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On Opinions and Disagreement

I’ve been thinking lately about opinions. Okay, okay; I’m always thinking about opinions, and I have plenty of them, just like anybody else does. But lately I’ve been thinking about how things go when people have different opinions.

It seems like a no-brainer that not everyone would always have the same opinions, and a further no-brainer that this is okay. To me, it’s always seemed equally obvious that people should feel free to talk about their opinions, including their differences, with each other. I’ve always found it to be desirable and usually even enjoyable. I almost always grow from engaging in a discussion of opinion with someone who feels differently about a subject than I do: I learn new perspectives, question my own beliefs, consider assumptions, rethink givens I’ve never thought to doubt or research more fully, and learn there is always room to grow.

Of course, how that discourse takes place is relevant as well. As Stephanie was touching upon last month, there’s a difference between saying “I feel differently” or “I don’t like pink” or “Man, everybody should be able to drive a stick shift car!” and saying “You’re stupid because you don’t agree with me,” or “Pink is for sissies,” or “Anybody who can’t drive stick is obviously a drooling mouth-breather who probably also lacks the capacity to tie her own shoes.”

But then again, you also have to consider context. Let’s face it: every single one of us has likely referred to somebody or another as being so dumb he couldn’t pour… liquid… out of a boot with instructions printed on the heel. Maybe we’ve said it to his face; maybe we said it behind his back to our closest confidantes. Maybe we got off the phone after a marathon tech support call and announced it to all of our cow-orkers, then anonymized the guy and posted about it publicly. Many of us have may even made such pronouncements about a non-anonymous person in varying degrees of being on the record. And in many, many of those cases, little or no harm is done at all, because everybody is aware of the context in which things get said.

Here’s an example — the example that spawned this whole post, actually. My friend The Redhead and I were talking about spinning a very fine silk thread, and I said “I’d totally do that with a spindle,” and she said, “You’re crazy, and to heck with that idea.”

You see, she doesn’t like spinning with spindles. In fact, she could be said to hate it with the fire of a thousand white-hot suns. In the 5 or 6 years I’ve known her, to my knowledge, she has spun exactly one spindle-spun yarn (and she hated doing it, and complained about it publicly the whole time, which is her right). It doesn’t matter what kind of spindle it is, what kind of fiber it is, or anything like that — she just hates spinning with spindles. She hates it, even though she loves to spin super-fine yarn, and spindles are fabulous for that.

So, if she were to say “Abby, your spindles are utter trash, totally useless, and there is no way I’d ever use one,” then I, knowing her loathing of spindles on the whole, am readily able to laugh and say, “Honey, you say that about every spindle you’ve ever touched, because you’re Little Miss Loves-Her-Wheel and you just can’t hang with spindle spinning.” And then she might say “Oh, this from the chick who refused to use a top whorl until there was a point to be proven!” and I might fire back with “If you could be bothered to practice, you’d probably actually be able to spin with a spindle,” and she might counter with “If I were going to practice, it wouldn’t be on one of your dowel-and-a-drawer-pull el cheapo pieces of crap,” at which point I’d say … well, I don’t know. But the point I’m trying to make here is that she and I can differ dramatically in our opinions, know each other’s opinions, and have no fear whatsoever about discussing those differences, even to the point of stating things in ways that, lacking context and familiarity, probably seem pretty nasty.

The truth, however, is that she and I have tremendous respect for each other. We also like each other. We’re the kind of friends who know we have differences of opinion, and we’ll argue those with each other — passionately, vigorously, brutally and, ultimately, lovingly. Why? Because we know we can, for one thing. For another, every once in a while, it turns out the other person has a point. The Redhead, for instance, actually likes that one spindle-spun yarn. And as she once told me, if I’d give good batts a try, I might like them after all.

For both of us, willingness to be challenged has led to growth, and new enjoyment of things we thought we couldn’t enjoy. But on the other hand, sometimes I’ll grant it’s just not worth arguing a point. Take my son, the world’s pickiest eater. I can tell him a hundred different reasons I think he’d probably really, really like fresh cherries if he’d just pop one in his mouth and eat it. I think he’s nuts to stubbornly insist he won’t even try them because he hates fruit. It drives me absolutely crazy that he won’t eat fruit. But the more I argue, cajole, and wheedle, the firmer he becomes in his resolve to not eat fruit. So, fine: that just leaves more cherries for me, and he’ll have to take a multivitamin. And someday (or so I dream), maybe he’ll call me up, a grown man, and say “Mom, why didn’t you tell me I’d like cherries? I can’t believe I missed out on eating them for all these years!”

At which point, I promise I’ll call my mom and tell her she told me so, she was right, I was wrong, and I’m sorry I didn’t listen, and that in fact there was no point to me arguing with my kid about cherries for all those years. But in the meantime, odds are I’ll periodically still try to talk my kid into eating them. And without a doubt, I have all these arguments coming as payback for the years I argued with my own parents; my son is no more stubborn than I ever was. Or am.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that he’ll never like cherries. I personally believe that’s a silly claim for him to make when he hasn’t tried them; he can’t know for sure, y’know? And how can he make sweeping pronouncements like “I just don’t like fruit,” if he refuses to try it? But ultimately, it’s up to him; and if he wants to feel sure of an untried hypothesis to which he’s absolutely committed, well, it’s his life, and he’s entitled to his opinion.

Even if it is stupid.

There, you see? In the course of rambling on through this, lo and behold, there came one of those sweeping pronouncements that I was just saying were ill-considered. I uttered it, in the heat of the moment, and in the context of this whole thing about opinions.

Shifting gears, years and years ago, I moved from doing system administration work to software development work. From the outside looking in, it was all just computer work. But in simple, broad-stroke terms, sysadmins are the folks who have to solve the problems and make it go and deal with whatever needs handling, and do so on the spot, gracefully, fast. Often without having all the information or the set of tools you’d ideally have. Software developers, on the other hand, make the stuff that sysadmins then maintain. Sysadmins are thus often found saying “I can’t believe this thing has to go live right now, when it’s clearly so far from ready for prime time and riddled with problems,” and contending that developers don’t have to live with the long-term consequences of their work. Software developers, meanwhile, argue that sysadmins are too nitpicky, lack vision, and besides, it’s their job to deal with things, and if the sysadmins also wouldn’t just hack at things then maybe principled solutions would be more possible.

