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Archive for the 'Africa' Category

Wow… Historical African Studio Photos

Friday, January 12th, 2007

I was looking for information on washing a Nigerian batik dress I own. I ended up with links to African textiles… and then I found a gallery of sixteen photos taken in Guinea in the early 1900’s. What a worthy distraction!

The fabrics and costuming are fascinating and varied. Some of the men wear european-styled hats, though the women wear one to three pieces of woven fabrics (sometimes one just draped on the lap, sometimes one on a shoulder). Some of the blouses/tops on the women look like something you might find in a US store today, and one woman wears no blouse at all.

There are many photos where folks are holding their walking sticks, enough that I surmise the sticks had meaning beyond helping someone walk. I wonder what the importance was.

The photos were taken in a studio which looks of European influence although the owner of the site assumes it was an early African photographer. At the time these were taken, the country was called French Guinea. According to Wikipedia, the country became independent in 1958.

The site also has another page talking about old African photo/postcards, and more images. The essay about the images is enlightening. Check out Images of African Leadership if you crave more. The second series includes some embroidered capes from Dakar.

Most of the images in this series are West African, and I only was in 3 countries of East Africa… but in Ethiopia we saw some old capes from old kings, that looked similar in style (though as I recall, more embellished) to these capes.

The site where these two exhibits were found is a commercial website called Adire African Textiles. I’m grateful. What a great way to spend time!

And if you have the leisure to learn more, visit the online exhibit “In and Out of Focus: Images from Central Africa 1885-1960.” This is housed on the site for the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Two Years Ago Christmas & a Funny Story/Cairo

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

Two years ago I was in Cairo for Christmas, with my friend Altu. I even blogged a little that day, but I was paying by the minute at the business center at the Marriott, and I could not download photographs.

We decided to stay in the hotel room that day, to just laze around and celebrate by relaxing in our jammies. We were in Africa a total of 38 days and very few were relaxation days, we packed in as much as we could. This was near the end of our trip and we were ready for a “down” day. We had been in Alexandria the day or two before, and got some wonderful mideastern “fingers” which are honey/cashew and puff pastry… and we also had tangerines and guavas from a stand in Alexandria.

We slept in for Christmas. We figured out when to call home (I think it was about 8 hours’ difference between time zones, maybe more) and we ate breakfast of fruit, tea and pastry, on the 19th floor balcony of the Cairo Marriott on the nile. This is the view we had during breakfast. It is the world’s second-largest city, next to Mexico City (which I have also visited). From this vantage point, when there is not a lot of smog, it really looked as though we could see the tops of the pyramids in Giza. It makes sense… we were looking the right direction, and mountains can be seen for long distances as well.

That day we watched a lot of TV. In Ethiopia, the government controls the media, but in Egypt we had satellite and saw shows in at least four different languages. That was the week of the Tsunami (and Altu and I had been on the Indian Ocean at Mombasa, Kenya only 11 days previous), so there was lots of that coverage, as well as holiday stuff. Even though Egypt is only about 12% Christian, there were Christmas decorations at the hotel for folks like us, and the TV shows reflected the season.

alexandriacastlefriendssm.jpgEgypt is a fascinating place for many reasons. It is in Africa but also is middle-eastern/Arabic in culture/language. The radio station would say (in English) the “music of Africa and the Middle East!” Alexandria (less than 2 hours by car from Cairo) is on the Mediteranean and has that influence as well. When we visited the Christian churches on Dec. 26, we had to walk through a very old burial ground where the tombstones were written in Greek. We visited a castle on the Mediteranean (in Alexandria), and it looked very European.

The funniest thing that happened on Christmas two years ago, though, was a personal thing that could have happened anywhere in the world. We ordered room service for our midday meal, ate (it was disappointing, as hotel food can be, though the tea was just fine), and then decided to push the table back out into the hall to make more room.

We had to fuss with putting down the leaves on the table to get it to fit through the door. Before we knew it, we were out in the hall with the table, in our jammies, and the door locked behind us. Dang!

I got elected to go down to the front desk and get help. I was certainly covered up but not at all dressed for the elegant Marriott (part of which once was a bit of a palace built for Napoleon’s Josephine III if I remember right, an incredible building). We were in a second building, and it required walking outdoors under a covered area to get to the main building, then down some halls and past some stores and restaurants, before getting to the front desk.

So here I was, this obvious foreigner not dressed for prime time on Christmas day. I kept laughing out loud because it was so funny. I tried not to look at anyone while laughing because they can take funny looks very seriously in Arabic cultures and I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.

I made my way to the desk and had no trouble convincing them of my situation, one look and it was really clear. So I got a key and walked, walked, walked and took my elevator back to the 19th floor, to rescue Altu who was still stuck in the hallway. What a way to spend part of a lazy holiday!!!

Photos (for the record, I went through the trouble to make all these smaller photos clickable to large images this time if you want close-ups): 1) Skyline from our balcony, Christmas Morning, 2004; 2) Pastries called fingers; 3) Castle in Alexandria, posing with Altu 4) Fruit Stand where Christmas breakfast was purchased; 5) Same Castle, looking out at the Mediteranean Sea; 6 &7) Rooms in the Marriott which were originally built in a French style to make Josephine III comfortable away from home; 8 ) Dancer in Marriott restaurant which is in the back garden of the hotel; 9) Garden of hotel from balcony, showing several restaurants.

