Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday at home

This year we did not go to Wisconsin for winter holidays. Mainly because we're saving our pennies for the condo (still have not closed and still don't know when that will happen. grr)

So glad we made the decision to stay in Atlanta where it's warm enough to go outside and rake in short sleeves, instead of dealing with snow and freezing rain in Wisconsin. It would be a repeat of this from last year, except maybe wetter. Ugh.

Instead, we're going to have Chinese food with Brother Two, then come home and work on the 2 page crossword puzzle in today's newspaper. Nerd heaven.

Happy Winter Holidays to everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

For Craft Sales, the Recession Is a Help

A boom in sales of crafts and related supplies contrasts with poor results for traditional retailers, like electronics retailers and department stores
By CLAIRE CAIN MILLER, Published: December 22, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO — Feeling the pinch of the economic downturn, some holiday gift-givers are saving money this year by making their own presents or — for those who lack the time or talent — buying handmade gifts from others.
Michaels Stores is hoping that a holiday spike in sales of craft goods will make up for weak results earlier in the year. Craft stores, from giant chains like Michaels Stores to small scrapbook supply shops, are reporting that sales are higher compared with the last holiday season, and online marketplaces for handmade goods, like Etsy, are seeing a boom in listings and transactions.
Sales at Scrap, a craft supply store in Portland, Ore., were up 33 percent in November compared with the year before. The shop’s customers have made a menorah out of yellow plastic bottle caps, Christmas tree ornaments from wood samples and calendars from fabric and paper collages, according to Sarah Dyer, the manager.
“A lot of people are doing a do-it-yourself Christmas, because of the economic downturn but also wanting to make their lives more sustainable, making stuff as opposed to buying more stuff,” she said.
The boom in crafts and related supplies contrasts with poor results for traditional retailers, like electronics retailers and department stores. The nation’s overall retail sales in November fell 7.4 percent from the year before, according to the Commerce Department.
The craft sector, which has about $5.9 billion in annual revenue, is “operating in its own little niche,” said George Van Horn, a senior analyst at IBISWorld, a research firm. “The number of establishments is growing.”
Last year, 42 million households gave handmade gifts, according to the Craft & Hobby Association, a trade group, and that number is expected to increase greatly this year, its spokesman, Victor Domine, said.
“Across the country, people are crafting more,” he said. “With the recession, people are looking for ways to save money, and doctors are recommending it as a major form of stress relief.”
Elizabeth Ludington, a 25-year-old paralegal in Rochester, N.Y., is one of those who chose a do-it-yourself Christmas. She works for a nonprofit legal aid group that she fears could suffer from a downturn in grants. “I looked at my bank account and budget and realized I didn’t have a lot of cash,” she said.
She usually spends about $20 on each of 10 friends and relatives for stationery, bath products or spa gift certificates. This year, she is stitching cable-knit coffee sleeves to use instead of the cardboard ones at coffee shops. They will cost her $1 each to make and an hour of her time after work while she watches TV at night.
“I wanted something that was affordable but still meaningful and kind of fun,” she said.
Michaels Stores, the chain of craft retailers owned by the Blackstone Group and Bain Capital, hopes that a holiday spike in sales will make up for weak results earlier in the year. For the quarter that ended Nov. 1, the company reported a net loss of $20 million and a decrease of 6.5 percent in same-store sales. But in November and December, Michaels’ 1,014 stores have had sharp increases in traffic and transactions for small-ticket craft supplies, said Brian C. Cornell, the company’s chief executive.
Michaels does not release monthly sales data, and Mr. Cornell declined to discuss specific numbers. However, he said that premade holiday and home decorations, which tend to be more expensive, are not selling well. Less expensive craft supplies, which generally account for 41 percent of revenue, are moving briskly, and sales have been particularly strong for supplies used to make jewelry, baked goods, scrapbooks and decorated clothing.
Michaels has shifted its marketing strategy to take advantage of the trend. The company created an advertising campaign called “Endless Creativity, Endless Savings” to market craft supplies for handmade gifts. It started a Web site, Where Creativity Happens, with videos on how to make gifts like picture frames and candles, and it held free weekly in-store workshops.
“We’re certainly seeing much better results than we would have anticipated,” Mr. Cornell said. “There’s a much greater interest right now in how you decorate your home and create your own gifts yourself.”
Jo-Ann Stores, the craft supply leader with a 19 percent market share, has had a similar pattern. Though same-store sales fell 1.5 percent in the quarter ending Nov. 1, sales of sewing and craft supplies, which account for half of revenue, were stable that quarter and have climbed this quarter, said Lisa Greb, a Jo-Ann spokeswoman.
The cost savings for handmade gifts can be significant. At Jo-Ann, the supplies to make a child’s apron and chef hat cost $7.90 for fabric designed with gingerbread men, iron-on letters to spell “chef” and elastic. Making a hand-knit throw costs $40 for nine skeins of yarn and $6 for knitting needles; a similar-looking item at Pottery Barn costs $129.
Jeanne Nevin, the owner of Stampingly Yours, a scrapbooking store in Clifton, N.J., said the last few months have brought her many new customers buying scrapbooks, paper, decorations, inks and rubber stamps.
“It’s because nobody has money,” she said. Making a scrapbook is an inexpensive alternative to buying a gift. “It’s not like they give a gift, use it up and get rid of it. It’s stuff they can keep forever.”
Even people who do not have the time or inclination to create their own gifts are shunning big-box stores to buy handmade gifts directly from artists, in part to save on the margin in retail stores.
On eBay, people bought 13,137 handmade crafts over the last 60 days for an average price of $8.21, and sales of handmade crafts climbed 34 percent, the company said.
On Sept. 29, a day the stock market plunged sharply, Etsy, the leading Web marketplace for handmade goods, had record sales. In November and December, the site has continued to break records. Last month, artists sold $10.8 million of goods on Etsy, up from $4.2 million in November 2007. Some 135,000 people signed up for Etsy memberships and sellers listed 1.1 million new items, both figures more than double the same month last year.
Some Etsy merchants have had such unexpectedly high sales this season that they are shutting down early because they do not have time to make any more gifts.
Dennis Anderson of Citrus Heights, Calif., was prepared for a 50 percent increase in sales of his soaps, which are handmade from ingredients like olive oil, pomegranate and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Instead, orders climbed 300 percent. He said he has sold 6,000 items in the last three months, and he has been working 15 hours a day, seven days a week, to meet the demand.
“I wasn’t expecting this much with the economy the way it is, but I realized it’s probably one of the factors in the increase,” he said. Customers “can knock out 12 people by getting 12 bars of soap for $60 instead of spending $30 a person.”
Apart from the lower cost, handmade gifts have a nonfinancial value that appeals to many buyers.
“I just like the fact that I’m supporting someone who’s trying to make their way in the world by using their talents, and my money is going directly to a person instead of a chain of middlemen,” said Christy Petterson, a jeweler in Atlanta who co-edits and has bought handmade gifts this season. “For the same amount of money, the specialness factor is way higher. It’s more heartfelt than if you bought something from a big-box store.”

