Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Taking Care of Everything

While the wind continues to batter the east side of our house, we put the finishing touches on our holiday preparations. When it is left up to me, things move rather slowly. I have a hard time with being pinned down to specific dates so I resist the notion that these celebrations need to happen exactly on the 25th. I rather prefer the idea of a more consistent and even flow of giving across days and nights rather than one big, end-of-year blowout. Yet other people do not necessarily share this idea and they expect their gifts to be ready on Christmas day. Somehow this surprises me every time.

Speaking of late gifts, I have finished knitting Lucy's Central Park Hoodie. Here it is, blocking.

Minky decided that napping on wet wool has a certain appeal.

Finnian snapped this picture last night. He claims it proves that I spend too much time on the computer. He might be correct in that assessment. To remedy this situation, I am going to take a little vaca from all things computer, or at least the internet-based parts.

Have a wonderful holiday season! See you in the new year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice!

These photographs of the lunar eclipse were taken by our friend and talented artist/naturalist, Ed Lam, in Eastchester, NY. It was too cloudy here to see anything.

It has been cloudy, warm and windy. No white Christmas for this corner of the world. But it could be worse: I could be one of the many people stuck in North Sydney, NS, waiting for the ferry to be able to cross the Cabot Strait of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and get home for Christmas. For the second week in a row, the windy conditions have held up ferry service. The ferry is the lifeline to the island - food, mail, and people all need the ferry, which is basically the Trans-Canada highway between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. When it doesn't run, the trucks and cars line up and you just have to wait -there is nothing to be done. Even this could be worse, however. Sometimes the weather changes while the ferry is out on its run (typically a seven-hour voyage) and it can't dock in Port aux Basques. Then, the ferry must wait it out, sometimes for days, in a safe harbour. One can only imagine what that is like!

But all is well here...

Lucy is finishing up her socks - just turning the heel now.

Finn is making a fire. After swinging sharp, sword-like implements around, burning things is his second favourite activity.

We get ready for the arrival of his nibs tomorrow evening with fingers crossed that air travel isn't disrupted like the ferry.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rabbit or Tiger?

The other day, Nathan over at Dangerous Harvests wrote about "Hard-ass Zen". He was poking fun at the macho side of Zen, a side of the practice that isn't too hard to miss: sitting in full lotus, not getting up for kinhin (walking meditation), being first in the zendo at 3 am, racing to be first in the dokusan line, and on and on. Zen offers many opportunities for aggressive, even competitive, behavior. And that's exactly what they are too - opportunities. Will you take them?

I would be lying if I said I have never snatched at those particular opportunities. You don't have to be a man to be macho, sometimes.

After all, Zen is a practice that demands a large dose of discipline and motivation. I dare say that being a wishy-washy fence sitter is near to impossible when one takes up Zen practice. Frankly, this is part of what is so appealing about it - it is really, really difficult and it requires a shit or get off the pot attitude. For me, as a confirmed Type-A personality, when I hear the word, "difficult", my ears perk up. Sign me up! This kind of determination is good and even necessary. Yet, strength and weakness go hand-in-hand, as what draws me to the practice becomes the snare that trips me up.

It reminds me of what happened right before we left to come here to Newfoundland. I went to the Temple for the morning sitting. It would be my "last chance" (the very words are mildly ridiculous) for dokusan (private face-to-face meeting with the teacher) until we return in the spring. It was feeling very important, dire even, that I get in there but I knew that the amount of time in the morning isn't always enough for everyone who is waiting on line to get in and see the teacher. When the line was called, I raced there and, literally, elbowed another person out of the way to get ahead of her. Well. This story is so riddled with delusion, it is quite embarrassing to recount it in this public forum. But I recount it because it really opened my eyes and perhaps you can recognize yourself in there too - as the person elbowing or being elbowed.

I have been thinking about this attitude in context of my yoga practice as well. My practice, ashtanga, is well-known as the practice for Type-A people. I remember David Williams criticizing ashtanga teachers who do extreme adjustments. Ashtanga teachers tend to have a reputation for being rough and causing injuries trying by to force people into asana-s they may not be ready to enter. Williams said, "these are people who have come to an ashtanga class - if they could do it, they would be doing it!" I think of that often as look around at the other ashtangis when I practice in a group context - I see a level of determination that isn't always present in other yoga classes. I think of it when I am pushing myself into an asana and it hurts. What exactly am I doing at that moment?

There is a delicate balance between feeling the love and feeling the burn, between working the edge and racing off the cliff, between aspiration and expectation. Can you find it?

