Friday, 29 May 2015

It's Friday again, finally.

This week was taxes week for me - tax day in Germany is the last day of May, and it looks like I'll actually finish a day early this year! So tomorrow will be a very relaxed Saturday...

Apart from going over all the books and wrangling all the data necessary, not too much happened this week. I'm still waiting for more rain to refill the rainwater cistern (it drizzled a few hours ago, but that was all).

Friday? Really? Does that mean I'll get special treats today?
Planning for the gold embroidery kit is progressing, and now I'm waiting for some things to arrive so I can go into the next stage. The prototype is all finished - more on that on Monday!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Handling of Mistakes.

We all make mistakes, small ones, big ones, some that are easily fixed and some that haunt us for ages. (Sometimes small, easily fixed ones can still be of the haunting sort, though.) Mistakes are not nice to make, but they are a part of life, and every one of them is an opportunity to learn, and do better next time.

Mistakes are also an opportunity to think things over, and maybe alter them to the better. There's no such thing as a perfect script, as any writer knows... finding mistakes and editing them is a process that makes the final manuscript a much better piece, since there will inevitably be stuff that is not a real proper mistake, but can do with some change for the better anyways.

You don't want to know how many typos we found in the Beast in the final big edit.
Trust me. You don't.

But does that mean every mistake should remain visible? That is the suggestion of Guy Claxton, who says erasers are an instrument of the devil and should be banned from classrooms (all quotes in the following are from this article). Because, and now comes the point that makes me groan,
...schools should encourage students to acknowledge their mistakes because that’s the way the “big wide world” works...
Erm, excuse me? Mister Claxton, what planet are you living on, and how can I get there? The last time I looked around in the "big wide world" that I am currently living in, mistakes are not acknowledged, oh no. They are brushed over, or hushed up, or even rewarded with a hefty chunk of severance pay. When was the last time you heard a politician declare openly and publicly that he or she had fucked up, made a serious mistake, is very sorry and then actually did something to remedy the error? Or when did they obviously learn from a mistake?

There's massive protest against TTIP and CETA (go sign the protest if you have not yet done so, please); but do the politicians admit that it might have been a mistake? Nope - they are still trying to push it through. There's bees dying everywhere because of new pesticides, but does that lead to a ban on these chemicals? Ah no.

Don't even get me started on the EU VAT stuff. 2015 is half gone, the Digital VAT has proven to be a huge problem for small traders, many of which have closed their doors, but what is happening? Very very little, and very very slowly - and the plans to extend the new rules to all goods in 2016 still persist. (Please sign the petition if you have not yet done so, and spread the word so that others sign it, too. It's not looking good for small businesses at the moment, and that does include my own business.)

Do I need to go on? I don't think so. If we have a culture of standing up and admitting your own mistakes, and then openly correcting them and trying not to make a similar mistake in the future, I think it is hiding very, very well in this "big wide world" of ours. At least it's not the culture that our captains of industry, politicians and magnates are steeped in.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, professor Claxton said: “The eraser is an instrument of the devil because it perpetuates a culture of shame about error. It’s a way of lying to the world, which says ‘I didn’t make a mistake. I got it right first time.’ That’s what happens when you can rub it out and replace it.
Being able to fix your mistakes and make things better is not something, in my experience, that perpetuates shame about the error. On the contrary - I'd be much more ashamed about something that has to stand visibly for everybody to see. I do know that many of my colleagues feel the same about visible errors in their craftwork. If it can be fixed without trace, it should be okay to fix without trace; often enough, that is not the case anyway, because there will remain a reminder of the error that is at least visible to the person who made the thing. Life is hard enough without having to live with all your little mistakes visible to the world, too.

If you are not tired of reading about this topic yet, hop over to Another Damned Medievalist's blog, whose post in reply to the piece about erasers was the reason for this whole post. (I really just wanted to write a few words before linking to her, but then I got off on a tangent.) ADM's looking at the eraser-is-the-devil thing from a different angle and takes it apart with a little historical knowledge. (To whoever groused her at Leeds to blog more again: thank you!)

