Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blog To Blog

I am relatively new to blogging - both writing and reading. Therefore, I have not yet added to my page a list of the other blogs that I read. I read several. Their topics range from knitting to farm life. Though I was a bit skeptical when I began writing my own blog, I now realize that there is much to be learned by wandering around in the community of bloggers. I feel good when I read some one's post that makes me think, that challenges me to look at myself and the world with new eyes.

One such blog is written by a friend and fellow knitter, Lynn H. I met Lynn when she was a teacher and I was a student at last year's DFW Fiberfest. Since our meeting last April, I have been a faithful reader of her blog, and she of mine. Lynn is celebrating five years of blogging. As part of this celebration, she is posing questions to her readers and encouraging us to comment. Lynn's blog's name is Colorjoy! In her post today, Lynn asks what does colorjoy say to you. What word or song or piece of art reflects your personal understanding of the word colorjoy.

I did post a comment on her blog, but I also recalled an article that I wrote a year or so ago that was published in Spirit of Knitting. It does not address Lynn's question directly though it does express some of my views about color. It is too long to post as a comment on someone else's blog so I am posting it here. Those of you who subscribe to Spirit of Knitting need not read any further. This falls into the category of rerun; it was written in the spring of 2006.

As I sit down to write, it is a beautiful almost spring morning in Texas—March 2nd to be exact. I have just finished my morning prayers, which included a meditation from my favorite book of daily reflections, The Old Hermit’s Almanac, by Edward Hays, a most witty and thought-provoking writer. He reminded me that today is the birthday (in fact the 100th birthday) of someone who has had a profound impact on me throughout my life – Theodore Geisel, better known to us as Dr. Seuss. The words penned by Dr. Seuss were the first that I read by myself, and today, some forty plus years later, I still rely on Seuss as a learning tool both personally and in the classroom.

In today’s reflection, Hays focuses on the creativity and determination exhibited by Theodore Geisel. It is hard for those of us who grew up with the Cat in the Hat, Horton, Yertle the Turtle, and Sam I Am to believe that Dr. Seuss’ first offering to the literary world was rejected by not one or two but twenty-seven different publishers before someone was willing to take a chance on Seuss’ style of creativity, which he calls “logical insanity.” We all crave logical insanity, those moments when our inner child is playing hard and having fun.

When was the last time that you read a book by Dr. Seuss? Not read one of these books to someone, but read it for yourself? Next time you are visiting your local library or bookseller, pick one up and read it. It will take a few minutes to read and a lifetime to digest. The book you choose really doesn’t matter; any of Seuss’ whimsical characters and zany adventures will carry you to that place where “logical insanity” is abundant. Lurking on the pages of every book are life lessons that we are never too old to be taught and re-taught. If more people thought that Horton the Elephant’s words, “a person’s a person no matter how small,” were true, this place we live would be much more tolerable –or is that tolerant? Consider how we, all at one time or another, have been forced to look at life through the eyes of a “small” person. And if we are lucky, we have been in Horton’s shoes and had the opportunity to be a positive influence in the life of someone who is feeling small. Whatever your perspective right now, Seuss and his characters nurture and challenge us all to be the best that we can, wherever we find ourselves.

One of Geisel’s most recent books is My Many Colored Days (© 1996). Although he text for this book was written in 1973, his words waited until a great color artist who, as Seuss says, “ would not be dominated by me,” could be found. Geisel hoped that such an artist could bring “a new art style and pattern of thinking” to his words. His vision was realized, almost twenty five years after he wrote the words, by artists Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. You may recall that the illustrations in earlier books—which were done by Geisel—are line drawings embellished with washed out primary colors. This is not a criticism; it is simply an observation. Why did Geisel feel that My Many Colored Days demanded a broader use of color? Why did he feel that this book needed to depart from what is so clearly the Seussian style? Color has profound effects on us both consciously and subconsciously. Seuss was keenly aware that a book that addressed the colors of moods and feelings begged for illustrations whose colors were as broad and as intense as the emotions themselves.

Whether we like to admit it or not, color has a great influence on how we perceive many things in our world. Bad guys wear black; people who drive red or black cars live on the wild side; boy babies wear blue and girl babies wear pink (how else will we know what they are?); doctors and brides wear white. All of these associations bring forth in us attitudes, opinions—and unfortunately prejudices—that arise purely from our perceptions of color.

