Live Long and Well: Happy 98th Birthday

Today my father-in-law turned 98. Happy birthday to him!
In his honor, I am bringing back one of my readers’ favorite posts about living a long and healthy life. In rereading this, I am struck by how timeless these tips are. J doesn’t travel anymore, but he still enjoys life. Just last week he told my husband, “I’m happy.”

[Originally posted on June 20, 2011]

My father-in-law, “J,” just turned 95. He’s my health hero. J lives alone, still drives, and is in remarkably good shape. At a party in his honor, I asked him to share his secret for living a long and healthy life. “Just keep on going,” he quipped. A private man, J asked me not to use his name or photo. However, he agreed to let me share my observations.

Five Tips for Longevity

rose1 rose2 rose41. Do something you love.
J grows prize-winning roses. He favors heirloom roses – the ones that actually smell like roses. Every week he tends to some aspect of their care: pruning, feeding, deadheading, cutting blooms. Each year, he replaces under-performers with new specimens, and the cycle begins again.

2. Move it or lose it.
A few decades ago, when J suffered from severe asthma, the doctor told him to move it or lose it. He started walking. Until arthritis slowed him down a couple of years ago, J walked an hour a day every day. He still participates in an exercise class once a week.

3. All things in moderation.
J watches what he eats. Although he and his girlfriend, “D,” eat out several nights a week, he hasn’t put on weight. J eats a bowl of D’s homemade soup for lunch, accompanied (for many years) by one small glass of red wine. He naps every afternoon.

4. Family matters.
J spends quality time every week with each of his sons. When asked what he wanted for his 95th birthday, he requested two parties – one at his home with the immediate family and a second in the rose garden with his and D’s family. Like us, D’s children and grandchildren value family; they welcome J as one of their own, and vice versa.

5. Keep a forward look.
Although grounded in the present, J continues to look forward, also. He and D travel regularly on cruises. When they return from one trip, they plan another. He envisions a future for himself. We are already talking about the next big party in the rose garden – for J’s 100th birthday.

Blog-Hop: Women Writing

Spring Cleaning

Inspired by our neighbors, Tom and Cheryl, who moved from California to Colorado a couple of weeks ago, my husband, Bruce, and I went on a de-cluttering bender. We vowed to get rid of everything that we wouldn’t want to take with us if we were to move. (Just to clarify: we’re not moving.) We cleared out storage units and closets, hauling the usable stuff to our tiny one-car garage. Last Saturday we held an “estate sale in the garage” and sold a bunch of stuff. Another bunch remains waiting for a home.

deskSome of the family “heirlooms” that have traveled with us for decades are on the chopping block. There’s a nice oak desk and a rocking chair that just don’t fit anywhere. And, the 19th Century maple chairs that my grandmother re-caned are too small for 21st Century bodies.

chairsFortunately, the nice folks who run the White Elephant Sale in Oakland will pick up these items and rest of the stuff, and the Oakland Museum will gain a small contribution.

Looking around our home, I still see TONS of clutter. Bruce and I have a different aesthetic when it comes to decorating. I think of myself as belonging to the less-is-more school while he appears to be of the more-is-more persuasion. However, truth be told, both of us have accumulated more than we need. Bruce’s collectibles are many. His hand-carved masks from Latin America, especially the old Guatemalan ones, are museum-quality. I admit to liking them; I even helped pick out a few on trips to Mexico.

MexicanMaskIn the midst of de-cluttering the house, I’ve been doing a little internal spring-cleaning, too. I’m not talking about a cleanse, although spring is a fine time to detox. This time, I’m talking about letting go of internal clutter. For 25 years, I defined myself in terms of my career. I was an account executive, a marketing manager, etc., etc. Then, for three years, I was a graduate student. Since then, I’ve struggled with my identity. I am a grandmother, wife, daughter, sister, friend. I knit; I sew; I garden; I cook. I am — dare I say it — retired. And yet, all of this is only part of the picture.

“Shavi” with Ruby, the newest member of the family

Who am I really? Like my knitting, I am a work in progress. When friends ask me what I’m doing now, I am learning to say, “I write.”

BLOG HOP: Women Writing

Thanks to Ana Hays McCracken, one of the women in the Wednesday Writers group, I am honored to join this Blog Hop that focuses on women writing. A blog hop is a little like a chain letter or relay race for bloggers. One person starts, then passes the torch to three more writers. Those three continue the chain, and it grows exponentially. Each of the bloggers in this Hop are answering the same four questions about writing.

