Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I Found My Word For 2010

I have been torn this year about what word to select to guide the next year (2010). Since doing this word selection process for the past several years, it has really helped me focus and direct my energies toward a theme. Last year's word which was "Priorities" worked pretty well all year long until the Fall, when I seemed to lose my priorities in a flurry of bus-y-ness and problems, and allowed myself to get swept away into doing URGENT things that didn't necessarily match with my priorities. So it worked, but sometimes juggling my priorities and the expectations of the rest of the world required some Flexibilty. By year's end, I was just scrambling to get stuff down however it could get done, one day at a time, and I let my own priorities go to hell in a hand basket, which is one reason my life feels a bit chaotic and out of control right now.

So what about this year? I've had the feeling that this coming year is going to be about making MORE from what I already have, or finding something valuable in myself or my surroundings that I'd long buried or forgotten about. Hidden Treasures. I have this feeling that there's all sorts of hidden treasure in what I already have.

My word to guide me in finding this hidden treasure is FIND. Not SEARCH because it's already there. I just need to open my eyes and find it.

The first thing I'm going to do to find stuff (inner stuff) is to do some serious reflecting, in the way of meditation and journaling. And the outer stuff, that will be found by doing some sorting and organzing, starting this long weekend.

So if you can't FIND me, watch for my head to pop out of a pile - because there's a lot of buried stuff I hope to be sifting through. I'll let you know what I FIND.

Now what's your word/phrase or guiding idea for this coming year?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

White Christmas Blizzard

It can stop snowing. Anytime now.

What started off as dreamy and fun yesterday is getting really OLD today, especially when the street crews have done such a terrible job of clearing the roads.

I enjoyed staying inside for several days but ended up a little cabin feverish and after eating a few too many homemade Christmas cookies, I got ahold of myself and got back in control again. I got a lot of exercise shoveling the driveway.

We went to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr. It was TERRIFIC. I loved it. The Victorian time period is my favorite, and I've always been a fan of Sherlock. And this Sherlock in particular. The plot is fast-paced and interesting, and the casting of Holmes and Watson are first rate.

Oh, I also made a pair of these French Press Slippers. Yarn Harlot blogged about them and made them a huge sensation and after making a pair, I see why. What's not to love about something you can knit in just a few hours? Seriously? They are adorable and easy.

Size 15 needles!! If you watch two movies in a row, you can have them finished, including seaming. Then you just felt them. I made mine with Plymouth Galway yarn in medium green. It took 4 washings to get them the size I want. My feet are really small. In the photo, the slippers look light green, but that's just because of the flash. They are actually a medium tweedy green.

Happy (Belated) Birthday, Elysbeth!!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!

We are having a big ice and now snow storm here in the Midwest. We kept expecting it to hit earlier today, but it came tonight instead. Not sure how much we will get, but it will definitely be a white Christmas. Yeah! It's nice to be cozy and stuck inside on a holiday night like this where we really don't have to be anywhere. Home is the best place to be.

We had my Mom over for a wonderful meal together and we all sat around enjoying being together. What fun! It was great being off work today all day, so we had an early Christmas Eve so Emily could go to work.

I received some really neat Christmas presents.

I adore these really cute pair of Dansko shoes Bob bought me. What I like about it is the fact that I looked at a similar pair two years ago last fall and ended up not getting them. He remembered that I liked them and found a darling pair in black, brown and glitzy with litttle paisley designs on them. How did he remember that paisleys are a favorite? Very sweet. And they are SO comfortable. I love these shoes. They are funky, cute, and comfortable.

I also got a fabulous bath set from Emmy as well as a cute little fountain that will help me avoid workplace stress.

The best gift of all is simply being together.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

This is Why I Like a Portable Wheel

It gets no better than this - being able to share my love of spinning with my Grammy Ferne who first taught me to appreciate crafts of all kinds. She loves knitting, spinning, weaving, painting, soapmaking, paper mache, sewing. Gosh, I can't think of a craft she didn't at least explore. You name it, she did it!

These photos were taken last week when I went to the nursing home to visit her. She celebrated her 94th birthday last Tuesday.

To the left of my shoulder in the last photo, you may be able to see a small woven wallhanging that she made years ago. She absolutely loves both spinning and weaving. And maybe I shouldn't mention it now, but I've been bitten a bit by the weaving bug myself lately.

Love you Grammy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Taking off the Gloves

The Holidays can be really conflict-ridden and this year, I thought I'd FOR ONCE cleared the hurdle and not gotten in any heated incidents on the homefront, but alas, we didn't quite escape.

With the pressure of two birthdays and the holidays to plan, my daughter and I had an argument the night before her birthday. I must say though, we resolved it and all is well now.

Still, I am convinced that holidays lend themselves especially to conflict because they often involve typical stress-producing landmines such as: 1) time deadlines; 2) inflated expectations, 3) mix up in communication due to the frenzy of rushing around trying to meet those inflated expectations; and last but not least, 4) taking whatever miscommunication that occurs personally and overreacting to whatever slight the other person may or may not have intended.

