dinsdag 31 december 2013

Today I am thankful

It's the last day of 2013, and today I am thankful.

It's been a couple of strange last weeks for me. A few months ago I decided to move back in with my
parents again in 2014, so both my boyfriend and I are able to save as much money as possible for future plans. Living in your own appartment is awesome, but not cheap! So my Christmas has been filled with packing boxes, rehoming my cats and the occassional tear.
I'm saying goodbye to some things that have brought me a huge amount of joy and a sense of safety during the last years, and I'm really stepping out of my comfort zone here. Anxiety and stress have been a daily part of my life the last weeks, but I refuse to let my life be ruled by fear. I've said things goodbye, but I'm also welcoming a new and promising year, with many things to look forward to. I am making space for new adventures :)

So, despite some nervousness and stress, today I choose to be thankful.

I am thankful for the (almost) 2 years I spent in my very first own apartment. For years I thought I wouldn't be able to live on my own, afraid I would constantly be annoyed by my well-known old companions Anxiety and Worry. Turned out, it was perfectly well possible to share a house with them. I ám strong enough to send them to their own rooms like naughty little kids when they became too demanding or bothersome. Well...they didn't always listen and sometimes just kept on bothering me...but still, I survived. Ha! 
I made this space into a cozy little environment where I felt perfectly at home, and created beautiful memories in it. I will miss my sunny roof terrace, the cozy wooden bedroom and living on walking distance from my work. My first own apartment will forever stay a beautiful memory :)

I am thankful for having been the 'mommy' of two little rascals of cats. I never thought owning cats be be such a hilarious and heartwarming thing! Franklin and Theodoor have been responsible for many laughs, cuddles and work-distraction. They played an important role in the fact that I felt so at ease living on my own...in fact, I never was alone! I am thankful for their new mommies and daddies. I was able to rehome them to very loving families, and both of them already are adapting to their new environments. They will receive lots of love, cuddles and good care, and that's a relief. They deserve nothing less.

I'm thankful for the hours I spent climbing. Having discovered this sport about 1,5 year ago now, it is becoming an increasingly important part of my life. Climbing keeps me sane, it distracts my thoughts from everything else to focus on just one thing: the route I am climbing. It keeps my healthy and fit, not only physically, but also mentally! Climbing helps me to deal with fear, because sometimes you have to push on and stay calm in a scary situation, with the possibility of a fall. And sometimes, you just have to let go and take that fall! I am thankful for the beautiful places climbing brought me and the new people I met because of it. I can't wait to push my limits further in 2014!

I am thankful for my boyfriend, with whom I just seem to 'click'. Actually, not a day that passes by without me feeling incredibly happy to have him in my life.  I love his smart, wandering and free soul. I love how we shape and complete eachother. I am thankful for how he challenges me in many ways, pushing me out of my comfort zone but at the same time always being there to catch me if I fall. I love his longing for adventure, and how he can make me laugh (or tease me, I'm such an easy victim...). I am thankful that he has a curious mind, just like me! He's not afraid to think for himself, which results in interesting conversations that I cherish. He's might be a little strange, but so am I...compatible in our strangeness, we form a happy, quirky couple.

I am thankful for the hours I spent working. At the moment, there are mány things I don't like about my work, but I ám thankful for the moments I actually was able to help my patients to regain some strenght, fitness or daily functions. Every time one of my patients is happy because something goes better, I am happy too, and remember why I chose to become a physiotherapist. I set up a very successfull group training program for about 30 elderly patients. They were al incredibly enthusiastic and I had lots of fun exercising with them. I am thankful for being able to play a tiny role in their health...besides, I am thankful for the fact that I actually am healthy enough myself to work and earn a living!

I am thankful for the travels I made last year. I've have spent a wonderful time in the Dolomites (Italy), the Sierra de Guara (Spain) and at the Cote d'Azur (France), together with my boyfriend. Oh, and we went a couple of times to Freyr, a beautiful climbing area in the Belgium Ardennes! I love that we both like active holidays and want to stay as far away as possible from touristic consumerism. Climbing, canyoning and snowboarding/skiing brings you to places where people usually don't go, close to nature. I treasure those moments and am thankful for every beautiful view I could take in (and snap a quick picture of ;)). Traveling opens your mind and teaches different lessons than those learnt in daily life. Actually, I can't wait to pack my bags again!

I am thankful for my parents. They have their quirks (like every parent :P), but they love me no matter what, and that is what's most important. My decisions challenge them, it's not always what they had in mind for me. Still, they work hard to support me and help me where they can, while also letting me go.
They thought they finally got rid of me two years ago...but here I am again, moving back in with them...mwuhahaha! Just kidding, of course they had to adjust to the idea, but they've been very welcoming (except towards Theodoor and Franklin, grrrr....). Both helped me a lot with moving, I couldn't have done it without them. I am thankful for how they both can make me laugh in their own way, and how they help me deal with my difficulties. I will treasure that forever!

I'm thankful for books, I can't imagine my life without them. I've read dozens of interesting, heartwarming and exciting books in 2013. I've discovered new authors and started new series. I even got my own Kindle for my birthday! I'm still a sucker for real, paper books...but the reason I finally gave in for an e-reader is its convenience while traveling. Plus, e-books are cheaper! Oh, and don't forget the fact that I don't need my Iphone's flashlight anymore, when I read out loud in the car (I often read for Mark during long drives...we have special 'on-the-way-books', that we both like).
In a way, books are like traveling, they open your mind for new things and can teach so many valuable lessons and interesting stuff. Besides books, I'm also thankful for movies and series I've watched...another way I love to spend my time. Offering distraction, insights and an escape from daily life, they are my highly treasured companions.