Well, anyway, so there I was, new to development, and another developer had made the assertion that the reason a particular thing didn’t work right was my code. “Oh hell no,” I thought, and went to work debugging, troubleshooting, and fixing the problem. I wasn’t going to be one of those developers, after all. Days of this went by, and then finally, in frustration, I said to a colleage, “What am I missing here?”

“You’re missing a fundamental thing,” he said. “You’re willing to entertain the notion that the problem IS in your code.” I was appalled, but my colleague went on. “If someone’s attacking your code,” he said, “the burden of proof should be on him to prove that’s the case. You get a trouble report, believe it’s your fault, own it, and start working on nailing everything down 100% and making certain there’s no way anybody can find fault with your work. That’s not how this works.”

I spent years and years thinking about that conversation. Probably about five years after it took place, I began to understand that one of the things my colleague was pointing out was simply that the other guy was making a claim, without necessarily having done all the due diligence I might have done if I were to make that claim.

A few more years went by, and I realized that not only was it, perhaps, the case that I tended to want to be absolutely positive I was right before making assertions, but that I tended to leave myself wiggle room when making pronouncements — whereas other people didn’t. And instead of reflecting negatively on them for making sweeping statements without 100% certainty, it reflected negatively on me and I came across as sounding unsure. Simply put, other people would say, “The sky is blue,” and I’d say “During the day when it isn’t cloudy, the sky is typically blue.”

My better half says that the one certain test for Franquemont blood is simple: just ask a simple, straightforward question, such as “Would you like chocolate?” Someone without Franquemont blood, he says, will answer “Yes” or “No.” The Franquemont, on the other hand, will say “Chocolate eh? What kind? Would I like it now, or after dinner? Hey, have you heard about the recent suggestions that people might be able to sell things as chocolate that really aren’t? Man, you should have been there that time in Quillabamba when I got that great picture of my sister standing by the cacao tree. You know, the fruit is quite melon-tasting if you eat it fresh…”

Is he right about this? I hate to say it, but… probably. I mean, he kind of has a point. This very paragraph is clearly an example. As is this whole entire post. I don’t think brevity is a Franquemont trait.

To prove it (as if I hadn’t already), I’ve got another anecdote, this one from my mother’s fieldwork for her Ph.D. She had spent weeks and weeks out with one person, collecting plant samples, writing down names for them, identifying them, cataloguing them, and getting his selection of names. Later, she went out again, looking at the same plants with someone else, getting *different* names and suggested uses and so on; part of the point of her research involved sampling what a range of people said about the plants. She’d come home and say “So get this — all the men say the plant huallhua is an aphrodisiac, and the women? They all say it’s a contraceptive!”

“Sounds like the perfect plant,” I remember my father saying. “Everybody should grow it.”

A few weeks later, I was out with the other teenagers, and we were talking about zits. And an older teen told us younger teens “You should put huallhua on that, it’ll clear it right up.” I was absolutely thrilled to be able to share that one with my mother.

Well anyway, one day she came upon her helper, the first source of names, going through her notebook, erasing and changing stuff. “What are you DOING?” she asked him, aghast. “Well,” he told her, “I noticed while we were all out looking at plants yesterday that the guy was giving you the wrong names for things, so I’m fixing it for you.”

It then fell to my mother to explain that part of what she was studying was not just what the plants were called — but the very fact that there was difference of opinion as to what they were called, and what form that took. She needed to know what different people said; she needed lots of sources, and needed to know about the conflict.

So let me try summing this up. Do I think opinions are harmful? Absolutely not. What about disagreement? Nope, I don’t think that’s harmful either. In both cases, I do feel they can be expressed in ways that can cause hurt feelings, or in ways which are threatening. But I think opinions and disagreement, even when vehement, are preferable to stifling silence or outright dishonesty; and I think direct discussion, absent ad hominem, is preferable to talking behind people’s backs, or indirection.

In the online world, it’s easy to get swept up in a dialogue or debate and end up behaving in ways one wouldn’t in real life. It’s easy to misread, misinterpet, phrase things injudiciously, take things personally, and so forth. And sometimes, it’s easy to forget that opinions, perspectives, sources, and so forth can be conflicting and still be good, just like argument and debate aren’t always placid, but are often very worthwhile.

So, with that said, in the next little while, I’m going to try tackling a few thorny debates in the handspinning world — some classics, like “Spindle vs. Wheel?” and “Top Whorl vs. Low Whorl?” and also a few of the conventional wisdoms out there. Why? Because I’d like to encourage everyone to question the conventional wisdom, seek out multiple sources, ponder the debates, form opinions, argue them, change their minds, and grow as a result of all of it — just like my friend The Redhead helped me grow by convincing me that I could like batts, and I (and a few other folks) have even convinced her to try using spindles now and again. And because sometimes there aren’t really yes or no answers, and you have to go down the long side road to find what you’re after, and whatever it is will be an individual thing. Lastly, like the plant huallhua, sometimes a thing can be many different things to many different people — and that’s okay, and there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with talking about that.

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M for Monday, M for Muggy, M for Apathy… wait…

The weather right now is tolerable enough… 75F/23C, a little hazy, slight breeze. But they’re forecasting 92F/34C with 70% humidity as the day wears on. This promises, despite air conditioning, to leave me completely wiped out. I’ve got to get a move on and try to get all the running around out of the way early as a result, and I predict a minimal willingness on my part to go cover myself in fiber, bending over a hot carder. Sounds better than slaving over a hot dyepot today, though, and the club batts for August must start to pile up today in order for the whole shebang to ship by Friday. So it’s errands and carding today. Almost a pity, that, because this would be a great day to go hide in an air-conditioned basement with my knitting.

