Traveling in kindness

We made it to Taiwan. I’ve have never traveled on a plane before with a broken bone. I’ve traveled many times sick (apologies to those former plane cabin mates) but never with the need for a wheelchair escort. And to be honest, there has never been much cause to pay attention to all the wheelchairs that do wheel around the airport… or anywhere. Once when I was 9 and broke my leg, I was in a wheelchair. I don’t remember for how long, maybe a month? The memory that stuck was when there was a need to use the bathroom and I was stuck on the couch while friends played with my wheelchair. Only when you can’t move as before do you realize how able-body centered our whole world is set up. And when you’re back to moving about (if you’re so lucky) it’s easy to forget. This time, my awareness had grown.

We arrived at the airport in the middle of the night. Crutches, with thick gel pads recommended by the guru cast fitting technician under my arms, kids and as minimal of a packing job as possible, we checked in for our flight. The scooter left behind and the unknown ahead.

We then experienced and witnessed such kindness as I became, for a moment, part of a club of which I never wanted to be a member. Our attendant expertly wheeled me through the airport, always at the perfect speed for my family to keep up, always knowing where to go and what line to move to the front. He, with a gentle assertiveness, asked others to move aside and got us through security in mere moments. While I got the extensive pat down, he helped my family with all the carry-on baggage, aiding in putting the Tetris-style packed bags back together and moving us along through the airport maze to the gate. Appearing again when it was time to board, pushing me to the plane door and stepping away to help the woman ahead of me by gingerly placing her on a wheelchair for the plane aisles. I was struck particularly by this scene as these strangers helped this elderly woman with such care and dignity. Never rushing, never impatient. A task they repeat countless times during their work day.

And once I passed into the care of the airline stewards, the kindness and gentle attentiveness continued throughout the flight.

We had the thankful privilege to upgrade just a bit so I could elevate my leg on the flight. The agent I spoke to was eventually able to get us in the same row, just not next to each other. When on the plane, the gentleman on the aisle agreed to switch and we were all together. The stewardess came countless times to bring me my crutches that were stowed in the closet, even bringing them un-asked just before landing. And the same calm, kind help met us on the other end. Going through customs and immigration was so pleasant and stress free.

When I fly, I generally have a good side helping of anxiety. Never the main course but always there. This flight, my circumstances demanded I let go and ask for help. I literally had to sit down and let others, complete strangers, lead me from one place to the other.

These were the unanticipated gifts of this entire travel experience: kindness, a sense calm and little stress. And of course, the extra, elevated leg room was key. Not much knitting happened and we all slept.

Me Made May and me

This was the first year that I participated in Me Made May, an event on Instagram that was created 10 years ago by Zoe Edwards to celebrate handmade clothing. Often clothes are made but not worn and this was an effort to encourage the making community to wear them proudly.

Typically with these online, month long, play along prompts if I join, I post for the first day or two and then I fall off. Me Made May was a bit different as I have to get dressed anyway each day and the longer I participated, the momentum to stay with it grew. I’ve never posted so many pictures of myself online before. Lots of me. I found a quick and dirty way to take my picture in my backyard and didn’t fuss too much over it. I figured it was more true to the prompt if I didn’t stage what I was wearing. But sometimes someone would snap a picture for me which was a nice break from the backyard selfie. Along the way I learned a few things:

There’s enough handmade clothing in my closet now that it isn’t hard to wear at least one piece each day, even as the seasons change.

The goal to have a completely handmade wardrobe isn’t as strong of a need anymore. It’s fun to mix and match ready to wear pieces with the handmade clothing. Which means I wear more of what’s in the closet already instead of always making something new.

Dresses and skirts are some of my favorite things to sew but don’t wear them as much as I’d like. So I need to invest in leggings or slip shorts to make it easier to grab a dress out of my closet.

I love to wear my linden sweatshirts, a lot, and want to make more! And maybe try some new sweatshirt style patterns?

The biggest lesson I came away with while documenting what I wore each day was unexpected. I liked the way I looked in my clothes. I don’t tend to really care for how I’m reflected in pictures. And yes, while I only selected the most flattering of pictures to share, I was fond of what I had to choose. It definitely boosted my confidence and it wasn’t because of the feedback (or lack thereof) I received, but because I felt joy in wearing my clothes and that translated into the photos.

