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The Etsy Effect

March 22, 2011

I love Etsy.  If you are not familiar with Esty.com, it is the place to buy and sell handmade goods online.  I think handmade things have so much more character, and they are imbued with so much more love that factory-produced items.  Making your own things, I think, is even better.  I am very grateful that my parents made sure that I knew how to do things like sew, knit, cut wood, etc.  These are skills that fewer and fewer people seem to have these days, and people often marvel at things I make that seem so easy to me.  And if there is something that I don’t know how to do, I usually want to learn how to do it.  If it’s cool enough, I put my mind to it and learn (except for crochet, which seems to totally elude me.  Sigh.)

This “I can do it, or learn how” mentality it what I call the Etsy Effect: I COULD MAKE THAT MYSELF, TOO!  It’s not totally universal, of course.  Surfing around Etsy and clicking on different items produces one of three responses in me: (listed from least to most frequent)

1) That is amazing.  In some parallel universe, I could learn to make that…if I had been raised by a pearl-diving blacksmith and woodworking painter who raise sheep in a forest of silver birch trees.  And who crochet.

2) That’s cool.  I can make that now, or I could make that after 15 minutes of surfing the internet for a descriptive tutorial or YouTube video, and a 45 minute outing to craft/fabric/hardware store. Make that an hour since I’ll have to bring LM with me.

3) REALLY? That is pretty, but you can really convince people to pay $xx plus $8 shipping for that?? When they could make it themselves for $xx minus 75% and using the technique described in number two.  Wow.  I need to get in on that action.

There is a 1 1/2 option, though very small, that encompasses things that I know I could make but would be very time consuming, and of very poor quality on my first one or two attempts, like knitting a stocking or an adult sized sweater.  Someday, when I have free time again (in 18+ years) I will improve my skills in those areas.

For now, I will pine for the 15 spare minutes it would take to set up an Etsy shop. Yes, I could have done it in the time it took me to write this blog, but I also need the spare time it would take to make the things to sell.  Although I am working on a set of something like these for LM’s upcoming first birthday party: banners!

**Great example of number 3: REALLY?**

Thrift Shops, revisited.

March 19, 2011

So in a previous post I discussed how I like the idea of thrift stores very much, but the smell reality of thrift stores can be off-putting.  Well, LM is growing like a weed and even with hand-me-downs she is running out of clothes that fit.  And every time I put away another storage bin of outgown baby clothes I think about how much it would cost to dress a kid if you bought all new clothes–ridiculous! Yeah, a new special occasion outfit or a few cute pieces here and there but it gets out of hand quickly.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve hit a few local Goodwill shops with limited success.  The Goodwill shops (at least near me) represent all the things I hate most about thrift stores (beyond that weird, Grandma-attic smell): racks of badly organized, often torn/dirty clothing that gives me the creepies just to think about putting on me or my baby.  All the children’s clothes from newborn to 5T sizes were all on the same rack, with no order whatsoever, and when you have a ten month old who is constantly trying to climb out of the shopping cart, it dulls that “treasure hunt” experience that some people claim they get when shopping at thrift stores.  I did have one good experience at the second Goodwill shop, when I actually found four items I was willing to buy; I took them to the checkstand and the cashier was exclaiming how cute LM is, then she rang up the first item (a 2T shirt) and exclaimed “$3.99 for this little shirt, that’s outrageous!”.  She glanced around (presumably for a manager?) and then swept all the other items into the bag and said “$4.36 is your total.”  Nice.

But I was looking for a slightly better thrift store experience, so I went to a place called Savers yesterday.  I went there once before, three years ago, to look for a last minute Halloween costume, but haven’t been back and never really thought much of it.  Now, Savers still has that smell and a lot of weird broken stuff for sale, but their clothes are actually organized!  REALLY well!  The baby clothes were separated into boys and girls (I surfed both) and divided by age (nb, 3 mo, 6 mo, etc.) and roughly organized by color within the sizes.  For the most part, their vetting process is clearly superior to Goodwill, so the clothes for sale were all clean and undamaged and mostly good to high quality stuff.

For $36.34 I scored two pajamas, two pants, four shirts, two pairs of shoes and one sweater jacket.  One of the pairs of shoes was a clearly never-worn pair of Robeez (which are $22 new, I got for $2.99) in a 0-6 month size that I can use for the next baby, since LM wore a hole in hers.  One of the shirts is Baby Guess brand, very nice quality and I looked it up–about $32 new.  Another shirt is a Baby Gap, and another shirt and the sweater jacket are Greendog, which is a Macy’s brand and very nice.

