Crocheting around the world

08.30.11 | 13 Comments

During our trans-Pacific journey on the Cap Cleveland, I wanted to make sure I had plenty to entertain myself during the long, ocean-only days. Aside from books and paint, I brought some yarn to crochet. My first few projects were cute stuffed animals and a blanket for my, then yet-to-be-born, half-sister Gaïa.

We landed in Auckland, New Zealand, with no plans and a slow first week getting our land legs, finding our bearings and making plans for the next few weeks. I had quite a bit of yarn left, and obviously lots of time. So I thought, why not get into another project? Perhaps for my 4 year-old niece, Luna. I had a big skein of off-white yarn, and small green, pink and purple skeins. Based on what I used on the ship, I surely had enough left to make a bigger blanket. Flipping through my Crochet World magazine, I found the Confetti Stars design by Martha Brooks Stein which looked simple enough.

The pattern was pretty straight forward: “ch 3, join in first ch to form a ring, ch 5, dc in ring, ch 2, [dc in ring, ch 2] 5 times, join in 3rd ch of beg ch-5…” Translation: make an eight spoke wheel of color, and crochet a white square around it, leaving an 8 inch thread to stitch the squares together. Once all the squares are stitched together and all threads are tucked, crochet 4 border rows.

From wheel to square to stitched.

Color-wise, I chose the horizontal order purple->green->pink, staggering them each row. All was good… until I stitched about 3 or 4 rows together. The blanket looked pretty narrow. What happened? Oh! I was using light yarn instead of medium yarn which made my squares smaller (barely 2″ instead of 2″3/4). Oopsie! I also realized that I needed to adjust the pattern size from 52″x76″ to 50″x84″ to fit a French twin bed. After some calculations (thank you Justin!), we came to the conclusion I needed to make more squares. 293 additional squares to be exact. For real? Yes, for real. Ok, no problem.

Crochet… crochet… crochet.

In Queenstown, it was pretty cold and rainy so we decided to find a room for two nights instead of camping in our Spaceship. The next morning we woke up with a few, really itchy bites. Ack! What if it were bedbugs!? We decided to leave the hotel, after drying all of our clothes, backpacks…. and crochet material (heat kills the bugs and their microscopic eggs). I put the yarn, crocheted squares and the stitched piece into a bag to avoid major tangling with other stuff in the dryer. We took things out relieved, as nothing was damaged… but the bag of yarn came out majorly tangled! It was a solid ball of yarn mess! I seriously considered just chucking the whole thing.

Then, I thought of my niece. Nothing obliged me to keep going, but wouldn’t she like a little blankie made by her Tata Steph? Ok. I proceeded to untangle the mess, one string at a time. It took me several days.

Back on track and bug-free I continued to make the little squares wherever we were. Justin helped tucking threads on a train (thank you Justin!) and I even took the yarn on our 6-day Abel Tasman trek, much to the surprise of other trekkers.

Not even remotely halfway through, I ran out of white yarn. Great. I looked online to see if I could order a new skein, but the websites wouldn’t ship outside of the US. Inevitably, I turned to Justin’s sweet Mom, who went to the store and bought the Ecru Bernat Baby Sport skein to ship to our next WWOOFing gig at a Marlborough winery. (Thank you Kathy!) In the meantime I made a bunch of colored wheels.

I received the new white skein and cranked the production to the max everyday after returning from working in the vines. It was November. I thought to myself… I can get this done by Christmas.

Crochet… crochet… tuck… tuck… stitch… stitch.

Stitched squares.


How to take wildlife pictures through binoculars

05.16.11 | 9 Comments

What do you do on a safari in the famous Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya without a super fancy zoom lens but still wanting to take mesmerizing shots?

Answer: point and shoot camera + binoculars (ok and a little photo-editing).

I have a Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS with a 3x optical zoom which does an ok job and a 12x digital zoom that’s never satisfying to me. As I was looking at the stunning Maasai Mara wildlife through my compact and affordable Olympus Roamer 8 x 21 DPC 1 binoculars, I had an idea: what if I could use the binoculars as my zoom lens? It turns out that the PowerShot lens fits perfectly into one of the Olympus Roamer eye-cups – voilà!

If you take shots without using the camera’s zoom into the binoculars, you’ll create a bold vignetting effect, at 8x magnification, which makes for a pretty cool artistic touch. The following shots all have been taken using this method.


Spotted hyena



The king

The queen

The queen cleaning herself

Acacia tree with impalas

A mama cheetah and her two cubs

You actually can use your camera zoom in addition to the binocular magnification. The result will look more like a regular zoomed photo, without the vignetting effect.

The results don’t have the same quality as an actual telephoto lens on a DSLR, but for a fraction of cost, I find the point & shoot + binoculars combo to be fairly effective, with an artistic twist.

