Saturday, July 26, 2008

Germans take knitting seriously!

Did you ever have one of those odds and ends days? You know the kind that seems to tie up a lot of loose strings? It is the day I finally made the batch of cookies I've been thinking about for a couple of weeks. The day I transplanted the spindly tomato plant and fed the palm some magnesium sulfide or something like that. And it is the day I finally sat down at watched the knitting videos a friend recommended when I absolutely could not figure out how to turn the heel on a practice sock. What I quickly learned was that I have been knitting wrong all of these years.

Let me explain. I grew up in the aftermath of World War II and Korean Conflict. Decades later wounds and prejudices were still raw. Anything German, Japanese or Russian were on the list to avoid at all costs.

I am a mutt when it comes to genealogy-- a little French, a little Swiss, and a whole lot of German. But in those days, admitting to being German just wasn't done. So I grew up disassociating myself from my roots. And I tell you this because the knitting method I should have learned as a child is labeled continental or more accurately: German knitting.

I hesitated when I heard that. Old habits and all. But I watched the videos at and sat in front of my computer learning all over again how to knit and purl. Some aspects were easier than I expected, but in many ways the frustration of stumbling over each stitch made this old dog want to forget about learning any new stitches.

While struggling to hold the thread in my left hand instead of the right, my thoughts kept wandering to German women knitting blankets for their sons and husbands, brothers and uncles -- the ones who went to war against the United States, England, France and their allies. I felt a kinship to those women, knowing that Mom and her mother knitted squares that were sewn together for blankets and lap roads for our own soldiers. It didn't seem to matter which side their loved ones fought on, the same love formed each stitch.

That was World War I, but still, women tend to do what they can to give comfort in any situation.

As with most things, my odds and ends day opened up a host of new projects yet to be finished. I set aside the knitting needles, resting my brain and fingers by telling myself that tomorrow would be better. But let me tell you, once I got over my German angst (us Germans can be a hard headed lot), I discovered just how seriously 'we' take our craft.

Earlier this year, April 4-6, a speed knitter challenge was held. (See above photo). Guinness World record holder Miriam Tegals hosted the German Speed Knitting Finals at the Handarbeit and Hobby Show in Cologne. By the way Miriam knits 118 stitches per minute to achieve that record.

More than 155 knitters took part in the competition, 11 of which knitted over 200 stitches in three minutes. The new German champion is Angela Mühlpfordt who achieved 220 in three minutes, sharing second place were Doris Wingerath and Ursula Barth with 216 stitches
. Angela is shown receiving her prize.

I knew Germans excelled at speed skating, but speed knitting? I never thought of knitting fast as a goal. For me keeping all of the stitches on the needle is a challenge. 220 stitches knit in three minutes. Ohhhhhh my!

Friday, July 18, 2008

When the going gets tough -- go to the movies

Americans find their strength in the theater.

Presidents give speeches, John Wayne molds heroes.

Teachers guide young minds, "To Sir With Love" reaches the heart.

And when the economy is going to hell in a hand basket as my mother liked to say, we troop off to the movies.

Here in our house we've pulled out the old West Wing DVDs and are watching season after season as a way, I think, to deal with the lackluster political choices, the spiraling costs of living, the falling stock prices which drags down our retirement funds with them. We forget our concerns about health care coverage and insurance, or worries about job security. All that waits in the shadows while we watch Jeb Bartlett deal with those hostile Republicans or quell an uprising around the world or kill off a terrorist posing as a Saudi friend. Right now we're commiserating with the president over his daughter's kidnapping and lamenting that we're too quickly approaching the last two seasons, one of which we haven't purchased yet. So perhaps this type of head in the sand approach to dealing with reality will help the economy in the price of season six's DVDs.

Mom, now 96, spoke of going to the movies during the Great Depression. For ten cents admission price, the girls swooned over Valentino and forgot they hadn't bought a new dress in two or three years and their parents were losing their farms. Another outlet at that time was music. Mom has a collection of sheet music, I suppose it would compare to buying CDs today, and the hope in those songs -- Side By Side talks of "Ain't got a barrel of money, maybe we're ragged and funny, but we'll travel the road, sharing our load, side by side."

That song got my husband and I through the 70s when we were all making our own clothes, quilts and socks. We baked our own bread and preserved everything we harvested from our vegetable gardens. "Love Story" and "Towering Inferno" got us through the tough times, at least we were together and not facing a fatal illness nor trapped by a raging fire in the world's tallest building.

The 1940s, a terrible time when the good guys and bad guys were at war -- really at war -- produced a long list of amazing movies and people flocked to see them and the special features from the war. "Casablanca," "Citizen Kane," "It's a Wonderful Life," The Maltese Falcon." The list goes on and on.

Today the biggest box office draw, maybe surpassing Harry Potter movies, is a sequel featuring a dead movie star -- Heath Ledger.
Less than 24 hours after "The Dark Knight" opened to record-breaking crowds, reports that more than 1,300 performances nationwide are still sold out. This includes more than 220 in New York City and Los Angeles alone. All this, combined with a move into the Top 5 Pre-Sale List of All-Time, and sky-high approval ratings from users, combines to pack a powerful punch. -- PR Newswire
Other movies in the top five include:
1. "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith"
2. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
3. "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
4. "Dark Knight"
5. "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds Concert Disney Digital 3D

I'm not sure about number five, but the first four seem to have memorable villains in common. Darth Vadar and those who turned him to the dark side; Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter's nemesis; Sauron who wants to destroy man; and of course The Joker played by Heath Ledger.

