Saturday, June 28, 2008

Off we go

Well, I think we're packed, barring a few last-minute things. Rick is helping me save my presentation from a PC, rather than a Mac (which turns out to be a good thing, as his PC balked at reading a few images, but we've fixed that). It's going on a thumb drive and a CD, just to be sure. And I need to copy my handouts, but other than that, we're good to go.

I finished the hat. Pictures aren't so good, as the camera is packed, but for what it's worth, here it is.
Yes, it's blocking on a pot. I keep rotating it so it won't have funny sticky-out bits where the handles are.
You can see the top better there, I think. I wasn't so happy with the pattern qua pattern, although I do like the hat enough that I would even knit it again. The brim is knitted in the remnants of alpaca yarn from Rick's Paris-Roubaix mitts, and the top is the BMFA geisha yarn from Simurgh. The pattern is Keara (I think I linked to it in my last post).

It should be dry before we head out. This is the part of getting ready that kills me: the puttering. Once we're on the road, with passports, tickets, and money, anything else can be done without or, if we're desperate, bought. But while I'm still here, it seems like I should keep thinking of things (so I ask myself questions like, "Should I bring a couple of extra articles to read on the way? What if I sound like an idiot, and reading those articles would have helped?"; I'll probably go put a few in my bag after I'm done posting, just in case -- as if a couple of articles will save me from idiothood at this stage. If I'm going to sound like an idiot, I'm going to sound like an idiot.).

I'm not sure how much I'll be able to post once I'm there, but I'll see what I can do. Take care!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

We're getting there

I meant to post yesterday, but I wanted a picture of the first finished sock of the pair for Younger Daughter, actually on Younger Daughter's leg. She didn't sit still long enough for that, and the light's bad right now (yay for the morning marine layer!), so I thought it'd be better to post than not. I'll take some pictures later.

I've finished the first of the two socks, and am past the heel gusset on the second, so that should get finished today. I also started a hat for me to take on the trip (I hear that laughter in the back of the room there -- I can too finish it before we leave Saturday night!). It's the Keara hat, which I loved the moment I saw it, and I'm knitting it in some leftover yarn that I had in the stash (of which more in a moment). I'm starting with the gray alpaca that I used for Rick's Paris-Roubaix mitts for the cabled brim, and then if it doesn't look like I'll have enough, I'll do the top in the rest of the black BMFA yarn I used for Simurgh (it'll have to be doubled up to match the gauge, I think, but that's OK). I'm not so fond of the way the pattern's written up (I'm apparently spoiled by Anne's skill at writing clear patterns), as it leaves a lot to the imagination, but I think I can recreate what should go in the lacunae.

I spent quite a bit of time yesterday charting out the patterns that I wanted to use from BW's books for the projects I'm taking along on the trip. Especially for the wide scarf I want to knit with the SeaSilk, I wanted to see how the motifs charted together (there are really just two, but you've got to start somewhere, right?). I think I've got something that I'll like, and I ended up being pretty proud of my charting. It's not nearly so easy as it seems like it should be, especially since several of the motifs I chose to work with had shifting stitch counts; it's easier, I think, to write those out -- when charting, it seemed to me to be important to line up the "missing" stitches with the places that they would be, so that the chart and my knitting would read the same. And that's not all that easy. However, I've got something I'm happy with for the scarf, for the border of the half-pi, and for the socks. I'd show you what they look like, but I can't seem to find an easy way to upload an image of the chart, so you'll have to take my word for it.

I also spent some time winding yarn into balls to take along. Since I want to use as much of the SeaSilk as humanly possible, I'm knitting the shawl from the ends to the middle, where I'll graft the two sides together. This meant dividing the skein into two even balls. I don't have an accurate scale to weigh yarn with, but I came up with another idea (I apparently have mad workaround skills). I put the skein on my swift and then counted the number of strands in the skein (by fives, and yes, it was sort of a drag). I figured I'd then wind half of those onto the ball winder, but was left with the question of how to keep track. Utilizing those mad skills again, I tied a piece of yarn to one arm of the swift, and called that the beginning of a turn. Then I wound on for half the number of turns as there were total strands of yarn in the skein, and bob's your uncle, I had half the yarn in a ball. Cut yarn, start a new ball, and repeat. I'm fairly pleased with myself (and yes, I do realize that each and every one of you had probably already thought of doing that, and it's on the internet in various fora all over the place, but I'm the sort of person who is occasionally quite pleased with herself for reinventing the wheel).

We also spend some time yesterday searching for warm clothes for Older Daughter to take on the trip. Can I just tell you how hard it is to find long sleeved shirts for kids this time of year? She's also getting big enough that she's not quite fitting into the kids' clothes anymore, but the tween clothes are too "old" for her, so we had a bit of a struggle finding something. We ended up getting some boys' shirts, which we're both happy with. We also got the boys' jeans, which were much more sensible and comfortable than the girls' jeans, which appear to be built on the same principle as women's pants: a bigger size is for taller skinny people, rather than for people who have gotten proportionately longer. Older Daughter tried on a smaller size, then one size larger and complained to me, "But these are just longer, not bigger!" Welcome to the world of America's weird female body images, kiddo. Luckily, she's completely unselfconscious about the idea of wearing boys' jeans because they're more comfortable (I do the same thing; they don't make 501s for women any more, and they're my favorite jeans, so I buy them in the men's department). We'll see if that survives middle school.

Today: finish the second sock, and work on the hat to get a realistic sense of whether I can get it finished; do laundry; start putting gear into the suitcases; walk the dogs; take the girls swimming at a friend's house; go to piano lessons. Enough to be getting on with.

Monday, June 23, 2008

More knitting content

It's a miracle!

But before I go on, a mea culpa. Helen pointed out to me, quite rightly, that Old Maiden Aunt is not in England, it's in Scotland. Of course, I should have know this because a) the perfect heather shade of purple could only have come from someone living near actual heather (now that I look at it carefully, it really does resemble the color of heather even more than that of blackberries), and b) it was on the envelope. But really, who actually looks at the outside of a package bearing yarn? Don't you all just want to see what's inside?

'Cause I do.

