Friday, August 29, 2008

Each fall, Sunnyside Community Services holds an art auction benefit. Since I support this wonderful organization and the vital services it provides to my neighbors, I always happily contribute despite the fact that I have almost nothing that could be considered worthy of auctioning. This year, I decided to make a small piece for the auction that, to me, sums up the feeling of this election year. I call it "Accentuate the Positive."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Collective Unconscious

There are moments when the idea of a collective unconscious seems too obvious not to be true. In 1997 I had an urge to bring my knitting out of the house and onto the street. Little by little, I have noticed others with the same urge and today there is a worldwide movement - Guerilla Knitting - of people who knit and then place their knitting out in the world. There are many other examples that go beyond art or knitting (I guess so, anyway, although why anyone thinks about anything beyond art or knitting is, well, beyond me).

This summer, Shawn and I continually found ourselves thinking of things simultaneously related to our spinning and dyeing. Since Shawn is an open and generous person, she harboured no fears or jealousies about who did what first so we were able to experiment and play without worrying about who was originating things and who was "copying" if that term can really even be used. The interesting thing was that, in fact, our yarns were really so different despite using the exact same materials. Shawn is a painter with fleece. Her yarns are so painfully gorgeous with the way the colours interact that you want to cry, sing, and maybe eat them up all at the same time. My yarns, on the other hand, reflect that I am more of a sculptor - they have more structure and are pieced together in a more obvious way.

I am still waiting for the vast majority of my fleece to arrive in the mail from Newfoundland (hurry, please!), so I have been carding up the random bits and pieces that I have sitting around, left over from last spring. Last night, however, I made a skein of yarn that had Shawn written all over it. Not only was it her favourite colours, but it was spun as if her hands were doing the work, not mine. I love it but somehow I know it isn't mine. I am tempted to just give it to Shawn, but the truth is, she already has it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Can I Vote for Michelle?

I don't know about you, but I got goosebumps watching the crowd at the Democratic convention last night. Look around - it truly was a melting pot of ages, genders, race, ethnicities. And I'm not even a Democrat (I've made myself completely useless by becoming a member of the Green Party). When Michelle Obama gave her speech, it restored a little bit of what has been lost over the past eight years. Maybe it was all cliche and convention rhetoric, but dang it, she was awesome.

Wouldn't it be lovely to have a president and first lady who were eloquent and intelligent? Who wish to govern from a place of hope, not fear (even if it doesn't always solve the problem)? Yes we can!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Where's That Cool Canadian Air?

Scene: Woman sits with laptop on her couch and looks out of living room window.

How strange it is to look out the window one moment and see wide open spaces - the bay, the mountains, Edna's house, and the apple and cherry trees, then, in a heartbeat or at least a 30 hour car ride of a heartbeat, to be sitting on the living room couch and be looking out at the tropical, lush green that is Sunnyside. It always amazes me how green our neighborhood is, not at all what people might think NYC is like. The concrete jungle stops at the edge of Sunnyside; this is especially evident by the state of our backyard. I have some weeding to do.

Lots of weeding of all kinds to do.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

We're All Mighty Grateful

There is a very funny Bob and Ray routine that is called (I think) "Just Plain Fancy Dan" in which one of them plays a barber and one a local townsperson named "Pliney" who keeps telling his barber how he is "mighty grateful". The barber keeps asking him if he is grateful and it goes on and on (I couldn't find a clip of it online) until the barber accidently cuts Pliney and he begins to bleed to death, all the while saying "we're all mighty grateful."

Yes, I guess that's exactly how I feel right now.

Actually, what happened was that I spent the day getting deeper and deeper into an ugly mood of self-pity and bitter resentment to the point where I was ready to burst into tears if anyone looked my way. And then it was time for yoga class! Now it can be told that, in fact, I was the leader of the yoga class ("teacher" might be too generous a word). So I had to get my act together and set a good example of breathing into the tension, etc.. You know what happened? The yoga actually worked. By the time we reached the meditation part, I could see clearly that my so-called problems were in fact a case of overflowing blessings. I was taking my enormous privilege and twisting it all upside down. I wanted to laugh out loud. And then I felt a bit foolish for all the whining I have been doing - my apologies!

The yoga class ended and one member of the class brought celebratory cookies,

and then we posed for a picture.

When I got home, I took another look at the yarn I spun this afternoon - you know, just to take the edge off.

What? Did you think I would be handling all that fleece and not take a little tipple?

Whoa! Now I am laughing out loud!

