Monday, August 29, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: Once More, Just Around the Bend

This is a photo of one of the dunes in Murlough Bay, County Down, in Northern Ireland. I took it during a walk when I was supposed to be making an inventory of the plant biodiversity there for a project I was doing for a course. It was a random moment - I can't remember why I took it or if I even thought it was all that interesting at the time. It's only now that I realize how much I like this photo.

It's been kind of a long summer for me, and while I've been enjoying the weather, I've really been spending a lot of time at work inside my office, working away, getting stuck into whatever project is currently on the go. On the one hand, time seems to have flown past. On the other, it's been kind of a slow trudge. I'm not used to being at a desk for long periods of time, but that's what happens for me this time of year. I'm nearing the rut, and I don't want to get stuck.

It's during these periods of "the same ol' routine" when it can be very easy to let yourself slip into boredom and melancholy. This is why I like to slip in days off just to be at home, and it's also why I save my pennies to go on trips. I truly hunger the change of scenery every once in a while. It keeps me from going stir crazy.

And it's not good to go stir crazy when holding knitting needles. Trust me on this one.

We're heading down to the US this weekend for a week-long vacation, visiting some national parks and hiking some canyons. It'll be a lot of driving, but I'm really, really looking forward to a change for a while. I'm not the kind of person that needs to plan each and every minute: I like knowing that I will be seeing something I wasn't expecting.

That can be a good thing or a bad thing, really.

I guess the point of this is that this picture symbolizes the way I prefer my life to be: always something different on the horizon, just out of sight. It's slightly cloudy, but there's an intriguing bit of light out there, and I don't know what it will look like just around that bend. I just know that I want to see it.

Is that a sense of adventure? Am I an explorer? Do I get itchy feet? Crave change?

Yeah. And it's pretty awesome.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Best Thing To Do

Think back to 1998, just for a moment. I was in university, studying for my Bachelor of Education. The mandatory class for learning how to load film strip projectors and slide carousels had just been made non-mandatory. You were ahead of the game if you had Netscape 2.0. It took thirty minutes to download a 3MB mp3.

I think it was that year I lost my voice during an illness over Christmas. I'd just learned about IRC, and I was trying it out on New Year's Eve. I was feeling sorry for myself because I couldn't talk to anyone. I wanted company.

That was the day a whole world opened up for me.

Since then, the internet has made lots of things possible for me. I've met lots of interesting people and have seen a lot of interesting things. I never realized before how big the world was until I started looking at it. It's a really, really big world.

Fastforward to yesterday, and to a conversation I had with my husband. My friend had given me a swift that her uncle made years ago. A swift, for those who don't know, is a carousel of sorts, that you put your unwound skein on yarn onto to make winding a ball easier. I was going to make some adjustments to it so that it would be able to take larger skeins of yarn on it. This required replacing the dowels on it with longer ones.

"How do you remove dowels from wood?" I asked my husband.

"You either wrench them out or hit them out with a hammer or chisel, I guess," he said. "The best thing to do would be to Google it."

That sentence echoed in my mind. The best thing to do would be to Google it. In 1998, a googol was 10 to a huge exponent. Now, it's a thing you do when you don't know something. Wow.

Well, I did Google it. And I found this video. Perfect, simple explanation. I got out the drill, some glue, the dowels I'd purchased the day before, and some cutters to cut them. Twenty-five minutes later, this is what my deck looked like:

I'd explain how it works, but I think it might be better explained with a video, which I think I'll post later. My neighbours were replacing their shingles while I was doing this, and I'm pretty sure they were fascinated with what I was doing. They didn't ask, but it went mysteriously quiet over there...

I'm heading for a vacation soon, and we'll be bringing along our new Macbook Pro. I've been getting used to switching back and forth between it and the PCs at work, and though I haven't yet figured out how to do all the things I used to do on the old laptop, it'll be a nice thing to bring with us (hubby has to look after his business while we're away). The only thing was it didn't come with a bag, so I made this:

See how nicely that zipper fits? Yeah, I did that. Yep. Me.

It's not drop-proof, but it'll work for carrying it around in a bag. While I'm proud of it, I have to say that it was possibly one of the most boring things I ever made. Hubby was not interested in patterns or cables or colours. I knew he'd choose black, even after I brought up balls of navy, forest green and red. Ah well, he's a programmer, not a knitter.

And really, I can't really fault him. He might not knit, but he figured out the best thing to do. Without his suggestion, I wouldn't have a swift.

I wonder what would I have done in 1998?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: Tasting Another Life

I grew up in inner-city Winnipeg, the North End, to be specific. It has a heckuva reputation, and most people who also grew up in Winnipeg take a step back when I tell them where I grew up. I remember it as being quite a fine place, where I ran and played and rode my bike and dug around in the backyard with my brother. Still is, really. It's the city at its grittiest.