That said, we're on to more knitting content. This past weekend finally felt like summer to me. I relaxed, listened to knitting podcasts and to my audiobook, and knitted and spun to my heart's content. We took Rick out to dinner on Saturday night at the Linkery, which we all, including the girls, agreed was excellent. It's on our "let's go back there" list, which is a good thing (it's also close to the zoo, making it a lovely option at the end of zoo trips). They even had a lovely hard cider, which can be hard to come by in restaurants, and so was a nice treat. With all of that time, I finished the mitts on Sunday morning, and they fit Older Daughter quite nicely. Here, the mitt is on my hand, as OD is at swim practice, and her hand is not available to me.

I also, finally (!!), was able to resume knitting on my pink and green socks. Except it turns out they're not for me. When I reduced the number of stitches for the ankle, I went a bit overboard (I was in a tense meeting at the time), and they are rather, well, stretched on my foot. I tried them on Older Daughter's foot, and they could fit her, but it turns out (as we discovered today when we went to REI to buy her hiking boots for our trip) that she wears the same size shoe that I do. Seriously. (Hold me, I'm scared.) So now I'm thinking that maybe these socks will be for Younger Daughter, both because she can wear them longer, and because she deserves something for her tremendous forbearance with regard to this trip we're taking. They'll probably be a bit big on her, but that'll be good. I can try them on her foot when they get home tonight, and I'm guessing that, if I've eyeballed it right, I can finish off the first one tonight and cast on for the second.

Upon getting back to these socks, I finally realized what was driving me nuts about them: they're knit on size zero needles, and it turns out that I don't like knitting socks on size zero needles. Size ones are great; my favorite sock needles in the world are my size one Celtic Swan needles (any thoughts on whether I'll be able to get them on a plane?). And I don't think it's because the wood needles feel a bit flexy in my hands; I think it's that they feel fiddly and small, and I don't enjoy feeling like I have to fiddle with my needles. I'm guessing (and am I the only person out there who has to guess at her own motivations?) that this is what's stopped me from finishing the Boudica socks that I love so much; they're knit on size zeros, too. I'm hoping that this summer I can a) work up the motivation to finish the Boudica socks, and b) promise myself to never again buy sock yarn that needs to be knit on size zero needles.

In any case, I am so happy to be getting back to sock knitting, I can't tell you. I'm participating in Summer of Socks 2008, although I know that these socks can't count, as they were started before the Solstice. I'm not competing in the "most socks knit" category, though (must be realistic), so I figure that's OK. I am going to try for the "best travelled" socks instead, and take lots of pictures of my socks in New Zealand. (Heck, American tourists get a bad rap anyway, why not be seen taking pictures of socks in scenic places?)

If I can get these done this week, then I'll be feeling pretty good about my WIP pile, which will be reduced to two (that I will admit to): the baby jacket, and the Hanami stole. I'm not taking either of those with me on this trip, as I think that beads and airplanes do not mix, and I want four fresh, lightweight projects. I've been working on a plan for the SeaSilk that I bought, and have chosen

(Blogger has eaten half my post; from here on out, it's a reconstruction. Sigh. You should all know that the lost post was witty and well-written beyond belief. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to capture the original excellence in this rewrite; you'll just have to take my word for it.)

a couple of lace motifs that I think will go well together; I need to graph them out and see how they look. And then I suppose that I really should swatch them; it kills me to do anything with this yarn but use it all up on my scarf, but I know that I ought to. I went out today and bought the first Barbara Walker treasury (I had the second), and am looking through it, too, just to see if there's anything I missed (snort).

So that'll be the first project I bring. The second will be a pair of socks (really and truly for me this time) that I want to knit with a stitch motif that I've had my eye on for a while; nothing fancy, but I think they'll turn out well. Then I'll bring one of my STR sock club socks, and the Noro yarn to make a half-pi shawl as my third and fourth projects (I'd hate to run out). I really love the half-pi that Gwen made; I'm hoping I'll be able to conceptualize what's going on with that pattern to get it without too much trouble. I'll try to take some pictures of yarn and motifs tomorrow to share.

So, now that I've got the important stuff settled, I suppose I should try to figure out what I'm actually going to wear on this trip. What do you think?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Actual knitting content

Well, I've finished something. It's a miracle. It's blocking right now (on pins rather than wires; I was feeling lazy), and given the heat and how dry it is today (95 degrees and 30% humidity right now), I'm guessing it'll be ready soon. But I couldn't wait to post, so you'll get the blocking shots.

Here's the long shot, not so good because of the pins, but you get the idea.
And a much better shot up close. I love the way this looks; it reminds me of some of the Arts and Crafts grapevine motifs, although I know that it's meant to be more evocative of blackberries. Either way, it's a good thing.
There it really does look like blackberry brambles (if there were only some poison oak in there, it'd be absolutely realistic!).

To recap, this is Anne's pattern Brambler (one of the Little Nothing scarves), knitted in Old Maiden Aunt handpainted yarn (colorway, appropriately enough, Bramble), 55% silk, 45% cashmere (and yes, it is as good as it sounds), on KnitPicks Options Harmony needles. I ordered the yarn from the dyer in England, and she was amazingly fast at getting it to me and very nice; I will definitely look to get her yarn again. I love that this is a one-skein wonder, as it felt perfectly all right to indulge in yarn this luxurious (although it was also reasonably priced, which helped a lot). There was no waste at all; I had this much yarn left at the end.

I will definitely be wearing this in New Zealand to keep my neck warm, no questions. Now, my last project to finish before I leave is the pair of Leaflet mitts for Older Daughter to wear on the trip; I have half a mitt and two thumbs left to go, which I think I should be able to finish with no troubles in the next week. We'll need them (and more!); the temperatures at the moment in the places we'll be visiting are ranging from highs of 60 to lows of 44 (F), so I'm contemplating just how many hand-knits I can take along. The weight restrictions on the flights are amazing. Carry-on bags (of which only one, besides a purse, is allowed) cannot weight more than 7kg, which is less than 15 pounds. Heck, a computer bag with a computer weighs that much! And the total weight for checked bags is around 40 or so pounds per person, so I've got some planning to do.

