When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The heart of the difference is not ability or even talent, but desire

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Knitting: it's like life. Almost.

I am sure nobody whoever reads this blog is really into knitting. However, I am. So I decided to dedicate a whole post to it. Not to worry to all those who does read this blog from my running times - I am still running. In fact, I've been a very consistent at it since the end of August, which is awesomely amazing, considering how my previous whole year (from Oregon PCT hike all the way to post-CA PCT hike) has been the worst where running is concerned, distance and pace altogether. So, indeed, I am running 5-6 times a week, 25-45 miles a week, and some runs really give me lots to smile about. As well as a confirmation that I, still, plan to sign up for two of those races I decided to do next year, once registration opens up. But I regress from the purpose of this particular post...

Recently, back in September, Larry and I went to Dallas/Fort Worth art district (a.k.a. a couple of Art museums), as well as I finally had a nice wondering visit of a very high quality yarn stop afterwards. Together, these two burst me right back into my creative spirits. How come? The whole 2017 seemed to have been stagnating where knitting comes (in my eyes). I only went to one yarn store (while in Hawaii for a wedding, it was sort of short stopping by with not much selection) - and that was a plan, as I had plenty of yarn at home to get through, and too much of it actually works backwards on my creativity, as it overwhelms me. Anyway, I made a nice shawl for my sister-in-law's wedding, then took 7 weeks off knitting as a Lent resolution - hoping to re-inspire. I did, as I pretty quickly made a similar, but larger and using two colors, shawl for my mother-in-law's birthday in May.

While on Lent, I returned to my old (other) hobby of cross-stitching, and that was fun too. Last I did that was when I just moved to Texas, back in 2009. I enjoyed getting back to a detailed counting and a different outlet.

For the following few months, a couple of things were happening: I was on a quest to re-make a number of my wardrobe items to make them perfect, complete, more complex (or, simplify some) and finished. It was a great thing to do and put the time and effort into.
One of the re-makes.
Another agenda I had was to grind through most of the yarn I had in my 2 bins. A lot of it was from Russia, which was gifted to me by my sister from her friend's old stashes - so, while solid wool yarn, not the quality I love to work with for myself, nor the color palette I use. There was also yarn purchased over Internet with some sales, yarn gifted to me, and just yarn I forgot I had. I successfully utilized pretty most of it for various gifts, donations and give-away's: hats, scarfs, shawls, a set of 20 hats for veteran's running camp, few things for a charitable contribution for my friend's benefit auction ...I also made a couple summer things for myself, and that was fast and cute, but mostly, a grind of simple "keep your hands knitting"...while very good for the soul as a matter of giving back and gifting away, pretty boring for expressing myself as an artist deep in my soul. My thoughts were coming back to how I read "The Artist's Way" book back in April and how I kept writing my morning journal without breaks. Where is my creative flow?

In the meantime, in a passing conversation with one of my massage clients, she asked if I have a photograph of myself from early 1990's knitting. She was doing research for the movie of sorts. I gave her a couple to choose from (the only 2 I did have from that era, as I was back in Soviet Russia, at the ripe age of 20). One was picked, tentatively.

Time went on, one of my girlfriends had become a grandma - twice in 2 months, by no design of her two daughters! - so I piled through a couple of baby blankets. And a couple of hats for another person's kids.
And THEN the Dallas trip happened. You see, yarn shopping is almost like a religious experience to me. yarn shop (a good yarn shop) is a happy place for me. My spirits lift up as I absorb, walk around, see the colors vibrantly play, touch various skeins, feel the texture, inhale the smell...PLUS the exposure to the REAL art...You know what else did, simultaneously? My photo was approved for usage in a new movie, so I received a contract giving up my rights, discussing reimbursement - and being excited of some "future relation" to Cate Blanchett and Kristen Wiig (wonder which one is going to be me in the past??)
All those things blew my mind - as I had a couple of nights of insomnia, something I haven't had in a few years - and this time the nights were filled not with bad thoughts, but by my overactive mind creating new designs.

