Monday, December 15, 2008

Product Review: Brittany Needles and Hooks

A few years ago flipping through a Knit.1 magazine, I noticed Brittany knitting needles, and for my Christmas knitting needs purchased several of their DPNS in varying sizes.  These knitting needles are my very favorite that I have ever used.  I always prefer wood needles to metal (especially in this cold weather-- I took a pair of metal Size 17 Buoy Straights out of my car this morning, and they were so cold I had to hold them by the plastic end!), but have always used Clover Bamboo needles, because they are so widely available, and affordable.  Since I knit on DPNS a lot (which all knitters know are the easiest things in the world to lose), I like that I don't feel put out buying another set to replace the needles I have lost to the couch cushions, the bus stop, or the bottom of my purse only to be re-found after I purchase another set and complete the project!
Brittany needles, however, are made of high quality birch wood, and only slightly more expensive than the bamboo.  Their wood is sustainably harvested from small lumber distributors, and at every step of production, Brittany considers the impact of their product; the packaging is 100% recyclable, and if you remove the label, the packaging can be put in the compost pile!  They make crochet hooks (which have a lovely carved end that makes me want to learn crochet even more) from D to K,  and knitting needles in straights at 10" and 14", and double points in sizes 5", 7.5", and 10", sold in sets of five, from sizes 0 to 35 (though not all sizes are available in all lengths).  They guarantee their product for up to five years, and will replace any broken needles. 
Ecological and economical friendliness aside: my favorite part of these needles is they all have the company name (along with the size) printed into the needle, so all my needles say "Brittany."  It's like having a customized set of needles for free!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Day Without a Gay... and More Twinkly Lights!

As I mentioned in another post, Wednesday December 10th was Day Without a Gay, as well as International Human Rights Day.
Well, I took the day off of work and headed over to Wesley United Methodist Church to help bag up some food for those in need, then picked up trash on Christmas Tree Lane.  
I think Day Without a Gay was a success in Fresno-- we received media coverage from at least two TV stations here in Fresno, which given their biased coverage of the move against Prop. 8, was quite nice.  Although they did refuse an offer of hot chocolate while doing an interview at Christmas Tree Lane.  Who can refuse hot chocolate?!?  Anyway,  if you click here you can see KMPH Fox 26 and their report of the day's actions.  Just click on the number 2 link, entitled "Valley Activists Mark 'Day Without A Gay'."  One of my co-workers saw the broadcast and said, "You were on TV last night!  I recognized your hair!"  I found this pretty hilarious.  Almost as hilarious as trying to pick up trash in the middle of Christmas Tree Lane while people with strollers are running you over in their haste to view all the twinkly lights.
Something about this broadcast really bothered me, however; if you listen to the reporter, he repeatedly uses the phrase "lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender people," in the context of, "LGBT people took the day off of work," or "LGBT people picked up trash on Christmas Tree Lane."
Well, I have news for you, Mr. Anchorman-- I am not a lesbian, nor am I bi, nor am I transgender.  I have no problem with people assuming I am any of the above, as I am very comfortable with my sexuality, but I do have a problem with the media reporting this issue as if only the LGBT community cares about it.  I am a person who identifies as a straight woman, and I care about this issue.  Very nearly half of California's voting population this November agreed that Prop. 8 is illegal and unfair, and I am willing to bet that they don't all identify LGBT.
This is not to appropriate the struggle; I can't identify with so many of the fights the LGBT community deals with everyday.  I have never come out to my family, or to my coworkers; I've never dealt with police violence because of my perceived gender; I've never been discriminated against for the way I choose to love.  But it is a struggle that I acknowledge, and a fight I want to support and ally myself with.
If only the oppressed party worked for change, change would never come.  It is about community, and togetherness, and recognizing the humanity of each one of us, and taking action to make a world where this is the modus operandi, and not the exception.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Best Gifts Are Tied With Heartstrings...

