A funny thing happened yesterday when I was riding my bike: I fell off for the first time in my life. I was cycling on a muddy trail and having trouble getting much propulsion going when I spotted a stick across the trail. It wasn’t a big stick and I figured I could jet over it no problem, but because of my slow speed, my bike tripped on it, and fell over, pitching me onto the ground. I was going pretty slow, so really it wasn’t much of an accident, but it *was* surprising, and I had to laugh at myself as I sat there in the muck feeling myself over to make sure I wasn’t actually hurt.
My biggest fear about trail riding, and the reason I’ve stayed away from it all these years, is the potential for accidents like this one. I’m really a city rider, preferring pavement to packed earth, which explains why I’ve barely ridden since moving to this rural island. Lately though I’ve been itching to get back on my bike and I realized that in order to learn to love riding here, I’m going to have to get over this fear of falling so I can get off the windy (dangerous) rural roads and into the places the cars don’t go. Falling off my bike yesterday was a liberation of sorts, a demonstration that one can walk away from a small accident smiling, and a reminder of what to watch out for when navigating narrow footpaths.
Getting back on my bike has been part of a trajectory that started this summer with some changes in diet (lowering the refined carbs and moving to an intermittent fasting schedule) and a return to the gym. I started working with a trainer in a group setting in October and as part of that process I had to submit to an interview that included questions about when I had felt my best physical self. As out of shape as I was feeling at that moment, I instantly perked up when I talked about riding my bike to and from work every day, and my long distance backpacking trips of the past.
So I started this program with my instructor Tasha and a group of other women who were all at varying fitness levels. She started us off simple, with the goal of giving us a workout program using fitness bands, blocks, and body weight that we could do at home or anywhere, and incorporating core and recovery work into every session. At week three though, Tasha asked to see a show of hands for how many of us middle-aged women wanted to learn about lifting heavy weights: dead lifts, weighted squats, chest presses. Though a couple of the women were sure they *couldn’t* do dead lifts because of physical issues, everyone expressed some interest, and so the next week we showed up early to learn all about proper form.
I won’t bore you with the details except to say that even the people who had hesitated in the beginning found a form and a weight level that worked for them, and pretty soon everyone was coming early to fit in a heavy lifting session before the regular class. It’s been 3 and a half months since, and my body shape has really changed as a result. I’ve firmed up all over and lost close to 3 inches on my waist. When I flex my arms the muscles are noticeable, when I engage my abs I can see the contraction, my back is stronger than ever and when I’m steeling myself to dead lift my thighs are – well, they are solid!
This is not my first time at the exercise rodeo – I have a history of hiking, cycling, weight lifting and more – but this is the first time I’ve seen such dramatic change in so short a time period. I’ve been using yoga practice as a bit of a barometer as it’s one activity I’ve done pretty consistently for the last three years – and I have seen vast improvements in poses that require balance and strength in the last few weeks that I can only chalk up to the change in my weight lifting routine.
My weekly workout circuit includes walking, cycling, yoga, heavy weights, free weights and machines, and floor work for a total of six out of seven days doing something. Sometimes the something is a single yoga class (like this morning) or a walk, other times it’s power lifting. My workouts feel balanced and because my interview with Tasha was such a jolting reminder of what I’d been missing, I’m making sure to incorporate outdoor play a couple of times per week, rain or shine.
Until recently I had been holding tight to the believe that at my age (nearly 47) weight loss was pretty much impossible and my metabolism wasn’t supporting any great fitness improvements either. And though I’d been interested in power lifting in the past, I kept hearing the echoing voice of my last trainer telling me that “at your age, lots of people injure themselves with that kind of activity”, which put a fear in me, similar to the fear of falling off my bike on a trail, that injury now would mean I might never recover. Better to stick to the safe things: yoga, pilates, cardio machines, right?
These are the kinds of messages and fears that hold us back increasingly as we get older, as we experience more injury in our bodies, and as we absorb other people’s expectations of our bodies. One of the owners of the local gym (who is a weight lifting champ) says, “how much weight you can lift is in your mind as much as anything else.” And though I’m not sure that’s exactly true, I’m aiming to dead lift 200 pounds this year, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll meet that goal. Even at 47, and even though I’m sometimes afraid I might hurt myself. I feel good these days, I feel strong – and if I can just keep remembering that on the days I don’t feel like going to the gym – perhaps I’ll be fitter at 48, 49, and 50 than I am right now. That’s a goal worthy of getting over my fears for!
We are getting our annual three days of snow here on Gabriola Island, and since I know it will be mostly gone by the weekend I can say – sure is pretty. (If it were to go on any longer, I would become irritated – so it’s a good thing I live in a mild climate zone).
