Monday, May 1, 2017

Adventures in dressing oneself for the mid-century mark.

Naramata, British Columbia, August 2010.
Remember when we road-tripped all the way to British Columbia to do an Ironman? Twice? Yeah, I barely do, but I've got the medal to prove it, right here in my desk drawer. I've also got the heartbreakingly beautiful blog post to prove it (Naramata Linen Pants), and,  I also have the floral linen pants that I bought at Shades of Linen, in Naramata.  Every year when I drag out my *summer wardrobe bins* my beloved linen pants get their due attention. This year it got hot so fast (gee, I wonder why), I found myself wearing the floral print in late March. Go figure.  And so, now that I'm practically fifty years old, I'm ready to revamp some of my looks, and, what better way to dress my fifty-year old self than with long flowy pants that aren't too hot, or made of stretchy synthetic stuff.  
 Most of you know I'm a yarn goddess, almost to the exclusion of other wearable crafts.  But...I can sew a mean outfit when and if necessary, and certainly if inspired.  Sewing can make me a little crazy (machinery and extensive planning and non-portability beware), but sewing is also unparalleled in the realm of speed. While months can be involved in yarn-art endeavors, once the measuring, architecting, and planning phase is behind us, one only has to confront good old fashioned procrastination, and, of course, the mistakes of sewing (usually corrected by tearing seams out, cutting new sections of cloth, or trashing the whole project if it's gone horribly wrong (there are many reasons a piece can go horribly wrong--think back to junior high sewing class.)).
 Frustrations aside, when the bug bites, I'm all in.  I browsed the web (don't get me started on the demise of the Local Fabric Store) and I found myself on the website of an old San Francisco (now closed) favorite, Britex.  With a broad selection of high quality linen I knew I was in  business. One thing about being practically over fifty, when a woman finds a pattern she loves, she's ready to wear the same thing every day.  I vowed to start with one pair of pants, but promise that if these bad boys work, I'll have every color and print available in no time.  I landed on this chartreuse (honeydew) fabric and estimated how much fabric I would need. Backtrack: before I ordered fabric, I cut  a pattern based upon the floral Naramata pants.  It's something I can do, given the pattern is simple enough. Throw me a tailored design and I need a load of professional (published pattern) advice and support.
 Britex shipped the fabric so quickly I wondered if they'd moved their operation to Chicago. After all, friends in the Bay Area told me, with great sadness, that Britex's great storefront had closed in the past year or so.
 I usually sew in the basement, where I've got two machines, all my supplies, a big card table, ironing board, and a big TV queud up with Netflix, etc... But with the TV on the fritz and an amazing spring day outside, I dragged the necessary accoutrements upstairs to sew and assemble on the fully extended Heywood Wakefield Dining room table (thanks, Mom--and I got plastic to cover the whole thing).  Yeah, I know, I roll like that.
Singer: 197_? Elna 1992.  Tried and true: domestic machinery. Lost arts.
 So, I can't say that there were too many frustrating barriers here. They're the easiest elastic waist pants to assemble, and a great reminder why I like sewing for myself more than for other people, because the most challenging part is fit, and i can make sure the fit is going to work, because, ummm...I can try them on as I go (this is a hint to why sewing always frustrated me--I think of sewing as architecture and crochet as sculpture--and as far as I can tell, with architecture you have to know exactly what you're doing before you start, which doesn't really match my process).  Yeah, I know, you could pick on me for bad process, but I'm practically fifty so what are you gonna do about it?
Don't blame me (said the cat, every day).
 Here's a finished view, ready for wear.  For those who need to know, it was a crotch seam, an inseam,  side seam, hem to encase elastic waistband, and a nice fat hem at the bottom.  Everything is easier with the industrial Serger, which now is over twenty five years old (wow--how did that happen!) and my junior high Singer single seam machine.  That I've got two operable sewing machines is pretty cool, as far as I'm concerned, and I can't even start on how sad it is that no one else in my family makes this stuff.
That's a decent day's work.
 Finished and ready to wear. That my pants match my office fabric is telling. I LOVE chartreuse, and have for many years.  For enquiring minds, I used the self timing on the Canon Power Shot for these images. No one else was around for this modeling session, so take the photos as they are.  Just to be clear, this is a *nearly fifty-year old* out dancing around in mid April modeling for herself while, supposedly, no one else is looking (yeah, I roll that way, too).
When they say, *pull on your big girl pants* what do they mean?
Is this what they mean when they say...
Don't just sit there, do something!
Oak Park, 2017.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Adventures in local democracy, 2017.

