Sunday, February 26, 2017

Choosing My Monkeys

Not my circus, not my monkeys. -- Polish Proverb
I have a habit of taking on problems and trying to fix them. Maybe it's some kind of deep-seated maternal instinct: a need to protect and save, to find solutions in the darkest situations. I'm good at it... but it's exhausting.

For example: I brought a plant home from work last summer, where, try as we might, we could not keep it alive. It would sprout a few leaves and then droop and wilt and die off a bit, and then, near death, it would try again. It was a pitiful wee thing, so I decided to intervene. I gave it a new pot with a mixture of potting soil and a bit of manure. I've been watering it carefully by dipping it into cup of water to let it soak the water from below. Slowly, but surely, it sprouted new leaves, strong and green and robust. Today, it looks like this:

Speaking of work, I had some nice visitors in my office this week. This is Nala, a sweet, gentle dog with the softest, silkiest coat I've ever felt on any animal. I must find out what kind of conditioner she uses:

And this is Roxy. She's a toughie, but when you get her on her own, she is a sweetheart. She's also a mooch, but I've NEVER (ahem) ever given in:

It was a busy week, full of drama and upheaval. It really took its toll on me: I soak that stuff up like a crouton in an old salad. That part of me that likes to take care of other people's problems... that part feels like it was mugged in a dark alley. Twice. In short, I was glad to reach the weekend.

In the midst of all of that, I was sorta glad that I have a really simple project on the needles. It doesn't look like much, but this WILL be a sweater some day. I compared it to another sweater yesterday, and it looked like I was ready to move on to the sleeves... which ACTUALLY means I should knit another three inches. I have such a bad habit of ending up with sweaters that are just a tinge too short, so I've decided that I'm going to knit the heck out of this one. It's a bit of a gamble, because I don't want to end up with a huge, shapeless sack... but I'm so tired this weekend that I think I might actually be ok with that:

I was supposed to start a calligraphy class this week, but it got cancelled at the last minute (turned out I was the only one registered, heh). I was really disappointed, but, given my crazy week, it was probably for the best. I got up this morning and did a really long, guided yoga practice. This afternoon, even though I really wanted to get more knitting done on my sweater, I decided to pull out one of my sketch books and play around a little.

I tried out a bit of pencil calligraphy, holding two pencils side-by-side:

I abandoned that for a bit of pencil-lettering, just mimicking ink and pen with pencils and shading:

Then I pulled out some coloured pencils:

And, after a bit of shading with the pencil crayons and outlining with a few gel pens, I wrote out one of the meta phrases that stuck with me from this morning's yoga practice:

Here's to a week where I am at ease with what comes, to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and to find the wisdom to know the difference. To know which monkeys are mine and to leave the others for their owners. And to do some knitting... cuz that's good, too.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Inspiration Mondays: About Stuart

Story-lovers got some bad news last week. One of our treasures passed away. He was ill. I think we all thought he'd get better. It was somewhat of a shock.

I'd heard of Stuart McLean throughout my childhood, but my family weren't big CBC Radio listeners. I'd heard about Dave Cooks the Turkey, but had never actually heard the story, and I'd listened to people talk about this storyteller here and there, but never really gave him much thought.

We "discovered" him a few years ago, during a long, long drive down to Utah on a holiday. It was during one of those long days of driving that I turned on the radio and happened upon The Vinyl Cafe. I can't remember what we listened to, or if we even heard the whole story, but we were entranced. After that, we subscribed to podcasts, and we would listen while I sat on the floor with my yoga mat and did my stretches and the hubby laid back and listened.

A couple of years later, I asked for tickets to his Christmas show in Calgary for my birthday. I was excited, but I was not prepared for how magical the experience would be. It was transformative... a show with music and laughter and twinkling lights and stories... I was entranced and delighted. I'd never dreamed that a huge hall of people of all ages could sit in silence while we listened to a man on a stool at a microphone with a music stand in front of him read his stories.

It still amazes me that, in this day of YouTube videos, high-action movies, and the latest-and-greatest in entertainment gear, this person could make a living being just what he was: a storyteller: a person who had the words to all of the things the rest of us long to express, and who expressed them for us, freely, and with great accuracy of emotion. It was never melodramatic, nor was it preachy or sanctimonious.

It was always what we needed to hear.

I mourn him. I am sad to know he's gone. I feel like one of the precious few people I treasured in my life has gone and left a hole.