We are also manipulated by color. Have you noticed how many foods are packaged in green? When the first “healthy” pre-packaged foods found their way to grocery store shelves, many were in green boxes. Now that we are imprinted with this association, foods that are anything but healthy are also packaged in green. Companies that market these items bank on the fact that we can be conditioned by color associations and that we don’t read the labels. Here is another example: next time you eat at a restaurant, take note of its décor. Bright colors, particularly red, are prominent. Bright colors generate energy in us causing us to eat quickly. The faster we eat, the faster we leave so another party can have our table. Color translates to money in the dining business.

We all have a favorite color (or colors). Mine happen to be blue and orange. Yes, sometimes together. It is not as strange as you might think. These two are complimentary colors on the color wheel. I have been drawn to orange and blue for as long as I can remember. It probably goes without saying that my yarn stash abounds with shades of blue from baby to electric and orange from burnt to neon. I love them all. I have even found some hanks of variegated yarn with both blue and orange. Somewhere out there I have a soul mate with a dye pot! The stash closet also holds yarn that is definitely not me. You know the stuff; coming across it later your reaction is, “What was I thinking?” Most of the time this thought pops in and out of our head as quickly as the yarn is tossed into the “donate to charity” bag. Is it possible that we do ourselves a disservice by not taking that “what was I thinking” question seriously?

Why did I buy those ten skeins of hot pink wool? I am definitely not a pink person! Where did I buy the yarn? Who was I with? What was happening in my life at the time? Dr. Seuss says, “when my days are happy pink it is great to jump and just not think.” So there’s the answer--I wasn’t thinking. On a serious note, I need to ask myself was I really happy when I bought the yarn that now I can barely look at? Or, was I trying to make myself happy because it was really a brown day when I felt “slow and low, low down?” Everything we knit has a story. Each of these stories becomes a chapter in the book that is our life. What do these chapters reveal about where I’ve been and where I am now? What do they say about who I was and who I am now?

There is no doubt in my mind that my eyes (and my heart) will always gravitate toward the blues and oranges that call to me from their nests on the yarn shop shelves, but I am learning to give a bit more credence to that little voice that sometimes says “this is not you at all but I really like it (today).” Buy it. Make something with it. Even if on this day it has lost its appeal. If you really have no affinity for the yarn, find a friend who will knit something with it for you. If you are still puzzled by your reason for buying that yarn, take the finished project and tuck it away in a safe place. A day may come when you say, “that yarn is not so bad. In fact, I kind of like it.”

If you have nothing like this in your stash, set out to deliberately make something with a color that lies outside of your normal comfort zone. What color or colors would you choose? Or, take the challenge further. What can you do to make your creation say something about who you are without relying on its color?

Given a choice, I will always choose bright colors. I shy away from anything in what I call “mud” or “business blahs.” Having said that, one of my favorite pieces that I have made in the last year is a shawl in a variegated yarn in subdued southwest colors. Though I bought the yarn in Texas, I finished the shawl while vacationing in the New Mexico mountains. As I glanced from my knitting to the landscape that enveloped me, the yarn and the land became one. The colors blended together like the paint on a fine artist’s canvas. At that moment, this shawl became the next chapter in my book. Though at the time I thought this chapter was complete, it was not. It took a sad turn. The pattern that I used for the shawl was designed by a local Dallas knitter and teacher. She passed away, after a courageous battle with cancer, shortly after I finished my shawl. What began as a ho-hum project has now become a piece that represents significant moments in my life. Suddenly, all of its subdued colors glow with a brightness that I could not see at first.

Simply stated, we all need to put a little more trust in that small voice that is so easy to ignore. When it whispers, in a gentle attempt to nudge us to try something new or different, listen! Pleasant surprises await those who dare to take the leap toward “logical insanity.”

Though this essay focuses on yarn (because it was written for a knitting publication), here yarn color is simply a place holder for all those things that reside neatly "inside the box". Consider listening to a different kind of music, reading a new author, trying a new kind of food, making a new fashion statement; the possibilities, and the colors you'll experoence, are endless.

And, if you haven't already done so, visit Colorjoy!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving Wrap-up

I have survived another Thanksgiving. It is not that I don't like Thanksgiving itself or that I have nothing to be thankful for, but that I really don't like the "traditions" of Thanksgiving. Mostly, I don't like the traditional Thanksgiving food. I don't much care for roasted turkey. I don't like marshmallows so the sweet potato casserole does nothing for me. I don't like mushrooms; though I can tolerate the green bean casserole with its obligatory cream of mushroom soup, I can also live without it. Basically, if I have to eat the standard fare, I opt for the all carbohydrate version - dressing, mashed potatoes, and bread. I am not even fond of pumpkin pie though I can be forced to eat a piece if it is covered with the empty calories of a big glob of Cool Whip.