An oldie but a goodie.
Oak Park has entered another referendum season (our k-8 district is running two referenda), and so there are many lively conversations in town about the merit, value, and downsides of the referenda.  Meantime, there are multiple candidate races (two separate school boards, library board, and village trustees).

Now is the time when people begin sifting through information in order to vote, especially when their decision could immediately effect taxes or life in the village.  After my work on the high school facilities referendum last fall (we lost), I feel like I've been down this path before, and a lot of this feels familiar.  One part that is particularly flashback-inducing is when folks in the community start to wonder: "Well, they spent money on (fill in technology, facility upgrade, program, classroom accoutrement, etc.), and now they want more money, so maybe they shouldn't have purchased those things!"  Or, "Can't they just...(not purchase said program, cut the funds from another part of the program, one that I'm less attached to, change the salary schedule), or, "I never really liked (program, enrichment, curriculum) etc... Basically, once voters realize that they've got an opportunity to reject something, they dig in and start to examine the rationale for the expenditure, find the things that stick out to their eye as "unnecessary" and begin to dismiss the whole endeavor. This is perfectly natural, but it's rough for the team that assembles the package in the first place. Yes, we want input, but every voter can't go through each scenario and evaluate or make changes. By the time it reaches a voter, it's a yes or no.

Red and Black!
In these cases, prior to citizen perusing the informational materials and considering whether they vote yes or no on the referenda, someone has asked, in all likelihood, all of those questions, every imaginable question, scenario and outcome.  In the case of facilities, all corners have been cut and the agency is looking for the optimal time to move forward with necessary and enhancing construction.  In terms of operations, many meetings have usually been held, educators, community members, lawyers have been consulted to find the most judicious stretch of current funds and in the event  of failure, plans for most reasonable cuts to programs have been measured.

By the time the referenda meets the voter, unless that voter serves on a board, committee, or attended multiple vetting meetings and asked questions all along, the voter is actually voting on a few things.  First, does the voter believe in the mission of local funding for schools, libraries, and parks? I canvassed a woman last fall who stopped me at the porch of her lovely small house. She told me, "In all the years I've lived in Oak Park, I've never voted yes on a referendum."  Okay, this is clear.  There's not much any one can do to argue with this perspective. Her dismissal of such referenda is probably matched on the other side by folks like me and my spouse, who truly believe in taxation for the individuals to pay for the betterment of the whole (yeah, too bad we're American).

A second consideration, noodling in my mind on this snowy day, is this.  We elect school board members, who hire superintendents, who hire and manage the bureaucracy of our school district and it's employees.  Few of us have time to filter through the complexities of a school budget and ask all of the right questions when the time comes to vote on a referenda. This is why it's so important that we look at our leaders with concern and trust.  Chances are, any one voter didn't vote for the whole board, but we can certainly argue that for whatever reason, a sizable portion of our community put those officers in positions to make decisions.
What a beautiful day to flyer!

 I've taken a few days this week to do some volunteer work for a Library Candidate.   Fortified with a readout of everyone who voted in the last election (the last election of this sort--not our November race), I hang flyers on selected porches.  Oak Park voter turnout (especially in key years) is relatively high, and we can count on this coming election to produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 6000-9000 votes.  This is out of something like 38,000 registered voters. You can see where this is going, by now. I've seen these numbers in the past, and basically shrugged my shoulders. In fact, when hand-wringing about democracy, I'm more likely to fret about vote suppression than folks not showing up at the polls.