But, when the news of his death broke, I was heartened by the people who left comments and tributes... and I felt a kinship with each and every one of them. I've felt really isolated and lonely recently, but I felt better knowing there were others like me out there.

There are other people in the world that get lost in the world of stories.

I start most of my blogposts with a quote, but this time, I'll end with one that has been repeated over and over out there by Stuart's fans over the last few days. It's from his story, "Le Mort d'Arthur," which was a story about the death of a family pet. I cried when I heard it, I re-listened to it when I lost my Rascal, and I've treasured it ever since. It says everything my aching heart wanted to say.

Thank you, Story Man. You've given the world more than you could ever know.
“We do this thing. We open our hearts to the world around us. And the more we do that, the more we allow ourselves to love, the more we are bound to find ourselves one day - like Dave, and Morley, and Sam, and Stephanie - standing in the kitchen of our life, ve, surrounded by the ones we love, and feeling empty, and alone, and sad, and lost for words, because one of our loved ones, who should be there, is missing. Mother or father, brother or sister, wife or husband, or a dog or cat. It doesn't really matter. After a while, each death feels like all the deaths, and you stand there like everyone else has stood there before you, while the big wind of sadness blows around and through you. 
"He was a great dog," said Dave. 
"Yes," said Morley. "He was a great dog.”
― Stuart McLean

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sweater Promises

I imagine Heaven would have very nice weather - perfect climate where you can wear a leather jacket or shorts and a sweater. --Hilary Rhoda
It's been a tiring couple of weeks around here. Work has been difficult... very difficult. It's starting to look up, but, combined with some poor weather and not being able to get out for walks, or even up to the gym has made for a really difficult, depressing time.

I suppose that's why I haven't made much progress on my current knitting project. The strange thing about working on something simple and uncomplicated means that it just becomes... well... more like work. And when you're not in the best of moods, seeing little progress is all the more depressing. This is the sort of project where you knit for an hour, and you look at your work and swear you should be further along... so you knit for another hour to try to make it go faster, only to feel the same again... Sisyphus for an eternity. (I get classical when I'm depressed):

I think it's during these times when I start searching for something, anything, where I can make some kind of progress. I was lying awake one night (as one is apt to do when you eat a burger too late at night), and I started thinking about my Bloomsbury Sweater that I made this time last year. I've been struggling with it, because the neckline was just too wide for it to sit properly on my shoulders. It was really frustrating to have to keep tugging at it to keep it from sliding down, so I'd been contemplating on what I was going to do to fix it:

I thought about adding some kind of inside button/strap combination to keep anchor it against my bra straps, but I knew deep down that it was never going to work. I thought it would be better to try to undo the neck ribbing and lengthen it upwards somehow, but since I knit it from the top down, that was going to be a complicated job. You see: knitting has a direction, and trying to to force knitting to work in two different directions, particularly when there is lace and ribbing involved... well, it's like trying to teach a dog to drive. It's not easy, but it takes some work.

In the end, as I lay awake in bed, I searched on my phone until I came across this post which gave me some good tips. I felt pretty confident that I could do it. I had a plan. I figured I could knock it out in half an hour.

Turns out that plans made in the middle of the night are a teeny bit flawed. After an hour of wrestling with the neckline, I had a big ol' mess on my hands:

But I got up and ate some dinner, and after that, I sat down again, and something just clicked. It seemed to fly off my needles after that, and soon, I had a sweater I could wear comfortably. I knit about two-and-a-half inches of ribbing, starting with a needle size one smaller than what I'd used to knit the sweater, then one size smaller than that for the next inch, and then one size smaller than that for the last couple of rows and the bind off. I wore it the other day and felt quite comfortable... and somewhat triumphant. It's nice when stuff works out:

I've had a bit of a reprieve at work, and things are feeling slightly better, and I am therefore more hopeful and positive. It also helps that I've had a couple of nights of good, uninterrupted sleep, and a really nice visit with a good friend yesterday. We got chatting about friendship, and what it means these days, and I'm grateful to have people like her in my life. Besides: she convinced me to stop in at the yarn shop, even though I don't REALLY need anything, and it's there that I picked up these skeins of Rowan Creative Linen, a 50/50 cotton linen blend. I felt a teeny bit guilty about it, but I rationalized that 1) I don't have much summer yarn, 2) I have a pretty solid idea in my head of what I'm going to make with it, and 3) it was 50% off. 

