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Archive for August, 2010

Colonial Chorus Players, a local community theater, is producing the show “Curtains”, one of Kander and Ebb’s final shows before Fred Ebb’s death, and I have found myself in the ensemble. For those who don’t know, I am a middle school music teacher who also produces and directs the annual school musical and I find acting in local theater a great way to keep my skills sharp. Not only am I reminded of the actor’s perspective, but I get ideas from other directors which will in turn make me a better director.

“Curtains” is a very fun murder mystery comedy whose plot revolves around a pre-Broadway preview production of “Robbin’ Hood”, an old-west retelling of “Robin Hood” which also serves as an incredibly hokey rip-off of “Oklahoma!” There’s much singing, dancing, and merriment involved and I am having the time of my life.

There are inevitably times during the rehearsal process when some of us sit while the directors work with others. For this reason I always bring my knitting. Now I have heard (or read) from other knitters that they like to keep a mindless sock on hand for just these occasions and while I have no history of following this practice, I am starting to understand that mindset. Today, for example, we had a dance rehearsal. I had a breather while the choreographer was working with the saloon girls, so I picked up the ultra-complicated Bex gauntlets. I’ve gotten really good at these, but still occasionally forget which way to cable or where I am on the pattern. Today I found myself spending more time frogging than knitting. Saloon girls are, after all, way too distracting.

So out comes Mr. Mindless Sock, a basic stockinette sock with a cuff of 2/2 ribbing, a couple of cuff ribs on either side extending the length of the sock (I stole this idea from the Yarn Harlot). I cast this on a couple of weeks ago as a way to use up some really weird sock yarn that is just too busy to knit with any kind of pattern. I have tried. In fact, this is the third pair of socks I’ve tried to knit with this yarn. I think I’ve finally got one that will work.

Sometimes you just need mindless knitting, and this is definitely true when rehearsing a musical. Besides, it’s good to take a break from Bex every now and then. I think I may have to make a habit of always having a fairly mindless sock available for such times.

More will be posted about “Curtains” performances at a later date, for those who just really crave the extreme entertainment value inherent in watching me attempt to dance.

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Knitting can happen anywhere, and whatever place is graced with the hands of a knitter is made more beautiful for it.

Knitters often have their preferred place to knit, such as the oversized, extravagantly cushy chair in the corner of the living room. Or sitting in an old rocking chair while watching a movie or TV show. Maybe even your favorite place is at Starbuck’s among friends. All of these are places I enjoy knitting and even spend a lot of time knitting, but my favorite place to knit carries such a beauty in and of itself that when it is visited by my knitting hands it becomes a location of pure bliss. I’m talking about my backyard.

More precisely, I enjoy knitting in my special chair on the deck overlooking my backyard. The chair is special not because of the considerable comfort to be found in its simple nylon and metal structure, but because it is my official director’s chair given to me by the cast and crew of the first musical I directed in this town. This chair, right outside the back door of my second-story apartment, affords views most months of beautiful maple trees, including the one which shades me as I knit.

This is not a time to listen to podcasts or music as I knit, and is best enjoyed during the early morning hours when I am the only one out of bed. There are no responsibilities, simply being and knitting. Birds chatter musically from the branches around me as I lose myself in the beauty of the moment and in the fiber running through my fingers. The old rustic stone barbecue in the yard hints at a bygone era when times were simpler. In this space, free of distractions, one can be completely present in the knitting. It becomes meditation. Therapy. An activity of high spiritual significance. What weight I may be carrying throughout the rest of the week is allowed to fall away for a little while.

I think that this is what I will miss most as the school year begins and my work resumes. There will be less time under the shade of the maple tree.

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Today is officially the last day of my vacation, and it’s a beautiful one! My district has our beginning-of-the-year teachers’ hootenanny and barrage of meetings/preparation time on Monday and Tuesday. Now I realize that I still have two more days off before that, but I don’t count the weekend because I’d have that off anyway. Today is the last day, and the mix of sunny skies and morning chill encourage the anticipation.

