Saturday, December 01, 2012

I Have Three Mothers

The mother-daughter relationship can be very difficult sometimes and I'm sure there are some women who think that one mother (or daughter) is more than enough. I'm so blessed to have not one, but three mothers in my life.

Of course, I think my own mother is the world's best. She has unfailingly supported me in all my endeavors, offered gentle guidance when she thought that the choices I made (especially the romantic kind) were not the best, and was there to help me pick up the pieces when I didn't heed her advice. As I go deeper into this creative life I'm ever-so-slowly building, she's there, offering encouragement. I love and honor my mother deeply, as a mother and as a best friend.

Mom and Dad at their 50th wedding anniversary

My second mother is my mother-in-law. I want to be like her when I grow up. She is in her mid-80s and volunteers at least 40 hours each week with Olney Help, the hospital, her church. She went down south to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina and for the last three years, she's gone to either Uruguay or Chile to help rebuild churches. She's not going this year, although I think she wants to. But on the last trip, the people in village didn't let her do the work that she wanted to do (hauling cement and brick, and painting). Instead, they assigned her gentler work, like watching after young children. Family is very important to her and every year she travels to Minnesota to visit her family there, and every year, she rents a house at the Outer Banks for her children and their families. She's the glue that holds us all together.

Mom Simonds on the occasion of her birthday this year

And my third mother? She is the mother of a dear friend of mine, my Persian sister. She is my Persian mother. I saw her twice about eight or nine years ago and there was a connection that I can't explain. After she returned to Iran, she would always ask about me when she talked to her daughter. And whenever Shirin and I talked, I would always ask about her. She was so devout in her faith that I knew that any prayers she made would be answered. I wanted to knit her a prayer shawl. But I didn't. And now it is too late. My Persian mother passed out of this world last week. I wish I could have seen her one more time before she left. I commend her soul to Allah.

And so ends the tale of the three mothers. I truly am blessed.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

With Gratitude

As the holiday season approaches, I start to reflect on the past year. I have been so blessed this year. My health has been good, I have a job, and most importantly, I'm surrounded by wonderful, loving, family and friends.

My parents and brothers provide such unconditional love and support, especially during the tough times. They encourage me to follow my dream (starting my own business) and Carl has helped me overcome my fear of leaving raw milk on the counter (hint: clabbered milk makes awesome cheese)(second hint: raw milk tastes a million times better than even the cream-line, flash-pasteurized, organic milk at the health food store). Scott has inspired me to expand my artistic endeavors and I'm thrilled that he's following his heart by surrounding himself with pottery that he finds beautiful. And Brian humbles me; he has remained strong in the face of really difficult times and doesn't ask for anything.

My husband, Tom, tolerates my creative explorations and takes care of hearth and home since my job this year has required a lot of overtime. I don't think he realizes how much I appreciate all that he does to keep this household together and how much I love him.

My friends have also provided undying support, good humor, and spiritual guidance. Marcia, Leigh, Heidi, Pat, Val, Keith, and Mike are there for good conversation, political diatribes, and perspective.

And last but not least, I'm so very grateful for the Squam Art Workshops community. I've lost my fear of trying things I never thought I was good at (drawing, painting, photography) and found that I can do these things better than I ever thought I could. All it took was trying, and the support of this wonderful community.

I wish for everyone a very happy and grateful Thanksgiving.


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Change

I always want to write a blog post after each Squam but composing at the computer feels cold and mechanical. The softness and soulfulness of the Squam experience requires pen and paper. And only then can it be moved to the computer.

Squam by the Sea...what can I say about it? The best Squam ever? It was certainly one that took me out of my comfort zone with a three-day painting workshop by Flora Bowley (hint: I'm not a painter). But after taking online workshops with Alena Hennessy and Sarah Ahearn Bellemare, I approached this workshop with no fear--only curiosity and a child's mind.

The words that describe the Squam experience are not coming easily. Squam fills my soul to the brim--I am energized and at the same time at peace. I become more open to possibilities and ideas bubble up, seemingly out of nowhere. The negative voices (I am not an artist, I can't paint, I am mediocre) fall away and I realize down to my core that, yes, I am an artist and I can paint and I'm not mediocre.

