What is your spirit animal?

[Warning: Mostly non-serious post here discussing a subject to which I devoted a lot of mental capacity last week.]

Last week, I decided to put some “serious” thought into what my spirit animal should be. This was a surprisingly difficult question to answer, specifically because I’ve put some weird constraints on this animal that embodies my soul.

First, I’d like my spirit animal to be a “higher-level” animal, so a bird, a reptile, or a mammal. This rules out the planaria as well as the honey bee, the latter being a pretty good embodiment of my personality: works well in a structured society, knows its place, follows the rules, hardworking and industrious, stings people when angry….

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey_bee
Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey_bee

My second (arbitrary) constraint is that I’d prefer not to have a spirit animal that I am likely to eat. Spirit cannibalism just seems wrong, right? This rules out ducks, though honestly, I’m not a big fan of duck and also, not really like a duck at all.

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mallard
Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mallard

[Aside: I learned that 'mallard' in French is canard colvert, and that bleu canard ('duck blue') is a teal-ish color, like the blue found in the wing of a mallard. Facts!]

Also, I don’t want a spirit animal that everyyyyyone else has, right? I mean, I’M A UNIQUE AND SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE!

Eventually, I was just picking interesting animals and looking them up on Wikipedia, and they were mostly from Australia. This has the downside that I might never see my own spirit animal because who knows when I’m going to Australia???

Contenders for Mica’s Spirit Animal were:

  • The dugong — Too gentle
  • The wallaby — Too cute
  • The sea or box turtle — Too slow and respectable.
  • The fox — I’m not actually that clever. Sigh.

The platypus is a strong contender, and I do love me some monotremes. I mean, I’m kind of a mix of things, right? And they seem like frantic swimmers, much like I am a fast walker and do-er of things! Bonus points to the platypus because it has a poisonous spur. They’re such weird-looking badasses.

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platypus
Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platypus

 

While examining Australian fauna, the Hus-friend suggested that my spirit animal be THE TASMANIAN DEVIL, which Wikipedia describes thusly:

“It is characterised by its stocky and muscular build, black fur, pungent odour, extremely loud and disturbing screech, keen sense of smell, and ferocity when feeding.”

You guys, except for my lack of body odor, that basically describes me. ME! I am ferocious when feeding, and we all know that hanger is a real and present force in my life.

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasmanian_devil#Ecology_and_behaviour
Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasmanian_devil#Ecology_and_behaviour

Like, cool, I’m down with having a strange spirit-connection to a ferocious little Australian marsupial except for this…this:

“They are known to eat animal cadavers by first ripping out the digestive system, which is the softest part of the anatomy, and they often reside in the resulting cavity while they are eating.”

GROSS.

After that, I’ve given up for awhile. I think I need to stop making my spirit animal try to happen. It will come to me, right?

Alright, serious and important question, blog readers: Do you have a spirit animal?? 

(And do you have a spirit animal suggestion for me?)

Speaking French again

In preparation for our trip to Paris, and also because I feel bad that I’m letting it slip away, I’ve been working on my French a bit recently. This is mostly passive: listening to French podcasts when I walk to work and adding some French blogs to my blog reader. To practice my speaking, I’ve had to make a bit of an effort, so I’ve started meeting with a French conversation partner.

Man, I’ve lost a lot than I thought! Recently, I was trying to tell my conversation partner Bastien that when it’s hot, I open the windows in my apartment, but mosquitoes come in and bite (‘stick’) me. Except instead of les moustiques (‘mosquitoes’), I definitely said, les mousquetaires  (‘musketeers’). So yes, when it’s hot, jauntily-dressed men with muskets enter through the window and stick me. Whoops.

In all honesty though, it’s nice to practice French again after farting around in Korean for a few years. I’m also sad that I’ve lost what progress I made there, but let’s be honest, I never got very far with Korean. At least with French, I am well-past what I like to call the “aggressive toddler” stage of learning a foreign language. In other words, I have more at my linguistic disposal than pointing at things and saying things loudly (“Refrigerator! Juice! Thank you!”). It’s a relief to have many, many years of language study to fall back on, even if I make silly mistakes.