Dancers in Africa

Monday, November 27th, 2006

I can’t resist. I have photos of dancers in all 3 countries I visited. Here is a dancer in a fancy Ethiopian restaurant in Addis Ababa:

Here are dancers doing traditional dances at a wedding on the beach in Mombasa, Kenya:

Dancers entertaining at the food court at a fancy mall in Nairobi, Kenya, the week before Christmas:

Dancer at the Marriott on the Nile in Cairo, a few days before Christmas, 2004:

I’ve shown all these photos here before in the last two years, but not together on the theme of dancing. I hope you enjoy them.

Gratitude: Friends

Monday, November 27th, 2006

Old Friends

I spent about seven hours Sunday with my friend Susan. What a luxury! It was so heartwarming and comfortable to be with her, to finally see her home and meet her sons. When I got there, her mother was there. I met Susan and her mother (and sister Beth) I was in 3rd grade or earlier. Yes, really. That was a long time ago, since I’ll be all of 48 years old on Tuesday.

I also still stay in touch with one other friend from elementary school, Jo. Jo is the mom of my Godchildren, Michael and Sara (who I wrote about last Wednesday for her birthday). Jo and I met in either Kindergarten or 1st grade.

I realize that many people don’t stay connected with anyone as long as I’ve known these women. It is not as if they are in my every day life, but they remain a connection to my history. And these women knew me when my life was not this good. I’m glad they stuck it out with me. Having them in my life makes me richer.

Opposites Attract?

Susan and I are both creative souls, who can not ignore our creativity without losing ourselves in the process. However, Susan is as intense/focused as I am intense/distracted.

I get much accomplished by going in spirals, so to speak. I do part of task A, get distracted by B, get up to make tea and start C in the kitchen, go back to the desk and remember A again. Eventually A is completed and I might add a D or E to the rotation. As if it was really in order… It could be A, C, E, B, C, etc. It’s sort of chaos but because I stay focused on working and going forward, I keep on plugging and everything gets done.

Well, also I’ve learned to use my computer and palm device to keep me on track when I forget. I set a lot of alarm clock functions, to remind me to change gears at key times. I am determined to keep going forward, and the determination seems to be my best friend.

Teaching is Definitely “My Thing”Thank goodness that when I teach, I’m really focused and I know what to do, I have only one thing I’m there for and I am really very good at it. I am grateful every day I teach, that I finally found something that is so right for me.

I started working for pay in front of a classroom in 1994, teaching computer training classes. I’d been volunteering and also teaching informally at work (Hey, Lynn… how do you do X on the computer?) since 1978 when I did volunteer work for a young woman’s group at Central Michigan University. I didn’t realize for a long time that I could do this thing I loved after work, as my actual work. I’m really happy with how things have evolved that way for me.

Winding Down/Good Food

When I got home we had a wonderful meal by thawing something I’d made last week. Aaah, I’m starting to reap the bounty of cooking ahead of time! Make 2 meals, freeze one, and a meal next week becomes easier. I’m delighted. (It was cornish game hens, carrots and parsnips… very tasty, better than chicken. If I have to eat meat (right now my health depends on it, I can’t eat dairy, egg, nuts or soy without getting sick) I’m happy it can taste that good.

Back to the Shopping Cart

After dinner I got right down to business on the shopping cart. I loaded all six colorways I have in stock of the Cushy ColorSport DK-weight washable merino yarn I have offered since I first started dyeing yarn. This stuff is incredible! It makes good hats, scarves, baby blankets, socks, wristwarmers, and nice drapey sweaters and baby clothes.

I adore this particular DK yarn, it’s so springy that it can be knit from 7 stitches per inch for socks, to 4.5 stitches per inch in a baby blanket. All are good fabrics for that particular item (DK-weight yarn is typically knit at 5.5 stitches per inch for sweaters, I like it around 6.25 stitches per inch for socks).

Family can Also Be Friends

My brother Eric and his wife Diana have been incredible friends to me during this shopping cart development. Diana has tested the cart a zillion times (thank goodness Paypal has an easy feature for refunding purchase money), and Eric looked at it from a non-knitter perspective. He is the best one I know at asking questions without trying to skew the answer. I adore both of them.

Work Friends

Tomorrow I will be opening up Rae’s shop for her until she can get there a few hours later. There is another gratitude… the yarn shops where I teach are all run by incredible, wonderful people (Rob and Matt at Threadbear, Linda at Little Red Schoolhouse and Rae at Rae’s Yarn Boutique). I am lucky to count them as friends, and working for friends is the best.

Anyway, Monday I’ll be taking my computer with me to Rae’s so if we have any slow times I can edit the TipToe Sockyarn photographs. When I get home I’ll then be able to load my last yarn product and start the official opening day of my shopping cart this week.

Tuesday I have my helper coming to work with me mid-afternoon, but I think I won’t have her stay too long (I want a special dinner with Brian because it is my birthday that day)… I hope we can get a few more colorways of yarn skeined up for me to photograph and add to the photos.

