Thursday, December 09, 2010

Memories: Being Afraid

There are only two times I that I can remember experiencing fear for my personal safety when we lived in Africa.

Once was on the way to boarding school when I was about 10.

That time we flew. We lifted off from the rough airstrip at Mbingo, Cameroon and headed north and a little west toward Jos, Nigeria. It was rainy season and when it rains, it POURS! Our small, six person plane was unable to fly high enough to get above the rain, so the pilot had to land somewhere.

I don't know all the details and I should probably get those from my parents. What I do know is that we ended up landing on a Nigerian military runway under construction.

Our pilot could not get them to give him permission to land, but he did anyway. There was no place else to go, and he had to keep the safety of all 5 children aboard in mind. He chose to take the risk of landing in the hope that when they saw a plane full of children, that they'd back down.

I remember that when we landed it was a concrete runway strewn with debris, mostly rocks. I thought it was odd that they would leave such a nice runway so messy. When we finally rolled to a stop, a very angry solder with a big gun came running up to the pilot's window. He stood under the wing, protected from the down pour while he harangued our pilot. The gist of it was that we were forbidden to land and that we had to leave immediately. Our pilot calmly responded that he would do so as soon as the rain let up and had only landed to protect the children. It was very tense and I remember that we all just sat and watched silently.

I don't know if the soldier realized the truth of the situation or if he just didn't have a response to that. But he finally stopped shouting and we waited with him standing under the wing until the down pour became a drizzle. At that point he made it clear we were to leave immediately.

The second time was just before we left Africa when I was almost 14.

There was political unrest in Nigeria and we began hearing about things going on in the capital city (it was Lagos then). I remember that one of my classmates was afraid because her Dad had been shot (but not killed) in an attack on their compound. There was also talk about whether it would get as bad as the "last time." The last time was the Biafran War.

Suddenly, the armed guard that watch over our compound at night didn't seem enough. He was there for thieves, not mobs.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Slow Cloth and the Off Switch

I ran across a new term today. Continuous Partial Attention. It got me thinking about some of the things that I struggle with and see the people around me struggling with even more. The concepts of Slow Cloth and using the off switch.

In the fiber industry the term "Slow Cloth" means pretty much what it sounds like. Something made slowly, by hand, with excellence and pride by the maker and with consideration for the end user. Examples of slow cloth could be the hat a wife crochets for her husband, the dress a grandma makes for her grand-daughter, the table a son makes for his mom, the pendant a man makes for his sister-in-law... You get the idea. Things made by hand, with excellence and love.

Slow Cloth is directly opposed to Continuous Partial Attention. It requires full attention and commitment from the maker while making. No working and Twittering at the same time. Email is out of the question. And no talking on the phone and sewing at the same time. Not if you are committed to excellence and love.

The Slow Cloth concept applies to other areas of life as well.

• When you go to a meeting at work, how many people have their laptops open "taking notes" and checking email, watching videos friends on Facebook posted, Twittering about how boring the meeting is, working on other projects because it's due right after the meeting...? Or do you have their full attention because they've left their smart phone and computer at their desk?

• How many people are driving and on the phone at the same time, not really paying full attention to the road or others around them? I'm very thankful for the "no texting while driving" law in Colorado. What scares me is the need for such a law. Do you try to multitask while driving or do you actually give your driving your full attention?

• Have you ever sat down in a restaurant with your spouse and found that both of you immediately pull out your smart phones and start checking email and Facebook or playing a game? Oops. Guilty as charged and I'm trying to be more conscious about keeping it put away. We should be talking and enjoying each other not distracted by our phones.

This is where using the off switch comes in. Most of those things in our current lives that we allow to distract us (create Continuous Partial Attention) have an off switch. If you can't let the phone ring, ignore email or texts, stay off of Twitter or Facebook, or whatever it is...Turn It Off.

"But I can't. People need to be able to get a hold of me." Set limits and communicate them with people. Then stick to it. You'll be amazed how it changes your life. You'll be MORE productive, more engaged, more connected with those around you, more creative, and certainly less stressed out. Don't believe me? Prove it! I dare you.

