Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Knitting Update

I got a comment from Amanda regarding my Gedifra Top Soft top that compels me to 'fess up and relate what happened the first time I tried to wear it. I was going to blog about this anyway after Friday when I see my daughter and let her try it on (honest), but it was, in a word, a disaster! I took it with me on my trip and wore it to breakfast one morning. By the end of breakfast it had stretched so much that my unmentionables were showing under my arms. I am very upset about this and am still trying to decide what to do. Do I rip it all out and start over? Uh, no. My daughter is bigger than me, so my plan is to let her try it and see if it will fit her better. Then I might make another one for myself because I do love it, but with smaller needles and to heck with gauge. Or maybe this yarn is just too stretchy and will cause trouble no matter how you knit it. Its softness may be its downfall. In that case, another yarn should be used. I browsed around my LYS yesterday, but didn't find anything as nice.

I also brought River with me and that was a big hit! It was the perfect thing to wear to the outdoor wedding as there was a strong breeze and it was threatening to rain and therefore a bit chilly. The color turned out to be just right, too. The bride had chosen turquoise and pink for her colors. My DIL loved it so much she has commissioned me to make a lace shawl for her, as well. The triangle shawl I started for my daughter is coming along nicely. I have finished the center triangle and have started on the edging. I bought a pair of Addi Turbos for this job just to try them out since everybody raves about them so much, but I think I am going to go back to my Options needles. They have a pointier point which makes doing things like K2 tog and K3 tog easier.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Louisa May

Before I leave Concord and head west into Pennsylvania like my ancestors did, I need to say a few words about the real heroine of the Transcendental movement—Louisa May Alcott. Louisa was the youngest of the group and the most enduring. She was also the most practical. She practiced what they preached. I had always dismissed her as the author of one good children's book and nothing more, but after finishing Cheever's book, I have a new respect for her.

Louisa grew up under her father's tutelage and was allowed to browse freely in Emerson's famous library. She went for walks with Henry David Thoreau in the woods and according to Cheever, had a crush on him. Louisa and her sisters were enrolled in a school that the Thoreau brothers started where instruction included many field trips. She said that Thoreau taught her things about nature she had never noticed before. They went for boat trips together on the Concord river.

She survived her father's financially disastrous lecture tours and the failed Fruitlands experiment. She endured as the family was made to move 20 times in 20 years. She presented an early work she had written to James Fields, the famous Boston publisher of Hawthorne's works, and was told, "Stick to your teaching. You can't write," but kept on writing anyway and eventually became the family's breadwinner.

She assisted her father and Thoreau as they helped slaves pass through Massachusetts on their way to Canada via the Underground Railroad. When the Civil War broke out, she volunteered as a nurse and spent six miserable weeks in Washington caring for the soldiers who were wounded at Fredericksburg, the bloodiest battle of the war. She contracted typhoid and was treated with calomel (mercury) to the point of being poisoned by it and which eventually led to her death.

With Margaret Fuller as a role model, she became a suffragist and was the first woman to vote in Concord.

She wrote Little Women at the behest of her publisher, Thomas Niles, not because she had a burning desire to write it. But once started, she worked in what I call a white heat, straight through without stopping for anything—even food or sleep. She wrote about her own life, her sisters, and her own "Marmee." She was Jo, the family rebel, the one who liked to race around pretending to be a horse. She wrote about what she knew and it came from the heart and so sounded true to its millions of readers. It was an instant success.

Cheever sums up her own feelings about the book:

Little Women gave my generation permission to write about our daily lives...She transformed the lives of women into something worthy of literature. Without even meaning to, Alcott exalted the everyday in women's lives and gave it greatness.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Transcendental Women

To get me in the mood for my recent trip to Concord, MA, I listened to another set of The Teaching Company's lectures, Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendental Movement, taught by Ashton Nichols of the University of Virginia. As I said, I have been to Concord many times before and had viewed the Emerson house, Orchard House where the Alcott's finally settled, The Old Manse where Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife lived briefly, and had been to see Walden Pond which is only a mile away from town. But in listening to the lectures, I was pleasantly surprised to learn many new things regarding the influence the Transcendentalists had and are still having on American life and the kind of democracy we have become. According to Nichols, we would not be the people or the country we are today without them. Everyone acknowledges Thoreau's contribution to the environmental movement, but I also learned that the Transcendental Club included several women and that the ideas and ideals of the remarkable group of people gathered at Concord led not only to the abolition of slavery, but the emancipation of women as well.

