Wednesday, January 30, 2013

the thread

The riff this week was going to be variations on the theme of LYS and Local Yarn Sources.  But life happens, and today's comment will cover a different community.

Horst  Feist.    Dr. Horst Feist.    H. Feist, PhD (Chemistry), the naturalist, mycologist, orchard tender, husband, father, sandwich-maker extraordinaire, the man always ready to help.   My brother-in-law.   Ace's uncle.

Horst Feist:  one of the kindest, humblest, most principled and honest people I have ever had the privilege to know.

We have forgotten what the Berlin Wall meant: the fabric of families pulled apart, the suspicion attached to a single letter from "the West."  For years we could not communicate; it was too dangerous.  Only later did we learn how, at home in East Germany, Horst refused to work for the Stasi, the Secret Police.  The Stasi pressured many citizens to report on one another -- and to refuse could have consequences.  We cannot begin to understand the personal risk that decision entailed, nor the strength of character it required.  In material terms, it meant years of commuting two hours to work in the morning, and two hours back again at night, to a job that, for political reasons, would never become the career of which he was worthy.

The Wall came down; Horst and his wife visited California.  We camped all over the Southwest in an El Nino year.  It rained. It rained a lot. It rained pretty much non-stop. We stood in the square of a small town in New Mexico, and listened to a Park Ranger give the local history. It was still raining. We were soaked, and some of us were cranky. The rain fell on Horst's bare head. Horst stood straight and undaunted, as though the weather didn't exist or wasn't worth notice. Not a single complaint passed his lips; and in his posture, not even a hair's-breadth of judgment. It was stunning, his detachment, his attention to the Ranger, his complete presence in the moment. This image is my talisman, my North Star, my aspiration as a human being. Horst Feist: always present, in a life of uncomplaining service.

By now, you may have guessed - we got the news early on Monday (January 28, 2013). Sunday hadn't been a comfortable day, Monday was worse. Waiting for the taxi to the hospital, a different carriage arrived, and Horst left us. In the silence that remained, there may have been rain; certainly there were tears.


Monday, January 21, 2013

the lys fail (?)

These days, there are 2 things I try to do when I travel. One is to find the Local Yarn Shop, and the other is try to find some locally roasted coffee to try.
So today I was over in Arkansas, for business. I went over yesterday afternoon and had dinner at a BBQ joint with 200 other employees of the company I work for. Today I sat in an 8 hour meeting. There was no good coffee to be found anywhere, and I doubt they would have appreciated it if I had pulled out my knitting project... so I did what anyone else would do in my situation - I pulled out my iPhone and hit up Yelp! to see if there was a decent LYS around. I found one that looked promising!
Yelp! said they would be open today until 6:30 p.m. and the photos on the shop's web site looked really promising. I was excited.
So as soon as the meeting ended, I hoped in my auto (named Otto) and GPS'd my way up to the shop. I got out of the car, waked up to the door, and - CLOSED! Ack!
Yelp! Said they were open. But the shop's web site said they were closed Mondays. But I didn't bother to check that. I'm learning my lesson...
I was really, really disappointed. This is what happens when you try to go out to do actual shopping. Traffic, questionable hours of operation, and I know we've all gone to the LYS where the people there don't actually care about actual customers - they just view their shop as a place in which they can sit and knit. It's like their own living room away from home and they don't really seem to care if you buy something or need help or... whatever.
So what's the alternative - we could do what we now do for everything else, and shop for yarn online. The prices are often times better, and so is the selection. And they are always open.
But - what about browsing? I don't actually like to "browse" yarn online. I can't see what the color really looks like. I can't tell how soft it is, I can't hold it in my hand and feel the texture and the weight and the drape. I can't wander around the store for 40 minutes, relaxing more and more each minute that goes by and each round I make through the store...
Even when I visit a LYS where they don't really acknowledge me because they are "busy," or if their selection isn't all that great, or if their prices are so outrageous I can't afford anything more than a $6 pattern, I still like going. I get ideas, I get inspired, I get relaxed.
So to me, there is no substitute for visiting my LYS. I admit, I'm pretty spoiled - I live in a town that has a LYS that is nationally known, and actually has 2 locations. AND I used to work there. I was really looking forward to browsing this shop in Arkansas. Because it's way more fun that browsing in my browser.
On the bright side, the (closed) LYS was actually right next to a coffee roasting shop! And while their customer service was questionable, and their decor and merchandising was non-existent, I did my part to support a small business and bought a half pound of "Organic Mexican." I have no idea what I'm in for tomorrow morning, but it was fun to go and browse and see and smell...

ah, the LYS! this was a staff meeting from 2011 when i used to work there...


Sunday, January 13, 2013


Ace has been roasting coffee and I have been grinding flour.  Hmm, sounds like a propitious beginning for a Kaffeeklatsch and some excellent knitting!
Why, you might ask, do I grind my own flour when good whole-grain product is readily available these days?

