Gifting is Beautiful

The quote from Momentum this morning is “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” by  David Viscott. I wanted to know more about David Viscott as this quote is meaningful to my personal journey. From this article at the Quote Investigator I found some interesting information some of which I used to write this post.

David Viscott was a psychiatrist who hosted a pioneering radio talk show in the 1980s and 1990s during which he provided tough love counseling to callers. Unfortunately he died in 1996 of a probable heart attack.

Viscott’s statement was composed of three parts instead of two:

The purpose of life is to discover your gift.
The work of life is to develop it.
The meaning of life is to give your gift away.

I like this three part version because I like the idea that effort and work are required as many gifts are wasted when we don’t work on them. On a personal level, I’m still trying to work out what my gift is and, hence, what my life’s work and meaning are. I know I want to use my food science technical knowledge to make the food system more equitable and I want to appreciate beauty in world more. By beauty I mean both enjoying and appreciating the natural world and to add beauty to the world through my own creativity and actions. I’m trying to link these two purposes together.

On the subject of gifts, Ralph Waldo Emerson stated that a gift should require effort. Thus, creating a gift is a more meaningful gift than giving one that was purchased.

Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a stone; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing.

I’m definitely happier when I give gifts I have made. However, not everyone is appreciative of such gifts and therefore worthy of a handmade gift. Knitters call this knitworthy.  I wonder if Emerson was truly knitworthy.


A fishy story

Writing this sent me down memory lane of my childhood neighborhood. In addition, I checked some of the distances on Goggle maps because I remember everything being much further away as I was a particularly small child. Some background might be helpful.

I grew up in Birmingham (England for my oh-so-amusing American friends who have said “you don’t sound like you are from Alabama”) in a suburb called Selly Park, which in my mind is part of Selly Oak . Selly Park was “posh”, Selly Oak was more lower class and industrial. I have no idea what either are like now.

A couple of days ago, I was reading this article from the Guardian, which bought back some great food memories. My mum was a health nut before there were health nuts or more likely before I knew there were health nuts. She refused to eat parsnips and black pepper for years because she heard they caused cancer. She ate whole wheat bread at the time that white sliced bread was the best thing ever and whole wheat bread was chewy and tough and essentially indigestible. She didn’t like chocolate.

One time I was being a brat about eating fish, I demanded fish fingers instead of the fresh fillets that she usually cooked. I didn’t want the fresh fish that mum had almost definitely got from the Birmingham fish market which was in the city center or Town as we called it. My parents didn’t drive so getting fish required her walking to the bus stop about 7 mins from our house and a 20 min bus ride into town, followed by a 10 min walk to the market. I’m sure she bought other stuff when there; if I was with her there were prawns in a little bag to keep me quiet. After buying fish she probably stopped at the Bullring market for fruit and veg, probably with me whining as I hated the market then, it was busy and noisy and I was terrified of losing mum [I was a very small child, remember]. Then she/we returned home. If she was carrying a lot she might get a taxi. Lacking a car meant we used lots of taxis.

If she didn’t go into Town she might walk up to the shops in Selly Oak that were 10 min away and she would stop at the greengrocer, the butcher, and the baker to get our different food supplies. Oh, and the shops were closed Wednesday afternoon and Sunday and probably all closed by 5:30 every day and earlier on Saturdays and she worked full-time after I was about 9 years old. I don’t remember when the first supermarket came to Birmingham. The first I remember was a Sainsbury’s in Northfield that must have opened around 1975ish. Northfield was south of us away from Town so we didn’t go there very often, as Town was more exciting. I remember Sainsbury’s have so much choice and they pumped out bakery smells into the shopping center. (In a fit of honesty, I should point out, because my brother will if I don’t, as we got older and independent it is was more likely that my brother and, once he left home myself, buying the food in Town. Actually dad might have bought the food before we did. So while mum had it tough, she gladly gave up her responsibilities for food shopping as soon as she could.)

So I refused those delicious cod or plaice fillets she had made such an effort to buy and demanded fish fingers. Her solution was to hand-make fish fingers, because she didn’t have enough to do all ready. I was really disappointed. Truly all I was hoping for the bright orange coated Bird’s Eye fish fingers that I got at friend’s house. That was real food!


Knitting and Spinning from 2013

I find it useful to write a wrap up to see what I made in the last 12 months. It looks very impressive this way.

