Sunday, June 29, 2014

Work In Progress

I'm knitting a sweater for myself. Usually when I knit I knit blankets and toys, gifts for my child and the children of my friends. These are fun projects; they move along quickly, they make me feel clever, and at the end they make other people smile. Recently when I was in a stressful situation I knit stress balls for the people around me; the knitting relieved my stress as I hope the squishy, springy balls relieved theirs. But I don't knit for myself very often. It's just not as motivating.

Sweaters aren't my favorite thing to knit, either. I've made a few but they haven't come out quite right. I have one I can wear to work but the others ended up being too large and too ill fitting for anything other than goofing around, which is a shame for something I spent so much effort to make. The problem is, sweaters have to be done correctly in order to fit. You have to count stitches per inch and rows per inch and pattern rows. There is a lot of measuring and checking involved at each step of shaping the garment and it's easy to get the details wrong. Small mistakes can have big consequences. Handknitting sweaters also take a very long time. It usually takes me months and sometimes a year to finish a sweater. The knitting process gets pretty dull in sections when you are just turning out row after row of basic stitches to form the fabric. Which probably explains why they take me so long to finish; I get bored and start doing something else.

I really love this yarn I found, though. It's a soft wool and nylon blend which I know will feel good when the weather gets cold again. The yarn is fine and even which I hope will give the sweater a smooth and polished appearance when I'm done. The colors shift from deep red wine to purple to lavender to a rich, bright pink. Growing up I thought I couldn't wear colors like pink and red because I have red hair, but I've learned they actually look quite flattering on me. I want a sweater made out of this yarn, and the only way I'm going to get it is to knit it myself. I found a simple pattern that lets me knit the entire sweater in the round, which is a faster (although dull) way to knit because you aren't constantly turning the garment back and forth. I am not sure that the ease of knitting will balance out the tedium of the pattern but I'll see how it goes and how long it takes.

When I'm feeling very ambitious I think I would like to make enough sweaters that I could wear a handmade sweater to work every day without repeating my clothes more than once every couple weeks. At my current pace it would take me until past the time I could retire to accomplish this. Then again, each stitch is one stitch closer. I suppose that what I'm hoping is that if I keep knitting sweaters it will get easier. Like anything else I've done, with practice my skill will improve and the sweaters I make will look better and I'll get them done faster. In knitting people talk about their WIP; their work in progress (knitters also KIP - knit in public). I like to think my knitting, like so much in my life, is a WIP.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Afternoon At The Creek

I am a child of the suburbs. Growing up I fed my love of nature through books, reading with a kind of hunger the descriptions of a more pastoral life in the work of L.M. Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Madeleine L'Engle. I lived on a cul-de-sac surrounded by other houses and shopping centers, and my explorations on foot only ever took my to other neighborhoods with different looking houses. A lonely child, I drew pictures of the fantastic house I would have some day and I always situated it on a vast property with a stream running through it. Of course it included stables, as would the house of any sixth grade girl.

My family wasn't particularly outdoorsy and we weren't well off either, so we didn't go hiking or camping or on trips to National Parks.When I was very young I had an uncle who would take my sister and I to one of the local parks and we would walk the trails together, but that stopped after my parents divorced. In retrospect I think he was trying to give them time alone to work things out and couldn't think of anything else to do with two little kids. After that our exposure to the great outdoors was mostly limited to the occasional trip to a 4H camp sponsored by a school. Even the summer camp my sister and I attended was focused on music and drama; it was located in a forest but we spent our camp time indoors rehearsing.

I still live in the suburbs today. My townhouse stands in the middle of a row of other town-homes off one of the busy main routes through my overdeveloped and overcrowded county. I love my house. It's the right size for us, it's easy to take care of, and it's very convenient to my job, but it's definitely not the dream home of my childhood. Mostly, that's okay. I have new dreams as an adult and this house fits them better. But I was happy today, while out with my family, to find an easy walking route that dropped us down onto a county trail system near my home. The system actually encompasses the entire county, following green spaces along streams with protected woods to either side that limit storm run off.

We wandered down the trail about a mile and a half enjoying the sound of the creek next to us. The trail criss-crossed the shallow stream in a few places and most of them weren't bridged. Maybe the stream is usually low enough that the crossings are dry, but it's been raining quite a bit lately and so today we found 6 to 12 inches of water at each intersection of stream and trail. This turned into a minor adventure as our daughter and I held hands and hopped across the on low round concrete pillars that seem to be placed there for that very purpose. My husband strode behind us carrying the stroller. It all worked well until our daughter missed a step and got her feet wet. Then it worked even better because she and my husband just waded across the crossings together. I stuck with the pillar hopping since I dislike walking in wet sneakers. Next time I'm bringing my water sandals and we'll leave the stroller at home. Our daughter was game for walking the entire distance and had much more fun that way, picking dandelions and daisies and finding pinecones and sticks to show us along the way. Before we went home we found a shallow gravel area where she and my husband could build little dams and splash rocks while I sat on the bank on a comfortable rock and soaked it all in. We scouted out areas we can bring friends for a picnic play date later in the summer.

