Monthly Archives: August 2014

5 Things I Love About Japan

Okay, so everyone who has ever been to Japan has written some list somewhere of all the things they love about Japan. I’m no different, I guess, so here’s a short list of things I particularly love about Japan.

1. Vending Machines. They’re everywhere. They even serve hot drinks, food (not just snacks), clothing, and more.

2. Japanese Thoughtfulness. There’s a wet sponge at our supermarket so you don’t have to lick your finger to open the plastic grocery sack. It’s the little things. 🙂

3. Toilets. Okay, sounds crazy, but I’ve never had a Japanese toilet get stopped up and once you get used to the idea of using things you’re not accustomed to (e.g., the bidet), you realize they’re pretty awesome.

4. Cleanliness. As with any city, there are times you’ll see a piece of trash on the ground, even in public parks. However, the Japanese are very proud of their cleanliness. I’ve seen workers hand-scrubbing awnings and sweeping or even mopping the sidewalks and streets near their stores.

DSC048155. Access for the Blind. The Japanese really go out of their way to make their little world more accessible to the blind. Everything talks to you. Crosswalks beep at each end when it’s safe to walk so the blind can simply follow the sounds from Point A to Point B. Sidewalks, train stations, and all public places have raised impressions on the ground which the blind can follow. When there are no or limited guides for the blind, the government provides employees whose entire purpose is to help guide people, especially the blind, on their way. There’s braille pretty much everywhere (you have to look hard for it, though; since the blind obviously aren’t visually searching for it, they don’t make it visually obvious, so you might incorrectly conclude that there is no braille when in reality it’s everywhere, it’s just not brightly colored or otherwise visually obvious to the sighted).

Next week, I’ll write about 5 Things I Love-Hate About Japan.



Upcycling Sweaters: Old Knits Find New Purpose in Life

Well, this is something I would never have thought of. While searching for assistance in determining the basic dimensions of a toe-up sock (so that I could knit it with the size needles and type of yarn I wanted without having to change to match the pattern), I came across an awesome “Super Sock Calculator” by a Danish knitter named Eddie. However, one of her top blog posts included basic instructions on how to reuse the yarn in machine-knit (i.e., store-bought) sweaters. She references Kristin Roach’s, Lee Meredith’s, and Dawn’s blog posts describing in step-by-step fashion how to do this.

recycle sweatersIf you’re genuinely interested in how to recycle sweaters for the yarn, I’ll let you read the blog posts yourself. But basically, it is possible to literally unravel the entire sweater and ball up the yarn for later use. Eddie gives as an example a wool and nylon (perfect for sock yarn) sweater in a color she absolutely loved, but goes on to say that she has also repurposed cotton sweaters, among other fibers. The caveat is that the yarn you unravel from a machine-knit sweater is often so thin that you have to ply (i.e., twist) the yarn yourself in order to make it thick enough to actually knit with it.

What’s amazing to me is the thought that you could basically get almost-free yarn for life if you’re willing to go to the trouble of unraveling it all. For example, clothing sells very horribly at garage sales, so if you wait toward the end of the sale, people will often be willing to practically give away whatever clothes they have. Why not go to a garage sale, check for any decent-quality sweaters in likable colors with favorable seams, and essentially come away with several balls of yarn for $0.25?

Of course, I’m told there’s a limit to one’s frugality. 🙂


Depression and Grief

This week, a great actor who had formed a foundational part of many lives and brought laughter to people across the world, especially to our troops abroad, committed suicide. People rightly mourned Robin Williams’ death. Others castigated his suicide, repeating theories that suicide is inherently selfish and rejecting depression as a disease. Still others willingly admitted that his death is a tragedy but argued that there are far greater tragedies today and bemoaned that people seem to mourn his loss more than those of children of color in war-torn areas, insinuating racism or self-centeredness or callousness.

Many have responded to the rejection of depression as a disease and suggestion that suicide is inherently selfish, so I won’t do that here. It should go without saying that his death is tragic, as is any suicide, so I won’t address that here, either. I would like instead to address that third opinion or insinuation, that it is somehow wrong or shameful for us to mourn one famous person’s death (ostensibly) more than we mourn the deaths of genocide victims.

First, why do we mourn Robin Williams’ death? For one thing, it is always tragic when someone commits suicide, when an otherwise kind and loving person chooses death over remaining with those who love and support him. It’s such a tragedy that children of parents who commit suicide spend most of the rest of their lives wondering, why did my parent(s) chose to die, why did (s)he not see fit to remain with me, did (s)he really love me? I believe spouses also go through similar thought processes and have to work through the guilt of falsely believing his/her death might have been at least a little bit the spouse’s fault. The tragedy of his death alone is sufficient to make many people talk about it.

