Sunday, December 20, 2009

On discomfort

In the last week before Thanksgiving break, I was called on to present something about my work to my department colleagues. It's a new event that we've opened up to students as well, hoping to build community among faculty and students and share our scholarly/research work with each other. I put together a presentation called "Wounspe Lakota" (sorry I can't reproduce the proper diacritical marks there), or "Lakota Lessons," explaining some of what I learned on my sabbatical adventure--what it taught me about Lakota culture (inside and outside the classroom) and how that has changed my work as a teacher and/or scholar.

I had presented much of the same information near the beginning of the semester at a brown bag lunch for faculty from across the university, so I was ready. And the talk for faculty had gone amazingly well. It was great material, and I did a good job of presenting it. In fact, it was one of the few times in my life when I can remember thinking "wow, I'm doing good! I'm hitting this one out of the park!" (That kind of confidence is not my usual m.o., sad to say.)

(Here's the image I used, with "Wounspe Lakota (Lakota Lessons)" plus my name and whatnot printed in the cloudy sky, as my "title page" for the talk...)

So when I was presenting the talk for the 2nd time, in November, to a packed house, and things were NOT going all that well, I was a bit surprised. During that talk, I remember wondering why the same material was really not making a dent in my audience at all. It was awful--no one was smiling or nodding or anything. (Well, two of my colleagues were, but that's it.) It was as if I was presenting the material to a wall. I've since figured out a few key differences:
-- in the earlier presentation, my audience was faculty colleagues--mostly my friends, really--at a lunch; they were all interested in the topic for various reasons (it touched on their research, or they were interested in learning more about Native American issues);
-- in the November presentation, the room was packed, but mostly with students, most of whom I did not know;
-- in the earlier presentation, people were there because they wanted to be;
-- in the November presentation, most people were there to fulfill a requirement (a professor had told them they had to go for part of a class assignment); they had little, if any, real interest in the topic.

And, truth be told, I think I did a better job in the earlier presentation, mostly because I felt like what I was providing was really worth something to my audience; they cared about what I was saying, and so they interacted with me. In November, I felt myself getting nervous, and talking faster, and saying things in a less sophisticated way to try to reach my audience, try to make them show me they were hearing me. I didn't do as good a job, quite frankly. And I knew it.

I also faced some criticism from a faculty colleague whose opinion I respect. She has given me a challenge to re-think my position that I can't publish about this material because I would be intruding on Native American intellectual property... She thought that the way I went about my study was different from what literary scholars typically do, and that I need to think harder about how what I did may offer a chance to re-theorize about how someone like me (a white woman) engages in scholarship on Native American literature. It was a lot to think about, and I'm excited about the possibilities, and I'm thankful to her for pointing out my faulty logic. But it did sting a little.

So I was really uncomfortable with how things went, and unhappy. I felt I had let people down (including my department chair, and the people with whom I studied at Sinte Gleska). I let myself have a good cry about it that night, and reminded myself to try and separate my feelings from my performance so that I could figure out how to do a better job next time. I felt so uncomfortable that I had that "gotta run away" feeling, a taste of the flight part of the fight-or-flight reflex.

As I calmed down, still feeling extremely uncomfortable, I reminded myself, too, that discomfort is what we need in order to make a change. If this thing made me really uncomfortable, that meant that it would help push me toward doing something different.

And then something really weird happened. Over the four days following the November presentation, I got sick. Except I really wasn't all that sick. On the worst day (the 3rd day), I felt run down and had a sore throat, like I was coming down with a virus, and I stayed on the couch all day in my pjs, taking REST as my main job for the day. But the virus (or whatever it was) never blossomed; I got better instead.

(Here's a photo from November, the little creek on the edge of campus reminding me to let it flow...)

I'm really thankful that I didn't have the flu (like many of my students did), and that I never did feel worse than that Saturday, but it also made me intensely curious. Was I just worn out from working too much? Was that fatigue that made me feel sick? Or did it have something to do with that all-over discomfort that I'd had after the presentation? Did my disappointment and discomfort with my performance make me physically sick?

In the end, it may have been a number of things that made me ill. But I can't help but wonder about the links between how we feel emotionally (or spiritually) and how we feel physically. And I can't help but think again about the things I've been learning as part of my spiritual studies for the past few years, including a class called "Lakota Teachings in Health" when I was at Sinte Gleska for a month. Perhaps this incident was another way of helping me learn that our physical well-being can be inextricably linked to our spiritual well-being, that how we feel has everything to do with how we feel, so to speak...

