Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spring "Break"???

So I've spent my spring break doing a bunch of things around the house. Never fear, there was also a fair amount of AIS* time, and a quantity of good wine drunk with a dear friend. Here's an abbreviated rundown:

1. Tidied up the stone steps/slope that lead to the back door. My attempts last fall at something like a terrace didn't survive the winter very well, so I had to turn to Plan B. This involved moving pretty much all the stones, except the ones from the original steps that aren't going anywhere without a pry-bar and someone with more leverage than me. That's where I decided the steps would stay, and bagged the terrace idea. Instead, I built a roundish "wall" to create a flower bed. Hasn't slid off the hill yet. I also uncovered a stone path leading from the base of the stone steps to the steps into the mudroom. Between the ravages of time/being abandoned/the seller's love affair with gravel, it was covered with two to three inches of soil and gravel. That definitely looks better now, and I think will be easier to walk across when it rains, as compared to the slop-hole it has been.

2. Picked up some stuff at Lowe's for future projects, including new lights for the porch. I'm going to try wiring them in myself. Also, a plastic 4-shelf thing for the basement, so I could tidy up a little down there. This also involved hauling more (what else?) gravel up, bucket by bucket. It's the leftovers from when the basement was trenched for drainage. I'll leave some there for the last spot that needs trenching (because why would you finish the job when you can leave it 3/4 finished?). Hauling gravel in buckets is Not. Fun.

3. Straightened out a closet, consolidating stuff into clear bins and tossing some of it. This leaves me FOUR empty bins, so I think I'm going to put the dyepots in them, and they can live in the basement. Believe it or not, that's a little more accessible than in the back of the closet where they are now.

4. Finished the middle section of the lace wrap, then promptly FAILED on the first edging. Reminder: unless you've knit nothing but lace for the last 50 years, and perhaps even then, a lifeline is a very good idea and not a sign of weakness. I think I'm finally at the point where I can knit without counting every last stitch, because in the process of ripping out a few rows, and then picking up the stitches (whimper), I seem to have picked up a few too many. Maybe. I figured out from the picture where the new pattern needed to line up with the old pattern, and then made adjustments with strategically-placed K2TOG's. One spot still looks wonky, but I don't think I have the guts to fix it. We'll see. It does seem to be moving quicker than the middle.

5. Ahhh, spinning. I figured I wasn't going to do any of this fantastic handspinning I have in mind if I don't clear out the six bobbins from my Ravelympic knitting. I want a 3-ply when all is said and done, and the plying is going to take a while. I had put a new drive-band on not long after I finished the singles, and left it.

So I sat down today and attempted to start, and had absolutely no take-up. After glaring at it for a bit, and finding a picture online (I don't replace the band very often), I realized that I'd left the "double" part out of "double-drive" and hadn't put the band around the bobbin AND the flyer whorl. The band was too short to make the adjustment. Cut that band off. Cut a new exactly the same size. Cut that band off. Cut a new one with plenty of extra. Mumbled expletives under my breath. Started again (again).

Since I spun counterclockwise, I'll ply clockwise. Except I seemed to have forgotten which way is which and completely screwed up the first chunk. Oh well, a sacrifice to the spinning gods. Start again (again, again). The leader broke. Tied on a new leader. Started (to the power of four).

It's been longer than I thought since I changed the drive band, because I have also forgotten how stiff a new one is when it comes to treadling. It's more like pedaling a bike uphill right now. But well-begun is half-done, I've heard; or in the case of my basement, half-begun is well-done.

*AIS = Ass In Seat

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Back to that other thought...

Ready for a little more armchair psychology?

After this post, I impulsively picked up a couple of books about starting up a small crafts-based business. (Answers can always be found in a book, right?) Both began by asking the reader to evaluate why she wanted to sell the fruits of her labors. There was no judgement of motives. If it's to make a zillion dollars, that's OK. If it's so you can find your dining room table through the pompoms on a regular basis again, that's OK too. You just need to be honest with yourself.

