Lessons in humility

Dear Universe,

How many times do we need the humility lesson? I mean, really?

I took off my prima donna tap shoes years ago. Haven't you noticed the comfort walkers? The willingness to roll up sleeves and write just about anything? For Pete's sake, I've worked for lawyers. How low can you go?

But, no. You felt I needed the mirror shoved front and center yet again and gave me a career-limiting uh-oh upon which to reflect. You had me sobbing on a public toliet, thinking, "I was a high-school valedictorian, how did my career devolve to this!?"

And reflect I have. Of course, we all need the lesson of slowing down and paying closer attention, but if we focus too closely on the weeds, we'll miss the forest and the wild things that come to us in dreams. To work in fear of mistakes is to work in fear. And is that any way to foster invention, new thinking and creativity?

It's all about balance, isn't it? To color outside the lines may yield something fresh and interesting, but is it usable? Likewise to put forth dull, perfectly wrought copy gets the job done, but will anybody read?

Hard to imagine in this day and age that teachers ever made children wear dunce caps. it strikes the contemporary viewer as cruel, doesn't it? Do we need to wear the cone of shame in order to find that point where inspiration and perfection come together in excellence?

Universe, I think there's a bigger message here but not quite sure I'm getting it. Or is it just about dotting i's and crossing t's?



Photo by Arthur Tress




Here's butter in your eye: An Ayurvedic adventure

I've made no secret of my eye woes but have been circumspect about one of my treatments. How do you explain to your researcher-surgeon let alone your family that you're allowing someone to put butter in your eyes?

Not butter exactly, but ghee.

The treatment is called Netra Basti and it involves building circular dough dams around each eye and then pouring warmed ghee into those dams.

I thought it was weird, too, but it seemed benign enough. And since Western medicine couldn't offer any ideas about how to stave off another rogue retina, I thought, what the hell?

I arrived wearing work clothes, knowing I was about to get doused in oil. I was asked to strip down and climb onto a warmed massage table. I cuddled up and the Ayurvedic clinician--a lovely woman, who is so giving and healing I just wanted to hug her immediately--began applying dough to my left eye socket. The dough was made of urad dal. It was cool on my face and smelled warm and vegetal. After she secured the dough to my face, she poured warm ghee into the basin surrounding my left eye.

She asked me to slowly open that eye. I was nervous but allowed my eye to flutter open. The ghee wasn't irritating. Rather it felt like I was crying but without the tears.

"That's good," she said. "That's the pitta coming out."

She then asked me to do eye exercises, following the numbers on a clock, forward, then backward. She asked me to follow a square and make an X, then circles. It wasn't unpleasant and I could see my clinician through the veil of the ghee. It was like being in a bathtub, looking up through bathwater.

After we did the other eye, she covered both eyes then massaged my feet, upper body, head and hands with an herb-infused sesame oil. It was heaven.

I left coated in oil, my hair matted and sticking out in grey rastas.

My eyes felt tired but fed, like they had had a nice meal. And my under eye lines--softened!

Will this prevent another retina tear? Hard to say. But my floaters seem less apparant and I'm completely soft as opposed to al dente. Won't it be interesting to see what my next eye exam reveals?


The glory days of the sweater

Photo from BTM Vintage on Etsy

Those of us who remember shoulder pads fondly (and the big hair and earrings) will also recall the sweaters: Exuberant, embellished knits that didn't fade into the wallpaper but rather announced themselves in all their intarsiaed, glittery glory.

Over the holiday I had the pleasure of meeting one of the icons of the industry. Knowing my interest in textiles, my MIL set up a visit at the home of Estelle Gracer, one of her mah jong pals. Inside I immediately fell upon a colorful hand-crocheted table cover. On the far living room wall hung a dramatic piece of fiber art, ribbons cascading gracefully. Beautiful throws and beribboned throw pillows lay across chairs and sofas. Chair pads and custom upholstery and lampshades--the house is a testament to an incredibly creative life.