My Partner is also My Friend

That’s another friend I’m grateful for. My husband, Brian. He has made this shopping cart experience so much easier for me. The product is a package deal and it came with some very ugly cartoon “icons” on many of the pages. He went in with his programming knowledge and one at a time removed them for me. No complaining, just work. He’s wonderful, and I know how lucky I am.

I’m getting excited about the shopping cart but it’s not quite ready yet. Patience… I’m going to learn it sooner or later.

Photos: More Africa, definitely more about friendship. Monday after Thanksgiving, two years ago, my beloved friend Altu took me home to Ethiopia.

We were 3 weeks total in Ethiopia (five different areas but mostly her parents’ home in Addis Ababa, the capitol city), one week in Kenya (two areas, a resort in Mombasa on the Indian Ocean and Nairobi, a very modern city with an incredible national park literally next door), and one week in Egypt (Cairo except one day in Alexandria).

If taking someone on a major trip like that is not proof of true friendship, I don’t know what is. We came away from that 38 days of togetherness with an even stronger friendship than we started out with. How lucky I am.

So the photos? One street scene from each country we visited. Homes in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (laundry day), Mombasa, Kenya (notice boy with balloon), man delivering pita bread on a bicycle in Cairo. The first two I took from moving vehicles with a point-and-shoot low-end Kodak digital camera, using the sports setting.

The Cairo picture is actually a tiny little bit of a shot I got from a distance. He was going so fast that by the time I got out the camera and it turned on, he was a speck on my photo. He was not the only delivery guy doing this, but he was the only one I was fast enough to catch. Whew!

Serious Progress

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

I think that I have my shopping cart in working order. All the patterns are entered in, and one lonely skein of yarn is also loaded. Sunday I am spending much time with my friend Susan Luks so I don’t know how much work time I’ll have but I plan to start in where I left off today, when I get back to this desk sometime Sunday.

Saturday turned out very well. I slept in, made a wonderful quick bread for breakfast, (rye flour flavored with maple syrup, it is so much like cornbread it is spooky), worked on the shopping cart, tested it witn Diana by phone/internet, had lunch, more shopping cart including Diana.

Then my friend April from across the street called. She was sent home early from work and could she come over? Sure! So I had a nice teatime break sharing my good baking with April (we haven’t talked in far too long). In the end she had to go, so I did more shopping cart, then took a hot bath, Brian came home and we had dinner including the nicest baked organic sweet potatoes I’ve ever had. We did a quick trip to the local grocery since I was trying to do laundry but had run out of detergent… then came home, more shopping cart, a little jam session, and yet more shopping cart.

Actually, this morning while I was waking up, eating bread and drinking tea, I was surfing a little and paying some bills, doing a few routine household things. After the grocery store we really cleaned out the refrigerator well, which was satisfying. And now even though we bought a lot of food, the refrigerator is more roomy than before! Woohoo!

I’ve already set out the ingredients I need for a special bread I’m making in the morning to take to Susan’s house. Very yummy… if you ask nicely I’ll post it this week when I get time (between shopping cart stuff). It’s pumpkin bread but with no spices, just vanilla, and a flour called Kamut (a relative of wheat but more nutty and less sticky). It’s really lovely… no milk or egg but it’s fluffy and moist and everything you might want from a sweet quick bread. Diana has asked for the recipe, so has April. It’s a winner. This week, I promise.

Meanwhile it’s time to put the clean sheets on the bed and call it a night. It’s 2am on the dot and I’m expected at Susan’s in the next town over, at noon. And the bread takes about an hour to bake… Goodnight.

The pictures? Well, Altu and I left two years ago this week, for our five-week trip to Africa. 1) Tea Altu’s mother served me in her home, with a special silver teaspoon decorated with an Ethiopian gazelle of sorts (with curly horns, only found in Ethiopia). 2) One of the first places we went was northern Ethiopia. We walked up an incline for 45 minutes to view the waterfall of the Blue Nile. Yes, I really did indeed take this photograph myself. It was that different from here. That gouge in the earth behind him? The Blue Nile at a place where it’s merely a creek of sorts. Ethiopia is hard to imagine even when you’ve been there. I’m so grateful I had the chance.

Letting Go Again

Monday, October 30th, 2006

frogger.jpgI knit this piece in Africa, nearly two years ago. It was intended to be the bottom of a felted backpack that I had wanted to knit *before* I left, but it took all I had to just get ready for a trip I couldn’t plan. (How do you plan for something you can’t imagine?)

I tried to knit it while I was there. It’s from a pattern. I can’t knit from a pattern when I’m with other people, especially if they are bringing me into their home as family and talking to me in a language they don’t use very much (I understood them well, but I know it was work for them to talk with me for very long).

They did a lot of stretching to make me comfortable and I wanted to pay attention to them and everything around me. When I did knit in Africa, I knit socks. I can knit socks without looking at my hands, for the most part. I do have to peek when I do a heel or toe but most of it is just worry-bead knitting, repetitive motion for comfort. It helps me sit still, and I did a lot of waiting when I was on that trip.

addisstreetscene.jpgSo this piece was relegated to after everyone else went to bed. I spent a lot of that time writing in a journal, and as you know I tend to write a lot. I did knit but the bottom of the bag was all I accomplished.

