Monday, June 30, 2008

Seeing Stars

This started out as a white knit skort, found at a thrift store. I had planned to dye it, but Iris said she wanted to wear it plain white. After a year, it got rather grungy. We dyed it during our last tie-dye playdate. The bag with this skort was somehow overlooked and never massaged. The color came out very uneven.

I suggested to Iris that we even out the darker patch using dishwashing gel with bleach (see an example in Dye Workshop). She was not receptive to the idea. I offered textile paint instead and she selected purple paint. The 4 rows of stars were stenciled using part of a roll of metallic trim (?) I obtained from SAS Fabrics. They came in several colors/patterns for $1 per roll. I bought large and small dots and small stars. I will try to take and post a picture of them later.

My Star

Iris sends her greetings to Birgitte's Rockstar. Ooh, do click on the link to see the full adorableness of it all, and the spectacular metallic leather jacket that her mommy made especially for her.

A better view of all three colors of the ribbon lace scarf.

Iris says the scarf would be better if I used only the Artfibers Golden Chai (100% silk) yarn. She finds the Blue Sky Alpaca Silk (50/50) too itchy.

Kira, the manager of Artfibers, suggests ironing projects made with Golden Siam (solid) and Golden Chai (printed). The iron imparts a magical sheen; photography does not do the fabric justice. Iris wants me to knit her more things with Golden Siam/Chai.

She had been cast as Frau Schmidt and a villager (chorus) in The Sound of Music. We browsed the internet and my stash for costume ideas. (All the ingredients came out of my stash.) Frau Schmidt needed a long dark dress and she selected a black rayon/poly/lycra matte jersey. I added a bit of black stretch velvet for the neck binding.

I drafted two apron patterns. When she is on stage as Frau Schmidt, she will wear a white apron trimmed with lace. Just to make it interesting, I mitered the lace trim at the corners.

When she is on stage as a villager, she will wear this bright turquoise dirndl apron.

I had been saving this piece of Kona cotton for another project and tried to dissuade her by offering bright lovely prints. She huffed, "I am a villager, not a lady. Villagers wear plain fabrics!" Wow, I was in my teens before I figured that out. Where did she learn that?

The dirndl should have been easy, but turned into a real trial. First, I couldn't attach the $90 Bernina pleater foot to my newish Bernina (aka the paperweight). My generic ruffler and the Bernina low-shank adapter also failed to fit. I resorted to zigzag stitching over a cord. But who ran off with the spool of crochet cotton I keep by the sewing center for just that purpose? Where did it go? Finally, I dove into the stash under my bed and found some sport-weight cotton.

Add to that, the frustration of an automatic needle threader that didn't quite work and a machine that eats fabric at the start and end of each seam and I wanted to throw the Bernina out the window. I really did. The New Home cost half as much and performs basic sewing tasks much better than the Bernina.

The two are as different as a Toyota and a BMW. The Toyota just works intuitively. The BMW requires "just sew" treatment from the operator and constant repair. If instructions are needed, the New home manual describes in plain English exactly what you need to do. The Bernina instructions leave you scratching your head.

In Bernina's defense, you pay a premium for dealer education and support. My old Bernina sewing machine and the Bernette serger I still use were fine. The Bernina dealer in Boulder gave a fantastic 6 week course in how to use a Bernina. Additionally, I could drop by the store any time to ask questions. The dealer/owner was the best sewing teacher I ever had. The dealer in Torrance offered a 2 hour class given by an instructor hired from another region. Very little help can be obtained at the store except at the few times a year the instructor is there.

The black dress should look familiar. I made it 4 times in sizes ranging from 4-8. Mark says I got good value out of Simplicity 5827. Note that all four of these dresses omitted the center back zipper because they were made out of knits. I scooped out the front neckline slightly to create more pullover allowance. For the black dress, I lengthened the size 8 bodice by 1" and the skirt by 2".

No, Donald Trump was not here. Iris was just playing around with my sewing weights.

