Focus on joy

A lot of food was made in the kitchen this last Thanksgiving week: apple cake, turkey on the green egg, roasted vegetables, and chocolate birthday cake. It was a bright celebration of food, family and a little boy.

The first few of the holiday gatherings are done. I’d like to say it was a blast but that would be untrue. To say I didn’t enjoy it isn’t honest either. There were moments that I loved, wonderful memories created, but I’m still wondering whether I enjoy hosting or not. Maybe I’m a better support staff person? Perhaps my expectations are unrealistic? This holiday season seems to be one of deeper exploration, teasing out what brings joy and what feels like obligation. Of course, there are many things to consider, least of all is what I, alone, want, desire, need. There is a struggle within myself between the part that wants to be at every party, give every gift and execute all the holiday traditions and the part wistfully imagining a simple, minimal holiday season with just my little family. The truth is that I don’t just want one or the other but a blend of all of the above. And that blend will be different each year. Being in the moment and present is awfully challenging when you’re always thinking about what might be better and how you’d change it. It prevents you from enjoying what is at hand. I know this in my head but it is so hard to put into practice. So hard!

To help remind myself and consciously begin to change the narrative of ‘It’s such a stressful time of year’ (because while it can be it isn’t all it is), here are some of the wonderful moments of the past few weeks. And they out number any negative ones by far.

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Tossing snow on ice.  It was a gorgeous, crisp day in the mountains.

 

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Fireside knitting.

 

Seeking out the pauses

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Walking in Aiea, HI, taking in the beautiful sunset

Beginning with Halloween and through Chinese New Year, it is the busiest time of year for our family. We have all the holidays as well as two birthdays. Add in other friend’s birthdays, holiday get-togethers and travel to the already full schedule of school, violin and life in general, each day is filled to the brim; each moment bursting. And you hear coin phrases to slow down, minimize, say no; appreciate it all because it goes by so fast, enjoy and soak it all up! So many expectations of yourself, your family members and the desire to have it all go seamlessly without tears. Lots of effort in trying to meet (and exceed) everyone’s expectations; to please, to help, to create memorable memories. Otherwise, why do we even do it all? What other option do we have aside from staying under the covers?

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A walk, taking in the changing leaves

 

Last week at my son’s school they had a mindfulness expert come and talk to the parents. It was very hard for me to be present while working on the two and three minute exercises. I shared my story that I’ve tried these “mindfulness” techniques but they never seem to work for me, for our family. And then in one of the last silences of the meeting, I realized that I spend more time talking about this narrative than actually practicing any of the techniques. They don’t work because there is no muscle: I haven’t exercised them with any sort of consistency. It’s been easier to throw my hands up and say it’s hopeless; nothing works! Stress is permanent, cooking dinner or the bath time tension is here to stay.

Then I jump to the story that this holiday season is going to be so hard and so busy; let’s race to the end of it. Then things will be get better, slow down. Again, spending more time dreading/anticipating than actually getting tasks done, enjoying it or being present.

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Our view as we wait in traffic

To be truthful, there really aren’t many things that I would take off my list or say no to: it’s all good stuff, all the things I like doing this time of year and it’s pretty paired down. But here’s my goal: to let go of perfection (who cares if we use the stained napkins or if the bunt cake sticks to the pan or the kids talk with their mouths full?) and to seek out the pauses in my mornings, afternoons and evenings. Moments of presence, moments of quiet. And these moments will not be found in large quantities, separate from the daily demands. To me, this realization is key. Waiting to have time to be mindful means it will never happen. Seeking out the pauses inside the busyness is what’s required.

From the pictures, you can tell these pauses and moments have been there, I just haven’t been present enough to acknowledge it. Instead I’m waiting until the next thing that needs to be done. There is no habit or muscle built to seek out these minutes of time consciously. I don’t recognize that in these little moments, I can pause, settle and be still. I’ve always been waiting for a large swath of time to be reinvigorated, re-energized, restored.

