Post # 3064: Continuity

A few months ago, a struggling friend asked his facebook contacts for general advice on how to get through a difficult time. One of my friends responded to him thusly:

Build another thing. Think about who will use it when you are gone.

This line has come back to me almost weekly since – a piece of spontaneous poetry that speaks the human condition so plainly. The drive to create, to make new, to build – and the fact that we have so little time in which to do it before we turn it into the hands of those who follow. As someone who is a builder of things (textile things), I understand entirely, the continuity that making engenders – the connection to the past and the future which is made in the moment of throwing the shuttle or placing the stitch. And of course, I am highly aware that there may be no one to pass these things along to because we do not live in a world where we think too hard about who is coming next and what will be their inheritance. So many of the made “things” of this world do not even last a single lifetime, plastics becoming the stomach lining of birds and whales instead, houses even – built only for the use of a single family one time before they are plowed under for the next incarnation. This is the breaking of the line between then, now and the future – the refuse that piles up and doesn’t break down into anything reusable.

The chair above this post is about 150 years old. I purchased it on Craigslist for $75 and spent a ridiculous sum of money having it reupholstered because I loved its shape and the hand carved wood. When we peeled back the upholstery at the refinishing place, it was clear that it had been redone at least twice since the original fabric when onto it – making this the fourth recovering in its lifetime. I expect it won’t need to be done for another 40 or 50 years given the wear that a chair like this gets – which means the next time it gets a new coat I will likely have passed on. The chair is really sturdy, though perhaps it will need to be glued at some point to keep its joints together – but still, someone is using it long after the maker’s death, and will be using it beyond my own temporary hold. Though I am not the builder, I am a caretaker of this thing that will be used by another when I am gone.

If we could hold this perspective on our world with each purchase, with each thing we build – how different this all would be. What is this thing I am making? Will it last? Does it have use beyond this moment? Who will use it and how? When we are done with its use, can it be returned to the ground with little impact?

And so, this little poem to help us remember:

build
another thing.
Think about

who

will use it when
you are gone.

 

Post #3063: Learning on two looms

I had a bit of a weaving breakthrough this weekend.

It turns out that some shuttles (the thing with the weft thread in it) are more easily thrown than others. Also, it turns out that sometimes standing is better than sitting. On my 4-shaft J-made loom, these details made all the difference and I’ve completed two different fabrics in the last two days.
But let me back up a bit here. The photo up top – that’s fabric being made on my Ashford Knitter’s Loom. I got that loom for my birthday – it is 20 inches wide and capable of making cloth just shy of that width in plain weave (that is, the equivalent of a 2-shaft loom) The very first thing I made on it was some rather grumpy (to me) fabric out of some yarn that I didn’t feel like using for anything else. Because the yarns were so unbalanced (that is, totally different fibres and weights), the weave was uneven. Initially I was really unhappy about this — so unhappy that I didn’t take pictures of it or anything and I wadded it up in the bottom of my loom bag. Then last weekend I had a need for a small mat for the zendo and I remembered the rough fabric that I had thrown away from me on completing.

Turns out, the rough weave was less upsetting to me five weeks after the fact, and after cutting, seaming and finishing I had this:

As in, a totally usable piece of fabric that works as a rough weave and for its intended purpose.

After making the first rough fabric, I had started warping some tea towel fabric in orange and natural cotton and then abandoned it in the dining room partway done. It sat there for about six weeks until last weekend, while getting ready for easter festivities, I decided to finish threading and tying it up so I could move the loom out of the way and set my table. After my guests departed on Monday I was left with a fully warped loom, and so I wound some bobbins up for one of my boat shuttles.

I had not been successful up until this point at learning to “throw” the shuttle on my J-Made 4-shaft loom, and so I was surprised when a little way into weaving on the rigid heddle I was throwing pretty easily – after only a few hours of practice it was relatively smooth (and would have been smoother if my warp was a bit more uniform). This weaving thing suddenly seemed possible.

So I pondered if my throwing problem on the J-made was the shuttle and went up to the studio to take a look. I first tried with my newfound throwing skills using the small open bottomed shuttle that I had on the loom…. but no dice. Even with my improved technique I could not get the shuttle to fly. So I switched off to a close bottomed shuttle and lo! Things became much easier.

