Category Archives: Quakerism

Semester….almost…over….(and a pattern!)

Between teaching, helping with gen-ed assessment,* faculty senate, and committee work, this has been a stressful semester. Plus, each semester seems to whiz by faster than the one before. I fully expect, in the near future, to come to my senses enmeshed in finals week with a memory of the first week of school and nothing in between.

I have had a few odd moments** to develop a pattern and produce crocheted neck warmers as xmas gifts for university staff and for friends. Notice how all my pattern (“all” meaning three, but hey, I’ve been busy) are for crochet? I still consider myself primarily a knitter and I prefer knitting, but I just find crochet to be so much faster!

Anyway, here’s some pics and then the pattern.

Four neck warmers. Notice how nicely the blue one patterned.

Four neck warmers. Notice how nicely the blue one patterned.

Spokespup Violet shows us my personal neck warmer with button. If she knew the difference between a vowel and a consonant and were taller, I think she could nudge Vanna off Wheel of Fortune.

Spokespup Violet shows us my personal neck warmer with button. If she knew the difference between a vowel and a consonant and were taller, I think she could nudge Vanna off Wheel of Fortune.

Who is that attractive, curly-haired woman? I think the neck warmer makes her even more mysteriously fabulous!

Who is that attractive, curly-haired woman? I think the neck warmer makes her even more mysteriously fabulous! (I have a rich fantasy life)

Crocheted Neck Warmer

Neck warmers aren’t as dramatic as long scarves, but are a lot more practical. Just as warm, they take up less room under your coat and are easy to fold into a pocket.

I did the same pattern (number of stitches, length) with both a soft, springy worsted and a single-ply bulky.

The worsted was on the fat side. I used Bernat Berella “4”. This is a nice acrylic in some colorways – there was a lot of variation in thickness and in “plastic-y-ness” between the various colors. The quality within each colorway seems very consistent, however. At any rate, one skein makes two neck warmers.

The bulky was something from my stash that had lost its label. It was a fluffy, hand-wash wool. It isn’t pictured, as it is an xmas present for someone who reads the blog!

Hook: I used an “I” hook for the worsted and a “K” for the bulky.

Stitch used: Woven crochet stitch. Worked over an even number of stitches, woven crochet stitch consists of alternating single crochets and chain-one spaces, with each single crochet being worked in a chain-one stitch of the previous row.

Pattern: Chain 19

Row one: In the third chain from hook, single crochet. *Chain one, skip stitch, single crochet in next stitch. Repeat from * to end of row. Chain two, turn.

Row two: Single crochet in the first chain one space of previous row. *Chain one, skip stitch, single crochet in next stitch. Repeat from * to last chain one space. Single crochet in last chain one space, chain one, single crochet in loop formed by the “chain two, turn” of the previous row. Chain two, turn.

Repeat row two until piece measures about 21 inches – this gives about a 4” overlap when the warmer is worn. For a fuller-than-average neck, simply add a few more rows.

Final three rows:

Row one: Instead of chaining two at the turn, chain only one. Skipping the base of the turning chain, single crochet in each stitch across (16 stitches). Chain one, turn.

Row two: Skipping the base of the turning chain, single crochet across first five stitches. Chain six. Skip the next six stitches (for buttonhole), single crochet in seventh stitch from the start of the chain. Single crochet in next four stitches or to end of row (hey, a miscount is not the end of the world!). Chain one, turn.

Last row: Skipping the base of the turning chain, single crochet in each stitch to the base of the button hole. Single crochet around the buttonhole chain (not in the stitches, but completely around them) – eight to ten single crochets to nicely cover the buttonhole chain without becoming stiff. Slide and adjust single crochets across the buttonhole chain. Single crochet in opposite base of buttonhole chain, single crochet in each stitch to end of row, cut yarn and bind off.

Weave in ends.

Center button at four inches from non-buttonhole end of neck warmer, or at appropriate spot for intended wearer. Using tapestry needle and yarn, stitch on button and then weave in ends.

You’re done!

*Anyone who uses the adage “like herding cats” has never tried to get 80+ faculty to do something, do it correctly, and do it on time. Cats are easy and, in general, a lot less self-centered.