Meanwhile, I got some yarn yesterday (oops). I wandered into my favorite LYS, as I was in the area, and they'd just gotten in the order of Hand Maiden SeaSilk. Since I'd been there about a month ago when the SeaSilk rep was showing them the yarn, and I'd drooled and exclaimed perhaps excessively at the time, I figured I really had to buy a skein to show my support, right? It didn't hurt at all that one of the skeins is in colors which are not too far off from my much-sought Kestrel colorway.
The colors are even more vibrant than that in person, but you get the idea. It's 400 yards, so I'll have to think of something good to knit with it. I think it may be one of two laceweight skeins I take with me (the other is the Noro that I'm going to knit a half-pi shawl out of); that plus two skeins of sock yarn ought to keep me entertained for ten days, yes? (And, after all, it's New Zealand -- I'm guessing that they have yarn there.)

I want to thank all of you so very much for the sympathetic comments about our Atticus; they meant so very much to me, as did all of the support around our pets' indoor/outdoor lifestyle. You all certainly practice the YMMV thing, even when using words other than those in the acronym. Thanks. A lot.

Also, a small piece of business. For those of you, like me, who love Anne's Knitting Sox Fan blog (hi, Anne!), she's had to make it accessible only through emails that announce when she posts. If you want to be added to her email list, you can contact her through Ravelry, or if that doesn't work, leave a note in the comments.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Older news

There's not much knitting to show at this point, although I am, in fact, getting knitting done. But as I'm working on the Brambler scarf and the mitts for Older Daughter, any pictures that I might take would look about the same as the pictures I've already shown you, so there doesn't seem to be much point.

I really appreciated everyone's thoughts on cooking, and mileage varying between people. I have some more to say on that, but I'll try to space those posts out. Meanwhile, in the spirit of taking each day as it comes, we ordered pizza on Wednesday night, as we had dog training to get to right in the middle of our usual dinner time and it was Rick's birthday and we wanted to have time to sit down to dinner together (see? each instance is new and different). We did follow it up with homemade blueberry/lime pound cake, though. And last night, we had grilled polenta and veggies with tomato sauce. The kids asked if we could have it more often. I love it when that happens.

Something else happened a few weeks ago that I've been avoiding talking about. I think I'm in a certain amount of denial, although it's hard to stay in that state really. Just before Rick's parents arrived on the weekend that we went camping (around May 28th), Atticus didn't come home one night. He has persisted in not coming home. Given certain evidence found near a neighbor's house, we're pretty sure that we know what happened to him, and as much as I'd like to believe that he's taking a (very, and increasingly) extended adventure tomcatting around the neighborhood, I know he's not.

And it makes me sad.

He was my loving baby boy with the soft black fur, and the softer white tummy. The one who liked to sleep with his nose just touching my cheek. The one who was all about the little love nips on my nose in the morning so I'd pet him. He purred really, really well, and was a huge fan of the belly rub. I miss him. I still wake up at night, expecting to find him sleeping on my elbow.

Gwilim is missing him, too. He's taken to following me around the house. He has even (and you can have no idea how weird this is) jumped into my lap and settled down for whole minutes at a time. For the first several days, he'd walk around the house meowing. No-one answered, and it broke my heart every time. He is now sleeping near my stomach instead of between my feet. I think he's lonely. I know it makes me a little lonely to see him sleeping all by himself on the bed in the day, instead of curled up with the Atty-Cat.

Rick and I are doing some major regrouping, in terms of how to keep our cats safe while still letting them out. I know that the letting out thing is, for a lot of people, a big no-no, but it's how we work with our pets. We both grew up with happy indoor/outdoor pets, and all of our pets have had the same privilege. Also, living as we do in an area with far more rats and gophers than we'd like (and given how we feel about poison), our cats are working cats. Gwilim, at this point, is the talk of the neighborhood, having moved on to other yards after clearing ours of gophers (our neighbors have been known to stop us on the street to thank us for his diligence in clearing their lawns; I am not joking here). So, we've instituted an "all animals in at night with the pet door closed" rule, and we are fixing the fence in our upper yard to limit incursions from other, larger, non-cat-like animals. We're hoping that this safe space will keep this kind of thing from happening again.

And, of course, we're in that state of asking when it's time to get a kitten, someone for Gwilim to be with, or whether he's going to be OK, and we can give ourselves a little more time to grieve. The shelters are full of kittens right now, and we know that we'll be adopting one who needs rescuing, but it's hard to make that decision right now.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Has anyone noticed that fewer people seem to use many of the once ubiquitous acronyms in blog comments and discussion groups? Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places, but I remember a time (this would have been about nine years ago, when I was working at Ask Jeeves, and spent a lot of time online; I was also lurking on a board devoted to debating the question of whether mothers should or should not stay at home with their children -- I never could quite figure out why that was a debate rather than a personal choice, but that's a post for another time) when people constantly used acronyms like DH, MIL, DD, DS, LOL, and one of my favorites, ROFLMAO. I do see them sometimes now, but less than I used to. Maybe it's the fora I frequent? Maybe they've lost their charm? Who knows.

But there's one that I miss, and that I wish we could bring back into use. Does anyone remember the acronym YMMV? Your Mileage May Vary. As in: "I found that swaddling my baby until nine months of age really helped her to sleep. YMMV." I loved that acronym. It essentially conveyed a message in which I believe wholeheartedly: we all have different experiences, and what works for some people may not (oh, heck, why don't I get really bold and say "will not") work for all. And there's nothing wrong with that. When the speaker or writer of that lovely acronym really believes in it, it makes all the difference between telling someone how they should do things, and sharing a take-it-or-leave-it life experience. Can you imagine American politics if people thought this way more often, instead of trying to legislate other people into behaving and believing all the same?

You may say I'm a dreamer...

I think that it is more and more important to move away from the all-or-nothing mentality that seems to be such a part of the American way of looking at the world. It's so easy, in many ways, to have a hard-and-fast rule for dealing with any given situation. Then there's no need to think when that situation arises; we just do what the rule says. Even when, sometimes, that's probably not the most right thing to do on that particular day at that particular time.

