Monday, April 27, 2009

Vegan Walks into a Bar

Not really. But this line kept popping into my head as I was trying to come up with a lunch menu for Sunday, when I had a group of my students over for a meal and a review session. (Oh, and horse walks into a bar. Bartender says "why the long face?" Is it not terrifying what is in our heads?)

But guests for lunch: one vegan, at least two vegetarians, and a person with health reasons for not eating spicy foods.

We ended up with an amazing soup based on a wild mushroom stock from The Greens Cookbook. Incredible. Worth buying the book just for this stock, which starts with dried porcini mushrooms and ends up having several layers of flavor.

And a pasta salad, and a green salad, and bread, and a fruit salad and chocolate chip cookies for desert, during which we bandied about Sanskrit terms and wrestled with the five ways of thinking (Sutra I.6 - correct perception, incorrect perception, imagination, deep sleep, and memories - or pramana, viparyaya, vikalpa, nidra, smritti) and examples of how each can be beneficial or not (aklista and klista).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another International Seafarer's Ministry Cap

Yarn: Jo Sharp DK Wool, Heron (color 802) - on sale at WEBS for $3.99 a skein!!!! (pardon the exclamation marks, but this is great great yarn, and how often can you knit a hat for 8 bucks?)
Gauge: 20 st and 28 rows to 4" in stockinette, before washing
Needles: size 4 and size 6 16" circulars, size 6 DPNs
Size: Men's Medium
Finally, a hat that works for my husband. When in doubt, go back to the classics. This is version #2 or #3 of hats that I knit for him this winter, not counting the several times that I ripped back a previous watch cap in Rowan Scottish Tweed DK which was much too bulky and stiff for the pattern.
For this one, I cast on 92 stitches, worked a 2X2 ribbing for 6 1/2 inches on the size 4 needles, then switched to the size 6 circular and worked another 4 inches in stockinette stitch. Then, I slightly modified the pattern by increasing 8 stitches in the body of the hat.
Perfectionist alert: the increase row stands away just enough from the body of the hat to seem that something is amiss. I quashed my perfectionism, plowed on, and hope that the differences in texture will disappear after a first washing. The other modification is the substitution of a raglan decrease for the original pattern's decrease, which was clumped together at the beginning of a row and created a slightly poufy crown to the hat. I decreased at the beginning (SSK) and end (K2tog) of each section on every other row until I was down to about 68 stitches, then decreased every row until there were about 12 stitches left. I cut the yarn, threaded a needle, and finished off the last stitches by drawing them together and then finishing the end inside the hat.
Done in time to go to Canada for the annual fishing trip. The hat, not me.
And here's the beautiful sky on Sunday afternoon, after two days of rain, a 40 degree drop in temperature within a few hours yesterday, and hale-sized rain this morning.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Yoga is, in part, about balance. Physical activity stands in, as does much in the practice of yoga, for an emotional and psychological action. When you begin to feel solidly placed while standing with one foot off the ground, you start to develop a pattern of thought that helps you to feel grounded with one metaphorical foot off the ground.

One of my favorite balancing poses to teach is Vrksasana (pronounced vrik-shah-sahnah) or Tree Pose. (But look toward the horizon, please, not up.) It is accessible to most students, especially if they let themselves start out by standing with one side against a wall, so that when balance becomes shaky, they can connect with some support.

The posture is done by first feeling one foot really connected to the floor. I have my students start by raising the toes and pressing down into the heel, then lifting the heel and pressing the ball of the foot against the floor, then rolling to the inside edge of the sole, then the outside edge. Then, I instruct them to feel all four corners of the foot simultaneously - as though the foot is suction cupped to the ground. Next, they bring one foot against the lower calf or the upper thigh. Hands come to the heart, and now the really interesting part of the pose begins. Because in order to reach up, you need to reach down into the feet. And in order to balance, you need to allow the ankle to wobble -- and then react to that wobbling by reinstating balance.

This is what I love about the pose: it allows us to experience the fact that balance comes not by finding a state of equanimity and sticking there forever - but by reacting, moment by moment, breath by breath, to change. And by illustrating that progress - represented in Vrksasana by the ability to lift the crown of the head, straighten the spine, and bring the arms over the head with the palms against each other - not by reaching forward, but by grounding, reaching in the opposite direction of down, into the feet, versus up, into the air. It tells us that growth is a process like that of a garden growing: the seed has to reach down, set roots, in order to reach up into the air and develop. Hmmm. All this in one little yoga pose.

