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Archive for January, 2005

Featured Artists of the Week !!!

Monday, January 31st, 2005

Wowie, it’s official! Brian and I (as The Fabulous Heftones) are the featured artists on EZFolk.com this week. This is an absolute thrill!

Brian has been uploading our music a little at a time, to the EZFolk site, since late in 2004. Of course, he is prolific as a solo artist (four solo albums in a few years) and we have just one joint CD as The Fabulous Heftones thus far. Therefore, there are more Brian Hefferan cuts on EZFolk than Fabulous Heftones cuts. I like them all, but then I’m biased! I’m very happy that Richard Hefner, the man behind the EZFolk site, has noticed our work and chosen us this week.

By the way, The Fabulous Heftones will have a new CD this spring. It is currently titled “In the Garden.” I’ve been collecting songs about flowers for a few years now, so we have daisies, daffodils, lilacs, tulips, roses, violets and perhaps a few others. We also have crickets, bluebirds and rainbows, just to round things out in the garden theme.

I’m very excited about this CD, which we have been working on since it was warm outside in Michigan. The current plan is to perhaps have a CD release party when it finally emerges full-grown. It would be great to have the party in a garden, but we may not want to wait until roses bloom for this CD to go “live.” I’ll write more on that, as we get closer to the final release date.

Meanwhile, please take a good look at EZFolk.com today. You might find several things that tickle your fancy!

Classes I Have Taught and Loved

Sunday, January 30th, 2005

What a wonderful couple of weeks I have had! I love teaching knitting and I’ve had just a great series of classes.

On January 16 I taught ColorJoy Stole at Yarn Garden in Charlotte, Michigan. On January 23 I taught Felting without Knitting at Threadbear in Lansing. On January 29 (yesterday) I taught Heritage Heirloom socks at Heritage Spinning in Lake Orion (near Pontiac), Michigan. Today I taught ColorJoy Stole at Threadbear. And during that time I had four sessions of CityKidz Knit! at Foster Center, and two private knitting lessons. (And on top of that, I taught three computer classes in addition to the fiberart classes.)

If you are local and interested, if you click on the first link (classes) above you can see my full range of classes for the next few months. Actually, I’ve added three new classes this week which will be put up there soon, but it shows most of the impending dates right now.

And delight of delights… I’m starting to see a decent percentage of students who are repeat students for me. They tried one of my classes (or saw me make a demo at a guild meeting) and are coming back for more. It makes my heart smile! Just today I had Mary, Brenda, Jan, Esther and Marty who I already knew, and three new folks. And Esther and Marty are folks who have taken both knitting and computer classes from me. I’m thrilled.

For someone who feels that she was born to teach, it has been just a wonderful few weeks. I’m bone tired right now, because for some reason I just am not sleeping well yet even though I’ve been home from Africa for 3 weeks (I did OK for about a week and now I’m off again, so it could have other causes). Standing up for 6 hours in a row, teaching my heart out, for two days in a row… well, that would exhaust even someone with enough sleep. But I have no complaints, and all I can wish is that it will keep on keeping on like this!

Brian, by the way, is his usual kind self on these long days for me. I got home tonight and he immediately offered to take me out to dinner so I would not have to cook. We went to Emil’s (Italian comfort food, a local establishment) for the all you can eat pasta special. That was exactly what I needed!

I took pictures at all my classes, and I just don’t have the energy to haul out the camera and start editing those photos. However, I have two shots from Africa ready to go. The first is the view from the government hotel where we stayed in historical Northern Ethiopia. I think this one was in Gondar (Gonder). The second is a view of some beautiful hand-woven fabrics in a shop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Soooo Tired!

Saturday, January 29th, 2005

I have been busy, no time to sleep! Friday I finally got to see my brother, Eric, and his wife Diana. We met at the Exotic Bakery (Syrian Deli on Plymouth Rd. in Ann Arbor) for dinner and I finally got to show them pictures of my trip and give them the gifts I bought them in Ethiopia.

Saturday I got up very early to drive to Lake Orion and teach my Heritage Heirloom Socks at Heritage Spinning. It was too funny, I got there and who was teaching in the next room? Marcia C., from Lansing (teaching Philosophers’ Wool Sweaters). We didn’t know we could drive together, until it was too late! It was great to see her.

