January 2011 Archives

Well-tread paths

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The baby industry, if you didn't know, is kind of a racket. Take any average item, slap the word "baby" or "maternity" on the label, and you can mark the thing up by 200% - few will blink. It's a not just an [item] anymore - it's a special [item]. I have some theories about why people will just pay two or three times as much for something (which may have a cutesy pattern on it, but is otherwise indistinguishable from its non-baby alternative). It might be an ignorance thing at first - you walk into a store having no idea what things are supposed to cost, no idea that the pillow you're holding is really just a pillow (and not imbued with some magical baby-pleasing aura), and so you pay the fee. (No judgement there; I can't shop for spots paraphernalia, as an example, because I am ignorant of that market.) It might also be parental anxiety, particularly for first-time parents (like Sam and I are soon to be). Will we be good parents? we wonder. The pictures of smiley babies on the packaging do seem to suggest parental success is an accessory, free with purchase. Eventually, it might just be that people get used to paying lots of extra money for baby things. Or maybe it's just that there doesn't seem to be much of an alternative. Baby things just are expensive. Doesn't mean you don't need the stuff, so... what do you do?

I'm sure there are examples of companies that don't engage in this sort of hyper-markup, or engage in it to a lesser extent (I can think of a couple, actually) and that's great, but it's not the point. That there are alternative shopping venues for this stuff is nice and helps for some stuff. You know, the stuff you can't avoid buying.

Because that's our approach. Avoidance. I mentioned back in my 2011 post that we're trying to limit the number of gadgets and random baby things that come into our home, and trying to source hand-me-downs and second-hand things as much as possible. Because really, babies. BABIES! They are babies for like thirty seconds and then all of that stuff is irrelevant and winds up in the garage because they're too big to fit or are past the developmental stage where that toy is interesting. It's a lot of money sunk into that thirty seconds. A friend of ours (parent of two) said after the first kid, she and her husband almost felt like they had to have another kid, because they had all this stuff - it made all the stuff make more financial sense..

And so if every family who's had babies has this garage full of stuff, and it's for the thirty seconds babies are babies, why on earth buy all of it new? Especially the stuff with essentially no safety connotations - clothes, basic toys, monitors, pumps, etc. Baby stuff cocktail: equal parts friends and family, a splash of Freecycle and Craigslist, and a new-stuff olive (comprised of the things that really need to be new for safety purposes).

So today we met up with the main part of that cocktail - a couple friends with kids. To make a long story short, we brought home a lot of stuff:

All the baby things EVER.

We were selective - we didn't bring home a lot of stuff that wasn't on our list - but we wound up with a lot of stuff, and we didn't have to buy it. And our friends know that this stuff is being used for more than their babies' thirty seconds each, and they get the space in their garage back.

Win-win situation? Win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win, if you ask me.

Say Uncle

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Last year in March - only about three months into my knitting habit - I decided to try my hand at a really fiendish pair of gloves, Eisblume. This was sort of a symptom of my knitting disease: choosing patterns that are waaaaaaay too advanced for my skill level, which eventually just frustrate me and sit unfinished. Twisted stitches? Cables? Beaded stitches? All of these were skills I'd be learning along the way. But, I told myself, knitting techniques aren't hard - which is true. I've never met a knitting technique that actually seemed difficult after the first few times I did it.

It's a beautiful pattern, and gloves are the reason I decided I needed to learn to knit. My hands are too large for most commercially made gloves designed for women - too long - and men's gloves (which are sometimes long enough) are almost invariably too loose. Plus, gloves you can find in the men's section of most stores are boring. I don't need a pile of frills - I didn't need the cabled, beaded busyness of Eisblume - but a little embellishment or at least a little warmth is nice.

