On August 10, 2015 I will be celebrating my 63rd birthday. That’s half way to 126 years, in case you’re wondering. Here are the most important lessons I learned this past year. Some were biggies and some were small potatoes.
1. Teaching three yoga classes a week and practicing every day is very good for me: mind and body.
2. Learning to “Let it Go” is hard work and worth it. As a Catholic school kid, I never let anything go. In fact, I’m really good at still holding on tight to some perfection garbage. This year it was time to delete bothersome junk from my head. Amen.
3. Staying connected to a few, good, soulmate-friends is better than having a long list of half-assed ones. I’m finding that I am losing patience with the daily drama/soap opera and blather that can be ever present, if I let it. Gone, baby, gone!
4. Decluttering and simplifying is harder than I thought. Through the past 12 months I’ve worked to get rid of stuff that doesn’t make me happy and isn’t useful. I’m learning that I don’t have to have a stockpile in order to have what I need. My excesses are most obvious with my books, yarn, fabric and to-do lists! So I’m learning to consistently use the library instead of buying books (unless I really love the book). I’m also learning to work with the fiber I have already bought. So often I go through my stash and realize, this is really good stuff. I should buy this— oh wait— I already did! It has felt good to use what I have, make something beautiful and then enjoy wearing it.
5. I learned that serious medical stuff is wicked scary. A mark on my vaccination ended up being melanoma, and surgery took care of it. It’s one of those, “Hey, I never noticed that” situations— even though I thought I was alert and conscientious about skin cancer. So now I’m learning to be hyper-vigilant but not neurotic about it. I don’t go to the beach until after 4 PM, I’m lathered up with great smelling sunscreen, and I wear a silly, big brimmed hat.
6. Writing is rewriting. I’m working on a couple of writing projects and hear my words as a professor echoing off these walls. Fewer thoughtfully chosen words are better than volumes of babble. Each sentence needs to do something meaningful— not just take up space on the page. Every revision teaches me something new— and I like that.
7. Short lists are better than long lists, which is why I’m so proud of myself at ending this at number seven and not feeling obliged to go to ten!!!
Hope this coming year is the best year yet. I bet it will be. Cheers to all.
We start this day with a morning walk to WoodNeck Beach– always a wise decision. The weather is perfect, the birds are singing, and there is always so much to quietly observe. Daisies grow so much better along the path than in my garden. Waterlilies float on the marsh, not close enough to photograph, but beautiful to see. Sandalwood and honeysuckle fragrance waft in the salty breeze. The poison ivy is bushy and shiny– it almost looks pretty– until you think about it a bit more. Sand crabs dig perfectly circular holes leaving lumpy trails of debris behind. The beach is empty and beautiful with the tide going out and the damp sand is easy to walk on. A few sun salutations are in order. Then we walk into a plover family: mama, dad, and four little ones just born yesterday. They scamper on the sand and are uninterrupted by man or beast. In 26 days, they will be gone. The little ones learn to feed themselves and who knows which ones will return next year. The lifeguard chair is turned on its side still, but it won’t be long before more folks arrive and soak up the rays, play in the sand and go for a swim.
It has been a long winter. Mother Nature sure did show her strength, endurance and beauty. But it is now Spring here on Cape Cod, and I’m loving every second of it. These photos were taken at Spohr’s Garden. Usually a zillion daffodils are in bloom by this time of year. Not so this year. No complaints here!
VR Handspun Alpaca yarn
Priced per ounce approx 3 oz
Kahuna 66 yards $21
Victory Ranch Handspun Alpaca
4 oz 82 yds $10/oz
I had the delightful task of test driving two skeins of Victory Ranch’s Handspun Alpaca(www.victoryranch.com) and giving an honest review. My experience with alpaca includes working with mill processed, commercial alpaca yarns as well as hand spinning alpaca fleece from Winslow Farm, an extraordinary animal sanctuary in Norton, MA. Victory Ranch’s skeins are akin to neither, so this was a new adventure.
The skeins arrived with photo hang tags letting me know that the chocolate color yarn is sheared from Bacchus–who looks quite adorable and very happy. The creamy white skein is sheared from the lovely Kahuna. So from the very beginning, knitting with this yarn is a very personal experience. It is not anonymous, mass produced, standard issue, same, same, same yarn.
What does it look like? Both skeins are soft, smooth, and resilient to touch. The natural colors are beautiful and rich. The diameter of the strand is varied; at first, this worried me. Would this create an uneven fabric or make it challenging for me to maintain a consistent gauge?
Stitches have clear definition albeit it nubby; the ribbing has elasticity and has character. This yarn comes from a real animal, whose picture I can hold in my hand and whose good energy and warmth I can feel. Yes, there was an occasional piece of plant debris that is easily picked out.