Friday, December 19, 2008

Gone too soon

On Dec 17, 2008, a friend of mine suddenly passed away from a heart attack. She was 33 years old.

She had a lifetime of health issues -- lupus and fibromyalgia -- but I didn't think these were things that could cause heart attacks and take someone so young.

Like many friendships in adulthood, this one was formed in the workplace. When she took a different job in town, I didn't see as often. Eventually she had to stop working because of her health.

My main emotions right now are shock, sadness and regret. Regret that I let this friendship lapse because of time and distance (her house is in a far suburb), regret that I didn't make it to her housewarming party those years ago.

There are a few pictures of her in the office, from when she used to work here, and I've made copies to take to the wake tonight.

Tonight she will celebrate her life and I will see her husband, who I think I last saw at my wedding. This weekend, I'll go through the wedding photos (still unorganized after 9 years) and look for copies to make for him.

When I found out about her passing, I called Husband to tell him and to tell him not to die.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Who's the bailout for?

So the banks get a zillion dollars for the bailout and my mortgage company won't lend us the money to buy the condo unit. Their "excuse" is that 20+% of the units are in arrears on their homeowners association fees.

Fine. If they don't want our business, we'll find another bank that does.

What burns me is that our current mortgage is with that bank and we've never been late with a payment.

So, we haven't closed on the condo, but have deferred it to the end of the year.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

New Knitting Project

Just found out some friends in San Diego are expecting their first baby next month.

Must get knitting! There's a new baby coming who will need a blanket!

Poor Best Friend. Her sweater has been delayed yet again.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Measuring for the drapes

Still have not closed on the condo yet -- that's next Friday. However, Husband and I did go back to the condo yesterday with the mold inspector. We do have black mold, aka toxic mold. Great.

On top of the stove, frig, and washer and dryer we will need to buy, we can add new water heater and entirely new HVAC system. We were going to leave the w/d in the current house, but they may be making the trip with us now.

While we were there, I took measurements, including the bank of windows that stretch 11 ft tall and 26 ft wide.

Once home, I started measuring our furniture and was happy to see that it should all fit in the new place. Eventually, we will replace our foam and fabric couches with corners scratched up courtesy of a dearly departed cat, with the leather couches we've been wanting for years.

Tomorrow, Husband and I are off to Miami. He's got a work related thing, and I'm just along for the ride. Lucky for us, it's the same weekend at Art Basel Miami Beach and Design Miami.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Everything's going to be late

I spent Thanksgiving with Sister, and Brothers One and Two at Sister's place in DC. I took Ma's shawl to work on, but the lace took more concentration than I was able to summon. Wine and lace knitting really don't work for me. Neither does lace knitting and driving in the dark.

It turns out that I somewhere along the way, I misread instructions or something and omitted an entire diagonal row of eyelets, so had to rip back. This shawl! It's like every week I make a mistake and have to rip out rows and rows of 200+ stitches.

So I predict that this project will not be done by Dec 12, in time for mailing to my mom for her birthday. That means the red and black hat I'm making for Sister-In-Law will also be late. And Best Friend's Emerald sweater will be pushed back to...?

On top of all that, I want to cast on for a scarf for Sister, in appreciation for the hospitality she showed all of us for Thanksgiving. Although I imagine it's actually the fact that I would like a more portable project than a shawl made with worsted weight yarn, or a beret that requires DPNs. Plus I have so much pretty sock yarn!