I'm thankful for every minute I can spend crafting. I need crafting in my life like I need air, love and books. I love to create pretty things...and obviously other people love them too! My little Etsy store saw a rise in sales this year, which brings me a lot of joy. I'm thankful for every person I've met through crafting, and I'm thankful for new creative techniques and skills I learned this year. I've really developed my spinning techniques, and learned how to dye natural fibers. I discovered I lóve playing with colors (I'm still a little girl by heart, yes... I know :)). I like my hands to be busy, and I enjoy the fact that, in a way, I can be self-sufficient when it comes to clothes, yarn, socks, decoration, etc. Even though (thankfully) I'm not in a situation where I have to rely on such skills, it feels good to be able to.

I am thankful for my friends. I'm not really one for an elaborate social network with dozens of friends and acquaintances, but I dó have a couple of close friendships that are like treasures for me. Each single one of them is unique in their own way, and I'm thankful that they want to share their time, thoughts and tea with me. They offer me comfort and wonderfully cozy afternoons. It's great to be able to share a passion with someone else, it doubles the joy! To me, the possibility to exchange thoughts and ideas in a completely honest and transparent way, knowing that the other won't judge me (but will speak her mind when necessary!) , is incredibly valuable. Girls, you know who you are...you are all such a lovely and beautiful addition to my life!

Above all, I am thankful to be a treasured daughter of a Heavenly Father, Who loves me far more than I will ever be able to understand. He is the Giver of my blessings and the Receiver of my thanks. I'm thankful for getting to know Him a bit better this year. In his extraordinary and abundant love I learn to live unashamed and free...free of guilt and free of judgement (of myself ánd of others).

dinsdag 3 december 2013

Blythe reroot tutorial - part 1: preparing the scalp

Okay Blythe folks, here's the first part of a series of (hopefully helpful) tutorials on how to do reroots.  I've been doing them for years now and gained experience in using alpaca, mohair, (thermal) saran, the lock-loop method, the knot method, thatching, washing, etc. There were some disasters on the road, that learned me even more (about what nót to do!). Other members of the Blythe-community have always been helpful when I needed some advice, sometimes through direct answers on questions, sometimes by just posting very clear pictures of what théy did to achieve a specific result. Right now I think I have collected enough knowledge and experience to share some helpful tips myself (although I will surely keep learning new things, I expect I might have to adjust and update these series of tutorials in the future!). I hope it will motivate you to pick up your own reroot...maybe for the first time, or maybe that scalp you once started on but threw away in frustration. I'll make the steps as easy as possible, so you'll see it's not such a daunting task as it may seem!

Although, honestly...rerooting is for people with a bit of patience. If that's a word that gives you shivers or makes you freak out already, you might just decide to commission someone else for that reroot. There are plenty of rerooters in the community, so don't worry ;)

In this first part I will show you the work that has to be done before you can actually start rerooting. It's nasty work that hurts your fingers (unless you are lucky enough to have an original Takara scalp), but it has to be done anyway...so let's get that done before we get to the better stuff (where actual hair/fibers are involved :P).

Let's start with the tools you will need (not all of them are already necessary for this first part, but I included them anyway).

  • A scalp. You can use an original Takara scalp of course. Probably one you're tired of, don't like or of a disappointing quality (for example, the Factory Blythe scalps are not always superb, especially in terms of hair density). You could also use a coolcat scalp though, if you don't have an original Takara one. Coolcat scalps can be ordered here, and I believe you can also find them on Ebay. Personally I prefer the soft PVC scalps over the soft rubber ones. The PVC scalps resemble the Takara scalps better in color and material. On the other hand, they're harder to penetrate. If your hands and fingers are aching easily, you might want to go for a soft rubber scalp. It's totally up to you, both will work just fine!
  • Needle, with a point as sharp as possible. I prefer working with a long needle, because it offers more grip. You might also want to use a thimble!
  • Fine comb. I really love the one included in my picture, because of it's pointy end, which is very helpful in making thatches!
  • Crochet needle. I use a 1.00 mm, but a slíghtly smaller or bigger one will do as well.
  • Scissors, just in case. 
Optionally, you can also add acrylic paint to the supplies list, if you want to dye your scalp before rerooting. We'll get back to that part later.

Okay, here we go. The first thing you need to do (unless you have an original Takara scalp, then you can skip most of this first step) is to make tiny holes in the scalp, preferably in a specific pattern. 
The Coolcat scalps have a 'B' and an 'F' on the inside, to indicate the front and the back. On the picture below you can see the B, if you look closely. 

Now, remembering where the front and back are, decide your pattern. It is important to remember that if you want to reroot in the lock-loop method, your pattern has to be a spiral.
If you're doing a knot-method reroot, a spiral is fine, but closed circular rows will work just as well. Actually, for the knot-method any pattern of holes will work, because the single plugs are not secured into each other!

I decided to show the spiral pattern, because that one is the trickiest. I drew the spiral onto my scalp for this tutorial just to make it as clear as possible, you don't have to do that yourself (I never do this, normally!). Unless of course you like having a guideline for where to punch your holes...but please be aware of the fact that dark lines might show through a very light (for example blond) reroot! 

Note how I started in the middle, slowly working my way to the end of the scalp (follow the arrows to see the direction of the lines). In my opinion, best is to leave about 0.5 to 1 cm between your lines, depending on how thick/dense you want your reroot to be. 

