How Not to Offend a Crafter

This is a cowl I knit. Creating the eyelet pattern was not mindless. It took time and concentration.

Why anyone would want to offend a crafter is beyond me. Perhaps people just make snide, snooty comments without thinking to an innocuous person, quietly sitting and knitting or crocheting, not bothering anyone. Perhaps they like to feel superior by putting others down.

One of the members of an online crocheters group I belong to reported that she often gets snarky comments when someone sees her crocheting. She hears things such as, “I wish I had that kind of time” and “Who has time to crochet?” 

The crocheter could ask the obnoxious person, “How much time do you spend staring at your phone, sending useless texts, posting on social media, playing video games, or plopped in front of the TV? How much time do you spend asking offensive questions of someone who’s minding her own business?” These questions imply I’m so important, I don’t have time to waste doing crafts. Yeah, like you’re busy running a billion-dollar corporation all by yourself. If you really want to do something, you’ll find time for it. If you don’t want to do a craft, don’t pretend you don’t have time for such piddling occupations

It’s okay to admit that you don’t want to do a craft. Just say so. I have two friends whom I’ve offered to teach how to knit. Both were honest enough to admit that while knitting looks like fun and they like the hand-knit gifts I’ve given them, there are other ways they prefer to spend their time. That’s fine with me. To each her own. If they change their mind and want to learn to knit, I’m here.

Another insulting crack is, “Oh, that’s a good mindless activity.” So what’s the commenter doing with her fine mind? Discovering the unified field theory? Discovering a cure for cancer?

Neither crocheting nor knitting is a mindless occupation. It’s true that muscle memory allows experienced crafters to work seemingly without thought or without even watching their hands at work, but it takes time, effort, and concentration to get to that point. Doing more intricate patterns, lace, cables, entrelac, Fair Isle, and other decorative techniques requires close attention.

Another smug comment the crocheter reported was, “Oh, you can buy those kinds of things at Walmart now.”

The answer to that is, “No, you can’t.”

Sure, you can get machine-knit or crocheted scarves, hats, mittens, sweaters, and other garments and accessories, but they’re not the same at all. Years ago I worked as a greeter at retail outlets. I could always, always, always, spot handmade items. To make sure I was right, I’d ask the person wearing them if she’d made the item herself. If she hadn’t made it herself, someone else had made it for her. All the handmade things were more attractive, more skillfully made, and more original than anything that can be found in a store. Get something at a store and there will be fifty other things exactly like it. Not only that, by not making these things yourself, you miss the joy and sense of accomplishment you get when you finished a project you’ve worked on for hours. You also don’t hear awe-struck comments such as, “Wow, you made that?” You don’t get the pleasure of say, “Yes, I did.”

I’m highly offended on behalf of this crocheter and every other crafter who gets this kind of thoughtlessly cruel and smug comment. Maybe that kind of thing arises out of unadmitted envy.

Many crafters like to knit or crochet in public places–in coffee shops, in the park, in waiting rooms, jury assembly rooms, and on planes, trains, and buses. It’s a constructive way to pass time. Knitting and crocheting are relaxing , they lower your blood pressure, and they’re fun. It’s really none of anyone’s business how someone chooses to spend her time. Keep your snarky comments to yourself.


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This is a scarf I knit with two yarns held together. Too bad the sparklies in the white eyelash yarn don’t show up.
This is the cuff of one of a pair of fingerless gloves I made. The pattern called for plain ribbing. I decided I’d prefer mock cable ribbing. When you make something yourself, you can do it your way, instead of accepting whatever’s on offer.
I don’t know about you, but the last time I was at Walmart, I didn’t see anything like this. Didn’t see anything like it at Macy’s or Nordstrom, either. That’s because I made it.

A Colorful Choice

Green, the Color of Life: A Photo Essay

Tulip leaves emerging in springtime.

If it occurs to anyone to wonder why I choose a green background for my blog site, they might assume that it’s because green goes with my banner photo of a woman walking along a leafy path. They’d be partially right. There are many other reasons for my choice.

Many websites have white backgrounds. Too many websites with white backgrounds have text in pale gray fonts, which makes for difficult reading. A black font would be an improvement, after all, don’t books have white pages and black fonts? Most do. However, paper absorbs light. Electronic screens glare it back at the viewer. I want my site to be easy on readers’ eyes. Green helps enhance vision.