Here is a wonderful dharma talk by Myotai Treace titled You Can't Leave Here. She takes up many things but I especially love this part near the end,

Bunny lives are lived by the "robot rabbits," creatures mindlessly fulfilling the expectations of their culture, hopping around in the patterns established by habit and history. We are capable of so much more than that. But in order for that capacity to be realized we have to take a chance. We have to put our body on the coals, and our heart on the line. Whenever someone complains about how Zen practice doesn’t do it for them, how it doesn’t reach some place in their life that is hurting or aches with incompleteness, I’m shot through with this determination to dwell more deeply in attention. We’ve only seen the fingernail clippings of this vast body of practice: who can know what possibilities are still undiscovered, waiting for us? No one has cut the path we need to follow; that’s the tiger’s poem, written step by step, breath by breath.
I have pulled that quote quite out of context, so please check out the whole talk.

I you want just fingernail clippings? Go on, be a tiger!

Spindle 7 on the CBC

Several weeks ago I went into Corner Brook to the local CBC radio station and met with Bernice Hillier, the host of the West Coast Morning Show - the daily morning news/talk show here. We talked about my project, Spindle 7, its roots in Newfoundland and my current plans to collect stories about spinning wool in Newfoundland.

You can listen to a podcast of that interview here.

If you, or anyone you know, has a story about spinning in Newfoundland, please get in touch with me! Leave a comment or email me at thehousemuseum(at)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

When Fleece Wins

This morning I thought I would write about discipline and fear in meditation and yoga.

And then I thought...nah.

I mean, look what came my way yesterday:

Beautiful fleece handpainted by Widdershin Woolworks. I know I have said it before but I will say it again: your purchase helps to fund a hermitage in New Mexico being created by an American-born nun in the Tibetan lineage of Buddhism. I see that she is having a sale on all her yarns at the moment, so take a moment to have a looksee. There must be someone on your gift list who needs yarn (and if they knit, rest assured that "need" is not too strong a word to describe their condition).

Perhaps that person is you?

Last night was our weekly knit night in the greater Bay of Islands metropolitan area. We piled into a car and made tracks to Shannon's house here in Gillams.

I know it looks dangerous but really we were going about 2 minutes down the road in this condition.

It was the big reveal! Shannon and her husband have been working on their house since before we moved here in 2002 and it is finally nearing completion. Or at least enough that she felt ok about hosting a gaggle of knitters. I will let her share pictures of her house if she is so inclined.

Here is one that Barb Hunt took of Lucy and her friend Hannah enjoying staying squished even after getting out of the car.

And yes, isn't it amazing that we have such an illustrious knitting group? Barb, who just opened her solo exhibition at The Rooms in St. John's, Shawn from islandsweet, Shannon, Hilary and others who may not have a web presence but are illustrious nonetheless.

I think you should join us immediately!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More Links

The bitter irony of today? It is -8C/17F in New York right now. It is about 8C/46F here.

Here are some links to distract the mind from any notions about what constitutes "real" winter.

Check this out - another blogger likes my handspun! And one more treasury on etsy. Always a great compliment, and a good reminder to keep spinning.

Here is a wonderful link to a website where you can download software that temporarily blocks social media websites on your computer. Having trouble not slipping away to take a peek on Facebook? Block it! I'm doing it right now.

Here is an interesting post about childhood with particular references to Buddhist practice. It is lengthy but a worthwhile read. It might even be helpful to scroll to the end and check out the links to other posts on related topics first, then plow ahead with Marnie's post.

There has some discussion in the Buddhablogosphere (or whatever it is called these days) about whether or not to encourage children to participate in Buddhist practice, such as Christians do with Sunday school and CCD and things like that. Personally, I have no great insights into this. My children quickly tell me when I am overstepping my boundary when it comes to involving them in my practice. That said, they know I sit every morning and go to sesshin, that I have a teacher, etc.. Sometimes I accidently on purpose let them overhear me listening to dharma discourses on the computer. This seems mainly to elicit from them silly imitations of the teachers..."Everything is empty...emptiness...don't forget, everything is empty.." they say and laugh and laugh. Who are these stupid adults that they have to hear the same thing over and over and over? Um, that would be me, my darlings.

No, the best way I have succeeded in making what I do seem worthwhile in their eyes was to ask one of the very awesome people in the sangha, a young, talented artist named Rami Efal, come and teach a graphic novel class at our house. When they saw the rock star, Rami, was part of this whole thing, then it definitely became a whole lot cooler.