So I bought yarn and beads, and I cast on, and I started knitting. Before I even arrived at any cables or beads, though, the pattern held some new frustrations. I was working with a lighter weight of yarn than I'd ever worked with before - fingering weight, which is about half as thick as worsted weight, the stuff you usually see beginners using for scarves. The needles were thinner, too, only slightly thicker than toothpicks - 2.0mm, the US size 0. (Beginner scarves are usually on much thicker needles, more like chunky chopsticks.) Thin yarn on thin needles means a tight fabric, extra tight because of my own tendency to knit tightly. At such a tight gauge, the yarn fuzzed up in my fingers, and became difficult to slide along the needles.

When I did get to the beads (which started before the cables), that was a new adventure. There are a couple of methods for placing beads in knitted fabric. One involves simply stringing the beads on the yarn ahead of time, but this means that the beads sit sort of diagonally on only half of the knitted stitch (knit stitches are basically loops, and within fabric have two "legs" showing). The other involves placing the beads on the stitches as you come to them - usually using a crochet hook. But the beads I was using were too small for a crochet hook to go through, so instead I had to place them with a needle and thread.

Ordinary knit and purl stitches take me no time at all to work - maybe a second each. In a pattern that isn't easily memorized, reading the pattern slows that down some, but it's still a couple seconds per stitch at most. Account for the tight and slow-moving stitches, and I was moving pretty slowly. But each time I placed a bead on a stitch, that stitch took probably half a minute. Any given round, between beading and the tight stitches and juggling a cable needle (once those started) and just reading the pattern, was taking me about half an hour, and I felt like I was wrestling with the yarn and needles the whole time. I'd have to stop after an hour or so because I was frustrated and my hands would start to ache.

On gauge: you can swatch all you want in plain knits and purls, but there's no way of knowing that your gauge will translate to the gauge you'll get in a pattern with twisted stitches and cables and beads and things. There's no way to tell what your gauge will be like in pattern other than to try the pattern, and you need a good couple inches of work to really tell anything at all. I got about three or four inches into the cuff pattern - which is a good length to check gauge - before I realized that my tight stitches meant that the glove was going to be too small for me to wear, or at least wear comfortably.

And that's about a month of work.

I could keep on with them and offer them as a gift to someone with smaller hands, and that's what I planned to do - eventually. I needed something pleasurable and simple to work on, so I turned to other projects and set the gloves aside.

And they sat for the last seven or eight months. Every time I finished a knitting project or thought about starting something new, I'd look at them and consider working on them, but the thought was always fleeting. It's just too frustrating to wrestle that hard with a project that goes that slowly, knowing I won't be able to enjoy the end result myself.

I admitted my frustrations to Sam recently, and his response was immediate. "Bind it off," he said. "Let it be a cup cozy." He's done exactly that - bound off the first of a pair of Cookie A socks that he just wasn't connecting with (and was incidentally also turning out too small). His steel water bottle wears the cuff part, now.

So tonight, I did just that. I carefully bound off all the stitches, wove in the ends, and now the Eisblume cuff is a water bottle cozy. I'm glad I did it; I don't feel a pang of guilt every time I get an urge to knit something and I don't choose to work on them. Unravelling it after all that work and investment and frustration would have made me sad - this way I can still enjoy it. It is, after all, still gorgeous:

Giving up. (Eisblume cuff, now a cozy.)

And that's all she wrote. Sam continues to teach me stuff about knitting that really isn't about knitting at all.

Like, you know, stop knitting stuff that makes you miserable.

Smart guy.

Crack your bones

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Since early in this pregnancy, I've had trouble with my pelvic bones. There's a pregnancy hormone, relaxin, that makes your ligaments loosen up so that your bones can move more freely (which is why people suddenly start freaking out when you try to lift anything heavier than your average novel); it's a good thing, because your pelvic bones are supposed to have some give to allow for passage of the baby at birth time.

In my case (not that I'm alone here), relaxin hit early and with a vengeance. Around 14 weeks, I started having pretty intense tailbone pain whenever I sat down. It was very much like I'd fallen and hit my tailbone really hard - I've done that. But I hadn't when this pain started. As it turns out, the loose ligaments destabilized my pelvis enough that my tailbone had rotated inward, and the other pelvic bones (the sacra and the ilia in particular, since that's what I sit on) were all out of position, not supporting good positioning of... well, anything else.