So this post is half-rambling, half PSA but I definitely think that for the most part, used stuff is the way to go for kids–they are rough on it, outgrow it, and at least when they are this young, they don’t care.  I am hoping that if LM gets older and develops attitude about where her clothes come from, I can use it as a teachable moment and point out that she can either get one brand new outfit from Old Navy or we can go across the street to Savers and get her three or four outfits for the same price, probably of better quality/designer, simply because someone wore it before.

It looks Photoshopped…but it’s not.

March 13, 2011

What the heck?

I swear, the only thing I did to this photo is red-eye reduction.

Free-Ranging

March 2, 2011

I can kill a two birds (I WISH!) with one blog title today.  First, we fenced in our little chicken flock so they don’t have full run of the back yard.  It sounds nice, to let the birds roam freely but they scratch the crap out of every square inch of yard, then crap on it.  They pull the leaves off the trees we are trying to establish, and jump the fence around our meager garden.  SO we made a fenced area, about 12 X 14 ft which is in addition to their 4 X 10 foot covered run…still a zillion times better than a battery cage or even one of those giant “free-range” barns where your boutique brand Cage-Free eggs come from.  They squawked like mad the first few days but now they are settling in. I threw several piles of Palo Verde leaves into the pen to give them something to mess with, since their default activity is to scratch everything to death.  We’ve also been more regular about giving them greens and food scraps, which makes them happy and seems to bolster their laying schedule.  Apparently we are extra lucky here in the desert, that the hens lay through the winter.  Several blogs I read are by ladies who also raise hens, and their recent posts about the approaching Spring include references that their hens are starting to lay again.  Dang.  If they stopped laying, I’d stop feeding!  No deposit, no return ladies!!  (just kidding…maybe).

I have also been reading a book called “Free-Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy.  She was dubbed “America’s Worst Mom” after admitting in public that she let her 9 year old son ride the NYC subway alone (at his request and fully prepared with map, money, phone, etc).  Now she is an advocate for letting kids be the kind of kids WE were, and having adventures and growing up into confident, self-reliant people.  Skenazy abhors helicopter parenting and what she calls curling parenting (curling is that weird winter sport where the players frantically sweep the ice in front of the puck thingy to try to give it the straightest, smoothest path to the goal line.)  She wrote the book to debunk many of the culture myths that have caused people to start raising their kids in bubbles (supposedly skyrocketing rates of child abduction, poisoned Halloween candy, etc.) as well as cultural trends that she feels limit kids (mostly too much TV/computer/video games).

This morning, I had an anti-free-range experience; I rode my bicycle to Trader Joes, pulling LM behind me in the Burley trailer and we were on our way home, riding down a side street past a grade school.  We weren’t going very fast, so I heard a little voice call out “can you hand me my pencil!?”  I made a quick, controlled stop and propped the bike and Burley against the curb so I could help.  It was a little girl with a teacher and maybe 5 other kids standing standing in the corner of the big playground lot behind the school, doing some kind of activity because they all had paper and pencils.  Except for this little girl, who (in the mysterious way of school children) had somehow propelled her glittery green pencil through the eight foot chain link fence that surrounded the play lot and onto the sidewalk.  I picked up the pencil and handed it though the fence and the teacher prompted the girl “what do you say?”  “THANK YOU” she shrieked, and jogged away.  The teacher thanked me again as I got back on my bike and I waved.

A quick glance around the school and play lot told me that yes, the whole lot was enclosed by this eight foot fence, except for one gate on the far side that lets out to a parking lot  belonging to the church next door.  The poor kid had no way to pick up a pencil, for goodness sake!  This school is in a decent part of town, so there is no reason for there to not be at least a GATE in the fence.  The grade school I went to didn’t have any fence around the playground or fields, and unlike the school I passed this morning that was bounded by streets and parking lots, the field in my grade school backed up to all houses, at least 16 or so.  A lot of those houses had bushes or tree fences, but very few actual fences.  We didn’t go into the yards, because the teachers said “don’t go into the yards. Stay on the playground.”  Ok. And there was always one or two teachers roaming the field to yell if you strayed.