Americans love a worthy opponent, adore watching good triumph over evil, and most of all we like being able to easily discern between good and evil. That last one isn't always easy to figure out in the real world.

Thank heavens for movies -- they get us through the tough times. And during these hot days of summer -- the air conditioning is a nice perk, too.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Could simple choices kill us?

It was the 1970s and well-paying low-skill jobs were disappearing, endangered like the Peregrine falcons.

We were young, newly married, and in need of income. For the next two decades my husband worked entry level jobs for an agri-fertilizer company, sold animal feeds, worked for various construction companies and ran a lumber yard for 84 Lumber. He spent several years working in a factory that made rubber mud flaps and feed pans. And eventually he decided to return to college and pursue a profession rather than a job. He was hired as an accountant for companies in the aerospace industry.

In 1991, the New York Times wrote about polluters.

"The Mobil Corporation may be responsible for cleaning up wastes at 47 sites under the Federal Superfund program, a fact not disclosed in the company's annual report.

A subsidiary of the Amoco Corporation tried to install hazardous-waste incinerators on Indian lands, ostensibly to avoid state and Federal emissions regulations.

The American Cyanamid Company releases four times as much toxic waste into the environment per $1,000 of sales as the average chemical company.

These nuggets of information -- not denied by the companies involved -- are in a series of environmental profiles being published by the Council on Economic Priorities, a nonprofit group in New York that monitors social policies of large corporations. The reports are intended to appeal to socially conscious investors and to encourage companies to minimize pollution."

Not long ago local Fox-TV aired an investigative piece exploring the surprising number of NASA employees diagnosed with ALS. In conversation with one of those employees, I listened to him laugh, shake his head and tell about the lake of hazard waste materials that everyone knew about and no one dared discuss.

Other articles tell about the high rate of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in the military.

I mention my husband's list of jobs after reading an article today that begins: "New preliminary research suggests that exposure to the chemical formaldehyde, present in a variety of workplaces, could greatly increase a person's chances of developing Lou Gehrig's disease."

His choices seemed so benign. He simply wanted to provide for his wife and his babies. Did that honorable intent cost him his health? Has he developed this rare neuromuscular disease because his employers set him to work among a variety of chemicals, including formaldehyde.

What other choices do we make that will cost us our lives, our health, or maybe simply quality of life?

We often think we exist in a protective bubble. Bad things won't come to us who are doing the right things, making the 'right' choices, obeying the rules, living uprightly, following the Golden Rule....

Nature seems to live by another set of rules. If we live in a tainted environment, we will pay the consequences. It doesn't really matter who tainted it, who polluted, who continues to pollute.

The consequences for those of us living in this chemical miasma will remain the same no matter which corporation causes the problems.

Do we really care if there is global warming? Do we really want to point fingers as to who did it? Well, okay, yes, I would really like to line the culprits up along the edge of some lake of hazardous materials and push them in. But on my mature days, my better self simply wants to move forward. It is time to at least attempt to clean up this mess so that we can cut the cancer rates, the respiratory problems, the growing number of medical problems afflicting just about everyone.

What about water pollution?

What about the food chain and contamination and mishandling? Perhaps he ate too many potato chips? Maybe that's what caused his muscles to die.

When we talk about alternative energies a large percentage of Americans support solar energy research. But in that discussion, nuclear energy enters the mix. What about the radioactive waste? The chemical sludge that no one knows what to do with it? What about our space race and the fuels used to propel those shuttles and rockets? What about the chemicals that remain and must be stored or disposed of?

Should we worry more about the unanswered questions as well as the unasked questions? Should profit truly be the most important element that guides decisions at every level in every venue? Will we continue to put profit ahead of life and quality of life? Or will profits just rank first ahead of 'other' people's' health and shortened life spans.

Isn't it time to clean up our own backyards? If the owners of the companies won't, the workers must. It may be the only thing that saves lives -- including those of our children and grandchildren.

If you're shaking your head and asking, "What difference can I make?" Well, check out what differences some of our young people are making. We all must make a differences -- our lives depend upon it!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Across generations

My brother sent a photo of Mom holding his newest grandchild. Yes, the same grandchild who has been featured before in this blog.

New life gives me hope. And there is something about Mom holding little Jenna that makes me think of history and time and family of course and also connection.

The photo speaks of one generation presenting the next with the wisdom and skills, training and knowledge they need to grow and prosper. Mentoring, parenting, mothering, fathering, nurturing -- all words alluding to our responsibility to raise up the next generation.

Have we been remiss at these duties? Just because a child comes with parents, doesn't mean we the extended family or the community at large have no responsibility, no calling, to help this child be all that he or she can believe.

Ahhhh the things my mother could teach Jenna. Pie baking? Quilting? Crocheting? How to hold your tongue, how to deal with difficult people, how to survive, and thrive, and find humor in even the most difficult of times? What it is like to ride in a horse and buggy? How to make maple syrup, tap the trees, boil the sap. How to be a neighbor. How to bloom where you're planted.

I so hope Jenna gets a chance to learn these things, if not from her Great-Grandma, perhaps from the rest of us who were taught by her.

What do you have to teach the next generation? Don't let it slip by. Dust it off and present the wisdom, knowledge, skills, insights, hard-won victories -- don't let them die with you or your generation.