Thursday, December 18, 2008

Living in a Different World

I must live in a different world. The world I live in involves working hard for what you earn. It involves having safety nets for those who need them. As a liberal-leaning Democrat, I still believe that people should be rewarded based on criteria that are open, accessible, and transparent.

When I heard that the CEO of Merrill Lynch asked for a $10 million bonus, despite the fact that it had been sold to Bank of America in an effort to prevent complete collapse, I nearly spit out my tea.

Now, bonuses are nice, and I believe anyone doing their job should get one. More often, in fact, than just once per year. However, to think that someone who has been at the helm of a company that was sold to another entity in this situation could presume that they somehow earned or were entitled to such an amount was, in my opinion, truly flabbergasting. According to some reports his rationale was that he saved investors money by selling out to Bank of America. After some resistance by the corporation, he finally withdrew his request for the bonus.

As I think about this situation, I begin to contemplate the auto industry as well. It seems to me that the lesson here is that one cannot expect money or compensation without producing something. The issue, as I understand it (and I am no expert here) is that the auto industry employs a good number of people. If they fail, then there will be many more out of work. But... I have to pose the question: What happens if they get bailed out without any conditions, and they simply fail 3-6 months later?

I suppose that many scenarios are possible. One is that this could happen, and then the inevitable is delayed. If, however, new programs are in place and new hiring is going on, then there may be a shift that keeps unemployment where it is at. The question is: Do the people in the auto industry have the skills necessary to compete in the marketplace, or will they require further training? The shift could be that those who are pursuing further education take new jobs, but that those who do not cannot qualify for these same jobs. I don't have the answer to this problem, but merely pose it as a possibility.

Other scenarios include an earlier collapse of the auto-makers, which may lead to the same set of issues. Of course, it could be that this "wake up call" will lead to restructuring in such a way to make the auto industry profitable and that a rebound will occur both in the auto industry and in the economy as a whole. In such a case, things would be back on track.

Would letting the industry crash result in a new, improved set of automakers in North America? Possibly, but who knows?

At any rate, many of us will be witnesses to these events as they unfold. Ultimately, whatever we do we must remember that the environment (including us, the customers) will select for the most advantageous companies. What goes into being an advantageous company in an economic recession is yet to be determined. Does it involve paring down the number of models one sells? Does it involve more market research into the preference for lower-priced, lower-gas-guzzling cars? Does it involve working with the workers and their unions to arrive at good labor practices and fair wages? It seems to me that ultimately the marketplace will make decisions - now, will the automakers be able to anticipate those decisions early enough to survive? That remains to be seen.

With all of this, it's time to get back to knitting for an hour or so. It will calm me in a time of change. Plus, I can knit and watch the news at the same time later on.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lace and Learning

Well, I think it would probably be appropriate to say something about knitting in this blog. I'm excited about a new pattern that I've been working on from a wonderful book entitled, "Scottish Inspirations from Rowan Yarns". The particular project is the Lacy Vest that you will find if you follow the link. It's pictured in a porridge color with gray trim (dark gray at the bottom, and light at the top and arms). My version is going to have a trim in "lobster", and the body of the vest will be in "thatch", which you can view on this website. Where did I buy this lovely yarn? From my favorite local yarn store of course: Seed Stitch Fine Yarn in Salem, MA. I really like the open feel of this LYS, and the owner (Victoria) and her staff are all really great. Plus, they have community knitting on Thursday nights - always a treat!

What do I like about the pattern? Well, I had not knit lace in a long time, and starting to do so again really was a treat. As I repeated the 6-row pattern, I began to see that there was an easy way to determine if I was knitting/purling/yo'ing/etc in the right places. The pattern really reveals itself as one continues through the process! Also, although the yarn is a 4-ply wool tweed that borders on fingering weight, the needles are a 3.75 mm (US 5), so it actually knits quite fast. I'm tall (about 5'10"), and the back of the vest until the neck decreases was about 31 repeats of the 6-row pattern (or about 186 rows). This took me about 2 weeks, knitting for about 30-60 minutes per day.

The vest, I think, will make a lovely vest or shell. I can't wait to see the front unfold!

So, what about Lace and Learning? Well, as the pattern unfolds, I think about how persistence and paying attention to what you are doing reveals the pattern before us. Not only does this happen to knitters, but it happens to anyone learning how to become competent when learning a new system. This really reminds me of learning when I was a university student. It always seemed like there were various concepts that we were learning, but the pattern of how everything went together was only revealed by working on learning everything, paying attention to how it all fit together, and letting the pattern reveal itself. Just as a successful knitter does these things with his or her knitting, so does any successful student of anything.

