Thursday, July 31, 2008

Love, Karma and All That Stuff

Near where I used to live in the Kootenays, there was a beautiful, serene place called Yasodara Ashram, right on the lake near Crawford Bay. There they practised a form of yoga known as karma yoga -- and people from the city would pay big bucks to come and work there, meditate and bliss out. (Yoga, as I'm sure you all know, means yoke, or union, between spirit and body. Achieving a perfect Downward Facing Dog isn't the only way to seek this union, one can do it through work.)

At Yasodara, work was the thing -- intentional, loving work. However menial or unskilled the task, it was to be approached with mindfulness and care. This creates positive karma.

Now, as my rudimentary understanding of karma goes (and correct me if I'm wrong) when you do good things, and it generates positive karma, it goes into the karma bank. (And likewise with bad.) But it's not as if you have a personal account from which you can deposit and withdraw, it's a collective account for all beings.

So practising karma yoga is essentially an act of faith, faith that your efforts will bring good to the world in some way. You may not benefit in this lifetime, and indeed your enemies might benefit instead of you. But there has to be a humility, a lessoning of ego, and compassion for all.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, practising karma yoga can bring great peace and even joy. You can imagine what I'm leading up to - I've been trying to bring this awareness to my work here in the garden - weeding, weeding, endlessly weeding. It's meditative and restorative work, and I have been thinking about how I say to people, "I love weeding." I bring the aspect of love into it, partly because people get "love" even if they think I'm weird to love weeding.

However, I don't think of love and karma yoga as being the same thing. Love is relational, and has an individual aspect, whereas the faith inherent in karma has a universal dimension. Absolutely, both energies are worth developing.

Bu this is supposed to be a blog about making things, and before I lose everyone in la la land, this leads me to think about sewing. For me sewing is certainly work I approach with love, and often even desire. I ache to feel the thread pulling through taut cloth, to see the vision manifest itself in material reality.

And there is also an element of faith in hand sewing, particularly on projects like the one I am working on now. It's all in one colour, several lines of text that I am trying to render as close to a printed font (Gill Sans) as possible. On one level- boring. And it takes about an hour a letter. But I keep going because I know, trust, have faith that it will be miraculous when it's done.

There is a punning irony in the fact that the letter "y" has caused me much grief. I have un-picked and re-stitched that letter 4 times. I see it as a reminder that focusing too much on the "why" of doing what I'm doing is perhaps not as important as the "how".

That's it,sermon done for the day.


Monday, July 28, 2008

What People Get Up to With No TV!

The most hilarious thing happened today. I don't know what it is about me and hummingbirds but this is turning into a book.

Right after lunch, another hummingbird flew through the french doors into the house. This time, instead of turning around and trying to get out the way it came, it flew up to the loft window. This window can't be reached without a ladder, but the loft balcony rail is about 4 feet away. I thought if I could just get something that would reach, I could help the desperate little creature escape before it exhausted itself flapping against the glass.

Now, a little back story. When my brother first looked at the house, he noticed a very large eyehook above the bed. The owner gave a bit of a wink about it, but we didn't find out the whole story until after the deal had closed. Turns out that he was into kink, and the last somewhat drunken evening Rob and I got to see the whole show. (Well, not quite, apparently his girlfriend had taken all the really good stuff home with her.) Harnesses, whips, I'm not kidding!! It's at times like that you find out just how vanilla you really are!

Anyways, the owner left some of the, uh, apparatus, behind. Back to the poor little trapped hummingbird. I grabbed the first thing that came to hand, let's call it a switch, black leather, about 4 feet long with a little tassel on the end. Leaning over the balcony, I was able to slide the end of the switch under the bird and it grabbed on with its tiny claws. A few tries and, hurrah, I was able to transfer the bird out an open window.

I was strangely elated! And it felt like the switch may have had its moment of redemption as well...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beware! Haiku Ahead

Well, ahem, yes, I have been known to indulge in the occasional haiku or two. I succumbed again yesterday while enjoying the midsummer evening tidal pools at Spring Bay.

Madrona leaf glowing orange on still water
The shadow of a starfish
A raven's call.

And here's another that I have playfully titled "Rumi on the Beach".

Heron stands stark beneath opalescent sky
Fingers of light stream a blessing
The beloved watches.

And just to keep to the pattern, here's one about Keiko and a hummingbird that was trapped inside the house.

Tiny wings thrum against the pane
A flash of teeth and jaws
And, a wonder, release unharmed.

The hummingbird jetted off into the cedars, Keiko was quite surprised, and I have the beautiful image of a hummingbird flying out of Keiko's mouth to remember!

Yesterday I went to the Farmer's market and got a haircut from Emily, who turned out to be one of the Mud Girls! I was so happy to meet her - besides giving me an excellent (and delightfully "salon attitude"-free) haircut, she filled me in on how I can get involved with Mud Girls. I have been planning to build a little wabi sabi teahouse/hut on my brother's land and the collective can help me build one - probably from cob. Do check out their website, everything from their philosophy to their buildings is fabulous.