Now, regarding the thatch. There are several options:
  • No thatch at all. In that case you can let your (imaginary) spiral just continue round after round, without the turns I made to leave space for the thatch.
  • Middle thatch (the 'B' on the inside of the scalp indicates where the middle is!).
  • Side thatch (left, or right).
I made a side thatch on this reroot, on the left side. I always make 4 rows for a thatch. This will result in a beautiful, full thatch line in the end, without any 'skin' (scalp) showing through.
The lines are very close to each other, with only 1-2 mm's between them. Note that I also drew this sideline actually as one long, spiraling line!

I usually regard the thatch as a different part from the main spiral, so they are not attached. This isn't impossible though! I just don't like them attached, because I prefer first rerooting the thatch, and then starting on the main spiral, working my way from the inside out. 
A last little warning regarding the thatch: it's important for the lines/holes to be close to each other, but not tóó close. You will notice - once rerooting - that holes that are too close to each other will easily tear and form one big hole. You don't want that, believe me ;)

Now, what if you have an original Takara scalp, that has no thatch, or a side thatch while you want a middle thatch, or the other way around? No worries! It's perfectly possible to make an extra thatch in the area you prefer, as long as it's not too close to the original thatch. That nasty thing I just mentioned, about separate holes tearing together into one big hole? That has often happened already with Takara scalps. So be careful, also when you decide to use the already existing thatch. Inspect it beforehand, to see if it's still useable. Even when the holes are still more or less separate, remember that you have to pull a plug of hair through it with a crochet hook. Even this small force might already cause it to tear. So you might actually decide to play it safe and make a new thatch line. 

On to the next step (the most annoying one): start punching the holes!

This part will cause your fingers to hurt/cramp, I often find myself doing just a couple of rows at a time, for example when I have 5 spare minutes left.
In the picture below you can see how much space I leave between my holes. In the main spiral, I leave about 5 mm's between every hole...but again, this depends on how dense you want your final reroot to be!
On the thatch line, you have to punch the holes as close as possible to each other. Remember (again, I'll keep warning you...those teared holes are such a drama, especially when you're a beginner at rerooting!), not too punch them tóó close. Leave about 1-2 mm's in between them. The same counts for the last (outer) line. This line is the actual hair line, which will be quite visible in the final result. It would be pretty ugly if there'd be 4 or 5 mm's between those holes huh? So just punch them very close together, just like the thatch lines.

On the picture above you can see part of my holes. They appear a bit grey-ish, that's just because of punching through the black guidelines I drew for the tutorial. Note the distances between my lines and holes, and also note how close the thatch holes are!

Punching the last row of (close) holes can be a bit of trouble. I usually punch about 3 mm's above the edge of the scalp. Notice the rim on the inside of the scalp, you want to punch júst above that. Every now and then I accidentally go through the rim instead... You will notice this soon enough, because it's twice as thick a layer of plastic to go through!

Now it's time for the final - and optional - step of this tutorial: painting the scalp.

Personally, I often don't dye the scalps I reroot. I like to make dense reroots with lots of holes, in which case it's not really necessary to dye the scalp. It will be just like a human head full of hair; if you look véry closely...yes, than you can see a bit of skin, but that's only natural, right?
I know that a lot of people use lesser holes though, to save a bit of work and time. Nothing wrong with that! In those cases it might be a good idea though to dye your scalp in the color of the hair you'll be using, to cover up for too much 'skin' (scalp) showing in between the plugs.

I find acrylic paint easy and simple to use. Thin it a bit with water or even better: a special paint thinner. To prevent the paint from dripping all the way down to the edge, you can put a line of tape over the edge, completely around the scalp, just up to the first row. Now start adding a thin layer of paint and leave it to dry. The plastic scalps (at least the soft PVC Coolcat scalps, I have no experience with painting the soft rubber ones!) are not very absorbing, so you might want to add another layer after the first one has dried. 

I will be using dark chocolate brown alpaca for this reroot, so I painted the the scalp in more or less that same color. It didn't became very even, but that's okay...it's just for covering up, in the end!

That's all for part 1 of the reroot tutorial! After these steps, you will be ready to start rooting the hair, which will be covered in the next part of these series. 
I really hope you guys enjoyed this tutorial and that I have explained everything in a clear and understandable way. Please comment if you have any questions, improvements, or additions. I'd also love to hear suggestions for what you'd like to see explained in the next part(s) of these reroot tutorial series!

donderdag 7 november 2013

About watching series & Hart of Dixie

I love watching series. To me, they form the perfect distraction while crafting. A lot of crafts don't require my full attention (spinning, crocheting, sewing, knitting, etc.), which means that part of my brain is unoccupied. In my case, unemployed brain cells somehow always react on this with exclaiming "Hey guys, we're free, let's go think stressful, worrying and controlling thoughts, yay!" (those nasty little fellas, grrrr...). Not good! So, to keep them busy and preserve my sanity, I like to watch series while crafting. Am I alone in this, or is there anyone out there who recognizes this? Please, let me know! (I'll feel less weird :P)

Quite a lot of series have been played on my laptop already. I really enjoyed all House M.D. seasons, just as The Office (US). Private Practice was another favorite, although somehow I liked Grey's Anatomy less. I'm watching Game of Thrones together with my boyfriend, we're both anxiously waiting for the third season! (Though this one's a bit different from the rest, I don't watch it while crafting...its story-lines demand way too much attention.) The Big Bang Theory never fails to amuse me, same counts for Two and a half Men, Anger Management and Arrested Development (which I'm watching together with my boyfriend as well, since we have to wait 'till spring 2014 for the next GoT season to begin). I lóved Pushing Daisies (that one stopped way too early). There're also some older series I still like, for example Frasier, The Nanny, Friends, Dharma & Greg and King of Queens. Oh, and I even like documentary series! Mark and I just finished Discovery Channel's Naked and Afraid. He brought An Idiot Abroad under my attention, which I find hilarious. When I'm in the mood, I find Through the Wormhole very interesting. And how about Louis Theroux' Crazy Weekends?

