Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Sixth Square

The Sixth Square. Stretching for miles and miles, into the distant horizon. Or maybe my bed, someday. Six squares down, many to go.
What I like about this project: seeing how the colors change in relation to others (see how the chartreuse seems more yellow when it's beside the purple, but more green next to the forest green stripes?); no pattern to keep track of or lose my place in; finding ideas for the next square in the most ordinary experiences (so far, a candy bar and the sky and a favorite skirt, and yes, there will be a square based on lingerie, oh, for goodness sake, underwear, because lingerie designers know something about color); being able to finish a square within the time span of my memory (weaving happens so rarely that even with the pattern marked, I have trouble renewing work on a project); when a square is done, it's done, without the dreaded finishing of the sweater period.
And I noticed tonight that the miters look like the tracks of sandpipers on a beach at low tide. I like that, too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The 100-mile Diet

No oranges or lemons or limes. No olive oil. No rice. If I was seriously going to attempt the 100-Mile Diet (not a diet but a focus on eating foods grown or produced within 100 miles of where you live), it would mean the loss of some of my favorite things.

But the concept, from Plenty by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon, has me thinking about how I can support the local or semi-local farmer, the local dairy, the local farmer's markets. And when you start to think about something, it has a way of smacking you upside the head. Today I noticed, as I was driving home, a sign for a farmstand. Keep in mind that I have been driving this road for two years and never before noticed the sign. Hard to miss: red and white, large home-made lettering, clear directions. I followed the turn to the right, then continued along what quickly turned from big-box retail and gas stations into farmland. Two more signs, urging me on, letting me know that I had only 1500 feet to travel, then 1000 feet to travel, until I reached the farmstand. Corn and tomatoes and cukes advertised on one of those large mobile, lit-up signs.

A bit unsure of what I would find, but feeling that something was pointing me toward the place, I turned into the driveway and pulled around to a small, gravel-covered lot. Four cars, no one in sight. And a sign with the farmstand hours posted. Open 10 am to 5 pm, and it was 5:20 pm. I felt like a thwarted explorer. And I wondered about the politics of the hours: didn't that mean that a working person can't shop at the farmstand? On the other hand, the place is only ten minutes from work, and maybe I could dash over on a lunch hour to check it out.

The cynic in me was wondering, though, whether any of the farmstand produce was grown around here. It's too early for tomatoes in Chicago, and doubly so for corn. But doubting the sincerity of the farmstand got me thinking about food and farming and picking your own produce. Years ago, every summer in Ohio, we would trek out to a Pick-your-own farm and take home boxes of berries. In one day, I would cook it down, can it, and set several jars of strawberry preserves in the basement for winter eating and for gifts.. It is one long, very hot, sticky day in a summer kitchen, but I still can summon up the taste of the preserves. It also pleased my grandfather, a self-made man, who showed pleasure at seeing one of his grandchildren practicing a traditional art. We're close to Michigan here: maybe I'll go berry picking this summer?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Self-Referential Universe

Check it out: my first by-name cross-blog reference. And a less obvious one here: I'm the person who suggested Cara's news is that she's becoming Creative Director of Red Heart or the next Knitting Czar.

The Fifth Square

The Fifth Square.

Slowly, making progress on the Mitered Square Blanket. This is my first real day-off, day off since San Francisco. Lazy. No driving. No errands. Reading the amazing What is the What by the amazing Dave Eggers. My younger daughter and I heard him speak at last year's Printer's Row Book Fair in Chicago. How can you not admire a man whose mission it is to teach young adults to love writing and reading, and who puts a pirate shop in the front if his writing clinic, because the area is zoned for retail and not non-profit? But I digress. Here's the square inspired by the cover of a TV Guide.
I'm sitting in the backyard. Enjoying the sound of water falling into the tiny pond. Watching a squirrel lean way, way over to take a drink, wondering what he'll do if he falls in. Thinking that maybe I could deal with putting feeder goldfish into the tiny pond; when they go belly up, I might not feel so bad. I hate the sight of a dying or dead fish. Well, maybe not.

