Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Bay State and the State of Things

Remember this?

This is a new version of an old bumper sticker from the Watergate era when Massachusetts was the only state in the nation that went for McGovern. My parents never sported one, but they could have. My father took a kind of perverse delight in Nixon's corruption - he loved the whole "I am not a crook" thing. For the time, it was unheard of arrogance.

My father used to take a special route to drive by a house in Ipswich, MA, on the rare occasions when we would go get a special treat of fried clams at a place called White Cap. It has been all gussied up now but circa mid-70s, it was a Mom and Pop clam shack of which my biggest memories are the way salt crystals looked on the black formica tables, the availability of grape soda, and the stuffed swordfish hanging on the wall. The fried clams were good too. Anyhoo, there was a house in Ipswich that had painted "Nixon's the one" on the side of their garage. My father loved to drive by it and toot the car horn as if to say, "that's right! forget the facts and stand by your Republican man!" He loved that kind of thing.

I wonder what he would make of the situation today. Nixon looks downright quaint in his crimes.

Here is an article in today's NY Times by Charles Blow. In the article, Blow cites recent polls that reveal that nearly three-quarters of Republicans believe that Obama was not born in this country and/or is a Muslim (or they aren't sure, which amounts to the same thing if you ask me). I can't take any perverse delight in this most recent of Republican scams. This just makes me feel...sad.

And sadly, being from Massachusetts isn't an out this time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ikebana Fun

As the proud new owner of a kenzan (flower frog), I went right work arranging some materials that I gathered from our yard. Not 100% sure about that lilac....

Elementary Ikebana - Style A

Being the BQE Just Got Easier

If you have read this blog for more than a couple of days, then you probably know that Dan's brother, David, is a very accomplished man. He is the author of several highly regarded books on educational assessment (and who can ever forget the delightful characters, Greg and Cara, and their ripple of laughter?). He has not written his book, You're Already Not There: Setting and Achieving Negative Goals, thereby achieving that goal. And he is the driving force behind the soon-to-be-released (not really) movie, Grinder Sutra.

Yes, he is a powerhouse of creativity and ideas. And now you too can experience all that for yourself. David has started a blog called Be the BQE. It is ostensibly about his adventures commuting to Staten Island from Queens, but it is so much more, too.

Check it out!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A New Era

Yesterday, Finn, Lucy and I went to the western end of 14th Street to (cue the dramatic music) the Apple Store.

My oh my. I am just a simple person from across the brook across the bay. I know not of this sleek techno-lovefest. Young people everywhere, some in purple t-shirts. The ones in purple t-shirts were the ones that could help you. Be they man or woman, black, brown or white, they were all the same. We called out to one of these purple t-shirts, beckoning him hither. He came and within moments, Finn and Lucy each had in their hot little hands an i-pod touch. Another purple t-shirt helped them set it up and, with that, we entered a whole new world.

Why? Why did I do it?

Achh. We have struggled with this question - how much technology? - for a few years now. Gone are the days when Finnian would come home from a friend's house and describe to me, with the sincerest of sincerity, a commercial that he saw on television and how it looked like that vacuum would really be helpful to me. An age of innocence. How can you not feel a sadness at its passing? But it is gone as surely as Finnian's interest in his Thomas the Tank Engine train set is gone.

Until recently, I have set very specific time limits on computer access. The result of my top-down, heavy-handedness has been to elevate computer time to the #1 slot. It has become the primary occupation around which all other activities are shaped. This was not exactly the desired affect.

So, I have been looking closely at what my goals truly are in regard to this policy. Ultimately, my goal is to encourage them to be able to recognize and set some limits for screen time so that most of their lives are lived among real people and places, not just virtual ones. When I established that as my goal, I realized that my policy was actually all wrong. I had to let go of my limits and let them find their own. I took off the time limits on their accounts on my computer and they were free to spend as much time on it as they wished (after certain necessities of life were taken care of - it wasn't total Liberty Hall around here).

Of course, the first few days, they spent a lot of time on there, although much to my surprise, Finnian was the first to declare that he had had enough. Slowly, ever so slowly, I do see that they the thrill of unlimited screen time is growing dimmer.