So I'm taking this as a signal to try to take better care of myself on all fronts--emotional, spiritual, and physical. This is not easy to do in the season of hurry-scurry, of course! But it's certainly worthwhile to try, and it's certainly better than ignoring the "information" I got from my body and spirit that week.

I hope you find a moment to take care of yourself this week,

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wheels that are turning

Wow, nature is sure letting me know that time is indeed passing!

For about two weeks, we had absolutely gorgeous leaves on the trees. We have a lot of silver maples around here, so the colors were brilliant reds and yellows as I walked to & from school. Temperatures have dipped and then gone back up again. Twice. We even had an overnight frost already!

There was a day, about a week or so ago, when it was very windy, just after a day of rain, and those two days brought down almost all the leaves around here. (The photo above: a Golden Rain tree, quite beautiful! It held onto its leaves a little longer than everyone else.)

Everyone is raking or blowing or mowing the leaves now, and the trees are just about bare. It's almost shocking to really take in the bareness of the branches. There is SUCH a difference...

And of course, with the time change, it's darker now way earlier than it feels like it should be. The sun really starts declining in the west around 3 or 3:30, and that's just a little unsettling. (Here comes the dark! Get your chores done and get inside!)

But it's more than just the number of daylight hours that's different... it's the quality of the light, the way it feels, that I've really noticed. Maybe "declining" is a good word for it. Like the leaves, the sun is showing us the dying of the year, showing us our movement toward night and death and quiet and sleep. Not necessarily a comfortable place to be, especially when I've grown up in a culture that fears and shuns death and decay...

Death is awful. It takes something or someone away from us; it brings pain and regret and grief. (Is there any emotion more painful than grief?) When death takes something away from you, one of the worst feelings is that you can't fix it, no matter what you do. It's awful.

But this year I realized something: that the beauty of the fall leaves and the reminder of death came together. I actually thought, as I drank in how beautiful the sky looked, and as I now enjoy swishing through the leaves on the sidewalks, that this is death--this, too, is what death means. There's beauty here. Maybe this year I'm on the verge of learning something new about death...

And it helps that at the same time all this was happening, I was teaching Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" to one of my classes. He has such beautiful and heart-wrenching things to say about death. (I'll copy here a photo of "Uncle Walt" toward the end of his life...)

In the 6th section, where he says that the grass seems to be the "beautiful uncut hair of graves," he ends that section with this, about the dead:

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the
end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

(I just love that poem... I'm glad I get to explore it again every couple years with my students...)

For us, the living, the turning of the wheel of the year means that we'll be able to see the ways in which life quite literally continues even after everything seems to die. We'll witness the miracle of re-birth in the spring. But for now, I'm happy to contemplate death in a way that's not scary, that makes room for mourning but also appreciates its unique beauty.

I hope you have a chance to linger over something beautiful today!

P.S. In other news of wheels that are turning: we had a march on campus & through a part of our town in support of SOCIAL JUSTICE, and in support of our faculty colleague who was handcuffed at gunpoint at his office. It went really well--it was a great turnout, including faculty, staff, students, and even some community members & children of faculty/staff. The speeches were really good, and the feelings among the group were great. I hope it turns out to be a raising of energy and strength so that we can all continue working on behalf of social justice, continue speaking out when something goes wrong... As several people said there: this is just the beginning; our work has just begun.

P.P.S. As far as I can tell, there haven't been negative repercussions from my letter. Most of the feedback I got was quite positive! No matter what, I'm proud that I worked up the courage to say something out loud about how I felt... Here's hoping I can keep that up!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Speaking out... even if my voice shakes...

My usual m.o. here at the university is to try to fly under the radar. I figure if I work my butt off, teach the heck out of the stuff I'm here to teach, and keep my head down, everything will be fine. If the administrators here hardly know my name, that's okay with me; I'd rather not be the subject of discussions, opinions, etc. I don't like the idea of people saying negative things about me, of course, but I also think it would turn my head too much if I knew they were saying positive things about me.

(A side note: I almost feel that way about student evaluations as well. They are certainly more useful to me in terms of knowing what's working in my classes & what's not, so I pay attention to them. But I get really uncomfortable being evaluated. Unlike my colleagues, I have never checked my reviews on the "rate my professor" web site.)

I'm working very hard--and have been for some years now--to develop that inner knowing that Emerson writes of (I'm teaching some of his essays this week), that voice that tells you whether something is good or not, true or not, and doesn't need to listen to the opinions of external voices. It's hard for anyone to develop this skill--that's why Emerson had to argue for it!--but I think it's especially hard for women, or at least women of my disposition and my generation, to turn off the voice that says "don't do that, it might make people upset/unhappy/angry."