I had intended it to be a neutral bag while on the trip. It is lighter in real life than it looks on my screen… that cream/light taupe marl that is sometimes called “Ragg Wool” color. I intended to dye it somehow when I got home. I’m clearly not going to do either, now. So Sunday I ripped it out.

I now have a ball of yarn weighing something like 85gm of yarn. I’m not sure where the rest of the 100gm skein went (or for that matter the other skeins I bought for the project). I am thinking I may use this for a Sassy Summer bag.

But I think this simple act of ripping is a continuation of my “throw away 10 things” day I had a week ago. I threw away more than 10 things, and I’m still looking at stuff around me with a more careful eye.

addiscoke.jpgToday I found the lid to a saucepan I have not owned since I moved to Brian’s house 10 years ago. Dang. Every day a new discovery. Maybe someday we’ll be able to move around here without dealing with all the clutter. I have seen the changes my brother Eric and his wife Diana have done in a relatively few years. It’s a miracle, the change that is really working for them every day now. They don’t buy if they don’t know where it will go before they make the purchase. I’m not there (Brian thinks that way but I never have). I can get there, one day at a time.

Meanwhile I let go of a fragment of knitting I never loved in the first place. Sassy Bag, here we come.

Photos: Fragment which is now history; two street scenes in Ethiopia. It’s such a blend of past, present and future. I think both were taken in/near Addis Ababa, the Coke stand may have been on the way out of town toward Nazret (Nazareth) which is in the rift valley area. I will never run out of photos of africa to show you here… I took 1400 and I think I’ve ever shown maybe 125 between this blog and a PowerPoint presentation I’ve given a few times.

Happy Birthday, Altu!

Sunday, September 17th, 2006

Sunday is Altu’s birthday. She is the truest of friends, someone with whom I never have to wonder what she’s thinking. A woman of honor and always true to her word. A woman of passion.

And a woman who is the finest artist in the kitchen, I’ve ever met. She took me to Africa for 38 days and yet I’ve never had better Ethiopian food than that she offers in her East Lansing restaurant.

LynnH and Altu in Alexandria, Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea, 2004I can not explain how much I appreciate Altu. The biggest example I can give is her invitation to me, to join her in a trip to Africa. Where I stayed in homes of Altu’s friends and family in two countries. Where I was able to see things and places I had never heard of before our trip. Where I saw the wonderful variety and sameness that is humanity and our world. It’s amazing how alike we really are, no matter how different our lifestyles and environments may be.

Last Thursday we started celebrating her day, by having our regular Thursday lunch. We went out for sushi and I gave her a CD of the musician from Mali who I had heard at Wheatland. Then I chatted with her briefly today as I put an apple crisp in the oven which is hers. I had to get the dessert to her somehow so I’m going to meet her for lunch Monday. It’s sort of fun to celebrate for days and days!

One thing I really notice about Altu, is that she notices and appreciates when I thought of her when we were not together. When I call and tell her I am making apple crunch for her, this means a great deal to her besides anticipation of eating dessert. She always thanks me for thinking of her. They are a really special part of being in her life, those thank-you’s (which I did just discuss here just a few days ago).

I wish for you all to have a friend as true as my friend.

Happy Birthday, Altu!!!

Photo: Altu and I on the roof of a castle in Alexandria, Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea. Did you know that Egypt was a Mediterranean country? I knew it was both mideastern and African but I did not realize until this trip that it was also on the Mediterranean. No wonder Alexandria was named after Alexander the Great, now, is it? This photo was taken on December 24, 2004. What a trip that was!

My Ethiopian “Family” was Here!!!

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

Altu’s Mom and Altu’s sister (they both live in Ethiopia) are here. They have been in the USA for maybe 4 weeks (for another sister’s wedding), but I have been gone a lot and they have been traveling between two cities in Michigan, plus Galane went to New York City (lucky girl).

My Mom, Me, Galane, Altu's Mother, AltuI saw “Mama” once earlier, the day before Altu’s Dad left to go home. Tuesday night I saw Mama and Galane very briefly and found out that they would be leaving Lansing Wednesday after dinner. Wednesday daytime was my only chance to spend time with them.

Luckily, I’m clear about priorities. Loved ones are more important than anything, though sometimes there are deadlines and conflicting schedules that get in the way. Wednesday I was going to be at my home office/studio (which I’ve really ignored with all the travel lately). End those plans, go see my loved ones. How lucky that this day it worked for me!

I also called my mother to let her know we had one chance to come meet these great ladies. I invited Brian to take his lunch hour at Altu’s restaurant. He had met Mama but not Galane, and my Mom had not met either of them yet. They both came out and we had a grand time!

For those who are new to my blog, Altu took me home to Africa over the holidays in 2004/05. We were gone 38 days total. We saw three countries: Ethiopia, Kenya and Egypt. We had one week each in the last 2 countries, but spent the rest of the time in Ethiopia. And whenever we were in Addis Ababa (the capital city), we stayed with Altu’s parents. Her sister hung out with us when she could, and she arranged and took us on a trip to the northern historical parts of Ethiopia early in our trip. Altu’s family treated me as if I were kin during the whole trip and I am deeply grateful for their love and hospitality.

