Sunday, March 22, 2015

just being there

This past week, my work was mentioned on knittyBlog, which is a blog associated with Knitty, a well-known online knitting magazine.  The post said my Yarn Spinner Story + Pattern series, that is, offering a knitting pattern with a short piece of fiction, was a neat idea!  I just felt honored to mentioned in the same post as Shetland knitters' work and June Hiatt's The Principles of Knitting--both masterpieces, from a knitting perspective.

Also, I had another column come out in the Jewish Post & News:
Foreigners, Egypt and Derech Eretz

--Derech Eretz is Hebrew and means literally 'the way of the land' but really means "How one should behave."  Here's an article on Derech Eretz if you want to learn more.  Usually, I get few direct comments on anything I write.  This time, I've already gotten two emails.  One honored me with a problem she was having.  It was a person who felt like a foreigner/outsider in the Jewish community simply because she didn't drive anymore, and couldn't catch a ride to synagogue.  I felt lucky enough to know who to email to maybe try to solve the problem--I'm hoping that we can fix that.

The second person wrote a kind note about my column, and in the process, I learned from him.  He pointed out that (in transliterated Hebrew)-- "Derech Eretz Kadmo l'Torah" or, in English, "how we behave comes before Torah/learning."  That is, being a decent well-behaved person who cares about others is a prerequisite to being learned/wise.

I had the opportunity this past week to try to be a good person.  Several times I just had to be there, at that moment, when someone needed support.  This sort of thing doesn't make dinner or get our family ready for Passover or earn money--but in essence it is the most important thing.  It means taking extra time to listen or do something when I am really pretty busy.  In thinking about it later, everything else worked itself out.  It's hard to be calm down my inner control freak, the one that manically worries about managing all the daily details that keep our household afloat... but obviously, it helps to be in the moment and present when someone needs you.

It's worth it.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

thoughts for organizational continuity

I'm a bit behind on linking to my articles!  Here's a link to my newest Jewish Post & News article:

Everyone has a responsibility: Re-visioning the Synagogue

I had a really great chance to hear Rabbi Sid Schwarz speak this past weekend.  Although he was lecturing or teaching 8 different times over the weekend (8!  This man has stamina!) I was only able to catch one Shabbat service and a late night lecture.  I found it amazing that I could even stay up to hear something that started at 9pm, but I guess caffeine and interest really work. :)

The most interesting thing he spoke about was something that I felt went way beyond the Jewish community.  He talked about 4 big trends in "younger generation" Jews--but I think this speaks to Gen X, Y and Millennial folk in general.   He said we were interested in creating covenantal a religious context, but I think it applies more broadly to organizations who are aging and not engaging with our age groups. 
I'm cutting out the Hebrew vocabulary here just so it makes this more accessible, but here's the gist of his points:

1) Wisdom--we want actual texts, content, and real learning from our institutions.  No 'learning lite" programming.  (Yup)

2) Social Justice--we want to help make change.  We think about where our food comes from, how to reach out to the less fortunate, and how to make a difference.  Not talking, but doing.

3) Community--we want to build connections between people.  That is, we want to have warm, in person relationships where we can help and support our friends, relatives, and strangers.  This speaks to some of the articles I've written on creating "helping hand" committees, helping new moms, newcomers to the community, etc.

4) Holiness--we need to feel a deeper sense of spirituality or meaning.  While this is speaking from the religious context, I think it is true in a broader sense.  We need to sense an authenticity and honesty that speaks to us on a deep gut level.  The world is full of ads and frauds and phoneys, as Holden Caulfield would say.  It's great when things feel real and meaningful.

My understanding is that he has more to say in his book, which I have already ordered:
Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future

but I guess upon reflection, I found his points right on and valid in a bigger context.  If clubs, organizations, religious congregations, etc. want people who are 45 and under to belong and take ownership, these are very useful guiding principles for planning and involving us.

It's so rare these days that I get to attend a lecture or other learning event that I figured reprising it here might be useful.  In any case, I am just as inspired by these ideas now as I was by this Rabbi's congregation, back in 1995, when I taught religious school there.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

March Flash Sale + a quick response

I’m celebrating the launch of the latest Yarn Spinner Story+Pattern with a Flash sale!