Photo from Ebay store Shopping with Gina

In the late 1970s, Estelle began crocheting more seriously after reading a book on creative crochet she received from her daughter. Frustrated by the yarns available at the time, she began ripping apart old sheets and crocheting up the strips. She liked the effect, which was new at the time, and before long was having fabric machine cut for her in New York on an industrial scale. The vests and jackets she created were both luxurious and bohemian and her business took off. At its height, she employed 350 crocheters who produced 1,500 jackets a month in the United States, and she said, she and her husband paid good wages. (The business is now called Cici Bianca and is owned by Cindy White.)

Celebrities like Linda Evans wore her pieces; she designed for Bill Atkinson, Jay Jacks and Anne Crimmons. One jacket was pictured on the wife of Florida's governor at the time with the Queen of England and Prince Phillip, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Gerald and Betty Ford and other luminaries.

Today Estelle has only a handful of examples in her house--a gorgeous fabric and chenille bolero, a bright red evening jacket, among others. They look remarkably contemporary and wearable, ideal for date night with a pair of naughty high heels.

Estelle, herself, is a treasure, full of stories about the fashion industry and the vagaries of running a successful cottage industry after the sudden death of her husband. She even pressed yarn on me--custom-dyed chenille she had used in her business. We were impressed, charmed and dazzled by our morning with a fiber pioneer and courageous female entrepreneur. A big kiss to my MIL for making this happen!

Evening sweaters...gentlemen and ladies, don't you think it's a time for a comeback?

Getting ready to teach the Color Affection Shawl

On Tuesday evenings in January I'll be teaching the much-loved, much-Raved Color Affection Shawl by Vera Välimäki of Rain Knitwear Designs. Since it is helpful to do before teaching, the knitting of the aforementioned piece is about to commence (in concert with the viewing of Craftsy's free Knitting Short Rows just to be sure all those short rows in my past were performed correctly--and if not, oh well).

Do take a moment to view the parade of shawls in endless color combinations on Ravelry. Kaleidoscopic in variety, you really should look. But I couldn't resist the natural colors of Thirteen Mile Farm's wool. This yarn is about as virtuous as you can get: organic, predator friendly (with only dogs and llamas guarding the livestock) and spun in a largely solar-powered mill. It also hails from Montana, which makes a neighbor if not local.

I feel righteous just writing about it.

Anyway can hardly wait to start and look forward to seeing the color combos my students cook up.


Making ponchos in a post-poncho world

It started with this: Martha looking tan, rested and trim after five months in Alderson prison and wearing a hand-crocheted poncho.

Lisa circa 2005: I'm starting to think I want a poncho.

Me: You don't want a poncho.

Lisa (whining): Make me one!

Me: You don't wear your own hand knits. I'm not making you a poncho.

Lisa: But you're a better knitter.

Me: I'll spend six weeks knitting a poncho and by then it will be out of style. I'm not knitting you a poncho.

Time passes. Say five years.

Lisa: I'm still thinking I want a grey poncho.

Me: Go for it.

Lisa: You make it for me.

Me: Uh huh. There's no way in hell I'm knitting you a poncho.

More years pass. Suddenly a big birthday looms. A really big birthday. The one I commemorate with the gift of a shawl. There was nothing for it but to knit the much-desired thing.

Churchmouse Yarn and Teas provided the perfect pattern. Three skeins of Berroco Ultra Alpaca in Charcoal Mix accomplished the task.

This design elevates the poncho to something more timeless and less lumpen than the one pictured above.

Thanks to my lovely neighbor Kim for the modeling. And to Lisa, here's to many, many more! Birthdays, not ponchos.

Some frivolous things about which to be thankful

1. A late-autumn pedicure. Got the best end of a trade yesterday when I fixed a friend's sweater (she's a manicurist). Purple, people. Purple. Toenails! (She's mobile. Ping me if you want her number.)

2. The Borgias. Sex, wine and Jeremy Irons. Stunning!

3. Crazy Sexy Kitchen. The Madeira Peppercorn Tempeh is insane!

4. Anna Karenina. Vibrating to see it.

5. Colorado makers like Denim & Pearl and Sleep Season Yarn.

6. Argo. It's everything a Hollywood movie should be: Thrilling, funny, nationalistic and well-told in broad, beautifully executed strokes.

