Thursday, July 31, 2014

Haste makes waste - so take your time

The other day I talked about the importance of fixing problems instead of their symptoms, and in my example of how to do that I explained how I ditched some organizational work in favour of things I actually enjoy.

Today, confusingly, I want to talk about the importance of investing time in administrative tasks that chew up your playtime.  I know, I know: life is so complicated.

Here's a scenario I really hope doesn't ring any bells for you at all, but happens to me all the time with my glasses, which I will not use in said scenario because it's too painful and anyway, not everybody wears them.

1. Having a fixed place to put your housekeys means that every time you go out of the house, you can just pick them up and go.

2. Being in a hurry and dumping stuff in the place you usually put your housekeys means that you'll lose time looking for them because they're not easy to spot right away.  They might be under that pile of mail, or they might have slipped off the pile of mail onto the floor, or you might have put them somewhere else entirely because that happens sometimes, and then after ten minutes of increasing panic you find them on top of the pile of mail, totally hidden amongst the colours of the printed fliers, and unnoticed by you when you picked the whole stack up to look below it.

Add up that time over a week or a month and wow: you could have done something really fun with it.

And if you put just a scrap of that time toward making sure your space is organized so it never happens again, you'd still be able to do something fun.

Making the effort to tidy up hardly seems like real advice, does it. 

I mean, I remember reading a whole article once on how to clean your kitchen sink and why you should do it and the whole time I thought: Seriously?  but the bottom line was that no matter how lousy the rest of your kitchen looks, a clean sink just feels good.  And that stuck with me so successfully that now when I look at the kitchen and think Ew, I shake some baking soda into the sink and scrub out the tea stains.  It's surprisingly effective at making me think the whole room is clean and it's so quick, I can do it while I'm waiting for the kettle to boil for still more tea.

My point is, even a simple, obvious tip like keeping your workspace clean has value.

Especially because this same tip applies to bigger things than a spot for your housekeys... like issues that tangle up your feelings.  Maybe you need to redefine your goals, or sit down with a friend or relative who's struggling or upset, or figure out why something that's bugging you really gets under your skin.

Haste makes waste - so when you spot a roadblock in your day, set aside some time to smooth it over rather than rushing around it every day or pushing through with a half-considered solution.  That way lies More Problems To Come, and nobody wants that.

Oh, and if the trouble you're having really is just the place where you leave your keys?  Book off a few minutes specifically for straightening up and making sure all your essentials have a set place to be, and make it fun with music or an audiobook or a cup of tea you cart around with you for the duration.  Don't take that job on when you're tired or hungry because life is short, and a lot more of it can be good if you let it.

See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The right way to spread yourself thin

Even though we all do it, it's a bad idea to try to do to many things in too short a time, which is how most people define spreading ourselves thin.  Of course if your goal is exhaustion and steadily declining quality of execution it's a great plan, but most of us are after something else and get ourselves into that mess by accident.

There is a good way to spread yourself thin though, and that's what I'm writing about today.

We all know somebody who amazes us for the wonderful things they do for other people.  It might be as simple as a younger person who befriends older ones and is actually there for them at times when it counts - driving them home from the hospital after a fall on the pavement, or keeping in touch with regular phone calls and visits.  It might be somebody who organizes activities that bring joy to the people who attend them.  It might be the friend who always knows what to do in a crisis, large or small, and does it.

Those people spread themselves thin by sharing their energy in a way that renews it, and expands to touch not only the people they know, but the people those people know, too.  Helping people feels good.  And the act of doing it gives rise to the enthusiasm needed to do more of it.

Everybody is different though, and sometimes people are too shy or too stretched already to do those things.  Some of us just don't have the skill or experience to see what needs to be done in an already busy environment.  But there are still ways we can give a little of what makes us special.

We can share the fruits of the labour that feeds our strength.

If you read Hugs, you probably make things, and so you will know exactly what I am talking about.  We make things and we give them away.  Lots of Hugs readers make chemo caps - they donate them to hospitals or give them to loved ones in treatment for a truly scary disease.   Others make socks or scarves or shawls or mittens for people we love.  We hope the warmth or the softness or the colour will make them happy, or comfortable, or remind them of how we feel about them.