Oh, man.  I think I'm addicted to Etsy.  I mean, I've always enjoyed perusing the site, and gathering inspiration, and creating a wish list in my head of shops I want to purchase from (especially handspun yarn and roving... sheesh, there's a lot of gorgeous stuff out there!), but I just made my very first purchase-- which was planned-- but then, promptly made another-- unplanned.  I was only stopped by the fact I had to break into the Grad. School Savings for the second purchase (only four dollars, but still).
Part of what facilitated this is this year for the holiday season, I have pledged to only give handmade things-- either by me, or by someone else.  I am making the majority of my gifts, but I had something very specific in mind to personalize a hat I am knitting.  No details until after the holiday, though-- don't want anybody to guess what they're getting!  There is no way I could reproduce what I wanted myself, not having the equipment, but I found EXACTLY what I wanted, but better, at an Etsy shop.  I could spend YEARS picking out just buttons on that site...
So why handmade?  
Well, for several reasons.
First, the economy is kind of down the drain lately, and despite what we keep hearing, spending MORE at chain and corporate stores is not going to "stimulate the economy."  Much like trickle down, it's a big financial myth.  By putting money into something, you no longer have the money yourself, and unlike investment, where the money grows, money spent on consumer goods just cycles around, never increasing in worth, but in fact, decreasing as inflation steepens.  At least by purchasing goods that go directly from producer to consumer, a larger chunk of the money spent goes into circulation, where with large corporate stores, your dollars are split into lots of costs, such as labor, marketing, insurance, and so on.
Second, the impact of handmade goods is so much less than mass produced items; not that there aren't chemicals used in handmade items, but the energy resources and type of processing handmade goods go through is on a much smaller scale, and though super-glue fumes may not be the safest, they're quite a bit better than some of the byproducts manufacturing disposes of into lakes, rivers, and our air.
Third.  I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty sure most people who choose to make their gifts by hand, or provide handmade gifts for others to purchase, are enjoying the process.  While not quite a cottage industry, people who are good at one skill market or give it to others who have a need for that skill, or the product of the skill.  The result is a fair trade of money, goods, or services for a job well and happily done-- nothing like the sweatshops that are supported by the demand for cheap and quick consumer goods.  When you consider the working conditions that such a market creates, who wants to pass that karma along with a heartfelt holiday gift?
It's nearly impossible in today's world to live a lifestyle that is 100% sweatshop free, and economically and ecologically sound-- but with the biggest spending period of the year, making a conscious effort to put the dollars someplace where the impact is less makes the exchanging of gifts even better... And really, giving and getting gifts is part of the love of the season, along with lots of yummy food and twinkly lights.
I love me some twinkly lights.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Chronicles of Continental

When it comes to knitting, I've always been a thrower, sending big looping arcs of yarn all over the place with my right hand.  This is English knitting, and the way I learned when I was six years old.  When I picked knitting back up again almost fifteen years later, after being a sewer, the method of looping my yarn around came right back to my hands like I had never put my fiber down.  This is proof that "throwing" my yarn is engrained in my muscle memory like riding a bike.  I think this has been part of the obstacle to my learning to crochet, which is much more like Continental Knitting, or "picking," which is considered by most knitters to be a much quicker and more efficient way of knitting.  But with a list of Christmas gifts in front of me, I decided to give Continental another try.  There are many less hand movements, and when working with DPNs, which I mostly am (hats being at the top of my list), a much more controlled way of wrangling in those five needles.   So last night, I asked my mom to time me on a row of English knitting, and on a row of Continental knitting.  Even though this was my first time knitting Continental, it took me 46 seconds to complete the row, compared to the 40 seconds in English, which I've been knitting all my life, and can do in the dark without even looking!  That's craziness.  With practice, I'll be churning out rows of stockinette. This video has been the most helpful of anything I've ever read or seen in helping me grasp Continental-- and grasp my yarn in my left hand!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Today I went to Barnes and Noble, looking desperately for a funky card.  No luck.  But I was feeling down, so I perused the children's section (always a picker-upper) and the new releases.  
For one thing: are moths suddenly in, and I happened to already be on that bandwagon?  I saw a million and a half books that have moths on the cover (not to mention this adorable gypsy moth brass hanger from Anthropologie), noticeable for being moths that are recognizably MOTHS, not brown butterflies.   One of the books I saw was a pink book clearly aimed at tween girls with several moths on it, and tweens and pink usually go hand in hand with butterflies.  Hells yes.
But this is the really exciting part:

