Monday, December 30, 2013

A funny thing happened on the way to writing this post...

So, I was driving along to an appointment for my daughter, mulling over the blog post that I was planning to write while waiting for her (this post, in point of fact).  In the course of turning things over in my head, I was finally getting to what felt like an accurate and blog-appropriate description of what's been going on for me these last few weeks when I drove by the billboard of a local drinking water company.  They always put funny or thoughtful little sayings on their billboard (like "Education bridges the gap between your ears", and "Boycott shampoo, demand real poo"), and I read it by force of habit, as I did this time.  And what it said this time, rather freakily, resonated almost exactly with what I'd been thinking.

Lemme 'splain (to quote a famous movie character).

As I mentioned in my last post, during November, I got hit by a big ol' load of Overwhelmed, which came at the end of what has been, for me, in many ways a very difficult year or so.  I thought for sure that if I could just get through the end of November, the Overwhelmed would end, and things would get better.  But they didn't.  Instead, the overwhelm continued, and I also got slammed with a whack of Sad.

Part of my mulling (and part of the reason why I haven't posted lately) has been over why it is that I've been so sad, and once recognized, whether it's something that I can write about.  I try here on the blog to find that balance of sharing what I'm comfortable sharing about myself, without including things about other people that either aren't my business to write about, or that they might not be comfortable having out here in an open forum not of their choosing.  (As an aside, during this last year, I have had several friends who have suggested that I might want to try to write about some of the more personal challenges I've been dealing with, and all I can wonder is how autobiographers do it?  It's one thing to write about oneself, but one's life is inextricably bound up in other peoples' lives, and many of the difficult and challenging and compelling things that we survive happen with and because of other people, right?  So how to write about those other people?  Do authors get permission?  Figure that forgiveness is easier to ask for than permission?  Lose friends?  Does anyone else ever wonder about that?)

I realized that a lot of this bout of Sad has to do, frankly, with how very mean people are to one another sometimes, and how much of that meanness comes not out of a particular vicious desire to specifically hurt some other person, but out of the hurter's own pain - his or her deeply felt sense that they have been hurt, and maybe even that the world therefore owes them something.  And deeper than that, it's about fear - people respond to their fears and act on those fears, to protect themselves, or get other people before those people get them, or because they're so caught up in their fears that they can't even see that they're doing damage to the people around them - often people whom they love very much.  I think we've all been there - in that place where we're driven to act, beyond thought or reason, entirely in the grips of emotion.  And worse, have been in that space, being absolutely sure that, in fact, we're driven by reason.  Or is it just me?

Anyway, there's been a lot of that this year, and even more than usual in November and December, just people around me hurting other people around me, and I was just feeling very sad about it.  (It's worth saying here that I'm not saying this in a sympathy-needing kind of way - sometimes sad is an appropriate reaction, and it's OK to be sad.)  And as I was driving along, realizing that that's where the sad has been coming from, the billboard flashed by at 80 miles per hour, and it said, "May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears."

Well, okey-dokey, then.

There are a couple of funny things about this, aside from having it appear right then (no sudden shining light or anything, thank goodness, or I would have wondered if Insanity was following hard on the heels of Overwhelmed and Sad; not unlike the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future - maybe these things come in threes?).  The first is that I actually agree with the sentiment, pretty strongly.  I am not always able to act on it, and I hadn't quite put it in those words, but it is a fairly clear summary of something that I think is really worth doing, and that I do try to achieve.  Alas, it is often called "idealism" by people who aren't happy about that kind of thing.  I think of it, instead, as a heartfelt attempt to grow into integrity (from the root "integrate") - a place where what I think and feel on my insides match what I do on my outsides.  And my insides have hopes.  They also have deep fears that when I act on my hopes, I open myself up to being hurt.

Because, let's be honest, that is what happens.  Sometimes the world responds beyond all expectation: when we offer our best selves, our hopes - the world comes to meet us in that place.  And sometimes, it smacks us right upside the head, in exactly the way that we feared it would, and the almost overwhelming urge is to say, Well - we're not doing THAT again!  That definitely happened to me over this last year.  I took a big step in my personal life, offered my truest self to some people about whom I care very deeply, and stated what that self needed.  The results were not what I had hoped.  There has been some reeling.  But in amongst the reeling, I have also been glad that my choice reflected my hopes.  Because it's a funny thing, when you think about it: people know us through our actions.  If our actions only ever reflect our fears, what a funny picture we send out into the world, and what a lopsided one, right?