I spent Saturday with a friend at the Priddis and Millarville Fair. Neither of us had been before, and I had never been to a country fair in my life. I had a picture in my mind that it would be a small affair, maybe with a few stalls and some animal shows and good food.

Man, the thing was enormous.

There was a huge market full of local handmade items: woodcarvings, decorative screens, jewelry, linens... all gorgeous, all amazing. There was lots of food stalls - fudge, honey, mead, wine, candy, popcorn, burgers of different types, smokies... all smelling fantastic. And there were horse shows, an auction, a rooster crowing competition, and a bunny hopping course! Of course, there were sheep and llamas, and maybe one or two yarn stalls *wink*.

What I loved the most was the exhibition hall. It was delightful: displays of sheaves of wheat, honey, cakes and pies... mmm... pies. And my most favourite part was the contributions from children: a board with samples of different local plants, labelled by hand in child's scrawl. Rocks painted to look like animals. flowers, faces. Dioramas of landscapes. Clay models. Poetry. Handwriting. And, the "any other article" category, which I really, really liked because it gave everyone a chance to show off what they were good at. Pictures of cats. An old fencepost painted to look like a pencil.

Did I mention the pies?

The category that struck me the most was "Depiction of Rural Life." I read beautiful poems about the wind, the landscape, the people and the hard work of harvest. I saw pictures of people working in the field. Words like, "family," "close," "work," "tired," "happy" came up again and again.

Really, really different from my inner-city childhood.

I know I'll never be a farm girl. And I know I only sampled the best of rural life. There was no mention of droughts and frosts, disease and accidents. It was a rosy view of a very different life, and not many would want to do it. My brain tells me that this way of life must be dying out, that fewer people want to grow crops and raise animals, but this fair may have proved me wrong. If there are so many children who enjoy showing off their day-to-day activities, then there must be people out there who are glad to continue nourishing the province, growing the food we eat, encouraging pollinators, understanding the ground beneath them and the sky above them. I am in awe of such awareness, and I felt relieved to know that the knowledge is still thriving. It's a knowledge of which I have so little, and would really like to have more.

I'm going back next year, for sure. This city girl needs to keep tasting this country life. Maybe some of it will rub off on me and I won't moan so much when I can't get to the nearest mall as quickly as I would like, or when I can't get the imported fruit I want. My appreciation for these folks is overwhelming.

I just wish I'd bought some of that pie...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

So, It Looks Like a Shell

I'm sitting here feeling a bit grumpy because I went through great lengths for the sake of a bit of poetic license and failed.

I wanted to share my Mizzle, which I finished on Sunday. Its shape reminded me greatly of a scallop shell I had stashed in a box of knickknacks in the basement. I thought I'd bring it out and take some photos of it to compare to it.

I thought I'd tell you how I picked it up on the shore side at Portavogie in Northern Ireland, right at the docks. There's a restaurant there, and you could see the fishermen dock and clean the fish and scallop shells. They would discard the fish guts in the water, where seals would be waiting to gobble them up. The shells would get thrown onto a pile on the shore.

But I couldn't find the shell.

I thought I'd tell you how I was going to use the shell as a base for my tahkli spindle. I'd heard of other people using shells to support the pointy base, since shells are so robust and calcified.

I couldn't find the thing anywhere.

I thought I'd share how the shell came along with me in a box full of other nice things I'd picked up on my travels, and how the decorated egg shells from Austria they traveled with got destroyed.

No scallop shell.

I turned the house upside down looking for it. I did find a cable needle, a couple of books and half a tortilla chip.

Shell? Nope.

So yeah, my shawl looks like a shell. A scallop shell, specifically. You'll just have to... imagine it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: The New Thirteen

I found my first grey hair yesterday.

Actually, it's not my very first grey hair. I used to get them a lot when I was about thirteen. I wasn't the only one. Quite a few of my friends were finding greys in their hormone-crazy hair then. I think I stopped getting them when I turned fourteen or so.

So, thirty-three must be the new thirteen.

When I first spied it, I squinted at it in the mirror, then immediately tried to pull it out. I missed the first time and pulled out a perfectly good coloured one. I thought maybe I'd imagined it and that I wasn't getting old, but in the end it was still there. I pulled it out with a yank and studied it carefully.

It was more wiry than my coloured hair. Totally silver from root to tip. I did have a slight panic. "My parents get grey hairs, not me," I said to myself.

Then, I looked in the mirror and gave myself a little shake. "The world is not going to end just because you've got a grey hair," I said.

