Finding “Community”…

knittingdrawingIt’s been a few months now that I’ve been on my own, since my daughter and I parted ways and she was married. At that point I knew it was important for me to find “community” with others, build new friendships and engage in the world at large more fully. I took stock of my interests and developed what I called a “4-pronged” approach to having regular contact with others; the 4 “prongs” for me are: spiritual, creative, musical and literary.

I started on the first prong last April, and it was a stuttering start at first. I began looking for spiritual community but found the first places I looked to not be my cup of tea. It was uncomfortable, they weren’t very friendly, just not a good fit for me. I had to define what a spiritual community I could live with would look like. I needed a “thinking” place where people were more important than policies, helping others was more important than being “right,” where no one would be marginalized or excluded, and where mercy and kindness were the order of the day. I was lucky enough to find that on my third try, and although my work schedule interfered at first, I’ve been able to settle into my spiritual community and I am enjoying the friendships forming there.

With the first prong well under way, I sought community on the second prong, creative. For me at this point, that meant fiber work. As luck would have it, an excellent yarn shop relocated nearby just recently, and now I can knit and crochet with a group of people every week. Even when we are not necessarily speaking for long intervals, just working together companionably, there is a peacefulness and cohesiveness that is soothing and is fulfilling the requirements of my second prong quite well.

I was hoping to start on the third prong, musical, yesterday, but an event at the first prong conflicted with that, so that took precedence. But I have a place to play music and sing (as able) with others and will build that up over time. I’m also looking into playing with smaller groups, so I’m keeping my ear to the ground for opportunities to do that.

The fourth prong, literary, is my writing. Writing itself is generally a solitary pursuit, but there are times when it’s good to come together with others to touch base, receive some constructive help and encouragement, and write in community with others. My work schedule makes it difficult to write with the group I’d like to be a part of, plus there’s the expense. But I’m working out those details and expect to pursue this fourth prong soon.

I do have to look at being balanced, however, which is always my weak area. I tend to overinvolve myself and then burn out from skimping on other areas of my life which need attention. I discovered I have no day of the week now just for downtime, and I know I need that. So I’m trying to work that in as well. But I’m enjoying this new life; it’s nice to participate in and be a part of a “community.”

A Contemplative Walk…

sumclabyrinthI have been entranced by labyrinths for some time, so I was pleased that the progressive church I currently attend has a labyrinth room. One can walk the labyrinth whenever the church office is open, but time is set aside in the evening on the first Thursday of each month with soft lighting around the edge of the labyrinth, candles and peaceful music in the background, and all are invited to walk there.

Labyrinths have been used in many cultures and faiths for centuries.  A well-known labyrinth of stone is the one constructed in the 1200s AD in the Chartres Cathedral near Paris where thousands of visitors walk its path each year. Labyrinths of various sizes and styles are becoming more and more common in the United States; there are 120 in Oregon alone. Near my home is an outdoor labyrinth in the classical style on the back lawn area of a Presbyterian church. The labyrinth at my church, in the photo above, is in the medieval style.  (click HERE for more on labyrinth styles, if interested)

According to the Veriditas website, “walking the labyrinth reduces stress, quiets the mind, grounds the body and opens the heart.” If one is walking the labyrinth as a “spiritual exercise,” the idea is to bring a spiritual question or thought to contemplate while walking. One is to clear the mind beforehand, perhaps by sitting quietly and taking some deep breaths, then walk slowly to the center, pausing for a time, even sitting, in reflection, then exit in the same slow, deliberate fashion, with further contemplation and reflection afterwards.

I brought no particular expectations to my first labyrinth walk this week; I merely wanted to open myself to the experience. A friend and I went together and we sat for a time in the dim quiet, then she tapped the “singing bowl” at the entrance with the small mallet and we started. I walked slowly, carefully, and concentrated on the thought I’d brought to the table. I started with this personal concern, but as I walked I let my thoughts go where they would and I found them expanding, from thinking about myself to those I knew and then farther out to world issues that weigh upon so many of us these days. As I walked I felt an increase in despair, particularly over recent items in the news, and the way life seems ever more fear-filled. I let those thoughts continue, but then I paused and gazed at the very old stained-glass window in front of me that had a small pane with the words, “Peace I leave with you,” which somehow made me feel incrementally better. I continued walking and exited the labyrinth, sitting again for a time before leaving the building.