So today is a big day for me because I'm stepping out of the shadows, stepping into the public square to speak my mind, and it scares me a bit. I've written a letter to the editor of our school newspaper, which covered the story of my colleague's incident last week (the incident I described in my last post). Maybe in a future post I'll share that letter; suffice it to say it's critical of the actions of the police, both during the incident and since then.

Have I just made a huge mistake? Maybe. Will it come back to bite me? Maybe. But those things are less important to me, at this moment, than doing what I think I need to do. I'm drawing strength from my guardian angels (ignoring, of course, the question of whether they're there; I need them, so they have to be!), walking carefully forward, and doing the best I can. And if it was a mistake--if I have to deal with a mess later--then I will ask for help and walk carefully then, too.

Tomorrow I might have different advice, but today it's this: Stand tall! Walk strong! Speak out, even if your voice shakes!


Friday, September 18, 2009

Gone fishin'?... and a pressing issue

So... I've been writing every day--lesson plans, journal musings, memos, e-mail messages. But blog entries? Not so much.

I've actually had ideas about entries, things I want to write and communicate about, but find myself stymied because I want to include a photo; every blog should have good photos, right? And the process of uploading stuff from my camera to my computer seems like such an insurmountable task these days. Maybe I'll find some quiet time tonight--I wonder if I could spin or knit while my computer is crunching away...

School is intense, particularly after having LOTS more unscheduled time recently. I keep looking at my calendar and thinking, "who put all this stuff on here? I need to fire that person." :)

Life has brought me some beautiful and intense things to process the last couple months. We went to South Dakota in late July, and I was able to go back to the rez and visit, participating as an observer/supporter at the Hollow Horn Bear Sun Dance. I have no photos of it (it's not allowed; and anyway, you wouldn't take photos if you were participating in a ceremony in church), and it meant so much to me that it's difficult to put its impact into words. But I'll give it a try... soon...

For today there's something else on my plate. I've got a little time to meditate before heading to school, and quite frankly, I need it. A friend/colleague of mine was the victim of police threats the other night, a gun pointed in his face while he was working late in his own office. IN HIS OWN OFFICE.

You've probably heard of DWB, "driving while black"; this seems to be a case of WWL/H, writing while Latino/Hispanic. I'm astounded, and feeling a jumble of sadness, outrage, and disgust. I'm worried about the place we're bringing up our son. I want to take to the streets and shout about how I am not going to put up with this kind of crap in my town and on my campus. And at the same time, I feel called to send healing to the whole thing, to muster any kind of energetic powers I can to help my friend and his family, my colleagues, our students. We're all so shocked and hurt by this, and in obvious need of healing. (Maybe even the cops involved need some help--certainly, some clear-sightedness about what they did...)

I think maybe the next few weeks will be a balancing act of sorts--learning how to carry the fire of fighting for social justice while also carrying the waters of healing. (I am an Aquarius; carrying water is my job, right?)

I'm off to do that work.

May you find peace today,

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I'm hopelessly addicted...

... to the Tour de France!

My family and I have been watching it every year for about 6 years now--the year before Lance's (supposed) retirement. It's definitely not a sport that U.S. Americans typically pay attention to, but I love it.

The experts say that perhaps Americans don't watch because it's too complicated--you keep track of an overall winner, but also pay attention to who wins each individual day's race. Riders compete on a team, but in the end only one guy gets the big prize. There are points to be gained for climbing hills best, or sprinting best... But I don't exactly buy the "too complicated" theory; I'm able to grasp how the Tour works, but the ins and outs of (American) football escape me.

Maybe it's because the sport is just too European. The big prize (besides the money, of course) is the right to win the maillot jaune--the yellow jersey. Srsly? wearing a yellow shirt is all that? As my sister says, only the French would think that was a great prize. :) Bicycle racing has a long, much-known history in Europe--people there can tell you who Eddie Merckx and Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain are/were, just like people in the U.S. can tell you who Joe Namath, Joe Montana, and Jerry Rice are. Thanks to Greg Lemond (the first American rider I remember having noticed, years ago) and especially Lance Armstrong, Americans at least know that the Tour exists. Of course, we know a LOT about Lance Armstrong.

But my family and I actually watched the Tour, with much excitement, in the years Lance was retired. So it's not just the privilege of watching Lance that hooks us--though that is pretty riveting! There's something about this sport that we find compelling.

Perhaps it's the fact that these guys are really athletes. They are racing for three weeks with only two rest days, and they're going incredible distances in the heat and rain, up and down the Pyrenees and the ALPS, for goodness sakes, enduring a lot of pain for the love of what they do. Yes, the past few years have seen some awful and embarrassing doping scandals. But, in fact, I actually admire that the Tour organizers, and racing officials in general, are on top of this problem. If a rider even refuses to take a test, they're out of racing, banned. How different the stories here in the U.S. about baseball players...