After three inches of ribbing for an extra warm brim, I switch to Bacchus’s skein and stockinette for the body of the hat. On size six needles, I consistently get gauge at five stitches per inch with this fiber. Stitch definition continues to be excellent. The hand of the fabric says “touch me!” and the yarn is strong as well as flexible and soft. Some stitches are a tad plumper than others, but my objective is never to have my knitting look like it is machine made. The fabric has a gentle drape. The two colors work so well side by side, like organic chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Yummy in all ways!
Blocking consists of a long(3 hour) soak in lukewarm water with no-rinse soap. The water does turn grey, and I repeat with a second and then a third soak until the water is clear. The fabric gets even softer, holds its form, and stitches become more balanced. It dries beautifully and holds its shape after lots of use.
I always like to compare my experience with what is promised on the ball band. Victory Ranch notes that alpaca yarn is hypo-allergenic; I had no allergic reaction at any point in playing with this yarn. That is a big plus as many of my friends and family are allergic to wool but want the warmth it has to offer. Yes, this hat is warm–the warmest in my multi-hat collection, and it breathes, so that I’m comfortable and don’t have a sweaty head. The label says it’s smooth as silk, and I completely agree, but what I like even more is that it has more “give” than silk and holds its shape.
In addition to the technical success of working with this alpaca, I appreciate that this is a one of a kind yarn created by animals I can picture in my head when I wear this hat. These animals are treated humanely and loved. I confess that I now follow the alpaca gang on Victory Ranch’s Facebook page. Best of all, there is more gorgeous yarn from Bacchus and Kahuna’s friends. I can’t wait to play with the chunky weight next. Think of the possibilities….
Yes, we have had a little snow here at the Cape lately. I firmly believe there is no point in bitching about it, because it really is quite lovely and succeeds in slowing down life in general. It has been great soup and bread making weather and hat knitting weather and great for reading the piles of books by my bedside. Also, it has been a delight to bundle up and take a few photos around the neighborhood, and let the world know that all is well. It’s just snow.
Putting up the Christmas tree is always a family event with us. We wait until the girls arrive and then “do the honors.” The ornament boxes are not those containerized egg crates from the Container Store; no, instead they’re wine boxes loaded to the brim with all kinds of treasures.
In many ways, it’s a hanging scrapbook. Every trinket has a story and memories attached. We relive them one by one. Here are a few of my favorites:
This snowman harkens back to our first Christmas in our own apartment. It was 1972, we lived in Brighton, and bought a tiny little tree. It looked anemic so we added wooden ornaments that we hand painted and hung along with pine cones that we found by the Chestnut Hill Reservoir.
This Oldie, but Goodie dates back to my childhood. I think I remember entire sets of these hand blown beauties. It’s like a little jewel, and so fragile that I’m surprised it lasted all of these years.
We’ve gone through several sets of these glass bells. I love them because they’re pretty to look at, they move gently, reflect the light and even make a soft sound. Small children and cats are attracted to them too– that’s why we’ve gone through several sets! They’re now placed on the top half of the tree. Bella looks, but can’t touch or swat.
There’s always an assortment of “found objects”, like the Domaine Chandon cork from a fabulous winery we visited years ago. There used to be a dog biscuit wrapped with a bow in honor of Major, the dog across the street, but the biscuit didn’t survive the test of time.
And then we have artistic creations from our beloved children: Kate’s mummified marshmallow/pine cone angel as well as Molly’s hand stitched, colorwork paper mitten. Gotta love them!
There are a few “store bought” ornaments, but they usually represent some family memory. David is the man flying the airplane.
And then there’s me and my hubby. I love that the bed is small and we’re cuddled close. Enough said 🙂
Lastly, it wouldn’t be our tree if there wasn’t something irreverent and unexpected–in cross stitch, no less!
This past week has been filled with all sorts of reasons to celebrate. It’s May. There are graduations, Spring is in full force, and, of course, Mother’s Day. All good stuff.
I have had the pleasure of mentoring Gordon since he was a junior at Waltham High. Together we worked on writing critical essays, how to read challenging texts and how to remember to set your alarm to get to class on time. For the past five and a half years, he has put up with me, and I have put up with him…but joyfully so!
This past week Gordon successfully completed his final semester at Bentley and will graduate next Saturday. He has invited me to the ceremony, and I’ll sit in the audience, yell and make noise when he receives his diploma, and then I’ll probably blubber into several tissues. He never gave up; he’s the first in his Haitian immigrant family to attend college, the first to graduate, and it’s a very proud moment that I know he’ll savor and appreciate. I can’t wait to see him in his cap and gown.
Mother’s Day Weekend has been absolutely delightful. Molly and Josh arrived and spoiled me rotten with her fabulous cooking and their wonderful company. Books, recipes, knitting ideas were shared and explored. We reconnected as if we were never apart. Kate and Matt will be visiting soon, but in the meantime, we did our first video Ichat. What a kick–I get to see her face and hear her voice! We gab over hot coffee as if she were next door. I really appreciate that I’ll always love my kids, but just as importantly, I really like them! I’m a lucky lady.
