Smitten with Mittens

I’m quoting my bestie when I asked her what she wanted for Christmas.  “Mittens!  I’m smitten with mittens!”  I had just cast on a Fair Isle that morning, so the timing was perfect.  My mom and I used to make mittens all the time using a classic pattern in one of the Jack Frost books.  It was the only one we used and I still have it somewhere, very tattered but readable.  It’s how I learned (at a rather young age) to use double pointed needles.

As a knitter and a writer it’s always been on my bucket-list to write a book rich in the history of knitting.    I often fed my curiosity and dove into what people had on their own needles throughout the years. When I was the curator of our small historical society, I did a display on WWII.  I found call-to-action war posters all over the internet aimed at  the women back home: “Our Boys Need Socks…Knit Your Bit” and “Remember Pearl Harbor….Purl Harder”. Knitting for family members was discouraged, as the time and supplies should be aimed towards the soldiers. Google them, they are really cool.  It’s where my fascination with wartime knitting was kindled.

I found myself wondering why so few people know how to knit in today’s society.  If our ancestors didn’t leave the house without yarn and needles, how did it come to be that a few generations later it was so rarely done.   I understand the role of the textile manufacturers coupled with the lack of time and increase in income, but why wasn’t it taught as a past-time, as a hobby, as a post apocalyptic life skill?  Why did the needles get tucked away and forgotten?

The more I researched, the more I began to think they were just damned sick of knitting.  After all the demand on their time (and fingers), could you blame them? I know after a holiday season of knitting a million presents, I don’t want to look at another pattern for months.

But this mindset of knitting as a living or a necessity (you needed to keep warm) wasn’t new.  Not by a long shot.  I took my research back in time and focused on the islands of Shetland.   I was taken in by the colorful patterns and the rich designs. I remember my grandmother knitting one for me and a lot of the patterns I inherited were rich in stranded knitting. Furthermore, I loved the crisp white star against the navy for the Norwegian beauties.  Armed with several books from the library, it didn’t take me long to find the sentiment I suspected.  In Ann Feitelson’s The Art of Fair Isle Knitting: History, Technique, Color and Patterns, she quotes one woman; “We HAD to do it…Knitters were up half the night, and not for the love of it…I always vowed I’d never knit for anyone.”  I can understand the sentiment.  It wasn’t fun.  It was work.

Today more and more people are using their rare knitting abilities to make money again.  There are Etsy sites full of homemade items.  Everything from dishcloths to wedding dresses (yup) can be found for sale.  Ravelry.com is the go-to for crafters with thousands and thousands of patterns, many free and downloadable.  It’s certainly one of my favorite hangout places!  But it’s a different world for most of us.   We don’t have to sell our products, we choose to.  For most of us, it’s not a matter of whether our family eats or not (while I’m sure for way too many that is the case, especially outside America).

What does this have to do with mittens?  Why, everything!  As part of the research for my latest novel I decided to make a few pair of mittens:  Fair Isle, plain using a 1940’s wartime pattern, and a pair of Selbuvotter mittens, the iconic Norwegian beauties.  I wanted to knit from patterns they used.  Understand what they did.  Now I want to know how the hell they did them in the dark and from memory!

The first pair I made, the ones on the needles when the BFF asked for mittens (yes, they are hers) is from a free pattern on Ravelry.com called Fair Isle Sticky Mitts.  I used sport weight yarn in colors I had hanging around and am super happy with them.  I won’t lie, they were a bitch at times and I ripped out a lot of stitches due to one misplaced color.  I found quickly that you couldn’t let your mind wander knitting these babies!  The second one was a little easier once I had the pattern under my belt at least once. They are thinner than the others, but I bet they are still very warm.

The middle pair are from a wartime 1940s pattern simply called Mittens No. 211 also found on Ravelry for free.  The classic pattern is similar to the one my mom and I used except the thumb is a bit different.  I bought the gorgeous pink worsted weight yarn on sale at a local shop.  They were a nice change from the complex Fair Isles! These were certainly a lot easier when daydreaming of a warm beach somewhere!  Being a heavy yarn on small needles, the knit is tight and warm.

I’m still working on the Selbuvotter Norwegian Star and the pattern is found in the book, Folk Mittens: Techniques and Patterns for Handknitted Mittens by Marcia Lewandowski.  I can already tell these babies are WARM!  I used basic Paton’s Classic Wool in navy and cream.  This was one of the books I picked up at the library but you can find quite a few free patterns on Ravelry.  Still, this book will need to be added to my collection at some point!  I’ve never done a thumb gusset like this one, so I’ll let you know how it goes!

