get shaky! Despite my incredible aversion, I get a lump in my throat seeing views from airplane windows. When we were landing in Frankfurt this May, I almost cried because I'd never seen Germany before until I saw it out the window of our Lufthansa flight. I'm weird.

A cairn my mom and I built on the shore of Jökulsárlón, Iceland, 2016
Will flying ever be enjoyable, or at least, banal and boring to me? Maybe. Will my OCD ever be "cured"? Probably not. But I think anxiety, like many mental conditions, is a spectrum, and certain things are reinforced and amplified through individual experiences. I'm trying to modify mine so the volume of certain anxieties is lower.

Sometimes I feel so estranged from reality by anxiety disorders I want to claim the label of being "neurodivergent," or I feel like I'm psychotic, although neither of those is ultimately accurate. The more I've opened up about my mental life, the more people I've met who lie on an anxious personality spectrum, too. It's not uncommon.

It can be exhausting, but at least my brain is a little bit interesting. How about yours? Have you ever been a nervous flyer, and if so, what helps you?

****

Kira xoxo

Monday, September 12, 2016

europe 2016 || jökulsárlón and skeiðará













My favorite drive was our first one, in which we drove out on Route 1 "The Ring Road" to Diamond Beach. It's where I got my most beautiful photos, and what I saved for my last retrospective post on our adventure this past May.

Diamond Beach is a beach at the mouth of a lagoon on the southern edge of the island. It's a solid four hours from Reykjavik, so not a drive for the easily exhausted -- props to my mom, who drove the entire way, and the entire week, in fact, because I can't drive stick! The Ring Road drive is where I took some of my best photos of waterfalls, glaciers, mountains, and the sea, although I don't have the photography skills to do its splendor justice.

Along the drive there is a photo opportunity; some girders which were part of a bridge destroyed by flood sit in the middle of lava rock with a gorgeous view in the background.

Diamond Beach is allegedly famous for the glacial icebergs that break off of the major glacier in the Southeast part of Iceland, which are carried out to sea but then wash back to shore and sit on the sand. It was too warm for that particular phenomena, but there were plenty of blue icebergs in the lagoon itself. What a surreal view! I'd never been anywhere near the Arctic before, so it was like something out of a painting.

Mom and I built a cairn down the beach from the main tourist viewpoint. Is it any surprise I've made it my wallpaper?

****

Kira xoxo

Monday, September 5, 2016

europe 2016 || Þingvellir, geysir, and gullfoss
















Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss are all major locations on the Golden Circle drive. Þingvellir, or Thingvellir National Park, was my favorite -- it's the site of the first parliamentary government meeting (Vikings!!!!) but also the Eurasian/North American continental rift. IT'S LITERALLY WHERE THE PLATES OF THE CONTINENTS ARE SMASHING TOGETHER. (Or maybe coming apart? I'm not a geology expert and I can't remember now.) IT'S THE REASON FOR THE VOLCANOES.

Sorry for the caps. But it's seriously cool. The fact that Iceland sits on a continental rift explains the volcanic activity and huge variety of geologic phenomena. It was very cool to look at the huge rock formations jutting aggressively at one another and realize what I was standing on.

The dorky photo of me in front of Þingvellir with my thumbs up? It's because I realized standing there that in high school, I did a report on the Icelandic constitution -- the AlÞing. I had completely forgotten until I was standing where it began!

Plus, the gift shop had coffee, like everywhere in Iceland. I was happy.

Geysir and Gullfoss are pretty touristy. Geysir is the "original geyser," linguistically where we get the word geyser. And while swamped with tourists and sporting a tumorous gift shop nearby, it was neat -- we watched it go off three times. It was spooky to watch it roil and bubble over each cycle, then suddenly lurch skyward in a huge, steaming explosion.

Gullfoss was similarly sublime -- although I don't remember thinking much aside from "Jeez, Iceland, give it a rest with the natural beauty!" We saw Gullfoss after Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss, so I was saturated with natural wonders at that point!