So. We love the Tour. I am hopelessly addicted to it. If I didn't control myself, I'd be watching both the live broadcasts in the morning (I love the play-by-play by Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett) and the evening re-cap (especially for the commentary by Bob Roll)--that would amount to at least six hours of tv-watching every day. That's just not okay for a mom who limits her kid's tv intake.

This year it's especially exciting; I know everyone is talking about Lance, and that he's sucking up all the attention in the media, but really, people. He has been retired for four years, and he's been in the TOP TEN in this year's race SINCE DAY ONE! That just doesn't happen in other sports... and in this particular sport, these guys are in amazing physical shape, and he's 10 years older than a lot of the riders, probably most of the pack. A lot of people have Expectations about Lance, but I'm just impressed as heck that he's in the top THREE right now. Amazing!

When I see myself getting caught up in the Tour--craving for news (and, more often than not, not finding any--the American media stinks at providing info. about it), getting excited about a breakaway (who's in it? how far ahead are they?), and YELLING at the tv as the riders get closer to the finish--I'm kind of shocked. As anyone who grew up with me will tell you, I am not a sports person, either as a fan or a participant. I did not grow up "doing" sports; I was kind of clumsy, and those were the days before every kid was on a soccer team. I was more likely to be reading a book than running around outside (sad to say) or playing a game. (Just ask my sister; I'm afraid this annoyed the heck out of her when we were kids!) I wish being active was a more regular part of my day--I could stand to lose 20 pounds right now. (Truly. I'm not just saying that.) The only sports I've followed in the past are the Three-Day Event and Figure Skating--oddball choices, certainly.

So no, sports and I have not been chums over the years. But here I am, in my 40s, absolutely addicted to the Tour, even hoping to get to France some July so I can experience it in person. Will wonders never cease!

I hope you find something to be excited about today. Maybe try the Tour! :)

P.S. Though I would not be able to handle even one tenth of a stage of the Tour de France, I am a participant in the Tour de Fleece. But I'll write about that another day!

P.P.S. I was hoping to include a fabulous photo of some of the racers in this entry, but I am wary of violating copyright laws. If you want to see some great photos, try going here or here or here!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Learning to See (Again)

I recently had my annual eye exam and was confronted with another reminder that I am in my mid-life years: it's time for bifocals. Oh my!

I wanted to get the contact lenses with the bifocal built in--"baby bifocals," my doctor called them--but they don't have my prescription in that model. So I am resigned to being able to see really well long-distance with my contacts in but needing to use a pair of those dime-store readers when I do things like read or knit something I need to pay attention to. (I had the option of getting the baby bifocals in a weaker prescription, but it turned out that I couldn't really see a person across a big room clearly, and I'm sure that's going to mess me up when I'm back in the classroom in the fall...) So I'm using readers on occasion, and feeling a little self-conscious about sending a clear signal to others that I am officially Middle Aged.

This experience brought back memories of when I got my first glasses--and, more pointedly, when it was discovered that I needed them. Badly.

I was in third grade, and we were all lined up across from the principal's office, each one taking our turn in the little room where a nice lady had set up her machine. We had to look inside the scope and tell her which way the Es were pointing. I remember being one of the kids not to say "up" or "down" or "left" or "right," but rather point with my fingers--THREE fingers held out just like an E--and contort myself so that they'd be pointing the same direction as the E.

(The one on the right is the one we saw through the scope!)
But I had a problem. I couldn't see which way the Es were pointing on the line she wanted me to read. So she asked me which line I'd rather read--which one was not fuzzy. "All of them are fuzzy," I said, suddenly knowing Something was Very Wrong, and crying. "Even the one at the top?" Yes. She shut the door to the little room so that I could have some privacy and collect myself.

Within days (?), I was taken to an eye doctor, who told my mother I was "legally blind," but luckily it was correctable. I didn't know what that meant, but I knew I wasn't blind. I just couldn't see the board at all. Anyhow, shortly thereafter I got my first pair of glasses: beautiful pearlized grey cat's-eye frames that I thought were the most stylin' thing to hit St. Jerome's school that year. I could definitely see better with them.

I experienced one of the biggest shocks of my life when we left the doctor's office and stepped outside. (I remember this moment like it was yesterday, not almost 4 decades ago!) I looked up at the trees, and I could SEE them--not just see that there were trees there, a hazy idea of what trees were up in the sky, but I could actually SEE the branches and leaves. I could see individual branches and leaves!! And I thought to myself: is this what everyone else sees? You mean THIS is what it's like to be able to see? It was a whole 'nother world...

