Five days ago was Thursday, the day it became apparent to me that everything I had planned for the next two months was coming off the table. On Friday morning I spent two hours on the phone and Internet cancelling air travel, hotels, and union engagements I had booked, deleting events from my Google calendar one at a time. I felt relief once that was done, like I had started to wrap my head around what is really going on right now. And of course, it’s always illuminating to weigh out the actual essentials in life and realize how much of what we engage in is just noise.
I’ve been in the news spiral the last few days, but I managed to get out of it yesterday because I was so busy working out, then going to a presentation on the Salt Spring Island Farm Trust projects (where I sat far away from people and didn’t touch anything), then going for a walk with a friend before making dinner for some other friends. Being away from the phone and computer all day was really fantastic for my mental health. Now that it’s Monday, I’m back at my machine again (thankful that I’m a teleworker), and it’s so hard to stop myself refreshing Google News and Facebook every few minutes to see the “latest”.
The thing is, even without knowing the most recent announcement, it’s very clear to me where Canada is going with this. In a matter of a few days, we will be in shut down, as other countries have been, in order to “flatten the curve of infection” (did you even know that language two weeks ago? I didn’t).
For me, that won’t mean a drastic change except that I won’t be able to go to the gym and my social interactions will decrease. My partner and I are both fortunate enough to already work from home (he will move from part-time at home to full-time), and we’ve agreed to help keep each other to a fitness schedule even if we can’t access all the equipment we’re used to. Exercise, weight training in particular, has become very important to us in the last few months – and right now it feels imperative to keep up the daily activity (immune boosting and good for the brain). I’ve been doing a session at the gym with a trainer 3 x per week recently, and yesterday we discussed moving that training online. Not sure how they will do it, but I’ve signed up for Freeletics and am doubling down on my commitment to cycling as well.
Just like not touching my face, I am trying to control the screen refresh tic as I sit at my computer, and focus on my actual work. Besides my paid work, I have plans to develop a canning workshop series over the next few weeks, complete my “train the trainer” courses, write this month’s newsletter, sew some new clothes, warp the weaving loom, and finish crocheting a blanket for Brian’s niece who is due to have a baby in June. Also, yard work once the weather warms up which is it supposed to do this week. Additional to that, I’ll be offering an online meditation sit and reading on Tuesday nights to replace the in-person session I normally facilitate in my home. Basically, I’m going to use all this cancelled travel time to catch up with my life, and offer whatever service is useful to my community in the hopes it keeps me connected, sane, and mostly off social media.
This is day five, and there is going to be a six, seven, eight…. and who knows how many more. This is the time to create a daily schedule, a list of projects you’ve been putting off, and pick up the telephone to check in with family and friends. I feel for folks who have to keep kids entertained, or who don’t have access to good housing right now. I know that this suggestion will ring hollow if you are barely hanging in there. But for those of us who can stay healthy, we have a responsibility to keep it together so we can help those around us who are struggling mentally, financially, and physically.
We can do this. We will do it. We can help each other. But we do have realize now that this is just starting and prepare for what comes next.
A few days ago I was in my yard with a friend doing some work for us, and I noticed a weird piece of white flesh with bones protruding out at the base of a tree. I poked at it with my finger, as it was fresh and not rancid, and as I did so my eye wandered to spot the rest of the object I was poking at – the spine of a fish, stripped of most of its meat. Eagles! The eagles are close at hand, using our trees as a place to rest after fishing their dinner out of the ocean or perhaps even nesting and feeding their offspring. It’s not uncommon here to be walking in the forest and come across a fish head or spine, and if you know anything about BC forest ecology, it’s long been posited by scientists that bears and birds have played a role in fertilizing our forests with the discards of their dinners. When I see it in action here, I get a little thrill – I really do – because it means that the ecosystem is still working to some degree.
I’ve been thinking about that today as I’ve been cancelling all my union-related travel for the next two months, because the fact that I’m doing it means the social ecosystem I live in is also still working to some degree. I see that despite the individualistic, anti-social messages pumped at us non-stop, most people in my social network, workplace, and community are agreeing to band together, curtail activities, and try to slow the spread of Covid-19. I see that people are circulating petitions to ensure their contractor/artist/freelance friends can access money from the employment insurance system. I see that governments are agreeing to pay people on quarantine, and whole countries are taking on massive financial setbacks in order to keep their citizens safe. Which means we haven’t lost yet. We still have a functioning social contract of some sort, no matter how much the right wing has kicked the crap out of it in the last few years.
This is where I find hope in the midst of the chaos right now. Moment by moment we make choices about how we are going to respond. And at this moment I see people making choices to support their community, health care workers, their families. Of course, there are people hoarding toilet paper, I see that also, but in the annals of human stupidity or cruelty, this is a minor offense.
I have a friend who in relation to climate change says, “as long as spring comes another year, we are still okay.” To which I always agree, and now have my response to her “whenever a bird drops a fish, we know we have not lost yet.”