I've been reading an amazing book called Balance by Scott McCredie, that says far more about the incredible systems within us that keep us balanced throughout our lives. We have three different processes - vestibular balance, situated in the ear canals, which tells us how our head is oriented in relation to the world around us; vision; and proprioception, or cells within muscles and joints that tell us where one part of the body is in relation to another. McCredie explains these systems in layman's terms and gives some intriguing examples, including why humans love rocking chairs; why JFK Jr.'s plane went down while he was flying at night; and how balance helped the Homo sapiens survive while the clumsy Neanderthals became extinct. And he argues, very convincingly, that balance is a sixth sense which we must practice as often as possible to avoid the falls that incapacitate so many elderly people.

McCredie says that we are like large triangles balanced on one little point - our feet. Imagine a large football player or a Sumo wrestler, and consider how surprising it is that these athletes can dance about with all that mass poised above a small platform against the earth. At the end of the book, he gives several exercises to do to practice balance.

Or, you could take a yoga class and see how it changes your sense of balance. Let the ankle wobble. That's what it is designed to do; it is made up of several small bones that allow us to shift and reorient in relation to gravity, change, our breath. And then notice that still feeling within, at the center of the pose, where you find a moment of no wobble, no activity, but balance, even for just a second of time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Work in Progress

The Simple Knitted Bodice. Using the Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran that I'd started Vivian with, but abandoned when my gauge was dead on but the sweater was so large that I could warp it around me another half turn.

This seems to be working better. I'm wondering if the microfiber in the yarn was not suited to the design of Vivian, which is beautiful, but has tons of seed stitch and cables and twists. Maybe the weight of the knitting was pulling on the yarn enough to cause it to stretch when worn - an effect that seems less likely with the heavier woolen yarns that most knitters on Ravelry are using. I reswatched with some Cascade Eco and like the effect, so someday I'll go back to the pattern.

And here's work in progress on H's bedroom. Ruskin Room Green on the walls and Dard Huner Green on the baseboard. Both from Sherwin-Williams' collection of Arts and Crafts colors. How can you not love a paint company that names its products after an English aesthete and an artist known for his handmade paper?
A view of the upheaval, with cat in window. At least I hadn't painted the trim that she is sitting on. How do cats know the least convenient place to light on?
The before view, with a swatch of Benjamin Moore Honeywheat. I kept thinking that the room would be yellow or orange, but finally decided to try something completely different and went with these deep, bungalow-style colors. I surprised myself when I was walking out of the room and saw the dark green trim around the door for the first time.
And my toes, also newly painted. A student of mine took me out today for a pedicure and lunch. We ate in a beautiful room with a fireplace and a lovely floor that was apricot, green, and tan - almost like the bedroom that I'm painting.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Van Gogh's Bedroom

Looking to art for inspiration in selecting a paint color for the north-facing bedroom.

This is one of my favorite rooms. And an interesting journal entry by Van Gogh on the room, here. Or maybe Monet's house, particularly the yellow dining room and the blue entry hall with green door.

Monday, April 13, 2009

New Toy

Finally broke down and bought a new sewing machine. Lots of bells and whistles, even on the most basic machine in the shop.

My last machine - a small Singer industrial model from my father's business, rebuilt after a warehouse fire - gave up the ghost several years ago, and since I rarely used it for anything other than finishing off my weaving or doing a small repair, I never replaced it.

This new toy threads its own needle, threads its own bobbin, switches from foot to foot with a small lever, and makes 40 or so different stitches just by me changing the channel-type readout on the front of the machine. Oh, and it figures out how big to make the buttonhole when you insert the button you're using into a plastic gizmo that attaches onto the foot. That, after you choose among four or five different buttonhole styles. And, my most favorite part, all the tiny parts store in a little cubby on the front of the machine.
Not that I expect to need most of this. Here's what I would love to make: a quilt as amazing as the iconic Gee's Bend quilt. This one and the one at the top are both from the collection.
Incredible. If you have a suggestion for a pattern, or have a quilting blog to recommend, please help to bring me into the 21st century, so that I can make something old-fashioned.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Painting Project

H's room, in transition. (Thanks for the go-ahead.) A swatch of Honeywheat paint from Benjamin Moore, a now-white ceiling, and a glimpse of your lilac walls.