And it turns out I will be seeing her again tomorrow (Sunday). She teaches “Measure Twice, Knit Once” and I teach ColorJoy Stole, at Threadbear. So we’ll be side by side once again!

By the way, the ColorJoy Stole class filled up this time at Threadbear. However, I am teaching it next Sunday (February 6) at Heritage Spinning (Lake Orion, just north of Pontiac) from 10-4, and that class still has room for a few more students.

Here are photos of two pairs of socks I completed on my trip. The first is my Ethiopian-inspired sock, which was my 100th pair I’ve knit. (Photograph taken on Kenyan wood floor, isn’t that pretty, too?) The top of the sock is a corrugated rib inspired by a shepherd’s hat style. The middle is a pattern inspired by traditional baskets, and the heel is inspired by the Ethiopian Flag.

The second is a pair from a sockyarn I dyed early in my dyeing career, and those were for a friend who did me a favor over a year ago. (The color is much more turquoise and less blue than they appear in the photo.) I finished those on the beach in Mombasa, Kenya, and the background is grass at the resort.

Dinner with Sharon P

Friday, January 28th, 2005

OK, first… I tried to buy the Marian Anderson stamps Thursday. I was told “today is first date of Issue and tomorrow is first date of Sales.” Go figure! I’m not a stamp person, I just like Marian Anderson (OK, I do love the artwork on stamps but I never cared about the first date of issue before). I’ll have to get some stamps Friday, instead.

But that was OK because I had a very busy day anyway. One of my computer clients had a few computers (and monitors, a big deal) to donate to my room at Foster Center. Then I had a computer class for adults, and a CityKidz Knit! session for an hour, and then a two-hour computer lab. Foster was hopping with people today, I had a bigger crowd in my room than I have in a long time… and we had two finished wristbands which was exciting.

But the highlight of the day was dinner at Fleetwood Diner with Sharon P of Knitknacks! Such fun she is. We get together more during the summertime, when we can sit outdoors at Beaners until the ice in our iced tea melts. I hac seen her only a few times since I got back from Africa, and both times it was in a knitting crowd where we couldn’t really chat. It was great to have the leisure to sip two full cups of tea and chat all we wanted. I loved it!

I don’t have any pictures of Sharon and I, but she took photos of me in some clothing I bought in Kenya, and I used her camera to take a photo of her wearing my gift to her… a handspun, handwoven Ethiopian cotton “shawl” I bought in Addis Ababa. Those pics are on her weblog entry today.

Photos today… 1)”My Kidz.” CityKidz Knit! children from this Wednesday… the first 2 didn’t have a new project finished so they each wore one of my wristwarmers and shook hands for the picture… middle girl designed a scarf for her mom that is big like a hood in the middle and skinnier at the ends to wrap more easily… and she’s showing off her recently-finished full pair of socks! The Fourth kid is a new boy this term with his second finished wristwarmer, and the fifth kid I think is his brother, who got to the room just in time for the picture and wanted to join in. 2) My very fun/cool wristwarmers from bulky Lamb’s Pride in Lime Green… worn over my very fun/cool hot pink leather gloves gifted to me from my friend Ulyana, for no reason other than she wanted me to have them. Isn’t this pair a match made in heaven?

Marian Anderson Commemorative Stamp

Thursday, January 27th, 2005

Today, January 27, 2005, the US Postal Service releases a new postage stamp in the “Black Heritage” series. It honors the late Marian Anderson (1897-1993).

Marian Anderson was one of the greatest contralto singers of our time and culture. She was recognized as a gifted singer at a very young age (her church publicised her talent when she was 10, according to one source). In 1921 she graduated from high school… she applied to an all-white music school in Philadelphia (where she had grown up) and was turned down because she was “colored.” Fortunately, she was able to study with voice teachers from 1916 – 1925 who saw her talent first, rather than her skin color.

In 1925 she won first place in a competition at New York Philharmonic, over more than 300 other singers. She debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1928.

Ms. Anderson is important in my own family’s oral history. You see, my maternal grandmother attended college with funds she raised through various scholarships and grants. One of the places that supplied her with funds was the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). You had to research your family tree and validate that you had some relative who had participated in the American Revolution, to become a member (and thus become eligible for the scholarship). Grandma’s family came from England in the 1600’s, at least one small branch of it, so she documented that line and was able to benefit from the DAR funding.