There are those who feel walking a labyrinth is a life-changing experience, those who even feel having done so “saved their lives,” so to speak. I was not expecting a life-changing experience but hoping for a bit more peace and clarity, and I feel I did find that to a degree. What I plan to do is walk the labyrinth once a month and see what benefits may come over time.

Have you walked a labyrinth? What was your experience like? Please share.

The Monday Post, Vol. 36 — A Tiny Christmas This Year

I wasn’t going to do anything at all about Christmas this year. I am working Christmas and New Year’s, my daughter and I are both getting ready to move to our respective new residences in a very few weeks, and with planning and packing I really didn’t want to do anything special for the holidays.

About a week ago my daughter asked, “Well, when are you going to put up the tree?” I shook my head. “I’m not putting up a tree this year.” She looked horrified, as if I’d run over a nest of baby squirrels, and exclaimed, “Not putting up a tree? But you always put up a tree! It’s Christmas!” She and her fiance had just finished trimming the tree at his apartment and she expected me to have a similar level of enthusiasm for starting the decorating process.

“Not this year. I don’t want to drag out that big tree that takes 5 strings of lights and all those ornaments, and especially I don’t want to have to take it down and pack it all away with everything else I have to pack.” I was firm in my decision. “I’ll put it up AND take it down,” she promised. “Fine, if you want to do it, but I’m not getting involved,” was my final statement. But she caught a cold and I was too busy, and we remained without a tree at home.

But on watching a few Christmas movies, seeing the decorations in the stores, listening to Christmas music and experiencing the seasonal goodwill in the area, I began to think I ought to do something for Christmas after all. Then I remembered the small tabletop tree we used as an extra decoration and last evening hunted for it in the closet and brought it downstairs. As it was rather like a “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree in appearance, I decided to give it a face lift.

The little tree came with a sparse string of white lights, so I quickly unwound those from the branches. I got out one of the multicolored strands we use for the big tree and several red and gold shiny baubles to replace the small brushed silver plastic ornaments that came with the little tree. My daughter came home while I was rummaging for something to help stabilize the tree, as it tended to topple easily. She came up with the idea of using her lighthouse cookie jar to give the base some extra support and winding the lights around both the tree and the lighthouse, and the effect was charming (click on the thumbnail for a larger photo).

So it’s not that I won’t be doing anything at all for Christmas, really. I’ll be going to church on Christmas Eve, and then spending time with my daughter and her fiance at his home. We’ll exchange a few gifts, and my daughter may prepare something special for dinner Christmas Day. It’ll just be a scaled-down Christmas…a tiny Christmas. But quite all right, stress-free and enjoyable indeed.

I hope all of you are enjoying your Christmas season as well!

The Monday Post, Vol. 30 — Tea Time

I’m very fond of British dramas; I’m a fan of Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge, The Paradise, and Larkrise to Candleford. But one past British drama, which my mother enjoyed decades ago, I’d never seen, and that was the original “Upstairs, Downstairs,” series which started in 1971. However, all of the episodes from the five seasons are available on Amazon.com, so I watch one every day or so, and am now midway through the second season.

The serving and drinking of tea as part of “Upstairs, Downstairs” is particularly prominent and I have long been fascinated by the 4 o’clock “tea time” observed in Great Britain, not so much for how it is observed, but the fact that one pauses during the day to enjoy a cup of tea and perhaps something light (or heavy, depending on the time of day) to eat with it.

Because I work at home and am busy most of the day, I’ve essentially stopped having a lunch time, eating at my desk as I work, not stopping for anything unless I have to. But the idea of pausing during my day has begun to appeal to me, and I’ve developed the habit of stopping to have a cup of tea during the day, and it relaxes me.