Project 1: Wild Color Hunter Mittens

Wild Side Hunter Mittens
Wild Side Hunter Mittens
Yarn: Made from hand-spun. The fiber was purchased in 2011 at New Hampshire Sheep and Wool from Mad Colors in the Wildside color way. I spun using my Bosworth’s mini making a 3 ply light weight fingering yarn.
Needles: 2.75 mm
Pattern: Self designed
Finished: Feb 2013

Project 2: Touch of Silk 3 ply skein

Touch of Silk 3 ply
Yarn: Hand-spun from silk cap from Touch of Twist in Blue
Spindles: Sinlges Jenkins Kuchulu; Plied: Bosworth mini
Finished: March 2013

Project 3: Twisted Stitch Socks

I don’t actually have a finished photo of these, even though I have been wearing them fairly constantly when the weather has been cold enough.
Twisted Sock Heel
Yarn: Mountain Colors Crazyfoot in Portland Rose
Needles: 2.75 mm
Pattern: Self designed with a knit two (twisted approximately every 3rd row) purl 3 rib
Finished: April 2013

Project 4: Red Pei

Yarn: Abstract Fiber Alto in Red
Needles: 3.5 mm
Pattern: Pei by Michele Wang
Finished: May 2013

Project 5: Dyeing and Carding Jacob

Still working on the fleece I bought in 2010! This is hopefully the last stages of fiber prep and spinning:
TDF 13 Final Haul
For TDF 2013 I dyed and blended secondary colors.
For the rest of 2013 and going into 2014, I spun/am spinning singles on my Sunflower Breeze spindles.
Hopefully the yarn will be completed by the end of 2014.

Project 6: Silkie Pear Drop Shawl

Silkie Pear Drop
Yarn: Sheepy Time Knits Silkie in Berry Pie colorway
Needles: 3.5 mm
Pattern: Pear Drop by Ysolda Teague
Finished: August 2013

Project 7: N. Ronaldsay Singles

North Ronaldsay Spun Singles
Fiber: Colored from Liz Lovick; Natural from New Lanark Mills
Spindle: IST
Finished: August 2013

Project 9: Mostly Hebridean Yarn

Plied Hebridean Fiber
Spindles: Wingham Spindle and IST Spindle
Yarn: 3 ply mostly New Lanark Mills Hebrideanroving (with some silk, banana silk and other stuff tested on spindle).
Finished: August 2013

Project 9: Marin

I’ve since been sent enough yarn to redo the corner but I kind of like it being a different color. One of my Doylestown friends calls it my Clorox shawl!
Yarn: La Drogourie Surnaturelle in Cape Horn (mostly)
Needles: 3.5 mm
Finished: Sept 2013

Project 10: Shortening socks originally knit for Mum

No pictures. But Mum’s feet were 1″ longer than mine and I couldn’t bear to give these socks away. So I have adjusted two pairs and still have one left to go.

Project 11: Pei for Jessica

Pei Cowl
Yarn: Sheepy Time Knits Polwarth and Silk DK in Wonderflorium
Needles: 3.25 mm/US 3
Finished: October 2013

Project 12: Christmas Washcloths

When my brain really isn’t able to work, I found wash/dishcloths very soothing. I must have made five or six different washcloths.
Here are two:
Nicki and Moz Dish Cloths
Nanayaya Dishcloth

Also one Nanayaya dishcloth takes me about 90 -120 mins. So I do it during meetings!
Yarn: Lily’s Peaches and Creme
Needles: 4 mm
Patterns: Various

Project 13: WWKAL 13: Erica Hat

WWKAL 2013
Yarn: Sheepy Time Knits Panda Worsted in “Am I Blue” (merino and silk)
Needles: 3.75 mm
Pattern: Woolly Wormhead’s 2013 Mystery Knitalong, which turned out to be Erica
Finished: December 2013

Project 14: Dreaming of Shetland Shawl

N Ronaldsay Shawl
Yarn: N. Ronaldsay Singles (Z spun) dyed by Liz Lovick.
Needles: 3.5 mm
Pattern: Shetland Handpaint by Donna Drachunas in Dreaming of Shetland
Finished (sans blocking): Dec 2013

Project 15: Dad’s Cardigan

Dad's Cardigan
Yarn: Garnstudio Drops Delight in Green-blue (colorway 16)
Needles: 2.5 mm
Pattern: Self designed with extra space in the back for widower’s hump
Finished: Dec 2013, with help with sewing in zipper from SIL

Ongoing but Unfinished Projects

Project 16: England Sweater

England Sweater

Working on the sleeves. Then I have the front steek to open up. Buttons with band up the front.
I only work on this project in England, so I might not finish it this trip!

