America. We Need To Talk.

This past week I intended to parade more photos of blocked finished objects on the blog.  Instead, I spent the week mourning the deaths of citizens and police officers.  I’ve had to take a break from Facebook and only visit in short periods, preferring the eye candy of Instagram, after the first three days or so of responses.

My take on all of this is, America, We Need To Talk.  Seriously.  We need a literal or figurative Coming To Jesus about this issue of racial violence perpetrated by the State, and the perceived need for retaliation.

Can we acknowledge that despite our country being birthed in a spirit of Some Animals Are Created More Equal Than Others (according to George Orwell), the time has come to move past this premise?  Can we acknowledge that many of the current laws, law enforcement cultural conditioning and assumptions were birthed in a time when slavery was not long past and women may or may not have yet won the vote?  These assumptions are outdated, but they survive.

Can we acknowledge that we as a society are divided and wounded, and that it will take deep cuts to reach the poison, but that this is the only way to heal?

If we cannot acknowledge, and believe it when we say it, that we do not yet live in a post-racial society, that the echoes of a history of slavery still reverberate, that people are still afraid, which is irrational, so difficult to counter, and yet unwarranted, then we cannot move forward.  If we cannot look at the cold, hard, facts and say This is Unjust: the disproportionate police stops, frisks, imprisonments, and deaths of people of color; if we cannot know and understand that laws governing drug arrests and sentencing were born out of racial stereotypes and perceived threat to white women (property of white men), and stand up and say This is Unjust; then we are destined to fail as a society.  We are destined to fail to heal, fail to understand, fail to excise the poison, and fail to thrive.

I am tired on behalf of all of us that have ever felt the need to protect the feelings of someone more privileged in society, be it based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, or wielding of financial and political power.  I am tired of protecting the privilege of those that have always had more power.  I am thankful for white male allies that do not accept the current patriarchy as the only possible paradigm.  But I am also tired of the surprise each time some horrific event transpires (or some event that turns into three – or more – awful national events in one week) and the cycle of acceptance and exhaustion that leads us to ultimately tune out and attempt to move on.  I’m tired of the nay-sayers of white fragility that have chosen not to develop the compassion necessary to be shocked when they learn of others’ experiences, and due to discomfort or perceived threat choose instead to silence the other.

The fact is, nothing has truly changed if we only react with a sad-face on Facebook.  The most important communications I’ve seen this past week have been the lists of concrete actions we can take to change the manner in which law enforcement is implemented in our local communities.

And – we need to have more discussions about the underpinnings of our laws.  Is it still assumed that black men consume coke and, on it, are a threat to white women (property of white men)?  Is it assumed that Mexican men consume an outsized quantity of marijuana and (see last sentence)?  Is the law still on the books in the state of Ohio, for example, that assumes women are the property of some male family member by categorizing rape under property law and damaged goods?  Is it still legal in Texas for a man to rape his wife?

We need to talk about colonialism.  We need to talk about slavery.  We cannot look at the current state of our society, from either the perspective of the minority or that of the privileged, and say this has not influenced our thinking, our behavior, the very assumptions upon which our laws are built.  We are not “colorblind.”  We are not “post-racial.”  We need to decide whether we care about our neighbors, about violence in our communities, about what it means to continue to tacitly permit extrajudicial beatings and killings in a country whose privileged masses collectively think we are the greatest democracy in the world.

When we hear the slogan, “Make America Great Again,” it should not engender a vision of the antebellum South in which white men had the weapons and wielded them over their women, children, and slaves.  It ought to be a phrase that begs a vision of a freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, as it says in our Declaration of Independence. We ought to assume at this stage that “all men” refers to all humans, and reassert that the purpose of government is to protect our “unalienable rights.”  Let us recommit to that ideal, while understanding that the road is long, the night dark, the struggle has not ended, but that so long as any of us is in virtual or actual shackles, none of us is truly free or safe.

Finances and the stock market for the rest of us

Over the past three months, I’ve been meaning to come back here and talk a lot more about knitting – and I will get back to that, for sure!  (See end of post, OK?)