What I find relaxing is not just the drinking of the tea, but the entire process of having a cup of it. I like getting out the familiar small red tea pot and my cheerful cup and saucer, measuring a heaping teaspoon of loose tea into the tea pot’s mesh infuser, boiling the water and pouring it over the tea, then letting it steep for 5 minutes. Then I pour it into the cup, add a teaspoon of sugar and a bit of soy milk, and sit down to enjoy it. The whole preparation takes perhaps ten minutes, but in those ten minutes setting everything out and waiting for the water to boil and the tea to brew helps me to slow down and changes my perspective on the rest of my day.

Although my current favorite tea (not really a “true” tea, since it’s herbal) is vanilla rooibos, a pause to eat or drink something that one finds relaxing during the day can be anything. My father liked to stop his work and have a mid-afternoon Snickers bar. My mother was fond of stopping to enjoy a bit of coffee-flavored candy. A friend of mine who also works at home likes to relax with a bit of hard cheese, olives, bread and a small glass of wine.

What food or drink ritual do you have that you stop for and find relaxing during your day? Please share!

The Monday Post, Vol. 26 — Keep Calm and Knit On

Keep Calm and Knit OnI have written in the past that one of the things about knitting that I enjoy in particular is the soothing, comforting, zen quality of rhythmic stitching. I feel I am under a fair amount of stress currently, which will continue through the end of this year; it’s not serious, but unavoidably circumstantial, and knitting is my buffer zone as I continue to cope and wade my way through it all. More than once in recent days I’ve called a timeout on myself and grabbed my knitting furiously, spending 15 minutes or so settling into the rhythm with my needles and coming out much calmer on the other side.

I mentioned last week that, among other things, I was no longer going to knit with ugly, cheap yarns I didn’t like. I went out last Monday and paid a visit to my favorite local yarn shop (LYS), Northwest Wools, and made a couple of nice purchases, a ball of Queensland Dream and two hanks of Berroco 001Linsey yarn. Dream is a pretty cotton/polyamide blend, with a resulting bit of sparkle. Linsey is very much like it sounds, a nice cotton/linen blend.

I also was gifted with a hank of Cascade Yarns’ Ultra Pima in Pansy last Friday by my daughter; this is one of my favorite cotton yarns, as it has long cotton fibers that feel very silky to the touch.

So I set to working on new projects right away. With the Dream yarn I am making a cowl:

With the Ultra Pima I’m making what will be a zippered seed stitch clutch that will be lined with black-and-purple floral challis, and will make a change purse to match:

I haven’t yet started a project with the Linsey yarn, but it will likely be a scarf of sorts. For good measure, here is the lace scarf I completed last week with Ultra Pima in Wine:

I tinkered with this photo a bit, as the camera didn’t capture the garnet red depth of color, and I am still unable to convey the richness of this hue. My favorite color is red, and this yarn was a gift from my daughter from a past Mother’s Day.

So I have some small projects to keep me in knitting for awhile now. I knit during breaks from my work, during football-game commercials, before going to sleep. It’s my lifeline to the peacefulness that’s often so elusive these days.

Also, I wanted to mention that this blog will be on hiatus the next two weeks, as I have out-of-town company coming and want to devote my full attention to them. I’ll be back with another entry on October 14th. Thank you for reading this blog; I appreciate the nice feedback and emails I receive. Have a good two weeks!

The Monday Post, Vol. 25 — Resolution!

Back in July I wrote a post about “My Passive-Aggressive Wardrobe,” where I described two items of clothing and a pair of shoes I didn’t like but didn’t seem to be able to get rid of. Today I was going through my closet and found several more items of clothing and another pair of shoes I didn’t like, either. Today was the day to get rid of all of them.

There were two long-sleeved t-shirts that had nothing wrong with them, but they brought back bad memories of a time when I wore them, and I’ve never worn them since. There were slingback black kitten-heel shoes with long pointy toes that were not only uncomfortable, they went out of style years ago. I found a pair of black capris that attracted every dog and cat hair for miles around that I had a particular loathing for. Out with them! And with the other items I listed back in July.

I’ve whittled down my knitting stash of yarn now, and after I completed a scarf the other day with very nice Cascade Yarns’ Ultra Pima I wanted to knit something else, and found all I had left was some horribly nauseating coral pink acrylic yarn that I’d bought online a few years back; “Soft Red,” it was called, and looked nice online on my monitor, but in person, not so much. I thought I’d save it for a practice yarn to try out new stitches, but I started working with it the other day and just couldn’t stand the color another minute.

