Bicycle Safety and Preparedness

A felt flower garland I made for my bike to celebrate spring.

Writing this post based on a request from a friend – hi!

Ok, so biking – I love being out on a bike. Warm weather, cold weather, rain, it’s all enjoyable in its own way. It’s even better with friends!

I also bike quite a bit. When I was in high school and college, bicycling was my main mode of transport. I live in a bike friendly city and prefer it over driving if I can. Having both driven and bicycled many, many miles, I’ve found what works best for me.

The way I approach bicycling is similar to the way I approach driving. A bicycle technically counts as a “vehicle” and defensive driving/bicycling is always a good approach. Cars, bikes, pedestrians, joggers – we’re all road users (to varying degrees) and some general safety precautions will help make that road use more enjoyable.

Here are the basics:

  • Helmet. Please wear a helmet, folks! It’s an easy way to keep your brain safer. Brains are important.
  • Lights. Front and rear lights, especially if you’re doing any riding at dusk/night are a must. I have both and I also put them on a flashing mode during daytime rides and think of them like running lights on a car – this makes a huge difference in being spotted from further away (the light/motion attracts the eye).

Optionals:

  • Rear or front rack to carry panniers/bungee things to. These are a lifesaver. Get that big bag off your back, minimize sweaty back, and have fun pretending your bicycle is a pack mule. (You’d be surprised at the amount/variety of things I can carry on my bike with a front rack/back rack and bungee cords.)
  • Reflectors. I like to have the spoke reflectors on both front/rear wheels so that they light up with any headlight/streetlight action. I also have a small velcro reflective yield sign on the back of my rear rack. Y’all, please yield to bicyclists, we’re generally slower than cars and vastly more vulnerable as road users.
  • Panniers. I have some panniers/saddlebags in different sizes and shapes (all were my mom’s, she used to be an avid bike commuter). My favorite one has flowers on it and pockets inside so I can store things in sections…
  • What I store in my pannier for an everyday ride: flat repair kit (CO2 canisters with inflator, patch kit, spare tube, tire levers, multitool), snacks (toss in a couple granola bars and forget about them til you need them), plastic bag(s) (great for covering seats in rain if you’re locking up somewhere, and they do come in handy), bungee cords, small first aid kit (added a couple ibuprofen), extra socks (biking in wet socks sucks), pads, bandana (neck or head covering for hot/cold rides), pen, plastic utensils (spoon/fork) wrapped in a napkin, sunscreen stick, reflective vest (great visibility for riding at night or along busier roads), and lastly a few fresh facemasks. Depending on the weather I’ll also bring an extra layer, or my bike lock if I’m planning to lock up along the ride. This all sounds like a lot, but all the items are pretty lightweight and fit well into the pockets in my bag. I also prefer to be prepared and have found uses for each of these items while out and about.

Bicycling is both a way for me to get from point A to B and also a moving meditation. By making myself more visible on the road (and following the rules of the road, both in a car and on a bike), it’s a more enjoyable experience as a whole. I regularly pick routes that are designated bike routes, neighborhood greenways, or multi use paths to minimize the amount of vehicles I need to interact with, as a personal preference. When I do interact with drivers, I try to make eye contact to make sure they see me/know I see them, give a “thank you” wave when folks let me cross an intersection, and generally try to be pleasant. I have, however, perfected a passive aggressive disapproving head shake for when cars pass by with very little room, and I’ve only ever had to give a couple folks the finger (if you choose to do this, make sure you have an escape route, some folks view their cars as weapons and will use them as such).

Now, for the less fun topic:

Street harassment! As a woman on a bicycle, there’s potential for twofold the harassment: regular street harassment towards women, and then harassment towards bicyclists. Like I said above, some folks will use their vehicles in aggressive ways, some people just really don’t like bicyclists, or are plain sexist, angry, or think that just because someone is outside means they have a right to their time/energy/space. I always joke that if I go for a ride in the city and don’t A) get yelled at or B) fear for my life at some point, it’s a good ride. And I live in a pretty bike friendly town. Luckily, this has been less of an issue as of late (maybe all the creepers are at home?), and mostly it’s just folks on their phones or not paying attention to the road around them. If you’re queer or a woman (or both), you’re probably no stranger to harassment. Don’t let this stop you from getting out on a bike. I don’t have a solution to it, but I have noticed biking in pairs or groups lessens it (find some biking buddies! Gain biking confidence!).

The pros of bicycling far outweigh the cons. I enjoy having a “go bag” of sorts as my regular bike bag, so I can toss it on there and be prepared for most biking related situations. As the weather shifts towards spring, I’ll be out riding more, and if you’re one of my friends in the area, hopefully you’ll join!

Diet Culture and Body Neutrality

Image Credit: Megan Jayne Crabbe on Instagram.