In the mean time, I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about personal finance, and beginning to get serious about learning about the market and keeping tabs on what I need to know.  I thought I would share a few simple points here for a general audience, such as my friends and colleagues who usually look at me with a blank face when I bring up the market or investing or retirement.  Hopefully you as that audience will keep in mind that I am just a layperson reading my magazine, tracking updates online, and listening to podcasts.

Correction or bear market?

The main thing I’ve learned is that right now, the market is in a corrective phase, which means that people and corporations predicted much higher future values of companies and commodities than have actually been born out.  Now, the market is adjusting itself downward to reflect the true value of many of these stocks.  If it stabilizes around a 10% loss, it will be termed a “correction.”  If the market continues to fall toward 20%, we will hear economists and commentators talk more about a “bear market.”

I just learned that we are a couple months shy of what is considered a very long “bull market,” almost seven years, with unprecedented highs and increases in overall numbers of shares purchased.  So it should not be a shock that some adjustments are now in play, particularly given global volatility, including in China.

Playing it safe

Because continued volatility is anticipated for 2016, I’m hearing and reading a lot about putting investments in cash or cash equivalent funds to ride out the market’s downward trend.  This could be a money market account, a short-term CD, or a short-term bond fund.  I have just moved around 60% of my total investments into money market accounts, and I’m considering moving the rest.  With my retirement accounts, which include an employer-sponsored plan and a Roth IRA, there are some restrictions in movement.  I’m not forbidden from taking funds out of the money market accounts and putting them into new funds, but I am forbidden from putting that cash back into the previous funds for one month.  This doesn’t worry me, because I think we’ll be seeing volatility for some time.

I’ve recently seen a ~9% downturn in my investments, so I want to halt the loss at that point.  Overall, I’m confident that I’ll regain that money, but I don’t want the loss to continue to 20%  before I have a chance to see the market turning around.  Given my age (late 30s), most of my investments were still in relatively high-risk funds.  So, I’ll sit on cash until the signs point up.

What are bond funds and why do I care?

One really important point, especially for older investors, is to consider and reduce how much of your money is invested in bond funds.  I’ve been hearing and reading about this on various fronts, including in a Suze Orman book published in 2012, so it is not a new concern.  Even I have been socialized to assume that bonds are “safe,” but “bond funds” are not the same as bonds.  The only recommended investment that I’m hearing about now is in short-term bond funds, and only if an emplooyer-provided retirement fund doesn’t give us money market accounts as an option, because otherwise there is a significant probability of loss on investment in longer term bond funds as interest rates rise.  We are finally seeing the Fed indicate increases in interest rates, so it is pretty much a guarantee that you’re set up for future loss if you have substantial investments in bond funds.

[My brain has not solidified the “why” of this argument, but I’m sure there are lots of online resources that can explain it.]

The other really important point about bonds is that if you continue to invest, in addition to looking at short term bonds, high quality is essential.  High-yield is not the same, and basically means that the price of those bonds is falling – which, if you do the math, means you’re going to be losing.  (The price is lower, and the earnings may be stable, so when you divide the earnings by the lower price, the yield comes out higher.  This doesn’t say much about the overall value of the investment, which could be plummeting.  One source said that “high yield” is simply a way of saying junk bonds.)  High quality bond funds usually explicitly have “high quality” in the title.  They may have a lower yield, but are overall a safer bet because they are stable.

Don’t take the easy way out – do a tiny bit of research

I found out that I was invested in bond funds through my “Target” retirement fund.  It’s worth making the effort to find out what is included in these packages of investments with an attractive title that are easy to plop our money into without thinking.  I’ve already taken 75% of the money that was in my “target” fund out, and put it in cash, and may do the same with the remaining funds.  When the market turns around, I will probably still look to be well-diversified through an easy “fund” investment, but it may be one that represents the overall stock market, like S&P 500, rather than one that is sort of hiding bond fund investments from me through my own lack of research because I wanted the easy way out.

I’ve gone on for a while now, but this is really essential stuff for anyone that works and puts their hard-earned cash in any investment, i.e., somewhere that isn’t only a savings account at the bank.  We need to be informed enough to preserve those investments and protect our future to the best of our ability.