Well, it might be clear I watch a lot of series. Some of them I found out about via IMDB, some others via television. But actually most of them were pointed out to me by online friends and blogs. I love reading other people's reviews of books, movies and series. When it appeals to me, I try to get hold of the movie/series/book and watch/read it for myself, forming my own opinion on it.
Since I wrote a book-review already a little while ago, I thought...why not do the same for series? I can add my two cents to that immense online database of reviews and opinions, and maybe help others find out about nice new stuff to watch! I won't write about the very famous and obvious ones though, like The Big Bang Theory or whatever. There's already plenty of reviews and blogs to be found online on those ones, and everyone has heard of them anyway. Instead, I'll try to focus on less well-known series.

The series I'd like to start with is called 'Hart of Dixie'. I just finished its second season. I know the third season has already started in the US this fall, but I haven't watched the first episodes yet. I prefer getting hold of a complete season all at once, instead of having to wait for another episode every week. So I might wait a little while...expectantly though, because I really liked its first two seasons!

Hart of Dixie is about doctor Zoe Hart. Zoe is quite a little know-it-all, a young and hip lady from the Big Apple who just graduated as a doctor. She has her whole future planned and thinks she figured everything out just perfectly well, when something goes wrong and circumstances force her towards Bluebell, a small town in the deeeep south of America. Here she finds a job as a general practitioner, and that's when the real adventures begin.

Little miss Know-it-all, arriving in Bluebell.

Now...if the term 'doctor' (in the framework of tv-series) already scared you off, please don't stop reading yet. There's only a very small part of the series dedicated to medical interventions. Which are limited to a bare minimum anyway, because dr. Hart is a general practitioner and has to take care of a lot of humdrum problems (a big switch for her, coming from the busy state-of-the-art hospitals of New York...). So this is not yet another typical medical series, with those typical emergency situations, spectacular reanimations and love affairs between doctors and nurses. Instead, most of the series evolve around the character of dr. Hart and a lot of other interesting inhabitants of Bluebell. And this is done in a very sweet and heartwarming way.

A typical meeting of the town Belles.

I find the culture of the Southern United States very interesting. It's so distinct from every other American part, really having it's own unique identity. Southern people generally seem to be socially more conservative than the rest of the country and have a very strong sense of community, something that also applies to a lot of characters in Hart of Dixie. Many of Zoe's female peers in Bluebell are so-called Southern Belle's. The definition of a Southern Belle is a beautiful and charming woman (born in the deep south of course), possessing an undeniable natural charm, having a warm and dazzling smile and impeccable manners. She can be recognized by her hospitality and graciousness. This sounds all very nice and dreamy, but don't be fooled. The elite Southern Belles are in charge. They will get literally everything they want and won't avoid blackmailing and manipulation. While always remaining charming! I find it hilarious how they say the meanest things to each other with that lovely smile plastered on their face…that's really a special Southern Belle-skill.

The beautiful, complicated Lemon...

The über Southern Belle is Lemon Breeland, who also plays a big role throughout the series. She's definitely not Zoe's best friend, although they slowly grow a bit closer to each other over time. Lemon is the head of the town Belles, a group charged with maintaining the history and heritage of Bluebell, a job that she takes véry seriously. Lemon is quite something. I hated her character in the beginning, but during the episodes her character is really evolving and you get to know more about her background. She's not an easy person, and neither makes life easy for herself. She makes choices that will have you gnashing your teeth…but right at the moment when you can't stand her anymore, she does something that makes you respect her, and sometimes even - yes, really! - like her.

Wade Kinsella, one of the competitors for dr. Zoe's heart.

A lot of the series focusses on the romantic relationships between Zoe and different men in town. The two biggest competitors for dr. Zoe's heart are Wade Kinsella and George Tucker, who are complete opposites - of course (in some aspects Hart of Dixie is still as predictable as many other romantic/drama series…nothing wrong with a bit of predictable entertainment though!). Of course the whole town is involved in the romantic complications, literally nothing can be kept secret in Bluebell. This is something else that Zoe really has to get used to, coming from a big city where it's easy to stay anonymous. Which must have been very convenient for her by the way, because she has a tendency of letting things get completely out of hand and causing weird drama's and escalations!

Hart of Dixie contains some very interesting, funny and plain weird characters. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Annabeth Nass: Annabeth is Lemon's best friend. In contrast to Lemon though, she seems to not take everything too serious, she's a bit more down to earth, while still always staying a very charming and bubbly Belle with a definite sense of humor. Green is definitely her favorite color (I believe there's something green in every outfit she wears - which are mostly vintage dresses and skirts by the way). Annabeth is much easier to love in the series…she's a bit unfortunate in love, which unexpectedly brings her closer to Zoe, a friendship she has to keep secret from Lemon.
Annabeth & Lemon.

  • Lavon Hayes: Lavon is the mayor of the town. He's not your average old-and-bearded mayor though…imagine a very good-looking former football linebacker here! He's one of Zoe's few allies in town, always having her back (though regularly a bit unwillingly fulfilling the role of a lady-friend, listening to her rambling on about her latest date or hormonal problems). 
Wade & Lavon…breakfast, anyone?

  • Burt Reynolds: this is Lavon Hayes' pet alligator. Yep, you read that right…this is the weird one! 
Zoe feeding Burt...

Okay, last but not least…one of my favorite scenes, in case you're not convinced yet. In this specific episode Zoe decides she wants to be a Belle (one of her many crazy impulsive actions). Prospective Belles have to go through a period of initiation. Part of this initiation is having to sing the Belle's Dixie every time the secret word is used...

I hope you liked my first series review! Any comments are more than welcome, and if you want to share your own favorite series: go ahead and fill me in! Right now I'm watching 'Raising Hope' which is definitely becoming a new favorite…so I see a next review coming ;)

dinsdag 29 oktober 2013

To cozy crafternoons

This post will - in contrast to my usual posts :P - contain mainly pics and only little text. I want the pictures to speak for themselves, I hope I succeeded in capturing the pleasant atmosphere of the cozy afternoon I had with my best friend Eeffie last week.

I really enjoy those crafty meetings we regularly have, sharing our passion for fibers, dolls and a lot of other random stuff. I meant this post to be a little homage to 'crafternoons' (or mornings, evenings…nights?!) with likeminded people, celebrating creativity while inspiring and helping one another.

Our goal for this afternoon was to dye some fibers. After following an awesome workshop on wool dyeing some time ago, it was time to try it out by ourselves. We ordered acid dyes and un-dyed roving, bought vinegar, rubber gloves and sealable bags and started saving plastic bottles a couple of weeks earlier (preparations, preparations!).

Because we also celebrated Eeffie's birthday already (she would turn 36 some days later, which is still a very young age - really, it is!), I bought her some extra un-dyed fibers she could use for more dyeing practice. Eeffie's youngest cat Pebbles found all those different kinds of fiber very interesting!

Another great advantage of sharing a creative hobby is the ability to share tools and supplies. We divided all the bottles of acid dyes we ordered in two - still both having more than enough for what we aimed to do with it, while simultaneously saving money, yay!

Dyeing roving is such an exciting thing to do! It's like a blank piece of paper, ready to be painted on. We experimented a bit with mixing colors and leaving in blank spaces. I managed to kick over my bottle of fiery red(!) acid dye, I can be so clumsy…haha! Even though we made a great mess, luckily no permanent damage was done.

Okay, so the grown-ups are making a big mess with dyes, while the kids are obediently sitting on the couch, busy with the i-pad. There might be some role-inversion here…just saying!

Above is the roving cooling down after being heated for about 30-45 minutes. Pretty colors are already showing here! We almost couldn't wait to rinse them, to see if the colors had really set and wouldn't 'bleed' anymore...

…which it didn't! Check out Eeffie's beautiful shades of green! I think this can only be spun up into grass :)

No cozy afternoons without coffee and cookies. And a little piece of cake, for Eeffie's birthday!

Beside my roving, I also dyed some fibers that will be used/sold for Blythe reroots. It was my first 'professional' try at this, and I'm beyond happy with the results.

I also got to try out Eeffie's blending board, making my very first two rolags ever. It's amazing how you can make such an interesting blend out of otherwise dull, plain fibers. I'm very curious to see how this will spin up, with the fibers aligned in a different direction then usual (horizontally instead of vertically).

With 5 cats living in Eeffie's house, we had a constant company of those curious creatures. Here you can see the oldest (left, Casper) and the youngest (right, Pebbles).

Thank you Eef, for this cozy 'crafternoon' and all the others we had. May there be lots more to come!

Do you have regular crafternoons? With whom, and what do you do on these creative meetings? Let me know in the comments, to continue this celebration of crafting together!

donderdag 10 oktober 2013

Summer holiday 2013 part 1: Canyoning in the Sierra de Guara

Even though I still haven't finished my journal of last year's summer holiday (I will, I promise! Better late than never right?!), I thought it was time to record the adventures of this summer. Autumn is starting to take over, but in my head I can sometimes still feel the Mediterranean sun on my skin. Its warmth is slowly fading, but the memories definitely aren't!

Mark and I had two weeks off, the last two weeks of August. The main season is almost over by then (so...not too many noisy tourists, and more important: not too many Dutchies still celebrating their holidays abroad. Seriously, you will run into those 'cheeseheads' at the most obscure places, even though we're from such a tiny country!), but the temperature is still perfect! Our first destination was Sierra de Guara, a sparsely populated area in the north of Spain, just south of the Pyrenees. You can compare the Sierra de Guara a bit with the Grand Canyons in the United States. It is a mountain massif (most of which is part of a national park) with a number of rivers cutting through it. Over time (lóts of time), these rivers have formed spectacular gorges, cracks and canyons through a process called erosion. Which makes this region just perfect for what we came to do: canyoning!

On the French side of the tunnel...foggy, but still dry. 

After a prosperous drive to the south of France, we had to make a decision: stop somewhere, camp for one night and drive the last bit to Lecina (our destination in the Sierra de Guara) the next morning, or keep on driving and arrive at Lecina that same evening. We chose the latter option, everything went so well and quick until then, the sun was still shining and we had enough time left. So it seemed like a sound choice! 
Well, of course we shouldn't have done this. It's probably never wise to drive 1400 kilometers in one day. 
You cross the border between France and Spain by driving through a one-way tunnel, high in the Pyrenees. On the French side it was a bit foggy, but still dry...and on the Spanish side it was literally pouring. Bienvenido a España!

Driving through hairpin bends over small roads (some even unpaved), along deep ravines (which, thank goodness, were pretty much invisible due to the mist and rain) it started to rain even harder. Like I already mentioned before, the Guara is very sparsely populated and some small towns are even completely abandoned, which gave our trip a spooky touch. At one point it was raining so hard that it became impossible to keep on driving. The windscreen wipers did the best they could, but they simply could not equal this amount of water. So we stopped at the side of the road and opened a huge pack of potato chips. 
Because food is always a solution :P.
Marks car got covered with moisture and was filled with the sound of ticking raindrops and cracking paprika chips. Outside it started to get even darker, because the evening was setting in. Yup, we should've stayed on the French side.

A while later, the amount of rain diminished enough to take off again. We continued our way towards Lecina. The number of towns and houses we passed decreased even further, until I seriously started to doubt if we were still on the right track. I believe I even sensed a hint of uncertainty in Marks voice, my never failing navigator. We should really arrive soon now, if we wanted to still be able to put up our tent and maybe find something to eat. At that moment, we were both a bit worried and frustrated, but right now, afterwards, I also kind of love this part of our trip. Thinking back of it fills me with that bittersweet sense of complete desolation and adventure. A feeling I did not often experience so far during my travels in Europe!

The Escalade base camp...by daylight.

Anyway, around 8 in the evening we finally arrived at the camping, which lies pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Exploring the dark, slippery terrain, we found the base camp of our course organization (Escalade) somewhere at the very back end of the camping. Finally, people! Dutch-speaking people! (Seriously, 90% of the Spanish people we met did not seem to speak a word English. And we happen not to speak a word Spanish, besides 'si' and 'ola'.) They were still eating, just starting their desserts. There were some participants of the course of the week before, all of them cozily sitting under canvas covers around wooden camp tables. Mark and I were welcomed at the table of the guides and chief of the camp. One of them introduced us to everyone, but it was too dark to really distinguish any faces (so the next morning everyone had to be introduced again). We were lucky, the cook of the camp told us she had some leftovers of their diner! It's a good thing it was so dark we couldn't see what we were eating, because - even though we were very hungry - we both thought it was, eehm..well, let's say 'a very special meal'. I don't mean to be unthankful, we were happy to have our stomaches filled again. I just hope I won't ever have to eat that 'special meal' again, whatever it might have been. 

After diner we went back to our camping field, trying to find a fairly dry spot. Which was impossible of course, it was still raining steadily. So we ended up building our 'emergency tent' (a small one, that we only brought for staying the night along the road) out of the car. Eehm...yeah, how should I explain this... We sat ín the car, with one window just a little bit down. Mark put the frame of the tent together and shoved it out through the window opening, while I was acting pretty useless and filming him with my phone, because it all seemed just so hilarious and terrible at the same time.  In the end, we had a tent. A wet tent, with wet bedsheets and wet not-so-happy campers. All we could come up with at that point, was to run to the camping bar and settle down for Bailey's. The bartender must have seen I needed it, because he gave me a double portion.

Mark building the tent, while our bedclothes were drying in the sun
(including my teddybear :P )

The next morning we woke on the hard ground. Because why should our air-mattress stay filled with air when all other things went wrong anyway? Oh well...it was a new day, and the sun was shining. So we crawled out of our wet tent and sat down to cook water for coffee. Priorities first, and I think we deserved it! It took like forever before the water finally boiled on our small camping stove, Mark almost started showing withdrawal symptoms. Luckily we only had to do this ourselves that one morning. The canyoning-course was all-inclusive (breakfast, lunch and dinner...and coffee), and would officially start that same day in the afternoon. So we had plenty of time left to set up our real tent and make ourselves a little home for the coming week! I left this task to Mark, while I broke down our emergency tent and laid everything to dry in the sun. We met our neighbors the evening before already; a very kind German couple who also came for an Escalade (canyoning) course, only a more advanced one. That morning another attendee arrived, who would be in our own course group. He set up his tent besides ours, and so our camping field became cozy and dry in that saturday-morning sunshine.

In the afternoon our course officially began. Now let me start with explaining a bit about canyoning, and about why we chose to do this for our holiday. Canyoning (or canyoneering, as it's called in the US) is traveling in a canyon (following its course) using a variety of techniques, like abseiling, ropework, and technical swims, climbs and jumps. I took this definition from the wikipedia-page about canyoning, which I actually found pretty accurate, comparing it to what I've learned so far. So, if you're interested: read on over there! Why did we choose this kind of holiday? Canyoning is kind of related to climbing. You use a lot of the same techniques, especially when it comes to the ropes, belaying and abseiling. So with that in mind, we hoped to expand our knowledge on gear and ropework, but also on subjects like the weather, geology, etc. All those things are equally important to climbers as well as canyoneers! In other aspects, climbing and canyoning are also completely different though. The water adds a whole new dimension, and  canyoning (especially when you compare it with single pitch sport climbing) needs a lot more preparing and planning beforehand. We were just curious to see how we'd like this! And so our canyoning adventure began :)

The Rio Vero.

We met a couple more course attendants, though luckily the groups were quite small. It was the last week of the season for Escalade, so we were their very last course-group! All other attendants were male, but thankfully there was one other girl in camp: the girlfriend of the chief of Escalade, who was a guide as well.
We decided to go to the 'Basender' that afternoon. Our camping was located on the Rio Vero, one of the rivers flowing through the Sierra de Guara. Actually it's not much of a river these days anymore, rather a shallow stream. But a long time ago, the Vero must have been a strong flood, because it formed a deep gorge with several side branches. Its walls are high (around 800 meter), with lots of holes and little caves in it (typical for limestone). The Basender canyon is one of those side branches I mentioned, ending in the Rio Vero. From our camping, it took about 45 minutes to get to the start of this canyon, most of which involved climbing. This is inevitable, because with canyoning you always descend, following the river or river bed from its highest point to where it ends in the final current (in this case, the Rio Vero). This is not how it has always been though, by the way! In the earliest days of canyoning, brave men tried to defeat the canyon uphill, against the current (why, oh why?!)! 

Carrying boats upwards ladders...great idea guys.

The Basender is now a so-called dry canyon, there's no stream of water in it anymore (though I believe it still happens to become filled with water again when it's the rainy season). This meant that it's a perfect canyon to practice abseiling and rope techniques, without having to worry about the water-aspect yet. In the next picture you can see a typical canyon-topo: a little map that shows the process of the canyon, including all rappels or abseils (stated with R's, the height of the abseil next to it in meters), typical landmarks and other information. As you can see, the Basender doesn't have very high abseils and is a real beginners-canyon. One shouldn't think of it as a inferior canyon though, because it's also a very beautiful canyon with lots of so-called halls (open cave-like spaces) and stunning geological structures and formations. Our first encounter with a real canyon could definitely have been worse! Although we did not yet have to worry about the specific techniques of abseiling, ropework and belaying during this first day (the guide did all this technical work, we only had to enjoy and admire), we already found out that a lot of techniques were familiar to us, similar to what we do when climbing. We were ready for more!

I will make a little day-to-day list and try to give a short(?) summary of what we did on that specific course day, to provide you with a clear overview and spare my dear readers the (maybe very boring) details :)

Sunday: we did the Basender once again, only this time we had to execute a lot of the techniques by ourselves, after they were explained to us in the base camp. Did I also already tell you about the camp dog, Boef (belonging to the chief and his girlfriend)? He was a very enthusiastic young sheep-dog, crazy for balls and flashlights. He came with us this day to the Basender, with his own little harness for abseiling! Such a shame I don't have a picture of this :)

Filling our water bottles at a natural spring in the Rio Vero.

Monday: we started with more theory lessons. We practiced a lot of knots and how to build a variable abseil, and learned a bit more about necessary materials. In the afternoon, we had to show our newly obtained skills in the Portiacha canyon, another side branch of the Rio Vero. This canyon had some higher abseils (31 and 35 meters), that were really exciting! In the evening, we made plans and preparations for the big canyon we would do on tuesday.

Me abseiling in the Portiacha canyon.

Tuesday: on this day we probably did the most exciting canyon of the whole week: the 'Foz de la Canal'. This canyon, about an hour drive away from the camping, was our first canyon wíth water (and oh my goodness, it was cold!) Absolute climax was its 70 meter free abseil insíde a waterfall. I will not forget that moment, standing on what felt like the top of the world, looking down over the edge, seeing the waterfall disappear into a small current somewhere deep down under me...and then letting myself slide down the rope right into that mighty falling mass of water. It clanked onto my helmet, the 70 meter wet rope was heavy to put through my belay device...it was hard work, but totally awesome. Oh yes!

The 70 meter waterfall/abseil in the
Foz de la Canal canyon.

Wednesday: time to relax a bit after our heavy day before, so we started with more theory lessons about weather, geology and safety. In the afternoon, we got the directions to another side branch of the Rio Vero and were sent away on our own, towards this 'mystery canyon'. Our assignment was to draw our own map/topo of this (dry) canyon, and compare it afterwards with the real one. It was a fun task, giving even more insight in the specific topography related to canyoning.

Thursday: today we did the Liri canyon (another one with water), on about 1,5 hour driving from the camping. The furthest away so far, and of course the one on which our car stopped working. I'll get back to that later, in part 2 of this summer holiday journal. The Liri was comparable to the Foz the la Canal, only without that superhigh abseil. It did had a lot of smaller abseils though (12, I believe), so plenty of opportunities to practice and get a bit more accustomed to quickly setting up and taking down abseils. We still lacked a bit of speed in those parts, which is definitely necessary if you want to do longer canyons (and get out before dark :P). The Liri also containt some nice jumps and natural water slides, which are fun! 

Happy Mark. I love seeing that smile so much :)

Friday: on this last day we did our least scary/exciting canyon, but also the most beautiful one. It was the Rio Vero canyon, which contains a lót of water. So plenty of swimming was involved, following the stream through cave systems, small tunnels and rock parties. The Rio Vero canyon doesn't contain any abseils, but it's neither a very simple, danger-free canyon. Every year a couple of accidents happen here, because water can do crazy things in caves and holes. For example there are syphons, gaps between underwater boulders. These gaps can create strong currents that can suck body parts in, trapping people underwater. Mark almost fell into one of those, and scared the hell out of me. Never do that again mister! There was also a sump (underwater passage), and some secret pathways that were pointed out to us by our guide (making us follow routes we otherwise would have never dared!). The Rio Vero canyon ended near Alquezar, a historic town around a medieval castle. Here we settled down for some well-deserved cold beers, before the taxi came to pick us up.

The pics of Marks waterproof cam turned out quite blurry, but this was
inside the Rio Vero canyon.