Oops, the truth came out!

Friday, November 28, 2008

What's going in India?

I'm trying to understand what's going on in India with all the bombings and hostage taking. Everyone is trying to understand what's going on.

Based so far on what I've learned from CNN and the New York Times, I'm thinking it's a group connected to Al-Qaeda aimed at driving out Westerners from "their" part of the world.

On the otherhand, India is majority Hindu, only 13% Muslim, with huge socioeconomic discrepancies between the two. Perhaps it's a way of demanding change for more equality. However, where's the list of demands?

Off to read the BBC and Economist. With the close historical ties between the UK and India, perhaps there will be more info there.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Knitting update November 2008

Again, I reorganized my yarn stash. The first time was documented here. A friend of mine, her mother passed away 4 years ago, and she gave me her yarn. Because we are working on finding a condo to move to (closing date Dec 12!), we've been trying to cull out stuff. Husband knew about my friend's mother's stash and told me: Do not take her stash!
So I waited until he was out of town for a boys' football weekend, to get the yarn :) Spent a lovely afternoon with my friend and her neighbor and now I have a new friend! And doubled my stash.

I stuffed them all into those vacuum seal bags and other zip top bags to make it fit in the Ikea bookcase where I keep my yarn stash. The top half of the bookcase looked like this:
Not the best solution. I went to get some yarn and had to pull out each bag to find the yarn I needed. Then to get the yarn I wanted, I had to pull out all the yarn, and then restuff. It also didn't help that I was not quite familiar with the new yarn. Whenever I buy yarn, I think about it pretty carefully. It's not unusual for me to spend an hour in a yarn shop before buying, even if it's a big box craft store. If it's yarn I order online, it takes even longer, over days of clicking around and comparing prices.
Yesterday, I got some clear plastic storage boxes from Target and now the stash looks like this:It looks better but somehow not as space efficient because I had to put one of those vacuum seal bags in the bottom drawer. Now I have to figure out what to do with the stuff that used to be in that bottom drawer. Ah well. At least I got a bit better acquainted with the new yarn. Lots of wool and mohair in neutrals. That'll come in handy when making gifts for people who are not as fond a bright primary colors as I am.

In other knitting news, here are some finished objects:

First, the vest for my Dad for his birthday. I spoke to him last night and he was so happy to get it. And my mom got all choked up talking about it too. Well, I'm glad that he likes it!
This one is a sweater I made for me, using the yarn I dyed here inspired by the orange pantsuit Hilary Clinton wore at the Democratic National Convention. So psyched that she's going to be Secretary of State. Anyway, the cardigan is based on the Long Chevron Coat in Fitted Knits, and the shawl collar by Emerald from Knitty. It's triple stranded wool and very, very warm.On the needles, I have a shawl for my mother, the Wool Peddler Shawl (Ravelry link) from Folk Shawls. It's in the Ivy Kettle-dyed yarn from KnitPicks. There'll be a lace border along the bottom.
Her birthday is Dec 23, so I need to keep cranking on this. Brother One and I will be driving up to DC to spend Thanksgiving with Sister and Brother Two, so that will be prime knitting time.

The fact that my mom was so touched by my gift to my dad gives me more incentive to make sure this is done right and in time. That took a bit of the sting out of the fact that I had to rip back about 5 rows if not more to fix a mistake. Each row is over 100 stitches! But something happened and the yarn overs going down the middle got misaligned. It's a pretty obvious mistake so I had to rip back. There goes a week's worth of knitting.

But just imagine what my mom's reaction will be when she gets it!

And also, because it's impossible for me to practice project monogamy, I started a beret for my sister-in-law. I made this sweater for her husband so I thought I should make her something too.
But my mom's shawl will have to come first. It takes 10 days for a package to get to Taiwan from the US so I'm working towards a Dec 12 deadline. It takes much less time to get a package from Georgia to Wisconsin, so SIL's beret will just have to wait.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Only knitting, now

Yesterday I went to the pottery studio to pick up pieces that were fired. It was kind of sad, because now that I'm moving, I won't be back at the Mable House to do pottery.

Actually, since all our pennies will be going towards the condo, the repairs (it was a foreclosure property, so the former tenants weren't too careful in removing things), a new refrigerator, stove, and washer/dryer. So no more pottery for a long while.

That leaves knitting and reading as my only hobbies for the foreseeable future. This is when having a stash comes in really handy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Moving on up....

The bid Husband and I put in for a condo in downtown Atlanta was accepted! Woo Hoo!

This means no more trips, not even to Wisconsin for winter holidays, because all our money is going into the new place. We want to put as much down as possible.

Believe me, I am not crying about staying in Atlanta for winter. It's getting colder and snowier in Wisconsin, and I'm quite happy to stay in Georgia to work on the new place!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

'We' are finally part of `We the People'

I have a feeling that I will be crying all day. The Sunday paper is full of articles discussing this momentous election.

This one by Leonard Pitts really got me going, especially the words that I have bolded (by the way, I don't know why the bolding is in 2 different colors, but I didn't mean to do that. There's no significance to the colors):

'We' are finally part of `We the People'

''For the first time in my adult lifetime I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.'' -- Michelle Obama, Feb. 18, 2008

I always thought I understood what Michelle Obama was trying to say. You are familiar, of course, with what she actually did say, which is quoted above. It provided weeks of red meat for her husband's opponents, who took to making ostentatious proclamations of their own unwavering pride in country.