And so I spent the last few days weaving off two warps on two different looms. Yesterday morning I finished my first set of tea towels:

Tonight I will finish the orange tea towels. And then I will start the process all over.

What I am really trying to write about here is how we learn things, how the lessons come from picking things up, putting them down, and picking them up again. There was a time in my life when I refused to try things I didn’t already know how to do because I was afraid of looking stupid. That changed when I was a little past thirty and I decided to learn about sewing. There are things that I made in that learning time that I still use today and I expect that will be true about these early weaving attempts as well.

I am thankful that I got over that insecurity that stopped me so many times when I was younger, but even now I feel it when I struggle with mastering new skills. I do walk away sometimes, or I pick up different tools for awhile and play with those instead. What this last week has reminded me is that 1) even ugly things are useful and often beautiful, 2) learning time is allowed, and 3) coming from a different angle often helps break down the lessons.

So I have two sets of tea towels. Tea towels with issues, no doubt, but usable objects in their own right. I look forward to two more projects going onto the looms: a nine yard warp for many more tea towels on the J-made and a small floor mat made with “found” yarn on the knitters loom. More lessons ahead!

Post #3062: Dinner for 20 x 2

This past weekend, Brian and I hosted another fairly epic 3-day party which involved two full dinners (tapas-style on Saturday, sit-down on Sunday) for 18-24 people. The photos above are of both of those menu spreads and I decided to share here my menus for both dinners and some thoughts about planning for large gatherings.

First, the thoughts: Brian and I have been hosting parties together for almost ten years now, and before that we were both hosts as single people and in other relationships – as broke young adults, and now as comfortable middle-aged people. Bottom-line, we have a lot of experience. Hosting twenty-plus people for a whole weekend is not for amateurs – nor is it for single people who have friends who don’t pitch in and lend a hand.

I have both a partner and friends who are willing to make the party – which is what makes this type of gathering a possibility. Do not believe those Pinterest boards that try to convince you that dinner for twenty is easy if you just do one step a day for five days – it’s a lot of work no matter what menu you plan, and you need some kind of helpers if you are going to get through it without being grumpy.

But! I have a few ideas about things that work:

  • Everyone wants to bring something. You can tell them no, but they will bring something anyway – so direct that energy. Otherwise you have ten loaves of bread or a flotilla of plastic tupperware bearing hummus. This doesn’t mean you have to potluck it, but there are so many small things one might need – like toothpicks, or napkins, a pound of coffee for breakfast (if you are overnighting it), etc. Also, wine.
  • Further to this, if people offer to make food and a bit of potluck is tolerable (I don’t do potluck for sit-down dinners, but that’s me), it’s okay to provide them with a recipe to use or improvise on so you can ensure that things go together on the table.
  • If you are planning a party that goes all weekend and requires many people to be fed, plan the first dinner so as to result in leftovers for next day’s lunch. We did a tapas dinner on our first night of the weekend and made double the amount of chicken wings. There was tons of salads and cheese leftover as well. That plus some fresh bread – it’s really all people want or need in between two large dinners (and drinks).
  • One moderately fancy thing means that everything else on the table is elevated. In the case of Sunday’s sit-down dinner, that was an asparagus/ricotta/phyllo tart. Homemade flatbreads did the trick for Saturday’s tapas. Not everything has to be fancy.
  • On the sit-down dinner front –  plan a mix of foods served warm and at room temperature. The main course should be hot, but everything else can be a mix. The Easter dinner menu below proved to be an excellent combination in terms of getting things out of the kitchen and onto the table at appropriate temperatures.
  • It goes without saying – but do what you can in advance. I had bread dough on the rise from earlier in the week, salad dressing in the fridge by Wednesday, and a whole day of advance prep on Friday. The more organized you are the better you will feel.
  • Do accommodate food intolerance and allergies from the ground up. Do not plan whatever meal you intended and then make a single side dish that your xxx-intolerant person can eat – it’s rude and cross contamination can happen in a kitchen if you aren’t careful. If you are hosting, you are hosting, and that means not making people sick. In the case of this dinner party I had to plan for tomato, garlic/onion free meals, and vegetarian guests. (All garlic & onions in the recipes below was omitted except in the meatballs)
  • More people in the kitchen during the meal prep is not helpful. Best combination is one reliable worker on kitchen tasks (my friend Jon performed this role) and one free ranger who is making sure that things outside the kitchen stay organized and tidy (that was Brian on Sunday). Otherwise, everyone else should stay out of the way.
  • Where your friends can really shine is after the meal! Immediate clean-up afterwards makes everything feel organized, and helps to create a feeling of being attended to. Lucky me, I didn’t even have to organize this on the weekend – Brian and friends just swooped right in and did it while I have was having deep post-dinner conversations. Blessed!

