Monday, August 23, 2010

Math class is tough!

People keep mentioning to me the 1980s era 1992 talking Barbie that says, "math class is tough!", expecting me to be outraged by it. Actually, I don't have any problem with that statement at all*.

I was offended by something else that the Barbie said. Does any one else remember that the doll also said, "Let's go shopping!"? The doll was conditioning girls to become consumers, but didn't give any balancing encouragement for girls to become producers as well. Are we valued solely for our purchasing power?

This weighs on my mind as I have been bombarded with back to school shopping messages for the past month and I am taking my daughter to register for middle school (6th grade) on Monday. Moreover, we still don't know which math class she should take. The students were given a couple of math placement tests in the Spring, but her scores were inconclusive. It may just be decided by what will fit with the rest of her schedule.

At least she will be rocking the back to school wardrobe I made/refashioned for her. We had fun putting it together, but I am under press embargo until after she has debuted them at school. She has given me permission to blog about the two dresses I made her for her 5th grade graduation. Stay tuned, and visit her blog.

* If you don't find that "math class is tough", then perhaps you should take a more challenging math class. One of the things I found most attractive about math was the state of "flow" that I achieved when working on difficult problems. This has helped me over many a rough patch in adolescence and early adulthood.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

New Shoes

Iris and I both got new purple suede shoes this Fall.  When she said that mine were only a little bit too big for her, I tried hers on for size.  It's a bittersweet feeling, the first time you realize that you can fit into your daughter's shoes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Life in the TMZ

I spoke too soon; the death march is NOT over.  Bad Dad is off doing field experiments for three weeks in a row and I am holding down the fort alone while trying to keep all of the end of fiscal year balls in the air at work.  I am so tired, I can barely type and write grammatically.

Summer camps keep shorter hours than daycare.  I am stuck doing both dropoff and pickup and all the stuff at home that keeps the household running.  Seriously, from 6:30 AM, when I should be up doing my back exercises (but I hit snooze instead), till 9:30 PM, when I hit the sack, I am running as fast as I can.  There is no margin for errors or surprises in my schedule, especially in the morning.

Imagine how thrilled I was to get an email alert about TV filming near work on Friday.  The bounding box for road closure is a worst case scenario.  How dare they film on the route between Iris' summer camp and my office?  Why do they have to film during the AM rush hour?

I mentioned in Free Range Kid 5 that our daytime hometown is one big movie set.  I read that movie studios have to pay for travel time for filming at locations outside of a certain radius from a certain street corner.  That's why some sound stages were built near work.  They fall inside the zone.  Today, when I was waiting for a return phone call, I looked up the zone rules.
It is a 30 mile radius used by union film projects to determine per diem rates and driving distances for crew members.

The center of the studio zone is located at the southeast corner of Beverly and La Cienega in Los Angeles, California. More than 90 cities and parts of three counties including Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties fall within the 30-mile studio zone.
See an interactive map of the 30-mile zone.

Wikipedia said that the website, TMZ, is named after the thirty-mile zone.  Well, that would explain why so many of our neighbors work in the entertainment industry*.

Traffic in the TMZ sucks, even without movie filming, freeway construction and presidential visits.  

But, I did manage to sew Iris' theater costume between dinner cleanup and bedtime tonight.  The performance isn't even until Friday so I beat the deadline by one evening!  That means we have time to celebrate with a meal at the El Segundo farmers' market tomorrow.  Iris wants to go to the Farm Stand because their fries are so good.  I was hoping for Chef Hannes because he does a special menu with farmer's market ingredients every Thursday.  In prior years, the peach cobbler was amazing.

* At the end of school, it is common to discuss summer vacation/camp plans for the kids.  This year, one classmate's mom told me that they weren't doing any camps this summer because they are going on location (for two movies) with her husband.  Another dad said that his band had a couple of tours and the family would accompany for one, possibly two of the tours.  Is it too late to be adopted into one of those families?

