Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Little Update

Spent last weekend and some in Florida.

Glorious warm weather. Windows open in the car, sliding doors open in the apartment. Mornings at the beach and afternoons at the pool. Soft-shelled crab and lobster and flounder. My favorite part of the day at the beach: the afternoon, when the sun starts to quiet and there is nothing that you need to do but sit in a chair and read a book. I worked my way through the first sixty pages of Austen's Mansfield Park as well as several wonderfully trashy magazines. It's hard to say which is the best reading material for vacation. There's something about Austen that requires large blocks of undemanded time, particularly while encapsulated on an airplane.

Did some knitting, including coaching my seatmate on the plane down, row by row, in a combination of English, Spanish, and pigeon sign language, through the knitting of a Swallowtail shawl . This is the first time that I've had someone literally take the needles out of my hands to work on a piece. At first, I thought that she was yet another knitter on a mission to teach me to knit faster. But no, she just really wanted to knit.

Each row, I would repeat the row, stitch by stitch, as she worked the knitting. (It is very hard to explain slip one knit two together, pass the slipped stitch over in sign language.) By the end of the flight, I'd learned to say (and these may not be the words, but this is what it sounded like and my seatmate nicely honored my effort to try the Spanish): knit (cruz), purl (punto), yarnover (aosto), pass over (passado) and slipslipknit in Spanish. Very sweetly, she said "amigas?" I said yes, and then we managed to converse, somehow, about our children and her parents and a bit of her life in Ecuador and the financial meltdown and Chicago and brothers and sisters. And even though I'd finally found the right project for the beautiful red-orange Solo silk and wool from Brooks Farm that I bought last year at Stitches Midwest, I decided to give the yarn, needles and pattern to my seatmate at the end of the flight. She was on her way to Ecuador, and I liked the thought that she could continue to knit as she traveled toward home.

Went to a very intense knitting shop near my mom's apartment to replenish supplies. It may be reasonable, but yet, after a Midwestern winter, it seemed odd to find plenty of eyelash yarn, cotton, and florid colors and very little wool. I chose a skein of Colinette Jitterbug in a khaki green and managed to knit half a sock on the plane home.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bread Therapy

There are no pictures of bread in this post. It is very difficult to take a good picture of bread dough. But, inspired by my older daughter, I baked Oatmeal Raisin Bread from the second Vegetarian Epicure and a batch of Cook's Illustrated's Almost No-knead Bread (desperately needed more salt and a better beer than Corona) this week, and as I write, there is batch of wheat bread from Baking with Julia on its first rise on the radiator in the kitchen.

But making bread is very restorative. You get to knead the dough. And then watch it rise, like magic, in the bowl or the loaf pan. And the fragrance as it's baking? Why has no one invented a candle with the aroma of freshly-baked bread? Or freshly-ground coffee? Most importantly, there is no such thing as bad bread. It never disappoints. It always merits the time put in. Even if the final product is ungainly or undercooked, you can always turn it into a slice of toast that is better than any store-bought bread. Why can't all of life be like this?

In lieu of bread pictures, some photos of weaving. This is also very restorative. There's something lovely and meditative about throwing the shuttle back and forth, pressing down on the foot pedals in a rhythmic pattern, pulling the beater toward one and then pushing it away. It lacks the more immediate gratification of baking. And there are large craters of mistakes that one can fall into, such as an error in the threading that will haunt you until you give in and make a triage correction by replacing the incorrect warp end with one that is attached after the fact.

More often, I am dogged by having to remember where I stopped in the pattern the last time that I wove. It can be months between time spent weaving. The loom sits in the living room, a lovely piece of furniture. And then one day, I remember - this weaving thing makes me feel good. I like the process of it (and as we know, I am not a process person.) I like the end result of having something handmade that can be used on a daily basis. I like the feel of the thread and the look of the product and the connection with a very old craft. Knitting just doesn't make me feel this way. But it did finally give me a method for keeping track of my place as I weave. When I knit, I both mark off the section of the chart that is completed AND write myself a note that says "next row," where I jot down the next part to be knitted. Why can't I do the same thing when I weave?

