Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mindfulness - My 2008 Intention

One of the basic concepts of Buddhism is Mindfulness. It's one of those concepts that seems so simple but is, for me at least, very difficult. It relates to living in the moment and being aware of and appreciating what is happening at any given time. Obviously, I've oversimplified the idea, which is very complex and is the subject of many books, but this blog isn't the place for a tedious (for you, not me) explanation or discussion of spiritual principles.

For now, let's just say that I've been thinking for quite awhile about things I can do to improve the quality of life around Pug Manor and bring a little peace and tranquility into the chaos that seems to characterize my own life. Right now, for instance, I'm awash in fears about my job (and not having one), about money, and about how I'm going to spend the next however many years I've got. I've been doing what my father would have called "soul searching." And one of the issues that I've identified is that I'm constantly chasing things that I think will make my life better, and I seldom catch anything of lasting value.

Every year I make a huge list of New Year's Resolutions. The word "resolution" implies use of resolve, which in turn implies commitment. But every year, those resolutions, once written down, are ignored until about December 28 when I suddenly realize I haven't done squat toward them. So this year, a new idea (a resolution, if you will): NO NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS.

Instead, Mindfulness. Here's where I'm going with this whole thing:

Mindfulness about my choices and how they impact others. Everything we do has an effect on others, whether intentionally or accidentally. For instance, an unkind word can hurt someone's feelings unnecessarily. An accumulation of negative thinking can make me more negative. In a more global way, our choices can impact the sustainabilty of our planet. For me, I can work on controlling things like my temper, what I say or write, my driving speed, my consumption of our Earth's natural resources, where the products I buy come from.

Mindfulness about food and eating. I tend to eat when I'm bored or anxious, and when I do that, I seldom think about whether I'm making the right choice. (It actually feels a lot like the way I used to drink and smoke--lighting up cigarette after cigarette to keep my hands busy and my mind still.) It's a fact that when I'm speeding through a drive-thru, I'm not thinking about calories or whether I'm eating something with unhealthy additives or how many miles I'm going to have to walk to burn up that Big Mac. In 2008, I'd like to eat when hungry, stop when I've had enough, and be aware of what I'm eating and really enjoy it. It's also important to realize how that food got on my plate and at what cost. I might eat less if I actually listened to my body about what I was putting in it. (And who could be more concentrated on her eating than Lightning?)

Mindfulness about money. I have earned all my own spending money since the age of 13 and sometimes I get that "well, it's my money and I'll damn well do what I want to" attitude. I tend to be wasteful and I certainly don't save enough. I need to work on knowing, really knowing, where I'm spending money and finding ways to save more. I can use up some of what I have, get rid of what I don't need, and appreciate what remains.

Mindfulness about other people. While I'm spending all that money on whatever-the-hell-I-please, and eating fast food and such, there's a lot of poverty and hunger in the world. I can't solve it all, but I can be more aware of opportunities to assist others. I throw things away every day that someone at the Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children could use. I can volunteer to help someone learn to read. I would like to be the person I think I am -- generous and caring--instead of the person I fear I am--lazy and wasteful and too "busy" to help others. And I can use some of that yarn I've been stockpiling for people who need warmth.

Finally, Mindfulness about the "now." I want to take the opportunity to enjoy my surroundings and what I'm doing. I often "quiet" my mind with mindless reading, TV, or internet blather rather than allow it to be aware of what's going on around me. I often knit while I read blogs while I listen to podcasts. No wonder I feel so ADD most of the time--my mind is full of stimulation with little peace. This year, I want to enjoy the peacefulness of my knitting, thinking about the stitches and the pattern and the yarn, how those elements transform string to a beautiful or useful object, and the person who will use it.