But, as I walked my own precinct,  I hung five to ten flyers per block (there are at lest twenty homes on all these blocks). Walking the neighborhood and hanging so few flyers was downright dispiriting, particularly, you know, because of 2016.  With all of the angst and heaviness of facing down the republican onslaught on democracy, I felt the tears well up--what have we done? How much have we lost?  And so, from the very local, seemingly unimportant races, to the highest in the land, let's get back on board.  I'm no stranger to tuning things out, we've all done this. We're busy, someone else will take care of it, we forgot, we're patching a crisis elsewhere, I don't really like/know the candidates, whatever.  Yet, moving forward,  I'm trying harder, and I see others, too. I'm encouraged to see such  a remarkable outpouring of activism and involvement in this moment.  And so, whatever the turnout of our upcoming referenda, we can hope that community members will do what they can to stay involved, and if you're like me, you'll trust the neighbors we elected and have kept our community the attractive place that it is.
Mary Anne Mohanraj for Library Board.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wherever you go, there you are.

Where do I begin?  It's been nearly a year since my last post.  I'd like to say that I'm lying on a floor in a house in Wisconsin, passed out after falling and bashing my head against a hard counter.  My family's about to wake me up, and yell at me for drinking that extra sangria, and then I'll rest it off for the remainder of the morning.  I'll drive home in the afternoon, and get to the heavy work on the High School Yes Vote, and eagerly wait for Hillary's election.   While the months swirl by, I'll lay off the drinking, and I'll recommit to exercise, rest, and reading.  I'll take care of the cats, watch the season change, and wait for another step toward greater equality in this country, and finally putting to rest a vital issue here in my own back yard.  I'll support my eldest as she approaches the daunting task of applying for college.

But that's probably not going to happen.  As I realize, each and every day, I'm not still passed out on that hard kitchen floor, I'm awake.  I've survived a rattling concussion, we lost our local referendum, and we lost the national race and our footing towards increased security and equality in such a major way that we're all living in constant fear, anxiety and dread.

Friends are exhausted, neighbors are sick, and thinking about living our lives as we would have is a lost cause.  Nothing is the same, and nothing will ever be the same. And still, each day we make decisions. And so, I rededicate this blog to this concept of what it means to be unencumbered.  For someone completely consumed with thought, worry, outrage, swirling thoughts, distractions and time sucks, how can I continue to carry this flag? The unencumbered woman is not an end, it's a process. How do I, how do you, live your life? How can I live, with a sense of purpose, vitality and health?

After months of ruminating on the risk of sliding into the most corrupt period of american democracy, ceding power to the most autocratic and foolhardy regime, one promising a xenophobic, hateful, factually flawed governance, we can only ask ourselves with what freedoms and powers are we still endowed? As I mentioned to my teen a few weeks ago, it's a line from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: "Wherever you go, there you are."

Buckaroo Banzai: "Wherever you go, there you are."

And so, we take to our means of communication. We huddle and drink tea with friends. We call legislators, we write postcards, we share on social media, we march, we support others who march, we give money whenever and wherever possible. We hunker down for a coming storm. And in that, we rediscover our community,  our friends, our family, our values, our beliefs.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Crochet Pant arrives.

Wednesday afternoon? Time for the Wednesday Journal!
 Okay, it's no longer a secret that 1: I'm obsessed with my kids water polo play, and 2: I'm obsessed with crochet.  What you, loyal reader, may not know is that I'm also obsessed with our weekly newspaper, the Wednesday Journal.  Photographic evidence on display right here: proof of local involvement, civic pride, and a thirst for knowledge unparalleled in the Western Suburbs. Eat your heart out, Western Springs, we've got a fierce crosstown rivalry that is worthy of the very best sports writing, a world class High School, and a documentary film maker who's going to put Oak Park on the map (as if we aren't on the map already).  But I digress, this post is actually a shameless plug for my most recent wearable art happening:
It's a pant!
Doris Chan, Crochet Godess, has been at it again.  I can't crochet fast enough to keep up with her designs, and this one has been sitting in my *make it soon* pile for a few years, now.  After finally selecting the Designing Vashti color (mocha), and ordering this sumptuous thread/yarn, I was up and running.  The pattern, plain and simple in it's one piece design down model, worked like a dream and all I needed was enough couch time to finish these pants off.  The yarn comes in about 11 colors, so I'm looking at about eleven shorts and or pants in the near future...totally hooked!  For you pattern hounds, the so-called Gypsy Short/Pant pattern can be found in Interweave Summer 2014.

Go ahead, try me. I'm totally ready.