For me, those kinds of knee-jerk reactions mean that I'm living less mindfully. That I'm not paying attention to the particulars of a situation, that I'm distancing myself by generalizing. I don't think that I end up bringing my most thoughtful (as in, "full of thought", rather than "kind") self to interactions that way. Being flexible in my reactions is harder than just making assumptions. It requires me to consider each moment in its particular context, to pay attention. But I truly believe that life, being the great balancing act that it is, requires that kind of attention in order for me to be a full participant. Like walking a tightrope, it's all too easy to fall off, into old habits of body or mind, if I stiffen up and stop paying attention.

I've been thinking about this lately in the context of food. About a month ago, I bought two books which, by happenstance, had messages that really reinforced each other. They were Michael Pollen's new book In Defense of Food, and Alice Water's new cookbook The Art of Simple Food. They both really got me thinking about something that I've noticed before, but hadn't articulated. In the vein of that all-or-nothing mentality that I mentioned, I think that many people tend to think of eating as a "don't do that" kind of thing, of food as the enemy. Don't eat fat. Don't eat sugar. Don't eat white flour. Don't eat meat. Don't eat this kind of fish or that kind of plant. Don't, don't, don't. It is rare to see eating framed in terms of "do".

Do eat with friends and family. Do touch your food; play with it a little, even. Do take time to taste it. Do try everything at least once, and probably three or four times just to see what you think of it. Do eat what your body needs. Do think of cooking and eating as sensual experiences, as cultural experiences, as spiritual experiences. Do understand that food is a gift, that things die so that we can live, that grace is part of every meal.

Seen that way, it's hard not to eat well. If meals are a celebration, a sacrament, rather than simply fuel, if we think of the time that it takes to prepare and eat a meal with people we love as time well spent, rather than as time spent away from doing important things, how much healthier would we be, as a people? How much happier? How much more in touch with the people and world around us?


Monday, June 16, 2008

On to the next thing

(Update: Photos have been added; thanks for your patience!)

I'm home! Home, home, home. Where there's a cat to sleep on my legs at night, and no drunken college students shouting outside from 2-3:30 every morning, and coffee before I have to take a shower and walk to campus. You know, the small things.

We made the drive back down the state in good time yesterday, and were home by about 8:00, even including a stop in Westwood for dinner. I realized how blase we've become about making this long drive when we said something to the server about how we always stop at his place for Indian food on our drive from Sacramento (or Berkeley) to San Diego, and he just gaped at us. He insisted that we were joking, and we assured him that we were not. (It's true, too; on the way home, we usually end up hitting Westwood right about dinner time, and who wouldn't rather have really good Indian food than a fast food burger? Shudder with me now...) I later heard him talking to another server about it. They clearly thought we were nuts.

I wore my new skirt, which I am delighted with. I need to wear a slip under it, and I do have one, but I may put together a lining in a thin cotton (it is impossible to find a dark slip in cotton, I tell you), which would be more comfortable, and more in keeping with the whole "cool in summer" theme of the skirt. I ended up going with an i-cord drawstring waist, and I've left annoying little dangly bits of yarn, as I'm considering putting beads on the ends of the i-cord, but haven't decided yet. Meanwhile, the hemp/cotton/modal mix did, indeed, wash and dry beautifully as advertised, and I think this one is a keeper. Older Daughter and Younger Daughter have both politely and insistently begun the campaign for their own versions. I've said that Older Daughter's will come first, as she is out of uniform for the first time ever this fall, and will use it more. However, if I knit one in navy blue for Younger Daughter, she could wear it to school (I'm sure they didn't have hemp in mind when they described the dress code, but all they actually said was, "navy blue skirt, skort, or pants"; hooray for subversion!).

I got some good knitting time in the car, even though I did most of the drive (after all, Rick had driven up all by himself on Friday, and it was Father's Day). I finished the main part of the first of Anne's new mitts (these are for Older Daughter); there's just the thumb to go. These are knit out of my own handspun yarn (go, me!), and I'm delighted with how well they're turning out.

The yarn isn't perfect, but it's not that far off from other yarns I've knit with. And I love the way the color changes have come out; I couldn't have planned it. (Honestly, I couldn't have. I know some of you out there could have, but not I.)

I'm also working on the Brambler scarf, which is good fun. The pattern is small and short (six rows), so it's easy to just keep doing one more repeat, and then one more... The yarn ended up being more the color in this picture than it looked like in Anne's photos, but I like it in any case, and the way the yarn feels is wonderful -- warm and soft and crisp all at once.

My goal is to have both of these projects done before June 28th. Why, you ask? Well, because I'm leaving town again then. Where am I going, you ask?

(I'm so excited, I'm giggling over here.) Why, New Zealand, I answer.


A while ago, I saw a call for papers for a conference that I've wanted to go to for a while, and noticed that it was to be in New Zealand this year, which made it really, really tempting (Rick and I spent a month in NZ for our honeymoon, and loved it truly, madly, deeply). I dithered for quite some time about it, but with encouragement from various quarters (of whom more in a moment), I decided to go for it. The paper was accepted, and next thing I knew, I had plans to go to New Zealand. Rick can't take quite so much time off work right now (and, as much as he loved NZ in the summertime -- which would be December -- he wasn't too excited about going in the winter; as you might imagine, I don't get that at all), and I knew that I couldn't handle both girls while I go to a conference, but I decided to take Older Daughter. It was a tough call, as I don't like to do something this big with just one girl, and as much as I intend to take Younger Daughter on a similar trip when she leaves grade school for middle school, I've seen how that doesn't always work out for younger siblings. A lot of things can change in three years.

That encouragement I mentioned earlier is part of the reason why I decided to take OD along, though. See, Stella and I have been emailing back and forth for quite some time, having met through the world of blogging, and a while ago, we facilitated the starting of a pen pal relationship between her son and Older Daughter (of course, the modern world being what it is, "pen pal" means "email pal"). Stella was hugely encouraging when I was dithering about sending in the abstract (thank you, Stella -- I'm so glad you were!), so Older Daughter and I are going to inundate her whilst we're there. We're going for ten days, which means, more or less, three days in Auckland, three in Wellington, and nearly four on the South Island with Stella and her family (I hear that a stop at Ashford is on the list). Have I mentioned that I'm a little giddy?

