Sunday, March 13, 2016

Cleaning Up and Casting Off

This is my special yarn stash, kept in a plastic box under my bed.  
          A couple of years ago, I received a message from a stranger on Ravelry, a woman who informed me that she would be happy to send my high school Fiber Arts Club some knitting needles she no longer used.  I was moved by this woman’s generosity—even more so when I received a box filled with more than 20 pairs of quality stainless steel circular needles.   The fact that someone could part with such treasures awed me as, at that time, I viewed my personal knitting supplies and library as sacred items I would hold onto for a lifetime.  A few months ago, though, with the help of a friend and the advice from a handy little book by cleaning consultant Marie Kondo entitled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:  The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, I have altered this attitude, not only towards my knitting supplies, but also towards other personal possessions.  I also experienced an epiphany which has, as the title of the book asserts, been life-altering.

     It all started before Christmas, at the beginning of my two-week break from school, when I met two friends and former co-workers for lunch.  I approached this get-together with a bit of a heavy heart.  Like most people employed in education, at the end of the semester, I was exhausted.  I had gained roughly 20-25 pounds during the previous year-and-a-half I'd been working at my new job, due to stress eating.  Every week for months, I’d made a resolution to eat better, but each evening would return home from work and binge on carbohydrates.  All-in-all, on top of two months of nearly constant rainfall, that day I was in pretty grim holiday spirits. 

     After complaining and catching up, I asked one of my friends (and knitting buddy), Tonya, however, if her teenaged son, who owns a pickup truck, would be interested in helping me clean out my garage during my time off from school.  She contacted him and we made a plan for the Monday morning following Christmas.  Tonya, who is an energetic chemistry teacher with a flair for home décor and craft projects, showed up on that misty dark day, too.  Revealing my horrendous garage to this individual—one whose inviting home epitomizes order—was an experience akin to divulging a shameful and freakish habit on the TV show My Strange Addiction (although I suppose having a hoarder’s garage isn’t quite as unsavory as enjoying drinking human blood or eating cat hair).  Of course, my visitors were probably uncomfortable, too—in the manner of Pip in Great Expectations when he first lays eyes on Mrs. Haversham’s wedding feast.

    With my prompting, my fifteen-year-old son joined our garage group.  Over four hours later—after much laughter and gracious cajoling from my friend in the form of “Are you going to use this?” (as she held up items such as a hand-me-down Tupperware pitcher from the 1960s) or “What is this?” (as she raised up a cast-iron 19th century shoe last), lines delivered in her charming southern accent, with inflections and drawn-out vowels that seemed to add to the humorous irony of these inquiries.   Seeing my treasures through her eyes convinced me that I needed to make a change, so after four truckloads of detritus (including an inflatable boat, an old car stereo, and attachments for a prehistoric two-ton carpet shampooer) were deposited at The Salvation Army and after we’d created a mountain of trash in the yard—miracle of miracles, I was able to drive my car into the garage!  I felt light, as if the proverbial albatross  had been removed from my neck, and this sense of liberation translated itself into days of revived energy, which manifested itself in my tackling the inside the house to purge it of a great deal of clutter.

          Taking a break from many trips to The Salvation Army, a few days later, I headed to Barnes and Noble, where my eyes lighted on Kondo’s book.  I am not one for self-help books and am typically a bit embarrassed to stand in the book store perusing them, but, Kondo’s work is more of an instruction manual and, after reading a few pages, I was intrigued.  I’d heard that organizing one’s home can reverberate and impact other areas of one’s life, and Kondo’s anecdotal evidence supported this notion.

         My experience supports her assertion, too.  I now have a kitchen where I can actually see the food in my pantry and am not bombarded with an avalanche of foodstuffs and housewares when I try to extract a sleeve of crackers from a container or remove a box of pasta from a shelf.  Inspired, I also revamped my eating habits and replaced holiday snacking sessions (including three days spent single-handedly devouring an entire enormous dulche de leche cake from Costco) with eating sensible meals and snacks of fruit or nuts. 