Other than in nature, it seems like white is everywhere, not just on websites. The walls in my apartment are white, as are the ceilings. The doors are white. The kitchen cupboards and appliances are white. So are the fixtures in the bathroom. Defenders of white would say it’s a clean, pure, classic choice. To me it’s a boring choice. Too easy, requiring no thought, the default color, in interior, and often exterior decorating.

Green is a fresh, calm, soothing color. It’s the predominant color in nature. It symbolizes renewal, rebirth, fertility, nature’s bounty. It relieves stress and helps muscles relax. It’s the color of spring and new beginnings.

Spring in Wright Park. Tacoma, Washington, USA. There is nothing like the fresh green of new leaves.

Even though green has many positive associations, it also has negative associations. Yellow-green can be a sickly color, as in “green around the gills.” Perhaps because green is the color of money, at least the US greenback dollar, it can also be associated with green. To call someone a “greenhorn,” that is, a beginner is not a flattering description. Nor is calling someone green with envy. Green’s negative associations are far fewer than its positive ones.

I also chose a green background for my blog because it’s different. I want it to stand out from the crowd, but I don’t expect anyone to be green with envy.

Blue and green lead the pack when it comes to people’s favorite colors.
A relaxing hiding place. Far from the madding crowd of the farmers market.
Vigor is another trait symbolized by green. I love my vigorous autumn fern. The yellowish leaves are typical for autumn ferns.
Display of Swiss chard at the famers market. Leafy greens are part of a healthy diet.
Of course, all green all the time would also be boring.

A Few Good Words: 4

Oscar the Crosspatch

A real grouch, but not Oscar. I didn’t use a picture of the little blue Muppet because no doubt he’s a trademarked character.

As I write about words, I’m leaning, too, and having fun.

I like the word crosspatch. It means a peevish, grouchy person. A whiner. A bellyacher. A grumbler. A sourpuss. The word crosspatch dates back to the 1700s.

Cross, used as an adjective means bad-tempered, angry, annoyed. I did not know that “patch,” once meant a fool or a professional jester. Maybe that explains the name of a local children’s show host–J.P. Patches, who had a red nose and a white-painted face. Did the actor who created J.P know the anachronistic name for a clown? Or maybe the character’s name derived front the patched clothes he wore.

What a sourpuss looks like. “What do you mean, you forgot to buy cat food?”

These days many of us associate the word “sourpuss” with the media star Grumpy Cat, a feline with a peevish expression on his face. But “puss” doesn’t just mean a cat. It also means the human face. Needless to say, it’s not a flattering description. Puss in this sense is more likely to be used in a sneering way: “I’m gonna wipe that smirk off your puss.” A threat to punch someone in the face.

The year 2020 has made us feel like crosspatches and sourpusses.

Two Different Christmases

Pacific Northwest

We often have wet Christmases in the Pacific Northwest

Many places in North America get snow for Christmas. Here in the Great Northwet, as I call it, we’re much more likely to get rain. If snow falls around here, it’s more likely to fall at Thanksgiving, knocking out power just as people are about to put their turkey in the oven. This year we didn’t have snow for Thanksgiving and it looks like we might get a bit of sunshine for Christmas. If we want see the cold, white stuff, we’d have to leave the lowlands and head for the mountains. We have plenty of mountains and they have more than enough snow. Average annual snowfall at Mt. Rainier is 671 inches; 1704 centimeters. That’s fifty-five feet. How does that jingle your bells?


Christmas Market in Dom Cathedral Square. Riga, Latvia

Like so many places, Latvia doesn’t get as much snow as it used to, even though it’s at almost 57° latitude north–ten degrees farther north than Washington state.

The first written record of a decorated Christmas tree is in Rīga, Latvia in 1510. Men of the local merchants’ guild decorated the tree with artificial roses and danced around it before setting it on fire. The rose is considered to be a symbol of the Virgin Mary. I don’t know why they set fire to the poor tree, maybe because celebrations around both solstices are ancient fire festivals. Or maybe the guys were just cold.