For those who have been keeping track, this is the trip I'm writing the paper for. It's also why I want the paper completely put to bed before I leave; Older Daughter and I have our days in Auckland before we go to Wellington for the conference, and I just don't want to be thinking about presentations while we're going around doing fun touristy things. I also am thinking that I won't be bringing my computer, so I'd like the presentation done and burned to CD (and copied to a thumb drive as a backup), and handouts made in case of electronic emergency, before we go.

It will be winter there, and very cold (hence the mitts for OD and the scarf for me), so I'm already working on the packing list. Of course, I'm also working on the "what to bring to knit" list -- any ideas? Socks for sure, as they're small and light, but how many pairs? As we fly overnight on the way there (and arrive at 5:15 in the morning)(!!), I probably won't be knitting the whole 12-hour flight, but then there's the way back, but I might have gotten more yarn by then (OK, that "might" should probably be changed to a "will"), so there's always that to knit... Decisions, decisions.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Practical linguistics

So, I promised I'd talk about the answer to the question "What do we do about it?" with regards to language loss. And I must confess, I've been avoiding posting, because that is such an overwhelming question. So much of the answer depends on the circumstances. In places like New Zealand and Hawai'i, where there is one language to focus on, and relatively (compared to California) large numbers of relatively (again, compared to California) young speakers, there's a lot to work with. And they have. The language nest programs of New Zealand (I can't think of the Maori for it right offhand) have been inspirational for lots of people, including Hawai'i, which now has immersion schools from pre-school through high school.

Things here are a bit harder, although there have been some amazing successes in the last fifteen years or so. The language revitalization movement nationwide (and, really, worldwide) has grown in power and scope, as one part of a larger revitalization of Native cultures in the public sphere. One of the presenters this week asked the question, "Is speaking our languages a political act?" His answer, "You bet your ass it is." So many participants have had people ask them why they can't live in the present, suggesting that the past is just the past, something to be gotten over. What such questioners miss is the fact that Native people are living in the present, living cultures which are alive and well, and that their present (like all of ours) inherently includes the effects of the past upon which it is based. And the past for Native people includes the overt and often violent repression of any cultural practice, among those, language. So the revival of so many languages is a political act, and in so many ways, an act of faith, one that assumes that the world is now ready for people who speak not only English, but their language or languages of heritage as well.

One program that's had amazing success is the Master-Apprentice Language Learning program. In that program, an elder who speaks her or his language of heritage is paired with a younger person who wants to not only learn the language, but also to teach whatever they learn (this is important). The point of the program is both to create new speakers, and to create new younger speakers who can serve as teachers. Long-term, the hope is to start teaching children, and eventually to re-establish language learning in the home. It is a daunting commitment. The trainings for the program are geared toward teaching speakers and learners to create their own immersion situations, since there is no community to which they can go to immerse themselves in their language. It takes an immense effort of will to insist on speaking a language that you're learning when everyone around you is speaking something else. I know one man who always said what he wanted to say in his language first, and then translated it into English, to give himself a chance to speak. The program has turned out a number of fluent speakers of Native Californian languages, some of whom are now raising their children with their language of heritage as a first language in the home.

The goal of this week is to help people learn whatever they can of their languages of heritage from documentation. It started as a program for languages which have no speakers, and the successes have been amazing, particularly given the starting point. After coming to this for so many years (the first of these was in, if I remember right, 1995), I've seen some people come knowing nothing about their language except that it hadn't been spoken in 30 years, who can now carry on a conversation. Seeing the homework assignments the students put together every morning is awe-inspiring. They range from the grammatical (how to construct commands; although, given the sense of humor of most the crowd, the commands are often pretty crazy), to the social (last time, one man did a lesson on pick-up lines for dances; he started with "You're pretty", and moved on to "Are you here with anyone?" all delivered in the most dead-pan shy voice -- we were in stitches).
Tomorrow morning is the morning when groups give their final presentations. They take all kinds of forms: language lessons, songs, prayers, stories, jokes. It's an embarrassment of riches, and every time I see it, I am awestruck. These are people, like us, with jobs and families and busy lives, who have taken a week to come and stare at musty old books, and to listen to scratchy recordings (have you ever heard a wax cylinder recording?!), who have waded through lectures on the international phonetic alphabet, and all of the quirky variants present in linguistic field notes, not to mention the lectures on analyzing the grammars of their languages based on available data. And, for the most part, they do it with grace and cheer, and usually, with a raunchy sense of humor (the press was here this morning for the homework presentations, and I don't think they got quite what they expected; we all laughed until our faces hurt, though).

By this time in the week, I've mostly hit saturation. Rick and the girls drove up from home today, and it was wonderful to see them. They're off to see Grandmom, and I'm waiting in the dorms to see if I can find the speaker I'm working with so we can prepare for tomorrow morning. After final presentations tomorrow, we're off -- first to see Grandmom, and then to go to Sacramento to see my parents, and to celebrate father's day and Younger Daughter's birthday, which are both on the same day this year.

In other, non-linguistic, news, I've finished the Hip in Hemp skirt -- go, me! For those of you who were following that cliff-hanger, it fits. The waist was big, but as it's meant to be gathered, that's all good. It's long enough, and I put together an i-cord drawstring to run through the waistband. It turns out that the KnitPicks Harmony needles are not only beautiful, but the little hole in the base of the needle (used to put the little key in to tighten in the tips) is incredibly useful for threading waistbands. I tied the end of the i-cord through the hole, and ran my needle through the waist, pulling the i-cord after it. How cool is that? Pictures soon, I promise. If I can find a dark slip, I might even wear it tomorrow. Two other projects are OTN, and I will also post about those soon. Thank you all for your patience with the non-knitting content. We now return to our regular programming.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I don't know that I have the energy to write very much today, so I'm going to share some basket photos with you. Most of the ones I'm posting are Pomo baskets. I'll try to remember to say if they come from another Tribe. These pictures were taken last night when we went to the Hearst Museum's off-site basket storage facility. They hold some 10,000 baskets, 9,000 of which are Native Californian. I don't know that there's any way to adequately convey the weight of all of those baskets stashed away in rolling bookshelves.
That's just one row. And each of those bookshelves is filled with baskets.
Little baskets, big baskets, burden baskets, fish traps, baby baskets. You are all hand-workers. You know that when you put yourself into something you create, when you make it right so that it will do its job and last and be something lovely to rest the eyes on, you want it to be used. We all know the tragedy of giving someone a handknitted shawl, say, and having the recipient tuck it away in mothballs "for special" (am I speaking from experience? indeed I am). This was like that, times 9,000.

