Sunday, August 30, 2009

Proof that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing

When I started blogging here, I was quite ill. I told friends that I would post at least weekly. If I didn't, they should check with Bad Dad to find out what happened to me.

I was rather quiet last week, but I am fine. Bad Dad was away on a business trip and I was holding down the fort at home alone while dealing with end of fiscal year madness at work.

What's the point?

Bad Dad and I work at the same FFRDC. The IT department sent me a notice that they would be delivering my replacement office computer (and taking away my current ailing one) on 1 September. My division administrator sent me a notice that I am moving offices (to the other side of the same building) on 3 September. The travel department sent me Bad Dad's itinerary for his upcoming business trip the same week. All the federal agencies that fund me (4 in the past year) want their end of fiscal year reports. I've just been put in charge of the data flow planning for a new project.

Who, in their right mind, would move their physical self and their virtual self in the same week? And on a week where they are working unpaid overtime as a good corporate spouse and temporary single parent?

Things may be rather quiet here in the next couple of weeks, but my health is fine.

I must knit more with this yarn. It's so mesmerizingly beautiful.
Valium by the meter.

Smoke and Ash

We have done some fiscal stimulus.
I want to make all the designs in A Fine Fleece. Even if you aren't a spinner, you should definitely check this book out. Each sweater is shown in a handspun yarn and a commercially available yarn in a common gauge/thickness. Just match your gauge and fiber characteristics, and you can get started.

That's my swatch for October Frost, knit in Lane Borgosesia Baruffa Merinos Otto Shadow. Otto is an Aran-weight 8-ply (Seis is a 6-ply DK weight). Words do not describe the softness of this superwash merino yarn. It feels like cashmere. The shadow color-blending effect is also gorgeous.

I am using a colorway named "Smoke and Ash". It's apt that I am knitting it now, because you should see the smoke plume to the northeast of us. We had dinner with friends last night, and we could see the glow of the fires from their balcony. The burn area is quite extensive. Because the burning hills are on the other side of downtown, when viewed from the beach cities, it looks like downtown is on fire.
Imagery of the Station Fire taken from NASA's Terra satellite courtesy of NASA's MODIS Rapid Response website. There are also fires burning south of the border.

Two Scarves

My sister sent me this photo (from her phone?) while Iris was visiting her. When Iris told me that she was learning to weave, I asked her what color yarn she was using.

"Mountain colors something."

Mountain colors artisanal hand-painted yarn? For a kid's first project?

Ann picked up the phone and said, "It's OK; I told her to pick anything on that shelf and I meant it."
Thanks! She loves it.
I finally finished the large rectangle of stockinette stitch. I used one strand each of Habu silk stainless (28 grams violet and 14 grams black) and one strand of Blueberry Graceful laceweight. It only took about forever to knit miles of (OK, 1000 yards is not quite a mile) thread that I could barely see.

Here it is before I abused it with hot water, soap and friction.
Here it is in its fulled glory.
Check out the dress. I used a vintage Ralph Lauren shirtdress pattern and a rayon challis (a Denver Fabrics "Fabric of the Month"). I made this years ago, in grad school. It took much longer to cut out the dress than I anticipated. It has a NYC theme, with pictures of NY landmarks. Note the words on the dress. "New York", "America", "Look Here". Now try to cut out a dress so that "Look Here" does not land on a place that you don't want people to stare at.

LAX Terminal 1

When we dropped Iris off at LAX to fly to Sea-Tac to visit my sister, we caught some fantastic public art. I forgot to photograph the stuff by the gates of Terminal 1. Allow yourself extra time to see them. On our way out to the curb, I caught a view of a whole wall of indigo paper. Check it out!
This is just one representative of Jacqueline Freedman's ink drawings on indigo paper.
If you find yourself in Terminal 1 at LAX, allow some extra time! Photographs do not do justice to these drawings.
I hope to see much more of Ms. Freedman's work in the future.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Remember when I wrote that UC Berkeley, CU Boulder and MIT attract subtly* different kinds of people? Well, there is nothing subtle about GQ's list of 25 douchiest colleges. CU Boulder is number 10 on the list:
Home of: The Kind-Bud Douche
Affectations: Prius; $400 Telemark skis you're not sure what to do with; bong made from recycled Nalgene bottles; white-guy dreads.
So that's how I should refashion my old BPA-laden Nalgene!

