Saturday, December 26, 2009

Exactly When is the Fat Lady Going to Start Singing??

I know that I am not alone in feeling completely crushed by stress of the holiday season, and this year my personal Stress-O-Meter was reading off the chart.  But the really funny thing is, I wasn't exactly sure why. 

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday.  I love the decorations, the cookies, and wrapping gifts.  It's fun to take my boys shopping for their Dad and Grandmother, complete with a visit to Santa for a picture.  I love all of that.  I usually look forward to it all year.  I spend hours sewing and knitting and crafting gifts for my family and friends.  But not this year.  I couldn't manage to muster my typical level of Christmas cheer, let alone maintain it on a consistent basis.

 Not all of the gifts I had intended to make got done.  The house is only about half decorated.  I discovered that my mild allergy to pine trees is now something I have to pay attention to, so I didn't help decorate the tree this year.  I had to beg a good friend of mine to use her house for the New Year's Eve party I wanted to host because there's a chance I may need another knee surgery, which would be scheduled to happen on Dec. 30.  I just can't deal with the stress of having people come to my house and being hostess the day after surgery.

This is not to say that I no longer enjoy the holiday or that I spent the entire season unhappy or miserable, because there were some really, really great times.  I did manage to find or make what turned out to be the perfect thing for my children and a few of my friends, and seeing their faces when they opened the gifts was absolute bliss for me.  The party for adult students where I take TaeKwonDo class was a blast and a half. We went to hear my friend sing in her church choir, and were amazed to hear just how beautiful her voice is.  We had snow, and we all enjoyed it to it's fullest.  Even though my husband didn't understand the emotional emptiness I was experiencing, he came to the rescue and did a lot of the things that I couldn't seem to get done, and I am extraordinarily grateful for this. 

And then it hit me when I was putting my oldest son to bed last night.  He said that while this year's Christmas was pretty good, it wasn't as fun or exciting as it has been over the past few years, and that he was a little disappointed because of it.  He compared this year's quiet, family-only celebration to the past few years when we had large gatherings for Christmas dinner and a party afterwards that seemed to last most of the day and evening.  I told him that Christmas, even though it's a very special day, is still a lot like other days.  Some days are better than others, and it's the same with holidays.  Maybe this year wasn't all that Charlie and I were hoping it would be and at times it was a bit of a struggle to get through.  Maybe our expectations were too high.  But that's okay, because it was still good and we have a lot to be thankful for.  Next year, things will be better, but for now, I'm glad it's over.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fire and Rain

It's a dreary rainy day here in southern Connecticut.  My boys have been begging to have a fire in the fireplace for some time now, and today is the perfect day to indulge that, even though it isn't particularly cold outside.  I have been working on some Christmas knitting, tending the fire, and being generally impatient about when it might start snowing.  There is a chance it may snow here, but it's just not happening fast enough for me.  Aside from all the usual reasons a person might like snow, for me, it makes the knitting more enjoyable.  Watching the snow silently fall as the birds come and go from our feeders, enjoying the warmth of my home and the wool in my lap is as close as it gets to a perfect day for me.

But for now, I will have to be content with watching the rain fall as I sit by the fire and knit.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Out of the Zone

Normally, I walk around in what I like to call a "Politics Free Zone" (the PFZ, for short).  It roughly makes up the three square feet that surround me and while in it, I try not to talk about politics.  The whole point of it is that, while I have my strong views on various subjects, and have registered with a certain political party in the US so that I can vote in primary elections, I do believe that we can all learn something from those we disagree with.  Not all of my friends share my position or my party affiliation, and that's fine.  My little zone allows me to see the person for who they really are.  Sometimes I learn from them, and they from me. 

Case in point that doesn't involve politics in any way:
In order to pass my black belt test, I was required to do a seated meditation for one hour.  To meet this goal, I found some people who were also interested in meditation for whatever reason, and we contracted with my yoga instructor to help us get through a one-hour sit.  All went well.  We met regularly for several weeks, were introduced to various forms of meditation, and worked our way up to one hour.

The day of the scheduled meditation, a classmate and I were doing our sit in the hour that preceded our normal class in the classroom.  In the last ten minutes or so, another black belt came into the class with a friend who was trying out TaeKwonDo.  They saw us sitting, and instead of either 1) leaving the room out of respect for what we were doing (let's face it, the guy was a black belt and knew we were doing this for our test); or 2) preparing silently in a far corner of the room, the pair decided to giggle and carry on like school girls.  To say we were furious was an understatement.

However, when I told my meditation teacher about the incident, I did not receive the sympathy I was looking for.  She looked me right in the eye and said, "Now they are your teachers."  Wow.  Spot on, perfect, no-frills wisdom.

Now, I'm not saying that this will happen in all political debates.  I am merely saying that we all have something to learn from unlikely sources, and that some of those sources are harder to listen to than others.  We might get something back that we weren't prepared for, but that doesn't mean we should shut it out.

But right now, I'm stepping out of my PFZ, and this is what I have to say:

In terms of human rights: we are all people.  All People deserve All Rights.  Everywhere.  Some are NOT more equal than others.  If some were more equal than others, it would just make us pigs.

I am now back in the PFZ.  I feel much better now.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Warning: Actual Knitting Content

Since today is Thanksgiving, I believe that I should finally come to terms with the fact that I am too far behind in my Christmas knitting to be able to catch up in time.  And still get some sleep, that is. The last few years must have been aberrations to my normally disorganized way of approaching the holidays, as by this time I had a big bag full of knitted stuff that I had set aside as gifts.  I should have known that it wouldn't last.

