Calling in Distracted

It’s Friday and it’s a beautiful day out. In fact, it’s been lovely all week. Everyone I talk to seems to have spring fever and just needs to get away from their work to refresh their heads.

In my work, it’s the same. I’m working on a manual describing how a computer system works. It’s actually not bad work, compared to what a lot of people do for a living, and I think I’m fairly good at it. The tough part (this week at least) is that it’s pretty boring. Write a little, test a little, go dig through an XML file to figure something out, write a little more.

Meanwhile, the Westies are sleeping in the sun on the deck and I’m uber-jealous.

Even though I can’t take the day off, I think I will take a mental break for the weekend. First, I’m going to knock off early and take my bike into the bike shop so it’s ready for the season. Then, I’m going out with friends for drinks, appetizers and laughs. And, I plan to do my best to stay offline and engaged in the warm weather as much as I can this weekend.

Here’s to spring, folks, and to spending your weekend engaged with nature and people. See you next week!


I Have to See a Man about a…Llama?

One of the funny things that spinners do is go on quests to find spinning wheels in all sorts of places. Those of us who collect spinning wheels as much for form as function can get into some interesting situations. I have to admit that I almost didn’t write this story, because after doing some research to freshen up my facts, I found some things I did not know at the time, which makes the whole thing just a bit dark and strange.

A couple of years ago, I had been hunting for a Kromski Polonaise, which is a particular brand of spinning wheel. The Polonaise is the queen of the Kromski line, which are hand-made in Poland by some serious craftsmen. They are beautiful wheels. And since at the time I lived in a house with cherry hardwood floors, of course I wanted the cherry one. All of this loveliness put it into a very spendy price range, especially for a new spinner who already had one wheel and didn’t really need another. (Of course, need is an interesting word and probably a topic for a whole other post….another time). So, I put it on my list of ‘Things I’d Love to Have Some Day’ and went on with my life.

The Kromski Polonaise, a beautiful spinning wheel if ever I saw one.

Until a few weeks later, that is, when a spinning friend of mine saw the exact wheel I was seeking on eBay, local to Illinois (where I lived at the time), and at a very good price. Needless to say, I snatched it up. A few hours later, I got the email from the seller to arrange payment and pickup, which is when things started to get a little scary.

You see, looking through this seller’s other items on eBay, I started to think that I had purchased a spinning wheel from a man who had robbed a monastery. He was selling Bibles, candle holders and all other sorts of things that clearly had come from a church. I had a terrible moment of “Oh my God, what have I done?” That was until I realized that I had not purchased this from someone who had robbed a monastery, but rather someone who was the Abbott of one. Picking up my wheel was going to be interesting.

A few days later, we arrived at the monastery, greeted by a barefoot Father Ryan at the front door. He showed us the wheel and graciously gave us a tour of the public areas of the facility. He also introduced us to their llamas. You see, one of the ways that Father Ryan and his flock pay their expenses is by raising miniature llamas for breeding stock. So, the spinning wheels were for spinning the fleece from their flock. He even gave us a tour of the paddocks and introduced us to several of the llamas. They are surprisingly gentle creatures and really just wanted to be petted.

So, in the end, I got more than just a spinning wheel that day, I also got to meet some lovely animals and came home with an interesting story. I’ve since come to find out that this monastery’s story is much more complicated than I realized because Father Ryan may not actually be a priest at all. At least the Catholic church doesn’t think so, and they have officially announced multiple times that his abbey is not recognized by the Holy See. Depending on who you talk to, this guy is either a saint or a con man. So, it’s odd, this magical day where we petted the llamas and went home with a lovely new spinning wheel, and yet interpreted in hind sight, seems a bit surreal.

I guess things aren’t always what they seem to be.


