The big plan

At first I had a different title in mind for tonight’s post. But when I searched my own blog I realized that I had, in fact, already used it. It was a long time ago, but I don’t want to make any aspect of my life — and particularly the parts of my life I share with the world — to be more confusing than necessary. So I’m going with “The big plan.”

I’m not sure how old I was when I realized that I had a propensity for making Big Plans. Could it have grown from being asked, almost constantly, what I wanted to do when I grew up? But even when I was eight or nine years old, writing a short article or conducting an interview wasn’t enough: I had to create a neighborhood newspaper. I couldn’t just keep a list of my books: I had to make checkout cards and pockets for the inside back covers of all my books, creating a library. (Not that I trusted anyone enough to permit borrowing. I’m a Special Collections Archivist at heart.) If I had one Trixie Belden book, I had to have them all.

These traits have continued, without much mediation, to the present day. Relearn Spanish? Why not collect all the possible resources and then add half a dozen languages to the list? Practice my saxophone? How…singular. Let’s add a flute, a clarinet, a trumpet, a keyboard, a guitar, and an accordion to the collection. Oh, we’ll need tutorials for each of those instruments, by the way. We can find those at thrift store when we’re looking for a trombone. Write a short story? Wouldn’t it be better as a novel? A series of novels? But then who will be cast as the lead in the film adaptation? Clear off the desk? Why not reorganize and spring-clean the entire house, garage, and minivan?

I wonder why I get so stressed.

Maybe I should knit. Maybe I should knit up all my current projects and all my stash and all the items in my Ravelry queue. Maybe I should do yoga, take yoga, become a yoga expert. I need more yoga clothes, don’t I? I should knit some yoga socks, the ones without the toes and the heels. Hang on, I’ll find some patterns and add them to my Rav queue.

Why am I still so stressed?

Maybe I should meditate….

So after a week of taking a course on meditating, and two weeks of slowly reading a book on mindfulness, and two weeks of taking an online course on getting rid of baggage…. I did the almost unthinkable and sat down and actually meditated.

It’s a good thing that I had read so much about being able to call my mind back to the breath when it started to wander, because it was weaving about my mental landscape like an inebriated Border Collie.

As I went through the rest of the day, I tried to catch myself before I developed the next Big Plan. I certainly had several opportunities to do so. Perhaps the key point to make here is about what I didn’t do.

I didn’t try to clean the house from top to bottom. I didn’t finish the mindfulness book. I didn’t knit another slipper. I didn’t do all the laundry.

I did finish the book on infinity. And in the last chapter, the author referenced a seminal book on mathematical logic by David Hilbert. Intrigued, I picked up my phone and searched for it on Amazon.com and found a two-volume set that might be an easier introduction to the topic. I switched to hpb.com, found both volumes and dropped them in my shopping cart. Then I took a deep breath. Did I need these books? Was I sure that these were the best books to read on this topic? Might I already have similar books? And didn’t I have friends in the math department whose opinions I might solicit about accessible lay reading on mathematical logic?

I deleted both books from my shopping cart and closed the tab.

Then I didn’t finish the shawl and I didn’t clean the basement. I didn’t take the dog on an exhausting walk, either: I left that to my friend Sheila, who took the following photos of their adventure.

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I wonder what I won’t do tomorrow?

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Restarting

I have enjoyed a restorative weekend in the company of my children, who are all effectively teenagers (ages 12 to 19). I remember that many years ago I found myself doing frantic calculations to determine whether or not I would have four teenagers at the same time. After a little bit of math and calm thought I realized that Eldest would turn 20 two months before Youngest would turn 13. However, things beings as they are they might as well all be teenagers together for now.

When all my children are in my house, which only happens every other weekend, I don’t have a lot of time to myself unless I am willing and able to wake before dawn — which I am usually not. So I get going when the first child wakes, and I retire when the last child grudgingly goes to bed. And I haven’t been meditating, reading fiction, or even making myself a cup of herbal tea.

So, what have I been doing?

