Thursday, August 30, 2012

Last Sunday

Last Sunday started off all wrong. We woke up in the morning and decided to go to the "dog beach" in New Jersey, so from a sleepy state in bed, Robb reserved a zipcar on his phone, and I set about making some iced coffee. We left the house in a rush, took the subway two stops to the most unfortunately named subway stop (Flushing), and then when we got above ground, Robb received a voicemail saying that the people who had our zipcar were going to be late. Real late.

We decided to cancel.

On the way back home--no dog beach, no ocean--I got terribly cranky. I wanted to swim, damn it! And here I was, locked in this ugly Brooklyn jail, all stupid concrete and asphalt. On the way back to our house, Robb noticed some people walking by us with towels over their shoulders on their way back from the McCarren Pool. He made me go ask them if the line was long, and they said, no, there's no line at all. We knew right then that we would go the giant public pool that we had never been to! All this time, we had thought that it would suck, figuring it would be crowded, gross, with dirty kids running around everywhere. Not was pretty and blue and big and open, and we swam some laps and snoozed on our towels. From that point on, the day looked up.

And as inspiration for this coming weekend--nay, the last weekend of what truly feels like summer--I wanted to post some inspirational photos from my last Sunday. It is my sincerest wish, dear friends, that your weekend will deliver.

This is a lettuce plant that bolted. Like, beyond bolted. I think it's pretty. It's also probably pretty bitter.
This is a supersteak tomato that soon enough will be ready for eating. 
And these are our wet towels and bathing suits, hanging up after a day of swimming. (The Ciroc towel, by the way, was my prize for winning the Michael McDonald singing competition one night at NitaNita...proud memory, for sure.) 
Here are two rising loafs of bread that I decided to make on a whim. They were very salty. Which is great if you like salty bread (I do).
Here are the almonds that I accidentally spilled in my purse. I had to dump them on the counter, which always feels classy.
And here is the binding on my newest Alabama Chanin dress. It's sloppy and it looks like straw, an aesthetic choice that I feel okay about.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Art of Endurance

I meant to write this post about two months ago. It was while I was on my stomach, sweating buckets in a Bikram yoga class, wanting to murder the instructor who held us in Eagle just a moment longer than usual. It was during the week that Robb came with me to class to see what this Bikram yoga thing was all about. (Though he had never done yoga before, and he was awfully shaky in the balancing sequence, he participated in every posture and never once sat down, which I found incredible). It was also during the time when Megan was about to have her baby, and we talked on the phone about what delivery would be like. Could she do natural child birth? She knew she would try. She knew she would insist. She knew that her mother and her grandmother, and every mom on the planet before not so long ago, had had natural childbirth (and many, in fact, lived to tell the tale), but no one--not even her mother or grandmother--could tell her what it felt like. No one could tell her what type of resources she would need to tap into to prepare, to endure. It seemed that will was the main factor, as it seems to be in just about all of life. 

I don't know that anyone is born with more will or internal strength than another, but I do think that some of us are lucky to have been given an opportunity to test our strength (and win) at an early age. My first memory of this was on a backpacking trip when I was eight years old. That summer (and for the next several that followed), my parents would pull down backpacking gear from the rafters and spread it about on the garage floor, making lists, checking and double-checking that each of us had one canteen, one sierra cup, one fork, one knife, one spoon, a flashlight, a pocket knife, enough clothes to stay cool and warm (but not too many clothes). There were ropes to tie the food in the trees away from the bears, tiny futuristic stoves that weighed about a pound, and filters to turn stream water into drinkable water. And when it was all in good order, they would start to pack, seeing what would fit. I can't recall how much Erin and I carried (I'd guess between 20 and 30 pounds), but I do believe my dad carried a 50-pound pack, which is insane. Once we were all set, off we would drive to the Sierras to meet three or four other families, where we would pick up the next leg of the John Muir trail, hiking 40 or so miles in about a week.

To pass the time on particularly grueling switchbacks (those are trails on mountains so steep they traverse the hillside horizontally, going back and forth in a zigzag up the mountain), us kids would often talk about fast food, dreaming about how many taco supremes we were going to get from Taco Bell once we got the hell off this mountain. One time we crossed paths with a guy riding a pack mule and he handed us a warm Coke to share...I will never forget the delicious burning sting of my two sips of hot soda.

Around day four of one of these trips, we left our tents and our packs and took a day trip--our goal was to climb to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite. This was supposed to be a great day...what we had all been looking forward to the entire hike. We had all gazed upon Half Dome from the floor of Yosemite valley, but not one of us had ever stood on top of it (and with good's a pain in the ass and a motherfucker of a hike). That's the part I didn't know. When I heard "day trip" and "leave your pack at camp," I was filled with glee, but upon realizing that this side trip was an 11 mile hike with a wildly steep incline...well, something in me snapped. First, I stopped talking. With every step I was filled with a wild rage, wondering why the hell we would be walking anywhere that did not take us closer to the cars. I do believe there were words exchanged with my mom. There was a long sulky sit-down on a boulder where I decided that nothing would change my foul mood. EVER. AGAIN. But seeing as turning around was not an option, something not unlike an ignition turned over inside of me, and suddenly I was off. Fuck this mountain, fuck this trail, fuck all of you who made me come here, I will get to the top of this mountain and I will get there faster than you. 

My mom told me later that she was worried I was going to hyperventilate, I was walking so fast. But I didn't. Instead, the most miraculous thing happened. During my solitary hike up that mountain, my footsteps turned into some sort of meditation, and by the time I reached the final rocky switchbacks leading up to the plateau at the foot of Half Dome, I didn't feel angry anymore. 

This is my first memory of endurance. 

