The adventures of a knitting grandmother

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She spins, she knits, she blogs about it all.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Z is for...


What's a zamboni, you say? It's the big boxy machine that smoothes out the ice between periods at ice hockey games. I grew up knowing what a zamboni was, since I grew up in Hockeytown (Detroit).

Why a zamboni for my letter Z? After a zamboni has gone over the roughed up ice, it is clean and smooth and ready to be played on again. Kind of like winding up things at the end of the year, and getting ready to start January 1 with a clean, smooth slate.

It was a funny year for blogging. After Nana passed away in March I lost interest in blogging for several months. I seriously considered stopping. Posting went to a minimum and I stopped doing as much commenting as I had been doing. But I still kept on reading my favorite blogs and decided to give myself some time before I abandoned my own blog. Guess what? Slowly the interest level did come back, and I no longer have any thoughts of quitting. I still don't comment quite as much as before, and I spend a lot more of my online time playing on Ravelry, but I think that now the blog is evolving and may involve more next year than just knits and travel. Certainly I will be posting more than I have been this past year.

Each day I try to do at least a small amount of spiritual reading. This year there has been a heavy emphasis on studying the Rule of St Benedict. This is a work written in the sixth century that is still deeply relevant today, especially for anyone seeking to live a life of balance and meaningfulness. Two particular books have comprised my study this year, both by Joan Chittister, O.S.B.: The Rule of Benedict, Insights for the Ages; and Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today. I've read through both three time and am working on the fourth go-round. I'm still finding much food for thought that I've missed in prior reads. I've also started a new book on the subject, The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, and am attempting to mine the wisdom in this one as well.

In my latest reading of Chittister's Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, I realized how much of what she (and Benedict) write can be related to the practising of craft, craft for it's own sake and craft as a form of work. Craft, and by inference knitting as a craft, is highly valued as a form of co-creation. It is spiritual and valuable and holy. As such, it is worthy of being practised.
It was eye-opening to me to see what I do as a hobby be praised as something highly worthwhile and valuable, as something as worthy of my time as the job that brings in the money, as the housework that keeps home comfortable for everyone. It made me see that time made for the exercise of the craft can be, with some awareness on my part, another path towards spiritual and personal growth alongside the more traditional forms of prayer, worship, and study. While prayer and worship is a part of everyday life, I don't always knit or do another form of craft everyday, although I seldom miss a day without picking up something for at least a few minutes. But if I now place a higher value on the spiritual possibilities of the practise, then taking time for it each day becomes a practise as valued as any other exercise. Not that I would ever substitute knitting for Mass, of course, or for my actual daily prayer time, but as another tool to help me down that spiritual, meditative path. I will make a resolve for this New Year to make a greater effort to knit and/or craft each day, and to give it a greater importance. I will stop thinking that craft is something to only give the meagerest crumbs of my time to practising, but make it a firm part of my daily life. And to return to spinning on a daily basis, if possible, as well. I've really let the spinning slip by the wayside, which is a shame considering how meditative I have found that in the past.

It's often said that non-knitters question the money and effort put into a knit project, especially socks, when it is so much easier and cheaper to just go out and buy the article in question. Benedict and Chittister have an answer for that as well. In brief, and I am liberally injecting a knitter's perspective here, the act of creating something that takes time and effort is an exercise in keeping our hearts open to others and to the world. Rather than racing through life and buying some last minute gift for a family member's birthday, we take the time to do something that involves effort and personal participation on our part. Time and expense do not matter. By putting the effort in to knit something, rather than buying an impersonal article, we keep our hearts open and our beings centered. We do not become self centered; we slow down and let the hustle and bustle of life slip away. We become, and remain, more human, more true to our best selves. Hardly a small thing. And if I am knitting for myself? Then I am taking some responsibility for clothing myself, for not expecting someone else to labor to provide for me. I am able to do what it takes to be responsible and caring for myself. I am able to use the materials, the wool or silk, as it was intended, to fashion myself or someone else a garment of usefulness and beauty. I respect the gifts of the earth; I respect what my hands and brain were given, the ability to accomplish craft and contribute to the co-creation of the world. As it ought to be. Pretty awesome stuff. And it took me a long time to see it.

I've been trying to finish up the Monkeys in Alaska socks before the end of the year. Like that's going to happen. I keep finding myself tinking back the second sock, due to mistakes that crop up several - or numerous - rows back. It's as if subconciously I don't want to finish the sock. Perhaps I don't.

