Important Little Kamiik

This week, I finished my first pair of kamiik: Inuit sealskin boots, made for two-and-a-half-year-old M. Today I’d like to share with you a few slices of that journey.

But I want to preface with this: I say I made these. And I did most of the actual stitches. But as I tell you how these little boots came to be,  you’ll see just how many hands touched these boots.

If you take that to its logical conclusion, that started long before I even got the materials. Hunters harvested three different seals whose skins contributed to these boots. Then three different women prepared the skins. The skin with hair was home-tanned and stretched on a frame; the black skin from a bearded seal had to also be dehaired; the white skin had also to be dehaired and bleached perfectly in the sun for months.

Of course, this is always the case in our crafts. Knitting doesn’t start at the yarn store. It starts with sheep and farmers and goes through mills and any other number of hands before it arrives in our hands. In some ways the industry is becoming more transparent as knitters and spinners become more interested in those processes. But here, it’s so much more immediate. With some of these materials, you can’t just go to a store and buy them. You have to at least make contact with someone who worked on that skin when it was still fresh off a living animal. Suddenly, sustainable harvesting and fair wages become very important; you’re talking to someone who gave their time or risked their lives to prepare this materials. Thankfully, in Nunavut we can be confident that good practices are the norm.

During the first stages of preparing the skins, I had my hand held very closely. An elder, Seepa, at the Monday night women’s group, contributed her time to make the patterns I would need, to lend me a large tool for softening the skins, and to show me how to cut the pieces with an ulu.

An ulu is a traditional Inuit women’s knife. Thanks entirely to the generosity of others, my collection is getting out of hand. These are also all handmade, by the way.

Seepa even gave me the white pieces I would need for the boots from her own collection of skins, cut them out for me, and sewed the first seam, down the legs. When she returned them to me, she’d made me a little kit with sinew, two kinds of needles, a wee handmade needle keeper, and other little useful goodies.

As for me, the first seam I did, I messed up. I was running off my assumption that you can pretty much whipstitch everything, so I just sewed the front piece to the legs. You can just see it on the left below, and the stitches are quite visible, so it wasn’t even good whipstitch! Mercifully, one chorus of this project was, “Well, it’s ok. It’s for a little kid.” Turns out I was supposed to use a special waterproof stitch I hadn’t even learned yet.

I got as far as softening the soles before the Christmas crazies hit. This was a laborious process involving a lot of chewing, and a tool made from pieces of metal stair and two-by-fours. I didn’t take any pictures of this; who knows why. You know I’m always very careful about publicizing traditional Inuit techniques, and I have also learned to be careful about sharing things without explanation that might be perceived by outsiders as strange or unpleasant. I have so much respect for the people who invented and preserve these skills, and I want to engender that in my sharing about it. So I’ll save talking about that process for another time.

Then Christmas happened, I had to give the pieces back to Seepa for fine cutting, and totally failed to reconnect with her over the holidays. By the time she gave me the pieces back, softened in salt water and ready to be sewn on, I got the distinct impression she was a little bit frustrated with me. Quite frankly, I’m glad she expressed that, because I realized I was not taking this project seriously enough. At this point, I had invested a lot of time into the process already, and so had Seepa. To say nothing of the money I’d spent on the materials, which was very significant. If I wanted to finish this ever, I had to get serious, and I had to get more help.

It was then that I took advantage of an offer I’d received, which was to come to the drop-in sewing class at Tukisigiarvik Centre. At one level, this place is a drop-in center for many of the poor and homeless in Iqaluit. But they’re so much more than that, as they share traditional foods whenever available, and teach a host of cultural skills to anyone who wants to learn. M and I got to taste polar bear meat there for the first time one afternoon!

I had wanted to go for a long time, but just couldn’t figure out how afternoons were going to work for me. But suddenly, in January, the timing was right for me to cut my office hours down and then out. M wasn’t taking naps anymore, and they didn’t mind if I brought her along. (One of my favorite things about Inuit culture is how normal the presence is of babies and small children.) Suddenly I was there for a couple hours every day that N was in school. That was where I met my second teacher, Maggie, who walked me through the rest of this process and was so encouraging. There were other ladies in and out through the few weeks I was there, working on their own projects, and they all pitched in with their trips and tips as I needed help. Sarah, Elisapee, Eva – they could all spare a moment to show me something.