Somewhere in among all that, their Flip cameras broke. I bought them each a Flip camera before we started our Knitting Sprawl travels with the idea that they would make films as we traveled across Canada. And they did. Not the films I imagined them making, but they have made many short films together and with friends: some amazing, some funny, some terrible. They have learned a huge amount about filmmaking, natch, but also about all aspects of storytelling and all sorts of other things. Safe to say, the Flip cameras have been a worthy investment.

They used those Flip cameras until they gave out from exhaustion. We were thinking of replacing them when I noticed an article in the New York Times about how Flip cameras had already become obsolete. Apparently, i-pods and cellphones now have the same HD video technology as Flip cameras and since no one wants a gadget that does only one thing anymore, their time was over.

And that, my friends, is how we came to be in the Apple Store yesterday afternoon.

PS. When I took that photograph yesterday, Finnian was watching some Jerry Seinfeld stand-up routines on youtube and Lucy was watching the movie, Babies. So, it's not all bad, right?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Skillful Means

We are having some turbulent times here lately. In the midst of all the changes happening now and preparing for those coming in the future, I took a little time out of it all. On Saturday, I took a workshop in ikebana (the way of flowers). On the face of it, stepping out of the craziness to arrange flowers may seem like a cliche - is there be anything less necessary than beautifully arranged flowers? But I loved every moment of it and it felt like the exactly right thing to be doing at that moment in time.

The instructor was wonderful and she really inspired me to move past ideas of just using cut flowers purchased at florists but to find materials in the everyday world that are cast aside and overlooked. I especially loved that it was so unapologetically about just making a beautiful arrangement. She showed us images of some ikebana that were quite moving, but I loved that there was nothing being asked of the whole endeavor except to be beautiful. I'm hooked.

I look forward to making some arrangements from the flowers that are bursting out right in our backyard. The lilacs are in full bloom.

I wish you could smell them. Heavenly.

Then, on Sunday, Finn, Lucy and I went up to the Monastery so they could participate in their Zen Teens program. I realize as I write that sentence that it sounds like it was as simple as just piling into the car and driving upstate. There was some resistance. However, my faith in the two people who run the program was deep. I knew that, if I could just get them up there, the rest would fall into place. I used all manner of upaya (skillful means) and some decidedly less than skillful means to convince them to just come and try it once. The aforementioned faith was rewarded. Lucy declared, "Zen Teens: two thumbs up!" and Finn actually let the words, "That was fun" pass his lips.

There was no reason to believe that we would have a great weekend and every reason to believe that it would be challenging. Instead, it was lovely. I think I will go stick my nose in the lilacs now.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Humble Pie

After my look-at-me boasting yesterday about what a fabulous yogini I am, it was only natural that I become a living example of "pride cometh before a fall".

And fall I have...once again, I fell on my face (left temple) coming out of bhuja pindasana. In the middle of the room, in front of many people. Now I have a walnut sized lump on my head and a patch of grazed skin to wear with my vanity.

On the other hand, the teacher insisted that I catch my breath and do it again immediately afterwards. And, in doing it the second time, I think I actually got it. I finally felt it - how it is supposed to go. Maybe that will mean fewer lumps on my head...

Thursday, April 21, 2011


A quick peek around the ashtanga-related interwebs revealed lots of high praise for Sharath's NYC visit. I dunno, but I was kind of disappointed. Let me clarify - it was my own expectations obviously. I had this idea that simply by being who he is, he would transform the experience of a led class into something extra special. But it was just a led class....with 150 other people at 6:30 am in Manhattan. I mean no disrespect to Sharath at all - he exudes amazingness. It was the format, which doesn't allow for any extra words or even instructions to be offered.


This morning I finally got my sorry self over to mysore class. I had an initial shock from the heated up room. I have been practicing for six months in a, how shall we say, chilly house in Newfoundland - heat was not really...a factor. Then, it was awesome. I even did this for the very first time:

I know, I know. No attachment to results, right? But my practice has been a bit sucky lately, so it was nice to hit a high mark after so many reminders of the low points. And I am pretty sure that I did not look quite so calm and together like this guy in the photo.


Monday, April 18, 2011

My Second Best Friend

When I made the executive decision to leave my Susie Pro wheel in Gillams, I (half) jokingly described it as being like leaving a child behind. Forget it. I am not joking at all. I miss my wheel. Every. Single. Day.

Seriously, not a day goes by that I don't think to myself, "must spin! must spin now!" Apparently I think to myself in some caveman-like way, but that is what happens when one is deprived of their spinning wheel.