Among the women who belonged to this circle of friends was Margaret Fuller. Fuller died young (drowned in a shipwreck) at age 40, but before she died she had been a teacher; editor of The Dial, a quarterly journal which published the Transcendentalists papers; and was hired by Horace Greeley to work for the New York Tribune, both as a reviewer and later as a foreign correspondent, an unheard of job for a woman at the time (1844). She gave "conversations" because women were not allowed to do public speaking for pay. Her groundbreaking publications included "The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men, Woman versus Women," which was revised as Woman in the Nineteenth Century (see also here), the major work in which she argued unequivocally for equal rights for women. Her ideas hearken back to Mary Wollstonecraft and the English feminists, but with an American twist, female liberty and democracy for all. Nichols quotes Fuller and comments on her effect on the women's movement.
"I think women need, especially at this juncture, a much greater range of occupation than they have, to rouse their latent powers." Her book is now considered a classic of feminist thought in America. Its influence was powerfully felt as early as the gathering of women’s rights advocates in Seneca Falls, New York, only three years after its publication.

She certainly was a woman ahead of her time. In Susan Cheever's book, American Bloomsbury, she is described as a forceful woman whose intellect and beauty captured not only the minds but also the hearts of Emerson and Hawthorne. While working in Europe as a correspondent, she fell in love with the Italian cause and with an Italian, the Marquis Giovanni Angelo d’Ossoli, and bore his son at the age of 39. It is still unknown whether or not they actually got married. Cheever describes her ambivalence at returning to work after the birth of her child, a situation that many young women can identify with. All three were drowned when the ship returning Fuller to the U.S. ran onto a sand bar off of Fire Island, NY. Emerson dispatched Thoreau to look for her remains and for the manuscript she was working on at the time. He found neither.

Hawthorne based at least one of his characters on Fuller, Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance, his satirical novel about Brook Farm, another utopian community outside of Boston. But Cheever seems to think that almost all of his lead female characters resemble her in some way incuding Hester Prynne in the Scarlet Letter, a story of a strong woman who defies Puritan Boston and has a child out of wedlock.

One last comment before I leave the subject of Fuller. When Margaret decided she ought to be paid for her work as editor of The Dial, $200 per year had been promised, Emerson refused and Fuller moved on.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


As I related earlier, the main purpose for my trip back East was to attend my nephew's wedding. As it happens, the wedding took place at Fruitlands, a few miles west of Concord in Harvard, MA. Fruitlands is now a museum but it was started as a utopian community of Transcendentalists headed by Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May of Little Women fame.

Alcott was certainly a very interesting character. He is best known today, aside from being Louisa's father, for his educational reforms but interestingly, he was a self-educated man and never attended Harvard as Emerson and Thoreau had. His reforms included doing away with corporal punishment and instituting field trips, learning through experience, play time or recess, and physical education. These ideas are in the news currently as some educators feel we have veered away from these ideals and gone back to a more rigid method of teaching children. For example, see the cover article of this week's Time magazine, The Myth about Boys, and another recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, Why Children Need to Learn to Play. (Thanks again, Grace.) However, Alcott was a very impractical man and relied on his friends, in particular Emerson and Charles Lane, to support him and his family.

Fruitlands began in the summer of 1843. It was similar to other utopian communities of the time and can be likened to the hippie communes of the 1960s. Fruitlands got its name because the founders decided to live a vegetarian existence eating mostly fruit and vegetables. Animals were to be respected and not used for food or labor to run the farm. As the men were often away lecturing on their utopian dream, that left the women and children to do the hard work of growing food for the community. Louisa's mother, Abba, is quoted as saying that the only beasts of burden on the farm were the women. By autumn, things started to go wrong and the community was abandoned in winter. Louisa May later wrote a satire on the whole experience called, "Transcendental Wild Oats," which you can find inside Clara Endicott Sears book, Bronson Alcott's Fruitlands. (Miss Sears is the benefactor who bought and preserved Fruitlands in 1914.)