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A little knitting before school pick up

Because I’m choosing to host Thanksgiving, celebrate birthdays, travel to family, see dear friends, I also choose to start a different narrative. One that acknowledges that it will be stressful, at times overwhelming; something will be burnt or forgotten, feelings may be hurt, but along side it all is the notion to take a pause, breathe and look around in little moments of my day. Be present. It’s the one tradition I’d like to cultivate this season and pass on to the next.

Journey to the Knitted Hat

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On the way to Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, WA

Knitting and I met in my child’s parent and tot class three years ago. The parents made the needles and we wound a small ball of cotton yarn. The needles were huge but smooth from sanding; it was a clunky and awkward start. The “washcloth” has since been unwound and used as play yarn and one needle broke while being a drum stick.

That was Spring.

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Working on the ribbing of my Barley Hat outside.

I moved on to making a ribbed scarf for my son and that took about a year to complete. I used the handy I Can’t Believe I’m Knitting to teach myself to cast on,  purl and knit. Starting with ribbing was challenging but I finished it. It is around big brown teddy bear’s neck.

That was Fall.

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First hat fitting

From the scarf, I decided to try knitting a cowl. The first one turned into a mini shawl (cast on too many stitches and wasn’t using a pattern) and the second one turned out alright. Then I made one for my son (successful and he still wears it) and attempted to make one for my younger son but bound off the edge too tight and made it into a hat. Kind of two steps forwards, one step back and while I liked knitting, I wasn’t quite sold on it yet.

That was Winter.

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Blocking in the bathroom

This past February, I was yearning for a creative project to keep my hands busy; it’s so helpful in the hours of caring for children. Sewing was great but not portable.  Crochet and hand sewing were too repetitive on my hands. Knitting was really perfect and so I pressed on. Another scarf/cowl/hat was not needed and truthfully, I really wanted a sweater. Somehow I remembered a post from Soulemama about the Annabel Cardigan and thought, why not? Inviting a dear friend to knit along with me, together we tackled our first knitted sweater. Along the way we got some wonderful help from Patricia at The Tea Cozy Yarn Shop and we were done by July. Not bad for a first sweater knit in the middle of busy family lives.

That was Spring and Summer.

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Drying; the hat hot air balloon.

But I realized by jumping to a sweater, I hadn’t learned some other basic techniques, especially being mostly self-taught, so I took a step back, and took a class at the amazing Tolt Yarn and Wool Shop to learn how to knit a hat, use double pointed needles and pick up a few other tips and tricks. My first hat, the Barely Hat, was a fun, quick knit. I had no idea! Hats really should be the first project for a new knitter. The details are on Ravelry.

In the last few months, through the Wooful Podcasts, many countless websites and Instagram feeds, and most importantly a serendipitous re-connection with an old friend who is a knitting wizard, my world has opened to this fabulous fiber community. There is so much to learn; it’s terribly exciting. It’s given outlet to my desire for creative expression and handwork while meeting the demands of my daily life.

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The finished hat

It took a while but the knitting bug has bit hard; I’m officially hooked. My trusty Fringe Supply Co. Field Bag filled with a project or two comes with me wherever I go.

Bats, Bat, Bats

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Another Halloween has come and gone and with it, the making of our annual costumes for the kids. S and I made the decision long ago (maybe even before kids) that we’d try to have the costumes mostly, if not all, handmade. And we’ve succeeded for the most part and I dare say, we’ve found a bit of a routine around it. Starting in September we start talking to the kids about what they’d like to be for Halloween. This year the answer was a BAT. A fruit bat and a vampire bat to be specific.

I then scour the internet for possible patterns. I’m a novice sewer at best, so I like to find things that are doable but with a little challenge. This year I found this great Do It Yourself Bat Costume by Ellen Luckett Baker for Alpha Mom tutorial and adapted it to make it our own. It was decided I would do the bat wings and S would do the masks.  And this is key: I don’t like to convince my kids to be something or nag anyone to get their own part completed. There has to be complete buy in from everyone and that’s why we take the choosing of the costume and pattern slowly and seriously. The added intention is that these costumes will become part of the dress up clothes for the entire year or more so the time we put into making them is all the more worth it. We are still using the Dinosaur Tales that I made 2 years ago.

