Friday, December 21, 2012

Shalom to you my friends

Round and round we went, feet crossing this way and that, circle within circle within circle of people, all dancing, all going round and round, breaking to swing a partner, like a giant chicken dance without the flapping.   In the center of our concentric rings, my friend was teetering high on a chair hoisted above the crowds.  We were celebrating her, her Bat Mitzvah and the B’Nei Mitzvah (plural) of seven other adults who hadn’t had the opportunity for a Bat or Bar Mitzvah when they were 13.

I was having so much fun dancing and learning to do the Horah, it was hard to believe that a few hours earlier I’d been standing in the foyer of the synagogue feeling awkward and worrying.  Would it matter that I was German, even though my family left Germany before World War II, the way it matters that I’m white when I’m in a room full of black people even though my family came to the US long after slavery ended?

Deciding not to think about it, I followed others from my friend’s group into the large worship room and tried my best to do what they did.  Not only was it B’Nei Mitzvah, it was also the synagogue’s young adult Shabbat Service and the seventh day of Hanukkah.  There was so much going on.  I opened the worship book and was a bit surprised to find the page numbers going in descending order.  Everything in the book was written in Hebrew, transliterated Hebrew in English letters and English.

The readings, the recitations between the Rabbi and the congregation, all these were in Hebrew.  When the Rabbi spoke to the congregation, that was in English.  She explained the day’s Torah reading, the story of Joseph from Exodus.  She gave the Cliff Notes version of the entire story up to the point of the day’s reading, everything about Joseph being thrown in a pit by his brothers, rescued and then sold into slavery and how his ability to interpret dreams had saved him.  She even mentioned his technicolor dream coat and ended with a soap-opera style “last time on..” and a good “dun-dun-dun.”

The day’s reading was printed in English in the bulletin, but the actual Torah reading was done in Hebrew by the B’Nei Mitzvah.  And they weren’t reading a transliterated version; they were reading real Hebrew.  They took  turns, each chanting a few sentences of the passage, their voices rising and falling in a beautiful rhythm.

Although the chanting was in Hebrew, it felt very familiar and reminded me of Catholic mass. Many things in the service reminded me of Catholic mass.   The way the Torah scrolls were treated, from the time they were removed from the Ark behind the Rabbi until they were returned to that place, reminded me very much of the treatment of the host; the standing, the bowing and kissing of thumbs, the reverence.  I don’t know if that’s evidence of the connection between Judaism and Christianity or if these were only things that are similar across many religions.

The service was full of music.  I didn’t dare try to pronounce the Hebrew words of the songs, yet certain familiar words caught my ear as everyone around me sang.  “Amen.” “Adonai.” Words I knew from my own church services.  As I listened, I looked around the room, watching.  The joy illuminating people’s faces as they joined in lively songs of praise, the tears moistening the corners of their eyes as they sang the somber Kaddish to remember the dead; whether happy or sad, it was all prayerful.

And then, voices began to sing in English.  Not just a song in English, a song I knew.  “Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary; Pure and holy, tried and true.  With Thanksgiving, I’ll be a living, sanctuary for you.”  Standing there together, our voices lifted in praise all with the same prayer,  it was illuminatingly clear, We truly are all God’s children.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Dresses

It’s almost Christmas and I’m soon headed back to the land of milk and cheese to celebrate with my wonderful family. In the spirit of Christmas and family and all that fabulous stuff, I wanted to share one of my favorite holiday traditions: new Christmas dresses.

New Christmas dresses are extra special.  Not only are the new and for Christmas Eve at Grandmas, they’re made with tender loving care.  Every year growing up, Mommy would take us to the fabric store a month or so before Christmas to pick out our patterns and fabrics.  Christmas always had the fanciest fabrics of the year, velvets and satins and rich colors. 

We’d sit at the pattern table pouring through books, me driving Mommy nuts with “could you change this to this and remove this and add this?”  And Alfred driving us all nuts complaining she didn’t like the color of the dress in the book.  (For those who don’t sew, you can make the dress whatever color you want.) 

Christmas Eve 1995After we finally picked our patterns, including Mommy picking out her own, we’d head into the fabric section to continue driving Mommy crazy by either picking out the most expensive or most Christmas 1989 1difficult to sew fabrics, slippery fabrics that would slide off the machine, patterned fabrics that would need to be lined up and crazy fabrics that were not suited to the pattern we’d just picked out.  Mommy would talk us into something more reasonable or somehow make the fabric work.
My sisters and me in our slippery fabrics. (and the only time you’ll see Alfred in better shoes than me.)Christmas Eve 1988

Sometimes, Alfred and Munchkinhead and I would all match.  Sometimes, Mommy would match, too.  One year, Mommy made Munchkinhead and Alfred’s Barbies Christmas dresses to match their own.  I was Mommy’s Barbie because we had matching dresses, too.

Christnas Eve 1993Christmas Eve 1993 2

And there was that year I wanted my dress to be just like one of my Holiday Barbies’.  Poor Mommy; that must have been an extra headache.  That particular Holiday Barbie wore a long, poofy, green velvet frock with detailed beading all up the bodice and sparkles from the hem up.  Mommy did a pretty good job coming up with something close.

Christmas 1992

Barbie is the one on the left. Winking smile

The dresses didn’t always turn out perfect - there was that one year she put my skirt on Alfred’s bodice and vice versa.  Alfred had a very beautiful flowy gown, and I had a mini-dress. And my size in high school and college fluctuated so much dresses often barely fit by Christmas – but we always loved our Christmas dresses.

Now that I’m too big to live at home, I make my own Christmas dresses.  It doesn’t always go well and they’re never as pretty as Mommy’s, but it’s still fun.


Incidentally, that dress was from last Christmas and it no longer fits, but the dress Mommy made me in 1998 still does.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Packer Socks

They were supposed to be Alfred’s birthday present, but with a supply delay and my own busy schedule, they turned into Alfred’s one-month-after-birthday present.

I’d been wanting to make some cable-knit socks, and when I saw that green and gold Team Spirit yarn, I just knew I had to make something for Alfred.  I poured through pattern book after pattern book at knitting group.  I scoured the internet.  But I just couldn’t find a cable-knit sock pattern I liked.

