Thursday, November 18, 2010

I solved the deficit!

Actually, I overcompensated and shaved $685 and $2,158 billion respectively off the projected 2015 and 2030 federal deficit with roughly equal parts cuts in spending and tax raises. Here's how I did it.

Try it and tell me how much you saved. Show me yours in the comments!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The PVC-free shower curtain

Iris had informed me that the yellow rubber ducky shower curtain was too babyish.

I am attached to the rubber ducky shower curtain because her first word was "duck", which meant any bird in the generic sense. The first thing she called a duck was the rubber ducky in the bathtub and I bought her a clear plastic shower curtain printed with dozens of yellow rubber ducks to commemorate the event.

That shower curtain stank. It literally stank. It stank up not just the bathroom, but the entire house. I had to hang it outside on the clothesline for weeks until it had off-gassed sufficiently so that we could tolerate it inside the house.

No wonder that the big box housewares store where I purchased the shower curtain also stank. I got sick just going there to buy that shower curtain.

I wondered how the people could stand working in that environment all day. And what about the people who work in the plants that manufacture the PVC goods? What is the cumulative health effect of all that Poly-Vinyl Chloride?

I tend to hang on to my shower curtains for a very long time. First, I am a frugal green and don't replace things that work just fine. I don't have the time or inclination to use a hemp (or organic cotton!) shower curtain that needs to be washed regularly. I don't like the off-gassing that has accompanied every plastic shower curtain I had ever bought in the past.

Then, a friend mentioned at her baby shower that she loved yellow rubber duckies and was using them as a decorating theme. I immediately told Iris that we found a new home for her shower curtain and that we can go shopping for a new one.

She retorted that she didn't want to get a new one. She liked this one.

What changed?

It turned out that, when she found out someone else wanted the rubber ducky shower curtain, she immediately wanted to hold out for $$.

No, the completely off-gassed shower curtain was going to a new home and that's that. There was no way I was going to subject a newborn to the dangerous fumes that come off new shower curtains.

We went back to the big box store and discovered that the shower curtain area did not stink as much as it did 9 years ago. In fact, the whole store stank less overall. The chlorine chemical vapors were down, but the 'home scents' were still unbearable.

We discovered that, for a few dollars more, we could get "chlorine-free" shower curtains that didn't reek. We bought the most basic one for about $10. The PVC ones cost slightly less, but at what price to the environment? To the workers in the manufacturing plants* and in the big box store? Or the hassle to the consumer of hanging it outside for weeks while the curtain off-gasses?

The rubber ducky shower curtain has a new home. I also bought a wooden sculpture of a madonna and child from west Africa in the shape of an infinity symbol. (The new parents met as MIT freshmen and are both engineers.) Perhaps the new mommy will send me photos of her baby in tie-dye?

All this is a long preamble to a pitch that a PR agency sent me about PVC in toys. I get pitches from PR agencies representing all sorts of customers. It's interesting to see how astroturf works, but I rarely do anything about the pitches. I am simply too busy.

If you have time to kill, you can visit They even have a graphic of rubber duckies! I have no idea who is funding this effort. The wooden toy industry?

Oddly, there doesn't seem to be any concern for the workers that produce the stuff. The images and wording all talk about effects for the consumer and kids. Take a look at the first picture on the document, Our Health and PVC. PVC stinks. So does this kind of scaremongering**.

I have lots of thoughts about the overuse of plastics and plasticizers in the environment. But I have to go work now. If you have time to kill tonight, at 6:00 PST, you may want to contact to sign up for this web event. I have a time conflict so I am interested in what you learn, if you attend.
Join us on a call for parenting/health bloggers at 9pm EST this Wednesday, November 17th, with Lois Gibbs, to discuss why PVC toys sold at Toys ‘R’ Us are a problem for families and children across America.

Lois Gibbs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), and is a recognized national environmental leader. Over 30 years ago after she discovered her children’s school was built on top of 20,000 tons of toxic waste, Gibbs led the fight to relocate 900 families from the contaminated neighborhood, Love Canal.
* You may want to read Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie Chang. Most Americans are unaware that the girls (literally!) that produce plastic toys and housewares for us are locked into factories so that they do not run away. They are supposed to be allowed outside the locked gates 1-2 days a week, per their work contracts. In actuality, some factories never allow the girls outside at all because they would never come back to the horrific conditions once they have been inside. Not all manufacturers are bad. The book chronicles the journeys of a few girls as they navigate from the bad ones to the good ones. This eye-opening book and put a real damper on my enthusiasm for shopping.