Lately, when I put on my new contact lenses and look for the tops of the trees, I remember the absolute awe of that moment, the almost-not-believing-it feel of it. And when I need to use the readers because I can't see clearly close up (an unfamiliar phenomenon to me!), I think that I'm learning about a new stage of being a person who needs glasses. Will this new inability to see bring me insight, as it does to so many literary characters? Hmmm...

I hope you see something you find compelling today!

(P.S. I edited my post to add a graphic of the eye chart...)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Interesting observation

A couple Fridays ago, Dexter's school had their annual play day down at the middle school field (Super Games day). All the kids in the city elementaries have their turn for half a day. This year there were more inflatables than I remember in the past. Anyhoo, I went down there to watch for a little bit, and ended up staying the whole morning. I'll share some photos (of just a small portion of the activities), then my interesting observation...

I wish I'd been able to get a photo of the AIR Dexter was catching when he bounced at the top of this slide!

Here's one showing some impressive jumps by Dexter's classmates; gravity-free zone!

But, speaking of impressive jumps, here's one of Dexter at my FAVORITE station:
The kids would grab a horse and run around the track as fast as they could while still making the jumps--four of them!--and then pass the horse to the next runner. There were lots of rails down, and some of the horses had their riders tumble on top of them, but it was great fun. I laughed the whole time. :)

Here's another favorite event. Who wouldn't love something that involved hoppity-hops?
The kids had to travel to their partner but stay on their side of the white line; when they both got there, they would pass a golf ball (carried in the yellow cup) to the other person. The kids figured out pretty quickly it was fun to see how high they could hop. :)
There were some crashes here, too, as you can see in the background--that's Dexter flopped on the ground, having gotten back to base, passing the hoppity hop off to the next person.

This event looked more comfortable for the smaller kids who were there that day:
Each team of three had to pull one person down & back over the course, then they'd switch and another person would have a turn riding, and do that a third time so everyone got a chance to ride. It was pretty bumpy, which made it funny to watch. I couldn't get over how LONG Dexter's legs look on this little cart. :)

The last events of the morning involved water play, which the kids had been looking forward to--it was a HOT morning. In this one, water-soaked balls are being flung across a field using a giant (6 feet tall) slingshot to a crowd of kids with nets. As they catch the balls, they get sprayed!

And in this one they had to pass water from the trash cans to each person's bowl and into a big bowl down at the end of the line. Within a few seconds, water was flying everywhere but the bowls! It was a squishy walk back to school...

So, here's what was interesting to me, and quite frankly, inspiring... There were at least a dozen stations that each class would spend a few minutes on, some of them merely entertaining (like the bouncy slide) and some of them with a bit more competitive goal (like the hoppity hop race or the horsey fences, and some others I didn't get photos of). It was a HOT and humid morning, but the kids approached each task with eagerness and tried their best. They ran, they threw, they jumped, they steered--they tried their best to achieve the goal at hand, whatever it was. After only half the events were finished, they were hot and sweaty and tired, but they kept going, kept giving it serious effort.

After a while, I realized that they were doing this WITHOUT ANY PRIZES BEING OFFERED. There was no reward for doing something the best or coming in first or jumping the highest or hitting the ball the furthest except for the satisfaction that they'd done it. Wow.

I think the future is going to be just fine.

I hope you have some fun today trying your best at something!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Attack of the UFOs!

Hi, everyone.

EEK! I am being attacked by UFOs!

In the knitting world, UFOs are UnFinished Objects--okay, the acronym is not 100% correct, but at least it's memorable. I'm the kind of knitter who likes to have several projects going at once; that way, if I'm up for a challenge, I can work on a difficult pattern, and if I'm tired, I can work on something I don't have to concentrate on too much. (I also discovered recently, I think, that I tend to start new projects when my various UFOs are becoming problematic--when I have to do something complicated, for example, or if I think there's a BIG mistake somewhere and I'm trying to decide whether to rip out my knitting or try to fix it... I'm not sure if I like this aspect of myself, but it's interesting to discover it.)

So here are a few UFOs that are bugging me lately:
This will eventually be a pair of socks for Dexter (in my own basic sock pattern), but as you can see, I've not gotten very far yet. And a certain someone keeps asking, "Are you almost finished yet? Is this the second one?" Oh dear. (There are a couple rows in the middle that look like mistakes; actually, they are cables. I thought I would cleverly add in randomly placed cables in his socks to entertain both knitter and wearer, but they don't really work with this yarn. Am I going to rip back and start over? HECK NO.)

