Over coffee this morning

At breakfast this morning, I had an engaging conversation with a couple of friends.

Paul posed this question to us: If Eisenhower were President today, would the interstate highway system be built? (At this point, if you don’t know the history of our federal highways, go do some research. This post will be here waiting for you.) We discussed briefly the road system, the idea of planning for the future, physical infrastructure in America (which today is crumbling and in desperate need of some TLC), and the economics of such an undertaking. And perspective.

Our overall conclusion was that the interstate highways, which we all take so for granted, would not have been built if Eisenhower were at it today. His idea would have met with unsurmountable resistance. It just cost too much. People don’t look towards the future any more, and ‘it’s all about me’ is the prevailing attitude. How much money is in my pocket right now?

This discussion came about as we were discussing the fate of the crumbling infrastructure in our beloved Rocky Mountain National Park. What is going to happen to Old Fall River Road? Well, the easy answer is the road will get fixed. Eventually. Even the damage from the flood last fall. But how long will it take? How many years will the road be closed?

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My mind took it one step further (although I think Paul’s questions were pretty much pointing out that he was thinking the same as me)….. When will we again invest in America? When will we admit that tourism and these breathtaking parks – our collective inheritance from the future – are economic drivers? When will we admit to ourselves that saying we love these parks isn’t enough? When will we stop using blank words and take actions that will benefits us both in the short term and for years to come?

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The Crutches

No, I haven’t sprained an ankle or broken a leg. In fact, except for this lingering cough, I’m doing pretty well right now.

We all have crutches. You know, those things or habits you fall back on in times when you need support. The support can be physical. Maybe you need a nap because you overwork in some aspect of your life. I have a coworker who, when dealing with a rough day at work, breaks out the bag of chocolates.

I would be that person if I could only remember to bring candy to work. Some days, though, I don’t even remember to bring a lunch.

Sometimes, that crutch can be more internal. More cognitive or emotional. These crutches become something that we rely upon to help in various trying circumstances. For instance, we are all taught pnemonic devices to help us remember things.

Who else remembers ‘My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles’? (Disregard the fact that it it no longer applies.)

So when does a crutch become an excuse?

I found myself pondering that very question recently. You see, someone asked me a rather leading question. As in, they wanted the answer they expected. Because they knew they were right. Nothing I could say, no inkling of truth, no difference of perspective was going to make an iota of differnce, so I gave up almost before I started.

Without too much hesitation, I answered, “I don’t know,” and shook my head.

Boom. There it was. My crutch.

Those three little words. Simple, yet powerful. They have become my scapegoat as an adult, when confronted by anyone who wants to shove their ideas and questions on me just to make a point.

The truth of the matter is that I’d rather risk appearing dumb than waste my breath on a pointless provocation.

But why? I have my theories. Nowadays, the crutch is so ingrained that it is just easier. And those three little words get me out of a great number of uncomfortable situations.

So why does this all matter?

I have a lot of things about which I feel very strongly. And maybe, just maybe, all of this writing and thinking and putting my thoughts into concrete form will help me rely less upon my crutches and stand on my own two feet.

Surrounded by my people

Sometimes, I would much rather be on my own. I relish a day alone in the mountains to soak in the grandeur, listen to the birds, find the beautiful details in the tiniest pink alpine flower, and watch the clouds pass slowly overhead.

If I could, 6 out of 7 days each week would be spent in such a manner. Some weeks, the ratio would be 7 of 7, even in weather.

But since that isn’t possible right now, tonight was a more than acceptable substitute.

It is always so refreshing to be surrounded by creative, skilled, like-minded people. And when we get to listen to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee tell her humorous yarns of misunderstood knitters, horrifying dentist visits in the Dominican Republic, and “bacon powder”, we realize just how great this community is.

I am very lucky. Whereever I go, I find people with whom I have an instant connection. It usually goes a little something like this…

Me: Is this where the line ends? I got here early to get a seat.

Fellow Knitter: Hi! Yep, you’re next in line! I’m Angela. What project did you bring to work on while we wait?