I went to Altu’s restaurant around 1pm, and they arrived just after I did. I had a few final gifts for them including a CD with photographs from our trip to Africa. I stayed up until the wee hours Tuesday night organizing the photos. I took 1400 photos and Altu took nearly as many, and I had them all to sort into folders that might make sense to them when perusing alone some day. It was worth the effort, though, I’m happy with it all.

Food to Celebrate
I also made muffins. (Mama loved me on that trip in part by feeding me, since we don’t speak the same languages… it was my turn to love her back.) I recently purchased a bag of Bob’s Red Mill brand “Whole Grain Teff Flour.” I suspected it was not really flour, because Teff is such a tiny grain (100 grains of teff equal the size of one wheat grain). However, when I went to Bob’s website they indicate they have to mill it specially because of its size, but it truly is ground flour. Teff is also a very highly nutricious grain, with more protein than you might expect.

Teff Field at HarvestWhat is Teff anyway? It’s a grain common in Ethiopia. They use it for their special stretchy flat bread (it’s something like a sourdough) which is a traditional food for all language groups in that country. It of course would have 83 names for the 83 languages in Ethiopia, but the ruling group speaks Amharic and so that is the official national language. The bread is called injera in that language.

The bag of flour I bought had a muffin recipe on the back of it, with odd ingredients which are meant to make a good muffin without gluten. For anyone out there reading this who deals with a celiac (gluten-free) diet, I can vouch for the original recipe, which is exactly how I made the muffins the first time. Yum! At Altu’s restaurant we devoured the dozen muffins I made in that first batch. Excellent.

However, I then thought of you guys out there who probably don’t have arrowroot starch in your cupboards. So I played a bit, and made a version of the muffins that worked out pretty well, using Teff and spelt flour (which can be substituted for wheat flour, particularly whole wheat pastry flour). Those turned out well, with a good crusty outside, but a little more dry.

I have a lot more Teff flour. I will be experimenting to see what I can do to make a recipe that works for folks who don’t want to go to the health food store and get a cart full of ingredients that you will use only for this muffin. (Note that you can buy the Teff flour online if you don’t have a healthy-ingredient local grocer.)

Photos: My mother Liz, me, Altu’s sister Galane, Altu’s mother, Altu. Thanks to Charles (Altu’s brother in law, who works at the restaurant) for taking the photo. Second photo is a teff field after harvest. Notice the different shapes of “haystack” type storage they used.

Private Concert Day, Knitting Success

Friday, February 17th, 2006

huge poinsettia bush in Bahar Dar, EthiopiaBrian and I played three private concerts on Friday, two at a school (for kindergarteners), and a house concert at my Mom’s place for over a dozen of her friends. Fun, Fun, Fun!

When the House Concert guests went home, we watched a little of the Olympics. I finished the back of my top/vest before I went to sleep. That was a major deal, because I think the last inch of the top (the shoulder shaping) took longer than the seven inches before. I had to count and count and count… not used to that, and then doing it while watching snowboard cross means I lost count a lot. Nothing like ripping out to truly help you understand and enjoy your yarn!

We’re still at a point where we have to scrounge up wireless internet connections as we travel from point to point. Friday wasn’t a good day for that, but Saturday morning/noonish is a little relax time for us before getting in the car again. At least car travel time is good, solid knitting time.

I *just* realized that I’ve forgotten the small needles for casting on the first several rows of the edge. Ack. I do have some 7″ long double points and I can put stoppers on one end, maybe that will be enough to cast on one front at a time. I hope. Otherwise I knit socks until we get home, or if we find a chain craft store where I can buy needles. The nearest yarn shop is 20 minutes from where we are as I sit here typing, and where we go later today is even further from anything I know about as far as knitting goes.

I did bring yarn for my brother’s socks but I realized a few days back that I don’t have his foot length, just the circumference. I have knit toe up on both feet but will have to stop that fairly soon since it’s big yarn. Good thing I brought the size-zero-needle project for my mom, some golf socks with afterthought heels I’ve been working on intermittently since last April or so. I didn’t even remember I’d brought those, so I’m very grateful. If I had no knitting, I’d be a caged bird in that car today. Whew!

Of course I left my camera at Mom’s and I’m online at a restaurant in town (I’m even less organized on vacation than usual) so no pics of my work right now. They will come, in time.

Mom has a big poinsettia plant at her place… I didn’t get a photo of hers, but the photo here is an even bigger one we saw in Bahar Dar, Ethiopia (the northern historical district where we saw the Blue Nile) in December, 2004. I think it was about as tall as me!


Wednesday, February 8th, 2006

I did it. I sent in my registration to Knitting Olympics with just a few hours left before they closed the list. Whew!

I still don’t know what I’ll knit. I considered the Sally Melville Not Your Mother’s Coat, but it’s not portable and I’m traveling during part of the Olympics. I considered the shadow knit shawl but though the yarn is light, it’s tiny yarn in little stitches and in garter stitch. Way more stitches than I think I can complete, even if the pattern is easy.

EthiopiaI would love to have chosen to just finish my Lucy Neatby Equilateral Vest. However, the olympic rules stress a new project. I do have yarn purchased for a good number of projects, patterns and yarn ready to go, so why not try to find the right one and follow the rules?