After a few days of attaching smaller pieces, I was ready to learn that special waterproof stitch. I had been so intimidated by this stage, but when the time came around, Maggie said, “this is the fun part!” Then when I was going at it, Eva walked in and said, “ooh, that’s the fun part!” They were right.

This was around the time that I remembered to start taking pictures.

I was so excited that first Saturday night to have a quiet evening of sewing. I had attached the first sole at Tukisigiarvik, and I was determined to do the other myself. Jared was out, I put the kids to bed, set myself up with a comfortable pillow on the dining room table and Rachel’s podcast to watch, lit the qulliq, and had a lovely time. I was so pleased with the above picture: such a typical combination of the super-modern and super-ancient! Until I looked at the second sole, and something wasn’t quite right.

The kamik on the left I sewed the sole on with help; the kamik on the right by myself. Does the toe look a little funny? That’s because I managed to sew the entire sole on, very carefully, backwards. Yup. Back to front. 

It was Saturday night, and if I have internalized one thing from hanging around a lot of older Inuit Christians, it’s that you don’t sew on Sunday. Okay, no one would really die on that hill anymore, but that’s certainly how everyone grew up! So even though I’m not sewing to survive, I take Sundays off too. Besides, I knew it’d be a lot easier to redo this seam if I did it right away. So I pulled out my handy Inuit seam ripper, a finely crafted tiny ulu that was a special gift from a dear elder friend Uliipika, who did not live to see me finish this process. I took out my previous work, and redid it. A little faster the second time, thankfully. By 11:30 when I tied off, the qulliq was burning pretty low.

The next week back at Tukisigiarvik, it was time to turn these puppies inside out. Maggie and Sarah gave the soles their final shape, and then showed me the inside part of that special waterproof stitch.

Seeing the inside of these skins gives me another chance to talk about these amazing materials. It makes sense, when you think about it, that if you’re going to survive in a harsh environment, the materials to do so will come from animals who have their skin as protection. The black sole comes from a bearded seal, and when we purchased it, it was about as hard as a thin piece of wood, and would bend only reluctantly, like a thick piece of plastic. It took a lot of force just to cut it. The reason all that chewing and sewing had to happen was to soften it enough that it could be sewn by hand. By the time it was finally soaked with salt water and a healthy quantity of spit, it was as supple as a shirt. Sewing with it was incredible. I couldn’t believe it, but it was actually in the sort of shape that I could make it into tiny gathers, and shape the inside edge of the thick skin into a smooth slanting ridge, and sew right through the middle of it to guide the shaping. In order to keep it that soft, I had to keep it in the freezer when I wasn’t working on it, and take it out exactly enough time in advance that it’d be thawed enough to work on again. As it went through subsequent stages, it had to get a little dryer every time. When they are finished and fully dried, they will be back to that incredibly sturdy state, which is only necessary for being a long-lasting outdoor boot. I cannot imagine how any of these techniques were discovered or invented, literally before recorded history, while surviving on the land. You may not want to try this yourself, but you have to respect it.

There were some more final steps, to flatten the gathers around the toe and make the heel stand up straight. There’s a large tool used for stretching the still-damp soles into their final shape, and I’ll have to go on using it to continue stretching and shaping them when they get damp. This is a living material, and it will go on being so while it’s being used.

The moment of completion, at Tukisigiarvik one Thursday afternoon.

But I wasn’t done. This isn’t the only layer of traditional kamiik, and I hadn’t made any of the inner layers yet.

Thankfully, wool duffel is much simpler to work with. Seepa had already given me most of the pattern, and my neighbor Meena taught me how to measure to make a pattern for the leg. I sewed them with the wrong thread to start; I found out from Facebook friends Jane and Annie that you should use at least waxed thread instead of regular sewing thread. But this whole project has been a story of me just trying something, and then being corrected, because I know that if I just wait for every step until I can ask a question, I’ll never get around to it. I’ve learned that if I try something on my own, then show up and say “what did I do wrong?” then I’ll actually make progress, and I’ll really learn that skill when I do it right.

