Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"Register your goat!" Adventures with sheep and wool...

All! I'm freshly back from a foray over to the infamous (well, if you're a knitter, that is) New York Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY. I am positively aglow from all of the community love and fiber stimuli, and couldn't wait to share my warm and fuzzy experience with all of you. Do you have your coffee? It's starting to get chilly out, so you really should! ;-)

On Friday, I headed out with my knitting group on the 5 hour journey to the Hudson Valley. I have always wanted to attend this fiber festival; it's within a reasonable driving distance from my home, and it's one of the largest in the country! This year, we had it all planned out, and I worked my teaching schedule around it. I was going. Sheepies, here I come!

I'm a knitter, you all know this. I'm also a crocheter. Animal fiber makes me HAPPY. There's just so many things about it that appeal to me: it's softness. It's coziness. It's potential. The creative possibilities that it holds. The fact that it can keep me and my family warm. The thought of all of the yarn that lie ahead of me was enough to make me squeal with joy on Friday.

We got in, had a lovely dinner, rested up for our big day on Saturday. And what a day it was:

I live in a beautiful area of the country, and I'm so grateful to God for putting me here. Autumn is my absolute FAVORITE time of the year, and down in the Hudson Valley, foliage was even more prominent than here in Western New York.

Crossing over the Hudson River on our way into Rhinebeck Saturday morning
We had a gorgeous ride in, powered up with breakfast, and headed to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. We were immediately greeted by many, MANY furry creatures:

Angora bunny
Very cute goat
  Alpacas and llamas abounded.

That one on the left was very grumpy and spit at someone :0
And of course, the big attraction was the raw fleece for sale:

And the yarn:



SO MUCH YARN. And the thing is, this is not like yarn you get at the craft store. That yarn is perfectly lovely, don't get me wrong, and very practical for many purposes. But this yarn is LUXURIOUS. Hand spun, hand dyed, animal fibers like merino wool, alpaca, cashmere. In other words, one could spend A LOT of money if you are a yarn lover at an event like this. :0

Most of the vendors had handknit items featuring their yarn on display, and thus naturally one could covet said item and desire to procure the yarn to make one herself:

A shawl designed especially for Rhinebeck by Decadent Fiber Arts. I may or may not have bought the kit to make one as well. *halo*


Needle felted corn! I bought a kit to make the pumpkin counterparts :0
There were barns upon barns filled with fiber-bearing animals, yarn, and unspun fiber for sale. I walked around with my friends in wonder, stroking everything in sight. One of the barns held an ongoing animal auction. Every step we took was underscored by an omnipresent:

"BAAAAAAAAA!"

And then there were the handknits. EVERYONE was wearing handknit garments. Quite literally everyone. Handknit shawls, sweaters, cowls, hats, mittens, skirts and ponchos draped every human form. It was like the ultimate fashion show for Nerdy Knitting People.

Strangers would come up, *pet* the fiber that the other person was wearing, and exclaim over each other's scarves:

"Wow! I love the colors you chose for your Fox Paws! Excellent job!"

Walking around, lovingly stroking every bit of wool in sight, I was struck by the warm sense of community. These were my people. Knitters. People who love to make things, both beautiful and practical things, with wool and sticks.  It made my nerdy self tear up. When I was a kid, I never felt like I fit in. I was an owl-eyed wallflower who was too terrified of rejection to talk to anybody. As an adult, it's a good feeling to know that I don't NEED to fit in anymore. I just seek out the people like me. Reserved people who like to knit and belly dance. 😁

I was amongst kindred spirits. And it felt GOOD. I was in my happy place. And I came home with loot!


Fiber to make needle felted pumpkins, fingering weight yarn in tonal reds and golds to make the shawl pictured above, a gorgeous chocolate brown hank of alpaca in Aran weight, and enough ocean blue yarn and fiber to make 3 pairs of mittens with a tiny heart design.

I could have bought so much more. SO MUCH MORE. But I was on a budget, and I stuck to it. It all still feels very decadent and special, and I'm thrilled with what I chose!

I left completely satiated and refreshed. I was inspired, both creatively and emotionally. It was a good, good weekend. And now I'm knitting like crazy to finish up all the projects I have lying around, so that I can cast on my yarn with zero guilt! πŸ˜‡

Where is your happy place, dear readers? Does it involve sheep the way that mine does? ;-) I'd love to hear all about it!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The power of friendship in the face of anxiety...

