A World Through the Hands (video)

A new-to-me video, which I discovered thanks to Root Simple.

So though there is this loss of understanding the value of things, of the meaning of things, and in handwork, in transforming nature we also make something truly unique that we have made with our hands, stitch by stitch, that maybe we have chosen the yarn, we have even spun the yarn — even better, and that we have designed. And when I do that, I feel whole. I feel I am experiencing my inner core because it’s a meditative process. You have to find your way; you have to listen with your whole being. And that is the schooling that we all need today.

Nothing to add here… she says it all.

Now back to my knitting.

(More info here and here.)


One of the best loaves of bread I’ve ever baked

This may look like a bread failure:


But I am going to tell you why it is anything but a bread failure.

You see, I think I’ve finally left the realm of the nervous beginner who obsesses about following dictates and worries about making mistakes, gets frustrated at the slightest imperfection in a final product, is impatient for the day when mastery will be reached. I don’t generally like making such bold declarations, but in this case I don’t think I’m overstating things. I really do think I’ve stopped worrying about my bread “failing.” (Maybe because it happens so often and so I’m used to it? Ha.) I’ve realized that even when a loaf comes out of the oven looking absolutely nothing like the pretty loaves of bread in all my cookbooks, it is almost always perfectly edible, and often tastes very good despite appearances. Like the loaf of bread pictured above, for example.

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Time log of a highly productive day

On Wednesday Mas and I met up at the garden to catch up, which is an odd thing for me to say because normally we see each other all the time, but by fault of various circumstances we somehow managed to go an entire month without seeing each other, nor even really having much in the way of contact aside from a couple of brief emails. At long last we were reunited then, and before we knew it we’d been talking for 10 hours straight. It was nearly 2 a.m. and we were both too exhausted to make our ways home, so we slept in the house of the art association that cohabitates in the same land plot as the garden (we have the house keys). The next day was Thursday, which would prove to be a highly productive day.

0827 –  I woke up, showered, dressed and was in the kitchen making a pot of coffee by 0900.

0910 – Mas and I are sitting at the table on the garden terrace, drinking our coffee and enjoying the still of the morning. I’m working on my latest knitting project. The still was interrupted when the birds arrived to feast on the grape arbor hanging over our heads. “I’ve had enough of their gluttony,” I said. “I’m fine with them eating some of the grapes but last year they ate everything. Let’s pick everything that’s ripe and make wine.” Mas said, “Right,” and got her laptop to start looking up how to go about such business, because neither of us had ever done it before. I got a pair of scissors from the kitchen and stood on a rickety wooden chair cutting down bunches of grapes and loading them into a plastic bag hooked on my elbow. I picked a huge pile, something like six or seven kilos I’d say, and then returned to my seat to continue knitting while Mas read aloud to me instructions she was finding online for how to make wine.

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Patience, young one

Today’s production cycles have been evidently more interested in mirroring nature than industry.

Last night I mixed the leaven for the sourdough bread I’m planning to bake today. Our kitchen must be unusually cold because this morning the leaven was still not ready. You can tell when it’s ready by pinching off a small glob of it and dropping it in a glass of room temperature water. If it floats, it’s aerated enough to begin mixing in the rest of the flour and water to make a dough. When I tested the leaven’s readiness, this is what happened:

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The glob of leaven you see in the bottom right of the glass there is supposed to be floating at the surface of the water by now. I have no idea what the deal is. Bread may have to wait for another day.

My germinating plants are also marching to their own beat.

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I wish I could give them something better than indirect sunlight from a west-facing window, but sadly, I can’t. It is my dream to transform our entire living room into an incubator for seed germination.

The only thing that is moving quickly today is my knitting. Last night I started relearning through YouTube tutorials all the stuff I’d forgotten (everything) since my brief flirtation with knitting about ten years ago.

My first row:

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Where I ended up after that first session of getting to know you again:

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Where I ended up after a prolonged morning knitting session fueled by several cups of coffee:

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That’s right, I’m on to switching colors. I’m seriously shocked at how quickly this is all coming back to me, given that back in the day when I first tried knitting I was extremely slow, extremely frustrated, had no patience, dropped stitches constantly, couldn’t carry on a conversation while doing anything so complicated as knit one purl one, and would repeatedly get five rows into a project (that was always beyond my abilities) before abandoning it for another project (that was also beyond my abilities).

Just 24 hours ago I didn’t know that I could knit. Apparently I can — simple stitches for now, but those simple stitches are the same ones that once drove me mad with frustration. Is this what they call the patience that comes with age? Maybe it’s that I’m more comfortable with repetitive handiwork that lets the mind wander, which means I can mentally handle stretches of time where I’m doing nothing but sitting quietly with my coffee and yarn and thoughts. I think it’s all this, and most of all the fact that I understand and accept now the time it can take to learn new skills.

I’m experiencing the same thing with bread baking, which I also dabbled with in my early twenties, turning out loaf after loaf of dry, wheat-flavored bricks, before deciding that bread was clearly a mysterious science that I was not capable of mastering. Then one day a few years ago, it occurred to me that maybe actually reading the chapter on bread baking in the Joy of Cooking would be useful, in addition to looking up more information online, and maybe peppering my mom with questions during our Skype calls — instead of doing what I’d once done, which was speed-read through the recipe, ignoring whole paragraphs of information about, say, the science behind why bread dough rises (which explains why certain instructions such as rising and resting times are included in a recipe and not tossed in there as optional steps for me to blow off). I would not, and in a sense, could not, as Emerson wrote, “leave this military hurry and adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience” (Lectures and Biographical Sketches, p 152).