The duffel socks above had to be almost entirely re-sewn – not just because I used the wrong thread, but because they were too big to fit inside the kamiik. And I changed my mind about turning the tops down. It turns out that, in the four months since I asked for the patterns, M’s feet have grown enough that they only just fit in them. Normally there would be two additional layers, two pairs of slippers just on the feet, but I’ll only be able to fit this one layer in now. At this point, I’m glad to save a few steps, have more to learn next time, and after all, she’s just two. Strategically, I’m having another baby girl, so at least I know these will get used again if she doesn’t fit them in the fall! Yep, that’s definitely why we’re having another kid…

You can pay someone else to do the embroidery on your duffel socks, but I have spent months now staring at the tops of everyone’s boots, and I very much wanted to give it a go. Jane is generously letting me use her remarkable collection of Patons Silk Bamboo. Another Monday night friend, Annie, walked me through the different kinds of decorative stitch I could use over the seams (the red part above), and gave me some ideas for petals I could achieve. That night turned into one of the most lovely Monday nights yet, with us all huddled around watching Meena demonstrate how to embroider roses, trading stories. The next day, the practice piece above saw me refine the petals to a pattern I could repeat. And I finally figured out the french knot, after watching Maggie do like twenty of them. I’ve seriously always wanted to know how to do a french knot!

One more Monday saw Ruth and others teaching me how to make the round cord used for tying the kamiik on. Youtube tutorials were not cutting it for me, but a few quick tricks and a demonstration from Ruth had me set. I then made the cord so humorously long that, as Seepa’s daughter Elisapee pointed out on Facebook, it was long enough to make both cords. That just about made my day. Inuit from pre-recorded history to present-day Facebook, helping me out.

They were finally officially finished yesterday.

The eye is drawn to the color at the top, with which I am genuinely pleased. But by now you know that the real action is down here.

Material sturdy enough to be an outdoor boot, in 1 mm gathers. You could not make this up.

I was pretty careful about how I introduced these to M – I’m no idiot, and I know that getting super emotionally invested in an heirloom handcraft for a two-year-old is not a great idea. With some coaching from my friend Andrea, I said, “Martha, do you want to try on your kamiik, or should we save them for the baby?” She wore them for a whole hour.

Maatakulu. She was named for someone we loved very much, with no thought to how unusual a name it is in America. We had no idea that we’d move to a place where it’s one of the most popular names. Seriously, there is enough personality in this tiny package to power a small town.

When it was time to pick up her sister from school today, she said “I want my kamiik!” Oh, what music to Mama’s ears!

I make things for a lot of reasons, though it gets more meaningful and intentional and less compulsive as time goes by. Still, it’s pretty rare that I make something that feels important. It was important to me to complete these kamiik and pick up the skills I would need to keep going. I’ve purchased the materials I’ll need to make kamit for N, Jared, and myself, and my goal is to make the pairs for N and me before this baby is born.

The Olympics start tomorrow at 6 a.m. EST. Usually I have a major knitting project I try to complete during the two and a half weeks of the Olympics. It’s one of my favorite things to do. But for the first time, my main project for the Olympics is not going to be knitting. I’m going to sew.

Another friend, Mary, mentioned how her mom used to do them all at once, doing the same stages of several pairs at once. I’ll follow Mary’s mom’s example and make N’s duffel socks while I’m on a roll. My goal will be to make all the inner layers of N’s kamiik: duffel socks, slippers, and embroidery. Another friend, Karen, quite a while ago gave me duffel socks and one pair of slippers for myself; I’ll do the second pair of my slippers (made of sealskin) when I do N’s second pair. If I can get through those, and get the pieces cut out for the outer boots of both of our boots, by the end of the Olympics, hopefully I’ll be well positioned to make both of our pairs before the looming ides of April.

N picked her colors yesterday, and I did the first braid today.

When you make something, you take a certain pride in it. But it’s funny: even though so many people helped me, and I made so many mistakes, I’m more proud of these than of most things I’ve made by myself. And thankful even more than proud. I say “I made these,” and it’s true enough. But I made them, and lots of other friends made them, and hunters made them, and precious beautiful animals made them, and a unique, ancient, living culture made them. It’s a gift to be a part of that. That’s why it feels important: I’m not just making something. When I do, I’m trying to honor that gift.

One Way to Say I Love You

It’s no secret that we’re big Daniel Tiger fans in our house. Recently, N has glommed on to an episode on the holiday DVD whose key song says, “Making something is one way to say ‘I love you’!”

For N, this means cards. This is easily the most rewarding result of our hobbyist homeschooling. She’s a nice clear hint-dropper too. “You know, Mom,” she said one day, “making something is one way to say I love you.” I agreed, and started talking about how I liked to knit things for the people I love most. She listened for a while, then said, “Actually, you should make me a card.”