Today, the Fruitlands Museums include several buildings including one which houses 19th century paintings, one of Indian artifacts, one a Shaker farmhouse, and finally the farmhouse where the Alcott's lived (see photo). There are also woodland trails and of course the spectacular view of the Still River valley with Mt. Wachusetts and Monadnock Mt. in New Hampshire in the distance. We explored the museums the morning of the wedding when the weather was beautiful. By 5:30, however, it was threatening to rain but thankfully never did and all the clouds that had gathered made for a gorgeous sunset!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Concord, MA

This photo of the serene Concord River in Massachusetts is for all my Southern California friends who are experiencing an extreme drought right now. (Thanks for the link, Grace.) It was very obvious flying into LA on Tuesday that we are having a drought. The hills are not just brown, they are black. There was no sign of green at all. That along with the haze made it look like we were flying into a war zone.

The first part of my vacation took me to Concord, MA, the place where the "shot heard round the world" was fired on April 19, 1775, and the place where Ralph Waldo Emerson gathered his Transcendental friends including the Alcotts, Bronson and Louisa May, and Henry David Thoreau in the 1800s. It is also the place where many of my ancestors lived. In fact, I am descended from one of the founders of the town, Maj. Simon Willard. My mother's Acadian ancestors also lived here for awhile after being deported from Acadia by the British. After about five years of living among the "heathens," they returned to Canada on foot and settled near Montreal. Currently, my brothers live near Concord and before they passed away, my parents lived here, too. So I have been to Concord many times over the years and always enjoy my visit.

Since this was my 10-year old grandson's first visit to the East Coast, we did something new. While I have been to the Old North Bridge where the British were turned back dozens of times, we decided to start our tour with the Visitors' Center for the Minute Man National Historical Park at the other end outside of Lexington where we viewed an excellent half-hour multi-media presentation telling us all about the events of that day in April. With the story fresh in our minds, we then traveled along the route that the British soldiers marched, stopping at several places along the way to view old houses, etc. There were friendly volunteers in period costume at many of the sites to explain things which made it all seem very real.

The lady in blue above was knitting a pair of gloves while she sat and waited for tourists to come her way. We chatted for a bit about knitting and she raved about using the "magic loop" technique for the fingers of the gloves. She then recommended a book on the Transcendentalists for me to read (American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever), but I'll get into that later. At another stop (Hartwell Tavern, 1733), there was a display of Colonial era spinning tools and supplies. I am always interested in what life was like back then, especially for the women. One of the books I purchased was, Founding Mothers, Women of America in the Revolutionary Era, by Linda Grant de Pauw. It looks like an interesting read, but I haven't had time to get into it yet.

Down the road from the Hartwell Tavern are the remains of Captain William Smith's house. There was a fire here in the 60s, I think, that burnt the house down but left the chimney standing. In Colonial days, the chimney and fireplaces were the heart of the house and were built first. My brother-in-law is an expert in old houses (he lives in a house built in 1760) and can tell you exactly how the rooms of a house would have been laid out by looking at the chimneys. In the photo on the right you can see the big main fireplace that would have been in the kitchen with the beehive oven on the left and a smaller fireplace on the right side and several smaller fireplaces for the upstairs rooms.

At the cellar level, we discovered that the foundation for the chimney was built in an upside down U-shape for better strength. We speculated that the extra cubby-holes might have been for storage. We were fascinated by this structure and spent a lot of time observing it from all angles.

After a delicious lunch in downtown Concord at the Walden Grille, I slipped into the Concord Bookshop to browse for a bit and purchase Cheever's book. Browsing through a bookstore after a meal is one of my favorite things to do and I miss the independent book stores like this one. Then we went on to the Bridge with its Minute Man statue by Daniel Chester French and the monument with the poem written by Emerson inscribed on its base. When I brought my father to this spot 12 or 13 years ago, he stood by the monument and recited the whole poem without looking and he was supposed to have Alzheimer's! Do school children have to memorize poetry anymore? It obviously sticks in the brain.