Before starting, I want to note that I am “straight sized,” or usually a size large in most of the things I wear. Probably around a 12-14 by US standards (depending on the garment), if I had to guess. I know my body measurements (helpful for sewing and purchasing garments secondhand), but I prefer to not wear things like jeans (where the sizing is all wacky and inconsistent anyway). I do not weigh myself anymore (it’s odd how much some numbers on a screen can affect a whole day). Basically, I’m pretty average sized, and yet have been plagued by self doubt, insecurities, and attempts at changing my body into something it will never be for most of my life, and am very grateful to finally be at a solid unlearning point for these things. All the same, I am unlikely to face the same stigma as someone with more body fat, whether institutionally (I can say I prefer not to be weighed at the doctor’s office and not expect dirty looks), or in clothes shopping (for the most part, I can find clothes that fit my body, in shapes and colors I like, without too much headache).

In an attempt to counter diet culture, the glorification of thinness (and whiteness, and heteronormativity), body positivity is often seen as the main alternative. Now, there are many good things about the body positive movement, however it has its flaws, and one of them is that not everyone can feel positive about their body. Whether it’s cultural messaging, advertising, or people you know, the overall message is that we’re not supposed to feel good in our bodies and should always be striving to “fix” them.

What if you don’t need fixing? What if you are enough, as you are? What if we’re not supposed to view ourselves, our lives, our homes, as constantly not good enough? What if it’s ok to be content with how you are, right now? Here’s the thing: you are good enough. You have value, as a human being, without trying to morph into something you’re not.

Humans come in all different shapes and sizes, and most of our body type is genetically determined. By making thinness the ultimate goal, it effectively alienates a large portion of the population (minus the approximately 5% folks who naturally have that body type, who then also have a slew of insecurities). If we are unhappy with ourselves, we can be sold something. Got a zit? Buy this expensive face cream. Gained some weight over the pandemic (that huge collective trauma that your body has graciously carried you through)? Try this tea which will make you shit your guts out (but don’t, really, detoxes are not good for you – your liver does that job). The diet industry is just that, an incredibly toxic industry that sells us an ever shifting image of the ultimate unattainable goal. And they make tons of money doing it. How do we counter this? Lots and lots of unlearning.

Reduce the amount of advertising you see, whether this is via social media or television. Pretty much all advertising is false – the models don’t even look like that. Their images been airbrushed, idealized, and hand picked to make the rest of us feel like our bodies are lacking, or too much.

Recognize that we each have a “set point” weight around where our bodies are happiest. Mine is somewhere around 150ish pounds, give or take, depending on the season (a little chubbier in winter, a little more muscle in summer, usually from biking). We don’t get to pick this weight. Bodies will also fluctuate in size – stress, the seasons, life changes, and our environment can all affect this. Body fluctuations are totally normal. At 5 feet 3 inches tall, I’m chubby. I have body fat. I am soft in lots of places, and have some muscle in other places. This is ok.

Move for the joy of it. So much of exercise is steeped in anti-fatness and diet culture. Try to find one or two things you like doing because they make you feel good. When I started incorporating more movement because I wanted to, it was so much easier to find the motivation. My dog needs walking, at least one decent walk per day, I love biking, and stretching makes me feel less stiff (and I can touch my toes! How exciting). Maybe you put on some music and dance around while cooking, or maybe you go for a neighborhood walk with a friend.

Food does not have to be earned. You don’t have to justify eating something with exercise before or after, you get to eat the thing. Enjoy it. Also, by not denying yourself what it is you want to eat, you’ll usually eat less of it (example: ice cream – if I want some, I’ll have some, and it’s delicious) without feeling the need to overeat just because it’s a “treat.” Unlearning guilt around food is an arduous but worthwhile process, and I think a lifelong one as well. Ultimately, you’ll usually gravitate towards foods that make your gut feel good, with occasional treats here and there, and without counting calories. Let your stomach be your food compass.

Fat is not a bad word. It is a descriptor. This was a big unlearning hurdle for me. (But, before you go around referring to people using fat as a descriptor, check in with them. Some folks are not comfortable self-identifying as fat, and some find it liberating). Relatedly, it’s worthwhile to unlearn commenting on other peoples’ bodies as the norm. Usually, we cannot choose what our bodies look like. We can choose what we wear, how we connect with others, how we carry ourselves, and how we react to the world. Instead of commenting on a body change (because that weight loss may be unwanted or due to an illness, or perhaps someone has gained weight after a long battle with an eating disorder), compliment the person themselves, or something they do have control over (people love compliments about their outfits, and if it’s a friend/someone you know better, tell them something you love about their personality).

You are alive. That’s an amazing thing, considering the amount of things that had to go just right for you to be in existence, it’s pretty darn cool. So step back and think, why let a crappy cultural attitude towards bodies ruin your day? Try practicing a little gratitude for your body – it doesn’t have to be much. Today, I’m thankful that my hands allow me to type out my thoughts on this keyboard. I’m grateful for the experiences my body carries me through. I’m grateful that I can go outside and move and breathe fresh air and remind myself that I am alive, in this time and place, and it will never be perfect but I will try to make the best of it.