Project 17: Never-ending Blanket

Neverending Blanket

Project 18: Abbysilk

Kuchulu with Abbysilk
Fiber color is Fade to Pink
I also have some Autumn on a Thread’s Thru Time Tiny Turkish.

I have other spinning and need to get better about recording my hand spun. I do label it all and keep small samples.

2011 Photo Round Up

My 2011 knitting summary will come later.  In the meantime, here are twelve photos from 2011:

Last year I took part, for the first half of the year, in 25of2011, the idea being to take a themed photo each week.  One of the first photos I took was titled “This is Me!” for which I stretched the theme a little and also allows you to see a bit of the snowy garden.

This is me!

Murphy makes his first appearance of the year hiding away from the snow and cold. Will it be his last appearance?


After an exceedingly snowy winter, I was glad when spring flowers appeared at the end of March.

purple crocus

April bought more Spring flowers, including cherry tree blossom at Longwood Gardens

Cherry Blossoms

May is the beginning of fiber festival season with Maryland Sheep and Wool. As a keen and eager spinner, I am more than ever interested in the animals whose product I love so much.


I travelled a lot in June. First to England and then to Wilmington VT. I loved the Green Mountain State. Visiting and falling in love with VT, made really devastating when the flooding happened after Hurricane Irene.

I have a large collection of Daylilies in my garden. This was there month. Not sure if they usually flower in July. 2011 was a strange year for gardening.

Orange Daylily

I went home to England again to help Dad pack. He has moved nearer, like right next door, to my brother. This was the last time I’ll visit my childhood home. I took lots of pictures and in some I almost expect Mum to appear around the corner. This was one of her favorite spots, looking at the garden while washing up:

Birmingham House Back Garden from Kitchen

I started a new job and one weekend explored Nockamixon State Park. It has lots of water:


Well, there had to be one fiber related photograph. It seems that I only took photos of spinning in October.

Three Balls of Singles BFL

And here is Murphy again:

Spending some time with family in England.  My Dad and brother now live in St Albans so I had an afternoon of photography of St Albans Cathedral:


Aunt Judy 1933 – 2011

After a long illness, my aunt Judy, my Mum’s sister, died yesterday. She was 78. August 2010, Judy collapsed at her home and was unable to walk. The rumored diagnosis was secondary tumors from breast cancer in her spine, but I don’t know if that was ever confirmed. Judy was 15 months younger than my Mum and survived her by 11 months. Both Moscow sisters, as my uncle called them, are very much missed by their daughter/niece.

Xmas 1999

Mum, my brother, and Judy

Dad, Judy and Mum

Music is Transformative

Just before I go to bed, I wanted to make some quick notes about the thoughts I had at the Béla Fleck and the Flecktones concert Thursday night. As I expected Béla and crew played at the top of their form. They were outstanding. (I won’t say anything about the support act as I have recovered from the painful death it put me through.)

So here are these four guys playing their hearts out and living the music. I had an epiphany: “What can I do to perform at this level of excellence?” Music is not the way as I lack motivation to practice, let alone the talent. So I wondered how I could teach with excellence at all times. What can I do to make sure that I give my students the best possible experience in the classroom? What would that mean? Don’t get me wrong, I am sure to make mistakes on the way, but I want to try.

Later at the concert one of the Flecktones [sorry cannot remember who] shared a story about Frank Gehry. In a recent biography, Frank Gehry’s therapist was interviewed and was quoted as saying that while regular people come to him to ask how they could be better people, better parents, better investors, better ME Me Me; Frank Gehry came asking how he could change the world.

So can I change the world? How would I want to change the world? If I knew that, perhaps I could find the lever I need to change the world.

Food is the answer. More people should know how their food gets from the farm to their mouths and understand the effects food has on their bodies. Everyone should know this. Everyone should be yelling and screaming that the food supply sucks. Mass produced food is too full of fat, salt, and sugar. Many prepared food lacks flavor and is of poor quality. Until we understand the effect of this food and start to complain loudly, processed food will not improve.