Hello ALL! So nice to be with you again. It's been quite a month, hasn't it? :-) I have some more updates on that front, plus general musings on stress and anxiety in general. Have your coffee or tea? Let's chat!

I do miss our official Tea Time together on the podcast. But rest assured that it was the right decision to go on hiatus. :0 No time, right now, my friends, no time. Work has been crazy. Lots of teaching, lots of emails, lots of grading, and lots of the dreaded Course Management System changes in all 90 sections of the library lab we are teaching.

😱

You know, it's going. But it's all fairly monotonous, uninteresting, uninspiring, yet time consuming. In the midst of all of that, both kids are going through growth spurts, and Anne in particular seems to still be very much adjusting to her new school year. I've been worried about her. Henry is wanting to tour high schools, which is FREAKING ME THE HECK OUT. I finally know how to drive my new car (the whole stick shift saga), but I had some setbacks last week in the form of loss of confidence and general panic at making mistakes while out in traffic. It all took a definite toll.

Last Thursday, I had...just a terrible time of things. I couldn't control my anxiety. I was in tears, and I couldn't make myself feel better. I needed help.

And I got it. From Mike. From my close cadre of friends. Everyone rushed in to support me emotionally, and to encourage me. I took a much needed sick day from work. I slept a lot, a sure sign that my body was at far less than 100%. I prayed, and did some self-evaluating.

It helped. It really did. I realized that I had been feeling like my life was spiraling out of control, and the new car was just the tip of the ice berg: the kids are growing, my life is changing, and I felt like I couldn't get a good handle on ANYTHING. I have always had a difficult time with change, and things are changing now in ways that I just never really thought about when I was younger. I think that generally speaking, people envision their lives up to certain milestones. After that...you just think you'll never get there, you'll never be dealing with those things. It's a privilege to be sharing this part of my life with Mike, experiencing this all with him. I just never foresaw us getting older than 40, as ridiculous as that sounds. :0

This all made me realize that I was avoiding dealing with certain things in my life: that my kids are going to grow up, that Mike and I are going to get older, that my job is my job and is likely not going to change much before until I retire, that sometimes I will still make mistakes and do things poorly. It's not easy to accept change, but I must do it. Not only that, there is joy in it, if only I allow myself to experience it.

Ever since this all unfolded last Thursday, I have felt calmer and more myself. Driving has been going great. The problem was never the car. It was ME. I allowed anxiety and fear to take root and begin to take over my life. In a way, I'm grateful to the car for helping me to realize how much I was avoiding dealing with my much more generalized problem with anxiety.

So, I'm thinking this is a God thing. :) God speaks to us in many different ways, and in this instance, he spoke to me via my Honda Fit.

πŸ˜€

Last Thursday was a turning point. Since then, I'm seeing things in a fresh new light. And in that vein, I'm going to be praying the St. Jude novena, which starts October 19th. Would you like to join in? I'm going to be praying for interior peace, and St. Jude can really come through for us for pretty much any intention. He is, after all, patron saint of impossible causes!

How has your week been, dear readers? Will you be praying along with the St. Jude novena? I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Embracing the butterflies - When you deliberately make your life scary, & how to learn from it :0

All! I've been so anxious to be back with you again after last week's somewhat epic and lengthy post about me buying a car with a manual transmission without actually knowing how to drive it.

Yeeeaaaaaaahhhhh. That was really stressful.

But I've gotten some things out of this process, and not just the ability to now drive the car. Let's settle in and chat!

Friends...last week was LONG. There were swear words (real bad ones, too :0). There were tears. There were so many setbacks. There was an overwhelming feeling that I would never get it right and learn how to drive this car. I barely slept. I lost 2 lbs. This was FOR SERIOUS.

On Saturday, I gave long suffering Mike a much needed break, and went out with my mother-in-law to a big, empty parking lot for about 2 hours, just practicing getting the car going from a dead stop. That was the foundational skill I was struggling with the most, and indeed, the one most people struggle with when they're learning to drive a stick shift. She observed that I was releasing the clutch pedal too quickly, thereby causing the car to buck around violently even if it did manage to get it going, or stall if I didn't simultaneously give the car enough gas. Once we honed in on that, and fine tuned a few other things (I wasn't waiting for the clutch and gas to "catch" together before releasing the clutch slowly and easing on more gas) I noticed that I was getting the car going smoothly. Once I was getting the car going smoothly with some consistency, I began to realize that my feet were doing A Thing and that what they were doing could be duplicated again and again and again. Each time I did The Thing, I did not stall, or buck, or generally cause the car considerable angst.