One reason is that it is fun to shop at the whole-food coop and talk to people.  Another reason is freshness.  There is something about fresh-ground flour that cannot be equalled in a ready-to-use product. A third reason is the exercise.  It takes considerable time and muscle to crank the stone mill.  As I settle into the rhythm I find contentment, and my muscles find satisfaction.  As I center in on the grinding, I consider what grains I have and what sort of bread to make. 

Today, I have an abundance of oats and some hard winter wheat.  Using this combo last time, the bread came out very crusty outside, and soft within.  It was hard to cut, but incredibly tasty.  So I consider:  perhaps leave out the buttermilk, use a bit cooler oven, bake slower and longer.  We’ll see how it goes!

Roasting coffee, baking bread, knitting -- all of these activities require attention and mindfulness.  What worked before?  What can we learn from others?  Where am I in the process right now?  

Mindfulness is almost a buzz word these days.  Being in the current moment is pretty popular.  But mindfulness takes practice and effort.  Like the stone mill, or knitting, at first one can grind, stitch, - or practice - for only a few minutes.  Later, knowing that our efforts do bear results, the process becomes easier.  The sweater is no longer endless, baking is a comforting touchstone in the week, and taking a short break to re-focus does bring peace.  

Rhythm seems to be one of the keys -- in grinding, in knitting, and in life.  Taking time and giving attention to our task, to our daily schedule, to our weekly activities, encourages keeping on and keeping faith with our creative spirit.  Rhythm harnesses our energy and doles it out in amounts sufficient to accomplishment while saving enough to prevent exhaustion.  We live to roast, bake, and knit another day, with joy.

Watching the flour mound up, I can almost smell Ace’s coffee.  Maybe today’s bread will be all-grain cinnamon loaf, not too sweet, but fragrant, paired with some fresh-roasted java.  How about it, Ace?


Thursday, January 3, 2013

roasty goodness.

I’ve been doing a lot of knitting lately. Scarves mostly. I know scarves aren’t the most original things to be working on, but they are easy to pick up and work on when things are busy. And I’m currently obsessed with cables. I’m almost done with one cable scarf, and I found an even awesomer cable scarf pattern when we were in Fort Worth. I can’t wait to try it out… but, knitting cabled scarves is a topic for another blog post (and don’t think I won’t do it!)
Today’s blog topic is… coffee!! You may be thinking, this has nothing to do with yarn. And you may be right. But in my mind, it does. It has to do with wanting to learn, the desire to make things, and finding things you are passionate about.
Some background info: my romance with coffee started maybe about 7 years ago, on a trip to the Washington, DC area to visit my Mom, who was working out there. We went to the National Gallery, and after an overpriced cafeteria lunch in the downstairs restaurant, she had me buy her a cappuccino and I could not do so without buying some dessert. So we sat and talked and watched the tourists go by, and shared a coffee and a raspberry-crumbly-bar-dessert-thing. A lightbulb went off for me. How civilized, to sit and have a coffee (and how tasty it was with dessert!). And even better, now it’s a really nice memory to have of time spent with my Mom.
If the love affair started that day, it became a torrid, passion-filled obsession about a year ago, when I had an incredibly tasty, and unusually surreal cup of coffee in Austin, Texas. It was made with a cappuccino maker, with frothed milk, a little raw sugar and some cinnamon. That was it. I was real, real gone.
From there I went a little overboard, as we are wont to do when starting a new relationship… I opted for quantity over quality. I used local roasts, and the Chemex I inherited from my Mom, but I went a little crazy.
Then, due to an unfortunate turn in my health, I was forced to stop drinking coffee altogether for a few months last year. I was heartbroken. Especially since The Neighbor also shares my passion for coffee. He has two small cups per day, and appreciates the art of making and drinking coffee as much as I do. So I would watch, and sit with him, and live vicariously through his cup.
Now I am up to about 4 – 5 ounces of coffee per day, made with hot milk and a little sugar and cinnamon. I have come to appreciate the concept of quality over quantity.
I love everything about coffee. The act and art of sitting and enjoying a perfect cup with breakfast on a Saturday morning; the way the beans smell, the act of grinding them, and the sweet, full smell of the freshly ground beans; the act of brewing it and the way the flavors change on your tongue. So, how can I take this passion to the next level, since I can only have a tiny bit per day?
My home coffee roaster just arrived today.
I figure, if I can’t enjoy coffee by drinking gallons and gallons of it, then maybe I can indulge by learning all about it – learning to brew it, learning about the different types of beans and roasts, and how to roast it. And then maybe I can give it to people to try – so that I can get their feedback, but also so I can give them something they might enjoy.
I don’t know – sounds a lot like yarn and knitting to me.

coffee beans are the new yarn.
this is some costa rican goodness i ground up the other night. 
mmm, smooth!

behold the mighty rosater...

Stay tuned to hear how my roasting project goes! And who knows, maybe you can help me taste-test it??