Monday, June 25, 2012

Inspiration Mondays: Observation

Whenever something happens, I always react. But here I was--disregarding the reflex. I was doing something I'd never done before. A small thing, granted, but how often do I get to say that? And what will I be able to do tomorrow that I cannot yet do today? -- Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love
I was raised by two very hard-working parents. My father owned his own business as a car mechanic, and it's only recently that I've realized that it's not normal to work 12-hour days, six days a week. My mother was a technician for an airplane manufacturer. She worked shift work for most of my school-aged life. They worked hard to give us kids a better life. These days, I wonder how they managed to tough it out for so long.

Recently, I picked up an old, battered copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. I hadn't looked at it since I read it for a bookclub a few years ago. I flipped open the book to a random page and read part of a chapter where she is in an ashram in India, struggling to learn to meditate. One evening, she decides to try a bit of Vipassana meditation, where you sit for extremely long periods of time as still as possible. It is an extremely uncomfortable practice, but the point is that you are supposed to learn to practice the art of witnessing your mind.  She writes:
If you are feeling discomfort then you are supposed to meditate upon that discomfort, watching the effect that physical pain has on you. In our real lives, we are constantly hopping around to adjust ourselves around discomfort--physical, emotional and psychological--in order to evade the reality of grief and nuisance. Vipassana meditation teaches that grief and nuisance are inevitable in this life, but if you can plant yourself in stillness long enough, you will, in time, experience the truth that everything (both uncomfortable and lovely) does eventually pass.
This got me thinking about how my parents have always entreated me to sit still, to learn to rest, and to accept that sometimes, things are difficult. I thought it was old-fashioned thinking, that old adage that "life is hard, live with it." It's only recently that I've learned that that was not the message at all.

The message was, "All comes to pass."

That might sound defeatist... that we should just accept pain and abandon ourselves to hopelessness, but I think the point is that we don't have to react to everything. In this age of high-speed information, social networks, and constant gossip, we don't have to have an opinion on everything. I don't have to pour out all my emotions for a single subject or a single outrageous article or a single event. I don't have to apply judgement to every event that happens in my life, or stick bandaids over the painful parts. I can observe how it makes me feel, perhaps remark on that, carry on living, and maybe find a solution that was better than I ever expected. This applies to my work, to my health, and to my hobbies. This is why I can knit half a sweater and rip it out if I find that I've made big errors in it. I take out the emotion, and it gets done even better than I would have hoped.

Everyday can be a type of Vipassana meditation.

Last Saturday, I went out for a run after a week of staying off my feet due to a foot injury. It was hard. I  laboured through that run. I even had to stop and walk it for a while. While I did it, though, I decided to watch what was happening to me from the outside. I found that, once I took all the emotion out and removed the judgement from it and stopped freaking out about how hard it was, I could just... keep going. And that was powerful.

I think I'll try to refrain from reacting to everything for a while and just observe and see what happens inside of me. And then, I can see what I can do tomorrow that I cannot yet do today. It's gotta be a good thing...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Ewe Haul, Cashmere Pressure, and What The Cool Kids Are Doing

I am glowing. Yeah, seriously. Put me in the dark and I'll light up the room... practically.

My friends, Tara and dkzack, and I went on our yearly trip to Olds Fibre Week yesterday. And yeah, it's a yearly trip now, because this is the second year in a row the three of us have gone, and the third for dkzack and me. It's practically a tradition now. I won't lie: I'd been daydreaming about it for the past week. It did not disappoint.

We packed into my car and drove off in the morning with knitting projects in our bags, snacks to sustain us, and tons and tons of excitement. I might have made up a song in the shower that morning about alpacas. I might have stayed up the night before choosing what knitted item I was going to wear. I bet the others did the same.

Tara, the new owner of her very own drum carder, bought a bunch of cool stuff to make fibre batts... sari silk, curly lamb locks, and a whole alpaca fleece. I might have to put together a fund to get some of that good stuff from her... or get a second job...

dkzack got some amazing stuff, too... a huge skein of worsted weight yarn called "Honey and Toast" which was a beautiful dark amber shade, another skein of fingering weight called, "Succumb to the Plum." She's a sucker for names, that one, and I can't say I blame her. As I walked through the merchant area, I kept finding skeins that made me say, "Oh, dkzack would love that." At the end of the day, I was delighted to see I was right. Do I know my girl or what?