I am always in awe of the little bitty presentation baskets, decorated with feathers and beads.
(I admit, I sometimes fret about all the little topknotless quail running around.)

Some are so small, I can't imagine anyone's hands being dextrous enough to weave them. That blurry object in the left corner is my thumb, for scale.
And the patterns. My goodness, the patterns.
These basket caps are woven so tightly that water can't come through. (They're from further north, as you can see from the sign.)
I wish these could come back into use, but of course, they can't be touched with bare hands, as they've been treated with mercury and other pesticides over the years. They can only be held while wearing gloves.
Tomorrow: Back to language

Monday, June 9, 2008

In which I am a linguist

(Fair warning: extensive discussion of Native California languages ensues; further fair warning: this is not the full story, I can't possibly tell the full story here, but I don't want anyone to think that I'm short-changing this one without knowing it, and I don't in any way claim to speak for any Native people -- this is about my experience doing this thing I'm doing.)

Once upon a time, before anyone of any sort of Indo-European descent came to what is now California, there were a lot of people living here, speaking a lot of languages. How many? Well, easily over a hundred. And I'm not talking dialects here, where people all understood each other (think the difference between California and New York Englishes), although all of the languages had their own dialects. I'm talking languages. Related languages as distinct as French and Spanish. Other, more distantly related languages (think English and Hindi). And many languages that were in no way related at all (think English and Mandarin). Some have argued that this diversity made pre-contact California the third most linguistically diverse area in the world (extra points for those who know what the first two would be).

This linguistic diversity existed for a very very long time. In some parts of what is now California, completely unrelated languages existed side-by-side for milennia, each changing at its own rate and in its own way, each with speakers who were living in peace (and often sharing all kinds of cultural ceremonies) with one another. Each of these languages was and is the product of thousands of years of cultural heritage, of a people who have a history, an ethnobotanical system, medical and religious practice, stories, jokes, songs, a way of living in and with their worlds.

Things have changed. Of those 100+ languages, fewer than fifty now have speakers. And in most cases, the languages that are lucky enough to have speakers only have a handful, and those speakers tend to be elderly. What happened? Well, I'm guessing that a lot of you know some of the history of how the indigenous people of what is now the United States were and are treated, although I'm always surprised to find how little my students know of the details (for example, almost none of them know that, until the beginning of the 1900's, the U.S. government reimbursed people's expenses if they went hunting Indians; guns, ammo, food, horses, everything; they don't teach that in fourth grade California history). What a lot of people also don't know is how long some of the more drastic government policies regarding Native Americans and their languages and cultures went on (and, in some cases, can still be said to be going on). I have worked with elders who were taken forcibly from their parents and brought to government-run boarding schools. They remember being beaten, or made to kneel on broomsticks, for being caught speaking their languages on the playground. A huge proportion of those students refused to carry their languages on, so desperately did they desire to prevent their children from experiencing such painful abuses. Seeing signs on restaurant windows that read, "No dogs or Indians allowed" is the kind of thing that goes far towards dissuading people from openly speaking a language which identifies them as an outcast.

This history of language loss is not unique to California. Of the 6,000+ languages spoken in the world today, linguists estimate that 90% will become endangered in the next century. And 50% of those languages will be moribund, meaning that no children are learning that language in the home; once intergenerational transmission is interrupted, there is one generation left to circumvent language loss. This kind of linguistic decimation is unprecedented in the documented history of humankind.

During the 1800s and 1900s in the U.S., anthropologists and linguists (they were once really the same thing) felt it was their duty to document these "disappearing" languages and cultures. I put the "disappearing" in quotes, because so many times Tribes who were labeled as "dead" by, say, Kroeber, were not. It's one of the dark humor jokes that I've heard many times over the past 15 years, "We're not dead yet!" It's like a bad Monty Python skit.

Twenty or so years ago, a number of groups coalesced (not just here, but world-wide) around finding ways to break the cycle of language loss, and of working with the last speakers of California's languages to help them to teach those languages to another generation of Tribal members. The same linguistic diversity that makes California such a unique area in the world also made the revitalization process much more difficult than it's been in places like New Zealand and Hawai'i (and Israel), where the states in question had one language to focus on. Here, there are at least 50. There are some amazing programs in place that have been tremendously successful, but that's a story for another day.

This week is about a different group of people. It's about those people whose languages of heritage have no speakers. Almost twelve years ago, a woman who had been involved in language restoration programs, whose own language had no speakers, asked, "What about us?" And one of my advisors, working with a group called the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival, came up with an answer. That answer is the workshop I'm at. The first year we did it, it was called The Lonely Hearts Language Club, but that was deemed too depressing, and it's now called the Breath of Life Language Restoration Workshop. The goal of the week is to introduce people from California's Tribes to the insanely extensive holdings of the UC Berkeley archives (arguably the largest collection of linguistic and material artifacts drawn from Native Californians in the world), and to teach them what they need to know to interpret and use those materials in their efforts to learn and pass on their languages.

It's insanity.

And it's beautiful.

The first year of this workshop, I was a raw graduate student, serving as a mentor to a man who was working to gather materials on his language. We went to the Bancroft Library (where you can only bring in a single pencil), and the Berkeley Language Center, and the Hearst Museum. At each place, the archivists were, for the first time, able to share their archives with the descendants of the "disappeared" cultures. I don't know who or what they were expecting, but it wasn't what they got. Instead of quietly grateful folks, coming hat in hand to see the artifacts held in trust for them by an intimidating University, they got people who were simultaneously touched to the core to hear their languages spoken on crackling wax cylinder recordings, to see baskets woven by their aunties and grandmothers, and pissed as hell that they didn't grow up hearing their parents speaking their languages, that they couldn't touch the baskets with their bare hands. They were angry that these treasures were sleeping in the dark, words unspoken, regalia unworn. That these vital, living parts of their cultures were treated as artifacts, treated with mercury, untouchable and untouched for years. They cried to see them and hear them, and they were crying from joy and anger. I don't think that was at all what anyone had expected. But it was powerful, and moving, and it started something that has grown with each passing year.