So my Christmas wish for us all this year? Be more slow cloth and turn it off if you can't leave it alone. Actually BE with your loved ones 100%. It's the best gift of all.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Dan Phillips on Waste and Creativity

This guy is good.

He makes houses out of construction site waste and junk and they're beautiful. But I really like how he looks at materials and what many people would call waste. He blames the waste of the construction industry on the Apollonian ideal and lists all the advantages of his more Dionysian method. This doesn't just apply to building construction, but to everything we do.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Quote for the Day

“What information consumes is rather obvious. It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
~Herbert Simon

What are we losing, what is becoming harmed or threatened with extinction because we allow ourselves to be consumed by all the information that is thrown at us?

Sense of fulfillment.
Physical and mental health.


Monday, November 08, 2010

My First Crochet Pattern to be Published in a Magazine

So I've had a few firsts this year. First article published in a magazine, first time independently publishing patterns for my own crochet designs with the help and support of many people...

And now I'm so excited to announce that my Monte Vista Collar is going to be published in the Winter issue of Knit Circus Magazine due out this Wednesday. My first pattern published in a magazine.

It's a button up cowl made from Classic Elite's Inca Alpaca yarn. The pattern comes with crochet symbol diagrams.

I'm especially honored to be part of the first issue of Knit Circus to include crochet patterns.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

It Was a Good Day to Dye

I couldn't resist the Halloween humor, but it really was a good day to dye. The sun was out, the weather was warmer than it had been and I was able to spend some time with new friends.

I recently joined the Front Range Fiber Artisans, a group of people who work with fiber in one way or another. Knitting, crochet, weaving, embroidery, sewing, quilting, paper arts, etc.

A couple of months ago we got together on a couple of evenings to use knitting machines to knit "blanks." I knitted up about 400 yards of some of my handspun alpaca in a natural white.

I was really pleased with how well it knitted up.

Then we got together today to dye them.

The woman who hosted had dyes mixed up in bottles ready to go as well as a couple of tables. Another member of our group showed up with the steamers (giant ones she got at the local Asian market), a couple more tables, and commercial sized rolls of plastic wrap.

We laid out our blanks (soaked in water and acidic wash) and, using syringes and brushes, applied the dyes. When we had finished coloring, we wrapped each piece like a tortilla in plastic wrap and placed them in the steamer for an hour.

After pulling them out of the steamer we let them cool down, unwrapped them, rinsed out the excess dye, and squeezed out all the excess water.

This is what mine looked like after it was unwrapped. I had painted on random stripes of blue, purple, and green. In the steamer the edges blended together causing the colors to transition softly.

I took it home and unraveled the knitting when it was dry enough. A little kinky, but the colors are beautiful.

Now, what to make with it.

When I got home, my creative engine was still rev-ed up, so I decided to break out the kool-aid. I had a blast.

Monday, October 04, 2010

America or the United States of America?

Can I just rant a bit?

I've noticed an increase in the use of "America" instead of "The United States" or "The United States of America" or "USA" lately and it's driving me nuts! People have always done it, but it seems like the use of it is getting worse. Even the government is in on it with their site.

America is made of up 2 major continents called North America and South America with a nice little connector area commonly known as Central or Middle America. They're all full of wonderful American people.

So when we talk about America, we should remember that those of us living in the USA are not the only ones in America. Granted, calling ourselves the USofA-ans or USers or United Statesians is too cumbersome. So we call ourselves Americans. But calling our country "America" is going a little too far.

So PLEASE, refrain from calling our country "America." We are the the United States of America.Or the US, USA, United States, or even just The States.

Do we take no pride in our country that we abbreviate its name inappropriately? Are we so ethnocentric as to think that the people living in the United States are it and everyone else doesn't count? Or are we just lazy? Calling the United States by just the name America is like wearing pajamas to the grocery store. Eww! Just don't go there!

Just because other American countries have it easy and can just add "ans" or some other form to the end of their country name doesn't mean we should take over all the rights to the word "America."

Calling our country "America" could be compared to France calling their country "Europe," South Africa calling themselves "Africa," or China calling their country "Asia." Yeah, it doesn't work does it?