But wait, I do have another wheel. She may be modest and a little frumpy. Her bobbins are small and she doesn't have the stop-start-work-like-buttah smoothness of the Majacraft. But she does spin wool into yarn and I need to do that. Rather desperately.

Yes, maybe it is time to dust 'er off, remove the electrical tape drive band repair (done as an emergency fix back in the Wave Hill days), and give her another chance to be top dawg.

It isn't attractive, this fair weather spinning, this no one better to talk to so I guess I will talk to you. And yet...

Hello Little Ashford Traveller, will you be my second best friend?

Saturday, April 16, 2011


When treasure is left just as treasure, treasure becomes giving.

The Bodhisattva’s Four Methods of Guidance from Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, by Eihei Dogen

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rocks are Alive

A person I know posted a link on Facebook to an article about how Bolivia was trying to get legislation passed in the United Nations that would give the Earth rights equal to human beings. The person who posted the link was somewhat mocking of this. She later devolved into a George-Soros-wants-to-control-the-world right wing conspiracy theory while her other friends chimed in with notions about "liberal paganism" (Liberal paganism?? Sign me up!).

The main thrust of the conversation, if one can be said to be having such a thing on Facebook, was that some people (and for "some people" read: me) thought that, as a living being, the Earth warranted certain rights or at least an acknowledgement that everything, sentient or non-sentient, was connected and is deserving of respect. Well! You would think I said that Dick Cheney changes into a 27 ft. long lizard at the end of the day.

For suggesting that the Earth was a living being, I was thoroughly mocked and finally called "retarded". That's where I left the discussion.

The whole thing had me amazed. I took it for granted that everyone thought about the Earth as alive but apparently I am incorrect in that assumption. Setting aside for a moment how offensive it is to use that word, is it really retarded to think of rocks as alive? My experience facing a sheer cliff wall of two billion year old rocks in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland tells me otherwise.

I suspect there were some underlying religious differences at play in that discussion. For the other commentors, a tsunami or volcano eruption is the hand of God at work and perhaps it is not allowed to imagine a rock or a planet or a universe as a living thing.

When I asked Dan, as our resident expert on Christianity (he took more CCD classes than anyone else I know), what he thought about it, he agreed with the naysayers that rocks were not living but then bemoaned the loss of appreciation for the Christian mystic tradition in favour of I-Shall-Be-First-In-Line-At-The-Gates-Of Heaven fundamentalism. Before I start connecting anymore words with hyphens in this post, what do you think? Is it just mysticism to believe the Earth is alive? Or am I, you know, retarded?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Ah, Ladies' Holidays. They have such an inconvenient way of appearing when you least wish them to arrive. For instance, in the middle of a time set specifically aside for intensive ashtanga practice. I suppose I could fake it, but unlike some others who claim the whole notion of Ladies' Holidays is a remanent of the yoga patriarchy, I think they make good sense. Or at least my body tells that every time I shout "Down with the Patriarchy" and haul up into shoulder stand and then come right back down because it just feels so wrong.

So, no early morning #7 train this morning. Instead a leisurely rise and now I sit, nursing a cup of tea and my slightly overstretched hamstrings. In thinking about how our bodies sometime remind us that things will not always go as planned*, this may be a good time to share this wonderful blog, Needled, and specifically this blog post. Both were written by a Scottish woman named Kate Davies who is a writer and designer of knitwear. She also is young (30s?) and is recovering from a stroke she had in 2010.

She writes beautifully and very movingly about her recovery interspersed with gorgeous photographs of Scotland and her knitting projects. Today's post (the one linked above) is especially worth reading. In a strange way, one doesn't even have to had a stroke to understand exactly what she is getting at - you just need to get old(er). So, if you find yourself of the nature to get old, go take a look.

* I don't mean to suggest that the minor inconvenience of my getting my period in the middle of a yoga workshop can be directly compared to having a stroke and subsequent years of recovery and possible permanent disability. It was just by way of leading in...but you knew that, right?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's Only Day Two

Sri Pattabhi Jois and Sharath - photo by Stephan Crasneanscki

Ten observations from the ashtanga workshop with Sharath Jois.