After choosing the costume and pattern it’s off to the fabric store with the kids. I let them pick out the fabric and help select the other needed details- steering them to think about if we have something at home we can use, can we go to the thrift shop, etc before buying it brand-new.  Instead of the black felt the pattern called for the boys chose black and yellow glittery fabric. Once we gather all the materials we get set to working. Sometimes it’s been awhile since I’ve sewed when Halloween comes around and I need to refresh myself. I had the hardest time threading the bobbin…until I looked at the instructions.

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Removing bubbled thread on the bobbin

This year I started sewing two weeks before Halloween…can’t say the same for S but he tends to create his best work at the last minute. In the past I have left it to the last minute too, the creating becoming stressful and leaving no room for the kids to help in the process.

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Helping hands
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The boning for the wing
Our customized bat hats
Our customized bat hats
Big brother and little brother bats
Big brother and little brother bats

It was a really fun process and of course, I figured out the best way to attach them to the shirt (a zig zag stitch) on the last wing. At least I know for next time we need some bat wings.

The middle ground

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It’s the last week of Slow Fashion October: KNOWN.  Where do our clothes come from, and if we are hand making our clothes where did the yarn or fabric come from?  It’s easy to fall down into the rabbit hole and feel overwhelmed because as  Karen Templer says, quite accurately:

The fact is, knowing is hard — both the finding things out and the knowing what to do about what you know or don’t know.

This entire month of Slow Fashion October has led me to take a deeper look- well, truthfully, just take a look at from where my clothing comes. I found three things in my closet that were made in the USA.  One which is handmade, one a sweater of my grandma’s and a random sweatshirt. The rest were from around the world. Who knows how they were made, or who made them in the USA or otherwise.

In this journey and growing consciousness, I’ve come to the realization that the first thing to do is to consume less. Not all I buy will be made local, not all the clothes will be handmade. I can definitely strive for that but I have to be honest, it won’t be 100% of the time. One thing that’s always been in the back of my head is that yes, it’s great to recycle and have less trash but it’s even better to consume less. Recycling doesn’t cancel out consumption. Buying books/yarn/needles to make sweaters, hats and cowls isn’t necessarily better.  To consciously ask: do I need this? To be mindful of the choice I’m making (because it is a choice) and to find my middle ground.  Because my middle ground won’t be your middle ground.  And if I try and tackle this all at once, I won’t make any change. One thing is for sure, consuming is a difficult habit to break and knowing is hard.

My Mending Basket

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I have this basket. A mending basket. I was inspired to be more conscious of repairing, hemming, fixing, mending when I read the article: Put A Patch On It by Em Falconbridge in Issue 11, MEND of Taproot.

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To be honest, the basket is full of pieces to mend because although I put the clothing, dress up costumes and stuffies aside to be worked on, I never set the time aside to complete it. The task has never taken priority over the other to do’s, wants on my list. Intention but not execution. This week’s theme of WORN during the month long Slow Fashion October instigated by Karen Templer has shined a light on that basket full of mending and I have finally set aside some time to work on a few pieces. I mended two stuffies for my kids and repairing the neckline of a wool sweater coat I’ve had for a few years. It was so nice to slip the jacket on again- like having a new piece of clothing. And….I noticed that some of the other clothing in the basket are now too small for my kids. Sometimes you miss the window of mending and wearing again.

Longevity in children’s clothes is a challenge because of their rapid growth and wear and tear on the clothes.  Luckily we can pass clothes from one sibling to the other, and then on to family, friends or great charities in the area.  I seek out clothes that will wear well and can be passed on to balance the knowledge that at this point, we are lucky to get a 6-12 month life-span out of a single piece.

Longevity in an adult wardrobe is different. Hand-washing, line drying, mending (when you can get to it) all increase the life and quality of clothing. But longevity of clothes is also dependent on maintaining the same body shape and size. I’m rounding the corner, seeing a glimpse of my pre-babies body and aim to pass that for an even healthier one. So naturally I can’t wear my maternity or post maternity clothing and my shape has changed post-baby that many of my clothes pre-baby don’t fit the same way.