          When it comes to clearing clutter, Kondo’s mantra to discard objects that do not “spark joy” prompts the most acquisitive and retentive hoarder to let go.  And her organizing tips are so practical but simple, I feel a bit foolish for not thinking of them myself.  After wrestling with crammed and messy sock draws for over four decades, I now have a drawer where every sock is tidy, visible, not uncomfortably stretched (Kondo attributes human emotions to objects) with room to spare for new acquisitions.

         Kondo also notes that often when people make radical changes in purging their home environments, other changes in their lives follow.  My recent experiences seem to confirm her assertions.  I have lost weight and can fit back into skirts I bought last year to wear to my new job.  I have also submitted retirement papers to my place of employment, signed up to take a real estate pre-licensing class, and am prepared to move forward.  I am also eager keep clearing my house and purging my yarn stash.  Kondo doesn’t have any specific tips for organizing yarn per say, but she has motivated me hold each skein in my hand and weigh its capacity to elicit joy.  I want to let go of guilt about not using certain skeins and to surround myself with pleasurable textures and colors that beckon me to use them.
This yarn is a treasured new edition to my stash.  Check out the Renaissance Crescent pattern.  I plan to use this yarn to make that gorgeous shawl.  

                   In the coming months, as I transition to a much less structured life, one lived outside the bounds of bell schedules and semesters, I hope to continue to work to let go of negative behaviors and material objects I’ve held onto for far too long.  A few days ago, I purchased Kondo’s second book, Spark Joy:  The Illustrated Guide to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  If the results of reading Kondo’s first book are any indication, reading this little volume with its illustrated instructions on specific tidying tasks, (such as how to fold underwear) will be sure to prompt more life-changing experiences, maybe even some of those involving knitting and yarn!    

I need to go through these odd balls I yarn I have stashed in an old trunk that's been in my family for a century or so.  

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Marching Forth

                                                         Work without Hope

                                  All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair–
                                  The bees are stirring–birds are on the wing–
                                  And WINTER slumbering in the open air,
                                  Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
                                  And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,
                                  Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.
                                  Yet well I ken the banks where Amaranths blow,

                                  Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
                                  Bloom, O ye Amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
                                  For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
                                  With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
                                  And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
                                  WORK WITHOUT HOPE draws nectar in a sieve,
                                  And HOPE without an object cannot live.

                                       By: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
                                       Lines Composed 21st February 1825

In typical North Carolina fashion, traffic-paralyzing ice storms, tree-toppling gales, and sunny daffodils have all paid calls here within a month’s time.  In the last week, green shoots have reared their heads, bringing life to my backyard, a grim space with its shriveled stalks still clinging to their footholds in last year’s pots, windswept bits of debris, patchy grass, and gigantic eyesore—an overturned Leyland Cypress tree (a twenty-foot-high victim of a recent storm).   With the impending turn of this season, I find myself at an impasse, a point of no return, so, like the vegetation in my yard, I can only do one thing—seek the light, throw off the somber coat of winter, and change with the season. 

I am probably being too metaphorical here.  This is a knitting blog, after all.  And much of knitting is about literal precision.  It is also, however, a knitting blog written by an English teacher of many years, one, who, after a series of disturbing personal and professional setbacks, has found herself ready to cast off from the safe, albeit often stormy, harbor of a secure routine and paycheck, one who has lost hope in her current professional situation, but, thankfully, has not lost hope entirely about future endeavors. 

This Into the Woods cowl was a February project.  

At fifty-two, I made the decision this month to leave teaching to pursue a new career, one that I hope may carry me through the next decade.  This profession offers a bit of autonomy and flexibility (words I’ve never heard in conjunction with a conversation about teaching in the state-funded and managed public high schools of my state).  While what shape my future schedule will take is a mystery, in future, I do hope to still be able to squeeze in some time for knitting each day, and for blogging occasionally, too. 