And perfect iced tea: Rooibush Cherry from Tea Gschwender. Three teaspoons loose tea, brewed in a cup of boiled water, then added to 2 cups of ice cubes. Or, if you prefer the Tea Gschwender person's recipe: 3 Teelemass in a 1/2 liter of water, then add 1 liter of ice cubes. The taste of cherry and almond and cold liquid.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I am a two-year-old-reduced-to-wow (that's my teacher's description of that state of utter complete pleasure which leaves one unable to say anything other than "wow.") This is the floral arrangement sent to me when the caterers were over an hour late for our event last week, sent a waiter who fell asleep on the sales floor and was in need of some dentistry, then left the catering supervisor to run the whole show when the waiter who drove left with the waiter who was asked to leave.

Are these Venus flytraps? I want to think that they are.
Is that Sigourney Weaver behind the arrangement? All I could think of the movie Alien, especially the first one when the thing comes flying out someone's chest and suction cups itself to his face.
No fancy linking, but these are from a florist in Chicago called Stems, on N. Ashland. They drove my arrangement all the way out from the city, over an hour one way. Lucky me. The late watermelon-pieces-on-a-stick and cheescake disguised as truffles and the sad catering supervisor, serving all evening on his own, was worth it.

Day Off

Ahhh. A bit of time not scheduled.
  • Yoga this morning at the center, enjoying being a student. I think that it's among my first times back since surgery and my trip to San Francisco.
  • Rode my bike to yoga and back (I guess that goes without saying). Virtuous and fully aware of how out of shape I am. I love my bike. My goal is to work close enough to home that I can ride my bike to work. I do know far more industrious people, or at least have heard tell of them, who ride their bikes on the expressways around Chicago. I'm not one of them. But can I whine about gas prices: Chcago ten o'clock news calimed last night that our gas prices are the highest in the country. Today, 12 gallons, over $40. Wow.
  • Sat in the backyard on one of the Adirondack chairs, enjoying the pond (tiny but still wonderful), typing my notes from the integration course in New Orleans into the laptop. I'm conscious that the stuff will never move from notebook to brain unless I either hand-recopy it or type it up. I'm a visual learner, but I also need that physical element of writing the words down in order to get them filed into my brain. When the battery wore down and I admitted that sitting outside in hot weather isn't the most apt way to get through a lot of notes, I came inside and disciplined myself to keep going until I'd finished one day of training. That would be, in my world, about 30 or so pages of notes. In my early life, I was a reporter and a graduate student. I write Everything down.
  • Tried to order the rest of my books for therapy training. I love the way they come from India, and this time I'm going to post a picture so that I can show you: wrapped in muslin, with a ribbon tying the package closed, and the address written in large flowery hand, albeit it Magic Marker., take notice. Failed to complete order as none of the passwords that I could summon up worked. Is there not a better system than passwords? Haven't we all worked our way through the names of our children and our pets, and what then to do? On Law and Order, they always crack the password in under a minute. No surprise.
  • Went to the library and found things to read: Dave Eggars' What is the What, a few copies of Cooks' Illustrated, a Van der Valk mystery reputed to be the strangest and the best, Aupres de ma Blonde.
  • we are having an almost all Orange and Yellow dinner: barbecued chicken, fruit salad of mango and oranges and apples, another salad of grape tomatoes and parsley and corn with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, Italian bread, and those wonderful frozen french fries that go into the oven for 15 minutes and come out, yup, golden yellow. I didn't plan it this way. On the other hand, it is not that unusual to notice that I've cooked a meal in one color palette. And my older daughter's visiting with a friend. American Idol on, Dancing with the Stars taping. I admit it, I did log on and gave all five votes to Apolo Anton Ohno and his partner.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I've been thinking about anger and control and forgiveness since my yoga training last week. Not because the training brought up these emotions, but because we spent a lot of time talking about these topics and how they are viewed in yoga philosophy. And, because since I've been home, there's one particular approach, called upeksa, that keeps coming to mind as I talk with my staff or friends.