And this is what I find so interesting. I don't think endurance is a physical thing. I think it is the story we tell ourselves when we are in an uncomfortable moment--no matter how big or small. It's how we talk ourselves through it. It's how we distract ourselves. Or how we allow ourselves to stomp our feet, and how we eventually listen to an inner-voice that tells us, frustratingly, that it's going to be okay, that it can't go on forever. I know it sounds crazy, but I think about this sometimes when I'm knitting and it feels like I will NEVER finish the back of the sweater. I think about this all the time when I'm in yoga. When it is 100 degrees and I can't imagine holding my leg straight and my foot in the air for another moment. But then I do. And oh, how wonderful it is when the breeze blows into the studio and I think, why do I even need television when the universe gives us such amazing gifts as the combination of sweat and breeze? 

As we climbed up the backside of Half Dome, I do believe we all felt a bit of this same sweat-and-breeze sense of wonder. How could you not? Looking at our smiles in the photo above (I'm second from the front, going through a chubby, awkward phase--note the pink sweatshirt with teddy bears and heavy bangs), you would not exactly suspect we were four days out in the wilderness and had just hiked 11 miles. Oh, but the view from the could you not smile?
This week, I return to Bikram yoga. I haven't been in three weeks and I'd be lying if I said I weren't a little bit scared. I suspect it will be a lot like starting over, and my anticipation of discomfort is sky high. But at some point, I plan to remind myself that the instructor will open a door and there will be a breeze. That the next class will be easier, that I will get stronger, and that an hour and a half cannot last forever. At that point, I do believe, I will have persevered.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Crafting in the Moment

Friends, I took a little break. It was not exactly intended, but not exactly surprising either. If I had to pinpoint a cause for this break, I would say it's an end of summer ennui, a large workload followed by a lovely vacation to California, and a series of moments when inspiration struck, but I was far from a computer.

The break, however, was not for lack of making things. In the past few weeks alone, there has been the completion of a second wedding quilt, dozens of rows knitted on a sweater, the construction of a six-layer pink ombre cake, and I made the acquaintance of a certain baby Frida, who modeled a particularly cute hand-knitted seed-stitch hoodie for me. And yet, I haven't taken a photo of a single thing. Not exactly intentionally. In fact, I really did mean to photograph them. But when Megan put the sweater on Frida, I completely forgot to reach for the camera. And when I gave the quilt to my parents, I declared that I would take photos in natural light the next day (and then proceeded to forget to do that for the next five days). The cake? Didn't bring my camera to the party...there was flourescent lighting in the kitchen anyway, so it would have been a wash.

But the truth behind the matter is this: I've grown a bit weary of the beautification of craft, the trendiness of craft, and the expectation of perfection. (And believe me, I know this sounds crazy coming from a craft book editor, since these three merits are absolutely part of the job.) But lately, I've found that there is something disconcerting about a perfectly executed creation, an impeccably styled photograph...rather than thrilling me as it once did, I've been feeling like it gets away from the heart of the creation. I guess you could say that I miss seeing the hand of the maker, the mistakes, the surprises. As I peruse some of the most vibrant DIY blogs on the planet and admire their offerings, I sometimes find myself wondering, is this what my life is supposed to look like? (Note: this is not what my life looks like.) The sensation reminds me of the anti-Martha battle-cry of the late '90s/early 2000s, when I would hear my mom cursing in front of the television as Martha Stewart demonstrated the how-to for some gorgeous decoration. "I hate her. But I can't stop watching!" (I might be paraphrasing.) Only now it's not just a single's a whole internet full of Marthas with creations that we can't stop watching, and the trends that float through Pinterest repeat more reliably than a chevron bedspread. In recent months, I looked on in amazement as people from all walks of life considered the merits of filling mason jars with salad for each day of the week, and I still can't help but wonder how good Friday's salad will be and if the lettuce won't be just a wee bit wilty.

Not that I am immune to salad jar craft ideas! I am, after all, a person who not many months ago went to the trouble of making her own cheese, and I am also a daughter of the Sassy Magazine generation, who lived to tell the tale of dyeing her hair with Kool-aid and chamomile tea. I only started knitting in 2005 when the bandwagon pulled up in San Francisco, and I still to this day take on all manner of projects that will likely not look as good or taste as yummy as the variety that can be bought at the store down the street. Nevertheless, I will never stop making things. I guess the difference is that, in the last few weeks, I have just been trying to enjoy it for myself. The way I used to. Before the internet, before blogs, before everyone was an amateur photographer, before I started making books. There was a time when I used to make things only for the sake of showing myself I could do it, and showing someone else that I loved them. To that end, it's been sort of nice to take a brief hiatus, to live in the moment of making and giving without documentation. When Frida wore the sweater I made for her, I held her in my arms and rocked her about, completely forgetting to grab my camera. And that is probably a good thing.

This isn't to say I won't be sharing creations here anymore! Because, well, that would be pointless. There are still many many reasons to share and enjoy, just as there are many many reasons to sometimes take a break from sharing. I just wanted to let you know where I've been and where I am and what I've been thinking. Do you ever feel this way, too?

Finally, despite all of my grand declarations in this post, I did want to share one of my recent creations...the only one I did think to photograph. It is not very good and it is certainly not trendy. It's a watercolor pencil sketch I did at Alpine Lake, sitting on the shore with my mom and my aunt, each of us with a sketchpad in our lap and a grip of pencils in our hands. My aunt declared my shading to be wimpy and filled in the shadows of the lake for me, and later, my mom taught me how to wet the brush and blend the colors. This is one of my favorite creations, because it is laden with laughter, advice, sunscreen, and the memory of that perfect golden day.