Well, in 1939, Howard University tried to schedule Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall. This building was owned by the DAR, and they denied the request for the specific reason that Ms. Anderson was black. Eleanor Roosevelt, then the First Lady of the United States, was on the board of the DAR at the time. She quit the organization in protest as did a host of other visible women. My Grandmother also quit (on principle, rather than as a public act).

It’s no surprise that europe (in the 1920’s and 30’s) gave Marian Anderson more welcoming audiences than the US, to start her world-class career. The same was true for Josephine Baker (dancer, singer, ukulele player), who was about 10 years younger than Ms. Anderson. (Ms. Baker, born in the USA and with both Native-American and African-American roots, made France her home for most of her adult life.)

May you rest in peace, Marian Anderson! (I’m off to buy some stamps, on the very first day they are available. I’ve never done that before, but I’m very excited to have stamps graced by this fine woman’s likeness.)

I’ll end with a quote from Ms. Anderson herself:

“There are many persons ready to do what is right because in their hearts they know it is right. But they hesitate, waiting for the other fellow to make the first move–and he, in turn, waits for you. The minute a person whose word means a great deal dares to take the open-hearted and courageous way, many others follow. Not everyone can be turned aside from meanness and hatred, but the great majority of Americans is heading in that direction. I have a great belief in the future of my people and my country.”

Rested and Refreshed

Wednesday, January 26th, 2005

I’m relaxed today after a full day of staying home. What a luxury that was! Of course, I’d love many more days of the same, but I need to work a few hours today, and I need to dance hard with the Habibi Dancers (preparing for our spring show) this evening.

I finished hot green wristwarmers in Bulky Lamb’s Pride. I also worked long and hard on a beautiful brushed mohair for a beret, but if you are as picky as me about hats, you end up disappointed a lot.

The fabric for this hat is gorgeous but the shape is wrong. I need to frog it, either ripping about 2/3 of the hat or just ripping the whole thing and using the beautiful (and pricey) yarn for something else. Sigh… Knitting multicolored brushed mohair on size 3 needles makes a beautiful reverse-stockinette fabric, and it was pleasant to knit. However, I am spoiled by typically having many successes in knitting and I don’t like ripping out a day’s worth of work. A few hours, OK, but not a day. Ugh.

A friend in Pittsburgh just wrote me. She takes public transportation to get around, and her nose is cold these days. She has requested a nosewarmer.

I knit myself one last year that was very satisfactory, and I’m delighted to knit one for her as well. That is something that takes only an hour or so to knit, and is easy to make a success. I’m waiting for her to tell me what color she wants. I’ll knit it out of the Debbie Bliss washable Merino DK. It’s dense and shiny and stands up to wear very well. That will be great fun. The photo here is a nosewarmer I knit from the Debbie Bliss yarn last year. Great fun for all! It’s nice to have a friend who understands the same passions I have.

Just now, I tried to show you some pictures of socks I knit on my trip. Unfortunately, right now my FTP program for connecting to my webserver, won’t let me connect to Colorjoy.com. It lets me go to Altu’s restaurant‘s website which is on a different server, so I don’t know exactly what is wrong.

My computer is acting OK after about 8 Windows upgrades (I had not done any since I left on my trip), but FTP often is the thing that goes screwy after a security upgrade. I’ll see what I can do, but meanwhile I’ll have to post just text today and an old photo.

A Lazy Day Off

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005

Today is Tuesday. That means it is half of my “weekend.” Last year I did not schedule myself any regular time off, and it really turned against me in the end. I was willing to go to any lengths to make a living, but I also did not rejuvenate myself on any regular basis.

When I scheduled this term, I took advice from several wonderful folks who love me (thanks in particular to Luann C.). I scheduled myself with Tuesdays and Fridays off. So far, I have been able to stick to this. It’s hard, because people want my time, and I’m used to giving up any blank spot on my calendar. What I am finding now, is that people will wait a week if they really want to see me. So far it is working out fine to take time off. I’m practicing living the way other Americans (with day jobs) do without thinking about it!

Today I was supposed to go and see my brother, Eric. We have not been able to connect since I got home from Africa. However, he called me yesterday and said that he has to take some training at work today (he also usually has Tuesday off) and so we have to wait until later… maybe Friday, maybe next Tuesday.