Mainly I trust that, when the time comes and they start asking themselves questions about life and death, they will remember that their mom has this practice and that it seems to mean a lot to her so maybe it would be worthwhile to check it out. Am I being too passive? I don't think so. I have a lot of faith that by living together as we do they see, probably more than anyone else, what this practice really means. They really hear it, see it, feel it, for better or worse. Ok, I admit that I have asked them to please, just one time, come and participate in the Zen teen program at ZMM. I have confidence that the very rock star-like Shoan, who runs the program, will totally make them want to go back for more. You know, a few rock stars never hurt anyone.

And since we are talking about talking about Zen, check out, where you can hear podcasts of dharma discourses for yourself from the three teachers at ZMM. But if you have mocking comments such as the one above, please keep them to yourself. I get enough of that around here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Guess Who is Coming to Town?

Gillams hosted its second annual Santa parade yesterday. I was told it was a good turn out in both floats and spectators - in Gillams terms that meant five floats and some miscellaneous Shriners buzzing around in their little vehicles wearing fezes.

No worries about separation of church and state here. This is one of Lucy's great friends as the Virgin Mary in the Gillams Recreation Committee float depicting a creche scene.

The requisite mummers. No decent Santa parade in Newfoundland would be held without them.

And the man himself! Finn and Lucy will be taking a hike with him tomorrow - he's a versatile guy, that Santa.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Although the forecast is for more unseasonably warm weather this week, we have had a bit of snow. It reminds me why I fell in love with this place

It was with some regret that I cut down a tree up behind our house, but Finn and Lucy were delighted. It took quite some time to find just the right one, but I think we found a good one. I guess it is some consolation that it was growing close to a skidoo trail and, sooner or later, someone would have decided it was growing into the trail and cut it down.

At least now it is giving joy and being well-tended.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Someone Call Mad Men

This is our local lumber yard and hardware store. It is locally owned, staffed by very knowledgeable people most of whom do not treat women like idiots (I said most, not all!), and they deliver. I love Stan Dawe.

But who are their marketing people? "A cut about the rest"? I don't think so. Wouldn't it be much better if it said:

"I Stand in Awe of Stan Dawe"

There also is a real estate agent in Corner Brook named Linda Freake but does she use the slogan, "Get Your Freake On"? No, she does not.

Sigh. So much work to do.

But look! Snow!

It is a balm for the wounds left by missed opportunity.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Top 5

Yesterday I was very surprised and happy to learn that The House Museum was listed as one of the top five cultural destinations in Newfoundland and Labrador by Angela Antle, host of the CBC Weekend Arts Magazine program, in the Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Everything.

Have to say that I have noticed a shift in the general reception for the project around town as well. From not tossing out the sign I had attached to our road sign when the town replaced it this summer (they very kindly and carefully reattached it to the new sign) to the Town Manager asking me, with a note of anticipation in her voice, "You didn't open the museum last summer...but you will this year, right?", well, it all gets me thinking.

Like Newfoundland itself, The House Museum project is ever-changing. The questions that want asking are different now than they were even five years ago. The project needs a new direction and I am trying to keep my eyes wide open so I can find it.

What are the other Top 5 destinations? Check them out!

King's Point Pottery and Craft Shop (Linda Yates and David Hayashida)
Norton's Cove (Janet Davis)
Paterson Woodworking (Mike Paterson)
Luben Boykov's foundry (sorry, couldn't find a link!)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Yes B'y, That's Some Good Prajna

Finn and Lucy are spending the day with a neighbor who is an amateur naturalist. He agreed to a regular gig of taking them on hikes and teaching them about local flora and fauna, of which he is an expert. They were not so happy to have their slacker, wander-out-of-bed-at-noon schedule interrupted but they managed to get out the door, bribed with pancakes and coffee. I am excited about it not just because now I have several hours of blissful silence (I smell drywall plastering in my future) but because their guide knows all the best trails and berry picking spots in the general area. I told them to ask a lot of questions and remember everything!

In the quietude, I have been reflecting on some of the goals I had when I began The House Museum project and we purchased this house back in 2002. In particular, I had this idea that I wanted to gain access to the local community - earn their trust and learn about their lives from a more intimate perspective than could be learned from a typical visit made by a tourist or "summer resident". From past projects, I knew this kind of relationship had to be earned and could not be taken for granted. And it was especially tenuous given the fact that I was inserting myself into this community uninvited - it wasn't as if the Gillams Town Council met and decided that what would best improve their town would be if an American artist came and set up a nosy parker museum exploring tourism and culture. Indeed, there have been moments when I have suspected the Council may have been meeting to figure out a way to get rid of me!

Yet I have hung on, sometimes achieving those moments of intimacy and insight and sometimes stumbling and putting my foot in it. Drawing people in and pissing people off. Naturally I prefer the former but the latter has to be part of it too.