I can't vouch for the rest of the students, but my $400 telemark skis saw heavy action each winter. I owned 4 pairs of skis (in addition to 3.5 bicycles).

* Bad Dad and I observed that CU Boulder alumni age well. Everyone else appears to have the same % body fat (low) that they had in grad school. We felt positively obese at that gathering. We felt svelte at the MIT reunion.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Last Farmer

The Palos Verdes Peninsula was once home to farms and a few farmhouses. Now, it is home to lawyers, investment bankers, the family with $1120 monthly electricity bills, golf courses and resorts (including one owned by Donald Trump). The LA Times profiles James Hatano, The Palos Verdes Peninsula's Last Farmer.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Urban Wildlife

On our way home from San Diego, we joined Iris' Girls Scout Troop for a kayak tour with La Vida Laguna. When I first saw the pounding surf at Laguna Beach's Fisherman's Cove, I wasn't sure I wanted to launch off the beach there. The guide pointed out that the rocks formed a natural jetty and that we would paddle through a gap in the rocks. Gulp.

Mark told me to trust the guide; he does this everyday. It didn't help when another tandem kayak capsized in the surf as they tried to negotiate their way through the gap. Iris and I made it, and (as promised) the water was glassy beyond the rocks. Mark accompanied another scout whose parents were unable to attend.

My camera never made it out of the dry bag. But we saw garibaldi (little orange fishes), a kelp forest, bird rock (suitably white-capped from the guano), and elephant seals. As we rowed between bird rock and seal rock, a flock of pelicans flew in formation overhead. It was beautiful.

As we approached seal rock, the sea lions swam out to investigate us. They flipped and swam between the kayaks until they got tired of us, then they headed back to sunbathe on the rock.

Last Sunday, we biked along the San Gabriel River Bike Path with the LA Wheelman.
Description from the ride schedule:
Sunday, August 16 - 8:30 a.m.
PICO RIVERA & BIKE TRAIL(Long 75, Medium 48 - 800 feet, Short 35) I was wondering what “Pico Rivera” means, but it turns out the name of the city comes from the fact that it was formed by the joining of two cities – Pico and Rivera. So I guess it doesn’t really mean anything. Well, it doesn’t matter because it’s the bike trails that will concern us more today. The long makes a big loop by heading into Orange County (over a few hills) to pick up the Santa Ana River trail south to the coast. After lunch in Huntington Beach, it continues north to the San Gabriel River trail and up the river back to the start. The medium travels down to Seal Beach for lunch, going down on the Coyote Creek and San Gabriel River trails and returning back up the San Gabriel. The short never quite makes it to the coast, but travels down and back on the San Gabriel with a loop in Long Beach for lunch. The bike trails are perfect for a summer day – flat, no traffic and cool as they near the coast. So come on out and join us for more Rivera and less Pico.
At first, I was so startled by the sight of large birds on the San Gabriel River that I kept count. But then it became clear that they were too numerous. Who would have thought that so many birds would live on the banks of a concrete river? We saw more than ~3 great blue herons and ~30 snowy egrets and at least a dozen avocets.

Here's one group of snowy egrets.
Closer up.
We didn't have the camera handy when we passed the herons. At one point, a great blue heron flew alongside our tandem. They really have a blue tinge!

A friend sent email explaining:
You have 2 different egrets here.

The one on the right is a snowy egret (yellow feet and black bill).
The one on the left is the great egret (black feet and yellow bill).

I was so excited when I learned the difference.

The [snowy egret] with yellow feet uses its feet as a lour shaking them under the water to attract fish, which it proceeds to eat.

Wonderful birds.
Read more about the wildlife along the river and near the shore.

