Balance vs. Equilibrium

After a passing comment in my last post, I’ve been reflecting a little on my dislike of the word “balance.” The context in which I dislike it is the way it is used to describe the overwhelmed life of the parent. As in, finding the balance between work, home, activities, self-care, etc.

Parents I admire and respect speak this way. I have nothing against them. What I personally dislike – what invokes a visceral response of supressed resentment in my soul – is the image that pops up in my mind from the phrase.

I picture a mom, on a tightrope, over Niagara Falls. She is holding a pole, which is supposed to help her balance, but instead it’s a carrying device. Somehow, between loads situated on either end of the pole, and perhaps another pack on her back and another on her head, she is able to bear everything across the rope. To do so, she must maintain a zen-like composure and concentration. This is possible because of her confidence that she can, indeed, make this crossing, because otherwise why would she be stupid enough to try?

The idea of balance rubs me the wrong way because it perpetuates a well-worn fiction in my mind that if I adjust my boundaries just right, I could do it all. It’s all my responsibility. I could do it all with composure, and without assistance. I know this is dumb, but I do it anyway.

When I was writing that last post, it occurred to me to use the word “equilibrium.” I learned this word in chemistry class. The idea is, whenever chemically reactive substances are put in the same container, they will react together in whatever way they do until they expend each other, reaching equilibrium. No matter what you add, the solution will seek equilibrium. It’s inevitable.

My life feels more like that: a closed container with a whole lot of reactive ingredients thrown in. The best thing I can do is keep the lid open so the pressure doesn’t build up too much. Every now and then something rises to the top and I can pour it off, or something else gets added to change the equation. It’s always bubbling away, with a greater or lesser amount of chaos, but it’s always seeking equilibrium, no matter how good a job I am doing at positioning things. I just don’t have that much control over how things slosh around in there.

Another way of describing the chemical state of equilibrium is peace. That’s what I’m actually looking for. It doesn’t actually matter if I carry all the things from A to B. What matters in both the short and long term is how I carry myself through the chaos. And with that goal in mind, a posture of perfect poise is not that practical. A more effective posture is on my knees.

A peaceful moment this morning. We are so blessed with girls who love books and love reading to each other. Will this be the year of books?

I don’t know if changing a metaphor will change my heart, or let me live closer to what I know to be true. But writing it out at least lets me explain what I’m trying to do. Please speak however is most useful and true to you, without worrying about triggering a spew of vitriol from me. If I make a face, I promise I’m not judging you. It’s me, trying to keep an eye on my expectations of myself, to make try to be kinder to myself – so hopefully I can be kinder to you, too.

Control vs. Hard Work

I’ve been engaging more deeply this fall with my job of raising small humans and caring for the physical needs of my family. It’s a complete renegotiation of self-control, self-gift, boundaries, and time. I’m looking for my equilibrium, knowing there will always be fluctuations in the equation.

At the same time, there’s been a theme in my spinning. I keep finding myself spinning woolen prep worsted style.

For the non-spinners in my readership: there are two basic ways that handspinners turn fluffy wool into strands of wool, that we can turn into yarn any number of ways. Those two techniques are called woolen and worsted. Complementarily, there are two basic ways that wool can be prepped into ready-to-spin fluffiness. They are also called woolen and worsted. Two very different things: the way wool is processed before spinning, and the techniques the hands use to spin, but matched with the same names.

Worsted prep and worsted spinning go together to make worsted yarn. The worsted preparation of the wool lines up the fibers next to each other so they are organized and parallel. The spinning technique uses short, controlled movements to take advantage of that preparation, making a yarn that is even, smooth, dense, and even a little shiny. It’s a yarn of control and strength.

Woolen yarn and woolen spinning go together to make woolen yarn. Woolen prep of wool gets them in a nice ready-to-spin state (usually some kind of strip or tube), but they are not organized. They are jumbled and airy. The woolen spinning technique uses long, instinctive movements to take advantage of that preparation, making a yarn that is airy, fluffy, matte, and warm, if also relatively lumpy and fragile. It’s a yarn of intuition and warmth.

That is the basic dichotomy. Both kinds of yarn are important and wonderful. Most spinners try to acquire both skill sets at some point.