 

So I took a voice lesson

Recently, I’ve been feeling inadequate about my singing, which is totally fine because singing is not my livelihood. Still, some people that I know from youth community theater performances are off making it big on Broadway, and here I am, still stuck with my voice that sounds like it should be issuing forth from a sad, plaintive orphan. Except I’m nearing 30 and approaching the time when my voice should mature and settle. In other words, I’m close to or already have my LADY VOICE.

Recently, I picked up a flyer from a voice studio near my apartment, and today, I went in (sort of on a whim?) for an initial lesson. I had reached out earlier to the instructor, saying that while I sing only for fun, it makes me sad that when I want to sing high, belt-y notes, I always switch into my head voice, which is considerably weaker and breathier. This happens consistently around B above Middle C (B4?). There’s no buzzkill like switching to head voice mid-belt and sounding like you’ve had the air knocked out of you. Oh, it’s so very sad.

Katie, the instructor, was super nice and totally “got” what I was talking about. She asked about my background and previous training, and she was very enthusiastic and encouraging about what I already can do and where she thinks I can go. Best of all, she made it sound like extending the range of my chest voice is not at all outside the realm of possibility, so that’s great news! Basically, it boils down to re-training my body to not switch automatically into head voice when I approach the first bridge in my voice, which is basically where the vocal apparatus starts to change shape to accommodate the faster vibrations needed for higher notes. It was really cool to have an expert listen to my natural speaking and singing voice and say things like, “I thought you were a soprano from your speaking, but I think you might be a mezzo. There’s a lot of color in your middle notes.” Hooray, colored notes?!?

But man! I’d forgotten that singing lessons really strip you of your pride. Today, I did things like, look at the shape of my mouth in a mirror while I sang, put my hands on my face to feel the tension in my jaw, looked directly at Katie (while she looked at me) while singing. Like, DIRECT, while-singing eye contact. That’s a real thing. Oh, and there was a lot of trying to sing in a very character “old Broadway”-esque voice (like Cyndi Lauper) to demonstrate that I am capable of singing higher notes without switching into my head voice. I sounded okay sometimes and not-okay a lot of times, I thought.

She sent me off with a recording of the half-hour session. I don’t know if I have the courage to listen to it yet.

I had a lot of fun, despite feeling somewhat embarrassed. Katie asked me what I liked to sing, and we did some Broadway songs, which is a lot of fun. It’s cool to approach this hobby knowing that I’m just doing it because I enjoy singing and want to improve. Absolutely nothing at all–no auditions, no money, no roles–hinges upon how well I do. Any improvement I can make is a win, and at the very least, it’s nice to have an uninterrupted period to sing and not worry about bothering the neighbors.

Now, maybe work will allow me to use my wellness reimbursement stipend for voice lessons…

Dipping things in a vat of indigo

In grad school, my friend Sean used to tease me that I wore and owned a lot of blue things. In fact, at a party, the following conversation took place:

[Friend]: “Where’s Mica?”

[Sean]: “Uh, I dunno. Probably dipping everything she owns in a vat of indigo.”

Over the weekend, I joined Stella and her friends Jennifer and Whitney for a “hipster tie-dye” crafternoon. My previous experience with tie-dye was limited to a [probably toxic] kit from Wal-Mart that Cassandra and I used to make tee-shirts before the Women’s Fitness 5K in Champaign,  IL. Now, though, I live in fancy San Francisco, so I have to step up my tie-dye game a little bit. Fortunately, Jennifer brought along an indigo tie dye kit for us all to experience the “ancient and mystical” art of…turning things blue.

I didn’t get many pictures of the process because my hands were generally occupied with 1) scrunching up large quantities of fabric or 2) submerging said scrunched-up fabric into vats of what looked like pond water. Yes, apparently, indigo dye looks greenish-yellow and turns blue with oxidation. Chemistry or something! Oh, and also, it smells bad.

After you take out your items, you expose the fabric to the air so it will turn blue. It’s pretty cool!
Indigo dyeing

I had originally grabbed enough cotton twill to make a skirt or two at the Fabric Outlet, but at some point, I realized that tie-dyed clothing has no place in my wardrobe. Still, I did cool two designs: scrunching and pleating.

