February 20, 2011

The Long View

I feel badly that I don't want to really think much about Current Events. The proposed federal laws that would redefine rape and shut down a national organization that provides a wide variety of health care services to low-income women. The protests in Wisconsin. The assault on the EPA and the shelter given to polluters. Citizens United.

Really, I get sick to my stomach thinking about it.

Where did rationality go? What are they all afraid of? Or is it that it's all about greed? Why is it not possible to talk things through in a reasonable fashion without having someone start screaming?

Here's what I wish:

A realistic dream. The kind that scares the hell out of the dreamer. This is the path you are on, this is where it will take you. Kind of like The Devil's Advocate, where the protagonist "wakes up" at the end of the movie, having just had a vision about where his life could be going if he continues down his current path. I want everyone who rants about needing tax cuts, spending cuts (but no cuts to the Pentagon!), less restrictions on business, less of a social safety net, to see where this path is going. I want them all to see that it's going to affect everyone, not just that Poor Family Over There. The odds of the fewer business restrictions making enough of these folks rich enough to be unaffected by collapsing roads and bridges, crumbling schools, rampant crime, a toxic natural environment, rising ocean levels, and unavailable health care are too slim to gamble on.

This is the America we're creating: a starving, polluted land covered by jails.

Please, can we wake up now?

February 16, 2011

Dis-proof of Concept, and The Answer

thread catcher?

Sewing creates these tiny bits of thread that you cut off a project. I've always just had a little pile going on my work table, and sometimes I would sweep them into my hand and get them to a trash bin. More often they would get swept off the table (by my project or my arm) and wait to be vacuumed into oblivion.

Last night, I decided that it was time to grow up. So I made a thing in which to put thread tails.

What resulted is not quite what I had in mind.

thread catcher?

It's edges are too wavy and too wide. The buttonholes are uneven lengths. Not to mention that one buttonhole every 3/4 of an inch for about 17 inches is a lot of buttonholes. Sure, it holds the thread bits just fine but it isn't quite the lovely addition to my workspace I was imagining.

It's a Concept Disproved. Or at least Poorly Executed. The good news is that I've got another idea for the same thing, hopefully with a less ruffly edge and fewer buttonholes. So, hurray for rough drafts.

In related news:

roses on fabric

This fabric is the answer to the one-question quiz that will come up sometime in the next six to twelve months. Hope you are taking notes!

February 15, 2011

Ah ha! I mean, Duh!

Everyone I encounter has a certain base package of knowledge, right? People generally eat with a fork, wait their turn before speaking, can approximate their feelings in words.

Only with a mature brain, apparently. Which has been simultaneously both an "Ah-ha!" moment and a "Duh!" moment. Humans are born unfinished; it's something about the angle needed by a pelvis for walking upright being incompatible with the size of a head with a completed brain. I knew that already. But what I didn't know was how the brain was unfinished. And now that I think about it, of course, it makes sense. How could I have not figured this out before now?

Human brains come in three sections, a reptilian brain for instinctive behavior (breathing, hunger, fight-or-flight), a mammalian brain for emotion (rage, fear, playfulness, exploration, caring, separation distress) and a rational brain for everything else (creativity, kindness, empathy, social skills, problem-solving). The first two are already online at birth, the rational brain not so much. It's not even fully connected yet. How a parent interacts with an infant determines how the connections will be built, whether they will be constructed in an environment of happy brain hormones or of stressful brain hormones. And how those connections are built will influence how that child will see and interact with the rest of the world, for the rest of her life.

Like I said, Ah-ha, rapidly followed by Duh.

I've recently finished reading The Science of Parenting, and I wish I'd run into this book five or six years ago. Here's an approachable book (Pictures! Short paragraphs! Pull-quotes! Real-life examples!) that outlines a way of parenting based on brain science. I've not read tons of parenting books (they mostly make me feel cranky and guilty), but this one made a lot of sense for me. Not to discount the fields of sociology and psychology, but I instinctively understand neurology better.