I finished a slipper and I finished a memoir. I started a shawl and I started a book of essays on writing and knitting. I washed and dried a lot of dishes, and I watched my children play video games. I walked the dog, brushed the dog, fed the dog, watered the dog, chastised the dog, and cuddled the dog. I thought about the interconnectedness of everything, and I spent too much time on Facebook. I went shopping with my son and snuck into my office to do an hour of work on Saturday (don’t tell anyone!). I started a Ravelry group. I watched virtually as friends traveled through snowstorms, waited for delayed flights, vacationed in Disneyland, did their homework, lauded their children, helped search for lost pets, reported found pets, bemoaned their circumstances, shared jokes, shared photographs from all over the world, fought over politics, and rejoiced collectively when a lost child came home. I played Scrabble and Words With Friends and Mahjöng and Flow Free and some NYT mini puzzles and I created some playlists on Spotify. I downloaded the app for The Mighty. I framed and hung a piece of artwork. I watched videos and memes and threads shared by my children, who are trying their best to help me stay current on Millennial language and communication patterns.

I slept in, stretched out, filled my space, and listened to the noise of life around me. I may have ordered a book or two, but that’s not important right now.


After finishing the first slipper of the current pair on Friday, I cast on for a lace shawl and knitted the first five rows. The next day I knitted three more rows, found a mistake, tried to fix a mistake, tinked to uncover the mistake, and then tore everything out. This morning I cast on for a lace shawl and knitted the first five rows.

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The slipper that started the whole problem. GRR

The shawl pattern is going to require more of my attention than I had anticipated, so I’m mulling over a third, non-slipper, pattern to knit between coffee-enhanced knitting on the shawl. I have plenty of stash and I’ll come up with something.

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It’s time to reset, time to restart, time to reconfigure, and time to rest. Time to begin again. Time to wake up, time to pay attention, and time to cast on.

 

Published in: on January 13, 2019 at 11:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

On the DL

I got some work done this morning and did a little knitting this afternoon, but most of the day I was thinking about this coming weekend. (So much for mindfulness and staying in the moment.)

I have some places I’d like to go and some things I’d like to do and a thing or two that I’d better darn well take care of before it’s too late, but I have to be careful not to overplan or I’ll wear myself out and have a Setback. I also have to not overshare my overplanning or I will receive a Reprimand from those who are sure that I am headed for a Setback. (So please don’t tell anyone.)

They have my best interests at heart, and they’re probably wise to caution me. But please, just this one little round of errands? I promise, pinky swear, I won’t drive to the City and visit a dozen or so thrift shops.

I can convert the rest of my plans for the weekend into a kind of armchair tourism, can’t I — design new layouts for the bedrooms and window-shop for items on the Internet? Look for books I might read someday, and not buy them? Imagine clothes I might want to have this summer when it’s warm again and I’m stronger? Think about a vacation I might like to take (again, in the summer when it’s warm again) and see if it’s feasible?

What I’ll probably do is take care of a few errands, come home and be tired, and then read and knit. If the weekend goes as it usually does, I will try to interest the kids in a movie we can watch together, but find nothing on which we can agree. But that’s okay. Sometimes life is like that.

Maybe just having all four of them here will bring so much energy into the house that I’ll be able to slack off and let other people carry the load for a couple of days. Maybe I can hole up in the library and read my new book that just arrived today, The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater: Essays on Crafting by Alanna Okun. Maybe I’ll sit in the TV room and knit slippers and start the shawl while I watch the kids battle it out in Super Smash Bros.

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I’ll do what I must and rest when I should. I’ll take progress shots of the knitting. And I’ll be back and writing on the other side of the weekend.

Published in: on January 11, 2019 at 5:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

From finish to start

Just when I thought I was feeling better, I got my day off to a productive start and then went back to sleep for the entire morning. This recovery process is deceptive, and I was certainly well cautioned not to push myself too far lest I suffer setbacks. This morning was an effective reminder that the setbacks are lurking everywhere, ready to pounce. The curious thing was that when I woke near noon I thought “I slept for half the day” rather than “I lost half the day”. That’s a good change of mindset for me.