We stopped for brunch with the medium group (short/medium/long ride options) in Seal Beach. This mountain bike made me feel better about my mountain bike turned commuter bike. Notice it has front and rear shocks, but with skinny road slicks (tires).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Topological Dressmaker

Speaking of "sewing gymnastics", I dug out this article about the topology of sewing. This copy of Scientific American from July 1993 is crumbling, so I scanned it in at high-res. Click on the images to read the very amusing article, The Topological Dressmaker by Ian Stewart. Sadly, Martin Gardiner's columns for SciAm were republished, but Ian Stewart's have not (to my knowledge). If you like this article, may I suggest you buy his book, From Here to Infinity? I read it in grad school and remember it fondly.

It seems like there have been a flurry of blog mentions of dressmaking topology. Trena over at Slapdash Sewist explained her method of lining a dress today. She appears to insert the zipper after attaching the lining at the armhole and neck. I do the zipper first, the way Kathleen showed in her centered zipper tutorial.

Unlike the example in Kathleen's tutorial, I sewed the facing and the dress at the neck and armholes only to about 1" below the shoulder seam. Then I sew the shoulder seams on the dress and as much of the facing as I can handle. Next, I sew the last bit of the neck and armhole curves near the shoulder seam. Lastly, I sew the side dress and facing seams in one continuous seam. It does sound like gymnastics, doesn't it. If I don't sew up the center back seam first, I can use Trena's much easier method or another method I learned from Threads. We will save that for another time.

Read the Topological Dressmaker. You don't have to understand it all, but you will have new respect for dressmaking. And, perhaps, it will help you understand why I love Mathematics enough to major in it (even at a famously "user surly" university for undergraduate Math students). I shoulda made and sold "I survived" t-shirts for our Math commencement. I think that all 4 women who graduated would have bought them. ;-)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Simplicity 5635 (Not)

Unbelievably, I finished Iris' Fall Wardrobe on August 8, 4 weeks before the start of school. OK, I cheated and bought some of the stuff. But I did make 2 dresses, 2 skirts and one pair of pants.

In July, Iris and I went through her closet and set aside everything that was too small for her to give to her younger cousin. She is pretty cooperative about this semi-annual ritual because she knows that the more she gives away, the more she will receive. ;-)

We started out by looking at the clothes I had stockpiled earlier from clearance sales and thrift stores. I decided what I could realistically make given our schedules. Then I went out to stimulate the economy on the first day of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Can you believe that I came home with only one $15 item, a super-secret accessory for Iris? Everything I liked was sold out in the size and color I wanted.

We were both sad that she didn't have any sleeveless dresses in her current size. I piled a stack of fabrics next to the pattern envelope on the sewing table and told her to select two fabrics. I wasn't surprised that she gravitated to the black/white/yellow poplin. I had bought it last Spring with her in mind.

I showed the skirts in Blue and Black.

The black pants are not terribly exciting. You have seen the same pattern last summer. I was too lazy to trace the next larger size so I just laid last year's (too-small) pattern on the fabric and cut the fabric pieces 1/4" wider and 1" longer.

Simplicity 5635 is a princess-seamed sleeveless shift. That is not exactly Fall wardrobe gear in most parts of the country. However, the sea surface temperature (SST) peaks in the Autumn, producing our warmest days at the beach. So, even if I made the dress in the Spring, the Summer weather would have been too cold for her to wear it. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Here's the front.
Of course, she complained about the patch pocket instead of a side seam pocket.
The inside is fully lined in cotton voile. (BTW, Birgitte is right. Line with silk habotai; it is cost effective and easier to handle.) The voile distorted easily and was slithery to boot. I won't make that mistake again. I ordered more silk habotai PDQ.

I used techniques gleaned from Threads' A Shortcut to Great Linings and Fashion Incubator's Centered Zipper Tutorial.
Because I had stitched the facing & lining to the center back zipper all the way to the bottom, I could not manipulate the dress inside the shoulder and sew around the armhole. I used a technique that Burda and some of the Vogue designer patterns use. Summerset calls that "sewing gymnastics" and shows an easy way around that. Carolyn uses the same easy method and posted pictures in In and Out.