The room has northern exposure. And it looks directly out at the neighbor's grey siding and empty windows.
My initial plan was to paint the walls something warm. I've swatched two different shades of apricot-ish orange, but I'm not loving either. Meditation brought a thought that maybe I should stop fighting the nature of the room, which is to feel cool and dark, and instead try supporting those qualities with a rich, dark grey or brown. Or shale, the trademark color of my old employer: a brown with warm undertones of rose and pink. Or something Oriental: green walls in Faded Silk from Ralph Lauren paints, dark green enamel trim on the windows, and an Oriental-style carpet?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

This Year in the White House

Not sure if this is bending the Passover rules, but here is my batch of homemade matzo, from Lauren Groveman's recipe in Baking with Julia.
For about six small matzos, you'll need two cups of flour, three-quarters cup of warm water, a teaspoon of kosher salt. Mix, knead for about three minutes. Divide into 6 portions. Roll out very thin. Prick the dough with a fork, sprinkle on some more salt. Bake in a very, very hot oven (550 degrees if possible, and I am now holding a bag of frozen peas against my left knuckles after brushing my hand against the oven, even though I was warned by the recipe, so be careful) for exactly 1 minute per side.
Happy springtime holiday to all, whatever your practice. (And the post title? Because there was what may be the first Seder held at the White House, last night. Last year, at a seder, President Obama said "Next year in the White House," playing off the "next year in Jerusalem" that is traditional to say. And he kept the promise. I feel very proud to have voted for this man.)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sailor's Rib Socks

Behold, a paire of sockes.

These are the Sailor's Rib Socks from More Sensational Knitted Socks. Knit in Colinette Jitterbug in a color called Velvet Leaf. (My father asked if I was knitting for the Israeli Army, which I well could have been, but was not.) The yarn shop in Florida had six skeins of this color, three neon yellow, and one neon purple. I was in a green mood, happy to see that trees actually still have leaves and grass grows beyond the weather-zone of a Chicago winter.

And these rate as my happiest knit of socks so far. I worked them on a size 1 32" Addi Turbo circular, which, once the cord softened up a bit, were easy to navigate with the Magic Loop method. And though I think that the next pair will have the pattern continue down the instep )for prettiness' sake), there is virtue to stopping the pattern at the ankle and working the rest of the sock in stockinette. (Moment of sidebar: gee, is that where the stitch got its name - from ye old stockinette socks?) The virtue is speed and ease of knitting. All that you need to keep track of is how much further to knit until it's time to start your decreases for the toe.

And a note to frugal knitters. I knit my sock on 48 stitches, followed the schematics for a size 7 1/2 woman's sock, and had enough yarn left that I could have eked out another inch or two for each leg portion of the sock. (But don't buy Colinette in a resort area in Florida. The shop charged a heart $6 more than my local yarn shop, and this is not inexpensive yarn, to start with.)

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Runcible Bin

It always lifts my spirits to see what is posted over at The Runcible Bin. Look at this post; it's a haiku in prose.

Some beauty. Some craft. Short, sweet, present, smart.

It's blogs like this that make the most sense to me, and what I aspire my blog to be.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Finally, a Hat for Linda

Pattern: Trym
Size: Women's
Designer: Elsebeth Lavold
Yarn: EL Silky Wool, color 56 (between a red and a garnet color), 2 skeins (196 yds. per skein)
Amount of yarn used: 1 1/2 skeins
Needles: size 4 Addi Turbo circular, 24"

Finally, I've completed a hat for Linda, my study partner. Hope that she likes it. This is a fine pattern, especially for those of us with short hair, who are often hat-challenged. Trym has a good, deep cuff made of two layers of knit fabric - one, the pattern side, the other, a stockinette lining akin to the inner part of a Latvian mitten. The doubled cuff not only keeps your ears warm; it creates an artificial line of focus at the crown of the head, so that where someone like me, with short hair, might look like a bean inside of a sock, this hat suggests: no, there is a wide brow, a forehead, a lovely shape of head inside the hat.

I followed the letter of the law and worked the hat per the pattern, which meant working it flat and doing lots of seaming to complete it. The next time, I would try to work it in the round, with modifications as needed - particularly in the shift from having the smooth side of the stockinette section inside for 4 inches, then switching to the outside to compete the crown of the hat. And though I love the Silky Wool, especially with the two layers creating a bit more substance, I might like to try Trym in a DK or worsted weight that has a bit more heft to it. As knitted, the hat is a wee bit of a light weight: good for a cold spring day, but not enough to weather the frigid winds of Chicago in February.

Overall, the book is a pleasant collection of little things to knit: an ear-flap hat, a cloche, Ipod cases, a few shawls, matching gloves and mittens and elbow-length opera-style gloves for a bride, and a crazy teapot cozy.

Friday, April 03, 2009

It's Not All About Me

I used to have a boss, and she still ranks as one of my best bosses ever, who liked to say "It's All About Me."

You could be having a conversation with her and be nattering on about something or other, and she would tap you on the arm, stop you, point at herself, and say "excuse me...did you forget that it's All About Me?" This was such a stock saying that one of my coworkers found a banner for her to display on the office door, declaring "It's All About Me."