Then I found this leg warmer pattern.  So I started knitting it, but Alfred’s not a leg warmer person.  I decided I’d try turning the leg warmer pattern into socks by referring to the pattern for my lace stockings.  It sort of worked, but the upper part was still very legwarmer-y and was far too large to be part of a sock.  So I started over.

I looked at the leg warmer pattern, and the stocking pattern, and the footed legwarmer I’d just made. I grabbed a pencil and some paper and started writing.  Two months later, Alfred had her new socks.

They aren’t perfect.  Alfred mentioned them to me on the phone one day, “one looks like it was made for Daddy and the other looks like it was made for Munchkinhead.”  (except she calls Munchkinhead by her real name.)  That’s my Alfred, never one to beat around the bush and always one too look a geschenkten gaul in the mouth.  “Hush, wash them and wear them and they’ll wind up the same size eventually.”

Wendy in her Packers socks

She confirmed that once she put them on, they both fit.


yarn: Red Heart Team Spirit in green/gold

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Review–The Power of Babel

Normally, my reading pattern is balanced by alternating between fiction and non-fiction.  A little bit of learning, a little bit of escaping into a magical wonderland.  But @NSQE had recommend this book so heartily that I picked it up immediately after finishing Applied Economics.

I’ve always found languages fascinating.  Maybe because Daddy used to yell at us in German and we had really random books in other languages lying around the house.  At one point in college, I thought it’d be fun to study linguistics.  Then I found out my school didn’t have any linguistics classes. So, that was the end of that idea.  I’ve studied German, French and Greek.  I learned some Spanish when I worked in landscapping, learned lots of Tonga in the Peace Corps (plus a wee bit of Bemba, Nyanja and Kaonde), and have dealt with more languages than you can shake a stick at while working at Creative Commons.  Languages are fun. 

My particular favorite “foreign” language to learn is other versions of English.  (My encounters with Nigerian English here.)  I love the puzzle of how languages change and why.  And that’s exactly what The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Languages by John McWhorter is all about.

The book discusses how languages meet and combine and turn into pidgins, which then fly away into their own languages.  It covers how word meaning shifts – my particular favorite is how silly went from meaning innocent to foolish – and how there really is no “standard” version of any language.  And the book does it all in an easy to read prose without a lot of jargon and with fun, memorable anecdotes.

McWhorter also dismisses the notion that languages are influenced by culture or surroundings.  I don’t completely agree with this, but I did appreciate his comments on the common example of ‘Eskimos have so many number of words for snow.’  So does English.  Think about it.  Snow, blizzard, sleet, flurries, powder, slush, etc.  All different forms of snow.

I really liked that the book did not focus only on Romance or even Western languages.  It included a lot of examples from Pacific Islands, Native American languages and even a few examples out of Africa.  Personally, I’d love a similar book focused on Bantu languages, but I have a feeling the only way I’ll get that is if I write it myself.

Highly Recommend.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Shoulder Shawl

PB271507It was the most beautiful yarn I had ever seen.  A delicate cream color, tiny glass beads strung through it, their deep brown, glittering gold and muted yellow shining in the light.  I lightly touched the soft mohair, the ball of thin strands felt almost fragile.  I smiled at the yarn and at my knitting teacher.  What a beautiful present. Months passed before I figured out what to knit with yarn.  Even more months passed before I started the project.  The yarn almost felt too beautiful to use.  What if I messed it up?  What if I ruined the yarn?  But what good is a ball of yarn if you aren’t willing to turn it into something else?  So I began my project, a one-skein triangular shawl.

The pattern was simple enough, knit, add a stitch, knit, repeat, eventually add two stitches, knit repeat, until the yarn is gone.  It took a day, one State Bar IP Section Executive Committee meeting to be exact.

I wasn’t sure about it at first.  What could I do with it?  Should I add to it?  Incorporate it into something else?  Then I showed my friends and knitting and the decision was unanimous, it’s perfect the way it is.

Now, I no longer have a ball of beautiful yarn, but an exquisite small shoulder shawl. small shawl cropped

Yarn: Be Sweet African Bead Ball in Natural

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Little Round Berries

berries (1)

I was walking down the BART path on my way to the dentist, cruising along at my usual brisk pace when something caught my eye.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  Little berries.  Little round berries.  Little round red berries.  Memories came flooding back.

When Alfred and I were little girls at the old house, we had a backyard full of amusement.  Sandboxes, swing sets and swimming pools migrated around the yard, with much help from Daddy, until Daddy found them their permanent homes. 

One place the swing set lived for awhile was the side of the back yard, just off the driveway, right under a small tree.  A small tree with little berries.  Little round berries. Little round orange berries.  They grew in bunches on that tree, the same way the little round red berries were growing in bunches on the tree along the BART path.

Like the birch tree we fed to the pandas, the berries were just another toy in our giant whole-world playground.  Mommy had told us not to eat the berries because they were poisonous.  Somehow, we got it in our heads that berries were not poisonous only if ingested, but utterly and completely poisonous.  The berries would fall from the tree onto our slide. We’d roll them down, an orange river flowing to the ground, always careful never to break a berry for fear the poisonous berry juice would seep through our skin.

As I stood looking at those little red berries, so exactly like my childhood berries in everyway but hue, I wondered momentarily if they too were poisonous.  I briefly wondered if the orange berries even were.  Certainly not to touch, but to eat?  I didn’t squish a red berry or try to eat one to find out.  I smiled, turned back down the path and walked away in a haze of happy memories

wendy and steph on swingset 1989

A berry-les berry tree. Alfred with a shovel on a swing.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The costs and benefits of over-regulation

I didn’t like the idea at all, but I knew he was right.  The law is something to weigh when doing your cost-benefit analysis.  DSCI0743Whether or not to break the law is simply part of a business decision.

To me, this exemplifies everything that’s bad about our over-regulated society.  Law is no longer a dictate of what is right or wrong.  It’s far beyond keeping some semblance of order in society.  Law is just another weight to be put on your scale when making decisions.   And we all do it, whether we realize it or not.

