Wednesday, May 30, 2018

SWOT Analysis: the O and T part

After a longer hiatus than intended, I now present the second half of my SWOT Analysis.

What are the [business] personal goals you are currently working towards?

Goal: As I have said, I am trying to find satisfaction in my work life. Or perhaps, more accurately, the right amount of satisfaction in my work life.*$ I'm trying to determine if I should return to a 'regular' job, or go full-force into a 'creative' job.

How could I improve myself?

Aerials: Take more teach trainings to improve my skills as an instructor. I'm hoping to take a teacher training course this summer, which will build on the previous two I've taken. I could also look into flexibility workshops (so I can give students safe advice on stretching), or possibly yoga workshops (to improve my knowledge of body mechanics).

I would also like to be a better aerialist in general. Watching my daughter take classes in gymnastics and swimming (even though classes at this age level [3.5 years] are very basic) I miss having semi-regular instruction. I need someone to give me reminders about what my toes are doing (especially the left ones), or whether or not my legs are straight.

Writing: I really ought to get involved in some kind of writing group if I'm going to get back at it. I can't operate in silo. As much as I like to work alone, I need feedback and I need editing. I also need to learn how to better market my self-published books.

Librarian/Research Positions: If I want to get back into librarianship, I probably need to take a course or two. Some topics that occur to me as useful or potentially interesting are: database management, information literacy, some kind of course on reference librarianship, or maybe something on social media use. If I decided to take the research route, my current job is probably doing a decent job at giving me recent, updated skills.

Other: I feel like workshops or courses in a variety of computer-related skills such as social media use, and software like Adobe, or some other graphics-type program couldn't hurt. I can make a passable (if barely) flyer or fact sheet, or book cover, in Microsoft Publisher, but it's a laborious process. I think I would enjoy actually knowing how to use such a program and having some basic knowledge of this would probably make me more appealing in the work force.

As I take it, the Opportunities part is mostly about how I would like to improve myself to make myself better at whatever job/career path I choose. In an ideal world, I would do all the things listed above, be a better aerialist, aerial instructor, writer, and creator of media. Interestingly, being a better librarian or researcher didn't immediately fit into that previously sentence (and not because I think I'm amazing in these areas).

* I'm hoping to do a post in the near future about about the complex feelings and thoughts I have to confront when I'm on (or even thinking about) my day job.
$ Having written this sentence, I wonder if I also need to work on re-framing what I consider to be work satisfaction. Food for thought. Chomp, chomp.

What obstacles do you face?


I could end it there, but that's not very thorough.

I am unable to commit to any one decision, meaning I'm trying to juggle too many things. I'm trying to do aerials (training, stretching, learning new things, teaching), write, work a day job (which could be up to 21 hours a week), help manage my household, and be the primary care giver to my daughter. Trying to balance all these things means I'm not giving as much as I could, or should, to any one thing. Further, it means I'm not particularly good at any of these things.

Other questions to consider in this category, don't translate quite so well to my personal exploration, since they're looking at the strengths of Competitors, and what's going on in the Industry/Economy. At least I don't think the translate, or maybe I'm simply getting tired of SWOT Analysis and don't want to think about these questions anymore. Perhaps the questions of competitors and industry/economy will make more sense once I'd decided what path I want to pursue.

Overall, I think I am my biggest threat. I'm so concerned about making the wrong choice that it leads me to make no choice. And by not making a choice, trying to make do by juggling multiple options, is leaving me tired and stressed, and at least moderately unhappy.

Where does this leave me? I think another post is yet required to finish this analysis. I've put down a lot of thoughts and I need to think about this further.


A selfie from this weekend (May 26th), prior to a 'rare' public performance at the Hohner Porch Party.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Month three, or is it four? Self-refection with SWOT Analysis

I managed to get myself back on track, slightly, during March with my self-refection efforts. Then I wound up sick for the first two weeks of April--cold and flu stuff, but still, it's sucked. I'm rarely sick enough to warrant my taking time off work, but I had to take a day off from both my jobs. Yuck. Anyway, my being sick derailed my efforts to complete my review of March's efforts to consider my life.

For March I opted to use SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis. I realize this is a method for businesses to make decisions, but I thought the different way of looking at my problem might be useful.

