Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Spark Experiment

One of the books I have been reading lately is Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey

"Neuroscientists have found that exercise increases blood flow and the release of beneficial chemicals including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, plus a substance known as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which essentially fertilizes new neurons, or brain cells.

John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has written a whole book on the brain-body-workout nexus, titled Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. A lifelong exercise junkie, Ratey compares physical exercise to medication, saying it offers some benefits of Ritalin, Prozac and morphine combined, without pills. He’s currently bullish on high-intensity interval training, which requires pushing hard for 30 seconds to a minute during a 20 to 30-minute session of running, biking, or swimming. “That will really pump out those brain chemicals, and is also good for your heart,” he says, although he warns that you need to be reasonably fit before trying this at home. Ratey uses a treadmill (“so I don’t cheat”), setting the angle at seven or eight, at least three times a week." - Forbes

The book Spark, discusses Naperville High School's Zero Period excercise program which you can read more about here: LINK
"Naperville's Zero Hour PE (refers to its scheduled time before first period), the latest in a long line of educational experiments, was initiated to determine whether working out before school gives these kids a boost in reading ability and in the rest of their subjects. At the end of the semester, Zero Hour classmates showed a 17 percent improvement in reading and comprehension, compared with a 10.7 percent improvement among the other literacy students who opted to sleep in and take standard phys ed."

"Despite groans from students, complaints from parents, and notes from doctors he was undeterred - although he quickly recognized that the grading scale discouraged the slowest runners. To offer nonathletes a shot at good marks, the department bought a couple of stationary bikes and allowed students to earn extra credit. This evolved into personal bests and what he dubbed the New PE: Students would be assessed on effort rather than skill. Soon heart rate monitors were incorporated, and Naperville’s gym students were graded on how much time they spent in their target heart rate zones during any given activity."

Results: Their test scores and reading skills went through the roof!

I searched all over for heart rate monitors so we could implement this in to our school schedule. I was so excited when I found these:

At this price I could get one for each of the older kids.

Each package has the watch and a fabric chest strap that wirelessly transmits continuous heart rate data. 
So this is the beginning of our own Spark Experiment. Already the do several laps twice a week. Now we will step it up and see what happens.

If you are not a student, and maybe have  ADD, OCD, anxiety, depression, addiction and even just aging, and want to join in... Let me know what you are doing to Spark you brain as well.

Students Workout Throughout the Day
School boards and teachers all were involved in selecting the schools and students to participate, based on scheduling, willingness to participate and likelihood of benefiting from the program.

Aerobic Physical Activity in Morning
Students start the day by doing at least 20 minutes of aerobic physical activity on treadmills, stationary bicycles and elliptical training machines

Target Heart Rate during Physical Activity
During the workout, students will target 65-85 per cent of their maximum heart rate. This means students can talk, but it's difficult to have a conversation.

Short Physical Activity "Boosts" throughout the Day
During the rest of the day, students will do a few short periods of aerobic physical activity to boost their mental focus.

Cardio Box 5 min example:
• The following exercises should be performed
for 15 seconds each:
- Jog in place
- Squat and jive
- Squat and jab (each arm)
- Squat and uppercut (each arm)
- Boxer jump
- Wall squat
- Boxer jump and jab (each arm)
- Lunges (each leg)
- Jog in place
- Squat and backward kick
• Repeat this circuit twice

Agility Touches
• Set five or more pylons in a vertical line, one
foot apart
• Form a vertical line behind pylons
• Run and weave through pylons, running
straight back to the start once you have
passed through the last cone (tag next
person in line)
• Repeat with each participant until they have
completed this activity
• Starting with the first participant again, jump
over each pylon (feet together), running
straight back once you have passed the last
pylon (tag next person in line)
• Repeat with each participant until they have
all completed this activity

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Eight Years ago....