For another thing, Robin Williams was a huge part of our lives. People of my generation grew up on his performances in Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Hook, Flubber, Happy Feet, Night at the Museum, and others. Then we grew up and watched him in Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting, Jakob the Liar, and others. As kids, my brothers and I had a Dan Fogelberg CD that we listened to ALL THE TIME. Without us realizing it, Dan Fogelberg, and especially certain of his songs, became such a foundational part of our collective childhood that he and his music was practically indecipherable from the rest of our childhood. He WAS our childhood. When he died, a piece of my childhood went with him. When I heard the lines “I was a kid when Elvis died./An’ my momma cried” from the song “19 Something” by Mark Wills at my first job when I was about 16, I couldn’t understand why people would cry for a famous person they didn’t know personally. Now, thanks to Dan Fogelberg, I do. Likewise, Robin Williams is such a foundational part of and so intertwined with so many people’s childhoods and adult lives that, whether or not they realize it, he took a piece of their childhood, a huge chunk of their memories, and part of their identity when he died. “When he killed himself, a part of me died, a part of me that I didn’t even know was there and didn’t miss until it was gone.” The fact that he chose* to do so makes it so much worse.

Second, why don’t we grieve the losses of victims of genocide the world over? Many, many, many people have written on compassion fatigue. It’s so plastered over the internet—there’s even a Wikipedia article on it—that I would have thought everyone would know about it by now, so seeing people comment on these victims and bemoan people’s grief over Robin Williams’ loss should remind me that not everyone (including people working in that area) is aware of this. Wikipedia’s article defines compassion fatigue as “a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is common among individuals that work directly with trauma victims such as nurses, psychologists, and first responders.” It goes on to say: “Journalism analysts argue that the media has caused widespread compassion fatigue in society by saturating newspapers and news shows with often decontextualized images and stories of tragedy and suffering.” The term “compassion fatigue” is usually applied to people dealing directly with the suffering, but it applies just as well to people receiving news of distant suffering.

In essence, our human minds are incapable of dealing constantly with others’ suffering. At some point, your mind needs to take a break from it. Initially, you’re outraged and you may even do something about it, if you’re able. But then, to protect yourself, your brain shuts off. You don’t quit caring, you just can’t keep up the outrage, the tears, the bleeding heart. It’s a protective mechanism, and it’s not a sin†.

The reason why we can seem indifferent toward genocide the world over but cry over Robin Williams’ death is because: (1) we’ve already mourned the genocides; (2) we falsely seem indifferent to the genocides because of compassion fatigue; (3) the genocides are ongoing, whereas Robin Williams’ death is a single event that we can briefly mourn and then move on; (4) he is part of our collective identity and so losing him means losing a part of ourselves; (5) his death, and therefore our loss of identity and childhood, is a reminder of our own mortality; (6) suicide is always deeply tragic; and (7) his death touches those of us suffering with depression and suicidal ideation on a deeply personal level.

None of this is wrong. None of this is bad. And in my opinion, it’s cheap to use his death to further your own causes, even if that cause involves care for victims of genocidal regimes.

Your thoughts below!



*Some argue that suicide, when coupled with depression, is not a choice because depression is a disease. I won’t go into that, but I just wanted to recognize that theory so as not to offend people who ascribe to that theory. Although I struggled with depression and suicidal ideation as a teen, I never thought of it as choiceless. I disagree somewhat with the theory based on my own experiences, but I recognize that (a) doing so requires leaning on the logical fallacy known as “anecdotal fallacy” and (b) many people smarter than I agree with it, and so I wanted to give it a nod. Nevertheless, survivors usually view someone’s suicide as a choice on that person’s part not to be with them, so that statement was more an examination of how survivors feel than how the victim acted.

†Some would argue that if you’re capable of doing something and you choose not to, that is sinful. But consider that there are many worthy causes, many awesome charities, and only so much money to go around. You do more good by donating a large sum to one or two charities than you do donating small sums to numerous charities. One of the hardest things for me was choosing which two of the many charities I love would get my money and/or time. My view is that as long as you’re doing what you can within your means, that’s enough—you don’t need to feel guilty about your lack of support for the literally millions of worthy charities out there so long as you’re doing or donating toward some form of worthy charity somewhere.

What (Never) To Buy for a Baby Shower

A friend of a friend asked for advice on what to buy for a baby shower. She wanted to buy something very thoughtful and was doing her research, and so asked, “What was one thing you didn’t know you needed that you found out you needed after Ada was born?” I happened to be on a play date with three other moms with babies Ada’s age (approx. 8 months) and so passed the question on.

Two moms said, “Nothing.” One mom said newborn diapers, since her baby wore that size for a surprising length of time. I said a baby carrier (we got the Infantino Flip carrier) since the Moby wrap I originally bought was frustratingly difficult for everyone except me to use and can only carry up to 17-18 pounds before the fabric begins to stretch (something I found out long after the fact).