So now, it’s a gray day in Lansing and I can stay home and knit. Imagine that! I found a small circular needle to substitute for the broken double-point set I was using on the mohair hat last night, so I am knitting that right now as I read other folks’ blogs. I’m drinking good tea and wearing my new fat footies over my other wool socks, so that my feet are only a little cold.

I also have a handwarmer I can finish, in hot lime green Lamb’s Pride bulky I got at Threadbear this Sunday. I finished one of them last night… bulky is not that flattering to wear, but it’s really warm and the color is right. And I just love the immediate gratification of wristwarmers! They are so warm, so practical, and so fast to knit! I wear them indoors alone to keep the chill (and arthritis) at bay, wear them outside alone in springlike weather instead of full gloves, and over wind-breaking gloves in this miserable winter weather. Gotta love something that useful!

I’m also considering taking out my knitting machine today. I have to give up some kitchen space to do it, but today Brian has a very busy day at work and will not be home till late… and we have leftovers so I don’t need the table space to prepare dinner. I really would love to make those wool/cotton longjohns (long underwear trousers for those who live outside the US) that I planned out last year before it got warm. There have been days that would have been more comfy if I had those to wear under my leggings and legwarmers!!!

And right after I post this, I plan to do a Windows Critical Update on my laptop. Cross your fingers for me, please… I know I need the security built in, but every once in a while these things backfire. I’m scared to death that my laptop will stop working. I have backed up all my important documents to another computer here at home, and I have a rescue floppy disk at hand. I don’t trust Microsoft, but I have no choice but to do what they suggest, like it or not. Brian reminds me that “probably it will work just fine.” I am not sure if that is encouraging advice or not!

I hope it’s a non-issue and I just get to merrily go on my way playing with wool for a whole lovely day. There is no guild meeting tonight, no driving to do. I’ll cook in or eat leftovers, so I don’t have to set foot out in that miserable (though warmer, almost up to freezing) gray winter weather. And take a real day off, like regular Americans with regular jobs do all the time!

For your viewing pleasure on this gray, gray, white-sky, white-snow day, I offer you color from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The first six of the seven photos were taken out of the window of a car (usually as we drove past… my new camera has a setting for moving subjects, and it worked very well).

They are: 1) colorful storefront; 2) storefronts with brightly-colored bricks (this is very common, and is often done very creatively with many colors on one storefront); 3) bright awnings on storefronts (I bought much traditional Ethiopian cotton clothing/blankets/headwraps at the one with the purple awning… the young man in yellow is the parking attendant); 4) colorful storefronts (notice black and white curb… that means it is a taxi stop area), 5) furniture store; 6) schoolchildren in their uniforms… blue or purple pants/long skirts and turquoise sweaters; 7) The Purple Cafe, a place where we did not eat, but it’s very close to Altu’s sister’s home so we drove past it often.

Yarn I Bought in Egypt

Monday, January 24th, 2005

Long day, today… it was my first day teaching in Haslett, a suburb close to where I grew up. My friend Sarah Peasley who I mention here from time to time, lives there now! It is a nice place but for some reason, there is no efficient way to drive from my house (on the immediate southeast side of Lansing) to this area (maybe 10 miles east and slightly north). I was not looking forward to this drive, especially with all the snow we have had this week.

However, once I got there, I was totally energized. I had a two-hour computer class for novices, followed by a two-hour session with several folks who took that novice class with me last term and asked for a continuation of that class this term.

My first class was very good… very nice folks (two of the women wore handknit scarves they made themselves) and it was about half men, very unusual for a community ed computer class.

And my night class… it was SO good to see them again! I loved every minute of my time with them. I feel so alive when I can help people understand things better… it doesn’t matter if it is knitting or computers, if I can help people learn, I’m happy.

On the way home, I stopped at the new restaurant run by the folks who own the New Aladdin’s restaurant where I sometimes dance. They opened a new place very close to where I teach over there. For local folks, it’s in the Target plaza by the Meridian Mall, between Pier One and Marshalls. I ordered far too much food, and took it home to Brian. Then we ate far too much of it (the rest will be devoured in the next 24 hours for other quick meals). It was wonderful!

And then I just sort of crashed… I am doing my best to make up a sort of beret/tam out of the multicolored mohair I bought at Yarn for Ewe on Friday. The first try I had to rip out last night, but today I was really making progress (working top down, sort of like socks from toe up).