On the whole, while I loved the Golden Circle drive and the National Park, I'd recommend our drive along the Ring Road toward Diamond Beach over the prescribed route from landmark to landmark. Maybe I just don't like fellow tourists. ;)

****

Kira xoxo

p.s. I did get my own video of Geysir erupting, but I'm too lazy to edit and post it, and it's probably not as clear color-wise as this one:


Saturday, September 3, 2016

can I love vintage and still be a minimalist?


I talk fairly frequently on social media about two things: vintage stuff, and my minimalist compulsion.

Okay, not compulsion in the sense of a neurosis -- although I can totally claim that, too, as I've been diagnosed with OCD -- but I love getting rid of stuff, and I hate owning and living in excess. That AirBnB aesthetic where everything looks like a bright, airy IKEA showroom? That's my jam.

So how to reconcile a love of vintage -- which generally involves at least collecting and accumulating things that may be strictly for show -- with the fact that I can't stand keeping things around when they're not useful or, as Marie Kondo puts it, bring be joy?

Case in point: I've been eyeballing vintage Pyrex online and in antique stores, wondering when I'm going to finally give in to that impulse and start a hutch full of it. The caveat to myself was that I would use it if I started collecting it, possibly at the expense of some of my modern cookware. And then Flashback Summer posted a very informative entry about the lead content in vintage Pyrex -- nope! No way now. I'm not bringing dishes into my house that I can't put food in!



But collecting things if you honestly love them, even if you don't "use" them, isn't inherently bad. Hoarding and becoming emotionally attached to too much can be unhealthy, I think, but having one or two collections isn't wrong! Right?



Of course not! But for me personally, it drives me crazy to have excess. I think it's mainly because I'm still at a point in my life where Joe and I could move any time, and having moved three times since I left my parents' house, I know what a pain in the butt it is. I can't imagine moving an entire house's worth of furniture and trappings -- Joe and I live in a three-bedroom duplex half, but our furnishings volume-wise are closer to something that would be appropriate for a two-bedroom apartment, one of the bedrooms being a creative studio. And I want to keep it that way!


Despite the fact that I have the same collecting urge as many vintage lovers, I try to remind myself that I can take in the aesthetic without buying every old thing that comes along. I really enjoy myself in thrift shops and antique malls, and do generally come away from shopping runs with an item or two, especially since many sellers just want to get rid of really cool old stuff and don't think much about the price. I've chosen a few categories of things that I allow myself to collect, but I continually remind myself that just because it's old doesn't make it sacred, and part of the fun of collecting vintage "stuff" is that I can choose what's valuable to me and what isn't -- I collect animal-shaped creamers, for instance, so they come and go cheap. There isn't a crazy demand for them, so they don't feel overly precious, but I love them just the same and it's a somewhat unique thing to accumulate.



My interest in vintage sewing also has to do with my urge to keep things simplified -- I figure if I'm going to bring extra clothing into my closet, I should make it a creative process that engages my brain and is a learning experience, rather than just buying and buying and buying. That's not to say that I don't grab neat deals on vintage clothes when I see them, but I don't seek out pre-made clothes primarily; they're a rare treat rather than a staple.


It helps to have a lot of storage in our house, but I try to make sure the closets stay decluttered, as we're at risk of piling them with crap that will stay hidden indefinitely. We have nine closets in our house, most of them walk-in, if you can believe that -- props to whoever designed it, they were a genius when it comes to closet space. One of them is my designated Etsy closet -- Etsy is such a good way for me to enjoy vintage, collect here and there, and still be able to let go of vintage material goods -- if a single dress can pay the electric bill; I definitely don't need to keep it forever! ;)


Speaking of Etsy, I'm having a bit of a destash / Labor Day Weekend sale in my shop! I'm selling a bunch of patterns from different eras, all for $1.00, and I'm having a $10 sale on vintage and handmade clothes. Enjoy!



Are you a collector or a minimalist, or somewhere in between? What do you collect (or not)?

****

Kira xoxo

Disqus for Kirabee