Menu #1: Buffet style, Tapas for 24
All recipes below were doubled or tripled, except the meatballs. Meats and hot dishes were made by me, the veggie sides were brought by guests.

Leftovers note: I have the lentils and carrot salad leftover in my fridge at the moment, and intend to heat those in some chicken stock and then blend to make soup with for the week.

Menu #2: Site-down, Easter dinner for 18
All food made by myself, with help on the roasting of meats by Brian. I made two dishes of everything and set two tables separately.

  • White and whole wheat breads made from the No-knead bread recipe and the Healthy Artisan Breads in 5-minutes a day book respectively.
  • Herbed butter (yes, you can make your own butter easily with a stand mixer)
  • Herbed ricotta, asparagus, phyllo tart x 2
  • Sage and Butternut Squash risotto x 1.5 | This is an Instantpot recipe. In general, I do not recommend risotto for a large dinner party unless you have a pressure cooker. It takes too much attention otherwise.
  • Spinach, walnut, apple salad with blue cheese dressing
  • 1 large ham from the pigs raised at Singing Lands Ranch, warmed in the oven
  • Beer can chicken x 2 – cooked on the bbq
  • Dessert was provided by Jill who brought us meringue nests with lemon curd topped with berries (I wish I had a photo of that!)

Leftovers note: The chicken carcasses were turned into stock in the Instantpost immediately following dinner. The remaining spinach, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese dressing were turned into an incredible pasta dinner last night with the addition of some rotini and bacon (we picked the few apples in the salad out before we turned it into pasta sauce).

This is the third weekend-long party we have thrown since moving here eleven months ago – and definitely a successful one in that there was much good conversation and laughter, and also that I have very few leftovers in my fridge.

And now I return to my semi-monastic life of work, gardening, and meditation as Brian returned to the city today and I’m on my own until Friday. So quiet. So filled up from a weekend of love and attention.

Post # 3061: Carrot muffins

For whatever reason, possibly due to the rain, I’ve been baking a lot this winter. Mostly bread (more on that in another post), but because I love a good muffin every once and awhile, I’ve also been on the hunt for healthy-ish muffin recipes. This one ticks off all my boxes because it’s low in sugar, and has a decent amount of fibre. Sourced from allrecipes.com (http://allrecipes.com/recipe/23787/awesome-carrot-muffins/) – the only thing I’ve modified here is the sugar amount. Most carrot muffin recipes are way skimpy on the carrot – but not this one!

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 cups shredded carrots
  1. Combine raisins and water in a small bowl. Let soak for 15 minutes. Drain raisins, discard water and set raisins aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.
  3. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, oil and brown sugar; beat well. Combine egg mixture and flour mixture; mix just until moistened. Fold in carrots and drained raisins. Spoon into prepared muffin cups.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes before frosting.

Post #3060: Every day sitting

Brian cleaned up the shrubs in front of the zendo yesterday and now I have to decide what to plant – I had been thinking of a Katsura tree, but a friend online told me that they aren’t drought tolerant and now I have to decide whether to risk it or not. Our spot on the island is a wet one, but in high summer it can get pretty dried out.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my sitting practice has gotten more regular again, for the first time since last June when we moved. While I have sat lots since moving (3-5 times per week plus retreats) – it has not been a daily practice. In the last 33 days (yes, I keep track), I have managed to re-establish daily practice even with travel to the cities and a hectic schedule – which just goes to show that daily practice isn’t about how busy I am, but how dedicated I am to doing it.