Alright, I thought, I'll play along. Since sneaking up on a solution seems to be my modus operandi, I thought about teaching. When I decided to be a teacher, it was because I loved music and I thought it was important enough that kids needed to learn it too. I also saw myself as a high-school band director of a NYSSMA gold-level rated ensemble, one that was invited to play at the annual state conference. I would be a woman achieving at this level (which is still relatively unusual, especially as compared to vocal directors). Well, we all know how that vision turned out. When one graduates, one takes the job that is available. And here I am, 18 years later. I don't regret not "moving up" into the high school level; I don't feel like I've shortchanged myself at all. Along the way, I've found that what I love (along with music and kids) is the process of teaching. I understand now that I could teach at pretty much any level and be happy with it, because I love the process. (But please don't ask me to direct the marching band. Please.)

And this relates to In that last post, I grouched a fair bit about how I've looked around at festivals and on-line and thought, "I can do better than that." And then I whined about how the once-newhipandwow indie people had become their own little Kool Kids Klub...but how I also kinda wanted to be a little part of it. Reading that, it sounds like the only way that I can be sure I'm doing better than "that" is to achieve some kind of public recognition. Something like a rare-female-gold-level-NYSSMA-rating-earning band director.

But I don't teach for that anymore. I teach for the love of teaching. Maybe my face will be in some journal article some day, and maybe not. It doesn't matter any more. I know I'm doing right by my students, and by my self, and that beats publication any day.

So why not apply this to my fibery ideas? I began to think about what I *wouldn't* choose to produce. I hate sewing, so that was easy, as was anything involving googly eyes, little plastic baby bottles, or a blowtorch. I don't have an eye for sweater design, and I'm convinced the world doesn't need more "patterns" for scarves that are basically long lengths of something pulled from Barbara Walker. (I feel that way about socks too, BTW. A sock pattern has to pretty much slap me upside the head with its beauty for me to buy it...and then I usually still don't.) Custom knitting and/or finishing? When you finish laughing at the thought of that, you can finish reading, OK?

Handspinning? Hmmm, now we're getting warmer. I love spinning, and can spin faster than I can knit any day. Actually, that's a problem. My spinning output, if I put my mind to it, will rapidly outpace my knitting output. Also, while I enjoy spinning many of the brightly-colored fibers that are so popular lately, I don't love knitting with them. It would be easy to part with them, and I also have a nearby and agreeable source for as much as I might need. Same goes for breed-specific yarns, and that same source tends to have some pretty neat ones.

Dyeing? Again, I can dye in greater quantity than I could knit up. I could dye small amounts, I know...but I don't enjoy stranded knitting, and eternal pairs of mittens or socks, and endless hats don't charge my battery either. And I've previously spoken about how much I love the mysteries of natural dyeing.

What it comes down to, again, is a love of the process. I love spinning for being spinning. I love dyeing for being dyeing. Yet in teaching, the fruits of my process are ephemeral, shared with my kids and then gone. In dyeing and spinning, however, the fruits of my process already have their own room and if I go after them with my usual focus and energy, will take over the second floor of my house. Therefore, I want to have a business so that I may continue to dance through the process.

I don't need to have this to pay the electric bill, and at the same time, I don't have the option of quitting my day job to follow my heart, as the saying goes. (There's following one's heart, and then there's defaulting on one's mortgage.) Luckily, my day job is not a soul-sucking morass I'm desperate to escape. I have to remind myself that I don't need to build up the inventory of the average LYS to get this started, and that I don't have to spin AND dye everything. One, the other, and occasionally both will be fine.

“To find your own way is to follow your bliss. This involves analysis,
watching yourself and seeing where real, deep bliss is;
not the quick little excitement, but the real, deep, life-filling bliss.”
Joseph Campbell, 1904-1987

For me, the quick little excitement is public recognition. But it's too brief, and too unreliable. My bliss is in process, and no one can take that away from me.

Friday, April 16, 2010


That is all.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Random Saturday

We all know this could turn into a less-than-random post, but at the moment, my face is in danger of sliding off my skull from the weight of the snot contained in my sinuses. I believe some brain juice is leaking out, too, in order to make room for pollen, so I'm not sure where this will end up.