Speaking of the knitting, I think that with perseverance, I could have the Pagoda shawl finished mid-week or so. So I shall, as they say, endeavor to persevere. And drink more coffee. And when I get something off the needles — anything, at this rate — I vow that the next thing I put on a set of needles shall be on big needles. At least a US 5 (call it 4mm-ish). At least. And something smaller, too, like maybe a sweater. I might just rip that one sweater back from last summer — which has already been ripped once — and see if I can’t get Amy’s Sprout out of it.

Foggy, Foggy Dew has been much more interesting to work on, but it’s slow going. For all of last week — probably 4-5 hours spent on Foggy, Foggy Dew all told — I have one full repeat. Depending on how you count a repeat. I count it as one, but some folks might count it as two. It’s really one, though.

My digital SLR is hanging out in the TV-watching zone next to all the real projects which aren’t moving fast enough for me, right now. I’m hoping, I think, that if it’s handy, it’ll catch sight of a fabulous shot that’ll prove I’m getting tons done. And I can’t go get it because I’m too apathetic to go up and down a couple of flights of stairs. Perhaps this apathy should be telling me something, eh?

So instead, I’ve grabbed the fits-in-my-pocket digital camera, which has lesser optics and is slow to write files, and snapped a couple of photos of my apathy projects, which sit on my desk forever, and incremental progress is made here and there.

Here’s a batt I ought to be sampling. It’s a leftover oddment from a run I did for someone else, and it’s a tweed, featuring merino, BFL, Shetland, silk, alpaca, and maybe something else. I have this here to sample.

Of course, right now, I mostlyl just look at it and go “I really ought to sample that.” And then there’s this:

This is one of my fancy-schmancy Bosworth spindles, which arrived at my house after I told Sheila I wanted… let me think… I think I said “Something burly and pretty, and some kinda fancy shaft, and maybe a longer shaft actually, and I think this time a mini. Or a midi. I don’t know. Something pretty. Not the lightest thing you can find, for once. I should try something different now and then.”

Or something like that. So it’s a beautiful burl wood mini whorl, and a cochin rosewood midi shaft. And I’m using it to spin a thicker yarn than is my norm.

Oh! Right, and the fiber is leftover bits from the Peach merino/tussah silk/camel.

As far as “thicker than my norm,” especially with a spindle… well, that segues nicely into the next apathy project.

I take drum carder trash, bits of trash fiber, discards that get picked out of problem blends, and spin them fine. Then I ply them and they turn into things like this, in my “Another Man’s Treasure” series, so called because they’re made entirely from trash — fiber that I’d throw away if I had any sense at all.

That particular yarn is now being turned into the following apathy project, which appears to be tying up a small set of Addi Turbos, and I haven’t touched it in over a year.

In fact, I moved it to my desk a month or two ago because I hadn’t touched it in so long, and it was actually sitting in a drawer. The needles look to be 0’s or 1’s, or “itty bitty.” I’m clearly making up the pattern as I go. I wonder if I’ll ever touch it again? It looks like I must have worked back and forth at the ends there, to make one more diamond, so it would be slightly more rectangular. I must have it in mind to do that again a few times to create a rectangle. Seriously, the last time I touched this project, we hadn’t even decided to move to Ohio yet.

There are other apathy items all over my desk. Note there’s no photo of the desk; it’s too messy. That in itself is clear evidence of apathy. Or something. But there are also several skeins of yarn, a bunch of random fiber, and some half-scribbled pattern notes and whatnot. Ooof!

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Friday, Beer o’Clock!

Yes it’s Friday, and about 11 minutes from Beer o’Clock. And yes — yes, I made the beer run. Of course, odds of the keg being cold in time for Beer o’Clock are sadly slim. But my beer-drinking readers would be proud; I made the beer run in an absolutely epic downpour. Uphill both ways, of course. A girl’s gotta have some priorities in life.

Okay, so I did the post office run first. That’s not the point.

In other oh-so-scintillating news, I added another First Dibs sale page:

First Dibs Sales – MISC!

This is where you’ll find all the handpainted tops, the superwash/tencel, the merino/tussah tops, the wool tops, and other sundries. Right now there’s a bunch of superwash/tencel (you know you wanna see! And there’ll be more in a couple of days!) I’m even restraining myself, and keeping only the one domestic wool top this time:

which is spinning up very satisfyingly into a laceweight yarn. And you wouldn’t have wanted it anyway. Booooooring! Right?

Oh, and saying “yarn” reminds me that I’ll be adding a “First Dibs: YARN!” page soon as well. You can find them over on the right in the navigation area. You know, until I finish that site redesign. In my copious free time. Which summer gives me so much of.

Still, though, it’s Friday, and this is in my future:

Yeah, including the beads, because I think I’m going back to work on the Foggy, Foggy Dew shawl, and it’s had a week off, so it needs to get moving again. Unless I decide to finish the yarn… or the Pagoda shawl. Oh, fickle me, fickle me.

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Wow, it’s almost like I did something!

Thanks to each and every one of you for the really delightful comments yesterday! I owe several of you email replies, too, and hopefully I’m even going to *get* to them soon. I’ve been having no luck keeping up on email the past couple of months. Again, I blame the summer.

Oh, and as far as what kind of beer we have on tap… well, Boddington’s is a staple. Mmmmm that stuff is good. I also like stouts, such as the well-known Guinness, and Murphy’s Stout. And in the summertime, I like to drink all those beers that everyone says taste like nothing at all. Ice cold, outside.

Marcy asks why there aren’t sheep in the huge pasture you can see in the photos I take on the deck, like this one.

The short answer is there aren’t any sheep there because instead, there are horses there. Related to that, it’s not our pasture! But we do get to socialize with the yearlings that usually live in that paddock. We live back behind a horse farm — there are lots of horse farms around here. However, our property isn’t zoned for livestock. Which is really just as well — I’ve got a family and a small business, and the last thing I really need is livestock! Bear in mind I grew up largely rural, so I’m familiar with the workload… and the never getting to go out of town… and so on. I have my hands full as it is.

I did manage to get a few blends done this week, blends I’ve been wanting to get done for a while. Not that I got to the whole list, mind you! But, like this:

Merino/Tussah/Camel batts, baby! Aww yeah. There’s still a green and a blue left to do, after which I’ve got to salvage some cashmere (that sounds worse than it is, I swear), but I got the purple and the peach done, and geeze, they’re nice. Really nice. I stole a peach one to sample.