Spinners, however, being artists, technicians, experimenters, and nerds, do like to mix and match. That’s the delight of making your own yarn: you can do whatever the heck you want. You can spin woolen prep with a worsted draft, or the reverse. There was a whole issue of PLY magazine about it.

Lately, I’ve found myself spinning a lot of woolen prep with a worsted drafting technique.

What that means, as you can now understand, is that I’m taking a very disorganized jumble of fibers, and spinning it with short, controlled movements. But jumbled fibers, even when spun with controlled movements, are never going to become a smooth, shiny, dense worsted yarn.

What they do become is something really wonderful. When you take the inherent zaniness of woolen prep – even a really crazy art batt like the one my mom just gave me – and carefully spin it into even, worsted singles, you get a yarn ready for conventional knitting, but with so much texture and character.

The end result is worth it. But in the process, when I’m doing that worsted spinning on a woolen prep, it’s a bit of a negotiation. My hands, doing the woolen thing, want to see an even singles coming out between my hands. I’m always double checking myself: am I going too thin or thick? Am I letting in too many bumps? The wool itself, meanwhile, is constantly jumping from thick to thin, or between textures, with very little concern about what I want.

The key is to just relax and do the work. I don’t want to control this wool into perfection. That’s not the look I’m going for. I want this yarn to be more interesting, to have a little more character than a totally worsted singles. I know that because I’m using a controlled draft, it will come out as even as I need it to.

When I was first married, I had a really weird relationship with housework and order. I’d grown up in a very tidy house, but was not very tidy myself. I did my best to keep house, but without the inclination or skill set, there just wasn’t any reason to keep really clean except to be neurotic and controlling. I’ve let go of a lot of that control now, as part of a long journey that is tied up with my mental health.

Now I’m doing something different. I’m keeping house, and working hard at it, but it’s for the sake of three tiny whirlwinds of joyful creativity, and their long-suffering daddy. I’m not cleaning to clean. I’m cleaning to give them a space for creativity and joy.

Going through those motions of housekeeping can make the old neuroses creep up. Don’t I want to keep going until the house feels perfect? Don’t I need to keep a certain standard? No. No, I really don’t.

This is what I’m trying to remember: I’m not trying to control anything. I’m just doing the work. I don’t want a perfect result. I want all the texture and mess and color and vibrancy that comes from children and their creativity and inquiry. I am cleaning the table so that they can make a mess in the morning. I am making food they like so that they will have the energy to go outside and get covered in mud.

It’s hard to remember. But then the yarn is plied, and it’s this glorious unique stuff I can’t wait to cast on. But then from the table emerges this costume piece made from sealskin scraps and glitter glue and pieces of tulle cut from an amazon gift bag, worn with a great big smile.

Equilibrium (I hate the word “balance”) is less a place you find and more of a wave you ride. I don’t really get it. I’m still falling off a lot.

But the great thing about a spinning metaphor is this: no matter how much you mess up, as long as you’re doing the work at all, you’ll end up with beautiful yarn. You can always work with what you get.

Club Mom: Sept/Oct Unboxing

With a finished yarn finally under my belt, and a little bit of creative mojo coming back in a busy season, Baby and I decided to open the next instalment of the Birthday fiber.

She’s working so hard on sitting up by herself, and really thinks she can help!

Staples aren’t quite her thing, though.

What is it?

It’s an art batt! A crazy, overstuffed, textured batt, with some amazing color combos going on. It’s got a lot of white and red and black and yellow and sparkle, but it stays grounded with the background of earthy green.

This color is practically a neutral in my wardrobe, so, win.

The provenance of this batt seems lost in the sands of time, as well as any information about its content. That doesn’t matter practically so much with an art batt; it’s made of so many things that have to be wrangled together that it doesn’t much help to know what specifically is in it. I can tell it’s mostly wool of various types, and there may be some alpaca in there, as well as some extruded cellulose fiber, silk maybe, and sparkly stuff. Sometimes you don’t have to get caught up in the names, and the stuff can just be itself without any boxes.

I’m really torn whether to wrestle this into submission as a textured two ply or to let it be an insane artyarn. We’ll see.

The Red Lantern

I set so many little goals while I was spinning this color study. Finish during Tour de Fleece! … finish the singles in July! … finish the eighth battling by the end of vacation!