**Okay, yeah, all my moments are odd.


Well, crap.

Consider the following:

1) I adore milk chocolate and eat a lot of it. If Americans eat, as claimed, about 12 pounds of chocolate per year each, then I’m doing the work of two or three.

2) I encourage my English 100 composition students to write their research papers on topics that they want to learn more about, and they often learn amazing things about pretty ordinary subjects.

3) I very much admire Quaker John Woolman, who wore undyed cloth because slaves in the South grew and processed indigo. Woolman also urges us to examine our possessions and habits to see if they contain the “seeds of war” or oppression.

Combine those three points and imagine my horror when I was helping a student do some research for a paper on chocolate and learned that all of our big, multi-national chocolate companies (M&M/Mars, Hershey, Nestle, etc. and SEE’S*) buy cocoa from the Ivory Coast, where extensive child slave labor has been known to be used on cocoa farms since at least 2001. The companies have done little to change this (including successfully lobbying against a US congressional effort to label chocolate sort of like tuna: Slave Free).

*Sigh* now I just can’t eat the stuff.

Fair trade chocolate is slave-free, of course, as is organic since Ivory Coast doesn’t do organic farming and organic farms must be inspected and certified, but a) do you know what that stuff costs? and b) they do very little milk chocolate. Evidently the chocolate connoisseurs who eat fair trade and organic prefer dark chocolate. Bastards! Where’s a middle-aged English teacher with ethics and creamy, delicate sensibilities supposed to find fair trade milk chocolate in rural Iowa?!

Okay, so my pain isn’t as bad as, say, that of a chocolate farm slave.

I’m going to have to switch to Red Vines licorice as my paper grading reward, and only one store here sells hat — Walmart (talk about a rock(candy) and a hard place). Everywhere else in town, it’s Twizzlers, which is the Devil’s own candy.

*See’s milk chocolate covered butterscotch squares and dark chocolate covered raspberry cremes –*sigh* If only I’d known the last time I had them that it was the last….naw. I still would have scarfed them down.

Caution: mini-rant ahead…

What’s been going on at Oats since my company left on 7/4? Well, first, lots of sleeping and napping. Second, lots of kitty and bird petting and reassurances of love despite my vacationary defection with the dogs.* Third, daily thoughts that I should mow the lawn that are followed closely by “nah” and the naps mentioned above. Fourth, sanding and refinishing of the teak** chairs I bought for $5 each at local thrift shop. Fifth, a few around-town bike rides. Sixth, reading a friend’s EXCELLENT novel manuscript. Seventh, pretending that the fall semester is not starting in 6 short weeks.

I’ve also been doing some nonfiction reading: Mary Rose O’Reilly’s The Peaceable Classroom, which is focused on English lit and composition teaching and is inspiring, and Thomas Hamm’s The Quakers in America, a history of, yeah, the title says it all. Let me tell you, American Quakers have been a schism-happy bunch of folks, especially compared with British Quakers. Anyway, it’s the second book that leads to my little rant:

The book cites a Quaker historian as saying that Quakers should give up peace activism other than praying for peace because the government [war policies] always win anyway and “enormous expenditures of Quaker energy in peace activism . . . have had little impact and have never stopped a war” (165).

Okay. First, while we hope to be effective in our testimonies, when has Christianity ever been about immediate success? Christ’s crucifixion looks an awful lot like failure taken out of context of the resulting sea change in the hearts and minds of believers — and, given the selfishness and violence so often performed in the name of that crucifixion, an awful lot like failure at many points throughout history up to and including today. But we still see and hope and work for the good news.

Second, peace activism is as much about reaching individual people who witness the activism and planting a seed in their minds as it is about success with the current issue, and who’s to say we won’t reach a tipping point in the future, as we did with women’s suffrage and civil rights, both long, long campaigns that started and were maintained by (apparently) useless acts that could have no real effect on the government?