It's not the idyllic, unspoiled farm country of my childhood books, to be sure. The road is never far away and we still live bounded by houses, shopping centers and terrible traffic. It's nice though, to sit on a creek bank in the midst of all that and give my daughter a little taste of a place where wet and muddy feet are all part of the fun. It's nice to see nothing but trees and water and rocks and hear nothing but a rushing stream and my child's laugh.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

I Get Knocked Down (but I get up again)

Sometimes I think the measure of our psycho-social-spiritual growth isn't how many fewer times we get our feet knocked out from under us, it's in how much faster we're able to regain our balance and get up. Anyway, I always loved the song "Tubthumping" by Chumbawumba.

Today was one of those days at work that left me feeling frustrated and angry, more with a few particular colleagues related to an ancillary task than about anything I consider my real work. I felt angry enough that I was shaking and I wanted to cry. Not that anything so terrible happened, but that somehow what was said really hit me in a vulnerable spot, and left me feeling belittled and threatened. Which usually leaves me feeling belligerent. Thankfully it was the end of the day and I managed to wrap things up and did not send an angry email response. I'm grateful for having been taught good impulse control.

I came home fantasizing about taking off and finding somewhere cheap on a beach to live for the rest of my life. I told my husband we could garden and he could cook and I would knit and we'd set up a little stand at a farmer's market somewhere and live off our savings plus whatever we could earn. Fortunately my husband is wise enough to just smile and hug me when I'm like this. And he made brownies. A little walking outside, a tasty dinner, time spent putting our daughter to bed, some venting to my mom and my husband, a brownie and more walking on the treadmill and I feel better now. I'm no longer looking for a shack on a beach. I'm still irritated but I can have more of a sense of humor about the whole thing, and probably tomorrow I'll be able to work everything out reasonably well.

That's a pretty quick recovery for me. I've had times before when I'd go to bed still angry and wake up with a dreadful headache from all the muscle tension and would dread having to go back to work and deal with the situation. I don't think that's going to happen today. I feel pretty calm and I feel capable of managing the situation tomorrow morning. So that's progress.

I read something recently that challenged me to be the kind of adult I want my daughter to be, because she'll learn far more from who I am than from anything I say. So, I'm working really hard on growing, mentally and emotionally and spiritually, both to be a better person and to model that growth is an ongoing journey. I'd like to get to a place where I don't feel threatened so easily and where I don't get emotionally knocked over by people's careless comments. I'm not there yet, obviously. But I'm getting up faster, and I like that.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

I Stink At Rest

I wrote about rest a few weeks ago (Rest) and the more I think about it the more I just get confirmation that I really, really stink at resting. Do you know the article that most motivated me to try to rest the weekend after I wrote my post? It was Dignity, Freedom and Rest by Kirk Winslow for The High Calling blog, which framed rest as an obligation to others. Mr. Winslow wrote that we defend rest because the ability to choose to rest is a mark of human freedom and dignity. The ability to choose rest says we are not slaves. Therefore it is good to protect rest for all people, most particularly for the sake of those who can't protect rest for themselves.

I agree with that, and it definitely encourages me to rest. But do you see the tricky little thing that happened there? Rest became something "productive" when it became something that could benefit other people. The reason I stink at resting is that I feel an intense need to be productive, in some way shape or form, pretty much all the time. I put a lot of my sense of my own value in my ability to get things done. So at work I go, go, go from the time I hit the door until I leave for the day. At home I have a tendency to parent by doing, engaging my three and a half year old in conversation, crafts, books, games. When I'm not parenting I'm knitting, writing, practicing languages on a free language app on my phone, emailing, walking, helping clean or cook or fold laundry or finding some other way to be productive. On the weekends we rush around to religious services, family and social events, and fun activities like museums, zoos, parks, festivals and travel.

Or, I totally crash. I get grumpy, I get a headache, and I withdraw. I parent by television. I lay on the couch and retreat into a novel and sweet talk my husband into ordering pizza because it is easy and doesn't require much cleanup. I hide out from email and phone calls and I try not to move much. This is what happens when I've worn myself out with all my incessant activity, but it doesn't really feel restful either. It just leaves me feeling down and bad, because I'm not doing the productive things that leave me feeling positive about myself. I'm not even having fun, really. I'm just numbed out for a while.

So perhaps the central problem I'm having with rest is really a problem with self-worth. In my head, I know that I am a child of G-D, infinitely precious and worthy. I know that I am loved beyond all understanding. I know that none of my doing or trying is earning my any more love than I have right at this moment; not from G-D and not even from my family and friends. My head knows that my family would probably appreciate it if I would slow down and chill out; I suspect living with me is challenging in a number of ways (and I am grateful for my husband's patience and grace towards me!). The problem is, my head knows this and my heart continues to operate out of this paradigm of needing to prove my worth by being busy and productive.

I suspect this sounds familiar to other people. It's a pretty widespread cultural phenomenon, this needing to be busy to feel ok. This addiction to doing, doing, doing. I have found over the past few weeks as I am trying to fight the constant need to do that pressure comes both internally and externally to get up and get going again. My work has taught me that the way you move knowledge from your head to your heart is through experience; more specifically through practice, practice, practice until a new way of doing things becomes your habit. I wonder if I can catch the habit of rest?   I wonder still what that would even look like?