Right now it looks like I’ll do the Cross-over top (short top/vest) from Sally Melville Purl Stitch, page 81. There are two versions of this one, the first is in wool and fulled/shrunk, worn as a vest. The other is a summer top in Cotton Twist. Of course, mine is hot pinkish cherry, same yarn but brighter. The one in the book is sort of a 1920s blue-gray with a bit of green in it… bluer than sage, sort of the color of a blue spruce tree. Pretty, but it would not flatter me.

The yarn is some I got at Yarn for Ewe with a gift certificate maybe 2 years ago, specifically to knit this top. I took the yarn to Africa with me, and I did swatch when I was there, but then I lost my measuring tape and realized that knitting socks allowed me to knit without referring to a heavy book. So much for that project!

EthiopiaRight now I’m trying to figure out something, though. In the Purl Stitch book on page 81, they show the summer version. I fell in LOVE with this, and one of the things I liked about it was the line of increases where the fold line of a lapel might be if the front flap opened up. This created two different “grains” so to speak, and the light reflects off the fabric so well that way.

I sat down tonight and read the pattern to see if this might be a good project for me. The increases are right at the edge, not in the lapel area. So one of my favorite features of what I thought I’d be knitting, is not in the pattern.

They should have knit a second sample before the photo shoot, in my opinion, because it really changes the look of the garment. I know they have deadlines but they also have a nice budget for samples and the photo looks really different than the instructions.

It looks much flatter without the grain/increase interest (compare to page 79, which is in wool but you can see the grain in the photo). I figure someone out there reading this will know how I can move my increases to the right place and have it look great. Right??? If not I move to the Annie Modesitt corset, or I just go back to the Equilateral Vest finishing idea.

Why is a smallish vest my challenge? This project is a challenge in two areas. I do not like purling more than about 4 stitches in a row. I learned to purl a full 20 years after I learned to knit, and although I’m more comfy with it lately (I just finished a K1P1 hat for Brian, and this summer I made a K2P2 tank top happily) I would rather rib than make stockinette fabric flat.

EthiopiaI’m thinking I may practice my “combination knitting” for this project. This is how Annie Modesitt knits… wrap purls clockwise and knit counter-clockwise but in “the back loop.” She says that this often creates a closer tension between purl rows and knit rows. My purls are usually looser than my knits, so it may be worth doing here. Combination knitting doesn’t work very well with knitting in the round, and since I do socks and hats and wristwarmers so much, there’s little opportunity for me to use this method, but I like the idea.

The other reason it’s a challenge? I almost never use someone else’s patterns. I make things up as I go. Then I use the garment I knit as a chart/sample and I figure out what I did (counting stitches and rows most of the time), write it down, work out other sizes, have it tested and voila! New Pattern! Sounds easy but it takes a long time.

I don’t do well writing things down as I knit, it takes all the joy out of the knitting. The only pattern I remember doing that for is the Fast Florida Footies, because I knew they would be a gift the next day and I wouldn’t have the footies to use as a chart later. I do often place markers at key places so I will be able to count rows/stitches more easily when the item is finished. That’s as “plan ahead” as my creating gets.

I don’t find following patterns difficult. What I find hard is being tied to a book. I do so much of my knitting out of the house… waiting in line, for dinner at a restaurant, at the allergist, post office, pharmacy… carrying a book around and having to open it, look up the next row, etc., well, that does not work for how I knit. I try to not fall in love with other folks’ patterns. Clearly this does not work, given the list of choices I had for the Olympics. The only one I didn’t have all the yarn for, purchased already, was the not-mom suit coat.

If anyone knows how to translate the increases on this top to match the photo on page 81, I’d love some input. I’m not sure I’d like the top, the way the pattern is written. Too bland. Maybe the fabric would save it, but I’d hate to do all that purling and find out I don’t like how it looks!!!

For the record, I just bound off Brian’s bulky alpaca-blend hat. It looks really good on him, and it promises to be warm enough for him to wear on his long walks at lunch during this cold weather. I’ll get pictures once it’s dry from blocking.

No knit photos today so you get Ethiopia. Early in December 2004, we drove to a crater lake in the Rift Valley, driving distance from Addis Ababa. We had lunch at a restaurant up at the top of the mountain where we could look down into the crater at the lake. Beautiful. On the way there and back I took photos while Altu and her friend were speaking in a language I did not understand.

1) Teff fields (teff is a grain that is high in protein, used for their staple bread). It’s harvest season right now, again. Note two different shapes for stacking the grain. Note the beautiful, clear blue sky.

2) Garden at the lovely restaurant at the crater. It’s in a resort area where folks in the city who can afford to do it, will go for a rest or weekend away. Even at this nice resort, the day we were there the water was not operating… when I went to wash my hands a person rushed over with a pitcher to pour it when I needed some. The utility infrastructure (water, electric, phone service) is just not dependable there.

3) A street scene. Small booths are stores of different sorts. The building with murals on it must be a restaurant, as three of the four paintings show people eating. Lady at right front is wearing a Netela, the traditional white handwoven gauzy cotton wrap which is very practical and very much still used even over western/modern clothing. I have one and wear it often in the summertime here in Michigan. (If you follow that link to netela/Ethiopian clothing at Wikipedia, the three photos on that page were taken by me!)