** At least the picture shows a pregnant lady NOT wearing nail polish. I cringe when I see the ubiquity of nail polish in young girls and women. What good is it worrying about PVC in toys when you are exposing your children to phthalates, toluene and a whole chemical soup of dangerous chemicals in nail polish?

Plastics are truly a miracle. But we should use them sparingly and appropriately. Stop the recreational use of endocrine disrupters on your children today.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The seven minute quilt top


The Community Services chairwoman of the South Bay Quilters' Guild claims that her pre-cut charity quilt kits can be sewn in 6:49. I think that means she can sew them that fast. I couldn't meet her par.

The strippy quilt below was sewn that quickly, if you don't count pressing time.
I think that she means that, if the squares are stacked in piecing order, and you don't press until AFTER the entire top is pieced, she can sew the top in under 7 minutes. While I can't sew as fast as she can, I could have sewn this really fast, if I hadn't mixed up two of the squares. Rip and redo took longer than the initial piecing session.
The rest of them went well.
I think Bad Dad would have liked a bicycle-themed quilt.
This one is my favorite; if I could keep it, I would.
Anyway, these five lap-quilts (36"x36" or 36"x42") are destined for our local battered women and children's shelter. When children arrive at the shelter, they are often very scared and have nothing but the clothes on their backs. The kids are led to the "quilt closet' where they are allowed to select any quilt there as their own. When they leave the shelter, they take the quilts with them.

(We also provide bags of toiletries that guild members collect from hotels. Before TSA took our shampoo away, I used to bring home a bunch of those little toiletry bottles home from every business trip. Some of the champion business travelers in our quilt guild bring in a lot.)

Our guild makes over 500 of these quilts a year and there is never enough.

I didn't make the seven minute par, but I did make 5 of these quilt tops and half of a twin-sized quilt for a LA county foster child last weekend. I didn't get to sew this weekend at all for reasons I will explain later.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The noncompetitive competitor

My sister likes to think that she is noncompetitive and not a contest person. But I know better. Why, yes, she is the oldest child, why do you ask? ;-)

Not only did she win the 2009 Spin-Off Contest, All Wrapped Up in Natural Fibers (in the popular sheep wool category), but she won the "technical excellence" and tied for first in the "popular choice" categories for the one-hour Batts to Hats competition at SOAR 2010.

Go check out her blog and follow the links to her Picasa album. Have you ever seen someone spin yarn right off a bunny?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Birthday Outfit

When I knit Norah Gaughan's Manon cardigan for myself, Iris asked for one of her own, but without sleeves. The pattern is sized for adults and uses aran-weight yarn at 4.5 sts/inch. It could fit a 10 year-old if I used a DK weight at 5.5 sts/inch. I just happen to have some in bright blue, her current favorite color.

Notice that I knit the sweater differently than the instructions. Look at the construction photos of the first sweater. The instructions say to knit the waistband ribbing with the triangle sections. The weight of the triangles drags down the ribbing, which I find rather unattractive. (A non-knitter might never notice.)

I knit the triangles using a size 5 needle and a size 4 needle for the garter edge rows.
Then I did a tubular cast-on with size 2 needles for the first 4 rows, switched to a size 3 needle and knit a band to match the length of the peplum made up of 7 triangles. I picked up stitches for the body of the sweater and knit with a size 6 needle. (My needle collection got quite a workout during this project.)
Then I stitched the peplum to the bottom of the band. The tubular cast-on and cast-off don't quite match, but at least I got the topology right.

You can't see it from this photo, but I mastered the tubular cast-on and cast-off for the cuffs on the sleeves.
You can't imagine the tantrums when I started to knit sleeves for the birthday sweater. She insisted that she wanted A SWEATER WITHOUT SLEEVES! But, I had just enough yarn to make the sleeves and my artistic vision included 3/4 length sleeves. Let her knit her own vest.

We also had a fight on our hands when I tried to retire her last swirly black skirt. It was made of polyester knit and getting too short for swirling. She insisted that there was nothing wrong with the skirt and she wanted to keep wearing it.