The Knitting Portion of the post

Now, knitting porn:

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Ravelry project link

Washcloths made with Fibra Natura Flax yarn, to go with holiday gifts of locally made soap and lotion.  I like to stick with stockinette stitch, because it doesn’t feel as rough on my face as some other stitch designs involving purl bumps.  But I tagged them with a little cable design in the corner.

Shwook

Generally speaking I am not on the cutting edge of the new patterns that come out.  Occasionally I will finish something within a month or two of its release, but that is very rare.  This hat is not an example of one of those rare occasions.  “Shwook” came out in honor of the 2014 Shetland Wool Week event, so probably all the other Shwook knitters posted their goods long ago.  Lately Ravelry has been filled with the new 2015 pattern, which is adorable and features sheep.

I am thinking now that I should have looked up what a shwook is before posting this.  Any guesses?*

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This hat is using overly-long-stashed yarn in colors that probably went out ten years ago.  At one point, I had an online sale problem and purchased yarn willy-nilly with no project in mind.  In time, with experience and a non-shrinking stash, my habits have changed.  But this yarn was still hanging around: Rowanspun 4-ply, in Sugar, Stone, Squirrel, Temptation, and Turkish.  The yarn was thinner than required, but the end result is a perfectly-fitting beanie.

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I think this is only the second stranded hat I’ve completed.  And it’s definitely the first time I’ve blocked with a dinner plate.

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How do you like that?  Makes the center cap portion look mighty fine, if I do say so myself!

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More specs on my Ravelry project page.

I have almost 600 yards of yarn left (of around 810 total), so I’m now making a garter-stitch shawl that I’ll edge with feather-and-fan.  I’m using the lighter colors for the main garter triangle, and the purples for the edging.

* OK, my curiosity got the better of me and I consulted The Google.  If you want an answer before guessing, visit this link

Still knitting

I’m thinking about making a blogging comeback.  My last post here was over three years ago, and I miss writing and interacting in a deeper way than is possible through Ravelry.  My Facebook interactions are of a different nature, not really the place I feel comfortable waxing poetic about animal and plant fibers or cable and lace designs.

In the interim, many things have happened.  I met my husband; reorganized my life to go back to the international health focus I had recently left behind; moved to a French-speaking African country with him and his daughter, found out he was a narcissist (you may not have any idea how scary this can be – just click on any one link from a google search…), and struggled to separate my life from him while finishing an overseas contract.  The day-to-day of getting through life has meant a lot less energy for maintaining my blogging presence or social media contacts.

But I’m about to leave all that behind and relocate back to the U.S.  And I have missed posting here and carrying on discussions with you all.  Many of you may have moved on to Facebook and Ravelry forums, but I for one think the blog has some staying power and offers different opportunities for sharing and exploring.

Plus, I am definitely still knitting.  Of all the coping mechanisms to get me through relocating internationally (and returning), trading the single life for a nightmare marriage (and returning), and a generally high-stress professional situation, it is the meditatively healing qualities of a good knitting habit.  I can’t say I’ve been a great finisher, but I have maintained a steady increase in starting projects, learning or solidifying techniques, and I have also been teaching my neighbor to knit.

I’ve also tried some new yarns, and done a bit of dreaming, sketching, and designing.  One of my goals for the coming year or two is to complete the many half-baked designs in my sketchbook and knitting basket.  I would love to share some finished patterns with the world.

To leave you with some appropriate eye candy, a melange of African sensibilities and knitted design, here are a couple of photos of musician Stromae’s line of knitted clothing in graphic designs inspired by African print cotton cloth.  I guess this isn’t cutting edge news, but I’m into it!  Click to see larger versions.

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Smothered in hats. I mean love.

This post is not meant to be sad, but it is a result of my aunt recently passing away. She struggled with cancer for a couple of years, and was very brave in the face of the odds. I was away during much of this time, and all I could do was support her via email. And knit her things. I made her a purple lace shawl, and several hats. In fact, I did not realize how many hats I had sent her until I was up at her house this past month and came across them all. If you can represent caring and love through knitting, I loved her this much, and more.

