Monday, January 30, 2012

New Beginnings: The Rebirth of the Mid-20's

Thinking about blogging again, after years of taking a break.

Not to post photos of my projects, cooking or beer, but to reflect on them. As I have transitioned away from a college experience where I was surrounded by close friends and relationships conducive to Sunday barbecues and homemade pies to a professional life where my main support comes only from myself, leading the life I wanted has taken on a different scope. 

Being a 25 year old women with a passion for business, entrepreneurship, non-profit work and a self sufficiency based on a do-it-yourself, simplistic lifestyle provides a complex balance between maintaining a feminist world-view, fighting for recognition in both work and hobbies, and striving to "become an adult" is challenging. Doing so when I look 18 proves even more difficult. Doing so while navigating a terrain of relationships, friendships, family and the emotional pitfalls complexities of any inter-personal relationship, romantic or platonic, has not only shifted the way I think about the world, but has dramatically altered my identity. 

A homemade brunch with ingredients
 from the Green City Market is a perfect morning
I still cook - a lot. I still brew beer, also quite often. I have 5 gallons of a Belgium strong ale fermenting in a carboy, just bottled an IPA, and enjoyed a Saison brewed last month. I spent Sunday roasting vegetables and making quiche. All of my important relationships focus on food and creation; I cook and eat and brew and sew and knit with the people I care about most, but those relationships are not so simple as they were even a few years ago. 

I still knit and craft, though not as often. My etsy shop closed, making way for a freelance writing gig that drew in a larger and more realistic amount of money for the effort I was exerting. While I'd rather keep knitting hats and crocheting amigurumi dogs, freelance writing website content and press releases fits into my schedule and provides me with the financial stability I need.

I still love the things I loved in college, still want many of the same things. What has changed is this delicate balance; the precarious interweaving of passion and practicality, emotion and logic, trust and freefalling into one's own life. 

Monday, July 04, 2011

The New Way

In my last post I wrote about the tension between small acts of charity and the desire to execute large-scale charity events to show my support of any given issue or idea. How do we enact change in our own lives, how do we support causes we believe in, while also living a busy live? How do we embody the change we want to see in the world? These were some of the questions I struggle with, especially after a 9-5 job, an aging job, and a long distance relationship.

A lot of what I do does involve crafting.A lot of it involves writing and talking, like my work with Support1000. I plan outreach events. I write a blog. I knit hats for charity, or raise money for animal shelters. I do it all with friends and colleagues, often in my pajamas, from the comfort of my own house (like right now...).

But when one of my best friends asked me to sign up for the annual Ride for Aids Chicago, I said "sure!" There was not only something appealing about taking part of an event I was not organizing, but I looked forward to challenging myself physically. The Ride For Aids Chicago is a 200 mile, 2 day charity bicycling event, so in a mere 5 days I will set out with approximately 400 other riders to bike up to Wisconsin and back. 200 miles in 2 days has me slightly terrified, but I know this event will be amazingly life changing.
Riding in this event has asked more of me than I originally thought, and demanded I examine my own reasons for riding, for pushing my body to its physical limits, for asking my friends and family to help me raise $1000 for HIV/AIDS services (and I only have $195 to go!) I jumped at the chance to participate in this ride, but couldn't quite figure out why. Obviously being part of a group of people actively fighting to both find treatment for HIV/AIDS and fight the stigma against those diagnosed with it was appealing to me - I grew up in a community where an HIV/AIDS diagnosis was not uncommon,and many of the people I met had lost partners, but there was more. When asked "why are you riding?" or trying to explain to people why they should give me money for this ride, I tripped over explanations. I didn't know why, but I had to do this ride.

This was, coincidentally, happening on the 30th anniversary of the first diagnosis of HIV/AIDS.  NPR and other major news sources reflected on the last 30 years, the changing disease, treatments, and social reactions. The profound stories explored how in just 30 years, the HIV/AIDS epidemic had, in many ways, changed the world.

It hit me. I didn't know a world without HIV/AIDS. I was born in 1986, a few years after the initial outbreak of HIV/AIDS, when it was still a "gay disease",and people were dying, untreated and shamed. By the time I hit my late teens and started understanding how and why HIV/AIDS existed and spread, we were past the age of toxic cocktails and rampant disease. HIV was a way of life that we had come to accept - no matter how terrible the diagnosis was, it was no longer shocking or, sadly, even unexpected. I had grown up in a world where AIDS had a gravity unlike any other disease, and I had accepted that as a way of life.

As a 24 year old woman, I've grown up in the "in between" stages of HIV/AIDS. I will never experience the horror of the early 80's when, misunderstood, HIV/AIDS wreaked havoc on the gay community. Now, since I am able to take precautions, I don't have to worry as much about the spread of disease as it makes its way across Africa, where 2/3 of all HIV/AIDS cases are diagnosed. Now, in 2011, we say that an HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, and I know many healthy, happy friends who were diagnosed with HIV.