A pair of socks for me, in the "Spring Forward" pattern from Knitty. Awesomely entertaining pattern--they are MUCH easier than they look--but every time I work on them I feel guilty that I'm not working on Someone Else's sock. Ahem.

The Icarus shawl. This photo, as with all photos of un-blocked lace, makes it look like miles of cat barf. But when I block it, you'll be able to see beautiful details like this:
I'm in the middle of the complicated section, so I really need to be able to concentrate when I work on this project. And most of the times/places I'm knitting these days (late at night, SnB) are not concentrate-friendly.
The Mr. Greenjeans sweater, also from Knitty, in the most gorgeous shade of dark teal that my camera apparently did not pick up on very well (it's a bit bluer than this). Time to bind off on the bottom and knit the sleeves!

The Ab Fab throw, in the "Wild One" colorway, colors that definitely did NOT come out in this photo--the original is much more purpley and orangey. (You can see the right colors in the link there for the kit; happily, I got mine on sale for half price when my local yarn shop was going out of business...) I've only got about 30 more rows on this puppy, then it's time to weave in lots of ends (ruh roh) and add fringe. This one's a fairly simple knit, and I foresee having it finished really soon--just in time for hot weather!--but my loathing for weaving in ends might mean that it gets relegated to the problematic pile until fall...

I need to sort through these. They are filled with yarn, some of which I would like to give away (or maybe trade) and some of which I would like to keep. But I need to get it organized. I have been mostly knitting from stash lately because, as you see, I have ENOUGH of it! There are projects and yarns in there that I love; I just need to get going on them.

I totally have 2nd moccasin syndrome. (Yes, I made that up, but now I think it really exists.)

Here's the 50% merino/50% silk blend roving, all spun up into singles. Time to ply! (scary!) See how there are bumps on the bobbin? That also reminds me that I need to move the hooks on my wheel as Judith instructed--which involves getting out the drill, and getting that thing anywhere near my wheel gives me the heebie jeebies. I need to work up to it...

Some of these need to go in pots, and some of them...
... along with some of these, need to go in here:
which, as you can see, is TOTALLY not ready. Those are weeds, my friends, growing healthy as horses in my veggie-and-herb garden plot. And, to top it all off, I want to do a raised bed this year here, since the soil just seems to stay clayish year after year.

The item on the left is a book I need to finish reading as I'm working on a new article (about the 1798 novel Reuben and Rachel, by Susanna Haswell Rowson--1798 is not a typo; R&R is a really early American novel!); the item on the right is an article I wrote about the autobiographies of Black Hawk & William Apess that I need to get published. Time for one last revision and then I'll send it off to purgatory--er, a scholarly journal. (No, I am not going to light them on fire with the stove, though I have been sorely tempted. That's just where the light is passably good for photos right now.)

And I don't have photos of countless other things I need to do soon--return some phone calls to people whom I love & want to have longer conversations with, put some things in the mail to friends afar, finish the chick lit novel I've borrowed from the library (it's due soon), start in on a pile of novels I want to read for my teaching, watch the Netflix movie that's been sitting on top of my tv for at least a week... My list of UFOs seems nearly endless, and putting them in writing and pictures here on the blog seems, in some ways, like a bad idea. It makes the list seem a tad overwhelming.

I have been thinking a lot about TO DO lists lately--specifically, feeling frustrated with how seldom I seem to be able to cross an item OFF the list despite the fact that I do not sit around and twiddle my thumbs all day long. What the heck do I do all day? Some friends and I have been talking about this problem as well--frustration around the to-do list--and shortly thereafter I was surprised to see a post from the Yarn Harlot about her daunting list.

So here are a couple rays of hope. First of all, the Yarn Harlot (like me) very quickly decided to put some things on her list that she KNEW she'd get done. (Here's the hilarious post; be sure to read the previous one first.) Some days, I put "brush teeth" on my list. And some days, I cheat a little and put something on the list AFTER I've done it, just so I can cross it off. Some days, instead of looking at the list again, I write in my journal, and I'm only allowed to start by listing things I've accomplished.

Today I discovered another way to feel mighty in spite of the list: get one thing done that requires the use of POWER TOOLS. I'm sorry to be so gender-predictable, but power tools kind of scare me, and I don't use them very often, so wielding one today, with pretty good results, gave me quite the sense of accomplishment!

Rather than heading to Home Depot to price some cedar planks or a garden box (spendy!), I took some scrap lumber...