But again, I think I know what the lady meant to say. Namely, that with her husband, this brown-skinned guy with the funny name, making a credible run for the highest office in the land, she could believe, for the first time, that ''we the people'' included her.

It is, for African Americans, an intoxicating thought almost too wonderful for thinking. Yet, there it is. And here we are, waking up this morning to find Barack Obama president-elect of these United States. In a sense, it is unfair -- to him, to us -- to make Tuesday's election about race.

Whatever appeal Obama may have had to African Americans and white liberals eager to vote for a black candidate, is, I believe, dwarfed by his appeal to Americans of all stripes who have simply had enough of the politics of addition by division as practiced by Karl Rove and his disciples, enough of the free floating anger, the holiday from accountability, the nastiness masquerading as righteousness, the sheer intellectual dishonesty, that have characterized the era of American politics that ends here.

But in the end, after all that, there still is race.

And it would be a sin against our history, a sin against John Lewis and Viola Liuzzo, against James Reeb and Lyndon Johnson, against Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin Luther King, against all those everyday heroes who marched, bled and died 40 years ago to secure black people's right to vote, not to pause on this pinnacle and savor what it means. It would be a sin against our generations, against slaves and freedmen, against housemen and washerwomen, against porters and domestics, against charred bodies hanging in southern trees, not to be still and acknowledge that something has happened here and it is sacred and profound.

For most of the years of the American experiment, ''we the people'' did not include African Americans. We were not included in ''we.'' We were not even included in ``people.''

What made it galling was all the flowery words to the contrary, all the perfumed lies about equality and opportunity. This was, people kept saying, a nation where any boy might grow up and become president. Which was only true, we knew, as long as it was indeed a boy and as long as the boy was white.

But as of today, we don't know that anymore. What this election tells us is that the nation has changed in ways that would have been unthinkable, unimaginable, flat out preposterous, just 40 years ago. And that we, black, white and otherwise, better recalibrate our sense of the possible.

There was something bittersweet in watching Michelle Obama lectured on American pride this year, in seeing African Americans asked to prove their Americanness when our ancestors were in this country before this country was. There was something in it that was hard to take, knowing that we have loved America when America did not love us, defended America when it would not defend us, believed in American ideals that were larger than skies, yet never large enough to include us.

We did this. For years unto centuries, we did this. Because our love for this country is deep and profound. And complicated and contradictory. And cynical and hard.

Now it has delivered us to this singular moment. Barack Obama is president-elect of the United States.

And we the people should be proud.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tough times ahead

Yes, I am very happy that Obama was elected president and I am still teary-eyed whenever I read or hear or think the words "President (-elect) Obama."

However, I wonder why anyone would want to run for president now. The US faces humongous challenges. We have 2 wars going on that I don't really support because I am anti-violence. The economy is incredibly awful. There's a huge gap between rich and everyone else, and you know things are bad when politicians say we need to do things for the middle class, not only the poor.

On a related note, my local representative to state legislature is shown in this article

The tough times have not magically disappeared. But things are looking up.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President Obama

We did it! And by an amazing landslide.

We turned Congress blue too. The president will need to work with Congress to get things done. They're supposed to be partners in running the country.

I also appreciated the sober tone he took in his acceptance speech. He is taking on huge, huge, huge responsibilities with 2 wars and a global recession, and everyone domestically and internationally will want a piece of him.

And I worry about the haters and the possibility of assassination attempts. That would be such an absolute tragedy and throw us all into more trouble.

Election day wishes

Today is a historic election day in the USA. I did early voting and stood in line for three hours.

Last week, I heard Naomi Tutu speak at the Atlanta Women's Foundation luncheon and she said that she and many others stood in line for days to vote in South Africa's first election. So waiting a few hours is nothing to complain about.

I voted for Obama because I am a community organizer. I am concerned about the growing divide between rich and poor. I am concerned about what the US has done to the world and our standing in the world.

I voted for Obama because I want a leader who will bring people together and understand what the view looks like from the bottom. I want a leader who's thoughtful and a bridge builder. I want a leader who will make room for voices and people who have been shut out or vilified. I want a leader who leads from a place of hope, not fear.

It's an absolutely historic election. It makes me so proud to be an American that our country has come so far that some one who is not white has the chance to become president! We still have far to go but it gives me so much hope.

So here are my wishes for this election day, which I posted on a friend's blog who is volunteering as a pollworker today:

May every single registered voter come out to vote.
May there be no problems with the machines or ballots.
May every vote be counted.
May the electoral college hear our voices.
May we have Obama for president!
May we have a new country!

And don't forget the other races. The president is not a dictator, but balanced by Congress and the Courts. And our everyday lives are impacted much more by the local races.

But still, it's a historic election and an important election because of the wars and economy, so get out and vote!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Made a bid

Over the weekend, Husband and I went to look at condos in downtown Atlanta and this morning he put in an offer for a condo on the 23rd floor in Museum Tower, overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, the World of Coca-Cola, and the Georgia Aquarium.