When I was up to it, I picked up the two-thirds-completed Star Trek washcloth that I had found in yesterday’s stash dive, and I went ahead and finished knitting it, wove in the ends, and did a photo shoot. (To be perfectly honest, the photo shoot actually came before I wove in the ends; the tails are just tucked discreetly under the washcloth.) So that’s one more project I can count as Finished.

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Third FO of 2019.

A while later I cast on for another slipper for Grandmother, and by the evening I had knitted the whole sole (though it may not be apparent in this photo, due to the method of construction). So that’s 25 percent of a new project finished.

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Probably the fourth FO of 2019.

I entered these projects in my Ravelry notebook and marked as Finished several projects that I had completed since my last update, even though I didn’t have photos of the finished objects or remember exactly when (sometimes even what year) I had completed them. They’re done, they’re marked as done. When I want to do a better photo shoot of finished objects, I can do that and take care of several of them at once. That day just wasn’t today.

Based on this galloping knitting pace, I decided to pick a project from the blues and greens and get it ready to cast on tomorrow. I chose Aperture, a lace triangle shawl by Ambah O’Brien. From the labeling on it, I purchased it at KnitCircus when I was there at the beginning of December, so it’s only fitting that I will knit it up with KnitCircus yarn as well.

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Let the games begin — tomorrow.

I purchased only one new book today: Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi. I had seen some positive comments about the book already, but what led me to purchase it was the announcement of an online discussion group forming around the book as a “big read” in Milwaukee. I won’t be mobile enough to zip over to a big city just for a book group for a while yet, and most book groups don’t dovetail well with my schedule for the kids, but an online discussion is something that I might be able to manage. And if not, at least I was encouraged to read a topical and well-written contemporary book.

Today I did read a few chapters in two other books: Always Another Country, a memoir by Sisonke Msimang, and Infinity: Beyond the Beyond the Beyond by Lillian Lieber. If you are a curious person I would recommend either book to you, though I must admit that Msimang’s text may well do a better job of drawing you in. I’m not sure how South Africa and transfinite numbers came to fall in the same category today, but they are both topics in which I am interested, and things that you must think about for a while before you start to understand.

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When I think about it, that last phrase describes almost every book on my shelves. Frankly, I should get rid of the books to which it doesn’t apply. I was raised to appreciate good writing wherever I found it, from Newsweek to American Rifleman to Road & Track. I felt such a commitment to the books I started that I was probably twenty years old before I read a book so poorly written that I stopped reading it and never went back to finish it. As far as I was concerned, the unspoken contract between writer and reader had been broken and I would not incur a penalty for the abandonment.

So today I rested, I read, I knitted, I cleaned, and I ate (including the banana-ginger-apricot bread, which turned out well and received a favorable review from my banana donor). Now that I have written, I have finished for the day — but tomorrow I shall start again.

Published in: on January 11, 2019 at 12:23 am  Leave a Comment  

When life gives you bananas

Today I took a couple of those small steps towards normal life: I did a little work from home, and I baked something. The working from home was a bit awkward because of the web-based email program I had to use, and after an hour my inbox started scrolling through my messages all on its own. I couldn’t control it, so I stopped it and went on to something else. I did find that I was able to access my Outlook calendar from home, though it (and the email interface) looked nothing like what I see at work despite the fact that I use PCs running Windows 10 in each location. Go figure.

Two friends stopped by today: one to drop off two meals and a dessert, and another to take my dog on a long, exhausting walk (it worked!). I spent most of the rest of my day knitting — I’ll go into more detail below — but in the evening I baked some banana bread.

Now, I had not been getting out to do any grocery shopping, but a friend offered to do this chore for me last week. When I gave him my list, I noticed that it didn’t contain any fresh fruits and vegetables. “Just pick something for me,” I said. “I like just about everything.” He showed up with the items on my list and two huge bunches of ripening bananas. Now, I do like bananas. But when I get them I pick out a small bunch so that nothing will go bad.

