Wednesday, November 30, 2011

fair warning...

....and know, dear loyal readers, that I am silent because I am in the throes of end-of-semester turmoil.  This includes, e.g., students who appear for the first time and wonder what they've missed (!!!) (to which I say, Oh nothing....); students who ask whether the Supreme Court can pass an act outlawing immigration;  students who put the text of footnotes IN the footnote instead of in the text and get furious with me for telling them to redo it; students who ask in class, without the slightest indication of shame, whether they need to read the rest of the books to pass the final.  I could go on.  To be sure, there are good students, even some wonderful ones.  But MY GOD.  I've not even mentioned the very sad situation posed by students who are smart enough but have gathered no (NO) writing skills in high school because the whole damn thing was multiple choice.   Enough.   I will reappear in the blog after December 8.  In the meantime, I am knitting and crocheting hats to sell in the studio -- to stay sane.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Black Friday, Small Store Saturday

.....of course the Small Store Saturday schtick has been made up by Amex for their own benefit.  But Artisan Knitworks really DOES have some tricks up its sleeve.  There is a very long list available of discounted yarn, buttons, gifts -- including sweaters and hats, etc., made mostly by me.  And we urge you to bring or begin making something to give to the Detroit Rescue Mission -- all day Friday and Saturday, people will be knitting and crocheting, we hope, for the charity -- and we will hand-deliver the result, this week and every week, until the cold season has passed.  Detroit is not a happy place, so consider making something warm!


Turkey Day and afterward...

Today on Turkey Day, a term redolent of my youth, I am baking a leg of lamb, two mixed-berry gallettes, and a huge pile of roasted root veggies, asparagras, green salad, whole grain bread.  I am SOOO sick of Turkey.
     Probably I should explain the Turkey Day crack.  When I was very young, we lived in Worthington, Minnesota, which actually called itself the Turkey Capital of the World.  Why?  Midwestern towns are most often agricultural service centers -- and Worthington, with its mostly bored population of about 8,000 on a good day, was no exception.  So towns of this kind invent an identity.  There was a big Campbell Soup Factory in town -- made turkey noodle soup -- and a large number of quite smelly turkey farms on the outskirts.  So -- why not?  Turkey Day. 
    On the official day, a small carnival was set up on a side street near the Nobles County courthouse.  And of course there was a parade, featuring Miss Turkey Day (!!!), aka Miss Worthington -- a spot to which every comely young woman aspired (I didn't think of myself as comely, merely smart, and besides, I had too much work to do).  At the appointed hour, floats would start wending their way down Main Street, and -- blare of trumpets -- the entire sheriff's department would appear on horseback, herding a gigantic flock of white turkeys down the street.  Totally astonishing.  Small children followed in its wake, picking up white feathers shed by the terrified birds.
    Ah childhood.
    Today, I am thinking about my mother, who would secretly love the anti-turkey position, but who would pretend otherwise for at least fifteen minutes.
    Afterward, I'm going to knit for at least six hours.


Sunday, November 20, 2011


Tonight, just as the sun began to fall over Lake St Clair, as it does every night -- the same liquid melting of colors at the horizon, a unification of two elements -- I found myself worrying about an odd drop in business at the studio over the past week or so, wondering whether we had done something wrong, or whether it might be the usual mix of football games, bizarre weather, economic pressures, out-of-sorts relatives demanding to attend enormous Thanksgiving dinners in less than a week -- and then I saw the most drop-dead beautiful collection of ducks, geese, and swans -- the impossibly white swans dotting the lake's surface like thoughts -- or maybe angels resting.

And it came over me that joy does not reside in cash drawers, certainly not in the ugly knowledge that at least one competitor hopes to run us out of business.  It lives in the sight of swan-butts bobbing along beside swan-tops, in the sudden appearance of holiday lights on a tree along Lakeshore Drive that Larry and I call The Chrystalline Entity, in the pleasure a customer expressed tonight after finding one of my crocheted 1920s-style hats ("I'm never going to take it off!!!!!")..........Maybe we'll keep the place open after the end of this season, maybe not.  Maybe other shops have become cause celebres....maybe we've had our moment in the sun and ought to leave well enough alone -- or not.  What matters is that ravishingly beautiful lake-scene, that particular shade of ice-mauve where the water seems to vanish, the sight of an ecstatic woman with a new jewel-toned hat festooned with buttons.