Suddenly, I felt that magical moment deep down in my feet when the clutch and gas pedal met in perfect symphony, and the car would begin to move forward. If I then eased my left foot off the clutch, rather than rushing it, like I *had* been doing, I was GOLDEN. It truly was a matter of feel, and once I felt it, I committed it to my muscle memory. I practiced it another 300 times just to be safe ;-) but I knew a breakthrough had been made: I had learned how to get a manual transmission car going from a dead stop into 1st gear, and I had learned how to do it consistently. THAT is the key. Not really understanding what works and what doesn't on a consistent basis, not having The Thing going on with your feet, causes you to lurch and stall. Lurching and stalling causes you to become frustrated and anxious. Becoming frustrated and anxious causes you to lurch and stall even MORE. It's like learning to drive while on a continual, evil loop down in Satan's School of Driving and Minion Training. You know. In HELL.

After what felt like the 90th loop around the parking lot, I drove confidently to the exit and put on my right blinker. I was ready to drive out in traffic, and I knew it.

We drove around for about 30 minutes, coming to tons of stop signs. Each time I got the car going with ease, and upshifted from 1st through 5th gears with no problems. I had it, and an enormous weight had been lifted from my chest.

Granted, my downshifting into turns still needs some work, and I still have never driven on the highway. Being on an incline and rolling back before moving forward again makes my heart stop beating. I'm certain that I'll still go through some small setbacks along the way until I have a lot more experience under my belt. BUT. I've come a long way, baby. I can drive myself places now, and I've been doing so ever since. It's going to take a lot of experience before I can get in the car without butterflies, but I can officially say that I have learned how to drive a stick shift.

So, on our progress chart, we have this:

Week 1 - F bombs. Sobs. Throwing of self onto steering wheel in despair. Stalls, stalls, stalls.
Week 2 - Butterflies. Pep Talks:

"You can do this, girl. You can totally do this!"

"Go little Fit, Go! That was a good one!"

Hopefully, people think I'm simply using the Bluetooth to talk on my phone. :0

Surges of hope. Feelings of accomplishment. The joy of knowing that I truly am not too old to learn new and challenging skills.

I know it's just a car. But it feels like a really big deal to me. I took something that I'd always wanted to learn, something that did not come very easily to me at all, and I worked at it until I could do it. This is something that could apply to so many things in life, yes?

Sunday I went to Piercing Pagoda with my friend Brandy to get her ears pierced. Brandy had never had her ears pierced because of a very deep seated fear from her childhood. She had always wanted to do this, but thought she wouldn't be able to because the anxiety felt so debilitating, like something she could not overcome. I relate very much to debilitating anxiety, and so this weekend we took on some scary new things together. Brandy got her ears pierced. Afterward, I got very emotional and cried, telling her how much I loved her and how much it has meant to me to have met her and become her friend. How much she inspires me to try new things, things that I am afraid of, things that make me learn and grow as a person. Yep, right there in the middle of the mall. :0

I felt God's hand in all of this. Maybe I needed to get Fit so that I could challenge myself in this new way, and become a stronger person, a lifelong learner. Perhaps it'll inspire courage in me at some future point in which someone really needs me to be brave. Perhaps it was so that I could be there for Brandy, so that we could face fears together and grow from that. Perhaps it's so that I will continue to grow in empathy and charity towards others. I suspect that it is ALL of these things.

It was a good weekend, a really good one, filled with faith, family and friends. We went out to dinner with my in-laws on Saturday following the 5 pm vigil Mass at our parish, in which Henry served on the altar (I drove us!). It occurred to me that this truly is the good life.

That's my week in review. Work is pretty intense right now, but it's going well. Our teaching for the semester will be done in early November, and I'm really looking forward to that. I'm headed to the NY Sheep & Wool Festival next weekend, and I'm REALLY looking forward to *that*!

I miss chatting with you all in Tea Time. We'll be back to that soon enough!

How are you all doing? Do you have any stories to relay about learning things that actually apply in multiple ways? Let's hear them!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"WHY have I never learned to think things through more?!" *tears!* Adventures in ill advised life decisions :0

It's been quite a week since the last time we talked. Remember how I mentioned the stressful car repair situation? Well, that took a somewhat surprising turn. The past 6 days or so have been a blur of emotions and prayer, let me tell you. You got time to chat? I need it. Let's get our beverages!