I have knit lace before, so I had no fear of it. However, I notice that the thought of knitting lace, making cables, or other techniques in knitting strike fear in the heart of some knitters. In fact, some of the looks on the faces of people when such techniques are mentioned are not that much different from students who have to learn statistics in my college-level class! I remember the fear well: As I finished my first class in statistics as a Freshman, I went home and cried. I thought for sure I would be a failure, and not make it through my chosen course of study. In fact, I was convinced my academic career would be over at that point!

So what happened? Well, DH helped tutor me with some of the basics involving the Greek letters. Once I figured out that these letters were really just telling you what to do, it seemed to me that this was a lot like cooking or knitting. After all, I could learn that T = tablespoon and that t= teaspoon, so I could learn that μ = population mean and that M = sample mean. This is not much different than learning that k = knit, p = purl, yo = yarn over, skpo = slip next stitch, knit one, pass slipped stitch over. Even further, we learn that little squares on a graph represent knit, purl, yo, etc., stitches.

As I thought about how we learn, it is clear that we learn through the use of symbols in a very meaningful way. We must not fear learning anything new - just remember that the trick is to figure out what the symbols are, and what they represent. As you learn how to respond to each symbol, eventually the pattern will reveal itself if you keep at it. So it is with just about anything worth learning.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Who Would Have Thought?

Well, it's been a long time since I updated this blog. Far too long.

It's been a busy year, and the time has sped by like a bird flying South for the Winter. Imagine what it would be like to be that bird. There must be signs that the winter is approaching, or that it is time to start flying South before the season arrives. Lucky for the bird - there are no household items to pack, and no moving vans to arrange! Before the bird knows what happened, it is flying with the rest of the pack onto new adventures. Some of these adventures are repeats of last year. However, I am sure that there are new experiences every year.

I think I feel a little like the bird. Every year, there are things to do at certain times of the year. The signs are all around - depending on what event we are talking about, there are still changes in the weather, shorter or longer days, and weather events that signal that a given time of year is approaching.

Humans, being what we are, also depend on the signals that we create to remind ourselves of these events. Perhaps it is due to our removal from living in the environment itself to living in created environments. We create new signals: sundials (leading later to clocks), fire/candles (leading later to lights), and signal songs (leading later to telephones, email, etc).

It strikes me as somewhat funny that with all of our complexity and progress, that many of us are still unprepared for the changes in the environment! Let's face it - how many of us leave things to the last minute, and hope that we will still be successful? Without our created environments, we would have to rely upon the environment itself to signal our seasonal activities. Of course, that kept the population low, as many did not survive into adulthood. There are of course other reasons for this, but surely moving into created environments kept us warmer, and meant we didn't have to move to keep warm or to continue to have sources of food throughout winter. At any rate, when life was tougher, and our ancestors lived in the environment, it was only those groups that worked together that survived.

So, I think I'll make that my lesson for this Thanksgiving. I'm thankful that my ancestors worked together to survive. I'm thankful that people can still work together to survive, and to help others survive. Let's hope that if there are struggles ahead, that people work together to solve problems, rather than laying blame at the feet of scapegoats. Let's try to study the past to understand how to do better. After all, we (meaning our ancestors and us) have been a big part of creating our world, so let's see if we can can move forward together.

Back to "Who Would Have Thought?": A friend actually emailed me today to say that she enjoys this blog. I had no idea anyone even read it :)


Happy Thanksgiving to us all!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Handing Down the Tradition

How did you learn to knit? Did you learn from a grandparent, parent, a sibling, a neighbor? Someone else?

When I was young, I wanted to learn to knit. My mother and my grandmother both knit, and it seemed like the likely thing to do. However, every time my mother tried to teach me, we just didn't "mesh". Now this was interesting, since she taught other kids in my school how to knit. (Believe me, I can write this because we still laugh about it.)

So, an older and wiser 7 year old (I was 6) taught me how to cast on and knit. Danita was a good friend who taught me these first basic stitches. Once I had these started, my mother really taught me everything else. It was as though I had to go out and apprentice, and then come back to learn from the master. And my mother really was a master at the craft! Her beautiful lace work, sweaters, and complete suit outfits that she knit were truly spectacular.

Now, we still laugh about this. In the last few years, I asked my mother if my grandmother taught her to knit. The answer was interesting: No. It seems that perhaps my mother or grandmother never thought to ask the other, and my mother learned to knit from her grade 4 teacher. So we have this intergenerational, matriarchical, group of knitters in my family, with each of us going out and apprenticing first!

Whoever taught each of us to knit is heartily thanked. The fact that we all knit ties us together through our yarn and needles. That is a wonderful gift.