2008 Here I Come!

What, you ask, does that cute little picture of a squirrel storing nuts away in her hidey-hole have to do with me and this blog? Hah! Should be obvious!
As I look around my office--or, as we will refer to it here, the stockroom--what I see is 40+ years of storing nuts, er, yarn, away for the winter.
What the heck was I thinking? I'd like to be able to tell you that I was extremely prescient and knew that one day I'd be happy to have yarn to knit from because I had no money and all the time in the world to knit, but I can't lie to you. Nope, I just kept buying because I love the stuff and can't resist it. (I wish my savings account reflected this same commitment to stash-addition.) I can look at these yarns and say to myself, "ahh, I bought that at Stitches at Valley Forge, many years ago."

Well, okay... now is the time for the squirrel to take some of these nuts out of the hole and start working her way through the hoard. Last year I foolishly thought I would join the 2007 Knit From Your Stash movement. Nah--far from reducing the stash, it grew exponentially. I lost my mind, I think. For some reason, the minute I tell myself I can't have something, I MUST HAVE IT. (My weight demonstrates that this practice is not limited to yarn.) This year, with no paychecks for the foreseeable future, I better get going on the stash.

The two yellow baskets are just lace yarn. What the heck was I thinking? I never even knit a piece of lace until February 2007---how could I have accumulated all that lace yarn? Let us remember: I don't even WEAR shawls. How many could I possibly need? I'll have to start using lace shawls as wall hangings, or wadding them up to use as hot pads and dishcloths, for God's sake!

And, by the way, look at all this, uh, stuff. And this is only most of it, not all of it, just the office stuff. There are several more baskets of yarn in the bedroom. So, two things: First, it's a mess. When we moved into this house, a couple of years ago, it was beautifully organized and clean, and I was really proud of my well-organized stash. Everything was tidy and most of it was contained. Now there's stuff every whichwhere, tossed up against things, flung across the top of shelves, stuffed into drawers, crammed into baskets, falling out of boxes and project bags. That needs to change--how can I even begin to use this stuff up without being able to find it?

Second, it tells me that I've been buying carelessly. It's a sure sign that you don't value something properly when you bring it home, toss it into a basket or bucket, and never think of it again. I can feel my mother twitching in her urn, trying to get out those familiar words about starving children in Armenia. Do you think there are desperate knitters in Armenia just wishing they had my stash of fuschia acrylic and purple mohair?

NOTICE: I am going to TRY to knit down the stash. You heard me: I am going to TRY not to buy yarn and use what I have. I have 40 years of yarn, folks! I should be able to find SOMETHING to knit.

Exclusions: I'm sure if I get to SAFF and MSW, I'll buy. There's just no way around that. But I can be a lot more discriminating--I don't need to come home with stuff just to have it. And if I have to buy for a specific gift item, I probably won't have a choice. And, needless to say, patterns don't count. (At least I don't have to stoop to Wendy Johnson's obvious quibble last year--she said "sock yarn doesn't count." Luckily I have--literally--yarn for about a hundred pairs of socks, so I don't have to make up any crazy exceptions for sock yarn.)

So, I have lots of lace yarn, LOTS of sock yarn, and enough worsted and sportweight yarn for at least one major sweater and two or three vests. I have plenty of both wool and acrylic to knit for charity--CIC needs all wool but there are many charities that want acrylic hats, etc. for washability. I should be able to knit for awhile before I feel the pain.

Update -- Too Long so I'll Summarize

How can it be 3 weeks since I updated this? Well, a lot has gone on since December 6, some of it crappy and most of it great.

To summarize:

(1) Haley's birthday party in Charlotte -- Good. Finished Jitterbug mitts which were well received. (Bad: both daughters now want mitts -- in black! @@$^% and both younger granddaughters want mitts, too. That's four pairs!)

(2) Job over -- Crappy. Very emotional days at The Big Corporation, as it folds onto itself in a Super Slo Mo implosion. As of the 21st of December, I'm finished there. Got my vacation time paid out and, of course, I forgot about 401(k) deductions being huge, so check was smaller than I anticipated. Bad. But at least I got the check. Good.