Then I broke one of my vintage plastic knitting needles. Drat, drat, drat! I love those needles. I did have five, so I still have four (three to hold stitches and one as a working needle) but it is not enough to hold all the stitches I now have for this hat… with more increases impending. I had to quit that project for the night.

But I don’t get tired of mohair during wintertime. Here is a photo of the yarn I bought in Alexandria, Egypt. It’s a British brand of yarn. The ladies at the shop told me this was all they would ever be getting of this yarn. It was reeeally affordable (British yarn tends to be very expensive in the US because of import duties). I loved the colors, even though the yarn wasn’t exactly Egyptian.

This yarn is what I was focusing on last week. I got ribbon yarns to go with these colors and did a swatch. Very nice, indeed. The swatch is exciting, though it has fewer yarns in it than my typical ColorJoy stole (which has at least 5 yarns).

Buying yarn in Egypt, by the way, was very different than at home. There were tiny closet-like shops in Cairo we did not visit, but I noticed them as I walked by. They appeared to have solid-colored, acrylic and/or cotton yarns, sometimes very thick yarns (for rugs?) and sometimes very thin (doilies, perhaps?).

When I entered this particular shop in Alexandria, it was big enough that I could actually walk in, about twice the width of a hallway and maybe 20-30 feet (10meters) deep. There was yarn on glassed-in shelves on the left wall, and on the right there was an old fashioned glass store display case. Behind the case were two ladies working, and behind them more shelves full of yarn. I walked up to the counter/case and had to point to any yarn I wanted to see.

Most of the yarns looked acrylic or cotton from any distance, but I could tell this particular type was brushed mohair in colors I like (the others tended to be more on the pastel side). Since I could not speak Arabic, I did not want to do too much looking at lots of things. I sort of played it safe, though I have no regrets.

They brought me the remaining 7 skeins of this type of yarn, four fuschia/hot pink and three turquoise. And I bought it all. The colors are perfect, even if there is only 45% mohair. The yarn came to about $2.50 USD per skein, a screaming deal! And now that I have some ribbon yarns to knit with it, I’m very glad I went ahead and bought all they had left. I think I’ll end up with a shawl, stole or ruana by the time I’m done. So much yarn, so little time!

The second photo is also in Alexandria, Egypt. Look at all the color, just on the street! It had been raining earlier, and that does make colors look more intense. But color… that is something all the countries we visited, do very well indeed!

Dancing in Addis Ababa

Sunday, January 23rd, 2005

Well, last night our Abbott Brothers performance had about 30 customers in the restaurant. This being a small restaurant, that means the place was hopping! And since the weather was terrible, and the roads nasty, I was surprised to have such a good turnout. Those of you who stayed home, I don’t blame you one bit. Those who came out, thank you from the bottom of my heart!!!

I’m off to teach feltmaking (without knitting) at Threadbear today and then after that I’m meeting some friends from Habibi Dancers, at Emil’s Italian restaurant, for knitting and all-you-can-eat pasta. So I’m posting a few quick photos today.

The night we left from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) for Nairobi, Kenya, our plane left at Midnight. On the way to the airport we had a late dinner with several of Altu’s family members. The restaurant had great musicians and wonderful dancers. I took a zillion pictures, but many did not turn out because of bad lighting. However, here is one photo of me dancing with two of the performers, and a lovely shot of a woman as she was proceeding off stage at the end of one of the dances. They were wonderful, I wish you all could have seen the show.

Snowy Lansing, Warm Footies, Warm Tea

Saturday, January 22nd, 2005

Well, the snow just POURED down on us last night. When I went to bed at 1:30am, there was less than an inch. However, right now there is a lot of snow, blowing and drifting, and it is expected to continue until 6pm tonight. I hope they keep those plows going all day, because at 6:30 we have a performance at Altus. At least Regina, Rob and Matt have said they plan to come, so we really want to make sure the performance happens and all participants can have safe trips to and from the restaurant.

But when I got up this morning at 9:45, look at what I saw out the kitchen window!!! Bless those workers in the snowplows, who make it so that we can get around in this sort of mess!

OK, to warm your heart if not your hands/feet, here is a photo of a child who finished her first wristband in CityKidz Knit! this Thursday. She has been coming to the center for a long time but just decided to try knitting last week. This week, she forgot her knitting bag at home. Therefore, she started, and finished, this wristband. The whole thing was completed in one hour. Doesn’t she look pleased? She should be!!!

