How to Pack to Travel to Edinburgh for a Month

July 20, 2012–This was done as an exercise about creative process. Not my usual style, but kind of fun.

1. Make a list of the tasks required to leave your home and travel to Edinburgh for the summer, securing your home, packing, etc.

Decide on clothes

Buy walking shoes, preferably not to “walking” in style

Buy a new raincoat b/c current North Face gortex leaks

Get dog food for Josh

Pay bills

Go to the library and bookstore to get all books for classes

Buy suitcase

Find compass


2. Create a mnemonic image for each of the tasks.

For this step, my flat mates and I played Pictionary—every time I had to draw, I used something from my list as the prompt. They then wanted to help draw.

3. Combine these images or items to create a work of art (poem, essay, photo, whatever).

How to pack for Edinburgh

Check information for enrollees page on college website. Read that it will be cool, and might rain. Check weather online, expect 50-60 degree weather with showers. Think to self—no problem, same as home here in Oregon. Choose clothes for trip accordingly. Leave heavy raincoat at home because it has started to leak, and it is too expensive to buy a new one right now. Purchase lightweight water resistant jacket suitable for current weather. Try it on while packing, decide it is too big. Go to the mall, exchange it for smaller size. Wear it on day three in Edinburgh. Get caught in two downpours and sprayed by passing traffic while waiting for the bus. Downpours soak through the coat, two wool sweaters, a t-shirt, to your skin. Arrive at mandatory reading for the evening in wet clothes. Try to dry them in the ladies’ room under hand dryer. Give up. Leave early. Wear pajamas and hope clothes dry by morning for class. Check weather online again; vow to leave campus directly after class next day to purchase a new, real raincoat at outdoor gear shop.

Check information for enrollees page on college website. Read that sturdy walking shoes are necessary as there will be excursions and many of the streets are old, possibly even made of cobblestone. Drag all shoes out of closet and consider each pair. Decide any that are sensible are also worn out and that none work with clothes selected for trip. Go to the mall, again. Try on ten pair of shoes. Leave mall. Consider taking only flip-flops. Go back to mall, buy $129 shoes that are, admittedly, comfortable for serious walking and don’t look frumpy. Decide shoes are too expensive, take them back to the mall. Re-select clothes so that running shoes will work with all outfits. Decide to get over fashion issues with wearing running shoes for non-running. Call friend who tells you good job on returning expensive shoes and reassures you that running shoes are just fine fashion while travelling. Look in closet again for other possible options, realize most of your sensible shoes really are worn out and that you really do need to invest in new shoes. Wear fun heels on the plane. Try to believe you will also wear them out and about in Edinburgh. Attempt to wear them to walk to the bus for first evening’s outing. Change into flip-flops that you, thankfully, stashed in your bag. Wear flip-flops around Edinburgh until horrendous downpour causes you to slip and hyperextend knee while trying to avoid dropping computer on sidewalk. Finish walking to mandatory evening reading barefoot, down city sidewalks and across city streets. Endure loud laughter from older woman who notices, just as you arrive at venue. The next day, attempt to buy rubber boots, find that everyone else in the city had same idea and there are none to be found.

Check information for enrollees page on college website. Read the recommendation that suggests packing then taking out half of what you stuff into your suitcase. Acknowledge to self with a smile that this is how you always pack. Put chosen clothing and personal items in suitcase. Pack notebook and yoga DVD. Contemplate the issue of books. Email program director about books. Take his suggestion to bring only those I still need to read. Run around town to various libraries and book stores to find all necessary titles. Fill all empty suitcase nooks and crannies with books. Arrive in Edinburgh to find syllabus has been changed and none are the correct titles. Attempt to download ebooks, find out operating system is out of date. Shop in Edinburgh for new needed titles and random Scottish literature unavailable at home, double number of books you are now travelling with. Calculate cost of unneeded books, including library late fees accrued while in Edinburgh.