Well, that’s ok. I’m glad I didn’t take my goals too seriously this summer. But I did set one last goal: finish this yarn by the end of September, before the next breed and color study officially starts.

I did it! It was a really dicey round of bobbin chicken at the end, but I squeezed it all on there.

Winding it on the niddy niddy made me realize that this spin wasn’t long just because Turkish spindles are slow (and I’m slow with them). It was also a good amount of yardage! There were at least two hundred turns on the niddy, though I’ll have to recount because we were watching Star Trek.

ok I’ve gone back and recounted now. 303 turns, and initial estimates put total yardage at 429 yards! No wonder it took forever. Perils of flying by the seat of your pants, I guess – no sampling, no control card, just me and my spindle and the open road.

I intentionally added plenty of ply twist, even though the singles were not excessively tight. This whole time I have been picturing this bouncy Targhee fiber in those squishy barber poles that first attracted me to handspinning. I knew from all I’d heard about Targhee that the stuff could take the twist. And who doesn’t love the moment when you take an overtwisted yarn off the niddy?


I just lurve that.

I confess, it was silly of me to use the word “hideous” in that last post. I was experiencing a moment of panic, seeing the way colors were matching up. Indeed, a whole skein of any one of these barber pole pairings would not be my jam. But the whole idea was to see the affect of many pairings together. Together, they do create the impression of wild paints speckled all over one another.

This are two of the pictures that inspired Katrina for this study – it’s from the Indian festival of Holi. Rachel had asked everyone to post pictures of what spring is like where they live. These were posted by dimsumdumpling (you can find her post here).

It’s true that most images of spring that I think of are very safe. Floral, pastel, natural. I’m so happy that Katrina went with something more wild and challenging, something that made us stare at it for a while without even an idea of what to do with it. Something made me take that idea and go even wilder with it; I wanted to see those colors mix and interact without losing their powerful brightness.

(Speaking of powerful brightness, I was very concerned that I’d allowed some overlap between the same or similar colors. But I think those solid sections really make the yarn, giving the eye something concrete to bounce off of amongst all that busy speckling. An effect to remember.)

It was spring when we began, and now it’s fall again. We’ve had some lovely snow already, and the days are getting darker. I’m awfully thankful to have this skein of brightness in my hands – from the opposite end of the year, dyed on the opposite end of the country, inspired by the opposite end of the world. I need a little perspective this time of year.

I expect to cast it on as soon as it’s completely dry.

Finally Finishing the Targhee Singles

I’ve been focused on other things lately, but this last week or so I finally found the spinning mojo to go back to my Turtle Made Turkish spindle. Which is a good thing, since there were only a couple of hours of spinning left in this project!

I had great fun twirling away, spinning while catching up with Rachel’s podcasts, often listening to her discussing this very fiber. (It’s the Targhee by CraftyJaks, for the Wool n’ Spinning color study, if I haven’t mentioned that lately.) For me, there’s no motivation like participation. Tonight I found myself with all my wee turtles completed.

I spun these cops in a very specific order, having lined up the battlings in such a way as to maximize barber poling and minimize matching. There was no way I would continue to keep them organized, however, when plying time came. So I decided to try a new-to-me technique: the plying ball.

It’s a pretty straightforward idea, though these videos from Abby Franquemont and Rachel Smith gave me some tips I wouldn’t have thought of. You’re basically just winding the two plies together ahead of time. It’s mostly useful for plying on a spindle, since you may be traveling with it, and when spindling you have enough juggling going on already. I just chose it because the singles had become complicated; at this point I’d rather ply on a wheel and just get it done.

Like I said, it’s awfully simple, but I was so entertained I kept taking pictures.

This was a great way to get some sense of how the colors will line up in plying. I was mostly successful in mixing up the colors dramatically, though I did break the singles to shake things up two times: once when the colors started changing in both plies at the same time (I wanted the changes to stagger), and another time when the coral and pink lined up. They were too similar and looked solid together, compared to the other more contrasting pairings. There were a couple of points where blues lined up; I thought that’d be inevitable since 3/8 of the fiber is blue or blue-green. But the two red-brights was too much change.

I plied for a little bit, and hoo boy. I signed up for color twisting and striping, and I’m getting what I asked for in spades. It’ll be a pity if the yarn ends up being hideous, but it’ll teach me a lot!