Strengths, Experiences, What makes you unique
  • Creative*--I'm a writer, reasonably artistic, a half-decent eye for what looks 'good.'
  • Reliable--I almost never miss a day (the last week excepted), never show up late.
  • Independent worker--I don't need constant reminders, or a hovering supervisor to get my work done.
  • Researcher and librarian--10+ year experience in academic research, with involvement in various stages and various roles of the research.
  • Small group fitness instructor--2 years experience in teaching aerial circus skills, speaking in front of small groups, class management.
  • Baker and cook--need baked goods?
  • Seamstress
After some discussion, Andrew told me that: "You are very good at doing whatever it is you need to do for the job in front of you."

I'm not quite sure how to sum that up, maybe: Gets Shit Done?

*I always say I'm creative, but what does this mean, really? How much of a strength is this? Why do I always think of myself as creative? I'm beginning to wonder.

Areas for improvement, resources needed, education required
  • Initiative--This may seem kinda of weird. I'm really good at doing tasks assigned to me and completing them on time. What I'm not so great at is, when I'm told something general needs to be done about this huge thing, figuring out what I should do about it, or where I should start. Being presented with an overarching or generic problem with no specific requests on how to fix it stresses me out.
  • Timid/Conflict Adverse--I almost always prefer to handle things via email if I can. Please don't get in my face.
  • Jealous--I constantly struggle with feelings of jealousy, especially when I see someone have an awesome opportunity open up to themselves, to which I have no share (but wish I could).
  • Insecure/Lack of Confidence--Seriously, my head is a mess.
  • No business sense--Hence why my self-published novels have sold very little.
  • No specific goals--I tend to think in generalizations...
Here's a thing I learned from doing SWOT: I've always been a dreamer. I've spent a lot of car and bus trips daydreaming. I used to spend a lot of boring nights as a child and teenager wishing something random and amazing would happen to me, at my house in the countryside.

Dreaming doesn't translate into success. At least not directly.

I have dreamed of being a writer for about at long as I can remember. I have three full novels sitting on Amazon Kindle doing only slightly less than nothing. I have failed to do anything about this. I haven't learned how to market myself. I haven't learned how to make a better cover for my novels to make them more attractive. I haven't learned how to use a Kindle marketing campaign. I haven't even stood on street corners handing out flyers for my books.

(I have, in fact, spent years sending my first to novels [Cimwai's Bay and The Cure] to agents and publishers, to mostly no avail.)

If I choose to take the artist's route for the rest of my life, I have to learn how to do this. Yes, I love to write, it makes me feel good when I've completed a (in my opinion) particularly delectable scene. HOWEVER. I would also like to make a small sum from my efforts.

I have to take initiative to make my dreams come true.



P.S. I'll finish the last 2 points of my SWOT Analysis next time...this post got long.
Photography by Alexa Baker--because she is awesome and makes me look awesome.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

My pants are huge, yet so comfy. Sewing vintage patterns means my pants are out of style.

Thank my husband for two blog posts in such close proximity. He's staying up to mark his mid-term, so I'm staying up to keep him company.

So. As noted in the title of this blog post, sewing vintage patterns can mean <gasp> that my clothing may not be exactly on style for today's fashions.

Take, for example, my typical, everyday jeans. How do they fit? The legs are skinny, the crotch is snug, and the waist sits about five inches below my natural waist line. AND THEY DON'T REALLY FIT ME PROPERLY. They don't stay up, I have to wear a belt, and even when I do, it's not a perfect fix, they still work their way down.

Now, consider a pair of pants made off of a 1940s style pattern:
Same pattern as the coveralls, just the pants part.
The waist is high, like where my actual waist is, there's at least a full hand-width of room in the crotch, and there's so much room in the legs--How much room?--I don't know, just lots of room.

I was a worried when I finished the first pair (the black-blue ones), and tried them on. I know I made the coveralls first, but somehow this was different. The pants were so loose in the legs and crotch. Not like, MC Hammer loose, but definitely not what's in style right now. I wasn't sure if I could wear in them out. They could be comfy for at home, but I'd already bought the material to make the second pair, so I felt like I needed to go forward with the sewing.

Then I did wear them out. I can't remember where to--probably a Saturday to market trip. They were comfy. Then I kept wearing them (I actually haven't finished tacking down the waist band on the black-blue ones yet because I keep wearing them). I've worn them to work, I've worn them to church, I've worn them on a family weekend in Toronto, I've just worn them around.

The biggest thing I've found I need to adapt my style to is, I need to tuck in my shirts. Normally, with tight pants, I don't tuck my shirts. It looks silly, and bunching happens. Now, because these pants are so big, if I don't tuck in my shirts everything get too tent-y or sack-like. Since there's a defined waist in these pants, it seems to hold down my shirt and keep things relatively smooth.

