Category Archives: Thursday Challenge

Serial Say-er to Serial Do-er

Have you ever had a moment where you felt so tired of hearing yourself say the same things over and over again?

Your trademark ‘one day I will’ lines.

Your rehashed stories of your golden days complete with wistful look into the sunny Insta-haze of the past.

Your explanations for why you are where you are and not where you want to be. [<<That’s a tongue-twister.]

I have plenty.

One day I’ll travel to…

It was so much easier being…

Oh I can’t yet because I’m…

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you DO need to cut yourself some slack and be kind to the one person you’re stuck with for life: yourself. You DO need to practise patience because the best things in life are worth the wait. You DO need to consciously sacrifice what you want for what is best for your life. Sometimes, you do.

There is honour and dignity in doing those things.

My gripe is with hearing myself SAY things that I have very little intention of DOing even when the ‘sometimes’ are behind me. Waiting for the conditions to be perfect before I begin. Trying to accumulate as many certificates as possible before I practise. Repeating my flimsy excuses when I encounter early setbacks. All normal in the life of a serial say-er.

One summer, I decided to learn how to swim properly. No longer was I going to be flailing in the shallows like some bewildered upside-down hedgehog. So I signed up for swimming lessons at the local pool. This all sounds very impressive and do-er like, doesn’t it? It was a long road though.

Believe it or not, I read a book about swimming before I set foot in a swimwear shop. I even got a friend to draw me some diagrams of what I should be doing if I ever (miraculously) made it into a pool. This was me being a serial say-er.

I made it to 8 lessons and from a combination of embarrassment and the ever so convenient excuse of life getting too busy, I never went back.

Same thing with piano lessons. Same thing with a 12-week workout programme. Same thing with a diploma in business and management. Get really excited, get all the gear, buy new stationery, hit a roadblock of any description and that’s it.

Those are examples of things I actually got started on. There are plenty more on the heap of abandoned dreams. Dramatic maybe, but true.

So many times I’ve heard it said that it is hardest to get started. I say it’s hardest to keep going when the initial buzz has worn off. To keep working out when you’ve plateaued. To keep eating healthy food in a month full of birthdays. To keep (this one goes out to all the approval-addicts like me) practising your favourite piece even when there’s no one applauding your efforts.

It’s time to stop getting that high from talking about a future accomplishment and DO.

Not just start but do and do and do and do and do.

Become a serial do-er.

By all means become a serial say-er of things already DONE.

I have officially written my second blogpost.

I have completed my workout for the day.

I have bathed my child. Oh wait, that shouldn’t be on the list of things you say but don’t do. Oops.

What have you DONE?

 

Long Island Iced Tea

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When I decided on this thing called marriage I knew I had to make some pretty incredible promises. I promised the love of my life that I would above all, prioritise our relationship. I would always work hard at keeping ‘us’. My promises mean that I make time for us even when there are a million other things that I just have to do. I love having many things on the go at the same time so carving out special time for just the two of us can be tricky. A life-lesson I choose to learn everyday. I have to give my full attention to the one I made my promises to and re-discover why I made them! It is easy to roll off a few tender sounding goodbye phrases without thinking but when I realise that they were the only interaction we had all week, some alarm bells start ringing.

My husband has an amazing ability to slow down and give me a hug whatever is going on and I sometimes wish I was quicker at giving and receiving love when I’m in the middle of something. Truth is, I’m always going to be in the middle of something. I need to choose. I need to prioritise. My laundry, lesson-planning, hosting, baking and other things can fit around what’s really important. In an effort to get my mind to leave what my hands have left behind, I have to ask questions. I get my mind to focus on our conversation rather than the task I busied myself with earlier. This tests my promises more than anything I had ever anticipated.

We spent a Saturday strolling along the long island in the middle of the Danube, baking slowly in the sun as we watched various groups of people enjoying time out together. We spoke very little for the first part of our 5 mile walk because we had some quarrel so unimportant I cannot even remember what it was about. As we marched through our conflicted feelings, drinking our iced teas to avoid snapping, we both reached the end of our stubborn resistance and through gritted teeth conceded that we loved each other. That gave way to remembering the promises we had made. This softened us to the point of wanting to understand each other, asking questions without being distracted by the activity or beauty around us, to become interested in the answers. We decided to be interested in ‘us’.

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Pop-ups Enabled

A scene from ‘Komm, süßer Tod’: ‘Come, sweet Death’

Vienna offers a never-ending supply of interesting adventures. With a sobriety that becomes this former imperial city, Vienna entertains, amazes and confuses me daily. For starters, I have never felt less groomed than a dog before moving here. I find this hilarious. Walking through a park, using the underground or at the theatre, there is no place a Viennese person considers it inappropriate to shout at a complete stranger, showing extreme irritation over a seemingly trivial thing. Truly amazing. It only follows that the Viennese taste in film should be equally inexplicable. Austrians, I’m told, have a morbid sense of humour which is perfectly encapsulated in the indie films by Josef Hader.

I once read Komm, süßer Tod for an Austrian-German class so when a friend of mine invited me to go see the film at a pop-up ‘heuriger’ recently, I decided it was time to actually understand the plot. A heuriger is usually a restaurant managed by a local farmer or vintner, set in leafy surroundings, selling homegrown produce and authentic Austrian cuisine. In an attempt at being ‘alternative’, a selection of freshly made Austrian delights along with an inflatable cinema screen and a few picnic tables, were dropped into an old ballroom hidden on a forgotten street. The people who attended this unusual showing were clearly rebels from a typically conservative art-scene, buying fruity beers from the pop-up bar and chatting seriously about the brilliance of Hader.