While on the cruise I only took along two books to read. Both were by Susan Gordon Lydon, The Knitting Sutra and Knitting Heaven and Earth. It was a marvelous choice. Her thoughts on knitting, craft, and the spirituality of place fit in perfectly with what I was experiencing on the trip, and a lot of the Benedictine study as well. I was particularly impressed by her efforts to knit thought, medition, and life events into her sweaters and shawls. Although I could probably tell you what was generally happening in my life when knitting a specific article, I had never experienced a project becoming an embodiment of a particular time or experience. Until now. The sock yarn that I purchased in Victoria, B.C., and began knitting on the trip, has come to symbolise the thoughts, experiences, and spirituality of the entire experience. Knitting with it now becomes a meditation and remembrance of all that happened. And I'm afraid that once I am done, the socks will become just another pair in the sock drawer, with nothing special at all about them anymore.

Perhaps I will keep the bit of yarn that will be leftover in my project bag as a remembrance. Perhaps the other yarns I bought on the trip will take over the ability to lead me into meditation, although the Baby Cashmerino I bought in the same store as the sock yarn did not do this. Maybe with some effort in this new year, in the effort to integrate Benedictine spirituality with my daily life, I will be able to let the knitting lead me into more of a spiritual experience, more of an awakening to place and metaphor, God and Spirit and the here and now.

And in case this all seems too high falootin', I've also made the usual resolutions about knitting up the stash, eating more veggies, and losing 20 pounds. And we all know how that's going to go, don't we.

The Zamboni is back in the garage. The ice is clean and smooth, inviting. Happy New Year! Woohoo!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Last FO of the Year

Or at least it's the likely last FO. Not even a knit. On Sunday I finished up the first cross stitch project I've done in several years. I'd stopped cross stitching because my near vision was getting worse and it was no longer comfortable. (Knitting, on the other hand, rarely required any close up work.) Back in October I did finally go to the eye doctor and complained about it. Now that I have new glasses and a new, stronger prescription, working on 14 count cloth goes very nicely. But I still need sunlight in order for my eyes not to strain.

Here is the fourth Alaska project. I started this one while on the trip as well.

I'm trying to finish up the Monkeys in Alaska socks before the new year, but I'm only semi-optimistic at this point. Not enough time today and then working all day tomorrow. I am taking the time to wind up the yarn for my first cast on project of 2009. This is the Pink Carrot sock yarn I bought in Ketchikan (Ravelry link). There are over 460 yards in this skein and I decided that I did not want another pair of socks. I love my knit socks, I love them when it is cold, but it's just not that cold that often here. So this is going to be a scarf (I love scarves!) and I'm going to use Tiennie's Old Shale pattern for sock yarn. It should make for lovely, relaxing knitting. And I love the intense blue in this yarn.

Seems to me that all I'm lacking now is a Z post to wind up the year. Anybody got a spare Z?

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Cable Vest

I've finished up the last of the Baby Cashmerino by making another Debbie Bliss vest. This is the third of the Alaska projects to be finished. The pattern is from Simply Baby (Ravelry link), the size is 9-12 months. The pattern calls for two skeins of the Cashmerino, but I'd read several comments on Ravelry that two skeins would not be enough. That was exactly what I found. Oh, I could knit the vest itself, but if I'd not had plenty of the Baby Cashmerino left over from the prior vest I would have been stuck for the neckband and armbands.

This is a very nice little pattern but don't try it without plenty of the yarn.

I finished this up on Dec. 14 and posted on Ravelry, but for whatever reason forgot to post it here. This is knit with Size 2 and 3 needles. Because of the cables, it took me about twice as long to knit as the last vest (mostly stockinette) did.

The first Alaska knit, the Noro Striped Scarf, went to Michael's fiance Carolyn for Christmas. It was an immediate hit. She will certainly need it when she goes back to school. As a matter of fact, she can use it here in Arizona. The temperatures are going into the 20's at night and I had to break ice off the car this morning just to open the door. That doesn't happen often! Just goes to show you how crazy the weather is.

Stay warm!

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Thank you, Joe and Jenn! Thank you, Suzanne, for picking it out and sending it on. The colors are amazing!

Guess I need to get spinning. Hope everyone had a happy Christmas Day!


Thursday, December 25, 2008

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night

Merry Christmas, one and all!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

Somebody ought to tell the rosebush that it's three days to Christmas. I've never had a bloom this late in the year.

Dedicated to the rest of the country that's buried in snow.