Upeksa (pronounced "oo-payk-sha") is a bhavanna, or attitude, toward someone who has done you harm. This harm can range from a person cutting you off on the expressway to full-fledged, all-out evil, such as the massacre of an entire civilization. And what upeksa offers is a disengagement from the anger that the harm creates in you. It isn't a milque toast, passive eschewing of responsibility or concern. Nor is it a free ticket for the mayhem to continue. What it is, is a choice: to observe and identify the selfishness, to experience whatever emotions or thoughts it creates, but choose at the same time not to hold onto that anger. That doesn't mean that you ignore it; but it does mean that you choose not to continue your own suffering by repeatedly reliving the experience.

Here's an example. We all have someone in our life who makes us absolutely crazy. And we all have patterns, or samskaras, that we repeat over and over with that person. Say your best friend always forgets to call you on your birthday, even though you never forget hers and in fact, send her a very expensive floral arrangement each year on the precise date of her birth. (This is not a true story.) You could feel a reasonable amount of irritation, and you could: A) keep it to yourself and be angry every time that you think of the money you've spent on her or B) tell her that you're hurt a bit that she never remembers your birthday, but each year when the time is rolling around, you can feel yourself anticipating the hope, then the disappointment, then the anger again as nothing arrives or C) talk to her, accept that she's probably never going to change, and choose either to continue remembering her birthday because it pleases you, or decide that you no longer want to mark the anniversary of her birth if she can't recall your day.

That last one is upeksa. You've spoken up, you've stated your case, and now are free of the cycle of hope and disappointment, by your own choice. That's what I love about upeksa: the idea that we all have a choice, no matter how dire the circumstances may seem. It doesn't erase the evil. But the possibility exists that by taking all of that energy focused on anger and resentment and fear and turning it to something more positive - communication or a campaign to change something or a vote to put a political apparatus in play - we might actually effect a real change.

As we were studying these bhavannas, I thought of some relatives in my family, now deceased. One brother stopped talking to another brother when they were in their forties, and for the next forty years neither spoke to the other. Family occasions, they would stand on opposite sides of the room, pretending the other didn't exist. And I'm not even sure that the survivor came to his brother's funeral. What did either gain by holding onto his animosity for years and years? Was he the winner or was he the loser? And did it make right whatever had caused the rift? Upeksa would have allowed them to find some kind of link. It makes me think of another idea that keeps coming to mind these days: E.M. Forster's line from Howard's End. "Only connect."

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Yesterday I saw a man getting into a car wearing a headpiece made of a grey band that went around his forehead, to which were affixed what looked like four red rubber spikes on each side. Any ideas?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Two Reasons for Hope

This is how I know that there's still hope in the world.

And that Apolo Anton Ohno is still in the running to win Dancing with the Stars.

Please Vote

Shocking but not surprising: in a continuing narrowing of our civil rights in the United States, the Pentagon has further undercut the First Amendment by directing military personnel not to post on MySpace or YouTube and not to exercise their right to free speech through blogging.

Please vote in the upcoming presidential election and help us to be the democratic, ethical world leader that we claim to be. Read more here, and take a look at some of these blogs for an upclose look at the war in Iraq, both from positive and critical points of view.

My point is not to debate the war, but to note the slow but steady disintegration of our First Amendment rights. Don't even get me started on Guantanomo Bay.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

In the Sculpture Garden by Noni

Happy Spring.
Project: In the Sculpture Garden Triangle Baguette
Designer: Nora J. Bellows
Yarn: Cascade 220 in 7822 (brown) and 9407 (pistachio), Lamb's Pride, various colors
Source: Knitche and my stash
Needle: size 13 circular
Gauge: 11 st and 16 rows to 4"
Notions: Handles from Knitche
Detail of handles: the first stroke of genius in this project was taking the bag to the shoemaker to attach the handles. The pattern calls for sewing them on with matching yarn. But the bag, being felted, is already heavy, and once you load it up, it will be still heavier. The shoemaker jury-rigged a solution by making small straps of leather to insert into the narrow slots in the handles, then sewed those firmly to the bag. Much better.

