Tag Archives: inspiration

These Two Things

I’ve been scrabbling desperately to get a grip on the way forward this month, so I’ve been hanging back, practicing self-care, and just trying to get my head clear.

Here’s what I have:

The world has gotten scary.  People are dying in the streets.  The white hoods are back.  The government is torturing Indians in furtherance of giving them poison to drink.  Children are learning that hate is an American value.

There are two things that I know are true, that we can use against this terror and darkness.

Over the past weeks, they have seemed like laughably inconsequential things and impossibly large things, but they’ve never stopped being primal.

The first thing is love.  We can love ourselves.  We can love each other.  We can love fat people, not-conventionally-attractive people, “fours”, “losers”, black people, people who don’t speak English, trans people, disabled people, gay people, people who have had abortions, Muslim people, native people, people who have been “grabbed”, all the people.  We can love them.  We can love us.

And that’s the most powerful tool we have against hate and fear: we can choose love instead.  We can reject the notion that some are so different that they are unlovable.  We can laugh in the face of the cultural rubric we’re supposed to use to judge the value of femmefolk and just love them instead.

We can practice self-care.  We can make safe spaces for each other.  We can help one another.  We can reach out.  We can stand in the street in front of the mosque and say “These people are my neighbors.  I love them, and I won’t let you harm them.”  We can give a colleague a hug and say “You are loved.”  We can offer flowers to strangers, like hippies, and we can tell them– yes, those people we don’t even know– that we love them.  We can see someone struggling and offer our help.  We can ask what the family down the street needs to be safe, and help them get it.  We can love.  We can love the white working-class, and let them know that there’s a place for them in the future.  We can raise children who know, like Mister Rogers used to say, that there’s no one in the world quite like them and people can like them just the way they are.  We can tell gay kids and fat kids and brown-skinned kids that the world is fucked up, but they are just fine the way they are.  We can listen to people, especially when they say they are being harmed.

We can love the earth, too.  I know that this is like, “Again with the hippie nonsense?!”, but it’s still true.  We can love the trees.  We can lovingly plant wildflowers for pollinators to find.  We can pick up trash at the beach because we love the ocean, and the birds, and the sand.  We can sit outside and breathe deep and love the air.

We can reach out into our communities and our world and love what we find.  We don’t have to withdraw and fear what’s outside.  We can offer love as an alternative to hate.

That’s the first thing.

The second thing is a bit harder.

Yes, harder than loving strangers.

But it’s just as important.

The second thing is independence.  We can do it ourselves.  We can stop relying on the state to protect our interests.  We can stop calling the police.  We can stop shopping at the Wal-Mart.  We can stop expecting anomic society to take care of our problems.  We can take responsibility for our own needs.  It doesn’t matter how horrible, how corrupt, how oppressive these institutions become if we deny them legitimacy and reject their attempts to shape our lives.  They need US, not the other way around.

We don’t have to participate in systems that oppress us or others.  We don’t have to be complicit in the state’s oppression of its enemies.  We can choose and build our communities for ourselves.  We can think critically about our actions and listen to those who are harmed by them, even in steps of the process that seem beyond our control.  We can make slave labor, deforestation, pollution, and factory farming unprofitable for businesses by refusing to profit by them ourselves.

We can vote with our dollars for the future we want.  We can support local businesses run by our neighbors and friends.  We can see our supply chains and improve them.  We can offer help to people who are struggling instead of reporting them to the authorities.  We can share our resources with those in need instead of expecting the state to feed, clothe, and house them.  We can clean it up ourselves instead of filing a complaint about litter.  We can leverage our privilege to protect marginalized people.  We can protect each other and set expectations for our communities instead of relying on the police to enforce the state’s rules.  We can learn to make things ourselves.  We can grow our own food, or join CSAs.  We can buy things from independent artisans instead of faceless factories.  We can get together with our neighbors to do hard things together.  We can raise barns and put up jam and bring homemade bread and soup to the old lady next door who has trouble walking.  We can start a childcare co-op, or shop at the farmer’s market, or learn to sew our own clothes.  We can choose a midwife instead of submitting to industrial medicine.  We can learn about the natural world around us and work with it instead of destroying it.  We can buy good things, made with love and designed to work well, and maintain them.  We can mend things that break.