Random the first: and an excellent one it is. My very, very very, sick friend went home today. HOME. This is the friend the doctors were saying might be out of ICU by June or so. She is home. There's still plenty of physical and emotional healing to be done, but I consider this to be a miraculous situation. And I don't toss the word "miracle" around lightly.

Random the second: little dude of the elephant hat continues to wear it daily. He likes to raise the trunk and make elephant noises, too.

Random the third: I've become a rather monogamous knitter, which is strange. I am both soothed and bored by my current project (the Estonian Garden Wrap by Evelyn Clark), and I think I'm afraid if I put it down for something else, I'll never pick it up again. I'm just over halfway through the main center section; it's 41 repeats of a six-row eyelet pattern, and I just finished #22. I am fantasizing about making it j-u-u-u-s-t a little shorter. I haven't forgotten about your responses to my musings regarding being one of the Kool Kids of the fiber world either. I'm getting there.

Random the fourth: I have a student teacher working with me right now, and she's a good one. No experience with general music , as she was in the instrumental track in college (never mind that our certification is Music K-12, period...colleges do not seem to have grokked that YET, but that's a rant for another day), but she's got some really good teaching skills going for her. This frees us up to focus on the how-to's of constructing general music lessons, which are very similar and very different at the same time when compared to band rehearsals. She's caught on fast, especially in the, "do it the way Barb is doing it" department. This is particularly helpful in classroom management. I'm quite sure many of my student teachers have started out thinking that I'm too harsh, and that they won't have to be so mean to get the same results. This usually lasts for about a week until I sit back and don't intervene on minor-to-moderate issues. Suddenly, being "mean" isn't so "mean" after all.

Anyway, we sing a lot in general music, and while she isn't shy about it, it's still a little intimidating at first. Having some kind of instrument between you and the kids is helpful, plus it helps you stay on pitch for the whole song. Well, she doesn't play guitar (which is what I mostly use), and neither of us wanted to drag out the piano. I thought about re-tuning a guitar to an open chord, or teaching her two chords on the guitar, and those options didn't sound good either. So I threw a mountain dulcimer at her, showed her two chords (much simpler than guitar chords), and sent her home.

Oh, did I mention her college supervisor was coming the next day, and she would be singing this new two-chord song with the kindergarteners for the first time ever?

Well, she went home And. Did. It. Took an instrument she'd never played, worked out the song (which inserts the kids' names into it, no less), and was ready to go the next day. No bitching, no hesitation, no resistance to trying because she was being observed the next day and didn't want to screw up. And the cherry on top is that when she taught the lesson with the dulcimer on her lap, she sang more confidently and was obviously having FUN. Bingo.

It's not about the dulcimer (though it's super-cool and she's asked if she can borrow it for a while...well, DUH, that's another part of my plan for world domination). It's that she wasn't thrown for a minute, or if she was, she didn't show it. She simply stepped up to the plate and swung. She's going to be fine. If she gets a job in general music, she's going to need some curriculum support, but really? She's going to be fine.

Random the fifth: this has inspired my dulcimer-playing again as well, which is also super-cool. I have two mountain dulcimers, lent one to my student teacher, and started playing the other again myself. Set up the hammered beast, too, and the tunes are coming together fairly easily. That's a good sign that there's room in my brain, pollen notwithstanding. Clicking on the link above takes you to the website of the luthier who made the dulcimer I'm using right now. Mine doesn't look exactly like the one on the page, but it sure is pretty.

Random the sixth: regarding the college supervisor. I am 5' 1 1/2" on a good day when I stand up very straight and the humidity is high. Dr. Supervisor is 6' 8". (Take a moment and get the visual on that.) I may have to be a smartass for his last visit and borrow a chair from the kindergarten, instead of having my adjustable desk chair in place for him. If he's going to work with me in the future with other student teachers (this is the first time we've worked together), he might as well know what he's getting himself into.