Helpful Resources:

Health at Every Size Movement. The focus of the HAES movement is for people to find ways of moving their bodies and eating foods that make them feel good. The basic premise is that body size is not an indicator of health (hello, fatphobic medical industry). (As an aside, being “healthy” is not possible for everybody – some folks’ bodies will physically not be able to be healthy [chronic health issues, disability, etc.] but they are still valuable people. Western culture is a bit health-obsessed, and it’s actually a very interdependent issue – health is dependent on so many factors [genetics, socioeconomic status, access to healthcare/housing/food, etc.] and it’s not accessible for everyone).

Intuitive Eating. Our bodies usually know what is best for them. Get back in touch with your gut, practice some mindfulness while eating, and relearn fullness cues. The principles of intuitive eating from their website:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honor Your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Respect Your Fullness
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  7. Honor Your Feelings without Using Food
  8. Respect Your Body
  9. Exercise—Feel the Difference
  10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

The Feminist Mic has a great article that goes into further detail on some of the topics touched on here.

Socials:

@the_rationale_of_val on Instagram. “Slow and ethical fashion at the intersection of disability • chronic illness • fat • neurodivergent • body neutrality.”

@meganjaynecrabbe on Instagram. Very informative, body positive and anti-diet culture account. She is also a lovely writer.

@beccaworewhat on Instagram. Fun outfit photos, and some well thought out writing on body stuff and more.

There are many other great resources out there – these are just a handful that I’ve found helpful over time.

Going from a No-Buy to a Low-Buy Year (And Also a Rather Rough Day)

After some considerable thinking on low-buy versus no-buy for clothes this year, I have come to the conclusion that a no-buy for an entire year is very ambitious, especially since I enjoy secondhand shopping and thrifting. I also know this thing about myself, where sometimes secondhand shopping becomes a distraction or minor coping mechanism if I’m having a really rough time of it. So, instead of setting myself up to guilt trip myself or for potential failure, going with a low-buy year gives a little wiggle room and encourages me to be really thoughtful and conscious with my purchases, instead of trying to make absolutely zero.

Today just so happened to be one of those “really rough time of it” days. Not any really big thing, just several little things adding up: despite keeping our house pretty clean and bug free, I found what I am pretty sure was a single carpet beetle larvae chilling in my closet (I squished it, sorry bug, you can’t live rent free here). Having a free day, I then proceeded to empty my closet, put all the items near the bug touched one in the wash, vacuum the closet floor and my room, and order some cotton storage bags of Etsy to put my wool sweaters in when the weather warms up (was this an overreaction? Maybe. Did I dive into internet research on carpet bugs and psych myself out? Yes.). Tomorrow is also my mom’s second birthday where she’s not here (she passed away in November 2020 from cancer), and I am not if sure I’m handling it well (is this the thing I’m actually upset about? Probably.). Grief is this really odd thing that I’ve accepted as part of my life, and some days I’m perfectly fine and others I’m not. There’s also been ongoing construction down the street for about 2 years and today it made the whole outside smell like gasoline from their work vehicles and constant noise (I know they’re just doing their jobs, but 2 years of large scale construction is disruptive to anyone living nearby). Basically, lots of little things (plus one kinda big thing) and today just feels like a lot of overwhelm, and I can’t get away from it because, well, we’re still in a pandemic and that means I’m still mostly at home until my work starts up again.

Artistic representation of what the bug in my closet looked like, and how big it was (the tiny dot above). I showed this illustration to my partner. We both laughed.

I went and tried my usual coping mechanisms – I journaled, walked the dog, focused on my breathing, and wrote a little for social media (I know, I’m still using Instagram…). I felt a little bit better after walking the dog, but then started worrying again about bugs in my closet (I checked, I could not find any bugs, eggs, or larvae, but then I worried about the beetle life cycle and if I missed something). Sometimes anxiety brain just kicks in and today was one of those days.

On the better side of things, I’ve been coordinating passing along some items to folks locally in the Buy Nothing group I recently joined, and that seems to be going well. I spent some time reading “Loved Clothes Last” by Orsola De Castro. I sat on my porch to angry journal and inhale gasoline fumes for a few minutes. My dog kept me company while I did some stretching on the floor amidst piles of clothes and a vacuum cleaner.

Taking everything out of my closet was also a catalyst to make some decisions about coveted secondhand finds I’ve been hanging onto but haven’t worn – the beautiful leather jacket from Eileen Fisher that kinda fits but doesn’t zip up great on me and hasn’t for the past year and a half; the vintage light wash Levi’s denim jacket that was such a great layer before but these days only the top two or three buttons close when I wear it (and it is a men’s vintage jacket, so narrower hips, of which mine are not); the long red merino wool cardigan which is super cute but has a ridiculously strong fabric softener smell that won’t come out, no matter how much I sun it/wash with vinegar/soak with baking soda/etc. etc. etc. Each of these things I scoured my usual secondhand sites for, looking for a specific shape, color, or style. Each of them kind of works, but doesn’t really work, and so they don’t get worn. In the interest of peace of mind and body acceptance, it’s time to let them go. I actively know that I only will wear what fits well and feels good, so it’s time to let someone else get value from them.