The round stainless steel ones were pulled out of a scrap metal bin in a machine shop. They were specially made to fit the curvature of objects mounted on a lathe. The brass bars were made by a friend in Boulder. I think about him every time I use them.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Weather persistence is when today's weather is about the same as yesterday's. This explains why LA's carbon footprint is so small. Read more about this report at the Brooking's institute website.

Visit The Varying Impact of Gas Prices to see the percent of income spent on gasoline by US county. The recent jump in gas prices has increased the amount our household spends on gasoline to nearly 1% of our income. I guess this means I should drive less and bicycle more.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Birthrates again

I am still thinking about birthrates, but haven't posted about it lately.

The NY Times Magazine ran No Babies?, a long article about Europe's declining population and low birthrates. I only skimmed it and will reread it more carefully after the costuming ordeal. It looks like Russell Shorto covers a lot of ground in the article. I don't completely agree with his analysis of why birthrates are higher in the US and Scandinavia.

I met a Swedish mother of two (spaced 12 years apart) in New Zealand. She attributed her willingness to bear a second child to a robust economy and job security, not the welfare state. She said that Swedish people tend to be planners; they save ahead for things. She saved for a second child; labor laws also gave her confidence that she could retain her job or find another high-quality job if she bore a second child.

Women in the US are not as secure about their ability to regain a place in the paid labor force as he suggests. If you take away recent immigrants from high-fertility countries, the US fertility rate would be much lower. My fertility rate, one, is par for highly educated women in the US. Immigrants from east Asia, like myself, also have the lowest fertility of all immigrant groups in the US. I am only slightly sub-par for that group. (Coincidentally, east Asian immigrant women and black women have the highest paid workforce participation and lower than average fertility.)

It's a small world

I downloaded this image from the Travels with Samantha travelogue (an early version of a travel blog) in 1993. I used this very calming image for my screen background in the high-stress period while performing my PhD research and writing it up. Back then, I had no clue who this Philip Greenspun character was, except that he if very open about his attraction to pretty women and takes great photos. See the bears fishing at Katmai series if you need more proof.

I am not sure what prompted me to look at the photos again last week, but I did. I couldn't believe it! Could there be two Mike O'Briens from Venice Beach absolutely gonzo about geysers? I think not. That's "big Mike" from my current research group.

I showed the comment to my office-mate this summer (same MIT student intern as last year), and he said, "Philip Greenspun is a real character."

"You know him?"

"Yes, he teaches occasionally at MIT and I took a couple of classes with him."

I blew another week of my life that I will never get back trying to move data (unsuccessfully) between two "hardened sites". I am beside myself with fury. Think about the overhead in our lives from deterring theft and hackers, not to mention airport security. Is it really worth it?

Serenity now. I finished blocking and ironing (yes!) the ribbon lace scarf. I will try to post a picture of the scarf on Iris tomorrow in natural light.

She is spending the first 6 weeks of the summer at Performing Arts Workshop. I need to make her a long dark dress with two aprons (one frilly white, one bright and simple) by July 11. That gives me two weekends. But Mark wants to go to San Diego during the holiday weekend. Make that one weekend. But Iris neglected to tell me until I asked her at dinner tonight. Make that one day to make the costumes. Serenity now. Recall that I am the mother that made 22 costumes for her kindergarten class concert in one weekend. I can handle this.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Neighborhood Experiment

I read about Peter Lovenheim's Won't you be my neighbor? experiment and felt grateful for my neighbors. I actually know about half the (~180) people on my block. We have had several over for BBQ and play dates, exchanged outgrown kids' stuff, shared tools and books, joined together in clean up or repair projects, etc.

When I was really sick, and Mark was away on work travel, and Iris was much younger, no fewer than three families on our block took care of Iris so I could get some much needed rest.

I am especially sad about the recent departure of a former coworker and his wife. An astronomer, he used to set up a telescope in his driveway for neighborhood kids. His wife, in addition to selling me Tupperware and tucking in recipes with my orders; enjoyed knitting, crocheting and sewing. And she could read Japanese. I bought a half dozen Japanese pattern books with the expectation that I could walk down the street with them for help.