So...did we like our week of canyoning? My first answer is a definite YES! We had an awesome week that I wouldn't have missed. Of course we had our lower moments and frustrations, but overall it was a wonderful, adventurous and challenging experience. I'd like to add some pro's and con's though, just to make my point :)

  • Canyoning means awesome surroundings. Period. You will reach places that are otherwise impossible to reach, finding treasures that mother nature has hidden very well. The geological structures, rock formations, different kinds of colors and caves you get to see are simply breathtaking.

  • Canyoning is quite adventurous. It's more adventure than sport, actually (although the more difficult canyons require an excellent physical condition and perfect knowledge of techniques, material and rescue possibilities). It also requires a lot of preparation beforehand. You really have to sit down and make a plan. Make note of the time you need to get to the starting point of the canyon (which can reach up to several hours!), how long you will be inside the canyon and how much time is required to get back to your car afterwards. You have to take note of the weather, and its consequences for the canyon, especially when it's a water canyon. Rain can mean flooding, or even result in dangerous flash floods! You have to take note of the abseils, and how long they are. This will help you decide what materials you will need, how long your ropes have to be, etc. Besides this, you will have to prepare what you will take with you in your special canyoning backpacks. Besides ropes (which already weigh heavy enough), you want to bring as little as possible. You at least need a rescue set though, and when you will be in the canyon for, say, six hours...you might need some food too (oh..and coffee? Maybe? No..?). Well, you get the idea. Traveling through a canyon isn't something you undertake without preparation.

Landing on the ground, freeing myself of the rope. 

  • The water is cold. I mean, seriously, freezing, terrifying cold. After all, it's melting water. So even during summer it's still not comparable to the water you normally swim in outside. I am probably not someone who can stand cold very well, and having my period on the first day we went to a wet canyon might neither have helped. That very moment I jumped in the first deep pole, wearing a wetsuit that was a little bit too big (allowing the water to flow in way too much and quickly), my stomach cramped together and the coldness literally hurt. After a while, you'll get used to it. Getting a smaller, better fitting suit the next day also helped a bit, but still I had my moments where I was wondering if this terrible cold was really worth it. Of course you will never have perfectly fitting gear when it's provided by the course organization. It might be possible to solve this problem by buying a very good neoprene suit that fits me perfectly and is also thick enough...but that brings me to the next con:
  • The materials you need to go canyoning yourself are expensive. Reaaally expensive. We actually hoped we could use some of our climbing gear, but it turns out most comparable materials differ a tiny bit from each other and can't be used for both purposes. Climbing gear normally isn't 100% waterproof (doesn't have to be, so why make it more expensive?). Climbing ropes are dynamic, having a certain stretch (so falls won't be too static). Canyoning ropes on the other hand, have to absorb the water very well, and are more or less static. You will only be abseiling on them and don't need to take falls. These are just a few examples of a lot of subtle (but important) differences between climbing and abseiling stuff. So, if we want to proceed with this newfound activity, we will have to invest in new materials and gear...not something you decide on overnight!
You surely want to know you can trust your gear!

  • To get to the starting point of a canyon, you sometimes have to walk/ascend for a long time. Of course this is part of the adventure, and the route often goes through beautiful scenery. A canyon can really start in the middle of nowhere, far away from civilization or roads! But well, if we wanted to go hiking, we would've chosen another holiday. In this situation, it's just something that's necessary to get to the point where you can begin with what you actually came for: descending the canyon. The fact that the route towards a canyon can take up to 6 hours, resulting in being tired of climbing all those hours before you even start canyoning, can be a little bit annoying. For the Foz de la Canal we had to ascend 500 meters in altitude, which was normally done in 1 hour (already pretty fast!). The macho men in my group though thought it was necessary to show off and do it in 45 minutes, with me trying not to loose them or keep them down. Seriously guys, was that really called for?! Pff, men...:P
Minutes before that terrifying 45 minutes of ascending.
Look at those macho men!

To summarize it, canyoning is definitely super duper awesome, but it also takes time, energy and money. It's not the easiest activity to undertake, but the trouble you will go through beforehand will be paid back for once inside the canyon. And don't forget the ultimate feeling of reward and satisfaction when you're finished, relaxing with a cold beer, evaluating the exciting, difficult or beautiful moments you just had and going through the pictures you took with your go-cam.

I'm a bit jealous of the German couple, who took the advanced course as I mentioned earlier in this journal. Their last day of canyoning was quite special, also for the guides who came with them. They traveled towards the canyon on the evening before, sleeping in a mountain hut (with only their neoprene suits with them, because you can't take any clothes with you in the canyon!). The next morning they had to rise incredibly early to ascend (by foot) to an altitude of 2500 meters, where their starting point was. Can you imagine the temperature (of the air as well as the water!) on that height? They would be inside this very difficult, technical canyon for about 14(!!!) hours, which meant they had to hurry and keep going if they wanted to get out before dark. So, a bit of pressure was involved. Afterwards one of the guides who went with them showed us pictures and movies he took with his waterproof cam. There was a lót of water, strong currents, crazy water slides and waterfalls. They were all extremely tired, and satisfied. Now thát is the kind of adventure you can undertake when going on with canyoning and proceed to learn the necessary knowledge and skills. Kind of promising, and attracting...

I do hope we will pick up canyoning at one point again. I don't know when and I don't know where, but I'd love to do it again.

Well, that was the first part of my summer holiday journal! I hope to write the second part soon, in which I will tell about the broken car adventures, and our second week in France, where we went for rock climbing (which is the wrong sequence, we found out. After canyoning all the callus on your fingers will be gone...and hell that hurts!). If you have any questions or comments so far, please feel free to let me know!

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