I see many teachers who dread going back. Honestly, it’s nice to have a couple of months to just hang out and not have to go to work, but I have faced every new school year with excitement and joy. I love my job. Middle schoolers are an interesting crowd…mature in many ways, yet still quite impressionable. Though it’s been a great summer, I’ve been getting very restless of late and need to go back. I need to be surrounded by kids.

So today is the last day I will have the freedom to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee on the back deck, listening to the birds while knitting, but that’s okay. What I get in exchange is far better. I get the opportunity and the responsibility to inspire, to connect, and to bring joy to young people. Besides, I can always get some knitting done during staff meetings.

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It happened 9 years ago, almost to the minute that I’m writing this. I had gone downstairs to the cafeteria at Lexington Medical Center for a quick early lunch while my wife waited for the drip to induce labor to take effect. After a somewhat rushed meal, the contents of which I can’t remember today, I strolled back into the maternity ward to be told by a nurse, “You’d better hurry up. The baby’s coming!” Major “Oh, Crap” moment.

Just a few minutes later, at 12:01 pm, my sweet Emily came into the world with eyes wide open. Today, 9 years later, we eagerly await the arrival of a few of Emily’s friends who will help us celebrate this wonderful day. My wife has made a very special self-designed Lego cake to match the Lego theme of the birthday party.

I awoke today to the beautiful, chilly gloom of a rainy late-summer day. With water usage restrictions in several Massachusetts towns of late, the rain has been desperately needed. I love the sound of rain and the early morning crispness that ushers in my favorite season of the year. It’s a pronounced contrast to the hot South Carolina weather in which Emily was born. A hot cup of coffee comforted me as I put on hand-knit wool socks for the first time since May and picked up my knitting.

Actually, it wasn’t my knitting, but rather a rescue project inherited from my wife, Dee. Last winter she had promised Emily to knit her a sweater. She bought plenty of yarn in a cool colorway, but got stuck on finding a pattern. Ravelry is wonderful, but a bit daunting when a search for “children’s sweater” yields about 80 bazillion results. My first rescue operation was to choose and buy a pattern for a basic girl’s cardigan at Sit ‘n’ Knit in Melrose during the 2010 North of Boston Yarn Crawl.

Dee is a very good knitter, far better than she gives herself credit for. She completed the sweater beautifully and rather quickly, getting the fit perfect: just big enough to have a little room to grow. But some of the sweater involved skills that were new for her and at times scary. The button bands made her pause, but she completed the first one nicely.

But then came the buttonhole band, and this one frightened her. With her self-imposed deadline of Emily’s birthday rapidly approaching, Dee asked me to do the buttonhole band. I had experience with buttonholes, having knit a cardigan for my sister a year and a half ago, so I was happy to help. It came out very nice, and Emily loves it!

We are a family who loves handmade gifts, and today is no exception. Happy birthday, Emily. I hope you enjoy your sweater, made with love by Mommy (with just a little help from Daddy).

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Increments

Tonight I accomplished something I’ve never done before. I ran 2 1/2 miles nonstop. No walking in the middle, no “catching a breather”, no nothing. I didn’t run it particularly quickly, but I ran it and I am happy with that. You see, I’m training to run my first ever 5k. On September 11, I am registered to run in the Canal Diggers 5k Road Race in Worcester to benefit the Hibernian Cultural Center. You may be asking, “What the heck does Hibernian mean?” Hibernia is the classical Latin name for Ireland. Basically, the Hibernian Cultural Center strives to preserve ancient Irish culture and history. Of course, I’m not even Irish. My primary motivation for picking this race out of the many offerings out there was the free Irish BBQ and beer afterward (Harpoon Brewery is one of the sponsors).

image courtesy of Danielle Walquist and used under Creative Commons License

So my goal is to run the entire 5k (about 3.1 miles) nonstop. In order to accomplish this I needed a plan, which I got from the “Losing It with Jillian Michaels” website, and the motivation to carry out that plan, such as an afternoon of free craft-brewed beer and barbecue. I have often had difficulty staying faithful to any regular exercise regimen because I lacked one or both of these things.