Now for reference on my phone there are 31 outfits (many repeats) to select from in my closet and that makes packing for trips and getting dressed in the morning a little bit easier.

The gift of Squam

Freshly returned from a glorious weekend on Squam Lake in New Hampshire for the Spring Squam Art Workshop, my heart and mind are so content. Being on the lake, surrounded by all kinds of creative people and spaces, in nature, without the daily demands of home can allow for a deeper connection to values that can be forgotten day to day. Squam created space for me to remember:

The value of my fiber crafts.

The value in taking the time to be completely immersed in nature and creativity.

The value in myself and what I need to fill my cup.

The value in new and old friendships.

The value in taking a break from the everyday.

Then after being home for 48 hours, I fell at my son’s school. And as I was falling I felt a small, faint yet distinct pop.

I fractured my ankle. Same ankle that I fractured a little over two years ago.

And all that lightness, clarity and contentment from my time at Squam vanished. Reality came crashing down.

When I broke my ankle last time, it really took a toll on me physically and mentally. It’s so hard to not be able to do the things you need and want to do. It highlights all the ways our community, and my home especially, are not set up for non able body movement. Crutches hurt and balancing on one leg to cook dinner (or brush teeth or go to the bathroom) is difficult.

By choosing to go to Squam, I made the conscience decision to make time to invest in myself. This experience created space for me to further define who I am and how I want to show up in the world. Carving out this time has the added benefit of deepening my belief in myself and that what I have to offer has value, purpose and a place in this world.

In the grand scheme of things, a broken ankle is not the worst thing. And while I can’t rewind and take back the miss step that sent me tumbling to the ground, I can choose how I respond to it. Will I succumb and stumble to a darker place or will I take it slow and then slower, letting go of control and find comfort in my family, friends and especially my craft practice? Once again, life is asking me to adjust my expectations, let go of plans and be present.

Taking the time to go to an art retreat is such a privilege. And while it takes courage to go spend a week with strangers, to be vulnerable and allow oneself to be open it also is by my own choice, something I paid money to do. Now, with a fractured ankle, my values, these lessons and insights gained from my time at Squam are being tested. I’m confronted with the task to see if these revelations apply when things aren’t easy, smooth or a choice. Can I find these values in my current situation?

The value of my fiber crafts especially when I need to be resting, healing. Knowing how they bring me calm and purpose while waiting for x-rays and doctor appointments. How they give me a sense of progress in a day when nothing else gets done.

The value in taking the time to be completely immersed in nature and creativity. How going outside for a brief breath of fresh air, letting the warm air and sun hit my face. Maybe do a few knitting rows on the bench with my foot propped up instead of always lying in bed or on the couch.

The value in myself and what I need to fill my cup. Reminding myself it’s not my fault that I fractured my ankle. I’m strong and capable and I will heal and being even stronger still. Maybe I do need to order out dinner, call a friend or watch a movie midday. I must be kind to myself.

The value in new and old friendships. I can say yes to help. I can lean on those around me. To say yes doesn’t make we weak. I don’t have to hide from my friends and pretend I can do it all until I’m fully healed.

The value in taking a break from the everyday. Right now it’s almost impossible to do the everyday tasks. I have to be ok with that. If I injure myself further because I insist on putting the laundry away, doing the dishes, or sweeping the floor, is it worth it? Will the house and my family fall apart?

No.

But it will be hard because there will be moments in every day that will test me.

Employing what I learned and reconnected with by going to Squam and applying them to the present, right now, it not only essential, it’s what has the most value.

That is the true gift.

Knitting for others

Gentle People Shawl by Silvia McFadden

When you knit for others, it’s a labor of love. It takes time, skill and attention. It’s a selfless act. Most of my days are spent tending to the needs of others, namely my small children. And so knitting is often how I give back to myself. My selfish act. As a result there is often a conflict between knitting for myself (self-care) and knitting for others. To be honest, I’d much rather teach someone to knit so they can reap all the benefits of a knitting practice for themselves.

But then there’s family and that’s where the line becomes harder to hold.