There are also a few communication bugaboos that OFTEN get us in trouble in communicating with others, regardless of what time of year we use them.

NEVER/ALWAYS - these words seem to create a negative climate with ourselves and others. And plus they just aren't true. When was the last time you ALWAYS or NEVER experienced anything? They are exaggerations at best; at worst, they often lead to judgmental statements and views of another person, and they make the whole situation seem hopeless.

SHOULD - this points the finger and gives other people added things on THEIR "to do" list which can create a real blow up. Regardless of whether you are "shoulding" all over yourself or someone else, it only adds emotional pressure and doesn't help performance one iota.

You Statements - Saying, "You did this to me", instead of motivating change in another, often creates defensiveness and hostility. Instead, use "I" statements, since you can really only know what's going on inside your own head and not anyone else's.

In summary, to survive the holidays:

Don't take things personally.

Don't expect too much.

Keep it simple.

If you or anyone else has a holiday meltdown, forgive and forget as soon as possible.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Birthday - Is she REALLY 18?

Happy Birthday Emily. I really really really can't believe it.


Oh gosh, you're officially grown up.

We had a great party at Dave and Busters with all her friends and it was a blast for everyone.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Mental Snapshot of Hope

After living nearly fifty years, I've come to the conclusion that it's not the big things in life that really make a difference. It's the small everyday things. What gives me the most hope are things like what I witnessed today while on my lunch break from work:

Lunch at a fast food restaurant - a major chain that serves Mexican food. A little old ancient man who was so frail he could barely lift his taco to his mouth. A young man, maybe college age at most, was eating with what I presume was an outing with his Grandfather. The little old gentleman was dressed up in a sport coat, with a little bow tie at his neck. As the two ate together, the man pulled out his grocery list as well as his Christmas gift list and discussed it with his grandson who was apparently taking him shopping for his items.

The young man was so patient and loving with the older man. It really made emotions well within me. I fought the urge to go up to the young man and say, "You are so kind and decent." But I held back.

I remain mesmerized as they finally made their way out of the restaurant, the older man linked to a portable oxygen tank and the young one kindly leading his Grandfather out, clinging to his arm to the car.

What's a more holiday honoring sight than that? A showing of real kindness and caring that is such a gift no one can buy?

So I hold a mental snapshot of those two men in my mind's eye to shore up hope on days when I see a less charming side of humanity. There's hope. It's there. You just have to look.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Mr. Piano Man

When Bob had this extra time on his hands recently, aside from job hunting, which he is doing plenty of, he mentioned that he'd really like to learn to play the piano. We've had a piano sitting around for many years gathering dust. He's always wanted to play piano but never did. I always wanted to play piano and did it briefly when we were first married, many years ago, but I only took lessons for about a year and then my music teacher retired. That's why we had the piano in the first place. And then Emily took lessons for a while, but she too, didn't stick with it.

So I signed Bob up for lessons about a month ago. He really loves it. As he was practicing, I too was drawn in and now we are BOTH taking lessons together. It's really really fun!

We're both still at the "kiddy song" stage of learning, although I remember a bit from before, so I probably have an easier time than he does. But still, we're both fairly raw in our music knowledge. We are learning to read notes and chords together and everything. We have flashcards.

We also have been watching music lessons on the internet. Much of the stuff we're finding is just an extended sales ploy, but we landed on one young man who does a terrific job of teaching, and he has a whole series of free lessons which have been very helpful in advancing our understanding of music theory. His name is Andrew Furmanczyk http://www.howtoplaypiano.ca .

This guy is a genius and a fantastic teacher. Wow are we impressed with these lessons. He makes learning even more fun - the enthusiasm he shows for piano is absolutely infectious. So I recommend these lessons to anyone who is interested in piano - especially for beginners.

So now I ask: what have you always wanted to do? For me, on the Bucket List remains: learning Spanish, learning how to play Bridge. Maybe there are things you'd like to try to. There are many others, but I won't bore you with the whole list! Now that we have the Internet to guide us, it's even easier to learn a new skill or hobby. What's left in your Bucket?

Friday, November 27, 2009

It's Time for "Grateful"

Thanksgiving is and has ALWAYS been one of my favorite times of year. Why? Because is a simple holiday where you get dedicated time off with family and friends to just be together, share a good meal and talk. There are no gift expectations - though many start their shopping over that long weekend. Again, a choice. You can choose to stay home or visit relatives near or far. You can make the holiday however simple or elaborate you choose, and I use choose simple. Very simple.

First for the recap of yesterday. This year, we stayed home and shared Thanksgiving with Bob, my Mom and Emily. We made turkey, dressing, gravy, roasted veggies, rolls, Ambrosia salad, and au grautin potatoes. We forgot all about the sweet potatoes until - too late. Ah well, maybe we'll whip some up today (the day after). We also had Pumpkin pie. Then after we ate, we took a big plate over to Grammy at the nursing home and spent some time visiting and catching up with her.