The love and support of the women who attend Squam enable the flow of creativity. A confession: After my first spring Squam in 2011, I was a bit disappointed. It was a nice knitting retreat, but not life-changing (or so I thought). Slowly, slowly the change happened and after Spring Squam this year, I could see that yes, indeed, Squam changed my life. The changes are small but they have a large impact.

I'm still floating from Squam by the Sea. Re-entry has been soft...I replay the sunrise walks on the beach, relive in my mind the feeling of putting paint on canvas, the discussions at mealtimes about how we can achieve our dreams.

I'm at a point in my creative life where I want to do all the things: paint, cook, draw, knit, photograph, spin, weave, write... And wanting to do all the things leads to a paralysis, where I do none of the things.

I challenge myself to get up early and do one thing each morning and one thing each evening, even if it's only for an hour.

Being able to express myself creatively is no longer a luxury or something that I will get around to after I take care of those things thing need to be done (work, laundry, housecleaning). It has become a necessity.

Bright blessings upon Elizabeth and everyone at Squam who has touched my life and helped me realize my creative potential.


Saturday, June 23, 2012


For the last several months, I've been living under a overwhelmed with work that I simply ignored a lot of things, including current events.

So imagine my surprise and dismay when Elizabeth at Squam Art Workshops posted that California will be closing 70 of their 279 state parks. This video, The First 70, is very compelling. You can get more information about the closures at Save Our State Parks.

Parks are incredibly important to everyone's well-being. For those who use them, parks offer respite from the noise and stress of the city. Parks provide education through ranger programs. They encourage tourism, which brings money into the localities where the parks are. And parks even benefit those who don't or can't use them. The wild spaces help keep our air and water clean, and support biological diversity, which keeps the ecosystem healthy. Which keeps people healthy.

I asked Rachel Herron of Yarnagogo (who lives in California) if she had heard anything about the park closures. She had, but only in passing. She also said that California is facing major challenges...schools are closing (some kids won't be able to go to school at all) and other essential services (like police and fire) are being reduced. And that makes the park closures that much more complex.

What can you do? Let people know about the park closures. Use the parks. If you don't live in California, use the parks in your area. Go camping, visit a historical site.

Because you never know, your own parks might be at risk.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hello! It's been a while...

I find it hard to believe that my last blog post was in February. Work intruded and any kind of writing, even the fun stuff, felt So no blogging, and really, not much of anything else, except work. And that makes for a very boring blog.

However, the "all work and no play" aspect of my life is changing. I hired a technical writer at work, which will relieve me of a lot of the work I've been doing and given me time to focus on other aspects of my job. And after my husband and several friends threatened interventions, I will put boundaries around my work. I have to, to preserve my marriage, my friendships, and my health (multiple migraines a week are not fun).

So twice a week, I need to leave work early to come home and fix dinner. It will be, by necessity, simple: grilled fish and vegetables and a nice salad. Every other Thursday I leave a little early to teach a knitting class. And I will not work weekends unless it's critical.

One thing that I realized is that it's absolutely critical to have a creative outlet in my life. Yes, knitting is creative, but when you think about it, it's still kind of a left brain activity (can you say "math"?). Even with my knitting, I could feel that I was getting stuck--paralyzed by color, afraid to try new things. The knitting was just too familiar. So when I read on the Squam blog that Alena Hennessy was teaching an online art workshop, I ignored the fear and plunged in. I haven't done any painting or drawing since I was in elementary school (and that was a very long time ago!). I bought the art supplied (india inks come in such pretty colors!) and anxiously waiting for the class to start. Once the class started, I was surprised to find that I like what I was creating. And the process of creating was liberating. I was wholly engaged in making art--time stopped, my concentration was focused, and everything just flowed. The workshop didn't focus only on creating art; Alena included breathing exercises, photography, and self-care (long hot baths, tea, flower essences). The students shared their work and writings on a private Facebook group and the support from the group was amazing. Some of the art created was stunning. I enjoyed the class so much that I signed up for the next Squam online art workshop Pages and Paint. That workshop is focused more on mixed media (Alena's class was sort of mixed media) and looks like it will be fun!