What am I working on/writing?
I am working on going deeper. I have intentionally kept my writing-for-the-public-eye on the light-hearted side. At times, I reach back to my training in journalism and health in order to research and report the facts. Both are fine. And, now I’m moving into what is uncharted territory for me: sharing how I feel with my reader. I am working on several short pieces for a new series on my blog: Wellness Wednesday. I also started a longer piece in anticipation of a trip to Attean Lake in northwest Maine. In July, I will travel more than 3,000 miles to put my feet on the ground where my great-grandfather built cabins in the woods in the mid-1890s. There’s sure to be a story or two in that trip.

Attean Camp, Birch Island, near Jackman, Maine

Attean Camp, Birch Island, near Jackman, Maine

How does my writing/work differ from others in its genre?
My blog describes my journey as I learn to embrace my post-employment life. It is a combination of knitting anecdotes, health & wellness tips, travel photos, and cooking adventures. I write mostly memoir, describing an event that happened in my life that could have universal appeal. Despite my education in nutrition and stress management, I shy away from giving advice. Instead, I approach topics from the perspective of, “This is what worked for me. Maybe it will work for you, too.”
Why do I write what I do?
I write to figure things out. I write to explore my feelings. As others have written before me, I write to know who I am. At this moment in time, I write to help myself — and others — navigate the transition from middle age to a vibrant and vital old age.
How does my writing process work?
My process is simple: get the words down on paper. If I have a blank page, the words will come — eventually. I keep notebooks in the car, in my knitting bag, and on the bedside table. I capture my ideas quickly, before they have time to burst like soap bubbles and fade away. Following Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I write three pages in the morning — not every morning, admittedly. I get everything down in longhand, clearing my mind. Sometimes my writing resembles a giant “to do” list. Other times, a thought emerges that is worth keeping. Once a week or so, I spread out my scribbled pages on the dining room table. I circle the bits that I like and look for common themes. Sometimes a story emerges. I bring pieces to Elizabeth Fishel and the Wednesday Writers for feedback. The group’s suggestions and support have helped me find my voice.

Meet Next Week’s Writers

I am please to introduce three writers who will blog on Women Writing next week. Give them a read!

lisaLisa Beach works in online education and lifestyle consulting. She teaches for several colleges and universities online in the area of wellness and nutrition, and works with private clients who desire to improve their quality of life through addressing their lifestyle choices. She writes to share real wellness information that people can apply to their real lives.
Lisa’s work with clients, along with her writing, allows her to study people’s stories to find out how and why wellness can be made a priority. She bases her work on the idea that we live our lives in stories, and we evolve and improve our lives by hearing about and interacting with the stories of others.

ChristineAKrahlingChristine A. Krahling has been a reader and writer for as long as she can remember.
A self-professed “magazine junkie,” Christine is an award-winning writer, a blogger and former magazine editor. Her most recent essay, “Bloom Where You are Planted,” appears in the book, Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 73 Women on Life’s Transitions as well as in The Shriver Report. Her article, “Seven Steps to a Successful Book Club” won an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest’s 2011 Writing Competition.
Christine has developed a presentation titled, “When a Child has Celiac Disease: A Guide for Educators and Healthcare Professionals” and is available for speaking engagements on this and other topics. Christine is also a book club facilitator and fundraiser. She lives with her family in Central New York.

FrancieLowFrancie Low writes funny, witty posts about motherhood, fashion and frustrations on her blog shoezle.com, so named by her hubby as a polite nod to Francie’s passion for shoes. Shoezle was named in the Top 25 Blogs of Norcal in 2013.  She’s the mother of two teen boys with yin and yang personalities and married to a cycling afficianado and anything-organic enthusiast–saving the family from unhealthiness.  Francie was featured twice on KQED radio’s “With a Perspective” and written for Literary Mama.com and The Contra Costa Times.  Francie was cast in the San Francisco 2014 Listen To Your Mother show.  She loves anyone Francis/Frances, especially the new Pope Francis.

Lost and Found

Found at the Oakland Museum White Elephant Sale: one bag of cotton yarn in a rainbow of jewel tones. I didn’t need any yarn, but I recognized the high-quality Canadian label – Mission Falls – and took a chance. I paid $5.00 and brought it home, only to find that the bag contained a mostly completed baby sweater along with a pattern and half a dozen partial skeins of yarn. I couldn’t bear to rip apart the carefully crafted garment, so I decided to finish it instead. Crayons KitAccording to ravelry.com, my go-to source for all things knitted, Mission Falls published the sweater pattern early in its history, in 1998, and sold it with yarn in kits. The pattern, a striped pullover with a buttoned closure on one shoulder, was called Crayons. But, the nubby, worsted weight cotton yarn did not evoke the primary colors of standard-issue crayons. Instead, one needed to get out the big box of 64 crayons to find the more subtle shades of forest green, cadet blue and wisteria. Any fiber artist would recognize them as natural, plant-based dyes, not synthetic.