Note how colorful everything is. There seems to be no fear of color in Africa, at least nowhere in the places we visited!

Sunshine Makes Me Sing!

Friday, January 27th, 2006

Gondar view in EthiopiaThe sun shone Thursday, a lot! It was just around freezing and I was pretty happy with the weather. It’s nice to start with good news like that!

I started the day with a mailing for Working Women Artists. I always enjoy this, because it is an excuse for me to see my friend Marlene C., who works on the newsletter with me. Actually, I keep the mailing list and she does the layout, I print on my printer, we both do a bit of the writing. It’s a good team and I love the part where we come together to stamp the printed items for mailing. It is a good way to start the day.

After that there were what felt like a million errands but then I got to have lunch with Altu. That’s another wonderful part of my week. What a friend she is. We went to the city market to visit our friend Magda today. Magda has a restaurant booth called Seif Foods at the city market.

Magda is from Alexandria, Egypt, so has some excellent mideastern food (with a twist for those of us so accustomed to Lebanese cuisine). She also specializes in foods that folks with allergies can eat (cookies for those who can not eat wheat, for example), and so I always eat like a king when we go there! And we talk and talk and talk. Aaah, the simple pleasures of life. Food, tea, company. I am a rich woman indeed.

Mid-afternoon I had CityKidz Knit! program, and following that a computer lab at Foster Center. I had 8 knitters all told today. The ability levels are varied but the enthusiasm is the same. My newest three knitters are such happy kids! Two of them bring a grandma along for the program. In fact, I had three grandmas today. How cool is that? I surely did not learn to knit from either grandmother or my mom. I’m so glad that for at least a few this can be a shared experience.

And then the day ended with a class at Rae’s Yarn Boutique. I got to show off my new Bloom Shawl all day, which was most fun with this class (where they really do understand). And after class I ran to the grocery where a young woman stopped to say how pretty the Bloom was, and did I make it myself? Whee!

Gondar view in EthiopiaAs far as my projects? I’ve been putzing around a little with the remake of the “Turkish Sock” sweater, but it’s slow going.

I also took out the finished funnel neck pieces last night to do a little sewing and it looked just too much for me. I was tired enough to make mistakes since this is something I don’t do often.

Thank goodness I have the Toe-Up sock I started in the class at Threadbear the last several weeks. The foot of the sock was done Sunday, but it needs a cuff so I’m just knitting away until I run out of yarn. I had lots of waiting in line time today so I got a few inches done on that.

Tomorrow I go to Threadbear and will beg someone to take a photo of the beloved Bloom in Multicolor mohair (so you can finally see it). I’m so glad I got to wear it for a day! I’ll get it back again soon enough…

Photo: Once more no current photos of my life. That means you get photos of Africa! These were taken of a vista in Gondar/Gonder. This is in the historical northern area of Ethiopia. There are three castles and several outbuildings here, built by kings: father, son, grandson.

The scale here is hard to fathom, the walls are TALL! That little speck (first photo) about a third in from the right side, in the general area of the corner where two walls meet… that is a person. The trees are so big it’s hard to get a sense of perspective here. And that sort of cloudy background behind the trees? A long view of mountainous territory far away. It was really beautiful. Photos taken in early December, 2004.

Progress Report

Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

Sunny EthiopiaWeather
It seems that the cloud sitting on Lansing likes it here. We have had two days in a row where you could not tell what part of the sky was where the sun might be. On January 1, we did see one part of the cloud that was brighter, so we knew that was where the sun was. Since then, no such luck. It is hard to feel awake when you can not tell what time of day it is! It seems to be twilight all day.

Yesterday we had lightning and thunder, and the piles of snow are almost gone. Funny, the grass is still green underneath the snow, it seems as if it never went dormant. Yesterday I had to brake in order to avoid hitting a very fat squirrel. He’s not slumbering, but he’s doing fine staying fed anyway.

This is the time of year during which I used to sit on the heat vent. With the new furnace, it’s not as warm and inviting as before. Today, however, I went up to bed and slept about 2 hours around dinnertime. Two hours! I have been sleeping strange and waking up before I’m quite rested enough, and with this low-light situation, my body took over. It was hard to wake up but Brian took me to dinner and now I feel fine. At midnight! This too, shall pass.

Sunny EthiopiaAttitude/Hoarding
I’m doing my best to throw away at least one thing each day that I’ve had too long. I’ve caught myself bellyaching a few times, mostly about lack of sun or the headache I got from the rainy weather. The things I complain about are so very minor! It’s good to be more aware of this.

I’m trying to allow myself to use things up, too. I especially hoard good tea and yarn, and old clothes that were once favorites. I’m working through a box of tea given to me by Cheanne, one of my local knitting comrades. I’m down to two teabags and I’m just enjoying them very very much.

I literally have one cupboard that is just for tea and spices. I mean, three shelves! I won’t run out of tea, even if I don’t buy one more bag for 6 months. I need to start using it.

Part of the problem is that some of my best tea is loose tea which requires a tea ball and teapot. I’m home enough, though, I could use this tea more often and really have some special moments. OK, that’s my goal for the next week. I have some green tea with cardamom I got in Montreal that is not getting any fresher and I will make at least one pot this week.