... and a power saw and made this:

Ta-da! It is quite possibly the ugliest raised-bed box in the county, and it will require a liner since I used wood that is not eco-friendly, but by golly that is one DONE garden box. (Yes, the back wall is old, and half of it is just a sheet of plywood leaning against the old broken wooden wall there, but I think it'll do.) Patrick helped nail stuff together and pound the supports into the ground. When we began digging holes for them instead (we're nothing if not quick to learn!), I became the worminator--I kept accidentally chopping worms as I was digging. I hope that story I've heard since I was little is true: that the two halves can grow the other halves back. I'd like for the worms to stay, actually, since they are so good for the garden.

Anyhow, just a few thoughts on the list. Tis the season when the to-do list grows, as we move outside and spiff things up again. I hope you get a handle on yours--or at least feel like you do!


Friday, May 8, 2009

An Adventure with Fiber Goddesses!

A couple weekends ago, I had another sabbatical adventure of the educational variety. I attended a three-day workshop in Indiana on knitting and spinning for Estonian lace, with Nancy Bush and Judith MacKenzie McCuin.

Now... the folks out there who read Interweave publications just got excited, while the folks who don't are probably drawing a blank. Nancy Bush is the author of at least FIVE knitting-related books, and she's the western world's expert on the traditions and techniques of Estonian lace, a special knitting genre developed by the entrepreneurial women in Estonia as tourists began coming to their country in the early 20th century to seek out the mineral baths. Here's a link so you can have a look-see at some of the beautiful work published in her latest book; scroll down to the preview box for photos of some of the pieces.

During the workshop, we learned special techniques used by Estonian lace knitters, and Nancy shared with us in person some of the pieces from the book as well as her travel photos from many trips to Estonia. I loved hearing her stories of how she happened upon this work, and what Estonia has meant to her since then... She's been there at least a dozen times in the past 10-ish years, so clearly, she loves the place!

The other half of the teaching dynamic duo, Judith, is the goddess of spinning. She has been working with textiles all her life; every few minutes, she'd share something she learned from her many experiences with fiber--as a sheep shearer, a sheep farmer (rancher?), a wool classer, a cloth and clothing designer, a weaver of huge art pieces for corporations, a textile restorer in the Middle East, a designer of carding machines, and a spinner and knitter. She's got a new book wherein she shares some of her knowledge, but seeing her in person is a treat--she has a great way of telling stories, and the most poised yet engaged demeanor I've ever seen!

So... in other words, they are fiber ROCK STARS!!! And I got to learn from their experience and wisdom, along with about 28 other people. Awesome!!!

During the workshop, our goal was to a) spin and ply different types of fiber to laceweight specifications (i.e., very THIN but crisp & tight enough not to fall apart), and b) use that laceweight yarn to make some samples of Estonian lace (which are kind of pictorial). I managed to get most of the spinning done, and some of the knitting. So the goals were a bit ambitious for my level of abilities, but I learned a LOT and am continuing the work here at home (in between other projects, of course).

The setting was also excellent: the farm of Susan, who owns and runs the Trading Post for Fiber Arts. She & her husband have converted one of their barns into a shop with a large open room upstairs. So we were able to knit downstairs in the shop, and set up our spinning equipment upstairs.

I have never seen so many spinning wheels in one place! I tried to get some photos of what that looked like:
Luckily, I managed not to drool TOO much.

Here is my new friend Anne with some more wheels on the other side of the room:
Here is Judith demonstrating (she's the one spinning on the left):
Here is Patricia (I'm sorry I caught her doing the Santa-about-to-fly-up-the-chimney pose) and her Journey wheel, which looks from this side like a wooden box, but is a spinning wheel inside! It was so cool.

And do you see that blonde beauty on the left? (I'm talking about the wheel... the one in front of the empty folding chair.) That is my new Kromski Sonata!!!! Less than a week before the workshop, I bought this wheel--my second--for travelling. It folds down into a neat package, then goes inside its travel bag. I'm hoping to take it on summer vacation with me as well as to spin-ins at friends' houses and parks and the like... (I've got the spinning bug pretty badly, to be buying a second wheel only a few months after getting my first. But I foresee using both for years to come!)

Before the workshop, I was really nervous about being able to produce a good yarn. After all, I am a beginning spinner (having gotten my first wheel in December 08) and my technique is... kind of sketchy. I didn't want to embarrass myself, especially in front of a bunch of other people (shades of junior high!). But luckily, within just a few minutes, I was spinning a really thin single.

My first yarn experiment turned out okay, but with the usual beginner's mistakes: not exactly consistent, and too loosely spun in the singles. Here's a photo (nickel included for scale):
I like it a lot just because it is my first attempt at laceweight yarn and it's not totally embarrassing. It was kind of "interesting," though, to knit with--there are thick bumps in places that make the lace... um... we'll call it "textured". (I'll share photos of the lace samples when I've got them all done!)