Fortunately, I am not much on tradition for tradition sake so our Thanksgiving table looked a bit different than most. No roasted turkey. John smoked our turkey. Smoked turkey is much better than roasted turkey though I still would rather not eat it just sliced. We had white bean turkey chili instead. It was awesome. You can't have chili without bread. Most of the time we have cornbread with chili but this year Mike made both wheat bread and white bread. Not to fear though, we did have a pan of cornbread dressing. Actually, we had two pans - the vegan pan and the sausage pan.

Brooke came home from Chicago, her first time back since she left in September. She managed to get herself from school to O'hare on the busiest travel day of the year without any trouble. Because she says that the vegan food line in the cafeteria at school is less than desirable (I don't know why it would be different than any other food line at any other college) we did our best to make a few things that she would eat. Hence the vegan dressing - vegetable stock instead of chicken broth. For the hardcore carnivores, the cornbread and sausage dressing was made with the standard chicken broth. The mashed potatoes were made with soy milk and vegan butter. Those of you who are making those faces would be hard pressed to tell the difference. 'Try it. You'll like it." And then there is the vegan pumpkin pie. Remember I said I am not a real pumpkin pie fan. Well the vegan pie is amazing. Tofu instead of eggs and milk. Stop with the faces! It is really good - even without the non-dairy Cool Whip.

We had some new friends over this year for Thanksgiving, one of whom happens to be a vegetarian. How many places can one go for Thanksgiving as a vegetarian and actually get enough to eat? I think everyone had plenty to eat. Unlike most Americans who are said to consume some 5,000 calories at the Thanksgiving table, we had a meal of moderation. That is something to be thankful for.

After dinner we had a kick-ass game of Cranium. Okay, it doesn't burn off many calories, but it sure was fun! I wish we took the time to play games more often. The Cranium family of games have become a favorite around here. Maybe Santa Claus will bring us a new one for the Christmas festivities.

As Friday approached, the reality that Christmas is just a month away set in. Can you believe that the stores opened as early as midnight on Thanksgiving night? I don't know how many people were that anxious to make their mark on "Black Friday." I was not one of them. I am way behind on the holiday shopping. Frankly, no one really needs anything. It is hard, and stupid, to go buy things for people who don't need anything. I need to get creative about the gift ideas pretty quickly or the knitted toilet tissue covers may start looking good.

For now, all of the holiday cheer has to be put on hold as tomorrow we all return to work and school for the final few weeks of the semester.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"ET Phone Home"

It has been seven months since the terrible shootings on the Virginia Tech campus. That horrendous event forced colleges and universities all over the country to examine their own abilities to deal with such an event should it occur on their campus. Virginia Tech has been back in the news recently because the system that they implemented to prevent the poor communication on their campus that day was less than successful when a test alert was run.

When we took Offspring No. 1 to Chicago, at the time that students received their campus ID's, they were required to register for UCalert. Each student registered with an email address, a cell phone number, and a dorm land line. Seeing the aggressiveness with which the campus administration and police department exhibited in promoting this program gave me a piece of mind that the university was doing its best to avoid a communication breakdown like happened in Blacksburg last spring. Though I felt good knowing that UCalert was in place, I also hoped that it would never have to be used other than in a test situation.

Aforementioned child usually calls me late in the afternoons after her last class of the day. I was anxious for today's call because I knew that she had a chemistry test this morning. (She and chemistry are having a power struggle and I am not sure who is winning.) I inquired as to how the test went. My questions was met with a definite, "I don't know." In our continuing conversation about what that really meant, she said that she had gotten a text message on her cell phone during the exam from UCalert that said to check her campus email for an important message.

The message was an announcement that a UC international graduate student, in chemistry, had been shot and killed a few blocks off of campus last night. Though the UC police department and the Chicago PD are working on the case, no one has been arrested. As you can imagine, such a message is unnerving to all of the students on campus as well as parents who are hundreds of miles away.

I am glad to know that the communication system works. But, I am saddened that its merits were tested by a tragic event such as this. I am thankful for this holiday weekend aand that she is coming home for a few days. I pray that the case is resolved quickly and that last night's shooting is an isolated incident.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Checked Baggage

Every now and then it is important for us all to unpack our baggage and look closely at what we are carrying around. I'm not talking about your backpack, briefcase, and purse type baggage, but personal baggage-the type that seems to get heavier and heavier even if you don't add anything to it. It would be nice if we all travelled lightly, but the fact is, we don't. And if you think that you are not carrying around baggage that is weighing you down, beware. Your baggage is about to be labeled with one of those fluorescent orange tags that says, "HEAVY" and you will have to pay extra to carry it along. Or, you can get rid of something that is in it so that the bag is not overweight. How heavy is your baggage?