The writing and research is going well and hopefully a novel surrounding WWII on the Shetland Mainland will be forthcoming this year, but in the meantime, I too, am pretty smitten on [making] mittens!

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The Power of Empathy

Three days before I flew out to run the St. Jude’s Half Marathon in Memphis I was fired from my job. After 9 years and 11 months I was fired at 1:30 on a Tuesday.  While I was completely blindsided at the time, looking back I’d seen the writing on the wall–and heard it my soul.  I just conveniently didn’t listen.  After working on PCI compliance for a year, I’d just been brought into the newly created position of Compliance Administrator, received my certification as a PCI Professional and was looking forward to diving deep into security policies and procedures.  It wasn’t to be.  Our visions were very different.  I wanted to be mad, to feel outraged or wronged.  But all I felt was relief.

I suppose I was still in shock and denial when, doning my St. Jude’s Hero tee shirt, I crossed the starting line of the St. Jude’s half marathon a few days later. I ran as a St. Jude’s Hero, raising $532.18 towards the cause, but gave little thought to what that meant. I planned on spending two and a half hours thinking about the blog I’d start and the consulting company I want to get off the ground. I wondered if I’d get a personal record for my time, though I doubted it.  I thought I had plenty of time to put my life in order as I plodded along the 13.1 mile course.

The first bib that took my breath away read:  “I run in memory of my daughter, RYAN”.  The runner wore a purple shirt and she was a few years younger than me. The thought of my own daughter, her beautiful smile and bright future, flashed before me. When I passed Ryan’s mom on the course I touched her shoulder and said, “Bless you.” I didn’t know what else to say.  I was humbled, I was devistated, I was in awe. Selfishly I think I was blessing her for taking on so such pain so I didn’t have to.  She smiled and thanked me for running.  It’s the least I could do.  Throughout the course people thanked me for running, thanked me for being a hero.  All I could think was, “You are the real heroes.  You still keep going day after day.  I just raised a little money…”

The rest of the race I read every bib and felt my heart break a little more.  I ached for them, for everyone who has lost a child (or loved one) and still goes on.  Just as a half marathon or a marathon demands you push through the pain and keep going no matter what, I saw their resolution to keep going. To put one foot in front of the other and keep moving.  It can be a struggle on both accounts; the race and life.  I knew I couldn’t stop.  I couldn’t slow down or give up.  It was about something more now.  With every ache I thought of it as taking just a little of their pain on myself. How glorious it would be if we could do that…if we could somehow distribute in the pain across everyone so it could be more tolerable for us all!

I didn’t spend the race thinking about my future.  I didn’t think about finding a new job or blog posts or business plans as I passed mile after mile. It really didn’t matter anymore. I thought about how you can train and prepare for a race all you want, but life is a free-for-all.  No training, no preparation in the world can make losing a child (or watching them suffer) easier. I thought about losing my mom to cancer and how the words “they found a spot on my lung” changed my life forever.  I realized this race isn’t about me and my performance. It’s about everyone on the course and everyone cheering on the sidelines.  Everyone has a different reason to be here, a different goal and purpose.  And every one of them is important. It was about every single child, parent, friend or relative suffering in the world.  It was about coming together with humanity to show empathy and take on just a little of the pain.

When I wear my race shirt I’m not going to be boasting about finishing a half marathon. I’ll be boasting about my part in humanity. A reminder that we’re in this world together and together we’ll finish strong.

PS. Please consider giving to St. Jude’s.  My personal fundraising page is still open through January 2018 and you can find it here.  You can also donate directly here.

 

Breaking the Habit of Hibernation

Until a few years ago autumn meant one thing to me: hunting season.  When my ex husband headed out to hunt, I headed to my chair to knit. I gave up trail running and hiking to avoid the possibility of being shot (or that’s the excuse I used).  I hunkered down and started on my list of Christmas presents for the family, made tea and watched cozy British mysteries.  It was the beginning of a six month hibernation.  After I divorced and met Troy, all that changed.