Me: Oh, I’m just knitting a pair of gloves for a friend. And you?

Fellow Knitter Angela: Those are cute! What pattern did you use? Can I feel the yarn? Oh, that wool is so soft!

Me: I love wool. Half my wardrobe is wool, I think.

Fellow Knitter Angela: Me too! (giggles) Oh! Check out her scarf! (pointing to another lace knitter who just joined the queue)

Instantly, I am surrounded by skilled artisans who get it.

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Tonight, while waiting in line for the book reading/signing, I saw two very different pieces of lace that I envied. The pictures simply cannot convey the skill, patience and aptitude it took to complete the projects.

First, a wedding shawl (I wish I’d taken a close-up of the detail):

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Next, I believe the pattern is Michael West’s 2013 Mystery KAL (you can look it up on Ravelry):

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From this angle, it looks like a triangle scarf or shawl, with a grey body and pink border. But wait until you see the whole thing….

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Holy cow. Pink and three shades of grey/charcoal. Asymmetric and triangular, but certainly not in the expected way. Can we say, AMAZING?!?!?

I LOVE evenings like this, shared with other creative folks. It is always so inspiring. It pushes me to work harder, watch the details, and take pride in my craftsmanship. This is not at all easy. In fact, the woman with the second project described tears and throwing the unfinished project in the closet out of frustration. But master artisans never settle.

It was an inspiring evening among my people. And to top it off, I got a couple of very humorous books signed.

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Random Notes from a long week

This last week has been long and tiresome.

With all of the gardening stuff going around on Facebook and Pinterest lately, and me being stuck in this smoggy city with grey snow and ice every few days, I have been planning endless pots of flowers and veggies for my tiny patio. I have lots of seeds sprouting and big ideas for them once the last frost has passed.

These have been a welcome relief from the bigger pressing issues of the week:

1) Mr. Patronizing at work. Mr. P. speaks to me as though I am one of his 10 children I suppose he is used to his stay-at-home wife who has lived a very different life than me. But I am not his wife, nor his child. In fact, this man is less than five years older than me.

He’s just an idiot without a clue. Oh, but he did buy a Hummer H2 this week. So he’s a rich idiot with 10 kids.

2) The mess in the Ukraine. I have discussed this with a couple of history-minded friends (who also happen to be politically-minded). There are lots of patterns being repeated from the twentieth century over there. It is both sad and scary. I am wondering about our national response.

A book I have been reading discusses the American presidents post World War II,  and how they worked together, ofter WAY behind the scenes, to deal with current crises. Stories of Hoover and Truman intrigue me, as I don’t see much of Bush reflecting Hoover’s wartime efforts.

I guess we will see, eh?

3) The horrific picture from Redwoods National and State Parks that was everywhere last weekend (NPS photo):

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To do that to a 2,000 year old tree in a National Park must take real callousness. And a total lack if disregard for anyone or anything other than yourself. My friend boiled it down to one word… Greed.

I know burls make interesting wood for veneers and furniture. And I am sure that this tree was sacraficed for the black market.

Yet another reason to make things yourself. You know your finished products weren’t the result of embarrassing black market activities.

———-

I actually had started a note about the Redwoods, but I just couldn’t finish it. That picture made me rather numb all week.

What got to you last week?

Why in the world?

Although the last 10-15 years should have seen a break in this stereotype to anyone who pays attention, I do still get the question, “Do you really knit? Aren’t you too young?”

No, I’m just sitting here with some yarn and pointy sticks just so you will ask me dumb questions.

So let’s talk about this for a minute.

Why would anyone choose to knit? Why would anyone risk being labeled as the crazy old cat lady or Ms. Marple? (As an Agatha Christie fan, I really don’t find being labeled as Marple terribly insulting in and of itself, but it’s what people imply by the question.) Isn’t that a bit old-fashioned? Don’t you have plans for this evening? Are you that bored? Or, my all-time favorite, why would you knit socks when you can go to Wal-Mart and buy six pair for $3?