I still believe, somewhere fundamental, that that kind of bad experience isn't always how it is, and maybe even that that isn't mostly how it is, and that we have to be open to the places where it's not, instead of curling up into our snail-shell selves.  I took other chances this year, on friendships, and trying new things, and being a more real me, and they were received with what I can only call grace.  Even my sad was received by my closest friends with love; they have responded with texts, shopping trips and lunches out, hugs, company on a 5k.

Our riding trainer gifted me with an opportunity to spend a couple of weeks caring for someone who needed it even more than I did:
That's Dubai.  He's a nine-year-old Arabian, whose owner was boarding him while she was pregnant with (and having) twins.  She went to check on him after a year and found him, shall we say, woefully neglected, probably a couple hundred pounds underweight, and very much in need of a new place to be.  Our trainer has ended up housing him for the last two weeks, and I have spent time with him every day; the girls have gone with me on the days they're out of school.  It's all we can talk about, actually (to what I am sure is the sorrow of the people around us) - we have learned a lot, and fallen a wee bit in love with this boy.  I wish he were a horse that we would be able to ride and learn on, but he isn't, so his owner is working to find him a new place.  But in the meantime, it's been a lovely way to spend several hours each day totally outside of myself.

I have also been knitting.  As one does this time of year.  First, birthday mitts for a dear friend:
These are Churchmouse Yarns' Welted Fingerless Gloves (my Rav project page), knitted out of Lotus Mimi mink yarn (yes mink, and no, not dead mink, hooray!).  It's a much lighter-weight yarn than called for in the pattern, so there were some adjustments, and I added a few welts to ensure wrist warmth.  The buttons came from Grandmom's button box.  My friend seemed delighted, and she appears to be wearing them a lot, so I think they are a success.  (And, selfishly, it is additionally delightful that half the yarn was left, so I might end up with a pair of these for myself!!)

I also knitted socks for Rick for Christmas (while I don't generally do scads of holiday knitting, I do try to end up giving something to Rick and each of the girls, which I managed to do this year).
It was time and past time for him to get a new pair of socks, so I dug up some Vintage Purls sock yarn from a sock club kit I hadn't knitted, modified Cookie A's Cauchy pattern for toe-up knitting (so I could use as much of the yarn as possible), and ended up with these.  The heel is my reverse heel flap heel (so that the flap goes on the bottom of the foot, which, when knitted in eye-of-partridge, means a nice durable cushy heel).
They fit beautifully, so I'm happy with those.

Younger Daughter also got socks.
Given that mismatched socks are her idiom (she deliberately mismatches them, even when she actually has mates), Noro socks work out perfectly.  These are basic toe-up socks, with Cat Bordhi's sweet tomato heel.

And finally, the piece de resistance (if I do say so myself), for Older Daughter (and at her request), the TARDIS mitts I mentioned in an earlier post:
I'm calling them Bigger on the Inside Mitts, and I'm planning to write this pattern up.  My knitting and racewalking and research buddy (yes, just one person - so many roles!) also wants a pair, so I'm giving her the rest of the white yarn, and a pattern to test knit, and then we'll see where we're at.  It needs to be written first, but they're not hard, so I'm hoping it won't take long.  Older Daughter hasn't taken them off since filching them from me as soon as the ends were woven in, so they haven't been blocked.  If they were, you might find it easier to see that the backs read "POLICE BOX" across the top, and the fronts, "RUN!"
I'd demand them for blocking, but she seems so happy, it's hard to remove them from her.

And last, for you, our new favorite salad, which I made up on the fly a few months ago, and which the girls have demanded weekly since.
For the salad:
On top of a bed of lettuce, put 1 roughly chopped Asian pear, the seeds from 1 pomegranate*, crumbled blue cheese, and chopped toasted walnuts.

For the dressing:
Dice a couple of tablespoons of shallots**, and mix with equal parts olive oil and red wine vinegar (adjust the acidity balance to taste), along with a dash of balsamic vinegar, some dijon mustard, and sea salt.  Whisk or shake well, and toss with the salad.

* Re pomegranates.  I have read about many ways to get the seeds out, and until now, was a fan of the underwater school of seed removal.  But then the pomegranate man at the farmer's market (he's the avocado man in the summer) told me his way, and I'm a convert.  Core out the blossom end of the pomegranate (you don't have to cut into where the seeds are).  Then score along the ridges around the pomegranate from top to bottom (there are about six).  Pull the pomegranate apart like you're pulling apart the sections of an orange.  The seeds will come out easily.

** We usually serve this with a popover and wild mushrooms sauteed in butter with shallots and parsley, so I use some of those.