Third, what about the inherent nobility of doing what’s right, even when we know it’s doomed to failure? That leads us back to Christ’s crucifixion, of course. But even more so, Western Culture has long glorified doing what has been perceived as brave or right in the face of certain failure when fighting wars — look at the Children’s Crusade or Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” or “glorious Gallipoli” (and there are many more examples, both real and fictional). When will we glorify doing what’s right when it’s to prevent deaths, rather than throwing lives into battle?

I’d appreciate others’ comments/ideas on either side of this issue. Perhaps I feel especially strongly about this because embracing the Peace Testimony has been one of the most radical changes I’ve undergone in my Quaker path, having grown up in a WWII family,*** having been pro-death penalty in some cases in my younger years, and just having grown up in the individualistic, gun-worshiping West.

*Of course, the cats would have forgiven my departure if I’d left the dogs somewhere in Wyoming….

**in tung oiling this wood and seeing its natural color, I’m wondering if it’s not kapurwood rather than teak. Kapurwood is another Indonesian hardwood and sort of the “poor man’s teak” in the same way that Reno is the poor man’s Las Vegas — you’re still gonna spend a lot of money.

***And I still honor my father’s service and my mother’s sacrifices to that service. They were doing what they thought was right and good at the time, and I’m not sure it wasn’t right and good; the Holocaust makes WWII an especially complex peace debate, I feel.
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On Becoming a Quaker

My convincement as a Quaker has garnered several responses from family and friends. Well, friends anyway. My family has been silent; if they think or wonder about it at all, I suspect my Quakerism has been mentally filed away with my other odd behaviors over the years: successive tattoos, work as a community sex educator, funky haircuts, various college degrees, marrying-divorcing-marrying-divorcing the same man, acquiring innumerable cats/dog/birds, etc. Lots of etc. Of course, I could be wrong and my family just doesn’t care or *gasp and feelings of complete betrayal* they don’t read my blog, or they’re waiting for my internal weather vane to shift, at which time I’ll shave my head, drape myself in some tasteful sheets, and declare I’m a Buddhist. I don’t think that’s going to happen,* but if any relatives want to chime in about this whole thing, I’d welcome it.

Friends and colleagues, now, have had some things to say. Several have asked me if I became a Quaker because I own a quaker parrot, Zeke.

They are joking, I hope, because otherwise the comment is a bit insulting. Actually, I think the link between Quakers and quaker parrots is drabness — Quakers were known in the past to dress in a limited color palette, including a lot of gray; quaker parrots, also called monk parakeets, are drab colored when compared to the riotous plumage of most other South American parrots — hence the association with Quakers or monks. At any rate, I can guarantee that the link between Quakers and quaker parrots is NOT an ethic of nonviolence; Zeke uses that pointy beak to great and bloody effect at times and I have the scars (yes, real scars) to prove it.

Other friends have said, “Quakers — aren’t they like the Amish?” Well, yes and no. The two came from different religious movements, the Amish being Anabaptists, a movement which originated in Europe in the 16th century; Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, grew out of English religious reformation during the time of Cromwell in the 17th century.** Quakers and the various Anabaptist sects, including Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, Hutterites, and some others are known as the historic peace churches because of their ethic of nonviolence and conscientious objector status often invoked during war time. So that’s one similarity. Another is the refusal to take oaths, on the basis that one should be telling the truth all the time anyway. The other big similarity is — or rather, was — clothing. Old Order Amish continue to be recognizable by their plain, old-fashioned clothing; Quakers in the 18th and 19th centuries dressed plainly, eschewing bright colors and current fashions, but did not adopt the uniform sort of appearance of the Amish and some other religious groups.

Plain dress has evidently been an issue of contention among Quakers since the beginning of the movement. When plain dress was first proposed, Margaret Fell, the “mother of Quakerism,” called it “a silly poor gospel.” Later, rich Quakers were criticized for wearing clothing that was plainly cut, but made of the finest materials. Today, most Quakers seem to dress for use rather than fashion. Many strive to avoid clothing made by sweatshop labor and/or depend on a smaller amount of clothing, so that fashion and expense don’t become the center of the wardrobe and the wardrobe, therefore, a center of one’s life. There are young Quakers who are wearing the plain dress of an earlier time, including bonnets and Amish-type hair coverings for women. They do receive some criticism from other Quakers, along the lines that 1) wearing such conspicuous clothing draws as much attention, and can spring from the same self-centered gratification, as being ultra-fashionable, and 2) that head coverings and dresses-only for women symbolize the second-class status and religiously-imposed subjection that so many women, including Quakers such as Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, worked so hard to overcome.*** On the other hand, if these young people truly feel led by God or the light within to dress in such a manner, most other Quakers will accept it and them. They know their own God-business best, just as I feel I do for me.