We finished the day with a stop at the North Bridge Visitor Center where I took this photo of my grandson. Toy guns are strictly forbidden by his parents so this photo is all we have to commemorate the event. I think the Spider Man T-shirt is a nice touch.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

On Traveling by Air

This summer airline travelers have had a rough time with delays and cancelled flights due to weather problems, but I am happy to report that all my flights (there were four) for my recent trip started on schedule and landed ahead of schedule except for the flight from Phoenix to Boston which started late but made up the time en route. The reason for the late start was so they could take on more fuel in order to be able to fly around some thunderstorms. That's OK by me, I just wish they hadn't waited for all the passengers to be on the plane before they did this. We sat for half an hour before take-off.

Sitting on airplanes has gotten to be the most uncomfortable thing going. You tell yourself it's only for a few hours. Why spend the money to go first class? But soon you are so cramped and feeling claustrophobic that you vow never to travel by air again. One of my trips was on a very small jet where everyone kept bumping their heads (including me) coming on board. The man in front of me was tall and lanky. When the steward told him that he had to put his carry-on bag under the seat in front of him, he replied, "That's where I put my feet!" I am a small person and if I am uncomfortable, I can't imagine how large people must feel.

Food has become a real problem, especially for someone like me who is trying to follow a diet. The total travel time for my trip home was 7 hours and 40 minutes plus another hour and a half to get to the airport. I had breakfast at 6 am EDT and didn't get lunch until 9 hours later. Luckily, I brought food with me or I would have starved. The snack boxes they sell for $5 are full of no-no's like cookies, crackers, candy bars, etc. Unfortunately, security confiscated my freezer pack on my way out of Los Angeles so I had nothing to keep the food cold. I have traveled before with this cold pack with no problems, but things keep changing, I guess. We used to complain royally about airline meals and I never thought I would remember those days with fondness.

Speaking of security... getting through security in Boston and Hartford was a breeze, but here at LAX it was a nightmare. My first flight was with US Airways and at Terminal 1, the line for security was out the door and down the sidewalk. Once you were inside, they lined you up in front of the stairs and then with a word from an official, everyone headed up the stairs in a mad rush only to wait in another line that snaked back and forth several times. I had given myself 3 hours to get to the gate and I just made it.

It's so hard to figure out all their rules, too. I decided not to bring my knitting on board because I didn't want them confiscating my lovely Options needles, but I wasn't about to pack my camera in my suitcase and trust that it would still be there and in one piece when I arrived in Boston. I forgot that I had a 1 oz. bottle of lens cleaner in the case but they didn't find it, or didn't bother about it because it was too small. Last February I flew with a .5 oz bottle of lens cleaner in my eyeglass case (I never thought about it) and no one found it. You are supposed to declare all liquids and gels you want to bring on board and put them in a 1 quart Ziploc bag and take them out of your carry-on luggage. Life is getting too complicated.

I packed as lightly as I could for this trip, but since the main purpose of the trip was to attend a nephew's wedding, some extras were required like a nice outfit, make-up, shoes, etc. My suitcase weighs 15 lbs. empty, so I am off to a bad start before I have put anything in it. Coming home, the Skycap at Hartford, sensing that my bag was heavy, weighed it. Fortunately, it was only 46 lbs. and 50 are allowed. I put all the books I bought (I can't resist) in my carry-on, and when I reached O'Hare and had to walk a mile from the American Airlines terminal to United, I felt it. I had brought a duffel bag without wheels as my carry-on because of that small plane that brought me to O'Hare which had a smaller limit for carry-ons. All bags with wheels were checked at the door.

On Cameras and Electronics

Now that I have done all my complaining, I will try to get those photos ready so I can talk about the more pleasant happenings on my trip. People keep asking me about my camera so here are the specs. It's a Canon EOS Rebel SLR digital camera bought in 2004. The mega pixels are about 6.3. The only lens I brought with me is an all-purpose lens, the Canon EFS 18-55 mm lens. I have other lenses, but I left them at home. All the lenses that we have bought with our previous film Canon SLR work with this camera also. The newer Rebels have more mega pixels and are lighter in weight, but I have taken over 10,000 photos with this camera and I'm still happy with it.