David and I had brunch at Coonamesset Farm today. The food was good, but the farm in springtime was something to behold. There are fallow fields, some lined with small seedlings and others more fully developed. Everything is in the state of “becoming”. It’s filled with good intentions, hope and demands hard work. It’s also beautiful.
The farm animals are always a joy to visit. It’s their home and they let us drop in. The alpacas look like little kids with their big eyes and sense of wonder. Their “wool” is spun into the alpaca yarn I’ll be knitting warm hats and shawls with this winter.
The ducks and chickens are now located together in a large fenced in area. The ducks are laid back, and the chickens seem manic. One unusual, very pretty breed of chicken has a duo that pace back and forth as if they’re thinking about solving a quadratic equation.
During the past month I’ve started to practice yoga. I know— I’m clumsy, don’t have an athletic muscle or bone in my body, and have trouble staying still for more than three seconds. This “yoga thing” is amazing. Both of my daughters do it and encouraged me to try. I found an excellent teacher who is succeeding in turning me into a yoga-mama. After four weeks, my chronic back pain is gone, I am more relaxed and centered, and I like doing it. I even speak softly for at least an hour after I’m done. Go figure! It is a most welcomed addition to my life, and I’m grateful.
Last, but not least, Smitty’s Ice Cream opened for the season this past week. I confess David and I drove on an empty tank of gas to get there. Yes, he got coffee ice cream smothered in butterscotch, and I tried two new flavors: coconut and orange/pineapple. Yum, yum, yum. This cannot become a habit…well maybe one can substitute a cup of ice cream for a lunch???
All of these events (except possibly Smitty’s) share the theme of hope and rebirth that comes from inspiration as well as perspiration. It resonates with me…optimism based on hard work and realizing one’s potential by doing good stuff with focus and determination. Gordon learned how to be a student and reached his goal. The farm will be worked and produce good food and lots of beauty. My daughters have grown up into adults that I am so very proud of; parenting is work and it works. I am learning how to do yoga without falling over; I practice every day. Smitty’s Ice Cream is my exercise in moderation. That might take some time.
A day trip to the Outer Cape this week is significantly differently than one in prime tourist season. No, there were no half-naked people shopping or musicians in nooks and crannies…but it was, nonetheless, a satisfying jaunt.
The drive from Falmouth to P’town took only 80 minutes—no traffic. We got a parking space easily, just off Commercial Street. Needless to say, there were no crowds.
Most stores were closed for the season, so instead of looking for merchandise, I scoped out the architecture, the sky and the sea. What went unnoticed amongst the throngs had a chance to be in the February spotlight.
The beaches were empty, quiet and peaceful. The reflecting light was addictive. It’s time like this I wish I could paint. While hunting for an open restaurant, we stumbled upon two fabulous garage door paintings… too bad we don’t have a garage at the Cape!
Who cares about finding a restaurant when you find these two beauties?
The homes of all year residents stood out with winter window boxes, icy wreaths and recycling/trash tied in neat bundles, almost like presents. Tradesmen trucks were abundant as off-season renovations were underway. It was very, very quiet.
Our next stop was Marconi Station and the Great Atlantic Cedar Swamp in Wellfleet. This is one of our all time favorites during the warmer months, and we had never been there in winter. It was sound asleep, and trees sounded like old bones creaking.
The wind had a sharp, cold edge, and the crashing waves left a white ruffle as far as the eye could see down the shoreline. A brisk walk ended up being very brisk and very short. My face hurt from the cold.
The scenic route home found us meandering on Route 6A instead of the more trafficked highway. There was time to scout out the geography as well as local commerce. One previously overlooked gem in Yarmouth Port is Parnassus Book Service, a large, used bookstore, staffed by very smart, well-read folks. More than sixty years ago, the building had been a general store; now, it’s stacked from floor to decorative ceiling with the most eclectic selection of titles.
Neither my husband nor myself could figure out how these books were organized, but that really didn’t matter. To be in the presence of all these pages was a gift. We bought two books: Louise Hall Tharp’s Mrs. Jack (a biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner) and The Great Rehearsal by Carl Van Doren(The story of the making and ratifying of the Constitution of the United States). When I’m in a unique store that’s new to me, I always ask, “What should I not leave without buying here today?” I do this in cheese shops, wine and yarns stores and am seldom disappointed. These were the two books I was told I had to get— I’ll start them next week. I’ll go back to Parnassus again and again and again. What a find!
Hunger finally set in as it neared 2 pm. We passed restaurant called “The Optimist Café”—my kind of place—but with no cars in the parking lot, I turned pessimist.
Then we found two cafes open in Barnstable. One was a fancier restaurant with more than its share of upscale cars in the lot. The other was The Blue Plate Diner. The diner was friendly, the menu was tempting, service was terrific, and I just wish I had room for the homemade blueberry pie. I’m so glad that we stopped there.
I guess this trip taught me that slowing down and having less to distract me has its advantages. This same route in July would have yielded a very different experience. Both have merit and both are needed. It’s sort of a ying/yang rhythm that keeps one in balance. I can’t wait to see it all again in the Spring.