If I had a penny for every time someone has asked me, "But wouldn't the world be a better place if we all just spoke one language", I'd be a rich woman. But of all the people who have asked me that question, none, not a single one, has ever intended that universal language to be anything other than the language that they grew up speaking. Never. No English speaker has ever walked up to me and said, "I think that we'd all get along better if we spoke the same language, and frankly, there's a heckuva lot of Mandarin speakers out there, so I think we'd better go with that." It's hard, for anyone who has grown up speaking a dominant world language like English, to truly understand what it would mean to never be able to speak or hear your language again. I tell my students to imagine knowing that all of the stories of their youth, with their puns and their inside jokes, could no longer be told as they had heard them. That the prayers that mean so much to them, if they practice a religion, would never be understood by anyone else. That the lullabies that their mothers sang them would be nothing more than untranslatable sounds to their children. Given that there are people who live in my part of the state who pitch fits at the thought that their child might have to take a Spanish class, or hear Spanish spoken in a classroom, due to the (imagined) threat that Spanish poses to English (and there's excellent evidence that English in the United States is in no way threatened by any language), I have no idea why anyone would think it's reasonable to assume that Native people would be any more sanguine about losing their languages.

Because it isn't.
And they're not.

Next time: What can we do about it?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Off again

This is my least favorite part about really busy periods of life; when I have to head off into the next thing without having had any time (or, at least, sufficient time) to recover from the last thing. My parents left on Friday, after a very nice visit. They took us all out to dinner on Thursday, Older Daughter's choice. She chose the Stone Brewery (Rick was so proud). She likes the outdoor beer garden, which is extremely architectural, with huge granite boulders everywhere (stones, get it?), and a fountain with a fire pit in the middle. I like the gargoyles. Rick likes the beer. The yummy macaroni and cheese does not, I think, hurt anything. We had good fun, and I got to have a delicious hard cider, nice and dry (they are more difficult to find here in the States than you might think, alas).
Also, since I didn't post any pictures last time, here's one of the proud graduate.
After my parents left on Friday, we had the rest of the day and yesterday to get ready for me to leave today for the rest of the week. So, in that time, we had a peaceful family dinner on Friday night (homemade pizza) followed by peach/apricot/blueberry crumble and a game of Ticket to Ride (love that game). On Saturday, Rick took the girls mountain biking (National Trails Day), while I went to the farmer's market (the fiber lady was not there, alas; there's someone who I think really needs an uplifting fiber package right about now, and I wanted to get some roving). They had a great time, even though Older Daughter fell down, breaking her brand-new binoculars and bruising her hip quite spectacularly in the process. She was reportedly very game, though, and hopped back up and kept riding. (Rick says that they've been blogged about in the mountain biking blogosphere -- who knew such a thing existed? -- but I don't have the link.)
I stayed home and cooked. This is what I feel compelled to do before leaving everyone for any length of time. Maybe I want them to remember why they'd like me to come back? So I made a batch of yogurt, three baguettes, a pot of soup, granola, a rhubarb crumble, and some rhubarb compote (for reasons which are unclear to me at this time, we appeared to have an excess of rhubarb lying around). Then I took the girls to a birthday party for a little while, before coming home early so we could all have dinner together (Rick begged off the party).

Knitting content? You want knitting content? There's really not been much in the way of knitting around here, what with visiting and all. And what knitting there has been, up until last night, has been on the skirt, which is starting to look like a giant blue octopus, rather than anything more interesting.

However, last night I had a few moments (while watching BBC's Robin Hood; I'm a sucker for men in tights, apparently)(this might explain the attraction to my mountain-biking husband, come to think of it) to cast on Anne's latest mitts, which I'm knitting for Older Daughter in my lovely handspun from the Linguistic roving. I made it through the cuff. What do you think?
Want a closer look?
I am pleasantly surprised by how well the yarn is knitting up. And the colors work very nicely with the pattern!

I also forgot to show you what I did the other weekend while Rick was busy building cubbies for the girls.
Yup. Stash organization. It's not all there; there's still some in my usual baskets, but I'm feeling much more in control of it (the basket holds my roving stash, such as it is). I also absconded with a bookshelf from the playroom that the girls no longer needed and repurposed it to hold my knitting books. I don't have a picture, but it's good to have them all visible and in one place.

This morning is all about packing. I'm leaving today for a week-long workshop in Berkeley. I don't know how much posting I'll be able to do, although I've been told that, so long as I have a cable, I should be able to access the internet in the dorms. What posting I do manage will probably be fairly linguistic in nature -- fair warning. Meanwhile, I need to get ready to go. If I'm packed in time, we'll be able to have dim sum on the way to the airport. How's that for incentive?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Quick update

Looks like I've used that blog title before. What a cop-out. However, one does what one must, right?

Things here have been hectic, to put it mildly. Rick's folks left on Monday morning, and I spent the day head-down in my paper. I now have (I think) a 20-minute presentation, and can start trying to work out the whole powerpoint/handout part of things (technology is a mixed blessing at best).

My parents arrived Tuesday morning. They got into North County just in time to get the girls at school after they'd returned from rehearsing their spring concert in Oceanside, which turned out to be a great surprise for the girls (they love it when Memere and Grandpa pick them up), and which gave me a few extra minutes alone at home to try to get things done (read: finish re-making the guest room bed, and find clean towels). They also appeared with a quiche from our local French bakery in hand, which made my dinner plans even simpler (I'd been planning to make one; sticking one that's already-made into the oven is much easier).