As I placed the stitches on my size 8 needles and began to knit the final two inches of the sweater front, I wondered about its origins. Perhaps an expectant mother purchased the kit in hopes of knitting her first child its very own pullover sweater. If so, chances are that she ran out of time before the birth. Once the baby arrived, she had no time for knitting. Pretty soon, the baby was too big for the size 12-month sweater, and it was abandoned. The well-intentioned mom’s first unfinished object (UFO)? Crayons Sweater work-in-progress As I began the buttonholes, my musings continued. By now, the baby would be 16. Perhaps the long-forgotten sweater surfaced this winter when mom and son pulled boxes of Christmas ornaments out of storage. Out it tumbled, begging for a second chance. Rather than throw it away, Mom added it to the pile of discards she later donated to the White Elephant Sale. I am pleased she did. Someday, when I present the finished sweater to another new mom, she will be happy to receive it.

Postscript
After finishing the sweater, I had enough yarn left to knit two hats and two pairs of booties. Crayons Accessories

KAL Update: Two down, one to go

After participating in two knit-alongs (KALs) so far this year, I found my (latest) calling. I like being part of a virtual community in which everyone knits together and shares their experiences online. KALs are fun, and they help motivate me to finish projects quickly.

With the Downton Abbey KAL, everyone followed the same pattern, one clue at a time, over the course of Season 4. I never knit a pattern exactly as written, and this project was no exception. I learned from other knitters’ comments, which they posted on ravelry.com in the KAL forum, that the shawl would have been too shallow for my taste — more of a scarf than a shawl — so I added length to the back using short-rows. (Details can be found on my project page. Ravelry membership required; free to join.) Here’s how it looks:

Downton Abbey ShawlThe 2014 Ravellenic Winter Games were more suited to my tendency to knit “off-road.” So long as my project fit the criteria for an event, I could make any garment I wanted. The only rules were to cast on during the opening ceremonies of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and to finish by the closing ceremonies. I challenged myself to complete an alpaca arm-warmer (the second in a set).

Alpaca Arm-Warmer

I did it in record time for me — just 10 days — and earned my first Ravellenics medal in the Cable Cross-Country event.

medal-2014-CABLE

With two KALs down, I’ve got one to go. I just signed up for the Udina KAL. It’s a top-down pullover sweater, knit in the round on circular needles. Designed by Norah Gaughan — one of my faves — there’s an interesting cable down the front that will keep things interesting. I’ve got six weeks to go — plenty of time to make this and a few baby gifts, too.

What’s on your needles? Happy knitting!

Vacation Verses

Maui memories in haiku…

i
Face down, snorkel up
Breath in, breath out, in and out
Floating among fish

ii
Mai tais at sunset
Ocean turns to quicksilver
Bullfrogs greet the night

(c) 2014, Cindy Houts.

Let the Games Begin

The 2014 Winter Olympics just opened with a parade, pyrotechnics and more in Sochi, Russia.

(c) 2014 NBC News

(c) 2014 NBC News

When I was young (ages 8 – 18), the Olympics were a BIG DEAL. My parents, sisters, and I gathered around our 19-inch television set to watch night after night of events during both the summer and winter Games. I have distant memories of American athletes on the podium in Mexico City raising fists for Black Power. I remember more vividly Mark Spitz in the pool and Bruce Jenner on the track, sweeping event after event. During the winter Games, we were glued to performances by Peggy Fleming and later Dorothy Hamill — not to mention all of the amazing gymnasts. Over the years, with Bob Costas as our guide, we cheered athletes to victory.

These days, I don’t follow sports much. I don’t know the competitors’ names like I used to. I caught the highlights of the Opening Ceremonies online, not in real time. The Olympics have become, for me (gulp), a backdrop for knitting. You see, I am a contestant in the Ravellenic Winter Games 2014, a form of knitting “Olympics” hosted by ravelry.com, complete with events and virtual medals.

RavellenicGamesBannerRibbon3Although the knitting games have been running for a few years, this is my first Ravellenics. I entered two events: “Cable Cross-Country” and “Short-Track Shawls.”

ravellenics_cableFor the cable event, I am knitting arm-warmer #2 for my husband’s daughter. I started a pair of alpaca fingerless gloves for her last year, weeks before the holidays. But, after finishing the first one, the project languished while I completed other gifts. (Sorry, Cindy.) I’m determined to get it done now.

For the Shawls event, I cast on for a shawl I’ve had in my queue for more than a year. The lace-edged pattern is called “Arroyo.” I’m knitting mine with some gorgeous worsted yarn from Maui, hand-dyed in shades of blue and turquoise called “Whale Watch.” I’ve name my project Kahawai (Hawaiian for gulch). Super-excited to knit this one!