So. Excited.

Because of the down economy, the asking price is ridiculously low. I mean, in good times, the asking price would have been at least half a million dollars if not more (totally guessing here). But now it's nowhere near that amount.

Now we wait to see what the sellers say. And no more new trips for us, not even to Wisconsin for Christmas and especially not to Taiwan for Chinese New Year.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

9 years, but really 17

Today Husband and I will celebrate 9 years of marriage with dinner at French American Brasserie. It's located next to a condo in downtown Atlanta that we've considered moving to. This will give us a chance to see what the neighborhood is like at night.

In reality, we have been together 17.5 years, having met May 1991 and been an exclusive relationship since then. I certainly celebrate the May anniversary and in someways it means more to me. I count myself incredibly lucky to have found such a wonderful mate so early in life (I was 20 years old, almost 21. He was 21 already.) and to have such a great relationship together ever since.

So we have an anniversary to celebrate every 6 months!

ETA: When we ordered dessert at dinner, they wrote a little note for us on the rim. The dessert was good too, as you can see from the fact that we didn't notice the Happy Anniversary until after we finished off the chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream. At least we did notice the lit candle in the ice cream.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Just saw Wicked. I read the book a long time ago because I liked the idea of reading the story of Oz from the Wicked Witch's point of view.

The book was kind of a slog and I liked the concept better than the book.
The play was just great. It focused on the relationship between Glinda (the Good Witch) and Elphaba (the Wicked Witch). The costumes were interesting and the stage setting was pretty minimal. The songs were alright. It's not catchy like Cats or Les Miz, but they weren't bad.

I'm tempted to reread the book, to skim it, for comparison.

And to go to more plays.

On a completely different topic, I took this test and my tarot card is

You are The Tower

Ambition, fighting, war, courage. Destruction, danger, fall, ruin.

The Tower represents war, destruction, but also spiritual renewal. Plans are disrupted. Your views and ideas will change as a result.

The Tower is a card about war, a war between the structures of lies and the lightning flash of truth. The Tower stands for "false concepts and institutions that we take for real." You have been shaken up; blinded by a shocking revelation. It sometimes takes that to see a truth that one refuses to see. Or to bring down beliefs that are so well constructed. What's most important to remember is that the tearing down of this structure, however painful, makes room for something new to be built.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

I would not have guessed. It took it again and told me this:

You are The Empress

Beauty, happiness, pleasure, success, luxury, dissipation.

The Empress is associated with Venus, the feminine planet, so it represents,
beauty, charm, pleasure, luxury, and delight. You may be good at home
decorating, art or anything to do with making things beautiful.

The Empress is a creator, be it creation of life, of romance, of art or business. While the Magician is the primal spark, the idea made real, and the High Priestess is the one who gives the idea a form, the Empress is the womb where it gestates and grows till it is ready to be born. This is why her symbol is Venus, goddess of beautiful things as well as love. Even so, the Empress is more Demeter, goddess of abundance, then sensual Venus. She is the giver of Earthly gifts, yet at the same time, she can, in anger withhold, as Demeter did when her daughter, Persephone, was kidnapped. In fury and grief, she kept the Earth barren till her child was returned to her.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Hmmmm. One more time.... and the answer was the Tower again. I don't really think I'm that destructive!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why I make things, Part One: It's Genetic

My parents and grandparents were creative people, and so I grew up thinking that making things is a normal thing to do.

My mother's parents were tailors back in the early 20th century, in Taipei, Taiwan. They made school uniforms, engagement dresses, suits, etc. I remember a long, pale blue dress they made just for me when I was 8 or 10 years old. They came to visit us in the US and my grand mother took my measurements. After they went home to Taiwan, some time later a package came in the mail and there were the dresses they made for me and my sister. We have many pictures of my sister and me wearing matching handmade dresses that we adored.

As I grew older, I realized that after we kids went to bed, my parents would stay up and practice calligraphy and writing poetry. In Chinese, which I can't read, but still, it was evidence of the creative urge. During the day, my dad was a civil engineer and my mom was a housewife and mother of 4 kids, but during the day, they let their creativity loose.

Once my youngest siblings started school, my mother would take cake decorating classes one night a week at the community college. Those were the nights my dad would make what we called "Salvation Army stew." Basically, he would make a big pot of ramen noodles, throw in leftovers, and that was dinner.

I don't remember if it was good or bad, but I'm sure it was good. My mom's a great cook, like her mom was. My mom never used a recipe, that I can remember. She would just think about how flavors combine and make it work. That's another way her creativity expressed itself.

When we moved to Taiwan, she would take classes on flower arranging, how to make flowers and bas relief panels using modeling clay, etc. I remember a family project where all six of us made a clown out of the clay, glued it to a backing board, and each of us painted our clowns.

My dad was very creative too, and engineering requires some level of creativity. I'm not sure what all my dad did at work, but I know he designed and built a 2 story shed/playhouse with stairs and slide, and also did home improvement projects like laying pavers for a patio and building a portico out of wooden beams.

These days, shows like This Old House and all those shows on HGTV are all about how to do home improvement projects. But back in the 1980s, those shows weren't around and my dad did it all by himself.