It is not fair to pose such questions if I am not willing to answer them myself. I must admit that I have serious baggage when it comes to dealing with people's egos. I have spent all my life in academia. I have known many smart and talented people, some are even brilliant. I love to be around such people, people who are willing to share their knowledge and abilities. These are people who want you to feel the same joy and excitement for something as they do. They want to share everything they have with all those with whom they come in contact. As a sponge trying to absorb all that these people have to offer, I know that I will never achieve the level of competence that such people have, but nonetheless, they don't radiate a feeling of superiority, where they are the god, and thus to be worshipped, and everyone else is a peon whose sole purpose is to worship them.

Here is the question I find myself pondering: How do I differentiate arrogance and healthy self-confidence in others?

Self confidence, I believe, is a realistic opinion of one's own abilities, judgements, and power. One must also have a realistic perception of their personal weaknesses as well. Arrogance is an offensive display of superiority and self-importance. This is often accompanied by an UNrealistic opinion of one's own abilities, etc. I can't stand arrogance!

It is when we believe ourselves to be bigger, better, more importance, than someone else that arrogance rears its ugly head. We all have different talents and gifts, but we all have something to offer other human beings. As I said earlier, I have had many great teachers in school who have taught me wonderful things But, I have learned equally important things from animals, children, prisoners, strangers, homeless people, students in my class. I live life as a perpetual student, always wanting to learn and believing that there is so much out there still to learn. What a great way to walk the path of life! I hope I never get to a point where I truly believe I know it all. At this point, there really would be no purpose in living.

This is where humility comes in. Humility, a good Franciscan characteristic. What does it mean? Humility is a modest opinion of one's own importance. Modest? As I am using it here, modest means free from vanity, egotism, or pretentiousness. Ah yes. I like people who are humble. Remember Wilbur and Charlotte?

I know how I want to live, but that really doesn't help me deal with the arrogance I encounter in daily life. I am not sure what to do here. I have learned that screaming "arrogant asshole" really doesn't accomplish anything. Okay, there is that brief moment of pure bliss, but it is short lived.

Maybe if I get rid of my harmful baggage, I will have room to carry around the answer to dealing with this hang-up of mine.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I'm Home . . . Who Cares

I just returned home from a fun filled few days of fiber and fleece. (Wow, where did all that alliteration come from?) Anyway, I spent the weekend in the Texas hill country at The Kid 'N Ewe an Llama Too festival in Boerne, Texas. We had a booth in the vendor pavilion, trying to sell a few patterns and yarn. The show was a little slow, but we had a good weekend nonetheless. Though it is hard to get away from home because animals and children need tending to, I did manage this time. I always feel a little guilty about leaving my responsibilities behind; however, I also know that time away is important.

I returned home to, well, a rather cold welcome. I called home at 4:15 to say that we were on our way home and should be home in about six hours. Thanks to cooperative traffic, we did get home exactly as predicted. The dogs greeted me. The human beings in my house didn't notice I was home. Erin sat glued to the TV giving me a look like a "hi" would cause her to miss a crucial detail of whatever brain candy she was watching. Mike, whom I have not seen in a month because he has been in South Africa on business, could not manage to stay up to make sure I got home OK. I don't think anyone really cares if I am home or not. Maybe I should leave again. Where could I go? Right now I am too tired to figure out where to go but with a little sleep I am sure I could dream up a workable plan.

For now I guess I will be happy knowing that the animals missed me. The dogs said they have not been fed or played with. Adidas met me with his tennis ball claiming that he too has been ignored. The puppy's papers seem not to have been picked up or changed the entire time I have been gone. At least now that dog bowls have been filled, Adidas' tennis ball has been thrown and the puppy has clean papers. Boy is it nice to be needed for something.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

An Extra One

The last few weeks have been crazy - doing props for Dracula, getting the current issue of Spirit of Knitting to the printer, preparing for this weekend's trip to Kid and Ewe in Boerne, transporting Erin to rehearsal for Big, the musical, every night, and then there is school and laundry, and meals. Like I said, crazy times!

I thought that I would really appreciate the extra hour that we got because of the time change last weekend. I usually think of this as an extra hour of sleep. I got little sleep last weekend; if anything, it was an extra hour of work. The problem is that I did not even notice that I had an extra hour in my day (or night as the case may be). I often say that I need more time in my days. Apparently it needs to be more than one hour. I am still behind and still tired. Why is it that extra "ones" of some things are incredibly noticeable and this one hour seems to have come and gone without me being aware of it - except for the fact that my microwave and oven now have the wrong time on them.