Tada: the notepad, with a line for each block of the Summer-Winter pattern that I'm weaving and a pen kept close by so that I can make hash marks as I finish a section:
The index card, taped to the loom, with the pattern:
The loom on a sunny afternoon this week:
And a closeup of the fabric. The warp is a mercerized 10/2 cotton in dark blue and sky blue. The weft is an organic cotton, perhaps also a 10/2. These will probably be napkins in another year or two.
And the bane of my existence: trying to knit a grey hat with a little red, as requested by a yoga colleague. This is my third try at a grey hat. First I knit Cascade Pastazza into a watch cap. Too stiff and thick. Then I gave Ysolda Teague's Rose Red a try in Blue Sky sportweight alpaca. Even though I had gauge dead on, the hat came out much too small. (This is my second experience of nailing gauge and still having the fit wrong in a knitted item. I am beginning to doubt the payoff for getting gauge, or even swatching.) Effort Number 3 is below. I ripped out the size Small hat, went up a needle size, and knit the Large. The pattern is very well-written so the fault lies all with me. But this one: floppy. Flabby. And the little bit of red at the edge is distracting rather than inspiring.
I cast off the hat as I sat in the car, listening to a great recording of Laurie King's The Game, narrated by Jenny Sterlin. The hat is still there, lying on the floor of the front seat, after I abandoned it.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Feeling Comfortable

Recently I taught a student who was struggling with a pose. As I talked her through the mechanics of setting up for the pose, which includes placing a belt around legs and hips, she kept saying to me, " I can't feel anything. What am I supposed to feel?" Then she would tug on the belt, tightening it some more, and again say to me: "But I'm not feeling anything."

I was teaching the class Supta Boddha Konasana. This is a restorative pose that combines a great opening of the chest, a supported backbend, a hip opener, and a good, deep breath on exhale. You sit down with your legs extended in front of you on the mat. You take a long strap, loop it through the double D links so that you can loosen or tighten it as needed. The belt goes over your head, is placed at the base of your spine. Then you bring the soles of your feet together so that your knees open out to the sides. The belt goes over the thighs and knees, then around the underside of the feet. You lay back on a bolster set up lengthwise to support your back. Finally, you open your arms wide and take a good, long breath out.

I introduced this pose with the goal of letting the students relax. For the first time at this new studio, I had a largeish class. Avery mixed bag of students: some completely new to yoga, some new to me but clearly interested in having a demanding physical workout. And that's not my way of teaching. My goal is for the student to work to her comfort level, feel some momentary sense of mental focus, and leave class feeling a bit better than when she came in. I'm not against a challenging class, but all yoga asanas (the physical poses) should combine the qualities of shtira and sukkham: diligence, effort, commitment along with relaxation, softness. Patanjali even tells the reader of the Yoga Sutras that this combination will allow us to age more gracefully, feel better physically - so for those students who want their yoga to promote a more beautiful body, there's even more reason to ratchet the practice back from work, work, work.

I tried to explain to the student that, because her hips were already very open (she could lower her knees to the ground with no effort, which is pretty rare,) that her sense of the pose would be less intense than someone with tight hips. But she didn't seem to take that in, and kept tightening the strap and repeating, "But I'm not feeling anything.

It took me until the next day to realize that yes, she was feeling something. What she was feeling was comfortable. But because she was looking to feel discomfort, she did not recognize the sensation. She was feeling something - and that something was good - but she did not register the experience because it was outside of her expectation.

I wished that I had thought to say this to her. I hope that she comes back to class so that I can talk with her. I won't say it to her this way, because I'm not sure she would agree and I would rather she learn this for herself. But it gave me a good lesson as a teacher: the harder someone is trying, the more important it is to offer the suggestion of building some sukkham into the shtira.