I’m not going to recap the whole book, but the anecdotes sent to author by overprotective parents are hilarious, and the statistics that she finds (or lack thereof) are really telling and appeal to the capitalist-conspiracy theorist in me.  Did you know?  There is not one single documented case of a child becoming sick or dying from poisoned or otherwise booby-trapped Halloween candy.  Ever.  Skenazy turned up two cases, one where a father killed his own son with a poisoned Pixi Stix to collect insurance money, and one where a 5 year old got into his parents heroin stash and died so they sprinkled some heroin on candy and pretended that a stranger had given the candy to the child.  The truth came out quickly in both cases, and in both cases the parents ended up admitting that they thought they’d get away with it because kids die from poisoned candy all the time, right?  No, actually.  Yet, a whole industry of safety products has come into existence because of the idea that Halloween is the prime time for random psychos to try to murder your child.  Hmm.

Anyway, I’m going to try my best to make sure that LM has more freedom that most kids being raised nowadays.  I got a lot of freedom as a child, and it made me confident and self-reliant so I want to pass that on.

Identity Crisis?

February 14, 2011

The older I get, the faster time seems to move, and the more I sense that there isn’t going to be enough time.  Time for what?  Everything I want to do and try and see in my life.  When you’re young, the world seems enormous because you only know a very small part of it but you sense the expanse of possibilities beyond your scope of comprehension.  Then you get older, start seeing some more of the world and then realize it is even bigger then you ever imagined.  And there is so much cool stuff to do in it!  But as you start making choices and stepping through doors of opportunity, you realize that you have cut off options that you won’t ever have again.  Maybe this doesn’t bother some people–people who have a different mindset than me.  I don’t want to come across as unsatisfied with my life, because I love the life-path I have chosen (otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen it!) but I am curious about “what could have been.”

There are women who I raced against and beat when we all started racing bicycles in southern CA in 2004-2005.  Now a few of them are on pro teams and have raced in Europe.  Could I have done that well with my cycling career?  Maybe, but I’ll never know.  I don’t regret leaving CA or getting a career or having LM, but a part of my brain is curious as to whether I could have.

I never wanted to join the military.  I admire those who serve, and my brother was in the Army for four years but now I will never know what my life might have been like if I had joined the military right out of high school when I had no idea what I was doing with my life.  Two classes at a crappy community college and a night shift job guided me back to college, but I could have just as easily walked into a recruiters office.  People do it all the time.

Now, I will never join the Peace Corps, get my Ph.D or backpack around Europe (ok, maybe that last one, in 18 years when LM is ready to start her adventures).  Missing out on these things doesn’t send me into a fit of despair, but it makes me realize that I won’t do them in my lifetime, and the fact of the matter is that I only get this one life.  I am one of those people who can get very scared if I think too hard about that phrase, and it has kept me awake more than a few nights.  Just one life?  Better make it good.

I realize I sound kind of flaky, meditating on the “what ifs” of life, but again it doesn’t make me angry or depressed, just curious about what could have been.  I think about “what ifs” in a positive way a lot.  What if I had never been invited to the Mom/Baby group at the Birth and Womens Health Center after LM was born and met all the great women I’ve become friends with? (I literally knew NO ONE with children when LM was born) What if my brother had joined a different cycling team five years ago and I have never become friends with DH (and everything that followed after)?  What if I had selected a different graduate school seven years ago, and hadn’t taken up cycling at all??  What if. . . and the list goes on.  I am very glad all of those possibilities came to pass, because it has brought me to where I am.

There are days when I just want to put LM in day care, go for a three hour bike ride and then go back to work.  But then she crawls over and pulls herself up on my legs and I realize that I couldn’t bear to miss her sweet baby faces, or risk not witnessing her first steps and all her other first experiences.  I am happy to be a mother to LM and her future sibling and all the joys and sacrifices that entails, but part of me will always be curious about what else I might have done with my one life.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of things I want to do, and can do!  I want to become a better knitter.  I want to go under the hour on a 40 km time trial.  I want to successfully grow my own tomatoes (f–ing HARD in the desert).  I want to run a marathon.  I want to write poetry again.  I want to have another baby.  I want to sew a wedding dress.  I want to go to France.  I want to paint the walls of my house.  I want to put on the awesomest bike race my town has ever seen.  I want to be a good mother to my children.  See?  Lots to keep me busy.

