Friday, June 29, 2012


Vogue Knitting Early Fall 2012, photo by Rose Callahan

My brilliant friend, knitwear designer, Zabeth Loisel Weiner, created this lace shawl for Vogue Knitting.  It is in the latest issue, Early Fall 2012.  Doesn't the mere name of the issue make you want to start knitting?  Please check it out!  You don't even have to be as brilliant as Zabeth because she did all the hard work of figuring out the pattern.  You only need to knit it.  

And, believe me, you do need to knit it.

For sizes: 50" wide
Yarn Information: Madelinetosh Prairie
Amounts: 1 hank in Mourning Dove

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Teach What You Know (and What You Believe)

Two weeks ago, in teacher training, we studied with a terrific teacher, Fran Ubertini.  She is a great combination of high energy and straight talk, being born and raised in Brooklyn in a big Italian family.  Plus she knows her stuff and has been around long enough to have worked through exactly what yoga means to her (hint: it ain't just asana).

At the end of our weekend of training, she lead us through an agna laghava sequence, which I think means something like "lighting the flame" but please correct me if my Sanskrit is off.  In the Desikachar tradition, there is a lot of attention paid to how yoga moves prana (loosely translated as life force, energy, or sometimes even breath) and apana (waste, elimination).  Various asana create more prana or work to burn up apana.  It is all on a subtle plane and not something immediately tangible.  In agna laghava, we practiced the asana by doing a full inhalation and full exhalation and then, while holding on the exhalation, actually moving into or out of the posture.  I think that means we were using prana to burn up apana, if I understood it correctly.

Although it is simple in concept, it is not a practice for beginning students because it assumes that you have a rather large breath capacity and that you are generally fit enough that the series of postures you are doing are not challenging from a physical standpoint.  In other words: do not try this at home.  It is something to be done with the guidance of a teacher who knows you and your breathing patterns.  While Fran didn't know us very well, she figured that we were basically good to go as 500- and 700-hr teacher trainees.

We did some rounds of a very simple sun salutation and then some other standing postures - nothing fancy - but it was totally and completely transformative.  By the time we finished, my state of mind was still and clear and totally ready for meditation, which if you believe the Yoga Sutra, is the main purpose of asana.  The thing is, I had never really and truly believed that.  I believed that yogis did asana because they lived in the forest without access to healthcare and needed a way to stay healthy (a description of how asana practice came about that I once heard).  I believed that our bodies retain a memory of emotions and events deep in our muscles and that asana can help release them (why do I often want to cry when I deeply flex my right hip?).  And I believed that doing asana simply makes you feel good - because it does for me every day.  But as a preparation for meditation, I did not believe it because it never was for me.  I mean, everyday, I simply sit on my cushion to meditate.  Asana had nothing to do with it, and so this mysterious connection never felt like a connection.  Until it did.

When it did, it kind of rocked my world because it made all the criticisms of ashtanga that my teacher has been sharing with me (after twenty years of practicing ashtanga herself) seem valid.  Even as I have learned a lot about myself and my body through ashtanga, the fact remains that it is limited in terms of helping one to achieve the eighth limb of yoga: a state of samadhi.  I would go so far as to say that practicing whatever series you are working on will never bring you to that state.  And I think it is not a sustainable practice once you reach a certain age.  Although I know people in their sixties doing it, in a way, I feel a little sorry for them.  Do they still need that much asana?  Why?  This is an important question!

After confessing all, my teacher gave me a new daily home practice that is (surprise!) an agna laghava practice.  It isn't much asana and the main focus is the breath and concentration of mind.  It is surprisingly difficult!  But I really love it.  As for my dear ashtanga practice?  I have decided to call it my workout and I do it after yoga and meditation.

It is an awesome workout - you should see my biceps!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Best of TImes, The Worst of Times

One of my sisters was here recently for a visit and high on her list of places to go was the 9/11 Memorial.  To be honest, I did not want to go.  It is hard to see this site as a tourist destination.  The original act of senseless violence and the subsequent wrong turns and bad ideas that it spawned leave me feeling less than thrilled about making it part of any itinerary.  But Sis wanted to go, so we ran the gauntlet, which is what happens to those who feel the need to visit the memorial before it is totally open to the street.  It will be someday when all the construction is completed but, for now, one must get a free visitor pass at a location several blocks away from the entrance.  This not-so-brief walk also allows the construction workers taking lunch to have a front row seat to view all the tourists heading to the site (it was ALL tourists - why do they want to see this?).  If you enjoy being inspected by many construction workers while they eat sandwiches, then I recommend this visit to you.

After the visual inspection by iron workers and other tradesmen, you go through a security check that makes an airport security check-in experience seem like a joyful welcome from your favourite grandmother.  So, if you enjoy being manhandled by people in light blue shirts who have been trained by some rogue nation's secret police, then I highly recommend this visit to you.

After some vigorous inspection and humiliation, then you walk through an endless roped off area - back and forth like some kind of surrealist movie sequence.  In fact, it was so bizarre and yet compelling that I was seriously regretting not bringing my video camera.  I was regretting it until I was accosted after taking this one photo in an attempt to capture the way people were moving through the space.  Apparently, no photographs were allowed here, although it is not at all clear why since photographs are okay at the actual site.  If you have ever wished to be a participant in a Kafka-esque bit of highly guarded choreography, then I recommend this visit to you.

It is much more interesting with the movement but I can not fathom what would befall
anyone who dared try to record it.
Battered in spirit if not in physical self, we persevered and entered the actual memorial site.  Amazingly, it is quite moving and cuts straight through whatever bitterness you feel by the time you enter the gates.  The other visitors were remarkably subdued and respectful.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is a very powerful experience.