Sigh. Her ivy-league MBA trumped his PhD in astrophysics (Caltech) in earning power. Plus, she found a great job in her hometown where her kids could spend unlimited time with their doting grandparents.

They sold their house to a family that can read Chinese. Are there interesting Chinese pattern books I should try?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What I did last week

Notice the very low water flow in the creek. Now why would a mother fret about her child playing around in this (in a posse of 5 feral children)?

The cool water beckons during a heat wave.

I threw the cereal bowl and Iris threw the cup. She painted the first layer of glaze before running off to a Little Oskis event. I finished up with two more layers. Mark and I wonder if children ever write #2 Dad on Fathers' Day presents?

I finished the Ribbon Lace scarf. (2 skeins of Blue Sky Alpaca Silk and a bit of leftover Artfibers Golden Chai.)

I started the Vera jacket from Mags Kandis' In Living Color.

I forgot to pack #7 double pointed needles for the sleeves. That necessitated a stop at By Hand Yarn down the valley in Sonora. I was low on cash and would not expect them to pay the credit card fee just to sell me <$10 worth of needles. My sister has been tempting me to create my own triangular lace shawl. Now, which pattern should I pick?

I also read a couple of books. Mark and I rode our tandem 3 out of 7 days. We tried to get going early to beat the heat, but we never got out of camp before 10:20. We always got back for lunch at noon. Each day, we became stronger and traveled a bit further, climbed a bit more.

Listen to the creek.

By Hand is a painterly yarn shop where they arrange the yarn in a color palette. The picture on their home web page does not do the shop justice. Additionally, the owner stocks handpaints from several local artisans at better prices than "down the hill". Sadly, the nearby Diamondback Grill where we used to love to eat is closed. We ate at the Miner's Shack instead. If you are touring California Gold Country, Sonora is well worth a visit.

Free Range Kids 4

I forgot to mention earlier that, a 13 year old girl was abducted and raped while walking to a school less than 5 miles away from Iris' school. I learned about it after I started to let her walk on her own. By then, she was so proud of her new independence, I didn't have the heart to dampen her enthusiasm.

Like the last time a similar incident occurred in our area, the rapist targeted a girl in a working class Hispanic neighborhood. Criminals believe that those girls are less likely to be quickly reported missing, giving them more time for a getaway.

Oddly, this incident made national news. I found the story on the website of a Long Island newspaper almost 3000 miles away. Read it there, if you must. Why do you think they ran this story?

No mention is made that more than half the Hispanic American girls born recently will develop type 2 diabetes and suffer early death and disability. Regular exercise, such as walking, can help prevent them from coming down with the disease.

I don't stop Iris if she wants to walk alone to school while I finish the dishes. I do walk a few minutes later, to sign her into after school daycare. I give her a hug while she is lined up with the other students in the schoolyard.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Free Range Kids 3

We were at the Lair of the Golden Bear last week. Iris joined a pack of kids that liked to hang out at the creek and look for critters. (The bug catching kit she received for her last birthday saw heavy action all week.)

I was sitting midway between our cabin and the creek, reading a delicious collection of Alice Munro short stories, when another mother came by. She was shouting the name of her boy, roughly the same age as Iris. They belonged to the same pack of kids down at the creek. She asked if I was Iris' mother.

I replied in the affirmative.

She asked if I knew where her son was.

I looked down at the creek and wave my hand in the general direction. "They were down there a while ago, but I don't see them now."

"You don't know where your daughter is and you are fine with that?"

I stared back uncomprehendingly. I didn't think there was anything wrong with that until she asked in that tone of voice.

She walked off, continuing to shout her son's name.

I thought the point of Lair was to let kids run wild in the woods and around the creek. Besides, Iris was with a pack of 5 "Little Oskis" (6-7 year olds). The creek was running very low due to the drought; the risk of drowning was minimal. Mosquitoes were the biggest problem we encountered at the creek.