Knitting News
Despite the 60-hour weeks, I did manage to get some knitting in. I started a knit-along with my 11-year old niece in April. We're knitting Clapotis, and are using the same yarn base (different colors). It will be interesting to see how our Clapotis differ.

I'm still plodding along on the Elizabeth R shawl from the Shakespeare in Lace shawl club. I think I might have enough yarn for a 6th repeat (I'm on repeat 5 now, so am almost done).

I knit two Baby Surprise Jackets for co-workers. Amazingly, even though the babies were almost four months old by the time they got their jackets, the jackets fit! I wasn't sure, since I don't have any babies laying around the house to see if the fit was good. And two more coworkers are expecting babies to come into their families, so I get to knit two more BSJs. The BSJ is a fun knit.

So before it gets too late, I'm going to post this and start knitting Elizabeth R. In my next post, I'll blog about Spring Squam...there was Shetland lace, vintage patterns, wild garter stitch, bears, loons, owls, and more. It was awesome!

Happy knitting!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Random Saturday

The little voice in my head has been a little too persistent lately and is doing too good of a job of trying to drag me down. Today is World Happy Day and in the spirit of the day, I'm blogging about what makes me happy. So here goes...

  • Tom and everything he does around the house (which is everything)
  • My family
  • Having a flock of cedar waxwings hanging out in our yard
  • Having both cats sleeping next to me on a cold winter's night
  • Coming across a flock of wild turkeys in a friend's driveway
  • Knitting (mostly)
  • All the love my friends share with me
  • Snow (of which we do not have enough this winter)

And of course, the little voice in my head wants to negate all of these things that make me happy by guilting me:

  • "You don't pull your weight around the house"
  • "You don't visit your family often enough:
  • "You have too much yarn and will never knit it all"
  • "You aren't productive enough at work"

And the voice drones on and on and on, to the point where it creates an actual physical heaviness in me. We all have that negative, persistent little voice. What strategies do you find useful to quiet that voice?

Knitting News
I keep hearing about Signature Needles and how wonderful they are to knit with. I also keep hearing about how expensive they are. And there's a good reason for it. Pop on over to kmcat's blog and read about her experience with Signature Needles. Her story makes me want to knit only with Signatures!

Regarding actual knitting productivity, there isn't much. I've made too many gauge swatches for the Baby Surprise Jacket, mostly because I kept increasing needle size and couldn't understand why I kept getting fewer stitches to the inch (I'm easily confused). It finally dawned on me yesterday what the problem was and this morning I swatched some more and got close, 5-1/2 to 5-3/4 stitches per inch on US5 needles. I need 6 stitches per inch, so US4 needles are next on the agenda. I thought I was a tight knitter but that doesn't appear to be the case with this project.

I almost finished the Slouchy Beret but ran out of yarn. The pattern didn't give any gauge, although I suppose I could have done the math myself (duh!) but it didn't occur to me. (Note to self: use your brain, woman!) I managed to eke out a few more rows on the Elizabeth R shawl and am almost finished with the second pattern repeat. This project will go on the shelf until the two BSJs are finished.

And I ordered the Pinehurst fingerless mitts kit from the Squam store, in the Deepest Depth colorway. The pattern is by Natalie Selles and the yarn is dyed by Jill Draper. These mitts should be perfect for the chilly evenings at Squam this year. Naturally, since I'll be prepared with warm clothes, the weather this year will be tropical. Last year started out tropical and quickly turned winterish and I was woefully underdressed.

Running Progress
Nothing to see here. Move along now...

Okay...the little voice is telling me I'm having too much fun and that it's time to clean the house. The dust buffalo herd once again needs to be culled. And I need to figure out what we've got on hand for dinner. Tom cooks every night and it would be nice to give him a break from the kitchen.

Happy World Happy Day! And happy knitting!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

A New Year and a New Me

In the middle of the night, 2011 crept out the back door and in snuck 2012 (and over a month ago, I might add). I'm not sure how that happened. Or why I'm so surprised because that little sequence of events happens once a year right around this time. Each year, the new year seems to come a little faster the older I get. While that can be exciting (I'm moving into uncharted territory), it's also a tad bit frightening (I'm moving into uncharted territory).