– Try to align the lens to match the desired vignetting effect: either fuzzy and off-centered or well-defined and centered
– Focus the binoculars first and then get the camera to focus on the subject. If the binoculars are not in focus to begin with, you’ll get a blurry or at the very least, fuzzy picture.
– Your picture may look a bit washed out, but that’s something easily fixed with a bit of added contrast and saturation using a photo-editing program.

So, how was India?

05.09.11 | 5 Comments

Ever since we decided to go to India, I’ve developed all possible fears about visiting the place. Apparently I’m really really good at developing fears. I was mostly concerned about being in a situation where I was stuck in a confined place full of people with no air and no way out. Mostly in my head, that would have been trains, train stations and buses but also streets… so pretty much everywhere. Suffocation. These preconceived ideas came mostly from pictures I’ve seen online and on TV. I mean, Google for Indian train.

The other thing I discovered is that anyone who’s been to India has strong opinions about it. I heard all sorts of things before going there like:

“It’s awesome!”
“I hated it.”
“You’ll get sick.”
“It’s intense!”
“It’s chaos!”
“You’re constantly hassled.”
“You’ll get sick for sure.”
“The best and worst moments I spent traveling were in India and happened on the same day.”
“You can’t be in a hurry.”
“It’s too hot in X, don’t go there.”
“You have to go to Varanasi, you must go to Rishikesh, Hampi is so nice, Mumbai is great, Goa, Shimla, Amritsar, Jaisalmer, Agra, Dharamshala, Pondicherry, Jaipur, Mount Abu, Kerala, oh and Mysore for yoga galore.” (If you look at a map, these places are scattered all over India.)
“The food is great but you’ll definitely get sick.”
“It’s very dirty.”
“Don’t look at men in the eye.”
“You’re a walking ATM.”
“It’s an assault to all senses.”
“Trains are awesome.”
“Trains are awful.”
“Buses are the way to go.”
“Buses are horrible.”
“Planes are so convenient.”
“Traveling on land is the only way to do it.”

Out of what everyone told me, the only thing that turned out to be 100% true was that India was a sensory overload. That was in fact the most rewarding aspect of visiting India, way beyond any Taj Mahal, forts or palaces one might see. Your eyeballs are constantly fed with incredible sights, your ears are overloaded with honking and loogie hacking, your skin feels the dust and the heat, your nose smells the spices, the flowers and also the manure and piss, finally your taste buds are treated with all the complex and rich flavors of Indian cuisine. I’d also add that your 6th sense takes a hit: being constantly alert, making split-second decisions, dodging things all the time, exercising patience with the surroundings, all while trying to maintain a sense of composure.

What I found the most challenging was the noise. The incessant honking. It’s the honking that got to me in Hanoi, it’s the honking that got to me in India. Since I knew I would have to deal with it for several weeks, I trained myself to wear earplugs whenever I needed them, which was pretty much anytime we were outside our hotel room. It might sound a bit excessive but I would even walk in the streets with earplugs and it worked! I could have titled this post: “The secret to surviving India: earplugs”.

Even if I’m painting this a little dark, our time in India was extremely freeing for me. I had an enormous buildup of anxiety about the place, more than any other country we’ve visited. But our journey offered up one fear at a time and let me conquer each in turn. Oh look, we haven’t made any reservations whatsoever. I’m ok. Oh look, we’re in a busy train station. I’m ok. Oh look, we’re on a sleeper train. I’m ok. Oh look, it’s over 40°C out. I’m ok. Oh look, we’re eating Indian food at every meal. I’m ok. Oh look, our taxi dropped us off at the wrong spot in the middle of Kolkata at night. I’M O.K.!

On the upper bunk of an AC2 sleeper train (Kolkata to Varanasi)

Yoga Final Part: Baddha Strandedasana

04.25.11 | 3 Comments

Day 10 – Wednesday

Weather: Stormy
Yoga: Skip morning class to make phone calls. I need to get off this island.
Other activity:
– I try and call boat companies… I either can’t even get to them because the phones aren’t working or I get the “we don’t know yet, call back in 2 hours” answer.
– I decide to pack up and go to the piers to see what’s really going on.
– After borrowing Dee’s scooter to find and ask my 4×4 dude to pick me up and take me to the Thong Sala piers, I get there at about 10am.

The pier waiting area is full of people. All the boat company booths are closed, except for 2 makeshift tables. I elbow myself through the crowds and ask if there are any boats to Koh Samui today. I get handed a pen to write my name on a list. I ask if they know what time the boat would leave but they couldn’t answer me. “We will call your name when boat ready”. I don’t have the best feeling about this. That person didn’t seem to belong to any specific boat companies and there were loads of people waiting around.

I get a call from Justin: “I hear that if you want to take the Navy ship” *oh wow, it wasn’t just a rumor!* “you should get on the waiting list at the Phanganchai Hotel across from the piers”. I go to the hotel. The crowd was even thicker than at the piers (my favorite), I find the list, put my name down and wait. I try to find information, *any* information about what’s going on, but no-one seems to be able to tell me anything solid other than the Navy ship is supposed to come pick us up.