I used to lug my heavy laptop around with me when I traveled to download photos, but last summer my son suggested I get an iPod for this purpose. It has worked out great! I have a refurbished 20 GB Photo iPod that I use for listening to music and lectures, and downloading photos. It fits in my purse. I have 6 CompactFlash cards for use with my camera, 3 are 256 MB, 2 are 512, and one is a gigabyte, a gift from my son-in-law. He thought I would never fill it. Hah! I filled them all on this trip. I take large JPEGs almost exclusively. I tried RAW for awhile, but they turned out to be too time-consuming to manage on the computer. To process the photos, I have used Paint Shop Pro on the PC through all its permutations for years. It is now sold by Corel.

My son and his family were with me on this trip and they brought along their iPhones and a GPS system for the car. The iPhones came in handy for directions (Google), phone numbers, weather reports, and picture-taking, not to mention using them as phones. I think they also watched a couple of movies on them during our flight. The GPS system also worked very well getting us out of Logan and through Boston as well as finding new routes to places I had been many times in the past and it was very accurate. When the lovely woman's voice announced, "You have arrived," we were right at the front door of our destination.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Traffic Jam Newfoundland Style

As you have probably already guessed, I have been on vacation. I just got back last night and am still downloading and working on the more than 850 photos I took. My travels took me to New England and Pennsylvania, but also back in time to the Colonial 1700s and the Transcendental 1800s. But more on all of that later. Meanwhile, I received some photos from a friend in Canada that I thought you might enjoy. My friend and I share an interest in genealogy and have done quite a bit of sleuthing together in the past by email. She has roots in Newfoundland as I do.
What were all these people who were heading for Middle Cove Beach just north of St. John's on Newfoundland so eager to see? Whales gobbling up capelin or caplin as the Newfoundlanders spell it. Cod fishing is practically synonymous with Newfoundland and lots of capelin means lots of cod. Capelin feed on plankton while cod and other larger fish feed on the capelin. In an interesting turn around, capelin also feed on cod roe. Cod fishing which used to be a way of life for Newfoundlanders is strictly limited now due to overfishing. A sight like this warms the hearts of all "Newfies" including those that no longer live there.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Summer Projects Completed

I finished the second Gedifra project that I had lined up for summer and I love it! The picture is kind of dark because the cabling shows up better that way. My daughter commented that the sweater looked like I bought it which I will take as a compliment. The cabling did come out very nice and as I have said many times before, the yarn is so soft! The pattern is Gedifra 848 from Highlights 061 and the yarn is Top Soft which is part silk, part polyamide, and part viscose. I used size 10 needles but I wish now I had used smaller needles. I got gauge with the 10s but I am an extra small size.

I didn't make any changes from the pattern but there was one error in the instructions. The armholes have a lovely double chain selvedge around them and the instructions call for having the yarn at the back of the work for both slip stitches. It should be yarn in front for the first and yarn in back for the second. And I must say I found the instructions hard to follow. One needs to be well acquainted with knitting sweaters to understand them. I struggled and ripped out several times before I got the shoulders right. Maybe that's why I don't see many other people on the web doing Gedifra projects.

So now on to something new—another lace project for my daughter from Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby—the triangle shawl on page 134.

Friday, July 6, 2007

More Getty

After a hectic week including lots of freeway driving on the 4th in order to play a concert in Burbank, I need to finish off my Getty story. The photography exhibit of the works of P.H. Emerson, The Old Order and the New, was outstanding. Emerson (from the same family that produced Ralph Waldo) was a very colorful character. He was born in Cuba but spent most of his life in England. He qualified as a doctor of medicine but turned to photography when photography was still a very new enterprise. He argued with his colleague, H.P. Robinson over whether or not photographs should be in sharp focus. Emerson preferred what he called differential focus, where most of the picture is blurred which gives his photographs a impressionistic look. (There are even water lilies and haystacks.) Then in 1890, he suddenly renounced photography as an art form saying it was just a mechanical exercise. Looking at his impressive photos shows you that this is far from being the case.