We can be proactive and make a better future for everyone.  We don’t have to accept the options the state-industrial complex offers us, and we don’t have to chase the 1%’s definition of success.  We can make our own society.

And together, if we all work on those two things– love and independence– we will be unstoppable.  Whether you can only participate in little ways, or you have the resources to make big changes, everything will make a difference.

I’m not saying that the dark forces at work in our world won’t matter or won’t be able to harm people, but we don’t have to sit back and let them take over.  We can both choose not to be bullies ourselves AND not to allow bullying around us.  We don’t have to give up ground.  We don’t have to stop pushing forward.  We can still make progress if we all work together.

We can find the way forward– or make a new one for ourselves– if we can all practice love and seek independence.

That’s what I think, anyway.

With love and gratitude for all of you,

Elizabeth

Go Outside and Breathe

I know it’s late.

It’s hot.

It’s buggy.

You’re tired.

You just want to sit inside all day and do nothing, run out the clock on this day, and maybe try again tomorrow.

That mosquito bite on the sole of your left foot is driving you crazy and has made you shy away from sitting outside in the gathering dusk or the rising dawn or the fleeting midday shade.

Your stomach aches, whether from too much food or too little or the wrong kind you’re not sure, but it’s uncomfortable.

Your children are wild and full of evening energy, and their whooping and leaping makes you anxious and unnerved.

The thought of the sun on your skin reminds you of your uneven tan, its obvious lines, and how, if you were a responsible person, you probably would have bought sunscreen before late July.

I know.  I understand.

But sometimes you need to go outside anyway.  Even though it’s not easy.  Even though you’d rather plug in and tune out.

Because the grass is dried to hay-blond and its susurration in the breeze tells a secret.

Because the mourning dove is trying out his gentle call from that oak tree, right there outside the kitchen door.

Because the hills seem so close you could reach out and touch them but also a part of a golden fairyland in the lateral evening light.

Because the cross orb weaver on your tomato plant is just putting the finishing touches on tonight’s silken net.

Because the sky is still so blue.

Because the hens are clucking softly to themselves as they forage for a few last bites.

Because the blackberries are so ripe they stain your fingers no matter how tenderly you pick them.

Because the butterflies are chasing each other over the brambles and across the fences.

Because the wind smells sweet with hay and spicy with cookfire smoke and fresh from the river.

Right now, a Steller’s jay is stopping off in your fir tree to select nesting materials.

Right now, a train whistle is echoing off the ridges and over the water.

Right now, the breeze is freshening just a little and the sky is ocean-deep.

Right now, the scent of warmed earth and crushed blackberry is more summery than anything you’ve ever known before.

From out here, the children’s cries are muted and distant, and you can love them for their untamed nature.

From out here, you can’t hear the big bad world– or those mean-girl voices in your head– at all.

From out here, the work piled up on your desk doesn’t seem quite real, and you can have faith that there will be time enough for everything.

When you’re outside, you can breathe.

Try it.

Breathe in deep through your nose.  Open your mind wide and be present.  Breathe out slowly through your mouth, open your chest and release your spent and troubled air.

Breathe.

This is but one day of a lifetime.  Nothing has to be finished nor perfect today.

Breathe.

This is where you are now, and it is good.

Breathe.

This is all you are, this moment in the setting sun, this place full of hay-scented grasses and straw-colored hair on little heads, all bowing to you in recognition and shaking irreverently in the breeze.

Breathe.

 

You are the breath of your home, your family– you, too, must go in and out.

Regularly.

Deeply.

Consciously.

To release the toxins, and let the trees worry about recycling them.

To take in what you need to live, what the mosses and the weeds give back to you.

So go.

No more excuses.

It can’t wait until tomorrow, not this time.

Go.

Go outside, and breathe.

 

Salt is a Miracle

Yesterday I went on a major cleaning binge.

I suspect that this is one of the MANY ways that I am broken, but I have never in my life been able to clean sensibly, on a schedule, as part of a routine.  I know that Ma Ingalls did, but I just. cannot.  Instead, I clean in compulsive spurts that snowball from “doing the dishes” to “cleaning the whole kitchen on hands-and-knees, including scrubbing leftover sticker residue off the fridge and wiping the grime behind the stove knobs away.”