You see, I rarely (if ever) knit by pattern (come to think about, those two shawls for my in-law's were from a designed pattern, so it just proves I use it when my own art flow is blocked). I create my own as I go. Often enough I start without being firmly certain what is it going to be, and a very vague idea what will be "on it". As I go, the design of the clothes item, as well as pattern, develops. It may change a couple more times as it goes, and it also depends on whether I have enough yarn, have to add something, or cut it short and make a different item from where I was. That said, when creative juices start flowing - I need to start knitting, because, since I can't even draw my stuff, I will forget what I wanted. I have to make a cast-on row, then proceed a few more, identifying the potential material (a.k.a. yarn), pattern, and then, if needed, I can set it aside.

With the visit to museums and a wonderful yarn shop, the were way too many ideas (and I still had a few birthday presents to produce). With that, I casted on not 2 or 3, but 11 (eleven!!) projects, using ALL my needles sets (in fact, I bought one new set at that yarn shop as well, and it was super-useful). And I still had 3 more ideas in my head (much simpler, so I was OK to hold on to those). That "madness" lead to this kind of mess for a week:
But once I settled in, by Sunday, a week from the beginning of it all, I was much calmer, and focused on no more than 2 projects at a time - a more normal routine for me. By Monday, I was done with my first item - which was a re-make (a 4th one for this yarn set, hopefully final! and it also freed yarn for one of the presents I want to knit). I loved the result, and moved on to the next idea.
This one was a vest sort of thing, using 100% linen. The first 2 skeins of this company linen was purchased in Kauai. For 6 months it set in the bin, as I knew I didn't have enough for the idea I had (I had knitted a couple of similar things for my friends, so I could picture it quite well). When I came across same color and name brand at the Fort Worth store, I got one more skein. What do you know, it was made in Japan, but the first two - in Italy! Same brand, same company, same color...slightly different texture. I kept wondering if I should abandon my idea, but as I kept slowly working, a new design of the kimono-vest-shawl appeared in my head, materializing into a very nice combination, and in which nobody, but myself, would know the difference. At the end, it was a bit too much yarn - which allowed me to add an endless scarf for the set. It was a good thing the scarf was from that extra skein - the Japan version feels a good deal more "silky" (go figure, Japan vs Italy?), and that is a nice thing to have around your neck. This knit may end up being a gift to someone, as a set or separate pieces, unless I manage to sell it (if I ever figure out how to sell my items, and no, I am not doing Etsy) - green color is just not my favorite, and I have no idea why I keep buying yarn in green. Probably to force myself into variety away from my beloved blue and grey:)

In the same pattern as that last endless scarf, I am knitting another one as a gift for one of my girlfriends (by the way, this particular hole-slip-double pattern I actually found online, but it has no name attached). There is also a pair of socks for my girlfriend's mother who's house was flooded during hurricane Harvey disaster.