But it's there. And it's still an epidemic. It's an epidemic we've accepted, an epidemic that will be part of my life - and everyone else's - from now on. It's why we get tested regularly, are careful, and treat those three letters - HIV - like the new scarlet letter. That's why I'm riding - for a better future. I don't accept HIV/AIDS as a way of life for anyone. If we've come this far in 30 years, well, then let's keep riding forward until the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a memory.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Crafting for Charity: Part 1

There is something about the knitting community, that while inherently generous, creative, kind, and warm has left me wanting more. This is, in part, due to the fact that for the last year or so the “knitting community” for me has existed almost entirely online, meaning my relationships with crafters are abstract, and relationships are simply exchanging comments and viewing pictures. I find myself pulling back from a community which once held a huge place in my daily life, and am wondering why.

As I become increasingly involved in the nonprofit world, I have a hard time switching from “problem-solving” nonprofit mode to “relax at the stitch ‘n bitch” mode. This is a key element as to why I stopped knitting as much; stopped seeking out fellow crafters, or lusting after new fiber-related experiences. I can’t separate my hobby from my vocation, leaving me yearning for crafting which ties directly into my own activism. Fiber festivals and yarn stores simply don’t have the appeal they used to. The question I keep asking myself is how do I combine these two? How can I combine activism with my love of knitting, spinning, and sewing?
Washcloth Packages
Crafting for charity takes many forms; here is an example from flickr!

This is a huge question with as many answers as there are crafters. I do not mean to say that crafting for charity --donating hats, blankets, or clothing-- is not important. To disregard this as valuable work not only ignores the impact of the donation, but diminishes the significance of the hours of (mostly women’s) work and compassion that goes into crafting for charity. Further, dismissing the work as “just a hobby” fails to acknowledge the way traditional crafts and women’s work can have a major microeconomic impact. However, there is a balance between simply donating extra knit items at the holidays, and focusing one’s crafting efforts to assist an underserved population. Both have merit; I’m focusing on the latter.

For example, I have recently been asked to sew reusable sanitary pads for women in Zimbabwe. This may not seem to have the same impact as a Red Cross campaign, but each small act of compassion rooted in a crafter’s desire to give of themselves has fundamental and tangible impact on someone’s life, allowing the recipient to reclaim their dignity and begin to rebuild their life in the ways they want. For me, the highest act of compassion is the synthesis of large-scale NGO’s and nonprofits in tandem with the concerted efforts of individuals. Give money, but also give time, love, and energy. That’s what we do as crafters.

We can’t necessarily enact huge change with our needles while drinking coffee with friends. Sure, I could organize a mammoth “sanitary pad drive” and raise money for the women to send with the donation of the pads, and perhaps I still will, but right now I don’t want to plan a fundraiser in my spare time, I want to sew.  Accepting that crafting on my couch will not raise money for huge change within a community, but that sending 100 sanitary pads will positively impact 100 women requires a shift in the way I approach the value of crafting, and opens up a larger discussion on charitable giving and what “real change” can mean.

As I get more involved in the non-profit sector this is something that rears its head a lot. I want to continue to discuss this: I believe focusing one’s creative talents outward, and seeing our work as a tool of empowerment allows crafting to be both a hobby and a way to enact change. Yet there remain questions.  How do we craft for good? How do we engage in a discussion that gives merit to the handwork traditionally associated with women and the household sphere? How can we combine the two - traditional crafting and a demand for activism - into something tangible, digestible, and powerful?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Handknits: the dilemma

I've realized something problematic over the past year that has made me shy away from knitting websites, conversations and sometimes knitting in general.

I don't like wearing handknits. I think I look frumpy in sweaters, I hate the feel of acrylic, but wool itches. Cotton sags and is unflattering. Overall I never feel satisfied.

I have a whole photo album dedicated to berets
I know this is entirely the fault of my own knitting. I an accomplished at heavy aran sweaters, but they make me look boxy. Whispy, lacy tunics look great on my 5'1" 105lb sister, but not me. So I knit sweaters for those I love, but for me...well why do you think I knit so many berets?  It's hard to make a jaunty beret unflattering. Same with handwarmers.

It's hard to look bad in a lace scarf
I'd like to like handknits. I'd like to look stunning in colorwork cardigans and lacy tunics, but for whatever reason I have yet to find a handknit sweater that I feel entirely comfortable in. I'm hoping this fall can be the season of handknits, and I can wow myself and those around me with how effortlessly stunning I look in a heavily cabled tunic over leggings, with my frye boots.

I'm convinced it's my technique. I knit too loosely so things lose shape, but on smaller needles my hands and shoulders cramp up. I'm too lazy with swatching, and lose patience with dense fabric on small needles. However I can and have done all of that, to no avail. Why can't I knit a sweater I really like?

