Everyone does something to relax. Some play video games, some watch TV or read magazines.
I spin. And if you like, you can join me here for a window into my Spinning Zen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What's with the title, anyway?

Today, I sit at home pondering the world and the many facets of karma, cosmic justice, happiness, and fate. And of course by that I mean lying in bed with an awful case of self-induced food poisoning. Lesson learned: never "improvise" when cooking meat using a new method.

So, since I'm currently unable to accomplish any homework (which this time requires research and handwriting), I'll dictate to my faithful computer the basis of my philosophies, then have some fun formatting. Or maybe just talk a little about what Taoism is. Or bemoan my current state of gastric affairs just entertain the both of us for a little while!

Anyway! Taoism. It's sometimes categorized as a religion, sometimes as a philosophy. I prefer to think of it as both, because while there are no god(s) and there is a particular flavor of thinking, Taoism also provides a model of life meant to bring happiness and well-being, which is really the stated goal at the core of most religions. Sure, the fathers of Taoism were a little quirky, but at least they skipped over all that business of bloodshed, testing their followers and blighting the earth when it was misbehaving. Taoists lack any built-in reason for religious conflict - there are no gods to agree with and back up man's causes, so ultimately we have to take responsibility for our own actions. Following the Tao is like following the Golden Rule - treat others the way you would like to be treated. Yeah, it's also kind of like the tree-hugging hippie preaching peace and love on the street-corner of Religion and Pessimism.

"Taoism is neither formal religion or structured philosophy." -Tao, Sacred Texts

Don't imagine I'm trying to sell you all on Taoism! It's not for everyone. Lots of people find it comforting to believe there's someone else controlling their lives. Sorry, Someone(s). Plus, the news reports would get way less interesting.

In all seriousness though, other religions are cool too. I'm not a religion-hater. The Egyptians gave us the pyramids and mummies for action/horror films; the Greeks gave us the words "narcissism" and "hubris," as well as Homer's "The Odyssey," and even Christianity inspires gifts and candy on holidays like Christmas, Easter and Halloween. Religions are supposed to make their followers happy; if they do that, they're fine by me. If they add in freebies for me too, all the better!

Let me tell you a story. Way back in grade school, I still went to Sunday school. Yes, my parents are Catholics, and happy about it. I don't understand it, but it's fine by me - they're pretty cool (I'm out of the teen years, so I can say that now). My particular Sunday school was... kind of intense, most of the time. More likely to focus on the blood and guilt aspects of the religion than the "love your fellow man" parts. I passed out once during their description of the stations of the cross, and I'm not usually squeamish; I've dissected living fish in a bio lab. When things didn't make sense to me, I asked questions... which made me a teacher's favorite! Not. ("But... why did god punish Lot? I thought he was a good guy! I get that the devil is bad, but god's supposed to be the smart one!" ...Looking back, I should really be thankful corporal punishment fell out of favor.) Sometimes they showed Veggie Tales instead of teaching, and sometimes there were donuts, so there were upsides! But this is where my view of Christianity as morbid started.

As it happens, my History class for the year was tasked with addressing the prickly topic of cultures - and by extension religions - around the world. I wasn't looking forward to it. As far as I was concerned, religion sucked; it was bloody and made people fight. But, as the year got started, then progressed, it wasn't so bad. Religions did some awesome things too. Like helping sway opinion in favor of emancipation during the civil war here in the US of A, and providing some of Gandhi's inspiration in his leadership of India's peaceful revolution (now there's an awesome guy. And a Hindu!). But I remember the religions of Asia most clearly - Confucianism, with its strict order and focus on proper relationships; the cynicism and underlying hope of Buddhism, and then, there was the Tao.

To learn about Taoism, we read "The Tao of Pooh." Great, a cartoon book, right? Wrong. A study of Taoist principles using Pooh - a happy, "go with the flow" kind of guy - as sometime co-narrator, sometime example. Think about it: who is the happiest character of the bunch? Well, that's easy - Pooh. But why? He gets into just as much trouble. He lives in the same place, has the same kinds of friends, leads the same kind of life. The answer is actually on the cover of the book, although you'd have to read it to understand:

"While Eeyore frets ... 
... and Piglet hesitates
... and Rabbit calculates 
... and Owl pontificates
...Pooh just is."