 20% off all my patterns until March 17 (ends midnight CT) with the coupon code:

So, what's this story about?
Can knitting connect women across commuter trains, generations and avert a terror attack?

Knitting for Mother Earth Cowl, the second story in the series, catches a young woman on her daily commuter train to New York. She follows her gut, alerting a fellow passenger to what seems dangerous…and, to get beyond the experience, builds a strong bond through knitting.

This story pairs with an enormous cowl design. Prepare for some sumptuous knitting with super bulky luxury yarn.

I was happy to get a blog comment yesterday from a friend!  While I wrote her separately, I wanted to mention something here in response, too.  Here's an excerpt from what I wrote, with a few modifications for the blog:

Thanks for your encouraging words!  I've been trying hard to optimize the small amount of time I have these days for work.  (probably about 15 hours a week, on a good week, when there are no kid viruses, household emergencies or medical appointments...)  One way I have found to do this is to go back into my files and try to use things that I wrote long ago, but could not sell.  For a while I was writing a lot of fiction.  Some of it sold, some of it got close, but honestly I never found a good market for it.  I think it is particularly because I often write short stories about women, about fiber arts, and they don't all have to be terribly depressing at the end.  (contrary to the New Yorker's fiction style!) This did not fit into a "cool literary magazine" model, as you can imagine.
 Anyhow, it has always seemed to me that a lot of my writing doesn't sell because of luck, or bad timing, or lack of market.  As best I can tell (and the occasional friend/colleague who reads the stuff), it is not as if the stuff that does not sell is terrible and the other stuff is magically good in terms of writing or content.  It's not that clear, like a lot of things in life...alas, I wish it were!
 So, now that we're in this digital age where things don't have to be sold as conventional books, it seems like the perfect time to try some hybrid approaches and see what works.  My first story+pattern has sold enough so far to cover the tech editing costs.  Hurray!  Just got to throw it up on a wall and see what sticks. :)
 PS: I also realized recently that nearly ten years ago, I submitted an essay to a program associated with NPR called This I Believe....and it got published.  (Yup, I just figured it out.)  In some ways, when I started freelancing, I was also "throwing it up and seeing what stuck."  Apparently, this one did. This is about religious tolerance and the lack of it, and equality under law.  Seems like a particularly relevant topic these days.  
Here it is: 

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Knitting for Mother Earth Cowl: A Yarn Spinner Story+Pattern

Introducing the second in my new pattern line….one that comes with a story attached!  The new Yarn Spinner Story + Pattern line allows readers who knit (or knitters who read) two pleasures at once.  Enjoy a piece of short fiction, accompanied by a pattern that stands on its own.  This downloadable luxury offers a sweet combination for thinking knitters, particularly ones using a tablet or smartphone.

Can knitting connect women across commuter trains, generations and avert a terror attack?
Knitting for Mother Earth, the second story in the series, catches a young woman on her daily commuter train to New York.  She follows her gut, alerting a fellow passenger to what seems dangerous…and, to get beyond the experience, builds a strong bond through knitting.
This story pairs with a design for an enormous cowl to get lost in. Prepare for some sumptuous knitting with super bulky luxury yarn.
Want more stories?
The first story in the series, The Hole Inside, offers unrequited love from an independent heroine who never forgets her knitting.  While on a business trip, she’s invited to a knitting group.  Settle into a coffee, a town filled with college students, and an unsettling surprise from the heroine’s past that calls for a quick exit.
-Paired with a stranded mitten pattern in 7 sizes, from 2-4 years to XXL
Knitting for Mother Earth Cowl: A Yarn Spinner Story + Pattern is the second story in this series.  Look for more short fiction from Joanne Seiff soon. The companion nonfiction series: A Yarn Spinner Essay + Pattern, will follow.  Joanne Seiff’s articles and essays appear on the CBC,, and in the knitting world on, Interweave Knits, Spin-Off, and Vogue Knitting. Seiff feels that linking her love of writing and knitting design in this short format offers an exciting and novel horizon for fiber arts!
Knitting for Mother Earth Cowl will be available in March 2015 on Ravelry, as well as through for EU knitters.