One dad from the local school friended me on Facebook.  He works as a forensic accountant for the film industry.  (Who knew you could make a living doing that?)  He posted on fb a scan of the requirements for a scene from a decades old classic movie.  I guess he takes the head count, multiplies by the rates, and comes up with how much the movie filming should cost.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Value-added teaching

If you have followed my posts about education, you know that I am ambivalent about both private and public schools and that I am deeply cynical about standardized testing.

Bad Dad and I have always believed that how much a student progresses in a school year, rather than a raw test score, is the best indicator of teacher effectiveness.  After all, students have different abilities and come from different environments.  

The LA Times started a multi-part series about teacher effectiveness, working up the data the way we've always wanted to see it.
Seeking to shed light on the problem, The Times obtained seven years of math and English test scores from the Los Angeles Unified School District and used the information to estimate the effectiveness of L.A. teachers — something the district could do but has not.

The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students' progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student's performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.
The findings of the study confirmed two of my pet beliefs.
• Contrary to popular belief, the best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas. Rather, these teachers were scattered throughout the district. The quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools.

• Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets. Teachers had three times as much influence on students' academic development as the school they attend. Yet parents have no access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets.
The researchers are also careful to bring up the caveat that a multi-year analysis is required in order to rate teacher effectiveness.  Every teacher has good and bad years.  Over a long period, the most effective teachers will stand out.

This brings up an ethical quandry; if the effective teachers are known, won't all the savvy parents request them? Someone has to end up in the classroom with non-effective teachers. Who gets to decide?

I've been the pushy parent that requested specific teachers.  I don't know if it made any difference, but I got my preference the majority of the time.  My daughter had only one ineffective teacher, and that was at a private school.  (That specific teacher had a bad year and had been a good teacher in the past.)

How do I know if I picked the right teachers?  I don't know and I can't go back and run a control.  ;-)

In a couple of instances, I asked for the less popular teacher.  They were known to be more strict, but I wanted a teacher that had both good classroom control, and was sympathetic to the unique challenges my child faced.

Another time, I just clicked with one teacher because she majored in the arts and worked in the arts before becoming a mother and teacher.  Although her academic training was in the arts, she is very interested in the sciences and developed much of the school's science curriculum.  I am just the opposite.  Although I studied and work in the sciences, I have always been very interested in the arts. 

My gut instinct told me that she would be very flexible about my child's schoolwork, despite the reputation for strictness.  It turned out that I was correct; my child was assigned a highly individualized curriculum that followed the state standards, but in greater depth.  It involved more legwork for me, but it was so much easier than schlepping her to a private school 5 days a week and then working extra hours so we could afford it.

Anyway, if you are worried, leave a comment and I will try to address it in a future post about how to make public school work for you and your child.  I may elicit suggestions from experienced teachers, too.

The LA Times study is important.   Go read it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Zero Waste News

Don't miss this article about designers working to reduce waste in the fashion industry, Fashion Tries on Zero Waste Design.
Nearly every leading zero-waste or less-waste designer hails from another country, including Mark Liu, Julian Roberts and Zandra Rhodes in England; Susan Dimasi and Chantal Kirby in Australia; Ms. McQuillan in New Zealand; and Yeohlee Teng, who is working in New York but was born in Malaysia.

Among those instrumental in pushing for change is Mr. Rissanen, a ruddy-faced Finnish designer who is Parsons’ first-ever assistant professor of fashion design and sustainability.
Does anyone know of American designers interested in zero waste?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Seam Avoidance

If you have three knitting projects waiting to be seamed and finished, the obvious thing to do is to cast on for a seamless circular project.  The Slanting Gretel Tee from Fall 2009 Interweave Knits
Ravelry project notes here.
This is an example of coffin clothes, clothes devoid of details in the back despite a great deal of detail in the front.

I didn't read the pattern very carefully before embarking upon the upper yoke portion.  I actually thought that the back raglan cable detail started later than the front cables because the back neck would be raised later with short-rows.  As you can see, the front and back necklines are the same height and the back is extremely plain and boring compared to the front.