Perhaps the best part, the very best part, of Thanksgiving is the opportunity for reflection. Opposite of rushing out and raiding the malls. Instead of Black Friday, I do Quiet Friday - Look Within Weekend. Starting with Gratitude. Being grateful, and for starting to wrap up the year that has just passed and to focus on the one ahead. What has happened in 2009? And soon I will focus on how I wish to shape 2010.

Now a 2009 recap: It's been a very unusual year - there have been many highs and lows, but it is definitely a significant year. I started off hoping that the recession wouldn't be as prolonged and as severe as it has proven to be. Changing jobs in the midst of a recession was scary, even for me, a job hopper. It was a temp-to-perm position, but I was excited about it enough, that I took it. I do indeed love the job and the people I work with. It does seem like a great fit. For the most part, instead of dreading each work day, I look forward to it. It's been huge growth experience. So that has been an unexpected GREAT thing that I didn't even envision this time last Fall.

What I expected: My word for the year was "priorities" and for the most part, it helped guide me to keep my top priorities but I've also learned the lesson that priorities tend to SHIFT and need to shift when life events throw you a curve. So I've been pretty darn good at being flexible and going with the flow without letting go of my intentions. I've still met my intentions, but sometimes the route to them has been a winding one rather than a straight shot! So the Word was "Priorities" and it was achieved by another word "Flexible."

Grateful: I am grateful for many things including:

My Job - this has to be my number one gratitude this year because it was truly unexpected, needed, and a prosperity blessing at a time of great need. I feel it was God directly giving me a hand that I needed to pull me up during a difficult time.

My Husband - Bob. He's always my rock in life. My best friend. The one who knows me best and loves me in spite of my worst. I also have more fun with him than anyone else.

My daughter Emily. Our relationship has improved this year. Mainly because we've both been trying more to overcome the bumps in the road by reaching out to one another. Also because I learned that I've probably been overparenting and need to transform my role to one of Mentor because she truly is going to be an adult soon and next year is college. I will be here when asked, but stepping back has been a painful step.

My Mom - grateful she retired this year and will be spending more time with me and our family. Yay! She's a wonderful grandmother to Emmy and she's always been a friend to me. I can tell her everything.

My Friends. This is a BIG one. Both my real and my online friends. The friends in my knitting group. The friends on Ravelry - though they are an online community, they sometimes get me through my worst days and make my best days brighter.

Finding my retreat place, St. Scholastica. The Sisters there and their whole monastery - my discovery of their community was a HUGE blessing to me this year. Whenever I get stressed out, all I have to do is close my eyes and regain that serene feeling I experienced on their campus, and I'm back to my spiritual center again. They are a profound blessing to me, and I hope to retreat at their monastery whenever I feel a spiritual thirst like I've been feeling all through 2009. It's been truly a transforming year. St. Scholastica and their community of nuns is a gift of Serenity. I am THERE Sisters more often than you know. Not always physically, but my spirit is with you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Special Arrival

As many of you know, I've been knitting Prayer Shawls all throughout 2009. It has been a real pleasure for me to undertake making shawls for others when they are most in crisis or need. I'm not a big producer, and have only knit a few, yet making and giving them has been extremely meaningful to me.

Well, I have belonged to a Prayer Shawl group on Ravelry. Several months ago, we all decided to do an exchange between those in our group - a partner swap kind of thing. And we prayed for our partner and their special challenges over those 2-3 months that we were making their gift. During that process, we got to know one another much better.

My partner is Cindy Carter from Florida. Some of you who know me in "real life" saw me knitting on this shawl for her over the past few months. So the first two photos here are of the Boxleaf Stole, a design by Anne Hanson that I made for her.

At any rate, I was very happy with the way the shawl I knit her turned out, except it was a little long, but she didn't seem to mind that. She liked the colors and the stole's rectangular shape.

Next photos are of the shawl I received from her which is "Tis a Gift to Be Simple" Shawl that she designed and knit for me.

Well, I came home on Tuesday night to find the most amazing gift, made from Malabrigo's "Stonechat" colorway. When I opened the package, and unwrapped the shawl, it absolutely took my breath away. To say that it was WAY MORE than I'd expected is quite an understatement! I immediately wrapped the shawl around me, and I chose to wear it doubled up. Wrap it around you and the feeling it creates is a mantle of love, warmth and well being.

This magnificent rectangular shawl, one of the loveliest knitted items I've ever seen in my entire life, is called "Tis a Gift to Be Simple" after one of my very favorite hymns of all time. I always thought it was Quaker song, but Cindy says the song is actually Shaker.

I found that Cindy is a remarkable person who is extremely intelligent, and who is quite talented in music as well needle arts. She's the type of knitter that Elizabeth Zimmermann would have loved to knit with because she doesn't follow a pattern to the letter - but is creative enough to branch out on her own - to see how she wants to make something in her head, and to translate that in her knitting.
This is how Cindy explains the shawl's creation in her own words:

The basic construction of the shawl follows Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Stonington Shawl. I chose lace patterns for the center panel, borders and edging.

