Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Packing and the Colour of Caffeine

This is our one day set aside to pack up before heading out in the morning tomorrow. My list is growing longer with each thing I check off of it. How is that possible?

In the meantime, Finnian has decided that this is the best moment to start asking important questions like, "what is the colour of caffeine?" and "why does bees wax burn longer than other types of wax?". Yes, these are very important questions to be answered (if only I knew the answers!) but we will have 24 hours in a car to thoroughly explore the physical properties of caffeine. Today, however, we have: laundry, yarn labeling and shipping, fleece, clothes and spinning supplies packing, cleaning up the basement, post office run, and.....

If questions are your thing right now, I urge you to check out this blog that I have been enjoying immensely since I discovered it a couple of months ago. He always gives me something to think about while I check things off my list.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Moment of Madness

Last summer we had our front foyer re-done. When we moved in, it had been painted to look like a half ruined, Etruscan fresco, which tried to take advantage of the actual half ruined state of the plaster walls. Dan was never a great fan of it but I liked it for its strangeness and because I love any attempt people make to bring a sense of the hand into unusual places. After almost ten years with our Etruscan ladies disintegrating in our foyer, the piles of shoes and scooters, baseball bats and what-have-you started to overwhelm the space. There were times when the front door could hardly open, blocked by the piles of stuff. It seemed like bad feng shui if nothing else.

So we had the walls re-plastered and put in a shallow cabinet with shelves for shoes and a bin for hats and mitts.

Clean and functional. No Etruscans but no clutter either. I eagerly volunteered to paint the foyer last September. And then, whoosh, life happened. So it was that a couple of months ago Dan made a bet with me that I would go back to Newfoundland and the foyer still would not be painted. Perhaps he knows me too well. Reverse psychology works like a charm - all he has to do is suggest that I can't do something and, let me tell you, that thing is done. Actually now that I think of it, this may have been his master plan all along. Played like a grand piano! Ah well...

What he didn't expect was that I would have moment of madness in that little foyer.

And, I won the bet!

Friday, May 22, 2009


When we first moved into our house in Sunnyside, one of the greatest benefits was the little back garden space. It had become overgrown by the previous tenants and owners, but slowly over time I managed to beat back the weeds and forge a tiny sliver of paradise. I took a mostly laissez faire approach, allowing plants to grow where they wanted to, but with some re-arranging if necessary.

For the last several years, however, we have been in Newfoundland for nearly half the year and the Sunnyside backyard has been woefully neglected. I try to make up for the months of absence in mid-September, but really, it is an impossible task. Here are some unwelcome guests to our garden this spring:

The demon pokeweed. A plant who manages to grow a root as thick as my wrist while the shoot above ground is barely 8" tall. This one is already demanding a shovel to get rid of it. And those damn berries that stain everything in sight but are completely useless as an actual plant dye..there are.simply no redeeming qualities to this plant unless you consider the test of character they elicit a good thing. Which I don't.

Ah yes, bamboo. Many years ago our neighbor, being an experimental type, planted bamboo. When it overran their garden, he got rid of it, but not before it crossed into our yard. When we moved in, it had taken over literally half our yard (granted the "yard" is only about 17'x20' but all the more reason to never plant bamboo in it). With the assistance of a neighbor who took on the task of digging it up as some kind of personal mission, we managed to rid ourselves of the bamboo. Now, ten years's BAAACK. I could cry.

And finally, in the pantheon of "what were you thinking" plants to bring into a tiny garden, Japanese Honeysuckle. Sure it smells lovely and the kids like to drink the nectar from it, but it, too, is a demon plant from hell. I managed to dig out all the roots in our garden, but my neighbors were not up for such a task so each year I had to be vigilant about keeping it out. As you can see, it has wasted no time in making itself comfortable once again.

It is because I know I can do little to really stop this invasion that makes it so frustrating. In six days we are out of here and the mice will play, or in this case, the bamboo, honeysuckle and pokeweed.

Enter Leah Gauthier and Sharecropper.

