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5 posts from June 2012

Many Things Make a PostJune 23, 2012

Such random things I feel like mentioning today! In no particular order: 

I've been using (sometimes) this app called MotionX to track my sleep. I don't use it all the time, because--hippie alert--I'm convinced that one shouldn't have one's cell phone too close to the body very often, so putting it under my pillow freaks me out.

But the app has convinced me that I do sleep more than I think I do. Often I feel like I'm awake all night, but what's actually happening is I'm looking at the clock every five or ten minutes, yes, but in between, I'm dozing. You can see that here, in this picture (on a work day, where I only got 3 hours and 1 minute of sleep -- very sad): Yes, I was awake for a lot of the time, but also, when I was glancing over and over at the clock between 11:30pm and 1:30am, I was in light sleep. 

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This, somehow, is comforting to me. I'm getting SOME sleep. (Yes, I know the trick of turning the clock away from you. I'm not that strong.)

I show this to you in order to contrast it with Lala's sleep efficiency. This is from two nights ago: 

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All that dark blue??? IS DEEP SLEEP. She has a true gift. 

And if that weren't unfair enough, she has another gift! Lala painted a picture of me! 

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I love this. I think she flatters me, and yep, I'll take it. 

In knitting news, I've got my mojo back, I think. I'm deep into Cocoknit's Mishke, an asymmetrical cabled cardigan that I'm doing in Berocco Blackstone Tweed (delicious yarn, wool with mohair and a little angora for softness): 

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O, cables. How I love you. And how I don't care if any are miscrossed. (Thanks, Eliza Carpenter!) This is taking forever, but I'm loving every minute of it. It's one of those knits. 

And it's San Francisco Pride weekend! Happy Pride, everyone! We'll be going to the city later, because I like to look at people and Lala does too, even though she sometimes forgets that. We started the weeekend earlier this week at an amazing Indigo Girls show at Slim's. Here we are in line. 

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Yay love. Yay sleeping artist wife. Yay Pride. Yay just about everything. 

I Made a Dress!June 19, 2012

But not just any dress. This is my own pattern, which I made up MYSELF.

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Oh, my gosh, I love those teensy flowers.

Seriously, this was the goal when set out to sew again. I wanted my own perfect dress pattern which I could whip out when I wanted something new, and I GOT IT. I copied the top of a dress I like from Eshakti (I've learned I like many gathers rather than just a couple of bust darts), and the skirt of a dress I made a long time ago which was just the right shape and length. I made four very frustrating muslins of the top getting the fit to be what I wanted. 

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It has pockets! I heart pockets. And it has no closures! Easy! 

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Where's Digit?

And it's fast, so fast. The dress took me two hours, and the bias tape (which I made myself!) and application took another two hours because I was determined to do it beautifully. Which I did, by the way. I had to rip two seams. I hate ripping seams like I hate ripping knitting. It galls me to my core. Oh, but sewing is a million times faster than knitting. Instant gratification! 

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Basically, I realize that I wanted dresses that look like old-fashioned aprons. YEP, THAT'S IT!

A few more pictures are over at Flickr for the curious. 

Socks For AlexJune 16, 2012

Whoops! I put it on Facebook and on Twitter, and I sent it out in my newsletter last week, but I think I forgot to tell the blog! 

There's a new Cypress Hollow super short story called Socks for Alex in the new magazine The Sock Report. (In it, we find out Cade's wronged date Betty is up to. I've been dying to write a little about her for a long time, ever since she caught Cade and Abigail making out in that pantry.) 

And this is cool -- I was contacted by Kim Opperman, the president/founder of Socks for Soldiers, a non-profit I wasn't aware existed when I wrote the story. It gives me a warm glow, somehow, to know that all opinions on the war and all politics aside, we are still knitting for the soldiers. 

So, enjoy the free story

Smart MoneyJune 8, 2012

Many years ago, I was in Italy, and I saw, for the first time, tiny little things that kind of looked like vehicles, buzzing up the cobblestones and jammed in four deep at the curb. They were everywhere, zooming like bugs having a joyful race. I fell immediately in love, saying, I'm going to have one someday, somehow. 