Traditionally, Latvia’s version of Santa Claus arrived on Christmas Eve. He didn’t slide down the chimney but knocked politely at the door, and waited to be admitted. Of course, the Latvian Santa also bore a bag of gifts. Children did not get their presents automatically, just because they were good kids. Gifts had to be earned by reciting a verse or singing a song.

This is my own translation of the verse I had to recite for Santa in order to get my present. Not just at home, in front of family and friends, but at a children’s Christmas party held in a church’s social hall, in front of an audience of family and friends. Of course, even if a child flubbed his or her lines, a gift was forthcoming anyway.

 "White snow falls on pine boughs.
 The clock chimes a gentle song.
 Lights twinkle in the village.
 My heart beats happily along.” 
It’s been years since we’ve had this much snow in my town.

No matter how you celebrate, Christmas is magical.

Piano Lessons

Today is Ludwig von Beethoven’s 250th birthday, so I’m listening to a mix of his music, symphonies, concertos, sonatas. Many of my favorite compositions are his piano music. Among the pieces, I love best are “Für Elise,” the “Moonlight Sonata,” and the “Emperor Concerto.” Listening to them made me think of my own experiences with pianos.

My parents didn’t ask if I wanted to take piano lessons. Latvian parents of their generation didn’t ask kids if they wanted to do something. If your parents thought it was good for you, you did it. The belief they shared with other Latvian parents was that children don’t know what’s good for them and what’s not. My mother had to take piano lessons. Her brother had to take piano lessons. It’s a Latvian thing. Almost all the Latvians I know had to take piano lessons when they were children. Therefore, I had to take piano lessons, too.

The big, brown upright. It was a good piano.

My first piano teacher was my mother. Like many Latvian mothers, mine worked. Her first big purchase in the United States was a piano. She paid twenty-five dollars for it. I remember that we played “Chopsticks” on it.

I was probably eight or nine when I started taking formal lessons. My first piano teacher was a pretty strict taskmaster. She didn’t rap my knuckles, but she didn’t give her students leeway as to what they wanted to play. She insisted on the correct finger and wrist position. Woe to you if you didn’t do as she said. Fingers had to be curved as if holding an egg. No saggy wrists! Wrists must be arched. If I had mentioned the children’s TV host who played the piano with his fingers flat and wrists down, she would not have been impressed. No doubt she’s have snorted and said something about him not having been taught proper technique. There were times when I left her house in tears after a lesson. But when she had a recital in her living room, I aced my piece–an arrangement for students of  “Au Clair de la Lune.” 

When we moved to a different neighborhood, I was relieved. No more Mrs. Hopson! Maybe even no more piano lessons. HA! Not likely. I was ten and still lived with my Latvian parents. Their attitude had not changed and the big brown upright piano moved with us.

My next teacher was sweet and kind, plump, and white-haired. Mrs. Thorson recommended books of piano pieces from a collection of arrangements that progressed from grade to grade as the student’s skills improved having worked through each book. However, she allowed electives, in addition to requirements. The demand for endless repetition of scale, chord, and arpeggio practice had not changed. As with Mrs. Hopson, they had to be practiced every day before attempting to play an entire piece, which also had to be played over and over, with even more repetition of parts where mistakes crept in.

 Muzio Clementi (1752 – 1832) and his sonatinas–little songs–were a delightful addition to my repertoire. I still remember his lively compositions fondly. I never got tired of them, even though I had to play them over and over. The one I love best even now is Clementi’s Sonatina in C major, opus 36, no.1. It’s bright and cheerful. Is this little song known and loved by all piano students? It seems so.

Did I hate my piano lessons as much as I pretended to? Probably not. I hated to practice, but I enjoyed playing and wanted to be proficient without constantly having to practice. Both my parents worked, neither was at home when I got home from school. No one was around to make sure I went to my weekly lesson on Thursday afternoons. Even though she was a more lenient teacher than Mrs. Hopson, no doubt Mrs. Thorson would have reported to my mother if I failed to show up. So I took myself off to my lessons. 

Fond as I was of Mrs. Thorson, I would probably have been better off with strict Mrs. Hopson.