Friday, March 14, 2008

There is a season...

Today I think about Spring, the 70's, my grandmother, my mother, and one of my brothers.

So Spring is a time of renewal. What was old, asleep, or perhaps dead throughout the winter is renewed or resurrected in the Spring. This naturalistic seasonal happening is celebrated throughout the world, across many different cultures and faiths.

In the 70s, I remember that song, "There is a season turn, turn, turn...". It was kind of a mournful song, yet at the same time demonstrated the natural way in which the universe unfolds. Of course, the song "Seasons in the Sun" in 1974 hit the radio just a few years after my eldest brother died in an accident at the age of 13. As it turns out, it also came out shortly after DH's father died when DH was very young. So, we have bittersweet memories from a young age about these songs.

Ultimately, the good things that come with Spring and life are really wonderful. They are powerful reinforcers that make us feel happy, and we forget for a while that winter is coming. The losses associated with winter and death push us into a state of denial, anger, etc., that are all a part of normal loss processes. At the start of every winter, people forget how to drive, fret about clearing snow, etc. By February, we are ready for Spring. When Spring comes, we expect things to go well. There is sunshine, flowers, buds on the trees, and hope.

The irony, I think, in my family is that Spring is also associated with loss. I say this not in a mournful way now, but rather in a reflective way. My grandmother would often talk about how everyone in her life died in April. It was true - her parents, her brother, and my grandfather. In fact, she died 14 years to the day later than my grandfather! In addition, my brother who died at age 13 also died in April. It seems the only happy things that happened in April are my birthday and my marriage!

So, as I found that my mother was once again in the hospital two days ago, I can't help but wonder if she is going to be all right. We have had almost an additional 22 years with her after she was seriously ill in the Fall of 1986. We thought she was going to leave us at that time, but have been fortunate to have many more years with her. Over the last couple of years, her health has declined to the point where she seems to develop pneumonia on a yearly basis, and is now in a nursing home. We are hopeful that she will remain with us. However, we also know that she is like the lovely leaf on the tree. She is full of beautiful color, has contributed to our sense of wonder and love about the world around us, and one day she will simply float off the tree. It would be nice to glue such a leaf to the tree to prevent it from falling, but that will only delay the inevitable circle of nature.

So, if we are fortunate enough to enjoy her beauty for another few years, we will be very appreciative. However, if that is not the case, then we must be appreciative for the beauty that she gives us as she is now.

I do know that she is rather tenacious, so really am hoping she has a little glue left!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A December Update

This is such an interesting time of the year.

I have always liked observing people, and my parents always instilled a natural sense of curiosity in me. Here are some observations:

* Everyone seems a little more generous at this time of the year. I infer this from the greater number of tips in the tip jar at local businesses. I'm still not sure why that tip jar is there - after all, these individuals are not serving customers at a table. However, I feel obligated to put in a tip. This is especially true when it is a local business. Maintaining good relations seems important.

Can altruism ever truly be altruistic?

* Everyone is in a rush. It seems like traffic is heavier around shopping centers, and that people are trying to make it from one social obligation to another. Students are getting to the end of their semesters, and feeling the crunch. Teachers and professors are also feeling the crunch as they work to finalize grades. Everyone seems in a rush to get something finished, so that they can do something more.

* Some people seem to be able to relax a bit. Getting past the commercialism of the season appears important to a sub-set of people. Spending time with family and friends, taking time to be quiet, and enjoy the simple things in life are practiced on a regular basis.

So, while I hurry to get ready for various social events and gift-giving, I look forward to the days coming up in which I can sit for a few minutes, enjoy a slow cup of tea, and knit a bit. Until then, I will try to get a little bit of that in once in a while.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

An Introduction

Well, this is my first blog about knitting.

I guess I'll start with the name of the blog. Why the name "Cave of the Knitting Bear"? Well, since I am married to someone with a bear-like name, we have always been referred to as "Mr. & Mrs. Bear". So, I like to think of knitting at home as being a little like a bear in a cave knitting.

Not that I really live in a cave! Of course, bears live in dens. The den in our home is really a home office, so I would not knit there. I feel it's best to keep such things separate - if I were to start knitting at work, it could be a knotty experience!

The second thing I will say is that I have knit for just about 35 years. I can't believe it's been that long. The truth be told, I knit off and on, and really picked it up again near the end of my doctoral program. I continued knitting during a postdoc, and still do so. Some weeks it is harder to escape to the cave to knit, but I try to get in a row a week anyway.

The final thing I will say is that I hope Stephen Colbert realizes that knitting bears are pretty harmless :)