So, I'm trying to be clearer in communicating my expectations to Caitlyn. And I'm trying to pay closer attention to her, pointing out when her behavior is starting to annoy and working with her to find words to express what she wants. Is she jumping in the kitchen while I'm trying to finish up dinner because she needs to go outside and run, because she needs to pee, because she wants a hug from Mama? Being reminded that her rational brain is still under construction for the next few years helps me understand that she is acting out impulses from a lower brain because she doesn't yet have the robust set of problem solving skills that would allow her to stop and figure out that if a hug from Mama in the late afternoon is what she needs, zooming in circles in the kitchen might not be the best way of getting one.

February 14, 2011

Of Hair Ties and Health

After the strangest stomach flu I've ever encountered (who knew that you could have a stomach flu and only throw up sporadically?), Caitlyn went back to school today. Rumor is that whatever it was went around and around the kindergarten classes last week, with kids going back to school too soon only to throw up and be sent home again. Glad to have missed out on that!

And, really, it's not a bit too soon. Caitlyn was positively devastated when she realized that she would be missing Kimball's Lunar New Year celebration with lion dances; she threw herself into my lap and cried out her heartbreak in missing it. If she'd also had to miss Valentine's Day - after watching the parent volunteers make gold mailboxes out of shoeboxes to receive the valentines, after writing each of her classmates' names and "from Caitlyn" on each of the little cards we printed (strawberries for the girls, spaceships for the boys) - I think it might well have been the End of All Things Good.

Caitlyn shows her new hairclip

I took advantage of the general improvement in heath around here to put together a new hairclip for Caitlyn. She's reached an awkward stage in hair accessories, where ponytails are only so popular, quite possibly because they are not fancy enough, but all the "fancy" clips we have are designed for someone with less hair. She'd wear her hair down all the time if she could, but Mama is trying to minimize the amount of hair she gets in her food (and the food in her hair, for that matter).

I'm pleased to report that the new bow was met with delight this morning. I hope the clip itself isn't too big (I scaled down the suggested bow size so it wouldn't be larger than her head - yes, I've had the clip base since the early 90s apparently). Maybe I'll have to pick up some more clip bases and see if she wants to cover one in shiny pink buttons or something.

February 09, 2011

February 08, 2011


School called this morning before 10am to report that Caitlyn had been ill, would I please come get her? She'd complained a bit of an upset tummy at breakfast but insisted that she would be fine and would go to school. I should have known something was not right when she came back for an extra hug before getting on the bus.

I found her in the school office, fingering the fringe on the state flag, a little dried sick on the front of her dress. Eventually I had to scoop her up and carry her outside as she sobbed. There had been plans to go home with a friend after school and, oh! the disappointment! She was going to miss out on riding her friend's bus! Caitlyn eventually resigned herself to the Immovable Object that is her mother and consented to get into the car, where she informed me that she may be going home but she was still going to her friend's house in the afternoon, after her friend got home from school. Disappointment, again.

And then, as we drove away from school, she came unglued once more. She'd gotten sick in the morning, during all the business of attendance taking and lunch ordering.

"It's still time to put the lunch cards out." Gasp. Sob. And then the wail: "We haven't even learned anything yet!"

February 05, 2011

Ring-a-Ling Pocket

Ian recently upgraded his phone, so I've inherited the old iPhone. Look out world, I have a smart phone now, which mostly means I won't be calling Ian to ask "where is that park/business/restaurant that I'm sure I'm close to but can't quite find" anymore.

The new phone is much larger than my old phone, which generally fit in my pocket. Not this one, which could lead me to rant about women's fashion and the abominably small pockets therein. I mean, really, if you want to make it look like there are pockets but make them unusable so the presence of items in said pockets won't ruin the profile of the person wearing the pants, don't put in a tiny pocket lining. Make them faux pockets. Or, here's a thought, leave it up to the person wearing the clothes to decide "does the presence of this phone in my pocket make me look fat?" But making an actual pocket that you can't put anything in that's larger than 1.75 inches wide? What's the point?

Never mind.

I have a new-to-me iPhone. Sometimes I put it in a handbag, which conveniently has useful pockets (unlike some jeans I could mention), but sometimes I just want to drop the phone in my jacket pocket and leave the bag at home. And sometimes there are other things in my jacket pockets (keys, pens, shiny rocks). So a little something to protect the phone seemed like a good idea. A little poking out on the interwebs found me a whole array of handmade covers and sleeves for iPads, including this one at One Pearl Button, which I sized down for the phone. I added the loop partially for interest and partially because sometimes I need to carry a phone and (gasp!) I don't have pockets at all. Not sure how I'll deal with this, but at least I won't say, "Gee, I wish this had a loop on it."

my new phone cosy!