I was conscious that we didn't have a ton of money, and now I realize, that a household of 6 with only one wage-earner living in the neighborhood we lived in at the time, we didn't have a ton of money. But my parents carved out the time and money so that my mom could take those cake decorating classes.

Because they make art, my parents buy art. Their home now holds large handcarved wooden panels depicting dragons, phoenixes, clouds. They have a wooden peacock that's at least 6 feet tall. The woodworking shop is down the block from their townhouse, so they know where the wood comes from, they know the artisan making their piece, and they can go see the artisan in action and see the many steps involved in making that one piece.

It's very similar to how my mom grew up watching her parents making a dress or suit, from measuring the client, to choosing the fabric, ironing, cutting, sewing, fitting, finishing, down to the buttons and zippers.

This was not sweatshop labor. It was artistic labor, skilled labor, that required not only capable hands, but a sharp and creative mind as well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Oh, how far we haven't come....

The more outrageous statement are highlighted in purple.

The South: For Some, Uncertainty Starts at Racial Identity

Published: October 14, 2008

MOBILE, Ala. — The McCain campaign’s depiction of Barack Obama as a mysterious “other” with an impenetrable background may not be resonating in the national polls, but it has found a receptive audience with many white Southern voters.
“He’s neither-nor. He’s other. It’s in the Bible. Come as one. Don’t create other breeds.” RICKY THOMPSON, in Mobile, Ala., speaking about Barack Obama.
In interviews here in the Deep South and in Virginia, white voters made it clear that they remain deeply uneasy with Mr. Obama — with his politics, his personality and his biracial background.
Being the son of a white mother and a black father has come to symbolize Mr. Obama’s larger mysteries for many voters. When asked about his background, a substantial number of people interviewed said they believed his racial heritage was unclear, giving them another reason to vote against him.
“He’s neither-nor,” said Ricky Thompson, a pipe fitter who works at a factory north of Mobile, while standing in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart store just north of here. “He’s other. It’s in the Bible. Come as one. Don’t create other breeds.”
Whether Mr. Obama is black, half-black or half-white often seemed to overshadow the question of his exact stand on particular issues, and rough-edged comments on the subject flowed easily even from voters who said race should not be an issue in the campaign. Many voters seemed to have no difficulty criticizing the mixing of the races — and thus the product of such mixtures — even as they indignantly said a candidate’s color held no importance for them.
“I would think of him as I would of another of mixed race,” said Glenn Reynolds, 74, a retired textile worker in Martinsdale, Va., and a former supervisor at a Goodyear plant. “God taught the children of Israel not to intermarry. You should be proud of what you are, and not intermarry.”
Mr. Reynolds, standing outside a Kroger grocery store, described Mr. Obama as a “real charismatic person, in that he’s the type of person you can’t really hate, but you don’t really trust.”
Other voters swept past such ambiguities into old-fashioned racist gibes.
He’s going to tear up the rose bushes and plant a watermelon patch,” said James Halsey, chuckling, while standing in the Wal-Mart parking lot with fellow workers in the environmental cleanup business. “I just don’t think we’ll ever have a black president.”
There is nothing unusual about mixed-race people in the South, although in decades past there was no ambiguity about the subject. Legally and socially, a person with any black blood was considered black when segregation was the law.
But the historic candidacy of Mr. Obama, who has said he considers himself black, has led some voters in the South to categorize him as neither black nor white. While many voters said that made them uncomfortable, others said they were pleased by Mr. Obama’s lack of connection to African-American politics.
“He doesn’t come from the African-American perspective — he’s not of that tradition,” said Kimi Oaks, a prominent community volunteer in the Mobile area, with apparent approval. Ms. Oaks, along with about 15 others, had gathered after Sunday services at Mobile’s leading Methodist church to discuss the presidential campaign. “He’s not a product of any ghetto,” Ms. Oaks added.
At the same time, however, she vigorously rejected the idea that race would be important in the election, a question met with general head-shaking from those assembled; Ms. Oaks said she was “terribly offended,” as a Southerner, at even being asked about this.
Jim Pagans, a retired software manager, interviewed in a strip mall parking lot in Roanoke, Va., said that while Mr. Obama was “half-Caucasian,” he had the characteristics of blacks.
“But you look at his background, you don’t think of that,” he said. “He’s more intelligent and a smarter person than McCain.”
Bud Rowell, a retired oil field worker interviewed at a Baptist church in Citronelle, Ala., north of Mobile, said he was uncertain about Mr. Obama’s racial identity, and was critical of him for being equivocal and indecisive.
But Mr. Rowell also said that personal experience had made him more sympathetic to biracial people.
“I’ve always been against the blacks,” said Mr. Rowell, who is in his 70s, recalling how he was arrested for throwing firecrackers in the black section of town. But now that he has three biracial grandchildren — “it was really rough on me” — he said he had “found out they were human beings, too.”

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Happy birthday to me....

Rather narcissistic to blog about one's own birthday, no? And yet the picture opportunities!

First of all, Husband sent me flowers at work one day early.Then the staff gave me flowers too the next day, with little cake and brownie snacks, which I shared of course, and a balloon, but best of all, a book:That would be The Big-Ass Book of Crafts by Mark Montano. Favorite projects from the book:

Tabletop covered with peel and stick laminate tile from the hardware store:Felt-applique quilt:There's totally kitchy and totally cool stuff so I'm looking forward to doing some of the projects.