Great Things

Every now and then a quote floats by on Facebook that makes me pause for a moment. This one was from Mother Teresa, a wise woman if ever I saw one. The quote?  “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

I think most people would agree that Mother Teresa did great things in her life but one of her predominant traits was that she was focused on the needs of others and not on herself.  Born in the Balkans, this tiny lady joined a Catholic convent at the age of 18 and went on to become a well-known public figure who touched millions of lives.  She was a woman with a true calling who spent 45 years serving the poor and sick before going on to her own final reward and being canonized by her church.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we should all be like Mother Teresa and join a convent. In fact, that wouldn’t even be an option for most of us. But the spirit of what she says should ring true in all of our lives – to do small things with great love.  It’s an interesting  idea if you think hard enough about it – and in some ways, it goes against the grain of our American culture. You see, in order to do small things with great love, you have to be thinking about the other person in a situation as much or more than you are of yourself, whereas our culture teaches us that it’s every man (or woman) for himself, you’ve got to take care of number one, yada yada.

But this doesn’t have to be such a dichotomy. You see, in most situations, the best outcome is the one that serves the needs of everyone and doesn’t result in a win for one at the loss of the other. It’s the third option – my personal favorite – that we often don’t see when we are locking horns fighting for self-preservation.

So, here’s my thought for today, folks. Always be on the lookout for that third option, that way to help everyone succeed rather than someone have to fail, that small thing that you can do with great love.  It’s usually there, if we only take the time to look for it.

And if you get a chance to visit someone from a religious order, do it. They are wonderful people. And some of then even knit…but that’s another story, which I think I’ll save for tomorrow.

Oh, for Coffee

A sad thing happened in my life last fall. After a lifetime of loving coffee and drinking copious amounts of it every day, I had to give it up. While I still loved coffee deeply, it did not love me back and my body was being ultra-grouchy about it.

You might not think that it would be that hard, giving up something like coffee. After all,  you can always switch to tea, right? And I did…buying lovely organic teas from a local tea shop run by British people who really know their tea and blend it right there in the shop. (P.S. – If you ever make it to Tealeaves, also try the scones. They are awesome). The problem was, that compared to the bright bitterness that I found in my favorite dark roasted coffees, tea was pretty bland. In fact, really really bland. While I eventually grew to tolerate and even like it, I still missed my coffee.

Some have speculated that my dietary troubles were related to stress, and I suspect that they were right. So, after a few months of drinking tea instead, I got up the courage to try coffee again. And so far, while I’m still limiting the amount, it’s going okay. The problem is that in starting back on coffee, I was less choosy about which coffee I would drink.

I was in the mood to try something different, so I picked up a new brand of coffee at Costco. And while 10 years ago, I’d have probably loved this coffee, I’ve become more discerning in my tastes and I. Hate. It. It has a muddy flavor and it misses that lovely sharpness that a good French Roast has. And I’ve got 2.5 pounds of it, which for a person who only has 2 cups of coffee a day is going to last F.O.R.E.V.E.R.

So, I decided to give myself a little spring coffee makeover. I have this giant Cuisinart 12-cup coffeemaker on my counter, so I end up making a full pot (to get proper flavor) and throwing away most of it. And I’m using this awful coffee which is just not cutting it. So, as part of my makeover, I’m off to get some nice locally roasted beans and a French Press. That should do it.

Wish me luck. Hopefully tomorrow morning you’ll see me, favorite cup in hand, enjoying the steam off a cup of lovely local coffee. At least I’m going to give it a shot.

Every knitter should have their favorite knitting-themed cups to help enjoy the morning. This one is a favorite because it's hand-made by a local artist and of course, features a sheep.

This one is a favorite because it was a gift from my friend Jen. And of course, it has much sheepiness. It's also cool because it was made in Ireland.

Celebrating Westie Haircut Day

The harbinger of spring at our house isn’t robins, it’s Westie haircut day. You see, we let them grow out a bit over the winter and then when it starts to get warm, it’s time for spring haircuts. Sadly for my Westies, their mom has decided to go without a groomer and do the haircuts at home herself, with dad’s help.