Read the other Free Range Kids entries.

When one of the "Little Oskis" counselors asked the kids to count off, Iris played a smart @ss.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 3 times 3. The girl next to her fired off 5 plus 5 without skipping a beat. Number 11 looked petrified. I told her it was OK to say 11 because it was a prime. The counselor gave a big sigh and said, "Darn UC Berkeley camp kids". He gave them assigned numbers, starting at the other end of the line.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tie-dye June 2008

Remember the last baby boom? The Smart Bohemian and I tie-dyed 25 onesies last Sunday.

A friend/neighbor dyed three t-shirts; one new and two refashions.

His son and Iris dyed 4 shirts. the 5th one is from Iris' class project last Fall.

I refashioned Iris' ghost costume from a few Halloweens back. It will be my contribution to "The elephant in the room". See the cutout for her face? The lopped off corner attests that the ghost costume was itself a refashion. A triple use item.

"THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM" will be a giant group-built elephant sculpture (created by Beth Elliott) upon which participants can sit and pose for a photo. Democrat, Republican, Independent--everyone has a different "elephant in the room" re: public education funding. The Elephant (non-partisan, chosen only for structural stability) welcomes all--as in the barndance, all comers are invited to take a whirl.
A closeup of a tank top for myself. I used Sapphire Blue and Better Black, which is supposed to give blue-toned edges. It came out more brown than black.

Remember the stitched heart? We gathered up the string, then put a rubber band over it. Then we put rubber bands above and below that, to make a triple heart. Then we threw it into a ziploc bag with 3 cups of dye activator and 1/2 a cup of Fire Red dye solution.

Perhaps we should have massaged the bag a bit more to make the shirt more even. Iris seems happy with it and that is what matters. We dyed a gauzy dream skirt in the same shade. This bag was massaged assiduously to produce an even shade.

Fire red on the left, sunrise red on the right. Note how the edges of sunrise red are yellow? The dye powder starts out yellow, then turns red when wetted.

There's more. I will post the rest later. I should mention that we used the same dye activator solution in the dye recipes posted here, but we dissolved 1 TABLESPOON of dye instead of one teaspoon per cup of water. (Except for the fuchsia, which we left at 1 teaspoon.) That is why the colors are more saturated than the ones I showed before.

Iris started her own blog; the link is on the right. I have no idea what she is going to say. I am just her typist. She also started a weekly newspaper. We divided up the beats. She wouldn't let me cover fashion because she says I have such a terrible fashion sense. She also wouldn't let me do book reviews because she plans on doing all the reviewing herself.

She gave me Op-Ed when I asked for it because she didn't know what that was.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Skewering the metrics

The curmudgeon in me loved Michael Kinsley's WaPost opinion piece,
My Most Productive Column Ever
Measuring value by word count: What a brilliant idea!

"Randy Michaels, who is described as chief operating officer of the Tribune Co." reportedly said that staff productivity will be measured by column-inches of words. Apparently, Tribune Co. discovered that "while the average journalist at the Los Angeles Times produces 51 pages of words each year, his or her counterpart at the Hartford Courant, which is also owned by the very same Tribune Co., produces 300 pages of words each year. This is six times as many words."

So forget research, fact-checking, analysis and the in-depth investigations that has won so many Pulitzers for the LA Times. From now on, they will write for tonnage.

Furthermore, management wants to achieve a "balance" of 50% editorial content and 50% advertising. Why stop at anything short of 100% advertising?

I have a cost-cutting idea. They can just print PR marketing news releases verbatim in lieu of reporting. Better yet, they can cut out local staff completely by letting PR agencies submit their press releases directly without vetting. I am sure that their IT department in India can build the appropriate web-based press release entry system.

I will be contacting Tribune Co. shortly to discuss payment for this consulting session.