See what I mean? A lot of fabric was used in the making of these pants. If I tuck in my shirt (which is nice and slim fitting), they don't look too bad, right? (Thanks again, to my awesome friend Alexa Baker for the picture help.)
See all that room in the legs? Don't I look so comfortable?
Buttons. On the side. I've been enjoying picking out fun buttons. You can't tell in this picture, but they're sparkly. Can't say I love making button holes, though.
That's it for this pant pattern for now (two pairs of more-or-less identical pants is probably enough), although I might adapt the pattern to make a pair of shorts or two? I'm currently in the process of shirt-making. Perhaps next time I blog about sewing I'll make a few comments on the differences I've noticed between the construction of vintage garments versus modern-day ones.



Sunday, February 25, 2018

A little more vintage sewing action

It's with very good reason that I'm taking the entire year to think about my career. I didn't spend any time considering it in February. On nights when I had the time, I wanted to write (which--yay!), or watch the Olympics (Go Canada, I love figure skating!). My task in March is to get back on track.

In the meantime, a quick post or two about my sewing endeavours.

The last time I posted about sewing (1940's coveralls), I said my next post was going to be about a skirt and bolero I made for the Christmas season, so:

Again, I'm not going to do an in-depth on the sewing process (maybe on a future project?), but really, I'm not that good a seamstress. I seem to be capable of making clothing that looks respectable, long as you don't inspect it too close. I cut corners, and I don't always get things perfectly flat/turned/whatever.
My fabulous friend and photographer, Alexa Baker, helped me take this photo, as well as the one below.
The skirt doesn't fit me quite exactly. I fiddled a lot with the waistband, but still didn't get it to fit snug like it looks on the pattern envelop. I'm not sure if that's a fault in my sewing (or method), or an issue with the sizing. It's only a tiny bit loose, and maybe if I hadn't decided to line the skirt ((Go Me! for improvising) (I had leftover lining from an earlier, failed project) (it's a winter skirt, but I only made it out of cotton)) I might have been able to fix it better.

I'm super pleased with my efforts on the bolero. I thought it was going to be tricky, but it turn out not too bad. I had to look up one YouTube video about turning a lining in a jacket (I couldn't quite get it from the pattern instructions), but other than that it was pretty smooth. The one minor hiccup (because there has to be one) is that the cuffs are a trifle tight. If they slide too far up my forearms, they get stuck and I have to pull them down again.
I wore the bolero to several Christmas events, not with the skirt, but with jeans.

I'm currently working on a couple of 1950s style shirts, then I've got one more untouched pattern (this one's a doozy, so it might sit for a while) from this round of projects. I've put in a request for two more patterns: another one from the 1940s with pants, shirt and vest, then one for a day dress from the 1930s. Once I've gotten through the shirts and at least one new pair of pants, I might circle back to this pattern for another skirt and maybe even another bolero.

I've also sewn two pairs of pants from the coverall pattern. I've been wearing them around a fair bit lately and gotten a couple of compliments. I'll write a quickie post about them, and how it feels to walk around in pants that are very much not the current style, soon.



Wednesday, January 31, 2018

One month in: What have I learned in my process of self-reflection?

Honestly, I haven't really learned anything new. Nor have I come closer to making a decision about my life (hence why I intend this to be a multi-month process).

For the month of January I took a pretty standard approach to decision making.

Step 1: Identify the decision to be made
What kind of career or job do I want to have, or what kind of career or job do I think would make me most happy?

I wonder if this is an over simplification of the decision to be made, or perhaps, I'm trying to put this decision into too simple of terms. It's what I've decided to build on, which might get hashed out better in subsequent months and styles of decision making.

Step 2: Identify alternatives
As I see it, I have 2 paths I can follow.

Librarianship/Research: For the purpose of this exercise I see librarianship and research as the same option, or that they have the same value. Both represent the more 'standard' job. Both would likely be reasonably steady hours, greater pay, and rely on my degree and work experience. In a year's time I'd be looking into courses on stats, or research methods, or librarian-related courses to improve my job prospects.

Aerials/Writing: Unlike the above, these are not exactly the same job, but I feel like to do one, it might require the other because there isn't a lot of money to be made at either. This would definitely be the path of the artist. In year 2 of this process I'd be focusing on taking further aerial teacher training, and figuring out how to market my current books, while writing a new one.

Step 3: Identify uncertainties
One of the biggest problems I have is coming to peace with my level of income and my contribution to the Milne household. I have a lot of wants which require money: nice clothing, nice house, fun vacations, good food, good wine, a car in good working order.