And here's one project that belongs in that book but I did way back in, um, some time so long ago I don't even remember, but probably last fall, about a year ago:
This piece is 4 feet by 4 feet on a wooden base. I took scrapbooking paper, tore them up into irregular shapes and glued them onto the wood. Then I sketched a lotus flower onto a sheet of flipchart paper and glued more scraps of scrap book paper onto it. Sharpies bleed through paper pretty well, so once it dried, I could cut out the shapes from the back side.
Using ModPodge, I glued on the lotus flower pieces, and then also the little dragonflies in the 4 corners.
Began the project probably last fall and finished it, almost, today. Now I just need to get 16 feet of ribbon to glue onto the edge of the wood to give it a nice finish. And to figure out where to put it and how. It's pretty heavy. But that can wait until next year.
By the way, for dinner on my birthday, Husband took me to Bacchanalia, apparently the only 5 star restaurant in Atlanta. It was a prix fixe 4 course dinner (appetizer, entree, cheese, dessert) where I tried veal sweetbread -- brains -- for the first time. It was $75 per person base price. Then there were the wine pairings and some choices for each course carried extra charges, which they called supplements.
Each portion was tiny but oh, the flavors. And by the time dessert came around, I was full. Could barely finish my donut holes, I mean, bomboloni.
But I managed it. Leave no chocolate covered Italian donut holes behind, is my motto.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cross stitch show

Over the weekend The Sampler Guild of Georgia opened an exhibit of cross stitched pieces. They were lovely. I used to do cross stitch but haven't in years. This made me want to pick it up again.
On the face of it, this one seems easy enough to do. But just think of the counting you have to do to make sure each motif is nicely spaced apart from each other.
This long one was pretty cool.
The green at the bottom was achieve by stitching in a checkerboard pattern in green. Here's a close up. The intricacy of the border alone on this one is impressive. Again, each element, each letter, zig-zag, or swirle doesn't look hard, but each one needs to be done precisely to achieve the overall look.
These Santas aren't by cup of tea, but are done very well.
I love this red house. Apparently, the pattern for each room was mailed separately, like mystery shawl knitting patterns are done, and the entire picture doesn't emerge until end.
This one has a different feel, and I like the verse about the lady leave alone the fake flowers and enjoy the real roses instead. Which is ironic, considering the pattern is all about stitching fake flowers!
This last one uses all kinds of needlework, including pulled thread work.
Maybe one day I'll go back to cross stitch. I still have all the DMC floss....

First Face

In pottery class, we're learning how to make the human form. This is the first face I've made. Can of V8 for scale.

It's been fired once and the next step will be to glaze it and then fire again.
This guy will just be bald, but the next one, I'll poke holes for yarn hair afterwards. That's one way to use up left over yarn.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Aching Elbows

Last night, I laid in bed, feeling my elbows throbbing. But this was a price I was willing to pay for an afternoon throwing pottery.

It's been a while since I've done that, especially with large chunks of clay. I got really beat up from the wonky clay trying to center it. But in the end it was done. Now I have three pieces of a vase thrown. On Tuesday, when I go back for class, I'll cut them off the batts and join them.

I've done it before for Husband's 18 inch tall amphora so it shouldn't be too hard.

But I'm going to give the knitting a rest for today and tomorrow. I've been putting in some marathon knitting on the weekends which strains my elbows and wrists too.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


This is how exciting my weekend has started out. I reorganized my yarn stash. Last night I frogged my big oranged sweater and now had all this yarn to put away.

The stash is in a drawer/armoire thing from IKEA. The top section has one shelf dividing the space and closed with doors, the bottom is 6 drawers.

The entire top half are the wool yarns.
Top shelf: At the very top is the Bag of Malabrigo, resting on a box of brown yarn in the Amazon box, and a ziptop baggie of Knitpicks Wool of the Andes in Sapphire Heather. I'm using it to make an Opulent Raglan sweater for myself.

Underneath that are 2 wicker baskets lined in cotton, standing on their ends. I like to be able to see all the yarn at once. The basket on the right holds the superwash wools, the basket on the left are non-machine washable blue and green wools. The blue yarn in the plastic bag is left over from the sweater I made Sister here.
Just realized that the top shelf yarns are majority worsted weight, with a few skeins of sock weight thrown in.

The yellow cone is cotton, but I put it here since I have no where else it fits.

Bottom shelf: The open box to the left are the Manos del Uruguay, Berroco Foliage, other varigated yarns, Cascade eco-wool, Lopi. Interestingly, those are the bulky weight yarns.
This is what's in the wicker baskets: pink wool on the left, mohair on the right. The mohair is for the Modern Quilt Wrap by Mags Kandis, from Folk Style. The yarns are mostly Kid Silk Haze and Aura and bought at 40% off at a going out of business sale. The colors are much more muted and earthy and sophisticated than my usual primary color brightness as evidenced by all my other yarn. Hmmm. I should think about that.
You may notice some red around the edges of some of the pictures. That's because the study where the computer and my craft things are has a red carpet. And blue walls. With white trim. See? I'm a bright, primary-color kind of gal.