So that's my rant today. It's been on my mind for a couple of months now and I just needed to say something. Maybe it's because I've lived on the outside and have had my perspective skewed a different direction from those raised in the USA.

But then, maybe that's what's needed. A little different perspective.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ideas to Give Away: Watch Batteries Made Easy

I really hate changing my watch battery.

I used to take my watches to a kiosk at the mall. Not only was it inconvenient, but the very last time I went they broke the crystal and replaced it with glue everywhere. I made them fix that, but afterward my watch face fell apart inside. So now I do it myself. It's not complicated, just tiny.

So I would love it if someone could invent a watch battery that could be recharged without removal. Like my iPod or computer. Before bed, you just attach a tiny plug to the watch and the other end to the wall and in the morning it's all charged up. Maybe they have and it's just so out of my price range that I don't know it exists. In that case, make it affordable.

Better yet, if a battery could be invented that could be charged through the watch body then you could use it on any watch, not just special ones with plugs.

If you're up to the challenge and decide to do this, please consider me as a tester. I'd love to help.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ideas to Give Away: Motel Art Cooperative

Since I've been inspired by my previous post, I'm going to start telling you about ideas that I have. They're available to anyone who wants to pursue them. I'll keep the ones for me to myself.

Idea: Motel Art Cooperative
Every now and then I see one those motels where there's a house/office in the middle surrounded or backed by small room units that's kind of run down and lonely. I can't help but think that it could make a great art cooperative.

Imagine this: The house/office becomes a retail gallery space. The rooms become studio space. Every one of them has running water and a bathroom and the room is often large enough for the average artist looking for space.

Those who rent the studios can show their work in the retail gallery and help to run it just like a regular art cooperative. If there is space on the grounds, a garden to house larger sculptures could be created, giving the whole space an inviting feel to passers by.

It's also an ideal situation for a studio walk since you could visit 15-40 artists very easily, moving from room to room. Most motels are grouped in the same area, making other businesses within that cluster likely to succeed with the touristy crowd.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bureau of Idea Approval

I love this blog post on Monetize Yourself. Pardon the pun, but it's a good idea. We should all work together to make our world a more idea-friendly place. I have experienced how idea-unfriendly our culture can be.

"Wait a minute," you say. "I see a lot of people making their ideas happen. The United States is built on the concept of entrepreneurship."

My response to that is, "Then why aren't you acting on your good ideas?"

What you've probably discovered is that if you tell someone about a good idea you have, especially if it's your spouse or someone close to you, you were probably humored if not immediately discouraged. When I say "humored" I mean that they don't believe you can do it but they don't want to say it out loud.

Those who turn their ideas into reality aren't the only ones with good ideas. They were either well supported and encouraged by those close to them, had to convince their loved ones that it's worth encouraging and supporting them, or they simply chose to go against the grain and do it anyway.

So, are you one of those people with a great idea? GO FOR IT. DO WHATEVER IT TAKES IF YOU REALLY BELIEVE IN IT!

Have you been discouraged by those close to you who don't believe in you or that you can do it? That's a hard one.

Your road is going to be much harder. If those holding you back are friends or other people you're not married or related to, get them out of your life. You don't need them. If you are related or married to them, you then have to figure out how to develop a healthier relationship so that they can learn to encourage you in your dreams.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


This is a quote from "Nine Hills to Nambonkaha" by Sarah Erdman. She was a Peace Corp worker in Ivory Coast and this book is her story about her experiences there.

"Poverty no longer means rags to me. It doesn't mean mud huts and no beds, because that's how most live here. It doesn't mean starving kids, because most of those round bellies are just swollen with worms; serious malnutrition seems more of an accident than an obstacle. Poverty is something I nearly forget in the village, because it's so well disguised in the good sense of community and the homogeneity of life. The villagers are too proud to let it show. It takes shape in the things you can't notice just passing by. Maybe you can see it if you look closely at the dinner bowls: Is the starch slowly edging out the sauce? Is there macaroni in the sauce instead of fish? The villagers seem so smiling and carefree, seem so happy, make me sure I could be glad to have nothing too. But how much do they suffer quietly? How much hunger do they swallow with a smile?" (pages 157-158)

It brings to mind what so many of us in the wealthy West suffer from. She says that poverty isn't the symptoms that are so easy for us to see. It's deeper than that and in order to eradicate it we must bring ourselves to them, humbly, as a community, with dignity. They do the best with what they have and us coming in to fix the symptoms won't work. We must love them first, and work along side them to see where the poverty really lies. Both in ourselves and in them. Then we can work together to eradicate each other's poverty.