So, last Thursday, right after I last posted, I got a call from my mechanic about the part my aging Honda Civic needed. I had been feeling anxious about hearing from him, because the car was really in bad shape, and I didn't feel totally safe driving it. I get a message from him, and call him back between classes. When he hears that it's me, he says:

"Oh yes. Well. This isn't going to be cheap."

This from the man whom I regularly pay $600 at a time for various and sundry car-related reasons.

I braced myself for the total, now that he had the part actually lined up: $1700.

😱

My car is nearly 18 years old. Now that the number was concrete, Mike and I agreed that it just wasn't worth it to get it fixed. We fretted about coming up with the money for the down payment, but we have savings for this very reason. We'd look for a lease we could afford and hope for the best.

I suppose that's where the worrying process began, but ironically, money turned out not to be the main concern at all. :0

I had my heart set on a Honda Fit. When I bought my Civic back in 2000, they didn't yet have the Fit in their fleet. The Fit is the perfect size for me, and I ADORE hatchbacks. I had one in my very first car, a Nissan Sentra from the 80's, and the thought of having one again really appealed to me. I can put the seats down, get my dance paraphernalia in there, giant Scentsy boxes, the Christmas tree... ;-) They also get great fuel mileage, and are incredibly adorable. Plus, they're less expensive than Civic. Win/win, right?

Well. It's the end of the model year. The great leasing deals are on the 2017 vehicles, not the new 2018 ones. There aren't many 2017 Fits left to be had anywhere, and throughout Central and Western New York, all the way down to Erie, the only vehicles remaining all had manual transmissions.

"Do you know how to drive a manual, Tiffany?" you reasonably ask. Not exactly. But yet, what is sitting in my driveway at home right now?



YEAH. What can I say? I had a bold moment. I suppose some people would just say that I've lost my mind.

In fact, at this moment, *I* think that I have lost my mind. But Mike drives a manual and loves it, and is SO EXCITED to teach me. I suppose true love made me do it?

"Hon. This bold side of you is really...NICE."

*meaningful look*

Is this a guy thing? 😳

Pretty sure it is, but right now, I have LOTS of other things occupying my little brain.

I have been driving for 25 years. Until Saturday, I had never driven a car with a manual transmission. But guess what? I now have no choice. This not-quite-middle-aged mom, librarian and belly dancer has to learn how to drive a stick shift. And let's just say that it's going a tad rough:

"OK, what the *%;#! with this clutch/acceleration thing to get started?! How did cars even evolve like this? WHO ever thought this was a feasible long term model?!"

"All right. I got it that time. I'm doing better, right? Now...Wait, what just happened? CRAP!!"

"I'm not going to stall this time. I'm determined not to. We'll just give it a little more gas..."

*SCREECH SQUEAL JERK!*

*delicate clearing of throat*

"See? That was...'better.'"

"Look! It's moving! Oh God. There's another car! I don't want him to come near me!!"

My poor, poor husband. But he, and everyone else who drives a stick shift, tell me that I'm:

"...already 80% of the way there since you already know how to drive!"

Um, NO. I don't feel like I'm 80% of the way there. In fact, I feel like I'm 16 years old and that I'm learning how to drive all over again.  I am here to tell you, good and gentle readers, that this is NOT a very pleasant feeling.

Sunday night, after an outing with more stalls and jerks back to a start than I could possibly count, I was in tears. Mike keept reassuring me that I'm coming along fine, that it takes WEEKS to get comfortable with a stick shift, and that this is all a very normal part of the learning process. But I tell you, dear readers...this is HARD. I mean, I'm certain not everyone finds it all that difficult to learn how to drive a stick shift, but this is hard *emotionally*. It is a humbling, humbling experience to take something for granted, something that you've been able to do for decades, and suddenly be thrust back into Beginner Land, complete with honking horns, angry faces, and overall truculent nostril flares by others who do not realize what you are going through.

I haven't been able to sleep, and in the evenings, I cannot knit or otherwise relax the way that I used to. My mind is constantly racing with my fears that I will never master this skill, that I will continue to embarrass myself in public, that I made a huge mistake which I will regret every single day for the next 3 years, and that I'll never regain the independence I once enjoyed when I felt comfortable driving.