The design for this shawl came to me in a dream. I had stayed up late on Ravelry looking at ideas for a pattern (right, like you never do that!). I love the pattern browser. Anyway, nothing seemed to really fit what I wanted to do for Chelle. The next morning, I woke up knowing exactly what the shawl would look like. I wanted something that would express the simplicity of faith, inspired by the Shaker song “Simple Gifts” and the Shaker aesthetic. Strong, geometric, functional and straightforward.

The center panel is adapted from a lace pattern in Eugen Beugler’s Symmetry in Silk. The border pattern of alternating triangles is from Barbara Walker’s Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns, page 264, Pyramidal Lace Check. The 4 sides of the square shawl, and the square center lace motif represent the 4 Gospels. The triangles in the border are a reminder of the Trinity. The shawl is edged in Godmother’s Edging, traditionally used on christening shawls, and chosen as a reminder of our baptism. The Godmother’s Edging pattern is also from Walker’s Second Treasury, page 361.

Simple Gifts at St. Gregory of Nyssa

‘Tis the gift to be simple,
‘tis the gift to be free,
‘tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.


When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘Til by turning, turning we come round right

‘Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
‘Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we’ll all live together and we’ll all learn to say,


‘Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
‘Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of “me”,
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we’ll all live together with a love that is real.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Spinning Progress

As I mentioned last week, I got a new spinning wheel and after experiencing some initial frustration with plying (see the rat's nest I created here):

But I went to two different spinners' groups - one in St. Joseph last week and one on Tuesday here in my area that really really helped!! They clarified what I was doing wrong. Basically, whenever you ply, you are supposed to spin the wheel counterclockwise but I was occasionally plying clockwise out of habit. I didn't realize what I was doing, so I was really messing it up.

But I'm doing much better now. In fact, I'm getting excited now about the possibility of dyeing my yarn with Kool-Aid dyes. I haven't done that yet, but am collecting Kool-Aid packets and starting to read about it on Ravelry.

I have been trying to spin every single day for at least a little while so that I stay in practice. I started spinning over a year ago, but there were so many things I didn't know how to do, especially plying, that I just let it go and didn't do much with it. Now I'm really eager to plow ahead, try to do a little bit every day and gradually branch into doing new things like yarn dyeing. It will be fun.

I am still knitting a little bit too. I am working on a short cardigan out of Crystal Palace Merino stripes yarn in an autumnal colorway. Here's the completed back. That's all I have finished so far. 2 fronts and 2 sleeves left to go.

Have a good week everyone.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Birthday Wheel

Well, after the glum post last week, my birthday weekend has taken quite a turn for the better. Tomorrow (November 8th) is my actual BD, and let's just say I'm one year shy of the big 5-0. Yikes.

Anyway, my sweet Bobby made this birthday extremely special by getting me a new spinning wheel. This is a combined birthday, Christmas/Hannukah, and anniversary present all rolled into one in advance, but it warms my heart that he wanted me to have the wheel in spite of the uncertainties that dog our lives right now. We both feel "cautiously optimistic" about our personal and collective future. So those of you who have written to me with well wishes and concern - bless you!

During the past few months, I've been wanting a new wheel. My 1970's model Ashford Traditional has served me well in my first year of spinning, but she's a single treadle with one ratio and very small bobbins. And she's a bit clunky and not extremely cooperative in traveling to various knitting/spinning guild get-togethers. She's a old girl, don't cha know (nearly as old as THIS old girl). Therefore, she prefers to sit at home rather than being squashed into my small Toyota.

I was considering 4 wheels: the Ashford Joy, the Ashford Traveller, Louet Victoria and last but not least, the Kromski Sonata. Well guess, which one I picked? Ta Da Da DA . . . . . . . . . the Kromski Sonata, in Walnut finish, won out.

And now time for the official unveiling!!!

While we were unpacking her from the box, my dog Domino remained unimpressed. In fact, he dozed.

Here's Bob working away, studying the directions and working on the assembly. (There's not much assembly involved, but there's a little when it comes straight out of the box like this).

So we finally got it together and in good working order. And afterwards, both of my boys were pretty wiped out. But the wheel and I were both wide awake and stayed up spinning until quite late.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

One Thing After Another

The last month has just flown by in a flash. All time seems to go fast, but this month in particular. I feel like I'm constantly rushing from one thing to another, just like a hamster on a treadmill, but sometimes I feel like a hamster whose foot has gotten TRAPPED in the treadmill and I've fallen on my face.

Anyway, things haven't gone particularly well this month. I'm still trying to lose that bit of weight that had crept back on -- it's harder taking off than keeping off, let me tell you but the important thing is I'm making progress.

Also, Bob is laid off from his company now. We're not in horrible financial shape yet, and are luckier than most to still have our medical benefits to continue, at least for a few months. But there is the overall worry of the horrible economy and being 50 in the job market, as he is, isn't as easy as being 25. Plus, I'm still not officially hired on with the company I've been temping with for the past 6 months. So things in the career department are still scarily "up in the air."