If you don’t meditate, you might wonder – is there really a difference between sitting five times per week and every day? While to a seasoned practitioner of meditation (twenty years or more), perhaps there is no difference – in my nascent state (of only three years), I deeply feel the difference.

And I suppose that makes sense – zen isn’t something that we just practice when we feel like it, it’s something we try to embody in all our dealings every day – and as the core of the practice is zazen (sitting meditation) – it makes sense that sitting every day helps us to work with zen principles in every day life too. That means accepting and letting go of anxieties, being with impermanence and change rather than resisting, cultivating equanimity – and so on.

In one of Brad Warner’s books on zen he tells the reader at the outset “if you don’t have a daily practice, don’t bother reading any more of this book as it’s a waste of your time” – that’s my paraphrase because I can’t find the quote right now – but it pretty much sums up the feeling that you can’t really do zen without practice.

Another way of saying that is we can’t intellectualize our way to enlightenment.

For me, this is not dogmatic or about what I “should” do – but based in the fact that every day that I sit, my grounding points are strenghtened for that day. Morning practice in particular helps me step into a the day with awareness about my starting block. Am I more tired than normal? Grumpy? Giddy? Anticipating a heavy work day?

When I come to myself in silence for even a brief period – it brings the day into focus, my reactivity, what I am bringing to my work and my life off the cushion.

Which is not to say that I have some kind of horrible time when I don’t meditate for a day, but I’m just not as well integrated on the inside, and it’s noticeable. If several days in a row go by without practice, that’s when I notice a lot more difficulty – my old anxiety flares right back up, and I am quicker to anger and criticsm.

There are many reasons that I told myself my daily practice dropped off, but mainly it’s because I allowed it to happen in the flurry of uprooting and resettling. I take this return of solid zazen as a sign that I have actually landed back in my life and am settling on Gabriola for real. And now that I have regrouped in one place again, I see how free I am to leave it and take my daily exercise of silence with me, wherever I go – even if it means practicing on a crowded city bus on the way to work (as I had to early last week).

We are ten months here and I am just finding my seat again – and what a lovely little zendo to explore this in!

Post #3059: Introducing the tiny zendo

I was away from home for two weeks doing all the things (friends, jukai, work, training) in both nearby cities (Victoria then Vancouver). It was a wonderful break after being alone for much of the time this winter (not lonely though) – and I think in the two weeks of travel I saw pretty much all of my closest friends and was more than grateful for the many nice meals and visits (and all of that time spent with Brian as we travelled and stayed together in Van).   Though I returned home last Wednesday, it’s taken me a few days to come back to ground and reintegrate into my home life. Being “on the road” and at the city condo is fun and all – but for a homebody like me, it’s also a little unsettling. I am a person who creates a bit of a fortress wherever I live – from the days when I only rented a room in a house, up until now with our half acre and home – I tend to surround myself with the things of my life and then spend a lot of time in that space. It’s not the comfort of material things that I seek in doing that, but a sense of personal space and the arrangement of it that’s most important.

One of the things that happened while we were away, was some work on the outdoors of our property – including work on a little outbuilding that was here when we moved in. This 9×9 “shed” was dank and full of detritus when we moved into the house – it smelled so foul (from some rotting carpet in the loft) that the dog wouldn’t even go into it. But even so, we quickly realized that it was way too overbuilt to be a simple shed – with power (four outlets, two overhead lights), insulation, two windows, and a poured concrete foundation – it had all the makings of a usable studio building or guest cabin. Last summer Brian and I cleaned it out and he threw a coat of white paint over everything to freshen it up in time for friends to stay in it during our summer party – but otherwise it needed some finishing work.

Because we already have studio space (and lots of it for both of us), we decided that this would be our tiny zendo, or meditation hall – and also double as guest space when needed. While away in March, we hired someone to come in and put up some shiplap to finish the walls and the loft, and on our return this past weekend we whitewashed those walls and bought flooring and a new light fixture. Yesterday, Brian installed the fixture and finished putting in the flooring and I nailed in the finishing strips along the edges (minus one, I ran out of material) – and voila! It’s a tiny zendo!