Monday morning I woke up emotionally fragile. I felt like a loser, a Manual Transmission School Drop Out.  I drove my in-laws' automatic to work, fearful that I wasn't ready yet for longer journeys. I felt shaky and apprehensive about everything I was going to face that day. I had moved office spaces on Friday, and so Monday morning before my 9 am class I opened the door to my new office for the very first time, feeling a surge of hope that the clean, refreshed space would lift my spirits.

There was a man standing in my window.

People, I could not make this stuff up. :0

*SPLAT!*

While I watched incredulously, he schlacked some goo from the metal tool he was holding onto the bricks on the outside of the library. This was actually happening. I had a brick mason over my shoulder, in my window, for the entire day. While I lesson planned. Ate lunch. Graded student work. My buddy was there. A guardian angel of sorts? Likely not, the entire thing felt incredibly awkward. An omen of things to come?

😨

Even worse, I knew that I had to get back on the horse. The paperwork is signed, the deal is done. I'm stuck with the car. I love her, she's adorable and precious, she just scares the s*%! out of me right now.

I left for the day braced for my evening practice session.

I did not want to get back in that car. But I knew that I had to. The fear was only going to fester the longer I let it go.

After dinner, Mike and I headed out. I was still stalling the car, but somewhat less often. Unfortunately, this meant that I was overcompensating on the gas pedal and jerking the car forward with a squeal quite a bit. But not stalling boosted my confidence, and I needed that VERY badly. We made it out onto slightly busier roads than the side streets we had stuck to before, and I managed all right. I kept it together and didn't stall. Mike said that I was ready to drive myself to my fitness class later that evening.

I want my Mommy.

I didn't want to, but I knew that I had to. Fit and I headed out to the dance studio.

I stalled backing out onto the street. But I got her restarted like a champ, and bumped my way along. The rest of the way there, I did some jerking and squealing, but I did not stall. I made it to the studio alive, and I call that a huge win given the circumstances. The way home was even better. I was freaking out because the house I parked in front of had people outside, and I knew that if I stalled or squealed my tires they would see me. But I didn't. I got it going well and even eased into a left turn in 2nd gear with no problems. No stalls at all on that trip. Things were still fragile, but they were improving.

Yesterday, I had my best trip yet (relatively speaking :0). We went out on busier roads, and I didn't stall AT ALL. Well, unless you count that crazy situation with the Bobcat digger thing pulling unexpectedly out into traffic, which I do NOT. 😎And my jerking starts are getting decidedly less bad. Suddenly, I can feel a difference on the pedals. I've realized a few things about how to let up on the clutch and depress the gas pedal, and it's showing. It's still not anywhere near 100% smooth starts, but I've clearly improved. For the first time, I feel hope that I actually will learn how to drive this car.

I'm still not driving it to work yet. Yes, I know that I need to just do this and that's how my learning process will reach it's zenith, but I'm being kind to myself. I'm getting there, I really am. I want to nurture my confidence for a few more days. We're going to do a practice run tonight.

I know that I may experience a setback at some point. After steadily improving, you may stall again at a very inopportune time. It happens. But my motivation and determination are high. I want to learn this. I can do this.

Jesus, please take the wheel. :0

This has all reminded me of something very important. When I was in library school, I had an instructor for my Reference and User Services course who was very serious about professional librarianship. She did not like shortcuts and lazy librarians. I remember very clearly her saying to us once:

"Always bear in mind that not all answers can be found THE EASY WAY."

*stern look*

Sometimes, challenges are good for us. Granted, learning to drive a stick shift is hardly some important act of public service, or a larger spiritual goal. But allowing ourselves to be lifelong learners, and not always making the comfortable choice, makes us better people beneath the surface. This can then lead us to step forward in situations that DO have a larger spiritual or charitable component.

I was listening to a podcast yesterday morning, in which Fr. Roderick mentioned that:

"Fear stifles exploration. And exploration is a GOOD."

It is, it really is! I certainly have moments when I wish I had just gotten a different car, so that I could have just gotten an automatic transmission, and I wouldn't be going through this stress right now. But this has been good for me. It has made me realize that I'm not too old to try new things, to have confidence that I can master an unfamiliar skill. I still have a long way to go, but I have faith that it's going to work out just fine.

All right. Let me hear from you. Who thinks I have lost my mind?! :0 More importantly, who here drives a stick shift?! I need some words of commiseration!