I'm trying to take a day off from the garden today in respect for my back. So I sewed an Alabama Chanin style corset top from a couple of t-shirts I found at the free store. It turned out very cute - and only took 2 1/2 hours sewing by hand! Slow cloth doesn't necessarily mean slow in speed - when I made my first such top by machine I'm sure it took longer, mostly because I had to rip out every seam. I also have a haori jacket that I'm finishing, as well as my Three Fates embroidery - lots to keep me amused on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Friday, July 25, 2008

We May All Be Living Like This One Day

(I apologize for the lack of visuals, but the prince still has my camera. I should have it back by next week though.)

I am living a lifestyle these days that might be considered rather primitive, but I have been thinking it's a way of life that we may all be practicing soon enough.

The cabin is powered by solar, but it is used mainly for the pump and lights. The fridge and stove are powered by propane. There is no TV or stereo, which I haven't missed a bit. There is running water, which come from a well (that's where the pump comes in.) The hot water is heated by the wood stove, which I haven't been using, so my showers are with room temperature water - brisk but at least it's not hard to keep the showers short, since water conservation is not just an option here.

I have to haul buckets of water to the garden - I feel like Manon of the Spring. Can't wait til my brother comes next week with two more lengths of hose.

There is no phone - there is cell coverage but I hate cell phones. It's funny though, I'm so conditioned that I come inside and have this sense of anticipation that there will be messages waiting! I use the computer at the island's internet access centre - only open a few hours a day five days a week.

But I'm not bothered by any of this "inconvenience". I get up early and go to bed when it gets dark. Keiko and I have a bit of a routine now - after breakfast we walk down to the beach, where she swims and I gather seaweed for the garden. Today we were the only ones on the beach, sharing the peace of the morning with a sea otter who was fishing for his breakfast a few feet from shore.

I have been having wonderful salads made with produce bought from local farms. There are several roadside stands, which operate on the honour system (you total your purchases and leave cash in the box, or leave an IOU), and sell everything from homemade bread and eggs to fruit and veggies. Yesterday I got the most gorgeous honeydew melon, perfectly ripe and juicy. There is also a farmers market on Saturday mornings, where haircuts and body piercing are also offered.

It is pretty idyllic. I don't feel a bit deprived! And as far as that backrub I mentioned yesterday, there are a couple of massage therapist on the island too. I just have to figure out how to contact them....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Just Call Me Nature Girl

A few days ago I noticed rufous hummingbirds zooming around the deck. At first thinking I was being nudged by the hand of God, I spent a few moments being blissfully grateful. Then I realized that they might have been attracted by my raspberry red panties drying on the railing. The next day, no hummingbirds, and no panties either. Coincidence or divine plan? This morning proved my somewhat sketchy hypothesis - once again the red panties were on the railing, and there were hummingbirds galore! I guess I should put out a feeder, can't bear to think of those poor confused little birdbrains! (But I'm still grateful for their presence.)

Further encounters with nature...
Keiko and I went for a walk around Spring Bay at low tide. There were the most amazing tidal pools and rock formations. We had a blast exploring, and I even saved two starfish from frying in the sun. They are the loveliest magenta colour - actually the colours of the tidal pools was mindblowing - iridescent green algae, indigo blue mussels, aquamarine water, bronze kelp beds.

I have been gathering kelp off the beach for mulch in the garden. The garden is slowly being revealed as the waist high weeds are cleared.

Here's a few lists:
Weeds: dock, teasel, Canada thistle, vetch, brome grass
Herds Planted: Sorrel, mint, silver thyme, regular thyme, purple sage, greek oregano, sweet basil, thai basil, lavender, Japanese shizu, hyssop, winter savoury, summer savoury
Hidden but now Revealed: poppies, Shasta daisies, iris, butterfly bush, potentilla, artemesia, arum lily, Swiss alpine flower

Sounds like haiku or concrete poetry. It is a labour of love - gardens always are. I have been working very hard, but it's been good. I somehow managed to get a sunburn right where teenage girls get those skanky tattoos. I had put sunscreen everywhere else, but I guess my shorts were low enough and my t-shirt short enough that everytime I bent over a bit of my back showed. I now have a lovely red ellipse on my lower back.

And speaking of backs, ooohhh, I'd love a backrub.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Into the Wild

Here I am yesterday morning in Spring Bay, just down the hill from my brother's place. I look happy, yes?

Lasqueti is quite something. People drive without seatbelts, licences or insurance, while baked out of their skulls or otherwise inebriated. It's that frontier mentality.

On the other hand I gave a ride to a hitchhiker (otherwise known as the public transit system) who turned out to be a totally lovely smart person, who had me back for tea at her gorgeous English cottage style house. She is an ecologist who is able to work online, so she doesn't have to leave her paradise.

More tomorrow. This computer (in the little store) has issues.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sewing Circles

Jan sent me a card all the way from Australia asking me to comment on not-for-profit sewing rooms. Not that I have any intimate experience with such an entity, but that won't stop me from putting in my two cents worth!