Slow Fashion October has come at a opportune time. It has created a space for me to step back and look inside my closet. In the past, I’d pull what didn’t work, fill a black plastic bag for donation and then fill the closet back up again with clothes that worked in the moment. That was ok, that’s what I needed at the time. But now, I’m asking myself to go “shopping” in my closet first and see what I find: I mended the black wool sweater coat and I re-discovered an old pair of boots; finally hemming adds some well-fitting pants to the mix.

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The biggest change is not rushing out to fill up the closet with clothes because they are on sale and are good enough for now; focusing on what is needed and not the instant gratification of a want. And while my body will continue to change, it doesn’t mean I have to continue to wear “disposable” clothing. As I strive to find the balance in clothing for my children, the same needs to be done for myself: a balance between a few meaningful store bought pieces with an eye to longevity, more handmade pieces and working through what’s in the mending basket will get me closer to the more conscious wardrobe I desire. The intention is there, and the execution will follow, slowly.

Stories of clothes

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LOVED is the theme this week for Slow Fashion October:

as in your proudest accomplishment / most loved item / most frequently worn item / thing you saved up for / investment pieces / thing you worked a long time on / oldest thing that’s still in rotation.
– Karen Templer, Fringe Association

Many of my clothes hold stories, moments in time. The dress, above, I wore the day I met my husband, 15 years ago.  I picked it up at a thrift store because at the time I was a fresh theatre college graduate and didn’t have much disposable income. It was a fun dress to wear to a party; a dress in which salsa dancing could happen. It made an appearance at my sister’s 8th grade graduation and a host of other events until it was worn out. But it has stayed in the closet along side my treasured wedding dress.

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Many of my clothes also serve as a bookmark, holding the places I’ve traveled around the world. This top, purchased in India when I attended the wedding of a dear friend, brings to the surface a trip of a lifetime, taking me back to the intertwined chaos and beauty of that country. It was worn a lot upon returning home but it hasn’t been it in rotation for a while. It’s not an easy top for a nursing mom.

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I’m drawn to bright colors, although there is a lot of black on the hangers and in the drawers. Light, cotton pieces with embroidery often find their way into my closet.  Someday, I intend to make some of my own, inspired by the beautiful embroidery I saw while in Central and South America.

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The daily uniform: a pair of jeans and my fleece. This tells the story of where I am right now: wearing clothes that hold up and can be thrown on day after day but don’t have a ton of style. These jeans are also one of what I consider to be investment pieces in my wardrobe although they were a gift. They were my first pair of quality jeans and will always bring me back to the time around my wedding and the generosity of others. Buying investment pieces of clothing is not a habit; it’s something hard to justify. It’s a fear, almost, to have those items in my closet.  Perhaps I’ll just look at them on the hanger instead of wearing them, too timid to touch, saving them for special occasions and then not liking them. It’s ironic though, because I imagine less money would be spent and there would be a deeper love of fewer, high-quality clothes.

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And here is my proudest accomplishment, my first knitted sweater, Annabel Cardigan by Carrie Bostick Hoge. It took 6 months to knit, with many mistakes that I ripped out only to begin again. The buttons came from a sweet yarn shop on a trip this past summer, imbuing it with more story and life. It was a huge, rewarding, learning process; a different kind of investment piece. One of time, money and love that I created; one that I won’t be afraid to use. Isn’t that funny?  I probably wouldn’t wear an expensive knit sweater everyday if I purchased in a store but have no problem when made by my own two hands. The intention is to make clothes to wear, not to have them sit. And although it may turn out to be a monument of learning that I don’t wear, right now it’s pure love and I can’t wait for it to be cold enough to wear most days. It may push the fleece hoodie to the side for a while.

Going through the clothes in the closet revealed that there are many pieces that are indeed, loved, but still not in rotation. They still hang in my closet because I love looking at them, feeling them in my hands and letting my mind wander. I struggle with this: do I hold onto a closet full of clothes that I cherish because of the memories but don’t in fact wear anymore? The simple answer is: probably not.  It’s something to work through and find balance between those memories, actually wearing some of the clothes again and letting go.

There is a sense that my uniform is changing; what’s in my closet is beginning to shift.  Clothes tell the story of where you’ve been, where you’re at and perhaps where you’re headed.