I think about 20 minutes had passed when the Austrians in our group suggested we move to a quieter corner because they couldn’t understand the dialogue. Not entirely sure whether they withdrew for my sake or genuinely because they could not understand the Viennese dialect but I gratefully joined the exodus to the garden. In true Austrian fashion, the beer garden was closed before the rest of the venue so we made our way into another spacious room. Perhaps we were keeping the neighbours awake with our alternative event which featured no music, laughing or loud noises. Being linguistically challenged and therefore, unusually quiet, I busied myself with taking in the atmosphere. The peeling paint, the ornate plasterwork on the ceilings, the scale of the rooms and imagining what might have happened in this once beautiful space. I am sure it was positively amazing.

 

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Three Blind Mice

Anyone remember shouting that macabre nursery rhyme with a shudder of fear and glee? I found myself wielding a cleaver and menacingly stomping about not too long ago with these words spilling out of my mouth. I distinctly remember emphasising my cutting intent. This vicious streak developed over a few weeks in a shared flat while I was at university. My flatmates were not the problem. We had a mouse situation. In the old tenement buildings of Edinburgh, if one flat has an infestation of these little rodents, then every flat in that block is at risk. I imagine we took turns housing mice over the year.

Initially, I was fond of these little creatures. I found one staring at me from the carpet just as I woke up one morning, its big eyes pleading with my good side. We all named it Ralph. Then there was another. I heard it being called Ralphette. Then there was a happy little family but by this point I was not on Team Mouse. I was firmly on Team House having to do hourly clean-ups of all food-prep areas. I went through every level of frustration and even considered calling a truce, trying to negotiate a mouse-box with food and water. There were no friendly squeaks. It became a war. We moved. Next winter, same thing.

Enter neighbour’s cat, Larson.

This cat is as macho as they come. He tracked them, prowling ever so stealthily, pounced and then let them go. [WHAT?! ] He did this on repeat, progressed to sitting and just letting his wrist do the work, often pinning mice by their tails when they dared to run away.  Finally, when he got bored we would hear a crunching sound and that was that. Larson did not get so good without being trained. He probably had a mouse-toy keeping him in top form in the lean summer months.

I grew up with a cat called Kit Kat who had similar hunting prowess. She would bring in birds and other mangled little creatures from her sessions in the wild. She might have caught mice too for all I know. In loving memory  of her, I embarked on:

Thursday Challenge #2 Attempting to follow Martha Stewart’s Mouse Toy Sewing Instructions. Here’s my summary of what went down.

I eye-balled the pattern instead of printing the PDF out. Straightforward instructions except for the ears. I didn’t have fusible webbing so I sewed the two pieces right sides together and turned it out and then hand-sewed it on the finished body. Also, I have a minor allergic reaction to turning tubes inside-out as was suggested for the tails, so I sewed some ribbon in half to get a similar effect.

I decided to keep my mice blind so they don’t have to see the scary cat adding an extra dimension to the old cat and mouse game. No imploring eyes but maybe the cat will take pity on three blind mice.

Three blind mice.

Three blind mice.

See how they run.

See how they run.

They all ran after the farmer’s wife,

Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,

Did you ever see such a thing in your life,

As three blind mice?

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Put to the Test

This is about putting online instructions to the test. I use the internet for pretty much everything. It reminded me how to write a cheque when it had been too long since the last one because sadly, cheques are a dying species. This cyber fountain of knowledge has taken me through the first steps of most things including sewing. Moving to Vienna soon after my mother gifted me with a sewing machine meant I didn’t have the benefits of her innate teacher-ness. Enter VirtualTeacher.

Yesterday I tried following a video by the charming Brett Bara who is Sewing Queen and a friend of my daily read website, DesignSponge. Here’s a run-through of my experience of making the Brett Bara cushion cover:

1. I wished I had a rotary cutter to get nice clean edges. I got a bit obsessed about getting my square perfect so I ended up with material slightly smaller than my cushion.

2. I was encouraged to attempt installing a hidden zip and ended up spending nearly two hours finding a normal zip in this town where shops have hand-written signs on the door telling you they are on holiday. Sweet but not now.

3. I have made-up names for stitches in my mind that often conflict with professional terms. Spacey v Basting Stitch. Google to the rescue.

4. She assumed that you weren’t a complete idiot/ novice and would be capable of removing pins as you went along.

5. I had trouble getting the zipper foot around the zipper pull without creating some serious wonkiness so a point to improve: Have the zip pull at least 2 inches down from your starting-point, sew down till you reach the obstruction, raise foot, pull the zip back up to the top, lower foot and sew on. Tada! You have a nice straight line.

6. Back stitch every time you change direction or stitch-type. It’s just good practice and it’s a bit like magic.

7. When you turn it over and want to unpick your basting stitches, don’t stress if you can’t see them straight off, give the fabric a light pull and all will be clear.

8. Lastly, but MOST importantly, pull the zip down so it’s open before you sew the last side shut otherwise you will have no way of turning the right side out. I didn’t. I had a very fiddly ten minutes and even called in the cavalry aka husband armed with bamboo skewer. As you can see, it turned out (pun intended) all right in the end.

I was then in cushion-mode and decided to hack off the bottom of a thrifted 90s silk skirt, sew like Brett and added some snap fasteners instead of a zip (partly scarred from the bamboo skewer experience and partly unable to trust myself) and finished off with some vintage buttons. Two handsome cushions now grace our flat and their carbon footprint was minimal. Win win!

Here’s my Thursday challenge: Put someone’s online instructions to the test which means actually finishing something and seeing what worked and what didn’t. Pick something that you love learning about, google something you don’t know how to do yet and try it out¹. Then, tell me about it.

¹Disclaimer: This is purely for positive encouragement. Use your discretion and common-sense and don’t sue me. Ok.

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