I had such a good time meeting all sorts of interesting people and seeing all sorts of interesting things, and I can't even really remember all that happened. My hazy memories include the three of us simultaneously squealing "SHEEP!" when we saw a flock in a field on the side of the road.

I might have rolled on the grass while doubled over in laughter after hearing Tara shout it again after seeing a trailer marked, "Ewe Haul" driving away with sheep in the back, and hearing the subsequent startled scream from dkzack.

I might have crowded around the Ancient Arts Fibre Crafts table like a fangirl to show off my camel cowl to them, since they sold me the camel down and tahkli spindle I used to make it last year.

I might have committed to helping organize a fibre event in our town after chatting with a member from the Hand Weavers, Spinners and Dyers of Alberta.

We might have bought a bunch of novelty items from the interesting coin-operated machine in the bathrooms at the local Boston Pizza. We may have actually gone back twice...

And well, I might have dropped a bunch of cash on some goodies as well... all things I knew that were special and that were only available to me at those prices at Olds Fibre Week:

My first two skeins of Handmaiden Fine Yarns: a laceweight silk skein and a gorgeous gold fingering weight skein in a silk/camel blend:

The huge 1093 yard skein of Blue Faced Leicester from Fleece Artist in light fingeringweight that I wore around the Merchant Mall like a beauty pageant sash and thus gained notoriety as a true yarn zealot among all the vendors:

Another two skeins of Fleece Artist Merino that begged to come home with me:

A couple of bags of alpaca/silk roving from a business I purchased from the year before. It spins like buttah, that stuff. Turns out all three of us bought the green roving, cuz that's what all the cool kids were doing:

A few skeins of laceweight wool from Paternayan that I circled three times like a shark before I took the plunge:

My first two bags of cotton roving, a natural brown and a long-stapled white cotton:

And this skein of 100% cashmere laceweight. Man, I crumbled under the pressure to buy that one. And I'm so glad I did. I might have to sleep with it for the next few days...

We had an interesting chat on the way home about the joy we all get from dreaming about the possibilities for the yarn and fibre we purchase. Because it's not just about the yarn.... it's about the days and days of searching for just the right thing to do with it, the nights I spend falling sleep with the ideas floating through my head, and the joy of wearing our finished objects around people who appreciate them...

Like my girls, dkzack and Tara.

Gotta go. Must knit.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Inspiration Mondays on a Tuesday: Being the Shoulder

I just read an amazing story over at my blogbuddy's site. YarnKettle is the sort of person I've never met, and yet I feel like I know so well. And she's the kind of person I could get along with if she lived in my town.

She has two cats, and one of them, Gus, has had some medical problems recently. While at the vet, she overhears the conversation between another pet owner and a vet tech discussing the arrangements for another pet's ashes. It is a devastating discussion to have to have as a pet owner. And, all of a sudden, as the other pet owner is leaving, she is inspired to get up and follow her out.

And she offers this perfect stranger a hug.

And knowing that there are people out there like her is a real comfort. I am inspired to be the person who will offer a smile, a hand squeeze, or a hug to someone who needs it, even if it's someone I don't know.I know that not everyone would welcome it, but I think most people would be glad of the offer, even if they don't take me up on it.

I feel so relieved that, in this world of cynicism and people pretending to be clever with their cruel jokes and nasty talk, there are people out there who can just use their common humanity and use it to the best of their abilities.

Thanks, YarnKettle. We should have tea someday, you know?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

This is not Rhubarb

Man is the most intelligent of animals... and the most silly. -- Diogenes
Back in the ol' days, I was a straight A student. Learnin' has always come easy by me. But there was one thing I never, ever forgot:

It doesn't take much to topple a smart aleck.

I'm having some friends over for dinner tomorrow, and I'm planning on making some chicken curry, basmati rice, and maybe try my hand at some homemade naan. The curry recipe I'm using uses bell peppers, but one of my friends can't eat them. I'm always really, really careful when it comes to other people's food intolerances, so I've spent all week thinking about what I might use instead.

Today, at the supermarket, I came upon some rhubarb, and thought, I can use that instead. I've never used it, but it's got a similar consistency, and will add a good flavour. I know of people who have used it in their curries as well. Into my shopping basket it went.

Here's when the toppling process began.

The problem was that I was really, really tired and grumpy. Hubby took the basket from me to go pay for the items within, whilst I wandered off to go look at the magazines. As I walked away, I heard him calling me from the cashier, saying, "What is this?"