Perhaps our gift really is to help them fill their bowls with meat and to discover how to prevent their children from getting sick so often. Even how to be able to hope for the future.

Perhaps their gift is to us is contentment with what God has given us, faith that he will always take care of us, and the ability to be generous appropriately.

What is needed all depends on the truth that is found in a relationship of trust.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Inventions That Make a Difference: Learning Landscape

Invention doesn't just mean objects. It might mean interactive landscapes as described in Design Revolution: 1001 Products That Empower People by Emily Pilloton.

Project H Design came up with a Learning Landscape for teaching math. They installed one at an orphanage in Uganda and it's designed to be sturdy, fun, and educational. They designed 10 math based games to be played within a square grid with tires placed on end and buried half way up in the ground.

The games are designed to teach all the basic math concepts as well as spatial and logical reasoning.

Learn more about it and how to get one here.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Inventions That Make a Difference: FreeRice

We all like games and FreeRice is a fun, educational, and helpful one featured in Design Revolution: 1001 Products That Empower People by Emily Pilloton.

It's fun because it's a game. It's educational because it teaches you vocabulary. It's  helpful because while you're playing and learning, you're feeding people.

For every correct answer you get 10 grains of rice in your rice bowl. When you win 10 grains of rice, 10 grains of rice are donated to United Nations Word Food Program initiatives. The more you play, the more rice you win and the more people you feed.

For those who don't enjoy vocabulary, there are other versions which include chemistry, geography, and languages.

So go play!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Inventions That Make a Difference: Foldschool

A really fun idea in Design Revolution: 1001 Products That Empower People by Emily Pilloton that might make you want to be a kid again is Foldschool DIY cardboard furniture.

If you go to the Foldschool web site you'll find free plans to download and make fun furniture for kids out of corrugated cardboard.

If you try some of this, let me know. I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Inventions That Make a Difference: SinkPositive

Here's a great idea for conserving water in Design Revolution: 1001 Products That Empower People by Emily Pilloton for those of us with toilets.

It's called SinkPositive and it can transform any regular toilet tank into a sink. Basically it's a tank lid with a faucet and a sink.

This is how it works. You've done your business and you're ready to flush the toilet. When you flip that little lever, the toilet's normal flush and refill cycle causes the faucet to spout water for washing your hands. It drains down a hole into the tank where it's used to refill your toilet bowl and tank for the next use.

You don't need clean fresh water for your toilet, so by using the SinkPositive you're getting double use out of the water you're going to use anyway and using less of it. Lower water bills, here we come!

You can get one here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Inventions That Make a Difference: SODIS

Here's another great clean water idea from Design Revolution: 1001 Products That Empower People by Emily Pilloton.

SODIS. I have no idea what the letters stand for but I do know that it's a simple solution.

If you have a clear water bottle or jar, you fill it with clear water. It has to be clear enough to read newspaper headlines through the water looking through the standing bottle from top to bottom. If it passes the clarity test, put the bottle on your tin roof and let it cook for six hours on a sunny or slightly cloudy day. If it's cloud all the time, you have to let it cook for two full days.

That's it! You've just killed the stuff that can cause diarrhea and other waterborne diseases.

The SODIS web site is here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Inventions That Make a Difference: Hippo Water Roller

The second water idea that I like from Design Revolution: 1001 Products That Empower People by Emily Pilloton is the Hippo Water Roller designed by South Africans Johan Jonker and Pettie Petzer.

It's basically a big plastic barrel with a old fashioned lawn mower handle. You roll it to your local water source, fill it up, and roll it home. It holds about 24 gallons of water which is enough for a family of five for a week.