Here's the link to the Ravelry pattern to learn more!

(PS: Please sign up on my email list---the form is to the right of this blog post!  I finally figured out how to put it up in HTML!)

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Radicalism article on the CBC online

Here's a link to my latest CBC piece--it just came out:

Terrorism, Radicalism, and Reaching Out

This essay was inspired by a family friend's link to an article online.  That original article is not worth sending along--it was reductionist and offered crazy generalizations.  (For instance, if you refer to Islam as a singular, monolithic world entity, you are oversimplifying in a somewhat scary way.  Just saying...)

 At moments like this, I feel lucky that I went to graduate school in Religious Studies and learned about the subtlety and diversity of one of the big world never landed me a job, but it did help me with a deeper understanding.  When I responded to the friend about this, he also was kind--but belittling.  This is when I am glad I too can speak out.  No, we can't solve all the world problems ourselves.  Of course not...but I have the luxury of a first world situation--a house, food, heat, electricity, internet--in which to think about these issues.

So, to point out the absurdity of the contrast... 

It's March and I hear someday winter will go away.  It's a bit hard to believe this morning, as it was -15F without the windchill.  Most recent morning temps indicate -28F windchill, about -36C.  I took a little time this week to revisit a pattern I wrote a long time ago, Bug Finger Puppets.

 I designed these, long ago, for Knit Picks and eventually the rights reverted to me and it is now for sale on Ravelry.  Alas, I had to send away those original finger puppet samples for the photo shoot and they never returned home.  By then, I'd also given away all much of the original yarns I'd used...because back then, I did not have twins who would enjoy them!  (What's that about the cobbler's children going barefoot?!  I can't hear you...)

Anyhow, I came up with a couple new Ravelry ads to remind me that spring would come.  I think sometimes when winter drags on, a little whimsy is a good thing.  Sure does help distract me from all the bad stuff in the world news.

So as the three year old super heroes playing hard at my house would say (while wearing pillow cases as capes):  "TAKE THAT-WINTER!  I'm going to get you!!"  If you're a knitter, use up some scraps.  Make some puppets!

Wishing you all good things.  I'm off to chase small super heroes in Penguin and Monkey costumes for the next few days...
:) Joanne

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Monday, March 02, 2015

Preparing for Purim

In our house, we have twin three year olds who are bursting with excitement because Purim is coming... before I forget, here's a link to my latest article if you are a grown up:
 Reading the Whole Megillah

Last week, I picked both boys up from preschool and they announced that we were making hamantaschen for Purim.  When I explained that it was too early to make these cookies for Purim and I wasn't ready yet, they said ok.  Then they decided that they could get ready for Purim anyway--by cleaning!  (this is not actually a Purim tradition that I had heard of, but I was good with it!)

I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth or a little boy who wants to clean-- so I handed both of them damp cloths and they raced around, dusting things.  Here are some funny shots of them hard at work.  They cleaned for a whole 15 minutes, so I was thrilled with the whole thing.   I'll take whatever I can get!

They are both sporting handknit sweaters made by their Didi (grandma).  Can you see that bright spot of green on the radiator?  That's my next design sample, drying after being blocked.  Coming soon: another Yarn Spinner Story + Pattern, hopefully in mid-March!

On Saturday night I made hamantaschen dough and we were ready to make cookies for Purim by 8:15 Sunday morning.  For those who like to cook, this is my personal observation: You can either have hamantaschen that look good, or that taste good.  I have never really experienced ones that both look good and taste good.  I don't know if my standards are too high or what--but I always try to go with "taste good" if I have a choice.

The last time I made these when I was pregnant in 2011, so it's been a while.  The short version is that we made hamantaschen with my homemade apricot jam, homemade strawberry jam, and chocolate chips.  I am not a traditionalist (prune, poppy seed, and apricot are often traditional fillings) in this regard..again, I am for tasting good first and maybe being sort of healthy second.  I used some spelt flour to make them more healthy...