I was immediately annoyed. Surely people who work in a supermarket ought to know what is in their store, I huffed. The cashier next to them told them the information they needed, and in a few minutes, grumpy me and hubby were back in the car and heading home.

This afternoon, I did the laundry, pulled some weeds in the garden, then came inside and had a much-needed nap on the couch. And when I woke up, I was in a much better frame of mind. I bounded off the couch and got a few things ready for dinner, and then pulled out the rhubarb from the fridge to inspect it.

Having never cooked rhubarb before, I knew I should probably look up how to use it, because somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered that the leaves are toxic. I searched online and found some videos of people using it in recipes, and remarked to myself how small the stalks were on my rhubarb. Hmm, maybe I got ripped off, I said to myself. I didn't get very good rhubarb at all.

Here's where the toppling actually happened.

I said to the hubby, "So, I don't really know how to cook this rhubarb. I'm a little scared of using it."

"What?" he said. "When did you get rhubarb?"

"At the supermarket today," I snorted in utter disbelief of his ignorance.

"You mean the swiss chard?" he said.

"The... the what?" I said

"I don't know when you got rhubarb, but the thing you got today at the supermarket was swiss chard, according to the cashier."

I looked at him dumbly. "Maybe I better check..."

And after one search online, there I was: toppled. But relieved. Because I know how to cook swiss chard. And no part of it is toxic. And that is a good thing, because apparently, I could not identify rhubarb to begin with, and we'd probably all be sick because I wouldn't know what the heck I was doing.

So, I'm a silly thing. But maybe not, because today I also figured out a use for a big vase that's been sitting in my living room empty for a few years:

Ha! Maybe I'm not so stupid after all!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Inspiration Mondays: Eyes on the Road

“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”– George Sheehan

Yesterday, after finishing a swim at the pool, I went out to the lobby and found a friend of mine chatting with my hubby. I've been telling him about my training for the 10k in September, and he's been offering me tips here and there for it. He'd come in third in a triathlon the week before, so I said, "You did well last weekend!"

And he said something that surprised me. "Yeah. I was disappointed."

"But... you came in third!" I said.

And then he told me about how there was a girl he'd never seen before who was so fast... much faster than he'd seen anyone run, swim or cycle before. And when he saw how quickly she could swim, he got nervous and tried to swim faster, but it made him sloppy and it slowed him down. He passed her on his bike, but while he ran, he looked back and saw her gaining on him, and sure enough, it wasn't long before he heard her feet on the path behind him.

"I got caught up in someone else's race," he said. "That was a mistake."

And I think I do that, too... not just with my own fitness, but when I see people who are faster/smarter/thinner/prettier/better at stuff than me. I keep my eyes on them and forget about my own race, about my own journey, and that no one can write this story about my life but me. I get sloppy, and then I want to quit and wallow in my own unhappiness.

That doesn't work.

So, eyes forward from now on. Nevermind what the others are doing. Concentrate on your own running/knitting/spinning/dancing/singing. You've got a life to live, and a race to run.

And you're winning it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Well, Just Because...

I had a really, really happy day yesterday. I bought YARN.

Yeah, I know. Yarn diet, yarn schmiet. Look at that pretty pile of loveliness.

My yarn friends and I went into the city yesterday to observe World Wide Knit in Public Day (which, apparently, is next week, but what the hey). It happened to coincide with the first anniversary of the opening of The Loop, one of our favourite local yarn stores. To celebrate, they offered a twenty percent discount on all their yarns.

Well heck, who are we to pass up the opportunity to celebrate an anniversary?

And heck, if we're going to be in the city, why not visit another yarn store?

And heck, if we're going to be the city, why not eat food we can't get in our small town and visit other stores we don't get to go to very often? And buy books and clothes and other stuff?

A good day overall. Oh yeah, and we knitted in public, too.

Our yarn shopping was lovely: relaxed, slow, and fun, with lots of people around to chat with about projects and to get opinions on patterns. We could take our time and look at everything, touch everything, collect piles of skeins to compare and put together... The Loop had food and goodies to keep us nourished as we worked (and yes, yarn shopping can be hard work). I even had a coffee laced with a bit o' something to keep me from getting grumpy... Man, they're good.

Yet again, I was fascinated by how differently each of us shopped. Faced with the same shelf of wares, we'd all say, "Oooo, look at that!" And our hands would all reach for a different skein.