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Looking for manuscripts?

If you are researching sources, be it written or image sources, on the internet or in real physical publications, you will have run into the how-to-find-stuff problem: There is a bunch of things very easy to find, as they are quite prominent. So everybody finds them, and everybody knows them.

Then, of course, these things get cited, and linked to, and re-published, which makes them even easier to find. The books less looked at, the sites less often linked to? Not so visible. Or, as puts it:

Finding digitized medieval manuscripts is not an easy task: the most prominent libraries are easily found and pinpointed on the maps. Problems arise for all the other digitized libraries that are not discoverable through search engines for many reasons (the website is not optimized or not accessible by crawlers and doesn't appear on web searches, the library is in a language different from English only, or, more in general, the website is difficult to access due to poor web design).
That, of course, is not only true for manuscripts, but DMMapp collects digitised medieval manuscript libraries. There's a long list of libraries that have manuscripts digitised and online, for free - so if you are looking for some things less often looked at... look no further. (Or do, and make sure to tell them about the library if it's not yet in the list.)

Tuesday, 26 May 2015


A while ago, I was presented with a little coffee cup filled with coffee beans. Except that the beans were not roasted, and someone had dropped them into some soil inside a little flowerpot inside that coffee cup, and poured some water over all that, and watered them again and again and... the result were a couple of small coffee plant sprouts.

The largest one, meanwhile, has grown to look like this:

Some day, the Internet tells me, this thing might actually bloom and have coffee cherries later on. It also tells me that this will probably take another three or so years... well. I think I'll just go on buying coffee in the meantime, and I won't hold my breath for home-grown! It makes a nice plant, though. Not as decorative (yet) as the Ecuador Purple Chili:

but then purple chili fruit is really hard to beat, decorativeness-wise.

Final fun fact about coffee: The plant belongs to the same plant family as madder... does that explain why plant dyers love their coffee?

Friday, 22 May 2015

Thank goodness it's Friday.

How nice that it's Friday again! And even better, it's the Friday before a long weekend, since it's a public holiday on Monday here in good ol' Germany. (That also means there will be no blog post for you on Monday.)

Even though the last long weekend wasn't so long ago, I am very much looking forward to this one. There are tomatoes that need to be set out into the garden, I have beans that should be planted, and we're planning to go on a paddle with friends this weekend as well - so there will be plenty of nice activity for us. And maybe I'll even finish the gold embroidery prototype that I am still working on, as there's not much left to do.

First, though, there's less pleasant work lined up for the afternoon: filing invoices and taking care of tax paperwork...

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Garden photos.

It's sunny outside, warming the water in which a sheep fleece is soaking. It's wool-washing season again!

And it is a joy to be outside in that beautiful weather (although wool washing season also means that I am waiting for a good, heavy rain to re-fill my water supply). Plus the view is nice - it's one of my favourite times of the year for looking at our living willow fence: the time when it's all lush and green, but it is still possible to see a bit of its structure through the leaves.

The peach tree that we planted on an espalier last year has actually bloomed this spring, and now it has three or four tiny fruits. I hope they will hang on there until they are nice and big and ripe!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Eating is a social thing.

It has been a long while since I posted about my food issues, but I was made painfully aware of them again during the last (long) weekend. As is traditional for me, I spent a few days hanging out with friends that I see once a year to share these days for our common hobby: doing bookbinding work.
What I did last weekend - repaired books and brand-new boxes and folders. And some gold embroidery :)

This was the first time I stayed at a youth hostel since developing (or, more correctly, since becoming aware of) my food intolerance issues. So, as a good guest does, I handed in the shortlist of things I cannot eat well beforehand... and hoped for the best. (There's a shortlist and a complete list of things. The shortlist is the really important stuff, the complete list also contains things I can eat occasionally, but try to avoid.)