At least it's not sweater season any more.I've got a few months to figure this out.

On Spring

Life gets hectic. It happens. I will stop making excuses for my sporadic posting and just revel in the sunshine, the natural winding down of the school year into the relaxed summer months, the lazy mornings meant for a french press of coffee and a challenging knitting patten, afternoon rainstorms marked by a glass of bourbon and an hour with my spinning wheel.
Springtime in Chicago!

But life is hectic. Settling down into a job that will last more than a season, an apartment with a re-signed lease, forming and nurturing new relationships and friendships are challenging and sometimes seem to defy the simplicity in life that I strive for. It's hard to remain grounded in simple values when I'm working 60+ hours a week with two incredibly dynamic nonprofit organizations, nurturing a long-distance relationship, training for a 200 mile charity bike ride, and a 12 year old dog to play with. Phew. But hectic is sometimes good.

For the past few months I've been hunkered down. Nose to the grindstone. Powering through. All those phrases that mean I've shut down entirely and done nothing but work but now that spring is here my creative juices are beginning to flow again. The notebooks have taken backseat to my spinning wheel, the computer used to stream podcasts and prime-time TV rather than write proposals. It's a welcome change, although finding that balance between work and play remains difficult.

Spring also is a time of creation for me. Not only is my house immaculately clean right now, I have thrown myself wholly into event planning for my nonprofit group. However, the events become more creatively focused and more in line with my passion for fiber arts, sewing, and women's crafts, bringing me to an exciting place of equilibrium. Spinning along with activism, sewing in order to change the world. How can you not like that?
beauty from discarded clothes...

But at the end of the day, it's still the simple act of creating something beautiful and new from something old. I've revisited my recycled yarn to update my Etsy shop, and churned out recycled market bags during meetings.  I've created recycled art for my walls at work and my bookshelves at home, piecing together scraps of fabric into vibrant crazy quilt squares, and unraveled never-finished knitting projects to work them into something new and useful to me.

Spring is a time for creation. For me that means spinning, knitting, producing, and continuing to seek that elusive balance.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Wonder(land)

My one loyal reader (hi Barbara) pointed out to me that I had not posted for a while. She said this as we were sampling local homebrew brewed as part of a chemistry thesis.

I couldn't help but indulge her with a new post.

This is my first holiday season in over 4 years that I have been single. It's my first adult holiday in which I have not accompanied partners to in-laws, divided up time between households like a present-laden version of Romeo and Juliet. Gone are the midnight fights over who gets Christmas Day versus New Years Eve, and the frantic driving between Michigan and Illinois.

Of course along with the seemingly good (awkwardly schlepping 4 dozen Christmas cookies along state lines, from mother to mother? no more!) there's the bittersweet memories of Christmas Past. Like Scrooge, I can't help but soften when I think of the years spent at the Christkindlemarkt or the Marshall Fields Windows. The give and the take of a holiday alone is a profound change from where I was last year.

Which is, in part, why I have not gotten off the couch other than to cook macaroni and cheese all day. Why I went to Joanne's and bought 6 skeins of wool, cast on a sweater, and finished a sleeve, all within 12 hours. Why beer bottles trail from my couch to my kitchen, and why my phone is on silent.

This Holiday Season all I want is to be. To be single. To be independent. To be in a life that is, for the first time, entirely mine. My apartment; my animals; my car; my job; my yarn; my beer. There's a selfishness in claiming this, and I recoil from the list of "me! me! me!" but I think that to be, to revel in the silence of one's thoughts, history, future and present is not only important, it is essential.

So i'm sitting, drinking coffee until 2pm and beer until 2am, reading, writing, knitting, cooking, piecing together a puzzle. There are lots of pieces to fill in but the ones that are falling into place are painting a lovely picture.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Behind the Scenes at Skeins and Steins

Still no camera charger, although according to USPS it's been scanned at my post office so I should get it today. Cue hours of photography and happy dancing!

In the meantime, knitting has become almost manic here at Chez Skeins and Steins. Due to some upset in my personal life involving Evil Men, Geriatric Dogs, Pesky Bills, and my own clumsiness which resulted in a Flat Tire of Doom and  Bloody Toenail-less Toe, I've been stressed. Stressed enough that in the last 2 weeks I've knit:

-3.5 cabled berets.
-2 ribbed scarves.
-1 crocheted scarf
-and 2 pairs of cabled handwarmers. And going strong.

Luckily I do have the ability to put these on Etsy or my friends would all know what they were getting for Christmas. In some ways this manic energy seems like the most productive thing ever.

And because I have the Best Friends Ever, who help me photograph my knitting, model it for me, and bear with the craziness, we've had a lot of fun taking photos lately. Christine is a budding photographer so we've been having a great time doing the following:

As you  can see, we are not always the most professional models. But somehow the combination of a great camera, a pot of coffee, and a clear blue sky led to this:

Not bad, if I do say so myself!