Somewhere I happened across Leah's webpage and read about her project, Sharecropper. She is adopting various plots of ground all around the five boroughs of NYC and turning them into mini farms that she and a crew of volunteers will maintain and tend. Here is how she describes her project:

"Leah will be using organic growing methods to plant rare and endangered heirloom vegetables and herbs, and to cultivate wild edibles on parcels of donated land or growing spaces located in each of the five boroughs. A portion of the harvest will be shared with local soup kitchens, and series of interactive cooking performances around the city are being planned."

When I read about Leah's project, my first thought was "sign me up!" And so I wrote her a note and we emailed back and forth and in a couple of weeks, Leah will be digging and planting in our backyard. I am very excited to be part of her project and to have our little garden once again functioning as something more than a weed growing facility.

And just so you know, I did warn her that things had become, ahem, a little overgrown.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Saying Thank You

Back in March, I organized a small group of homeschoolers to come by the ZCNYC to learn about Zen.  Shugen Sensei met us at the door and gave a wonderful introduction to the history and philosophy behind Zen.  Then we went into the zendo and he led everyone through a short introduction to zazen.  Fortunately we had two lively children - a brother and sister - who asked and answered lots of questions.  Most everyone else seemed a little intimidated by the newness of it all.  Their quiet demeanor did not reflect a lack of interest - I had lots of very good feedback that almost leads me to believe we could do another visit to keep the conversation going (but I will tread lightly here - I don't want to be seen as a Zen pusher, which are two words that do not go together well at all!).  

About three days before the visit, it occurred to me that we should offer some kind of donation in thanks for taking up Shugen's time.  I am usually a little slow off the mark like that.  In any case, I was not really prepared when the day came and went.  But it also occurred to me that among this group were many excellent knitters.  In fact, everyone was a knitter.  And I had some left over yarn from my Lion Brand window project. So, voila!  A thank you gift was born.

I divvied out some yarn to each family to knit into a piece that could be a size and design of their own choosing.

After I collected all the pieces, I put them together and crocheted a border. Some of the blocks were quite fancy!

I hope it will keep residents and visitors warm for years to come.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Turn On A Dime

This morning we were supposed to go on a Big Onion Walking Tour over the Brooklyn Bridge with a group of homeschoolers. We signed up well over a month ago and I have been looking forward to it ever since. I haven't walked over the bridge in years and years and F&L never have. The weather seems to have received the memo, because it is shining and glorious. But Finn woke up with a host of cold-like symptoms and a flushed face, so that plan had to be scrapped (it is NOT swine flu!). Beyond the disappointment was the money I had spent on the tickets. But what is to be done? People get sick and need to rest, not hike over a bridge. So it goes.

Fortunately there were a couple of other things that could be done today: laundry, post office, garden, finishing up an afghan for ZCNYC (pictures tomorrow!) and more. And I am still planning on heading to Wave Hill later today to meet up with Jennifer McGregor, the curator of their visual art programs. There may be a project afoot....

One of the beauties of homeschooling is that we can turn on a dime and adjust our schedule without too much muss and fuss. And a day at home, especially a gorgeous, sunny one, is always welcome.

(Some sweet-smelling Lily of the Valley found in a cool, shady spot in the backyard.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nine Bows

Sri Pattabhi Jois passed away at age 93.

Sell It, Baby!

In case you haven't noticed, I am having a huge sale in my etsy shop. All yarns are 25% off and shipping is free if you purchase three or more skeins. With prices like this, how can you afford not to buy?

Actually, I am trying to sell as much yarn in my inventory before we head to Gillams where I will make lots and lots more. Whatever is left in the shop on Friday morning will get packed up and mailed to the Craft Council shop, Devon House, in St. John's.

I am looking forward to the days when dyeing and spinning can move to the head of the line of things to do. There is nothing like seeing skeins drying on the railing to give one a sense that something has been accomplished.