Next thing I am more actively working on is a top from cotton yarn I picked up at the Fort Worth store. When I got it, I pictured it'd be that tie-dye quality with lots of shades of blue. Which, you know, is my favorite color:) What a surprise I had when I pulled a thread out of the middle and realized it is going to be rainbow palette! Wow, am I a touch too old for that? But, I decided to have fun nevertheless. It is going to be a bell-bottom short-row style (shorter in the front, longer in the back, in a round-way) simple top knitted in just sock stitch (with the color change, any pattern will juts take away from the piece). Here is what it looks like now:
Next on agenda will be a long jacket for my sister (holy wow, my sister asked me to knit for her, not one - I have already finished a shawl - but two things!). I am utilizing a yak wool I had in two versions knitted previously. I had to eliminate the brown color (3 is already too many for my classical style sister in Russia), and because mine was also a short cardigan, I had to purchase 2 more skeins of yarn (thank you, online shopping and Google!). A fun fact, a couple days ago I was telling my sister Tanya over the phone about that extra yarn, and mentioning in humor "Don't you dare get rid of this jacket, the yarn itself cost me $130" - there was a heavy pause on her side of the line. I am sure she wished she would have never asked...poor woman, who not only knows unfamiliar with prices in Russia vs America, she is the most frugal person I've met. Well, as I always said, good quality yarn is worth every penny, to knit with and to wear.
And then there is this absolutely breath-taking yarn of angora I couldn't not hold my hands off - I got it a full week after the Dallas trip, at our local Hill Country Weavers store. I rarely go South in town, but I had a coffee date with my friend, and the store happen to relocate right next to the cafe, plus they really did an amazing job remodeling inside and updating quality of their yarns! I was so impressed, probably beat all the stores I've seen, with their huge windows, natural light, and fantastic selection. The inspirational idea for what I am going to make from this yarn came that evening, as we watched some YouTube videos on Voice in Russia, and this came up (I, of course, look nothing like that, but I love this!).
There is also a cowl I've been making since the beginning of September, from the yarn I believe I got in Salt Lake City in 2013 - it's been sitting around so long, I even lost the tag, so I am guessing by feel it is Alpaca with a touch of cashmere.                        

There are few more, all in stages of casted on yarn and set aside: socks for someone; two shawls, with yarn wrapped into the patter print-out so I don't forget, and an idea of a beautiful pure cashmere long cardigan (or a sweater, it is still not birthed fully yet).

And, of course, when I need to give my hands, forearms and wrists a break - and use a different muscle set (because I do get over-use injuries), I switch for an hour or two every other day to my cross-stitching project I began just before Dallas trip. It gives me also time to really zone out of the reality of life, as one can't do it and think about anything else at all.

As I am writing this post, approaching my 48th birthday, I feel pretty good about where I am. Yes, of course, we all have things we look back at and wish we could have done differently, but life is like that, we wouldn't have gained this perspective had we not made mistakes and side-steps and decisions that lead us where we are. I used to compare life to an ultrarunning, as well as backpacking: hills, valleys, patience, long hours training, questionable reward, results that can be affected by so many outside sources out of our control...Now I am thinking knitting has some resemblance to it as well. Ebbs and flows, changes as we go, bursts of inspirations, long hours of meticulously doing something, just to un-wind it all (or part) and have a do-over, until it fits a person I am at this moment. You adapt as you go, make mistakes, and decide either to "live" with them, or fix things up, whether right away, or later. You evolve...May be whatever is that you are passionate about at this particular time of your life - seems to represent what life is to you. You look for connections, comparing bits small and large, and feelings along the way. The Artist's Way.

This, too, shall pass and change with time, and thank God for that. As long as there is good coffee:)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Culture vs Mountains??

And to think we originally planned to go to NM and backpack Pecos mountains for a day and half...sit by the lake at 12,000 feet...inhale cool air...Literally, a few days prior, Larry walked in and said while he does have days off, when he leaves, the work doesn't stop, just piles up, and it stresses him out. With 13 hrs drive each way across Texas (a.k.a. boring) and both split into 2 days and an overnight hotel, then only 36 hrs in the mountains in questionable weather, I quickly said: lets cancel that idea. Lets, if I may ask you (with our "love" to big cities) instead check out some museums up near-by North...stay in a nice place, drink lots of good coffee, eat some yummy food. I miss culture! Having spent 11 years in Moscow (and grown up in Russia, where exposure to art and classical music is a must, and where I still, every visit, go to the places to absorb these things) and 11 years in NYC (Metropolitan, Guggenheim, Natural History, Broadway, Opera...trips to D.C. Mall, New England's history...), I often feel like dying culturally here, in Austin. OK, don't you jump at me, yeah, there is music scene (the modern one, I am not interested in), a ("a") museum and Dell Concert Hall (rarely do they have good classical pieces, mostly modern theater, again...). Anyhow, It's just not for me. And of course, I get my soul fed by trips to the mountains. But sometimes, you know, from time to time, it is REALLY NICE to be exposed to quality art.