My organized closet, post triple vacuum and minus some items that are air drying.

Lastly, today, I did purchase something. A chunky, deep brown, 100% wool (which I’m a sucker for), cropped cardigan with pockets from a brand whose sizing I am familiar with. I had it bookmarked on Poshmark for quite a while, and the funds for it are coming from Poshmark sales, where I at least know the items I have sold will hopefully be enjoyed and they can cover me finding an item I will wear and enjoy (it will pair well with skirts and dresses). There was not the familiar rush of dopamine in this purchase, but a slight sense of relief – in having something to look forward to for a while, a small distraction for my brain, and acknowledging I’m bringing something else into my closet and then will take responsibility for it.

I could spend a whole paragraph here explicitly justifying my sweater purchase today, but I’m not going to (I already justified it above). I am quite sure I can avoid buying anything new this year (unless work tennis shoes wear out and need replacing – foot health is very important), and I can limit my secondhand spending to 1 or 2 items per quarter. This feels like a realistic number for where I am at right now, and one that gives me some flexibility if there’s something I have a strong desire to add into my wardrobe. I’ll be continuing to redirect myself towards other hobbies as much as possible, while acknowledging that it’s not realistic to be holding myself to super stringent standards right now. It’s been a rough couple of years – having specific goals is great, as is cutting ourselves some slack, and my goal is to consume consciously, not mindlessly or just as a habit.

Coffee in the Afternoon

I’m currently switching between the same three tabs over and over. It’s like the three circles of computer purgatory (not really computer hell, that’s more likely spotty Wi-Fi or people who send rude messages). Poshmark (did anyone like an item? Is there a question I can answer about something?), Instagram (how much beige is too much beige today?), and Ebay (did they process their payment for those sandals that finally sold?). Is this a great use of my time? Definitely not. Yet here we are. So, instead of repeatedly clicking the same sites, I’m bringing my caffeine fueled brain over here to dump some words out.

I had coffee this afternoon. It’s usually a morning routine for me. Wake up, take a poop, take a shower, take the dog out so he can poop, feed the dog, make breakfast for myself and partner and coffee for me, drink coffee, be a semi-functional human being. Many steps to a successful morning. Sometimes I let myself have a second cup of coffee in the afternoon, but generally no caffeine past 4:00 or I’ll be wired way too late. Today I had my second coffee at 2:00. That is ok. It provides a small window of happiness in my day and I’m not going to deny myself that.

I’ve been trying to do that gratitude practice thing, you know? Where you write out 3 things each morning that you are grateful for and then supposedly over time you feel happier with your life because you’re focusing on the positive instead of the negative. Human brains are definitely trained to focus more on the negative, it’s like an evolutionary survival tactic or something. Anyway, here is my list for today (honestly I don’t get around to it everyday, but try to when I remember to):

  1. I am grateful for good coffee. It’s an important part of my morning routine and makes me feel good. I acknowledge I’m mildly addicted to caffeine.
  2. I am grateful for my dog. Sometimes he eats lots of things off the ground because he essentially a mini hoover, but he has many good qualities and I love him.
  3. I am grateful for the Libby app through the local library. It lets me borrow any book from the library and put it on my kindle (for free!) and I’ve been reading much more widely varied authors and books than I have in a long time.

I do notice that when I regularly practice gratitude and try to get screens out of my face, on the whole I feel more calm and content. It also helps me to slow down because sometimes it feels like the world is moving very fast and to be honest I don’t always want to move that fast. I want to sit on the porch and stare at the flowering tree filled with screaming songbirds. Or get lost in making tiny plant trolls out of sculpy.

When I talk to folks about things like this, I think we all want some version of it (insert your preferred activity of course). To not be as rushed all the goddamn time and be able to process and enjoy life a little. Doing these things – the gratitude practice or bird staring – can both work as grounding activities to help get me out of any brain circling cycles I’m stuck in that day. It’s kind of like dog training – there’s a lot of redirection and positive reinforcement involved in brain training too.

The other day, I finally actually broke up with my Facebook account.

Check out this ominous email from the social media giant.

It won’t technically be deleted until the end of February because Facebook tries to lure you back with a 30 day grace period and will reactivate if you log in. It’s like some clingy, toxic ex who has way too many photos of you and keeps all your texts. It’s weird because I don’t miss Facebook specifically, but for some reason I miss mindless scrolling. Maybe “miss” is not the right word. There’s no longing for it, I’m not high and mighty for having decided to leave one social media platform (I’m still using Instagram, but only on my laptop), it’s more like my brain wants some kind of mindless activity to fill the void. I’ve grown uncomfortable with boredom. What did I used to do when I was bored (like as a kid)? I read a ton, made some creatures out of socks, or played with my sister. At least I’m getting in more reading now, and I think my attention span has been slowly increasing. I’d like to say that “my productivity has gone way up,” or “my house is so much cleaner now,” but both of those would be outright lies. It is a little easier to convince myself to do the dishes, but I have all my tax forms and no motivation to start on those (inevitably taxes are irritating). I do see fewer instigating headlines or pointless arguments, and not exposing myself to those on the daily has definitely put me a generally better mood and helped me to be a more pleasant person to be around.