I think it is a testament to the design that anyone was able to feel anything other than a sense of despair at what has happened to public access and our collective sense of paranoia since 9/11.  Indeed the disparity between the experience of getting into the memorial and the memorial itself is perhaps the perfect illustration of the state of the country today.  The very best and the very worst, side-by-side and completely interconnected.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Did I Show You This?

Over 400 yds of lace weight Shetland beauty spun from a fleece hand painted by Widdershin Woolworks.  Dear Ani (the genius behind Widdershin) nearly met her death after a visit to Israel - no it wasn't terrorism, it was a mosquito who gave her a West Nile like virus.  The handspinning world was on tenterhooks and we didn't even know it!  She is on the mend now, thank the spinning goddesses!

Anyway,  I don't care what anyone says, Shetland sheep are very cute, their wool spins up like nobody's business and the resulting yarn has a sturdy integrity that is unmatched, except perhaps by Icelandic wool.  Nah, I think Shetland is best.  

As Finn once said in response to my telling him that I thought I liked spinning *better* than knitting:

Oh no you dittn't.  (add your own sweeping, snapping gesture).

Saturday, June 02, 2012

(No Impact Week - Day #5) Don't Be A Drip

The focus for the fifth (and for us, final) day of No Impact Week was water.  To be perfectly honest, I didn't make any changes in our water use during the week.  I felt that I had pushed Fin and Lucy to their limit with the other changes so I didn't insist on altering the way we consume water.  Others in the group that I was participating in this experiment with did much better.  One household cut their water use in half with very simple methods of catching grey water (the water used to wash and rinse dishes, for example) and using that water to flush the toilets.  Others shut off the shower after they had gotten wet, soaped up without the water running and then did a quick rinse off.

My one goal was to re-install a diverter from our downspout so that rain water will again collect in our rain barrel.  I didn't get that accomplished during the week, but I will.  No Impact Week doesn't actually have to end, you know.  Truthfully, most of it was pretty painless and actually improved our lives.  Is that really surprising?

No Impact Week ends with what Colin Beavan calls Eco Sabbath - a day when one gives back to the community.  For our group, we had a three options for a morning of service: work on a farm in Red Hook, work in a community garden or attend a tree stewardship workshop.  Lucy and I went to the tree workshop.

It was a straightforward session that gave us the basics about how to care for street trees.  The trees are owned by the city but do not really get much care once they are planted.  As you might imagine, city life is pretty hard on the trees and even a little care and make the difference between survival and firewood. New York City trees don't really end up as firewood; they end up as garbage and is there anything sadder than seeing a tree go in the garbage?  After getting our instructions, we went out as a group and took care of four street trees.  It was kind of shocking to notice just how uncared for most trees are in the city.  Suddenly, we saw dire circumstances everywhere!

Lucy was so inspired by our experience that she immediately signed up online to adopt the tree in front of our house and then went out and began to care for it in the way it needs - first by removing weeds, garbage and ivy around it.  Eventually we will plant some flowers and mulch around the tree pit, as it is called.  Truly, there is a huge need to care for the trees that add so much to city life.  The workshop took only a few hours and our efforts make a visible difference to our neighborhood.  Consider taking this on!  It isn't a big commitment but it is an important one.  Plus, we met all sorts of people walking by who were curious and happy about what we were up to.  A real community building effort.

After our labours on the street, the No Impact Week-ites gathered for a picnic of local, organic homemade food in Fort Greene Park.  Yum!

We were very happy about our nice lunch!  

And since it made such lovely pictures, here are some photographs of the pasta I made for the pasta/kale salad that was my contribution to the picnic.


It was a good day and a great week.

Friday, June 01, 2012

(No Impact Week - Day #4) Pump It Up

Yesterday's area of focus was energy use.  I was out and about, using up my own personal energy so I wasn't able to post anything.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, we have been using an oil lamp in the evenings instead of our electric lights.  The first night, everyone was pretty excited and we ended staying up late, talking and laughing.  Ahhh....just as I dreamed it would be: family bonding, heart-to-heart conversations and lots of intimate togetherness.

The next night, my friends from Germany stopped by for a visit and sat in the near-darkness with us.  It was fun but we all got sleepy rather quickly and they left not long after arriving.  Do we get more boring in the dark?  I wonder.

On Wednesday night, Fin and Lucy began to rebel.  A couple of nights is one thing but this was going on a little too long for the tastes of some.  Fin staged a strike - he refused to wash the supper dishes if the lights stayed off.  After a tense stand-off, the kitchen lights were turned on and dishwashing commenced as per usual.  Last night, a sense of resignation seemed to have settled in and, as the house grew darker, no one protested but no one seemed inclined to talk either.  Even I began to wish I could just go read a book in bed.  I am currently re-reading Kristen Lavransdatter and you know how that is.

Tonight will be our last night with the oil lamp.  I am thinking that perhaps we should try to have one night/month when we keep the lights off.  It could be just enough to keep us appreciative of the convenience and benefit of electric lights and to have that time of closeness that darkness brings forward.

The other thing we have been doing to reduce our energy use is to power up the laptop batteries in the morning and then unplug them.  If their charge runs out, then no more computer use that day.  I think it is a good system and one that I want to keep in force after this week is over.  It manages to save energy and give some boundaries to computer use all at the same time.

As part of this experiment, I also learned about solar powered chargers for cellphones and other devices.  They run around $30, which seems pretty reasonable.  I think they are smart idea given that charging up these devices sucks up power at a surprising rate.

Pump it up - you don't really need it.