Autumn is now my busiest season of the year.  The transition out of summer means the air no longer feels thick and heavy, making both running and hiking easier, giving us ample opportunity to knock a few more races and peaks off our lists. Our already active life kicks into overdrive. Troy runs 2-3 marathons each fall as he makes his way through the 50 states challenge. He has 28 left.  I tag along and run the matching half marathon so I have something to do and to keep in shape. We are also making our way through the 48 4000 footers in the NH White Mountains.  We’re almost to 20.  Have I mentioned geocaching, working full time and trying to keep up with my writing too?

As autumn kicks in, I have to push myself a little harder to keep up with my half-marathon training. Not because I hate running, but because there’s something almost ingrained in my DNA to pick up needles and fine wool once the weather starts to cool even slightly. I love the feel of yarn slipping through my fingers as I work up a hat, a cowl, a baby sweater or some other random creation. Generations before me have passed their love of knitting down through my genes and into my fingers.  Yarns that were impossible to get decades before are now available in every yarn shop or online.  Skeins of wool taken off Alpacas raised in the Andes are delivered to my door in a brown cardboard box, tempting me, calling to me as I lace up my sneakers and force myself out the door.

This new lifestyle is wonderful and I truly do love it, but a 20 year habit of seasonal laziness takes a little time to break! Despite my overwhelming desire to forget the run and pick up my latest project, I know what I need to do in order to succeed. It’s not easy forcing myself out the door for a long run, but compromise is key.  Ten and a half miles and one hot shower later and I’m able to reward myself with an afternoon of knitting and cozy British mysteries!   It truly is the best of both worlds!

Who I want to be…

I woke up one morning recently and realized I’m where I always wanted to be. And you know what happened to the girl who got everything she ever wanted? She lived happily ever after. Okay, I might have stolen that line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but it’s the first thing that popped into my mind. Willy (the Gene Wilder one, not Depp) smiling at Charlie as he broke through the ceiling of the factory and soared above the pain, suffering and despair below him (and now in his past). People tell you to be careful what you wish for but I didn’t just wish myself happy. I didn’t just start to think happy thoughts. I dug deep, cracked open and blossomed. While positive affirmations are a big help, being receptive to change and setting the intention to change is very, very different. I had to shake off things that no longer served me and while it was hard, I did it.

I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot. I became the hippie I am today because of who she was. Her struggles, her anger and her fear were catalysts to make me stronger, gentler and more accepting of myself. That was her greatest gift to me; to allow me to become who I am and accept who I am. Right before she died I was trying to get her to eat something. It was diced pears (the last thing she ate) and she’d have nothing to do with them after one bite. She was looking at me with those tired, tired blue eyes. I now think she was burning my soul into hers so she would recognize it again when she returned. Teasingly I said, "You never thought you’d raise a hippie, did you?" She quickly said, "No!" with almost a proclamation of disbelief. She’d always complained about my food choices (damned hippie) and how I raised my kids. I was (and am!) too soft on them. But I could see she was proud of who I’d become. I hadn’t been a failure after all. And most important, she knew I’d be okay. I had no other option. She had given me all her strength and determination, leaving none for herself.

The past year has been one hell of a journey. Loss, acceptance, new love (not only my partner, but most importantly, love for myself). I have gone on a tremendous journey of self-discovery, tearing down all I thought I should be and welcoming the person I am. So many lessons run through my mind, body and soul. Some seemed to hit me like a brick this morning; others have been brewing and bubbling to the surface one understanding at a time.

· The journey happens whether you like it or not.

· And whether you notice or not. The days tick by and you need to be happy as much as possible. I have bad days–they pass. I have good days–they, too, pass. Each day passes no matter what.

· I try to be as happy as possible and take the sad days as temporary. I am a lot more aware of why I’m unhappy and if I don’t, my years of journaling have allowed me to crack open and get to the heart of the matter. Which is usually my fear of not being enough one way or another.

· I’ve learned to work through the stories I tell myself and put them to rest. Too often I create scenarios on why someone said something or didn’t say something, and bring myself into a dark place. All because of the stories I’ve created in my mind. They are self-inflicted. I used to think it was because I’m a writer, but it’s because I’m human.

· I’ve had a very long journey to get here and while not every day is a success, fewer and fewer are spent in pain.

· When I live my passions, I am at peace. Reading, yoga, nature, writing and research. When I make time and space for these five elements, I am being true to myself and am able to truly feel comfort and solace.

I love who I’ve become and I’m proud as hell that I’ve allowed myself to become her. Her strength, love, understanding and acceptance is beyond what I could have imagined a year ago. I am at peace for the first time in many, many years. I live true to my nature. I am happy!