Soon, I’ll have to get up from my laptop writing and feed my dog. He gets fed at 4:00 and it’s just after that, but he also doesn’t yet know how to tell time. I’ve been reading a book by TJ Klune, “Under the Whispering Door,” which is about death (or after death), with a little bit of queer romance and comedy sprinkled in. I’ve also re-joined the local Buy Nothing group and had a couple folks pick up items today, and giving them a new life where they’ll be enjoyed has been rather satisfying. And now that the caffeine is wearing off it’s time for me to wrap this up. And I think it’s time for a snack. This is a slightly awkward closing paragraph, but hey, nothing’s perfect. Sayonara, folks!

Anti-Capitalist Affirmations

I am enough, and I have enough.

I am satisfied with what I have, and have enough to share.

I do not need any more to be a complete human being.

I’ve been rereading “A Life Less Throwaway,” and to be honest I’m not sure when I last read it. Probably a few years back when I was going through my minimalism phase and Marie Kondo-ing all the things in my home. I’m definitely not a minimalist, but some of the ideas have carried forward. I’m more of an “enoughist” at this point. I have enough. Enough for me, enough to share, and enough to last a long time.

Capitalism and “the economy” pressure us to constantly consume on a consistent basis; advertising is insidious and installs in us a sense of lack or longing, promising that we’ll feel complete if we purchase a product. Now, before I start sounding too pompous, or like I have an “objective” perspective (we each have our own unique experiences and subjective views of the world), I am definitely not immune. I like pretty things, I like functional things, and I like to make things. There are things in my closet that are there largely because I saw people on Instagram wearing them, and there’s lots of things that I’ve acquired then passed along because they weren’t the right fit for my life.

In an effort to start seeing advertising for what it is (because I’m not going to become a hermit), I try to acknowledge it and say, “thanks, but no thanks.”

Finding ways to respond to stress or a bad day that isn’t shopping is a useful trick. Find that dopamine hit with some journaling, talking to a friend, or incorporate some movement into your day. When we can pause and find other ways to self-soothe, it’s ultimately easier on us both mentally and financially.

When I do want to purchase something, I try to remind myself that the cost of an item is more than just the money for it: it is the hours of my life that I have traded for said item. Each thing I bring into my home then becomes something I am responsible for, and will spend time in my life taking care of. When they are things I’ve carefully considered, using them and taking care of them can be a satisfying experience.

Be materialist: use the things you have. Enjoy them. Drink the fancy tea, wear your fancy clothes, and don’t save things for a “special occasion.” You are the special occasion.

Take care of your things: repair the hole in that sweater, learn how to darn a sock, season a cast iron pan, or grease your bike chain. Things last longer when we take care of them and learn to repair them as needed. It’s also incredibly satisfying to be able to fix something, no matter how small.

Keep things out of the waste stream (The Story of Stuff has great information on the life cycle of things from resource extraction to disposal). We all know that planned obsolescence is a real thing. Lots of the stuff that’s manufactured is made with a short lifespan in mind, or advertising convinces us it isn’t the “fashionable” thing anymore (this goes for anything from clothing, to cars, to housewares). Often, the most eco-friendly option is to use what you already have. Finding local secondhand sources for items, or participating in local Buy Nothing groups, are other great ways to keep items out of the landfill and in circulation.

Finally, things can be enjoyable, useful, or even increase our quality of life, but they are not what is ultimately important. Finding or creating our own meaning, connecting with others, and continuing to learn and grow as people are all much more important. Use things, love people, and not the other way around.

Sewing a Flowy Chartreuse Dress

During the pandemic, I’ve started to teach myself to sew using some basic sewing patterns (the All Well Box Top, Hinterland Dress*, and Dress No. 1 are great places to start).

I enjoy figuring out how things are put together and how they work, and learning to sew some of my own clothes has been a fun foray into learning about fabric sourcing and production (thinking about the entire process of bringing a garment to fruition, from growing the plants for the source material to how far the finished fabric travels, to saving scraps to make things out of later). It’s also incredibly satisfying to see what shapes comprise a finished garment (fabric puzzle), and the actual making time gives a whole new perspective on clothing production (sewing something with care takes time).