It’s an interesting process and really proves to me what great dogs I have. Both stand quite still, aren’t wiggly, and don’t get grouchy or nippy. They also don’t seem to care that they are getting the worst haircuts of their lives. You see, a Westie breed standard is harder than it looks, especially if you’ve never been to dog grooming school and have a challenge even getting a straight cut with the clippers.  Since we’ve been hiking a lot and are tired of picking burrs and having a car laden with mud, we went for a short cut this spring.

Both dogs look a bit like they got too close to the hedge trimmers, but we did the best we could, and I think each time we do this we are getting a bit better. That leaves lots of room for improvement, though, as we are nowhere near as good as the groomer we had in Chicagoland. (On the other hand, aside from the investment in equipment, clipping at home is free and I’m sure she had the benefit of experience and training).

Both Westies are now sporting short spring haircuts and we celebrated by heading up to Boulder for a hike in Mountain Park. It was a beautiful day, in the 70’s and clear skies. The park was crowded (Boulder being a college town, lots of college kids were also out for a hike). It definitely made me feel old going up the first hill, which gains about 500 feet in altitude in about a quarter mile, with all these college kids racing past us. Ah, to be young again. Still, we were not the oldest people on the mountain as there were people of all ages out to enjoy the Colorado beauty that day. The Westies sure enjoyed it, pulling ahead the whole way, even up the steep parts.

Celebrating Westie Haircut Day with a hike in the mountains. We really are Rocky Mountain doggies these days, and we do love to hike.

I hope that you have a fun ritual of your own to celebrate spring. Perhaps you’re like the pioneers who made spring tonics from the first leaves of the season, or maybe you take a walk and count robins or baby rabbits. No matter what it is, I hope you get a good dose of sunshine and that lovely feeling of shedding the darkness of winter and walking out into the light. As for me, I missed a spot with the sunscreen so I’ve already got my first sunburn of the season. Happy Spring everyone!

Rescuing our History

Through Ravelry and my good friend Vern (who you read about earlier this week, spinner extraordinaire), I’ve become involved with a group of spinning wheel rescuers. Now, spinning wheels might not sound like something that would need rescuing but if you think about it, how many members of the general public know anything about how to take care of something like a spinning wheel?

Sadly, this means we see them in all sorts of unhappy permutations. They get made into lamps, assembled backwards, parts get added or go missing and they are painted all sorts of wacky colors, or almost worse, covered in polyurethane. (Note to self: Preservation of any antique generally does not involve the use of polyurethane).

These wheel rescuer folks are amazing. All are spinners with a special interest in antique wheels and a strong bent towards enabling others. Once you pick up the rescuing bug, it can be hard to stop. You see, there’s always another wheel out there that needs to be taken in by someone who will care for it, put it back in working order, and then use it as it was meant to be – for making yarn. It becomes a cause rather than just a hobby.

The other thing that makes this group interesting is the fact that while most of us have never met each other, we are a tight community. People are helpful and actively watch out for each other, both to find wheels that need rescuing and to fix them after rescue. There are a number of wheelwrights in the group who actively watch the forum for people with spinning wheel challenges and offer advice on how to fix them. In fact, when I had a challenge with a wheel I had rescued (and wheelwrights are scarce in Colorado), a gentleman wheelwright from Australia gave me loads of advice, even taking the time to send me private messages with lots of instruction on how to fix my problem. It worked, and the wheel (which had previously spent nine years in a lady’s garage) now makes yarn.

These people bend over backwards to help each other in their quest for a spinning wheel. I bought a Canadian Production Wheel from an eBay seller in Albany New York, only to find out afterwards that the seller had no idea how to ship a wheel this large (CPW’s can have a 30 inch drive wheel). My wheel was stranded. I put out an urgent call for help to rescuers to see if someone local could help. Not only did this woman take time out of her life to help me, she drove 30 miles each way to meet the seller and pick up the wheel, packed it using recycled boxes so I wouldn’t have to pay for packing, and wouldn’t take a dime for her services. I was awed.