And because I have been thinking about them all day, let me add this:  Maybe what matters, more than all else, is my ability to remember my mother, my grandmother, my no-longer-living but still present brother Randy, who brought happiness into the world each and every day of their lives, even when we had nothing to eat but Wheaties and water.  So -- my friends -- think only of swans.  Remember, too, what the Talmud teaches:  If you think often of those who have gone before us, they will never truly die.   svb

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Promised Photographs from Massachusetts

Several posts ago, I promised that I'd include some photos of Lee and Lenox and Springfield, MA, the points of interest during my trip to the Fiber Festival of New England.

Lee, Massachusetts, the kissin' cousin of Lenox, MA, has some wonderful old architecture, much of it ecclesiastical.  Here is an old church building (18th century) transformed into a theater:

....and here are images of a fabulous old Congregational church, the kind that one always finds on a town square (as here), and the Cakewalk, where I got fabulous latte and an apple cake to bring home.  Both are in Lee, MA:

But the images I captured in Springfield, MA, just before the camera's battery went out are the main event here.  What a horrible, tragic sight in the wake of the heavy, wet snowfall.  And just after the batteries failed I saw scenes much, much worse than what I captured here.  Everywhere, trees and tree trunks and lampposts and cars were decimated.  Limbs piled up on the streetsides often reached to half the height of trees.  Click on the photographs for a taste of it -- and imagine entire blocks filled with worse than this.    svb

Modern-Day Burning Bush?

Look at the COLOR of this amazing bush in Grosse Pointe!  I had to park illegally in order to capture the colors.  WHEEEEE      svb

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Marching through time...

....and how time does pass, when we're not looking!  I just noticed about 9 million additional age spots on my HANDS, for god's can I pretend to be 39 with 9 million of them?  

I'm actually joking.  I am home today with a really awful head and chest cold, which forces me to sit down and be quiet and soak in the march of time, my surroundings, the fact of an unfinished book, the prospect of actually finishing it, an attic mostly full of wool, all of those not-yet-imagined sweaters........There is something mostly wonderful about gathering up all of the learning of the past 60+ years (I can't claim to have learned much of value before about, say, age 7, which is when my grandmother taught me to crochet, and when I got into my first spat with a really boring teacher, and also roughly when my mother advised me for the first time to stop being such a smart-mouth!). 

I thought of it again last week when I looked up from the podium in the big freshman class (a survey of modern American history), just after telling a small anecdote, and noticed a very young man making faces at the very young man next to him -- the kind of look and hand gestures that say, "GOD but she's not very cool, really dorky.").  I stopped and looked at him.  He looked shocked, but not embarrassed -- just defiant.  So I let it go.  Hardly worth wasting class time.  But it occurs to me that a barely-socialized brat like that is behaving more or less as I did when I was 7.  He doesn't have a clue, does he, what a professor of history has gathered over 30+ years of in-the-trenches teaching at public universities, where you need to do all kinds of things to make sure that the poor students and the really fine students are equally able to understand what's afoot.  Often, I slide in some personalized material to engage the poorer students, who perk up right away and even start talking.  But -- the brats will just get impatient.  I vividly remember when I was 7, 8, 9, maybe even 10, thinking that the teachers were just horrible old farts, not at all 'with it,' not worth listening to.  On one occasion, by the way, I was right:  They were trying to teach a pretty smart girl-child who got bored easily (I was reading at the 8th grade level in 3rd grade).  But, on other occasions, it's clear to me that I just didn't have enough time on earth to make any kind of judgment. 

Sometimes, students like the impatient young man appear in my university office years later and say, "I see now what you were doing."  But most often not.  They need another 25-30 years to figure out how complex the world really is, and how ungenerous and uncompassionate they're being.

On the studio front:  If you haven't been in the studio lately, get there asap.  We just got a huge trunk show of raku ceramic beads, buttons and jewelry.  That's not even mentioning all of the very cool new yarn.  And gallery sweaters are at least 25% off between now and the end of the year.


Monday, November 7, 2011

The Fiber Festival of New England

This past Thursday immediately after my Thursday class, I drove off in the general direction of Ohio and Pennsylvania -- this time on the American side of things instead of the Canadian side because, at late hours, it can be hard to find motels immediately next to the Queensway in Ontario -- and got as far as Astaubula, Ohio, which I have just misspelled.  I HAVE NO IDEA how to spell it.  The town does harbor a particularly nice Hampton Inn, and Hampton happens to be my all-time fave because of the nice, white, lofty bedding and great mattresses.  Not to mention hot breakfasts.  That's what you pay for, and they deliver, for only a few dollars more than the less predictable bargain hotels.  I am really gunshy now about Super 8 and some of the others -- twice burned recently, and after long hours in the car, that's twice too many.