I'm trying to just hang on and continue to hope things will get better.

A few weeks ago, I finished the beautiful autumn-colored shawl that I was making for my secret swap partner. I got it mailed out to her the other day. After she opens it, I'll post photos of the shawl here on my blog.

Aunt Eve came to visit this weekend. I love having her. It's the one assurance that I'll get my house cleaned up a bit - having company to visit is very motivating in the housekeeping department. I wish she could come during better times. It seems like nearly every time she visits, I'm coping with some sadness or problem - last year it was my brother's death and my Grammy going into a nursing home. This year, it's Bob's job loss.

I did finally finish my Tapesty Regia toe-up socks that has been on the needles (can you believe it) nearly TWO YEARS. Yes, though I love knitting socks, I tend to poke along on them and go extremely slow.

I'm hoping the treadmill slows down a bit this week, but if it doesn't, I'll run with more joy in my new cozy socks.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Comfort - Without the Calories

As I've mentioned, it's been really cold here lately, unseasonably cold, and I'm finding myself wanting to hibernate like an old bear, seeking warmth, comfort and emotional safety as well as deep sleep in a way that I do EVERY year at this time, but even more so what with all the financial uncertainty out there and Bob's job going away soon.

But anyhow, I'm not here to kavetch about that overmuch. The point is, because I'm in this sleepy, hungry, cold, and inactive mode, I haven't been exercising regularly AND instead of veggies, I've been craving soup, casseroles, and pie (my favorite is French Silk) - why the heck pie, don't ask!!! But this isn't helping my efforts to keep my weight steady. And it's certainly not helping me lose - the scale is creeping slowy up. Not drastically, but not the direction I want it to go.

So today, I decided to start thinking of comforting and warm and nurturing things I could do besides eat high cal foods and hunkering down in my comfy bed.

How about:

Broth soups instead of creamy soups?

Warm veggies instead of salads. I'm not feeling the salad at all lately.

How about hot flavored tea instead of high cal dessert drinks?

How about laying out my exercise clothes right by my bed so I can jump into them in the morning?

How about those 60 calorie chocolate puddings instead of the chocolate pie?

How about rewarding myself with sitting in bed and knitting while watching a movie only AFTER I've done my exercise for the day?

Any other ideas and insights would be greatly appreciated.

One more thing - I'm going to try to make my favorite high-cal drink at the local coffee shop and converting it into maybe lower cal alternative? The drink is called "London Fog." And it is the yummiest thing and most stomach-warming thing I've tasted in ages.

London Fog:

Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice Flavored Black Tea (1 teabag)

1 oz Monin's Sugarfree Vanilla Syrup

1 cup steam skim milk

Sprinkling of cinnamon on top

This morning, I just treated myself to a cup of that hot cinnamon tea all by itself, without the milk or syrup, but I served it to myself in a really pretty mug and it made me feel cozy and comfortable. So sometimes comfort can be had without ANY calories, but just a bit of self nurturing.

Questions to ponder today while spending some time curled up with my journal: "Why are you hungry? What in life are you hungry for? How can you feed yourself in a way that doesn't involve food?" Okay, not only am I going to sip tea, I'm going to sit down with my journal and explore those questions. Hunger is about more than one's stomach. And there are many routes to comfort.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Freezing: Still, A Three Day Weekend is a GOOD Thing

It's hard to believe this is us only a couple of weekends ago, in late September, enjoying a very sunny day together sitting outside on a veranda. But now, we've been plunged into heavy jackets and are huddling inside.

It's a three day weekend - a rare but wonderful treat. Three day weekends are one of my favorite things on earth. I am so happy to be off. Yay! We were thinking of taking a road trip out of town, but we're too tight on money right now, so instead, we just stayed at home, cleaned out our kitchen pantry and closets and had a relaxing time together. Besides, the temperatures were FREEZING, no joke. We had unseasonably cold snap for early October. So we choose to stay at home, in front of the fire to read knit and watch movies, sounded like the best possible thing to do.

I got a lot of knitting done on my secret swap partner's shawl. I can't post a picture yet - either here or on Ravelry until Thanksgiving time, when we all do the "Big Reveal" but my knitting buddies have seen it growing progressively over the two months it has taken me to make it. Now I'm ALMOST done. I'm within 2 more repeats of being finished. Then the blocking. Then it will KILL me not to show the photos, but I'll restrain myself. Thanksgiving is really not that far away. Is it?

What's weird is that we have these extremely cold temps before our leaves have changed color. That's unusual. The trees are still largely green, with just a hint of autumn color, and I still have (or had?) tomatoes clinging to the vines, and yet we got down to 29 degrees at night and highs in the 40's maybe? I'm not sure. All I know is that when we took a quick trip over to Lawrence, Kansas yesterday morning I was so cold in my light jacket that we didn't walk around much.