Namaste.

My Momma’s Hippie

I woke up one morning recently and realized I’m where I always wanted to be.  And you know what happened to the girl who got everything she ever wanted? She lived happily ever after.  Okay, I might have stolen that line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but it’s the first thing that popped into my mind.  Willy (the Gene Wilder one, not Depp) smiling at Charlie as he broke through the ceiling of the factory and soared above the pain, suffering and despair below him (and now in his past).  People tell you to be careful what you wish for but I didn’t just wish myself happy.  I didn’t just start to think happy thoughts.  I dug deep, cracked open and blossomed.  While positive affirmations are a big help, being receptive to change and setting the intention to change is very, very different.  I had to shake off things that no longer served me and while it was hard, I did it.

I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot. I became the hippie I am today because of who she was. Her struggles, her anger and her fear were catalysts to make me stronger, gentler and more accepting of myself.  That was her greatest gift to me; to allow me to become who I am and accept who I am.  Right before she died I was trying to get her to eat something.  It was diced pears (the last thing she ate) and she’d have nothing to do with them after one bite.  She was looking at me with those tired, tired blue eyes.  I now think she was burning my soul into hers so she would recognize it again when she returned.  Teasingly I said, “You never thought you’d raise a hippie, did you?”  She quickly said, “No!” with almost a proclamation of disbelief.  She’d always complained about my food choices (damned hippie) and how I raised my kids. I was (and am!) too soft on them.  But I could see she was proud of who I’d become.  I hadn’t been a failure after all.  And most important, she knew I’d be okay.  I had no other option. She had given me all her strength and determination, leaving none for herself.

The past year has been one hell of a journey.  Loss, acceptance, new love (not only my partner, but most importantly, love for myself).  I have gone on a tremendous journey of self-discovery, tearing down all I thought I should be and welcoming the person I am.  So many lessons run through my mind, body and soul.  Some seemed to hit me like a brick this morning; others have been brewing and bubbling to the surface one understanding at a time.

  • The journey happens whether you like it or not.
  • And whether you notice or not.  The days tick by and you need to be happy as much as possible. I have bad days–they pass.  I have good days–they, too, pass.  Each day passes no matter what.
  • I try to be as happy as possible and take the sad days as temporary.  I am a lot more aware of why I’m unhappy and if I don’t, my years of journaling have allowed me to crack open and get to the heart of the matter.  Which is usually my fear of not being enough one way or another.
  • I have the resources to heal myself.  Journaling, Brene Brown books, a little Agatha Christie and most importantly, quality (and quantity) time on my mat.  Going within isn’t scary; it’s peace.
  • I’ve learned to work through the stories I tell myself and put them to rest.  Too often I create scenarios on why someone said something or didn’t say something, and bring myself into a dark place. All because of the stories I’ve created in my mind.  They are self-inflicted.  I used to think it was because I’m a writer, but it’s because I’m human.
  • I’ve had a very long journey to get here and while not every day is a success, fewer and fewer are spent in pain.
  • When I live my passions, I am at peace. Reading, yoga, nature, writing and research.  When I make time and space for these five elements, I am being true to myself and am able to truly feel comfort and solace.

I love who I’ve become and I’m proud as hell that I’ve allowed myself to become her.  Her strength, love, understanding and acceptance is beyond what I could have imagined a year ago.  I am at peace for the first time in many, many years.  I live true to my nature. I am happy!

Namaste.

 

Wartime Knitting Culture…it’s a thing?

sox_600

I love history.  That’s not a new revelation for anyone who knows me even remotely well. The past few years I’ve been fascinated with the role knitting had in the war effort. Specifically, how knitting was used to build solidarity in times of war.  Women and children (and men!) were asked to pick up their needles for “the cause”.  Asked to make socks, hats, gloves, scarves and anything else that could ease the discomfort of a soldier at war.  Propaganda posters were everywhere and they weren’t afraid to shame you into it.  Pattern books were distributed, knitting circles were everywhere and men were encouraged to pick up needles and help out while convalescing.  We all know the saying, “idle hands do the Devil’s work” and it was made very clear if you weren’t knitting, you weren’t helping.  It was so important that women, children and men posed for portraits holding their knitting.  Perhaps to prove they were knitting their bit.  No one would accuse them of slacking off; it was captured for all the world to see.