Now, those who know me IRL may be wondering how I’m dealing with the idea of a limited, less fashionable wardrobe and presenting a modest appearance, given that

  • I have a BS and MS in Clothing and Textiles and used to teach fashion merchandising and history of costume and I adore fabric and clothing just on general purposes;
  • I have lots of jewelry, BIG jewelry, earrings and rocky, knobby necklaces and sterling silver cuff bracelets that one could use to signal passing jets;
  • I’ve spent a significant portion of my waking hours in search of the perfect pair of jeans.

Well, it’s come in steps. Returning to grad school at midlife, with the associated poverty and weight gain,**** and living in the middle of nowhere reduced my idea what makes up a necessary wardrobe a couple of years ago (I’m 6′ tall — I can’t buy my clothes at places like Target — and the nearest Target is 60 miles away anyway). I don’t dye my graying, dishwater blond hair any more (although I still sigh when I see a particularly rich shade of red on someone else. Sigh.). I wear jewelry to teach, on the principle that it helps attract my students’ magpie attention (and yes, just because I like the jewelry), but I don’t wear as much at once, nor do I work to acquire or make more jewelry, an avarice that used to take up a fair portion of my time.

So yeah. I’m a Quaker, but not because I own a quaker, and I dress more plainly, but I’m not going to trade my jeans for a skirt or my 2005 Scion in for a buggy (although I always wanted a horse….). I do a fair amount of religious reading, but I still read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, too. I’ve come to truly dislike playing violent computer games (which I used to love), but I just used some tax return $$ to order the complete seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And now, I’m off to pick up dog crap in the back yard. You know how many religions, including Christianity and Buddhism, stress humility? Nothing like dog crap, a soiled bird cage, and two litter boxes to remind me that I live to serve.

*I flirted with Buddhism ages ago, sillies, pre-blog. A wonderful religion/philosophy, and nicely in tune with Quakerism, as it turns out. But no Christ, a sticking point for me.

**That does mean that the thinking/thinkers that created Anabaptism pre-existed and were probably familiar to George Fox, the founder of Quakerism.

***Yes, I fall into this camp.

****I’ve struggled with weight and body image all my life, dieting down to WAY too skinny several times. Now, I’m comfortable and, by Hollywood standards, fat, which is to say, not quite medically obese, but baby, I ain’t thin.

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Mild Oats

Something else happened in my life during my web-absence. In the microcosm of several weeks’ worth of stress, it wasn’t as dramatic as the breast lump, but in the macrocosm of my life entire, it was quietly, absolutely stunning.

I became a convinced Quaker,* although I haven’t officially joined the Religious Society of Friends (but I will, this summer or autumn). Given that a central tenet of Quakerism is silent worship, anyone who knows me in real life will know that for me to attend an hour of silent worship every week or two and actually maintain the silence is a nearly unimaginable act of faith.**

So how did this come about, you may wonder? (and if you don’t, I won’t be offended if you don’t read any further. God-talk still makes me nervous, though I’m working on it.)

I was raised Roman Catholic by a very observant mother, although I’ve never been sure how much of her faith was based in the Divine and how much was based in the earthly organization of Catholicism. I went through catechism classes and all, like a good Catholic girl, and the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I attended daily Mass. I was asking myself at the time if I had a vocation,*** but I couldn’t get past the fact that women can’t be priests. Of course, humility and service are the basis of a vocation, but my emergent feminism couldn’t stomach the idea that one gender is inherently more humble than the other.