"No way," I'm thinking. "A religion that actually says all it takes to be happy is to be? No rules, no threats? Just live life simply, and try not to worry too much?" Yes way. A religion that is well known, popular quotes like "don't sweat the small stuff," "hang in there," and "take one step at a time." An honest-to-goodness, common sense religion. Wow.

I finished the book, wrote my paper, and went home and told my parents I was a Taoist. I think my mom had a "we're bad Christian parents" complex for a while, but she's all better now. I think the fact that I don't dance naked in moonlight and sacrifice small animals has a lot to do with that.

And that's it! My own personal revelation, the secret of my sanity in the face of illness and pain, and along with my discovery of spinning, the inspiration for this blog. There will be more fiber soon, I promise - three FO's, a bunch of yarn and more of one species of fiber than I know what to do with!

"Simplicity before understanding is simplistic; 
simplicity after understanding is simple." -Edward de Bono

A word on karma: While not a tenet of Taoism, the idea of karma is in keeping with Taoist teachings and philosophies. I find it to be true enough for myself and my life, and appreciate the idea that a current downswing will be followed by an equal upswing. I'm not a perfect Taoist, and can't interpret everything as positive, so the idea of karma is both comfortable and useful to me.

Disclaimer: I intend no offense to any religion, culture, race of people or nation. If asked, I can provide examples of stupid things I, or other Taoists, have done too.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Determination, aka Stubbornness

Well, it's been a while since my last update, so here's a quick summary: I had a lovely vacation with my family, moved into a beautiful third floor apartment in a 19th century home in the country, started a new diet for my health and settled into the '11/'12 school year!

The beach was beautiful. It rained a few days, but mostly at night, so there was plenty of beach time! And, I only burned once, which is great considering my sun tolerance. Or rather, lack of sun tolerance. I even had a rainbow beach umbrella and a straw sunhat with a tie under the chin, of which I gracefully decline to post a picture. I will, however, let you see a couple of the other shots I took!

The view from our room, the morning we arrived.
Morning sun over the beach.
Well, it IS a spinning blog...
If you look close, you can see my beautiful little Lark, always with me, even on the beach!

But, vacation can only last so long, and soon I was moving into my apartment to get ready for school. And my spinning came with me.

You know you're into spinning when your desk organizer has a drawer
just for sample skeins and Ravelry.com is your homepage...
Isn't it pretty? This is my Shaylee alpaca on the lark - it's what I was
spinning in the beach picture above.
And, not too long later, that alpaca has been navajo-plied and
made into this lovely winter hat. There are mittens in the works too, it'll be
my whole winter set!
Well, that's all well and good, I'm all moved in and settled, and all set to go pick up food and the other necessities for a new home - when I realize what an opportunity I've got here! There is no food at all in my pantry, so with just a little self control in the store, I can fill my shelves with only healthy foods. If there's no convenient unhealthy foods around, you can't fall into old, bad habits, right? Right!

So, my kitchen is now full of minimally processed, gluten free foods, olive oil, spices, organic fruits and veggies, free range eggs, real butter, and grass fed beef. There's also, well, a couple gluten free cookies. Because no-one's perfect, and every once in a while you just need a cookie as a reward for good behavior.  :)

The best part? I got the idea for a gluten free diet from a nutritionist online who has been able to cure things like diabetes, MS and depression just through diet. He also has a section on fibromyalgia. It's called "food as medicine," and for FM, he recommends a diet high in phytochemicals (found in organic plants), antioxidants, and healthy oils and protein, but without gluten, processed sugars or chemical additives. In case you've never tried it, this diet is very hard to get used to. But, fortunately for me, I'm incredibly stubborn!