I do have a son who also likes bananas. But my four children have fruit and vegetable preferences that would be good fodder for either a complex logic puzzle or an extremely uncomplicated Venn diagram. To make a long story short (“too late!”), they have almost no preferences in common. So sixteen bananas (or more, I didn’t count) was a lot of bananas.

Today, when they were perfectly speckled-ripe, I decided that I should make a batch of banana bread. I have a pair of terrific mini-loaf pans that can turn a one-loaf recipe into a dozen tiny loaves, which makes banana bread much easier to share. Half the batch was “plain vanilla,” and the other half contained diced apricots tossed in ground ginger. We’ll see how that goes over tomorrow; my banana-loving son gobbled up a plain loaf after dinner, but none of my kids were willing to try banana-ginger-apricot.


I did have a productive knitting day. As soon as I could justify it, I started working on the final section of the Kindness KAL shawl. By the afternoon I was weaving in the ends and trimming the extra bits. The shawl will definitely need blocking, but I have loaned my blocking wires to a friend. I should be able to get them back next week, so I will set the shawl aside until then.

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First FO of 2019!

Then I went back to a previously knitted object — the slippers for my grandmother — and seamed them up and did a new photo shoot. They’re all packed up now and ready to be mailed out tomorrow.

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Second FO of 2019!

I had made an idle promise (not, I hope, a Solemn Vow) to cast on for the first slipper of the next pair right away. Now, where did I put that yarn? I dug through a couple of tote bags in search of it, and found an unfinished project about which I had completely forgotten. I’m not sure if the texture shows in this photo, but it’s a washcloth with a Star Trek insignia in relief in the center. I also found the pattern, on which I had actually marked my progress.

It seems a shame not to complete this little cutie before I move on to bigger things, don’t you think?

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Third FO of 2019?

But seriously, folks! After the decorative washcloth and the slipper, it does seem to be time for something newer. I don’t know what will call out to me, but there’s a strong likelihood that the next project will be in the blue-to-turquoise range.

Published in: on January 9, 2019 at 11:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

To dream, perchance to sleep

All in all, today was a pretty good day for following 90 minutes of sleep. That’s right, 90 minutes. After I publish this post I’ll make some chamomile tea and hope for better sleep tonight.

That’s not to say that I didn’t dream! In the early morning I had two dreams that didn’t make much sense, and they may have been the real factor for my waking more exhausted than I was when I went to bed last night. They weren’t scary, so I shall count my blessings and go forward. But it did throw off the rhythm of the day.

I did just a bit of reading today, as I kept one eye on the clock and most of my thoughts on this afternoon’s first follow-up meeting with my surgeon. As it turns out, she is quite pleased with how I am healing up. I’ll see her again in another month, when I should be ready to get back into the office full time. Before I saw the doctor I made a quick trip to Goodwill, where I bought a lotus blossom candle holder and only two new books.

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No mud, no lotus.

It was the first time I had driven or been out anywhere since the day before the surgery. I was excited to be out in the world again, but I wanted to be careful not to do too much. That was actually in line with my online course, which advised me that it might not be the most terrible thing to happen if I slowed my life down a teensy bit. It’s true that I have a tendency to over-plan my work time, my free time, and my time in general, then beat myself up for what I didn’t get done. That’s probably not particularly healthy. Today I certainly didn’t do everything that I wanted to do, but I had tasty meals, I knitted on the shawl, and I had very good blood pressure numbers at the doctor visit. So there’s enough to be happy about.

And I also took the time to take some photos of my heirloom rocking chair! After I upload them to Flickr I will replace the Google-result photo with one of my actual chair in my earlier post, so please go back and take a look.


Today I knitted the whole of Section Eight on the Kindness KAL shawl, using up as much of the white wool as I could. I measured my remaining yarn, knitted one row, measured again, and saw that I didn’t have enough yarn to knit my way back over again. So I un-knit the one row, cut off the extra and balled it up, and put it with the remaining ball of purple yarn. Tomorrow I should be able to knit the final section, bind off, and (if I feel up to it) weave in the ends. After that will come a gentle wash and a blocking. I’ll take pictures to document the blocking process for those who haven’t seen it before. It’s no big deal — just a process.