The only recital I participated in under Mrs. Thorson’s supervision was a disaster. I was probably eleven at the time. The recital was not in her home with her familiar piano but in a rented hall. On the big day, the hall was full of students, their parents, and their guests. My supports included my folks, my godmother, who was also a piano player,  and her husband. I’d never been to the hall. The piano was a stranger to me. I had my two pieces memorized–by ear and I could recognize the keys I was to play. Shyness has tormented me all my life, but when my turn came, I did what I had to do. I went to the piano and sat down on the bench. I struck the keys. To my horror, I did not recognize the sound which came out, nor the notes that followed. I thought about running away, but that would have been even more humiliating than continuing to fumble my way through the piece. I don’t remember if I played both pieces or just the one. 

Later, Mrs. Thorson profoundly apologized for not making sure that the piano was in tune. I was not comforted. I refused to participate in any future recitals. Neither my parents nor Mrs. Thorson insisted. I continued taking lessons for years afterward.

When I graduated from high school my folks allowed me to stop taking lessons. I learned to Für Elise, among many other pieces. I never achieved great proficiency, just enough to fool around for my own pleasure. I wish I’d continued with my lessons. And I wish I still had that big brown upright. I may not have gained confidence by playing in public, but I gained an enduring love of music.

A Few Good Words, 3

Windy words.

Wind blowing hard, like some speakers.

The word bloviate frequently comes to my mind these days. There’s a lot of it going on. The first syllable sounds like what the word means; blow.

A bloviator is a blowhard. Someone who bloviates, speaks in a windy way, using too many words. I’d add that the words a bloviator uses are generally empty. The word bloviate is traced back to U.S. President Warren G. Harding, who used it often. However, in his day the word meant to hang around, to be idle.

Other words with the same meaning are bluster, which means boastful speech or writing. The wind also blusters when it suddenly gusts from mild to strong.

Bombast is a synonym for bloviate, but it’s a noun, instead of a verb. Bombast means pretentious, inflated speech, or writing. It’s not too surprising then that bombast originally meant cotton or other soft fiber used as padding or stuffing.

The bloviator is stuffed with too many words and allows them to spill out on the rest of us. However, “too many words” is a relative concept that depends on context, mood, and how well those words are handled by the speaker or writer. What’s too many for one person, is just right for another.

Cherish Your Language

Whether you’re an exile (forced from your home) or a voluntary immigrant, living in a country where you weren’t born, keeping knowledge of your native tongue alive, and passing it on to your children is important. Your language defines who you are. You may take on a new persona in your new home, but you will always also be the person you were born.

Many children of exiles and immigrants, not just Latvians, but exiles from everywhere, resist learning their parents’, native tongue. I was one of those kids. But I didn’t resist very hard when my father insisted that we speak Latvian in our home–perhaps because I love languages and words. Or because speaking our language in public was like speaking a secret code. My father said that someday I’d be glad to be able to speak my mother language. Mother language–mātes valoda–is the Latvian term for your native language. My father’s attitude was–because you’re a Latvian, you must speak the language. If he were here today, I’d tell him that he was right.

Unlike my father, my uncle, who wound up in exile in Australia did not insist. His reasoning was that he and his wife and children had become Australians, therefore, it was important to be able to speak good English. Speaking English with their children would help the parents perfect their language skills. No doubt it did. Even though we spoke Latvian at home, my parents learned to speak English just fine. The fact that they both worked among English speakers helped. Reading American newspapers and watching TV also helped. They still needed my assistance with new words and writing letters, but speaking Latvian did not impede me from learning good English. All my schooling was in English and I had American friends.

It seems to me that my Aussie uncle unintentionally did his children a disservice and not just because scientists have confirmed the benefits of speaking two or more languages have on the development of a child’s brain. When you lose your language you lose your entire culture. You lose a part of yourself. Having two cultures enriches a person’s life.

Losing your language means losing your literature–novels, folklore, poetry, and sayings. Your history is not the same in someone else’s words. Losing your language means losing songs. Latvian culture would be nothing without its songs. We have thousands of folk songs that address every aspect of life–work, play, family, birth, love, death, war, and peace. Songs tie us together as a nation, no matter where we live or what country we’re citizens of.