So, it's been 5 weeks now, and I can feel the effects already. I have energy like I never would have believed. I don't ache in the morning, or even most of the rest of the day. Most important, I haven't needed painkillers in a month. This is huge for me. I just feel good. So of course I had to let everyone know about it! It turns out everyone could benefit from decreasing processed foods and gluten. Many people are mildly allergic to gluten and don't even know it; they just feel tired and discontent. I've got to hand it to the experts on this one; my doctor even told me that if this improvement holds, and I can stick to this diet, we could discuss decreasing or even stopping my FM drugs. My own little miracle.

My first home-cooked meal! Gluten free and unprocessed doesn't have to
be yucky or take forever. I add honey to everything.  :)
Finally, to round things out and ice my good-karma cake, I've decided that this school year will not be impacted by any manner of health problems. Sophomore and Junior years weren't the best due to the distraction of dealing with pain and medications, but things are getting better and I'm gonna prove to myself and everyone else (including the med schools to which I'm applying) that I am one kickass little firecracker. Because I so am.

Up Next: What's with the title, anyway?

"Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." - Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Where in the world is the Taoist Spinner?

I'm in Ocean City, Maryland, that's where! Spinning my hemp fiber and finishing up my sweater. On the beach. Life is good.

I'm planning for some glamour shots of my spindles with some of the more notable sites around here in the background! And probably even a finished object. Fantastic. Wish you were here! <3

"Sin makes its own hell, and goodness its own heaven."  ~Mary Baker Eddy

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Into the Stash

...The fiber stash, of course. Here's where I take you through all the yummy fluffy stuff hiding in their little bins in my room! I've got so much lovely fluff, in such gorgeous colors, that it surely deserves a post of its own.

Plant Fibers

I actually have two kinds of cotton... raw, ginned cotton, which is waiting on carding, and processed, beautician's cotton coil. Unfortunately, my mom's wool cards won't work for all its veggie matter and fine little fibers, so we need cotton cards before this can get to ready-to-spin condition. There's a whole pound of it, though!

It's... kind of dirty to spin.

There's also almost a pound of the beautician's cotton, which is essentially just a really long cotton ball. Still, the fibers are all neatly aligned and best of all, there's no vegetable matter! Just soft, clean, white cotton. Check it out, that's some well-packed stuff.

In the pursuit of something to spin which was neither as warm as wool or as finnicky as cotton, I found flax, and hemp. This is Ashland Bay hemp, mentioned in my prior post "Projects," with a staple length of about 6-8". The flax fibers, however, are three feet long. So, hemp won out! It's an interesting fiber, with no memory or bounce and some serious twist tolerance. In other words, it'll drape, but not stretch. We - my mother and myself - have dyed it blue-green, hence the gorgeous color! It's our first attempt at dyeing, and not a bad one at all, if I do say so myself. It's spinning up in a very mild variegation of its main shade. I've also found I can only really spin it from the fold, which is my preferred technique anyway, so I don't mind. It'll be great for spinning on the beach!

Superwash Wools & Blends

Cupcake Fiber Co's "Rouge"
I mentioned this one in "Projects" too, and how much my Lark and I loved it. Look at it. No wonder about the name, doesn't it look good enough to eat?

No, seriously, look closer! It's like candy for your fingers. Mmmmmm.

I must not put the fiber in my mouth, I must not put the fiber in my mouth...

Mad Color Fiber Arts' "Tempest"
This is another one I enjoy very much, although the blend and colorway don't appear on the website just now. Suffice it to say that the blend is beautiful, the colors are deep, vibrant and true, and it spins easily and smoothly. I love this fiber.

My first substantial spindle-spun skein!
Sheep Shed Studio's Superwash
These folks do a great job. I've talked with Carol, who runs the studio, and she's just fabulous. I'm not the only one who thinks so; since about June, they've been hard pressed to keep up with all the orders coming in! Still, I've got some of my best fiber from her. Beautiful, beautiful stuff - I've got the colors "mallard" and "copper" from her listings, plus a special bonus heather she tossed in for me. It's soft, but strong; actually, what comes to mind is a particular commercial for toilet paper, wherein a wife tosses her husband three rolls - one that poofs into downy fluff, one that scrapes the hair off the side of his head, and one "just right." This is "just right" fiber, folks. :)

Natural Wools

Paradise Fibers' "Black Welsh"
It's a lovely fiber, very lofty and soft... although there are quite a few guard hairs. I don't think I'll buy it again, but it'll be great as a felted bag! It was worthwhile as a learning experience, too.