The dress probably could have been finished in half the time, but I wanted to exercise my topology muscles and learn new techniques.
Then I made another dress with fabric Iris and I selected during our trip to Hawaii.
This fabric did not need a lining. Iris is notoriously finicky about scratchy seams. I thought it would be safer to use French seams in the absence of a lining. Besides, the narrower seams make sewing curved pieces easier.
I think I finally got the hang of the Centered Zipper Construction. Thanks, Kathleen!
I inserted patch pockets on the inside of the side front panels. The side seams were finished with a mock flat-fell seam.
Not quite perfect, but she was thrilled that I listened to her.
I can't show you any pictures of the dresses on her because she packed them for her annual trip to visit her aunt in Washington state.
She also played Scuttle (the seagull) in The Little Mermaid last Friday. I finished sewing her costume Tuesday night. Then I boarded an airplane to Pittsburgh on Thursday. For various reasons, a telecon wouldn't have cut it. So I missed another performance.

But I did tour the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Lab and watched them test a pair of robotic boats on Panther Lake. It was really exciting when I put a boat controller (for manual overrides) down while I took a water break. They're robots, right? They should be autonomous.

No, the crash avoidance algorithm is not complete and I let that sucker roam around the pond with another boat that it couldn't "see" yet. Yipes! I bet they never invite me back.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rational Health Care Reform Discussions

Timothy Noah has written an indispensible guide to resources around the web: Health Care Reform: An Online Guide. Check it out.

I have recently discovered Bernadine Healy's regular column for US New and World Reports. She is a cardiologist, professor and a Republican that has served under both presidents Reagan and Bush 41--most recently as director of the NIH.

If your last three addresses were Cambridge, MA; Berkeley, CA; and Boulder, CO; then you might be aware that anyone that is against Obama's health care reform is evil and/or just plain deluded. ;-) Or you might think that Obama hasn't gone far enough. You probably haven't heard a fact-based, rational argument against some specific elements of the proposed reforms. You will get that from Dr Healy. I actually learned new things from her columns. For example:
The angry so-called mobs at these town halls may have sniffed out the Kabuki courtship dance taking place between Big Insurance and the Obama administration. Two months back, these two parties were holding hands at the White House, hellbent on getting health reform done fast—and before the public caught on to some pesky details.
She refers to the mandate that everyone buys "comprehensive" health insurance. Many healthy young people, if they are not covered under workplace plans, buy "catastrophic" insurance only. They are much cheaper than comprehensive plans, as little as $50/month. Under the house bill, everyone is required to buy comprehensive coverage, and the premiums are fixed such that young people will pay half as much as older people. That sounds reasonable. Presumably, younger people will pay much higher premiums for slightly more coverage because they will reap the benefits of lower premiums when they are older.

The proposed legislation does not require the insurance companies to adjust the premiums for older people downwards to reflect the larger and healthier risk pool.

That's a huge gift to the insurance companies. Obama has let the fox into the hen house. I am disgusted.

Dr Healy is more conservative than I am. I don't agree with her conclusions generally. (For instance, I think that bare-bones health insurance is a bad idea.) But she has written some interesting insights about the insurance industry here and here. And she is bringing up generational equity.

I am in total agreement with her that we should slow down, read the proposed legislation (!), discuss the implications rationally and respectfully, and accept that reforming this mess will be a long process with many corrections along the way.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

San Diego Zoo

Bad Dad and I congratulate ourselves for having the foresight to select parents who live in tourist Meccas, San Diego and San Francisco. We get to combine family visits with sight-seeing.

We visit the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park frequently enough to buy annual passes. We were curious about the new elephant habitat. I like the way the elephants have to forage high for their food, much as they do in the wild.
Iris and her cousin with new friends. Notice that she is wearing the outfit from Blue.
I had not noticed this sign on prior visits. I wonder what prompted its installation?
Can you see the baby anteater riding piggy-back on the mommy anteater?
This sign reminds me of Polar Bears and Existentialism. It reads, "When the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again." William Beebe.
The view of Balboa Park and downtown San Diego from the sky tram ride on the way back to the entrance.
San Diego International Airport is perilously close to downtown San Diego. Landing at SAN is a hair-raising experience for passengers and pilots alike. A few years ago, they had to paint lines on a nearby multi-story parking structure. Tall vehicles (SUVs) can not park beyond that line. Too many of them were being clipped by airplane landing gear*.
Commentator Eric is right. I read a news story about the parking structure, but it said that vehicles were damaged by landing aircraft. It didn't say how. "Clipped by airplane landing gear" sounds good, but is not fact-based.