Losing your language means losing terms of endearment. Latvian is a language rich in diminutives and affectionate nicknames. I feel sorry for my American friends who might have one or two nicknames. For us Lettiņi (a diminutive for Latvians) the more nicknames you have, the more you’re loved, or at least liked. I’ve had Latvian friends whose language skills are weak and who are nickname deprived ask me to come up with Latvian nicknames for them. I’m glad to oblige.

My grandmother stayed in Latvia. Knowing our language meant that I could write to her and read the letters she wrote to me. 

When I visited Latvia, I did not need anyone to translate for me. I could speak with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and other members of my extended family. I can Skype with my cousins in Latvia. We can even sing our favorite folk songs together over thousands of miles and feel connected. 

Another reason to learn the language of your parents is for when they get old. If they develop dementia, they often lose their second language. Many of us children of exiles have to translate for parents and other relatives when they wind up in nursing homes. They’re less lost when they can speak their own language with someone. You can even sing a beloved folk song to them to cheer them up.

I never had a chance to talk with my grandmother. She and my grandfather died before I had a chance to visit Latvia.

Whatever your mother language is, even if you’re not living in the homeland of your ancestors, I urged you to teach your children your native tongue. They’ll be glad you did. I know from Latvian friends who never learned their language that they regret the loss. If you yourself didn’t learn, it’s never too late to start. It doesn’t matter if you don’t achieve fluency, your life will be richer if you learn even a little.

Latvia Under the Soviets, 3

“The Blue Monstrosity”

It’s now called the Hotel Reval-Latvija. The Freedom Monument is in the foreground.

The Blue Monstrosity, aka Our Hotel

A major advantage of staying at the Blue Monstrosity, the Hotel Latvija, is that it has no view of the Blue Monstrosity. Instead, Laima and I had a view of this Eastern Orthodox church from our window, a much nicer view.

Yes, I’m the one who dubbed our hotel the Blue Monstrosity. It’s still there, under new management. I hear it’s much nicer now. It may be nicer on the inside, but on the outside, it’s still a blight on the cityscape. Not that it’s the only one.

It had taken twelve years to construct this undistinguished slab of a building.

A hotel’s a hotel, what’s the big deal? There are many ugly buildings in cities all over the world. This is true. I find the BM offensive not just because of its appearance, but because of its location in the heart of Rīga, a beautiful, historic old city full of gorgeous Art Nouveau architecture. But in the Soviet Era, there was more to differentiate Hotel Latvija from hotels in the Free World than its looks.

Locals were not allowed inside.  Registered guests were issued hotel passes–about the size of a postcard. The passes had to be showed to the doorman whenever guests entered the building. The intent, we were informed, was to keep the riffraff (my words) from bothering paying guests. Local visitors could enter only when accompanied by a card-carrying guest. Isn’t that consider? So much concern for our well-being–keeping our passports safe and making sure we could relax and enjoy our stay undisturbed by locals.

Of course, the real reason for the policy was to minimize contact with visitors from the Free World, so locals couldn’t find out things that would make their supposedly ideal lives seem less than ideal. To hide the lies they were told about the miserable conditions endured by travelers from the West.

When we checked in we were issued a key. One key. There was no need for each of us to have her own key. It was to be left at the check-in counter each time we went out. So that there was no chance of forgetting, a lead weight, the shape, and almost the size of a pear, was attached to the key fob.

My uncle, Andrejs, had no interest in entering the hotel anyway. I understood why he wouldn’t want to be seen in a hotel reserved for foreigners, such association would be enough to arouse official suspicion. 

One of my mother’s bolder cousins wanted to see the interior of the hotel. She’d arrived without realizing that a pass was required to get in. Somehow Rita barged past the doorman/guard without showing him a guest card and looked around as much as she pleased. I don’t think she was very impressed. I was impressed that she’d made it past Cerberus.

One of my own cousins wanted to see my room. I flashed my card at the doorman and escorted her upstairs. She didn’t say much. The room was littered with the belongings of two women–clothes, shoes, suitcases, hairdryers, curling irons, make-up, lotions, all sorts of touristy odds and ends. Even though I was not the only occupant of the room it was embarrassing to have all that stuff lying around We’d probably brought more things for a two-week trip than my cousin had in her entire wardrobe. Gaida stood at the window and silently looked and looked at the view of the city spread out before us. She’d probably never seen her city from such a height.