And guessed it.  I'm finally sporting some crochet pants and I'm not afraid to show it.  A lot of people have wondered at my face how I was going to pull this off...and, well, I don't know...seems like not a huge issue to me, but sometimes I get hung up on things that other people don't worry about, and the opposite is probably true, as in, things that other people get hung up on, I don't really sweat. 

So on full display on this May afternoon, I'm wearing some hip hugger swim trunks beneath the crochet pants.  Yesterday I wore some light weight tights beneath the pants, and another look will be to wear a smock-type thing over the pants and, well, the options go on and on.  

 Something tells me I'm not going to be taking a lot of orders for these bad boys, and that's okay, since I'm fond of one-of-a-kind projects.  They worked up remarkably fast, but once I got the hang of the pattern it was pretty boring, so....Netflix program required to work my way through another pair of these.

 100 percent cotton, made in USA, crafted here in Oak Park, IL.  Next time you think about finding some crochet pants or shorts, you know where to look.  I'll be sitting out front, enjoying some sunshine, working up some mad yarn arts, or maybe just working a crossword.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Vertical Stripey Skirt: Crochet Goddess that will not quit.

wrap-around skirt.
Messages from far-away Bloggersville.  Wither, Unencumbered Woman?  Has life up and dished a whole load of weight to bear? Or has the simple maintenance of a hobbyist blog become one more obligation, worthy of being ditched?  Who knows, but if I were to point my gnarly finger in any single direction it would be toward electoral politics, both near and far.  But let's not get into that Right Now, dear friend, because I have yarn work and fun to share!

recycled yarn.
One of the themes of 2016 is about using what I have, getting rid of stuff, and organizing everything left sitting around.  As per yarn projects, I've recently committed myself to finishing more yarn art pieces than I begin. Yes, my friends, I'm talking about a spending freeze on yarn, and to fellow fiberistas we know how punishing this diet can be. I'm stuck in a vicious cycle of completing all of the half-finished projects and repurposing old yarn for newer projects, while the joy of imagining new yarn, new pattern, will have to wait.  And so, at least two skeins of this rainbow fingering weight wool blend were purchased for a not so lovely pattern that fell by the wayside over a year ago.  Meantime I sat with a friend who was noodling around with a knit pattern that involved diagonal variegated stripes and I figured that this yarn would be a hit for an invented crochet skirt, with bold stripes.  I embarked on my own diagonal (okay, now it's vertical) stripe pattern, working three strands throughout: rainbow, grey, black.
double, triple crochet, three strand fun.
I've been carrying this one around for a while, and as I put the finishing touches on it, I felt sort of satisfied.  It's a long triangle, formed with simple double and treble crochet, edged and wrapped-cinch! A light blocking, an extended wrap around belt, and I've got a spunky look.

Funny, a few weeks ago I was talking to a friend and I guess I suggested that I was planning to make another crochet skirt, to which, he replied: "Karen, you don't need another skirt!"  I just about fell off my seat laughing.  It has never, ever, occurred to me that there would be an end to the hand crafted yarn skirt.  What would be more essential to a clothing diet than this? But then, maybe he was hinting that it's time for me to make him a skirt!  Maybe so...but for now, I'm dressed up in my new skirt, just in time for lighter weather.
There's always a new skirt.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It's been a long time coming…(my religion).

Lawrence University Chapel at Bjorklunden, Wisconsin.
Not too long ago, a friend of mine described the Sugar Beet Food Co-op as my "church".  Soon after, another friend jumped in and called it my "place of worship."  Tickled, I was delighted that folks around town are demonstrating kindness, companionship, support, and celebration over my own positivity about our food co-op, the first of it's kind in our area.  I got to thinking about how apt this description is. 
 If I were to ally myself with any group of ideologies or religions, I suppose it would be the Secular Humanists, in which I believe that human beings (myself included) are capable of being moral and ethical without the rulings of a supreme being or faith community. (This post has no intent to embark on a conversation about the merits of organized religion/or not).  The fact that I'm not religious doesn't escape the view of my bestie, and of course, it makes it easier to apply this idea that my religion is the co-op.
What I got to thinking about is the similarity between my faith in the co-op and a religious community.  After all, if the place of worship is our new Sugar Beet store, is not it fair to define what my faith is?
It's quite possible, even probable, that the religion that I adhere to is one which is much more universal, or global, than what is immediately presented to a congregant who enters our new co-op.  So what is my Faith found in co-operatives?  This is a beginning, and I've included images from some of my foundational faith system (those places which have nurtured my ideas about faith and renewal) : 