I also made a minimal amount of progress on setting up something new: First Dibs Sales! From now on, I’m going to give all of you loyal blog readers a crack at stuff before it hits eBay. So far, I’ve thrown together Batts and Silks, and the latter includes a handful of production colours of hand-dyed tussah, and will let you order as much as you want — but there’s a week turnaround on those. If you order more than 8 ounces custom dyed in a production colour, however, you will be eligible for a discount — drop me a line and I’ll let you know more about it, if you’re interested in that. Eventually, the production run colours will move someplace where you can just order ’em, but I haven’t gotten there yet. Oh, and one other convenience with the First Dibs pages is that you can pay with a credit card directly with the paypal shopping cart, even if you don’t have a paypal account.

So, well, I guess all of that is something. I’ve still got to get the page with handpainted wool tops and the like put together. It’s time-consuming, though, compared to the eBay listings, which is a major appeal to just using that store — more time for production, less fiddly overhead in time spent on putting pictures to cart items and so forth. Plus, I can easily do things like say “All yarn is now 20% off for the next week, and all fiber is 10% off,” with the eBay store. Why yes — in fact, I did just do that. If there’s something you’ve been considering buying, now’s a good time! There isn’t going to be a lot of new production of diverse things for a bit, because I’m about to start in on production for round 2 of Batt Club. Which reminds me: I’ve gone over all the numbers and for the remaining 2 months of this first (and maybe only) Batt Club run, I can squeeze in 4 more people with a prorated deal — $60 for the final 2 months. First 4 to email me about it (abby at abbysyarns dot com, naturally) will be the lucky ones.

Batt Club has been really interesting for me so far, and I hope for those of you who’ve signed up. Every one of you should have your fibers by now, and I’ve heard from some of you and seen pictures of what you’ve been doing with your sock blend, and it’s really a thrill! August’s blends start coming off Cardzilla on Monday and are slated to ship Friday, 3 August.

As it stands right now, I am leaning towards doing it again, with signups in September, for October, November, and December. If you’re signed up now, you’ll have first dibs on a renewal spot, and renewal will come up the second week in September, and be open for a week or so. Then, once I know how many renewals there are and how many slots are open as a result, I’ll announce when new signups will be open, and we can take it from there.

I’d love to get a show of hands (or something) from folks who might be interested in either a Batt Club Yahoo group or Flickr group (and which you’d prefer) to share your experiences with other Batt Club members. If there’s sufficient interest, I’ll create one (or both).

Whew, is it the weekend yet? No? Scandalous. It should be; then I might have beer on tap again, sheesh! Not that it’s beer o’clock yet, alas. But soon… soon. It’s too muggy today to think about doing much more fiber work. I’d think about dinner, but it might be too hot for that too.

Man, is anybody else having problems with bloglines today, or is it just me? Most of my feeds are just no updating. Grrr!

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Summertime Blues

Sometimes I wonder what I’m a-gonna do, but there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.

–Eddie Cochran

Elizabeth was mentioning this yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Not that I wasn’t before.

I think it’s partly the summer schedule. First of all, the manchild’s day starts a full hour later, and ends a half hour earlier, going to day camp rather than school. Related to that, instead of the school bus picking him up, I drive him. It isn’t far, but each pickup and drop off takes a half an hour. So right there, I’ve lost 2.5 hours of usual work time, which is a big hit. Half of it ends up coming out of my online time, and half of it from production time; and this leaves me feeling (and being) behind on email (which is a perpetual state of affairs anyway, I suppose) as well as blogging, with drafts piling up… and barely keeping my head above water productionwise.

This morning I got up and found I’d forgotten to bring in a handful of blending fibers that I dyed yesterday.

They’ll be fine. Still, oops. I completely forgot about them!

I could also blame the heat for part of my doldrums, but then the past few days have been perfect summer weather. Absolutely perfect. So it’s definitely not that.

It’s not like life is bad.

See? Kitten (in front of fiber being spun), work in progress, beer… of course, it’s beer in a bottle instead of on tap, because we failed to realize how close to empty the keg was till it ran out on us unexpectedly on Monday, with nobody having a chance to go get a new one till the weekend. The horror! The absolute horror!

The work in progress, incidentally, is the Pagoda shawl. I dyed some Falkland yellow, a little variegated (but not as variegated as I was envisioning, when all is said and done), and have been wrapping it up. It’s presently my big needle project — which is sort of pathetic, considering it’s on a size 3 Addi Turbo. I decided I would switch to that and finish it up, so as to have something finished to show for the summer to date, instead of continuing to make invisible progress on the Foggy, Foggy Dew shawl. But of course, the Pagoda shawl isn’t done either. 2-3 evenings, I think.

Kaylee isn’t herself right now, though, what with new stitches in her belly from Monday’s spay. She’s bouncing back, but she needs a lot of snuggling right now.

Oh, so instead of working on actually finishing something last night, what did I do?

Well, I deserved it, I suppose. What is it? More of that superwash merino/tencel blend! They’ll be up for sale soon (and I’m going to do a pre-listing sale before putting stuff in the ebay store, I think, to give loyal blog readers first crack at stuff. Seems fair). This one is my favourite, I think:

That’s “Harvest.” I’m trying to talk myself out of keeping it for me. Of course, I might keep “Maize” instead.

We’ll see.

I’ve been dyeing tussah silk as well; I like this one in spite of myself. Fortunately for all concerned, Elizabeth’s run off with it already, so there’s no need to worry about me stealing it for my own stash (which doesn’t need to be any bigger).

Today, once I get all the other various things I need to do out of the way, I’ll be in with Cardzilla, working on some fresh batts. Today and tomorrow are the last generally-available stuff for a bit, as after that, I’m tied up with Batt Club round 2 for a bit, and then I might go easy on myself and take a little break. Or not; I’m not so great at taking breaks. Someone remind me that I said I was thinking about taking one, sometime in a week or two when I’m clearly not?

Oh, I almost forgot.

He’s not tired. Ignore the giant circles under his eyes; they mean nothing.