As anyone who spends any length of time around me knows, at this point in my life, I mostly wear linen dresses** and will talk about how much I like wearing dresses at length, given the opportunity. They’re comfy, they can look fancy, and once you figure out some outfit formulas dressing is very easy. Linen is one of my favorite fabrics – easy to take care of, anti-microbial, relatively sustainable (as far as the process for growing the flax plant), biodegradable, breathable and comfy. I also enjoy knitting, but this post is about sewing. Specifically, a dress idea I’ve had rattling around in my head for a bit.

Chartreuse seems to be having a moment (or perhaps, it’s a color that has always been having a moment), especially in certain slow fashion circles. Once in a while I encounter a garment idea that gets stuck in my head – if it stays there for a while, it has potential as a project I’ll enjoy. I came across the lovely voluminous dress and was inspired to make a similar dress (if I had the funds/this dress were still available in my size, I would choose to support the maker, but sometimes you just make yourself a fun, at-home version).

Photo credit: Eli and Barry Dress 2

Using the All Well Box Top as a base, I traced a new pattern: widening and cropping the bodice (using the ruffle dress modification length), extended the sleeves a tad, and lessened the angle of the shoulder slope. The front and back neckline stayed the same. Beforehand, I did some math and figured out how much ease I wanted to aim for in the bust and hips (about 10″ and 20″ respectively), then using the fabric I had cut out pieces for a shorter version, that would end about the same place on my 5 ft 3 self. Of course, I also cut out pockets (using the skirt/pockets from the Hinterland Dress pattern), because no dress is complete without them. This all sounds complicated, but for the most part I just eyeball things, then measure twice before making any cuts. I did make a bodice pattern on tracing paper and write out the general dimensions for the skirt portion to save in case this is a pattern I want to repeat.

Because inspiration seems to strike at night lately, I started cutting out the pieces for the dress around 8:00pm on a Thursday. I stopped myself from making micro scissor adjustments to the pockets – everything else turned out pretty neat, and the pockets were close enough (and will be on the interior anyway). Also I knew if I kept making little adjustments, I’d be more likely to end up with something wonky. Sometimes close enough is good enough.

Pieces cut out.

The actual sewing of the dress was spaced out over a few days. I have a rule for myself that I don’t sew when I’m tired (with very good reason, I’ll make more mistakes and spend more time unpicking things). Sewing is also a good practice in letting go of perfectionism – I tend to sew like I cook, which is once I know the recipe, winging it a little bit. The first day of sewing, I did the bodice, then the skirt and pockets the second day, along with the gathers, and finally hemmed it on the 3rd day.

The hem isn’t perfectly straight (it’s pretty darn close, and a smaller hem is more forgiving visually), and there are a couple little bit wonky thread spots in the dress. Since I don’t have a serger, I use the zig-zag stitch to finish the inside seams. If I did it again, I’d have the pockets 3″ below the waistline instead of 4″, I moved them down further because of the cropped bodice but the hang of the dress has them a tad lower than I prefer.

Despite these things, I’m pretty proud of this dress, and I think it will get plenty of wear. It will be the third dress in my closet that I’ve made (I’ve made more than that but have given them away as gifts or otherwise rehomed them). The color is a little outside of my comfort zone but I think that’s a good thing.

The dress!

Aaaaand several days later, I went back and changed the pocket position on this dress, because I can’t leave well enough alone. Despite pinning in place and trying things on, 4″ down from the waist to top of the pocket ended up sitting way too low, especially with keys and lip balm in the pockets. So, I went and spent about half an hour unpicking (at least I know I sewed the pockets on securely) then a couple hours moving them up (pinning, ironing, testing position because I’d rather not repeat this process) to 1.5″ below the waistline. Ultimately a vast improvement, though I did it without looking up instructions on moving pockets (I figured I know how the garment skirt was put together, so just undo and redo the pocket attaching and re-sew up that section, right?). The first pocket ended up being a headache when trying to sew up the side near the gathers, so made a couple attempts at hand stitching that section before getting something I was satisfied with. I’ve started using a headlamp when handstitching so that I can see my work better/not strain my eyes. The second pocket was just fine because I knew what I needed to do – place a pin at the 1″ mark to keep the thread from unraveling further. Needless to stay I stabbed myself a few times (so the dress ultimately had some blood, probably a little sweat, and no tears but a little cursing) woven into it.

Despite the pocket setback, if you’re someone who’s thought of trying to make your own clothes, I would definitely recommend it. It can be a good challenge and a very useful skill. I constantly learn new things about sewing, and having something to show for your time and effort is quite rewarding, especially when it’s a wearable garment.

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*I will admit, I still need to learn how to sew a buttonhole (I’m not sure if my sewing machine has a buttonhole setting). I’ve read tutorials and watched some how-to videos, but that’s one small sewing hurdle I haven’t tackled yet. For now, I’m quite happy making button-less styles of dresses. For the Hinterland Dress, simply put the middle of the bodice pattern on the fold of the fabric (similar to cutting out the back piece). I also prefer a different bias binding technique for the neckline/armholes than is described in the pattern.