The solstice has passed, so, before we usher the old year out and the new year in, I will say that I hope that you are all feeling that turn to the light - brighter days are assuredly coming, as they always do.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What I've done

Other than posting on the blog, because clearly that hasn't been on the Giant List o' Things To Do Yesterday (or, Preferably, Last Week).  During this past semester, I have:

- Prepped a completely new class, entirely out of my area of expertise (it's a class about public education, and I am, as noted previously, a linguist), as a hybrid course (meaning I can't BS my way through class when I haven't prepped ahead of time half of it is taught online)
- Written two letters of support for faculty sabbaticals
- Reviewed one tenure file and written a letter in support of that
- Written one letter nominating a faculty member for an award
  (it's worth mentioning that doing those letters takes WAY more time than you might think)
- Written student letters of recommendation
- Written (and I SO wish I were kidding about this) 2500+ email messages
- Finished the endless rounds of editing on a peer-reviewed article
- Prepared a conference presentation (I kind of overworked that one, and wrote 15 single-spaced pages for a 15-minute presentation - oops)
- Edited a conference presentation into something that could be done in 15 minutes
- Prepared comments as a discussant on a conference panel
- Written my last (!!) program chair report for my annual conference
ETA:  And I forgot the 10-year plan for my department, and the five-page single-spaced hiring memo I had to write.  Man, I have written more memos this semester than you can shake a stick at!

And none of that includes the usual round of grading, meeting with students, going to meetings (endless, endless meetings), running meetings (which I don't get to knit during - bitter, bitter, bitter).  Etc.  Etc.

Et - frickin' - cetera. *

Note that on that list one does not see, oh, you know: knitting or spinning or weaving.  I have, to my great pleasure, mostly managed to keep up my workouts, which now include regular yoga and meditation.  And I've shaved a minute off my best mile time, so that's also good.

But honestly.

I have managed to squeeze some knitting in - my conference in Chicago, long and exhausting (and cold!!) as it was, did give me some solid knitting time for once.  So while I don't have a lot to show, I do have a couple of FOs to present.  First, Song of the Sea (the long version):
This is a lovely cowl, which I knitted out of SeaSilk (which I adore).  I think that, in wearing, the pattern might show more clearly in something that slouches less, but I do love the weight of it around my neck.
The colors here aren't showing too well, so I'll try to get some pictures of this being used around my neck, in better light.  It's a beautiful sea-grey, which we all know is one of my favorite all-time colors.

The other thing I finished (largely because of the aforementioned conference knitting time) is Viajante, which I started way back in May.  It's (as a local knitting friend commented) a lot of stockinette.  But in laceweight, that makes it excellent travel knitting, and now that it's done, I think I"ll wear this a LOT.  It's knitted out of Lorna's Laces Helen's Lace Multi, in a colorway that I like to think of as "Kestrel" - some of you may remember my ongoing fascination with those lovely little birds of prey - and stretched out to block, it really kind of does look like a bird's wing:
You can see the colors much more accurately here:
This is a fun little pattern (for those of you who haven't jumped on board with it yet) that can be worn both as a shawl:
And as a poncho.
They are equally delightful and cozy - hence the predicted wearability of this one.

And that's about it.  My Green Wood sweater languishes in the basket next to the couch, because I haven't had the brain space for colorwork.  The TARDIS mitts, ditto.  I have cast on for a pair of socks for Rick; I have some small hope of finishing those before Christmas, we'll see.  As usual, I do not have major holiday-knitting ambitions: the socks for Rick, the TARDIS mitts for Older Daughter (I think if I can get the stitch count right, they'll go quickly), and socks for Younger Daughter.  That's it.

But classes are over.  I have three more piles of grading to get through in the next week and a half.  I am NOT prepping a brand-new class for spring.  So, while I'm afraid to say this out loud: maybe, just maybe, I'll get a break during this holiday break.

Meanwhile, by way of a peace offering, this is a virtual ensemble, created by 31 musicians around the world, playing separately, and then having their music aggregated into one lovely piece.  Older Daughter is one of those musicians (as is her fiddle teacher Diane) - you can see her early on in the video, under her real name, Tess.  I think she's pretty neat.

* This is an example of the only infix in English.  We have plenty of suffixes and prefixes, no circumfixes (affixes with two pieces which go on either side of the root), but just the one infix (an affix which goes into the middle of the root), and that's the f-word (although in British English, "bloody" and its euphemisms can also be used in this way).  In other languages with infixes, they are just normal parts of the grammar, not naughty words.  But we're special.  So now you know that you're doing cool morphological stuff when you stick the f-word into the middle of another word.  You're welcome.