And heck, it's been a rough time. I just want something to look forward to:

Anyway, I feel more grounded and settled at the moment, and I just came home from a yoga workshop. I feel relaxed and more open-minded, so I'm going to go and relax on the couch and do some more work on my current sweater. Tedious at it is, it's nice to have a bit of predictability... and I predict it'll be a while before this one is done. Ah well... it has the promise to be a nice, wearable, comfy sweater. And a sweater promise is one of the better promises in life.

Happy Sunday, all.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

And I Finally Listened

Hell is just resistance to life. -- Pema Chodron
I took a course last autumn called Mindful Self Compassion, where a recurring theme was, "What you resist, persists." What that means is: those uncomfortable feelings that you keep shutting out and trying to tune out and distract yourself from, well, unless you learn how to sit with them and feel them and examine them, they just won't ever go away. Ever.

So, I've been doing a lot of listening... a lot of gentle pulling myself back from running away, like a mother cat with her kittens. I'm still working on it. And I'm noticing how this idea has been crossing over to lots of different parts of my life.

Like yarn. Because, let's face it: yarn is life.

So, I've been trying to force this skein of yarn into some kind of garment. I love its colours, the tones, and the blend of them all together has enchanted me since the first time I laid eyes on it.

Yet, every single attempt I have made to make it into a garment has failed. I've tried cardigans, pullovers, skirts, cowls... absolutely everything I have tried has been pulled apart and rewound. I've read all my magazines, searched through Ravelry, taken photos of clothes in stores for inspiration. I've even collected paint chips with the same colours and put them on a table and stared at them to try to figure out what I could make.

And this week, it finally came together. I made a thing.

I'm very, very happy with the result. I had struggled for ages trying to think of something to make with this yarn, and it had sat for over a year would up in yarn cakes, waiting for me to figure it out. Casting on to knit a blanket was sort of a resignation for me. I never knit blankets, and I consider it kind of a cop-out, sort of like saying, "Well, I can't make anything else with this so I'll just make it a blanket."

It was though the yarn knew something I didn't, and it was just waiting for me to finally listen:

I'm entranced by it... and I can't help but wonder if there's more to this blanket knitting than I give it credit for.  I am especially happy with the border. It's not geometrically perfect, but I'm very proud of how smoothly I picked up the stitches and attached the selvedeges together. And I impressed myself with how I had enough foresight to leave long enough tails of yarn to sew up any gaps in the connections (and yes, there were gaps in there):

This week, I came across a simple sweater pattern, the design of which I really liked. I've been looking for a cream-coloured sweater all winter, but this pattern inspired me to make one for myself. I shared it with a few people, but the weather has been so sunny and dry that I actually said aloud, "By the time I knit it, it'll be too warm to wear it."

That appeared to jinx the weather. I take responsibility. I'm sorry, Westcoasters... I think that was my bad:

So, I've cast on for a sweater using some more yarn I've had stashed for years. I changed the gauge, because I am not convinced that a sweater knit with DK weight yarn will fare very well when knit with size 8 needles - I think it will be too droopy and the stitches may stretch. Honestly though, I've had this yarn for so long that I can't even remember if it is for sure DK weight, and I can't remember what yardage it is. All I know is that I bought ten of them with the intention to dye them for another project which never happened.

Maybe this yarn has been waiting for me to listen to it as well.

Today, I'm also listening to my body. I feel kinda run down and tired, with the slightest hint of a sore throat. I took an hour-long nap yesterday afternoon, and then proceeded to go to bed at 9pm on a Saturday night. I woke up at 7am this morning, and only because the hubby switched on the light. So far, I've had a hot bath, did some yoga, and had another long nap. And I think I'll enjoy a couple of slices of this lovely bread I made yesterday:

It's a Dutch oven version of wholemeal soda bread, which is called Wheaten Bread in Northern Ireland. It brings back memories of living in Belfast, for which I feeling particularly nostalgic these days. The bread itself was so good that I decided to make another loaf today:

Because, well... it's still snowing out there, and it's hovering around freezing, so the roads are pretty bad. No telling when we'll get out of here...

Aw heck, there's no running away from winter, even from here on Vancouver Island. I think I better quit resisting and do some listening here. I have a feeling I've got some learning to do...