In the first drawer below are the dyed and dyeable yarns. The orange and yellow are my dyed yarns, and Knit Picks Bare superwash on the left. In the middle is a big back of Rowan Felted Tweed that I got on sale. And some swatches. And some gift yarn, and some leftover red yarn.
I guess it's more than just the dyed and dyeable yarn. It must be my yarn equivalent of the junk/random drawer.

The next drawer are the machine washable yarns: cotton, linen, bamboo (that's the yellow half-finished scarf), synthetics, and my one lone skein on merino silk in the brown bowl half hidden in the back. Felted wool swatches on the far right.


Top shelf: no changes.Bottom shelf: Mohair in a clear container, ziptop bag of superwash wool afghan I started for Brother Two discussed here, and rearranged the wools for more visibility. The clear plastic box holds the mohairs and the top box is 8 skeins of Wool of the Andes in the Ivy green colorway for my mom's shawl.

And again with the stuff in front taken out. Purple Felted Tweed to the left, the mostly pink yarns in the middle, the bulky yarns on the right.

Top drawer: Dyeable yarns. Took out the purple Felted Tweed, put in the yarn from the giant orange sweater. Makes more sense, since one of the oranges I did dye, discussed here.
Drawer of Machine-Washable Yarns -- unchanged. The green, grey, and lavendar linen stitch thing is the middle of a baby blanket I started then abandoned. It was for a co-worker but then I ran out of time. I ended up buying her something off her registry instead.And a new drawer: The Drawer of Red Yarns. All that Lamb's Pride is for an Emerald Sweater for Best Friend, like I made for Sister. I'd like to make one for me too, from that orange-dyed yarn. Eventually.
Well, that's enough excitement for one day. It's a gorgeous day, sunny and near 80 degrees F. I'm going outside to play with clay. I'm taking a class on how to make the human figure and we're starting with heads. I'll post pictures as they come along. So far, everyone's heads are asymetrical, lumpy, and somewhat grotesque. Rather appropriate for the coming Halloween.

Husband wants a bust, complete with laurel leaves, so I better get working on it.


I ripped out the giant orange sweater last night and wound them into these huge yarn cakes.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Headed for the frog pond

Since Sept 14, I've been working on an orange cardigan, based loosely on the Long Coat with Chevron Lace from Fitted Knits, pictured here (scroll down). It's a top down raglan sweater. I didn't know how much yarn I had, so I knitted both sleeves before finishing the body.

I bound off the bottom hem last night.

It's absolutely huge. I would felt it to shrink it, except one of the yarns (I held three together, discussed here) is superwash and won't felt.

I'm going to set it aside and finish my dad's vest. Then I'll probably end up frogging the orange sweater and starting over.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ooooh -- Look! Gas!

It's been all over the news. Parts of Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and North Carolina have a gasoline shortage. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike knocked out oil refineries and gas pipelines from Texas that serve our part of the US. This qualifies as a crisis in car dependent Atlanta.

Usually I drive to work, which takes me about 45 minutes door to door, speeding all the way.

But as gas stations started running out, I started taking the train. So I drive the speed limit from my house to the nearest train station, which is the western-most station on the east-west line, wait 15 minites for the train to show up, ride half an hour to the second to last station on the east end, cross and walk along a very busy street with no sidewalks to the office. From door to door, it's about 1.5 hours. One way.

Up sides: saving money, saving the environment, and getting to knit on the train. I could still listen to my podcasts if I wanted.
Down sides: doubled my daily commute time and I get a bit nauseous on the train with all the shaking.

Today, I drove because I had pottery class tonight and if I took the train, the commute would take so long, I'd miss the class entirely. After class, I was able to drive right up to my usual station and pump a full tank of gas for less than $4 a gallon. No waiting in line, no scuffles, no police interventions like at other stations earlier in the "crisis." Clearly, the rumors of the pipelines resuming operations are true.

Still, depending on whether or not I have meetings outside the office and the probability of rain, I will probably continue to use public transportation a few days a week.

At least I'll have my knitting.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Last week, I was at a retreat, held at Serenbe, a planned community of 900 rural acres with three hamlets where all the housing and development is concentrated. It's 30 miles south of Atlanta but so totally rural you wouldn't know you were only half an hour from a major city.
Now, you know you're in the country when you have not only horses, but donkeys and pigs too.
Only one of the three planned hamlets are built up. You can see pictures by clicking here but here's a taste:The homes are a mix of architectural styles: rustic, brick, white concrete modern. All the homes are about 2 or 3 stories and some have stores or restaurants on the first floor.

I got to stay at a 2 bedroom apt above a storefront. It was quite a novelty for me because it had stairs. I live in a ranch and since my husband uses a wheelchair, stairs are strangely, something to savor. That was, until I had to haul my luggage up those stairs.

Second floor was the kitchen and sitting area.

view out the back, a gravel courtyard with shops and more homes around it.

The third floor was 2 bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms. Notice the very tall bed. And all the white! It was like living in a home styles magazine.

I loved it there. Except that it was so rural, that my cellphone didn't get a signal. I used a land line (that's a novelty too, now) to call Husband to say that we have to come back some day, perhaps for dinner, and have a little drive in the country.

Once the gas prices come down.