In college, I attended Mass for about another year or so. Then I trod the college path so familiar to church-raised young adults — learning new ideas, questioning old ones, and being entirely too hung over most Sunday mornings. I also began to question other Church positions in addition to not ordaining women — the bans on artificial birth control and premarital sex, for example (which I became concerned about around the time I started having regular sex), as well as the Church’s adamantly anti-choice position and its absolute refusal to consider condom use acceptable in countries ravaged by HIV/AIDS.****

So I stopped going to Mass altogether. I still felt a need for spirituality, however, which I put down to the habit of weekly Mass. Eventually I learned about and practiced Neo-Paganism, which appealed to me because of its non-hierarchical structure, feminist values, environmental concerns, and really nifty paraphernalia. Candles, incense, statuettes, ancient liturgies — it was like a home Catholic kit! All of the ceremony, none of the guilt.

For me, that was finally the sticking point (the home part, not the no-guilt part; I’m all about lessening my childhood Catholic guilt). Neo-Paganism was a positive, transformative experience for me and key to my spiritual development, but something was missing. I was a solo practitioner and I missed the community of a congregation. In grad school a few years ago, I went to a couple of Quaker meetings after I’d learned that they had always accepted women as preachers–we read Margaret Fell, the “mother of Quakerism” in our rhetoric courses. But I eventually settled on a Lutheran church in Bowling Green (Ohio) that had a female pastor and an informal second service on Sundays and attended more or less regularly. When I moved to Storm Lake and went a few times to the Lutheran church here (same synod) I found that I wasn’t drawn to Lutheranism so much as to the particular pastor and service in Bowling Green. So I stopped doing anything religiously significant for a year or so.

In Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts On Faith, Anne Lamott’s thoughtful, funny, irreverent chronicle of her journey to (liberal) Christian belief, she describes the pre-conversion presence of Christ in her life as a little cat, padding quietly along behind her as her life approached its crisis point. Last fall, years after reading Traveling Mercies, I realized that the niggling religious-y tickle that had followed me since my teen years was not, as I had supposed, a deeply inculcated habit of church, but Christ,***** patiently keeping me company on my journey.******

This time, being the born academic that I am, I researched Quakerism and its American branches and simultaneously looked for a meeting in my area. I found one about 45 minutes away, the Paullina Friends Meeting. I attended, was welcomed, attended again, and again, skipped a Sunday or two, went again…..pretty much a repeat of my enjoyable Lutheran experience. But then, in my reading, I found this explanation of Quaker testimonies (root beliefs) and that was it. I was, in capital Quaker letters, CONVINCED. The truth resonated in me and I knew it and also knew where I belonged.

And so, I’m a Quaker. Not a very good one, I’m afraid, especially in the truth-telling department as I’m also a born storyteller of the Mark Twain, more-exaggeration-is-funnier school. The preceding entry on my breast lump, for example, was tough — everything reported DID happen, and if I exaggerated a bit for effect, I also DID NOT give into to my instinct to add extra funny things that didn’t happen but, you know, could have.

I’ll probably log again on spiritual things, or I may start a second blog about my spiritual journey and call it “Mild Oats.”******* or I may change the name of this blog to Mild Oats. Or I may do none of these things. We’ll see.

*From the Quaker Jargon Buster: Convincement – a discovery of truth,
as in “Quaker by convincement”, one who has become convinced of the
truth of the Quaker way. It is used to describe anybody who joins the
Society [as opposed to those born to Quaker parents — birthright Quakers].

**and evidence of God’s grace. At home, when no one’s around, I talk to the animals. If they’re unavailable, I talk to myself. If I were ever struck dumb, I’d learn ASL and sign to myself.

***and it turns out I do…as a teacher of writing.

****it seems as if these concerns all pivot around sex, but, given the Church’s white male hierarchy, they’re really about oppression. Except the premarital sex thing — that was about sex and my unrepentant having of it.

*****Quakers call this the Light Within, or the still, small voice at our center.

******And had I never arrived at journey’s end, which for me was a return to Christianity, would I have been damned? Nope, I don’t believe that for a moment. Faith and Grace are life-processes, not one time coupon redemptions.

*******You know, Quaker Oats? Except they’re not Quaker at all, but Quakers had such a fine reputation for square-dealing that lots of products took that name.

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