My training has been done in increments. First week I ran 60 seconds and walked 60 seconds for about half an hour. Each week the amount of running has increased and the amount of walking has decreased. The amazing thing to me is that I am no more tired now after running 2 1/2 miles straight than I was in that first week. I can tell you right now that if I had started the first week with the amount I’m currently running I would have long since given up. It was necessary to take it in increments.

Bex Gauntlet #1 modeled by my lovely daughter

Knitting is like that too. If I had started with the Bex gauntlets that I’m currently working on I would never have become the knitter that I am today. I would have gotten highly frustrated and hated it. I started with a garter stitch scarf. Then moved to an all-purl garter stitch scarf. From there I have progressed through many projects incrementally. My goal with each project has been to learn one new skill. Let me say that again.

One new skill.

Now there have been a couple of projects that were for particular purposes and didn’t really involve learning a new skill, but most have. I think some knitters get a little frustrated because they try to bite off more than they can really chew. Take it slowly. Don’t compare yourself to the 75-year-old lady whose mother taught her how to knit when she was 4. You’ll get there, but it takes time and patience. And love of the process, which is my biggest motivation.

And when you drop a stitch or knit when you should’ve purled, just remember that the 75-year-old lady has frogged more stitches in her lifetime than you have knit in yours.

UPDATE: According to my mom, who read this post today, I am apparently part Irish. I don’t think I ever knew. My  Great Great Grandparents were Bogans and my mom says she thinks they’re the ones who came over here. Glad to know that. Makes it almost sound like I’m in it for more than just the beer.

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Slow

“Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”–Thich Nhat Hanh

There are many in this modern world who are incredulous at the proposition of spending a month or two making a pair of socks or a year knitting a sweater. Even knitters are sometimes frustrated by how long it takes to make something. I myself have set a deadline for finishing my current project, so that I can move on to other projects. As we build stash or sprout and grow lengthening queues of project ideas we often focus on the next project at the expense of what’s currently on the needles.

I have been doing a bit of research over the past few months on the Slow Movement. This is a title or catchphrase that has been attached to an idea that’s been around for a very long time. The basic idea is to stop our detrimental tendency to overbook ourselves in favor of living more deliberately and dwell in the present. It means more time with family, less stress, cooking more nutritious meals, and taking time to just enjoy life. Thoreau’s two years on Walden Pond were all about this same concept.

Granted we can’t always slow down, and we don’t always need to. Our supervisors at work will still have deadlines that we must follow, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The difficulty comes when our priorities shift toward the deadlines and away from what really matters. This is discussed from several angles by award-winning journalist Carl Honore in his book “In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.” I’m not very far into it, but am already seeing myself in these pages and understanding the need to shift.

What I advise is to enjoy life. Live life. Embrace love. Be present in everything you do, including your knitting. Every stitch can be meditative.

One of my knitting group friends, a lady named Happy, is currently working on a complex Alice Starmore Fair Isle sweater. As she was in the first few rows of the project somebody asked her “How long do you think it’ll take you to finish that?”

Happy’s response: “Who cares?”

It’s about the journey, not the destination. Happy understands that, thus finding the key to living up to her name. We could all stand to enjoy the ride a bit more and focus less on what’s next.

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Maybe Not…

It’s been a couple of weeks since I announced to the world that I’m giving up my blog, yet here I am. Truth is, I love blogging. I enjoy sharing a bit of my life with the world (have you seen my ClustrMap? It really is the world!). I am still on a quest to simplify, to get rid of some of the extra “stuff” that takes up time in my life, but not this. I love knitting and writing about it too much to give this up.

I can’t tell you how many times over the last 2 1/2 weeks I’ve seen or experienced something that I instantly wanted to blog about. This time frame has been full of “Oh, yeah…I gave that up” moments. This is part of my therapy, helping me to maintain some semblance of sanity in a crazy, mixed-up world.

This blog is valuable. Necessary. At least to me.

So Here I am, back in the blogosphere, no matter how many or how few people actually read my ramblings. See you in cyberspace.

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