In the end, our cookies turned out looking fairly rustic.  I am not sure I'd want to enter them in any competitions, but since the Professor and the boys shaped most of them, they are beautiful, right?  We ate some as soon as they came out of the oven, so we can vouch that tasted fine.  Now, we just have to wait patiently for Purim on Thursday. The boys won't have school!  They'll wear costumes! 

Translation: Lucky Daddy gets to go to the university and lecture as usual.  Mommy can't work on Thursday or Friday because she's on holiday twin duty.  We need play dates and lots of fun games!  We need Mommy to do lots of cooking ahead!  We are going to run around like wild beasts because we're so excited! :)

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Monday, February 23, 2015

spinning-one day at a time

Yesterday I taught my first 'intro to hand spinning workshop with a drop spindle' since 2011.  It was a blast!  The weather outside was so cold (-45 windchill) that the Professor's car wouldn't start.  (It started later, after we'd plugged the block heater in for a good long was just too cold.)

Our boys were suited up in snow pants, boots, lots of layers under the parka and more just to go to their dance class, so they took my car. After the dance class, we did a quick shuffle.  Boys were rushed inside to have a hot lunch.  I rushed outside with all my gear to the car that would start to teach my class.

Luckily, we all made it on time.  Every single one of my registered students showed up, even the one from Brandon, 2 hours away. Every class is different; this one was full of experienced fiber arts folks, who basically started spinning and kept on like they had been born to it.  It was a delight!

Also this week, my essay Reading the Whole Megillah came out in the Jewish Post & News. 

Surprisingly, there is a thread that ties all of this together.  These days, if I want to be prepared to teach a class, I have to start days in advance.  My work time is limited...and always has to be flexible.  So, for instance, last Thursday, I had a medical appointment with a specialist.  That morning, one of the boys woke up a bit under the weather, and his brother decided he wanted to stay home from preschool to keep him company.  Since I had this doctor's appointment, the Professor cancelled his workday to stay home with twins.  I maneuvered the cold weather and got myself to the appointment and made it home.  (Also got a local and 4 stitches while there, but all is well for now and nothing to worry about.)  Between the kids missing school, the mom who needed to rest after her appointment, and the cold, the whole day was just shot.  I had to budget every hour and every moment between Friday and Sunday to be sure my teaching supplies were ready to go.

I've learned from this "having twins experience" to take it one moment at a time.  The essay on Purim is about that too, in some ways.  In Jewish tradition, we read (or don't read!) the same sacred texts every year.  Over the years, we read different things in the same texts.  One time I read the Book of Esther on the floor in a crowded airport when my plane was delayed due to bad weather...other years, I heard it in other ways.  Maturity, life changes, different surroundings--these all cause us to read a text differently, whether it is a novel or a part of a religious tradition.

Finally, these photos:  When the boys were babies, perhaps in the fall of 2011?  or fall 2012?  A business named Rovings in our area that specialized in importing Polwarth wool from Australia and processing it for handspinners began to downsize and had a big sale.  The professor's father was visiting and they decided to help me get to the sale.  It was a bright sunny day and the babies mostly napped in the car while I went inside.

I bought a lot of yarn, a raw fleece (still unopened!) and a 'dyed in the locks' fleece that had won a prize.  The colors were amazing.  I rarely buy dyed fiber like this, but I loved the colors.  When the boys were about 18 months or 2 years old, I moved a spinning wheel down to our basement playroom space.  I started spinning this Polwarth wool, one lock at a time, whenever I had a moment.

Recently, I finally finished spinning up all the wool (maybe 2 lbs total) and I have now plied most of it for a total spinning process time of roughly 2 years.  I am doing a 3 ply, approximately worsted weight and this is what the first batch of washed skeins looks like.  I love it. 

In the old days, before twins, I could spin a pound of clean wool in a week, and still get lots of other things done.  Now, I guess it takes years...but I can still do it.  Little by little.  Bird by bird.    I am reminded of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  I'll finish with a quote from that, and you'll see what I mean.

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was  ten years old at the time, was trying to get a  report on birds written that he'd had three months to  write. It was due the next day. We were out at our  family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen  table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper  and pencils and unopened books on birds,  immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my  father sat down beside him, put his arm around my  brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.'"

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