The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia

I want this book so bad I might not even wait for the library to have a copy available (my heart is literally racing thinking about it), or for the inevitable B&N gift certificates I am sure to receive for Christmas.
This book touches on so many topics that are close to my heart, and several I have written on academically, and contains a chapter that dives right to the meat of what I envision my grad. thesis to be about.  From what I gathered on the book jacket, Miller felt compelled to write this because she loved The Chronicles of Narnia as a child, but felt betrayed by the overt Christian theology later in life (oh, that ENDING! Why, Lewis, why?).  
Note: I am not knocking stories that act as religious allegories at all-- they are some of our most beautiful and moving stories (East of Eden immediately springs to mind), but C.S. Lewis and his personal move to Christianity, studied alongside the Chronicles, is an interesting and problematic view of the genre.
I felt the same qualms when I re-read the series as a high school senior, and was shocked to discover layers and layers to the series that were a lot darker and more disturbing then anything I could have understood as a wonder-struck child.  It's part of the quandry of an adult reader: how to retain the awe of a beautiful and amazing story, but to have the understanding of experience and the perspective of a generation several after the author's.  This is a particularly poignant issue for me, having decided to study children's books with the theory of my adult education, but to still approach them with a heart open to imagination and astonishment.
My senior year as a lit. major, my final project was to look at several children's books, both picture and novels, and analyze the relationship between gender and violence-- this project is ultimately what made my decision to become a librarian final.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the book that inspired the project: there is a scene when Father Christmas gives the Pevensies gifts: the boys receive weapons, and while Susan is given a bow and arrows, she is told that women are never to fight in battle except in the direst of needs.  There are so many gender issues in this; several I know Miller touches upon in the book, from the chapter I read standing up in the bookstore.
Part of me just wishes I had written this book myself!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Current Obsession: Abigail Washburn

... and The Sparrow Quartet.  But I love Ms. Washburn by herself, too!  I am currently playing "Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet" over and over, especially "Great Big Wall in China," and "Oh Me Oh My."  
I've been on a female folk/bluegrass kick for the past year, listening to "The Be Good Tanyas" (oh, my lovely ladies, when, oh, when are you going on tour!),  Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch, and the cracklin' girls of Lost Highway Records, Mary Gauthier and Lucinda Williams.  There's something about these ladies and their ramblin' that has really hit my heart for the last year... 
I discovered Abigail Washburn one night listening to NPR-- she is the only musician to tour Tibet with funds from the American Government, and the only American featured on the Beijing Olympics Soundtrack.  Not like the Olympics were anything heartful or humane, but Abigail Washburn is.  She began her music career when studying abroad in China, sitting and watching Chinese dancers.  She wanted to feel a connection to the culture of America that strong-- so she picked up the banjo.  Her music is haunting, and winsome, and intelligent and sexy and imaginative, and fun and dark.  All of it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gay Rights are Human Rights

After Election Day, I was elated.  It honestly felt like the whole United States was celebrating.  Ebullient (hee, hee-- GRE, get outta my brain!).  But the celebration was tempered by the passing of Prop 8 for me (and many, many others-- nearly half of the California population).  I am very pro-gay rights (pro-human rights), but I'd like to think that even if my morals or religion took me in another direction, I would recognize Prop 8 as denial of civil rights, as guaranteed by the good ol' contested Constitution.  In the weeks following, we have seen protests, boycotts, and sit-ins-- and I hope this continues until UNIVERSALLY one person enjoys the same rights as another.  Which brings me to two actions: the first, a boycott of businesses that financially supported Prop 8; the second, Day Without a Gay.
This list is a list of companies and organizations that supported Prop 8 financially or endorsed Prop 8 through media or other methods; while there aren't too many in Fresno, I believe that knowing who is an ally, and whose businesses to not support, as they do not support my beliefs, is important.  Randomly, my childhood dentist is on this list-- I actually stopped attending his practice because he was a frightening dentist-- he had the shakes like crazy, which is not at all good when somebody is scraping away at your teeth.  Check it out.
The second action is an action which has exciting possibilities: Day Without a Gay.  Much like the economic protests of 2006 which called for all immigrant and immigrant-rights supporters to refrain from any purchases, Day Without a Gay asks for all people who support Gay Rights to take the day off of work, dedicate the day to service, and not make any purchases, to show the impact of those of us out there who did not support Prop 8, who believe that any loving family should be able to welcome a child into their home, and that denying ANY right due to sexual preference-- like race, gender, religion, or ethnicity-- is illegal and unfair.  By taking a step further and calling for a donation of time to a deserving non
-profit or other activist group, DWAG is showing that it is love, community betterment, and social justice that motivates the community--  not discrimination and hate.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My First Blog Swap EVAH!

I am so excited about this, I had to post right away-- as opposed to studying math for the GRE (see post below).  I know, what sacrifices I make.  I originally started my blog for three reasons:

1.  Because I was so totally inspired by the wonderful Sarah P. and her blogging over at Sarah Said
2.  Because I wanted to sort of chronicle the huge changes in my life recently
3.  Because I am a crafty, crafty girl, and I love reading other's marvelous craft blogs, especially after reading Knitalong: Celebrating the Tradition of Knitting Together. I loved how Larissa Brown used her blog to initiate beautiful swaps of knitterly goods!