Each of these questions, in my opinion, shows a different weakness of thought or character. And while I will try not to judge non-knitters, I will shake my head and worry for our collective future.

First, I am a fairly creative person with an analytical mind who enjoys problem-solving. And when the details of my daily routine (which often must be endured) get to be too drab, I need a creative outlet. I need something to challenge my brain and skills, and watching TV or cleaning my apartment just doesn’t do it for me. In fact, watching TV without having a project to work at on the side is often a guaranteed sleeping pill for me. I cannot be engaged, so I fall asleep.

Next, I like doing for myself. Independence gives me a feeling of safety, and I like making things for myself. This also may be why I cook a lot and rarely go out to restaurants. (Ranger potlucks were always good in the parks.)

Growing up, I was around the do-it-yourself mentality all of the time. My parents certainly had above average DIY skills, but also plenty of extended family members and friends were very skillful. It’s a foreign concept to me buy Christmas cookies, brownies, and prom dresses. You want something? Figure out how to do it. Buying ready-made is always just a last resort. It’s both a goal and a challenging life ethic I enjoy chasing.

Additionally, handmade is generally much higher quality than anything that comes out of a factory run by corporations. Profits necessarily don’t have time for quality. But your average master craftsman will take the time and pride to do the job well. When you make something yourself, you can control the quality of the raw materials, the workmanship and ultimately, the final product. After more than a decade of knitting my own socks and sweaters, I am fairly confident in saying that Hanes and Fruit of the Loom are a waste of money, no matter how many pairs you get in a package.

In this small world, we hear of poor labor treatment, unhealthy working conditions, and even equipment and whole factories collapsing and killing workers. How can I support such business practices? I have no choice in some of the consumer goods I purchase, but when I have a choice, I try my best to NOT support corporations either with questionable/unethical business and production practices or with ties to subcontractors with questionable or unethical business practices.

Cheap socks, again, are just not worth it in my book. I would rather have one pair of socks made in a fair environment than 10 pairs made in a factory in southeast Asia where the employees think they could die tomorrow because of poor corporate standards, yet they still go because they need the pittance they earn. They have little choice.

Yes, I know that without these jobs, people in many places around the world would be worse off than they are. But my question is, why aren’t you willing to pay someone what you would charge to make the same item? Don’t give me ‘that’s the point of economies of scale’, or similar excuses. Bull. Shit.

I think it basically boils down to the fact that too many people in our society do too little for themselves. Many people are completely disconnected from the reality of what it takes to keep themselves fed and clothed. In order to get food on your table, if you eat remotely healthy, the process requires a lot of work by farmers and ranchers. (To say nothing of the chemical factories that turn out processed “food”.) Similarly, people do not understand that, while it may take me 12 hours to knit a pair of socks for myself, my skills are so honed that I would expect that pair to last me a minimum of 10 years with proper care.

I work very hard, I am always trying to better my skills and I do NOT settle for shoddy workmanship or design. I will never give or sell an item that wouldn’t be good enough for me. How many corporate CEOs would say the same and actually live by it? Not many.

So there you have a tiny bit of why I knit. And as to why I will never be the crazy old cat lady? Because cats look at balls of yarn as play toys and I am not willing to sacrafice my merino and silk to such a fate. Nope, I will never have cats.

It Came Back To Me!

A couple of weeks ago, Mountain Woolies participated in Random Act of Kindness Week. At least I think that was the program’s name. It was fun; I schemed all week trying to figure out who to surprise. In the end, I choose my friend Angela for the giftee and sent her these:

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She was indeed surprised. 🙂

Well, imagine my surprise when, after a long and unexpectedly stressful week, I get back from lunch today and find a card on my desk:

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My friend Hilary made my afternoon so much brighter! I feel mean pointing out the cause of much of my stress. Sometimes people can just be thoughtless. But sometimes people can be awesome. 🙂

I had another post already written for today, but it got postponed.  Hilary’s card gets center stage tonight!