But I also love to knit.  To be specific, I love to knit for other people.  Hats, scarves, sweaters, gloves, I enjoy the process of taking a beautiful skein of yarn and turning it into something. I love the heritage entwined in the stitches.  I love that I was given a talent that has been lost throughout the years. Like I’m some kind of “keeper of the stitches” or something cool like that. Thankfully my mom taught me when I was a young girl and I kept it up, but somewhere along the way, knitting became uncool.  It became something only old ladies did. Who would want to knit their own stuff when they had the ability to buy it? The money to buy it.  Homemade became obsolete. But as a knitter, I feel I’m a part of something much bigger than myself.  I’m part of group of elite people who can take two sticks, a ball of fiber and make something of it.  This race is rarely selfish.  We are excited to share patterns, stories and tips.  We will stop our own project to help you with yours.  We will knit squares and hats and mittens and anything else that is needed for charity.  Need a hat? No problem!  Let me whip that up for you!

The call to needles in the face of war has always captured my attention.  When I functioned as curator of my local historical society, I did an exhibit showing local knitters and the war effort.  I’ve been blessed to receive all my grandmother’s knitting patterns, many dating back to the 1930s when everything was made on tiny needles with tiny yarn (ugh).  They are grand to look at, but I wonder at the patience it must have taken to construct a dress from size 1 needles and fingering weight yarn.  In our age of cheap clothing and instant gratification, I am in awe of the perseverance it must have taken.  You must have really, really wanted something if you spent hours, weeks (if not more) creating that perfect piece. Then again, you had one or two nice sweaters, not twenty, and they lasted years.  The time of overabundance hadn’t happened yet.  Think of all the socks in your drawer and then try to image being a soldier in the Civil War, WWI or WWII who would have done anything for two pair. Two.

whos-knitting-for-me

A time when knitting was a sign of love. I wonder who’s knitting for me? Who really loves me? Who will take the time to knit me a pair of socks on tiny needles with tiny yarn….spending their free time on ME?.

What was the culture of wartime knitting?  Were knitters called upon because they were already a generous, hardworking culture, or did they become that way because of the demands placed upon them?  Why isn’t it passed on from generation to generation like it used to be? Did knitting die off because of the convenience of ready-made items, or because people were sick and tired of doing it and needed a break?   It seemed to drop off right after the war efforts ended.  Is that a coincidence?  These are just a few of the questions that keep me up at night.  Yeah, I need a life.

As research is my other favorite hobby, I’ll be diving into wartime knitting culture over the next few months to try and stitch it all together in my mind (hah).  Because I, for one, cannot look at an old picture and wonder, “who made that scarf, and what pattern did they use?”   Stay along if you wish and you might find out something cool.  Or you can skip over these blogs.  Completely your choice 🙂

Pretty Proud in Pink

It was dreadful.  And it was pink.  But it was the first sweater I’d ever actually finished, including the horrible and much dreaded sewing of the stupid thing together.  To this day, I’ll find a pattern that is in the round instead of having to sew seams. I not only hate it, I suck at it too.  But on this Christmas morning, somewhere around 1986, my mother was as proud as punch.  You can see it in her beautiful face.  But I also knew how much she loved it because through all the moves, the heartache and tragedy she would go through over the next 28 years, she kept it.  I found it in her closet as we cleaned out her house after she died.  Now it’s in mine.

My mom taught me to knit when I was old enough to hold the needles.  I know I was young because we were still a family, living in our beautiful old Victorian in Norway, Maine. My family was still a unit then, however strained it might have been.  I loved that old house.  Room after room full of memories; echos of the past floating down the hallways and the carpeted staircase.  The memories drifted into the den, the formal living room with a fireplace that housed our Christmas tree each year, the bookshelf-lined dining room and bedroom; my soul returns there often.  I remember every inch of that old beauty.  It was my home and part of me remained behind.  Perhaps it was my innocence.  When we left, we were alone.  Dad had moved and was remarrying.  Mom, who had poured her heart and soul into the house, had no choice but to pack us up and move.  It was too much for her to handle on her own.  Everything went into cardboard boxes and moving vans.  Our life would never be simple and carefree again.

Like our lives, mom loved to take the scraps and make them into something.  Her signature was her patchwork sweaters made in every and any color she had remaining from bigger projects.  When she died, I bet my family I’d find at least part of a patchwork sweater she’d started.  And I won.  Mom was like that.  No matter what life threw her way, she made it work.  It wasn’t always pretty.  It didn’t always work.  But she never stopped trying. She never stopped trying to make the best of what she had.  And I love her for it.