The photo above is from my studio, looking down at the house, the sauna and our California lilac bushes. When I look out the window from my work desk, this is what I see in front, to the left I get a peek-a-boo view of the grey ocean. Either way, it makes me glad that I work from home most of the time and that I have no plans to go anywhere today (except maybe the gym if the roads aren’t too bad this afternoon).
Since the Christmas holidays I’ve had a really hard time getting back to my regularly scheduled meditation and writing in the mornings, not to mention the fact that work is a big ole’ drag and I’m procrastinating on a number of things I need to get going on. The only thing that seems to have my attention at the moment really is weaving.
On Sunday night we had a ferocious windstorm which took out the power,, phone and Internet. While our power came back by Monday morning, the phone and Internet were out until yesterday (Tuesday) morning. That gave me a bit of a work reprieve which I used to finish winding the warp chains and get the shafts onto the loom for my latest project. I am in the process of putting heddles onto the shafts now – and then I will get to start dressing the loom for….. Sauna Towels!
This is a bit of an epic project for me as it involves all 8 shafts, the full width of my loom, and 780 ends that all need to be threaded through the reed and heddles. At 26 inches wide, these aren’t even as wide as I would like them to be, but it’s an experiment in what kind of lightweight toweling I can make that would be appropriate to a sauna. I’m using 16/2 cotton, finer than what I use for tea towels, and am setting it at 30 ends per inch in a twill pattern which will make sturdy but drapey cloth – or at least it should. I’m guessing at the weight inspired by a Turkish bath towel I was gifted (my husband is jealous of it whenever we have a sauna together and really wants me to weave him one).
Experienced weavers will tell you that if you don’t enjoy the process of setting up and dressing the loom, you can’t really enjoy weaving; after all, dressing the loom with a warp can take more time than weaving it off! Since taking up weaving again these last couple of months, I have found a mindset that really works for me in this regard which includes:
For all that weaving is thousands (perhaps even tens of thousands) of years old, it is still a strangely experimental process for the individual weaver at home. There are so many differences in equipment, fibre, what works for the individual body, set-up and so on – that pretty much everything in the weaving books and articles is just a guideline. A lot of it comes down to figuring it out yourself. This is something I did not realize in the beginning and was frustrated when things didn’t come out “just so” each time. Now I see that with persistent practice, I am getting a much more consistent warp and ultimately, a more consistent weave.
So as the snow falls here I am going to return to the side of my loom where I am counting out the last two shafts worth of heddles and then perhaps this evening, if the power doesn’t go out again, I’ll start to sley the reed. Given my measured pace, I might have this warp on and ready to go by Sunday.
Last week, on January 2nd, I did my Year Compass to close out the old and ring in the new year. This was the fifth year I’ve completed the booklet either before or just after the new year, and I definitely find it a helpful framework for thinking about my life.
The culmination of the workbook is a word to guide your year. Last year my word was Radiant. This year my word is Rooted. While last year I wanted to put myself out in the world, this year needs something different: my feet planted firmly where I stand, my hands reaching out and up, deepening my connections and feeling the connection with the elements. “Embodied” was another contender this year, as I’ve been so physically focused as of late, but rooted feels more encompassing of what I want and need to work on as we collectively face some pretty challenging times.
What follows are twenty goals and projects I will work on in the next year. Some are very specific (my dead lifting goal), others are more general (walk weekly). Some are space clearing/fixing while others are about technique and form. What I wanted to do was come up with a list of achievable items, within my control, that help deepen my relationship to people, my body, my spiritual and creative practices, and my home. Let’s see how many of these get done as we move forward from these early days of 2020:
There are of course other goals for 2020, like eleven more issues of Comfort for the Apocalypse, daily meditation, working out 3-4 times per week – but this list focuses on specific things with more intention. Simply doing this exercise (and the year compass) is a reminder of what it is that I value and need more of in my life, as well as what I can let go of.
So here we are 2020, let’s see if we can plant our feet firmly to withstand what’s coming.
So here we are. January 2nd 2020 – and I am feeling all the energy of a new year and a new decade as I do a massive studio purge and set my intentions for this first quarter and the year beyond it. The intention-setting is something I do annually, the studio purge just came on me with a bit of frenetic energy the other day, so I’m going with it.
In the past week I have gotten a lot of things out of cupboards and sorted them for selling, giving and recycling. What remains is being returned to the cupboards organized, in labelled bags (scraps for bag making, scraps for underwear making). I have a spinning wheel and fibre to drop off with someone on the weekend, and a garbage bag of brightly coloured chunky weight yarn set aside for a felting friend on the island. (Much of this material came into my life unbidden when I bought my big loom years ago and the seller forced me to take garbage bags of fibre along with me. It’s been taking up space ever since). While I am making a little bit of money towards the purchase of a new loom, it’s mostly just a relief to make space.