And… finally, one knitting picture, my own work. Never mind that I have finished 9 pair and two sample socks since I posted any socknitting photos here. However, it’s cold outside. I wore my fuzzy feet and my bulky alpaca footies so much that they both finally blew holes in their heels, at the same time. My feet were pretty darned cold!!! So I got out a skein of black Cascade Pastaza I bought from a fiber buddy, and made a pair of very-warm footies.

I made several mistakes on these socks, but hey! I used black for personal consumption… because I can’t use it for publication… it’s almost impossible to get a good photo, as you can see here. The real thing is much fuzzier and darker than this shot.

And nobody but me and Brian will see these (he can’t tell there’s any problem with them, anyway). The purpose of the footies is to keep my feet warm, and they do the job perfectly. So I left the mistakes in, and that meant I got to wear them a day sooner! I like that compromise just fine. I can not say my feet are warm right now, but they are much closer to comfortable than they would be if I were not wearing the footies over my regular socks.

OK, so now is the working part of the day. I’m winding yarn off from cones into loose skeins so that I can dye them. I have three cases of yarn destined to be ColorSport yarn, if I can only get the time to do the work of dyeing them! To make the boring part more palatable, I’m drinking some green tea I bought at Fishawi Coffee House in Cairo. What a lovely memory for a cold day!

(The last photo is Fishawi, which has been open 24 hours a day for about 200 years. The woodwork is all hand-carved. It looks shiny but is actually dusty… we came back less than a week later and they had cleaned what had seemed like years’ worth of dust from everything… but Cairo is just a very dusty place and they are constantly dusting everywhere, a very futile task indeed.)

Photos from Nairobi, Kenya

Friday, January 21st, 2005

I’ve been out more than in today, spending lovely time with my friend Deborah (Scarlet Zebra) talking for hours and having a marathon show-and-tell session.

Deb and I live 2 hours apart so we have to each drive about an hour one-way to visit. We met in Davison, Michigan, about 15 minutes east of Flint. That location means Deb can go to the quilt shop and I can go to the yarn shop. Fair enough, I’d say!

I didn’t need any yarn, you know that for sure. I have enough yarn to knit for a year without a yarn shop. (Maybe some day I’ll tell the story about the day I really did run out of yarn, about 3-4 years ago.)

But I do have some brushed mohair yarn in two colors that I got in Egypt, which I’m itching to knit with. I found some companion yarn for it in Charlotte at Yarn Garden last Sunday. But I needed another companion yarn, of course, to make a sort of simplified ColorJoy stole. And I did find that second yarn at Elaine’s Yarn in Davison (run by Marj, go figure). I enjoy that shop. It’s small but packed to the gills, and it’s such a wonderful little old-fashioned brick house. I love being there.

On the way home, I also stopped at Yarn for Ewe in Okemos. And bought 4 skeins of sock yarn I had never seen before… and some brushed mohair that is screaming it wants to be a hat! Yarn does talk, you know… and sometimes it is downright rowdy!

One of these days I’ll have enough time at the computer to show you the yarn I got, in Egypt and at Yarn Garden, Elaine’s and Yarn for Ewe. But for now, you get to see photos that are unrelated to this text.

I took the first two photos at a fairly fancy multi-story mall in Nairobi. This mall has the Masai Market outdoors in a shaded area, twice a week. The day we went to the market, we also enjoyed Turkish food at the food court, and watched the entertainment.

There was a group of young men doing dance and acrobatics, and they were very talented. There also was a group of schoolchildren singing Christmas songs in several languages, who sang between acts so that the dancer/acrobats could change clothes.

The last photo is from the National Park just outside of Nairobi. This is where we saw our incredible assortment of wild animals (from the safety of a safari van) including the lion who had just caught dinner. It was amazing. I have so many animal pictures I probably will never get them all on this weblog, though I hope to put many of them on the travelogue I haven’t yet started writing. So much to do… so little time…

I hope you enjoy my photos.

Photos from Mombasa, Kenya

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

I had a busy day (completed nicely with a knitting guild meeting) and so will show photos today rather than writing many words as I did yesterday. These photos were taken in/near Mombasa, Kenya, which is a resort area just south of the Equator on the Indian Ocean. It’s a resort area for a reason, the beaches are gorgeous and the weather wonderfully sunny and warm!