I have been reflecting on all of this because, on Sunday, I was working with the community, not through art but through yoga - I am teaching a beginner class at the Summerside Community Hall on Sunday evenings. Nearly 30 showed up for the first class! Based on that success, there is a possibility of teaching two or possibly three more times/week in other towns. Suddenly, I am meeting all these people who felt so distant before, particularly women. Perhaps it is a kind of shyness that has kept many women from participating in THM projects, but I so often felt like there was an impenatrable barrier between me and them. Or perhaps it was because I had set up something that felt so foreign and intimidating that they were put off. Lord knows, I didn't make it any easier if they did come - more than once I heard people ask "where's the art?" when they came in the house. My response of "it's everywhere" never quite convinced anyone.**

"You see, it is conceptual, exploring the nature of the museum experience and the gift economy versus the commodification of...whoa, where'd they go??"

But yoga is a little more real - your breath, your body, this mat, this life.

It is very gratifying to be able to offer something that is being accepted and, in exchange, get to know people who otherwise felt beyond my reach. And who knows, maybe the two offerings - yoga and THM - will someday find a way to play off each other.

Namaste, m'dear.

**Just want to make clear that I do not believe that people here are somehow unable to get what I was up to with THM - plenty of people did get it and much of the confusion people felt originated with me. That said, for a lot of people for whom art isn't a regular topic of conversation, the project was like some kind of secret language that they didn't know. Nine times out of ten, if they were open to talking about it, they left feeling like they "got it" but that was a big leap and not everyone wanted to take it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Blow, Wind, Blow

The wind is blowing a gale today. The house gets a pounding as the wind comes over the mountains, across the bay, up the hill and hits our little abode. No mercy from the wind.

While I listen to the roar, I have some pictures to share.

Look! Local wool! Yes, the rarest of beasts found at the Templeton Academy craft fair. The craft fair revealed a certain truth that, if everyone has access to only a limited supply of materials, it is hard to distinguish the final results. Table after table of nearly identical quilts, aprons, and table runners. Lovely and well-made, but clearly everyone shops at the same place for fabric. For me, one table beamed out of the fog of Christmas patterns and squashberry jam - skeins of wool stacked in a small pile along side socks and mitts made from said wool. Although the woman behind the table and I seemed to speaking different languages, I did get that it came from her own sheep. She was selling it at a painfully low price (as was everything - it drives me crazy! I saw a XL woman's Aran sweater with amazingly complex cable work on sale for $45! I wanted to shout at the woman who made it - You are bringing everyone down when you price like that. Have some respect for your own incredible talents. It is a message that is heard very reluctantly here.) Anyway, I bought up some yarn and felt happy to have made a connection to local wool. Long may it continue.

Look! Lucy is knitting socks! She turned the heel like a seasoned expert. She also is working on a cowl with cables that is just lovely (all are destined to be presents). Sniff, sniff, I am so proud of little baby is kick-ass knitter.

And then we went into the woods and burned things.

We went over to our dearest of dear friends, Olive's house. They had a lot of brush left from gathering wood for the winter, so we made a bonfire.


Then we went back to her house for a little snack (a visit with Olive always, always, always includes food). Here is a photograph of her cat, L'il Puss. L'il Puss clearly enjoys her l'il snacks, so much so that we have taken to calling her Mega Puss. The picture does not even accurately depict L'il Puss's girth.

Before we could take on a phsyique similar to L'il Puss, we fled into the night, smokey but very happy.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Links I Like

Yesterday, Dan called me and asked, "Are you alright?" with a worried tone in his voice. He was a little concerned I might have fallen off the deep end after that last post.

Whaa? Can't a girl have a cussin' and fightin' kind of morning once in a while?

Anyway, to move on to more positive things...I have spotted some fantastic things around the interwebs; things that don't rely on fancy photographic tricks to make them beautiful either (god, will she ever give up??), and I thought I would share them.

First, two lovely treasuries on etsy, featuring, among other things, my recently spun skeins of yarn. Find them here and here. Click and enjoy.

Then, I discovered that a Finnish natural dyer that I admire greatly, Riihivilla, now sells kits of naturally dyed yarn and original patterns for mitts. Oh, how to choose just one? For what it is, I thought she priced them fairly reasonably, although I didn't look at shipping costs.

Oh yes, and click here for a glimpse into current Newfoundland politics. I knew Danny Wiliams had amazing hair, but I didn't know he was so short.

And possibly the funniest thing I have come across in a long, long while: Werner Herzog reading Madeline. Did you like that? Then go hear him read Mike Mulligan and His Stream Shovel. "Living in the dark with nothing but his guilt and Marianne's twisted and deformed remains..." How can you not love this?