During the past few months of sleepless nights spent wrestling with the decision-making demon, knitting has offered solace and meditative moments, times free from perseverating about my future.  Tuesday night sessions with the “Therapy Group” at Cottage Yarn have also carried me through this rather dark time.  This group of women—who have maintained their sense of humor, joie de vivre, and creativity while navigating some of life’s deepest troubles—have not only offered me a diversion from my preoccupation with personal problems, but have also boosted my self-esteem at a time when I need it most.  Whether complimenting my finished objects or showing that they have faith in my abilities by asking me to oversee the logistics of planning an international trip for the group (details to follow in a later post), they have made these past few months if not joyous, at least bearable.  A dear friend in England, who reassured me that sometimes an individual needs to engage in “recalibrating” and that “banging our heads on brick walls” isn’t something that God wants us do and others who have sent me texts with affirming messages, met me for crisis coffee sessions, or spent hours listening to me work through sadness and anger have both inspired and supported me. 

While this future move requires taking a leap of faith, I am so thankful for the loving friends who hold my hand while I make this jump.  (Details about future career to follow.)

I finished this Multi-Directional Cardigan in February, too.

I used Liberty Wool Light to make this Endless Rose Cowl, which I blocked yesterday.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Turn, Turn Turn: Time Travels and Vogue Knitting Live

                Revisiting places from one’s past is a powerful and sometimes poignant reminder of the turning of the years.  Returning to New York four or five years ago, after a 17-year absence, was such a time, as was last weekend, when I traveled to the city and brought along my fifteen-year-old son, James.  I combined attending Vogue Knitting Live with spending time with my son and showing him a bit of Manhattan.

                Late on a Friday afternoon, we flew out of Charlotte. When we arrived at Laguardia and waited outside in the dark for a bus to the city, a young woman from Georgia and I began to chat.  After we’d boarded the bus and rode for a bit, for some inexplicable reason, the driver told everyone to disembark in Harlem (not the scheduled last stop for this bus).  The pretty red-headed woman I’d met, who is an art teacher, tagged along with James and me to look for a subway station, as she asserted, “We Southern girls need to stick together!”  I have been living in the South for far too long! I thought, taken aback a bit.  I’d never been called a “Southern girl” or “southerner” for that matter and have always been aware of my status as a Yankee and an outsider when I’ve found myself in the thick of southern culture.

                Despite 24 years of living in the South, however, I felt quite at home in the city, as I’d worked there for five years after college and had spent my teens years exploring the city where I’d frequently visited my father, who’d lived in Greenwich Village at the time.  After boarding the subway and taking a short ride, James and I, wheeled suitcases in tow, ran the gauntlet that is Times Square (think circus combined with Disneyworld) and checked into the Marriot Marquis.  I’d bought tickets for an improv show that night at a theater in the East Village.  James and I had dinner at a British pub named Cock and Bull (where I particularly enjoyed the black-eyed pea salad) and then rode the subway downtown to the Upright Citizens Brigade theater.  I was a little uneasy about what sort of outlandish environment I’d be exposing my born-and-raised-in-Carolina son to in the East Village, but the audience in the small theater seemed to be comprised mostly of young professionals and while the show, with its line-up of comedians interspersed with improv skits by the three hosts, did contain some off-color humor, it was witty and no less shocking than anything on network TV. 

                The next morning, I took advantage of the fact that my teen-aged son, if left to his own devices, will sleep till well past noon and spent a few hours at the Vogue Knitting Live marketplace. I bought a kit from Wooly Wonka for the Into theWoods Cowl and also purchased a Yarnit  ball holder and a small hand-held yarn winder (from yarnvalet) but that was the extent of my purchases, whose cost amounted to less than $100.  Not bad, considering two floors of temptation beckoned me.  Of course, the entire time I shopped, I was aware that I had to feed a six-foot-two teenager in Manhattan (an expensive proposition) and couldn’t live on granola bars and one meal a day, as I’d done on my previous visits to Vogue Knitting Live.