Closing Up Shop

Today, after getting the oil changed in our car, I will pack up all my fleece, yarn, fabric and what-not to get ready for the long trip south. In between feeling sick to my stomach, I try to feel excited at all the great things that are waggling their fingers at me in the future. I go over the list again and again and get kind of pumped, and then I look out the window or sniff the air. Every year, the same heartbreak.

In between this self-imposed roller coaster ride (hey - I want to get off!), I have decided that I will likely not open The House Museum again. It's time has come and gone. It's mission was, if not fully achieved, then at least it was sometimes achieved in moments of pure brilliance and sometimes missed by a mile. It has been a complex, life-enveloping project, more complicated than anything I have ever done before. It annoyed my children and sometimes pissed off my husband. It activated something in the community (did I mention that Gillams opened "its own" museum this summer?), again by annoying some, pissing off others and bringing a small number of interested/interesting people who were very excited about it into my life.

All this year, I have waited for that feeling of excitement to come back to me about the project. I had flashes of it, esp. when the groups of students came by, so the issues remain important to me, but mostly I have felt relief at not participating in the marathon of living as performance all summer, not having to be ready to host people at any moment. Also, the sense that the relationship between tourists and Newfoundland is much more established than it was when this started in 2001, has created a kind of blank space where the main idea used to be.

So I can finally close the parenthesis on this particular project: The House Museum (2001 - 2008). Feels kind of nice, actually.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Artist, Barb Hunt, lives in Corner Brook and teaches at Grenfell College. We met several years ago and, as Barb put it, realized we were having the same dreams. Barb makes art using needlework techniques such as knitting, embroidery, sewing, and perhaps quilting is in her future. She makes art about death and how people remember those have died. Sound familiar? In reality, we sound more alike on paper than by looking at our actual bodies of work but we definitely have a sympathy for each other's work and share a common vocabulary about it.

A theme that runs strongly through Barb's work is peace. She was raised in a pacifist family and much of her work reminds us of the terrible price the whole planet is paying for being at war with each other. Perhaps her best known piece is called "antipersonnel". It is an ongoing series of handknit replicas of landmines - all knit in pink yarn. They are beautiful and even funny but they also carry well the weight of their message.

Barb also works with camouflage in many different ways. She collects and uses camouflage uniforms from around the world and her studio is filled with bins of uniforms and pieces of uniforms. The other day she was describing how she collects every little bit of thread and fabric from the uniforms and keeps it, although she had no idea what she would ever do with it. I suspect anyone who sews knows the urge to keep every little scrap but Barb's motivation goes beyond that. It is her way of respecting the soldier who wore the uniform and the hardships they have endured in the line of duty. Barb is anti-war but not anti-military, a position that is more obviously correct in Canada than in the US. Part of what makes her work interesting is remembering that she is Canadian and the military has a very different history and sense of purpose than it does in the US.

In any case, when Barb mentioned her little bits and pieces of camo fabric, I light went off in my fibre-filled mind and I asked her if she would give me some to turn into yarn. A collaboration was born.

Just the beginning of something very beautiful...

(All photos except the first one are courtesy of Barb Hunt)

Monday, August 18, 2008


One place we visited in Bonavista while the wind blew and the rain fell in buckets was the Mockbeggar Plantation - the home of one of Bonavista's prominent families. While the story behind the house and outbuildings was very interesting, I was capivated by the patterns of the linoleum.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Athens of the North

It turns out my estimate of how long it takes to get to King's Cove was a little low: eight hours it was, with a small detour for lunch. We were ever so happy to see this sign nearing the end of the Bonvista Peninsula road.

We were slightly confused by this sign.

The Athens of the North? We never learned why King's Cove achieved this metaphoric title but we accepted it fully.

Here is how Lucy spent most of her eight hours in the car.

Finnian's hands were not idle either but I don't have a photo of his knitting. He likes to keep it secret (and I just spilled the beans!)

The view from the top of the hill in King's Cove. Lovely!

At some point late in our trip, I began to despair that this experience was going to be as meaningful for my mother as I had been hoping it might be. We were driving down the winding road that extends from Port Blanford to Bonavista, and my mother was saying things like, "oh there's a lovely new home. I love those large windows" about some hideous pile that, in my humble opinion, totally ruined the landscape with its mainland McMansion ugliness. So, there we were: I was having flashbacks to past lives that I probably never even had - getting all sentimental and nostaglic about things I don't even know about, and my mom was complimenting some 3,000 sq.ft. monstrosity that was a pock mark on the face of the earth. Then I had a little moment of realization that my mother has a quality that has allowed her to survive and thrive in the face of difficulty. She doesn't get sentimental about things, she never romanticizes people or places and she doesn't spend a lot of time wondering about the unknown past. She enjoys what is in front of her and moves along.