When was the last time you drove above the speed limit, or crossed the street when the red hand was lit?  The last time you didn’t bother to pay a parking meter or posted a picture you found somewhere online to one of your social networking sites?  And when do you do these things?  When the cost is lower than the benefit, when the risk of getting caught or the risk of being punished if caught is minimal.

As plain-old-Joe’s, most of the laws we break are what we would consider minor.  The laws are often there to protect us; the punishments are relatively small fines and there’s no risk of ‘a record’ that might hurt us later.  (Note: my last example above does not fall into this category.)  But for businesses, these are real, heavily thought about decisions.

Perhaps nowhere is this more true than when dealing with intellectual property.  The law is so grey that it’s often difficult to know when something is against the law.  People spend hours and lots and lots of money trying to answer this question.  Then they spend more hours and lots and lots more money trying to decide, if it is against the law, what are the risks to the business.  They buy insurance to protect themselves from this risk.  The law is like a fire or flood, a quasi-predictable occurrence of which you can only estimate the chance of its harm to you.

Of all the laws out there,  I can only think of two groups that truly regulate right and wrong, and they have the cost benefit analysis built in; society has decided when the benefits outweigh the cost:  causing harm to someone else or causing death.  If you’re defending yourself, there’s an excuse; the benefit of protecting you outweighs the cost of the loss of the other person.  If you’re completely enraged because you found your partner in bed with someone else, society understands.

Does it have to be this way?   Can we expect people to respect the law when disobeying the law is only a question of how it will affect you?

Photo: Statue of Lady Justice at Nasarawa Law School in Nigeria

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Knit Wool Stockings

stocking croppedI would be the one to knit wool stockings in August.  But hey, in the Bay, August isn’t summer, and summer isn’t that hot anyway.  And, I absolutely love my stockings.

The purple-dominated multi-color yarn was a Christmas present from my knitting teacher last year.  A wool blend, it was soft and fuzzy, purples, pinks and greens rippling through it.  I love stockings and was certain that this yarn was perfect for knitting my first self-made pair.

My knitting teacher sent me lots of pattern websites and I searched through dozens of patterns until finding the perfect one. (It was on but is no longer there.)   A lacey, thigh-high with new techniques I hadn’t tried yet - yarn-overs, knit-two-togethers, slip-knit-passes - and, as it turns out, a great pattern for hiding mistakes.

I started the first stocking at least three times before really getting going.  It seems I have to start all my projects three times.  But once I got going, I was going.  And then I got to the end and had a new problem.  These “thigh-high” stockings were obviously designed for someone with much smaller feet and much, much shorter legs.  I tripled the foot length and tried on my first stocking. It was barely a knee-high sock.

my first socks croppedThe pattern was a top-down pattern.  I had several inches of ribbing at the top and my yarn was down at the other end where the pattern had ended.  I was not starting over a fourth time, not after finishing an entire sock.  And I was not settling for knee-highs.  So I bound off at the toe and went back to the top.

I picked up all the cast on stitches on my needles and began the lace pattern again, knitting up from the ribbing.  When my stocking was a few inches shorter than I wanted it to be, I added a new section of ribbing and bound off.  I knit the other stocking the same way.  And viola!  A beautiful pair of knit stockings.

Next time, I’ll remember to also compensate for the width of my thighs.

Yarn: Lion Brand Yarn Amazing in Violets

Thursday, November 29, 2012

One Little Rabbit Jumping on the Bed

~a guest post by Daddy Bunny

One of the great things about being a rabbit is that even though I turned 18 a few years ago, I still get to live with my mom.  I stay home all day munching the everlasting carrot Uncle Nathy-Boo gave me for Christmas, playing with my brothers and sisters and hiding in Mom’s bed.  On really adventurous days, I even hop down the hall to visit Malaria and Giraffe in the living room.  But the best adventures are when my mom takes me on trips with her.

We’ve been all sorts of places together.  This month, we went to San P9241580Diego.  Last month, we went to Las Vegas and Monterey.  The month before that, I got to ride on a train in my own little cheese-shaped seat and my mom took me to my first Packer game.  We went to Uganda, and Amsterdam, and Iowa, and Portland, and Washington, D.C.  We even went to Lake Tahoe.  And that’s all this year!

My absolute favorite trips are the ones where I get to see my aunts, my cousins and Grandma and Grandpa.  That happened a lot this year. We went to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Wisconsin four times.

group hugI love Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  Gibby and Foo Foo are always there to play with me.  We play hide and seek a lot with my mom and my Aunty Munchkinhead.  Sometimes, Aunty Alfred is there and she brings my cousin Timmy Bear along.  Then they get to play hide and seek, too.  If we’re really good little rabbits and gibbons and bears, we get to play board games with our moms and Grandma.

And when nobody’s watching, we go exploring in Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  Even though I grew up there, and Gibby and Foo Foo still live there, the place is so big, there’s always lots to explore.  There’s a fabulous slide in the hallway, behind a little square door.  It’s so much fun!  We climb up the bookcase to the door, sit down on the ledge, slide down the ramp screaming “weeeeee!” and then there’s this huge drop of and we plop right into a pile of fluffy clothes.

Gibby loves to hang out in the bathroom. With the poles holding up the shower curtain and the long neck on the part where the shower water comes out, there’s lots of things for him to hang on and stretch his long arms.  Foo Foo and I hop along the hallway floor and peek through the railings above the stairs.  It’s a nice little place to watch the activity below.

And when I really want a lot of fun, a lot, a lot of fun, I scamper off to Grandma and Grandpa’s room.  They have this giant bed with pretty, soft blankets on it.  It’s the perfect place for a bunny like me to work on my hopping skills.  Sometimes I hop so high, I can even pretend I’m a bird!


My mom says we’re going back to Grandma and Grandpa’s in a few weeks.  I can’t wait!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Moral Dilemmas

“You see the moral dilemmas we have to face….” There are those moments, hopefully in all of our lives, when the world stops suddenly and for a moment you are acutely aware of just how small our bubbles are.  Sometimes it’s your own bubble, when you briefly encounter something that had previously only existed on the other side of your thin protective soap skin.  Sometimes it’s someone else’s bubble, as you see them looking out through their glistening, rainbowed film.  This time, it was the later.