(3) Christmas over -- Good. Christmas in Charlotte with family was chaotic and crazy, but good for the most part. Lots of noise and no knitting but (a) it's over and (b) we don't have to do it again until next year. And (c) it's over. As I have gotten older (er, more mature), Christmas has morphed from a time of anticipation into a time of unmet expectations (not mine--I have few expectations about holidays, but I never seem to be able to meet other people's expectations, or think I don't.) I'm ready for it to be over. (The Grinch seems to be back.)

(4) Bumper cars -- Ugh. Mr. Pug was nice enough to let me drive his car to Charlotte for Christmas and I brought it back with a crunched rear bumper. A friend, driving to breakfast behind me, rearended me. No injuries except to the car. Mr. Pug was very nice about it but wants it fixed NOW. I can't blame him.

(5) Christmas with Mr. Pug and the babies -- Good. No knitting-related gifties but I did get a good laugh. Both Mr. Pug and Jake gave me digital photo frames. You just can't have too many of those things--in fact, I'll have one in the bedroom and one in the office. The laugh came when I opened up Mr. Pug's version. "Oh," said I, "wonderful--now I can have a 24/7 slideshow of all my yarn." Mr. P visibly blanched and I had to quickly reassure him that I was just kidding (as if). And I was--I'll use his for family and pugs. The slideshow will go on Jake's (in the office where it won't annoy Mr. P.)

(6) After Christmas shopping -- Good. What to do when you don't get knitting-related gifts? Go shopping. In my case, I went straight to Bass Pro Shops on my way home from Charlotte, where I upgraded my knitting needle storage solution.

The one on the bottom is the old case, Xtreme Worm Binder, which has one space like a giant ring binder, with ziploc pouches to hold your fishing supplies and zipper compartments to hold other fishing-type thingies. (I have no idea what those might be!) I have used it for about three years to hold my needles, squishing all my DPNs and circs into pouches, separated by size, and filling all those pockets with tapestry needles, knitting markers, etc. At this point, I can only zip it shut with the most xtreme hassle because--surprise, surprise--I have too many needles. So, the upgrade to a double sided bag (upper one) was overdue. Now I have the DPNs in the front side, each size in its separate pouch, and the circs in the back side, ditto.

(7) Friends -- Good. When I moved to Atlanta six-and-a-half years ago, I thought I was in durance vile, sentenced to leave all my friends, family, etc. As so often happens, it has turned out to be the best thing that could have happened, as I've made a whole new group of friends that I would hate to leave. (So I guess it's okay that the Savannah job didn't happen -- NOT!) I have been moved to tears by the caring and loving expressions of friendship from this group of Atlanta knitters -- I hope I can share that much love with someone else over the next years, to help them share a point in their life when things aren't going so well. Love you guys!

(8) But -- Crappy. I still miss my faraway friends and family. Deirdre and Debbie are too far away (2000 and 600 miles respectively). So is Connie. So are Linda and Cathy and Nydia. I don't get to see them very often and I hate that. I miss being around for all the family events--I will go to Virginia for my niece Caitlin's wedding in March and then again for nephew Andrew's baby, to be born in April, I think. (All those doggy toys and treats that the pugs are playing with came from Linda and Cathy--AKA "the other moms" and "the flatmates.")

(9) Job -- Ugh. Don't even ask. Nothing going there at this point, but I have to admit that I haven't done much in the past week or so. The job market has been dead but I'm hoping it will pick up after the holidays are over. Not to worry at this point.

(10) Atlanta Knitting Guild -- Good. December meeting was fun--it's one of two potlucks we have every year and also the day we present dressed bears to a group that uses them for traumatized children. This year was a light year -- only 130 bears -- but that's still 130 children that will have something to comfort them when something bad happens.

This is the one I did. Yes, I know, I'm bad -- only one. And here she is, comforting Brett. (Brett, that's just SO wrong.)