Logic forced its way into my brain and I thought of the fact that my husband has had grey hairs since the day I met him. My mother got them around this age. I might not even get another one for another few years... it might just be a tired hair follicle, for all I know.

I walked into the living room and eased myself into the couch with a grunt. "Oh, my muscles," I said. "I'm so stiff. Must be this age getting to me."

Rascal got up and put his head on the couch cushion next to me. "Ok, time for a walk," I said to him. He'd been waiting all morning, and it was going to be a hot day. Better to get out into the fresh air instead of sitting inside panicking over the inevitable.

I opened the door, sprayed on some bug spray, and put Rascal's leash on. I opened the gate, walked down to the front of the house, and there he was.

It was a man, probably in his late fifties, shirtless, wearing shorts and riding his bike. The hair under his helmet was silver, as was the curly hair on his chest. His skin was bronzed by the sun.

And he was probably fitter than I have ever been in my life.

It was a funny sort of day after that. I went to the pool and met more incredibly fit people with grey hairs, laughing and enjoying themselves in the hot tub after swimming 50+ lengths. I thought about this as I did my usual 36 lengths.

Maybe thirty-three is the new thirteen, I thought. That means I'm about to grow up all over again.

I'm going to be a whole new person in a few years, a whole new adult. Just when I thought I was old and wise at thirteen, I keep thinking I'm old and wise at thirty-three. And when I'm older, I'll look back and realize what I child I was.

So, I found my first grey hair.

I also found I have a whole lot more life to live.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Bit of In-Between

Finishing my Semele shawl was a bit like doing a really good yoga practice: tough at times, but with careful examination and lots of deep breathing, I did it. It was good to stretch those mind-muscles. I love those complex projects.

After that, I decided that I was due to do a project with a little less yoga and a little more... couch potato. Something that was fun, but not too boring. I thought I deserved it.

When I lived in Northern Ireland, I learned a new word (I actually learned lots of words, but we can talk about that another time). The word was: mizzle.

"Mizzle? What's that?" I asked the first time I heard it.

"Ock, you know," the lady who uttered it said. "It's not mist. It's not drizzle. It's in-between. Ya know. Mizzle."

You get a lot of mizzle in Northern Ireland. It's the reason it's so green (it's also the reason I had such good hair there. Volume galore!).

Imagine my surprise at seeing a pattern called Mizzle on Ravelry. It's the perfect name: not too easy, not too difficult.

It's right in-between.

Here's mine in progress:

It's been a good, quick knit, and I think I'll probably have it done by the end of the weekend. We'll see how long it takes me to get through those hundreds of rib stitches - they always lull me into a false sense of ease. I'm loving the beautiful coral pink of this yarn from Pico Accuardi. I got it during my last trip to L.A., and I remember seeing it and just neeeeeeeeeding it.

You can't deny that kind of neeeeeeeeed.

So, while I watch yet another thunderstorm roll past, I'll sit here and knit away at my Mizzle and recall my mizzly days in Northern Ireland. Green hills, good hair and good craic.

You can look that word up yourself. *wink*

Monday, August 8, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: The Problem Process

When confronted with problems, do you:

a) tackle them head-on.
b) put them in a box and hope they disappear.
c) find some hapless soul upon whom to unload your complaints.
d) have a cookie.

I'm afraid I'm all of the above.

I like figuring out the tough stuff. If there's a Sudoku puzzle in the paper, I do it. Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune are regular shows in our house. I challenge myself to do math problems in my head. I watch crime and detective shows ad nauseum. Crosswords? Pass 'em this way. I consider it brain exercise, and a good way to keep myself mentally fit.

So, when I can't figure something out, it totally bums me out. As much as I know that there are some things you just have to take on faith, I don't like to back down on something for which I know there must be a solution. And it consumes me. That's not a very good way to exercise your brain.

Today, for example, I spent most of the day trying to fix something at work. I started out with option b): putting them in a box and hoping it would disappear. I wrote a report instead. Made some phone calls. Sent some emails. Looked to see who was in the office. Checked my email again. Drank some coffee.

Then, I moved on to option a): tackle it head-on. I had some ideas about how to fix this problem. I fired each idea one by one at this thing, and none of them fixed it. I tried them again, in different ways, different orders. I searched and searched and searched online for possible solutions. No dice.

After that, I landed right on option c): find some hapless soul... and my poor friend, Dawg, got it all. It's a good thing he's a patient guy, because if he wasn't, I'm sure he'd tell the internet to kick me off. (I haven't heard of that happening, but you never know...)

So, the day ended with option d): have a cookie. Yep, I had a cookie. I had three cookies, actually. And I drowned my sorrows in a cup of tea.