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The penultimate section is complete!

Blocking isn’t necessary for every project, but shawls in general and lace shawls in particular usually benefit from it. Otherwise, they tend to curl up — as you can see my shawl-in-progress doing in my photos — rather than lie flat. If they have edgings with scallops or points, blocking is when you pin them out to achieve the intended design. And it’s really only wool and some other natural fibers that can be blocked. Acrylic is a special case and uses a process called “killing.” I usually just weave the ends in, wash it on a gentle cycle to soften it up, and just wear the item if it’s acrylic.

So, tomorrow should herald the completion of a knitting project. Huzzah! As I mentioned previously, I will probably cast on for another slipper for my grandmother as a project “palate cleanser” before I take on something bigger.

But what’s next?

Something previously started, and as yet unfinished?

Or something new?

What would you like to see?

Published in: on January 8, 2019 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Use what you have

Today was a little lighter for me. I slept in a bit longer, did fewer chores, had more visitors coming by to help me out, and rested a bit more. I didn’t even do any knitting until the evening (more on that later).

One thing that I did do was go to my “library” to read this morning. Other than the futon, the only piece of furniture there is a grandpa-style wooden rocking chair that is a family heirloom. My father, who is 84, was rocked in it as an infant by his grandmother and it wasn’t new then. The caned seat has long since fallen away, and my father replaced it with a hard leather wooden seat sometime in the 1980s; the glue with which he filled some of the knotholes has since dried, and those plugs have fallen out. And OH YES does it creak.

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Actual chair and meditation cushion.

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Replacement seat by Jim Lamb.

It sits in the corner of the library with my seldom-used meditation cushion on the seat; on top of the cushion are usually my pajamas or yesterday’s clothes or both. Sometimes I hang knitting project bags from the back.

Today I looked at it with new eyes and realized that the thing I had never done was to sit in it and read. It’s in a home library. It’s surrounded by books. Yes, I should sit there and read. It’s a chair, for goodness’ sake.

I cleared it off and experimented with using my meditation cushion as a back bolster; that was uncomfortable, so I placed it on the floor. I sat in the chair, rested my bare feet on the cushion, and listened to the final segment of an “introduction to meditation” series on my phone. Then I picked up a book, and finished reading it.

I don’t know how many times I’ve told my children “Use what you have!” or “Watch the movies we recorded!” or “Play the video game that you just bought!” Apparently I have served as a terrible example, buying books I don’t read and acquiring kitchen appliances I rarely use. It’s just more fun to get new things, even if they are 25-cent old things we find at Goodwill. They’re new to us, and sexier somehow than the old stuff. I value the old things, certainly, and my how is packed full of them. But I haven’t been using them.

I’ll have to be harder on myself about using what I have. Starting with soap and chairs is pretty basic. Perhaps if I think about all those shelves of unread books as “new to me” it will make them more compelling to start, including the one that I ordered this morning through Amazon.


This evening’s knitting illustrates why many knitters don’t need to have extra drama in their lives. The knitting itself — though admittedly boring to watch — can occasionally provide anyone’s recommended daily allowance of suspense.

Today I started Section Seven of the Kindness KAL, which called for five pairs of garter stitch stripes. While I was knitting, however, I watched the yardage run down on my main color (the purple). Section Eight was going to be solid white, but Section Nine, the border, and the bind-off were all going to be solid purple. And there was less of it every time I knitted a row. Additionally, the pattern called for 260 yards of each color and I was knitting with 220 yards of each color. I was knitting to a smaller gauge but I realized today that I still wasn’t going to make it to the end without some adjustments to the pattern.

I called it quits to Section Seven after four pairs of stripes. When I work Section Eight tomorrow I want to use up as much of the white yarn as I can, since I won’t need any more for this project. But every two rows adds one stitch to the count, making the rows for Section Nine wider and wider and requiring more yarn.