Paradise Fibers' "Light Gray Suffolk"
There are WAY too many guard hairs to tell whether this is a nice fiber or not... which makes me a little sad. If anyone has a suggestion for uses for hairy fibers, do please let me know!

Sheep Shed Studio's Mill Ends & Mohair
I love this wool! Their mill ends are every bit as fabulous as their superwash. Perfect for learning; I went through about half of my pound of white wool practicing drafting and experimenting with plying and twist, and it worked with me wonderfully. Plus, because it was natural wool, I could felt my lesser attempts. But never my very first yarn! I would recommend this to any and every beginner!

My very first yarn! It's thick and thin and WAY overspun,
but I love it and I'm still really proud.
As for the mohair... it's very soft and silky, but I've been unable to spin it well as of yet. I'm sure all it'll take is practice, so I'll keep trying.

Two By Two Alpacas' "Shaylee"
This fiber is simply gorgeous... It's only the seconds from the fleece (that's the slightly-less-soft-and-desirable stuff, for my non-fiber folks) but it's still heaven to the touch and beautiful. The fiber is from an alpaca named Shaylee, and if you follow the link above and click "alpacas" on the sidebar, you can see Shaylee! Her profile is second from the bottom. Unfortunately, I can't really spin it (yet?) because something about it makes my hands and eyes itch... I'm hoping it's just some kind of dust, because I'd hate to have to miss out on the world of soft, yummy alpaca fiber!

West Elm Farm's Romney
This was my first experience with real "sheepy" wool... It still had some lanolin in it, and smelled a bit of the barnyard. It taught me about different staple lengths and how to draft for a lofty, "woolen" yarn. It's a carded prep as opposed to combed, and more of a web than a roving... it's suited well to a rustic yarn, and felts slowly but very very well. The yarn below, spun during spring semester of this year, became a lovely felted winter cloche hat. It even repels water! The rest of this fiber is destined for something special... What, I'm not sure, but I'm sure it'll tell me when it's time.
Romney two-ply, next to a millspun worsted weight yarn
and with a quarter for scale.

Romney Cross
I bought two pounds of this fiber at New Hampshire Sheep & Wool, but neglected to take note of the shop. Bad fiber nerd. It felt strong and soft, and it's a lovely cafe-au-lait color, from caramel to cream. But, when I tried to spin lace with it, it objected! This is a much coarser fiber than I've worked with before. It's taught me that not all fiber that feels soft will spin up soft... which is kind of a tough lesson, since I've got two pounds of it now! Still, it's much more pleasant to work with spun thick, so I've been experimenting with spinning it on a homemade navajo spindle. Maybe it'll make a nice throw rug? Or even a lined cloak... Hmm...

Patch Sheep's Corriedale
It's down to the last of my fibers, and this one's my very own special project. It's a whole raw fleece, purchased at New Hampshire Sheep & Wool for just $10 per pound. It's worth every penny, and more. Way more, actually. I'm of the opinion they mixed up the fleeces; this jet black wool is very fine and crimpy, and very very soft. It's in great condition. I washed it cold to leave the lanolin in, so it conditions our hands while we work with it... I should add that I wash it, my mother picks and cards it, and then I spin it. It's already made a sample skein of laceweight yarn, that's simply beautiful. I could make anything with it. Really, anything.

It's the creative Taoist's dilemma: to choose the literal Uncarved Block...

"The essence of the Uncarved Block is that things in their original simplicity contain their own natural power, power that is easily spoiled and lost when that simplicity is changed."

...or the experience in life which comes from doing things.

Exactly three guesses which one I normally choose. 

If you'd like a preview of the reason behind the blog name, you can look here for a quick, down-to-earth synopsis of Taoism, using the characters of Winnie the Pooh. The post with relevant explanations and quirky anecdotes is in the works for the coming weeks.