It was not a very nice experience. First of all, some of the information seems to have gotten lost between admin and the kitchen, leading to an awkward situation admirably solved by the cook.  Secondly, the foods that were available to me often were the kind that I consider borderline acceptable: industrially made and thus laced with conserving agents, modified starches, glucose syrup and other things I try to avoid. Under normal circumstances, I will eat these occasionally, for example if there is no other choice or if I really want to, but not on a daily basis or several times a day. Thirdly, there was a lack of salads or vegetables in general, which was cutting down my options of avoiding the borderline foods.

I could feel all this in sinking energy levels, a dip in my general happiness, a craving for fresh foods and some other symptoms that clearly showed me I was not eathing things that are good for me. All that is not nice - but the worst thing, and what caused me most stress in retrospective, was having to ask for my food.

Now, in a youth hostel setting, there is usually a buffet style setup. You get your plate and cutlery and help yourself to whatever you would like, in whatever amounts. For vegetarians, or for those with intolerances or allergies, there's clearly labeled food on the buffet, and you are supposed to eat what you were booked for and not plunder the food of the special needs folks. Sometimes, when there is only a single person having a special serving and lots of other people, your serving might not be out on the buffet but brought out when you come, or when you ask for it, eliminating the danger of someone else consuming the special stuff.

That is all very understandable. However, when that means that
a) you do not know whether there is anything special for you or not, and you have to ask the serving people if the normal food is okay for you, and they look at you in a confused sort of way and have to go ask the head cook, and
b) you tell them you need to avoid wheat, but they consistently refer to you as needing gluten-free, or ask you if you have booked gluten-free diet (which I had not), and  get confused if you tell them that gluten-free will work for you but you have stated wheat-free and not gluten-free when booking, and
c) serving people are not always available and you may need to wait, or shout for them, to get an explanation of whether you can eat the stuff available or not, and then wait for your special-snowflake-food or get in line with all the others -
well. It made me feel difficult, and cranky, even though the kitchen people did try their best to help (but were stunningly under-informed). It also let me end up with meals that were not very satisfying, regarding taste, composition, and amount. I could probably have asked for more this or more that, but I did not want to go and wait (or holler) and ask again.

Worst of it all, though, having to state my special needs almost every single meal made me painfully aware of the intolerances instead of letting me handle them matter-of-factly, as I usually do. That will make anyone feel like the odd one out, and rather sick instead of healthy. It was not a nice experience. At all.

So in case you ever need to cater to someone with food intolerances? Try to make things easy for us.
Sharing food is a very social thing, so getting special servings sets you apart from the group. This may be necessary due to the dietary restrictions, and we do very much appreciate getting food that we know will be safe to eat, but getting different things all the time will, over time, do things to your soul. If the special serving is handled efficiently and matter-of-factly, it is not so bad, but every little issue on top of getting something different from the others - having to ask, having to explain, having to wait, even having different plates - will add up to emphasise that we are not part of the group in this respect. Eating is a social thing, and sharing food is a powerful symbol of belonging together. So being set apart continuously is also a powerful sign - of not really belonging.

We're feeling the odd one out or left out often enough - there are so many foods and snacks and things you cannot eat if you cannot eat wheat, for example. In a setting where a group is catered for, anything that makes us feel like our requirements are easy to meet will help. We approach foods prepared by others with a good dash of insecurity about what is in them and whether we will be able to have them or not, so labeling foods to indicate they are clear for us to eat will be a huge relief. Kitchen staff who know about our needs and do not have to run and enquire first help, too (though it's preferable that they run and enquire to serving food they don't know about). The more normal you make us feel, the easier things are for us, and the more pleasure we will have from eating in the group. The optimum would be, of course, to have foods for everybody that we can eat, and to communicate clearly that this is the case (without us having to ask). Reassure us that we can have more (if we can have more). Tell us how you have booked our needs if you decide to let wheat-free run as gluten-free (perfectly okay with me if that is easier for the kitchen, but I need to know what to ask for). Don't make us ask every time for every single thing... because that makes us aware, again, of how much we are the odd person out.