The best part of the Atlanta Knitting Guild is that I get to be the liaison with the Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children. This month (again!), the members came through with so much stuff that it completely filled my car (or Mr. Pug's car, if you want to be exact). One non-member even sent 18 handknit children's sweaters. When I took them to the shelter, one of the men working there said, "oh, my! a bunch of children will have a nice Christmas present!" I am so appreciative of the generosity of people--knitters are amazing!

Overall Score: GOOD

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Happy Birthday, Haley

So today is Day Two of the Haley Chronicles.

Isn't she gorgeous? Yeah, I know. And just as pretty inside.

She has been at the center of my universe since December 6, 1991. She's bright, articulate, and a gifted athlete. Her only character flaw is that she doesn't knit, but you never know--that could change.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Today ...

Well, it's my former husband's birthday, but forget that ... it's of no consquence. And, no, I'm not bitter, why do you ask?

No, it's the day before my oldest granddaughter's birthday. Tomorrow, Haley will be 16--amazing, since her grandmother is barely ... well, let's not even go there.

So this is Part I of the Haley Chronicles. Here's my favorite picture of Haley and me. Tomorrow, you get to see Haley grown up -- even more beautiful, if that's possible.

As for me, for those of you who've always wanted to know what my real hair color is ... this is the only chance you'll get to see that! Check out that tiny piece of gray over my left temple--the beginning of the end!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Job Interview

Every good movie has to have a dream sequence. Dream sequences allow the viewer to get inside the innermost thoughts and concerns of the protagonist’s mind, seeing the stuff that floats around in her subconscious while she’s, well, unconscious.

So, what does Ms. Pug dream about these days? Sugarplums and candy canes? Not hardly. It’s all about getting a J-O-B. And before you can get the job, you have to get through the interview. Anyway, here’s the ubiquitous dream sequence from the Pug Family Movie:

(The scene opens in a spacious office, with light streaming in through the large glass windows. A harried-looking man sits behind a mahogany desk which is completely clean except for a telephone and a gold pen. His suit jacket is arranged neatly over the back of his executive chair, and his tie is askew. Ms. Pug enters, wearing her best interview suit and carrying a large felted attaché case, decorated with colorful duplicate stitch flowers. She smiles encouragingly.)

Ms. Pug (enthusiastically): Thank you for agreeing to talk with me. I’m really interested in the position you have open here at The Frammis Corp for a manager.

Interviewer (skeptically): Well, I only agreed to see you because you’re so persistent. I really don’t think you’re right for this position.

Ms. Pug (disbelievingly): Not right? How can you say that? Have you read my resume?

Interviewer: Yes. Well, not exactly. Actually, no. We don’t read resumes any more. We have resume scanning software, outsourced to India, to do that. And it says that none of your keywords matched our keywords so you weren’t selected for an interview.

Ms. Pug: But, my experience …

Interviewer (firmly): Doesn’t really matter. If the resume software doesn’t think you’re a match, it doesn’t really matter what you’ve actually done. You’re apparently not a match for Frammis.

Ms. Pug: But my qualifications …

Interviewer (frustratedly): Look—don’t you get it? As far as we’re concerned, and this comes straight from the experts in Mumbai, you don’t have any qualifications!

Ms. Pug: Perhaps if we could discuss the job requirements …

Interviewer: I really don’t see the relevance.

Ms. Pug: Relevance? Oh, I think I can make you see the relevance. Hmmm…where is it?

(Ms. Pug snaps open her attaché case and reaches inside. She removes a skein of what appears to be yarn with two long aluminum needles sticking out of it.)

Interviewer: Uh, what are you doing? Is that a weapon? We have a weapons policy....

Ms. Pug: Oh, don't be silly. They're just tools to help me demonstrate my qualifications to you.

Interviewer (reaching for his phone): Put down that skewer! You can’t …

Ms. Pug: Oh, can’t I? (Reaches up to her neck and pulls on a circular pendant.) I don’t think you need to call anyone. We’ll just snip this phone wire with my handy, TSA-approved, thread-cutter. Ah, that’s better.