On a more serious note, and perhaps most importantly of all, I am happy to share the new website for Dzong Mar Mountain Hermitage. It is being developed by an American-born Tibetan nun in New Mexico. She is still raising money for this project through donations and through sales of her beautiful yarn and hand-painted fleece on etsy. You can read a bit about the history of the project and the plans for its future there.

Finally, here is a link to Lucy's shop on - SodiaPopShop. She doesn't blog often, but she does have t-shirts!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

This F*cking Moment

Several of the blogs I like to read now include a weekly feature called "This Moment", inspired by a weekly feature of the same name created by Amanda Soule, whose well-known blog, Soulemama, is a source of inspiration to many. "This Moment" is posted on Friday and it consists of one photograph that is chosen because it depicts and conveys an appreciation for what is happening right now - this moment. If you look at her blog, she definitely has a keen eye for visual composition and colour not to mention is a genius in her use of large aperture/short depth of field. Why is that so damn appealing? Jared Flood, over at Brooklyn Tweed, is a master of it too. I don't know why, but I eat it up like candy.

Even as I am totally seduced by Ms. Soulemama and her short depth of field photographs, there is something that makes me want to smash through her perfect, tireless life of crafting, child rearing, vintage fabrics, organic gardening and homemade jelly. She never, ever lets on that anyone ever screams bad names at each other in her household. No one ever makes an unpicturesque mess or makes a meal of potato chips and then feels sick. No one ever farts or walks around with something green between their teeth all day. It's like her shit don't stink, as someone I used to know liked to say.

I sometimes get a similar feeling when I spend too much time involved with Waldorf-based programs. We once took a handwork class at a very hoity-toity Waldorf shop on the Upper East Side that inevitably made me want to arrive carrying some stinky McDonald's Happy Meal, scratch myself in inappropriate places and talk about my deep love of refined sugar, plastic and video games. The fact that I would rather starve than eat a Happy Meal, I hate plastic and would never play a video game if you paid me only made it worse.

Because my shit do stink. Even as I also love crafting and child rearing, jelly making and organic gardening, we shout at each other and make ugly messes and occasionally eat crappy food and generally live lives that are beautiful and hideous, at the same time. This moment? This moment might break your heart for its poignant profundity, or it might make you curl your lip in disgust.

As I took these photographs yesterday, I thought about how I could make a perfect Soulemama blog post. Then I thought, bullshit!

So, I present to you my "This F*cking Moment" photograph, the first and last in a series. And just to be a total bee-atch about it (and give myself one more opportunity to include a curse word in this post), I am doing it on a Thursday.

So there!

But, you know, I do really love that photograph....

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Living the Laundered Life

This what winter looks like for us. Laundry is a full body, full household event. Because of a dicey septic system that we are babying along for as long as possible, having an electric washing machine that drains into it isn't possible. Yet our clothes insist upon getting dirty time and time again. What to do?

My answer has been to purchase a Mennonite-made hand cranking washer, called the James Washer. If you click the link, you see it costs nearly as much as an electric washing machine, so it isn't a bargain. On the other hand, the thing is genius. Using very little water and detergent, it gets clothes cleaner than an electric washing machine and I get an upper body workout at the same time - 100 agitations/load. Or is it 200? Or do you count one full back and forth? Or is it one forward and two back? I can never remember, so I just agitate until it seems like it has been enough. Highly unscientific but since people are not swerving away from us in the grocery store, I assume we appear and smell clean enough.

In the summer months, the washer sits on our bridge (or front porch) and I agitate and look off to the bay and the mountains, enjoying the gentle breezes and sunlight. When laundry is done, I hang it on the clothes line to dry and soak up the delicious fragrance of the Bay of Islands while I drain the water directly to the ground below. (I use only bio-friendly laundry products). The grey water makes my garden grow.

But what of winter? Last time we spent winter here, I did laundry in the living room and drained the machine out a hose on the front yard. Needless to say, laundry day involved much wearing of ski pants and shaking out frozen hoses. I was not anxious to repeat that experience. The must be a better way I told myself. Then I told Dan.

Dan is clever like that and, lo, he came through with a rather brilliant idea. The washer now stands in our dining room/project room/yoga room/zendo/wool storage facility where a hole has been drilled in the floor to accommodate a hose. When I do laundry I pull the machine away from the wall, agitate however many times/load, then run down to the basement, throw the hose out the basement window, run back upstairs and let'er go. No ski pants, no frozen hoses. Just sweet, sweet gravity doing her thing.

Then slowly, ever so slowly, the clothes dry near the woodstove. Now, if Dan could come up with a clever solution for making the clothes dry just a little faster...