Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Get Out Your #2 Pencils!

In accordance with New York State Regulation 100.10, Finn and Lucy are taking the PASS test today. This is the requirement for an end-of-year assessment for home educators beginning when the student is in grade 4 and must happen every other year until high school. The test was specifically created for homeschoolers so it has some nice features, like not being timed, but it is still a standardized test and has all the limitations and nonsense associated with standardized tests.

Yesterday we did the "placement" portion of the test in which the child takes a short preliminary test to determine which level of the main test they should take. In a weird way, it was kind of a relief to discover that they both did about exactly as I expected. Weird only in the sense that I completely disagree with the need for these tests and think they test only the ability to take tests but there I was, feeling good that they did quite well and that their errors were what I imagined they might be--errors of sloppiness not lack of comprehension of material.

I guess a childhood filled with Iowa tests and SATs and such is hard to shake.

But sshhh....must get back to filling in little bubbles.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Smack Down

"Give me a lot of yarn because I can knit garter stitch in my sleep." Such was my boast to one of Dan's co-workers who was coordinating the knitting of a baby blanket for a new baby who has joined the CTA family. Said blanket is a collection of seven 5" wide garter stitch stripes that get stitched together--perfect for a group project. It is made up of squares of colour that are alternated in a charming pattern of lighter to darker colours.

I received the yarn on Friday and proceeded to knit the oh-so-familiar strip of garter stitch with growing confidence that I would finish my contribution in one weekend and claim my prize as Most Fabulous Knitter. No amateur, no, not me.

Garter stitch in my sleep? Fabulous Knitter? Oh my dears, can you guess what I discovered as I reached for the last colour of the first stripe, all puffed up with accomplishment? Here's what I found: the colour "darker blue" and "navy" are not one and the same. And further, that "darker blue" (which I knit in "navy") was the second square of colour from the beginning. The one I needed to be knitting now, a good 25" later is the "navy" not the "darker blue" that I had in my hand.

Can you hear the knitting goddess laughing over the sound of rip-it, rip-it, rip-it?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Moses Supposes

his toeses are roses....

Look! Toe up socks! And, although you can't see it here, I am working on two socks simultaneously! On two circular needles! A miracle of nature, almost. Actually, I owe it all to the brilliant Helen, who willingly (and brilliantly) taught me this stunning technique last Tuesday. She did it all while also providing Finn and Lucy with more information about math relationships that I have done all year long. Gotta love such a full service knitting group.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lion Brand highlights The Knitted Mile

Lion Brand Yarns has made a blog entry about The Knitted Mile. View it here.

Thanks to Helen for pointing it out to me!

If you want to see more pictures of The Knitted Mile, visit these posts:

In progress

The stripe just before it leaves NYC

Installation Day

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Clean Your Bowl

A few weeks ago, the writer of one of favorite blogs posted this under the heading "The only leadership advice you will ever need".

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

Tao Te Ching chapter 9

It has stayed with me ever since, especially in the past week or so when every single one of our days has been full to the brim and I know there are all sorts of things spilling over the edge. I hate that feeling! But where do you make the cut? What, exactly, is my work? Mother? Home educator? Artist? Knitter and spinner? All are full time jobs if you do them correctly.

Sometimes, in my weaker moments, I can't help but think: sure, it was easy for the Buddha. He wasn't a mother. He didn't have laundry and meals and children and schedules and clean-up and work on top of all that.

You can be on the path and still be mountains and rivers away.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Poor Old Wee Ball

In all the travels and projects, Wee Ball Yarns has had to take a backseat. I did manage to get it included in the Craft Council's annual studio guide and I submitted yarn for consideration for their store in St. John's--still waiting hear back on that. As our thoughts turn northward and ferry reservations are made, I have been able to cast a glance at my dwindling inventory and start to get excited about another season of yarn dyeing and spinning. I purchased some natural plant dyes (indigo!!) and I am hoping to get a bunch of fleece dyed before we leave so I can start right in spinning. We'll see. Time takes on another feeling in Gillams, so there will be opportunity to do all these things sooner or later.

In the meantime, I have posted some new items, including some new yarn that I am very happy with. Remember my over-spun single?

Pretty but pretty awful from a spinning perspective.

The solution was to ply it with a merino single that had been sitting around on a bobbin.