The second stroke of genius, which I photographed but now cannot find the picture and wish not to spend hours searching for it, was to add a wooden insert at the base of the bag to give it some structure. We bought a piece of balsa wood at the hobby store. I made a cardboard pattern, and then my husband cut the wood into a rectangle that just fits inside the base of the bag. That helps alleviate the flopping factor a bit, though, as you can see from the pictures, the bag still doesn't want to stand up on its own.

And I'll be lining the bag, hopefully, to hide the stitches inside which attach the felted flowers and leaves to the bag. I'm wavering at this point, and it may be given away tomorrow without being lined. Life goes on, right?

If I had it to do over again: I love the colors, I'm happy with the end result of flowers and leaves . The next time, I'd use Lamb's Pride over the Cascade 220. I like the slight fuzziness of the Lamb's Pride when felted, especially for the decorations. I'd make the bag a bit smaller, and I'd take a pleat on each of the short sides to give the purse more structure. The shoemaker could sew the pleats together when he attaches the handles, to give it more reliability.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Day Off

Today is my day off from training. I'm down to about three extra brain cells at this point, which is two more than someone I was talking with last night has available. What is there about sitting in a room all day long, listening to lectures and making conversation during breaks, that is so exhausting?

Yesterday we had our third test. Turned out to be a take-home, which meant that we were on our own after the morning, with instructions to deliver the test to a concert last evening. I'd studied for what we thought would be an oral test, called on randomly in front of the entire group, expected to be able to retrieve Sanskrit terms and complicated healing models from those few available brain cells. I had dinner with two students at a Thai restaurant right after we were reminded about the test (which has been on the schedule since day one, but who has time to read the schedule?) Over green curry, we verbally tested each other. One person learned by closing her eyes and saying the terms and concepts aloud. Another learned by creating mnemonic devices. I learn visually; I need to see my notes and somehow, that creates an image in my memory that I can access by mentally visualizing the page. Not nearly as mysterious as that sounds, more of creating a picture in my mind. This worked very well in art history classes in high school and college. I'd recopy the names of paintings and their dates onto a notebook sheet; during the test, I could "see" the page and find the needed dates.

After dinner, we adjourned to Alive!, the raw foods restaurant on Lombard two doors down for what was promised to be the most exquisite chocolate almond cake with coconut whipped cream. Much to the dismay of my companions, no cake available. Raw food is such a precious, artisanal endeavor. (I had dinner there the other night. A young man came in to order take-out and was told by the very serne, steel-hand-in-a-velvet glove hostess that it would be a 45-minute wait. "We always take care of the guests in the restaurant before addressing the take-out orders," she explained to our table.) And at this restaurant, you get what you get, and they serve what they serve. So instead, we ordered the chocolate berry cake and a strawberry almond cheesecake. To me, both were evocative of instant pudding. Afterwards, I went back to my room and re-studied my way. Stayed up too late, which is entirely against my principle of not cramming your brain full of information, but trying to relax the night before a test.

Just to prove my wavering being unnecessary, the test turned into a case study of a patient. We were asked to state any assumptions that we drew from the case, then note short-term and long-term goals and practices that we would suggest to the patient. Very fun and interesting, and a good learning experience. It set some of the many Sanskrit words into my brain: uppayam are tools for healing, such as meditation; sadinam is the type of care one gives in the case of immediate intervention being required; annamaya is the physical layer and manomaya the education and vijnanamaya the conditioning and personality; and that's perhaps more than anyone not working on a yoga therapy education needs to know.

I finished the test and took a walk to a bookstore. Today, I'm hopefully going out to Muir Woods with my teacher and a student who rented a car. I'm hoping for a low-key day and lots of beautiful scenery. Still no knitting getting done. From raw, windy, rainy weather, it's shifted to hot, hot sun and no breeze. Beyond the incapability of my brain following a lace chart correctly, I'm not feeling the alpaca-silk yarn The desire. Oh, and if you have a book to suggest, I'm open to suggestions. I bought The Painted Veil and finished On Beauty this morning, but I'm still searching.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Essay Questions Stink!!