She was talking about palmetto bugs, American cockroaches that aren’t afraid of the light; rather large compared to bitty Nashville cockroaches, but not very big compared to what lived in my host mother’s latrine in Zambia.  Apparently, every home in Georgia has them. They’re part of life there, and so is dealing with them.

And that was her moral dilemma.  “You see the moral dilemmas we have to face in Georgia,” she said as though it was so obviously exactly what she was dealing with.  “Do we serve guests dishes that these bugs have crawled over, or do we live in a house with poison in it.” Buggy dishes, or bug poison; to have live bugs or to have dead bugs.

For her, this may truly have been a moral dilemma. Despite her having lived in Georgia for several years now, her bubble world is still very California.  Natural this, organic that, boo large corporations, yay free range farms, etc.  But I couldn’t see this from my bubble.  All I could see was her pressed up against the very edge of her bubble, a wavy line of soap drifting across her face, and between us a gulf filled with all my thoughts.

“The moral dilemmas we have to face…”  I thought of my friends living in Jos who have to decided whether or not to go to church on Sunday mornings for fear they might be blown up by Boko Haram extremists.  I thought of the Sudanese man I knew at the refugee center in Nashville who described his life before coming to the US as very similar to What is the What and would say no more about it.  I thought of my many colleagues and friends in Uganda where the government and society are daily struggling with if and how to integrate former child soldiers of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army back into mainstream society.  I thought of the jury panel on the death penalty trial last week in Martinez.  I thought of our soldiers, and our doctors and our leaders.  And, I just couldn’t see poisoning cockroaches as a moral dilemma.

We should all wish for such to be our moral dilemma.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I was There

There’s those special days in our lives, the one’s we’ll never forget, the one’s when we see history being made and we know it.  The Moon Landing, the Berlin Wall coming down, the election that took months to count.  And we can say, “I was there.”

I was there; I saw history being made; I was there for the call that ended the lockout.

One of my twitter friends, a Seahawks fan, graciously invited a couple P9251591of his Packer-fan friends up for the game.  I traded in a pile of my Amtrak rewards points for a roundtrip ticket and bordered the train.  A short ride up, only a day, Daddy Bunny and I watched the beautiful Northwestern coast role past as I headed to one of the most exciting days ever, my first Packer game.

I met up with my friend for a tailgate in a parking lot near the stadium.  A wonderful mix of Packers and Seahawks fans milled around the area.  Brats and burgers were grilling; footballs were flying through the air; and one crazy group of people was playing beer pong.  My favorite part was the State Farm commercial impressions, “Roggg-ers!”  Everyone was so nice, some Vikings fans even came over to chat.

The stadium was packed and packed with Packers fans as well as Seahawks fans.  I estimated about a quarter of the stadium was Packers fans; others estimated about a third.  Mind you, Seattle is 1,933 miles away from Green Bay.   There were Packers fans behind me and Packer fans down to my right.  Everyone else in my group was a Seahawks fan, but that only made the game that much more fun.

All of us on the edge of our seats, back and forth, up, down, another sack.  Another ridiculous call, another amazing play.  Football, football at it’s finest; reffing at it’s worst.


When the game ended, I mean actually ended, after the players came back out of the locker rooms to pretend to kick the extra point that the refs had just not bothered about until they realized they had to bother about it – when the game ended, the sympathy came pouring in.  Texts from angry family members on the other side of the country.  Texts from friends in Cali telling me it was ok to be mad.  Tweets from everywhere offering condolences and decrying the horrible call.  And most of all, apologies from Seahawks fans who sincerely meant it when they said it was a bad call, but couldn’t hide their own joy at winning.  Permission to be mad?  How could I be mad?  I was surrounded by incredibly happy people, and incredibly happy people who weren’t gloating, who were gracious winners, who accepted the win for the sketchiness that it was.

It was a most amazing game to be at.  What a great first Packer game!  Thank you, MtySeahawk Smile

P9241573Now, I just wonder how many people’s Facebook pages I’m on. People really wanted a photo with a real, live cheesehead.

Monday, October 29, 2012

It is a Truth Universally Acknowledged that Clothing is Best when Shared

Speaking of Pride and Prejudice clothes (back in June), I had this absolutely wonderful Easter dress one year, made by Mommy, of course.  My Pride and Prejudice dress.  Empire waist, puff sleeves, a bit of sheer lace where Lydia certainly wouldn’t have had any, and a beautiful light-weight white fabric with soft pink roses on it.

It was one of those dresses that hardly fit when it was made.  - This was not Mommy’s fault.  1) Pattern envelope size guide measurements never seem to produce what they suggest; at 15 and about five and a half feet tall, the envelope said I was a girls size 7; and 2) My size fluctuates like an Irishman’s temper.  But it fit well-enough and I wore it for Easter that year with no problems.

me in pride and prejudice dressThen, a year or two later, my AP English teacher had some special class day where we could dress like our favorite characters or something like that.  I just had to be Elizabeth Bennet, so out came the beautiful Easter dress.  The only problem was, I’d grown a bit since the dress’s Easter, and not just vertically.

I have two mottos – well, at least had two mottos in high school.  One, anything you can do, I can do in heels. And two, never sacrifice fashion for comfort.  I was determined to get into that dress.  And I did. Thank you very much ducky tape.  The scars went away eventually.

Recently, scouring the closets at Hotel Mommy, I came across my beautiful Easter dress hanging in the back of the sewing room closet.  - And by back, I mean back.  That closet goes back about eight feet.  I was super excited.  “Hey Mommy!  Do you think this will fit again?” Many of my high school clothes fit me again these days thanks to the gym.

Instead of my trying it on, we tried it on Munchkinhead, who was a good sport despite the dress having pink on it.  I was both sad and delighted.  It fit her perfectly.  Well, except for the length, but that’s easy to fix.  I was sad because the dress fitting her meant there was no way it would fit me.  I was delighted because the dress fitting her meant the beautiful dress could be worn again!  Of course, that’s only if Munchkinhead gets over not being able to lift her arms over her head.  Ladies don’t need to do that; it’s not important.


Incidentally, we’re standing in almost exactly the same spot in the same room in our two pictures.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wait, What’s this Counterfeit doing Here?