Her idea was quicker.

When I started Jared’s Noro coat back in October, it was largely a matter of convenience. I needed a knitting project that was brainless, long, and monochromatic. This is back when certain colors were making me sick, and I was honestly too sick to spin. Jared had bought this yarn back when we were first married, when he bought yarn to make pretty much every item in Michael de Veccio’s Knitting with Balls. Since he knits through an average of half a skein a year at this point, I had talked him into letting me make it for him sometime.

It quickly became a labor of love. Not because it was laborious – indeed, it was so easy that the pieces seemed to fall off the needles of their own accord. Gotta love a bulky sweater. But I put a lot of thought into every stage.

I didn’t mean to knit it on the sly; it just seemed to happen by itself once I got going. This is the only picture I took of the thing while it was in progress.

See, I’ve knit my husband a goodly number of sweaters over the years. The first was given to him on the day he gave me a diamond ring. I’ve made him at least half a dozen pullovers and cardigans, and every one of them has ended up too big. The arms would be too long, or the shoulders would fit funny, or the arms would look like bat wings. Bat wing sweaters never having made it over to the male side of the fashion show, he has never worn any of my handknit sweaters for him more than a couple times after they were finished.

So I quizzed him thoroughly about this pattern, even as I went along. He had picked the yarn and the pattern, with a knitter’s knowledge, and was quite sure he wanted this sweater in this yarn. But I kept quizzing. “What sweater do you have whose sleeves you like? How do you feel about shawl collars? Are you really sure you want it to be this long?”

He insisted that he did.

Mercifully, careful swatching resulted in a sturdy enough fabric and a gauge match, so I could just follow the pattern for most of the sweater. But I made plenty of adjustments:

  • I could not handle the way the bottom of the sweater and the sleeves ended abruptly in cable pattern, giving it a ruffly sort of raw edge. And I could not believe that it wouldn’t roll. I replaced the last two inches of sleeves and body with honest, trustworthy 2×2 ribbing.

No rolling here.

  • I have perennially weird row gauge, which mattered most of all at the sleeve caps. I rejiggered the decreases so that my actual knitting resulted in the actual correct shape. And lo, set-in sleeves that fit my husband perfectly!
  • I made him try it on a few of times. This meant I had to reknit a sleeve cap when the first sleeve was too long, and had to knit four or five button bands between pattern and user errors.

  • The last major change I made was the collar. I’m not quite sure with the designer was going for, but there were some strange goings-on with three separate pieces only partially joined. As far as I can tell, that would mean sticky upper corners at the back of the neck. There are no pictures in the book or on ravelry that show what the sides of the collar actually look like. I decided to scrap it and just make a shawl collar that continued the button bands as written all the way across the back. As there’s no way to disguise the off-set join in grafting 1×1 rib, I did a garter stitch graft so it just looks like a neat seam.

I’m going to give you a clear view of the collar. And oh, that beautiful sleeve cap!

Overall, this design (“Knee-Length Coat” by Michael del Veccio) is very metropolitan, but the details make for a more casual, trendy look. For the more conservative dresser, those little details might make a big difference in the maturity of the design and its wearability for someone like my spouse. The yarn, a sadly discontinued bulky called “Big Kureyon” by Noro, will be judged over time. It’s lovely, and that colorway lives on in many other yarn lines. But I am worried about wear. Thankfully the local sewing/craft/hardware store always has elbow patches on hand, and I have plenty of leftover yarn.

We’re going through some transitions in our family. For a long time, we were sharing one position, assistant priests together at our parish. That worked well for a lot of reasons, for quite a long time. Now I’m staying at home full time, and Jared is in charge of the cathedral as an interim for a while. Suddenly we are much more focused on our respective areas, which are in the process of becoming much more intense for both of us.

Very sportingly spent a few minutes hatless in -30 C for a few pictures. In the winter, it’s hard to find a few quiet minutes together when it’s also light outside. 

Even though our tasks are much different now, I think that because we spent the last two and a half years part time in each others’ spheres, so to speak, we have a much better understanding of the demands we each face. Having worked as a priest, I understand much more what he’s carrying, and I’m much more invested in what he deals with every day. I’m also much more thankful for the opportunity to stay at home, while he’s thankful for the freedom to focus on work.