When we were at the resort, we heard many languages being spoken. There were folks from France, England, Holland, Germany and the US, at the very least, as well as Africans on holiday (it was a three-day weekend for Kenyans that week).

When we were there, an Italian couple had a Swahili wedding ceremony right near the beach. The attendants were Italian but all participants were dressed in African attire.

In addition, there were eight local female dancer/singers, four of them adults and four children… and there were four(?) local male drummers/musicians. They danced and sang several times throughout the ceremony and afterward. I loved the music, the drums, the dancers. I felt very lucky to be there on that day. And what a photo I got of the couple going down to the beach after the ceremony!!!

These photos are of a) the adult female dancer/singers; b)the couple heading to the beach (doesn’t this look like an advertisement?); and c) a street scene as we passed through the village on the way to the airport when we were leaving town. I took the shot out the window of the van as we drove down the street, so it is not in perfect focus… but it is a fairly typical street scene for that area and I really love the photo.

Thank you, Dr. King.

Tuesday, January 18th, 2005

This week, as always, I am grateful for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the work he did on behalf of humanity. It’s sad that many of his ideals are still dreams and not reality. Yet without dreams we go nowhere. And it’s a wonderful thing about humanity, that we are idealists for the most part. We believe that things will continue to get better. And usually, it is true.

Changes come slowly, one person at a time. I wish that race was not an issue. If we go back far enough, we are all related, as Brian is fond of saying. We’re all in the Human Race, and it’s a shame that skin color can make us forget that at times.

I personally think that brown skin is infinitely more beautiful to look at, from an artist’s perspective, than beige. (Yes, I’m called “white” and some of my friends are called “black” but I am describing a color of skin here rather than grouping people into cultural groups. Nobody has skin the color of the crayons we call white or black.)

When I work with children, I sometimes describe the multiple colors of skin we have, by using food words. They like deciding if they are chocolate or caramel or vanilla or butterscotch. Some of the kids are called “mixed” which makes it even more special to find a word that fits them… because other words our society uses to describe them do not typically fit. Calling us a family of many flavors makes all skin colors sound equally wonderful. How lovely can that be?

This idea is a little idealistic, again, perhaps. But kids need a safe place where they can feel good, even knowing that the safe place is a bit artificial. They tend to appreciate and even protect that safe place from folks who don’t yet know how special the space is. “My Kids” at Foster inform new kids about my rules (stay in your own space, use only positive words, no talking behind anyone’s back, ask before touching something that is not yours). They make sure my room stays a safe place. I’m proud of that.

Maybe someday we will just discuss race as if it were a visual attribute only… like describing the color of a dress, with no emotional baggage attached. Maybe someday children will have equal experiences growing up no matter what they look like.

I’ve been a minority person several times in my life (I worked as the only full-time “white” staff person at a community center for four years, and I just finished a five week trip to Africa where I was the sole white person in many of the places I visited). However, I had the fortune to grow up as a child/young person looking “right” to the society in which I lived.

I did not have to go home crying to my mother asking why someone did not like me because of how I looked. My mother did not have to do that extra work of letting me know I was wonderful just the way I was, even if someone did not like my skin. I did not lose friends because their parents did not want me to play with them. I grew up in a community where I looked pretty much like everyone else. There were merely 5 black kids and a handful of asian kids, and two middle-eastern kids that I knew… That was in 1970, out of about 800 children. Even with those statistics, four years later our homecoming king was a black football player (he truly was a great kid, he deserved that honor). That school is significantly more integrated today.

I’m lucky that my father worked with people from all over the world. My father was a professor of Communications at Michigan State University, when that field was brand new and there were very few places one could study for a PhD. So he had students from Spain, Israel, Sweden, Nigeria, Australia, Mexico, Costa Rica… to name those that I remember off the top of my head. All who really wanted to be here, studying far from home. All had nowhere special to go for holiday meals.

So these students of my Father’s often joined us at our dining room table for Thanksgiving or Christmas, or any other holiday that came about, and we got to know them all. Holiday dinner at our house became an education. I learned that even though the other kids at school mostly looked like me, there were people who looked different from me and from each other, who grew up differently, spoke a different language, ate different food, and had different customs and things they were proud of. And whose parents loved them just as much as mine loved me. They were more like me than not, no matter how they looked or dressed or what they ate.