The Malabrigo Silky Merino is very soft, but has a tendency to stretch out.  Forewarned by fellow Ravelers, I knit a size 32" to fit my 34" body.  This sweater has magical tendencies.  It should have taken 5 50 gram skeins.  But, it only required 3.5 skeins.  Yet, it is the size it is supposed to be.  If anything, it is longer than the pattern because I lost track of the decreases and added a few rows both below the armhole and again at the neckline to bring it up higher.

It's like the time Bad Dad and I went x-c skiing in Yellowstone.  We discovered that the Yellowstone Valley is magical; the out and back ski trails were uphill both ways.  I told someone back at the lodge about that, when we were comparing trail conditions at the end of the day.  I said that I discovered that gravity is a non-conservative force in this valley.

He said, "Oh, no, another physicist."  He was a physicist at Fermi Labs.  At that point, he hadn't yet met the group of physicists from Los Alamos that shared our lunch stop log.  It kind of tells you what kind of people visit Yellowstone in the winter.

Friday, August 06, 2010


That's how much it costs to buy back a teacher in our school district.
[The] RBEF (Redondo Beach Educational Foundation) presented a $120,000 check to the Board of Education at Tuesday night’s meeting.

“It is specifically given to the (school) district to rescind two layoff notices for two teachers and to bring them back to teach our students this fall,” McCarthy said.
When I read that number, I thought it was quite a bargain.  $20,000 post-tax dollars is about $30,000 pre-tax dollars.  If just two families pulled one kid out of a private school that charges tuition of $20,000/year (and there are many in LA), then they can donate that $ instead to the RBEF (or their local school district).  That is enough to buy a teacher for their neighborhood school.

Think about the decrease in traffic congestion and CO2 emissions if the kids can walk to their neighborhood school (and playdates with other neighborhood kids) instead of being chauffeured everywhere.  Think about all the time saved and stress averted.  Think about the effect of a smaller class size on the kids and the teachers.

In this particular case, one of the rehired teachers taught 1st grade; the other taught 5th grade.  In CA, 1st and 5th grade classes can contain 20 and 30 students respectively.  In fiscal emergencies,  the class size can be bumped up to 24 and 34 students.  In a small school, there may be two each 4th and 5th grade classes and one mixed-grade 4-5 classroom with 30-34 kids.  An additional teacher would alleviate the overcrowding in 5 classrooms.

Think about that.  A life raft for two kids, or for 150 kids?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Handmade Homemade (Vogue 8392)

It's been more than a month since Zoe posted Thoughts on Forgiveness about her imperfect homemade clothing versus perfectly-stitched mass-produced clothing.
Not only do I forgive the signs that put my clothes into the homemade/handmade catagory, but I guess I've learnt to almost embrace them.
She was writing in response to Susannah's Handmade or homemade? post. 
Does the homemade look of the clothes you make ever get you down? Sometimes, even on the rare occasions when I do pretty much everything right, I find it difficult to love a garment I’ve made for the sole reason that the finished product doesn’t look as “good” as what I might buy in a shop.
I’m not sure the mass-produced look is the best standard for home sewers to aspire to. For example, I’m fairly sure the universality of stretch fabrics, which make sizing so convenient for mass-producers of clothing, has contributed to a loss of understanding of what constitutes good fit — even among home sewers, who tend on the whole to be keenly aware of actual body size and fitting issues. Nobody expects RTW (ready-to-wear) clothes to fit perfectly. We do expect them to be stitched perfectly. So anyone looking at a garment will tend to notice imperfections in stitching more readily than bad fit.
Actually, I am not one bit ambivalent about the home-madeness of my clothes.

I can't replicate the quality of a factory-sewn garment because I lack the specialized equipment and I don't practice enough to get it perfect. But I can make my clothes fit my body shape and my special needs*.   My self-made clothes are in a whole other category than store-bought clothes.

Firstly, my home-made clothes fit much better than RTW.

