Saturday, April 30, 2011

All I Have to Say About the Royal Wedding

I cared about the Charles-and-Diana wedding. (Diana and I were of an age, after all.) And we all know how THAT turned out.

So I just have two things to say about this wedding:

1) Good luck, kids!

2) I want these:

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Real Person Underneath (Belated Easter Reflections)

He is tall, dressed warmly for our unseasonably cool Easter. His melodic accent suggests African origins. When we load up the car, he politely asks if it would be okay for him to take the front seat, as his legs are so long...

We are at Tent City, my husband and I, to pick up any residents who might want to come to our church's Easter charity dinner. Nobody can remember exactly when we started doing this dinner, but our best guess is 1992. Since then, in every year but one, our family's Easter afternoons have been spent at church -- serving food bank clients, the homeless, or people who just want someplace to go for company and a hot meal.

In a nice coincidence, Tent City arrived in town the day before. Their 100 residents are staying at the Catholic church down the street from our house. They will be here for three months.

This is their second visit to our neighborhood, three years after the first. There haven't been anywhere near the protests this time around that the first visit created. And nobody seems to see the need, this time, for the brigades of parents lined up along the streets to protect the schoolkids walking by who might be damaged by their proximity.

This time around there were no angry town hall meetings where solid, middle class types refer to Tent City residents as "those people." The feared crime wave never materialized last time, and the churches have managed to hold onto their right to help the homeless on their own property. This time around, the Tent City residents are our neighbors, if only for three months, and I am proud of my city for this.

There are five other people in my car as we head down the hill toward my church. It is not a long drive; we live in the older section of town, where everything is centrally located. On our one little hill there are seven churches.

As we drive, I make small talk with the man next to me. His name is "O," and he is originally from a small country in southern Africa. He moved here for college, he says, a well-known university in the southwest. We discuss that state for a moment, and he explains to me which universities are located in which towns.

"What did you study?" I ask.

"I studied engineering."

"Oh," I say, "my daughter's fiance studied engineering. Mechanical. What kind did you study?"

"Nuclear," he said. "I am a nuclear engineer." I am surprised, of course, but work hard not to show it. And so we talk about nuclear power, and about the economy, and about how the Japanese nuclear crisis has damaged the prospects for nuclear energy in the US.

And then we are at my church, and the conversation is over. I will never know the rest of the story, or how he, a nuclear engineer, ended up here, in a homeless encampment in Washington state.

A few months back I was at a meeting, preparing for another trip into the women's prison with an ecumenical prison ministry group I belong to. The scripture for discussion that day was Matthew 25: "For I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me something to drink..."

One of the women in the group asked the obvious question for these times: "So does this mean we need to give money to every homeless person on the street who asks for it? What if they're just going to use it for drugs or alcohol?" I have known her for years, and she is a good person, but her tone is mildly dismissive -- a tone I think we have all heard frequently these last few years.

What I said, the first thing that came to my mind, was, "I think that what it means more than anything is that when we view people in any circumstance, we need to be sure that as Christians we try to see the humanity underneath."

I said it firmly. I even meant it.

Yet I don't always do it. Sometimes it's so much easier just to look away. To turn towards our own safe and comfortable lives and deal with our own small problems, to cocoon ourselves away from people who are not like us.

It's easier. But that doesn't make it right. As Christians in America, we need to go out of our way to put ourselves into situations where we will be reminded of this.

Even when it's just a short drive down the hill.

As the dinner ends, the Tent City residents head toward the car with my husband. (Except for the three who don't need to get back immediately and volunteer to stay to help clean up.) "O" seeks me out specifically to say goodbye.

"Thank you very much," he says, reaching out to shake my hand with quiet dignity.

"I hope we'll see you again," I say.

And I mean it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy Passover!

To any Jewish readers out there, Happy Passover!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Pressing Problem (OR: Seattle Streets with Muslin)

Look! Look! (But don't look too closely.)

Since I made my first Seattle Streets quilt four years ago, I've been wondering what would happen if I went with muslin -- for a mosaic tile look -- rather than black for a stained glass look. I tried it out this week, and this is what I came up with.

I really like it, but... Wow. The piecing is awful! Very crooked and puckered. Although technically I think it may be the pressing that's awful.