I’ve got a bunch of yarn dyed, and a bunch more skeined and ready to dye. Then I go and take a two-hour nap instead of dyeing it! I am not in charge, I guess. Next Sunday I start teaching again, so I need to hop on the yarns while I still have time at home.

Sunny EthiopiaMy three testers on the rolled-brim button hat are doing great. Two have sent photos and one is on the final bits of her hat. Now if I can only find good packages to hold the two small skeins, button and pattern, I’ll be doing well. The package needs to hold everything I want, look appealing, and not cost a lot. I want my customers to pay for content, not packaging! I’m still looking…

I finished the knitting of the Bloom Shawl today and I think it will be good. It’s very warm and textured and colorful. I still do not know if I’ll keep it or give it to a friend whose name it keeps whispering. I don’t have to decide today.

Then, even though I swore I would finish the sample for my new sock class at Rae’s, instead I instantly cast on another Bloom Shawl. In Multicolor brushed mohair. Oh, wow… this one is mine, mine, mine. It’s floaty and glowingly pretty, and warm without weighing much. I have already knit 3 of the 18 sections.

Oh, and on the knitting machine… I started sewing the Funnel Neck together, and it’s more a hassle than expected. I didn’t know how to really work the shoulder stairstep-bindoff on the machine and it wanted to have huge holes. I got something decent but I hope nobody looks really closely at it! Now I’m trying to get the sleeves sewn on, but it’s going slowly. It’s not as portable as knitting!

Sunny EthiopiaI did one legwarmer out of the yarn Rae gave me for my birthday, also on the machine. It’s a 4st/in yarn and that is really pushing the machine to its limit, it prefers sport to worsted yarn. One legwarmer is done, and it’s nearly bulletproof on the loosest setting. It will be warm! I will like it warm! Now I need to knit the second one before I forget how I did the first one. I did take notes but I’m notorious for forgetting something.

Photos: A year ago today I was spending my last day in Ethiopia. The whole time we were there, 38 days in Africa, we saw a few sprinkles of rain one day in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) while we were in the car, and we had one day of real rain in the morning, in Alexandria (Egypt). The rest of the time it was sunny as you see in these photos. People use umbrellas in the sun, to keep it out of their faces and to stay cooler, a woman is holding one at the center of the first photo here.

Notice the wonderful smiles, the sunny sky, the colors everywhere. Also notice that at the market, most of the merchandise is moved on the backs of people who work there. In the third photo here, one man at left is carrying two large/heavy bags, and in the center back another man has three very large cardboard boxes or bales wrapped in brown paper, on his back. Wowie!

Folks, we’re lucky, lucky, lucky to have lives of relatively simple physical demands here in the western world. But trust me, people smile even when their bodies work this hard. These photos were taken my last week in Addis, Ababa, at the market and a small group of clothing shops.

Hat Week

Sunday, December 11th, 2005

Shepherd's Hat from Northern EthiopiaI seem to be knitting at least four hats at a time again. Some are experimental, where I’m making them up on the needles. That means I’ll be ripping out a lot of hats at a time again, too. For a hat, it does not upset me much to rip. They have so few stitches, even when using DK weight yarn, that I can reknit in a day or two or three.

It means, however, that there are not many photos for you. I have my new hard drive mostly working, my PhotoShop is up and running, and now the challenge is to figure out where in the heck the computer downloaded the photos I moved off my camera a few days back. It was not where I thought! Normally I can search the computer for something by date, but the conversion to the new hard drive means that all my folders have the same date on them. Aargh! I’ll get there…

Meanwhile, here is perhaps the prize purchase of last year’s trip to Africa. It’s an Ethiopian shepherd’s hat. Yes, for a real shepherd, that’s a current real job in rural Ethiopia.

The hat appears to be woven like a basket, from rope of some sort. At the hotel gift shop where I bought this (in Gondar/Gonder, Northern Ethiopian historical area), they told me it was wool. I’m thinking that was the best word in translation, and perhaps it is really goat hair.

The fiber is incredibly coarse and incredibly scratchy. I can wear scratchy wools that others can’t touch, and this hat can stay on my head for a maximum of maybe 5 seconds before I need to take it off. Woohoo, they must wrap their heads underneath the hat when they wear these (which they really do, we saw them in action in some parts of our travels).

It is very densely woven. It would definitely keep off rain and sun. And isn’t the horsehair tuft a wonderful decoration?


Monday, November 28th, 2005

EthiopiaIt is the Monday after Thanksgiving. A year ago, on the Monday after Thanksgiving, Altu and I left for Africa.

Today it is gloomy and gray again. The thought of five weeks of sunshine sounds very good to me right now. I’m really OK with staying here with my Brian, but there is a small bit of melancholy in my heart.

However, I started my day with a phone call from my mother, and now I’m preparing for lunch with Altu. I’ve already done some knitting this morning. I’m determined to make it a good day.

Photo: Laundry day in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, taken approximately New Year’s Eve, 2005. This woman looks SO Ethiopian! And check out those sharp shadows, from the strong sun near the equator. Also notice that color is not scary to Africans… pink buildings are not uncommon.