Interviewer (beginning to show fear): Security! Get someone from … erg, uh, I can’t breathe with that yarn in my mouth. I should tell you that I’m allergic to wool … (He spits out a piece of what seems to be mohair.)

(Ms. Pug removes the skein of yarn from the Interviewer’s mouth and covers his mouth with highlighter tape, while she wraps the yarn around and around the man and his chair.)

Ms. Pug (pulling more items out of the attaché case): Now, there’s a good lad, just sit still. This won’t take a minute.

(She deftly straps Interviewer’s arms to his chair’s armrests, securing each arm with a circular needle.)

Ms. Pug: I don’t need to use this T-pin on you, do I? Or these blocking wires?

(The interviewer shakes his head vigorously.)

Ms. Pug: I knew those Options extra-long cables would come in handy one day. And, look, it’s so easy to tighten the needle to the cable using this little device that comes with it.

Interviewer: Mmmmmmm, ergggg, argghhhhh.

Ms. Pug: Look, let’s just go over these qualifications and then we can be done with this interview. Okay?

Interviewer (nods head reluctantly): Errgggg.

Ms. Pug (reading): Okay, here are your requirements, right off your website: “Must have project management skills, be flexible, able to multitask in a changing environment.” Well, that’s easy—no one multitasks like a knitter. How else would I be able to maintain a constant 26 projects in various stages of completion? Multitasker, check!

(The interviewer nods, reluctantly.)

Ms. Pug: Next, “must be well organized and able to keep track of supplies and inventory.” Hah! That’s an easy one. If you could see my yarn room, with my three walls of shelving, filled with tubs of yarn, all organized by type of fiber and color, and my three-drawer file cabinet of needles, crochet hooks, and yarn needles organized by manufacturer, you’d know I’m organized. And, of course, I keep track of it all in an Access database—I used to use an Excel spreadsheet but there simply weren’t enough features to handle all the reporting requirements. Metrics are so important! And, I guess that also takes care of “must be able to use MS Office.” So, organization and MS Office, check and check.

(The Interviewer nods again.)

Ms. Pug: Scheduling. “Must be able to prioritize and manage schedules of multiple people.” Well, that’s an easy one. I knit at a different place every single night all over the city of Atlanta with a different group of knitters at each event, and I have no problem keeping track of them all. Check.

(The Interviewer is beginning to look interested. He nods again, this time attentively.)

Ms. Pug (still reading): “Must have procurement experience.” Are you kidding? Who do you think bought all that yarn? Check! But you’re welcome to check with my LYS owner if you need a reference.

Interviewer: Ahhh….

Ms. Pug: “Must have excellent communication skills.” Well, you can read my blog if you want to know about my communication skills. Or read my Ravelry postings. Check!

(The Interviewer motions with his head, apparently asking Ms. Pug to remove the highlighter tape. She takes one end delicately in her fingers and rips it off in a quick tug.)

Interviewer: Ouch! Damn it! No, wait, don’t put it back. I was just going to ask … what about adaptability and flexibility? Those are important qualities.

Ms. Pug: Flexible? Adaptable? See this sweater I’m wearing? It was in Vogue Knitting last month and the original pattern was designed for an anorexic flea. You better believe I’m good at adapting if I got that pattern to stretch around this body.

Interviewer (beginning to get into the spirit): It's actually very attractive. I like the way you used short rows at the waist. But, have you ever done training? Were you successful at it?

Ms. Pug: Taught my neighbor’s little boy to knit –and the little demon's a leftie!

Interviewer (excitedly): What about managing diversity? Do you have any experience?

Ms. Pug: Well, I knit with a bunch of men, and some of my best friends are crocheters.

Interviewer (struggling to get out of his chair): You’re hired! When can you start?

Ms. Pug: Thank you, thank you. I can start next week, right after I get back from my knitting cruise.

(The scene ends.)