I love the results--so rich in colour. I keep thinking it is the royalty of yarn because it looks so fancy. The perfect ending for a terrible mistake!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

At Long Last

Did you knit for The Knitted Mile? Have you been saying to yourself, "I knit for that lady and was promised pictures of my own to keep and I ain't seen nothing yet!" Well, my great shame has, at long last, ended. I have finally made up little books of photographs for everyone who knit (the key word here is "little") and I will be mailing and distributing them early next week. My sincere apologies for the delay--your hard work was/is very much appreciated!

That said, I should warn you that there is a reason why I make projects that involve great lengths of knitting and not, say, handmade books. Let my love for you not be measured by the straightness of my cuts nor the accuracy of my measurements, but by the sincere intention with which these books were made.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Math (no science yet)

We hit a point this year when I realized that my math skills take a steep decline around Grade 6. Finn and Lucy, both, were ready for more complex ideas but I was not. When math comes up, my mind starts to fog over and suddenly scrubbing the mold off the grout in the bathroom seems like a very pressing, yet enjoyable, task. Better go do that right now - see ya!

This is not such a productive attitude for a homeschooler, especially for the one who is supposed to be creating the atmosphere of ideas. Then, I learned about this essay, Lockhart's Lament.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Socialize Me!

One of the first things people usually say when I mention that we are homeschooling (although mostly I try to avoid the topic at this point), is "aren't you worried that they won't have a group of friends to socialize with?". Or "what about socialization? It is so important!" Most people who homeschool are probably rolling their eyes about now since it is the first question everyone gets asked. The next one is "what about math and science?"

Forget math and science for a moment...let's talk about socialization.

Truth be told, my views about how many friends one needs in life may be somewhat outside the mainstream. I often feel that so much emphasis is put on being a "team player" and "working well in groups" that it leaves little room for people who have more interior kinds of personalities to be considered perfectly normal and acceptable. At best, they get labeled shy or at worst, told they have some kind of disability that requires treatment. This isn't to say that there are not some people with genuine problems, but I have more than once seen children who are simply more solitary types who live in their heads a bit more than most be labeled...well...just be labeled something other than "normal kid". Normal has become so narrow for children these days.

Plus, I have my own axe to grind. I was always told by teachers and other prominent adults in my life that I was shy. I have spent my whole life thinking, no , believing, that I am a shy person. A shy person with a blog. A shy person who regularly creates large-scale collaborative projects with complete strangers. Wait a minute! Maybe I am not shy! Imagine if I had grown up without that thought constantly echoing in my head.

Better to toss it in the garbage pail after 42 years than never, I suppose, but even better to never have to bother about such nonsense. Do you agree?

Another of the beauty parts about homeschooling is that my children have never learned that you are supposed to feel disdain for younger kids or those other kids, whoever they may be at any given moment. There is very little of the Lord of the Flies kind of competition among the children and there is almost none of the us vs. them stuff between the children and the adults. I don't know exactly why except that perhaps it is because there simply doesn't need to be. We often are in groups that range from infants to teenagers to adults and for the most part, we all get along. I like that kind of socialization.

I suppose I am running the risk of sounding like I am proselytizing for homeschooling. I'm not. I don't think everyone should do it. I know people who are doing it and perhaps should re-consider. But I do sometimes want to counter the fact that parents who have children who go to school seem to feel no problem questioning and even openly criticising my family's decision. Meanwhile, if I were to suggest that some of the socialization that goes on in schools might not be the most healthy thing for some children...well!

Shall we talk about math and science now?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Look Who's Home

This arrived at our doorstep last Friday:

All 57 tangled-up pounds of it.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Il Papa or Big Papi?

So the Pope is coming to NYC. Far be it for me to say he shouldn't come and take advantage of the strong exchange rate like all those other Europeans who are filling our streets. And say what you will about sex abuse scandals and the treatment of women and homosexuals, the man is obviously quite impressive to be where he is today.

But there is just one thing.

Yankee Stadium?


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Changing the World One Pad at a Time

In the way that redeems all the time-sucking waste of the internets, I stumbled across this website: They collect donations of re-usable menstrual pads (you can make them yourself--they have a pattern, or there are other places on the web with patterns) and distribute them to girls in Africa, where having no access to sanitary supplies, like menstrual pads, often means the end of schooling. A simple, yet powerful, act. And it all started with just one woman asking herself what she could do to help.

If there was ever a better reason to finally dust off my sewing machine...