Even though I am a food scientist, I rarely buy prepared meals as I prefer spending the time to make high quality meals at home. Oh, I don’t make everything from scratch. I buy bread and ice cream. I buy chips and salsa, humus and falafel. Given time I could make, and have made, these at home; maybe not the chips and I still often make humus.  However, most of my meals are home cooked; usually starting with me chopping onions and mashing garlic. I can make meals in 15 min, including boiling pasta and, for Thanksgiving and Christmas I make meals that need to be started a few days ahead.

Despite Listeria monocytogenes in cantaloupes, food safety is not the issue. Knowing how food is produced is important as it allows us to realize that cantaloupes are grown and processed before reaching the supermarkets and therefore at risk of being contaminated. Knowing that food with a long shelf life has to be treated with preservatives, and probably heat treated to the extent that few vitamins remain is incredibly important. Knowing that if you make your own food you can limit that amount of sodium present and therefore reduce high blood pressure and risk of strokes is important.  Rather than complaining about high fructose corn syrup, realize that it is not only cheap but also extends shelf life. Then make your own whatever with sugar or honey; which would taste better anyway.

The Food Industry is not completely to blame for the quality of the food supply. There are many good people working in those multinational corporations who are creating and manufacturing healthy wholesome food. On a mass produced level, this is very difficult with many challenges. We have to accept that a main objective of most food companies is not philanthropy but making a profit. Given the low prices we expect to pay for food, most profits are based on cents in the dollar so the companies make money by selling large volumes. One good thing is that the food industry is not controlling the story on the sustainable locavore food movement like it did for the GMO food. Thus, food manufacturers are running to catch up with the likes of Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Alice Walker and any customer of a local farmer’s market. So consumers and food activists can lead the way and, hopefully, change the food industry.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones probably won’t tell you anything about food, but you should try and catch one of their concerts. Because of their extraordinary performance, I am going to be the best food science and nutrition educator I can.

So Many Changes

So much has happened in the last few months that I am only now catching up with myself.  In August I started a new position so in the months before included a telephone interview and an onsite interview.  I finally heard that I had the position about a month before I started.  It worked out well as I simply went from one job to the next – I even had overlap in salaries one week.  I am enjoying the work and being in a new environment.

This summer I visited Dad twice.  He has successfully moved to the house next door to my brother; which makes us all happier.  It is strange to think that I will never see my childhood home again.  I mean even if my some strange quirk I did visit, it would be “our” house any more. In June I visited Wilmington VT for a week and had a great time – I still haven’t sorted out the photos from that trip. Knowing the town made the flooding after Hurricane Irene even more poignant; especially with what happened to Bartleby Books. I’m going to try and get back there next summer to help the local businesses I got to know.

I am trying to sell my house as the new position is just too far for a daily commute.  Unfortunately, the market it so rotten at the moment that I am lucky to get viewers despite not (yet) getting an offer.  In the meantime, I am renting an apartment on a farm (!) and Murphy and I commute weekly back and forth between the two homes.  Murphy has a lot to say about the journey on the journey, but seems to be settled in the new apartment and has his routines.  Hiding under the duvet at 8 am seems to be the main one.  Since where I am staying is rural – the occasional weekend I haven’t gone home I wandered out to a local state park, which was gorgeous.  Mum would have loved the lake and walking by the water.

Nockamixon Water

I am keeping myself occupied with knitting and spinning and buy supplies for the same.  During the summer I took part in the Tour de Fleece and washed two Shetland Fleeces learning a lot about cleaning fleeces in the process.
Fleece washing July 23 2011
Initially my water temperature was too low to wash them properly – the water was cooler than the melting point of lanolin, which isn’t very helpful when you are trying to remove the lanolin.  I also learned to study the fleeces and to make selections of the fleece based on the quality of the wool.  With my first fleece I had just grabbed chunks and washed a bit at a time. By the time of the third fleece I divided it into quality criteria and washed each section at a time.
Maryland 398 graded
I also dyed some of the Jacob fleece I purchased last year after my beginning spinning class at the Mannings.
Gold Jacob
Magenta Jacob
Torquoise Jacob
The Jacob fiber is being both drum and hand carded.  I have this crazy idea of knitting a color wheel based on both yarn that has been hand dyed or blended on a drum carder.  Packing up to show my house put paid to those plans for now; I did bring hand carders to the farm with me and have done a little Jacob  fiber prep in the last month.

In September I taught two classes at Knitters’ Day Out, which seemed to well received.  The classes were Marvellous Mitres and Carefree Color.  The former showed three different ways to knit a mitre and the latter got students to play with color without worry.  I had them cutting colors out of magazines to match a variegated yarn I had given them. We got some fascinating selections.  While at KDO I made some friends and feel in love with some fiber that just had to come home with me.