The Power Pie

February 11, 2011

Where have I been!?  Busy.  Very busy.

A big project that I have been working on for several months is gaining momentum and taking up more and more of my “free” time; that is, the time when LM is napping and I can make phone calls without shrieks/squeals/giggles in the background.  And I work on it quite a bit when LM is awake, in terms of responding to emails, filling out paperwork, etc.  What is this amazing project?  A bicycle race!  In the heart of our downtown, happening in about two months.

It may not sound complicated, but it’s ridiculous!  Permits from the cycling governing body, permits from the City, permits from the Department of transportation, a professional traffic control plan to route traffic around the closed course (one-way streets blow), a permit from Parks and Recreation, plus race registration, setting up the prizes, planning a kids race, getting vendors for the expo….the list goes on.  Today I dealt with a very unpleasant aspect of race planning: trolls.  Ok, I haven’t really dealt with the situation, but it arose and I know the next step I have to take.  Basically, ONE person with a bit power doesn’t like the fact we are having a bike race that will block access to her particular building .

Now, the building is only open for 4 hours during the race, and the parking lot we are blocking is free on the weekends, so the building will not lose any revenue from having the lot blocked.  Our expo is immediately adjacent to this building and thus we may actually drive more traffic to the building that it would normally get.  Plus, it is in the best interest of US to make sure that plenty of alternative parking is available for people to come to the race and the expo–and there is plenty of time to notify the patrons of this building that parking will be affected on this day, which is more than two months from now.  I sent an email to this person detailing these points and stating that I would call her (per her request) so we could discuss it further.

I got no response from the voicemail. An hour later I got a two line response to my email stating that she “discussed it with the administration and decided the garage will operate during it’s normal hours, so we need to find another route for our race that will not disrupt the operations of the garage.”  Hmm.  Thats funny, because the Police Department Special Events liaison and the DOT rep in charge of closures and detours both said we could use the course, and they control the streets, where the race is being held.  I notified this woman basically as a courtesy and tried to engage her in a conversation about mitigating the effects of our race and coming to a compromise.  She turned into a troll, though, in her valiant attempt to defend her piece of the power pie.

Now I can’t even recall where I heard that term, but it is so very appropriate; all the forces and powers that make our world go around around divided up into slices, if you envision them as a pie chart.  Some people are overly protective of their piece of power, and it’s usually the people with smaller pieces.  I understand this woman’s concern that we may interrupt some of the traffic into her building, but we have gone through all the proper channels and I want to work with her to help minimize that interruption. I feel badly that her response was to overstep her power and try to simply state that I “can’t do” what I am allowed to do and fully intend to do, because I’m going to have to tell her just that, which will actually serve to diminish her perceived power.

This all sounds very Marxian, discussing conflicting social powers, but you see it all the time–between clerks and customers, waiters and diners, teachers and students, employees and supervisors.  The key to being a good person is to wield your power with the awareness that you could just as easily be the less powerful person in the interaction.  Basic Golden Rule kind of stuff, but people so often treat the people who they view as subordinate to themselves like total crap.  There is the fantasy that all people are equal (either created that way or made that way under the law, whichever view you like), but it is a far more dangerous fantasy to believe that people are inherently unequal.  People who believe that (the very smart, very rich, otherwise privileged, etc.) abuse their piece of the power pie without considering the consequences.

I guess my point is that power is constantly in flux and you need to respect those below you as well as above because it can change quickly.  I respect my employer because the company signs my check, but (fortunately) my company respects me because I do the work that makes them money.  Respect your teachers because they are smarter than you now, but they better respect that you may be smarter then them down the line.  And I wish this troll respected my initial request to talk with her about a compromise, but she basically saw me as a tiny threat to her power pie without realizing that she actually has no power to tell me what to do.

Show and Tell

January 25, 2011

Look, ma!  I made a wool soaker for LM:

Argyle = classic.

What is a wool soaker?  Sounds wet, that is for sure.  But NO, it’s not.  In retrospect, I really wish I had understood the whole concept of wool diaper covers when LM was a newborn.  I saw them, and a few people I know used them on their babies, but I was too stupid to ask how they work.  I assumed that they had to be washed after ever use (like other diapers) and wool is such a pain!  Besides, wool is sort of a fabric so wouldn’t it just soak right through? (The name is a serious misnomer, and one of the reasons I remained ignorant of the benefits of wool).