Sundance Foods, Eugene, OR
  • Food system politics: small, local producers are good for the economy, good for communities of producers, ethical production is worthwhile.
  • Good food: the more salt and msg and artificial sweeteners, the further we go from health and our ability to enjoy basic nutrients found in whole foods.
  • Small is good: I hope I don't have to argue the devastating effects of chain stores, box stores, and their impact on climates, community centers, and the ability for people to have diverse employment and production experiences.
  • Local ownership, shared input & decision making: an old adage *the personal is political* or *the biggest political impact we can have is local*.
  • Food from scratch is good (Slow Food): the slow food movement reminds us that when we create something that takes time, it delivers psychic, health, and community benefits.  We must slow down.
  • Hippie Health food stores from the seventies were a good thing that inspired so much (see WF and Walmart & Costco organics) we owe something to those foundations: Whenever I get to talking to a Midwesterner who didn't grow up around hippy health food stores I'm all the more thankful for what we had in Eugene, even though my parents were largely middle of the road taste profiles.  That said, we benefited from the overfill of bulk containers, fresh veggies, varied restaurant experiences, and everything that i could find out in the world when I jumped on my bike.  We owe the small store trying it's best a giant payback.  Small, hand written signage, friendly staff, even dirty produce (dirt don't hurt)….know where it all came from!
  • Building community through food/grocery experiences: Community.  Community. Community. We do it very well in Oak Park, this is another avenue for that connectivity, and it circles back to what we put in our bodies, and what we share with our guests.
  • Employees are important and deserve independence, camaraderie, supportive, and non-bully style leadership: I love going in to a store and not following a script with an employee.  I love the give and take of chatting with someone who works at a small, local venue. 

Sundance Foods
  • Best practices in production: The Sundance website uses a phrase that I really like, which is, that the store acts as a "gatekeeper" for the shoppers value system.  Food politics are so difficult, and nobody's hands are ever entirely clean, but I feel proud to support an endeavor in which the organization is doing it's best to honor ethical practices, from production to selling.
  • Access: everybody should be able to be a part of the organization as members, owners, community members, shoppers, employees.
  • Process: thoughtful about how and why things happen.  This is not a bottom line endeavor. There are many factors that shape every decision.
  • Community activism and support of progressive and green causes: The co-op is involved in the greater community and finding alignment with its mission and values.

Sundance Foods
Fort Collins Food Co-op
Fort Collins Food Co-op
So that's a bulleted list of how I might describe my faith.  If the Sugar Beet is, in fact, my place of worship, then it begs the question how does my church fulfill my religion?  It's a new place, and we're in the very early stages of building our community around an actual storefront, rather than a virtual store, as I would describe the past three-plus years.  People often help to build a place of worship, in which they plan to congregate with their community, and sometimes the place itself strays from individual's sense of what the faith and what the church must honor.

 Sometimes congregants attend a church because it is the nearest to what they hope their church should deliver, although not exactly as they would design.

Sometimes there is a falling out and someone chooses to not attend any church at all, if the organization has strayed too far from what is perceived to be the faith.

Willie Street Co-op, Madison, WI 
So, I return to my own proselytizing about the Sugar Beet Co-op.  We are very young, we are working very hard to keep in mind the foundations of our belief system.  We are also a real store in a real economic zone. Not everyone in our community knows what they want from a co-op, or even what a co-op might be.  There is much building to be done.  I'm so excited because I see nothing but possibility in what this entity can offer us in this community, which, until now, has lacked sorely in food democracy and small storefronts offering vibrant, local, whole food.  We are young, fresh, and new enough to provide shaping to what it is we would like to see it be. And,  there's probably not one of our congregants who does not hold in mind parts of our daily practice that might or should be altered and shifted.  Great thing about our Co-op, of course, is that there are many ways to become involved and feel a part of something bigger.  Come in to the Co-op, check it out, buy things, talk to the fabulous, energetic, employees.  Meet our General Manager who has brought a wealth of Natural Food store experience to Oak Park.  Attend board meetings, talk to board members, join the board, attend or lead a class.  Host meetings at the Beet. You can often spot our founder and current Marketing Maven, Project Leader, and all things fabulous, Cheryl Munoz who is more than willing to share fabulous food and meal ideas, progressive food/industry ideas, and suggestions for a Better Beet.