Being engaged in the world of intellectual property in Africa, or at least trying to be engaged in it, I’m quite used to articles, signs and announcements warning people of the risks of counterfeit goods.  Trademark, patent and copyright infringements – make sure that product is the product you think it is, that it’s coming from the source you think it is, etc.  From faake medicines that don’t actually treat any illnesses to powdered milk that’s made partly with cement mix, many consumers in Africa are well aware of the dangers.  But I almost never hear or see any counterfeit warnings in the US.  Until now.

I was in Emeryville, the East Bay’s glitzy shopping district, transformed within the past decade from a run-down neighborhood of neglected warehouses to the home of stores so fancy I don’t even dare window-shop in them.  It’s also home to my closest Victoria’s Secret, and every few months I head down to redeem my “free in store, no purchase necessary” coupon.

Bounding down the stairs of the parking garage, my attention was grabbed by this sign:

counterfeit poster in Emeryville

“Don’t Get Burned,” “Counterfeits Hurt,” it proclaimed next to a picture of a sizzling outlet.

“What is this doing here?” was my first thought.  The United States, with its customs agents, well-enforced intellectual property laws, and tomes of safety regulations, is usually pretty good at keeping unsafe counterfeit products off the market.  Where’s the breakdown in that armor? What’s different about here and other places in the US where I have lived?  What’s similar between here and the other places I’ve seen these types of outreach ads?

Markets, public markets.  The kind with little stalls and people hawking all sorts of random odds and ends.  “A’s” and “Giants” hats, 2 for $10.  DVDs in clear plastic sleeves, 5 for $10.  The one in Berkeley even has fried plantains and chitenge cloth.  The Bay Area’s full of these markets, so is Africa.  Milwaukee, Nashville, not so much.  And these markets are a prime place for counterfeit goods.  Small time sellers, inventory stashes that would fit in a suitcase or two, little recourse for customers if something goes wrong; it’s prime for dangerous counterfeits.

Of course, I’m just speculating on circumstantial evidence, but sometimes that’s not a bad way to go.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I’m Going to have my Heels and Wear them, too

“Why do you walk so heavy?”  It’s a complaint more than a question, one I’ve gotten frequently from my father, from Mr. Trizzle, from anyone else who isn’t afraid to say it like it is.  I always chalked it up to being such a wonderful bouncy, bubbly person.  - Ok, tongue slightly in cheek there.  But I do bounce a lot when I walk and just accepted that as part of my personality, as well as a decent excuse for occasionally tipping a bit sideways into walls.

Turns, out there’s probably a less subconscious reasons for the bounciness that results in extra impact on the floor, loud booming noises and a bit of rumbling.  A few months ago, I twittered upon this article about what you can learn from someone’s walk,  15 Things Your Walk Reveals About Your Health.  Take a look at #14, go on, I’ll wait right here.

Mommy as tall as me - one of the rare occassions where she has higher heelsThere it is, bouncing as a symptom of tight calf muscles.  I didn’t even have to read the bit about high heels causing tight calf muscles before the light bulb over my head was glowing.  I know I have tight calf muscles.  I’ve avoided flat shoes for years because they hurt my legs, causing my calves to remain stretched for far too long.  Even when I would occasionally wear them, I’d wind up walking as if I were wearing heels and I wouldn’t even realize it.  “Ba Nchimunya, ino kayi mwakwala so? – Nchimunya, why are you walking like that?”

At no time was it more apparent how tight my calves really were than the first time I attempted squats at the gym.  For most people who begin squats, the weight of the bar or their inability to balance cause problems.  My gym had light pre-set barbells so that wasn’t a problem.  And, thanks to Africa, I had no problems with the balance. 

For me, the biggest problem was that I couldn’t keep my feet flat on the ground and bend my knees into a squat. My calves just would not stretch that far.  It took months of stretching and partial squats before I could get my knees to bend as far as they needed to.

Two years after starting squats, I still have to give my calves an extra stretch, I’m still wearing my beautiful heels, and I still bounce when I walk.  I can’t completely cut that out of my personality. Winking smile

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review: A Man of the People

I’ve read Chinua Achebe’s classic Things Fall Apart.  I’ve even seen it performed live, in Nigeria, with people who actually know how to pronounce the Igbo.  I understand why it’s a classic-  I’m a bit annoyed that it’s the main example of Africa Literature taught in US Universities (why does everything have to focus on Westerners?) – but I never really enjoyed it.  A Man of the People was different.

A Nigerian gentleman I met in Mountain View highly recommended the book.  Written in the early days of Nigerian’s independence, A Man of the People perfectly predicted Nigeria’s political future, or so this gentleman claimed.  I have to say, I agree.

The book is marvelous in its perception, Delphic novel with an engaging story.  Of course, I know little of the Nigerian politics of 1967, so perhaps the novel is less prediction than observation, but it certainly seems to match the current times.

It’s sometimes hard to figure out which characters to like, if you’re supposed to like any of them.  They’re very real in this way.  There are few obvious villains and few obvious heroes.  Situations and circumstances play the biggest role.  Who you are is where you are and who’s around you. The book’s biggest impact is the probing questions it discretely sends to the reader, “what would you do in this situation? How can you judge; wouldn’t you do the same?”

I’d recommend this book, except for one minor detail.  If you’re going to read it, make sure you have a Nigerian friend within reach for translations.  I muddled through fairly well thanks to having spent a very short time in Nigeria, but I still had to send out the occasional “what does x mean” tweet.

Usually, when I’m reading a book that has people speaking in a different language than the one in which the book is written, there’s some built-in guide to help you out with the translations, footnotes, immediate translation, italics to at least alert you of the other language, something.  Not in A Man of the People.  At least, not in my edition.  It is called Pidgin English, so I suppose some might assume it’s close enough.  Sometimes it is; sometimes it’s not.  Taking an example from a random page, “Abi my head no correct?”  I’ll let you decide.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Patterns? We Don’t Need No Stinking Patterns!

It didn’t take long for me to realize that a small sewing box wasn’t going to cut it.  Only a month into Peace Corps training, I knew I needed to do more than small mending.  And then the opportunity came. 