Carrboro Craft Market – my first public appearance!

On July 14th, I participated in my first craft market ever – it was fun to run around getting ready, visiting local thrift shops for display ideas and items. I picked up a wooden sliding door with slats from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, and some metal cubes from PTA Thrift, and I was on my way.

Thanks to Pinterest, I received a lot of comments on my business card display, which was fanning my MOO photo cards around a slinky. Great idea, whoever was responsible for that one!

The craft market took place this month at Open Eye Cafe, where it will also be on August 11th. We had some decent foot traffic considering it was a VERY hot day, and thanks to my friends that stopped by to support me! I had a few friend sales and a couple of stranger sales. Hopefully next month will be even better, with more vendors and more of the community out and about!

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(Mel makes a guest appearance… checking out my African print cover journals!)

I also met Meli and Gina, fellow local Etsians, for the first time – Meli had a blog post up the day after!

African fabric collecting

More and more I feel excited to come home after being away. Traveling can be exhilarating, even to a place I already know, like Kinshasa. At the end of the day, though, I like my creature comforts, my routine, my home.

One of my goals while in Kinshasa these past few weeks was to collect some more African print fabric. This time, I visited three main places. One is a narrow alleyway near the Beach, which is the spot where all of the boats from Brazzaville (across the river), barges from up river, and vessels from Matadi (the main ocean port) land when they get to Kinshasa. The women selling the fabric in the alleyway must have first pick from vendors off the boats. My favorite find there was this lovely lavender and gold design.

Another pricier spot is Woodin, which has similar quality cloth but a sleeker and more coordinated selection of designs. They have a storefront a few blocks off of Kinshasa’s main boulevard, 30 Juin. Next door is Vlisco, which makes amazing fashion primarily from African print cottons, but is generally way out of the price range! This is a print I brought home from Woodin, in a similar color scheme as above.

We also drove down to the crazy and action-packed Avenue du Commerce, which you can imagine is the downtown center of commercial activity. After “honing in on it” for a while (my expression when I don’t know the exact location of the destination…), we finally located the Utex factory store, called Lambada. I love the strong, bright colors of many of their selections, such as this abstract floral.

But I will admit that some of my favorites are those you wouldn’t imagine wearing on a shirt or dress, such as chickens and spark plugs! (Not together…) The chickens will make a super shirt for my friend Ezra, who has grown out of the first one I brought him.

Ideas to Action

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More and more I find myself discussing with friends online ways in which we can interact and structure our time around supporting each other’s creative and business endeavors. 

When I am not under undue stress from work and life responsibilities, my mind is a fount of ideas. The challenge I face is how to bring those ideas to fruition, how to lay out a plan and organize the work. I am constantly saying, one day I’m going to make a film, write a novel, build an installation project. The ideas are there, but the structure and accountability is not. 

Several methods we’ve identified recently that I think will motivate and give the proper push from idea to action include:

  1. Establishing a weekly meeting time to work on individual business activities with a like-minded friend. 
  2. Scheduling a weekly virtual writing group to alternatively write at the same time for 1-2 hours, checking in on FB/Gmail/Skype, or to vet our work with the group when we’re ready for critique. 
  3. Starting an Action Cafe like the one Claire Mulvaney describes. I love the notion of a semi-formal but mostly informal space for sharing ideas and challenges, and soliciting potential solutions from a group of relaxed creative thinkers. This approach can involve some gentle structure, such as brainstorming on giant paper with bright markers, giving the beneficiary something concrete to take home and work from. Unfortunately, it looks unlikely that I’ll be able to join the Action Cafes taking place in Ireland any time soon, but perhaps I will work to evolve one in my neighborhood!

What ideas do you have to evolve from ideas to action? 

Integration of global and local

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Yesterday, I met a friend of a friend that is visiting Kinshasa – a somewhat rare happening that Kinshasa is visited by a bona fide tourist! However, this post is not about who visits Kinshasa and who doesn’t.

Rather, it is about shifting priorities.