Well, a lovely friend recently noticed that LM was getting some redness in the diaper region and suggested I try one of her wool soakers over just a prefold diaper, because wool naturally breathes and will allow more air circulation and hopefully prevent diaper rash.  Still being ignorant, I mumbled something about not knowing how to clean or care for a wool soaker, and she told me that you can just let the soaker air dry, and that wool is naturally antibacterial and water repellent.  Duh.  I felt like a total idiot and realized that this is such a great and potentially CHEAP diapering solution!  I’ve seen the concept of upcycled wool soakers here but again I put aside the idea because I thought there was a lot tedious wool care involved.  Nah, as long as no poop gets on the wool, it can basically be air dried and reused almost indefinitely (!!) but an occasional wash with lanolin will help maintain the water-repellent nature of the wool.

I need my own soakers!!  Since LM has since been diagnosed with her first double ear infection and started her first course of antibiotics, they have wrecked her digestive tract, making her poop thin but sticky, and much more frequent, resulting in her first genuine diaper rash ever.  So, a more-breathable diapering solution is in order, since it’s too chilly to let her roam around diaper-free as much as I would like.

Knitting one is an option, but I am not that skilled at knitting (yet) and I really ought to finish the baby sweater I started before LM is born, which is probably already too small for her.  Sigh.  I turned the knitting project over to my skilled mother.  That left upcycling from old sweaters, best obtained at thrift stores.  Confession:  I don’t like thrift stores.  I love the IDEA of thrift stores, but there is something about the way that EVERY thrift store smells that really bothers me.  What subconscious memories the scent of dusty old clothes conjures up, I couldn’t tell you, but it gives me the willies.  Plus, they are never organized for crap which makes hunting for sweaters with a squirming baby I real challenge, but I braved the Goodwill for this project.

I succeeded, and scored two neat sweater vests and one long sleeved sweater for $14.  In researching different ways of making a soaker, a lot of people felt the sweaters first to make the knit tighter and easier to work with, as well as softer.  I was dubious about chucking my newly acquired wool treasures into a washer of HOT water, but I figured I’d only be out $7 if it failed.  But it didn’t!  They didn’t shrink much after one hot wash/cold rinse and being dried in the dryer at low heat, but the knit definitely tightened up and made the one I cut into easier to work with.

I followed these basic directions with a few small changes:

1) I didn’t actually measure.  I eyeballed how big a waist one half of the circumference of the sweater would make and figured it would work. Shazam.

2) Because the waistband of the sweater was so wide, I started the triangle from the bottom (top?) edge of the waistband and just followed the lines provided by the argyle.  Then when I stitched it together, I stitched the waistband straight so it would be more fitted, then brought the point of the triangle right under that.  This negated the need for the (cheesy, I think) drawstring.

3) I used the arm holes of the argyle sweater vest for the leg holes, cutting about an inch back from the binding so it would give my soaker a slightly more “shortie” appearance.

Best for crawling around on the golf course.

OH, before I cut (and this wasn’t strictly necessary) I just straight stitched the wool right next to where I was going to cut, just in case it started to unravel.  When I actually pieced it together, I straight stitched AND then zig-zagged the waistband, down from the point of the triangle to the leg holes, and then on the leg pieces themselves.  When I joined the leg pieces to the soaker body, it was a bit difficult to maneuver the two layers of wool in my sewing machine, in such a small space, that I just left it with a tight straight stitch.

To make the soaker, I only used the front half of the sweater vest, so I’ll be able to make a whole other soaker out of just that sweater, which set me back all of $3.50.  I also got a cream colored cable knit cardigan vest for $6.99 (which I did not felt because it is hella thick and tight already!) that will probably only yield one soaker but it looks neat; and I got a mens XL blue sweater with a burgundy stripe that will yield two soakers from the body AND a pair of longies from the sleeves, also $3.50.  I did surf the women’s racks but found no cute, feminine looking sweaters to use.  Oh well, these are mostly just going to be for around home anyway.  Five soakers and a pair of longies for $14.  Thatsa veruh nice-uh.

So I feel very productive.  LM is sleeping in her crib in this soaker right now, so we’ll see how water-repellent the wool is without having been specifically treated with lanolin yet.

Such a classy muffin butt.