About an hour later, a loud speaker-phone from a car in front of the hotel announced that we needed to make destination groups. Some for Bangkok, some for Koh Samui and some for Surrathani (nearest mainland port). People with their huge backpacks move around like frantic ants. I get in my Koh Samui group and get instructed to wait while the Bangkok group gets called to leave.

I wait.

Meanwhile I hear things like “they are evacuating Koh Samui too, it’s worse there” or “53 Bangkok Air flights have been canceled from the Koh Samui airport” or “the Navy ship is anchored in the bay” or “the Navy ship has trouble getting anchored in the bay” or “on the mainland, no bus or train can go up to Bangkok because of major landslides. The road is obliterated 56 places.” I’m wondering if I should’ve gone in the Bangkok group.

Yoga Part III: Utthita Stormasana

04.23.11 | Comments Off on Yoga Part III: Utthita Stormasana

Day 7 – Sunday

Weather: Very stormy: crazy winds with buckets of rain. Forecast says it’ll stop on Tuesday (can you see a trend?).
Yoga: Taking the day off.
Other activity:
– Deal with my room getting flooded by the excessive rain.
– The power went out, so during a brief break in the storm, I tried to find electricity (I was told some resorts run on generators) and possibly internet…
– I find electricity at a restaurant, but my computer doesn’t want to turn on… hmm.
– I see the restaurant has a computer, but internet doesn’t work (it was working 10 minutes ago for that little boy to Skype his Dad!…)
– Ok, I ask about getting a massage, but they are “too busy”
– I could tell my non-rain window was pretty slim, so I try to go see a waterfall, but the road was a complete muddy mess with branches all over and giant water-filled potholes. I give up.
– Back at the retreat, the power is still out and I still can’t get a hold of Justin.
– Everything that day was meant to not happen. I took it without too much frustration and let it be.

Day 8 – Monday

Weather: Storm hell. Insane gusts of winds, torrential downpour. Forecast says it’ll stop on Wednesday (I don’t believe the forecasts anymore!!)
Yoga: Small classes… people are stranded in their bungalows because of flooded roads. Distracted by storm, but good classes. I feel stronger.
Other activity:None, too stormy.
– No power most of the day and evening
– Room super flooded (only have a dry pathway around my bed and to my bathroom)
– My room was right below the yoga platform which had big plastic shades weighed down with metal rodes to protect from the rain. These shades would fly and bang into the outside walls such that I would continuously think they would pierce through my bedroom wall and knock me dead.
Good luck relaxing in a room with such a racket, no electricity (thank goodness for my headlamp!) and potential giant spiders creeping up anytime (I only had to deal with a teenage giant spider once).
– We heard that no boats left the island today.
– I finally talk to Justin who was back in Chiang Mai, in signal range, yay! That made me very happy except I explain to him the weather situation down here and that I would try and get on a boat Tuesday instead of Wednesday to make sure I’d make it in time for my flight early Thursday morning on Koh Samui.

Yoga Part II: Adho Mucho Hardasana

04.21.11 | 4 Comments

Day 1 – Monday

Weather: Gorgeous.
Yoga: 1st class – very hard. Shaky legs, brain thinking “Really? I’m going to have to do this twice a day? What the heck? How can I drop out?”
Pranayama (breathing) and the lecture were good.
2nd class – better for my mind but harder for my body. Couldn’t do everything, I’m so out of shape.
Other activity:
– Before the 1st class I told the very nice manager “Wim” about the broken sink. Funny thing is, when we enter the room… my curtain was on the ground! What the heck? Am I some sort of destruction machine? He thought that the curtain was the issue and said “No problem, easy, easy, easy.” I kindly explained that it actually was not the problem and led him to the bathroom. He screamed and covered is mouth with his hands, looking at me with “how the heck did that happen?” in his eyes. I explain what happened and he was very nice about it. “Easy, very easy. No problem” he said about 15 times. He made me change rooms to a similar one next door refusing for me to pay anything for the sink.
– After the 2nd class’ sweat-fest, with Dee (a fellow student), we put on our swim suits and headed to the beach. After a good dip, we had dinner with our feet in the sand. Pretty freakin’ great.
– I try to call Justin, but I have no signal.
– I’m wondering if I’ll be able to handle the yoga classes.
– I’m loving the island and scooting around.

Day 2 – Tuesday

Weather: Gorgeous + brief rain at dinner time.
Yoga: 1st class – I cry more than half the class. Uncontrollably. I still did everything, but with a wet face and wiping snot every two seconds. I figured I’d let myself because clearly something was coming out.
2nd class – slightly easier than the 1st day, but my body is pretty sore.
Other activity:
– Had lunch and a diph in the sea with Dee.
– Got another sim card to be able to call Justin… it works except it looks like he doesn’t have signal at the Elephant Park. Grrr.
– emotionally pretty drained.
– frustrated about not being able to get in touch with Justin
– feeling lucky to be in such a gorgeous place

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