We’ve been married for almost ten years now, and we’re still learning how to say “I love you” in everyday meaningful ways. The details mean so much: coming home a few minutes early, asking thoughtful questions. Attending. I was so pleased this morning when I found his new sweater rumpled up in a pile at the foot of the bed. Why did this make me glad? Because that’s where all of our most-used garments live. Rumpled where we dump them, ready to pick up in the morning. I hope that more attention to detail, and to understanding his needs, have resulted in an “I love you” that isn’t just a thing, an idea, or a sentiment, but something that he reaches for that reminds him. It’s one thing to hear that you are loved. It’s another thing to know that you are heard and feel that you are understood.

A Priest Crafts Episode 6: Longdraw and Limits

It’s been a few months, but I have some progress to share on my spinning (big progress!) and lots of rambling to do about it.

The fiber I am spinning in this show is a hand-carded blend of Shetland wool – Natural White top from Jamieson & Smith which I dyed with pokeberries umpteen years ago – blended with some black alpaca local to my mom. Total of 23-24 oz of fiber. The Ravelry page for this spin is here.

I mentioned a Wool N’ Spinning video in which different wheels were discussed, as well as the concept of “outgrowing” a wheel. That was a super-helpful discussion and it was in Rachel’s most recent episode, number 88. Watch here. Of course the first thing I did after watching that video was check out the specs on the Majacraft Susie Pro, which is pretty much the opposite of what she was saying! I hope I do not come across as complaining. I think what you see in this video is me struggling with the process of accepting my tools. I will have to decide whether to continue making the most of what I have and being content, or to invest in something different.

There are a LOT of videos on youtube about long draw. The most helpful videos I found (actually, which I was directed to by a fellow Wool n’ Spinning member), which led to a real “aha” moment for me, were two videos of Stephanie Gaustad: first and second. The audio is quiet, but it’s worth turning it up to hear what she’s saying as well. I can see now that she’s definitely doing more double drafting – drafting out and then drafting it thinner while the twist is going into it. I’m only starting to do that more as I get a feel for it, now toward the end of this spin!

I realize this video doesn’t have much of a reflection piece in it. I thought about adding one, but it was already getting pretty long, and the things I have to reflect about – being at home full time, how my crafting life is changing with that – those thoughts are still in process and not ready to be shared. This is more part of a larger conversation that seems to be going on in the fiber/yarn community (and in my corner of it) about stashing, tools, and materialism, and how we handle it.

Thanks very much for watching, and I’m looking forward to showing you a big pile of finished yarn very soon!

Fifteen Minutes

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. I am enough of a perfectionist, with enough experience of my own failure and unnecessary self-criticism, to recognize when I’m setting myself up for failure. But I have signed myself up for a sort of daily thing, sort of starting at the New Year, and I am determined to make it as helpful as it can be. It’s a hashtaggy thing, and it’s called #spin15aday.

It’s exactly what it sounds like. You commit to yourself to spin for fifteen minutes every day. The idea is, fifteen minutes isn’t that hard to carve out, and you’ll see more progress on your spinning if you work on it a little every day than if you wait and only spin when you have larger chunks of time.

I saw this idea at the same time I was reading Teaching Godly Play by Jerome Berryman. It’s a book about a Montessori-style religious education curriculum; I had been slightly exposed to it in seminary and was reading the book to see if it was something I could do at home with my kids. I did learn some things that will help me with at-home religious education, but I learned a lot more about interacting respectfully with children, entering and encouraging the creative cycle, and contemplating the presence of God.

Berryman recommends that the teachers spend some time after the class quietly cleaning up and setting things in order, then contemplating what happened in the class. This struck me as incredibly sensible, and something I could apply immediately. When I am at home with the kids, I usually get a short break in the afternoon when N is at preschool and M is playing quietly by herself. It’s often not more than an hour, and it’s been increasingly difficult for me to give up part of that time for quiet reflection. So often there’s chores to do, or I just want to escape and read a book or cruise Facebook for an hour. But I need that quiet reflection like I need oxygen.

How can I get myself to do it? By giving it fifteen minutes.

I still can’t believe how fast this stuff got carded once I got motivated.