December and January (and so far February) have been dull and dreary and I needed a little pick-me-up. Now, I don't consider myself a girly-girl--I hate to go shopping and wearing makeup is...well...time-consuming. I pride myself on being able to get by without wearing makeup and pity the poor souls who do. So imagine my surprise when late last year, I went on a bender of sorts.

My nephew was getting married and while I don't wear makeup on a daily basis (not even mascara or blush), I will wear it for special occasions. The problem was that all of my makeup was at least five years old, and in the world of cosmetics, it's considered a big no-no to even think about using a product that old. What's a girl to do when the stuff gets worn once a year, at most?

Enter Leigh, who recommended Jane Iredale mineral makeup. She pointed me to a salon that carries the line and after a lengthy consultation with their consultant, I walked out fully made-up and feeling (dare I say it?) rather beautiful. My wallet was also much, much, much lighter. There are several things about this makeup that I like--it looks "fresh" all day long, it has an indefinite shelf life, and it's an SPF20 sunscreen. No really, it is! I didn't believe it (marketing hype and all that) but I got the chance to prove it to myself. I went fishing with my brother the day after Thanksgiving. I wore the makeup (I felt silly and vain putting on makeup to go fishing, let me tell you). The day was sunny, the sun was reflecting off the water, there was no shade (we were in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay) and I didn't get sunburned! So I'm sold. I still don't like that it takes too much time to put on (and take off) but I supposed that's one of the prices to pay.

With the advent of my 53rd birthday (yikes!), I started to go through yet another phase of feeling like I looked frumpy and dumpy and decidedly middle-aged. And my clothes no longer pleased me (most being at least six years old and many being much older than that). I hate shopping with a passion which is why I like shopping at Nordstrom: they stick you in a dressing room and keep bringing clothes to you. And if you use their Personal Stylist service (totally free, by the way), they have at least a dozen outfits already waiting for you! Yes, their clothes are expensive but in my opinion, it's well worth it. I'm very happy with my purchases and probably won't have to go shopping again for another six years!

Running Update
Run? What's that? Hee hee...I'm still working long, stressful hours and am finding that long, stressful hours aren't conducive to running, or anything else for that matter. My running goal this year is to complete a 50-mile race in November, but right now that goal is seriously at risk and might need revising. I've been running at most, four to six miles every couple of weeks. Tom, on the other hand, is ramping up his training for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 in May and running one (or more) 50K runs every other weekend. He makes me look like a slacker.

Knitting News
As always, there are lots of things to knit and not enough time to knit them. In addition to the hat I'm knitting for a coworker who was diagnosed with breast cancer, I'm knitting (or will be) two Baby Surprise Jackets for coworkers' babies. Unfortunately for me, the babies surprised the parents by arriving early (and fortunately, in excellent health). I'm at the gauge swatch stage and it seems that I need to go up at least two needle sizes to get gauge. So we'll see. Either the jackets will be too small for the tiniest of newborns or else the BSJs will fit the babies when they become teenagers. Gauge is fickle.

The other project on the needles is the Elizabeth R shawl, the first offering of the 2012 Shakespeare in Lace club from Wooly Wonka Fibers. I want to say this shawl's for me, but I don't think the color suits me, even though I like it. So far it's a wonderful knit and even though I had to perform surgery not once but three times (and for the same mistake), I'm enjoying the knitting immensely. The little pops of red and teal in the gold enchant me. Here's a photo (pre-surgery):

2012 should be the year I knit from the stash (yarn clubs notwithstanding). I started cleaning out the closet in my office/fiber room and was rather shocked to see how much fiber I had squirreled away. I need to cull the stash and will be putting yarn in the Trade/Sell stash category on Ravelry, so stop by for a little shopping.

That's about it for now. The blog has been way too quiet of late. I'm doing a lot of writing and editing at work and have temporarily lost the will to write for fun, even in random bullet points.
With any luck, the work writing will taper off in the next couple of weeks and I'll resume blogging more frequently than once every two or three months.

Happy knitting!