Way back in 2005, I decided that 2 sticks and some string were NOT going to get the better of me. I was determined to learn how to knit.
All I wanted to do was knit socks.
I had no idea where that would take me. This year has been such a blessing, I have so many wonderful people who have been supportive of this endeavour, I wanted to show a lil appreciation.
Shizu socks, inspired by the tied rocks by Shizu Okino, are a free pattern.

and if you are feeling extra crazy...
Birth of a Star is now up as well.
Bavarian Stitches and Festive Intarsia

Monday, December 23, 2013

Creative Estonian Knitting with Merike Saarniit

One of my most life changing summers, was spent in Estonia, outside of Tartu. It was back before I could knit, but I did bring home beautiful Estonian socks and some small bits of the language.

Through Ravelry I met a knitter who was Estonian. I was so excited. One year I signed up for an estonian knitting class. It was only AFTER the class ended that I realized the teacher was the same person I had been conversing with all that time!

Merike has quickly become one of my most treasured friends in not only the knitting industry but in real life.

I have had the pleasure of taking her classes at numerous events. Merike's way of forming nupps (in her Nupps, Berries and Bobbles class) changed my lace knitting! The last class I took with her produced some amazing fingerless mitts for my daughter by just playing with different stitch patterns.

For years I have whined and begged Merike for more stitches. I was so excited to open my email and discover Merike finally has completed Creative Estonian Knitting: Textured Stitches to Swatch and Explore with Piecework. 

Maybe you know Mericke from her many magazine articles and patterns. Her classes sell out so often and it is a testimony to her teaching ability that many of these students become repeat students. If you have not been able to take a class with Merike, you will love this video. Not only does it capture the techniques and the stitches, but it captures Merike's passion.

In the video you will learn

Not many can find or afford a copy of Claire Hallik's SILMUSKUDUMINE, the estonian stitch library, let alone understand it. But with Merike, you have some one who can pull out fascinating stitches and decipher them so that we can understand them. Some of the stitches give an appearance of being WAY more complicated than they actually are.

You will learn some amazing techniques that will help you think creatively and move your knitting "out of the box". Rather than just making swatches, Merike will give you ideas on what to do with them, socks, hats, scarves....endless possibilities.

I love it when Merike says "Nupp is a 4 letter word." So many knitters have a love hate relationship with nupps. Merike will teach you in this video "flat" nupps, "wrapped" nupps and "knotted"  nupps. They are not as scary (or fiendish as Merike calls them) as they seem. If you have been struggling with your nupps, this alone will be well worth the purchase of the video.

Besides the video, you also receive a pdf file of the stitches in the sampler so you can take it with you. Any question on how to make the stitches, you can watch each on in the video.
I am so looking forward to seeing more of these videos from Merike. (Can those crazy colourwork techniques be next?!)

Questions with Merike:

From the publisher:
PieceWork Presents:
Creative Estonian Knitting: Textured Stitches to Swatch and Explore with Merike Saarniit

Merike Saarniit treasures the richness and creativity of her Estonian textile heritage. 
Reading the complex knitting patterns in her Estonian stitch dictionaries, Merike fell in love with the innovative designs and endless variations.
Learn to knit these beautiful patterns and expand your knitting horizons in this video workshop!

In addition to the traditional stitches, you'll discover how Merike's innovative cast-on and selvedge treatments transform a swatch into a useful start for a hat, cuff, or even a sweater. With Merike's guidance, you will knit:
Stretchy decorative elongated stitches
Surprising stitch manipulations
Several kinds of nupps
Elegant horizontal and traveling patterns
And more!
Plus! Follow along with Merike in this video and make your own Estonian stitch sampler using the free pattern included with this workshop!

Here are some of the questions I had for Merike: 

What can you tell me about the project in the video?
This video was originally meant to follow the written instructions that come with it, in order to create the swatch to be used for a hat or head warmer (or cowl). However, the editors felt it would be better to present the stitches in groups of related stitches for easier reference. Either way, the hardest part for me was to limit the number of stitches (and their variations) to present.