In quilting, you generally press seams toward the dark side so that they don't show through the lighter fabrics. This means that when I use black, the seams get pressed inward. In this top, with the lighter fabric, I pressed them outward instead, and I am shocked at how differently they behaved! Trying to control these seams and make them go in straight lines was like herding cats. Maybe it's just a question of experience, though? It did seem to be working better toward the end.

I still like it, though. (And the fabric itself is very pretty and spring-y. Click on the photo to see it better.) I'm going to add borders, then quilt it closely with cotton batting, then wash it in hot water to shrink it. That way it will look like I PLANNED for all the puckers!

(Aren't I ingenious?)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Of COWs and Copyrights

My blog-friend Nancy enjoys posting the occasional COW complaint. COW being "Cranky Old Woman." (And if you like my blog, you should check hers out also. We have a lot in common, both of us being progressive -- i.e. relatively liberal -- Christian quilters.)

I am not old, of course. I mean, I'm barely middle-aged. (Assuming I'll live past ninety-eight.) But "Cranky Middle-Aged Woman" doesn't acronym very well, so for today I'm a COW.

My complaint is not an earth-shattering one. This is not earthquakes and tsunamis, or war, or hunger. On a cosmic scale, it's infinitesimal. But it frustrates me.

Have you ever gone through the creative process, creating something that is unique and interesting and entirely new? The process goes something like this.

1. Need/desire. "I wish I could..."
2. Analyzing the possibilities. "I wonder if...?"
3. Zeroing in on the most likely. "Could this one be...?"
4. Trying it out. "It just might work..."
5. Ironing out the bugs. "If I do it this way instead..."
6. Success! "It worked!! Hallelujah!"

Finishing the process to come up with something new and unique is very much like going through childbirth, I think. It leaves you feeling proud, and exhausted, and incredibly possessive. And so it was for the only quilt pattern I've ever created, Seattle Streets.

This was not an easy pattern to come up with, because it requires a way of thinking that's completely different from standard quilt thinking. (If you're a quilter and care, it requires you to look at piece measurements and seam allowances in an entirely different way from the usual. This makes the original thought process more difficult, because you're breaking the usual mold, but it makes the actual implementation much, much simpler.)

So anyhoo. I created this pattern four years ago, and went through a long thought process about whether to try and publish and sell it. I knew it had at least a fair chance of success because it was the three things a good pattern needs to be: a) striking, b) unique, and c) very, very easy. (She said humbly.) But in the end I decided that commercial success was less important than just getting it out there, plus there's kind of a standard quilting pattern format that I didn't feel like following. So rather than sell it, I turned it loose online. I pointed out in the written section that it was a copyrighted pattern that I was making available for free. All I asked was that people remember (and be sure others knew) that this was my pattern. Mine. (Remember that "possessive" part?)

In other words, I gave most of it away. The only thing I kept for myself was the name: Seattle Streets. And the name was important. Because the name was what linked my baby, the final result of the creative process, to me, Laurie.

Fast forward. I've done a couple of revisions to the pattern over the years, and it's gradually made its way out into the real world. I get probably thirty hits a week on this blog looking for the quilt, and I get the occasional email with photo from quilters who've actually made it (which always make my day.) I have no idea how many times it's been done, but it doesn't matter. My baby, Seattle Streets, is out there in the world, being loved.

The only minor issue is that the pattern, as I wrote it, is very flexible. And by "flexible" I probalby mean "non-specific." It does not say, "Cut three 3" strips of Color A and two of Color B" because that's not the way my brain operates. But it is the way some people's brains operate, and so when a left-brained, analytical quilter offered to put together some numbers in exchange for teaching the quilt in a class, I said, "Sure."

Last night I got an email from her. Her class is coming up this weekend. She offered to send me a copy of "the pattern." Which seemed a bit odd. I already have a copy of the pattern. MY pattern. Then I clicked on the class website she linked to, and not only has she created her own pattern, she has renamed it as well -- a name that has no relation to the real name, Seattle Streets. (Although she did say, "Also, you will be able to see that I gave you big credit kudos.")

So I am apparently mentioned inside the class handout, but the photo on the website (a website which belongs to a major quilt company, which schedules the classes) lists an entirely different name.

The COW awakens.

First I politely expressed that I was "troubled" to see my pattern listed by another name, even with kudos, given that this is a violation of my copyright. (Yes, patterns given away free are still copyrightable. This is MY pattern.) I asked that she change it. She blithely responded that with the class this weekend, it's too late for that. But she'll be sure to give me credit.