One of my favourite shows is Criminal Minds and one of my favourite characters on it is Penelope Garcia, the Behavior Analysis Unit's Technical Analyst and data diva with an attitude. And, while I can't say I would ever attain the level of computer karate she knows, I like to think that I am a little like her. She finds answers in a millisecond and has them sent out to the team's phones before they even asks. And she keeps looking until she finds them.

So, tomorrow, I'll go back to my office, sit down, and try again. I'm sure options a) through d) will re-run themselves, but that's the process. I won't give up until I can prove that it's either possible or impossible. Penelope and me, we're in that biz.

And she knits too. Awesome.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tempted by a Goldfish

I've often wondered if it's true what they say about goldfish, if they really do have short attention spans, and if they can forget things by the time they swim to the other end of the fish tank. Really? I don't know. I mean, they've made it this far, surely they have learned something in that time, right?

If it's true, then I spent most of last weekend being tempted by a goldfish.

I was about halfway through my Semele by Friday night, and I was looking forward to having a nice long weekend with lots of time to work through the last of it. I figured that, since the rest of it would be decreasing in size to the end, it should have been a breeze.

Saturday afternoon, I settled down on the couch and started knitting. I finished a few repeats of the pattern and was feeling quite pleased with myself. One more repeat, and then I'll go and get a drink and maybe go outside for a while.

About halfway through that repeat, the goldfish part of me said, You know, if you put a sticky note here, you could put this down and go outside right now. You've done quite a lot.

I shook myself and said to it, No, I'll just finish this repeat. I don't have far to go.

A row later, my inner-goldfish said, Hey, look at that! There's a garage sale down the road! You should go check it out!

I argued. Five more rows and I can take a break.

After struggling with my fish brain a bit longer, I did finish the repeat and then went out to enjoy the sun.

By Monday afternoon, I was nearing the end. I was flying through the last few rows when the goldfish started swimming around in my head again.

Are you done yet? It asked. Can we go and play with your spindle now?

Almost there, I said. I just have to finish this section, then I can do the very last bit and sew the ends in. I should be done in half an hour.

Half an hour? I'm bored! Come on, you're supposed to practice your spinning anyway. You can finish that later. And you're supposed to take Rascal out for a walk. Look how bored he is.

Not yet. I'll be done soon. I said.

The goldfish continued to find ways to distract me: snacks, tv, playing on the computer, but I gritted my teeth and ignored it. I was determined to finish.

I'm glad to say I won.

How many words can you think of that mean elegant?

It's light as a feather. Delicate, but surprisingly warm. I was starting to get a bit warm taking these photos. It would make a perfect shoulder warmer for a summer/spring/fall evening, or a pretty neckwarmer in the winter.

I'm often discussing the idea of being a one-project-at-a-time knitter with others, and it really does pay off. I think I manage to get through lots of projects through the year because of it, and I know that I would probably not complete nearly as much if I allowed myself to stray from project to project. It is an exercise in patience and tenacity.

Who knew it took so much tenacity to defeat a goldfish?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: The World of Pratchett's Nomes

"The other humans around it are trying to explain to it what a planet is."
"Doesn't it know?"
"Many humans don't. Mistervicepresident is one of them."
- The Thing and Masklin, from Terry Pratchett's Wings, The Bromeliad Trilogy
Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite authors, and The Bromeliad Trilogy is one of my favourite series. It's about a society of Nomes (not gnomes, they hate that) that have lived inside a department store for so many generations that they know nothing of the outside world. Their world is changed forever when the department store is scheduled for demolition. Their biggest challenge is communicating with the humans, who live their lives ten times slower than the Nomes, and who are big, stupid, lumbering creatures who can't see the obvious things that are right in front of them. In the end, they discover the truth about themselves and their place in the universe.

I'm an advocate of the slow life: slow food, slow days. I don't have a smartphone. I bake my own bread and cook most of my own meals from scratch. I grow my own vegetables. I pick my own raspberries and strawberries. I read books printed on paper, one chapter a night. And, of course, I knit and crochet, spin and dye my own fibres. I like to study processes, how things work, how things are made, and how they were made long ago. I am delighted by old cookbooks, historical documentaries, and the stories told by our elders.

Think of my delight when I discovered this video.

It's so cool what you see when you slow down, huh? This is the world the Nomes would see. It's amazing to see it as if I were one of them.

I think I'll be watching the hummingbirds in my garden a lot more closely now.

I'm not giving up my microwave or my hot water heater or my air conditioner. I think I'm just going to try to remember to breathe deeply, watch carefully, and be receptive to what's going on around me. I don't want to miss a single minute.