Can a San Diego reader recall where that news story appeared and more details about it?

Black and White

I glanced in the mirrored closet door next to the computer before heading off to work the other morning. I found the sight so amusing, I had to document it. Most days, I remember to take off the apron before I head out of the house. That day, I swapped the apron for a black/white linen tweed jacket.

You may remember the apron pattern. I found the silk scarf at Goodwill last month.

Tanaka Farms CSA Update

Remember when Iris' school began participating in the Tanaka Farms CSA program? The first school organizer became too busy at work and somehow I became the new coordinator. School and church group organizers went to Tanaka Farms the first weekend in August to make plans for the upcoming year. The farm looks very different than at CSA day in April.
One happy tomato picker. And look at the lady behind her, who couldn't be bothered to shower between the gym and the farm tour.
Aren't these yellow and burgundy peppers lovely? Nature abounds in complementary colors. We took some home, and Bad Dad turned it into chicken in black bean sauce.
A sample late summer CSA box. The peaches come from the central valley, the rest are grown at Tanaka Farms. All are organic.
If you live in the South Bay and want to subscribe to these boxes of local and organic produce, send me email. I will send you the sign-up form in pdf format.

Redondo Beach coffee shop, Neighborhood Grinds, has been kind enough to serve as a delivery/pick-up location for the CSA. Deliveries occur every other week. Subscribers can select the weeks that work for their schedule and pay $25 per box. No long-term committment!

Click on the CSA tag and at the Tanaka Farms website to read more about the CSA program.

Chevron Not-a-Tank

This doesn't look like the Chevron Tank in the Summer 2009 issue of Knit 1.
It sprouted 3/4 length sleeves and it reverses to a V-neck. Details on Ravelry and below.
Inspired by the successful pairing of knit and sewn coordinates in Unsuitable for plaids or stripes, I shopped my stash for some playmates for the sweater.
The paisley rayon is really too obnoxious in large doses. I will save it for lining and trim. The heavy weight fuchsia gauze is actually a very good color match. The cotton/lycra knit is on my cutting table right now.

Yarn: 4 skeins of Cotton-ease in Azalea.
Needles: Size 6 = 4.0 mm
Modifications: Many
- Knit in the round
- U-neck reverses to a V-neck
- 3/4 length sleeves instead of a tank top. I mean really--who wears a heavy weight cotton tank top in LA?
- 88 rows before armhole shaping on both the body and sleeves
- Hourglass shape instead of an A-line shape

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Free Range Kid 5

I mentioned earlier that Iris is attending Performing Arts Workshops Summer Camp for the third summer in a row. Previously, she had attended in our hometown of Redondo Beach. PAW is not sure why, but enrollment was way way down in RB. Too few kids signed up for the location to be economically viable. They called and asked if we preferred a refund or a transfer to another locale (with a discount for the hassle). We selected the camp at our daytime hometown of El Segundo, home of Standard Oil refinery #2.

Along with ~150,000 others, Bad Dad and I work in El Segundo. It is an odd town--all hustle and bustle and very tall buildings (not to mention LAX, one of the 10 busiest airports in the world) on the eastern side of town, and a sleepy movie set of a small surf town on the western side. The night-time population of El Segundo is ~16,000, a very lopsided day and night-time population ratio.

Summer camp is always a struggle for two-career couples. Camps don't run as late as daycare. Some camps offer after-hours care. Some don't. Fortunately, PAW does offer after-hours care until 5 PM.

However, when we consulted a map to figure out where to drop her off, we discovered that the school is across the street from the town library. It is a beautiful library. The children's section takes up the entire basement. When we went to check it out and sign her up for a library card, we learned about their unattended children policy.

Kids under 8 can not be left alone at any time. Teens can use the library without accompanying adults for as long as they like. The library will call the police if tweens are left without an adult for more than 3 hours. We thought those were pretty good guidelines. We told Iris that she can walk to the library instead of staying in after-hours care--as long as we agreed before hand when and where we would find her.

