Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Word of the Year

A few years ago I was introduced to a concept on Lisa Call's blog. It made some sense to me so I tried it and was pleased by the results. I now use the last two weeks of each year to decide on my approach for the following year. Last December I wrote a class profile (script and music) about the concept for the Indoor Cycling Association. It was well-received and I enjoyed teaching it. While I might not offer similar advice to someone outside of class I feel comfortable doing so for the people with whom I have created meaningful relationships. I taught it again last Saturday to a group who weren't in classes at this time last year.

The concept is described in my intro and extro remarks, drawn from the script. The actual cycling work is related and gives me the opportunity to suggest about forty words by embedding them in my script. My actual delivery is more relaxed than this but the scripts need to be more formal.

During warm-up:
There is something about this time of year - with the lengthening days and the opportunity to turn the page on our calendars - that inspires people to make changes in their lives. In the Western world this often takes the form of New Year’s resolutions. You know what I am talking about - “I will quit smoking.” “I will spend more time with my family.” “I will lose weight.”
Studies show that about 50% of Americans set some sort of New Year’s resolution. Unfortunately about 88% of them fail to complete their resolutions. Why is that? There are many reasons and most of you can probably identify one of the major problems with the resolutions I quoted earlier. Most resolutions are vague. There are no clearly stated and achievable goals and very few people go on to create a plan which will help them achieve what they desire. On the other hand, I find that resolutions are problematic because they are so specific. They are not structured so that the success, if you have any, on one resolution can leak into and influence other areas of your life. 
You are faced with an uncountable number of choices each day. Some of those are consequential, some less so. What if you had a guiding principle for those choices? Would it help you become more aware of your path through life and how each little thing you do either removes or installs obstacles on that path?
I want to introduce you to another way to approach the New Year. This was made popular by business coach Christine Kane starting in 2006. She suggests choosing one word which will guide your actions throughout the year. Each time you are faced with a choice you invoke your word and evaluate your decisions in the context of the word. Any word will work if it is right for you. It can be a noun, verb, adjective or adverb. (Note: This link contains a long list of suggested words.) 

During cooldown: 
The experts tell us that one of the reasons that people fail to execute their New Year’s resolutions is that the format of the resolutions is not conducive to forming a habit. In contrast, after a year spent evaluating your choices in the context of a single word you will have formed a habit. When you choose a new word the following year you will be adding a new habit but not losing the previous one. Your decision-making will become more refined and your goals more attainable. 
As I said earlier, the words I used today are just suggestions. I used words which had a direct application to indoor and outdoor cycling because that’s where your experience and mine intersect. You may want to choose something which is more relevant to another aspect of your life or which you judge will be more useful to you. You might also want to choose a phrase; it is your life so you get to make the rules. 
If this approach appeals to you and you would like some help choosing your word Christine Kane has a worksheet which can guide you through the process. You don’t have to use the worksheet because there are no rights and wrongs to this process. If you choose something that doesn’t work you can always choose again. Christine Kane recommends that you reveal your word to one or two of your closest friends. As you discuss choices with them they will be able to remind you to use your word. That will increase the chance that you will form a robust new habit.

This November I realized that my word had changed in mid-year, around the time of my cancer diagnosis. It wasn't a conscious choice on my part but in hindsight the change was very clear. On reflection, I have decided to formally adopt that word for 2015. It certainly served me well over the last few months. I look forward to creating an even stronger habit in the next year.

Time = 1 hr, 43 min

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Behaviour change, part two

It seems to make a lot of sense at the end of the work day to leave out the tools and other materials that I will use the next time I return to the studio. After all, it took a finite amount of time to get those things out. Why spend the time to put them away when they might be needed just a few hours later.

I have discovered that I am much more motivated to return to work on a project when the decks are clear - no tools, no loose pins, no bits of thread, fabric stacked back where I found it. So I am going to tidy at the end of each day. It won't be an afterthought - it will actually count against working time. I think this will be an easy habit to form. There is the proximate reinforcement of returning things to their places and then there will be the ultimate satisfaction of starting anew in a neat work space.

Time = 1 hr, 25 mins   (not bad for a day of five indoor cycling classes)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Behaviour change

The gifts are made and the party is over. It is time to get back to work. I haven't pursued art quilting with any vigour in seven to eight months. I suddenly am interested again and ready to do some serious work. I'm not sure why I feel the urgency right now - perhaps it is the brush with mortality, or the advent of a new year, or a looming deadline for a show I must enter.  

I want to take advantage of the motivation I feel now to make a permanent change in my behaviour. In the fitness/wellness industry it is well known that behaviour changes as soon as you start to monitor it. For example, once you are asked to keep a food diary you start to edit the choices you make every day. If you wear a Fitbit or similar device your daily step count increases simply because you can observe a number.

I have decided to take a measure/monitor approach. The only realistic metric is 'time spent'. So today I started the timer on my iPad and turned it off each time I was interrupted. I intend to keep a record of my daily investment of time. I am sure that just knowing the timer is running will change my behaviour and cause me to focus more intensely on the work at hand. In a few months I will also have developed the habit of incorporating that work into my days.  

At 2:30 am this morning I got up and drafted a design for an idea that has been niggling me, related to the 'Structures' show. This morning I had to go to Staples to pick up an order so I had them enlarge it for me, just to 18x18 for now. I will probably make several and then toss the pattern and use what I have learned to do a final piece. 

At home I began the construction. My time total includes some research I did on construction methods, transfer of the pattern to my working materials and some piecing.