Check information for enrollees page for the last time. Read that power adapter is necessary. Call several stores in Portland. Go to Powell’s Books travel section for universal power adapter. Discuss adapter with clerk who assures you it will work in Scotland. Read back of package, see that it works in UK. Buy it. Find last sliver of space in suitcase for it. Arrive in Edinburgh with wrong type of adapter. Visit several shops looking for correct adapter, find they are sold out. Eventually find correct adapter in odd ethnic food shop. Hope Powell’s return policy accommodates length of time of trip to Edinburgh. Wonder where you put the receipt.

Get up early on morning of trip to walk dog. Realize dog is out of food. Make last minute run to buy dog food. Come home, double-check packing. Decide to take out the one book you feel you understand thoroughly out of bag. Arrive in Edinburgh and learn it is the one title you do own and do need to read more chapters of. Borrow book from classmate.

Get dressed and head for airport. Find mailbox to mail bills. Drink tea and finalize online to-do items. Realize you have made four trips to the mall in the last two days. Arrive in Edinburgh after 30 hours of no sleep.

Start into routine in Edinburgh. Realize it is closer to 40 degrees and that all clothes are too light weight. Realize that it is going to rain hard every day for the first two weeks, and that rain coat doesn’t really withstand rain. Realize sitting in cold old building for six hours of class a day is uncomfortable to the point of distraction. Realize wearing running shoes as shoes is not an option in your style world, even when travelling. Realize you grabbed the flip-flops that are almost worn through on the bottom. Spend a week trying to adapt. Feel whimpy and nit-picky. Berate yourself for having privileged people problems. Realize that you are not the minimalist you think you are.

Give up. Go to the Scottish goods store and buy a tartan plaid lap blanket. Use it in class even though you feel odd. Go to The Gap and buy new shoes with soft soles good for walking. Get blood-blisters walking to campus, beg band-aids off program director, who also gives you candy. Wear running shoes only for running along the canal. Decide to decide later what to do about all the additional books you now need to get home. Vow to learn to use a bigger suitcase.

Blog Post No. 1—Alabama Chanin, Textile Arts, Oral Tradition, and Celebrating the Everyday…

April 14, 2010
By Neva Knott

I am a denizen of Powell’s Books. Last night, I attended the lecture about the vintage quilts hanging on the gallery wall there, given by Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin, a sustainable design firm.

In the hour that Chanin spoke, she warmed my heart with the reminder of the rich traditions we have in America, and that we can hold on to them when we practice sustainability, which is what my grandparents would have called “simple living.” Chanin’s presentation was so rich and deep and wandered nowhere near –isms (as in environmentalism), nor did she focus on the buzz words of social justice. But really, her work is just that: creative, historical, environmental, social justice. The words she used over and over again were “farm,” “tradition,” “cultural preservation,” “oral histories,” “generations,” and “forever.” This is the stuff of sustainability.

After a brief introduction of herself and her training and experience, Chanin state that, during a time when her job in the fashion industry required three-month stints in India, she had seen “things people should never see being done to another human–the greatest atrocities to mankind– for a garment.” Later, she commented that the fashion industry is the largest polluter on the planet.

The clothing she creates now is all done by hand. All of the cotton is 100 percent organic, grown in Texas, spun in Texas and Mississippi, and all of the garments are hand-sewn by quilters in Alabama and surrounding Southern states. Alabama Chanin is a zero waste business.

When I asked her about environmental issues, Chanin replied that she thinks of sustainability in terms of sustenance: food, shelter, clothing. If we can change how we get done these three things, we’ll meet [environmental obligations].

Chanin can tell you who made your garment, on what day, how long it took, where the raw material was grown, and a bit about the life and history of the woman who put needle to fiber.

In her work, Chanin has made a commitment to community and tradition, first showing up in a documentary film, Stitch, then as collected oral histories, in which she aims to “embrace all of it that is the history of the South, to sustain tradition, and to document beauty.” In her anecdote about the quilts on the wall at Powell’s she explained that, after making the film, quilts began showing up on her doorstep, like squash in the summer. These are “garbage quilts,” meaning they would have been used to cover stored furniture in the barn, or to lay upon while under a car changing the oil.