If I choose the librarian/research path, my income won't be much of an uncertainty, but it's a huge one if I choose the aerials/writer path.

Building on this is, what is it that makes me happy? A small part of me thinks (or maybe just imagines), if I figure out what will make me happy, the choice of career will become obvious. Some beacon will shine out of the fog of my life and tell me what I'm supposed to do with myself. Then the whole income level won't matter because I'll be happy, and isn't that the most important thing in life?

Step 4: Gather relevant information
I took this stage as coming up with a list of pros and cons. I repeated this exercise on a couple of different nights, thinking I might have slightly different insights on different nights, then compared what I came up with.

Elements I would consider important in a job:
  • Ability to be physically active.
  • Ability to have creative outlets.
  • Some flexibility in hours to allow for: being available to Ruth if she needs me during the day; occasionally volunteering with a charity.
  • Yet some consistent number of hours a week (anywhere between 15 and 20, I think).
  • If not receiving benefits, being paid sufficiently to offset not having them.
Elements I would dislike in a job: (which may basically be the opposite of my list of pros)
  • Inconsistent hours or schedule OR too ridged a schedule interfering with the amount of time I can spend with Ruth and Andrew.
  • A desk job where I sit all day.
  • No opportunities to exercise my creativity.
  • Low/little income, and/or no benefits.
  • Too much time spent alone OR little social interaction.
Step 5: Make a decision
As I stated above, I wasn't necessarily expecting to come out of this single exercise with a final decision. I can't deny, however, certain elements: physical activeness; creativity; flexibility; at least some interaction with others, are jumping out at me.

You would think at this point the signs would be pretty clear, but there's that uncertainty I identified. How much or little income am I comfortable with? That is what I need to figure out.

I had a dream last night (after having written the bulk of this blog post) that seemed aptly timed (and rather suggestive):

I was at Base Camp at Mount Everest. Andrew and Ruth were with me to wish me luck, but I was getting cold feet. I wasn't sure I wanted to go on the climb (the success rate is low, many people die). Additionally, I was supposed to go to Australia (I'm not sure where this came from) after I was finished the climb, meaning I wasn't going to see Andrew and Ruth for weeks. In the end, I decided to stay at the base of Mount Everest, to spend time with my husband and daughter.

A much smaller 'mount' I actually scaled. The Notch, in Jasper National Park, on the Jasper Skyline Trail.
I still remember worrying as we climbed The Notch that I had gotten us into something I shouldn't have, as Andrew was suffering from a bad head cold at the time.
That was a heck of a day, 20+ km, 3 mountain passages.
Until next time.



Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy New Year! Now, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?

Back in September I interviewed for a part-time research assistant position. I was turned down, told I was their 'number two.' At that point I decided I wasn't going to apply to any other jobs unless it was a perfect fit.

Instead I was going to do aerials, write, and sew (and take care of my daughter, of course). I was going to train lots, work on my new story idea, and start building a homemade wardrobe.

I also needed to do some deep thinking. I spent sometime researching decision making techniques, making note of several I thought could be helpful. I made an unofficial deadline of September 2018 (when Ruth starts JK) to decide if I was going to take more courses in librarianship/research or instructing aerials.

I was going to put on my big girl pants, and make some decisions about what I really want in life and what makes me happy.

At the end of November I was contacted again about the research assistant position. Certain circumstances had led the first pick to find a different job, was I still interested?

Well crap. I hadn't expected that change of events. I'd put the initial disappointment behind me, and had settled into the idea of staying at home and working on things at my own pace. The trouble was, what if by the time my deadline came around, I decided I needed to find a regular job? It would be 5+ years since the last time I'd worked in a regular office setting. I'd have no up-to-date experiences or references for a librarian/research job.

I've taken the job. Besides the issues above, it is, in fact, a fantastically important research project dealing with mental health and the work place (put very broadly).

As the holidays came to an end, I was looking at my official, up-to-full hours (full, part-time hours, that is), start date of January 2nd, and I was (and still am) kind of panicking. I feel like my plate is full, boarding on over flowing.

In the 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks in a year I have for the next 3 years I need to:
  1. Work (up to) 21 hrs/week.
  2. Teach aerials 4-6 hr/week (offering to do more day-time hours next fall).
  3. Train aerials 4-6 hr/week (at least)
  4. Exercise (cardio/strength conditioning) 5-6 hr/week.
  5. Write (ha!).
  6. Sew (ha! x2).
Then there's the general life stuff of: taking care of/being present for my family, making home cooked meals (most of the time), making sure there's clean laundry, keeping the house tidy enough that it won't drive me nuts (I'm looking into a cleaning service)...anything else? Getting enough sleep, I suppose.