Think about those things where an extra one really does make a difference.

One more piece of cake makes a difference. There are the calories that manifest into one more (undesirable) pound. Or, into that sick feeling that makes you want to kick yourself if only you could move enough to do so.

Then there is one more beer. One more beer really can be felt. I'm not saying that is necessarily a bad thing, just that you definitely notice one more.

How about an extra person. We have all been in situations where two is company, three is a crowd. Sometimes one is company and two is a crowd. Things are rocking along just fine - everyone is playing nicely with their friends - then one more person joins the mix and the whole situation takes a turn for the worse.

How about an extra cup of coffee? I can't tell I have had it. I can drink pot after pot and am unfazed by the caffeine. However, there are the extra trips to the bathroom. The same is true with tea.

Do you feel the savings with a 10% off coupon? Basically, that save you the tax; so you pay the price that is actually on the price tag. What a novel idea. How big does the savings have to be before we really notice it? 100%? Free is noticeable!

Do you remember when you were a child and you found a penny on the ground? As kids, we thought this made us rich. Not so much anymore - even with kids. Pennies are not even worth bending over for. The same is also true for nickels and dimes as well. Younger children may make an effort to pick up a quarter. Bills usually gather attention, probably because you have to at least bend over to determine their value. Once you are bent, you may as well pick it up. Do you feel the value of an extra dollar?

A dollar will buy a (cheap) cup of coffee. No Starbucks for a dollar but QT (our favorite gas station) has pretty good coffee for less than a dollar. A dollar will buy most daily newspapers. OK, the news isn't worth a dollar, but the New York Times crossword puzzle and the daily Sudoku puzzle make it a dollar well spent.

I know there have been times when I have had only a single dollar in my wallet and have said that I have no money. Having only a dollar feels like no money most of the time. I really can't explain why I feel this way. Maybe my dad was right back in 1976 when he told me that I did not understand the value of a dollar.

According to the TV ads, a dollar will buy a double cheeseburger at Mc Donalds. Why can't I feel that dollar when it is in my wallet in my back pocket and I can feel it if I change the dollar into a cheeseburger? They both reside on my rear.

I guess we need to remeber that, just like the pounds from those cheeseburgers, pennies, nickels, and dollars eventually add up to something noticeable. If I got an extra hour every day, eventually I would feel the effects of them too!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Benefits Of A College Education

Back in September, when we sent Offspring No. 1 to college, you may remember that I wished that for the incredible amount of money we are paying them to keep her that they would teach her to use a telephone. I am pleased to say that we are getting our money's worth. The kid has probably used her phone more in the last six weeks than she has in the last six years.

I have received the typical college freshman pleas for care packages of food because the dorm food sucks. Then there was the call asking if it was OK to buy a wool coat. You may remember also the whole coat ordeal before she left. I calmly asked, "Why do you need a coat?" The reply came, "It is not too cold, but it sure is windy here." Hmmm . . .Chicago . . .the windy city. Maybe we aren't getting our money's worth.

Brooke's Fairy Godmother, who also happens to be Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, took pity on her chilly little soul and made her a pair of wool wrist warmers. Brooke called to say that they had arrived and were way cool. Yeah for the telephone! She then called the next day to say that her friend thought they were cool too. And, she (friend) would like a pair in yellow and orange. Perhaps giving her our phone numbers wasn't such a good thing. Brooke then called to say that the second pair of wrist warmers had arrived and that two more friends really liked them. Would we please now send a black pair and a red pair. Is it bad to pray that the kid's cell phone battery dies and that her charger miraculously disappears? I guess it could be worse. She could be asking for hundred dollar bills instead of wrist warmers.

Yesterday she called to share her observations about all the T-shirts that she has seen on campus.
  • "University of Chicago . . .where the squirrels are prettier than the girls and more aggressive than the boys."
  • "If you had wanted an A you should have gone to Harvard"
  • "Beat me. Spank me. Make me read the Iliad."
  • "University of Chicago . . .where the only thing that goes down on you is your GPA."

Yep, I do believe she is getting a good education!

I am glad that she calls and truth to tell, she has been fairly communicative. In addition to the T-shirt run down, she has also shared what is going on her classes. She has decided that she hates Plato and likes Russian. Chemistry is kicking her butt and her writing is improving. Intramural soccer is fun but dodge ball is better. And, you should not date anyone in your dorm. That is known as "dormcest".

Brooke's conversations with her sister have been a bit more juicy. She is calling Erin for boy advice. What is wrong with this picture? I think they have also discussed the tattoo design that Brooke thinks she is getting when she turns 18 next month.

Why did I ever encourage this phone thing?