"When facing a single tree, if you look at a single one of its red leaves, you will not see all the others. When the eye is not set on one leaf, and you face the tree with nothing at all in mind, any number of leaves are visible to the eye without limit. But if a single leaf holds the eye, it will be as if the remaining leaves were not there."  -Takuan Soto

Friday, August 5, 2011


I've never been good at sitting idle. My hands need to be doing things, and if not given a productive task to do, will find something with which to occupy themselves quite on their own. Their favorite thing to do is snapping and unsnapping pen caps, or snap fasteners, or zippers, or the blades of my swiss army knife... anything which makes a small repetitive noise that drives normal people crazy. I repeat though, they have to: if they were to just lie still, my nerve condition would creep back into them and cause them to hurt. Kind of like a shark can't stop swimming or it'll suffocate and die. Anyway.

The result of this need to fidget is projects. Although I can't yet spin without carefully watching my progress, knitting and crochet have become back-of-the-mind, reflexive actions for me. When knitting before bed, as I often do, it isn't unusual for me to wake from a doze to find that I've completed another several rounds in my sleep! It takes no attention at all, anymore. So, I knit while riding in cars or trains, or while walking around. I knit while hanging out with friends, during mealtimes when I've finished eating, and even in lectures at school. In fact, it's very rare to find me without something to knit nearby. It's just a natural thing for me to do. And it's a lot of knitting - I pump out incredible amounts of needlework during the average week. I'm always finishing up something or other... and I'm always starting something new.

Right now, I can count four spinning projects (with several more planned), five knitting, and one crochet. That's a pretty typical spread, for me. After all, I've got to have take-along projects, challenging projects, ones to do for relaxation, or when my nerves are acting up. They each fill a need. I try to keep them few enough to list... And now, I suppose, I'll tell you about them.

Current Knits

The Take-Along
Currently, my take-along is a pair of socks for my dad. He's requested black, 6-inch legs, and minimal patterning. It's slow, tough going - I'm using too-small needles, so that the fabric will be dense and durable - but I can see progress, now and then.

My simple project is a custom-designed, basic raglan. It came about because I just couldn't find a simple, scale-able raglan pattern, and I wasn't satisfied with any of the instructions for designing your own. I wanted to be able to input my gauge, any desired finished measurements (neckline, arm circ., body circ., etc.) and get out a finished, seamless pattern in the round with sensible numbers and stitch counts. So... I made one. In Excel. And this is the product. It's wonderful tv- or conversation-knitting, since I'm on the body, which is pure stockinette. I think for the next one, I'll incorporate cables around the raglan lines or sleeves.

The Baby Blanket
Baby blankets are always good to have on hand. This one is pink, garter stitch on the diagonal, with a three-stitch garter border. It's also tv-or conversation-knitting, because can you really have too many of those?

The Challenge
A girl can get pretty bored with garter, stockinette and socks, so this slot is for something heavily patterned. And I do mean heavily. It could be drenched in cables, but this one is lace... a shawl, actually. You can find it on ravelry, named "Regrowth." I love the progression of lace patterns! It's a gorgeous, gorgeous piece of knitting design. This is somewhat of a larger project than I'd normally choose for this spot, but I did really like it, and I've never actually knit a shawl before. I'll need 60" size 5's before too long, though.

The start of this two-year
The Accomplishment
    Something big. Something to be proud of. Usually a 6-months to a year project. In this case, a light, worsted-lace blanket for my bed, for use when it's too hot for the comforter but too cool for just a sheet. It's very nearly done - I started it sophomore year, 2009, and I'm betting I'll finish it this year. 

      The Yarns-In-Progress

      The Lark, of Vera and Rosewood, and a bit of the first
      rouge batt, artistically framed in a shaft of light
      The Socks
      6 1oz batts from the Cupcake Fiber Company, a lovely red-orange called "rouge" in a panda blend (superwash merino wool, bamboo, and nylon, 60/30/10). This fiber is simply delicious. I'm spinning it up on my Jenkins' lark, one ounce at a time, in between the hemp for vacation. Three each of the six batts will be spun up into singles and combined in a three-ply, so I'll end up with two, three-ounce skeins of (hopefully) sock yarn. We'll see. I'm betting this'll end up either as lovely soft mitts, or as slouchy socks. Either way, I'm gonna love it.