Like Eddie Izzard, I am somewhat skeptical of the chiropractic-care-for-everything claims that get thrown around. ("You've got diphtheria! I'm gonna crack your bones.") I can understand how it's relevant for some things that aren't directly "bony" problems - after I fractured a vertebra in my neck in 8th grade, I had really awful headaches from muscles that tightened up to compensate for the weak and wobbly bones.

But unstable, misaligned bones to begin with? That's classic chiropractor material. So off to the chiropractor I went, and I described what was going on. And he dug my tailbone back out to where it was supposed to be, and I felt better. (Mostly; my chiropractor is pretty brutal, but in exchange for some pain I wind up actually seeing results in the short term.)

Because my bones are (due to the aforementioned hormone relaxin) unstable in general, I've continued seeing the chiropractor for adjustments for the last four months. He's pretty great, for a number of reasons. Chief among them is his inclination to educate. He's taught me how to sit better, stand better, lie down better; how to exercise and strengthen muscles that are used for balance rather than heavy lifting; and how to self-heal problems as they arise using simple movements, moderate pressure, and rest.

But his methods of practice also make it very obvious where the value of chiropractic lies. Last year, due to pain in my foot, I saw a podiatrist. I told him that when I walked, I'd get intense pain through the midfoot, along the back of my heel, and various places in my ankle. He examined my foot, took some x-rays, and determined... that there was nothing wrong with my foot. No broken bones, anyway.

I started having similar problems again here in San Francisco; problems with this foot have been fairly consistent, if a bit periodic, ever since I dropped a heavy piece of furniture on it in 2000. It's gotten particularly bad in the last month, noticeable when I walked sometimes but really screaming bad when I try to take off the opposite shoe using the toe of the bad foot. I described to my chiropractor what hurt, where, how, and when. And he examined my foot and determined that three of the twenty-odd bones in it were jammed or misaligned. Cue the cracking of bones, followed by a vigorous (and really painful) beating on a muscle in my calf that wasn't helping the situation any. And now when I walk, I'm surprised when it doesn't hurt.

It's a circuitous way of making the point, but here it is: chiropractic seems to see my body as a dynamic system, made to be in motion, while other medical disciplines I've encountered seem more focused on my body as a static system. As a consequence of seeing a chiropractor, then, I've become much more interested in the way my body moves, and the ways I can introduce or prevent introducing dysfunction into it.

I still don't know that chiropractic care would do anything for diphtheria, but if you find that body motions (rather than body parts) are painful, a recommendation to see a chiropractor would likely be the first thing out of my mouth. If you're in San Francisco and can get to Bernal Heights easily, I wholeheartedly recommend Dr. Colin Phipps.

What to wear

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Sam and I went to our favorite sandwich shop today - a place in the Marina, called The Sandwich Spot. While we ate our sandwiches, I watched people out the window - I do a lot of people watching, and San Francisco is a great place to do it.

And I love the way people dress in San Francisco.

There are people who dress like punks and goths and hippies and skaters and all kinds of other things, and some of them seem to dress that way to communicate an identity, a group membership, and some of them seem to dress that way just because it's how they prefer to present themselves.

There are people who dress in sweatshirts and jeans and tennis shoes, and don't seem to much care about what their clothes say, and that's good, too.

There are people who match unexpected textures and subtle colors and you know that nothing touching their bodies could be an accident, but only if you bother to think about it at all.

There are people in tank tops who walk by people in parkas and they both seem a little crazy until you realize that the air here is warm to some and cool to others.

There are people in sensible shoes and people who climb hills in stiletto heels, and you realize their feet are basically flat between the heel and the hill.