My second attempt was much more successful, in part because I put a lot of twist into the singles, and in part because it wasn't my first. Here is a photo:
This yarn is slightly more consistent, and if you look carefully you can see that there are more "bumps" per inch than the first yarn because it's more tightly spun--this is better for lace. I was UNREASONABLY happy whilst knitting the sample out of it. :)

(Notes for fiber geeks: the first yarn is spun from grey roving, a Rambouillet/Shetland cross raised by Judith! The second is spun from Falkland top; Falkland is a kind of Merino.)

The third sample, which I'm still spinning the 2nd single for, is a merino/silk top, 50/50 blend, which means it's softer than a baby's butt. Srsly. It's a bit slicker to spin, and therefore a little scary for me--I can make it really, really thin, but it kind of flies through my fingers and then I get scared that it's going to disintegrate because it doesn't have enough twist. I'll post again when I have a finished yarn to show (after I finish the 2nd single and ply)...

Here are a couple more photos...

Looking out the window from our spinning roost:

Donating some fiber to be used in birds' nests:
(There were gale-force winds all weekend!)

I must have gotten "camnesia" at one point, because I didn't take any photos of the animals on the farm--a horse, some wonderful big fluffy dogs, and LOTS of alpacas and llamas. (Here are some of Susan's photos of her animules...)

It was a wonderful adventure. It was great to learn not just with my brain, but also with my hands. And my heart.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Silence... and some lambs

Hello, everyone.

It's been silent here for some time--not for any particular reason. I must be busy. :) It almost feels like I only have a certain amount of writing in me, and if I write notes about my reading or write in my journal, I don't write on the blog. Weird. I hope it doesn't continue!

So, lambs. It's definitely a typical Ohio spring, which means it's chilly and the lambs are being born! Here are some lambs (and sheep) at a farm not too far from here; they belong to the parents of two students of mine. I visited a couple weeks ago (where has the time gone?). They are pretty shy, so it was hard to get good photos of them, but I managed to snap a few:

Doesn't this last one look like he's just heard a joke?

And here is one of the sheep who was not as shy and came to see what my camera was all about:

I think they're expecting just one more lamb--a late one, as lambs go--and then their small flock will be finished with birthing for the year.

And, while we were there, I couldn't help but visit the chickens:
I like the red ones (can you tell?). Later on, when we were over by the house (a ways away from the chicken hut), there was a big to-do among the chickens, with lots of LOUD bawk-bawking going on. I asked what was up; their caretaker said probably one just laid an egg, that they make a big fuss when they lay an egg. :) I thought that was hilarious, and that perhaps I should go around in my daily life making a big fuss every time I do something that takes effort and intention. Made dinner? BAWK BAWK BAWK! Fetched groceries? BAWK BAWK BAWK! Wrote an administrative report? BAWK BAWK BAWK BAWK! (that one deserves an extra bawk)

Hey, let's all try it! Give yourself a bawk bawk and see what happens...


Friday, March 27, 2009

Two Sunday walks

The past two Sundays have been nice here--clear skies, temp.s not too chilly, and schedules pretty open. :) So we decided to enjoy our local parks and take a hike!

Actually, calling what we do "hiking" is probably a bit of an overstatement. We walk, sometimes briskly but sometimes meanderingly. We look at stuff along the way, trying to notice what's around us.

Two Sundays ago, we went to a park near our town--kind of a county park. We LOVE this place because it has both a forest trail and a meadow trail, each just over a mile long. They're expanding the park into another area; it will eventually have a community garden and buildings where they'll demonstrate an endangered species: the small midwestern farm.

Dexter found a friend he tried talking to:

Can you see it? We never did get an answer about why he/she was there without the rest of the flock.

We thought these trees looked interesting--two different kinds growing together:

And here's one of Patrick's favorite trees in the park, a huge old oak (I think):

Isn't it beautiful?

Last Sunday we headed to a park toward Columbus. Instead of heading toward the platform overlooking the river, our usual destination, we went to the duck blind next to a little pond.

Here's one of the windows in the blind:

Luckily, Patrick remembered to bring the binoculars. It was GREAT to be able not only to see the ducks, but to be able to see them well enough to identify different kinds.

We saw lots of mallards, some wood ducks, and even a pair of loons (we think).

On the way back to the parking lot, we found a swing!

We also saw an orange butterfly with dark spots, but my camera just wasn't up to the task of getting a good shot of it. A butterfly!

I hope you are able to enjoy a pavement-free area where you live.