So I’ve made a resolution: I will never own or wear clothes I don’t like, shoes I don’t like, have objects in my home that I don’t like, and will never knit or crochet with cheap ugly yarn again. I may have fewer things, and knit fewer and smaller projects, but I will like all of them and they will be welcome in my home.

This resolution will serve me well; when I move in a few months I will be downsizing to a studio apartment, so it was time to weed out the things I don’t want with me.  My daughter surprised me with a new hank of Ultra Pima yesterday, and tomorrow I am going to a couple of local yarn shops to replenish a bit of my yarn stash.

I have always been a person who likes to “travel light” through life, so ridding myself of these things has made me feel much better. I’m sure I’ll find other things throughout the townhouse to rid myself of before I move. It’s nice feeling lighter!

Project 52, Week 45 — Deliver Me!

Years ago when Netgrocer began their grocery delivery service, I was intrigued. I enjoyed shopping online, and the possibility of having time to peruse labels and brands and not even have to go the store was very appealing. Doing the weekly grocery shopping has never been one of my favorite activities; I just accepted it as one of life’s necessary evils. Could Netgrocer replace some of that? But they didn’t deliver fresh or frozen foods, and with the price and delivery fee it didn’t seem practical and would not have replaced my weekly in-person shopping anyway. I was envious of those who lived in cities with Peapod service and hoped that someday a local grocery shopping service would be available in my area.

Fast forward several years, and I had now moved from the Tampa area to Portland. Soon after I arrived I noticed both Safeway and New Seasons grocery delivery trucks in my neighborhood. New Seasons stopped delivering awhile after that, but I kept seeing the Safeway trucks. I shopped at Safeway from time to time, had gotten a “club card” to take advantage of the specials, and signed up for their email savings newsletter. They began sending me emails regarding their home delivery service, that I could try it for free the first time. I was tempted, but at that time I had access to a car on a regular basis and getting to the store to do the dreaded weekly shopping was no problem. I thought it might be a good idea to use the delivery service if I was ever sick and couldn’t get out to the store, but only if I was that sick; I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be the height of laziness to have groceries brought to me.

As most who follow my blog know, a few months ago I lost regular access to a car and began using Zipcar to run most of my errands, including the weekly shopping. But the day finally came when I needed groceries THAT DAY and of course the Zipcar was unavailable. So I justified to myself that this would be the day to have groceries delivered and I ordered them online from Safeway. I had read the online reviews of the service and though most were positive, some were negative and I was keeping my fingers crossed. Would they mess up my order, would they be late, would they not have the items available? But I needn’t have worried; it was on time, the order was perfect, and everything was available. I was pleased with this first delivery. Would this be doable more often?

The deliveries, of course, wouldn’t be free after that, but I noticed if I picked a 4-hour delivery window (not a problem since I work from home) the delivery fee would be half as much. I noticed this was about the same price I was paying to rent the Zipcar for an hour, plus I noticed that because the “club card” specials were also good for online purchases, I could shop very reasonably indeed. In fact, I saw that using the Safeway delivery service twice a month would save me about $50 a month in groceries and car rental fees. So I began doing that, and have been extremely happy with it. My orders are always right, on time, and only rarely does a substitution have to be made when an item is out of stock. I worried that someone else shopping for me wouldn’t pick out the best fresh fruits and vegetables, but they’ve been excellent.

There are only two items I use regularly that I can NOT get from Safeway: Vegenaise vegan mayo (even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian, try this product; you won’t want to go back to regular mayonnaise) and Earth Balance buttery spread; these I get when I’m out and about for other reasons and/or my daughter picks them up. Most of the other stores in the area do carry these two products; if Safeway did, I’d never have to shop for groceries anywhere else at all.

Will I keep using this service? For now, yes, and as long as it’s saving me money. My daughter and I plan to move across town early next year and it may be more convenient then for me to walk (or bike, when I get one eventually) to the store a couple of times a week to get what I need. But it’s been a big help so far and I couldn’t be more pleased. What a great service!