The Peace Corps had to send me into town to remove a different type of stitches from my leg (see 3rd-last paragraph), which meant me and the driver and the big min-bus.  “Is there anything you’d like to get while we’re in town?” the driver asked.  “Yes, a sewing machine.”  That wasn’t quite what he had in mind.  I wasn’t sure he’d go for it, but he did.  I returned to the training center with a beautiful Butterfly treadle machine. Even with my better-than-the-locals Peace Corps salary, I couldn’t afford a Singer. 

When I moved into my village, I had a mattress, a handful of dishes, and my sewing machine.  The corner store in Monze sold fabric, on a table across from the breakfast cereal and powdered milk, next to some farming gear.  Notions like buttons and zippers were available behind the counter or at a few stalls in the market.  Now, I could sew, except I didn’t have any patterns.

I had made my swearing-in dress by hand, without a pattern, but it was very simple.  That was different, impromptu, improvised; there was hardly any cutting involved, just stitching rectangles together.  I was ready for more.  I wanted a nightgown.  A light, breezy nightgown for the hot Zambian nights.  A romantic nightgown that would fit my romantic village surroundings, that would allow me to play in my pretend Pride and Prejudice or Little House on the Prairie worlds.  A nightgown that would make me feel like a princess when I carried my golden old-fashioned candle holder with the curled handle from my living room to my bedroom.  Such a nightgown needs a pattern.  And so, I made one.

I made a pattern, and I made the nightgown.  Long and flowy with a ruffle along the bottom – getting the ruffle and the bottom of the nightgown to be the same length was the hardest part – a thin yoke neckline and simple white buttons down the front.  The cream fabric, although not cotton, was still light and a loose enough weave to be cool.  It was everything I wanted.  I did feel like a princess, and a Bennet and an Ingalls.

nightgown in front of round hut

As I sit here now, years later, in that same nightgown, it no longer has the Bennet-Ingalls-princess effect.  Something about electricity and computer screens and carpet ruins all the romanticism.  But it is still light and breezy and cool and perfect for these unusual (and delightfully) warm summer nights in the Bay.  Maybe if I turn off the lights and get my old-fashioned candle holder from my nightstand, I can feel like a princess again.


Another non-pattern item I made on the Butterfly:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

It’s Cold Inside, with No Kind of Atmosphere

Ok, ok, we have atmosphere in the office, but we don’t have decent temperature control. I have a space heater and a fan at my desk, and on any given day, I use both of them.  But using electrical appliances to maintain body temperature is not my first choice.

Dressing for such disparate temperatures isn’t very easy. Sure, there’s layers, sweaters, jackets and such that one can take on and off. But that means carrying the appropriate sweater or such back and forth with me between the office and home. I have enough to carry.  So I devised a plan.

Sleeves! No, not the normal sleeves that come on your clothes. Removable sleeves. More like extra long gauntlets. Warm enough when the office vent blows cold air on my bare arms. Easy to take off when the sun beats through the large glass windows. And best of all, I can leave them at work.


Photo by my coworker, Anna

I got the idea from knitting group where Amy was teaching the young children something called tin-can knitting. It’s a can and a series of two-penny nails, covered in duct tape. Pairs of nails form a loom around the top of the can. It works basically the same as a hat loom. As the item is knit, it comes out the bottom of the can. The young girls at knitting group were making short gauntlet gloves with colorful thin yarns. I took one look at that and thought it’d be fun to try.

Using some bulky, cream yarn and a single knitting needle, I can-knit up a storm and soon had two beautiful, cozy sleeves.


Really, I wanted to make some stockings, but wouldn’t you know it, my legs are a lot fatter than a tin can. Maybe if I get a coffee can…

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Congratulations Lewin and new-Mrs. Lewin!

When all your friends have the same first name, you call by them by their last names. This works fine until they get married and suddenly there’s a new person in the group with the same last name.  And the new last name can’t really be called Mrs. last name because that’s the friend’s mom.  I’ll figure it out eventually Smile.  In the meantime, big congratulations to one of my oldest and dearest friends and his new wife.


Bride and groom at the altar

Another beautiful Wisconsin wedding.  I think it even rivals Alfred’s in terms of perfection.   The ceremony was sweet, simple and short.  The bridal party was gigantic and stylish. (And I don’t mean gigantic in numbers; I mean gigantic in stature. There was an usher so tall he was nicknamed Tree, and he wasn’t the tallest person there.  Ah, Wisconsin.)  The reception was completely relaxed and everyone had a good time. The dance floor was never empty, even up to the last song at midnight.  And the DJ included the required wedding polka.


The Bridal party (for reference, the groom is 6’3”)

I loved the speeches, especially the one by the best man and the one by the groom’s sister.  Their speeches were completely different, each being very them, but both fabulous.  The bridal party’s grand entrance occurred sometime in the middle of the reception – which was nice from an I’m-hungry point of view – and they entered with silly glasses to Teach Me How to DougieThere was also a girls’ dance competition (for which I hid in the hallway) and a guys’ Carlton Dance Off.  The food was simple and delicious.


Cake cutting

The most entertaining part of the night happened after the reception had been going for some time.  The Best Man – who the groom and I have known more than 20 years since we all started playing trombone together in grade school – was sitting and talking with me and Mommy and Daddy and the Great Ecclestone.  We were lamenting the groom’s insistent attempts at match-making when a small blonde in a short dress bounced next to the Best Man. After confirming he was the person she was looking for, she jumped into his lap, “I heard you’re cute and single!”  Just as quickly, she bounded away to the dance floor.  We couldn’t hold our laughter.  The Best Man wasn’t long to follow to the dance floor.  What else could he do?


Mommy and the Best Man on the dance floor

Yes, it was a fabulous wedding and a very joyous day for all involved.  By the end of the night, the groom wanted to do it all again the next week because it was so much fun.


Congratulations Matt and Christy!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

We All Know One

A young boy, four years old at most, looked up at his grandmother, his tiny hands held one in hers and the other in the weathered hand of a Vietnam Veteran. He timidly walked down the center aisle, the three of them leading the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter to present two wreaths at the Alameda Memorial Day Ceremony. One wreath was a regular memorial wreath for all those who have served their country.  The other wreath was for the small boy’s father, a thirty-year-old Staff Sergeant who was killed in Afghanistan within the past year.