1. Riding the #7 train at 5:15 am means butting into the world of back of the house staff in Manhattan restaurants. The cars are packed with men, mostly Latino, heading to their restaurant jobs. Being nearly the only woman, and usually the only white woman and definitely the only white woman with yoga mat is a little uncomfortable in the way when you butt into someone else's world, especially when carrying a yoga mat.

2. Ashtanga yoga can be a bit of a scene.

3. I don't like scenes.

4. Sharath offers next to no instruction so participating in the led class is almost exactly like listening to his DVD.

5. Despite this, I still pushed myself so much on the first day that I wondered if I had anything left in me to actually make it to the subway and get home.

6. I did.

7. For some asana, it is better to wait until he begins the breath count before entering the pose. For example, the very last asana - uplutih, which is when one comes into padmasana (lotus pose) and then lifts up with the hands under the thighs so the body is off the floor, engaging bandhas so that the knees are working towards the chest. Yesterday I got right up there and did my traditional ten breaths and then I hear Sharath saying, ""

8. The only time he caught my eye was when I was collapsing out of uplutih around (his count of) five.

9. My new year's resolution asana are still a mixed bag. Bhujapindasana is going fairly well but my sirsasana is not yet ready for prime time. Notice the ego churning up dust as I pretty much have to sit that one out.

10. Savasana never felt so good.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Young, Budding Passions

That is what spring is all about, right?

Otherwise, why am I sitting here at 4:45 am? I am getting ready for to head out the door to attend Sharath Jois' ashtanga workshop. Every morning this week I need to be in Manhattan and on the mat ready to go by 6:30 am. And if that isn't enough, I then will do the full primary series. Should be interesting!

What other kinds of love do we have simmering?

Ah yes - the slightly stinky kind. Something about the warm weather says "get out those dye pots" to me. That and the fact that there seems to be some kind of blood lust for fleece in St. John's these days. Wonder how that happened? A Good Yarn put in another order for batts and, fortunately, I seem to have acquired two (ahem) drum carders so I can make them just as soon as I flesh out my color selection. Yellow was strangely absent from my stash. Onion skins to the rescue!

But I am not the only one flirting these days.

Finnian has been taking a class in budokai, a Japanese sword technique. Spending hours playing with swords in a room full of other people who also love swords and no one to tell you "please watch out!" or "not in the living room!"?

I think he likes it.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Romance of the Artistic Life

Scene: Living room in Sunnyside, mid-morning. Children enter and sit down. I shut the laptop and put it on the floor.

Me: I didn't get the Guggenheim.

Lucy: What were you applying for?

Me: (what follows is a heart-felt, if long-winded, description of my project that includes words like "finding the heart of suburbia", "shopping centers as the geographical and spiritual center of communities", and "using gift exchange as a way of transforming Walmart".

Finn: Well, I'm not going with you.

Lucy: If you are going to Walmart, would you get me that loft bed I wanted?

Dream Large. Or Possibly Very, Very Small.

It's out! Lela Nargi's book, Astounding Knits is available now on Amazon. I think it hits the bookstores next week. My project, The Knitted Mile is in it. As someone who has work featured in the book, I received a copy and I must say, I am very pleased with Lela's choices. It was wonderful to find myself genuinely impressed with the selection in the book. I am especially pleased with the section that my project is included in - all works for which I have nothing but respect.

You see, Janet Morton and I had a conversation back in Sackville in which we both confessed to actually kinda disliking the whole yarnbombing thing. It felt like the Pope saying he doesn't really like red hats and yet it was a huge relief to finally say it out loud to someone who knows exactly what I mean. Both of us have done work that could be seen as precursors to the phenomena of yarnbombing. I know I have had a strange relationship with it - feeling slightly ripped-off and misunderstood. But Janet had it right when she said that, while not criticizing anyone who feels compelled to do it, there is huge difference in the intention. And in art, intention is everything.

So I was a little afraid I would be in the yarnbombing section but I am not! Hooray and thank you Lela!

The book has many fascinating projects including, despite the title, a little bit of crochet. I think it would make a good addition to your bookshelf. You can take it down whenever you are feeling like you need a bit of inspiration. Or perhaps when you feel the need to be astounded.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Everything Old is New Again

For ten years, we have been going back and forth between Newfoundland and New York City. Of course there is a large contrast in culture, landscape, people, and simply the amount of people. The transition back to New York is always a bit more jarring, as one might imagine. Some years, we plunge right back in to it all and sometimes we take a few days to adjust slowly. This year we have plunged right back in.