PS: Roxie, I love the shepherd's socks. Thanks for thinking of me.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Y is for...(Part 2)

Yukon, in this case the White Pass and Yukon Railway. Our bus took us from Carcross (which in it's day was a major stop on the rail line) to Fraser, B.C., where we boarded our train for the 27 mile ride back to Skagway.

Although the rain showers had returned, the trip was spectacular for scenery. The bus trip up the pass had been amazing, but now, on the other side of the gorge, it was even better.

Both our bus driver and our rail hostess were very knowledgeable about the history of the White Pass. In late 1897, Skagway was inundated by tens of thousands of gold seekers. Many of the men flocking to the gold fields had abandoned homes and families in their quest for riches. Many of them were already lawless and became more so when they reached Skagway. Gangs of ruthless individuals preyed on the newly arrived travelers and extortion and crime were rampant. The gold seekers had a choice of two routes to the Yukon. One was over the extremely steep but shorter Chilkoot Pass, and the other was the White Pass, the one we were following. Both trails met in a broad meadow up in British Columbia. We passed through this meadow; everyone entering Canada had to bring a ton of supplies or they were denied entrance by the Canadian Mounties. All of this gear had to be carried on foot up the passes. It would take an individual thirty to forty trips to get all of their gear up to the meadow. It is hard to imagine the human endurance involved in getting a ton of supplies such a long distance. And even after they reached the meadow, all that gear had to then be transported to the lakes seen in the last post, so that boats could be built to carry the supplies and the gold seekers through the lakes and down the Yukon river, 550 miles to the gold fields. What an unbelievable journey!

But any admiration for these hardy travelers soon faded away in a sense of grim reality and horror. These people, many of whom had abandoned their families in the U.S. to manage as best they could, were often involved in shootings, murders, and unbelievable cruelty. Because the White Pass was not overly steep, it was believed that horses could be used as pack animals, making it easier to get the ton of materials up the mountains. But most of those who purchased horses had never owned the animals before, and had no idea how to care for them. The animals were overloaded and expected to make the climb without any food or water. There was no grass in the mountain pass for them to graze. The horses would make it only so far and then would simply die of exhaustion and neglect. The bodies of more than 3,000 horses are still in the bottom of Dead Horse Gulch (picture below). At the time, the stench of the rotting bodies could be smelled in Skagway, more than 17 miles away. In spots it is still impossible to walk on the ground itself because of all the bones piled in the bottom of the gulch. And to think that when these prospectors finally got to the Yukon gold fields, it was only to find that all the good claims had long been taken and the gold rush was essentially over. What an exercise in futility!

There were a few times on the Alaska trip that I was literally stopped in my tracks by things I saw. Once was seeing all the whales so close; another was my first view of Mendenhall glacier. I was absolutely stunned at Hubbard Glacier when I saw - and heard - a large iceberg calve off the front of the iceflow. Now I was once more stunned, this time when the train passed the actual foot trail used by the gold rushers. This narrow path was still clearly visible even after a hundred years had passed, so many billions of footprints had been on it. It was chilling to imagine so many people trudging up this trail, carrying so many burdens on their backs, returning back down it only to head back up again with even more supplies. Forty miles from Skagway to the meadow above the pass! Forty miles back to Skagway, and then starting again! It would take each person 30 to 40 trips up and down this trail to get the ton of supplies to the meadow, and then there was still 550 miles of waterway to go! And there were so many people on this trail that if one stepped off the path for a moment, it would take up to ten hours to find a break in the line when one could get back onto the trail!

How could people be so driven by a lust for gold, to endure so much? To abandon their wives and children, to kill and steal and cheat, to heartlessly drive innocent animals to a cruel death? And all, in the end, for nothing.

Did they ever stop, for just a moment, to see the beauty that was around them? Did they ever stop the madness long enough to miss what they had left behind, their homes, their families, their humanity? Did anyone ever see the madness of it all, and step off the trail for the last time, perhaps to find a quiet life of beauty in the great wilderness?

It seems to me that if we are not careful, we can find ourselves on a narrow path like this in our lives as well. We can get into a way of life that can find us trudging along a narrow, bitter path, carrying heavy burdens that we place on ourselves, seeking something that in the end will never be truly fulfilling.

I decided then and there that I will never follow such a path myself. If I ever find myself on a path that leads to nowhere despite all effort or stress, then I need to get off. I need to walk away from the mindless following of any path; we all need to walk away and look at the beauty around us, to appreciate what we already have and not keep reaching for more and more and more. To decide what is truly important; to be content with home, family, simple things, craft.