Members of other various veterans groups, gold star parents, wives clubs and other service organizations brought forward their wreathes to honor and remember the fallen. Most wreaths had red, white and blue flowers. The disabled American Veterans Alameda Chapter placed a wreath of light purple flowers.

Below the large flag pole with its half-mast American flag, a flag for each branch of the armed services snapped in the wind.  A ceremonial table stood to the front of the whipping flags.  Six empty seats, chairs folded and leaned against the table, places set for those who are missing in action, a place for each branch of the armed services, a hat from each branch resting on the plate in front of the folded chair. 

Rear Admiral Castillo stood at the podium, his strong words echoing from the portable speakers across the large crowd spread over the small park’s lawn.  The Rear Admiral’s address spoke of the Staff Sergeant, of the sacrifice he and his family and so many other service members and their families have given.  “We all know someone;” he said, “we all have friends or family who have been in the combat zones.”  Speaking to this particular crowd in this Coast Guard City with its decommissioned naval base and its museum aircraft carrier, he may have been right. 

I thought about the people I know: two uncles who were in the Navy, a cousin who currently is; family friends posted in Afghanistan; a sorority sister in the National Guard; a sorority sweetheart who was killed in Iraq, acquaintances from high school and college in the Marines, and probably more that I’m forgetting or don’t know about.

At first, the Rear Admiral’s comment struck me as odd. I’m so used to the loud anti-war, anti-services messages in Berkeley, that I forgot there are others in the Bay Area (and in Berkeley), who are still connected to those making sacrifices for the sake of the country, still honoring, still respecting.  It was a good reminder.  A good reminder of the humanity around me to which I am often blind, and a good reminder of what others have given for all our sakes, even the four-year-old boys who do not yet understand the sacrifice.

Photo: Memorial Day 2007 in Lowell, Massachusetts by Dick Howe Jr. CC-BY

Monday, May 28, 2012

Knitting Group

Tuesday gets short shrift.  It’s not near enough the weekend to have that “we’re almost there” joy of Thursday or Friday, and it doesn’t have fun alternate name like Wednesday.  No, Tuesday’s just thankfully-it’s-not Monday-day.  But my Tuesdays have something wonderfully redeeming about them: knitting group.

Every Tuesday, a large group gathers together at the same location in Richmond.  Organized by my knitting teacher, the group began as knitting lessons.  How splendidly it has evolved! 

In the past five months, it’s turned from a few knitters attempting to teach some interested women and children how to knit into a fun and relaxing yarn-infused craft night.  Knitting with needles, knitting with cans, knitting with fingers, crocheting with hooks, even coloring for the youngsters.  There’s still teaching going on, but it’s no longer just the few who came in as teachers.  It’s everyone helping each other, sharing techniques and ideas.  One of the best moments was one young girl wanted to try her hand at needle knitting and her older sister who had only recently learned herself said, “here, I can help you.”

The people change, in and out, who’s available, who’s around.  Mothers bring their children.  Fathers stop in to say hello and see the progress.  Children try and give up and try again, and the joy in their eyes when they finally finish their first project is wonderful.  One girl had started and stopped about 8 different times.  Scarves, purses, wash clothes, pink yarn, green yarn, multi-colored yarn.  And then one day she tried crocheting instead of knitting.  Within a few weeks, she had a beautiful crocheted little chick with bead eyes and beak.

As the evening draws to a close, the children get a special treat.  Picking through a large bag of books, the children pull out their selections for bed time stories.  As the stories are read aloud, the children pipe in with the parts they know and giggle at the silly pictures.

I look forward to knitting group; it’s one of the highlights of my week. It’s so wonderful to relax with everyone, to just sit and knit and chat.  There are several people I look forwards to seeing each week.  I’m even getting the hang of teaching the youngsters. And, I am very good at singing along when it’s time for the ten-little-teddy-bears-sleeping-in-a-bed bedtime story.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Shoe Series: Brown T-Straps

P5071290They were one of my last pair of brown dress shoes.  I’d just been having such a hard time finding new brown dress shoes that I stopped trying and figured I’d make do.  The few other pairs I had before were gone and I was down to these brown t-straps I think I’ve had since undergrad and a pair of pumps I always forget about.

They’re cute and sort of retro in a late ‘30s, early 40’s kind of way.  Rounded toes with leaf cutouts on top and around the heel.  A medium brown with some color texture blending a little darker and little lighter in spots, making them ideal for matching with a variety of brown shades.

I last wore them with my fabulous stretch knit dress with the brown and  tan cane pattern over a white background and some olive knit tights from Munchkinhead.  During the work day, the right shoe started squeaking when I walked, the kind of broken metal rubbing on broken metal squeaking that is too familiar to someone who’s broken a few shoe supports in her lifetime.  I could feel the top piece pushing up into the shoe, rubbing against the sole of my foot.  I figured the shoes wouldn’t last long, but I wasn’t expecting what happened next.

While walking from my office to the train station, I felt like I stepped in a hole.  This isn’t unusual as the sidewalks have very large gaps between them.  But then there was another hole, and another.  I looked down and the left heel on my shoe was bent in half!  Severed from the back mostly through, it was fixable in the sense that I could bend it back into place.  So I did, and I kept walking.  Then, the hole feeling again.  I lifted my foot to fix the shoe again and discovered the heel was gone.  Completely gone.  So much for these shoes.  Good thing I know how to walk on the balls of my feet.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Too Many Choices!

menu in monzeWe talk about how much stress there is in our lives.  One of the main contributors to this large amount of stress is all the choices we encounter everyday.  Choices require making a decision, weighing factors, gathering information.

I loved shopping in Zambia.  Need toothpaste?  Get the only one available. Milk? Choose between Cowbell or Nido.  Want cheese?  Too bad; it’s too expensive.  The small corner stores were easy to get to and easy to navigate.  They may have only had a little of anything, but they had some of anything.  In a building the size of a hotel suite, I could purchase food, fabric, candles and even farm implements if I wanted.  In and out and no hassle.  It’s quite the opposite of our US stores filled with 100 different kinds of laundry detergent and half an aisle of toothpaste, not to mention the two aisles of soft drinks.