Jim and me with our famous creations :)

Jim and me with our famous creations 🙂

Love, Actually

Every year I relish the seventeen times Love, Actually is on television.  Indeed, I enjoy it so much I finally just bought the DVD.  Love, Actually is a British “Christmas” movie with some of the greatest stars: Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kiera Knightly, Martin Freeman and for all you Walking Dead fans, Andrew Lincoln.  There are a few others you’ve seen before, but have no clue what their name is.  The storyline follows eight very different couples the month before Christmas.  But they aren’t all “couples”.  Liam Neeson and his stepson are one said “couple”, while the beautiful Laura Linney plays the sister who gives up any chance of a love life to be there for her brother.  As for love, the opening narration (done by Hugh Grant) sums it up.

“Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, old friends.  When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge–they were all messages of love.  If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love, actually, is all around.”

We put such a narrow meaning on the word “love” that we forget it IS everywhere. It’s present in everyday exhibitions of caring and sacrifice just as much as in the messy, hot passion of a love affair.  Sometimes it manifests itself by simply making your children a paper mache lobster costume for the Christmas pageant.

Like all incredible stories, I’m able to take away a new outlook with every viewing.  Whether it’s something as superficial as recognizing one of the stars for a new role they’ve done or just realizing how funny certain lines are, I never watch the same thing twice.  I am able to relate to one of the stories and see how my life, my love, is being reflected in myself.  This year was no different.  But for the first time, I related to Laura Linney’s role as caregiver. Her character spoke volumes to me and I love her for it.  I respect her for it.  I respect myself a little more.  Her character, Sarah, is very much in love (lust?) with Carl, a handsome guy at work.  However, Sarah is constantly tied to her mobile phone, the connection she has to her disturbed brother who lives in a home.  He always comes first.  His call brings her back to reality, back to the harsh responsibilities of a real life caregiver.  When finally given the opportunity to be with Carl, she has to make the heart wrenching decision to push him away in order to fulfill her duty to her brother.  It’s not your average, feel good story about love. It’s the story of sacrifice and love for family, yes, but it’s also a bit eye opening as well.  I wondered why she pushed Carl away.  She could have let the phone ring and her brother would have been okay.  He was surrounded by people taking care of him.  He was safe.  But when she reached for the phone instead of being present with Carl, she was reaching for a crutch as well.  She was choosing the safety of the known (her role as caregiver) over the unknown (was she good enough to be loved?).  At first I thought it was because of her overriding sense of family that made her give up the chance she’d pinned away for.  But when she said, “I don’t deserve him” it made more sense.  The story changed from the love of sister-brother to the love of one’s self.

There’s something about being in love, or loving, that creates a fine line between confidence and the fear of inadequacy.  Perhaps it’s normal to have fears and doubts when faced with the one person you believe makes the world go around.  When you look at them and think, “wow, they’re amazing!”,  perhaps it’s more normal than not to question your own worth.  It’s only when you love yourself enough, have enough self confidence and acceptance of your own worth that you are able to truly love another.  All obstacles will fall away and make room for it, if you’re ready.  Suddenly, I saw the theme in all the couples.  Confidence and trust within themselves was the only way to truly find love.  Once they found that, they found everything.  So simple. And it’s been there all along.  Man, I love good movies (and books) just for this reason!

So this year I may have continued to swoon over the love of Colin Firth (because, well, he’s Colin Firth) but I paid a bit more attention to the real love stories as well.  The love of the self.  Even Colin needed to overcome his own demons and try again at that frightening prospect.  He had to realize he was worth it.  I saw how each character struggled with their own insecurities and failures.  Some winning, some losing.  Because actually, love can only start with the self.