Despite his evident fatigue, he actually behaved far, far better than most of the grownups, the majority of whom were pretty quick to muscle kids out of the way for things. I think this is part of what bugs me about the Pottermania; if we’re supposed to be doing this for the children, then how about we give the children a chance? I’ve been less crowded in a Tokyo subway, and the people doing the crowding were old enough to know better than to be shoving 9-year-olds around. It’s sad; while I’m thrilled about him reading, and very much enjoy the fact that he shares his parents’ bookishness, grownup obsession does make it harder for me about the Potter stuff.

We gave him a special dispensation to stay up reading as long as he liked. I don’t know when he passed out, but he was awake again — and half done with the book — by about 8 AM.

And done by 11.

His cousin (who I understand is very likely reading this) had probably better be done with it by now, so that he can discuss it with her at length. He’s been bursting at the seams about it, and being very good not spoiling it for other kids.

An interesting piece on NPR recently (during the Pottermania media blitz of course) talked about why it may be that some kids stop reading around age 9 or 10, even if they’ve read a lot before that. A big reason, it was suggested, is that kids don’t know what else they might like to read, and have trouble finding decent books. That theory flabbergasted me; aren’t there teachers, librarians, parents to help with that? Other kids even?

To be fair, I remember a few times when I was, oh, 8-10, that I brazenly told my parents I was out of stuff to read, and had nothing to read, and couldn’t figure out what to do about it. Without fail, every single one of these utterances resulted in a trip to the bookshelves in our house, and a huge, heaping new stack of books next to my bed. My parents scoffed at the notion of “running out of things to read,” urging me to simply read anything and everything.

That attitude worked out well when we were living abroad. Traveling internationally, you can’t always take a ton of books and it can be a challenge to find new ones in some places. There were times we’d simply buy whatever books we found, whatever they were, whatever language they were in, so long as we could come close to reading it. Hostels, albergues, expatriate hidey-holes of various stripes would commonly have random libraries: pick up a book you haven’t read, leave one you’re done with. That resulted in reading anything from Sidney Sheldon to Doris Lessing, Steven King to Walt Whitman, The Canterbury Tales to The Communist Manifesto. And lots of stuff in between. Periodicals and meaty tomes such as major religious books like the Bible (various versions, both testaments, English and Spanish) and the Tao Te Ching got read; these were substantially more fun than what we’d end up reading when even those things ran out, like the Merck Manual, which is actually extra fun when you’re living in the third world, as it tends to lead straight into “Huh, maybe I have scabies. Geeze, that sounds unpleasant. Hey, listen to this one…”

Okay, maybe you had to be there.

Oh, okay, so it was not really fun per se; but in retrospect, it sure is funny to remember.

Anyway, supposing that I really had read my way through everything on hand, and I went whining to my father about not having anything to read, he always had one answer: “Well then, I guess it’s time for you to write something.”

“I don’t know what to write!” I’d whine back. And then he’d give me a writing exercise, which as often as not would then end up being critiqued and rewritten, again and again (Yes, I know: use fewer words and be more concise. That’s never been my strong suit. I didn’t say I was an editor, did I?).

So with that sort of literate upbringing in mind, the notion of 10-year-olds not being able to find something to read is just… mind-boggling to me. Looking back, and really thinking about it, I can see how it could have happened to me, if my parents (and grandparents, and aunts and uncles, and… yeah) weren’t how they were.

All in all, I have often thought that if I had to choose one thing and one thing only to keep from all of civilization, one privilege alone, one thing not to lose in the great apocalypse, it would be literacy. With literacy, you can build anything, eventually. Literacy is what I couldn’t give up. No, I don’t want to give up my washer and dryer either, or electricity, or medicine, or science, or anything like that — but literacy? It would win, if there were only one thing that could be saved. Literacy is the great wonder of the civilized world.

Geeze, you’d think I was dragging my feet about getting into the studio today, and not just drinking more coffee. But alas, the cup is empty, the pot is likewise, and I’ve chewed up way more of my day sitting here than I meant to — my precious, too-short day.

I’ll leave you with this photo, which I was compelled to take last week. I walked outside and there it was: this looming thunderhead, backlit impressively by the setting sun, towering unbelievably high and moving East. I turned around and went back in for the camera, and by the time I got back, the backlighting was starting to fade and it wasn’t quite as it had been; but still, close.

I’m ready for my own personal skies to break open and incredible productivity to rain forth. At this rate, though, it’s gonna be fall.

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Shout-Out Saturday

It’s time for another round of Shout-Out Saturday! Huzzah! I’ve even added a category for it, so that as soon as I finish fixing the present problem with categories not displaying properly, folks’ll be able to readily see the whole list.

Here are the shouts out for today, then.

Wheat Wrote WHAT?

It has probably been over 15 years now that I keep running into Wheat online and talking about fiber. If you’ve been on lists for a while, you know what I mean; Wheat was online discussing fibery stuff long before I was. Wheat is thoughtful, vocal, helpful, and opinionated — numerous of my favourite human traits. Right now, she’s talking about crochet at the LYS. Among other things. What Wheat writes is always thought-provoking. She’s awesome.


Everybody knows June, right? If you don’t, you should. Or at least her blog. There’s yarn porn, knitting porn, food porn, and more; and it’s all high-quality. June takes the time to do things right, and she doesn’t pick simple little easy things to do, either. June’s blog is one of the five blogs I have been reading the longest. I am also probably very fortunate that I don’t live closer to June, as I’d doubtless be trying to use fiber or yarn to wheedle my way over for dinner on a regular basis.

Sue Bleiweiss

Sue’s a new discovery for me, within the past few months. I don’t really know her at all, I’ve just read her blog and tutorials. She does absolutely amazing felting work, mixed media, silk fusion…. and terrific tutorials on the subject. Every time I see her new projects, I find myself lusting in my heart. And I don’t even *like* mixed media stuff. Or so I thought. But I changed my mind after getting lost in Sue’s blog for a while.