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Section Seven: Complete enough.

To knitters, this is “playing chicken.” And you win if you can finish the project and bind off with as little spare yarn as possible. So many times, though, you don’t win. Depending on your resources, you can find another skein of yarn in the same color and dye lot and finish the project at your leisure and have plenty of leftovers. Or you could un-knit (or tink, which is “knit” spelled backwards) each stitch for a few rows so that you can finish the pattern with what you have. (The Kobayashi Maru here is to swipe some yarn from a dangling cast-on end, splice it to your bind-off end, and finish with that. Ask me how I know.)

Knitters hate to have leftovers if they don’t have a plan for them (Pro Tip: If you don’t have one, get one!). But even more frustrating is running out of yarn just before the end. The tension builds on the last row as you see how much yarn each stitch is taking and you estimate and re-estimate your chances of finishing with enough to spare. If you have the right kind of knitting group, everyone can get into the drama. Side bets are definitely a possibility.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings. I may finish this shawl sooner than I had imagined.

Published in: on January 7, 2019 at 11:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Second thoughts

As I recuperate, I have been reading through — albeit extremely slowly — Thich Nhat Hanh’s lovely book The Miracle of Mindfulness. There is no rush to get through it, and I’m reading whatever size passage calls to me before I stop and think things over.

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Yesterday’s passage began with a paragraph that really made me think:

Let me devote a few lines here to talk about the methods you might use in order to arrive at liberation from narrow views, and to obtain fearlessness and great compassion. These are the contemplations on interdependence, impermanency, and compassion.

Being broad-minded sounds good. So does fearlessness; so does compassion. The subjects of contemplation sound reasonable. But what are the opposites of these subjects for contemplation? They are independence, permanence, and a lack of compassion. (I won’t call it cruelty, but more of a sort of disinterest.)

Independence and permanence are qualities that our society seems to value. You want to do it yourself, to be able to go it alone, to not have to depend upon anyone. And who does not want to hold on to things, create items that will stay around, and leave a lasting legacy? Even compassion could be seen as wasteful if extended “too far;” at the other extreme, some parents don’t feel that it’s necessary to extend it to their own children, for fear that it will make them weak. From this perspective, it would be easy to see compassion and interdependence as weaknesses, and you might think that those who celebrate an item’s impermanence are foolish.

How interesting that these qualities are not presented as “right” and “wrong.” They are just presented. If these are qualities you want to have, some means are suggested so that you may develop them. But the writer respects the reader, and allows for a choice.


I have completed the next two sections on the Kindness KAL without any mistakes. Well, that is not strictly accurate. At the end of Section Five I had one more stitch than I was supposed to, but I couldn’t see where I had missed a decrease. (Maybe I will see it when I block the shawl.) I decided to move on and make the adjustment in the next section, which I did.

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Just after Section Five.

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Just after Section Six.

After I completed the KAL knitting for the day (did I say I wasn’t going to aim for one section per day? okay, I do think that I said that), I indulged in something really enjoyable. If you’re a yarnie you will totally get this. (If you’re not, try extending the metaphor to whatever hobby you have: collecting books, or cooking, or working on cars.)

At this time I seem to be attracted to the colors of blue, green, and turquoise. So I went to my stash and pulled out all the yarns in that drawer — yes, my stash is organized by color, mostly — and spread them all out on the bed. One by one I took skeins to my computer and searched Ravelry for appropriate patterns. Then I made proto-project bags for each group of yarn as I found a pattern to go with it. My definition of a project bag is a gallon-size Ziploc storage bag, so the most elaborate part of the affair was writing the pattern name on the Ziploc with a Sharpie. I haven’t even printed out most of the patterns, so today’s work could appear spectacularly underwhelming to the untrained eye.