This has evolved over the turning of the year into a daily practice that has been very centering. I clean up the living room and dining room from any major mess with the kids, reflecting on the activities we did that morning. I take fifteen minutes to spin, setting a timer once my wheel is oiled and new fiber attached. Then I spin. No other stimulation: no sounds, no sights. When the timer goes off, I finish my rolag and put the wheel away, the pull out the Bible and the commentary I’m reading. If I don’t have any time constraints, I’ll just read a large section, knitting away,* or I’ll take a break to journal any insights. If I have other pressing matters – bathrooms to clean, dinner to start – I’ll set another fifteen minute timer.

It usually happens in that afternoon space, though sometimes I wake up early and have it in the morning, and sometimes days explode or I’m working in the afternoons, and I do it in the evenings instead.

I started before the actual turning of the year, so it’s been almost two weeks now. And it’s been really nice.

I imagine I’ll reflect on this more as the year continues, but in the interest of completing the creative circle, I want to record my observations so far. Blasting out my thoughts on IG every day is cathartic, and scratches the social itch, but it doesn’t give me any closure on the ideas. So here we are. In no particular order:

  1. It makes me prep for myself. I’ve been doing a lot of prep lately,** but it’s mostly having activities ready for the kids. But when I only have fifteen minutes a day that I know I can spin or knit, I want to make sure those fifteen minutes are not wasted or delayed in winding off a bobbin, fussing around with a complicated part of a pattern, or something like that. I’ve become very conscious of when I’m at those transition points, and I find time the day before to set myself up for the next day’s time.
  2. The spinning time is not really reflective time. After sampling a good bit, the number of treadles I give each length of woollen spinning is 11. Meaning I am counting to 11 over and over again for fifteen minutes. This doesn’t leave room for a lot of reflection, or even prayer. It’s just counting. This is actually quite good, as other times that I am by myself without watching or listening to something, I tend to talk to myself, which helps me process, but doesn’t quiet my mind. Just counting helps by brain stop spinning (as it were), and the motion of supported long-draw feels a lot like slow breathing.
  3. This is the obvious thing that everyone in #spin15aday notices, but fifteen minutes a day is really enough to see progress. In fifteen minutes I can spin three rolags, and I’ve worked out that I can fit 30 rolags on a bobbin. That’s ten days to a bobbin! Normally I might go ten days in between spinning just because it takes that long to find a bigger chunk of time. That little bit of daily progress then further motivates me to find other times to spin, because I know how productive a whole half hour or hour really is.
  4. It’s the same thing in the scripture. I’m reading a commentary I really like, but I have to read a little bit of God’s Word every day. There’s something different about it, even in the weirder bits of the Old Testament. I spent the last year reading up to four chapters a day, and I got the big picture again that way. Now I’m reading maybe a chapter over two days, taking my time and really chewing on it. There really is grace in every story, though maybe you have to read it with eyes of faith to see it. (Some solid historical perspective helps too.)

I also got glitter gel pens for Christmas. Glitter gel pens were pretty much the best thing about being 14.

I’ve done everything I can to make this a positive, affirming practice, rather than a perfectionistic one. I made a habit tracker in my bullet journal, but I fill the squares with patterns instead of solid color, so that the inevitable blank skipped days don’t feel lonely. Failure should hold no threat in something like this. And perhaps because of that, I haven’t missed a day yet.

How about you? Have you found any ways to make a discipline more positive instead of threatening (if you struggle with that at all? Some people just don’t.)

First two bobbins complete. As of this writing, my total is at 3.5 bobbins, meaning I have crossed the halfway point for the singles on this project. I am very happy about that.

*Oh have I ever been knitting! I have a big project to show you, and hopefully I’ll get to that soon…

** Yeah so my new obsession is homeschooling. Not really homeschooling as my kids are 2 and 4 and the 4 yo is in half-day preschool, but more organized homeschool-type activities to give us something to do. I’ve been putting a LOT of time and effort into this, and I should really write about that too…

You Don’t Need to Know

I am a planner. I enjoy anticipating the future. I’m an Enneagram 7, and my Enneathought often reminds me that I get so focused on the future that I cause myself and others pain with my lack of presence in the present.

I have been aware of this about myself for a long time. I remember when I was first discovering Star Wars, in my early teens, I heard Yoda say of Luke, “All his life has he looked away, towards the future, towards the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing.” I knew, profoundly, that those words described me. And I never knew what I could do about it.