Victory over things is the office of man. Of course, until it is accomplished, it is the war and insult of things over him. His continual tendency, his great danger, is to overlook the fact that the world is only his teacher, and the nature of sun and moon, plant and animal only means of arousing his interior activity. Enamored of their beauty, comforted by their convenience, he seeks them as ends, and fast loses sight of the fact that they have worse than no values, that they become noxious, when he becomes their slave.

This apparatus of wants and faculties, this craving body, whose organs ask all the elements and all the functions of Nature for their satisfaction, educate the wondrous creature which they satisfy with light, with heat, with water, with wood, with bread, with wool. The necessities imposed by this most irritable and all-related texture have taught Man hunting, pasturage, agriculture, commerce, weaving, joining, masonry, geometry, astronomy. Here is a world pierced and belted with natural laws, and fenced and planted with civil partitions and properties, which all put new restraints on the young inhabitant. He too must come into this magic circle of relations, and know health and sickness, the fear of injury, the desire of external good, the charm of riches, the charm of power. (p 127-128)

Once I stopped trying to muscle my way through the baking process, caring only about the end result and not about the means to get there, when I actually started taking the time to learn about bread instead of fighting with it, that’s when I started making good bread. (If I may say so.) Once I started relaxing about feeling like I needed to get it all done right away, accepting the fact that sometimes our projects develop minds and schedules of their own, I became okay with stepping back and letting things go about their business. If this were ten years ago, I promise you that the leaven that’s puttering away in the kitchen right now, taking its own sweet time and mocking my human-world schedule, would already have been formed into a dry, heavy dough and probably shoved prematurely into the oven. If this were ten years ago, the apartment would smell warm and bready right now, but we would be eating hardtack with our soup tonight.

Of course I’m kind of annoyed that my leaven is not bending to my human whims today, but I’m leaving it alone. And if we wind up having bread for breakfast tomorrow instead of dinner tonight, well… we’ll still have bread.

All I want to do is bake bread and practice yoga

When I was in college I tried out a couple of classes at a yoga studio in my neighborhood, and one day a girl in the class mentioned that all she had done that day was bake bread and practice yoga, and that in her perfect world that’s all she would do all day, every day: bake bread and practice yoga. That’s all? God, what a horrible, useless drain on society she would be, I scoffed (in my head). That’s kind of what I was like in my early twenties; I bought into a whole program of ideas about what success and societal participation look like.

That was more than ten years ago. Last night and this morning, I signed up to teach several classes at the soon-to-open Trade School Geneva, a center for learning and sharing in all sorts of subjects and activities, where instead of paying for classes with money, students pay the teacher with bartered items or services.

Anyone can propose to teach whatever they want, and for a while I mulled over what my contribution could be. What am I good for? What do I know relatively a lot about that I would like to share with others? What kinds of things are people looking to learn?

In the end, I proposed classes in bread baking and yoga. The irony!

My Crochet Habit is Making Me Feel Guilty

It’s a funny thing, this guilt that stalks a person when he or she takes the time to learn something new. In my case, it’s crochet. I’ve been plugging away at my little square of purple-ish pink yarn and I feel like I already might be ready to start a pair of tiny socks for my very good friend Jane’s most recent DIY project — her one month old daughter, Pepper. I figured baby socks were a good first project because they’re small and seem pretty uncomplicated, and also I want my first project to be something wearable for someone I love. Jane is someone I love, and by extension so is Pepper, so baby socks it is.

This is therefore a tangible project with a set goal — as well as a deadline, since I’m going home for Christmas and Jane and her family will be in town — and yet I feel a bit like a loafer when I’m sitting around squinting at my crochet.  I feel like I’m just screwing around and that my time would be better spent doing something more productive. Why is that? I’m making something and learning a new skill. That’s hardly what I would call laziness. And it’s not for the fact that crochet is a “hobby” ie leisure time activity (so they say) — most of the things I do in life are things I do free of charge, just for the love of it, and I don’t feel guilty for any of it.

In the case of crochet, I tend to think that the guilt comes from the fact that I’m a beginner still struggling to not drop stitches. This means that an hour might go by and I’ll have four rows to show for it. I loathe that my reaction toward learning something new is guilt — this is a new development, one that I’ve never felt in any of my other DIY endeavors, including building very homemade-looking tree houses. Maybe with the tree houses I was so busy making sure I didn’t saw off my fingers that there was no room in my head for anything else. Making the guilt over this new venture of mine doubly ridiculous is the fact that crochet fits in perfectly with my research. I don’t understand my brain.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend the other evening. She had just gotten back from visiting her sister and brother in law, and told me that one day she was talking with them about how she was considering getting her PhD. Her brother in law’s words of wisdom were to calculate whether having a PhD would increase her salary potential, and if so, do it; if not, don’t. In other words: learning has no value unless it makes us wealthier. Learning merely for the sake of learning, to become a better thinker, more creative, to discover new universes of knowledge: this is foolish. What a horribly sad, impoverished opinion of education.

I’m going to sign off now so I can go revolt against such opinions of the value of learning. My chosen means of revolt will be to crochet another row on my practice square, which will perhaps one day lead to completing a PhD that will almost certainly not increase my salary potential.