African Fabrics

Don't miss Julie Ward's fabrics: out of Africa and into America's stores. That's her in the photo above, wearing a tie-dyed cotton voile. The fabrics are fabulous. I am ready to go check out her store.
To visit Gallery Asha -- as Ward calls her showroom of imported textiles, objets d'art and jewelry, near South La Brea Avenue -- is to enter a foreign land filled with tribal masks, carved wooden statues, strange musical instruments and textiles. Lots of textiles.

Ward, 42, is an expert in these fabrics, and her clients realize the value of her eclectic tastes. Sold in 5-, 6- and 12-yard pieces, the fabrics range from $5 to $20 per yard.
The article says that LA designers have been buying her imports for their creations. I bought some west African wax prints in 1-2 yard pieces from SAS fabrics in Lawndale. I wonder if they are the leftovers from some local manufacturer?

She passed

We have a purple belt in the household now.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Let's live up to the Equal Pay Act

President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963. 45 years later, we have Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Like Knitaly wrote, why must we fight the same battles, over and over, for rights that we thought had been formerly won?

The schoolyard was aghast because one of the mothers is about to lose her health insurance. Her husband moved out, leaving her with 3 children still at home. He says that he will inform her when he files for divorce.

By law, she can stay on his health insurance plan for 18 months if she pays for it under COBRA. After that, she is on her own. She had been hospitalized with a life-threatening illness in the past year, so any individual health coverage she obtains will likely carry a rider that waives coverage for any related conditions for the first two years of coverage. 24 months. 18 months. Paying for dual coverage in the interim. You do the math.

She is a stay at home mom (SAHM) with no outside employment (other than much-appreciated volunteer work at our local school). Oh, yeah, he wants to sell the house, too. She will be sick, kicked out of her home and her medical plan, and looking for a job during a recession that pays well enough to leave her something to live on after healthcare and childcare costs.

SAHM is one of the most stressful and risky career tracks--at-will employment with no protections.

Sky Writing

Like Eric and My Buddy Mimi, I have more respect for sky writing than Banner Towing Aircraft. My Buddy Mimi says that she saw "Tori & Dean" in the sky. I captured the "To" on my way to work last Friday. I wish I had stuck around for the ampersand. That takes some skill. Another reason that sky-writing doesn't bother me as much is that the aircraft fly higher. Consequently, they appear less noisy to the spectator on the ground.

Where did I last see sky-writing? In Silverlake, through the Golden Vortex.

A few more pictures of the Golden Vortex.

While sifting through the August 2005 pictures, I came across the Crystal Cove Pullover, blogged about when I was writing for my sister's blog. See the entry here. Its curves remind me of the Golden Vortex.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

How I spent the day

This is the only wardrobe refashion for the past four weeks. Several years ago, I succumbed to marketing and bought not one, but two (buy 1, get the second for $1) pairs of pants in the spectacularly unflattering 24" inseam length the stores call "cropped" pants. I shortened them to the much more flattering 18" "capri" length favored by Jackie Kennedy Onassis. The other pair is even hot pink, just like Jackie O's!

I bought the vintage blouse in a thrift shop about 20 years ago. The shoulders don't fit me well, but look at the collar detail!

I also threw one of my semi-annual tie-dye parties today. I will try to post some pix of today's creations later this week. Until then, you can look at a wardrobe refashion from a couple of years ago. This polo shirt used to be sage green until an unfortunate encounter with soy sauce. I tied it up into a soft spiral twist, then dyed it in a Ziploc bag with sapphire blue Procion fiber-reactive dye. One of Iris' stained skorts got similar treatment today.

Iris wanted to make a heart tie-dye shirt. We zigzag stitched over a piece of waxed flat sinew. I am so glad I shelled out the $ for this, because it works so much better than string or dental floss.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Worst Idea Ever

OK, there are many bad ideas. But, is there a worse use of petroleum than banner towing aircraft (BTA)? Leave a comment if you can think of one.

On summer weekends, a BTA flies overhead every few minutes. We have to suspend conversations whenever that happens. For a few months after September 11, they suspended the BTA. They have started up again, and now there are more than ever.