Stella and Jennifer were more serious about the dyeing process. They had prepped the scarves, napkins, and other fabric for dyeing in a variety of complicated ways: wrapping around bottles with rubber bands, folding like a paper football, intense-looking clamps and plastic wrap. Those ladies are serious crafters. Meanwhile, I just kept shrugging when I had to make design decisions and went along for the ride.

Indigo tie-dye

Given my inexperience, I think my two pieces turned out really well! I only had time to do one soak in the dye vat, but the color still turned out plenty dark. I’m very pleased and will have to think of something cool to make out of my “mystically” hand-dyed fabric.

So now I can say that I have dipped my wares in a vat of indigo! Check that off my life list.

Fighting with pattern paper

I tried to sew my first garment (a skirt) using a commercially printed pattern over the weekend, and I have discovered a life fact: Pattern paper is horrible, awful horribleness! Seriously. I think Satan was like, “OMG, Self! What is the most expedient way to put Mica in a stabby rage?” And thus pattern paper was born.

The instructor of my Sewing Studio Craftsy class merrily told me that pattern paper is awful and tears easily, but she, of course, made it look super-easy, handling that shit with decisiveness and purpose. With a deep sigh, I broke the seal on the accompanying pattern envelope and shook out the four sets of folded patterns. They looked something like this:

Pattern paper

 

The instructor in the video recommended taking the roughly cut-out pattern pieces to the copyshop and making multiple copies, one for each size. I decided to take this approach because that would give me some wiggle room in case I messed up somewhere along the cutting process. This is a very realistic and probably scenario, after all.

Screenshot from my Craftsy Class (Sewing Studio with Diana Rupp)
Screenshot from my Craftsy Class (Sewing Studio with Diana Rupp)

Husfriend and I went to the Copy and Print department at Home Depot and attempted to unfold the pattern paper. It was a two person job and reminded me of all the times I have tried to open a road map while being the navigator on a road trip. (You know, when the map somehow balloons to four hundred times its original size, exceeding your arm span and blocking 90% of the windshield.) I was getting stressed that the paper would adhere to the delicate sheen of lady-sweat on my limbs and surely rip or worse, simply dissolve. I left the Husfriend to do my dirty work and set about figuring out how to make copies of this paper-that-is-basically-noisy-air.

I walked to the counter and asked the attendant how one might go about copying a sewing pattern onto thicker paper. She stared at me for a few seconds before asking, “Uh, what do you want to copy?” I followed her eyes as they drifted from me over to where I had left the Husfriend. He was standing in the corner, almost entirely blocked from sight by a swath of brown pattern paper. You could hear *crinkle, crinkle* and occasionally see a wrist or ankle emerge from this fight-to-the-death, only to be consumed again by the horrible paper-of-horribleness.

The copy attendant turned back to me, and her face basically read Oh bitch, hell no. However, she politely informed me that a paper of that size would (1) require the oversized copy machine but (2) would probably rip because it was too delicate in the first place.

I walked back over to the Husfriend and informed him that we were going to have to fold the pattern paper back together. We got it back into something resembling its original size and shape, somehow. Mostly. Whatever. I’m over it.

Suffice to say, I have gotten basically nowhere on my skirt. In fact, I’ve made negative progress: I put the patterns back in the envelope and made lots of attempts to frown.

Here are some questions I now have:

  • Do you rough cut around the pattern pieces (all sizes), pin them to the fabric, and cut along the lines of the size you need? What if you make a mock-up this way and discover that you need a larger size for the “real” version? [This was the problem I was running into over the weekend.]
  • What do you do if you want to save the pattern to reuse multiple times?
  • What if you cut up a pattern for you and then a larger/smaller friend asks you to make the same garment for her? Do you have to buy a new pattern?
  • What if you’re OCD and don’t want to cut up your nice rectangular pattern papers? Do you trace the pattern onto sturdier paper? If this is your approach, do you go insane with the tedium of tracing every line and marking? (This is my legitimate fear.)

In a panic, I emailed Carrie who was nice enough to respond with her method for using patterns:

…So what I do is lay out the whole pattern tissue and trace off the size I think I will be on tracing paper…I also usually grade between sizes depending on my measurements using a straight edge.* I label each piece with the pattern, the piece number/letter, and the size. Then I cut out my traced pieces and keep them in a sheet protector sleeve in a three ring binder labeled with the pattern and the size. I actually do this with most of my PDF patterns as well so I can make everything in different sizes. Hope this helps!!

That sounds like a mostly do-able solution, except tracing sounds very tedious and error-prone. I don’t want to do a ganky job tracing the pattern and have that result in an ill-fitting skirt!

So, out of the good will I hope you bear me, if you could detail how you use sewing patterns, I would greatly appreciate it. 

 

Allons-y, à Paris!

Paris from Pont Alexandre

Bonjour à tous, mes chers amis!

I hope everyone is enjoying Labor Day and has had a wonderful holiday weekend. After our exciting mini vacation, we decided to lay low over the long weekend, which is pretty great in San Francisco. Warm sunshine, clear days, and plenty of things to see around the city, including a man wearing an “I <3 WEED” shirt on Market Street.

A little-known (probably well-known) fact about me is that I tend to write off entire cities (nay, countries!) because of bad experiences I may have had visiting them. Yes, I know, this is gross “American” behavior; for the most part, my incessant remonstration is ironic. For many years, Paris was numéro 1 on my “Foreign Cities Shit List” after a disappointing and ultimately frustrating summer spent interning there in college. (First World Problems, for real, here!) Looking back, I’m not sure how I survived my MA in French Linguistics when I was pretty disdainful of all things Gallic–except maybe nasal vowels–for the entire duration of the program.

Streaker on the Champ-de-Mars
(Streaker on the Champ-de-Mars)

But seven years have passed since I departed the City of Light in a huff, rage-tears streaming down my face. I’ve had some time to let my vehement rage subside, and the number 1 spot on my Shit List has been replaced by Seoul. Though, to be honest, I sometimes find myself nostalgic for some of Seoul’s eccentricities; maybe I’m growing mellow as I approach 30.

Steps in my Parisian Apartment
(Ten flights of stairs I climbed to my Parisian chambre de bonne)

Hus-friend and I have enjoyed our family and friends vacations, but we were also looking forward to taking a trip on our own itinerary this fall. Prices looked good for European travel over the week of Thanksgiving, so a few months ago, we jumped on an AirBnb in the Marais neighborhood, home of the l’As du Falafel, where I shoved many, many piping hot chickpea fritters in my maw in 2007. Airfare was a bit of a waiting game. After nearly going insane with worry over the rising prices, we were able to snag a non-stop flight from SFO to CDG when it serendipitously dropped $300/ticket. Yes! I mean Ouuuaaaaiiiissss!

Illuminated Eiffel Tower

I’m really looking forward to this trip. Ashley and Kyle are going to be working from London this fall, so we anticipate having delicious adventures with them if they are able to Chunnel over. And Hus-friend has only been to Europe during a whirlwind school trip. He mostly recalls that daytime French television showed naked women. Time to make some new memories, eh?

Galette & Mousse

It will be fun to explore Paris as adults, especially since our year in San Francisco has prepped us for aggressive city walking. One thing that really got me down about my time in Paris was having no one to share all the cool things I saw/did with, so it will be really fun to experience these and new things with the Hus-friend.  In the seven years since I’ve been in France, my memories of the city have somehow developed a romantic patina. (I mean, I took all the photos on this trip. They’re all so cool and beautiful!) I will, however, remain on alert, lest I arrive and develop an irremediable case of Paris Syndrome.

I sincerely hope that this return to Paris will be a sign of my increasing maturity, being less quick to judge (maybe???) and more open to cultural differences that I once found maddening.

Mica in the Catacombs

In the mean time, I’ll be over here, brushing up on my French.

Chincoteague mini-vacation

After Rohan’s wedding, we met up with my in-laws and my cousin-in-law Courtney for a mini vacation on Chincoteague Island. It’s a charming island in between Virginia’s Eastern shore and Assateague, the barrier island/national seashore. The community and wildlife refuge were made famous in Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague, which planted dreams of pony ownership in my pre-pubescent mind.

We actually saw the wild ponies on Assateague, but they would have looked like unimpressive specks in my iPhone photos. Instead, here’s a picture of cousin-in-law Courtney with an Atlantic whelk:

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We were only on the island for a few days, but that was enough time to poke around the charming downtown, looking at tourist kitsch and lazy jellyfish bobbing by in the bay.

Jellyfish

Also, enough time to consume a monstrous amount of fried seafood and ice cream. I get stressed eating ice cream cones because you have to lick fast enough to catch any drips AND there’s always the danger of knocking the ice cream scoops right off the cone. Way to go, self, making summer ice cream into a stressful experience. Now, I always ask for the ice cream scooper to mash the whole thing into a cup and give me a spoon.

Island Creamery

Hus-friend and I went for a walk after dinner one night and found a cemetery containing exactly one grave: that of Captain Joshua L. Chandler.
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It’s so nice to be on vacation, where I  can go make-up free and wear shorts. And eat crab chips. Because mmmm, Old Bay seasoning!

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Strong winds foiled out attempt to spend the day at the beach–no one likes hyper-exfoliated/sand-blasted legs! Instead, we relaxed by the Bay and bird-watched from our screen porch. Even though we weren’t at the beach exactly, it was still the kind of beach vacation that makes me squeal I love the beach!!! (and then It makes me special and unique! )

Ducks on Chincoteague

Coast-to-coast in 24 hours! Now, we’re back in San Francisco before a three-day weekend. Life is good.

Chincoteague sunset

Rohan’s awesome wedding

Sorry for my unexplained absence. I’m writing from Chincoteague Island, off Virginia’s Eastern shore, where we’re having a mini beach vacation with Hus-friend’s family. But to back up….

Last weekend, we flew to Baltimore for our friend Rohan’s wedding. You may remember Rohan from our stay in St. Louis on WVT.

First though, we had a pretty turbulent and all-around rough flight across the country. We almost had to stop mid-country for a medical emergency! We arrived exhausted and fell into our huge Baltimore hotel bed late on Friday night, which felt like the definition of luxury at that moment.

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The wedding started at 9:30am on Saturday morning (though festivities had been happening earlier in the week) with Rohan’s garba, which is the traditional procession of the groom ON A HORSE. Not just any horse, a white horse that was dressed way better than I was.

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Meanwhile, the wedding party led the way (for the quarter-mile procession). The guests were encouraged to dance along, and the Indians, many dressed in colorful saris, all looked hella cool. Meanwhile, the non-Indians were instructed to raise our hands in the air and screw in imaginary lightbulbs, which looked mostly right…I think?

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As always, it was great to see so many high school/college friends. Gah, has it been ten years?!? Look at us being fancy adults!

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The wedding ceremony in the morning was pretty involved. I kept trying to follow along with the program, but since it was not in English, I was often confused. It was still really interesting, and I was almost a little sad that I didn’t have some big cultural traditions to uphold during our wedding. (“They’re tied together about five different ways right now,” commented Eric next to me.)

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After the main ceremony, there was lunch. Unsurprisingly, we all sat together and acted as if…well, nothing had changed. Here, Stephen is trying to take a photograph where the Hus-friend’s head is replaced by a mini cannoli on a stick.

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We had the afternoon “off,” so Ben, Tina, Eric, Hus-friend, and I went to the Baltimore aquarium where we got excited about this “Boof-head turtle.”IMG_3158

We also tried to identify scents at the touristy McCormmick spices store on the Harbor.

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The evening was a “traditional” American reception except OMG EVERYONE! THERE WERE SAMOSAS AS THE PASSED HORS D’OEUVRE!!!!! Get in my mouth, potato pillows!

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Here’s a picture of our friend Cal getting his bow-tie fixed because Sam, with his long piano-playing, doctor hands can do anything. (Including dance straight for four hours.)