As I was absorbing this realization and prepping myself so as not to be disappointed in her reaction to King's Cove, we finally reached our destination and saw this:

It is the Anglican church in King's Cove. A sign on it revealed that my mother's great grandfather, Rev. William Kirby, was instrumental in getting it built in the mid-1800s after the first church on that site burnt in a fire.

The door was unlocked, so we went inside where we found a stained glass window commemorating some distant relative.

And I was able to take a photo that re-creates a photo I have in my bedroom of Rev. William Kirby standing at the pulpit. Almost nothing has changed.

We found a booklet that the church members prepared about the history of the church with many mentions of Rev. Kirby and several of Mom's grandfather. For a small donation, we obtained a couple of booklets.

Rev. Kirby and his wife, Ellen, were given the place of honour in the cemetery, which is now sadly in need of some upkeep.

And Mom? I think she was genuinely moved. I don't think she expected to encounter such explicit connections to this place where she had never been. She really loved it. But, in good style, she hasn't gone on and on about it or decided to move there next week or pretend anything of the kind. It was a good experience, an unexpectedly great experience, but Bonavista was nice too.

Our bed and breakfast breakfast featured 40 kinds of homemade jelly and jam. Someone let Olive know that she has some east coast competition.

Finnian amazed us all on the second morning by trying nearly all of them, including the turnip jelly and one labelled "tomato and prune". A man on a mission.

The day after our arrival was something of a hurricane (not kidding). We tried to go to the famous lighthouse at Cape Bonavista but we didn't dare to get out of the car for fear of being blown off the cliffs (not kidding!). Here's the same view, the next day:

And here is the beautiful lighthouse. The inside is restored to the late 1800s, complete with guides in period dress.

This is the inside of the light tower. The lights are kerosene lamps. They are turned by cranking up a rope that raises a 200 lb stone weight (a task that takes 15 minutes to complete) and then letting it slowly drop back down (an action that takes less than two hours). Each night, the keeper would have to crank it back up every hour and 45 minutes. Like a newborn, only, you know, with a rope and a 200 lb weight.

After hiking a bit around the lighthouse and the obligatory visit to the craft shop, we got back in the car for another eight hours of Trans Canada Highway.

Gillams had a little gift waiting for us.

(photo courtesy of Finnian)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Should Be Sleeping...

We will head east tomorrow morning. I hope we remember the 1001 things that need to be remembered but since I (always) refuse to put down these items in, say, a helpful list that might be remind me of these needs when everyone is rushing around, getting in each other's way before heading out the door, I will likely forget many things. Staying up noodling around on the computer doesn't help either. But it is so lovely and silent right now that I am savouring being awake in the quiet. No doubt I will pay tomorrow. But it's worth it.

Our plan is to bring a picnic lunch so we can choose a nice spot for a mid-day break and then get to King's Cove in the early evening (Newfoundland is big - we have a good 6-7 hour drive ahead of us). This trip has been a big moment in our summer calendar but it now feels strangely eclipsed by the fact that we leave for NYC only six days after we get back. Even as we are packing up things for the short-term trip, we are preparing for the long-term trip: buying/making snacks for the road but trying not to buy so much that we have tons of food to give away, going to the library to get books for the trip but knowing that they will be returned in only a couple of days, going through supplies (I mean yarn and fleece here) and realizing that it will all need to be packed up and shipped and soon.

Then, other reminders: the second to last yoga class...a visit with Shawn and her grandson that was likely our last chance to really hang out...having to tell everyone that we leave in about a week (and trying to explain why)...squeezing in one more opening at Full Tilt...

I know, I know - the best of both worlds! That's us!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ye Olde Swimming Hole

The weather was lovely yesterday: warm but not too warm, a gentle breeze, and lots of sunshine. We had a farewell lunch for a dear friend who is leaving Newfoundland for the mainland. Happy as we are for him for daring to make big changes, we will miss him terribly, especially Finn and Lucy who think of him as their Newfoundland uncle. On the other hand, now we have an excuse to finally visit Toronto. Toronto is a city in Ontario - I think it is fairly large. I've heard there are a few things worth seeing there.