This year, the bag contains only one ribbed scarf made out of two colors of Noro Kureyon, and maybe one scarf left from last year.  While I do realize that I have not yet perfected control over time and space, and that I do have a house and two young children to take care of, the lack of knitting intended for friends has left me feeling rather inadequate.  I mean, I love to give my knitting to people who appreciate it-as does any knitter-and I love the fact that my friends and family do understand that handmade gifts are my way of expressing my love for them.  Which I have done for the last few years, but won't be doing this year. 

My paranoid side has been busy praying that they won't see the lack of knitting as some kind of lessening of my feelings about them. My rational side knows this isn't true, but the paranoid side is really, really loud.

The rational side has also reminded me, quietly, that now would be an excellent time to get started on Christmas knitting for 2010.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How to Know When You're Middle-Aged; or When 40 Really Is 40 and NOT the New 20

1. All the presets in your car radio are tuned to stations that play the music you listened to in high school & college.  Even the music you didn't like.

2. You stop waffling about getting a tattoo & go out and get one.

3. After the 4th knee operation, you realize that maybe you should have started TaeKwonDo at age 14, not 40.

4. You refuse to give up TaeKwonDo not because it's too much fun (even though it is) but because there is a good number of really gorgeous men in the class, and not so many women. You are old enough to understand all the benefits of this particular male to female ratio.

5. You ask one of the younger gorgeous TKD guys to take you for a ride on his motorcycle.  Since you started with the tattoo by trying to scratch stuff off of your bucket list, you might as well do this, too.

6. You sign up for Facebook and start a blog, just to see what all the fuss is about.

7. You have to get help to sign up for both of these because you don't understand how any of this stuff works.

8. Once on Facebook, you mistake a post from a teenager as an expression of angst & depression, only to be laughed at because what she posted was lyrics to a song, which makes your words of comfort seem really, really stupid.

9. You take up spinning (on a spinning wheel, not the exercise) in the hope that it will help negate any nerdy associations with knitting.  And you like it anyway, even though this plan didn't work the way you wanted it to.

10. You really want to add a picture of your tattoo to this post, but you don't have a 12 year old handy to show you how to get the pictures out of the camera & onto your blog.

**Sigh**

Must be time for a nap.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The More Things Differ, The More They Are Alike

It recently occurred to me just how much all of my interests have in common, which is rather surprising, given how varied they are.  While knitting and spinning require different skills, different hand motions, and each has it's own challenges and problems, are alike in that they are both fiber arts.  And yet it strikes me how much both of these activities have in common with my study of TaeKwonDo. 

I came into TKD after a rather lengthy stay in the land of yoga and realized that the two practices, to me anyway, seem to be two sides of the same coin.  The yin and the yang, if you will.  Both require mental focus, physical strength and flexibility, balance, and the ability to be completely drop into that mental "zone" where you are perfectly aware of your body and your surroundings.  They both share the same roots, and it's really quite amazing how many poses and stances the two disciplines share.  Yet whereas the yoga that I practiced was generally mellow, relatively quiet and meditative, the TKD requires lots of yelling, sparring, and strong, fast movements.

Although I must admit that my knitting & spinning have resulted in yelling and language I do not want my children to hear, neither requires sparring or significant physical strength.  All of these activities do result in that same mindful state of awareness and of being in the moment.  When I am knitting or spinning, I focus on the task at hand, the feel of the fiber or needles in my hands, and the motion required to produce a stitch or for drafting the fiber out for spinning.  I can choose to listen to the clicking of the needles or the faint knocking sound my wheel sometimes makes.  I can focus on the rythym of my work.  I can choose to do none of these and let my mind go where it pleases and allow my motions to become the background for the mind's wanderings; a sweet release indeed after a prolonged period of intense focus or stress.

I have tried on many occasions to start a regular meditation practice, based (loosely) on the buddhist tradition.  It's not that I don't enjoy the sitting or the experience of doing this; in fact I like it quite a bit.  It's just that I have found that I am getting a lot of the same benefits that meditation has to offer from my fibery pursuits and TKD.  This is not to say that these activities are a replacement for a dedicated meditation practice, but ways carry that practice around with me and perhaps learn to apply it to more of my aspects of my life.

For example, knitting in busy public places seems to calm the commotion that surrounds me and I am drawn into my work.  The noises soften to the point where I am aware of them, but they are no longer intrusive.  The bustle of the people around me seems not so much to slow down, but to be farther away than it really is.  Performing the same activity in my home when no one else is around allows me to actively listen to the music playing or enjoy the sound of the rain on the windows: sensations I might take for granted or miss altogether were I not still, quiet and focused.

Practicing TKD in a crowded classroom has brought me into a very similar mental state, in which I am aware of the movement and sounds surrounding me, but they do not interfere with my concentration.  The rest of the students and the sounds of the class fall away as I try to perfect my stances and hand motions.  It's almost as if the classroom gets bigger and everyone has their own personal practice space.  I am aware that my muscles ache and that the room is so hot that my clothes are soaked through with sweat, but these thoughts retreat into the background of my consciousness.  I am able to be entirely present in and mindful my body.  I allow only one thought to dominate at a time:  Feel the floor under your feet. Make a perfect stance. Twist into the block. Balance. Breathe.

All of this has made me wonder if people are drawn to their interests because they have some element(s) in common, and if that element is something that the practioner needs for some personal reason.  I know this is true for me, is it for you?  What do your interests have in common?  Is there a link that you had not noticed or thought about before?  I invite you to share your thoughts on the subject.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009