I have made three Weathered Mountain Hats for my dad. A fourth was meant to be one, but I changed it to plain stockinette so I could get his gift to him on time and I thought the yarn shined better in that stitch. I’ve also knit many hats for my boys, husband, siblings and friends. And I have knit cowls, shawls, leg warmers and two kid sweaters that turned out to be too “itchy”.

Knitting the same pattern at different times for my dad over the past 3 years or so provides a snapshot of how I’ve grown as a knitter. (The pattern has gotten easier but the crown decreases in the established pattern still get me. (I think I have it almost figured out.) It also supplies a glimpse into the ebb and flow of a relationship. Knitting for someone else, especially family, usually involves love and a desire to share that love in the form of a handmade item. Sometimes you can be at odds with the person but you still want to follow through with your commitment. Sometimes you feel so much love that you want to knit all the things for them. The knitting is much smoother when your relationship is good and so laborious when it’s not.

I try to be mindful in my knitting for others and only commit to making something when I know I really can do it. I do my best not have obligation knitting on my needles. And if for some reason I find myself in that thick spot, I have to give myself permission to put it down for a bit. Then when I pick it back up, hopefully the rows come with more ease. For me, the stitches of a knitted gift hold the feelings in which you knit it with….and I only want the piece to hold the love, joy and gratitude I feel for the person.

And once something is knitted and gifted, I let it go. No matter how long it took me or what transpired while knitting it or whether it’s worn or not, it doesn’t matter. There’s love in each stitch, fulfilling my intention. (Of course, if the recipient wears it, I’m much more inclined to offer again.)

Now my husband would like a dk weight (on the lighter end of yarn) cardigan, the McQueen. I’m ready to make it, even if it takes a few months (or years).

Sewing the Alice Top

I finished the Alice Top by Tesutti Fabrics late the other night. I made so many wrong turns, I essentially sewed the top twice. (It’s in these detours that you learn the most about sewing.) Sewing a garment, inherently, is much faster than knitting a garment. It’s 1-2 weeks from start to finish versus 1-3 months (and that’s if it’s basically a straight line from start to finish). So why does sewing feel like it takes longer than knitting a sweater? 

Maybe because for the very fact that sewing is a faster process? Expectations always shift one’s perception. I expect knitting to take time; one stitch here, a row there and over a course of a long while you have a completed project. I’m not a speed knitter so when I pick a pattern, I don’t have the expectation that I can wear it the next day.

When sewing, the expectation is that if I work quickly enough I could wear it tomorrow. But I’m not a fast sewer either. And the actual sewing is only part of the process. Selecting and washing the fabric, choosing a size and tracing the pattern; cutting out the fabric, changing the needle and thread on the machine (which used to take me so long! I’d have to pull out the manual to do the bobbin for years) and then the sewing begins. 

Sewing my own clothes should be a reminder that speed is not the goal but the learning , building skills and my handmade wardrobe in the process is the purpose. It’s a relief not having to pull out the manual every time I need to change the bobbin now. It makes sewing smoother and less frustrating. Sewing the yoke of the Alice top backwards the first time then picking it out with the seam ripper enables me to really understand how it’s constructed and when I encounter that again- I’ll know how to do it. Same with sewing the armholes on upside down. Twice. I always tell my son that working quickly doesn’t always mean it gets done faster. Often the quick work has to be redone many times because you went too fast. If I slow down with my sewing, I bet it would be faster. But then, that’s not the point. Right? 

If I want a piece of clothing immediately, I can just go to a store and buy something. Fast isn’t why I make my own clothes. And sometimes, I need the reminder. 

Time passing

Hello there. It’s been a long while. The vision when I started this blog was to write regularly and document my creative process. Somewhere that idea and intention got lost in the business of life. The projects continued: knitting, sewing, baking, family time, and theater. And somehow, now, time has opened up a bit (or maybe it’s space in my mind) and I find myself back here, ready to share once again what I’m making.

Right now, I have a hat on my needles, the Weathered Mountain Hat by Andrea Rangel and sewing an Alice Top by Tessuti Fabrics with some old fabric I purchased at Nancy’s Sewing Basket before they closed. Their ribbon room is still missed.

There are grand plans to sew a few more garments before summer begins…we’ll see how that goes. But you can be sure I’ll be back here before too long.

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.