There are people who wear t-shirts with jokes that laugh with you instead of at you, and they're nerdy and ridiculous and that too is a way to communicate an identity and group membership.

There are people who wear leather every day of the year even if it's uncomfortable.

There are people who dress as elaborate dolls, with layers of lace and porcelain makeup and parasols and knee socks with ribbons.

There are kids in hats with ears, like pandas and cats and puppies, and there are adults too, who look like they're enjoying being adults, adults with ears.

And my blinders may be on, but the best thing about all of them is I've almost never seen anyone here look down on someone else for how they dress.

Cleaning up

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Yeesh. Between being pregnant, being sick a fair bit in the last month and a half, traveling, and all the stuff that comes along with all of that, it feels like we haven't got the apartment all the way clean in awhile. I spent some time digging us out from a mess it feels like has been around since Thanksgiving. (This isn't exactly true, but it feels like it.)

Since we still had some unpacking to do from our trip to Omaha for Christmas and needed to do something (for now) with the baby things we got as gifts, I took the opportunity to pull down the bag of things that were given to us before we moved. It's now all packed up in a Ziploc storage cube and up on a shelf, at least until we make our trip to Ikea for more appropriate baby clothes storage. In the meantime, I discovered that one of the gifts we received this summer was declared by the CPSC and the FDA to be unsafe. It's a sleep positioner - an assembly of foam and cloth and mesh designed to keep babies in a certain sleeping position. I've read enough about baby bedding to be aware that even plush stuff not immediately adjacent a baby - like bumpers, comforters, and stuffed toys - are not recommended. The theory is that plush stuff near a sleeping baby poses suffocation and SIDS risks. The manufacturer has a statement on their website acknowledging the statement, and they're no longer distributing the sleepers; for consumers, they say if you wish to return the positioner, you should take it back where you bought it. No help for me, since I got it as a gift months ago. I'll be calling them tomorrow to see if I can send it in for a refund, or find a local retailer where I can return it.

Now just to finish unpacking and putting away the laundry so we can go to bed.

One goal missing

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When we moved to San Francisco, we pared down our belongings by a huge amount. We only brought one piece of furniture with us - our kitchen island, for extra counter space, since our kitchen is without exaggeration the size of a closet. Our dinner and cookware got chopped by about half, our wardrobes by at least a third, and our bookshelves by 70-80%. And now, for the most part, we use what we own. The knives in our drawer get dirty and have to be washed every time Sam does dishes, because we just don't own any that are extraneous.

But getting rid of the extraneous is an ongoing thing, not something we can stop because we're done with the move. We're pretty careful about not making new purchases when we can re-purpose something we own to fit a new need, but we do still occasionally have to bring new items into the apartment. Since we moved from a house (where we had something like 2500 square feet of space for living and storage) to an apartment (roughly 500 square feet), we can't afford to bring in stuff indiscriminately - or without taking stuff out. Even if we could, I don't think we'd want to. Having less stuff around lets us appreciate the stuff we keep - it doesn't get lost behind all the cruft.

So this is not a paring down, but rather a process of continual review, and it is one of our areas of focus - for 2011 and probably beyond.

I'm off to a good start: after hearing that a friend bought Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian on our recommendation, I realized that our copies were stuck behind a number of cookbooks that we never use, plus a few others that we use less frequently. We pulled the ones we don't use from the shelf - I'll trade them in on Amazon or list them on Freecycle - and rearranged the remainder so that the Bittman books and our bread books (which also get used all the time) are much more easily accessible.

Next up: my wardrobe. I have to be careful, because I have some clothes I'm only not using because they won't fit until after the baby comes - I don't want to get rid of those. But I also have clothes that I probably wouldn't wear even if they fit, or would only wear grudgingly. (I have underwear in my drawer that always gets pushed to the back of the drawer. Why do I own underwear I don't want to wear?)

Is anyone out there paring down like this? I'm particularly interested if you're doing a continuous review process, rather than a one-time purge.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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February 2011 is the next archive.

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