Anyway,  the trip up to Dallas/Fort Worth was a success! PHOTOS

I loved Dallas Art museum collection, it impressed me big time! We parked in the garage an hour prior opening, and walked around, enjoying very neat park, some architectural details of buildings, both new and modern and older classical styles. Once inside the museum (free admission!), I was extremely pleasantly surprised how huge their collection is, hall after hall, and what nice pieces of art and exhibits of names they had! We took a good 2 hrs, and only left because were getting overwhelmed.

The hotel we stayed at was in Fort Worth museum district, near some sort of Domain-like new living area. Walking to coffee shops (ALL the coffee shops we visited had pour-over coffee, and if you a snob, as I am, you appreciate that option!) and to a dining place was a plus. A hotel featured great rooms, breakfast - and a gym, which I actually used next morning. We binged on house remodeling shows (we don't have cable at home) and just relaxed for the evening.

The second morning started with a short drive to and a walk inside Botanical Garden. That was beautiful, amazing, and all things explicitly positive (also free). A place where one could run, walk, sit and meditate, knit, read, have a free date, learn about plants and trees...I could spend there hours, many times. So would gladly Larry. 

Fort Worth's Kimbell Art museum (also free entry) was not as huge in terms of what they carry in their regular collection (they did have Casanova exhibit going on separately, but we chose to not get swamped in too much in 24 hr period). We didn't go to American Art - we should have, but decided we can't digest any more, so we walked to Science museum, which was a drop of $30, sort of wasteful for us, since it's so small, no exhibits, and full of screaming and crying children...oh, well, we decided to "eat" this loss as a payment donation for all the free art we saw. 

I found a new one of the best yarn shop in this country. Another place I could see myself hanging in.

What is Austin doing with it's money? So much for a great city, a Capital, and all that! And we hardly even scratched the surface of D-FW area in terms of arts/theater/symphony! Now I want to go check out (gasp!) Houston. Just need to gather strength for the traffic navigation.

We both are very delighted by the trip. I am actually truly in aw how pleased I was. In fact, I can tell you more. I am so inspired, I couldn't sleep the night after, all the creative juices leading to insomnia. I started not on one, but 8 (EIGHT!) projects all at once (had to even buy more needles to be able to do that), and now jump from one to another, like a crazy monkey - but one under positive influences of art:)

The whole weekend get-away was to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary - and my 24 years (OUCH! Exactly half of my life!) living in USA. It was well worth every moment.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

PCT WA section - the hike that wasn't.

To the 2.5 random folks who still occasionally stumbles upon this blog and decides to linger long enough to scan across the page - and to the other 2.5 folks I force my posts upon (a.k.a. email and text the link) - here is our escape from the never-ending Texas summer to a beautiful PNW...

If the memory serves any purpose, this summer I wanted to do two sections on PCT: one in CA (originally from Tahoe to Yosemite, flipped due to high snow and river flows to Tahoe to Lassen NF edge, 210 miles) and first half of WA (from Bridge of the Gods to Snoqualmie pass, which during that first hike first transpired into "50 miles North of OR border and up" to "Heck with leaving my husband behind and being in the midst of through-hikers"). But, there were tickets (yay, SouthWest and the change of dates and places!), so I switched mine from PDX to SEA and aligned it with the date Larry was to come and get me - and just like that, we have a mini-vacation in the making!

As the days dragged after my CA hike, I questioned the sanity of the decision. Please, no disrespect to Texas, Texans or anybody who simply loves Austin. This city has nothing for me (for us), and the weather is just killing every cell in my body AND brain! Instead of getting re-energized, I got depressed - and frankly, Larry seemed to have been going through his own spell. We both just dream about mountains day and night...a sorry existence, if you ask me, because there is nothing we can do for another 1 year and 10 months, so we keep snapping each other out of it as good (or not very) as we can.