You know, because as long as you have the vinegar out, why the hell wouldn’t you just wipe that door frame off really quick?  And as long as you have a rag in your hand already, you’d be crazy NOT to use up its last clean surface wiping tomato sauce off the stove top, right?

This is the way it goes for me, especially when I’m nesting, and then suddenly I look up and realize that it’s been two hours and I really wanted to work on the mittens I’m knitting for the baby today.

I had one of these cleaning binges yesterday.

And, as part of it, I started boiling down the salt water we brought home from the beach on my birthday weekend.

As I poured what looked like regular, slightly sandy water into my biggest pot and started it cooking, it suddenly occurred to me what an act of faith it is to make salt.

Think about this.

To make salt, we take water, pretty much indistinguishable from the everyday stuff that we are blessed to have running in our taps courtesy of the city infrastructure, and treat it with deep reverence, and we are rewarded with a magical transformation.

Robert wades chest-deep into the freezing northern Pacific to collect our seawater.  We haul it home in the trunk of our car, carefully sealed up in food-safe buckets.  We schlep those heavy buckets up the stairs to our house.  We hoist them onto the kitchen counter, inevitably covering it with sand.  We gingerly transfer just the right volume to the pot– just enough to completely cover the rivets securing the handles– and then?

Then we crank the gas up all the way and set it to a rolling boil, filling the house with steam and warmth (not a bad thing on a chilly October morning, but torture in July), and we wait.

For hours, over the course of days.

Boiling and boiling away.

And we have faith that we’re not just wasting our time.  Because contrary to all appearances, we know that somewhere in that normal-looking water is enough dissolved salt to run our household– preserving pickles and accenting crackers and getting used at every meal by the pinch and the spoonful– for several months.

Now, I have studied chemistry at the advanced college level, folks.  I am perfectly well aware that the salt is in there and that boiling will separate it from the water.

But I also know that the concentration of seawater varies greatly based on several factors totally or somewhat out of my control and observance, like how recently it’s rained, the tide, the temperature of the air, the humidity, and the proximity of freshwater deltas.

So I can’t say that I’m not always a little relieved– even a little amazed– when the time comes for the finishing pans to come out of the oven and they are positively encrusted with those sparkling white pyramidal crystals.

It’s wondrous.

And just a little bit miraculous.

WIP Wednesday

my knitting WIP in my work bagstart date: December 2013
elapsed time: 15 months
progress: 70%

Confession from a creative type:  Sometimes I make something great, but never use it.

This is understandable when something goes wrong on a project, like the gauge is off because I didn’t allow for the effects of stranded colorwork, or I went up a size when I didn’t need to, or I think a material will work, but it doesn’t.  Sometimes a project comes out exactly as planned, but my plans themselves were flawed, say because they didn’t include the fact that children don’t take the care and maintenance of their shoes into consideration when they walk.

But sometimes, everything goes according to plan, the plan was great, and I just don’t love the result.

Last winter I knitted myself a circular shawl.  I was intrigued by the pattern (which goes from a smaller cowl-size circumference on the neck to ample enough to use as a batwing shirt with no increases or decreases), and I needed to do some amending of my wardrobe.  The pattern was easy, my modifications worked as intended, the fit was fine, the yarn was lovely, and still, I just didn’t like the thing.  I didn’t wear it– not even ONCE– in the full cycle of seasons following its completion.

So rather than continuing to feel guilty about it every time I looked in my closet, I made the radical choice to frog it and make something new– something I knew I would use: a big triangular shawl with no lacy holes to let the wind through.

knitting a triangular shawl on a circular needle

And?  I LOVE IT.  Even now, while it’s still on the needles, I know it’s a million times better than the original shawl.

Years ago, when the smalls were babies, I came across a blog post about using your precious things before time destroys them.  It inspires me to this day– to find a way to incorporate my great-grandmother’s silver tea set into my rustic modern life, to risk losing those antique tablecloths by cutting them up and making something my family will actually use, to eat up that last jar of balsamic-pickled figs as a way of making a regular Thursday night special.