MauiYarn_whalewatchLast night, I tuned in to watch Giant Slalom skiing, and worked a few rows of 2 x 2 (knit 2, purl 2) ribbing on Cindy’s glove using US #4 double-point needles. When I’m ready for a break from these tiny needles, I can switch to my shawl on US #9s. With just under two weeks to go to complete both projects, can I do it? Cheer me on to victory.

What’s on your needles? Have you entered the Games? It’s not too late. (Complete rules are located here. Ravelry membership required; free to join.)

Knitting Along with Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey Fever has reached epidemic proportions – at least it has among my girlfriends, and especially among the knitters. I am a latecomer to the series, and am playing catch-up. While the rest of the world just finished watching episode 2 of Season 4, I am making my way through Season 2 on DVD.

I have never watched a mini-series from start to finish before – not Upstairs Downstairs, not Rich Man Poor Man, not even Roots. And, I have never been one to watch soap operas. I’m not sure why Downton Abbey has sparked my imagination. It must be the clothes; they are exquisite.

The cast of Season 4 (C) Masterpiece Classic

The cast of Downton Abbey, Season 4 — (C) Masterpiece Classic

Downton Abbey’s large cast of characters, particularly the Ladies of Grantham, wear the most amazing fashions – changing from one marvelous ensemble to another, multiple times a day. As luck would have it, knitted garments reminiscent of the years between-the-wars – such as vests, scarves, shawls, and gloves – have made their way into today’s knitting baskets. Knitters can find Downton-inspired patterns in magazines, pattern books, e-books, and blogs – all cataloged on ravelry.com.

At this moment, 1,509 knitters are participating in a Mystery Knit-along (KAL), sponsored by a major yarn producer. Prior to the airing of each episode in Season 4, the moderator posts clues on the Jimmy Beans Wool blog. Knitters sit down to watch the show; and, as events unfold, they follow the clues to complete a textured shawl. Although I am not yet watching Season 4, I am knitting the shawl on my own time.

Last year’s KAL was a pair of fingerless gloves, Lady Violet’s Dinner Gauntlets. 1,414 knitters cast on for the project; another 1,304 plan to. The vintage shape is a bit baggy/saggy and a little muted for my taste; but, I love the rosebud lace design. So, I adapted the pattern with 2×2 ribbing to fit more closely. My version, Garden Party Gauntlets, knit with self-striping sock yarn, will be perfect for spring; I just finished the first one.

Original gauntlets on left (C) Jimmy Beans wool; mine on right.

Tea anyone? Original Downton-inspired gauntlets on left (C) Jimmy Beans Wool; mine on right.

As I settle down to a cup of tea and pick up my knitting, I muse about Downton Abbey’s appeal. Why Downton? Why now? Personally, I love escapist entertainment that takes me out of everyday time and space and transports me to another world. After watching a number of episodes, I find myself rooting for the heroes and heroines, hoping they will triumph in the end. So far, lovers remain star-crossed, tragedy reigns, and the villains are winning. What’s a knitter to do?

keep_calmKeep calm and cast on, of course. Here’s hoping that, while I knit, kinder, gentler folk — and sunnier skies — will prevail.
What are your thoughts on why millions are addicted to Downton Abbey? Want to get in on the fun? It’s not too late to start the 2014 KAL. Happy knitting!

Resolutions Revisited

On the first day of 2014, I revisited my New Year’s resolutions for the previous year, as I often do. One of my resolutions for 2013 was to complete several of what we knitters call UFOs – those unfinished objects that languish in a bin waiting for finishing touches. I am pleased to say that I finished 27 items. Whoo hoo!! (Squeals of delight.)

Most of these were new projects, completed from start to finish in 2013. A few were old friends that made it out of the knitting basket and into my dresser drawers or into holiday gift bags; 16 were gifts, 3 were yarn graffiti, and 8 were for me. (You can see all of them on ravelry.com, or a few of my favorites in the gallery on this blog.)

knitpicsBefore I pat myself on the back too vigorously, I have to admit that knitting was the easiest of my resolutions to fulfill. I didn’t do as well on the healthy lifestyle ones. For example, although I walked in two half-marathons (4 hours each), my day-to-day activity level throughout the year was inconsistent at best.

When I look forward to the year ahead, my goal is simple: to infuse more JOY in my life. My husband and I have a good life, and plenty of fun with family and friends. And, I’m looking for something deeper. I’ve been ignoring my spiritual side, and it needs attention. It’s time to begin practicing gratitude and meditation again – on a daily basis – to ground myself and open my heart. Then, when I spend time with the grandchildren and engage in creative pursuits like knitting, I will appreciate the joy-generating moments even more.