I booked another Hampton in advance for Friday and Saturday nights (though I ended up cancelling Saturday in order to get back on the road) in Lenox, Massachusetts, perhaps an hour from West Springfield, which is where the fiber event was housed.  What a lovely, new motel, and what charming communities there near Tanglewood.  I will deliberately stay there again if and when I return to the festival, which I probably will do next year -- it was worth it just to meet so many truly amazing new people (at least new to me).  I will have photographs when I recover from the headcold I picked up along the way, and when Larry downloads what few pictures I managed to take before the camera's battery ran out.

For now, let me just talk a bit about what I found.  First:  The Berkshires are always beautiful, and I think I hit them just after their prime in fall-leaf-season terms.  But they were still gorgeous -- the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers still wending their way along broad, sleepy courses, a watery iteration of Rip Van Winkle........The colors were mostly burnt-sienna, brown, spruce green, with the occasional spash of sumac red.....What complete joy when the forest covers an entire mountainside or valley!  It's as if the decorating committee went out of their way just for me.

In Lenox, the marvelous staff at Hampton put me onto a small bistro, called Jonathan's, in an otherwise nondescript (though pleasant) small strip mall perhaps a mile back toward Lee, Massachusetts (which has a fabulous downtown area, a darling coffee house and bakery, and some high-quality antique shops).  I must say that I have rarely enjoyed a meal or a setting so very much.  If you are ever anywhere near Lenox, MA, find it.  Go to dinner.  Fresh food -- gorgeously cooked -- and well served by a young Argentinian named Andrea, who wants to go to graduate school.  I didn't discourage him, though, given the state of our universities, I perhaps should have said at least something to the contrary.  I still think that cream rises, though, and so he ought to see if he measures up.  If he does, and if he indeed is cream, all will be well.

I drove from Lenox to the festival mid-morning on Saturday, had something of a time finding it (the address given on the website was wrong, and to make matters worse, the site was down when Larry tried to help), but I consulted locals and found the so-called Big E in another direction altogether. 

While I was looking, though, I drove through some neighborhoods in West Springfield.  And I must say that I have NEVER, EVER seen anything like what I found there.  The news media has not given us anything like a true picture of what has happened there in the wake of the huge snow storm of a week ago.  The snow was mostly gone, though not entirely -- in West Springfield, they apparently had 1.5 feet.  But it was very, very wet and heavy.  Old trees came down.  Branches came down.  Wires came down.  Lampposts hit by falling trees came down.  On sidestreets, where I did manage to get a few pictures before the batteries died, branches and dismembered trees are piled halfway up the remaining trees, waiting for some kind of pickup.  I can't imagine what it will take to remove all of that lumber and dead foliage.  It was enough to make me weep -- and especially because New Englanders are really attached to their trees, always have been.  The people I talked to at the festival were really devastated.  The oldest trees went first, of course, because the young 'uns were much more flexible.  What a horrible, visually devastating freak of nature.

At the festival, which is medium size and very high quality (only two vendors of Peruvian cheap crap -- pardon my language, but that's what it is, and I wish they would be excluded from vendor lists), I remembered almost at once that I was at the epicenter of the Small Farm Movement, which stretches up and down the eastern seaboard.  Booth upon booth testified to the power and productivity of the movement.  Old breeds were in evidence in the animal section; and old-breed fiber was everywhere, beautifully spun from local flocks in local spinneries (a couple very old firms in Maine, some new spinneries in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and of course Green Mountain Spinnery in Vermont).  It used to be that spinneries no longer existed in the US; now, it's rebounding.  Craft people are taking to the land again, harvesing very high quality fleece and other fiber from angora goats, Romney and Corriedale and Leicestershire sheep, on and on -- and the results are drop-dead gorgeous.  The work of Romney Hills Farm, e.g., is dazzling -- lofty, softer than Romney usually is, and well-dyed.  Kelly also overdyes some natural, single-ply blended yarn (done by Green Mountain) in small batches.