Now, she could get away with this because she was an amazing boss. She was compassionate, tough, smart, charming, and had the best stock of strange Southern sayings that I've ever heard. (Apparently, they learn these as young whippersnappers, growing up in the state of Texas.) I worked for her seven or eight years ago, but whenever I run into someone who is unable to delegate because she knows that she can do it better, faster, easier, I still tell the story of the time that my boss caught me on a two-story ladder in the stockroom, working on sale merchandise. She made me come all the way down, and then asked me: "Do you want to be the hardest working person in this store forever? Or do you want to teach other people to help you?"

So, consider me as having an affection for All About Me. But this morning I thought to myself: it's not about me. I was driving to teach my Friday morning class at the new studio, where my classes average between four students to none. And though I've been aware that it's not entirely personal (the weather, the economy, kids being out of school, the time of the class, the teacher that one connects with - there are a million reasons why people go to one class versus another), it feels, at the same time, like a test of personality.

But this morning, it came into my head: it's not about me. I'm just a stand-in for the teachings. My job is to show up, take the students through a practice that has some sense and sequencing and intention to it, teach to the best of my abilities, maybe slip a little lesson in about the better parts of our natures and how yoga can help us move toward that, and have some fun. That's it. Whatever happens after that, I can't control.

This does not mean that tomorrow and ever after, I will always be feeling It's Not All About Me. The Yoga Sutra-s say that our patterns - our samskara - never go away. They just become latent, riding beneath the surface, pushed down and aside by more beneficial patterns that rest on a bit more clarity and a little less suffering. Maybe I need to find a banner for my door that says: It's Not All About Me.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Structuring a Vast Wasteland of Time

I'm not good at structuring my time. This is one of many reasons that I was very glad to escape my house, once I'd completed my dissertation, and move into a job that had a schedule that took me into a workplace but still allowed some flexibility in my hours. Now that I'm working, once more, from home, as well as two different yoga centers, a once-a-week gig at a hospital doing staff development yoga, and seeing students on an individual basis for therapy at my office space, I'm struggling to feel that I've accomplished much in a day. It often feels very rajastic.

Rajas, or movement, is one of the three gunas -- qualities or elements or personality features - that make up each person. The others are sattva - or calm, peacefulness - and tamas - heaviness, inertia. As in many Eastern systems, there is no hierarchy here; each of us is a mixture of these three elements, and the ratio of one to another changes, somewhat, based on the activity or life we are engaged in. For instance, we all need some tamas so that we sleep and rest, but not so much that we sit on the couch all day, eating chips and watching Netflix. Rajas is valuable for a bike messenger who needs to keep moving to accomplish her job, but in too great a dose, could reinforce hyperactivity or lack of focus. It is wonderful to be sattvic - judicious, measured, wise - but in the middle of an emergency, do you want to stop and ponder the situation or call 911?

For me, rajas can be agitating. I like to have big blocks of time, spent on one thing; not too much moving from place to place, whether that's for errands or when traveling; and a reasonable dose of quiet each day. Here's where the structuring part comes in: I can't seem to make myself sit still and come up with a plan for some stasis amidst all this moving about, teaching different classes, working on developing a business, and all the little to-do's that crop up like weeds in a spring garden.

One thing that has helped is to vastly simplify my knitting. And to do a few rows most mornings while I drink my first cup of coffee. I've retired Vivian until I can figure out whether to drop down to a smaller needle (size 7 worked great on the sleeves but is creating too big a body), go down a size and start over with the body, or decide that the yarn (Debbie Bliss Cashmerino instead of the heavier wool called for) is too stretchy and decide to make something different from it.

In the meantime, I'm - shocking, I know - knitting a pair of socks. Super-simple Sailor's Rib in Colinette Jitterbug. Knit Magic Loop on a size 1 32" Addi Turbo needle. And another try at making a hat for my study partner in my yoga therapy training. She requested a grey hat with some red. Try #1 was Kim's Hat from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts in Cascade Pastaza. Too thick. Try #2 was Rose Red by Ysolda Teague in Blue Sky Alpaca. Too beany-like instead of the intended beret effect. Try #3, Rose Red again, on a larger needle. Too floppy and shapeless. Try #4 is swatched below, and this is my final effort: Trym from Elsebeth Lavold'shref=""> new collection of small projects, in Silky Wool in a beautiful garnet color. It is coming along nicely so far. I've finished the chart section for the brim and am ready to start decreasing for the crown. Keep your fingers crossed. I think that the color is keeping me going; I just didn't see her in a grey hat, so I hope she'll like red without the grey.