I suggest a boycott of all businesses that hire those noisy, polluting and wasteful things.

When I was on bedrest during the summer of 2000, the FAA allowed the BTA to fly at 2500 feet instead of 4000 feet, in order to create more of a separation between them and the jets at LAX. I told Mark about the noise, and he told me I was only imagining that the planes were worse. He said it was pregnancy hysteria. Then we read in the paper about the failed experiment; the plane noise exceeded safe decibel levels on the ground. Hysterical indeed.

Friday, June 06, 2008

In the news

The carbon footprint from tourism
Tourism is a big and important business. It draws on the wealth of people in developed nations and helps transfer some of those resources to businesses and communities in emerging and some of the least developed markets.

But tourism also is responsible for about 5 percent of global greenhouse gases, according to Geoffrey Lipman, the assistant secretary-general at the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Off the Grid, but Plugged In
“If it’s a nice, bright sunny day and you’re doing the laundry, instead of throwing the stuff in the dryer, you might decide to throw it on the line for a few hours,” he said. “You start adjusting your way of life around some of the natural rhythms of nature.”
I feel really guilty about the carbon output of all the trips I took in the last year. But, if you have lived through as many illnesses and close calls as I have in the past few years, you will understand why I felt like I had to live it up a little bit to celebrate. At least I use a clothesline and flew coach.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Jacaranda Season 2008 at Chez BadMom

Yeah, my house has a white picket fence. You want to make something of it?

We are drunk with color.

Vandals. Remember Bad Neighbors? That girl and her grandmother no longer live in our neighborhood. Their apartment burned down. Rumor has it, a relative crashing at their place burned it down while free-basing something. This other vandal came well prepared. Notice that the stem is neatly sheared off, not torn.

I have noticed this thing (is it a car?) a few times during my morning commute. I ran into him near work and he said that they are building these prototypes in a nearby building. I didn't know he lived in my neighborhood as well. The neat thing about living in 'felony flats' (aside from the drug dealers), is the number of artists and inventors who live in the hood.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Time to Agitate

Remember Bake Sales Won't Do It, my screed against how governments put children last? I heard Sandra Tsing Loh's KPCC piece suggesting the Million Mom March on Sacramento to protest suggested school funding cuts (what's left to cut?). I had been in despair about the changes in California public schools between the time Mark and I had been students and the school system experienced by Iris today. When I heard Sandra, I got all fired up and shouted at the radio, "Sign me up!"

Our annual Lair of the Golden Bear trip to northern California coincides with the California Children's Rally. What better time to introduce Iris to activism? It is the UC Berkeley Alumni camp and there should be plenty of seasoned activists in attendance. I hope to round up more rally goers, even if that means leaving camp at 6:30 AM in the morning to get to the capitol steps in Sacramento by 10:00 AM.

Go read the California Children's Rally website, particularly the FAQ, to learn more.

Sandra Tsing Loh, (818) 426 1240 Youtube channel: RallyMoms

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 at the Sacramento Capitol (front)

SACRAMENTO - 2008 marks both the 30th anniversary of the passage of Howard Jarvis’ Proposition 13 (June) and the 160th anniversary of California public schools. On Tuesday, June 17, parental frustration over perennial public education budget cuts (California currently ranks 46th in the U.S.) will be transformed into a rally celebrating a group who has no lobbyists, California’s future, and the most important "special interest" in the world--our children. Also celebrated will be some extraordinary heroes of California public school culture whose hearts, despite many odds, beat strong.
Proposition 13 is especially contemptible because, as a CA initiative, it needed only more than 1/2 of the votes to pass. However, the proposition states that it cannot be repealed by less than 2/3 of the voters, forever making prop 13 supporters' votes worth double their opposition's. (It passed, but not with 2/3 of the votes.) Moreover, the people most harmed by the proposition, children, could not vote. Talk about cowards.

Thinking about Proposition 13 makes my blood pressure shoot up and I need to go relax (maybe knit some lace?) and get to sleep.