It is important to view American wool not only as an indigenous product, but as an ORIGINAL form of wool.  Nowadays, there is a lot of ruined wool out there -- wool that has been overprocessed and plied far too loosely (or not at all), or blended with other fibers, or altered "at the molecular level," as one company puts it (it makes my skin crawl just a little -- why on earth horse around "at the molecular level"?) -- so that many of my clients think that wool is not supposed to be substantial, toothy, full of air spaces to keep us warm.  It is supposed to bloom when washed -- and it does.  But you have to trust in it.  They don't realize that there is more to wool than merino.  Merino is beautiful, but it may not be the longest wearing wool, and it surely isn't (in my view) the best wool for outergarments.  So I am going to lend a hand to the movement by featuring some of their products -- knowing full well that people don't believe me, won't buy the wool, think that all wool is supposed to feel like silk.  It actually annoys me, and I have a very hard time hiding it.

There were signs of economic hard times:  Twist of Fate, where I bought some incredibly well-priced alpaca in natural shades, told me of clientse who drop off fleeces and fiber and then can't afford to redeem the spun yarn.  What sadness that must be for everyone.  But it really is a story of our time, isn't it?

On another front, the women (the vendors are mostly, but not entirely, female) selling their beautiful productions are making me very happy:  They are charging MORE for their handcrafted yarn, buttons, jewelry, sweaters, and so on, than ever before.  For YEARS, I have been giving little lectures to people (especially at the very small festivals) about women's labor and how we need to make a living, can't just keep giving labor away (something women often are trained to do from childhood), need to understand that sharing and generosity can't stand in the way of making a living.

Well.  They are doing it more and more.  The great irony for me, of course, is that I can't really expect women to make their yarns affordable for ME (I need to mark up what I find) if I want them to earn good money.  This is particularly true if the women in question can sell everything they make at full price at the festivals -- and so, when I ask a woman if she CAN sell out at full price and she says yes, all I can really do is to give her a card and encourage her to call me if she does not.  Wholesale discounts also have shrunk.  So -- when you stock a shop with as much hand-retrieved yarn as I do, it's a mixed blessing, isn't it?  On the one hand, people are doing what I have been telling them to do for at least 8 years.

On the other hand -- I have to sell at a very slim margin.  (If I were to really factor in travel costs, I'd be selling at a loss -- but this is what I do for vacations, so....I choose not to figure it in).  Probably, over time, I will be stocking less and less handcrafted, one-of-a-kind yarn, or at least buying it mostly after full-price sale has concluded, probably by photographs.  And I likely will frequent the smaller festivals more and more, at the expense of the bigger ones.  That's okay.  In my view, New York and Maryland festivals have both been stuck in the mud for a couple of years -- same vendors, not much change in goods.  But this requires a slight shift in the business plan.  It's also hard to say how much of the downward pressure on discounting has to do with the recession -- probably some part.  Time alone will tell!!!!!!!!!!!  Meantime -- I truly LOVED seeing women defending the value of their labor.

I decided to come home on the Canadian side which, IF (and only if) customs doesn't slow you down, can be undertaken in two hours' less time than the American side.  I was lucky:  Especially at the American end, the bulging mass in the windows of the rented station wagon didn't even get a long glance.  Still, I sometimes feel almost hurt that customs people never, ever see me as a possible criminal, smuggler, mafia accountant -- whatever.  Must be the wasp-y face, the gray hair, etc. -- but just once I'd like to be viewed as a possible threat to national security for daring to haul thirty-six tons of knitting yarn and a half-ton of buttons across Canada without once offering receipts at either end!

Hugs to everyone.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Onward to New England....

I am VERY excited to finally be attending the relatively new, huge festival in West Springfield, MA, this coming weekend -- the Fiber Festival of New England.  The vendor list is very, very long -- I get to see friends, including Ellen Minand (Ellen's Half-Pint Farm) and maybe Candace Eisner-Strick, who hopes to be there, too.  And I get to have a long, long road trip, where I can sort out my thoughts, make notes (I carry a lined pad on the passenger side), knit, and revise book chapters when I stop driving.  Laptops were an amazing invention....You can literally work anywhere there is an electrical outlet.  I'll of course take photographs.  This one is in a huge exposition center (called the Big E), and my cheap-o motel, which I hope isn't terribly disreputable, is close by.  I'll leave Thursday night after my class (on the road by about 5:00), stop maybe in Erie, PA, and come home again by at least mid-day Sunday.    Stay tuned!    svb