She is loving the freedom and responsibility.

Last Thursday, I met her at the library as pre-arranged. We ran into Pennamite and her kids (and one of Iris' classmates whose mom also works in El Segundo). Pennamite had flowers and produce from the farmers' market. We admired the artichoke flowers and ran upstairs to buy our own.

The farmers' market is a block from the library. Hmm, I wonder if I can send her each Thursday to buy produce for the family? She says that she will buy flowers, because she can tell what is pretty. But she is not sure how to pick good produce yet.

Yesterday, when I picked her up, we visited the Slipt Stitch yarn shop to see the new Fall yarns and Banner Stationers next door for envelopes. Then we dropped by the Blue Butterfly Coffee Co for muffins before heading over to get mommy and me allergy shots in Torrance.

This morning, she said that she wanted to be picked up at the Blue Butterfly. When Mark got there, she was nonchalantly munching on a muffin and reading The Hobbit. Actually, she is almost done with with the book.

Tomorrow, we are going to the farmers' market and then eating at Chef Hannes. I expect he will have freshly made peach cobbler this time of year. I have been thinking about that since I had some last summer. I went to the gym three times this week. I think I should order the cobbler a la mode.

I feel so lucky to have two great hometowns.

Main Street El Segundo outdoes Main Street Disneyland. In fact, El Segundo is such a popular place to film movies, TV and commercials, that the citizenry is in revolt over the disruptive effect of all that filming. Filming is limited to no more than 20 days per year at any one location. The high school was given 40 days. By April, the principal had exhausted those 40 days and was back at the city council, asking for more days. 40 days of filming by April! And that's not counting filming in other parts of town.

The menu changes daily based upon what was best at the market that day. So we had strawberry instead of peach cobbler tonight. We are not complaining. ;-) Yum!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Return of Harry and Louise

Even more nauseating than methotrexate, Big Pharma has brought back Harry and Louise.
As a candidate for president, Barack Obama lambasted drug companies and the influence they wielded in Washington. He even ran a television ad targeting the industry's chief lobbyist, former Louisiana congressman Billy Tauzin, and the role Tauzin played in preventing Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices.

Since the election, Tauzin has morphed into the president's partner. He has been invited to the White House half a dozen times in recent months. There, he says, he eventually secured an agreement that the administration wouldn't try to overturn the very Medicare drug policy that Obama had criticized on the campaign trail.
For his part, Tauzin said he had not only received the White House pledge to forswear Medicare drug price bargaining, but also a separate promise not to pursue another proposal Obama supported during the campaign: importing cheaper drugs from Canada or Europe. Both proposals could cost the industry billions, undermine its ability to develop new cures and, in the case of imports, possibly compromise safety, industry officials contend.

Much of the bargaining took place in July at a meeting in the Roosevelt Room, just off the Oval Office, a person familiar with the discussions said. In attendance were Tauzin, several industry chief executives -- including those from Abbott Laboratories, Merck and Pfizer -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House aides.
Again, you and I were not at the table. I watched the TV ad. Of course Big Pharma wants to "get the deal done" quickly before people smell the whiff of corruption.

You may remember Tauzin as the founder of the southern "Blue Dog Democrats" who are vehemently opposed to bargaining over drug prices. That doesn't sound very fiscally responsible to me.

Who are the "Blue Dog Democrats" and where do they get their money?
This is a continuation of More Like Us. Excuse me while I go throw up.

Monday, August 03, 2009

More Like Us

I read a quote from a TV executive that his network stays away from Health Care because it is death to ratings. Call me cynical, but I am not surprised. Remember the NPR photo, Turning The Camera Around: Health Care Stakeholders? There were ~200 "stakeholders" in the hearing room, comprised of dozens of lobbyists. But I wasn't present. In fact, I can't tell if there was anyone representing my interests there.

Our nation's health care system is a complex problem. It took a long time to get where we are today, and it won't be solved overnight. I don't mind if Health Care Reform isn't passed in the next month--as long as we spend that time productively working on a solution. But that's not what is happening. I am just waiting for Harry and Louise to come back from the grave or Florida or Hell.