Oh Boy.

Now, let me circle back to something from before.

Above all else, what I must do over the next 3 years is think about what I want to do with my life, and this is in fact that actual point of this post.

My New Years resolution is to spend the next year thinking about what makes me happy, and what I want to do as a job/career. Aerials, write, sew, or librarianship/research. Maybe a combination of 2 of these, but not likely more. By the end of 2018 I would like to have an action plan for 2019. What do I focus in on? What do I re-train in? I'll still have until the end of 2020 before things come into full effect, but I need to know what I'm doing once my present contract is up.

Not only do I need to put on my big girl pants for me, but I need to put them on for Ruth. I need to demonstrate to her how to lead a happy and fulfilled life no matter what career path I choose.

Happy New Years everyone.



Awesome photograph by the Awesome Alexa Baker, who some how manages to make me feel like a model.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Continued sewing adventures with vintage style patterns

As promised, another blog post! And it's once again about sewing.

Does this sound familiar: You finally decide it's time to go shopping for new clothes, you brave the mall, then when you actually go to a store (or stores), you can't find anything you like?

This is me, almost always. It's so disappointing and frustrating when you can't find clothing you want to buy--especially when you've spent months saving up the money. Part of it for me is, I'm usually looking for something a little...different. In my teen and early twenty years, that meant super colourful. Now in my thirties, I think I'm looking for something with a vintage feel.

I don't remember when I first learned how to sew, maybe around grade 7 or 8? That's definitely when we had 'Home Ec' class, although come to think of it, I could already sew basic boxer shorts by then, so maybe earlier. My mom always sewed--for as long as I can remember. She didn't make whole wardrobes or anything, but she usually made me Sunday Dresses, and one or two other things. She sewed my wedding dress, too.

Although I've known how to sew for a long time, I am NOT an expert. I make mistakes, don't get my corners perfectly turned, or my seems exactly aligned. I get frustrated and rush things when I just want to get it done. But, I can still put together reasonable garment, that as long as you don't examine it up close, looks decent enough.

Sew (see what I did there...), without further ado, behold my next vintage-style piece:

Initially I thought I'd make the pants to start, but I mixed up the yards and metres, so I knew I'd have a ton of fabric leftover if I didn't go for the whole overalls. I went with a plain black, light denim fabric, but purchased some fun rainbow-holographic buttons to jazz them up.
Laying out the pattern, as my Mom taught me, saving as much leftover fabric as possible. Also, I have to do this on the floor, since we still have the same tiny Ikea table we had when we moved to Edmonton 12 years ago.
My sewing machine isn't quite the same vintage as my overalls, but it's still a heavy-duty classic. 1970 Kenmore sewing machine, solid metal and weighs a ton. It was my Mom's, but she's got a fancy-dancy computerized thing now.
As is often the case with sewing patterns, I don't fit nicely in a single size category, which can be something of a problem when I'm making a garment that has to cover me from top to bottom, like a dress, or overalls. I've got huge aerialist shoulders, a tiny chest, an average waist, and hips that are much more narrow than what pattern makers expect for my waist size. As I said, I'm NOT an expert seamstress, so figuring out how to make patterns work can be a tricky.

For the overalls, I cut out the size that was supposed to fit my waist, but once I sewed the pants together and tried them on, I discovered I was swimming in fabric. From there I took the seams in by 3/8 an inch on ALL SIDES. I might have over done it a tad, as the finished product is a bit snug. I continued to adapt the seam width for the bodice.

Beyond the sizing issue, my biggest problem was making the button side of the waist band lie flat. There's so much fabric in the spot where the waist band meets the top of the pants that no matter what I did (I only felt comfortable trimming the extra fabric so far) that I couldn't get a nice, neat seam. In the end I decided it was on the side of my body, and right where the buttons would be, so no one would really notice.

Hopefully I'm right.
Me! In the finished product.
The overalls are pretty comfy, even if I took the seams in a hair too far. I sewed the buttons as close to the edge of the button placket as I could, so it works. Honestly, the biggest downside with these overalls is there are 7 buttons to do up, plus 2 more for the straps, meaning I need to be careful with planning my bathroom breaks.

Next up, a 1950s style skirt (already complete), and bolero.