The COW becomes enraged.

My email response was not particularly nice. It contained sentences like, "You are in violation of copyright. For you to treat this pattern as if it is a product of your own creativity by renaming it is both an abuse of my generosity and a violation of the law."

I know, right? What can I say? Don't tick me off.

But I look at it like this: you can take my kids shopping and buy them clothes, but this doesn't make them your kids. Same for creative stuff. Even when she figures out numbers in a way I chose not to, this is still my pattern, Seattle Streets.

I know it probably doesn't seem like a big deal to most people, but again, when I made the choice to make it widely available, all I chose to keep for myself was the name -- a name that would be linked back to me through things like google searches. When that name is taken away, so is my connection to my own creation.

Does that make any sense at all? Or do I just sound like a crazy COW?

So, in the end, she apologized for handling it this way but said she has no control over the website. She will be sure that all written materials very explicitly mention the quilt name and my name, and that all particpants in the class (30 in all) know that what she has given them came originally from me. And she's pretty sure that the link to her class with the photo listed under the other name will be taken down after this week's class.

In the end, I am not a happy bunny, but this probably doesn't reach as far as "legal issue," especially given that there aren't any real monetary damages. (I mean, I gave it away for free!)

So what do you do?


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Dear Paul Ryan: (UPDATED)

To the Honorable Representative Paul Ryan, R-WI

Dear Mr. Ryan:

Even though I am a Democrat, I am extremely glad that you have brought up the issue of entitlement reform, especially Medicare reform. Because anybody who's been paying attention knows that the current system -- all payments and no cost controls, as my generation, the Baby Boomers, prepares to retire -- will eventually bankrupt the nation.

Here's what I don't get, though. You're proposing eliminating the current extremely efficient government-run Medicare system (3% overhead) and replacing it with free-market private-company insurance, which averages 20-30% spent on overhead and profits, including millions in pay for health insurance executives. Yet you're saying the overhaul will save the government trillions.

So where's all the extra money for the private company overhead and profit and executive pay going to come from?

Oh. Right. My pocket.

Sorry, Paul. Try again.



UPDATE: Just found this very interesting chart. Note how expected government spending goes down only $600, but expected healthcare spending per person goes up almost


?!?!?!? Yeah. That's what I'm talking about.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Pretty Sure That Being 98% Dead is an Acceptable Excuse for Not Recycling

A couple of years ago, my husband, a native Pacific Northwesterner, had to go to some training at his company's Dallas office. The first morning he was there, he had a Diet Coke. When he finished, he asked the guy in charge, "Where do you guys put your recycling?"

The guy gives him The Look and says, "We don't do that s**t here."

All righty, then.

This attitude is entirely foreign to Seattlites. Because we DO do that s**t here, in a fairly big way. Recycling of pretty much everything is curbside and included in the cost of your garbage pickup. So we go out of our way to try to make sure that most of the things that can be recycled are recycled.

But not this week.

See, what happened was, my family was in Disneyland, where we played a fun and exciting new game called Influenza Tag! First my youngest son, then my husband, then my daughter and her boyfriend, and finally, the day before we came home, me. Chills, aches, fever, cough, the whole deal. Sick to the point where, once we got home, lying on the couch listening as my husband went through the mail made me want to scream at him to PLEASE STOP the excruciating assault on my eardrums from the rustling paper!

So what I did when I got home was stagger into the kitchen and, being the mom, took a look to see what had gone over since we'd left. And that included the 3/4 gallon of milk. Which was definitely bad. Seriously, gag-inducing bad. And I should have dumped it down the sink right then and there, but instead I set it on the side of the sink to keep anyone from drinking it, made sure the cap was on tightly, and staggered to bed.

(Not sure what I was thinking. Maybe I had images of the Milk-Dumping Fairies sneaking in to do the smelly deed while was asleep?)

But anyhoo. That was Tuesday. Today is Friday. I am starting to imagine that I might be able to picture a time when I might someday feel almost human. So I wander into the kitchen and...

Dang. The full milk jug is still there. Except now it's more than one color and bulging in a frightening way.

Pretty sure that being 98% dead is an acceptable excuse for tossing the whole thing gently into the garbage can.

Isn't it?