Advent is all about the anticipation. Both in the Christian and secular worlds, we are looking forward with joy. As you might imagine, I usually enjoy this mightily! Or, at least, I enjoy anticipating it, sometime in November- my actual practice peters out. How’s that for case-in-point irony? Still, I enjoy the spirit of the season. I love the making and planning that goes into getting ready for Christmas.

But this year, I discovered, there are two kinds of anticipation. The kind I like is anticipating a future you know, or think you know. When you can hold a picture of the future in your mind, you can plan for it, strategize for it, and generally use your own agency to mold that picture of the future to your desire.

But what about when the future is a blank? What about when you don’t know what is coming? Or when you don’t know what it will be like? Or when you know it will be different, and have very little control over how? Anticipating a future that is unknown can be exciting, but it can also be terrifying. I can only imagine what it’s like when your future is unknown because of unreliable family members, or an ominous medical diagnosis or event. When your present involves a lot of hard work and discomfort, and the future promises even more and unknown hard work and discomfort, this may carry a certain dread.

That is where I found myself at the beginning of Advent. A lot of changes are in my future, and the specifics about most of them are unknown. This is true long term, but also short term, in the planning of Christmas services, the drama of dealing with unknowns was a recurring cycle. Even in daily life with kids, both at an age of transition and boundary-pushing, my planning and routine can only go so far in leading to mutual enjoyment.

It all came to a head for me when I as helping plan an ecumenical Christmas service early in Advent. Communicating and collaborating across cultures, churches, and languages is always a bit of work, but a few extra challenges were thrown in at the last minute. My repeated attempts to plan were thwarted and sometimes did more harm than good. After a couple of years my expectations have come a long way in adjusting to my context, but I was left frankly not knowing if I’d even be able to do my bit.

Then, it was fine. It was all fine. Yeah, some bits got lost in the shuffle, but people are used to these things up here and were gracious. I found out three hours before the service how my bit was going to go, but everyone that I solely was responsible for communicating with uses texting. It was enjoyable. It was a bit haphazard, but the overall effect was feeling relaxed. It was fine.

The lesson I carried away from that night was, you don’t need to know. There are lots of things I feel I need to know in order to carry out my various responsibilities well. I assume that control is an important part of leadership. But, well, it’s not.

The really surprising thing was, by the time Christmas Eve services rolled around, I had actually internalized this lesson. There were some major wrenches thrown into our planning process that we thought would make it all even harder than usual. But they didn’t. More work with less stress, Jared and I discovered, is easier. As the weekend approached, we were nose to the grindstone, but we were sleeping. We were okay.

It all came to a head again at the family service, which was my main bag this year, and involved coordinating and directing a Nativity Play, which is way outside my experience. I had a solid team with me and had observed the process before, but I was still nervous. And you know Nativity Plays… they’re fun, but do not go well with a type-A personality. I was determined to go in well-armed with support, preparation, and a good attitude, but there was just no way for me to picture how it would go.

And you know what’s coming next: it was fine. More than fine; it was fun. Everyone involved seemed to have a blast, or at least said so afterwards and seemed to mean it. I even enjoyed it. The usual quota of things went wrong, some adorably and some less so. But they were all just my people being themselves. And I loved that.

Maybe it was because I was the director who couldn’t give any direction. I was also leading the service, so I spent the play visibly on the stage. Aside from a couple of significant looks, I just had to let folks do their thing, and I knew that the best way I could help was to smile, have an encouraging look on my face, and appear as genuinely as possible to be enjoying myself. It turns out that this wasn’t that hard, because I love my people, and I delight in watching them be themselves. In fact, having no other control over them was a gift.

Responsibility without influence is impossible. It’s a recipe for burnout. But responsibility without control is normal. The actual line between those two, and where my psyche thinks it is, are not the same, but by the grace of God are getting closer.

Now the services are over, the gifts are opened, the pressure is off for a little bit. My imagination is free to explore the future with less weight on my explorations. I wonder again about what is coming, and I wonder if my wondering has changed.

I tried to plan this Advent. Heck, I tried to plan this year. But I couldn’t. The Holy Spirit was not forthcoming, except to say, “something will come up.” I couldn’t pick themes for study or planning, except in my own invention, and I knew that was pointless, so I didn’t bother. In so doing, the year’s theme found me: not knowing. By means of a whole lot of safe, gracious discomfort, I am encouraged to realize I have been made to learn something.