We put a little of ourselves into those things and then send them on their way.

But we do more than that, because handmade things, if they're cared for, last longer than we do.  And that means the good we did in our life can go on doing good even after we're gone.

Isn't that a powerful idea?  Normally that kind of cascade effect is reserved for people who committed their talents to films so great you want to see them all - Jimmy Stewart's spring to mind - or to the kind of paper that gets reprinted, like Jane Austen's has.  Crafty people don't really put themselves into that category.

And yet I have a friend who still marvels over the skating socks her grandmother knit her, to the point that she told me about them and probably other friends, too.  That woman, who made socks for all her many grandchildren every year, several pairs each no less - she is alive to me, and I hope to you now as well.  Her work has spread a little piece of her beyond the borders of her own time.

This is something I think of often as I spin and weave and knit more accessories than I can possibly use.  I know part of what drives me is the need not to have wasted materials I bought before I realized I didn't have space to store them, and to turn them into something useful.  But another part is the realization that those accessories will end up with somebody else, and make my own life a little bigger than the part of it that I occupy.  I only have the one life.  I want to do the most good with it that I can, and making things that will outlast me - things that will go on holding love into the next generation and the one beyond that - is the most natural way I can think of to do it.

Earlier in the week I talked about how many human beings wish they were better than they believe themselves to be.  This is a pretty wonderful way to remind ourselves of our value, don't you think?

Hope you can come back tomorrow, and I'll see you then!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fix the problem, not the symptom

Today's self-help topic, presented with pictures of two different batches of handspun yarn, is about sweeping away the mental clutter of bad feelings so you can start seeding your life with good ones because wow, is that ever Not a human's default mode!

People who've suffered through deep trauma are not alone in facing sadness or guilt or shame or downright self-loathing at some point in their lives.  With the slightest excuse, some of us go through phases where we cycle through them on a loop every day - and those feelings so easily lead us to do things that make life even harder than it was already (getting mad, shopping too much, consuming too much, alienating people, pouring hours into activities that offer little if any value.)

That is crazypants, isn't it, trying to fix one source of pain with three or four more.

So forget that, my friends.  Why agonize over fixing symptoms?  Just fix the problem.

Yeah, that sounds oversimplified, doesn't it.  People go into therapy for this, just like I did when I wanted to tackle my fear of flying, and if you're looking at deep trauma you really have to have that kind of help.  But just like DIY home repairs are a thing that exists, there are lots of problems you can track down and handle on your own.

Next time you find yourself mentally compiling a list of all the less than ideal decisions you've made that day in preparation for for a comfortable round of self-criticism, see it as an opportunity and write them down.

The list will probably be ugly but that's okay.  Try tracing them backward and forward and maybe it will give you an insight you can work with.

For example: the other day I didn't feel too great, wondered why, and realized I'd eaten six donuts, several slices of banana bread, four cheese tea biscuits, and I'm not quite sure how many chocolate chip cookies but it was a lot.  That discovery led to quite a number of bad feelings, the nature of which I will leave to your imagination.  Let's just say that if I'd written those down, the list would be an absolute stinker.

Instead I thought about how that much non-essential food got near me in the first place.

Here's the backwards trace on that question:

On a recent trip back from the cottage I suggested a stop in a town with a second-hand shop where I found a fantastic pair of chairs last year.

I wanted to stop there because after two years of pulling towels out of the dressers at the cottage in the spring and noticing they still smelled so great I didn't even need to give them a fresh wash, I realized I could save myself a lot of time and stress and space if I could store cottage linens in dressers up there all winter, rather than in plastic tubs in the garage at home.

And I'd sensibly measured and identified three opportunities for adding more plastic-free, mouse-proof dresser-type storage.

All good reasons to stop at that very pretty town for an early morning antique run, right?

And now the forwards trace.

That town also has a really, really amazing bakery.

Which opens earlier than any other retail store, so it makes perfect sense to stop there if you get to town before the official start of furniture business, thereby making good use of time.  Especially if you're not sure the antique store will be open that day, thereby salvaging any wasted effort.

The bakery was recommended to me by a good friend I don't get to see much over the summer, so visiting there produces tangible memories of good times.

The food in the bakery is all prepared by real people in real time, not with giant machines and preservatives, so choosing and consuming it feels like a summer treat and like a dip into a different part of the pool that is the Handmade Lifestyle.  Oh, and a contribution to the always-important small-town economy.  Yay!

All those things are cheerful and positive.  How can they have led me to put so much sugar into my system in one day - well beyond the levels that could remotely be considered healthy?  You know, apart from the indisputable facts that everything in the bakery looked delicious, I am indecisive, and so many baked things are stale by the same time tomorrow.

Taking a closer look at each of the forward and backward points, it looks to me like my goals were to streamline my spring and fall cottage tasks and make efficient use of time, have some happy holiday experiences, and reinforce my sense of living a cheerful creative life.

Well, three guesses what problem all that sugar was hiding from my view - and the hint is, it's the opposite of what I was trying to achieve.  Right now I'm way busier than I want to be, I'm not giving myself enough opportunities to do things I think are fun, and I'm not being as creative as I need to be to feel happy.

The thing about problems is that they feed themselves into your subconscious really, really effectively.  I know myself pretty well so I did kind of suspect when I suggested stopping at the bakery that things wouldn't end well.  But I didn't realize I was trying to compensate for being too busy.

Another thing about problems is that they are so much easier to solve than you think.  I got up the next morning accepting that a little disorganization is bearable, made a point of catching up with some friends, tossed out some expendable chores in favour of a nap to make up for lost sleep, and wrote up the drafts for this week's self-help posts because if I'm not writing, I'm not happy. Within hours I was so much more comfortable.. and I didn't need any more sugar either.  True, I have to keep up a little of that every day until my schedule clears, but at least I know now why it's so important not to push myself so hard.

Fix the problem, my friends.  It's your best path to peace of mind.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The fine art of looking forward

While you challenge yourself to see as many sweater stripe variations in this handspun-in-progress as I did (hint: lots), I'm going to kick off a week full of feel-better tips.  Because who doesn't need a lift once in a while?

self-help, positive thinking

Today's topic:  the true importance of looking forward.

Those of us who are passionate about studying history know that Looking Back isn't the horror it's sometimes painted to be... that whole 'don't let yourself get so wistful for what was and what you've lost that you don't move forward' thing we get warned about.  Knowing your history - whether it's about the world, cultural shifts, specific major events, or just the childhoods your parents lived through - is valuable not only so you don't repeat it, but also because there's some good stuff in there you will want to repeat.

I mean, look at all of us crazy people knitting and weaving and sewing and spinning and crocheting when we can just buy stuff ready made in less time, for less money.  We know from looking back and experimenting ourselves that there's value in there beyond the material good that results from it.

But looking forward is really important too.  And just like looking back isn't all bad, looking forward offers a lot more than a laser-sharp focus on making progress toward our goals.

It's important to look forward because it's the most obvious way to realize how fantastic things are for you today.

For example: got older friends or relatives whose company you enjoy and wish you could spend more time with?  Take a look twenty or thirty years ahead for a wakeup call on why you don't want to put that off in favour of TV or a few extra hours at work.  Your future self will thank you for banking all those great experiences and conversations.

Similarly: got young people in your life who are cute and funny and bright and capable of exploring the endless potential of a pile of wood chips?  Spend time with them now, before they grow out of it.  You'll bank more great memories and benefit from the restful pursuit of the possibilities of wood chips.

Annoyed about the shape your body or skin or hair is in compared to twenty years ago?  I say this with a caution not to feel bad or depressed about this but - imagine how you're going to feel about what you've got today when you're 80 and walking presents a bit more of a challenge, and blood tests are a constant adventure in Finding A Vein.  (this foreknowledge can be easily reinforced by spending time with older people, as mentioned above, especially after a checkup when they are sporting the largest and most colourful bruises you've ever seen.) 