7. Finally! The perfect project for sari silk ribbon.

8. An e-book version of the Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook.You don't have to be gluten-free to love the little fat bombs that are the chocolate chip scones.

9. Tea. Have gone round-the-bend over Montana Tea (the website, however, leaves something to be desired). Try Night on Glaciar Bay or Evening in Missoula.

10. Looking forward to reading Flight Behavior.

Gobble, gobble?

A recent walk at the Plains Conservation Center brought the omnivore's dilemma into sharp relief. Located at the far edge of Aurora, the center represents 1,100 acres of preserved prairie (a second site near Strasburg protects nearly 8,000 acres). To the south and west countless putty-and-beige houses break the horizon but north and east--mostly clear, wan sky and mile-after-mile of tea-colored grass.

It's a delightful place to ramble; the center has replicated the Laura-Ingalls-Wilder experience by constructing a series of furnished sod buildings that include two homes, a school house, blacksmith shop and barn. There's also a working heirloom garden and chicken coop, where we met the flock pictured above.

We were completely charmed, especially when Tom, obviously a bird with strong preferences in textiles, began aggressively pecking the Garlic Queen's crocheted purse.

Which brings us to the dilemma and the impending holiday. When we approached the center's small clutch of chickens and turkeys, they ran to us like we were made of popped corn then followed us throughout the homestead certain our pockets were filled with good things to eat. We stooped down to talk a little turkey and they clucked and barked and showed us their beautiful feathers, which in the sunlight gleamed torquoise and bronze.

Because this is a working farm, occasionally a member of the flock is harvested and served to visitors in the large soddy--with dumplings.

Somehow I managed to gobble down turkey and chicken and beef for 50 years without question. Today, in spite of our omnivorous ancestery and need for protein, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to justify that these lives lived in the Colorado, California or Kansas sunshine are being ended for mine.

Not sure I'm there yet, but getting really close to saying, "Pass, the Field Roast, please..."

Photo by Susan Permut



The Petraeus Scandal: A good yarn

Why do we care? Apart from issues of national security and the possible breach thereof, why do we care that a highly regarded former general has some tarnished brass in the closet?

We care, because it's a good story and we're a story-telling species. Great man+hubris+cosmic smackdown=tragedy. Why, it's downright archetypal.

If we're honest with ourselves, however, isn't our fascination partly schedenfreude? Two extreme high achievers brought low by vanity, boredom and lust? All that striving and ambition...to what end? Aren't we just a little delighted by all this?

But as the Pentagon turns and more players enter the drama, several families are in crisis. As savory as these bits are to chew, they represent the failings of real people with spouses and children and loved ones gobsmacked by the news--bystanders whose lives are unraveling in the media.

So we feel pity, another essential element of tragedy. And read some more.




Wear wool in Wovember!

Completely enraptured by the idea of Wovember.

Whether or not you're down with the climate-change thing, you must agree that energy conservation is a good thing. So as the temperature drops, do as Brenda Dayne does, put on a sweater. (Thank you to the Cast-On hostess for mentioning Wovember in her most recent podcast.)

The brainchild of Kate Davies and Felicity Ford, Wovember encourages wool fans to celebrate and promote the fiber by wearing as much of the lovely stuff as possible in November. Like we need another excuse to buy yarn. Or sweaters.

Today, I'm wearing a wool-blend skirt--made in Canada--I picked up on our honeymoon. Yes, it still fits. Just barely. (Think epic zipper battle.)

There are many wooly tempations in the retailverse. Anthropologie has gone completely sweater-happy with many wool and wool-blend beauties on offer.

Or drag out an old handknit you haven't displayed in a while. And turn down the temp.

10 Things to Do While Awaiting the Returns

1. Vote. If you haven't.

2. Finish that sweater moldering in the "done" pile. Then, win or lose, you'll have something fresh to wear or give.

3. Support the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort.

4. Reach out to someone who disagrees with you and listen respectfully to his or her point of view.

5. Open your mind to an unfamiliar idea. Or ideas.

6. Read something delightful. And beside the point.

7. Prepare something lovely to eat.

8. And for dessert...

9. To manage any post-election woes...

10. Or existential crises...