Anyway, the first couple of weeks I did feel extreme fatigue setting in, whether from the aftermath of the 210 miles with a backpack, or affects of heat and humidity. Slowly, though, some running returned, and the following 2 weeks I was doing runs 5 days a week with 2 Saturdays going for 8 miles each at - get this! - 10:40 and 10:20 average paces! (I don't have a Garmin, so I time the watch, the divide the miles from the mapmyrun.com website). No, no trails. Just the usual, boring local streets. But still, it was a breakthrough that allowed me to start thinking about setting a goal - more on that later.

During that time I also managed to work EVERY DAMN DAY for 4 weeks straight - when my day off finally arrived and I realized how long it has been, I almost died a little. I think it affected me more mentally than physically, although my hand, shoulder and back were at the breaking point as well.

It was 4 days after that silly day off that we were on the earliest plane to Seattle airport. jumping in the car and driving straight to a trailhead. Larry did all the search work, and we picked Mt. Si, a local feature for trail lovers, to conquer.

And the trail - we went via Old Trail - took us straight up! It turned out to be 2.5 miles (to the crags of the view, not the Haystack top) with 3,300 feet of gain! No joke here. The day was HOT, we started at noon, and it was humid. Like we never left Texas...but the trees around were tall, and we focused on muscles we forgot we even had. Hard breathing and twitching calves were in store for the next 2.5 hrs.

We made it, though, and on the rocks there were lots of people (taking a more benign regular route from a different trailhead). The views were smoky - wild fires all around - and too much urban for our taste (roads and cities underneath), but still, it was a mountain, and we were not in Kansas (I mean, Texas) anymore.

We stayed in Cle Elum, where the hotel was super-nice, but the town itself sucked big time (ask me how I know next time we meet). We just hoped the next day would be worth it...

And it was! We drove to a PCT trailhead at Snoqualmie pass - the one I was to come out of if I were to hike the WA section, and took it North. The day began at 7:30 am, the temperature and humidity much lower, and YES, CLEAR SKIES! Hallelujah! The climb itself was also more mellow, I believe all together in our 8.5 miles out or so we got may be 3,700 feet total of gain (it rolled in a few places). And there was nobody around us for pretty much the whole way up! The views! The air! The mountains! No wonder people say North Cascades are the most beautiful in PNW, and we weren't even that much North! The combination of craggy peaks of all colors, far-away snowy peaks, including Mt. Rainier, and the lush green with tall trees and dense bushes around, with wild flowers blooming - a pure paradise no words can describe.


Our projected turning point was Joe lake - we reached a saddle in the mountain with a shade and a gorgeous view on it by noon, and spent 30 min just soaking it all in. It was hard to leave.

But we knew we had to - the way back was still a long one, and we are fully aware how "out of shape" (by our own trail standards, not conventional normal people's ones) we are. Off we go.

The trail has a wonderful quality of seemingly chenging to be a totally different one, as we turned the other way, with sun giving different angle of light, mountains aligned completely anew to us, and terrain changing the climb and descend with each other. The one thing that was sad - we saw a fresh burst of fire not far, on a horizon, and it made us think about all the firefighters, trail workers, and people living near-by.

At some point, where the last 5 miles were more or less all going gently down, we thought we'd try our legs in some running - I let Larry go ahead. The first 5-10 min were fun, and I got to him very soon. I can't claim it felt fluid, but it was something, and hopefully we were getting faster down to the car. As we parted second time, the trail got a bit rockier, and I thought: shamefully, I really lost my ability to blast downhill (my staple!) and should probably be more careful (trust me, I was already hardly shuffling). Literally 10 seconds after that - my foot catches something, and I am reminded of good ol' times...with a flat-out Superman. I know I am clumsy, I used to trip a lot, though more often than not catching myself, yet kissing dirt enough times in my hay-days. Well, since I haven't "RUN" real mountain trails in 4 years, I forgot how it feels - to Superman. And it hurts! I tend to slap the ground with my whole body - this time the side of my body also landing on the edge of a sticking out 2 feet long rock. Luckily, a whole inch below the rib cage!