PS. If you are not using re-usable pads yourself...what's stopping you? It is better for you and the planet. Plus the water you soak them in is like a miracle drink for plants. Everybody wins. Do it!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Turn, Turn, Turn

The spinning/knitting workshop went well. I shared some information about a variety of fibres, passing around samples of raw and scoured wools, alpaca, silk, cotton boles, and angora, then did a little demo of carding and spinning. As always, the wheel was a great attraction (one child asking "what's that machine?") and everyone wanted a chance to try it. Of course I want everyone to try it but I always feel a little bad about it because the first time one tries to spin on a wheel, it is just plain old hard. You watch the demonstration and it looks so easy and natural, and then - whoa - you need six hands and seven feet to make this thing work. It doesn't matter is you are eight or 38. Fortunately, most of the little ones were happy just to treadle and make the wheel go around, so I think everyone came away feeling satisfied.

Lucy did a bang-up job teaching kids to make little yarn dolls and the two other people who knit got everyone going with the knit stitch. Carey brought her needle felting kits and soon enough everyone was making little felted balls. The donated yarn was snapped up and, all in all, it was a glorious, fibre-y day!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

For Future Generations

Today we will be heading over to the Broadway branch of the Queens Public Library where Lucy and I will be leading a workshop on knitting and spinning. We are part of a new homeschooling group that formed because we all were frustrated by having to always travel to Manhattan for activites (somehow us traveling to Manhattan was not a big deal, but try to get someone who lives in Manhattan to travel to'd think they got nosebleeds or something). The group is lovely and as diverse as Queens itself. We started meeting one Wednesday/month, then we upped it to two Wednesdays/month and now we meet every week. The library has donated its basement space and we take full advantage of that generous offer. We try to mix structured time devoted to specific topics with open time for play and hanging out. Naturally, it was not too long before the topics of knitting and spinning came up - weird how that happens, right?

I have a variety of fibres to share: different breeds of sheep, alpaca, silk, cotton, angora, as well as my wheel, a spindle and maybe some pictures of sheep just for fun. The main point is to teach knitting, however, as there was a groundswell of interest among young and old. Hooray!

As a special bonus, a woman in our neighborhood was seriously de-stashing and I happily snatched it all up so I could share it with all these new knitters. Did I set aside some of the more tasty nuggets for myself? What do you think?

Monday, April 07, 2008

I'm Old Gregg!

It may be a little sad that I went to Berlin only to discover a cult British TV program, but I did.

Go to youtube right now and watch the rest of the episode. I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Look Out: Confused Political Views Ahead

Before I headed to Germany, I was having some intermittent discussions with people who are much more conservative than I am. I like these discussions because they make me clarify the reasons that I hold onto my opinions and to remind me that, while I may think I know how things are and should be, there are many people who hold opposing views who are just as convinced that they are correct. I occasionally read some conservative blogs just to get my blood up a little but also to try to understand where people who hold these beliefs are coming from. Sometimes it works and sometimes I just shake my head and say "no". I love being idealistic about the possibilities of collective society and firmly believe that it is us idealists who are the ones that make change happen.

Among the artsy, international set that I was temporarily a part of, the general opinion about the US was pretty low. Everyone had been to NYC and loved it but they all disliked George W. Bush intensely. I think "wanker" and even "douche bag" were some of the phrases that came to their smoke-filled lips. As a card carrying member of the Green Party (can I make myself more irrelevant??), I am not about to defend W or the US at this moment in time. I was part of the several million strong "focus group" that protested the war, again and again, that W so easily dismissed way back when, many thousands of lives now ended ago. And I have continued to do what I can to register my protest including visiting my congressman and writing many letters. Futility, thy name is leftwing politics. Or so it seems sometimes.

Yet, after meeting the umpteenth person who trashed the US, I started to feel...not angry exactly...but kind of bummed out. The US, for all its many, many flaws at the moment, is quite an interesting experiment. Good things have come from it and, I suspect, will continue to come. But it seemed impossible to say that without sounding like some kind of patriotic bumper sticker. Dang! I'm a Canadian permanent resident! An Irish citizen! Who is ready to blame America first? That would be me! But there I was, feeling kind of defensive. It reminded of a time I was traveling in South India, staying in a village in a small set of little huts created for low-budget tourists. Next to my little hut were two British guys who spent a good deal of their time talking trash about all the "fat Americans" they saw that day and how awful America was (this was the Reagan years, so again, I could not disagree). They were relentless about it. But what really got me was that, in between America bashing, they would play their guitars and sing (wait for it) Eagles songs! And guess what kind of books they were reading when they put down their guitars? Yes! American authors! Tempting 'though it was to point out the inconsistencies in their thinking, I let it go. They were pretty convinced of being right and I wasn't going to change that.