I made the new skirt, adding 5 inches in length to the pattern I used last time. Then I put the skirt that she didn't want, a t-shirt I bought her last year that she never wore, and the sweater with the sleeves that she didn't want on her dress form. I finished the outfit late at night, when she was already in bed. When I woke up in the morning, the dress form was naked and my girl was wearing her birthday outfit, 3 weeks early.

Note that I didn't finish a birthday outfit for myself.

She wore the black skirt again today and admitted that she likes this one better. The cotton is softer than the polyester, and she can swirl and swirl to her heart's content with the longer length. She also said that sleeves are OK for a jacket (but she is still waiting for a sweater without sleeves).

Tomorrow, I will surprise her in the morning with a brooch to close the sweater jacket.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Shop and Home Ec

I am 2/3 of the way through Shop Class as Soulcraft.  I would have finished the whole book, but he mentioned his father was a physicist at Berkeley and then I looked at the cover and dedication and realized that name is familiar, and then I took out his father's classic book and then I started Googling his dad and then I found the on-line notes for a waves and quantum mechanics class going on RIGHT NOW at Caltech, and then I started looking at their problem sets....

It's really kind of funny that, at the same time he (the son) was a teenager living in a commune in Berkeley, I was living in Foster City and sitting next to Luis Alvarez' niece in HS science class.  I left FC for bohemian Berkeley and Boulder while he ended up in an soulless job in FC*.  Small world.

So far, I am really enjoying the book, but he is really preaching to the choir. The main weakness of the book, and of Robert Pirsig's book, is that it is focused only on a small part of the culture of making and fixing, a world that is mainly inhabited by men.  There is nothing wrong with that.  As he admits, he is writing from his own experience, and it is a rich experience.   But, there are whole other worlds out there.

I have been swamped at work, my child's illness, and then my own illness.  In September, I was the September Patchwork Star at the South Bay Quilters' Guild meeting.

Here's an excerpt from the questionnaire with my thoughts about making.
How long have you been a member of the guild? Have you served on the board or community service? What else?

I joined the guild in 1997, when I first moved to the South Bay. I spent time on the Usenet bulletin boards when I should have been writing my PhD thesis. I met P (the president of the quilt at that time) on-line and she gave me info about the SBQG. I also joined the local chapter of the American Knitters’ Guild. I would have joined ASG (American Sewing Guild), too, if they had a local chapter.

I meet very few women at work or school. Wherever I live, I always sign up for fibery groups for the company of other women who like to make stuff. Advertisers want to create communities of consumption around their products. These guilds are communities of production and creativity. The women here are much more interesting than the random person on the street.
At the time that I left Boulder, I had belonged to the Boulder chapter of ASG and a quilt group that met in the Physics building on campus.  Eric's wife belonged to the quilt group, too.  There were 5 current or former IBM systems engineers out of about 20 members in the local ASG in the late 1990s.

At my first SBQG meeting, they announced the "Sunshine and Shadows" for the month.  I was one of two women that had recently been awarded PhDs.  Many women came up to me at the break to introduce themselves and I met 3 other women with PhDs that night, including a grandmother with a PhD in algebraic topology.  Somehow, she talked me into becoming the guild's first webmaster and thinking that it was my idea.  Clever, isn't she?

I did make it over the lecture at the Fowler museum last week; Bad Dad and Iris went to her team's soccer game instead of tagging along.  Atta Kwami gave a very interesting lecture about the contemporary scene in Africa.  It was followed up with a thought-provoking conversation between Kwami and Professor Sylvester Ogbechie (UCSB).  I was struck by one phrase that Atta Kwami kept repeating.
"My passion lies in making."
Yet, he did write a book about contemporary artists in Kumasi, Ghana because no one else was going to do it and he felt it was really important to get the story down.  Kumasi Realism is listed on, but is not on the US site yet.  Kwami showed some slides from the book.  Hopefully, Bad Dad will be going to the UK again on business and can bring it home as a gift.  Hint, hint.

* It sounds like Matthew never got out of the office park and mall corner of FC.  It's actually a much nicer place than he describes.  Where else can kids spend all summer sailing, canoeing and kayaking from backyard docks?  Or go Christmas carolling by canoe?  Or just hangout in modernist homes that blur the distinction between inside and outside? Or bike around the island on the network of bike paths?  Or birdwatch in the 30% of the city limits set aside as a wildlife sanctuary?  It did sound like he had a sucky job, though.  That can color your whole perception of a place.

More about making stuff: