It's summer in Prince Edward Island - a summer that is so different from a typical summer here on the Island! Recently, the "bubble" opened - which allows residents of the Atlantic provinces to visit one another without having to quarantine for 14 days. While it is lovely to see our near neighbours, we are missing our friends "from away". I completely understand the need for precautions. Just recently, PEI has reported 9 new cases of Covid-19, all of which can be traced to individuals who travelled outside of PEI and then subsequently infected close contacts. We are still being reminded to wash our hands frequently, maintain a small social circle, wear masks in public situations where social distancing is not always possible.
Many businesses have reopened with new procedures and protocols in place. A fair number of businesses decided not to open at all this summer. Many folks are still working from home. While there are some real benefits to working from home, it can also create a sense of isolation. If you have children at home, this can certainly be an added challenge to planning your work day.
There is an overall sense of unease because we are dealing daily with the unknown. Will schools be open in the fall? Will there be a second wave of Covid-19? Will businesses survive the economic downturn? Am I doing enough to keep my friends and family safe? It can all be a little overwhelming.
There are things that we can do to help us maintain some equilibrium - to help to overcome our anxieties. So many folks have taken up gardening that local garden centres can barely keep up! Baking is another pastime that has become extremely popular, as evidenced by the shortage of flour and yeast in grocery stores.
For me, the fewer number of visitors this summer means that life is certainly at a slower pace. I have the time to enjoy working on custom orders rather than working 12 hour days seven days a week to meet deadlines. On the other hand, there is more time to fret. It can be a real challenge to quiet the mind, to relax and find stillness within. Thank heavens for knitting! It slows my mind down and I become more present and peaceful. The rhythm of the needles is meditative. Studies have shown that knitting can calm your heart rate, and create a sense of stability and inner quiet.
If you are just learning to knit - be kind to yourself! Don't demand perfection. Enjoy the learning process. Congratulate yourself on discovering new stitches, improving your knitting tension, creating something from "two sticks and a hank of yarn"!
If you are an experienced knitter, perhaps the challenge of a new pattern is what you need. Or, if you are feeling tired, maybe set those cables and colourwork aside and enjoy the simplicity of a quick-knit pattern!
Let's take the time to appreciate some of the lessons that these disquieting times have to offer. The importance of supporting your local farmers, fishers and retailers. How lovely it can be to not always be racing from point "a" to point "b". Cherishing the additional family time. And of course, the joys of knitting. Stay well, stay safe - and happy knitting!
learning lessons all life long
Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 97 years old. My dad would have been 94 years old this year. For that day and age, we were raised in a very progressive fashion. Because my father lost his father at the age of 3, he was raised by his mom and grandmother. He saw firsthand how important it was that women have an education, be prepared for a career path whereby they could support themselves and their family.
We were raised to know that women could do anything, could achieve anything. While we are physically different from men, we are equal to men and should never, ever be treated as lesser beings.
My parents were partners in the truest sense of the word. Yes, my father was the “breadwinner” and my mom was the “homemaker” – but no one role was considered more important than the other. There was mutual respect and so much love.
We were not only taught gender equality as shown by their words and the way they lived their lives, we were also taught racial equality.
Back in the early ‘60s, finding a baby to adopt was nowhere nearly as challenging as it is today. Premature babies were difficult to place because they often had special needs and required extra care. My mom had a lot of experience caring for “preemies” because all 5 of her children were born early. My brother was born at 5 months, 3 weeks and weighed in at a whopping 3 pounds, 2.5 ounces. The first time I saw him, I remember thinking that he looked like a little plucked chicken.
I don’t recall how it all came to be, but my mom and the Children’s Aid Society partnered up. The CAS would bring a preemie infant to my mom. She would care for them, bringing them to a point where they were healthy, happy infants – readily adoptable. The third little preemie, Warren, had just left our home a week before Christmas. Mom was looking forward to a rest, a Christmas without a baby to care for. Her own 5 children ranged in age from 14 down to 1.5 years old. On Christmas Eve, the CAS called. They had a preemie baby that they couldn’t place anywhere – nobody was willing to take her in. This wee one was known as “Metis” – half French heritage and half Indigenous heritage. My mom couldn’t bear to turn a child away on Christmas Eve, and that is how Gloria came to live with us.
Months passed and nobody was interested in adopting Gloria. Our family decided that she would be ours. We loved her dearly. Dad loved family heritage and felt it was important to know one’s roots. So, the formal adoption process was on hold until Gloria was old enough to decide whether or not she wanted to retain her Indigenous name and rights. The CAS was aware of the decision our family had made and why the formal adoption was on hold.
About 18 months later, we moved to Ottawa. Of course, Gloria moved with us. Mom continued caring for preemies – all together, she took in 10 wee ones and one troubled teen over the course of a few years. Then came a devastating blow. The Ottawa CAS, without any discussion with our family or with the original CAS, determined that Gloria would be better off in a foster home with “Metis” heritage. I lost my sister to another family on my 11th birthday. I recall so clearly not wanting to go to school that day knowing that, when I came home, Gloria would be forever gone from my life. It was around this point in time that my parents decided that their children had experienced enough “goodbyes” – 10 wee ones including Gloria who had been a member of our family for over 3 years.
Life has a way of bringing balance. My cousin, Bill, whom I adored as an older brother, married a lovely young lady by the name of Jackie. As a child, I remember Jackie’s musical voice and her beautiful hair, which she always piled on the top of her head. She was also very ‘60s fashionable. As children, we were completely unaware that Bill and Jackie had encountered ridiculous difficulties finding someone who would agree to perform the marriage ceremony. Bill was of Scottish heritage, with fair hair and fair skin. Jackie was Jamaican, with dark hair and dark skin. They ended up with a ceremony at City Hall. I don’t ever remember thinking Jackie was different from any other member of our family – I do remember wanting to emulate her!
Within a short period of time, Jackie and Bill had a sweet little daughter named Cindy. She was born with a disease that meant her lifespan would likely be less than a year. There were tons of medical expenses. Both Jackie and Bill worked and mom took care of Cindy during the day. We were blessed to have her in our lives for five years - more time than anyone anticipated.
Our parents did an amazing job. We never saw “colour”. Judgements were never made based on a person’s race or religion. Some people were good; others were not – but it had nothing to do with something like how much pigment was in their skin! I clearly remember the assassination of Martin Luther King, followed shortly thereafter by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. The turmoil that was the era of the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, Nixon and Watergate marked my impressionable teen years. Luckily, though, these things were happening in the U.S., not in Canada. We did not have that level of racism and unrest. Or at least that was what I believed, what my experiences to date had been.
Fast forward a number of years. I was living in Toronto. On more than one occasion in the course of my career, I had experienced sexual discrimination. Having a mentor who was old enough to be my father make moves on me when I was in my early 20s. Having a client give me a feeling creepy enough that, when I needed to go to his country home for an appointment (I was in real estate sales), I brought along a male colleague. The client came to the door in his tighty whities and, when he saw Andre, he quickly donned some clothes. Applying for a new position within a company and being told that I had a really good chance of getting this promotion – and then suddenly the interviewer’s hand is on my knee and moving upwards…..
So now I’m in a senior position and looking to hire/promote someone as my assistant. I wanted our receptionist, Charmaine, as my assistant. She was just so personable, bright, helpful. Although my boss thought she may not have enough experience, I fought for her. We made a great team. I knew I could rely on her completely. I trusted her judgement, her intelligence, her ability to deal with some challenging personalities. I wanted her experience in the corporate world to be so much more fair and equitable than I had experienced in the years past.
One evening, we were working late – preparing for a national convention. A friend called up and asked if I would like to join her for dinner. Her hubby was away and we could have a girl’s night giggle. I said sure but explained I was working a little late with Charmaine. She extended the dinner invitation to Charmaine as well. Perfect! So we wrapped up our work and headed on over. My friend was gracious and charming as always. But privately, in the kitchen, she said to me, “You never told me Charmaine was black.” I was gobsmacked! Why would I even have bothered to mention this? Living in Toronto, I enjoyed its multicultural atmosphere. I had close friends whose race and culture were so different from mine. This diversity was enriching! Why had I never noticed or experienced this subtle undercurrent of racism before?
Fast forward once again. My sister and I have moved to Saskatoon. We bought a home within walking distance of downtown. Our neighbour was absolutely fantastic – a high school coach and all-round kind person. He would often mow our tiny front yard patch of grass when he was mowing his own. He always peeked over the fence and said, “Heidy Ho, neighbour!” To which we would respond “WILSON!!!” (reference the TV show Home Improvement if you’re not old enough to understand). If someone was on the phone and he needed to catch our attention, he would signal with a flashlight – perhaps to tell us that our garage door had blown open or some other such nonsense. One day I invited a few friends from work over for a BBQ. I was cooking away on a tiny table-top Hibachi grill when Wilson peeked over the fence and laughed. He offered to wheel over a “real” BBQ and even help to prepare the burgers. Well, of course! Help on a real BBQ in exchange for some supper? Sounds like a deal to me! I was one again knocked for a loop when I discovered that some of my co-workers did not want to eat anything that Wilson had prepared. Oh – did I forget to mention that Wilson was black?
While living in Saskatoon, we heard derogatory tales of Indigenous people and their “welfare wagons” (translate to cars). It was common knowledge that you simply did not hire someone of Indigenous background because they were either drunks, drug addicts or at the very least completely unreliable. It was calmly reported in the news that the local police had, one brutally cold Saskatchewan winter’s night, picked up a couple of young Indigenous men. Rather than process them for whatever the offence had been, they drove out into the country and dropped them in the middle of nowhere. I don’t recall any charges being laid against these police officers.
I was simply devastated. It seemed like everything I knew, everything I believed, was wrong. I knew that there had been racial unrest in the U.S. but to see this happening 30 years later in Canada was beyond comprehension! As we were raised in a family that knew no colour or racial boundaries, we were not in the least bit prepared for a world where this prejudice was so prevalent.
Two weeks ago in Charlottetown, PEI, thousands peacefully participated in a “Black Lives Matter” march for justice and racial equality. Last week, a Black Lives Matter petition was tabled in the PEI Legislature. Gordon McNeilly, the province’s first and only Black MLA, said that this petition was “a historical, powerful starting point to create inclusive human rights on PEI, foster real change and collectively stand together now and forevermore on this Island”.
Today in Charlottetown, there will be an Indigenous Lives Matter – PEI Healing Walk for Justice to raise awareness of the systemic racism, injustices and brutality experienced by the Indigenous people of Canada.
In May, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke of the 3 major evils facing the world: racism, poverty and war. Over 50 years later, we are still fighting these same evils. He said, “For those who are telling me to keep my mouth shut, I can’t do that. I’m against segregation at lunch counters, and I’m not going to segregate my moral concerns. And we must know on some positions, cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there’re times when you must take a stand that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but you must do it because it is right.”
Racism, prejudice based on religion, skin colour, gender, physical appearance and abilities, etc. are all behaviours learned from our parents and people of influence in our lives - other family members, teachers, our peers. We need to do a better job raising our children if we ever hope for the world to be a better place. My hope, my prayer is that it won’t take another 50 years to do what is right.
A SNEAK PEEK INTO HOW WE MAKE OUR VIDEO TUTORIALS
In the April edition of our Knit Pickers PEI Newsletter, I mentioned wearing many hats. I knit, weave tartans, design patterns. I am also the website manager, video content creator, producer, and editor. I am the social media guru, office accountant, writer of the blog and newsletter. I am the order fulfillment centre. This is the reality of owning and operating a small business in rural PEI. But – I do have 3 production assistants: George, Carnie and Hobbes.
George loves to participate in the video shoots.
Carnie is learning how to weave tartans. She particularly likes to help out with the flow of wool when I wind a warp.
And Hobbes gets all wrapped up in knitting projects.
I’m also very lucky to have a sister who is my spare brain – when mine is short circuiting due to system overload. She is the Guru of Google and the creator of all of the goofy sheep pics that we use on our Ewe Love labels and in social media promo.
She also gave me my first piece of video equipment for Christmas – a tripod for my cell phone!
I film in a small corner of my “loom room”. It houses my floor loom, table top loom, tri-loom, warping board and two tall cube cabinets full of wool along with a couple of bookcases and a sewing machine. The first photo with George shows my early set-up – my cell attached to the tripod, sitting on the table that usually holds my table-top loom. The window faces west which results in a very bright afternoon light – so bright that I have to draw the drapes for filming. Morning light is non-existent. The overhead lighting is pitiful, to say the least. I clip spotlights to bookcases when I am weaving! I tried this for filming but it was creating all sorts of shadows and bright spots. Then I made the best $20.00 investment ever! I found a ring light that could attach to my tripod and an adjustable arm that holds my cell phone that attaches to the ring light. The ring light has 3 lighting modes – daylight, incandescent and fluorescent – and each has 3 levels of brightness. No more spotlights attached to bookcases and extension cords strung every which way!
The tripod, ring light and adjustable arm are all from UBeesize. No – this blog is not sponsored. I am just so happy to have found affordable equipment that I can use to create videos. They have all sorts of fun and inexpensive gadgets if you want to play around with your own videos!
Of course, I still need to edit the video clips when filming is all done. My delightful production assistants have a tendency to either bump the tripod, walk in front of the camera or play with the wool. They’re cute – but not terribly helpful. Mind you, when the work day is done, they are awfully loving and cuddly!
So – when you watch a tutorial on the Knit Pickers PEI YouTube channel, just imagine that you’ve been backstage and caught a peek at all the behind-the-scenes fun that goes into making these videos! If you subscribe to our channel, you can click on the little “bell” to receive notifications when a new tutorial is uploaded!
taking a stand for the farmers who raise sheep
I freely admit – today’s blog is definitely a rant, brought on by a conversation with someone who believes that raising and caring for sheep is animal enslavement and exploitation Here’s how the conversation went….
1. Use an alternative to wool
“Stop exploiting animals for human profit. Use an alternative.”
Knit Pickers PEI’s response: There is no better alternative than wool. It is a renewable resource. Most alternatives are petroleum based - awful for the environment because it remains in landfill forever whereas wool is compostable. When we wash alternative fabrics such as microfibers or polyester, particles too small to be captured by our waste water treatment facilities enter our waterways. Fish eat these particles and they believe themselves to be full, even though they are only full of plastic. They starve to death! Animals who eat these fish also end up with plastic in their bodies. Cotton requires massive amounts of water and is usually grown using heavy doses of pesticides that also poisons our ecosystem. Wool is flame resistant. In case of a fire, flames will self-extinguish on wool whereas alternative fibres will melt and give off poisonous gasses. (Photo courtesy of Campaign for Wool – Canada)
2. Humans should invent something to replace wool
“Humans are an inventive species. I'm sure we can come up with another product that's similar and environmentally friendly. There's no need to enslave other creatures for a piece of fabric.”
Knit Pickers PEI’s response: Wool is a gift we have been given directly from Mother Nature! Until such time that we inventive humans create fabric that wicks away moisture, keeps you both cool and warm, is environmentally friendly, is a renewable resource, is fire retardant and is compostable, I will stick with wool. (Photo courtesy of Fleece & Harmony)
3. Selling wool means that humans are treating sheep like slaves
“Sheep have been selectively bred by humans to grow more wool than they can keep without it eventually harming them. This means that yes, they have to be sheared. It doesn't mean their wool has to be sold, or that these animals have to be farmed, bred, or treated like slaves.
Many sheep farms also breed and sell lambs or sheep for slaughter, or send them to slaughter when they get older. This one I doubt is any different.”
Knit Pickers PEI’s response: Sheep need to be shorn or they cannot survive - the weight of their wool will eventually cripple them. Shearing sheep causes no pain and, in fact, can be quite relaxing for them. (Photo of Chris the sheep, unshorn for 6 years – courtesy of BBC News)
Get to know your shepherds - learn how they treat their animals. You can choose to use wool from no-kill farms where the sheep are allowed to live out their senior years enjoying sunshine in the pasture. Yes - there are farms like that – right here in PEI! (Photo courtesy of Fleece & Harmony)
Sheep certainly are not treated like slaves. They are pasture-raised and of course, with PEI winters being what they are, are fed a balanced grain diet during the winter when the fields are snow covered or icy. Even in winter months, they enjoy being outdoors but have the shelter of a barn and fresh water. When farmers sell their wool, it helps to pay for the care and welfare of their animals. Winter feed is not inexpensive. There are vet bills to take into consideration. Shepherds will often have dogs that live in the barn with the sheep to ward off predators like coyotes - keeping their flock safe from harm. These dogs also need to be fed and cared for. (Photo courtesy of Fleece & Harmony)
As a sheep ages, the quality of the wool can decline. These farms have made a decision to thank their sheep for all of the wool that they have blessed us with by letting them live their golden years with their sheep family, enjoying pasture life. Yes, the older sheep are still shorn (it is necessary) but this wool may not be processed into yarn if the quality is not there. Instead, wool can be used for insulation – replacing fibreglass, for improving and enhancing the quality of garden soil and so on.
The other benefit to the earth when humans raise sheep is that these flocks improve the quality of the soil. In California, in areas where there is so much dead and decaying vegetation that contributes to dangerous brush fires, researchers have brought in flocks of sheep to graze. Not only did the sheep help clear up this dead and decaying vegetation, their "fertilizer" added nutrients to the soil. By getting rid of the old vegetation, it allowed new, healthy vegetation to grow. The land was rejuvenated! This is nature working together as it should to help heal our earth. (Photo courtesy of Dai Sugand/Getty Images)
Sheep and humans can and should enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. If you care about animal welfare (and I can see that you do as do I), get to know and support those farms that respect, love and care for their animals. I have personally witnessed the grief of a farmer who has nursed a baby sheep whose mother has rejected it, only to ultimately lose the battle. I have also witnessed grief at the passing of a beloved patriarch or matriarch of the flock. These sheep are dearly loved and cared for - are a part of a larger family that extends beyond just the human race. (Photo courtesy of Blomidon Farm)
4. My personal fear
“I will still be choosing not to buy wool because of the reasons I stated above. Choosing to support animal slavery to me is worse than the environmental cons of wool alternatives. I can definitely appreciate that the farm you talk about is more humane than most other farms, but that element of exploitation is still there. The animals are still treated like property and made a profit off of.”
Knit Pickers PEI’s fear: After explaining the benefits of wool and that Canadian farmers love and care for their flocks, someone would rather continue to contribute to the pollution of our earth rather than realise that wool is Mother Nature’s gift to us, not a case of animal exploitation. I worry for our future, the future of our children and grandchildren, the future of our planet. Thankfully, a comment by Barbara Graham Ritz gave me renewed hope: “Unless vegan products are sourced specifically from organic, “no-dig” systems, they are actively participating in the destruction of soil biota, promoting a system that deprives other species, including small mammals, birds and reptiles, of the conditions for necessary for life, and significantly contributing to climate change. Indigenous peoples for centuries have developed sustainable ways of living in harmony with nature. We can and should learn from them.”
To wrap this rant up…..please do not believe the misleading pictures used in anti-wool campaigns by groups such as PETA. They are staged; the “bloody” lambs are plastic. These shocking photos and ad campaigns bring in a lot of donations from people who love animals. I too am an animal lover. Just ask anyone who knows me – ask them about the 33 feral cats we cared for, and the 6 who now live in our house because they were not thriving in their colony. I believe that you can tell an awful lot about a person by the way they treat an animal. The wool industry is not cruel. There are laws in Canada to protect the welfare of animals, including farm animals. There are certain practices that are prevalent in other countries that have been banned in Canada. That is why I choose to use and to sell Canadian wool exclusively. Please take the time to get to know your sheep farmers. Their flock is a part of their family. If you are buying wool, ask the shop keeper about the wool – its provenance. Ask about the farmers, the shepherds. I am more than happy to share this information with you. (Photo courtesy of Blomidon Farm)
Happy valentine's day!
The commercial side of Valentine's Day places an emphasis on flowers (more specifically roses), chocolates and a romantic evening out. But love isn't relegated only to romantic partnerships!
There is the love between family members, especially that unfathomable bond when a parent first holds their newborn baby. There is the love between friends - those longstanding friendships that are reliable, trustworthy and irreplaceable. And of course there is the love between people and their furbabies. It is an unconditional sort of love - comforting, playful, soothing and ultimately heartbreaking as the life of a pet is so short in the grand scheme of things.
And then there is the most challenging love of all....self-love.
We work often to the point of exhaustion. Just one more deadline to meet. Just one more project to get off the ground and then I can take a break.
Is there a parent out there who does not relate to this? You come home from a gruelling day at work. Your feet ache and you forgot to thaw the chicken for tonight's supper. You check your kidlet's schoolbag and discover that the school is having a bake sale/fundraiser/class partiy and you need to whip together something for your wee one to share tomorrow. It should be healthy and take into consideration numerous food allergies. A quick dive into the cupboard is not inspirational. Would chocolate dipped strawberries be a welcome treat for a Grade 2 class?
Social media and instant, constant access to newsfeeds can be overwhelming. World politics have become increasingly nasty. Neverending posts about cruelty to defenseless animals and children, natural disasters, terrorism, and climate change marking the end of days can portray the world as a dark and dismal place. What can we do to facilitate a change?
If you want to make a positive impact, a positive change in the world, you first have to make positive changes in how you take care of yourself.
Nurture your body with real food from your local farms, not chemical-laden fast foods. There's nothing wrong with fast food on occasion but don't rely on it as the backbone for your nutritional needs.
Try to set a consistent sleep schedule - a challenge I know especially when you have children. But do your best as proper sleep habits can affect your emotional wellbeing, mental and metabolic health. It can help to boost your creativity. Lack of sleep can even contribute to Alzheimer's Disease! Get a wool-filled comforter or wool blanket to help regulate your body temperature for a great night's sleep. If you have a memory-foam mattress, use a wool mattress topper to avoid night sweats.
And finally - take some time to feed your soul! You know what works best for you. Is it that early morning cup of coffee before the world (and household) comes to life? Maybe it's coming out for "Ewe Love to Knit Night" - a couple of hours every week to indulge in your hobby and enjoy some laughter with fellow knitters. Perhaps it's a good book and a warm lavender-scented bath at the end of a busy day.
On Valentine's Day, be sure to make time for some self-love. By taking care of ourselves, we will have the physical and mental wellbeing to share love with others. Where there is love, there is no darkness.
The Christmas season has come and gone. No more twinkling lights to brighten the evenings. We’ve moved into January – a new year and a new decade! So many folks start the New Year off with heartfelt resolutions of how they plan to improve their lives, their health, their jobs, their finances. By mid-January, however, the exhilaration and zeal with which we took on these resolutions have perhaps begun to fade. Hitting the gym gets replaced with grabbing the snow shovel as January’s workout. The refrain “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” becomes “Here comes the sun” as we dream about spring blossoms and warmer days. We tend to think of these winter months between January and the end of March as simply an interlude between Christmas and springtime that must be endured. In fact, the third Monday in January has become known as “Blue Monday” – the most depressing day of the year!
As we move into a new decade, it really highlights for me just how quickly time flies! I don’t want to wish 3 months of each year away, dreaming of dashing out the door in flip flops instead of winter boots and all the other gear needed to stay warm and dry. I’ve decided to take a kinder and gentler approach to new year/new decade resolutions.
It started with taking down the Christmas decorations. I always miss the soft glow of the lights on the tree. So this year, when we took down the tree, we replaced the warm atmosphere created by the tree lights with beeswax candles. Not only do we enjoy their beautiful glow, the candles are eco-friendly and sustainable, giving off a lovely honey scent while they purify the air. The negative ions that are released when burning a beeswax candle reduce indoor pollutants such as dust, pollen and even mould! The more energy-efficient we make our homes, the more pollutants build up during the winter months when everything is shut up nice and tight. You may find that burning beeswax candles not only benefits your mental health, they might even reduce symptoms of allergies and asthma. Just be sure that you are using 100% beeswax candles with 100% cotton wicks. (Photo courtesy of Honey Candles. You can find their candles in our Knit Pickers’ studio.)
Every single year, I say I’m going to find a better balance between my work life and my personal time. This can certainly be a bit of a challenge when your workspace is in your home. It’s not an area that can be closed off at the end of the work day… you know - out of sight, out of mind. I walk through the office and workspace each time I move from the living room to the kitchen! The other challenge is that I truly do love to knit and weave! I have learned, however, that as much as I love my work, I do physically need to take a break to avoid back strain (a common problem when warping a loom or spending too much time weaving) and carpal tunnel issues.
My solution? First of all, I’m getting rid of the idea of “work/life balance”. It’s all just life! I’m paying more attention to what my body is telling me. If I need a break from weaving or knitting, I can always enjoy some brisk fresh air, stepping outside to clear the snow off the deck and parking pad. Rather than looking at this as a dreaded winter task, it is what “recess” was when you were a kid – a chance for some physical exercise as well as a mental break! When winter evenings descend, it’s time for another change of pace. Time to put away the work projects, pick up my personal knitting and move into the living room. Feet up, cozy throw to keep me warm, fur baby (or babies) on my lap, candles glowing. It makes me pause and reflect that life really doesn’t get much better than this.
So winter’s interlude – that period of time between Christmas and spring – has now become my own personal Winterlude! Time to enjoy a bit of solitude and the amazing silence of a winter’s night in rural PEI. (Photo by my talented sister Catherine McEachern. Available to purchase in the Knit Pickers studio or on our website.)
Think back to when you were a child. Or look into the eyes of your children or grandchildren as they anticipate the arrival of Santa Claus. Do they think they hear reindeer hooves on the rooftop? Do you leave footprints in freshly fallen snow and exclaim in surprise that Santa found the bucket of carrots left at the back door for the reindeer? I remember one Christmas Eve vividly. I was around 6 years old and was having a time trying to fall asleep. I heard someone in my bedroom. My eyes opened a crack and I spotted a big red mitten reaching for my stocking hung on my bedpost. Did my father don a pair of red mittens that evening? Or maybe I had fallen asleep and had a dream that was oh so real. Either way, that memory is one that fills my heart with Christmas magic.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we are inundated with messages about all of the things we need to do for an ideal Christmas. There are the perfect and thought-filled presents to buy and wrap, Christmas baking and decorating, and get-togethers with co-workers, family and friends. Movies, magazines and social media tell us what we need to do. “Finding the perfect Christmas tree”. “Decorating the perfect Christmas tree”. “Planning the perfect Christmas party”. “Tips for finding the perfect Christmas gifts”. “Hosting the perfect Christmas dinner”. And even “17 handy apps for planning your perfect Christmas”. Sense a common element of perfection here? Rather than a season of peace and tranquility, we can find ourselves overwhelmed with stress trying to reach this pinnacle of perfection!
As time goes by, I find myself less focused on perfection and more on simplicity. Are babies or furry creatures obsessed with the dangly ornaments on the Christmas tree? I think my tree looks very pretty strung with only white lights. The favourite Christmas ornaments can be hung in doorways – out of reach and out of danger. I no longer spend my time chastising fur babies for climbing inside the tree!
As for Christmas baking – my favourite memory is not of perfectly-baked cookies. It is when my nieces and nephews came over to make cookies and decided to decorate the shortbread cookies with grape crush candy cane bits. Melted purple puddles and crunchy faux grape flavoured bits – oh yum! But I loved the look of pride and accomplishment as they took these cookies home!
The best and most memorable Christmas presents need not expensive. They are the ones that are a gift of yourself, of your time, of your attention. One Christmas, I received a new doll from Santa – so exciting! But what made this present even more special were all of the clothes that came with her: a swing coat, a dress with a matching suit jacket, a pair of casual corduroy pants, a sweater and a skirt. Sound extravagant? It was – but it was also a gift of time. My mother made all of these clothes for the doll.
Do I have the concept of a simple, stress-free Christmas perfected? Hardly! But I do find that I am enjoying the season so much more. My wish for you is one of serenity. Take the time to enjoy experiences with your family and friends – visiting a Christmas tree farm, taking a tour of the Christmas lights, skating or snowshoeing followed by a cup of hot cocoa. Put down that cell phone; log off your laptop. Give the gift of your time to not only others but to you too! My favourite time of day over the Christmas season is in the evening, when the work day is done. I enjoy sitting in the living room with the only light coming from candles and the Christmas tree, and almost always with a fur baby in my lap. The epitome of “all is calm, all is bright”.
I wish you joy, peace and love this holiday season.
Turning grey and cold into koselig
September is a month of roadside stands, replete with the harvest of the locals’ plentiful gardens. We celebrate the month-long Fall Flavours Festival. The evenings take on a brisker note and many folks enjoy the warmth of bonfires.
October is a month of change. The leaves on the trees burst into a glorious riot of colour. Even the colour of the water deepens from hues of teal and turquoise to deeper shades of navy and blue violet. October is orange pumpkins, red apples and golden piles of leaves.
Suddenly, November is upon us. The brilliance of summer and the warm hues of autumn disappear into grey November days. The weather takes a dramatic turn to cold wintery winds. The leaves are gone from the trees; the ocean takes on various shades of grey to match the rain clouds; night closes in on us even earlier as we switch back from daylight savings time.
We live in an older farmhouse – built around 1901 I believe. Slowly but surely we have been making improvements: some new windows, a new heating system, added insulation in the attic. There is more work required and it can still be pretty chilly when the weather is wintery. This year I bought a wool mattress pad and a wool comforter for my bed (there is no source of heat in the bedroom with the exception of my fur-beasts). While the woollen bedding is an amazingly wonderful and cozy addition, it makes crawling out of bed in the morning a real challenge. On a grey November day, I want to pull the covers back up over my head and stay in my warm cocoon. (photo – Hobbes enjoying her cocoon of warm woollies)
It seems like November wants us to take a break, to recharge our internal batteries in readiness for the festivities of the holiday season in December. Maybe we should listen more closely to the lessons that nature is trying to teach us! (photo - Dark Hedge by Macscape Photography)
Suddenly, November’s bare branches and grey skies gave me inspiration. What if, instead of dreading the approach of winter, I took advantage of this time? The entire house and studio workspace could become a cozy cocoon. Savour the aromas of freshly baked bread. Enjoy the glow of candlelight. Indulge in comfort foods like chowder. Surrounded by warmth and comfort, it is wonderful to let the creative mind flow and to have the time to dream up new ideas, new patterns. The Danes call this “hygge”. The Norwegians refer to it as “koselig”. You can’t buy koselig – it’s what you create that gives you comfort. (photo -George McMuffin enjoying the hygge simplicity of his box and brown paper)
Another bit of wisdom from the Norwegians is a saying: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” So, when the weather is brisk, don your woolly socks, layer on a woolly sweater, toque, scarf, mitts and head outdoors. Those bracing temperatures are sure to refresh your mind and spirit. When you come back inside, a nice cup of tea or hot cocoa will be just the thing!
Rather than simply enduring wintery weather, approach it with a sense of excitement and enjoyment. Take part in some cold weather activities. I have absolutely no coordination so I won’t be going downhill skiing, but I can certainly strap on my snowshoes! Too nasty to be outside? I can envision some “Netflix and knit” evenings! Or how about inviting your besties over for a retro evening of fondue and board games?
Do grey days and cold weather have an impact on your mood and energy level? I would love to hear what works for you!
5 benefits of daily gratitude
Wondering what to do with turkey leftovers, a couple of slices of pumpkin pie and a few scoops of mashed potatoes? Here in Canada, we celebrated Thanksgiving this past weekend. It’s a delightful time when family and friends gather together, celebrate the bounty that is the fall harvest, and express gratitude for their blessings, small and large.
But, rather than consciously giving thanks one day a year, what would happen if we strove to be grateful every single day?
1. “Be grateful for what you already have while you pursue your goals. If you aren’t grateful for what you already have, what makes you think you would be happy with more.” – Roy T. Bennett
Envy is the enemy of gratitude. One might think that envy can be a tool to motivate you to strive harder for success. But envy is not a good foundation on which to build. There will always be someone with more of what you think you need to achieve happiness – more money, more time to travel, more business success….Gratitude on the other hand helps boost creativity and productivity – two indispensible tools to achieving your goals.
Our dear little old house is a work in progress, and it is decorated with loads of baskets and boxes for fur babies. Is it perfect? Hardly! A new roof is next on the agenda. But I am grateful for what we have accomplished so far – a new heating system, some new windows, some new insulation and, most importantly, the transformation of a very rough outbuilding into what is now my studio.
2. “Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented.” – Sonja Lyubomirsky
Stress seems to be a constant presence in our daily lives. We berate ourselves for our past mistakes; we are irritated by daily annoyances (road rage is a perfect example); and we worry about our future and the future of our families. We cannot change the past – we can only learn the lessons that were taught. Worrying about the future changes nothing. By living in the present moment, we can help to alleviate that worry about tomorrow. Let’s look at a “hot topic” stressor – climate change. Simply worrying about the state of Mother Earth will accomplish nothing. Being grateful for the beauty of nature around us encourages us to make daily small lifestyle changes that will create a healthier earth tomorrow.
3. “Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence. We must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart.” – Larissa Gomez
Practicing gratitude is as important for your health as a nutritious diet and daily exercise! It can lower your blood pressure, boost your immunity through increased immunoglobulin A, decrease stress which in turn decreases cortisol levels, resulting in decreased inflammation. It can also help you get a better night’s sleep!
Believe me – I am far from perfect at leading a grateful life. There is a highly sarcastic, negative voice in the back of my brain that tries to wheedle its way into my thoughts. When I recognise its sneaky little tentacles starting to creep into my consciousness, I purposefully choose to turn that sarcastic and negative thought into a positive. Not always easy but I do find that unwelcome voice gets quieter every day.
4. “There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy.” — Ralph H. Blum
Yes, I am grateful for the “big ticket” things in my life – health, family, good friends, a job I love. But it is often the very small things, when I pause long enough to take notice, that bring me such a sense of joy and gratitude…two butterflies dancing together in the garden, a chunky little bumblebee that shouldn’t be able to fly but is happily making its way from flower to flower, the beautiful view from the studio windows.
5. “Today I choose to live with gratitude for the love that fills my heart, the peace that rests within my spirit, and the voice of hope that says all things are possible.” – Anonymous
3 Lessons Learned from Hurricane Dorian
Hurricane Dorian hit the Maritime provinces this past weekend. We were very lucky – it was nothing like the strength of the storm that hit the Bahamas and it moved through the region quite quickly. Still, the amount of destruction was quite astounding. There is speculation that tornadoes touched down during the hurricane. There are clear, straight paths of downed trees – not typical of the widespread damage that hurricane winds can cause. Over 80% of the trees in the Cavendish Campground were lost. As I write this, there are still nearly 10,000 homes without electricity, down substantially from the 62,000 homes at the peak of the storm. 73 crews are currently working on restoring power across the Island, including crews from Maritime Electric with assistance from Fortis Ontario and Newfoundland Power. (Photo courtesy of PEI National Park)
Whenever a storm hits, whether it’s Mother Nature or a storm of a more personal nature, there are always lessons to be learned. Here are my top 3!
1. Surviving a Storm is 50% Luck and 50% Preparation
We were very lucky here in Mayfield. We lost a couple of roof shingles and a few spindles from our verandah. Our baby apple tree has a new “tilt” but was not uprooted. We had one leaky window (when the rain was pounding the house horizontally!) but no real harm done. We have no trees near to the house that could topple over and cause damage. I kept telling myself that this dear house has stood the test of time for over a century and surely it will withstand this storm, too.
Boy – did we ever prep for this storm! Our big “Knit Pickers” sign at the front of the property came down on Friday in advance of the hurricane. I sure did not want it flapping about in the height of the storm, perhaps hitting something or someone! We moved our lobster trap parking signs into the shed along with our trash bins, fire pit ring and bbq. We added extra bolts to the shed doors in hopes that the winds would not tear the doors off. Our wooden deck chairs were moved either into the studio or lashed securely to the verandah. As we are on well and septic, when we lose power, we lose water. So we filled all the fur-baby bowls with fresh water and filled the bathtub too so that we could have washing water and water to flush the toilets. We filled 3 thermoses full of coffee, cooked up a roast and a casserole and baked an extra loaf of bread. We recharged batteries, cell phones, computers. We laughed at ourselves, saying that we are so well prepared we won’t lose power! Wrong…..we lost it earlier than I thought we would. We really are counting our blessings as we were only without power for about 54 hours. (Photo courtesy of Brian MacInnis)
Lesson #1 is hope for the best but prepare for the worst. My father always said that you never know what life may bring your way. You may have a vision, a plan for how your life will play out. But life is unpredictable. Career paths and lifestyles may change – by choice or by chance. Stay flexible.
2. People are Inherently Kind
I can’t even begin to recount the number of stories I heard about people helping one another in the aftermath of this storm. Folks inviting you over for a warm drink, a meal, a shower because their power had been restored. Friends near and far checking in to be sure you were ok. Restaurants offering free bowls of chowder. But two stories really made my heart sing.
The crews from Maritime Electric have been working night and day to restore power to homes across the Island. One crew member lost a number of trees on his property but obviously wasn’t able to clean things up as he has been working non-stop. His neighbours all pitched in to clear out the trees and clean up his yard so, when he is finally able to return home, he won’t be facing a huge mess.
As the storm was approaching, campgrounds were closing to ensure that no campers were injured by falling trees. One couple was just at a loss trying to find a place to stay. They eventually came across an airbnb with a vacancy. They were anticipating that the rates might be inflated because visitors were desperate for accommodations. Just the opposite was the case! These operators refused to accept any payment whatsoever. They felt it was an emergency and the right thing to do was to provide shelter.
Lesson #2 is to focus on the good around us. We are constantly bombarded with bad news, breaking news of crimes, unethical behaviour, cruelty. Yes - it is so important to know what is going on and to take a stand against the wrongs in the world. But if we allow the wrongs of the world to blind us to all that is good around us, we begin to believe that there is nothing we can do to effect change and we become cynical.
3. No Storm Lasts Forever
Today is a glorious day on the Island. The sun is shining and there is lovely warmth in the air. I must admit – a day like today was hard to envision at 3 a.m. Sunday morning. The rain was lashing, the winds were howling and the house was vibrating. The ewer and bowl on my nightstand were rattling away and the poor fur babies’ eyes were as round as saucers. Of course, it was as black as black could be – no stars or moon to be seen and no electricity anywhere. Every couple of hours, I would wake up, grab a flashlight and check to be sure that we hadn’t sprung any new leaks. I don’t remember exactly what time I awoke on Sunday morning but it was so silent. A quick scan to make sure that everything was as it should be and then it was off to Cavendish to see if the shop that my sister manages was OK. It was but just a stone’s throw away, huge trees had toppled over bringing down power lines and coming to rest on nearby cottages. It was shocking. And it wasn’t just trees coming down. Corn fields were flattened. Some farms lost 50% of their apples. But the good news is that there was no loss of human life and I have heard no reports of loss of any farm animals. (Photo courtesy of Parks Canada)
Lesson #3 is to appreciate what you have each and every day. We had taken a drive early Monday evening and, as we were returning home, we saw lights on at the resort next door. We were so excited! We get into the house and realise that we still were without power. From that exhilarating hopeful feeling to just wanting to weep – we were never so happy when we heard the hum of the refrigerator about an hour later! We do take for granted all of our modern conveniences until we don’t have them. The same thing holds true for so much in life. The loss of a family member or friend, the loss of a job, the loss of a furry companion. For me, if I take a moment each day to be thankful for something – maybe it’s just the sheer enjoyment of the aroma of freshly mowed grass, laughing at a robin hopping across the yard, or cuddling a fur baby – it makes whatever trials I may have encountered that day much less important.
Live life luxuriously! Classic simplicity is what I enjoy the most - in clothing design, home decor and in life!