It was a beautiful day trip. The changes may be subtle, but are there none the less. I was a different person who returned to Skagway that day. I have not looked at life quite the same way since.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Y is for...(Part 1)


The trip we looked forward to most in Alaska was actually a trip into the Yukon Territory, Canada. I had been reading Michener's "Alaska" and wanted to see the gold rush trail of 1898. Plus we simply wanted to get that far up north into Canada, the furthest north we'd been.

We left Skagway by bus and headed up the White Pass into British Columbia. The climb up the mountain pass was not too steep. We worked our way through some light rain showers as we ascended the mountains. The peaks were stunning. I can only imagine what they would be like in sunshine.

We made a stop at Lake Tutshi ("too shy") while still in British Columbia. This was the only place in the entire trip that we ran into the infamous mosquitos, but even the swarm that tried to feed on us couldn't lessen our pleasure in the beautiful mountain lake.

As we continued our bus journey into the Yukon territory, we entered an area of tundra where very little was growing. Hundred year old spruce trees were only about 18 inches high! They could not grow any taller in that environment.

We crossed into an area of large, beautiful lakes, lakes that fed into the Yukon river. The mountains were green and gold with full-blown fall color.

We stopped for a barbecue chicken lunch at a small settlement called Caribou Crossing. This was where we walked to the sled dog camp. After lunch we continued on our tour with a stop at Emerald Lake. The unusual bands of green in this lake are caused by the organisms that live in the water.

We stopped at another settlement called Carcross. This is a very old town that in many places is now falling apart. Several hundred people still live there. This was a town that was founded during the gold rush era. The hordes of people heading down the Yukon built themselves boats to float down the lakes and down the Yukon. In fact, the mountains were stripped of much of the pine trees to build the thousands of boats that were needed. Aspen trees took over where the pines had once stood, and these accounted for the swaths of gold in the mountains.

The steamship Tutshi used to sail these lakes. One winter it was brought ashore to avoid the ice but caught fire and burned nearly completely to the ground. This is about the only part of the structure left. The wreck was left where it was.

In Part 2, the trip back to Skagway by train; appalling history in the midst of great natural beauty.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

X is for...


If that's a word you're not familiar with, it refers to a particular style of landscaping, using very little water, developed for dry desert climates. It relies heavily on native plants, with very few specimens that need regular watering.

I don't have a xeriscaped yard, but I do follow some of the principles. We do have cactus and other low water use plants that I do not water. Ever. The flowering borders and planters, the high water items, are close to the house. Further out are the low and no water plantings. They survive on rainfall alone, or perhaps a bit of watering if things get really, really dry. Trees are low maintenance varieties that are specific to this climate. The whole idea is to use as little water as possible. Xeriscapes don't have lawns, or perhaps just a little section near the back patio. There is a whole world of interesting plantings possible, all geared to relying heavily on available rainfall and rainwater harvesting.

There are not many true xeriscaped yards where I live. Mostly it is in the new subdivisions where conservation is being aggressively practised. Most front yards in my neighborhood are plastic covered with gravel, including mine. There used to be a lawn in back but I wasn't very good at watering it and keeping it green. Someday I'm going to get pavers and flagstone and make a big patio out there. It will be very practical except in the middle of summer when it's too hot to be outside. Even now it's around 70 during the day and very warm in the backyard; we still grill outside frequently. More xeriscaping will be very appropriate...and will leave more time for other pursuits.

Now that all the Christmas shopping and mailing is out of the way, perhaps I can get back to knitting again.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

'Tis The Season

No, NOT Christmas. Advent.

Despite the fact that the stores have had Christmas up for the last few weeks, that a good number of the neighbors already have the decorated trees in the living room windows, and that the yearly competition to see who can get the most lights up on their house is off and running, there is no sign of Christmas in my house yet. Just the Advent wreaths are out, and the empty stable and manger waiting for a baby. This year I have finally Done It -- I've finished the shopping and the mailing, all before Thanksgiving. Now I intend to spend the month of December just enjoying the season and the spirituality.

Last week Monday the computer died. Totally. After a few days I started going through withdrawals, at least for a Ravelry fix. I borrowed one of the kids' computers. (It was not as difficult as you might think.) I got out my old computer and got it back in somewhat functioning condition. Then Joe bought a new laptop yesterday. It's pretty cool, but it did cost me my Christmas bonus.

Merry Christmas, dear. As long as I get equal time on it.