Yesterday things got even nuttier. The girls had to be at school to rehearse one last time (although not at the theater itself, to what I can only assume is the vast relief of all the parents who kindly volunteered to shuttle kids on Tuesday), and I had a three-hour meeting that, in spite of all of my efforts to avoid having it scheduled yesterday, happened then anyway. So, I trundled the girls to school and took the dogs for a walk with mom, and then headed home to get ready. Luckily, my parents were willing to pick the girls up mid-day, and fed them lunch and even got them down for a nap before the big night.

The timing of this concert is always something of an issue. It starts at 6 every year. Which really wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that the kids are all supposed to be there at 5, and the concert itself is getting longer and longer every year. Last night it went until 8:30 (!!). Those of you who have ever been parents, or who have a stomach, will see the issue here. When is one going to feed the various members of one's party in order to avoid a blood-sugar crash at some crucial moment? We chose to go the "quick meal at 4:00" route, rather than the "have a snack and wait until afterwards for dinner" route, which would have meant eating around 9:00 -- far too late for me (or the girls!).

There were a few more nerves about this year's spring concert than usual, for a couple of reasons. Older Daughter was not only performing in the dance for her classroom, but also opened the concert by playing the Star Spangled Banner on the piano while one of her classmates sang. We'd thought that they would lead the singing while everyone joined in (thus covering up any potential errors), so imagine our surprise when it turned out that it was all them, all the way through. And she nailed it. There was even a potentially tragic bobble at the beginning (when the singing started without the piano), but she heard it and caught herself up and they sailed through the rest. Whew. She also had the closing speech to give, which, while very short, was another thing involving her standing up there all by herself. Honestly, folks, we're talking a theater filled with somewhere around 300 people. Dudes, I don't like giving talks in front of 60 people; I'm pretty sure I've never had to solo in front of an audience that large.

The culminating moment of the evening, for us, came at the end, when the school had a graduation ceremony to honor the fifth graders who are leaving for middle school (in this district, middle school goes 6-8). Older Daughter was one of them. I managed not to cry (much), even during the slide show that one of teachers put together with pictures (from babyhood til now) of the graduates; because the school starts as a daycare and then goes through pre-school and into fifth grade, they've all been there for a long time. Older Daughter started there when we moved down here six years ago, so this is a big transition for us. It was so nice to have it honored with a ceremony. A lot of families who had only gone there for pre-school, and whose kids are still friends with Older Daughter, were there to cheer her on, and Rick's cousins came as well. It was great fun for both of the girls (and a relief to us to have gotten through it!).

Today is a quieter day, I think. We'd thought about the beach, but it's cold, so we may take a trip down to Balboa park with my folks, who are then taking us out to celebrate Older Daughter's transition, and both girls' successes last night in the show. (I should mention here that Younger Daughter also nailed her dance, which was long and complicated, and looked so unexpectedly grown up that I didn't recognize her when she came on stage; when did she stop being a baby?)

Pictures when I can download them, I promise.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tired dogs

As opposed to dog tired.

It turns out (happily) that the Lagunas are a beautiful place to camp, and that we picked an excellent weekend, weatherwise. The skies were clear, and there was a breeze the whole time. This did make for a cold night last night, but the dark of the moon and the clear skies showed us gorgeous stars when we all got up in the middle of the night for reasons which I'm sure you can guess. (And when I say "all", I do mean "all". Both dogs were sleeping in the tent with us, and they weren't about to let us go out into that dark, scary night without them.)(Not because they were feeling particularly protective, mind, but rather because something might have snuck into the tent and got them while we weren't there.)

I should mention that, cold as a night may be, a four man tent filled with two adults, two kids, and two dogs is going to be a warm place to sleep.

We headed up (the Lagunas are actually "down" in the sense of being southeast of us, but "up" in that we were at about 5,000 feet) on Saturday morning, and were there in time to make some lunch and head out for a hike. The kids and dogs were all very excited about the possibilities, and loaded themselves into the car before we were quite ready.
We found a wonderful campsite, and had it practically all to ourselves; the closest tents were almost out of sight, and it was quiet all evening, except when a storyteller came to the gathering spot across a little meadow, and the girls ran over to watch him. The pine trees in the campground house a number of black and white woodpeckers with red heads (red-headed woodpeckers, one presumes?), who made perfect acorn-sized holes, which the squirrels use, of course, to store acorns. Sometimes nature is a wonderful thing; no waste or slippage in the system. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
The trees were also perfect for climbing, as Older Daughter discovered. You can't see her there, forty-some-odd feet up. But I could. (eek)
Can you see her in this one?
No? Well, trust me. She was there.

The meadows in the Lagunas look almost like those in the high sierra, with a couple of small lakes down the middle of a long open space. The wildflowers were everywhere, sweet peas and lupine and tiny little yellow violets scattered through the grass. It was almost like a treasure hunt -- many of the flowers are small and must be found by searching for them, jewellike, in among the taller grasses.

The girls and Tilly thought the lake was pretty neat; the coots and mallards weren't sure how they felt about their proximity but settled down once they realized that no-one was going swimming.

We also found some grinding stones, located exactly where you'd expect them to be, between the oak trees and running water.
We hiked for about three hours, and headed back to make dinner (tamales heated over the campfire, followed by s'mores, mmmm....). After all that walking around, everyone was pretty tired -- I always know that it's been an active day when the girls start asking if it's time to go to bed yet (!!). They both fell asleep almost instantaneously, and, except for the expected nighttime perambulations, slept soundly until morning, even with Tilly's occasional forays towards the top of the tent to try to sleep by our faces. Kia stayed put, both because she is better behaved, and because she is old and was very stiff after such a long hike.

This morning, we got up early and packed up after breakfast to go to the Sunrise Trail (after sunrise; I don't get up that early) for another hike. The head of the trail looks (predictably) east, out into the desert. The views were astonishing.
It was hotter than yesterday's hike, though, and the dogs (and kids) were tireder, so we didn't go quite so long, or far. After a picnic lunch, we headed home. The kids and dogs had a minor quarrel over the dog beds in the back of the car.
But the girls were finally persuaded to sit in the back seat. They and the dogs slept the whole way home.

We finished up with mole chicken for dinner tonight from my very favorite local Mexican restaurant, and my dogs are now asleep at my feet. Life is good.

(All pictures courtesy of my father-in-law. Thanks, Kim!)