I never thought they would be legal here (even though it turns out they're very well safety rated), but The Smart Car did come out in the States in 2008. I couldn't afford one (and besides, the wait, after ordering, was over a year at that point). I gave up hope for a long time. 

See, we were in debt.

Let's talk about money for a moment, shall we? I've been meaning to write this post for a long time, and now seems like the right time.

I believe the strongest emotion felt by a person is shame. Everyone feels it, and everyone fears it. It's completely debilitating and alienating. And money and shame go together like slime in a bathtub drain. 

During the great housing crisis-bubble-disaster of 2006 (and 2007, and 2008), we poured money onto our credit cards, trying to save my old condo (which we'd used as collateral on our house). We threw good money after bad, trying to rent it out (a rotten time to be a landlord in the Bay Area). We were in short-sale purgatory for almost sixteen months. We failed in all attempts, right around the time my mother died, at which point I got tired of fighting everything. 

Afterward, when the dust cleared, we were $47,000 in debt. 

What a huge number. Immense. Unimaginable.

It wasn't to be talked about. Never admitted. We were living paycheck to paycheck, paying only the minimum balances. There was never, ever enough to go around. 

And then Lala lost her job. 

I panicked, and I panicked hard. After breaking down in tears while talking to a coworker one day, she mentioned credit consolidation. I'd heard of it, but I didn't trust it. Surely these were companies who were trying to get over on the consumer -- exploiting them, raking them over the expensive coals one more time. But I cautiously looked into it. Somehow, I got the nerve to call, and oh, it was one of the hardest phone calls I've ever made, because I had to pull out all the bills and have them in front of me AT ONE TIME. You know how easy it is to not know how much you owe? When it's that great a number, it's easy to say twenty-mumble-thirty-something to yourself when you do manage to think about (usually at two-dark-thirty in the morning). 

While talking to the counselor at Money Management International, I learned we owed $47,000. It was devastating. 

And then, the counselor made it better. See, they're non-profit. They work with you, at whatever level you're comfortable with. They work with the credit card companies to get your rates lowered drastically (a couple of ours went to 0%), and you DO NOT use them anymore. You pay MMI one payment a month, and they dole the money out to the creditors. When one card is paid off, the money that you were paying to that one rolls over and goes to the next card. You can put all your cards with them (which is what we did -- we flew, terrifyingly, with no safety net for a while), or you can keep a card out for emergencies if you have to. 

With this plan, we saved $800/month in payments, and we PAID OFF the entire amount in four years (instead of the twenty-seven (literally) years it would have taken to pay it off making minimum payments). And a lot of those years Lala was only working part-time. (I can't sing the praises of MMI enough -- if you're curious, just call them, or someone like them. Their counselors are seriously the nicest people ever. They are used to hearing people cry, I think.)

And you know what? We didn't talk about it. I was ashamed. It's not okay to be at a cocktail party talking about how in-over-your-head you are. You're going to Hawaii? Awesome! I'm wondering how to pay the phone bill! 

So I'm bringing it up here, with you. Maybe we SHOULD be talking about this over dinner with our friends. And not in a ha-ha, isn't it rough kind of way, but in a what can we actually do about this kind of way. 

In our house, we scrimped. I made all our household cleaning products. While Lala wasn't working, she cooked all (ALL) our meals. I baked a lot of bread. She bought all groceries and household goods on $50/week. We drank two-buck Chuck. We cut off cable/newspaper/magazines/everything extraneous. 

We dug our way out. The day I wrote the last check I felt like a balloon of joy was deep inside my lungs, as if when I spoke, I'd have a helium voice. So happy. So proud. The opposite of shame. 

And -- this is the fun part -- yesterday, when I was driving to buy a rotary cutter (makin' some dresses out of thrift store fabric! Being frugal is fun!), I hit the brakes because I SAW THIS BABY: 

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I was cruising down Shattuck in Berkeley and passed a used car lot (The Buggy Bank, awesome place). There was a Smart Car convertible in the lot. There is never a used Smart Car just lying around. 

I texted Lala: "There's a Smart Car at the Buggy Bank. Pray for me." 

I told myself I was just curious about the price, but I would not test drive it. I looked at the price ($11k) and the mileage (17k!!!) and walked in the office and gave them my driver's license. I texted La, "I'm test driving it, but I'm NOT going to buy it, don't worry." 