I've never really spent much time analyzing why I am attracted to certain yarns. I spend so much time at work justifying my every move that I really don't want to have to attach justifications to my hobbies.  When we were at the second yarn shop (Gina Brown's, for those in the know), my friend, Susan, asked me, "What makes you choose neutrals?" That surprised me, because I really didn't think I was choosing neutrals. When I looked at the yarn I'd collected, I guessed she was right.

But then, I looked at another pile later on, and decided she was wrong:

As I was taking photos for my Ravelry stash page, I started thinking, "Why this yarn? And why that?" So, I attached phrases to each.

"Silky friends." The top yarn is a silk/wool/bamboo blend, the bottom a llama/silk blend. I'll used both make something textured to show off their sheen.

"Cool silver." This is laceweight alpaca/silk that will make the most heavenly lace stole. The thought of it on my arms makes me shiver with delight.

"Sophisticated." This is fingering weight wool/silk, destined for a Kieran Foley lace shawl... I think...

"Snow White in the forest." Cascade Heritage Sock, a merino/nylon yarn. I pictured a raven-haired girl in a fairy tale wearing a shawl of this yarn on her shoulders. I want to make something gothic with this... severe, but delicate.

"Rich pine." I've wanted a yarn like this for a while. Malabrigo always makes my dreams a reality, especially with sock yarn. I don't know what it will be just yet.

"Dripping elegance." This is a tussah silk/viscose blend, textured, but smooth... it will make a pretty, drapey scarf for the summer.

"Berry juice." Doesn't this Malabrigo sock look like mashed up blackberries? Another skein to day dream about...

"About time." Malabrigo sock in Eggplant. I wanted this a long time ago, and I finally convinced myself that I deserved it. I think it will just be a skein for me to enjoy looking at for now.

"Jolly Rancher Watermelon." That's the colour, right? Cascade calls it "3751" but man, it's what Jolly Ranchers in Watermelon flavour looks like. These are pima cotton skeins. They'll make a comfy tee for me.

All together, I think the phrase I'd use for my collection would be "Just Because." Because who needs a reason for the things they love?

Sigh, yeah... just love 'em. I sure do.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Adventures at the Oldman River, or, The Curious Cow

I grew up in inner city Winnipeg, quite far-removed from the rural life. I mean, I knew that hamburgers come from cows and bacon comes from pigs and that apples grow on trees, but that was all knowledge I gained from tv and books. I always loved school visits to the farm and family fishing weekends outside the city. I still love finding cottages in quiet locales to spend the odd weekend, relaxing and exploring.

Last weekend, we went down to the Fort Macleod area in southern Alberta to stay in a cabin that I'd stayed in previously on a work trip. It was the hubby's first time, and also the first time for Rascal. It's an idyllic place, but there were a few too many bold ground squirrels for Rascal's liking.

On the first morning, we decided to head out for a little stroll up the gravel road to explore a bit. We managed to make it a good distance before we rounded a bend, and out stepped a brown cow from the ditch about a hundred paces away.

I said, "There's a cow up ahead. We'd better not get too close." We moved a little closer to see if it would move back, and the cow stood its ground, looking straight at us. It was a bit too far away for us to tell if it was a bull, but before we could do anything more, it started walking toward us.

At that moment, I remembered something some that some friends of mine who raised bison in southern Manitoba told me. She said, "The best way to stop a charging bison is to run toward it, waving your arms and shouting."

Fortunately, because I am from inner city Winnipeg, I am not that gullible.

I did, however, wave my arms a few times in the air and said half-heartedly, "Hey, cow. Look how big I am. Don't come any closer." The cow stopped and stared. We stared back. I remembered an instance in Ireland when I stared too long at a bull in a pasture, and it lowered its head and started stamping the ground. Probably not the best thing to do here, bull or not.

We decided just to turn and walk back up the road. When we looked back, the cow (and we knew it was a cow now because we could make out the udders) had started following us, staying a respectful distance behind. We kept going, calmly walking along while I thought about how weird it would be to have to call in sick to work because we irritated a brown cow. I thought about how, with me being from inner city Winnipeg and with the hubby being from urban Northern Ireland, the only one who had any experience with livestock was Rascal, who was born on a farm. I looked down at Rascal, who was busy sticking his head down gopher holes, and figured we were doomed.