Anyway, this isn't a health or disability blog. But I do happen to be diagnosed with a genetic disease, Psoriatic Arthritis, PsA. It is a progressive autoimmune condition that effects my eyes, joints, skin and nails; it also makes me chronically tired and susceptible to infections. I have been on short-term disability in the past for very bad flare ups or infections, but I am currently working 90% time (although 36 hrs/wk would make me a full-time worker in many other countries).

It's not fun, but I muddle through. And I am still alive at age 42, long past the ages when two of my aunts died. That's not really what I want to discuss. I want to offer some links that provide windows into what is wrong with health care today.

Why We Must Ration Health Care by Peter Singer. How much is too high a price to prolong life?

A nurse who works with the elderly told me about speaking to families when the end is near for mom or dad. She can't believe the number of people who want everything done, at a cost of $250,000 for a week or two of (excruciatingly painful) life for terminally ill mom or dad.

Most of those patients are on a combination of Medicare and Medi-Cal, a program for Californians who have exhausted their life savings. Each time they take extraordinary measures to prolong the life of a 80 or 90 year old, California will have to go without one or two school teachers and several teachers' aides, too.

No one can make the painful choice to pull the plug on their parents. Their choice, or failure to make a choice, means that the children of California will do without.

Who is speaking out for generational equity in the health care debate? Why are people with no access to health care forced to pay taxes to fund the health care of others? Why aren't the people who get health care coverage through work or the government taxed on those benefits? Why must the unlucky people who fell through the cracks pay for health care with after-tax dollars while the lucky ones gorge on tax-exempt health care?

Let's be truthful. Health care is already rationed right now*. Do you want a government bureaucrat doing it or a bureaucrat working for the for-profit insurance industry doing it?

What is so terrible about evidence-based comparative benefit analyses of treatment options? It was a study by the British national health system that gave me a blueprint for how I wanted to proceed with my own treatment. That study showed that Enbrel and Remicade, costing $12,000-$18,000 per year (the price varies based upon whether you have an insurance company bargaining for you; infuriatingly, uninsured people are charged the most) were no more effective than methotrexate, an older drug available in generic form for a couple of hundred dollars a year.

The more expensive drugs were touted to be safer, but that might not be true after all. People on all three drugs run an elevated risk of dying from infections. With millions of Americans suffering from autoimmune arthritis, we should do independent studies of comparative benefit--run by someone other than the drug companies who stand to benefit. Why is it controversial to say that?

That brings up David Leonhardt's In Health Reform, a Cancer Offers an Acid Test. He discussed five treatment options for prostate cancer, none better than the others, costing between $2436 and over $100,000 for treatment in the first year. Guess which options are the most popular.
“No therapy has been shown superior to another,” an analysis by the RAND Corporation found. Dr. Michael Rawlins, the chairman of a British medical research institute, told me, “We’re not sure how good any of these treatments are.”

But if the treatments have roughly similar benefits, they have very different prices. Watchful waiting costs just a few thousand dollars, in follow-up doctor visits and tests. Surgery to remove the prostate gland costs about $23,000. A targeted form of radiation, known as I.M.R.T., runs $50,000. Proton radiation therapy often exceeds $100,000.

And in our current fee-for-service medical system — in which doctors and hospitals are paid for how much care they provide, rather than how well they care for their patients — you can probably guess which treatments are becoming more popular: the ones that cost a lot of money.

Use of I.M.R.T. rose tenfold from 2002 to 2006, according to unpublished RAND data.
I tried methotrexate for six months, but it made me miserable and dangerously susceptible to infections. Rather than try the more expensive drugs, which a couple of doctors told me that my insurance would likely cover, I decided to practice my own type of watchful waiting.

I slowed down my lifestyle and focus on rest, exercise, avoidance of irritating chemicals and other behavior modification. I work a little less and buy a little bit more help at home. I wear a surgical mask in crowded places or avoid them altogether. Even counting the gym membership at the fancy gym where they clean the surfaces at least twice a day, it is still thousands cheaper in the aggregate than using Enbrel or Remicade.

Insurance pays for medical care, but not reducing the need for medical care.

I pay for that myself.