Time = 2 hrs, 35 min

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Party day

There's nothing better than the sound of a group of people talking and eating and drinking.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

At last - a use for that yarn

Many years ago my friend Joan and her family took a summer vacation on Prince Edward Island. They visited Belfast Mini Mills and had a wonderful tour of the mill. Their experience is what prompted my visit a few months ago. Joan came home with a beautiful yarn that had been produced by the staff at the mini mills operation. It was a two ply yarn, about 100 m/50 g, in a really unusual combination of colours. There is green and orange and a pinky colour. It almost glows in both skeins and balls. When I saw her yarn I asked Joan if she would mind if I ordered some to arrive by mail. She said I should go ahead so I bought three or four skeins.

Over the years both Joan and I have struggled to find a project that made best use of the yarn. Both of us have knit up and ripped out projects. A few months ago Joan asked if I would sell her one of my skeins because she had finally settled on a pattern and needed more yarn. I was happy to help by supplying a skein - I still didn't have any ideas about how I would use my lot.

Last week I had to go to a series of doctors' appointments, at the same location but separated by hours. I had finished my gift knitting but I needed a project to make the waiting bearable. I poked about on Ravelry and found an interesting hat pattern. Then I went into my yarn room and grabbed a couple of things that appealed to me. I took a heathered brown in Cascade 220 and a skein of the PEI yarn. The pattern I had chosen used two colours in two row stripes.

About ten minutes after I started the striping I realized why we had been unable to make effective use of the beautiful and unique yarn. It needs help to stand out. It needs a backdrop against which to glow. When knit up on its own it just looks weird. With another yarn it looks exotic.

I finished the hat a few days later. George will wear it and seems to like it. He went and peered at himself in the mirror the first time he put it on.

Lesson learned. The next time I struggle with an unusual yarn I will pair it with a solid which will help set if off.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Captured gifts

I have been busy making gifts. So busy that I didn't photograph most of them. A knitted cowl and a pair of bright socks got away without a picture. So did some silk/rayon devore scarves that I dyed. And a journal cover.

Here are a couple of things I did manage to capture. First an alpaca/silk scarf for one of my surgeons.

A journal cover for a friend. The appliqued bits were a challenge. I had visions of printing with bike tires but that turned out to be remarkably difficult. I had to let out a lot of air and then put all my weight into the tire to get a wide enough impression. It is scary to realize just how little tire actually touches the road when we are riding. In the end I only got one piece I liked so I supplemented with a rubber stamp with a zigzag pattern.

Thursday, December 25, 2014


After I was dischargedfor the hospital I had to turn my mind to the problem of what to make family for Christmas gifts. After my bike crash in August my right thumb made it difficult to knit so I knew that I might have to crochet something, at least to start with. I cast about for ideas and for reasons I cannot now remember I hit upon a pattern for a crocheted and stuffed bear. It was not just any bear. It was large and idiosyncratic and I laughed as I looked at all the versions on Ravelry.

My mother already has several stuffed bears (realistic, not teddies) and she had also admired the rose covered bear in the Oh Canada! exhibit when she saw the photo on this blog. So I decided to make the bear for her. I ordered yarn from a wonderful Maine manufacturer in colours that I thought would lend an aged look to the finished product. When the yarn came one colour was not what I expected. Luckily I found a good substitute (in the same type of yarn) in my collection. There was a lot of crocheting and to make it more complicated the pattern called for units made with six different size hooks so there was also a lot of organization required.

Some of my friends were quietly doubtful about the project. I think some wondered about the bear concept and others did not like my color choices. But I knew I was on the right track when the time finally came to join the units together to form legs and arms and a head and body. The ears, in particular, delighted me. They were a perfect shape and very fleshy.

As soon as the project came together I began to wonder about the bear's gender but decided that wasn't up to me. And I also thought about and researched clothing. I spent far too much time seeing if I could size up American Girl patterns. Since I didn't have time to make anything I purchased two types of ribbon which my mother could choose to put around the bear's neck

I photographed and packed up the bear and the other gifts I had made and shipped them to Maine. I truly did not know the reaction it would provoke when my mother unwrapped it.

My mother opens her gifts on the solstice so I was out when she called. The message she left said something about not stopping laughing since she opened the package. Based on this photo, I would say that the gift was well-received. Better yet, my mother named it as soon as she saw it - Flora. And she mentioned that Flora needs some clothes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Solstice poem

Every year for some time my mother has written a poem and sent it as a gift to her friends on the occasion of the winter solstice. A few years ago I became involved in designing and producing the card. I didn't know if there would be a poem this year since my mother has been dealing with some health issues for the last little while. I was therefore delighted when in late November I received a poem and an inquiry about whether I had time to design a card. My first idea was a total bust but I liked the second one well enough to take advantage of's cyber-Monday sale.

Whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year, we all anticipate the return of the sun.

Here's the poem, reproduced with permission of the author Nancy Nielsen.

The Old Woman And The Far-Flying Bird

The old woman searched everywhere –
in a drawer full of shells
in a box full of bones
in the bookcase behind the dictionaries.
She looked in the garden
and in the gathered-at-the-river grove.
At last she called the Far-Flying Bird.

While she waited she looked in the pencil jar
and in the sock drawer.  She searched and
she slept and she waited day-waits
and week-waits and many-week waits.
No-bird waits.

One morning she heard a noise on the roof.
Far-Flying Bird!  Where have you been?
I've flown latitudes and longitudes
said the bird.  I've flown the compass rose
and the zodiac and here I am.  Look:
I found it tiptoeing back from Montevideo.

Oh thank you bird, thank you
said the old woman, and she took the sun
very carefully and put it on the windowsill.

                                                                                            Straight Bay
                                                                                            Solstice, 2014