Here is another accomplishment. I had been eyeing dizes (is that the correct plural form?) on etsy when I saw a porcelain one with a celadon glaze that I really liked. As I was about to click "pay now," it hit me - I take a pottery class with F&L every week and could easily make one myself. Step away from the credit card! Lo, only two weeks later, I have my very own porcelain diz with a celadon glaze.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Life, Mysore Style

Those familiar with Astanga yoga will be familiar with the two styles that are generally practiced. They are the same but different. The first is to take a led class where the teacher counts through the movements, breath, and gaze in Sanskrit and one goes through the whole (or half) series as a group, ideally with everyone moving together, breathing together and working as one single organism. It can be quite wonderful to experience when it happens.

The second way is to do "Mysore" style, named after the hometown of Sri Pattabhi Jois. In Mysore style, the student still works with a teacher but the practice is done individually, with the student advancing through the series only when they have memorized it and can complete the asanas. I have heard there is some leeway here - that Pattabhi Jois only cares about the memorizing part, not getting everything perfect, but most teachers I have encountered do consider how the asanas are done as part of being able to advance. For the most part, however, the practice is a solo practice and it is possible to have minimal interaction with a teacher.

There is a beauty to the daily repetition of a Mysore practice and it does seem to me to be a good way to make sure yoga is part of one's life - that is to say that it becomes built in to one's schedule because it guarantees that one has a complete sequence memorized. It is pretty safe to say that most of us are not always going to be going to group yoga classes for the rest of our lives and, in Mysore style, we have the freedom to take our class with us where ever we go.

I have been thinking about these two styles of learning and doing as we approach the day when we pack up and head to Gillams. Here in NYC, I have the luxury of taking a led class with some amazing teachers and some amazing students. But it is the strength of my Mysore style that keeps me going in Gillams. If I don't have my practice built in, it will disappear. I think the same can be said about zazen. In NYC, I have had the luxury of spending a little time with my teacher and sangha each week, even if it hasn't been sitting zazen. I have been able to be at the Temple, do some work, and soak in the experience of being around people who are on the same path (and well ahead of me!). In Gillams, I have some CDs and I have downloaded some dharma talks, but really, it is all Mysore style zazen there. The practice must be a strong one or it will disappear.

Both styles have their advantages and problems. The best way is to create a balance between the two so they support each other, but it is definitely a dance. A lifelong dance.

And speaking of which....

Friday, May 15, 2009

Spinnin' and Drinkin' and Dancin'

and feelin' the love for Queens Council on the Arts!

Last night was the benefit fundraiser for QCA. They invited me to come and do my talent, with my talent being spinning. I have to admit, I was a little doubtful that anyone who was attending a fundraiser that mainly involved styling and profiling and dancing (and drinking) would be interested in getting jiggy with a spindle but the supporters of the arts in Queens proved me wrong!

Here is my brave first victim, I mean, student. He seemed genuinely interested, oddly enough.

This woman was a knitter and immediately admitted that she had been avoiding spinning because she was very afraid of what might happen, the rabbit hole being what it is. When she started asking about plant dyes, I knew I had her. Hee, hee. Another one hooked!

This guy seemed to be feeling very happy. So happy he just had to spin. Actually, he just treadled and I drafted the fibres. Safety first!

Here we have an example of someone who immediately knew how to spin - her hands doing the work they knew how to do before she even knew they knew. Yes, uh-huh! I hooked her up with a spindle and some fleece, big time!

Likewise this woman.

So I would say three confirmed and two maybes. Not bad for a night's work!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Onward and Upward

Some further, highly unscientific research into the brains of teenagers (conducted while sitting around in Central Park yesterday) has revealed a couple of interesting things.  First, one mother of two teenagers suggested that the earlier the trouble, the better.  One of her sons had his moment, shall we say, when he was about Mr. 12's age.  It was difficult but everyone recovered nicely and the rest of his teenaged years were pretty reasonable.  Her other son experienced his moment when he was a bit older - around 15.  The troubles a 15 year old can get into are far more troubling than a 12 year old.  So we count our blessings, right?  But really, what causes the unhappiness and struggle is the distance between expectations and reality.  Always.

The second interesting thing was that everyone agreed that teenagers need almost as much personal attention as toddlers, despite their seeming ability to live pretty well on their own.  This must be combined, however, with a good dose of real, serious responsibility.  Just the usual parental, do-the-impossible balancing act.  If nothing else, it keeps me humble.