I am very fortunate to have a studio space away from my home. It actually belongs to a clothing designer who is off working in film, so she has sublet it to me. The absolute best thing about the space, other than it being in 1000 Parker, the coolest artist building in Vancouver, is the CUTTING TABLE! 8 by 16 feet of glorious flat space! If you sew, you will appreciate how luxurious having a cutting table can be after years of making do on the kitchen table or even the floor!

Having a separate space is good for many other reasons too. There is room to organize my fabrics and supplies. I can shut the door at the end of the day and leave the mess where it is. Paying rent is motivating in that, being Scottish and all, I want to get my money's worth, so I actually come in on a regular basis. (And of course I can deduct the rent as a business expense.) I feel more professional and legitimate having a proper workspace.

So that's where it starts, I think. If you're thinking of creating a sewing space for others, make one for yourself first. In my own case, once people find out I have a studio and I sew, they often ask if I teach. This is an avenue I haven't developed at all, but it would be easy to put a sign out and simply offer weekly sewing workshops, where people might pay $5 or $10 for a evening of shared information and an opportunity to use the cutting table or machine, or learn hand sewing skills. I think that would be fun, and it wouldn't take long for the group to start covering my rent.

There are definitely lots of for-profit sewing spaces out there. Many cities now have Stitch Lounge type shops. Generally they offer plenty of classes, and rent out time on the machines for $10/hour or so. Running a shop like this would require a good head for business (or at least the willingness to learn), and all the rewards and headaches of having your own business.

I like the co-op model myself. Get together with a few other skilled and enthusiastic people and offer open studio time, workshops and classes as you choose, figuring out a formula for buying a "share" of the co-op. Members could use the space at a reduced rate, while the general public might pay more.

Basically, you want to cover your expenses, have some money in the bank for future growth, and be enjoying yourself. The non-for-profit thing gets old really fast when it begins to feel like work. I think one could set up an inviting workspace with a half dozen machines (and good old Singers from Craigslist work just as well as middle range new machines for learning on!) a cutting table and a couple of irons for a fairly minimal investment and you'd be off! There could be the possibility of partnering with your local arts council, community centre or guild if you don't want to go it alone.

I don't know if that covers your question, Jan, but let's hope it starts a bit of a dialogue! I'd love to hear from others as to what experience they might have with communal workspaces or shared sewing studios.

And I'll take this opportunity to plug once again the joy of sewing with others. The ideas flow, laughter and tears are shared, friendships are made. The practical pleasure of making something yourself is amplified by the support and companionship of a group.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


I found this stone while walking to the beach. It is a perfect comma, and I saved it because I thought a comma was a very apt symbol for this point in my life – a pause, a breath, a separation.

It Might Be Paradise

Have you ever, in the midst of chaos and wild emotion, wished for an alternate reality to appear before you? You could just take a step or two forward and be in a different (sweeter, more relaxed and beautiful) world?

Not only did I go there this weekend, I have returned to tell you about it!

My dear brother Rob, the brilliant electrical engineer, volleyball player and Burning Man enthusiast, recognized the stress of my current situation and invited me to Lasqueti Island, where he has just purchased a gorgeous 12 acre property. Complete with a lovely cabin, dilapidated A-frame, orchard, garden, pond, beach access, he hopes it will be his little bit of heaven. Indeed, on a warm July day, it’s hard to think of anything closer to paradise.

I stupidly forgot to recharge my camera battery, so I don’t have any pictures of his actual place. But I did mange to grab a few that help give the flavour of the island.

On the track of a high speed internet connection, we visited a little shop called Crystals and Chamomile. In addition to balancing your chakras and plying you with herbal tea, the helpful proprietress can figure out how to get a signal over the mountains and trees. Never underestimate a hobbit house!

We stopped at the Recycling Centre and Free Store. The store was neat and well stocked with clothing and other items up for grabs for whoever might need them. Since there is no garbage collection on the island, and the dump is only open on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays, people can’t just mindlessly dispose of stuff.

On to the Arts Festival at the Community Hall. There were bands playing, good food and drink, an art exhibit, and hands on art making. As a fundraiser, the Arts Council had a bunch of t-shirts from the Free Store, and for the price of a membership you could customize your shirt with stencils and stamps. Rob and I had a great time creating our souvenir shirts – so much more fun than buying something generic, made in Sri Lanka.

People on Lasqueti could probably be stereotyped as hippies, although it is apparently the most well educated postal code in Canada. There is no grid power – solar or propane is the way to go. There is no car ferry, so vehicles on the island have to be barged over, and tend to be old beaters or lovingly customized art cars.

It was delightful being there, so quiet and calm. And in a moment of serendipity Rob and I made an arrangement that I would come and tend his garden for the summer, while waiting for an apartment to become available back in Vancouver. Keiko could be in doggie nirvana, I could mellow out and recharge my batteries, and Rob would have a neatly pruned orchard and garden prepared for next year.

Thank you to all of you who left such lovely supportive comments. And Jan, I did get your card (thank you!) and will be doing a posting soon on about my experience with studio space.