There are a last few additions still to come, including a shelf, and a wall heater, and some loft finishing including a piece of carpet and a ladder that hooks on for stability. Plus, I plan to landscape the outside a bit more and bang together a rack for shoes by the front door – but I’ve got a sitting space that feels light and airy, and a pleasure to be in. It’s *such* a great space that even Brian might be tempted to meditate there with me – he’s feeling mighty happy with how it turned out also.

I haven’t had a chance to sit in it yet, though I plan to do so tonight after returning home from work. I have returned to a rock solid daily practice for the first time since moving, and am reminded of the unmatchable benefits of sitting every day. So if you come visit me, and would like a sit while you are over – I will always affirm that desire – for sitting together strengthens all of our intentions. More cushions will soon be on order to accommodate guests.

Post 3058: Five things

These last few weeks have been full of things to do and I’ve had to seriously prioritize in order to get all the required things done. These are five things I am trying to do every day regardless of what the schedule and the to-do list look like:

  • Meditate
  • Two or three sun salutations
  • Sing one song
  • Put some stitches in something (knitting or sewing, crochet, weaving – whatever)
  • Walk a minimum of 8000 steps

Bonus: Read five pages of a book.

 

Post #3057: Works in progress

Going into this year, I had three main things that I wanted to get through. I have now completed two of these objectives – getting elected as president to my union local (which happened on schedule), and finding some job stability in my current position (which happened much earlier in the year than expected). My third “major project” of 2017 is to be completing the work for my lay ordination which will take place later this month during a Jukai ceremony, and where I formally take Buddhist vows.

That work is 1) completing my rakusu, 2) sewing the pouch that holds the rakusu, and 3) completing a lineage project in which I describe my path and influences – my personal lineage. The photo above is my work on the lineage piece – I plan to trim and machine stitch those pieces of printed canvas together, and then write my lineage story along the path of the labyrinth. Basically, it’s just a canvas to write on – and then if I have time I’ll add some colour embellishment to the border areas. At the moment, my biggest challenge is writing the actual lineage piece, and I’m wondering about visualizing it with scraps of fabric in addition to writing. I need to set aside time for the writing piece and aim to do it in one single flow (with editing afterwards) – which is the only way I will get it done. Getting less literal about things would help also.

I’ve been sick recently, which has put me in a low mood. I’m starting to come out of it, though not as fast as I would like – and I’ve got tons of piled up work and projects just begging for attention (including house and yard work – it is spring after all, right?) Having some focused project work in preparation for my ceremony is helping to stay level with my current priorities – and also keep me attentive to the fact that I am still recovering from a cold. More soon…..

Post #3056: Sitting on the edge of winter.

I am going to fess up here (because I know I seem so normal and well-adjusted all the time) and let you all know that I am having some serious apocalypse anxiety these days. I think it’s been building steadily for a couple of weeks – starting with a strong compulsion to make all the things in the studio – and as of yesterday I am officially checking in on my food stores and thinking about getting the cistern piping fixed in case we need to draw water off it sometime in the near future. Right. So now would be the time to remind myself that I am not a prepper and pull myself back a little from the edge. What the hell is going on?

I suspect it is something like the effect of a ferry trip that Brian and I took on Friday on our way back home.  It was a pretty unremarkable ride – Vancouver to Nanaimo – the ship was about 3/4s full and left approximately on time….. But as we sat on the forward deck, we noticed that there was an awful lot of movement around us on that particular day. Overwhelmingly so. Everyone around us seemed slightly agitated, the children’s playroom was full of crying toddlers, and no one was really settled into their seats for the whole ride. Without really noticing why at first, we felt stressed by the other passengers, commenting to each other as we returned to the car that it all seemed like *too much*. It was only on some reflection that we realized that the ferry had been bucking and bouncing quite a bit on the ride, as it was a windy and choppy day, and while we didn’t feel phased by the boat’s movement, it was likely that the amplified feeling on the ferry were the result of the general unease being shared by many of the passengers.