So yeah, like 81% of my fellow citizens, I believe the country is on the wrong track right now. It is a strange moment to feel like I should be defending this place. Fortunately, not everyone only sees the negative. Here are two British guys, and I don't think they are the same ones as my neighbors in Mahabulipuram, who appreciate some of things the US has to offer. Is Human League British? Ok, ONE British guy...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Berlin Diaries - the rest of the story

Berlin was not all introspection and daily meditative art experiences. No, no, no. I was there at the invitation of Sonya, who is ten years younger than me and single (although quite attached) and Berlin is a party city. Indeed, I do not think I have inhaled so much secondhand smoke since my freshman year of college. I decided that cigarette smoke is my nostalgia smell for Berlin. India is a burning smell mingled with spices. Rome is a whiff of car exhaust. Newfoundland=woodstove. Berlin is definitely cigarettes.

As if to prove the difference between 32 and 42, I frequently bowed out of such opportunities as dancing until 7am, but I was invited (read: coerced) into going to a club where every third young woman had dreadlocks and the music was two young men with their backs to the audience using various electronic devices to some effect. Not a good effect, but it was an effect. And then me, with my increasingly white hair and cardigan sweater. Actually, part of the charm of the Berlin party scene is that you can have white hair and a cardigan because no one really cares. It was fun. We were there with a really lovely Danish artist,Ulla Hvejsal, and it was fun, for the moment, to let go of worrying about home and about making art and about trying to speak German and about planning, organizing, thinking, and just sit on the broken furniture and gossip and watch people and invent ideas for future projects with two other artists and drink slightly suspicious beverages and, just for a moment, be part of the scene.

And then there was souvenir yarn:

For fun.

For socks.

For my mom to make socks.

For more socks.

For Lucy, who has already started a scarf.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Berlin Diaries

Here are some pictures of the exhibition Not Stained, Not Pure. The exhibition had several parts but all of it was based on exploring ideas related to the experience, my experience, of understanding how I aim for this goal of understanding the natural order of things and wish to be fearless, and the reality of what I really feel, which is a lot of fear. This seemed very a propos for my trip to Berlin because it called up so many of my deepest fears, beginning with my fear of flying. So I started there by making drawings about that. Each day, as I made more images, themes emerged and I tried to let images come without judgement about good/bad. I wanted them to be a diary of sorts and not about making "art." So, I let it flow: the good, the bad and the ugly. And I found this really cool pen that has a brush at the nib that makes the most beautiful marks. I am so in love with this pen, as you can see.

This image kept coming up, so I decided to crochet it.

These were some others that I particularly liked:

Each morning I would mix drawing on paper with drawing on the wall of the gallery. On the wall, I would write out the Heart Sutra and two dharanis (sounds chanted that have no particular meaning as words). After the first day, I washed off the previous day's writing, let the wall dry, then wrote out the Sutra and the dharanis again in another colour.

Day One.

Day Two.

Day Three.

Day Four.

Day Five

The wall began to be very beautiful with all the colours because it was impossible to completely remove all the watercolour from it each day. For the exhibition, however, I washed off the last writing and left just the stained wall.

On the wall opposite, I crocheted a large piece (about two meters/six feet in diameter).

Even for the incredibly fluent Sonya, the word "stained" was a puzzle. Apparently it is not something that has a real equivalent in German.

I also keep a running log of my purchases in Berlin, which I displayed. (Note the German self-patterning sock was a bargain!)

And I did create a sound piece that used the chanting from the Zen Center in New York mixed, or layered is perhaps a better word, with a variety of sounds I collected in Berlin: the grocery store, the U-Bahn (subway), a dinner party, the sirens of the near-by fire station, etc. I am trying to figure out a way to be able to download it, or a sample of it, to my website and the Hope and Glory website, but I haven't been sucessful with that yet.

In retrospect, it looks like a lot of work. It didn't feel like a lot of work. It felt like a very natural and normal part of each day's activities; the normal flow of how I communicate about what I see around me. It made me happy to learn that I still very much love to do that--draw and make work from that part of my person.

So now I have six weeks to reflect and recover a little from these two busy months of traveling before...Newfoundland. But I shan't think of that today.