They say that even though it weighs 40 pounds when full, a child can use it on flat terrain. They have also observed that the level of "coolness" is high enough to get the men fetching water. Needless to say, that frees up a lot of time for Moms and daughters to start businesses and go to school.

Check it out here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Inventions That Make a Difference: Clay Water Filters

I found a great book at the library called Design Revolution: 1001 Products That Empower People by Emily Pilloton. It's full of a lot of awesome designs that are try to or are solving a lot of common problems experienced here in the United States as well as globally.

When trying to solve problems experienced in the developing world (Majority South) it's hard for those in developed countries (Minority North) to remember to keep it simple. However, I think that Tony Flynn has done a pretty good job with his Clay Water Filter.

He's developed a three-ingredient water filter made from locally available materials. A pot is made from crushed terra-cotta (think tile roofs and flower pots), organic material (leaves, coffee grounds, rice hulls...), and water that is combined to form a clay substance. It's then sun dried and then fired in dry cow dung and leaves for 45 minutes. In the firing process, the organic material is burned away leaving a porous (think leaky) pot through which water can pass, but not the bad stuff (big word: pathogens).

Check out pictures here.
Get instructions here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Creepy Crawlies

Most people have problems with some form of creepy crawlies. What I have trouble with is snakes.

When you live in Africa, you learn that if you see a snake you kill it then see what kind it was. If you wait to identify it first, you're dead. Or better yet, run away REALLY fast.

So I've never been too keen on seeing a rattlesnake. It's something we have to watch out for here in Colorado, but I'd never seen a live one until yesterday.

I was walking out to my car after work rather nonchalantly, not paying a lot of attention when something small moved on the ground a little ahead of me. When I looked down and saw what it was, I literally jumped back about 2 or 3 feet.

It was a baby rattlesnake! As my curiosity drew me closer, my instincts pushed me side ways. I stood there and tried to remember if babies are poisonous and seemed to remember they were. But I had to have evidence that it was right there on the concrete step.

So, tiptoeing a "safe" distance away and keeping one eye on the snake, I pulled out my phone and turned on the camera app. Staying where I was at and leaning over very slowly so as to keep from scaring it, I took this picture.

Then I walked really quickly to my car while paying very careful attention to the ground. Where there is one baby, there are others. Thankfully, I didn't see them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lessons Learned

I'm continually learning about myself. The funny thing is, the things I learn have been "hitting me over the head" for a long time before I finally learn. I guess that's just how it is.

Most recently learned: I process through writing.

I'm not called to be a writer, but I write a lot. It helps me think through things and figure them out. It helps me discover things and then to put them where I need them to be in my mental archive. It separates the good from the bad, the good ideas from the kitch, and even just validates my existence some times.

The learning I'm working on: I need to declutter my life continually.

I grew up in a slower paced world than the one I live in. Stuff keeps getting shoved at me or I keep picking up stuff and adding it to my life. Much of it is good stuff, but too much good stuff turns into bad stuff. And sometimes something that was good for awhile isn't good anymore. It's had its time and needs to end. So I keep tugging away at the stuff and trying to get it tweaked down to size. I think this learning is going to take an entire lifetime.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Unusual Design

I'm smitten by this shop on Etsy. It's a woman named Clarice who makes beautiful "bubble" shawls and scarves. It seems she lives in Turkey.

It makes me wonder. There are some incredible crochet and other needlework traditions in Turkey that seem to be alive and well, but it's hard to find anything but pictures by Turkish women who are keeping it alive.

From what I can tell, part of the problem with finding information is how the tradition is carried on. By learning to do the basics, learning to really see how something is made, and using a swatch as your pattern.

I've been crocheting a long time and can often look at things and see how they are made to the point of writing a pattern. My Mom taught me, my brother, and sister how to see. That's a tradition that's almost lost in American culture. It seems that we've gotten to the point that everything must be handed to us.

Where's the fun in that?

My challenge to myself from this? I'm going to go get my crochet hook and see if I can figure out how Clarice does those bubbles.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Spy Book and Typewriters

So I was flipping channels the other night and briefly stopped on History Detectives. I stopped and watched for a bit since they often do interesting topics.