      The Stormy Lace
      This is for mom... I'm spinning it up on my first turkish spindle, a ThreadsThruTime tiny in Mora and Canarywood. I don't think I'll buy another one of these, but I do still use it for spinning. It means having to wind off rather than disassemble like a turkish should, because the head knob doesn't fit back down through a full cop... but the weight is right, and the spinning is pleasant enough. It's 4oz of a panda blend by Mad Color Fiber Arts, colorway "tempest." It'll certainly be sock yarn, most likely chain-plied to preserve the color shifts.
        ThreadsThruTime Tiny in Mora and Canarywood,
        wearing some of the "tempest."
      The Hippie
      As noted before, I'm spinning hemp! It's Ashland Bay hemp, from ThreadsThruTime. I've dyed it blue-green using tie-dye dyes meant for cotton, but it stuck... although, it's spinning up much more "mint" than I had intended. Spinning hemp is weird. It doesn't have the memory or stretch of wool, and it isn't as floppy as cotton - it's just stiff, once spun. It doesn't kink up on itself unless it's draped very loosely, and it'll hold the kink of the half-hitch that holds it on the shaft of the turkish. I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like finished, but I'm sure it'll be like nothing I've worked with before.

      The Heather
          The Kuchulu, in Vera and Rosewood,
          wearing a silk sample in the sunlight.
          It's positively tiny.
      This one's on the Jenkins' kuchulu, and spinning up into a laceweight single. The fiber was a gift sent along with a larger purchase from the Sheep Shed Studio, in copper, black and white, but as it's spun it's combining into the most beautiful dark brown heather ever. It reminds me of leaf litter in the forest, but in a good way. I have to spin this stuff slowly, so it'll last... I don't know what I'll do when I run out.
        My Crochet

        The Star
        When it's done, this one'll weigh 4 lbs. That's because it's done in two skeins of Caron One Pound at a time, alternating colors between "lace" and "bone" every two rounds, and I have two skeins of each color. That enough two's for ya? It's Lyn's Round Ripple Baby Afghan on Ravelry, although because I'm me, I had to modify the pattern at least a little. Rather than doing two rounds of large shells and two of small, I'll be doing one of each, repeatedly - that's so the repeats for each color will look the same. It's another long term project, but that's okay - sometimes I just miss crocheting, and this'll be nice to be able to come back to.

        Well, and that's my projects for now, folks. Pictures and completion announcements will surely be forthcoming... eventually. 

        "Idle Hands are the Devil's Workshop."

        Thursday, August 4, 2011

        Hey, I have a Blog!

        Yeah! A blog!

        Here's the thing. I'm one of those people who, now and then, needs a soapbox. Whether or not anyone else wants to listen, or can even relate to what I'm saying, I will say it. And, well, facebook statuses aren't a great forum for that. ;)

        So, now I have a blog. In it you can expect to find my spinning and knitting exploits, fiber and technique reviews, and because I'm sure they'll creep in, the occasional insight into my schooling, opinions and life in general. You can also expect a semi-regular update schedule. You might learn with me as I attempt something new... You may even be able to cheer me on through a few self-set goals. And maybe, just maybe, you'll be inspired to find some zen of your own.

        Some examples of potential future topics:

        • What's on my needles/spindles/in my stash?
        • Annie the Orphan Castle Wheel
        • My Turkish (Spindle) Love Affair
        • From the Fold - My Long Draw Breakthrough
        • In "The Zone"
        • The Simple Joy of Cables
        • A Fiber Compilation - everything I've spun, whose, how's and why's.
        • What's with the blog title, anyway?
        and many more.

        I'd better come to a close before my mind bursts with the possibilities... But, it's a start. The ice is broken, the wall is no longer blank, and the first step has been taken.

        "A Journey of a Thousand Miles begins with a Single Step."