Chanin, in her return to Alabama from the fashion epicenter of NYC, found a community “decimated by NAFTA.” She found women who had worked their whole lives as proud, skilled factory workers. She contracted them. Today they produce hand-stitched, American-made garments that are, in the fashion world, considered couture. As she said, “It can be done in America; this is part of our national security.”

At the end of the hour, Chanin read a quotation about textiles and needles as the voice of women’s history in America, and sent us home with this thought, “making is human work…”.

I came home, dug out my sewing machine, and hemmed the top I’ve been meaning to hem so that I can give it to a friend because it will look better on her than on me. I thought long and hard about my own love of clothes, and the piles of them I’ve thrown away over the years. I mean piles. I thought of my grandmother, my aunt, and my mom learning how to sew on polyester, and how so many of my clothes were home-made when I was little. Of how grandma Hazel made all my Barbie’s clothes—to include a pearl colored satin dress and mink stole. Of my Grandma Neva’s magical button box that I played with on every visit to her home when I was a little girl. And I remembered the big quilting frame in my sister Gayel’s guest room, for years and years of my childhood.

And then I remembered this writing workshop exercise, given by one of my Lewis and Clark professors, Gail Black, at a teaching in-service. We were to read the following poem, locate the source of meaning within the poem, and then write for awhile. What follows is what I did that day…

“My Mother Pieced Quilts”
by Teresa Paloma Acosta, 1978. Source unknown.

they were just meant as covers
in winters
as weapons
against pounding January winds

but it was just that every morning I awoke to these
October ripened canvases
passed my hand across their cloth faces
and began to wonder how you pieced
all these together
these strips of gentle communion cotton and flannel
wedding organdies
dime store velvets
how you shaped patterns square and oblong and round
then cemented them
with your thread
a steel needle
a thimble

how the thread darted in and out
galloping along the frayed edges, tucking them in
as you did us at night
oh how you stretched and turned and re-arranged
your michigan spring faded curtain pieces
my father’s santa fe work shirt
the summer denims, the tweeds of fall

in the evening you sat at your canvas
–our cracked linoleum floor the drawing board
me lounging on your arm
and you staking out the plan:
whether to put the lilac purple of easter against the red plaid of winter-going
whether to mix a yellow with blue and white and paint the
corpus Christi noon when my father held your hand
whether to shape a five-point star from the
somber black silk you wore to grandmother’s funeral

you were the river current
carrying the roaring notes
forming them into pictures of a little boy reclining
a swallow flying
you were the caravan master at the reins
driving your threaded needle artillery across the mosaic cloth bridges
delivering yourself in separate testimonies
oh mother you plunged me sobbing and laughing
into our past
into the river crossing at five
into the spinach fields
into the plainview cotton rows
into tuberculosis wards
into braids and muslin dresses
sewn hard and taut to withstand the thrashings of twenty-five years

stretched out they lay

knotted with love
the quilts sing on

My response, that day, which was probably about ten years ago, and was written while I was reading Henry Miller’s, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, which may have informed my tone:

Where is the source of meaning? The essence of folk art. Glorification of the useful, the sturdy. Pre-consumerism, before the Nightmare, as Henry Miller would say, people had what was necessary. No disposability. Only sturdiness, durability, and purpose. These things, the things of life, took on lives of their own or became mirrors. What a drab world it would be without decoration. Eduardo Galeano speaks of memory as the truest form of history—and in parallel to his idea, quilts become the historical document of a family’s life–thoughtful, thorough, truthful. The thoroughness of the material as it was once new, worn in celebration, sorrow, toil. The piece that is left is the significance of those moments. The reality of the fabric mirrors the reality of living and when put together, these small things become life a family has lived. Folk art always tells of life.