I don’t know the future, but I know God is in it. And it will be okay.

All is well.

From the ordination service in the Canadian Book of Common Prayer 196, before the laundry list of responsibilities of a priest (which I find applies to the analogously overwhelming demands of parenting, or general adulting):

However, being that ye cannot have a mind and will in yourself to do all these things; for that will and ability is given of God alone. Therefore ye ought, and have need, to pray earnestly for his Holy Spirit.” (Slightly paraphrased, emphasis mine)

We Are All Still Here

Made pies with cranky cabin-fevered children this morning, and I asked myself, why? Why do I bust my butt every year to have American Thanksgiving in Canada? Why do I make all these dishes and clean the house in the middle of what inevitably becomes an outlandishly busy week?

I figured it out today. It's because Thanksgiving is a time when our family gets together, looks at each other, and says "we're all still here." We might still be weird and stressed and disagree with each other's politics and life choices, but we're here.

And of course, we are not. We're thousands of miles away.

So I bring my family north. I make my grandma's apple sausage stuffing. I make my mother-in-law's yam bake, with the mushrooms on top that made the sweet potato thing my moms favorite. And a ton of gravy, without which the whole feast is pointless for my dad.

I bring these things to the northern friends who have become our family. And I'll take them with me when we go. The green bean casserole with cashew cream for the dairy-freesters always present is now "my" green bean casserole recipe, since I've made it three years. My friends bread machine bun recipe is the ONLY bun recipe. And mashed potatoes have been traded for deep fried potatoes that appear at a holiday party wherever my bishop and his family do.

So that's why I am doing it. For my family far away that is so supportive, but once in a long while I miss till it hurts. And for my friends up here, who would laugh if I apologized for the state of my floors, and then do all the dishes. It's worth one hectic week.

A Priest Crafts Episode 5: Carding and Rambling

Good day, friends.

That last post exorcised whatever was holding me back from crafting at all, and I’ve tentatively picked up a few things. I’ve even found some time to make a new vlog post for you.

Believe it or not, after that post asking which project I should start next, I decided on the big carding effort. I got through six whole ounces of carding before I petered out, but now I’m motivated to pick it back up. In this video I talk about and demonstrate some of that carding project, and I talk about some of these big life changes during a complicated time of year.

I think I was really sleepy when I recorded this – sleepier than I realized. Some things going on with the kids have meant even less sleep than usual, so please forgive me if I look half-asleep. I know I ramble on even more than usual! But it was a lot of fun for me to share this with you, so I hope you enjoy it.

Hand Carding Resources:

If you’re new to hand carding, I hope my little demo piqued your interest. But please get more input than what I have to say.

Beth Smith’s book, The Spinner’s Book of Fleece, got me started. There are great basic introductions in this book to several fleece processing techniques, and of course a ton of info about spinning boku varieties of wool.

This tutorial, “Wool Carding and Combing” from Interweave is a long, free PDF. It has a more detailed introduction to both topics and I recommend reading it carefully.

Specifically on the topic of blending using handcards, Knitty had a great article on the subject in their Spring 2007 by Lorraine Smith: “Carding Beautiful Blends”.  But if you just google “blending with handcards,” you’ll find several lovely articles and blog posts to inspire you.

Additionally, get on YouTube and search for some handcarding videos. I did not do this myself as I found the still images were enough for me, but Beth Smith herself in her book recommends looking up some videos. If you find some you think are particularly helpful, would you please share in the comments?

Other Notes:

Rachel Smith is Wool N’ Spinning. Here is her blog, her youtube channel, her patreon, and the ravelry group. I know I’ve shared her stuff a lot, but right now her show is most of what is keeping me motivated to spin and prep, so I’m going to keep giving her shout outs.

Here is the blog post about the new color study. I love that Lakeside colorway too.

(Also, how cool is this! Rachel just posted the “Spinner’s Spotlight” bio I wrote for her.)

Katrina is CraftyJAKs. Here is her website, and her etsy shop.

And also a big shout-out to my mom, Linda. She did an awesome job at the Maryland Alpaca Festival this weekend. I always have her button in my sidebar to the left, but in case you didn’t know, she’s Colorstorms. She’s recently mastered indigo dyeing. She dyes yarn with only natural ingredients, and her colors get more saturated, colorfast, and lightfast every year.

What do you call pink + black? Hopefully not “plaque.” Happy crafting!