All in all, I grouped twelve yarns (or combinations of yarns) with a pattern I’d like to make. It was so much fun to do. The best part is that I feel absolutely no pressure to complete or even start these projects, and I will not punish myself if I change my mind and decide to knit something else with the yarn. It was organization for its own sake, and it was a joy because I didn’t have to do it, I wanted to do it. All the yarn was lovely or could become something useful. Maybe someday it will. But not today, because I am done knitting for the day. Besides, I am committed to finishing the Kindness KAL shawl now that I have started it, and I don’t want to distract myself into another unfinished project. I probably have at least another dozen of those, and I don’t need any more.

When I do start a project, I will take photos as I go along, and I’ll share them. Heck, I may even put project notes up on Ravelry again. It’s been years since I have done that, but now I would like to take the time to do it again.

Thanks for stopping by.

Published in: on January 6, 2019 at 11:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hitting the bars

I have a long way to go with figuring out how to live my life, but I am trying to look at my self, my house, and my things more thoughtfully now. When I do this, it’s easy to see that I have a lot of things — surely more than I need. For various reasons, it’s difficult to let some of them go. (Ten-year-old electrical bill receipts, on the other hand: pretty easy.)

One of the hardest items to let go is any object that someone has given me as a gift. Inherent in that gift are an intention, a value, and a purpose, even if I cannot at this time appreciate the gift’s actual value. I can’t let it go; they wanted me to have it! (Maybe if ten years pass, and I really don’t like it, and I now know I will never use it, I’ll take a deep breath and whisk it out the door when they’re not looking. Maybe.) If it’s a consumable item, the rules are a bit different. If it’s food, you eat it. If it’s wine, you drink it. If it’s a gorgeous handmade beeswax candle, do you light it up right away and melt it into a stump and throw it away? Well, probably not. And that’s where things begin to get complicated.

A few weeks ago while browsing one of my local Goodwill stores, I saw a bowl that I was just drawn to. I don’t intentionally collect china and tableware; I just wind up accumulating things that I think are pretty, particularly if they have cherry blossoms on them. I picked it up and set it back down. A few days later I was in the store again, and the bowl was still there. I picked it up and set it back down. The next time I was in the store, the bowl was still there. I tucked it into my arms, finished my browsing, and bought it. Because if you have seen something three times at a Goodwill store, it must be there for you. If that’s not a law, it should be considered a firm guideline.

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So now I had the bowl I was apparently meant to have. But what was I going to do with it? I don’t have a china cabinet or extra space on the table to display it. I have a three-shelf glass cabinet in my office that is already filled with precious little Chinese and Japanese and English and German teapots and teacups and sake vases and sake cups and que-haces-tú. I looked around the house a bit and made a space for it on one of my bathroom shelves. It was too high up for anyone to look into it and see the cherry blossoms, but that was okay. I know they’re there.

Then I remembered the soaps. Those little soaps that girlfriends and work-friends give you just because. I don’t take a lot of baths and I don’t see myself as a fancy-soap person, but I receive soaps and I hang onto them for that nebulous “someday” when I might actually use them. Someday never comes, and so I have these soaps. At the end of the semester I had been given a bar of almond milk soap and a bar of goats’ milk soap — pretty fancy stuff. Into the pretty bowl they went. Somewhere in a drawer, wrapped in wax paper, was a little bar that a friend had given me a couple of years ago. She had probably made it herself. I found it, and into the pretty bowl it went. The bars sat there, being fragrant.

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Then my daughter spoke up. “Mom, we made soap at school on the last day! It was really cool! I made one without glitter and one with a [copious amount] of glitter!” We quarantined the glitter-bomb in a sandwich bag, and into the pretty bowl they went, being fragrant and colorful.

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And then I had the surgery, for which I had to wash with a regular soap and then wash with a special soap that was designed to reduce the risk of post-surgical infection. Sexy, ¿no? No. Anyway, I did all that and had the surgery and came back home. And then I thought, it’s probably not a good idea to use shower gels and plastic scrubbies right away. I should probably be more gentle until my incisions have had a chance to heal.

And then, finally realizing that the purpose of a gift was to be used, I drew a warm bath, picked out a soft, fluffy, gentle washcloth, and unwrapped the little handmade soap from the wax paper, and started to use it.

Thank you for the soap. I get it now.