I would say that the sentiment applies one thousand fold to things you’ve made.  So what if it took weeks of work?  If you aren’t using it, change it.  Re-make it.  Cut it down for quilt squares.  Felt it and hook a rug.  Whatever it takes.  Going back to fix the mistakes you made or reclaim the materials for something better doesn’t negate the effort you put into the original project– the effort you put into making things is only wasted if that thing is never useful, and a learning experience is always useful.

I had to tell myself this last weekend, when I came to the realization that the rug wasn’t working out.  With every extra row I sewed into place, it became less of a half-circle and more of a third of a circle.  So I cut my threads and ripped my progress back to just a few rows and tried again– a few rows of going around the half-circle shape in a D shape, then a few rows of back-and-forth like I’d tried the first time, over and over.  I’m now almost back to the point I ripped from, and it looks much better.  I’m glad I went back to fix it, even though it meant accepting that it would take much longer to finish and we desperately need that rug.  Choosing to make something– and re-make it– so that it fits your needs perfectly is a radical act in our throw-away culture, where immediate satisfaction is everything and quality rarely even enters the equation.

textured shawl pattern wip slipped stitch yarnover pattern

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, I find that I was my real WIP this week, learning to live with failure and walk with humility.  But the shawl is turning out well, too.


The original pattern for the shawl was Paris Loop by Stefanie Japel.  It really is an easy and satisfying knit, but the FO just didn’t work for me.  I’m now using Orlane’s Textured Shawl Recipe, on an ancient recommendation from Amanda Soule.  The yarn is Ella Rae Mega in Pure Black (it’s actually a subtle heather), which I find EXTREMELY willing to felt and therefore kind of resistant to frogging, but it’s soft and surprisingly strong for a single.

We Live and We Learn

I learned an important lesson last month: I don’t keep up with the blogging during the holidays.  I need a new plan for how to make that work next year.

But that’s life.  As I am always telling my nearly-5-year-old perfectionist, making mistakes means that you are learning.

I have been enjoying the joyful calm that comes after the holidays themselves and before everyone returns to their usual activities.  It seems almost sinfully indulgent to have all this extra time– time to play board games and build block cities and try the treats people gave you.

dragon and block towerBut that’s nearing an end now.  On Monday Robert is back to teaching and I have to be a grown-up and make phone calls to sort out student loan payment issues and schedule doctor’s appointments and generally be responsible.

And so I went looking for The Words.  I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, but I do spend some time developing intentions and collecting inspiration for the new year, so when I read this article this afternoon, it resonated with me.

I have this long list of things that I want to learn, to do, to be, to try, to become. Things I want to know, to create, to make, to build. But where was I just a year ago, just two years ago, just five years into my past? How far have I come? How much have I learned, grown, and become? Not all changes need to happen now.
                    — Sarah from Nurshable

Advice for a Busy Week to Come

Tomorrow is the start of the new term at CGCC, and Robert’s first day teaching.  It’s going to be a difficult week for us, as all weeks of new routine and responsibilities are for everyone, I think.  I will admit that I was feeling a bit aggravated about the changes as I got up this morning.

So I did what I usually do when I’m starting to indulge my persecution complex– I sought inspiration from sources that remind me how lucky I am to have such a wonderful family.  When I feel myself losing my way, I look for The Words I need to move forward on the path I’m trying to walk.  I tried the usual sources– I read some blog posts from the fellow mothers I consider my internet friends– but Rachel is still posting about finding your tribe, which leaves me wishing I had one, and Amanda is on her usual weekend retreat, and Beth is writing about laughter and mayhem while I need to hear about connection, and Glennon is writing about balance.

I turned to the humor blogs I follow, because sometimes laughter helps, too, and found that this week The Bloggess linked to a farewell post a woman had arranged to have published after her death.  And there, I found The Words.

I have so much life I still want to live, but know I won’t have that. I want to be there for my friends as they move with their lives, see my children grow up and become old and grumpy with Rich. All these things are to be denied of me.

But, they are not to be denied of you. So, in my absence, please, please, enjoy life. Take it by both hands, grab it, shake it and believe in every second of it. Adore your children. You have literally no idea how blessed you are to shout at them in the morning to hurry up and clean their teeth.

Thank you, Charlotte.  I will take your advice this week.