All that I want to say is that is very demoralizing to have to take an essay-based test when you are my age, and blow it. But thanks to whatever moved me, during my lunch break, sitting in the park (sun today and no wind and blue skies, and yes, that view again of the Golden Gate Bridge), to review some of my notes in quest of a topic for my thesis. At least I knew some of the Sanskirt words.

I really need to do something fun tonight. No car, so I'll have to research where the movie theater is and how to get myself there. And it's Norway Day at Ft. Mason, and they honestly dumped a hill of snow in front of the venue to give it some proper atmosphere. Poor California children, climbing on this tiny snow mound. One of their dads suggested that they make a shaved ice man. And it's Cinco de Mayo, which apprarently has spurred a crazy scavenger hunt through the park. College-age clusters of guys and girls stroll past our building, holding big red plastic cups that I'm sure contain beer.

And I saw a seal in the bay today.

Things to Recommend Doing in San Francisco

  • Always looking up as you walk so that you can take in all the amazing views of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz and the sailboats leaning as they tack back and forth in the gusting wind and the hills that are almost mountains and are green and brown and furrowed with ridges and peaks.
  • Being able to walk almost anywhere that I need to get to. I've walked more in the last five days than I have at home in the last six months.
  • Eating at a vegetarian dim sum place in Chinatown. Baby bok choy, celery, shitake mushrooms. Crisp and very green, served very hot, right out of the kitchen as the kindly owner let us in as she was about to close. When we left, they were having their dinner. Very intriguing: an entire fish, braised, and a platter of noodly stuff.
  • Being in the company of wonderful teachers. It's like a comedy team, at times, with one teacher gentle, full of consideration as he speaks, a resonant voice for chanting; the other teacher full of jokes and asides, mixed with a mastery of the material and an ability to keep us moving but not feeling rushed. More to the point, both great teachers, and I am lucky to be studying with them.
  • Observing our first assessment of a client, a student who volunteered to go in front of the group so that we all could learn how observation begins. It was daunting, the number of variables at play. Health history, taking of pulse, having her do some simple movements, walk around the room, more extremely polite questions. Continually an atmosphere of respect and consideration. "Madam, may I ask you. . . ." was the operative phrase.
  • the fish and chips from Pacific Catch. I called in my order from down the block, because this tiny place was jam packed with diners. I killed 15 minutes at a good bookstore, then picked up my order. Perfect tilapia, sweet potato fries, a coleslaw with some cilantro and vinegar, and three dipping sauces, including a ginger mayonnaise and a plum sauce with a definite kick.
  • as in Louisiana, this is a group that cares about food. We eat, we talk about it, we go shopping for it, and then we reminisce about it. Apparently the raw chocolate cake at Alive, a raw foods place, is the Desert to eat. And then there's Kara's Cupcakes: a little boutique of cupcakes. You can order a gift box that comes with a glass bottle of organic milk. How perfect and how California.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Not Mitering, You?

I'm in San Francisco for two weeks, attending the first module of my training in yoga therapy. We start at 7 am with a practice and finish at 7:15 pm, after meeting with our study partner. A long day, full of lessons and chanting and stories, lots of stories, and excellent teaching and collegiality and mentoring. It's a very different model than my experience in graduate school. I went to a very tough, very competitive, very cold place; I call it boot camp for grad school. Not that this program is a walk in the park. On the first day, we were told that it would be rigorous, intense, demanding. And San Francisco? Each time I happen to look out in the direction of the water, and see Alcatraz and the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, I'm astounded. What would it be like to look at this every day?

I managed to do some knitting in Louisiana, at the integration course for the program. Here, I'm not even attempting it. I'd started a shawl on my flight here, but yoga therapy studies and knitting lace don't play well together in my brain. I was making mistakes in every row, and at row 5 I bailed. I briefly considered trying to knit a hat very very quickly, because it is Cold in San Francisco. Our meeting place is right on the Bay, and the wind seems to whip off the water more vigorously than the cooler-by-the-lake gusts in Chicago. So, no knitting posts for a bit. And I don't have my camera along, so I wouldn't be able to glory in the colors and fabrics anyway.

What I'm going to do now: climb into bed, read, and relax. Ahhh. Learning is exhausting.