I have really been slacking on the crafty part of the blog, though-- I have actually finished several knit objects (including a pair of striped glow-in-the-dark fingerless gloves-- hells yes), refinished a rocking chair, and made an awesome cover for this totally nerdy photo album I bought at a thrift store for $2.99!  I have pictures of all this goodness on my camera, but haven't yet blogged about it.  Just wait 'til this GRE/Grad School application stuff is out of the way.  Then I'll be non-stop!
Anyway.  The exciting thing is-- Sarah of the previously mentioned Sarah Said, and Talia, of Rejoicings and Ramblings have created a Scarf Swap called, "Girl, Get Your Scarf On!"  I'm all over it.  I am going to hand-knit it, but I won't share any secrets about it so I won't spoil the surprise for whomever I get to send it off to!  YAY!  My excitement is boiling over.  Go to either Talia or Sarah's blog to sign up, and find all the details!  The scarves totally don't have to be handknit, either, so if you're not feeling the fiber, it's OK.  Let's all get cute and cozy, scarf style.

Me and My Buddy Math

Math isn't really my buddy.  Math is like that kid in elementary school who you think is really cool, and you get excited when they invite you to their birthday party at the rolling rink, and they are nice and all, but when it's time for partner skating, Math is somebody else's partner.  You're OK with it-- I mean, you aren't Math's best friend or anything.  It would just be nice to be really good friends with Math, 'cause she seems pretty neat.  But you just don't have that much in common, so it's best not to force it.
Reading, writing, vocabulary.  Sentence and paragraph comprehension.  We're best friends.  Verbal and I have gotten down and dirty with it all my life.  In third grade, I got in trouble for reading ahead in the CAT-5 testing book to the vocab section when I was supposed to be doing the geometry section.  We even fight-- should language be prescriptive or descriptive?  I love my canon (oh, Jane Austen!), but I want space for everybody else.  Is Shakespeare really all he's cracked up to be (current opinion-- yes.  This changes almost annually).  But Verbal got me scholarships.  Verbal got me grants.  We're very close, Verbal and I.
It's not that I hate math-- I think it's endlessly fascinating, and when combined with theory, an incredibly gorgeous art form.  I have a friend who talks about math and physics like it's the one true religion, and when he talks about it, I sometimes think it is.  But all the respect in the world for math isn't going to get me a score above 600 on the GRE.  
The thing is, it's seventh and eighth grade math (supposedly).  I have freakin' taught seventh and eighth grade math!  So why can't I score above a 510 on any of the practice tests?  I've been studying like a fiend (which has brought my score up from a dismal 410), with The Princeton Review's Cracking the GRE.  I highly recommend it.  Also, working with math teachers helps, too-- I've brought several concepts to work, and the lovely ladies have stayed after or on their breaks from students to help me factor exponents and figure out the formulas for percentage increases and decreases.  I feel more confident now then when I got that 410, but I'm still really stinkin' nervous.  
So tomorrow is the big day-- eight in the morning, and no coffee allowed.  All I want is a score in the low 600's.  Verbal will be my skating buddy... I just want Math to come to the party and eat some cake.  

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Cost of an Education

I registered for my GRE a few days ago, and it was $140.00 for the computer-based test.  I am applying to three schools, and the average application fee is $50.00.  Since none of them are in the same university system, I can't pay one application fee, so that's another $150.00.  So far, including the postage for mailing what isn't covered by the online application (letters of recommendation, transcripts), the cost of applying alone is over $300.00.  That doesn't even cover any of my tuition or fees.  Now, I recognize that I am applying to three distinguished and somewhat competitive programs (although my field-- librarianship-- isn't that competitive, compared to say, business, or medical or law school), in three of the most expensive cities in the United States (L.A., Seattle, and New York).  I did complete my undergrad work in another incredibly expensive city-- San Francisco-- which left me with a little chunk of student loans (though I was lucky enough to have several scholarships and grants, which offset the cost a little).  The minimum I will pay for my masters is $20,000, not including cost of living.  Getting educated is friggin' expensive!  And with the economy crumbling, options like federal student loans and private loans are getting harder and harder to secure-- especially for those with fair or poor credit, or large credit balances-- like undergrad student loans! It's a vicious cycle.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Why I Want Obama for President-- And Why I Won't Be Voting for Him