Laima’s and my room was on the fourteenth floor. There were elevators. I don’t remember how many, But the hotel was full of tourists attending the Song Festival and the elevators were small and slow; we didn’t bother waiting for them. It was faster to climb the stairs to our floor.

The room itself was a bit–odd. The beds were narrower than a twin bed and placed head to head against one wall, with only a low divider between them. We didn’t know for sure if our room was bugged, but we assumed that someone was listening. When we didn’t want to be overheard, we’d lie on our bellies on each bed, put our heads together, and speak in low voices.

Our window stretched wall-to-wall. The translucent curtain did not. It was high summer and it never got really dark at night–not outside and not inside.

The room was provided with a radio, which could not be turned off. However, the volume could be turned down to the point where we couldn’t hear it. We never listened to any broadcasts.

No telephone directory had been provided. When I wanted to call one of my cousins, I had to go down to the guest services office on the mezzanine and ask for a phone book at the desk. It was in Russian! It made me uneasy to tell the clerk my cousin’s and ask her to look up his number and write it down for me.

There weren’t enough clothes hangers in our small closet. If I remember correctly, there were three. Even after we bribed the maid to bring us more hangers, we still didn’t have enough for all our garments. We wound up hanging our clothes from floor lamps and chair backs. Funny, I can’t remember if there was a chest of drawers. We probably wouldn’t have used it. Drawers can’t be locked, suitcases can.

Even though we regularly bribed the maids with stockings and chocolates, we still had to do some things ourselves. When I needed to have a dress ironed, one of the maids showed me to a utility room where there were an ironing board and iron. I ironed my own dress.

Curiosity prompted me to wander down to the far end of the corridor where there was a door to the fire escape. The door had no handle. I think it was chained, too. The indoor stairway, next to the fire door, had holes for balusters drilled into each step. However, only every third step had a baluster; the other holes had been patched.  with some compound. The builders must not have had enough balusters.

I needed a drink. At the Beriožka (Russian for little birch)  gift shop, which was open only to tourists with Western currencies to spend, I’d bought a bottle of cognac to take to my uncle, Aleks, whom I’d never met. Laima and I guzzled the entire bottle together, straight, albeit not in one sitting–maybe it took a week. I could always buy Aleks another bottle. When my bottle was empty, we still had another week to go in Rīga, so we tackled a bottle Laima had bought. I’ve never consumed so much booze in my entire life, or stayed as sober, as I did on that trip. I guess adrenaline must burn alcohol. While the visit was wonderful, a trip of a lifetime, it was also stressful from all the petty bureaucracy we had to put up with. Every strange man in a suit who seemed to be following me and my relatives made me anxious. Was he a KGB agent? I’ll never know. No one ever accosted us. Thank goodness. Life was stressful enough. After only a week, I was ready to beg, “Scotty, beam me up,” and drop me in the USA. Despite all that, Latvija still tugs at my heart: “Come home, my child!”

Some Reasons the Blue Monstrosity Offends Me

Of course, I don’t expect all buildings to look like this. They didn’t look like this when I visited. They were much shabbier. If a city is to thrive, it needs new, modern buildings, but they don’t have to be ugly. In recent years the square where the House of Blackheads stands has been desecrated by an ugly black box of a building. Rīga city government needs some kind of aesthetics board to maintain the city’s historic architectural integrity.

House of the Order of Blackheads
Art Nouveau facade of an apartment building
Another apartment building
The Opera House
A street in Riga

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A Home for an Exile’s Heart

An excerpt introducing a new character.

American P51D Mustang fighter plane

“Intense Blue Sky”

Intense blue sky. Innocent white clouds. Pristine clouds out of which killing machines suddenly emerged. The drone of his engine as Cameron’s squadron flew over Germany. The relentless rattle of machine guns. Flashes of light. A Focke-Wulf 190 came right at him, spitting bullets. A buddy’s plane going down, trailing a billowing plume of orange flame. Heart pounding Cameron maneuvered his aircraft out of range. Roared up into the sky. Made a sharp turn. Dived at the enemy plane. Firing. Firing. Firing.

To clarify, this is not a war novel. The story takes place in 1952, in the USA. The excerpt relates Cameron’s background so readers know what kind of person he is.