I test drove it, all through Berkeley and onto the freeway, into the Maze, and back, going way over my 20 minute test-drive limit. I was out of my mind with joy. (I don't get car joy. I don't care about cars. I've driven my hoopty station wagon for six years, and I've never liked it. Nor have I hated it. It was a car. It got me around. That was awesome. It has almost 200,000 miles, and the doors don't lock and the only window that still goes up and down is the driver's side window, and acts of its own volition as if it's possessed especially if I'm in a drive-through line.)

But the Smart Car? IT WAS FOR ME. It was the car I'd been waiting for. 

When I got back to the Buggy Bank, there was a woman and a teenaged boy standing in the space I'd left, watching me pull in. I thought, Oh, they're interested, too. That's the way it goes. And then I thought, I wonder how fast I can run for the buying office. I can take them. I know I can.

Turns out she was the seller who happened to be passing by. She'd cried when she left it there, but they need to buy their teen a car that he won't be embarrassed to drive. She was wonderful, darling, and very much Our People. We must have hugged each other five times. She was so happy to let it go to me (because by then, of course, after talking to Lala, I was buying it). 

And Lala was the voice of reason. I wanted to pay for it outright, but that would have depleted our savings (WE HAVE SAVINGS! WHO ARE WE?) by a lot, so she talked me into going to our credit union and financing a portion (about half). That way we're reestablishing credit (which is much better now, by the way) at the same time we're keeping savings in the bank. That Lala is smart, yo. I got a two-year loan, but my plan is to try to pay it off in six months if possible, because I love being debt-free (let's not talk about the student loan and the mortgage -- wait, no, let's DO talk about debt, okay? It's okay to talk about. Only by talking to each other do we learn how to fix our problems. If you're drowning, check out MMI.) 

After all this, I drove across the Bay Bridge with the top down. 

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(I look daring in this shot but I'm not stupid, this was in stopped traffic, never fear.) 

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THEN I PARKED IN A SPOT THAT A HONDA FIT WOULDN'T HAVE FIT INTO. Literally. It's hard to tell in this photo, but this is just a bump between two driveways in the Avenues. They are everywhere. No one but Smarts (and maybe that new Fiat?) can fit in them, and NOW I HAVE ALL THE SAN FRANCISCO PARKING POWER MWAH-HAH-HAH

I'm deliriously happy. It's my day off and I woke at six am because I was too excited to sleep. The first thing I did when I got up was stick my head out the window and make sure it was still in the driveway, that no one had put it in their pocket and walked away with it overnight. 

Last night when we got home from a dinner party, Lala (kidding) said, "You can drive on the sidewalk!" 

So I did. I drove on the sidewalk in front of our house. It was punk rock. 

(For those wondering, book money is not enough to live on. I still work 56 hours a week at the day/night job. It would be nice if book money was enough, and someday I hope it will be, but authors, as a vast whole, are not even remotely rich. However, book money has helped us immensely in the last difficult few years, and if you've ever bought a book of mine, I hope you know how that last night, on the bridge, I got teary, thinking about you. This is true.)

And now I have to go put on something cute enough to drive this car. Red cowboy boots for sure. Short dress and tights. Handmade sweater. 

Because I still need to go get a damn rotary cutter. 

Mr. Smiley-BobJune 1, 2012

I found a dog while driving home today. Meet Mr. Smiley-Bob: 

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You know what pisses me off? That this is so flipping common in my neighborhood. I love Oakland, and even more, I love East Oakland. I have mad love for where I live. But the pit bull problem? It makes me so mad I get those choked hot tears stuck in the back of my throat. 

Mr. Smiley-Bob here had his ribs sticking out of his chest. It's hard to tell because he has the unneutered male's broad head, but this guy was skin over clackety bones. I yanked the car to the side of the road because I'd never seen the bones in a dog's tail before. He barely noticed me coming up to him, he was so busy trying to jaw a chicken bone out of a grate in the gutter. 

And you know what he did when a stranger came right up to him? When I said "Hey, boy, what's goin' on here?" He collapsed against me in joy. Tail whap-whap-whapping. Gave up trying for the chicken bone in favor of getting his head scratched. He had a nice heavy leather collar on WHICH MEANS HE HAD A HOME at one point, goddammit, but no tags. And I pray to god he doesn't have a microchip because the rat-bastard who would starve and/or abandon a dog like that doesn't deserve to get such a sweet boy back. Also, I would like to punch that guy in the nuts. Twice.