Ted Myatt is clearly possessed of far more energy and organizational prowess than I can even presently aspire to be. I owe him several pieces of meaty email, too; I’m afraid I’m terrible about actually getting the longer emails out the door. First things first: if you’re in or around Ontario, check out Ted’s Fibrefest North, which I really wish I could attend. And wherever you are, read his blog; knitting, spinning, and lots more, and he is a terrific writer besides.

Leigh’s Fiber Journal

Leigh covers a broad range of topics, many dealing with spinning and weaving, in clear, concise, yet technical ways. And she has a big black cat — those of you who’ve been reading my blog a while will recall I recently lost mine, so I am of course a sucker for the big black cat. But anyway, Leigh documents a ton of stuff, and provides lots of helpful how-tos as well. Check her out!

To these folks, I say thank you for being part of my online fiber world, and keep it going!

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I need to vent something

I need to vent something, folks. Indulge me.

Okay, here it is: I’m not a Harry Potter fan. In fact, I don’t really like Harry Potter very much. I’ve read some of the books; I’ve seen the movies. I’m familiar with the fandom, and I understand it, understanding fandom at large. Indeed, in my life, I’ve had my own experiences of fandom. No, really, I have. If the absolute, unvarnished truth must be told, there was a time in the 1980s when I wouldn’t leave the house if I wasn’t going to be able to be home between 7:30 pm and 8 pm and able to watch PBS channel 44 out of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, I had a pen shaped like a sonic screwdriver, and I did, in fact, knit fandom scarves (which were, I’ll add, the last thing I knit before I swore off knitting for 20 years or so). Yes folks, it’s true; in my adolescent and teenage years, I was without a doubt a hard core Doctor Who fan. Not to mention a comics collector. So there’s no high ground for me here in this vent. I by no means think anybody isn’t entitled to their fandom, of whatever variety.

But, like I say, I’m not a fan of Harry Potter. I have found the books to be juvenile and somewhat remedial from a fantasy reader’s perspective — which is of course fine, since they’re children’s books. I think I’d have loved them when I was a kid, and been thrilled not to be the only weird kid reading fantasy and science fiction. But all in all, I find the books to be a little bit trite, high school social melodrama couched in a mildly fantastic setting with a liberal dash of a thematic element which never fails to please the teenage, being a misfit with super powers who must save the day against the wishes of both The Man and The Bullies.

As far as young adult fantasy is concerned, I don’t feel Harry Potter has the oomph of a number of other books I read between ages, oh, 8-14. A partial list would include The Chronicles of Prydain, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series, Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, Earthsea, Pern, Aahz and Skeeve, or slews and slews of Alan Dean Foster books. And that’s not even getting into the science fiction side of things!

Some of the books on that short list are dark, brooding; some are thoroughly light-hearted. Personally, I’m especially fond of the ones steeped in things Arthurian, in part because there’s absolutely no end to the Arthurian reading one can do, and there are centuries worth of stories and versions of those stories, none of which were pushed past focus groups and carefully marketed to sell quick and formulaic spin-off products. And, were my son to presently be obsessed with all things Arthurian, or with the Mabinogion, I suspect I’d be far less burnt out on it than I am on the way all our household conversations lately seem to go like this:

“Hey, do you have any suggestions for dinner?”

“Yes mom, and did you know that Professor Umbridge really, really has it in for Harry, and this is partly because she is evil, and that’s why she’s seizing control from Dumbledore?”

“You don’t say. Nope, I didn’t know that. So what did you want for dinner?”

“Also, the Petronas charm is really powerful, and when dementors are after you…”


Now, I’ll be honest. We’ve faced this with other childhood obsessions. And like I say, I’ve had my own. My mother (and I think my niece) reads this blog, and I know for a fact she’d never let me get away with pretending I didn’t ever walk around explaining how Davros was the progenitor of the Dalek race, who came from Skaro and fought the time war against the Time Lords of Gallifrey. Like I say, I admit it. And even if my mother didn’t call me on it, there are other folks reading this who also could (hello, Ayse!).

Yes, we have faced Spongebob obsession, for example. And Spider-Man. And Pokemon. But these have all paled in comparison to the Pottermania, and there’s one major reason why: none of those things have also been an obsession for vast numbers of adults in the world as well, at the same time.

At no point, for instance, has the town I lived in made a concerted effort to turn itself into Bikini Bottom. But starting Friday night and going through the weekend, the little train line in town, which is a tourist draw, will be remaking itself as the Hogwart’s Express, with packages including a “start-of-term welcoming feast” to take place at local landmark The Golden Lamb. And I’m not kidding about town on the whole:

Diagon Alley: Historic downtown Lebanon will transform itself into Diagon Alley. A program of participating merchants will be provided to direct you to the Harry Potter Activities.

There’ll be no getting through town. I mean, I thought it was bad when they did Thomas the Tank Engine, but the whole downtown area didn’t turn into the Isle of Sodor (yes, we had the Thomas obsession back a few years ago too).

And it’s not just town. I can’t argue with any of the businesses doing a Potter-themed shtick; if I had a yarn shop by the train station, I’m sure I’d be selling Weasley sweater kits and materials for Slytherin scarves. I fault no one for the mania. But man, I can’t escape it, you know? It’s all over everybody’s blogs, all the mailing lists, every imaginable business is having a Deathly Hallows sale of some kind or another, the counselors at my son’s camp are talking about it, it’s all over the TV, the radio, the newspaper… augh!

You know what it reminds me of? One time, some years ago, I was watching the NBA finals, suddenly, things cut to a shot of a white SUV being followed slowly by some cop cars. I couldn’t believe it. O.J. Simpson? So what? Tell us later, there’s a serious game going on here, folks! And then it just kept going; every water cooler, every barroom conversation, every random person on the bus, every cashier and clerk and stranger and relative and just… everybody, all the time, nonstop talking about the stupid Simpson trial. You couldn’t get away from it. It was like the rest of the world had decided for me that I MUST CARE ABOUT THIS.

But you know what? I didn’t; I really didn’t. Yes, I’d have read the news about it. But I didn’t care about it to the point that I wanted to talk about it with every single person ever, hear about it nonstop, be unable to engage in my normal day to day life without “Have you heard the latest OJ news?”

Similarly, I just plain don’t care about Harry Potter. I don’t care if this is the last book. I don’t care who dies. I don’t care if Snape really is evil or not. I don’t care if someone spoilers it for me. I wouldn’t even be buying the book… except for one thing. One. Thing.

Isn’t that a good kid? Look at him go.

I started madly, compulsively buying books for him about a week after finding out I was pregnant with him. I’ve been taking him to the bookstore for mother-and-son fun for his whole life. We work hard at keeping him in reading material. He can’t sleep without reading first. Everybody knows he loves to read. He’s proud of how much he loves to read. And right now, he’s obsessed with this whole Harry Potter thing about which I simply do not care.

Except for the fact that he does. Except for the fact that I’ve spent his entire life acting as a reading enabler to a degree that arguably surpasses even the fibery enabling I do for a living.

So, tomorrow night, instead of staying home and enjoying a quiet Friday in my recliner, knitting or spinning, ask me what I’ll be doing. Go ahead. Ask. Okay, don’t ask; I’ll just tell you. First, I’ve already reserved his copy of that book. Second, I have to go at 5pm to a bookstore on the other side of the worst rush hour traffic in the area, and get a ticket that assigns me my turn to be in line to pay for the book. Then at sometime-after-9pm, during what should be his extended-late-night-summer-reading-on-the-way-to-sleep time, pile him into the car, head back to that same bookstore, let him party party party with whoever else is there for this obsessive fandom scene, wait our post-midnight turn, acquire the book, and come home well after my bedtime.

Oh, the misgivings and anguish! Why couldn’t he want to go to, I dunno, a Star Trek con? Maybe anime would be easier. I might rather camp out for Grateful Dead tickets. But I’ve told him we’re doing this, and we’re doing it. And Saturday, from the moment he wakes up until he’s finished that book, well, I guess I can sleep in, and build up my mental strength for hearing all about it.

There is obviously no force on earth stronger than a mother’s love. I’d have thought there was no force powerful enough to make me go to a midnight book release thing of ANY type, let alone for a book in a series I’m thoroughly burnt out on hearing about. I should probably call up my mother and thank her for a few things. In fact, we probably all should; there’s doubtless a long list of things just like this that our mothers did for us and we never thanked ’em.

I’m telling myself over and over that it’ll be fun. Or I’ll get lots of knitting or spinning done while waiting in line. Or something. Keep me in your thoughts. And I’ll take any survival tips anybody has.

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Foggy, Foggy Dew

Well, I’m making progress on the Foggy, Foggy Dew shawl, though it’s reached the point where things seem to move at less than a snail’s pace. It’s about 15 minutes per plain purl row, 20ish for a pattern row. So this seems to translate to about a repeat per day.

I weighed things yesterday afternoon, before finishing the latest repeat. There were 74 grams remaining in the ball… and the work in progress, including the 60″ Addi Turbos and the beads, weighed 55 grams. Oy. I’d say that there’s about 40 grams of yarn worked up so far… or… roughly 35% of the total yarn.

That would make me about a third done. I can’t stretch the piece out to show it in a triangle at this point; the legs of the triangle would be more than the 60″ needle long, meaning (oh I’m so good at math!) over 5 feet.

The base of the triangle — the top, that’ll be at the neck and shoulders — is about 41 inches across. Not blocked, remember, but still, stretched out to make things sort of visible and roughly ballpark how big this thing is getting.

As I’m working on it, I keep thinking about Sara Lamb’s Anatomy of a Project post from January of this year. She said:

Most times, after the first blush of excitement, there is just the daily effort. Just More. More stitches, more shots, more miles. The real work. The work without surprises, without wonder, where the planning shows in the ease, or lack thereof, of the doing. Sometimes it comes at the body, sometimes it’s the sleeves, the hours of throwing the shuttle, the hemming, the pressing, the blocking, sometimes it’s the endless miles of edging.

Yeah. So I have been pondering what keeps me going through that part. It’s the part that’s work, not play. I think it’s different in every case, with every project, but this time, the truth is, it’s because I want to see the finished object, and look at it, and know how it came out. And then I want to start the next thing with a clear conscience.

I want to see it. And if I want to see it, I have to do it.

This is my first beaded knitting project. I think maybe on the next one I’ll know what the heck I’m doing. While I’m doing this one, I keep thinking about the others. And in fact, with that in mind, I stashed up for some.

Yeah, I’m a stasher. Was there any doubt? But I swear I’ve been stashing the beads with an eye towards specific projects. Look:

Garnets are my birthstone!

So I got some nicer ones, and some irregular ones. I’m looking forward to putting them on this merino/silk yarn.

And these coppery beads are slated for this merino/silk.

With a little luck, these rhodium-plated beads will fit on this merino/tencel.

I’m looking for red and orange beads for the Hot Lava Optim. I haven’t found quite the right thing yet. And I got some little cultured seed pearls, drilled, to put on a cashmere/tussah yarn… but I think they’re too big. I have to let that idea gel.

Having concluded that the soonest I can possibly be done with the Foggy, Foggy Dew shawl is realistically mid-August, I felt gloomy. Odds are I won’t be done with it that quickly; there’s too much else I have to do. That called for some consolation.

“Lovely day for a Genius!” Edward always says. Hah! That isn’t, of course, a Guinness; it’s a Boddington’s. Settling, getting ready for me to drink it. Mmmmm.

Oh, I’ve started actually looking at the heap of WordPress upgrading and tinkering that I need to do. I’ve at least reached the point where I have a shell open on that box and I’m jabbing things in the appropriate directories with the needle-like acuity of my relinquished geekdom. I think it’s reasonably safe to say that this former sysadmin has, in fact, recovered. I wonder if I should stop by the old haunt and let whoever’s left there know. Assuming anybody’s left there.

Anyway, that does mean that coming up in the next… whenever I get to it, there could be all sorts of peculiar blog experiences for my loyal readers, in the event that I decide to eschew any semblance of past professionalism and just make all sorts of changes to live systems and upgrade things in a thoroughly unprincipled manner. You’ve been warned! Any weirdnesses, though, will be short-lived. I promise.