After a bittersweet good-bye, Finn and Lucy insisted on going over to "the overfalls", which is the local swimming hole in Gillams and just a short walk from our house.

By the time we arrived there, it wasn't exactly warm enough to swim in my opinion but Finnian took the plunge.

Here's Grammie...holding up the front to Veronik Avery's "Marcel's Sweater". Grammie aka Mom offered to knit me a sweater. I gratefully accepted and asked if she would knit Marcel's Sweater, a design I have had on the top of my wish list for some time.

My mother is a very experienced knitter, with 70+ years of knitting behind her. She has made several Alice Starmore designs as well as two - TWO - of those "Map of the World" sweaters that were all the rage some years ago. We're talking cotton intarsia, people. But this Marcel's Sweater is kicking her butt.

After she had trouble with the tubular cast-on and then needed help from her knitting friend to get the pattern down, I decided I had better look on Ravelry to see what people were saying about this sweater. It has a four row pattern, for goodness sakes, how hard can it be?

How hard, indeed! I should have had a hint when not one of the nearly 200,000 knitters on Ravelry has made this sweater! Many have swatched, none have finished. But my mother has perservered despite each row taking upwards of 25 minutes to complete and mistakes taking upwards of 1.5 hours to tear back and repair. A four row pattern! Has Veronik made this sweater? I am beginning to wonder.

At one point I was begging her to stop, saying I would choose a simple cardigan pattern but she has reached the I-will-knit-this-damn-sweater-if -it-kills-me stage so there is no turning back. I just hope it doesn't kill her...

Friday, August 08, 2008


My mother is here for a 12-day visit. If it weren't for my mom, I think we would not be here at all (I don't mean on the planet, which is true as well, but in Newfoundland). It is her family that came to the States from Newfoundland and the reason why my ears pricked up when I learned about an artist residency program here way back in 1996. She now visits every summer and, this year, we convinced her to break her never-stay-longer-than five-days rule so we could take a little trip while she is here. Later next week we will head to her father's birthplace out on the Bonavista Peninsula; a little community called King's Cove. My mom has never been there so it is exciting that she will be able to see the house where her father was born. (It may be cheating, but I have been there and I know the house still exists).

My mom's visit also means blog posts may be fewer and farther between as our schedule is shifting for various activities. I promise to post on any great dyeing experiments. In the meantime, you can always head to The Yarn Harlot for beautiful Newfoundland shots. She is on the east coast, which is quite different from here although maybe as beautiful. Maybe.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

That's Why it's Called A Practice

Knitter/spinner/farmer extraordinaire, the blogless Janine and I have been having a sporadic but ongoing conversation about whether or not it is useful to have specific spiritual guidelines in life, i.e. Buddhist precepts or the Ten Commandments or what-have-you. Mainly we have been focusing on Buddhist precepts since that is what interests me most and, despite a childhood of lackadaisical Episcopalian-ism, I know little about Christianity. If I understand Janine correctly, her belief is that these sorts of rules end up binding a person so that one is more worried about keeping with the rules than living life to its fullest, enjoying each moment and getting the day's work done (and if you knew what Janine's day's work was like, you would listen up when she speaks!).

My world is a little hazier than Janine's world. I have many uncertainties everyday so I like having some rough guidelines, or even some fairly specific guidelines. I have been reading The Heart of Being: Moral and Ethical Teaching of Zen Buddhism by John Daido Loori, which is an in-depth look at the precepts: their meaning and purpose. He encourages the reader to take up the precepts as a way of living but to go ahead and push their boundaries, explore their edges. I think what I am finding is that when I push the edge so far that I am outside of the boundary, it feels distinctly uncomfortable. It isn't a feeling of guilt at breaking a rule, after all who knows if what I am doing is going "against" something besides myself? Who cares? It is more that I simply don't like what I find there and I feel yucky. I'll have to check back to see if the Buddha used that term, it may have come later.

Experiencing that yucky feeling usually doesn't mean I stop pushing, however. I am a very slow learner in these areas and often I hear words coming out of my mouth that, a second later, make me think "damn! did it again!" Always a second too late with the realization.

Words, mouth, mind, thoughts, blog.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Charm is Firm and Good

First Witch
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.


Second Witch
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

Goldenrod is in bloom now and it has been calling out to me each morning when I look out the window to our backyard that is filled with weeds, I mean, wildflowers. Yesterday, I got my dye pot and my clippers and filled the pot with the goldenrod flowers. Then I boiled them up for an hour. Note to self: make sure Dan is never, ever around for this as the smell from boiling goldenrod brings to mind the three witches from Macbeth. Toil and trouble indeed! It could kill even if one wasn't an allergy sufferer.