On Sunday I went to morning service at the Zen center where I lapped it all up like a greedy puppy. Yesterday we went to pottery class, reuniting with old friends and our wonderful instructor. As a little treat for jumping back in with both feet (and because we were all starving), we had dinner in a Japanese restaurant that is close to the pottery studio. There is nothing particularly special about the place but it is convenient and not very expensive and Japanese food was feeling extremely exotic to us after months of my cooking using the somewhat world weary produce that makes it way to Newfoundland in the winter.

While we were there, which wasn't terribly long and certainly early for dinner in Manhattan, we saw: a prostitute and her John ordering take out sushi (spicy salmon rolls, if you must know), three young people do a dine-and-dash move, and, as we headed to the subway, two transvestites wearing prom/wedding dresses casually walking down the street.

We are not in Gillams anymore.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Moving Right Along

After describing the story of our voyage to New York to Dan's mother, she called it an odyssey. There were moments when it felt like we would never get back, like Poseidon and the other gods decided that they would extract their price before we could move ahead.

When we set out for the overnight ferry on Wednesday evening, it was snowing but not heavily and we made good time to Port aux Basques. We arrived, however, to discover that the ferry was not docked in the harbour. A quick check in the ferry terminal revealed that they anticipated a delay of about 1.5 hours. It also revealed that they had switched the boats so that we would be on the newer ferry, the Blue Putees. My main comfort in the whole lead-up to the ferry ride was that we would NOT be on the Blue Puttees, a boat that had a stabilizer malfunction a week earlier that resulted in the boat listing heavily to one side causing a great deal of damage and one injury to a staff person who fell into broken glass. (A person at the counter at the terminal also told me about a man who died a week later but, she added, it wasn't necessarily because of his falling out of his bunk - could be a coincidence. So comforting.) So, no, I was not happy about the switcheroo but we had no choice but to wait. Finally at 4:30 am, six hours and 2.5 terrible action movies later, we boarded the boat. I honestly don't remember much from there because we all fell deeply asleep.

Needless to say, we made it safely, although I did hear tell that the boat again had a stabilizer incident two days ago. Um, perhaps that needs to be looked into? The Cabot Strait is more often rough than calm and it strikes me that a combination of high waves and seriously listing boats is a very bad combination. Yet, Marine Atlantic doesn't seem particularly concerned. Lalala.

We arrived in Sackville for A Handmade Assembly just in the nick of time. We whisked off to the Sackville Curling Club, where the roundtable was being held.

They weren't kidding!

It really was a curling club! The ice was melting, however, because the season had just ended.

I loved everything about the Sackville Curling Club. Especially this sign.

I finally got to meet Janet Morton, an artist who, as someone once said, must be dreaming the same dreams as me. For years and years, we have communicated via regular mail and then email, and each time I have been surprised at how similar our thoughts and interests have been. When we met, it was like meeting an old friend. And, guess what? Again, our thoughts and ideas were traveling along a similar path - both of us talking about things that we hadn't said out loud before but with instant understanding. All this within about 30 minutes of meeting each other. This photo is of Janet on the left and on the right is Adriana Kuiper, another wonderful artist. Adriana teaches at Mount Allison University in Sackville. She had done a residency at Full Tilt two summers ago and we had fun flying kites and doing yoga together.

Here are members of the audience working on a project that Janet instigated - A Handmade Assembly Line. We all worked on our felt cars, passing along the parts to our neighbor after two minutes.


The next morning, it was my turn to speak about my work at Struts Gallery. On our way, we passed this sign.

At first glance, I thought it said, "Hebrew Karaoke". An intriguing idea in and of itself, but HeeHaw Karaoke may be equally so.

My talk went well and generated some very good conversation. I think here is the proper place to extend my thanks to the organizers of A Handmade Assembly, especially Amanda Fauteux. It was so great to be a part of such an incredible gathering and I loved seeing some of the people I met at Concordia about a year ago and rekindling those relationships. Nice all around.

We raced away from Sackville only to be caught in a heavy snowstorm about an hour later. By the time we reached Saint John, it was clear that we could not safely drive any further. We found a place to stay and we, rather gratefully, lounged around the rest of the day. The next day, it was still snowing but we headed out and, 13 hours later, arrived in Sunnyside, where spring is apparently in full bloom.