Ta-da! A phone cosy! Or, as Caitlyn has decided to call it, a "Ring-a-Ling Pocket". Because that's what phones do. And it's for a phone.

February 03, 2011

Rainbow Skirt

This was Caitlyn's Christmas present from me this year.

Caitlyn's rainbow skirt

I guess sometimes I don't know how to make a decision. I had picked up a spectrum of 8 fat quarters with the idea that I'd make a skirt for Caitlyn out of maybe four of them. But when the time came, I couldn't decide which four to use. And what was supposed to be a "throw it together in an afternoon" kind of thing turned into a full-blown design project. Because once you know you are going to use all eight pieces of fabric, you have to decide how much and in what order.

The result: a semi-full skirt, suitable for flower fairies or clowns, both of which I seem to have.

Caitlyn's rainbow skirt

It's my design, although I leaned a bit on the instructions for McCalls' 5841. I don't often do clothes without a professional pattern (ok, I think this was the second time, ever), but making this skirt has got me thinking a bit more about learning the basics of how clothes go together. Caitlyn will likely one day get to the point of wanting the same mass-produced fashion her classmates are wearing, but I still will have a terrible time finding clothes that fit me. If I get some basics down, perhaps I can give up on expensive specialty stores and making do with things that are almost long enough.

February 02, 2011

Gratitude and Learning to Share

Kids like things and people like themselves. Caitlyn has a marked preference for me based mostly, I think, on the fact that we are both female. At 5 1/2, she seems to view boys her age as bizarre creatures with strange tastes while girls are vastly superior. Perhaps it's that the boys all want to play Clone Wars and the girls will pretend they are flying horses with starry coats and silver manes. Perhaps it's only human nature, given how most people I know, myself included, seem to prefer spending time with people who have similar tastes and opinions.

I like to think that Caitlyn understands that people who are different from her are OK people. We live in a very diverse community, and she attends a school with a similarly diverse student body, with the accompanying diversity in complexion and dress. We've discussed skin color ("Because God loves wondrous varieties.") and cultural standards of dress early on because these differences are visible for us every day.

What's less visible are the economic differences. Generally speaking, its difficult, even for adults, to look at a person and really know anything accurate about his or her financial security. Nicely dressed people could be hungry. Slovenly dressed people could have a messy job or a unique sense of fashion. You don't know. Caitlyn's first assumption is usually that other people have what she has, at least as a baseline. Some people have more (fancy clothes, dress-up costumes and sisters being her usual sources of jealousy) but why would anyone have less than she does?

We've talked about hungry people, she's participated in food drives, and she's helped me drop food off at the local food bank. So, at least she has some head knowledge. Someday, I hope that knowledge will travel from head to heart, though I don't know how to teach compassion or empathy or gratitude or generosity. (Sure, there's modeling the desired behavior, but sometimes I worry about the effectiveness of that method; I model tidiness on a regular basis and that hasn't rubbed off yet.) For now, Caitlyn loves to gather up donations, as long as they don't include the last box of Bunny Grahams or anything that lives in her room.

February 01, 2011


One of the things I love about planting garlic: you put the cloves in the ground in the fall, when the air is crisp enough to let you know the season is shifting but not yet so cold as to be really unpleasant. Then you go inside, where it's warm, and watch the weather, the windstorms, the rain, the occasional snow. And by the time the seasons have swung around and you can think about going outside in something less than 14 layers, this has happened:

garlic shoots

Sometimes gardening is a lot of work: weeding, fertilizing, watering. Sometimes, it just happens all on it's own. Without any help from me. Which is a beautiful thing. And also, humbling. A reminder that I am not responsible for everything.

(I realize that sounds conceited. I say there is a difference between knowing that all sorts of things happen without my input and feeling like if I stop for just 3 minutes, life as I know it will come crashing down. The Reminder of Garlic is that even if it feels that way, it's not, and that's a personally valuable reminder.)