One thing we DID do while in Lawrence was to visit Yarn Barn, my very favorite yarn store in the area. You guys would be SO proud of me. Instead of buying up a bunch of yarn, which I can't afford to do and don't NEED to do, I restrained myself by buying only the thing I set out to get - a Lantern Moon Maya Floral Sock Project Bag ($29). Here it is. This is the greatest little bag. It is light weight, in a delicate silk fabric that is reversible. It has pockets on both sides. It has a closure button on both sides, too. My bag is Garnett on one side and JadishCharcoal on the other. In spite of the bag being small and lightweight, it holds quite a bit - see it holds sock yarn, a completed sock, and one sock still on the needles. It also holds the folded up pattern.

Monday, October 05, 2009

What I Learned From Olive

I have been reading a lot more. Ever since I bought a Kindle II electronic reader from Amazon, I've become obsessed with reading because it is even easier to grab my Kindle than to grab my knitting. It goes along in my purse and I can pull it out and do quick snatches of reading in short periods of stolen time. I've been gobbling up books greedily.

Now let me tell you about Olive Kitterage. She's not a REAL person, but I feel like she is. She's the focus of a novel called appropriately enough, Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout. It won the 2009 Pultizer Prize for fiction. This novel is a series of short stories featuring Olive, a middle-aged math teacher. The story unfolds in a series of vignettes about her life at various stages. Sometimes Olive is the main character, and in a couple of the stories she merely plays a supporting role - but with each passing chapter, we get a deeper and broader picture of this character and her life.

I think it takes BEING a middle aged woman to look back on your life and see yourself and others in Olive. Granted, Olive is probably an extreme that most of us don’t reach, but there’s the little bit of “witch” in all of us that we see coming out sometimes. And then, there’s the dicotomy - the really compassionate nurturer that also comes out when we feel moved by someone/something. Although there’s more of the witch in Olive when she’s young, there’s the compassionate Earth Mother that shows itself increasingly as she ages - and a definite theme of regret rings through the later portion of the “novel” (collection of short stories). Yet what I admire about Olive is she doesn’t shirk or shrink from her own failings. She admits them, if privately. She mulls over those things - and in a way, this whole book is a collage of her life, much of which she probably wishes she did differently.

In one story, she remembers back when she and Henry (husband) were middle aged. She thinks a very profound thought. “There were days, she could remember this, when Henry would hold her hand as they walked home, middle-aged people, in their prime. Had they known at those moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it.”

I have to say that in some stories, she comes off as fairly unlikeable but as her self-awareness and compassion grow, she becomes more likeable. Not only that, but even at her most unlikeable, the story is still absorbing. It's a cautionary tale of why I don't want to let some of the "Olive like" negative qualities creep into my relationships and damage them as they have in Olive's life.

Olive has taught me to be kinder and gentler to those I hold dear. To be less insistent on having my own way. To release my child a little bit - let her find her own way and to not be as judgmental. To be more flexible. To keep finding renewed meaning in life at every stage. Most important of all, nothing is as valuable as our relationships. We should be willing to bend, to reach out, to forgive and to give up our own petty hurts from the past so that we can keep the door of our relationships always open.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Number One Ladies Detective Agency

I have been reading The Number One Ladies Detective Agency Series of books by Alexander McCall Smith. Although this is an old series that started back in 2003, I never was able to "get into" the first book when I started to read it years ago. It was only when the HBO series came out last spring that I decided to give the books a try again.

What made the whole series really come alive for me was the excellent audio book version read by a narrator who really drew me into the story with her rich voice and Bottswana accent. Precious Ramotswe, the lead detective in this story, is a "traditionally built" middle aged woman who is proud to be exactly what she is - calm, smart, and a solver of "small things" not "big things" like murder, but small things that affect people's lives most deeply. Her observations about human nature are so profound, that one minute I'm laughing and the next I'm jotting down her nuggets of wisdom so I can cling to them for future reference.

She is the loving Earth Mother who takes a slow, easy approach to life that relaxes me and calms me as I read. Far from boring, the series is character driven but once you step into the pages and immerse yourself in the lives of these imaginary people, they seem as real as can be. They are people you dearly WISH were real. I just finished reading the 9th book in the series, The Miracle At Speedy Motors, and I'm hoping the series never ends.

Now I'll go have myself a cup of Bush Tea, which Madame Ramotswe (pronounced "Ra-MOTES-way") drinks whenever she wants to relax and think deeply about a problem. I found that this mystery series is so popular that The Republic of Tea has actually come out with a "Botswana Blossom" natually caffeine-free Rooibos blended tea with Citrus, Blossoms and nuts in honor my favorite mystery series heroine. I daesay, Madame Ramostwe herself would approve. It's a good way to unwind at the end of a long day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I Found My Refuge in a Monastery

Serene. That's how I feel after returning from the most relaxing and satisfying weekend at a spiritual retreat held at a monastery. The Benedictine Sisters were doing a workshop retreat on "Centering Prayer."