I want Obama to be President so much that I've almost been sick with anticipation for the past few days.  Once the polls are closed, and the votes are tallied, and the winner is announced, I know I'm gonna cry like crazy either way. But I'm not voting for Obama.  And here are a few reasons why:

  • I first heard of Barack Obama in January 2006, when I was twenty years old, and before there was anything but vague speculation amongst a few about this young Senator and a presidential bid.  I visited Washington, D.C., to discuss with a national panel of people brought together by College Summit (an amazing organization that brings together students who have the odds stacked against them to ever attend college) why students don't go to college, and how to address that in our specific communities.  I met a young man named Willie, who had worked on Barack's Senate Campaign.  We had dinner in Chinatown, and he told me about this person whom I couldn't believe was in politics-- his politics were so close to mine I couldn't believe that someone that left was ever elected on the national level.  Willie said he thought Obama might try for President in a few elections (who knew it would be the next one?).  I told Willie that was a candidate I could get behind, get really excited about.  But Willie's Obama, by the nature of campaigns and politics, has had to compromise on his progressivism, courting votes from the moderates.  I understand it-- it's the nature of elections.  But I was disappointed on hearing his position on Israel (which I don't think is genuine to the way he really feels).  On his supporting immunity for telecommunication companies that violated Constitutional Rights.  For being less vocal about the disenfranchised after securing the nomination-- women, people of color, the LGBT community.  For voting for a bail-out that looks more like Bush's Trickle Down than anything truly effective for the average citizen.   So I am not voting for Obama to remind him of his progressive, leftist roots.  I want him to know there are active voters and citizens that support his leftist policies, that want to hear more about "socialist" economic policies, who want a president willing to be a diplomat before a war-monger, and not be apologetic about it.  I want a real leftist president-- a person who is concerned with the power of the people.  I saw this in Willie's Obama-- and I want that Obama back once he's in office.

  • I live in California.  I can vote for yo momma, and it's not gonna make a difference.  If I was in a swing state, or even a state that was within ten poll points, my vote would be for Obama.  But as a California voter, I have a unique opportunity to support something I believe is very important for a truly representative democracy-- and that is a multi-party system.  If you listen to enough political pundits, you'll hear references to conservatives, neo-cons, moderates, left-to-center Democrats.  All of these labels attempt to define politician's platforms, votes, and actions on a nuanced spectrum of left-to-right.  What should be noted is if the politicians show this diversity, than the millions of constituents they serve will be even more diverse.  So why just two parties?  What America does that represent?  I want to vote for a candidate who most closely represents my beliefs, and I want a Congress that isn't regularly effectually gridlocked by party affiliations-- be it opposing parties leading the executive and legislative national government (like the last years of Bill Clinton), or a judicial system that can, with one appointee, make a decision that only represents roughly half of the nation.  With the effect of third parties in recent elections, I believe it is time Washington recognizes that people want more choices in their candidates.
Yet for all of the reasons above-- I believe that Obama is the best candidate.  I believe that no other candidate (in my short voting life of two presidential elections) has the chance to change America from the Imperialist, classcist nation it is.  I think no other candidate will open the possibilities to third parties carrying real weight in America, and no other candidate will consider the working and needful classes as Obama will.  But I also believe that to be that President, Obama needs citizens who expect nothing less from him, and support him every time he makes moves in these directions-- and to keep him (and all our other elected officials) accountable every time he doesn't follow through. 
We got approval from where I work to keep the election coverage going tomorrow, and Virginia and Pennsylvania's polls will close while I'm on, and with students all around me, I don't know how I'm going to handle it.  But I have hope for change, and hope for America.  And with my vote tomorrow, I have dissent-- the best tool a citizen has for getting that change.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fake Flyers

After reading this Wired report about people posting fake flyers, I feel like it's just so important to point out the extreme significance of voting, and of being an informed voter, from the top of the ticket to county legislature.  People are serious about taking this right away, from local idiots like this, to voting systems that disenfranchise those that need to make their voices heard the most.  It's a cliche, but only because it's true-- people have been beaten and killed for our right to vote.  Not in the "hawk" sense that some people seem to like to throw around as a justification for war, but in the South in the fifties and the sixties.  All over America in the beginning of this century.
Follow the issues that are on the ballot.  Research each proposition outside of the biased and special-interest-funded TV and radio commercials.  Don't vote the way your friends and family do just because they're your friends and family.  If you're still not sure about where you stand on some issues, check out this broadcast from KPFA-- they are a progressive, independent media source, and while they do have a strong left slant, they present each prop as well-researched, and share points of view from those on the left that aren't in agreement on how to vote.  I found this especially helpful, as the brochures that are sent out the month before elections drive me crazy-- I just can't get over THE ALL CAPS GRAMMAR and TWENTY million exclamation POINTS whoever writes these things seem to think get THEIR POINT across BETTER!!!!!! 
I'm going to take some time tonight to sit down and fill out my sample ballot, from top to bottom, and to do further reading on some of the propositions I'm not decided on-- like 3, 11, and 12, and research the options for my local school board, and other non-partisan officials that I haven't heard all that much about.   This is probably one of the most exciting elections ever, and either way, it's going to be historical.
I'm excited.  Let's all go vote!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Damn DUMB! Let's Do Something About It

As if there isn't enough stupidity floating around these days (McCain on Barack's "terrorist" ties yesterday?), I was flipping through the September Better Homes and Gardens my mom checked out from the library this afternoon, and came across a DuPont Countertops ad with this picture--

and this caption, with several countertop options pictured under it--

Who Says You Can't Lust After Colors?

I'm not even gonna pretend like the advertising industry is a bastion of diversity, but when diversity is represented, and that diversity is appropriated to sell consumer goods, it defies the point of a representative market, and becomes just plain offensive.  
In this ad, a woman of color looks seductively at the camera, with about three inches of the ad actually showing the countertop.  The language of the blurb below uses words like, "touch you," "move you," "focus on more exciting things," and "be seduced."  Words like these used in conjunction with this image portrays this woman's ethnicity as sexy-- and that is the selling point.  When ads exoticize women of color for marketing, they play into the stereotype of these women being sex objects, of being wild and uninhibited, ideas that come from outdated colonial, imperial, and master/slave mindsets where non-white people are seen as an "other," and women in these situations are especially targeted be seen as lesser than to be seen as lesser than.  
If this ad bothers you as much as it does me, write, call, or email DuPont at:

Wilimington, DE, 
Ph: 302-774-1000

You can also visit DuPont's page at CoOp America's Responsible Shopper website, and read about other unhealthy ways DuPont is affecting us and our planet, and some ways you can take action on your anger.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Question: Why is Sherman Alexie Such a Genius In My Heart For Always?

1.  The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven
2.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
3.  "The Business of Fancy Dancing"

When I was in high school, I wrote quotes from The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven on my bedroom mirror with lip liner I bought from the 99 Cent Store.  If I could serve fresh tomatoes to any ten authors in a library, he'd be at the top of the list.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Political Two Cents

This election has really made me think about the media, and the way that political campaigns on all levels-- from local board members to the presidential candidates-- have utilized TV, the internet, print, all of that to shape their campaigns, and how different things would be if campaigns created the media, versus the media creating the campaign, and how if often seems as if the media treats the campaigns as something that doesn't affect them on the personal level, but as some great sweeps event that has lasted for a year and a half.  Maybe I'm campaign-fatigued, not voting for either candidate running from the major parties, and so I am sick of not hearing any other party voices in the major media outlets-- except to poke fun at their futility.  I thought with the impact that third parties have had on recent elections (for better or worse), and the campaign of Ron Paul, I would hear some of these voices outside of my favorite independent media sources.
Anyway.  I heard something on the mid-day news today that made me very upset, and is a great example of the way the media interprets the presidential campaign.  Barack Obama's grandmother is very ill, and he has stopped campaigning to fly to her home in Hawaii to support her.  Now, if the news had reported only this, I would have had no issue, as so many aspects of politicians' lives have become fodder for the media.  However, when this action began to be analyzed for the effect it would have on his campaign, I got mad.  Republicans argued when news of Bristol Palin's pregnancy was released, and the media began to analyze its effect on the McCain/Palin campaign, that this was a family issue, and it should have no bearing on the campaign.  However, Palin has created her political persona around the issue of family politics, and this was a real-life example of the effects of her platform.  This is not true of the illness of Obama's grandmother, and while the media is gleefully reporting that Obama's willingness to support his grandmother will boost him further along in the polls, I am sure that Obama could give a rip about any of it and the way it will effect his campaign as this woman, who in all accounts seems quite remarkable, means the world to him and his family.  Like any person who is ill or in a personal crisis-- red or blue-- deserves only our thoughts and well-wishes for a speedy return to health and NOT to be treated as a campaign stump.  

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Current Obbession: "The Wolves Chronicles"

We all have our little things we like to do if we feel cruddy or just need a day off-- I really like to go to the library and check out a huge stack of "kid's" novels and snuggle up to read them. Plus, not like time off ever needs a justification, but I can always call this "research" for my future career of children's librarian extrordinaire.
This summer I went through a huge list of books that kind of point to the turning point in books targeted at kids-- though I have a lot of opinions about the genre in general. Anyway, I'll save that for my master's thesis.
Starting with the more well known books that were scattered about from the forties and fifties like the ubiquitous Catcher in the Rye and John Knowles' A Separate Peace to books from the sixties onwards that chronicled the shift in young readers and their sensibilities like Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack, The Chocolate War, and Maniac Magee, Stargirl, and anything by E.L. Konigsburg (whose books I love to an almost addictive point), I've been looking at stories that have a hard steel thread running though them. But now the weather is turning, it's almost Halloween, and I've been steering more towards children's novels that have a more classical structure of good vs. evil, orphaned kids, mysterious doors that lead to more mysterious mansion secrets. Think Secret Garden type stuff.
These led me to "The Wolves Chronicles," by Joan Aiken. I found them by accident at the local library-- I saw the title Black Hearts in Battersea (cuz you can't ignore a title like that), and pulled it off the shelf. The version I found had the front cover illustrated by Edward Gorey, whose work points towards the atmosphere I want to dive into this time of year. I read the first one, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, in a couple of hours-- these books are divine. They are dark and slightly gothic, set in Wuthering Heights-type rambling moors, and cobblestoned, sooty city streets, with relief in a picturesque English countryside where nobody pronounces their " 'atches." They chronicle the adventures of several British children attempting to overcome evil-- usually in the form of tyrannical adults, orphanhood, and poverty, and remind me of several other books I have read recently that I wouldn't be surprised if the authors took some inspiration from.
These all have steampunkish elements to them, where precocious children don't take no smack from dictator-ish adults, using a lot of trains and boats to do it, like some more recent books: The Mysterious Benedict Society series, by Trenton Lee Stewart, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which is written to read like a silent movie, and Here be Monsters (which is called Volume I of the Ratbridge Chronicles and was published in 2005, so I've been checking bookstore and library shelves forever waiting for the next one).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Product Review: Clairol's Nice n' Easy Perfect 10

I love dying my hair-- I like makeup, and I like clothes, but I love dying my hair!  My mom let me dye my hair for the first time when I was 16, and I dyed it a bright strawberry blonde, and it was rockin'.  I never once saw my natural color again, until very recently-- more on that later.  I've done it myself all but twice-- once for what I thought was very Andy Warhol-esque chunky platinum skunk-stripes on dark chocolate, but in retrospect, really just looked kind of like a lot of girls' hair in SoCal, and once, to have my hair effasoled.  Only once has it gone wrong, and that was when I thought buying hair color from the 99 cent store was a good idea.  It had probably expired or something, because my hair ended up a brassy orange.  I called my grandma, who dyes her hair more than I do, and she said just dye over it, because my hair was young and healthy and would be fine.  Here's the color I ended up with after the overdye (I think I'm 17 in this picture, and I know I'm definitely pasty baby-butt white):

The thing with dying your hair, though, is getting it back to its natural color ever again, which, when I started dying, was dark, ashy blonde.  Once I moved to San Francisco, I just kept getting progressively darker, and darker, until I went jet black.  My hair was halfway down my back, and there was no way in hell I could dye over that.  That's when I had my hair effasoled-- chemically stripped--  and it didn't really work.  We got it to a very dark brown, so I just had red chunks put in it and to hell with it.  To finally get rid of all that black, I cut my hair off very short, and to my surprise, my hair had, in the seven years I had been dying it, actually got to that darker brown shade with hints of red I had always wanted!  But of course, this newfound joy in my natural color only lasted about a year-- mainly because I lived in my car and had no sink to stick my head under.  I went a little lighter for summer, and as the weather cools down, I decided to dye my hair a darker brown, and to use the new Clairol Nice n' Easy Perfect 10 I had read so much about.  I love the natural looking colors they offered-- working in classrooms, they want your hair to not look like a circus act. I figured it must be less chemically harmful to my hair and the environment, too, since it sits on your head for less time, and supposedly has no harsh chemical scent-- which I equated to "no harsh chemicals."
Hooey.  This product, with its "lovely scent," was more fumey than any hair color I have ever used-- and it did stink like hair color, but with a strong perfume scent over it.  Disclaimer-- I did have a terrible chest cold when I dyed (hee, hee), so maybe this irritated my little inflamed lung nodules more than it might have usually, but I had to open the windows and get the fan going cuz this stuff stank.  During the dye (that giddy dazed look comes from the fumes):

The product also came with a comb attachment for more even application, but I had a really hard time dragging that thing through my thick-o hair.  I eventually just squeezed it through the comb and into my hands and worked it in like shampoo.
It was nice to only have to worry about not rubbing the color off on furniture for ten minutes, though I was reading, and got caught up in the book and left it on for 15.  Glad to report no big chunks fell out once I did wash it out.  Rinsing it all out was no issue, though it doesn't lather like my old favorite does, and I kept rubbing at my head hoping for some bubbles.  The conditioner that comes with the dye, however, is to die for (oh, the puns-- they just keep coming!).  It made my head smell like swanky salon, and even my thick mess was glossy and shiny like your hair never is unless you have it styled.  The result (I wish I had a wind machine):

I think I basically dyed my hair back to its normal color.
I checked out Skin Deep, a great resource if you ever wonder just how damaging to you and the planet your choice of beauty products is.  Perfect 10 has not been added yet, but most of Clairol's hair coloring products have earned a 7 or 8 on a scale of one to ten, one being like chemically untreated water, ten being like Calvin Klein's Eternity for Men Eau de Toilette (no, really-- this fragrance has a 10 on their scale for containing neurotoxins and causing biochemical or cellular level changes).  My conclusion is that in order to be effective in ten minutes, they gotta make that chemical stuff strong.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why You Gotta Be Hatin'?

Moths get a bad rap. 

Maybe not so much a bad rap as ignored when compared to their lepidoptera kin, the butterfly. Butterflies are everywhere, commercially, and are pretty much seen universally as signs of peace and sunshine, except in Japan, where I've been told moths and butterflies are a common fear, like snakes and spiders in the United States.  Random trivia: fear of moths is known as "Mottephobia."  As a knitter, I know one of the cases against them; they chew holes in lovely wooly bits.  More random trivia-- when moths chow down on your beloved wool knits, they aren't actually hankerin' after the fiber, so don't get jealous-- you can have the wool!  It's the lanolin and your body oils they love to chow down on.
If asked to name some famous moths-- if you can name one at all-- you might come up with Mothra, who certainly isn't a shining example of why we should love moths as much as their flitty (maybe even flaky?), daytime counterparts.

There are a few major differences between butterflies and moths:

1.  Moths rest with their wings out to the sides, while butterflies generally rest with their wings straight up.
2.  Most moths are out and about at dusk and dawn (crepuscular), and at night (nocturnal), while butterflies are diurnal (active during the day).
3.  Moths tend to have thicker and furrier bodies and antennae, while butterflies have thinner, scaled bodies with finer antennae.
4.  This does not hold true for all moths, but I think it is why they are less popular (think of an eighties' high school-- popular kids wear colors like pastel pink and yellow and blue; Ducky wears grey plaid.  But, here's my point.  Who is ultimately more cool?). Moth wings tend to be black, brown, grey, rust, and white, while butterflies are famous for their varied wing hues, for camouflage purposes.  The rosy maple moth and the luna moth are great examples of moths that screw that noise.

If you want a close-up observation of some of these traits yourself, here's a recipe for moth goop to paint on a tree (or a removable sheet you can pin up and take down later, if you have bears or raccoons in your area!) before the nights get too cold.  This goop attracts moths by nature of the sugar, both processed and from the fermented fruit.

One brown banana in its peel, left to sit in the sun for a day
1/4 cup Maple Syrup or Honey (Maple Syrup works best, in my experience)
1 Tbsp. Brown Sugar

Peel the banana and mash it all up in cup until it's of a pasty consistency, then with a paintbrush, paint it very, very thinly on the tree or sheet (if it's too thick the moths will get stuck in it and not be able to fly away).  If you have a light source (spotlight, floodlight, porch light), this is even more effective! Expect the moths to start arriving around late dusk.

For those of you who still think moths are a bit icky, here's a trick: bats, who are natural predators of moths, emit SONOR to help them locate their tasty treat.  While we humans can't hear the sound of SONOR, moths can-- and to them, it sounds like keys jingling on a key ring!  Shake your keys around when you get home and moths are flocking around your porch light-- the sound should scare them off right quick.