I prefer to sew with patterns from companies that use a consistent sloper so that I know which pattern alterations I have to make with each new pattern.  With Vogue/Butterick, a size 12 fits through the shoulders, but I need to taper it out to a 14 at the hips.  I have a slender neck so I extend the shoulder 0.5" into the neckline on both sides, then I pinch out 0.5" at the CB (0.25" if cutting on the fold).  If the sleeve is close-fitting, I measure the upper arm circumference and add 0.5-1", if needed.

Because the handkerchief-weight linen/cotton blend is sheer, I made the front double layer, sandwiching the shoulder and side seams between the layers for a clean finish.  I also used french seams for the sleeves.  The only serged finish is in the armscythe.

I don't have a binder attachment for perfectly bound edges (see the Bernina video to see how this works), so my stitching is a bit uneven.

But, if I used a special binding attachment, the binding ends would be joined in a perpendicular seam, often in conjunction with a garment seam.  That's a whole lot of layers in one place and the lump would rub uncomfortably, no matter how well it is sewn.  My homemade garment has a spiral seam for lump-free comfort.
The finished neckline is not perfect, but it is smooth and comfortable.

My impatient photographer did not give me fair warning before snapping this.  I think I was still telling her how to adjust the camera setting.  Here's the blouse with RTW jacket and shorts.

Vogue 8392 Flickr slideshow
Vogue 8392 Pattern Review

* I have extremely sensitive skin that injures easily.  RTW clothes are a crapshoot.  I have had to throw out new clothes because they cause me to bleed.  When I sew, I use soft fabrics and high-quality thread that won't chafe.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Me-Made-May (MMM) Wrap-up

It's August 1, so it is high time I write about Me-Made-May.  Remember when I wrote this?
The great thing about Me-Made-May is that we get to define our own rules for success.  I don't have any desire to make everything I wear.  But, I will challenge myself to wear something that I made or refashioned every day through May.  I did my semi-annual closet purge and inventory last weekend.  There were so many lovely things that I want to enjoy more often.

I don't have the time and energy to post every day, but I will try to post weekly through May, usually on the weekend.
Ha! I don't think I posted at all during May. It was part of the death march, so forgive me.

Instead, let me direct you to the Flickr Me-Made-May group photo pool.  Most of the participants are much younger than me and at the start of their sewing career.  For them, the challenge was to sew more items to carry them throughout the month and to fill gaps in their sewing resume.  That is, if they sewed mostly bottoms, then MMM gave them the impetus to sew more tops (or vice-versa).  For others, it was an exercise in self-reliance.

I enjoyed the performance art aspect of it, particularly Claudine's gorgeous outfits.  Her esthetic (see her Flickr album) is really close to mine, if I were 20 pounds thinner and had infinite amounts of time to sew.

For the record, I did wear something I made every single day in May.  Some days, it was a double bonus day because Iris wore something I made.  If you count Mark's pajamas, then we hit the trifecta on some days nights.

On this particular day, I was feeling under the weather and moped around the house in a bathrobe for most of the day.   When Mark invited me out to lunch, I tossed on a t-shirt and shorts, we dumped whatshername off at a playmate's house and went to the beach.  Do you notice something odd in this picture?

How about in the other direction?

The sea has a purplish cast because of an algal overgrowth called red-tide.  This one is pretty mild.  I searched the environmental monitoring websites and it didn't even get a mention on any of them.  The lifeguard also let people swim and play in the water.  (Actually, it might have been a good day to frolic in the surf because you didn't have to worry about getting tangled in fishing lines and hooks.)

When I got home, I realized that I hadn't made either the shorts or the t-shirt.  I thought I had blown Me-Made-May on May 30!  Then I realized that I spent the majority of the day in a me-made robe.  Whew!

Iris wants us to participate in Self-Stitched-September.  She says the new rules will be that a day counts if either of us wears something I we made.  We better get stitching then.  But, first, I need to clear that pink and green quilt off the sewing table.  (What was I thinking when I selected the colors?)