**Or linen skirt/top combos. Regardless, part of my low/no buy for clothes for the year is that I can make my own clothes, especially if I already have the fabric. I’m also not going to stop myself from buying fabric on occasion if there’s an idea that gets really stuck in my head.

On Productivity and Perfection

My brain likes to do this little thing where it asks, “well what did we do today?” even on days when I get lots of stuff done. Like my time isn’t valuable unless I spend it doing some unspecified but extremely productive tasks.

My brain also likes to do this thing where I am not allowed to share something unless I’ve gone over it 20 times with a fine-toothed comb and it is perfect because I dare not share something that isn’t polished for fear of… offending someone? Containing a mistake? Sharing an opinion I might change down the line when I learn more or become better informed? The reasons are multitious. That’s not even a word. Multitudes. Of reasons.

Both of these bits of my brain are a result of being raised in a system which places emphasis on products and productivity over people. I am slowly working on unlearning and retraining the way in which I approach these things. For example, this blog is not for money. There’s a whole slew of articles on how to monetize your blog, but not very many on how to build your blog for the sake of it, or to practice writing for the sake of it. One of my main goals in returning to this format is to practice writing, and make myself share it, even if it isn’t perfect.

Anyway, it’s really easy to fall into this trap that you’re always supposed to be doing something. If you’re not constantly monetizing your life, upping your productivity, and in general pretending like you’re a machine that needs to be optimized and not a human with a whole slew of complicated experiences and emotions, then you’re doing it wrong (thanks capitalism). Nope. Let’s stop right there. Humans are deliciously complicated and there is no one answer for input –> output.

Let’s just, not. Like, take a moment, maybe take a nap. Read a book for fun. Make something just because you want to, or are curious about it. It can be terrible, or slightly mediocre, maybe even decent with practice. Learn something new for the sake of it. Look up the most terrible puns you can find and share them with your unsuspecting friends.

Give yourself the space to be messy, rely on your people, do things just for the sake of them. Life is so much more than productivity and perfection.

10 Tips for Coping in a Pandemic

Things that help when I’m having a stress-y day or dealing anxiety brain:

  1. Lay on the floor. No, really, just clear a spot and lay down, stare at the ceiling for a bit, maybe groan a little. Ideally in a spot of sun. It really helps. No phones on the floor, only you. Bonus points if you have a pet that comes over to investigate your behavior. Lay on the floor together.
  2. Stretch. Even just a little. Do some hamstring stretches and a few cat-cow poses. Maybe even a little child’s pose. Wake up that lower back and stretch out that neck from all that screen time (we all know we’re all doing it). Pro-tip: do this on the floor and you don’t even have to get up from your floor laying session.
  3. Movement: the afternoon walk is not the cure-all it was made out to be, but a little walk or bike ride goes a long way in making some dopamine in your brain. Aim to move your body just because it feels nice, and find one or two activities you enjoy (or at least tolerate). I love my dog, and he requires a decent walk at least once a day, which makes me go outside even when I don’t feel like it. It helps.
  4. Use media as escapism. Read. Or watch a movie, or get engrossed in a TV series. This doesn’t include social media, you need some sort of narrative here. Find a neat series with some magic or sci-fi, or whatever you’re into – some good quality world-building as a distraction from the mess of society.
  5. Shower. It’s like a reset button for your day. Short shower, long shower, hot shower, cold shower, whatever floats your boat. If you need a good cry, the shower is a great place for that: no one can tell if it’s water or tears on your face. Then put on some clean clothes.
  6. Journal. Write that shit out. Get those thoughts of your head and onto the paper, then your brain doesn’t have to hold on to them. I find this especially helpful if my brain is in a stress loop. Put the stress loop on paper, get out of the loop in your thoughts.
  7. Check the basics. Did you eat today? Drink some water? Take any medications you need? I get real hangry and tired when I don’t eat regularly throughout the day, but somehow it’s an easy thing to forget to do. Do a little basics check in if you’re feeling really low.
  8. Embrace it. Sometimes the easiest way out is through. Trying to push through or ignore difficult emotions just doesn’t work. Give yourself time and space to process. Cry it out if you need to.
  9. Talk to your friends. Humans are social creatures. You don’t even have to call them, but send a text (or two) to folks in your circle. People do care, and your friends love you, sometimes communication just needs a nudge. And if you’re one of the friends who’s let me cry on the phone to you, thank you. I appreciate you and am glad we’re part of each others’ lives.
  10. Lastly, it’s perfectly normal to have off days, even bad days, especially during a long-ass pandemic. We’re in such a weird time (not unprecedented, can we please stop calling it that?), it’s socially isolating, and it can be incredibly exhausting to see folks acting as if the pandemic is over when it is not. Sometimes, a bad day is just that, and that’s ok. You don’t have to be productive, you can just rest and exist, and that’s enough as a human being.

If you’ve read this far and are at all concerned about me, please don’t be. I’m incredibly grateful to have access to a therapist, I have found coping mechanisms that (mostly) work, and a small but strong support system of friends and family to help each other through crappy days. Finally, wear your mask and get vaccinated/boosted if you can. If you do get sick, remember that getting covid is not a personal or moral failing, but a systemic one.

Social Media Slow Down

To free yourself, to be more authentic, to be less addicted, to be less manipulated, to be less paranoid…for all these marvelous reasons, delete your accounts.” – Jaron Lanier

Is social media worth it? It’s rewiring our brains, tracking our online movements, bombarding us with advertising, affecting the news we receive, and creating further divides amongst people. I’ve definitely fallen prey to each and every one of these things: seeking out little dopamine hits through likes and follows, doom-scrolling the news (because irritation, sadness, and anxiety are easier emotions to access and longer lasting than joy and happiness, the system actually favors those posts since they get more engagement), and making a purchase after being chased all around the internet by an advertisement. There’ve been a select few folks I’ve unfriended or unfollowed for what sometimes feels like petty reasons (although sometimes not: I don’t get along well with hardcore conservatives [I lean hard left], but most moderate folks I can find common ground with. This is important, we need to be able to cross political divides to find community solutions to issues). Lastly, I don’t really get cancel culture. Instead of walking on eggshells and being afraid to misstep, people should be held accountable for their actions and encouraged to learn and grow (all of my accounts are small but I’ve witnessed this on other accounts, it’s as though the most asinine or vitriolic comment wins the engagement game).

I wouldn’t define myself as addicted to social media, but I’ve definitely gone through phases where it played a much larger role in my life than was necessary. I remember resisting joining Facebook in high school just because it was “the platform to be on,” but eventually caved after my school friends didn’t want to use the Gmail chat to message anymore. We still had dial-up internet at the time and it literally wouldn’t load. Facebook has been a part of my life for around 13 years (and I don’t want to calculate the amount of hours of those years that I’ve given to it).

I recently rewatched “The Social Dilemma,” which, although it’s a bit doom and gloom, does really make you think about your social media usage and the impact it has on your life. I’m working my way through reading “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” by Jaron Lanier, which is a self explanatory title and an informative perspective from someone who works in the tech industry. It’s good to take all this media with a grain of salt; even though I don’t agree with everything presented in each of these, there is valuable information in them.

A few days ago, I deactived my Facebook account, again. There’s still the muscle memory of automatically typing the address in the search bar to seek that little dopamine hit. This is probably the third time I’ve deactivated it, and each time I’m surprised by simply how much more time I have to putt around and how little I actually miss checking it. Since Facebook and Instagram recently rebranded to Meta, and I’m not really interested in ultimately joining the Metaverse, it feels like as good of a reason as any to let them go.

So, about the Instagram account I’m using to track my outfits – I’m working on convincing myself. It’s easy to justify: there are some neat accounts doing similar no-buy projects, but I end up thinking about and spending brain time on what I’ll wear/photographing my outfit/getting those little dopamine hits from the red like and comment notifications. And then when one outfit gets more likes than another, despite telling myself it doesn’t bug me, I wonder why (my guess is it has to do with how many brands are tagged, which really just creates free advertising for them). It would be neat to see what my brain and life would feel like if I unplugged from the social media system. If I can replace the outfit tracking with a designated post in this blog, then there is still an easily accessible record of what I’ve been wearing without the numbers game associated.

Because sometimes my brain thinks in lists, here’s a quick pro/con list for getting rid of social media:

Pros:

  • Some organizations I support promote events via Facebook
  • Many community mutual aid groups post on Instagram as a main mode of communication
  • Both platforms can be a source of book recommendations
  • Interest specific groups (handmade clothing, minimalist shoes, etc.)
  • Outfit inspiration and connecting with people who are doing similar projects

Cons:

  • Stress level increases with use, or a feeling of lacking/emptiness
  • Time suck and lots of lost time
  • Not actively using them to connect with friends at this point
  • My FB feed is largely comprised of random videos and advertisement, very few friend posts
  • Instagram “Ranks” photos and outfits based on “engagement”

Here’s a list of things I enjoy doing that are not on social media in no particular order:

  • Reading for fun (both fiction and non-fiction)
  • Making things (fiber, clay, drawing, etc.)
  • Stretching, biking, walking my dog, or otherwise moving because it’s enjoyable
  • Writing
  • Watching cartoons (Carmen Sandiego is a fun one) or movies (Encanto, anyone?)
  • Talking on the phone with friends

Social media is becoming less of a tool and more of a weird, conglomerative system in which people and their data are the product. I’m not anti-technology (the internet can be a weird and wonderful place), but I’m getting around to being anti-manipulated-and-turned-into-a-commodity-by-technology. In all likelihood, I’ll give it a go. I’m already set on getting rid of Facebook, and I’ll get around to convincing myself to say goodbye to Instagram as well. By working on this blog, I’m hoping to add my own little slice of writing to the internet, continue to find my writing voice, and do it in a format that doesn’t give too much free data to tech conglomerates.