As evidenced by the photo up top from the google photo archive (May 15, 2015), I have been knitting for nearly five years. This was my first finished item; a washcloth made of cotton. I thought cotton washcloths were a natural starting place in knitting as they are in crochet, but it turns out that cotton is much harder to knit evenly than stretchier fibers like wool. By my very next project my knitting had improved in every single way.
That year I was a knitting fiend and went on to make many things, including my first and only completed knit sweater (in fingering weight yarn with size 3 needles). It fit *okay* and I still occasionally throw it on around the house, but the sleeves are too long and because of the softness of the fibre the buttons don’t stay done up. Since they I have made attempts at another sweater for myself and one for Brian – both of which languish in the unfinished objects pile for various reasons. The sweater for me was flat knit which means knitting all the pieces separately and then seaming them together. I got to the point where all the pieces were knit, but they turned out to be different sizes and so! In the case of Brian’s sweater, the sleeves are different widths and I need to frog one back and redo it with greater care.
But, as I so often do, instead of finishing one of the many projects on the go, I started a new sweater this fall. The pattern is Mycroft by Isabell Kraemer (I love all her patterns so much), and the yarn is nothing special – a basic black worsted weight. But even though this is a straightforward pull over, I am totally in love with it and have worn it five days out of the last seven. It’s the perfect garment for these chilly late-winter days, goes with skirts or pants, and it fits!
While it is a bit oversized, I like the look of it that way, and it’s so far not stretching out at all beyond what I blocked it to. The main issue for me is that it stay on my shoulders, and so far, so good. This is definitely my favourite me-made sweater knit or crochet, to date!
Because I’ve had such success with Isabell Kramer patterns (I’ve made a couple of cowls and the first sweater I ever knit was also one of hers), I am going to move on pretty quickly to the Chauncey using a fingering weight four-ply wool from John Arbon textiles. The skein on the left represents the main colour, the darker “pomegranate” shade will be used for the colourwork in the yoke. I plan to make the sleeves 3/4 length to give the sweater a lighter look and knit a size smaller than this most recent one.
I haven’t started this next sweater yet though because I had to order new needle tips for my interchangeables. I am forever losing size 3, 4, and 5 tips – I suppose because they are the ones I use most often and then they drown in the bottom of project bags, never to be seen again. While waiting for the new tips to arrive, I am working on a palate-cleansing infinity scarf made from wool my Mom gave me for my birthday (and it will indeed be a gift back to her since she loves connected scarves that don’t get lost by falling off).
Though sweaters take some time to complete (the Mycroft was a three-month project) they are the most satisfying to finish – so although I recognize a sweater in fingering weight is going to be a bit of a slog, I’m excited to get it on the needles next week.
I no longer have any pants that fit me, which is a nice problem to have because it highlights some changes to my body that I’ve been working on in the last few months. Truth is, I didn’t have that many winter-worthy pants in the wardrobe to start with since I have a tendency to wear leggings, tights, and skirts in the colder months. I’m not a huge fan of how full-length pants look on me, though in the summer I’m all over the mid-calf look.
To that end I have declared February “pants” month at Birdsong Studio and I am dedicating myself to sewing a few pairs of long pants to take me through the spring. A part of me doesn’t want to sew for my current size, as I believe my body is still in flux. On the other hand, I need stuff to wear now.
Enter the Pietra Pants by ClosetCase Patterns! This pattern has the feature of a flat front with an elasticized back waist. This means I can wear these through more than one size up or down which seems about right these days.
Because pants are somewhat challenging to fit, I started out with a muslin made of shirting fabric (inexpensive and in the stash). Even though I made my normal adjustments at the outset (taking an inch out of the crotch, and an inch out of the bottom leg), they still turned out to be too baggy for me around the crotch and hips. I altered the pattern again, leaving the waist at a size 16 and grading down to a 14 in the hips and legs in an attempt to get a better fit.
The pair in the photo up top is the result. These are made from a lightweight denim, and while they fit better, all my fiddling with pattern pieces earlier made leg length and the waistband facing a bit wonky. Also, it turns out I don’t need a 16 waist so the next pair will be a 12 or a 14 all through, keeping the crotch and length adjustments as they are. I’m still getting used to my current body and I do find Closet Case patterns fit a tad big against my actual measurements.
The really important thing is that the Pietra Pants have easily accessed flat front pockets that are large enough for a cel phone – this was the other feature in addition to the elastic backwaist that attracted me to the pattern.
In other news, I turned 47 this past weekend which involved a house concert @Birdsong, a nice dinner in Comox, and a little away trip to Lund, BC (a tiny harbour which is pretty dormant in the winter, but bustling in the summer). There was a lot of cake, and also quite a few drinks had – I’m in a bit of recovery this week as I return to my normal work life and no sugar until the next big celebration.
I plan to cut out my next pair of pants tonight as I’m on a bit of a roll to find the right fit and the hint of spring in the air turns me towards notions of a new wardrobe. Once I have my pants sorted out, then I’ll throw a few tops and tunics in the mix for springtime wear. Nothing too fancy, just some new basics for a new season.
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!