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Shout-Out Saturday, and Online Fibery Stuff

I’ve been thinking about the net and the fiber community lately, for no real reason other than that, well, I guess I’m often thinking about that sort of thing.

As long as I’ve been online (which goes back to the era when .com was the least populous domain and email addresses were often bang paths and even some connectivity providers did it with modems), the same social dynamics have been in play in every online scene. You’ve got the net.curmudgeons talking about how it’s not like it used to be, the newbies making stupid mistakes despite all sorts of earnestness, a chorus of people saying “But did you read the FAQ?” You have recurring flamewars that devolve into flamewars about whether or not to have a flamewar. People come and go and folks wonder where they came from and where they went. Small, cozy groups turn into big, anonymous-seeming institutions. Groups split, and merge, get more active, die down to nothingness and disappear. Thriving subcultures pop up unexpectedly in the strangest of places. A handful of people devote tons and tons of time to making community stuff go, and hordes of people are able to avail themselves of those things. Sometimes folks doing that kind of stuff burn out and scenes change forever. Sometimes things get too big and noisy to really function well anymore. Sometimes you just can’t find the signal you’re looking for amid all the noise.

There are lots and lots of fabulous folks in the fiber world online, and lost of wonderful resources. And lots of us take the ones we know about for granted, and assume everyone already knows about them. Sometimes we’ll discover new ones and become addicted to them, but not stop to think of mentioning them to our other pals. I’m terrible about updating the links to blogs I read, for instance. I read TONS of you who I haven’t linked to yet.

So I’ve decided I’m going to make an effort to do a Shout-Out Saturday thing every week. What does this mean? Every Saturday, I’ll give a shout-out (or several shouts out!) to folks whose online fiber work I appreciate. With Shout-Out Saturdays, I want to take a moment to say thank you to the people making efforts, bringing fiber stuff into my online life, working on fiber community, and so forth.

So, here are my first shout-outs:

Sandra’s Loom Blog

Sandra Rude is a production weaver, who does a variety of things, and talks in very understandable ways about technical weaving topics. Her photos are amazing, as is her work. I’m really fond of her recent Fire Scarf series. While there are a fair number of things you can find online about more basic weaving topics, Sandra is one of very few people covering more difficult topics, more advanced stuff, higher-end weaving.

Mostly Knitting

Sarah is a real powerhouse. Seriously. Just look:

Knitting And…

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been googling for some rather random thing (you know, like “leafy lace pattern chart vintage oak leaf roses vine edging” and the answer’s at, and it’s there because of work Sarah did transcribing, documenting, and so forth. Sarah’s the woman behind the Knitting Wiki… for which I’ve promised content and not yet delivered, *cough*!

Ask The Bellwether

If you think I answer a lot of questions on lists, in forums, whatever, check out Amelia. Seriously. All that, and she has a fabulous shop!


Ellen is writing about fibers, quite a bit about fibers. Ever wonder “What’s so great about Merino anyway?” Check out Sheepwreck.


I don’t know how she does it, but Marcy finds the most amazing historical, cross-cultural, ethnographic, anthropological, and archaeological spinning content and images of anybody I know. And I know a lot of people with that set of interests! I’ve seen things pictured at her blog that I’d never even heard of before, and believe me, that’s saying a lot.

So to the five of you this morning, I say thank you. Each one of you contributes to my online fiber world in tremendous ways, and I’m glad you’re there (whether you read this blog or not!)

Tune in next Saturday for more shouts out.

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Dear Cassie

Dear Cassie,

It’s been very nice getting to know you online the past little while. I’ve been enjoying our correspondence, and I am thrilled that you’ve been so happy with your Creamsicle fiber. As I think I may have mentioned, the merino/silk/camel blend is absolutely one of my favourites to spin. So I felt very enthusiastic when you said something about “red,” and even more so when you expressed such confidence in me and said, “Oh, just make something nice.”

So enthusiastic, in fact, that I dyed no less than 7 different reds on 3 different fibers yesterday. It was an absolutely beautiful day, and fed (no doubt) by recent rains, the geraniums on the deck were starting to bloom afresh. I rather suspect that, as I was thinking about reds, I was staring at those blossoms in their little clay pots with a pleasant breeze tickling them. As the merino top, silk sliver, and loose camel dried, their colours lightened (as you’d expect) and they kept growing closer and closer to various hues of geranium.

Still, though, I felt the silks were too pink. I had to take those out of the running. I feared I was off to the blue side with the merino top, too. The camel, though, 60 grams of it, came out an absolutely delicious scarlet — the very shade you see when you… okay, when I jab myself with a needle and a drop wells up before attempting to stain whatever it was I worked on at the time. Nothing gets redder than that.

This morning, once everything was dry, I took it all to Cardzilla, and we got started. Things were actually worse than I’d thought, alas. Parts of the merino top — which I had dyed to be variegated so as to create some depth to the colour — were outright pink. While this is always a risk with dyeing anything red, I was disappointed. I also had to eschew the silks that I’d dyed for this purpose in their entirety; while they’re lovely deep pink, that isn’t red. I was forced to look around for other red silk (fortunately I do have a little).

Tragically however, when all is said and done, I just don’t think you’re going to like this fiber at all. Now, before you say anything, please rest assured that I’m not writing this letter to you because of the tendency you and I discussed, where I tend to not sell the merino/silk/camel blends because I like them too much. Of course that’s not what’s going on here, and I’m sure you’d never accuse me of anything so crass. Really, it’s just that this fiber is terrible, and you wouldn’t like it at all. The colour is completely wrong. The proportion of silk isn’t what I originally planned for. Everything’s just completely off.

Also, my son touched it, so it has boy cooties. Those are contagious, you know. But since he’s my child, I’m immune, so clearly, the only thing for me to do is put this in my stash and keep you safe from it. I’m only doing this for your own good. It hurts me more than it hurts you.

Best wishes,


P.S. Here are a few pictures so you can see how awful it is.

P.P.S. It doesn’t match the geraniums at all.

P.P.P.S. So I don’t think it has a natural-looking red to it like you said you like.

See? It’s terribly primary coloured.

P.P.P.P.S. Sucker! You didn’t believe me, did you?