The photos in the exhibit were from 1885 to 1895 and came from his published works, Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, 1886, Idyls of the Norfolk Broads, 1887, Pictures from Life in Field and Fen, 1887, Pictures of East Anglian Life, 1888, The Compleat Angler, 1888, Wild Life on a Tidal Water, 1890, Old English Lagoons, 1893, and Marsh Leaves, 1895. As you can see from the titles, he was fascinated with wetlands and with the "peasants" that lived and worked around them. He thought of himself as an anthropologist of sorts, preserving a way of life in photos that was quickly giving way to progress. His photos of fishermen, haymakers, farmers, etc., were of interest to me because I expect my ancestors in Newfoundland looked pretty much the same as these East Anglians. A lot of the photos were shot in Norwich which is where another one of my ancestors was supposed to be from. But my favorite photos were the landscapes. These look very modern, almost minimalist, like Japanese or Chinese brush paintings.

No photography was allowed inside this exhibit so I can't show you any pictures of his photos. Anyway, they probably would not do them justice since the photos in the accompanying book I bought do not do them justice. You have to see the originals. Unfortunately, the exhibit closes this Sunday.

Monday, July 2, 2007

More Museums!

Yesterday I accompanied Kathy, her husband Bart, and niece Lynn, to the "new Getty," i.e., the Getty Center. A few weeks ago, I was at the "old Getty" a.k.a the Getty Villa. The old and new labels were given to them by the locals simply to signify which one was here first and which one came later. When the new center was built, (completed in 1997) it created quite a stir because of the chosen site which overlooks the 405 Freeway in the Santa Monica mountains and dominates the area. The main "campus" buildings were designed by Richard Meier and Michael Palladino in the Modernist style but using classical materials such as travertine. Charles S. Rhyne a Professor Emeritus of Art History at Reed College in Portland, OR, has created a wonderful website with photos from just about every angle of the entire complex which I invite you to peruse. Now that the Center has been here for a few years, the locals are still not sure if they like it. It is just too big for the site. It actually is in the foothills and the immense white buildings look like they might crush the poor hills with their weight. However, it does provide us amateur photographers with lots of opportunities for picture taking.

Inside, there is plenty to see and even though we spent the entire day there, we did not see half of it. Right in the main Entrance Hall was a massive exhibit by Tim Hawkinson called Überorgan. I love Hawkinson's fanciful works which frequently include music as does this one.

The musical score for Überorgan consists of a 250-foot-long scroll. Black dots and dashes encode the notes of traditional hymns, pop songs, and improvisational tunes. The notes are deciphered by light-sensitive switches in its player and scrambled to create an endless variety of compositions.

We heard the hourly performance several times, but I was never able to make out the tune. It sounds like whales or some other large animals (moose?) singing to each other. The photo on the right shows the huge, two-storey piano-roll mechanism that governs the sounds to be heard. You can hear an example of the sounds the work makes at the website link above.

After a garden tour, during which we never got to the famous Central Garden designed by Robert Irwin, we had lunch in the cafe. Then the four of us split up into two groups to view the special exhibits that most interested each of us. Bart and I headed for the West Pavilion to see Defining Modernity: European Drawings, 1800-1900. I love the intimacy of drawings and the feeling of freedom they give. The artist uses simple tools and is not constrained to get things perfect. You can get a better idea of what the artist was thinking with drawings.

As it happens, today's LA Times had an article about this exhibit and the difficulty the staff had in finding just the right matting and frame for each drawing. They wanted the frames, mats, and even the wall colors to enhance the drawings while not being noticed. For this viewer, it didn't work because I always look at the frames and matting the experts choose. In fact, the very first thing I thought to myself when I walked up to the first drawing was how nicely it was matted. I know how difficult it is to pick just the right combination of mat and frame for my own photos which adorn all the walls of my house and also my son and daughter's homes. There is one seascape I took in San Pedro that we all three have and each of us framed it differently and it is amazing the effect the mat and frame can have not to mention the wall color and where the picture is hung, how high or low, etc. I like to look up closely at the artwork and then stand back, in the middle of the room if possible, to get the effect of how the pieces are all hung. Sometimes, the presentation is as artful as the works themselves.

To be continued...