In the meantime, we came across this interview between Stephen Colbert and Michael Joachim.  I found it very inspiring.  If I were 20 years younger and light years smarter, I would be laying myself on their doorstep, offering whatever I had to be a part of their vision.  Instead, I turned to Mr. 12 and said, "Now that's something to do in life!"  And to my surprise, he agreed!

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Mitchell Joachim
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage

Monday, May 11, 2009

Searching For the Re-Set

I am sitting here, a little chilly from the open windows, amid a cloud of smoke.  A certain someone, let's call him Mr. 12, is in the habit of putting bread in the toaster oven, setting the timer to a random time and then going off to finish that last chapter in his book.  Several dozen minutes later: smoke, fire, fire alarms, open windows and charred remains of toast.

Such is my life lately.  The 12 year old brain is promising to do me in.  I have read that the brain of adolescents rebuilds itself, which is why they can so often seem to be totally lacking in good judgement.  It seemed to such a reasonable hypothesis from the comfortable distance of age 8 or 9.  Living life with a person who is experiencing brain rebuilding is slightly less interesting from a scientific perspective and hugely more irritating.  

I have been trying to figure out what exactly about has been so challenging and I think it is the shock factor.  One day you believe that certain life lessons have been well absorbed and are thus no longer an issue.  And then you come home to find two people engaged in a physical and mental battle to the death, dinner has been dumped in the garbage because "I hate black beans," and a charming note on your bed stating "keep your crap out of my room."

Where do you even begin?  

I have been trying not to go into some automatic parental mode whereby I replicate every action and reaction that my parents had with me (not that they did such a terrible job, but there are areas worthy of improvement).   Also, it seems like some consciousness about what is happening on the part of at least one of us would be a welcome thing.   But this it is very difficult!  More than once I have had that disquieting experience of hearing my mother come out of my mouth.  And then my father.  

Dang it!  Why can't these children understand that my waters are still very cloudy over here?  Instead it is ding, ding, ding, pushing those buttons fast and furious.  Is there a pause button somewhere? 

Friday, May 08, 2009

There's Got To Be A Morning After

I lived to tell the tale.  My game plan was successful - inhalations and exhalations continued throughout.  Dare I say it?  It was even fun.  Apparently once you get me started, the only hard part is turning me off.  I blathered unceasingly for two hours, heaven help us.  

Thank you to the people who came.  There were many from among our wonderful homeschool community of friends (it felt very reassuring to see them in the front row!).  I was thrilled to see a a good number of people who participated in past projects, and there were many new faces, as well.  What a treat, in the end, to be able to share the stories behind the work.  It helps that the audience was receptive, laughed in the right places, and was knitting while I spoke.  

An extra special thanks to Patty at Lion Brand Studio for her work to make this happen.

There were many photos taken during the evening by Lion Brand and Helen set up her camera and tripod, so some of it was videotaped.  I am not sure how it will all get disseminated, but I will post any links when/if they appear.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Talk, Talk, Talk

The big talk at Lion Brand Studio is tonight (doors open at 5:30 p.m., seating is first come, first served).  I was feeling pretty relaxed about it.  At this point, I have given many talks about my work so the topic is pretty familiar territory.  Then Patty at LBS mentioned that 58 people had RSVP'ed.  Dashed from my mind were the images of sitting around with a half dozen knitters, quietly chatting about fun stuff.  Now I am armed with a power point show of about 100 images.  My goal is to breath throughout.

Maybe I am setting the bar too high?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Philosophy 101

Faith means not wanting to know what is true.

The Nietzsche Family Circus  A match made in...well...not heaven exactly since God is dead, but whatever.

And there's more:

Monday, May 04, 2009

Inference from Signs

The signs are everywhere. Last week we used up our last jar of homemade jelly (blueberry, made from berries picked in Pynn's Brook). On Saturday I experienced The Great Taboo - I purchased (gulp) commercially produced jelly. The shame of it all!

The signs are everywhere. It is time to head north!