I mordanted two pounds of wool and four ounces of alpaca in tin, being all out of alum, and then dyed most of the wool in the straight goldenrod dye. Fabulous bright yellow!

I have lots of yellow now. In fact so much yellow that a little over-dyeing might be in order.

I put the remaining wool and the alpaca in the dye pot for a second round, adding two cups of some cochineal dye I had left over from my last dye session. A lovely, soft orange.

The alpaca takes dye a little slower than wool so it came out very light. I may over-dye most of that as well. Do I dare to get that indigo pot fermenting? The witchcraft continues...

Monday, August 04, 2008

We're Falling

It was on July 1st, coming home from our Canada Day bonfire on the beach, that I was finally able to sniff the air and know that summer was here. June was cold and wet and it seemed like summer simply would not arrive this year. But as we walked up the hill from the beach that evening, the air had the smell of warm grass that signals fine weather that will stay around in some consistent way. July was lovely - quite warm and dry - and the flowers raced to get their blooms out, the birds raced to get their babies out and everyone was singing the song of summer.

On August 1st, another smell was in the air.

It was the smell of fall. The air has a chill in the evening signaling that even the warmest days remaining will begin and end in sweaters, and sometimes we will need those sweaters all day long. It seems amazing that this smell, and the slight chill that accompanies it, could happen so quickly on the heels of the smell of summer but I see the leaves of some of my flowers are fading already.

We have turned the corner towards a rapidly approaching fall.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Here is the finished power outage yarn. Shetland roving dyed with kool aid (can you tell?) spun in a thin single with bits of Lincoln lamb locks dyed by Split Rock Ranch. Then I spun another thin single without the locks and plied them together. I have discovered that just spinning the single with the locks makes for a less than stable yarn but plying takes care of any imperfections and secures the locks in a nice way. I love this yarn and I am seriously tempted to make a hat or something out of it just for the pleasure of knitting it up. We'll see.

Much to my amazement and delight, my funky yarns have been selling very well. I sold a total of seven skeins last week and now my inventory is almost down to nothing. I need to put in some serious spinning time. Such sacrifice...

In my life I have had many jobs (I don't considering being an artist a job - a calling maybe, a pain in the ass sometimes, but never a job). I have had many, many jobs: I have been a waitress for more years than I like to admit, I have painted mannequins in a factory (a toxic nightmare!), stitched and installed high end designer drapery, done art administration and grant writing (strangely, I am a kick-ass grant writer - begging for money seems to be one of my best skills or as Dan likes to say, my grantsmanship is unchallenged), worked in special needs group homes, been a camp counselor, taught childbirth education (I am not so great at this I have discovered, perhaps because I am a little too passionate on the subject) and now I spin yarn for money. Sounds almost sexy, that.

This job I like. Let's see how long it can last.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

We took a trip up to Green Bay yesterday with our friend, Olive. Olive is the kind of person who manages to make lifelong friends where ever she goes so we dropped in on several people who she has met over the past couple of years up in Green Bay. Olives makes these friends mainly by traveling with a cache of homemade jelly and scones in the back of her car. With these items in hand, she gains entry into just about any house she cares to enter.

So, yesterday we had a lovely lunch with a Scottish woman who runs a bed and breakfast in Nicky's Nose Cove, just across the street from the beach. Then we drove over to Harry's Harbour and had a little house tour with Ruby Upwards. She showed us around one of the oldest houses in town. I managed to photograph NONE of it, but it was gorgeous. You will just have to believe me on that one.

Then we headed to Silverdale where we met with Winifred (age 82), Nellie (age 91) and Nellie's son, Howard (age 66) who have a farm there. Howard and I were talking wool (he has sheep that needed shearing). We were just getting into it but the conversation flowed elsewhere and I feel I missed a chance for some local wool - a very, very rare commodity in Newfoundland these days. Winifred told us about how she was excited that there was square dancing at the "Come Home Year" celebration in Harry's Harbour but how, in the end, she chickened out. Howard expressed his disapproval of dancing (too sinful). I thought that Winifred had a lot more she could tell us but Howard's talk of sin put the kabosh on it. Maybe we have to go back and see them again. I want to hear more from Winifred.

Harry's Harbour also has a beach where many of the stones have little holes in them. If you find one with the hole gone right through it is supposed to be good luck, especially against house fires.

We didn't want to take any chances.