Lastly, I hope you will read Malawi halts nursing brain drain by Christine Gorman. It encapsulates so much of what is wrong with the world. Medical care is mostly performed by nurses. Nursing is difficult and dangerous work, and, in general, not highly paid. There is a shortage of people worldwide willing and able to perform nursing work. Rich nations suck up caregivers (nurses, nannies) from poorer countries.

The health care debate over compensation is all about whether some doctors will earn $500,000 or $250,000 per year. Is anyone talking about nurses torn away by global economic forces from their country (and their children) to care for strangers halfway around the world?

Countries don't come much poorer than Malawi, but its health care system worked well back in the 1970s and early 1980s.

When the former British colony gained independence in 1964, president Hastings Banda, himself a physician, maintained a high level of training for nurses that included teaching all classes in English.

By the late 1990s, however, Malawi was reeling from the AIDS epidemic. As if that weren't bad enough, the government also had to cut spending on health care and education as a condition for getting help from the U.S. and other countries to liberalize its trade and economy.

The publicly funded health system, on which more than 95 percent of Malawians still depend for treatment, quickly started to fall apart.

Registered nurses began leaving in droves.

In the interest of fiscal responsibility, we (rich nations) demanded that a poor country, that was able to provide health care for all, dismantle their health care system. Why? So that they can become more like us.

Yeah, right. I wonder how much health care the money we spent on TARP could have bought in Malawi. Actually, Cash for Clunkers would probably fund health care for all of Malawi. We could have used the TARP funds to cover low-income Americans.

* I've seen it happen to other patients who were denied services that my own more generous plan paid for. One of my doctors dropped all HMO plans after the insurance company refused to pay for an operating room to remove a peach-sized goiter from another patient's neck. The insurance company employee told the doctor that goiters can be removed in the office, saving the expense of hospital operating room. The doctor asked the bureaucrat where he went to medical school. ;-)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Apron Pattern

I never have enough pockets. I am also a messy cook. I don't care if it makes me look like a retro housewife. I like to wear an apron. Whenever my one apron was in the wash, I felt the loss acutely. Now I have enough to tide me over for a week.
I made the one on the right over a decade ago. I couldn't find the pattern that I drafted back then, so I drafted a new one. If you feel inclined to make your own, click on the pattern below to print it out in higher resolution. You can size the pockets to your own taste. The original had flat pockets, but the two new ones have pleated pockets on the sides. The center pocket is not as deep as the side ones. It is sized to hold a recipe index card.
Cut the straps the width in the pattern. But add hem allowances for the apron and pocket pieces!

The aprons met with Iris' seal of approval. She asked if we could share. No way am I gonna share the animal print one.

I will have to make more and stitch tucks in the neck strap that I can release as she grows. This would be a good project to make together. If you have been looking at edges of the sewing room photos, you can see that my stash can supply quite a few aprons. ;-)

Joan pointed out that I forgot to give the measurement from top hem to bottom hem. Length will vary with the height of the wearer, but mine is 31" and I am 5'5" tall.

The apron takes slightly more than a yard of fabric.  6 napkins takes a bit less than a yard.  Why not buy 2 and make a set?  They make great gifts. 

Black and White shows me modeling one of the aprons.

I picked up an alarming amount of fabric last month at SAS Fabrics. $60 buys you a lot of fabric when they are selling it at $2.99 per yard (silks) and $2.99-$4.99 per pound for the rest of the stuff.

They had a bunch of sample cuts of cotton lawn from Caravel Fabrics. Cotton lawn weighs next to nothing so they were a steal.
There were some remnants of silk shantung for $2.99 per yard.Sample cuts of stretch cotton twill and poplin from hi-fashion fabrics and other suppliers to industry.
Ultra-soft cotton jersey sitting on top of a cotton/linen stripe I bought elsewhere.
I bought some the swiss dotted lawn in both white (not pictured) and black (2nd from bottom). The top piece is real 100% cotton seersucker. The bengaline below it is a small remnant that will make a good trim. I am disappointed with the rayon piece on the bottom. However, I am not going to complain about one dud. You have to agree, that is a whole lot of nice fabric for $60 or so.