Seriously folks.  In a year or two you may indeed wake up having lost some weight or built some muscle or repaired that tendon, but there is still going to be cause in the future to envy your condition today, just as you do now the condition you were in before.  So celebrate it!

Once you develop the habit of looking forward - not at what you hope to have in your life then, but at the things you have now - you're sure to find a lot more reasons to make the most of today.  And who knows?  If you do that with joy, you may well find yourself taking things into the coming years that will make them absolutely fabulous.

And in between episodes of looking forward, be sure to enjoy today!  I'll see you tomorrow with more ideas to ramp up the Yay! in your life.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A super amazing woven thing

I'm so excited to show you how my bulky handwoven frog-green scarf thing came out!  It's the first time I've tried weaving something where the length is manually striped, using two different colours of yarn, and it looked so cool even at the setup stage I knew the finished product was going to be awesome. Bonus: this is a fantastic way to use up odd leftover lengths of much-loved yarns.

weaving, handspinning, handspun scarf
Had to do some fancy footwork with my yarn scraps to pull this off...

The stripes looked great on the loom, too.

Once the loom was ready, I waited until the singles had rested enough for plying and got to work on that part of the job.

The finished yarn looked a little crazy, and if I hadn't had a plan for it already I might have felt like it was a failure.  I was pretty sloppy with the original spinning too, as I recall - I was aiming for sooper bulky and meandered between that and regular bulky . Still: plied!

And because it was going straight onto the loom, I didn't have to skein or block it before winding it around the shuttle thingy.

Turns out weaving with sooper bulky yarn is just as fast as knitting with it, because it didn't take very many passes to get from nothing to this splendid fabric:

That's from the same night, my friends.  Like, minutes after getting the plied yarn ready to go.

In fact it was still light enough outside for me to be able to show you how the fabric was building up on the roller:

I think this is the point where I realized I might be weaving a table runner.  I mean, it's pretty hefty fabric.  I kept on working though, and put off bedtime till it was done so I could take this glamour shot first thing in the morning.  I don't think you need to click on the photo below to see just how tall that last row is where the yarn finished off.  Sooper. Bulky. Yarn.

I couldn't wait to pull it off the roller...

and tie off the fringe at the ends...

and take some glamour shots.

I think the whole process, from starting to spin to tying the fringe, happened over 48 hours.  That's pretty amazing, isn't it?  Even if what I got really does feel like a table runner or a slice of carpet.

I absolutely love the way these stripes came out and I feel completely certain this was the right way to use this yarn and fiber...

... and it's definitely the most interesting weaving project I'll do for quite a while.

But best of all?  Table runner or not, it makes an amazingly warm and soft scarf.

Still - nobody else is going to want it, are they.  I should just keep it for myself.  Ahem.

Hope your weekend is fantastic and that you're able to pop back in on Monday.  I've got a whole week of good stuff lined up to share with you.  See you then!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Spinning the purple

We've been doing a pinky purple theme here the last few days - tomorrow will be different, I promise. Meanwhile, how yummy is this stuff I spun last week?  Leaving aside the fact that the deep purple shows up as blue on my monitor and probably yours, as well.

This colourway is called 'Berry', and it's another Twisted Fiber Art club offering.  I didn't buy any additional yarn post-club for this one, which must have required some self-restraint because it's so pretty.

Unexpected, even.

I was thinking from the view on the outside that this would be a great colourway to knit up for Jan, who is All About The Purple,

But I don't think she'd go for this foray into pink.

And so I have no idea what I will do with this yarn when it's all plied and blocked.  Except that, since it's evolving from one colour to another, it won't be a pair of anything.  I'm too compulsive about the matchy to work my way through a run of colours across two items.

I can't wait till I'm finally done spinning all the stuff I lined up for this month!  Then I can ply and block and wind and measure and - whew.

Remind me again why spinning your own yarn is such a great idea?