I also remember these students telling stories about what it was like to be a child affected by war or injustice. One man was born in Spain during Franco’s reign, and his cultural group was not allowed to speak their native language, under penalty of law. They had to flee Spain for Mexico so that they would be safe to raise the family without fear of death or imprisonment.

Another student remembered that when he was young (in Sweden?) there were prisoner camps near his home, and the adults would boil potatoes and put them in the children’s pockets. The children would go out on their cross-country skis and go to the fences of the camps, and push the potatoes through the grating of the fence so that people inside would have some food to eat.

And my father’s best friend, a colleague in that department, was of Japanese descent. He and his family were locked up by our own government when we were at war with Japan. If I remember the story properly, he met his wife in that camp, when they were quite young. The stories of these camps are not told very often, but it is true that even on our own soil we have been unjust to our own citizens. It is awful to see what has happened when we have allowed our fears and prejudices control over our actions.

These were stories that most other children from Okemos just did not hear. I’m haunted by these stories, but I’m very grateful they were part of my growing up. I had a better sense of the world than most children in my circle of friends.

I’m aware that I was lucky to first withstand the challenges of being a minority person (at work only, not in my community) when I was grown and able to make sense of why those difficulties were happening to me. I’m even more lucky that war has never been in an area where I live… I have never had to worry about my personal safety in such a big way.

I don’t usually discuss difficult subjects here on my blog. However, I just spent over a month seeing a part of the world I had never seen. Truly, people treated me so well that much of the time I forgot that I was a minority person there. Yet it’s hard to talk about a trip of this sort without talking race at one time or another. And unfortunately, it’s an issue anywhere in the world.

It is a sad thing to note that injustice still is a part of life, both at home and away. I’m glad for a day to celebrate the ideals of a man who did make some change. And I’m glad to be an idealist who believes more change can still be part of our present and our future.

It is scary to discuss this subject here, especially since I usually keep this column upbeat and focused on the positive things. However, I once heard Maya Angelou and Harry Belafonte in a great discussion forum, and they both challenged the audience to talk about it.

Talk. Race is an issue, and it’s sad that it is. But how can we get over our issues without working through them? You might ask – how dare I, a white person, talk about this? From the outside looking in? I know I am taking a chance at sounding condescending just by looking the way I look and talking about this as if I know anything about prejudice.

I, afraid as I am about conflict, am taking the challenge I was given by Ms. Angelou and Mr. Belafonte. I care about this subject. I am so grateful I live in a place and time when/where I can have friends who look different than me, who are not from the same cultural group as me. Some of my friends look very different from me. In some countries you might barely talk to people who are not of your group. I’m very lucky in that way. Human Race works as a lifestyle in my personal world.

In my city, neighborhoods are mixed without comment. There is not a central road where you live on one side if you have dark skin and the other side if you are “white.” Some areas here are more mixed than others, but it is the norm to have cultural variety in a neighborhood in Lansing. I’m very proud of my city for that.

I’m happy to be an idealist in a good time and place for idealists. It’s sometimes harder to stay positive than others, but I am grateful for those who did the hard work before me. And I’m glad others have made their ideals a lifetime passion, rather than one column a year on a weblog.

Thank you, Dr. King.

Two Upcoming Performances at Altus

Monday, January 17th, 2005

I just got an email asking when I am performing at Altu’s. The word was out that I might be singing there tonight. That part is not true, but it is very close to true.

I will be performing with Abbott Brothers band at Altu’s this coming Saturday, from 6:30-8:30pm. And then on February 12 (just before Valentine’s Day) I will be performing there with Brian, as The Fabulous Heftones, also 6:30-8:30.

If you have not been to the restaurant yet, it is fabulous. She’s the best cook in the Lansing Area, in my biased opinion. There are many types of dishes available… mild or spicy, vegetarian or meat, comforting or adventurous.

If you are interested in coming to see us perform, want to learn more about the food, or need a map to find your way there, you can go to her website at http://EatAtAltus.com. You can also find the Saturday Music schedule to see what other performers are scheduled. I hope you all can join us, this week or for Valentine’s day, or for both!!!

Photo is Abbott Brothers Band. We play “Good Time Music,” a little of everything… Retro love songs, country, jug band, old time, swing, blues, whatever makes us smile.