It is probably also much like a day on the float plane three months ago when a nervous passenger got on and started loudly proclaiming that he was nervous and scared and sure the plane was going to crash. He continued this patter throughout the entire twenty minute ride (on a beautiful and sunny morning, with no real turbulence to speak of) until we touched down in Vancouver, at which point I was thoroughly annoyed. I pride myself on being an unflappable flier on small planes – I have flown to all corners of this province in small craft, and I don’t worry, get nervous, or ever get sick – but on this particular day I found myself stressed with the possibility of disaster at every bounce and bump.

Which is to say – I am living in a world in which the panic levels have risen with the election down south, the wars in the middle east, and the potential for war everywhere else; where the hands on the doomsday clock have been moved thirty seconds closer to midnight; where my social media feed screams of the end every single day. I have watched old anarchist friends recently become anti-Muslim racists, I am aware that my old political models no longer work. And as it turns out, no matter the trauma of my past life life, no matter the balm of my present security or meditation practice – I am not immune to the transmission of fear. I am not outside of the organism that wants to fight or flee.

So here I am on an island in the dark sea. My power went out last night after I wrote most of this post – so this morning’s breakfast and coffee were cooked in the silence of the forest while the woodstove creaks and groans with dry arbutus wood. My computer battery is still up which means I’ve got another couple of hours to wait out Hydro and the restoration of power. I remind myself that even if we are preparing for a big ecological/political/economic showdown, there is no need for the panic part of things – my island is a fortress and I’m getting lots of practice at living without power. I’m getting lots of practice at meditating in darkness as the dawn breaks through.

Post #3055: Wanting to do and be.

I would call it a problem but I don’t think it is one really. I suppose issue fits – so I can say, my biggest issue (conundrum?) in life is that I want to do everything and I have a hard time getting it all done.

By everything I mean (at the moment), I want to be writing, weaving, working, trade unioning, meditating, restoring my loom, working out, going for walks, doing yoga, sewing, knitting, making art, being in community, gardening, cooking food, working, playing music, writing songs, and reading – every single day. And it’s just not possible to do everything – not when 8 hours are already taken up with work, and another 8 with sleeping. That leaves just 6 hours when you subtract life stuff, or maybe only 5 – and it’s just not enough.

These past few days I’ve been experiencing the desire for voracious reading. Of the book a day kind – over the weekend I read both Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel) and Birdie (Tracey Lindberg), and then started The Curve of Time (M. Wylie Blanchett) which I’m now halfway through. I’ve got a few more books on the stack (including Barkskins by Annie Proulx), and have gone ahead  and ordered several more. I’m not sure what it is that has spurred on this re-emergence of significant book interest – except perhaps a very deep need for escapism at this particular juncture, and also a tug that I’ve been feeling towards writing again.

Which is what brings me back to my everything interests which is not a problem unless I think it is one, and that only happens when I am not fully present in the task I am currently doing. It’s this lack of presence in the moment, the forward planning of life that leaves us with the bad feeling of “too busy” or “not enough time” because really, you can only do one thing at a time and in that, there is no being too busy. You are just doing what you are doing in that moment. The problem for me starts when I am writing, but then I think – I would rather be weaving. Or I’m restoring my loom, and I long to sew instead. As none of these activities are requirements in my life, there is no need to feel hemmed in by them, as if they are crowding each other out – for each of them can be done in turn, as long as I stay present to the finish of each thing before turning to the next. Even work deadlines, which bear more importance, are not that fixed as I’ve bought enough good will in my career that I can let a few slip – not to mention the fact that feeling hurried doesn’t help me achieve them anyways.

And so, as long as I am comfortable with long finish times, and can move from one thing to the next without flitting (that is, staying with each thing long enough to truly sink into it), then I can do all the things.

At a zen shuso ceremony I participated in a couple of years ago a student approached the teacher and asked: “There are so many things in my life, I have this commitment and that, I want to do so many things but I feel so busy. What should I give up?” to which the teacher answered “Give up feeling that you are busy.”

And that is why it’s not a problem, or an issue, or even a conundrum. It’s just a state of mind that allows the generalist in my to run free.