So, this week it’s my turn to pay it forward. There’s a wheel nearby that has been ‘lampified’ and someone on the East Coast wants to rescue it. So, we’re off to check it out and send her pictures so she’ll know if it can be saved. And if she decides to buy it, I’ll pick it up, pack it and ship it to its new home. In the end, everyone is happy and one more little piece of our history is not only saved but put back into useful service.

It’s a wonderful thing to see these wheels once they’ve been fixed and cleaned. Many come out of barns, attics, or garages and are covered with years of dust and grime. They seem happy to be able to spin, doing what they were made to do. And for the spinner who uses an antique wheel, there’s a sense of satisfaction in using a wheel that so many others have used. I always wonder about the other spinners who used a particular wheel and what they were like.

My wheel collecting has slowed down since I moved to Colorado. There are a lot of spinners here, but not very many antique wheels, which are much more plentiful in the Midwest and on the East Coast. The cost of shipping is prohibitive when the items are as large as this and they have to be shipped so far. But it’s still a lot of fun to watch the forums and participate vicariously. And you never know, that perfect next wheel might well turn up here – I’m always on the lookout just to be sure.

My 'garage' wheel rescue. After spending 9 years in a Denver garage, this lady has been cleaned and restored. She's now enjoying a nice retirement at my friend Amy's house.

My very first rescue - this is actually a quilling wheel which is used for winding yarn for weaving. It now has a lovely home with the parents of my friend Concetta (whose grandmother was a weaver, I thought that was very appropriate!)

Most of my wheel collection, along with the Westies helping with a quilt project. The largest of the four (pictured above) has since found a new home with Amy. My Schacht Ladybug must have been hiding that day.


Don’t Be That Person

I don’t know if it’s because spring is in the air or there was a full moon last week, but recently I’ve encountered a lot of people who seem to have forgotten the basic social graces. It’s not just me, either, several people have mentioned the same thing in the past week or so.

Now, I could start off on a long dissertation about the decline of American society and so forth, but I think it’s simpler than that. Life can be tough and when that happens, people get self-centered. And truthfully, I think some people are just wired that way from birth.  I’ve tried various responses to this sort of situation over the years – anywhere from trying to convince the person of their bad behavior to outright ignoring it. (For the record, trying to convince people to change their behavior never really worked).

One thing I learned after many years in customer service is that you really can’t tell what is going on in someone else’s head. Guessing their motives is tricky and can lead you to places where you really don’t want to go.

Years ago, when I was still working in an insurance company, one of my staff people transferred a call to me. The man on the phone was angry and getting belligerent and I had always trained my people to send those sorts of calls to me rather than trying to deal with it themselves. I sat quietly and listened to the man as he ranted for about 15 minutes. He was angry, and to some extent had a right to be, because we had made a mistake on his policy and overcharged him. But after I listened and let him calm down, he told me the real story behind his anger. You see, he had received two pieces of mail that day – the first was from Visa, who had lost his payment and shut off his credit while his wife was traveling on that credit card.  She was now stuck in a faraway city with no way to pay for meals or hotel, but when he called, Visa put him on hold and ignored him. So, he opened the second piece of mail which was from us – and we did answer our phone. After he calmed down, we had a pleasant conversation, I fixed the problem, and he went back to deal with Visa.

You see, had I assumed this guy’s motives, I’d have become angry or belligerent myself, decided the guy was just a jerk, and the conversation would have gone nowhere. Instead, I gave him an outlet for his emotions and we both walked away unscathed.

So, next time you encounter someone who’s being angry or rude, take a minute to check your own reaction. Don’t assume their motive, and don’t react in kind. Assume that there may be something going on that you don’t know about, and react in kindness rather than anger. In the end, all we control is our own reaction anyway, and there’s no point putting more bad stuff out in the universe.

And if they really are self-centered and harmful, you can do like I do and simply vote them off your island.