Which is a lot of what fueled the studio frenzy in the first place. I have decided on a new loom – a 10-shaft Woolhouse Gertrude with 60 inches of weaving width (the flying shuttle attachment makes it closer to 80 inches across). Although I don’t have the money to purchase it right at the moment, I decided to act as though I am getting it and make sure my space can accommodate a loom of that size. Short answer: yes. It did require that I rearrange my space though, and make better use of some aspects of my storage. It also required that I rethink my need to keep all the scraps!
Although I have been hard at it, I feel far from done with my purge – so my plan for January is to keep chipping away at it with a goal of having it all cleaned up and out for the end of the month. I also have cleaning the zendo and the pantry on the agenda for the next few days – as well as a weekly trip to the recycling centre penciled into my calendar so as to make getting things out of the house part of my weekly cleaning routine.
In previous years we have done The January Cure but now find that a lot of the daily assignments are chores that we have integrated into our regular life so it no longer serves our needs. However, in the spirit of the cure – which is to help us clear our space for a new year – I have created my own calendar that reflects my need for renewed and breathable studio space. I haven’t filled in all the blanks yet, but I’m sure as I continue along in the process there will be at least one task for each day.
I do love the energy around the new year, the cleaning and intention setting really works for my personality. It’s not that I think my life is deficient and needs fixing, but that I get a chance to step back and say “what is”, letting go of “what was”. That is a necessary breath to take every once and awhile. We don’t get a chance nearly often enough.
Up until this last week I had convinced myself that I was no longer interested in weaving. I warped my big loom with a blanket near the end of the summer, but the loom wasn’t really co-operating (I still use that loom sans brake with weight-tensioning instead) and rather than spend the time to figure it out, I let the project languish. And because that loom was warped and I wasn’t weaving on it, I somehow decided that I didn’t want to weave at all.
Flash forward to last week when I drew for the prize I had offered in my monthly mailing – a hand woven tea towel. I had wound the warp chain for this back in October, but it sat on the loom without action after that – until I was confronted with the draw and the fact I had a winner to weave that tea towel for. It took me a few days to warp the loom, and less than one day to weave off the three towels you see above. In that time I realized that I do enjoy the weaving process from start to finish, but I really don’t enjoy my bigger loom. I don’t enjoy weaving on it or setting it up, and the lack of brake is really more of a drag than I want it to be.
Now, I could spend more time fixing that loom than I already have (you may remember that I restored it over several months when I first moved to Gabriola after purchasing it for very little in Vancouver). During that time I learned a lot about looms in general, and countermarch looms in particular – so in that way it was a great learning experience for someone new to weaving. Sadly, no matter how much I’ve done, there’s always something new showing up to aggravate me. The frame is slightly warped so the beater doesn’t hang straight. A brake kit would cost me a couple hundred more dollars. The treadle tie-up is from another age and more fiddly than it needs to be (and is a constant source of frustration). And, ultimately I want a loom that can handle wide widths for blankets and coverlets (of up to 60 inches) and this one will never be that.
So, while happily weaving these tea towels (so pleased with how they turned out), I turned this over in my mind and realized that it’s probably time to cut my losses on my first loom. I’ll fiddle with it enough to weave off the blanket I have on there – and then start to figure out how to get rid of it. It’s not easy to sell a big loom, so it will definitely go for less than what I put into it – though I really do think of it as a master class in loom repair and maintenance and so it’s not a loss no matter what happens. The thing I worry most about is that no one wants it, even for free, and I end up having to take it apart and store it or even destroy it. Whoever takes it would have to be willing to do more work to get it really functional and I’m not sure there’s a lot of those folks around these days (I walked into this project blind, thinking I had purchased a functional loom and then finding out too late I had not and trying to salvage it.)
In any event, I will weave off the blanket and then find a way to store this loom until it finds a new home and in the meantime I’ve got the word out in weaving circles about what I’m looking for. 60-inch, 8 shaft looms aren’t the most common thing out there (that would be 45-inch, 4 shaft looms), but they aren’t terribly uncommon so there’s a good chance I will source something suitable in the next month and at a reasonable price ($1500 or less).
In the meantime I’ve started warping my small Julia loom again – with a bath mat this time – in order to keep myself going now that I’ve rediscovered my enjoyment in this textile form.
One thing I noted when doing the tea towels is that my skills have improved quite a lot over the last year, even with the big break these last few months. I picked up a couple of techniques that *always* work to produce even tension, and I’ve gotten a lot more patient with warping so I actually fix mistakes at that stage rather than weaving them into the final fabric. These plain weave towels had little draw-in on the loom and my beat was even throughout. I’ve learned not to over-beat my cloth, and I throw and catch my shuttle properly most of the time. Weaving is really something that takes a lot of repetition to get good at, so getting projects on and off the loom is the only way forward.
Now that I’m unblocked, and because I am not sewing clothes for myself at the moment, I expect the deepest winter will find me weaving in my studio, and perhaps setting up a new-to-me loom. There are worse ways to spend the colder months for sure.