Who taught you to knit? Did it come naturally?
I can't even remember knitting my first stitches. Actually knitting projects were part of my Estonian Girl Guide troop meetings - along with other needlecrafts. Our leader, Linda Leibak, was truly a knitting maestro and she had us knitting round lace doilies, two-color knit/purl corn cob skillet handle hotpads, and other quite complex items for Mothers' Day gifts. She never presented anything as difficult but simply as something all Estonian girls could do. And, we did.

In the video you talk about how creativity and problem solving were displayed in an Estonian bride's handiwork. How has the innovation of Estonian knitting carried over into your own life?
Creative problem solving is best done when one is not afraid of thinking outside the box. That is a skill that needs to be practiced and I can't think of a more pleasant exercise than exploring the architecture of stitch patterns to see what variations I can develop.

Instead of just swatching you encourage the stitch samplers to be used as a base for another project. I believe you did this for start of the sweater you are wearing in the video. What is the strangest way you have seen a sampler/swatch used?
My favorite one was made by Marlene Miller (one of my students) in a Fiendishly Difficult Stitches class I taught in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 2010. Marlene turned her swatch into a stunning Barbie doll dress. Really. Photo :

You have a wonderful gift for teaching, where can we see a list your upcoming classes?
I have been limiting my workshops this past year and next year due to time constraints but I can usually be found teaching at most Stitches events.

Not only do you teach knitting classes but you also teach spinning. Do you prefer wheels or spindles? What is your favourite fiber to spin?
Thanks for asking! Watch for my spinning video coming from Interweave soon. Please.
No favorites here - both wheels and spindles. However, I do prefer the high whorl spindle wholeheartedly. My favorite fiber? I answer that with any WELL prepared fiber. Dane and I did have a sheep farm for 15years so I do love my wool since it is so versatile.

The country of Estonia is famous for its "singing revolution". Did you also inherit a love for music?
Oh yes indeed. Choral music, of course. I have sung (alto) in a number of choirs. Here again, my Estonian upbringing involved a LOT of singing.

 Thank you so much, Merike for taking the time out of the holiday season to chat with me! :)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Craftsy Class Sales!

Save up to 50% on Craftsy Classes 12/21-12/24

Craftsy has some classes on sale!
The classes are such a wide variety....Knitting, Sewing, Weaving, Painting, Drawing, Photography...

You can watch them any time you want, like late night knitting while trying to finish Christmas presents, or deadline knitting. This is a great time to stock up on classes with some of them being up to 50% off.

In the past I reviewed a couple Craftsy classes, watch for a new review that I am working on.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sweater Surgery with Carol Feller

I have several sweaters that I knit and they did not fit, not even close. My gauge was right, the size of the garment I selected was "my size" but the sweaters just did not fit.
One slops off my shoulders if I wear it longer than an hour. That was a poor choice in cotton yarn.
(I tend to blame yarns.) I was sucked in by the wholly unkosher lambs wool  linen blend yarn and that sweater, now nick named "Traif", was 2 sizes too big. So I gifted it.

At knit nite a few weeks ago, we discussed the finding of sweaters at goodwill and making them over to fit or into cardigans. Being chosen to venture forth and figure out HOW to accomplish this task with out taking it to a seamstress. In my search, I came across Carol Feller's Sweater Surgery Class on Craftsy. (Remember the post I did on her Celtic Cables Class?)

Carol's class sprang out of the same questions, How many of her students finished their sweaters and wore them or gave them away to some one else who could wear them? How many knew how to take them from disaster to fitted knits?

In this class Carol tackles all kinds of knitter scary techniques. You will need scissors, crochet hooks, yarn needles and a few needles in different sizes.

With Carol's expert guidance you'll rework your finished garments and alter problem sweaters, adjusting a sweater's fit in the body and sleeves.
Learn how to slim or to add width to your sleeves and cuffs, and  how to lengthen or shorten the garment.
Carol will even teach you how to take a boxy sweater and make it more curvy and flattering.

Steeking-Learn how steek a pullover into a cardigan.

Inserting Pockets:

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