Meeting him in this environment, I’m surrounded by people that have foreign service careers, which is truly admirable, because to be an FSO, one gains a lot but also sacrifices a lot in terms of maintaining a relationship with one community long term. Instead, it can be very disrupting to hop around every two to five years, make new friends, and get reinstalled.

This person is only visiting, taking a jaunt to South Africa and Congo before returning to his life in the greater Chicago area. In Chicago, he has worked with a company that delivered fresh produce to local consumers. Now he is working part time with a small farmer to market some very specific goods, such as giardiniera.

The reason his story was interesting to me – in addition to receiving a very brief introduction to anaerobic composting to efficiently break down and produce methane gas that can be fed into rudimentary greenhouses to extend the growing season, to which I said, That must be like Compost +1, a term he didn’t realize I made up – is that he seemed to be in transition, shifting from previous priorities to a more local connection.

This need for connections is a notion I touched on in my last post on community, because I feel it acutely. Growing up in the first generation that began communicating via email, leading to numerous amazing means of staying linked in online, I’ve developed the skills to network internationally, find products I need and have them shipped from anywhere on the planet, work in other languages and cultures to mobilize public health resources to save lives, and keep myself employed.

But I miss certain experiences, like handwritten letters. I want that feeling of stepping into a new store in town because I noticed the changing facade of the block, or because my colleague or neighbor knows the owner. I want it to be personal, not sanitized or forced by Facebook.

This is not news, that many of us have decided to grow ourselves or buy as much of our food goods as possible from people that live down the road. I’m simply underlining its importance, the importance of knowing whether or not the process lived up to organic standards and being able to talk to the farmer about it, the importance of sometimes meeting the chicken that produced the eggs, seeing the hives that yielded the honey.

Yesterday, we also talked about community-supported agriculture (CSA) delivery companies. I discovered that in 2009, just such a company (and probably now more than one) was established in the Triangle area, the perfect solution to my inability to participate in CSAs when I only had a bicycle and couldn’t always make it to the pickup point and negotiate veggie transport.

So now the question is how does that process happen? What does the path look like transitioning from a life of global virtual networking to bringing it back to the local, and what does the integration of these two worlds look like?

Thoughts on community

Lately, I have been thinking about community, versus the nature of my current lifestyle in our generation.

In my life, I live far away from my family members. I don’t yet have a family of my own. After so many years, most of us generally choose not to live with roommates. Sometimes I travel for work, leaving even my network of friends behind. We’ve finished with school. We may or may not attend church, book group, supper club. Hanging out in the cafe doesn’t count as having community.

During the past three years, I’ve spent almost 30 months living overseas, away from friends and family. There were manufactured communities to tap into, including the US embassy community or the NGO community, but it’s not the same. In this type of environment, sometimes it’s great to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise befriend. You will have a social life, places to go on the weekends. But sometimes it can feel like a suit that doesn’t fit, attempting to forge connections when maybe there aren’t many.

I made specific decisions – to move back to a place I loved, to concentrate on my friendships, and to become more involved with community. The latter one I’m still working on.

Involvement is one thing, but what I really need is to be accountable to a group of people, to know that we have mutual ongoing regular expectations of each other.

As well, in the process of promoting my burgeoning businesses, I have to think about the concept of community. What are the expectations? What do I get out of it? In the case of Etsy, I can join “teams,” and if used correctly, this experience should provide advice, moral support, and traffic to my store. I’m also being pulled into Twitter, Facebook, and others, and still sorting out the roles vs. the time commitment.

What I’m looking forward to most, though, is meeting more Etsy and doula contacts locally. I loved my doula training weekend, learning with a group of 14 amazing women, and attending a doula informational session (aimed at pregnant moms, but I took a lot from observing the group model). That in-person sharing of experiences is so essential.

I’m also seeking opportunities to market my handmade items locally, which will give me a chance to get to know my fellow residents, clients, service providers, neighbors. It’s nice to make a sale online, but it is that much more fulfilling to discuss face to face, hear about why the person wants it and to whom it’s going if it’s a gift – to hear the story and share a bit of mine, too.