I am full of anticipation on this ply, but I’ll save the speculation. I hope it becomes something soon, so we can discuss what happened!

Veggies by Air Mail

Oh my, it’s been an age since I did a post about food! Fall always has me thinking culinary thoughts. I get back in my kitchen, ready to try new things. Harvest might not happen up here, but the timing is in my blood, and I have to get cookin’.

This year, I have some extra inspiration. I never thought I’d be able to say this again, but we signed up for a CSA this year! A farm in Ottawa is piloting a program to send farm shares by cargo up to Iqaluit, and we signed up.

This is week 4, the haul that just arrived. It’s pretty representative, and I’m very satisfied with the proportions of different kinds of veg.

The challenge – and fun – of a CSA is trying to find uses for this box of surprises while it’s still good. In the process, hopefully you try new things and discover new successes. For example, I don’t love beets myself, but I discovered my husband loves them, and my Instant Pot handles them admirably.

There was at one point a backup of these fine little carrots. I needed to buy some time, so I borrowed some jars and lacto-fermented them. I chose that method because I am lazy – I just scrubbed the things, and there’s literally nothing in these jars except carrots, dill, water, and salt. Ten days later, they are DELICIOUS. Crisp-tender and just like dill pickles. My spouse is eating them like candy.

Hm, what else can I show you? I don’t know what to make with beets, and I can’t make them all into chocolate cake. But (again, my husband found the recipe), there’s an Indian beetroot salad that’s pretty simple. We discovered that beets and Thai chili sauce go together in pretty much any context.

From last week. For the most part, we’re keeping it simple. We like our green beans cooked straightforwardly, and a wealth of basic garden salad is a huge treat. I have a weekly scramble to keep up with the herbs and green onions, but other than that we’re dispatching of everything successfully.

What makes it different getting a CSA in the Arctic?

Well, it comes to us by a three hour plane ride. That’s the main thing. I’ll probably never see the farm where these were grown, although the farmer is awesomely responsive by email. Some items get a little beat up by cargo, though the loss has been minimal, and it’s probably worth it for how little plastic the farmer gets away with using in the packaging. And he’s done his best to create as much scale as he can in the way it’s getting transported up. It’s still expensive, but looking at these piles of veggies, I think it compares pretty well to the stores up here. I’d be curious to do a price comparison, though the freshness of the items does count for a lot.

Dilly cucumber salad dressing. Gotta find more uses for dill…

We are supporting a legit small farm, and opening up any access for more fresh food to come North is to our mind a good thing. I don’t know that we’d do it again (it’s just time- and energy-consuming, and we don’t have a surplus of those right now), but for the benefit of the community at large, I wish this farmer a lot of success, and I’m very thankful for the folks at the Food Centre who are helping make it easy for us.

Back at the Needle

Casa Osborn (Osbornkut?) started school this week! One big girl started Kindergarten, and that same little girl has always wanted fur on her coat hood.

Jared had found a suitable piece of fur at a rummage sale in the spring. Already cut to shape and backed with tough commander fabric, it saved me a lot of steps. I wonder if it came off someone else’s coat.

This being September, I knew it was time to hop to it. I could not have chosen an easier reentry into sewing. I learned from examining our handmade parkas from Nunavik that the fur only has to be tacked on very loosely – we’re talking centimetre-long stitches.

Fur is so important up here. Fox fur has an amazing power to cut the wind around your face. The furs are very valuable and long-lasting, and because it’s so gently attached, even when a parka wears out, the fur can be removed and attached to a new coat.

The fur trade goes back a long way up here. I don’t know much about the current state of the fur industry, though I would like to find out. Still, it’s nice when investing in an animal skin to get a quality piece that I know I will be able to reuse. This piece is adult-hood-length, but I just tacked the ends together so I didn’t have to cut it.

Now I’ve got the bug. I have several sewing projects that have been backing up in a queue that’s become quite intimidating. But sewing, though it has so many steps, goes fast. This came together during two episodes of Daniel Tiger, and gave me the immense satisfaction of keeping my child warm. What shall I attack next?

We got our first good bit of blowing, accumulating snow today, so the urge clearly came none too soon!