Old Time True Believer spotted on the road.
It's really easy to get caught up in the now, but I'm a big believer in looking back to the things that we remember fondly and build upon what we have today.  This old Toyota pick-up, rusty and smattered with well-loved and remembered bumper stickers, is an exemplar of bridging hippy health food from yesterday with the current movement to make food systems more progressive, more thoughtful, more real.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Quotable Bestie: "The Unencumbered Woman sure gets around."

 Yup!  Last week's trip to Colorado was no exception.  Once at the lovely elevation of 4900 feet, I was energized by the clean, dry air, the slower pace of my hosts' town, and, generally, the lack of any agenda beyond spending time with friends, sleeping, eating great food, crafting, reading and exercising.  I may get around, but I'm sort of easy to please.  Although it had been raining earlier in the week, Fort Collins served up some amazing Autumn weather which made the cashing in of my Southwest voucher worth it! 

In this episode of Unencumber-ment, I'd like to highlight the benefits of hiking up a hill.  Friends in Chicagoland would call this a mountain.  If my friends in Colorado hear me call this a mountain, they slap me, (or at least stiff me a smoothie in the AM).  Thousand foot climb?  Hill. Period.  One day I'll climb a real mountain in Colorado, but today I was huffing and puffing all the way, what with the effects of altitude combined with the incline necessary to achieve this summit of this winding trail. 
For our climbing friends?  this and many others await…I stuck to the trail.

Aside from the obvious health benefits of climbing a hill/trail, I'm so often reminded of the power of a shifting perspective for our soul and mind.  As we climb, our bodies adjust, just as all of our senses adapt to the changing environment.  Wherever we go, being able to look forward at a peak that we're climbing, looking back at a trail as it winds itself down below us affords a puzzle for our mind to work.  Even shifting from hot sun to cool shade allows us to momentarily adjust and adapt.  These skills we can hone in any surrounding, but for me the fresh-ness of an ascent reminded me of the joy of being able to look out over a valley at the summit of our walk.
looking for rattlers
Early in our hike, a person with about three kids tagging behind him hollered out to us, "Look out! Somebody saw rattlers out sunning themselves on top and they're likely to be mad this time of year!"  We thanked him for his advise, but as we trudged on I couldn't help but wonder if he was stirring a pot a little more than necessary.  I wondered if there was a simpler, calmer way to communicate that he had heard that someone had seen a rattler.  I proudly boasted that the only rattler I ever saw in the wild was in Los Angeles! You can read about it in a five years old blog post!  I guess he reminded me of people who start rattling the cage around here about a wave of thefts or something.  It just seems that there are some people who like running around talking about imminent threat, I also wondered if he would have had that edge of admonishment if we weren't two women with kids and a dog in tow.  I guess I'll never know, but, I'm always trying to find a reasonable way to alert someone to be cautious. Maybe, *if one of those kids or that pup gets attacked by a rattler, do you know what to do?*  Oh, sheez, I dunno.
Near the summit, looking across vast forestland and hills

  That said, I'm happy that I didn't meet up with a rattle snake, and I was truly awed by the clarity of the air and the vast sky and even the flat Colorado/Wyoming plain spread out beneath us.  But mostly, I was thinking how I wished there was a way that I could merge all of my lives and take my family on this hike every Saturday.  It seemed, at that moment, a perfect solution to the disconnect and harried and often interior life that we live here, on the grid.  But then, I went back to gratitude.  Gratitude that I can do this at all.  Gratitude that I found a way to make things like this work, so that I can have the positivity left to do the other things that I'm trying to do.  So grateful for friends and family that love me as I am. And of course, grateful for sun, and the most beautiful season, Autumn.

The Unencumbered Woman does it again.