I couldn't resist this braid of Finnulgarn yarn in the kit for the Into the Woods Cowl.  

Around 1:00 that first day, James and I grabbed hot dogs from a vendor (a small snack for my son) and headed for a walk downtown, on a surprisingly balmy day (48-50 degrees) for this time of year.  We walked as far as Little Italy, where James and I shared a wood-fired pizza at La Bella Vita and then took a cab to Macy’s, where James bought a jacket, as he had neglected to pack one (teenagers have different notions about temperature and comfort).   That night, we had dinner at a sports bar, the West End Bar and Grill, and headed to a performance of The Book of Mormon.  Definitely off-color and irreverent, the show did, however, present a phenomenal display of talent and witty writing.  James surprised me by asking me if we could go to Sardi’s after the show (he’d heard about this New York theater district fixture somewhere), and I was happy to oblige.  We each had a dessert and soaked in the atmosphere—white tablecloths, red-jacketed waiters, caricatures on the walls, and a sense that the décor hadn’t changed since the 1950s.  I remembered going there with my father and was struck with the sense of how a place can stand still, while the people change at an alarming rate. 

I attempted to sneak this picture of James in Little Italy.  He caught me and didn't want his picture taken!

The next day, while James slept off our busy Saturday, I had a morning class with Amy Singer, entitled Plug + Play Lace Shawl Design.  Even though I was tired, I was able to start planning my own triangular lace shawl and left the class inspired, but wishing for more time to work on my own designs.  After the class, James and I had lunch at Irish Pub, Emmett O’Lunney's (my restaurant choices were based on providing ample teen sustenance, rather than personal preferences), and then James and I took a cab uptown to the Metropolitan Museum, where we explored the Egyptian wing and the Arms and Armor display.  I visited the Costume Institute, where an exhibit of clothing from the style icon Countess Jacqueline de Ribes was on display, but didn’t linger, as I didn’t want to have James remind me for the rest of my life of how I’d tortured him at the Met.  It was difficult, however, to maintain a Carolina boy’s interest in the museum, when he saw that it was snowing outside.  A walk in the flurries for ten blocks or so along Central Park made for the perfect New York moment.

The American Wing provides an inside-outside experience.  

Central Park is romantic in the snow.

That evening, James and I attended another Broadway show, The School of Rock.  Lots of kids and teens made up the audience, one which proved to be a bit unruly before the curtain opened, but settled down once the show began.  While not as witty and biting as The Book of Mormon, the cast with many children who sang, danced, acted, and played musical instruments did a phenomenal job.  After the show, at a pizza place near Times Square, I purchased three slices, two bottles of water, and a min-bottle of wine ($5.99) to take back to the room, and the total was 41 dollars!  Talk about gouging tourists!

The view from our room at the Marriott was impressive.  

The temperature dropped on Monday, but James and I headed off for a morning stroll to Rockefeller Center, and then it was back to the hotel to check out, store our bags at the bell hop stand, and meet an old friend of mine, from my college days in the 1980s.  At Café Un Deux Trois,  we caught up a bit, and he and James became acquainted.  Sitting in this roomy French bistro with its sunny windows and sparkling chandeliers while sipping good coffee and eating a salmon crepe was food for the spirit before heading back to the real world—grabbing a cab to Laguardia, waiting for a delayed flight, returning home to go to bed before nine, and heading out for school before 6 a.m. the next day!  I hope my get-away sustains me through the coming semester, with its new students and inevitable challenges and uncertainties.  I am certain, however, in my thankfulness for the opportunity to show my son a bit of my past and leave him with his own memories.    

StevenBe's booth was filled with people and enticing yarns, such as these skeins from  Hedgehog Fibers.  

Steven Berg of StevenBe talks with a shopper.  

Jeremy Smith of StephenBe graciously posed for a picture for me.  

There were lots of opportunities for yarn sampling.  

Attending Vogue Knitting Live is like going to a huge fair, only better!

One of the vendors (I think he's from The Verdant Gryphon) pulls out on Sunday.