I’m cruising along on the Kindness KAL. Today I completed Section Four and began Section Five. If I really wanted to push it, I could probably finish the fifth section tonight. However: (1) It’s not a race, (2) I have been expressly forbidden to push anything in the next six five weeks, and (3) I would really rather relax with a book this evening. Friday nights are for relaxing, so that’s what I’ll try to do (trying not to work too hard at it).

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Where will I stage my amateur photo shoots when the shawl-in-progress is larger than the top of my washing machine? We’ll see.

Published in: on January 4, 2019 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

In any language

Today when I wasn’t knitting I was reading. I read some more grown-up fairy tales, I read a bit more about meditation, I read far too much on Facebook, and I read my way through at least three levels of Duolingo Spanish. And this afternoon’s mail brought me a Russian-language textbook from 1959. (This is Volume One; I found Volume Two at a local thrift store and obviously needed to complete the set as soon as possible.)

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Cover photo: Red Square, Moscow.

I am absolutely fascinated by this textbook. The author is convinced that Russian language training is necessary, fun, and gaining in popularity in the United States educational system. (I’m willing to grant him a certain amount of optimism given that his name is Mischa and the year was, well, 1959.) He makes the following prediction in the first paragraph of the book’s introduction:

In the near future the teaching of Russian will be as widespread as that of Latin, French, or Spanish.

Well, he was mostly right about the Latin (though it is starting to come back, in places). But I suspect that you would have to attend a rather large university to find consistent offerings in Russian language courses, and the high school offering Russian would have to be rather specialized.

So here I am with books containing roughly two years of Russian language instruction. They’re the old style of textbook that I appreciate because they explain concepts in a teacher’s voice; the modern books tend to outline the different examples and then provide links to the $200 online textbook.

They aren’t the only books on my language shelf. In alphabetical order, I also have textbooks, flash cards, and other resources for learning French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish. (At work I also have resources for Arabic and Urdu.)

As I have mentioned earlier, I have been using Duolingo to learn some Spanish. This was the suggestion of my Spanish teacher from last semester, who permitted me to sit in on her most introductory course and start to relearn the Spanish I had encountered in high school and college. (It’s been a while. Since the last time I was in a Spanish class, they have actually revised the Spanish alphabet and changed the names of a couple of letters. I didn’t realize that you could even do that.) I love repetition; until “Duo” got confused on the day of the week I maintained a 79-day streak. I restarted and am up to a 31-day streak. It’s not a bad program, although I do run into glitches from time to time.

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I reported it.

My daughter is using Duo to augment her second year of German language instruction; my middle son is using it to dabble in French when he’s not teaching himself Japanese. He’s taking Latin in high school (see, Mischa?), but Duo doesn’t offer that yet. This afternoon he was whipping through an elementary unit on numbers and building up his XP, and I was really impressed. It’s interesting to watch your children become fluent in a language you don’t know. (They’re kind enough to instruct me in Meme.)

Another language I’m learning is the language of meditation, relaxation, yoga, and peace. The words themselves are usually easy, but the sentences can be densely coded like poetry. The message must be read several times and sincerely contemplated before it can be absorbed and put into practice.

Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life. — Thich Nhat Hanh

In the daily online course on clearing emotional clutter, today’s tasks are simply to think about what I’m looking forward to in my life and to decide what I am ready to change about it. That’s all. Simple questions, but the answers could keep me up every night for a week. Working things out will take me the rest of my life, and they might not even work out. Still, it seems like something worth trying.


This evening I finished Section Three of the Kindness KAL shawl. It’s not really the goal to complete a section a day, but if it works out that way I can’t complain.

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It will make more sense after I block it.

I’m not knitting anything else right now, but I could sneak some other project in if I find myself with some extra time. There’s another shawl I should be making a little progress on; it takes 20 to 30 minutes for each row, and that’s about all I can manage in a sitting. A row at a time, it can get done. If I don’t work on it at all, it will take considerably longer.

Published in: on January 3, 2019 at 11:35 pm  Comments (2)