As we approached the road down to the cabin, we saw this guy who lives in the field next door. He wasn't lying there like he is in this picture. He had just stood up as we approached, his eyes on us. I wasn't sure if it had seen our friend the brown cow behind us yet.

I wondered how protective a bull would be of its herd if an outsider cow approached. I wondered what it would be like to have a horn skewering my chest. I wondered how I'd explain that to my boss. At the same time, I looked back, and saw that the cow had also stopped to look back. It had spotted the rest of her herd on the hill behind, and it looked like she was trying to work out how to get back there. She turned around and started walking back, her eyes on the herd, our presence seemingly forgotten.

I looked back at the bull, and it was busy scratching itself on the fence. I guess we're ok, I thought to myself.

Back at the cabin, after we informed our guests of the wandering cow, I sat down at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and thought about it. I wondered why it wanted to follow us, and started worrying that I must look a lot like another cow, maybe more so from behind...

Hubby said, "I guess it wanted to see if the grass was greener on the other side."

Sure, I'll take that explanation. What do I know? I'm a city girl, after all.

Later on, as I fell asleep that night, I heard something moving around outside our window. My first thought? Oh man, the cow's come to find us! Hubby opened the blinds (after much prodding from me because I was too chicken), but all we saw was the moonlight landscape outside.

Man, I guess really need to spend more time in the country...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Inspiration Mondays: My Retirement, Every Day

We stayed at a cabin last weekend owned by a retired couple in southern Alberta. It was a little building adjacent to their own home that they built themselves when they left the city to move back to the family land. It's cozy and quiet and perfect.

Before we left today, they invited us into their own home and showed us around it. It was a beautiful, big home, full of amazing wood furniture, wood floors, wood stairs, cabinets, closets, all made by hand by the husband. Amazing. Beautiful. True craftsmanship by a great guy.

We got talking about how they ended up there, how he worked in computers back when mainframe was the thang, but he left that career when he knew the job was going to be relocated elsewhere. Woodworking was always his hobby, and a friend of his offered him a job working in his shop, where he refined his craft and made some money along the way. It gave him the skills to continue to use his talent even after he stopped working. We had a discussion after that about how important it was for him to have something to do after he retired... and they joked that they probably took too much on instead of taking the easy life.

It got me thinking during the drive home that, even though retirement is quite a few years down the line for me, I have some idea of how I want the whole post-career life to go:
  1. Volunteering for groups that need a grant-writer or news release writer.
  2. Traveling with the hubby to places that we need more than a week or two to visit.
  3. Tutoring or teaching piano lessons.
  4. Working a shift or two at a yarn shop.
  5. Knitting through my stash!
Note that at no time do I want to be sitting around lamenting the loss of my career. I don't think I could handle doing that, nor would the people around me appreciate that very much. Note also that at no point does it say that I will be sitting in a mansion in Florida wearing white shorts and white socks. I don't need an extravagant life. I just need a content one.

So, what does that mean?

It means that, when the days are rough and I'm left at the end of the day wondering if I can keep going, I can remember that there's a goal somewhere down the road... that it won't always be like this.

But it also means that I don't have to wait until then to have that life. If I say: I don't need an extravagant life. I just need a content one, that means that, today, I don't have to buy that new bag or new pair of shoes... that if I just put those twenty dollars aside and concentrate on living this content life, the retirement dream is twenty dollars closer. Tomorrow, it could be another five dollars closer. And that twenty-five bucks I put away every week for travel? It means I have $1,300 to go where I want. And if I don't use it all, I add it to the ol' retirement fund, and, in the meantime, I enjoy what I already have.

So retirement? It's gonna be sweet. But so is this life I've got right now. I've got a great home, a great relationship and I enjoy a comfortable, interesting life.

And the white shorts and white socks? I tried it out the other day. It's never going to be a good look for me...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Thoughts Whilst Packing for a Weekend Trip

  • One of these days, I'm going to actually be packed the night before I leave for somewhere.
  • I know I should go to bed so I'm fresh for the drive tomorrow, but my brain always rebels against the idea of HAVING to go to bed.
  • I'm most excited about finding out that there's a charity shop in a nearby town. Yay, old stuff!
  • I'm sorta hoping to rains so I can have an evening of knitting.
  • I should make sure I bring my yoga mat, but it has yet to grow legs and move itself to the pile of stuff by the door.
  • I think Rascal might actually have more luggage than I do!
Hittin' the road tomorrow, y'all! See ya!