Week 7/52: Love


Love and Valentine’s Day for me are always hard to represent especially in a photo.  I am not really into hearts and romance at the moment. So I tried to compose a picture of some of the things that I love: photo of Mum because I miss her and the rest of the family; fiber and spindle to show my love of fiber arts; flowers indicating my gardening.  Not shown chocolate [oooh an idea for this theme next year just comes to mind], books, music, and Murphy:


Copyright © 2011 cgdavies. All rights reserved.

3/52 of 2011: Memories

This theme fell in the same week as Mum’s funeral.  A little too close to comfort.  All I had energy for was to take a picture of Mum’s photo board my nephew nicely arranged for us.

Mum 1931 - 2011

Mum 1993 - 2011

When I next visit Dad in England, I intend to scan all the pictures on to a computer so we have an album of Mum for memories.

Copyright © 2011 cdavies. All rights reserved.

A Personal Tribute: Frances Rebecca Davies 1931-2011


Mum, Aug 2010

Sadly, Mum died Jan 12 2011 after a short illness with congestive heart failure which eventually led her to getting pancreatitus. I knew she was very ill when I saw her at Christmas, but was thinking in terms of months rather than days.  In many ways this was better as it was very peaceful and she did not suffer.  Otherwise she would have been in and out of hospital, if the doctors could have got her home at all.

Mum and Dad

Mum and Dad in back garden, 2000

The funeral was Monday and I read a personal tribute.  It was written with anecdotes from my brother and my nephew and niece.

Mum was very far from a stereotypical mother, something for which I am very grateful.  Her example of being an independent, free thinking woman has, and will, give me strength to live my life to the full.  She was a woman of many talents and many interests, including but not exclusive to gardening, cooking, reading, art and politics.

Family history has it that she took me on my first political demo while I was still in a pushchair!  Needless to say, I do not remember this at all.  However, Maurice remembers regular day trips to London which combined a demo with a visit to an art gallery; the highlight being eating Indian sweets from Drummond Street on the train home.  Her convictions and principles made her sometimes argumentative and always led her to be generous and empathetic to others.


Mum 2006

Mum 2006

My successes are due in a large part to Mum.  She bought us up to be strong independent thinkers,  with the confidence to handle responsibility.  She was also directly involved in my learning as early on she spent many a patient and probably an impatient hour, teaching me to read and helping me overcome my dyslexia.  Once we were adults she celebrated our successes and commiserated with us when life did not go as well as expected.  I knew Mum would be there to support me.  If either Moz, I or the grandchildren were ill, Mum was the first to offer help.  In fact we knew she was probably more devastated about our failures than we were because it cannot be denied, Mum was a worrier.

One of the things that all parents worry about is whether their children will marry suitable companions.  Fortunately,my brother made a good choice as Mum and Nicky, my sister-in-law, became loving friends, enjoying nothing more than comparing notes on the horrors of school teaching.  A good thing as her grandchildren gave Mum great joy.  Michael and Lucia remember her self sacrifice of taking them to Cadbury World despite the fact that she did not like chocolate!

Both children appreciated having an unconventional grandmother.  One so unconventional that she stored her valuables in the waste-paper basket next to her chair.  With the rubbish, and with no apparent concern that they may be thrown away next time the bin was emptied.


Mum gardening

Mum Gardening 2008

At one point it appeared that both M aurice’s and my career choices came directly from Mum’s interests.  By taking a degree in nutrition I was closely following Mum’s interests in healthy eating and cookery.  Moz’s interest in art history perhaps flowed from visiting to boring churches.

Maurice remembers Mum as the very best art gallery companion. She asked so many questions and knew so much, it made it a far richer experience than visiting alone. And although she was notoriously fond of daytime naps, she rarely suffered from museum fatigue. Just ten days ago Moz showed her a story about a Breughel painting, just saved for the nation. Slightly patronisingly, he asked her ‘do you remember we went to a Breughel exhibition; it was nice wasn’t it?’ Before he knew it, she was pointing out details of the painting and talking authoritatively about what it all meant.

I am very grateful that unlike Dylan Thomas’s demands to his father, my Mum did go gently into that good night and she had a peaceful passing.  I love you, Mum.

Mum and Dad

Birmingham Botanical Gardens 2006