I arrived on Friday evening, straight after work and met up with two other retreatants who had driven in from Topeka. We checked into our rooms had dinner together. Guess which room I got? #8 - which is my lucky number.

The room was so quaint - a small very comfortable twin bed. A dresser. A rocking chair. A small desk. A shared restroom. That was it. But it was wonderful - a quiet room with no TV. No computer.

At first, I worried that I'd be the only non-Catholic there, but most of the retreants were non-Catholic and from a variety of different backgrounds. The only thing we shared in common was a spiritual thirst and a longing for inner peace. The sisters made us feel right at home.

We were at the workshop all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday, but with breaks for exploring the beautiful tree-lined campus and many quiet places to meditate, pray, do journaling, to read, to walk, to talk with others and even a bit of time to knit. I found myself staying up late just so that I could spend a bit more uninterrupted quiet time alone. It was wonderful!

Sister Michaela, our retreat leader, was very inspiring. She talked about her own experiences with Centering Prayer and taught us intellectually at first, guiding us through the concepts conceptually. Then she had us practice the technique, which was a receptive kind of prayer focusing on a sacred word of our own choosing. We spent some time contemplating our word - and then trying it out during an initial practice session. We all discussed our experiences, then practiced several times the first day, broken by periods of talk, exploring the campus -- spending time alone and together. We also went to chapel and participated in their services. It was moving and amazing to observe.

As a group of 16 retreat members, we really bonded with one another for the short time we were there. Each person was unique, interesting and I enjoyed meeting each one. In fact, I have their email addresses and hope some of us can keep in touch.

We ended this afternoon with our final centering practice session, and then we left, returning to our "real lives." I hope to bring at least a small part of that peace back with me into daily life. But I know I need to keep meditating - because it's so much easier to be peaceful when you have low-stress situations such as a retreat. The real challenge is to BE that person I was there, and try to be that helpful, kind, serene person with my family, my coworkers, my friends in everyday life.

I hope to refresh myself again at a return visit in the future. Now that I've found such a special place, I will cherish it and return.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Taking Stock - Destash, UFOs, and Massive Frogging On Tap for Rest of 2009

With the three day weekend, my Mom and I visited Sprouts yarn shop yesterday. I love that store. The good thing about that place is that they have tons of projects knitted up on display. Several of the little Noro cardigan sweaters were tempting and called out to me, promising that they would be so cute, and knit up fast, and yeah, yeah, yeah, I've heard that story before. Though I came SO CLOSE to being lured in by yet another project. But I petted the pretty yarn (Noro - how can I resist you?) and then I set it back down and backed slowly out of the shop empty-handed.

I've largely been avoiding yarn shops for all of 2009, except an occasional purchase of shawl yarn which is something I really do use and don't tend to hoard. The reason is, I still have SO MUCH, even after giving away quite a bit back in 2008. I still have a lot of it - and it's starting to feel overwhelming, more like a burden than a pleasure.

So during this long and lovely 3-day weekend, I'm going to once again catalog my yarn stash, make note of the projects that are in limbo and make a firm decision to finish up or rip projects that have been sitting around for several seasons half-finished. It's time to knit it, rip it, or get rid of it.

I'm starting that cataloging process today.

I've decided that FOR ME stashing is no longer a good idea, and certainly hoarding is a mindset I want to release. So for the rest of 2009 (final 3 months), I'm releasing, purging, and using what I have. I'm going to be finishing up the UFO that are still ones I WANT to finish - releasing the rest.

In a future installment, I'll let you know which UFO's will be given a stay of execution.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Diet Secret - Modular Eating

You've heard of Modular Knitting, right? Not everybody likes it, but essentially it's where you knit a series of small pieces and put it together into a whole garment. Well, what I've found is working well for me on the diet front is to do what I call "Modular Eating."

Just to preface this, I am still on Jenny Craig and check in with my diet counselor weekly, and I still eat some of their foods, but I've also branched out to supplement with some of my own healthy snacks and meals.

No matter if I'm eating a Jenny Craig meal or one "on my own" I still eat basically the same. I eat three small healthy meals and two snacks per day - that means, low fat, low sugar, low sodium. The low sodium part is very important. Lots of vegetables and 2 fruits per day to fill me up and meet the nutritional needs. I also take a daily multi-vitamin as this has been proven to help weight loss.

I eat small, healthy meals that are very simple. They are NOT huge on variety and are small in portion size. Too much variety tends to reawaken my need to eat for pure taste rather than what my body needs. It could be cereal, skim milk and a fruit. It could be oats, particularly in the winter. It often is an egg or two, with 1 slice of whole wheat toast and turkey or veggie bacon. Typical lunch/dinner meals are: 2-4 oz of lowfat protein, veggie or salad selection, lowfat dressing and grilled veggies. For snacks, I like Jello 60 calorie pudding snacks (gets in a milk selection), the Dannon Light & Fit yogurt (80 calories); Mott's Natural Applesauce, 1 stick of skim milk cheese. Favorite veggies: Birdseye Steamers - veggies that you can pop in the microwave and steam. They are delicious and fast.