I gasp (I always get surprised how many thoughts pass in my head on the way to the ground during a fall's short time), scream, and lay for a second. Nothing seems to be broken, I think. I slowly pull myself back up, and check the damage. Nice! Bring in the camera, because if it ain't photo'ed, it didn't happen! We all know that!

The wounds sting - between dirt and sweat, it really does hurt - and I think about crying for a bit, but then again: what's the point? Nobody's here to save me. Gotta hobble down. The knee swells up (it later bruised a lot), the shirt brushes against my side, and the arm - the deepest scratch - sort of hurts as it shakes with the steps. I eventually reach Larry, who's eyes get wide - and he feels so bad for me, I start calming HIM down that I'll be OK. Couples are funny like that!
Keeping my arm up to not touch the bushes
We make our way to the car, and I shiver with an anticipation of the shower. In my old days, I'd be a wuss and avoid washing the wound altogether, but I am a big girl now, and I have a very seriously neat husband who likes to do things as they should be - so I don't want him to be disappointed. I made it through - without cussing - and I gotta say, it helped with healing (and stinging). So, thanks:)

We took a better approach to our evening than the day before, and drove to the next historic town of Roslyn, which has an amazing coffee shop (and a great coffee, and I am one snob, for sure), and ate a totally delicious mama-made from scratch pizza - don't I and pizza look good together?

And just like that, 2 days were done and over with. Next morning met us with insane fog (thank God we were not hiking in this, it would SUCK!), and we drove to the airport. As we cleared the altitude, the best view said good-bye to us from PNW...
What are the thoughts on all this? When we hiked the first day, I kept thinking - and saying - that the conclusion of my latest trips is: time to truly say "goodbye" to PNW and its trails, and find new places to explore. As easy and convenient as the PCT is, well researched, safe, marked, populated...time to part ways. I kept digging in my brain for "what's next", for at least one more summer before we move away from this place without mountains and have all the opportunities at our hand's reach...And then the second day's hike threw it all off. PNW definitely has my heart, it captured it, and it holds it captive. I have to fight the "I will be back" tooth and nail - because it is, indeed, time to stop going back. 

As I set at the airport, it dawned on me - why do I want to wait until we move to CO, to hike Colorado trail? Why not now? And just like that, a new dream was born. CT, 485 miles of it, next summer.

We returned just in time for hurricane Harvey to hit the Texas ground. Austin was spared the damage, we only got hit with a day and half of high winds and a driving rain. Our heart goes out to Houston and its flood victims, coastal towns that took the most of the hit, and all involved in rescue and recovery. Mother-Nature and our precious land is like that. It's beautiful, and one day everybody is gasping at the full eclipse of the Sun, and then another it sends us a reminder: we are not the rulers. It's never calm. Fires, hurricanes, tornado...the disasters are hard to deal with, but this is a price to pay  to live on the planet Earth.

Trying to settle into a first full week back, my legs are fatigued, yet again. The 3 and 4 miles shuffles are back to "over 11 min/mile" pace. I am patient, though. And I have a dream. A goal. I needed one, so I decided I'll just go for it. I am going to register for Peterson Ridge Rumble 20 mile in OR in April - and then for River of no return 50k in ID in June. I have no clue whether I'll be able to run, by then, again - or if I do, how long my "runs" (and how slow) will be. But I figured, I gotta crawl out of this mediocrity. I can hike, and if I DNF - that'll be OK. At least I'll try. I'll see places, people. I am almost a hermit by now...I'll put out a good effort. Otherwise I'll slip into "sad existence" for this reminder of "1 year 10 months", and I don't have much time to waste in existence, just dropping years into the abyss. Buckle up, butter-cup.