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Speaking of Dr. Sam, he was wearing a custom-fit suit from…China, sporting a very authentic designer [Read: "knock-off"] logo that sent me into peals of laughter:

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The wedding reception was one of the more energetic I’ve ever seen. We sat down immediately for speeches and cake-cutting. [I may have cried a lot during Rohan's dad's speech. Dads giving speeches about being proud get me EVERY TIME.] There were also choreographed Indian dances performed by friends and family for the newly-weds which was super cool.

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There was no sit dinner hour. Instead, we were told that we could get dinner from the delicious Indian buffet, but the music played for four straight hours. There was a lot of dancing–no slow songs. Here is my classy Hus-friend, trying to moonwalk.

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You may remember the charger-halo from Steph and Stephen’s wedding almost four years ago. It made an appearance again.

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Even though we live in the same city, it’s always a delight to spend time with my spooning buddy, Tina, (and also Ben in the background). IMG_3186

Such a fun event, celebrating with Rohan and his wonderful wife Khushbu (of whom I got no photos because I was a total spaz. Trust me, she was glowing in her sari. GLOWING). We’ve been looking forward to this wedding since high school, and I couldn’t be happier for both of them!

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My addiction to classes

On Saturday, I went got my hair cut at Zippy’s Hair Studio, which is far away in the Presidio.  We are going to our friend Rohan’s wedding this coming weekend, and my bangs were out of control after four months of growth.

Here’s the haircut. It’s much shorter, just in time for San Francisco summer!

(But that’s not the point of this post.)

haircut

 

Hus-friend and I planned to meet up for Italian dinner after my haircut, so I walked the 1.5 miles from the Presidio to North Beach. It was a delightful walk on a sunny, clear San Francisco Saturday.

Presidio house

On the way, I stopped at Pincushion Craft, an adorable knitting and sewing store that I had been wanting to check out after seeing it pop up on Instagram. I really love craft stores: the combination of bright yarns and fabrics AND the possibility of starting new projects makes me giddy and only moderately overwhelmed.

While I was perusing the yarn selection, a woman came in and signed up for Pincushion’s “Learn to Sew a Skirt” class. She and her friends met the instructor, who showed them a mock-up of the skirt they were going to make. Then everyone ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the cute printed fabrics (me silently and totally not creepily…). I was sooooorely tempted to sign up for one of their beginning sewing classes, too.

After spending a significant amount on clothing last month, I’ve been more frugal this month, using yarn and fabric I already bought for small projects. I couldn’t really justify signing up for a $125 class that teaches me skills that I’ve already done (French seams, pattern usage, sewing machine basics). What’s more, I already purchased a sewing class on Craftsy, the online video-learning platform, where I will end up  making…guess what! A SKIRT!

You guys, am I out of control? Why is my compulsion to take classes so strong? I love, love, LOVE the idea of taking classes whenever I acquire a new hobby. This summer alone, I’ve had to talk myself out of taking classes or workshops in knitting, sewing, cooking, pastry, embroidery, French, yoga, and cycling. SELF, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?

I guess I really love the idea of learning a skill from an “expert” and having someone on hand to answer my questions. Deep down, I think I measure my success in having completed a track of some sort. It gives me great satisfaction to have finished something (even though I quit a lot of things…); it makes me feel like I’ve “done” it and can move on to the next step, which is probably another class.

In reality, a lot of classes I take aren’t actually as helpful as I anticipate. They don’t usually cover things as in-depth as I would like. I leave feeling kind of like, “Hmm, I could have taught myself that.” And, you know what? That’s true. The Internet makes learning things ridiculously easy. I can watch videos on how to do stitches or different techniques, and I’m good at researching new skills pretty thoroughly before giving them a shot. I don’t need face-to-face classes.

I’ve talked myself out of taking another sewing class for now, at least until I complete the skirt-sewing class on Craftsy. Meanwhile, I should also work through the pastry basics class I also signed up for on Craftsy. (I just want to make éclairs!!) Then and only then, if I feel the compulsion to take a class to meet people and learn a cool new skills, I’ll allow myself to sign up for something.

Does anyone else love to take non-academic classes for fun? Am I just a weirdo??