My adventures booking my flights for Angie’s funeral perfectly exemplify how much stress choices can induce.  On each side of the journey, I had three airports to choose from. Oakland, San Francisco San Jose and Regan, Baltimore and Dulles.  For each set, there was a preferred airport but there was more to consider.

For each airport, I had to gather information about ease and cost of transit to and from the airport.  This also differed based on what time a flight would depart or land.  For example, I would normally take BART to OAK or SFO, but if the flight leaves before 7am, that’s not an option.  San Jose (SJC) had cheaper flights, but driving there from my house can take between an hour and 3.5 hours depending on traffic.  There’s Amtrak, but then that’s another schedule, etc.  You get the idea.

Aside from weighing airports, I had to look at departure and arrival schedules for each flight.  And, as mentioned above, this could impact whether or not an airport made sense in terms of being able to get to it or from it.  That’s not even considering lack of sleep.

Then there’s the flight schedules themselves.  How many layovers?  How long are the layovers?  In which airports are the layovers?   This means also needing information about the airports, how far apart gates are, their reputations for flight delays, wi-fi and food options and such.

And of course, there’s also the factors by which airlines differentiate themselves. What’s the airline’s reputation for service and being on time? How much seat room do you get?  Where are the nickel and dime points? Etc.

Oh yeah, and cost.  That one’s so big it does the first narrowing of choices and then goes off the table.

Amenity considerations like airport wi-fi and airline reputations went out the window first.  There were just too many more important things to consider.  The cheapest flight was out of San Jose and into Baltimore. Two inconvenient airports.  After some research and math, I found that once transit costs to and from the airports where added in, the cost savings was marginal.  So I was at least able to narrow the list of choices down to my preferred airport on each side.

But, there was still all this schedule stuff.  One flight had good departure and arrival times but had 2 layovers that were both only 48 minutes.  That means leaving one flight when the other is boarding, running through airports; if the first flight is delayed at all, possibly missing the second.  Another had better layovers but went through ATL.  That airport is a nightmare. Gates are far apart, flights are often delayed.

Trying to minimize the stress associated with the flight itself, I was getting stressed with the options to the point of almost just giving up.  I called a friend who I knew would understand both the frustration of trying to find the best flight option and the need to go.  She was super helpful.  By helping me prioritize the factors that had overwhelmed me, we narrowed the list to just two or three flights where schedule was the only meaningful difference.  Now I could easily decide which non-ideal was the least worst and pick a flight.  I decided that having to get up at 3:30am was a lesser evil than having short connections, and I was set.

Then the airline nickel and dimed me – all “free” seats were gone and I had to purchase special seats on 3 of my 4 flights – so I almost had to start over, re-comparing costs.  Luckily (I guess), the extra $100 in seat fees didn’t bring any other flights into the equation.

Had any one of the flight options been the only option, I would have taken it.  But having so many different choices required a whole lot of thinking.  It’s nice to have a few choices, but when I’m faced with a whole boat load of them, I really miss Zambia.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Meat and Potatoes Kind of Vegetarian

I’m getting completely spoiled by the Bay Area, all this delicious vegetarian food at practically any restaurant.  I’m starting to expect choices on every menu, entrĂ©e selections in addition to appetizers and side dishes.  Spoiled and snooty.  But I wasn’t always this way.

You see, I grew up in Wisconsin, in the Midwest, in the land of beef and beef and more beef – and chees and milk, of course.  Us Midwesterners we’re a meat and potatoes kind of people.  I’m a meat and potatoes kind of vegetarian.

Dinner at my family’s house was always fun and the meals were your Mommy and dinnerstandard, balanced meals: meat, a starch and a vegetable.  Daddy’s not much of a pasta or rice fan, so we usually had potatoes and some sort of vegetable.  And that’s what I ate, potatoes and a vegetable, with lots and lots of milk.  And it was fine.

As I got older and Mommy and Daddy started to decide maybe this wasn’t a fad, they began to accommodate my diet.  Mommy got some fake meat once back when fake meat was still an experiment.  - It was years before we tried that again. – She would separate out some Hamburger Helper to make for me without meat or leave the bacon sprinkles out of the Suddenly Salad.  Later, when Daddy started worrying about his health, he’d buy veggie burgers for both of us and even started making some of his signature casseroles separate for me, without meat.

Out in Cali, when people invite me to dinner or we’re going out to eat in a group, if they know I don’t eat meat, they ask a whole bunch of questions about what I’ll eat, what can they make, where can we go.  I tell them not to worry about it, as long as there’s something without meat, I’ll be fine.  “I’m not picky; I just don’t eat meat.”  I grew up making do, and even if I’m getting pickier in my spoiled veggie-controlled community, I can still make do.  After all, I’m a meat and potatoes kind of vegetarian.

my plate

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Quilt of Many Color(ful T-Shirt)s

Two years ago, Mommy was working on a Alfred and Nathy-Boo’s wedding [link] present, a t-shirt quilt made out of t-shirts they’d acquired growing up.  Not any old t-shirt, the ones from things like band, twirling, sports, 4H, etc. 

Mommy’d been wanting to teach me - or I’d been wanting to learn, something like that – how to quilt, and a t-shirt quilt seemed like a great simple way to start.  Then the office manager at work started to clean out the old supply shelves.  All sorts of old items for which the organization no longer had use.  Amongst the piles, some old t-shirts from the early days and past events.  I looked at those t-shirts, and I looked at the giant set of shelves filled with the current t-shirts, and I knew exactly what to quilt:

the history of Creative Commons in t-shirts.

quilt front


hole for the feet to go through


We had a lot of fun making the quilt: cutting pieces, laying out patterns, sewing squares, finding a backing, tying it down and being silly. 


Mommy graciously offered for the backing one of the fun fabrics I’d mommy and me with quilt backbrought her from Nigeria. That seemed perfectly appropriate as I had applied to CC while living in Nigeria and worked closely with the CC Africa teams. Plus, the fabric’s bright colors went well with the t-shirt colors and the pattern incorporated a close approximation of CC’s signature green.

Now, the quilt lives in the couch room at the CC office.  Often, when the office is too cold, I find the quilt and wrap myself up in the coziness.

And it all started from this:

stack of washed t-shirtsA pile of t-shirts.