This time it was about a spy book. I took one look at that book and my mind went off in all directions.

First, I like journals. They spark my imagination. I started reading old journals that had been written by explorers (both professional and otherwise) a few years ago and find what people write about their trips fascinating.

Second, this journal was typed in lines as close to the edge of the paper and as close together as possible. Who does that? I suppose the writer must have had such bad handwriting that it was necessary to actually sit down at a typewriter, roll in the tiny pieces of paper and type it all up. But then I had to remind myself that typewriters used to be common place. In fact the closest thing to a typewriter that I've seen lately are the fonts I like to use.

Then I thought, wouldn't it be cool to do something that looked like those pages in the spy book.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Small Spaces Require Innovation

What this amazing video. This guy has been really innovative with his very small space.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I'm always surprised by how I'm attracted to certain colors. One of those is green and I've found myself particularly drawn to it in the last few months. So here's a collage of green in my life. Some of them are things I've had for awhile and some of them are new.

In order, left to right, top to bottom:
New quilt, purse, current crochet project, and silk shawl.
New hat from Uganda, new crochet scarf, painting, and new luggage.
Fabric, mat behind framed prints, curtains, and ziplock on a compression bag.
Tissue box, towel, new calendar, and me in a beautiful place called Mbingo.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Designing Patterns

Well, I've finally done it. I'm a crochet pattern designer. Whoohoo!

Granted I only have one pattern posted, but I've got 3 more almost ready and 2 more ready for photographing and editing. Then there's the 3 designs in the "figuring out" stage and the many more sketches that are waiting their turn. I can't seem to crochet fast enough.

To find out more check out my new Unyunga blog.

A special thanks goes to my husband for his fantastic photography of me modeling. More thanks goes to my Technical Editor, Ada Lai, who helped me get my pattern format streamlined and professional. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fight Poverty

I once went into a shop in a resort town and saw a sign behind the counter that said, "I fight poverty. I work." It made me so mad that I had to leave the shop immediately to keep from saying anything. I knew it would turn into a pointless fight since the man clearly doesn't understand poverty.

I often read comments to TED postings where people say we should just give up on Africa or other of the poorest parts of the world since the places are run by war lords.

I have so much I'd love to say about it. How wrong those view points are. How easy it is to choose to believe the worst so that we don't have to do anything about it. But I don't have the words to say it.

So please visit these three links. Haiti is all over the news right now. They need help RIGHT NOW. But they need much more than our money right now. They need our long term commitment to help them achieve what they need in the future too. No more, "we're the West and we know the best" anymore. Okay?

The first link is to a blog where the author has published her account of Haiti on a visit in 2004.

This link is to posts from a "man on the ground."

This link is to a photo that I think says it all. Both for today and for the future. If we set out to help Haiti in the future with the same intent and intensity as we are in the aftermath of this earthquake, we could see more of this kind of joy.

Now go help, right now!  There are a lot of places that are advertising opportunities. Here's my favorite. They are in Haiti for the long haul and they're on the ground giving help to people right now.

Friday, January 22, 2010

People I Envy Most

I realized today, as I've been sitting here racked with fever and chills (some magnificent pills have taken care of the debilitating pain), that some of the people I envy most are fictional TV characters.

The ones I'm thinking of are intelligent, creative, tell the truth, get to do what is their heart's calling, and get paid for it all. I'm sure I don't have to give examples since you are all thinking of someone already. But just in case, here's some hints. Of the many I'm thinking of, one's a forensic anthropologist and another is a math professor. Some movie examples would be an anthropologist who hates Nazis and a suave secret agent.

Yes, yes, I know. They encounter troubles, too: people who disagree with them, people who don't get it, along with bad guys every episode and a few who try to kill them. But the great thing about fiction is it has to all work out in the end. And no matter what they go through, people care and want to hear about it and help. The good guys always win.

Ah well, back to reality. Shut up and put up.

On the other hand, those pain pills are supposed to cause hallucinations in some people. Hmmm. So when do they start?