I opened my car door, and the dog jumped in. Oh, joy! I put the window down a bit, O frabjous day! I brought him the few blocks home with me and gave him a big bowl of water and dog food, THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD! Tail still whap-whap-whapping, his head pushing under my armpit just to get a little more cuddle. 

I loaded him back in the car to take him to the shelter (legally, we're at the dog limit for Oakland residents, as well as also being at our house and financial limit, too). The Oakland shelter does a great job -- that's where Clara came from (via the SPCA).

But you know what else? They have no money. Just like everything else in our city -- schools, public services, roads -- they can't do much with no cash. And on Fridays the shelter closes at 4pm. I got there at 4:30. 

Oh, nuh-uh. I couldn't bring the dog into our home -- Clementine is the best people dog ever but doesn't appreciate other dogs (besides ours) in her house. The outside one-way dropboxes were closed and locked. No one was answering the phone (well, they never answer the phone). 

So you know what I did? (Did I mention I was in a mood?) I hopped their locked fence. I said a chipper hello to some startled people working with a dog outside. I waited until a volunteer opened the door to leave and I literally stuck my boot in to wedge it open. "Hi! I have a dog!" 

"Well, we're closed." 

"OKAY I DON'T CARE I HAVE A DOG." 

The volunteer turned his head to talk to the shelter officer. "Are we taking any more dogs?" 

"HE'S IN MY CAR AND I'M DROPPING HIM OFF. Would you like to help me open the fence, or should I carry him over?" 

The officer just shook her head and followed me to her car. 

See, the Oakland shelter partners with the nationally acclaimed pit rescue Bad Rap, which is honestly one of the best adoptions organizations out there. Take a look at some of their Happy Endings -- the photos are amazing. This boy will find a safe, loving home, I absolutely know it. He had me laughing during the whole drive. 

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His ears fly back like this all the time! This was him just chillin'! 

Jumping backward in time for a moment, as I was trying to get into the shelter, the gate opened as a car drove out. The minivan driver rolled her window down. I said, "I found a dog!" She said, "What kind?" I said, "The sweetest pit bull ever." She wrinkled her nose and said, "No way," before speeding up.

You know what, lady? Bite me. Thank you for opening the gate I couldn't get through (oops! your bad!) for me, but otherwise, can it. We own a pit bull who would only like to rapturously lean you to death. Many of our neighbors and friends have wonderful, loving pit bulls. (Yes, occasionally pit bulls do bad things. So do Golden Retrievers (of all my 911 dog-bite calls, the Goldens have been the worst calls). And Rotts. And Dalmations. And, and, and -- the list goes on. Almost any dog trained to be bad will be bad. Almost any dog who is loved (and well-trained) will be loving. There.) 

But people keep throwing these dogs away, like they're trash. At the shelter, by the dropboxes, was a plastic bag with a dead pit bull in it. How's that for awful?

Remember when Lala found Bart? He was a pit that had been thrown out (literally) on the side of the road. He lay with a dead puppy pit bull, but he wasn't quite dead yet. He couldn't move or stand, and was only a skeleton covered in skin, but instead of taking the treat Lala offered him, he just wanted her to pet him (he had a lovely storybook ending -- the director of the SPCA kept him in his office until he was well, and eventually, when he was fat and happy, they let him live with a man in Danville where he probably eats steak dinners every night). 

It is not the city's fault. It is not the fault of breed (good god, after the pit bulls I've gotten to know in the last few years, I don't ever want another kind of dog. There has never been a more loving dog than Clementine in the history of the world). 

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Until the city finds the money for more services and more education, we're going to keep finding pit bulls in the trash. And I bet this is the case in many, many poor cities. 

And it's making me ill, and sad, and still, I have hope that Mr. Smiley-Bob will find a wonderful home, because that dog is the BOMB, yo. He needs a home. He's young (maybe a year?) and very strong aand has a heart the size of a taco truck. I wish we could have him. But if we can't, I hope I see that guy at the dog park soon, carrying his favorite squeak toy.