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