To the Mountains…towards my passions

I’ve spent the morning searching hotels on line.  Well, not hotels actually. Inns nestled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  I’m looking for a retreat; a place to hide away for a few days and escape the stresses of my life. Maybe even get some much needed writing done on my novel.  Ideally the Inn would be historical, yet comfortable; I won’t have to think about cooking or dishes because my meals are beautifully prepared. People are friendly, yet not intrusive.  Perhaps they’ll have a dog that sleeps by the fireplace in the main room and I’ll watch it snooze peacefully, adding to my own comfort.  I’ll settle into an overstuffed chair with a good book and a blanket, a cup of tea (poured by someone else) at my side.  The scent of Earl Grey will reach my nose and fill me with warmth.  It will be January or February and certainly mid-week before everyone else arrives. Solitude is a pleasure for me. There will be large amounts of snow in the mountains and if I’m lucky, a gentle snow will fall at least once while I’m there.  But then the storm will blow away and the sky will turn to a crisp blue, the sun shining brightly.  I’ll head out on snowshoes through the woods, or maybe I’ll try my hand at cross country skiing.  The bright, new fallen snow will require sunglasses as I look at the snow topped trees and the surrounding mountains.  It’s a winter wonderland and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.   I’d return refreshed and ready to tackle the world!  But the warmth of the fireplace and the gentle snores of the sleeping dog will return me to the calmness I crave.

My room will have a large four-poster bed.  A fireplace.  A touch of Victorian, that era I love so much.  I’ve found the room. I’ve found the Inn and ironically (or not), I’ve been to this Inn before.  I was there many moons ago with my ex-husband.  I was a different person then, full of hope for the future.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve picked it again.  I may even request the same room.  Not because of any fond memory of him, but perhaps because it’s familiar in a strange way.  It’s almost like a reset; a place to start this new journey of my life.

One of the critical lessons I’ve learned through Discover the Gift is that action towards your passions is of utmost importance.  Every choice we make will move us towards our gifts, or away from them.  My gifts include nature, learning and writing.  This retreat would feed so much of my soul.   Every decision and action I take, I take towards becoming my authentic self.  So, while it may have started out as curiosity, as a fantasy of escape, I’m finding it to be so much more.  This journey is allowing me to take a large step in the direction of creating the life I’m dreaming of.  It’s a small, yet poignant step towards discovering my authentic self.  I’ll be booking the room.

History, reborn

It comes from the least likely places.  A word here. A sentence there. A name. A concept. A trivial fact around a bigger event.  I never know when it will hit, why it hits, or how deeply it will hit.  But when I get that skip in my heartbeat, that catch in my breath, I know.  

Right now that heightened interest is focused around a little piece of history in an area very dear to my heart.  The White Mountains in beautiful New Hampshire.  I love the mountains. Perhaps it’s because I feel the very essence of my grandfather, Jack, is wandering the trails and I’m connected to him there.  He’s my constant hiking companion.  I love everything about the mountains, actually. The smell of the air, the feel of the ground beneath my hiking boots, the incredible, overwhelming view from the peaks.  When I first see a glimpse of Franconia Notch on 93 North, or the peak of Chocorua when returning from Maine via Ossipee, my heart rejoices.  I smile.  I’m home.  So when I wanted to merge my passions (writing, hiking, history), I naturally turned my attention in that direction.  

The first thing I stumbled on was the abandoned mill community of Livermore in the heart of the White Mountains.  It’s nothing but foundations reclaimed by the land now, but the echo of history remains, reverberating through time.  It was as simple as that.  A town, long since forgotten.  And so the research began.  Old, out of print books have been found and acquired. Livermore is a tiny part of a much larger topic and I’m captivated with a logging history I never knew existed. I’ve hiked these trails, never giving thought to the ravages to the land that took place over a hundred years ago. I see pictures and it changes my entire outlook on my beloved mountains.  How resilient they are!  

As I read, possibilities fly through my mind.  Names, areas, tiny events flash, catch my imagination and I start to form the story before I even flip the page.  I have the outline. I have the concept, the focus, the passion without getting past chapter 2.  I know where it’s going…I can barely keep reading because I want to start immediately, want to bring the pages to life NOW.  But I don’t.  I make notes and I keep reading, because it will continue throughout the book.  It will reshape, become more defined and ignite my imagination so fiercely that I’ll be consumed.  I learned a long time ago, with many other overwhelming concepts, that if I stop now and don’t keep researching, I’ll miss so much.  The passion will change, it will twist and grow until it’s mature enough to remain.  It will stick.

As a writer, I love nothing more than picking out small pieces of history and creating a world around them.  With the smallest name and circumstance, I’ve written entire novels.  It starts with nothing more than a name.  A paragraph in a text book.  A long-forgotten piece of seemingly irrelevant history no one recalls.  It was put down as an afterthought.  But something grabs my attention and no matter what else I read about, it remains.  The spark takes light and until I write about it, it will not die.  And so it goes.  A new name has caught my interest.  A new tidbit. A new world is about to be born…or reborn, I should say.  

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