When I do eat Jenny Craig, they are typically 250 calorie meals that are low in fat, salt and probably are equivalent to many other diet frozen foods such as Healthy Choice.

If I eat out, I like to eat 1/2 of a Burger King Veggie Burger. McDonald's favorite snack is their yogurt parfait thing with the fruit. If we eat at a steak restaurant, I order a very small steak or split one with Bob. I eat a potato without the junk on it with grilled veggies.

I try to cut up plenty of fresh veggies on hand and have them ready for when I get the munchies. I package them up in plastic bags to toss into my lunch bag each day. But when I don't have time, I never hesitate to buy precut veggies or salads. The important thing is that they remain readily available in my fridge at all times. I have to admit, veggies are something I have to FORCE myself to eat, so I try to keep the ones I like available and eat them before eating other foods I might prefer. When I get in my daily veggie allotment, I don't find myself overeating as much and feel "fuller."

What have I eliminated from my former eating? Popcorn (that's a red light food for me), ice cream, regular hamburgers and fries. Most fatty desserts. Doughnuts (yuck how did I ever eat those?) Bagels (Bagels I do miss you!!). Gravy. Creamy sauces. Rolls, bread and carbs. Fast food sandwiches in general. High-salt processed meat. Fried foods. Potato chips.

Now mind you, I am not perfect on this diet, not by any means. I still have a ways to go. Ideally, I'd like to lose another 10-15 pounds, but even if I don't lose another pound, I'm much happier where I am now as opposed to where I was a year ago.

Sometimes I splurge and eat the old, unhealthy stuff, but I don't beat myself up about it, I just realize that this type of old-habit "comfort food" eating is what once made me 20 pounds heavier in the past. If I want to maintain my current weight, which I have for 10 months, then I need to eat simply, keep myself to the basic foods I know that I like but don't like so much that I go overboard.

By having a few standard foods and snacks that I buy regularly from the store, I don't get overwhelmed by too many choices. Same thing with restaurants. Most places we go, I can eat SOMETHING. I know ahead of time what I need to order. The only thing I really can't do and stay on program well is Chinese Food. I LOVE it and occasionally indulge - but that's a total diet killer. Whenever I eat it, I gain a few pounds and have to get back on the straight and narrow really quick!

Another thing that is crucial: don't get overly hungry. When you are starving, you can almost never make a good food choice. So eat often. Plan to eat in modules that you know are easy to make, buy and eat. That's my diet tip of the day - and I'm mentioning it because I am reminding myself of what brings success for me so that hopefully I can continue following it for the best results.

My big diet bugaboo remains eating to comfort myself, especially late night snacking or weekend indulgences during high-stress times - but my good friend Phyllis reminds me that often when I THINK I'm starving, especially if it's night-time, I'm probably just tired and can benefit much better from going to bed rather than to the refrigerator.

Those are my tips. If you have any to share, please let me know.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ribwarmer Rehash

Well, what have I been doing in the way of knitting lately? Sometimes I forget this is a knitting blog.

I'm still hard at work on my Ravelry partner's pray shawl. It's a secret because we are keeping it all under wraps until the "big reveal" in November. I have a wonderful swap partner who is very talented - she's designing a shawl for me, I can't imagine being able to design. That's just a talent that is beyond me. So I'm working on a stole-type lace prayer shawl for her, but I can't tell you much more about it until November. It's about 25% along and is looking good so far. We're all exchanging and unwrapping the shawls around Thanksgiving time. What fun that will be!

The Elizabeth Zimmermann Tea that my guild held earlier this month inspired me to knit Zimmermann patterns. Since I love vests and fall is close at hand, I have started thinking "Ribwarmer." I tried to start this ribwarmer you see pictured here, in the Mountain Colors colorway of Tamarak but I don't know how well it is working up. It seems too long on my short-waisted body. Hmmmm. That's giving me pause. Plus I don't know if the varigated yarn I chose is working up like I'd hoped. The colors seem to be pooling in a way I'm not thrilled about.

While EZ's designs are amazing in their simplicity - they are straight-forward but not always detailed enough for my clear understanding. I can't always figure out what she's describing. So I'm struggling over this ribwarmer pattern. I've always LOVED this design and the way it looks on people. But I'm not crazy about how mine is working up. Recently, a Ravelry friend named Sandra has tried to step me through it a bit. I'm still trying to decide if I should rip this Mountain Colors/Tamarak vest and start over. Not quite sure yet.

We have had a wonderful cool summer - amazing really. And this weekend was cool and pleasant - an early Autumn perhaps? Wouldn't that be wonderful?

I am still under a lot of anxiety on several fronts, but this weekend was a welcome reprieve - I just have to have faith that Bob's job situation, and all the other uncertainties lingering in my life right now will eventually fall into place. In knitting, just as in "real life" sometimes you have to change direction, refocus your plans and be prepared to rip out and start over when things aren't turning out right.