But later, I continued thinking about it and came up with a short list. You have to understand that stores like Babies R Us and Buy Buy Baby make all their money off of people buying things for their babies–people who don’t have babies and so don’t know what they really do and really don’t need–so lists of recommended items are very easy to find. However, because these lists of “items you REALLY need” are made by the companies who make ALL of their money off such purchases, there are lots of items on the lists that you really don’t need. At all. So most of the time, people get a bunch of stuff they don’t need rather than a bunch of things they do need. However, you certainly can’t tell people what you DON’T need unless directly asked because these people are being so kind as to GIVE you tons of stuff… However, now that I’ve already had my first baby and won’t need anything (except clothes if #2 is a boy) from here on out, I feel safe in making these suggestions.

That being said, I’ve written two short lists. Here goes…

What To Buy

1. What’s on the registry. Seems obvious, but you might be amazed at how rarely we get what we actually registered for. People would rather buy clothes or things they think you need that you don’t really need. Oftentimes, you didn’t register for it because you don’t need it (e.g., already have one) or don’t want it.

2. Gift cards. Shocking, I know, but one of the best gifts you can give is gift cards. Why? Because many of the items on the registry typically are high-dollar items that everyone needs in a first-world country where parents live in constant fear of CPS (e.g., brand new crib) and get around using motor vehicles (e.g., car seat) and both expect or are expected to have certain *technically* unnecessary amenities (e.g., stroller, high chair, etc.). However, few people can actually afford these items. And, let’s face it, most newborns have only two sets of grandparents. If one set buys the crib and the other set buys the dresser, that still leaves the rocking chair, car seat, stroller, high chair, etc. Buying them a gift card to the store at which they registered for the most high-dollar items is the most sensible, useful thing to do–and the gift for which, ultimately, they will probably be most grateful.

3. Diapers and wipes. This works for everyone who isn’t doing cloth diapers (like me), so basically everyone I know (except me, lol). Diapers are pretty dadgum expensive. I’ve read estimates of almost $1,000 in the first year spent on diapers and wipes on average. One of the moms in my playgroup said she bought her first set of diapers when her baby was 8 months old, a prime example of the most practical gift, and one for which she was extremely grateful.

4. Hand-me-downs. I know, shocking. You’d think people would prefer all brand-new, matching stuff. And it’s true that most people do, myself included. But I was also profoundly grateful for all the hand-me-downs I received. From a practical standpoint, you get more stuff from hand-me-downs than from whatever gift the giver can afford. Furthermore, people understand that if they get a hand-me-down they don’t want or need, they can hand it down to someone else. If you don’t want your hand-me-downs going to someone else, however, SAY SO and don’t take offense if they give it back. It may be they already have five dozen other outfits in that same size.

5. Handmade gifts. Okay, I admit this one is really risky because it’s not like they can return it to the store if they don’t like it. But I loved the handmade gifts I received. By far, the most useful were homemade double-size swaddling blankets. (What you don’t know unless you already have a baby is that swaddling blankets are typically barely big enough for a small newborn.)

What NEVER to Buy

1. Clothes. I can hear the groans and complaints from here! But seriously. EVERYBODY wants to buy cute baby clothes for the new baby. And so EVERYBODY does. And the people who think ahead buy 6 month size outfits–but no further. So, if you’re like me, you end up with four dozen newborn outfits, three dozen 3 month outfits, and 5 dozen (you read that right) 6 month outfits. And NO 9 month or 12 month outfits.

2. Clothes. Believe it or not, people have different tastes, even when it comes to baby clothes. I, for example, hate pink. Imagine trying to buy clothes for a baby girl when pink is not allowed. If it’s not specifically on the registry, you can’t be sure it’s their taste.

3. Clothes. Even if you think it’s the cutest outfit and they couldn’t possibly want to return it, consider that there are a limited number of designs produced and sold each year and, as unlikely as it sounds, they WILL get multiple copies of exactly the same outfit. Unbelievable, right? Wrong! I received multiple copies of four different outfits–three copies of one and two copies of the others.

4. Clothes. Many times, you can return them and buy the same or a similar outfit. But, for obvious reasons, if there’s no gift receipt, the store only gives for it the lowest price for which it sold–otherwise, the store would lose money because people could just buy clearance items and return them for full price all the time. But what it means is the person returning it usually doesn’t get enough money to buy a different outfit. For example, I received a really cute Christmas outfit, but by the time the season came around, Ada had outgrown it. So I attempted to return it to Kohl’s, but upon discovering I would only get $1.25 for it, I decided to keep it and hope it fits a future kid at the right time of year. Had I gotten a gift receipt, I could have gotten more money for it–possibly enough to buy a Christmas outfit in Ada’s size.

5. Clothes. Returning clothes is a real hassle because, in addition to the discussion above regarding prices, it’s also difficult to know where they came from. For example, did you know there are three different Carter’s brands? I took a bunch of Carter’s clothing to the Carter’s store and on several items, they said, “These aren’t ours. Do you know what brand they are?” I replied, “…Carter’s…?” They then explained that there are several Carter’s brands, but they were unable to tell me where their own brands are sold. It took some serious research and a lot of driving around and a lot of wasted time trying to figure out where they came from. (Btw, Carter’s Just One You is only sold at Target and Carter’s Child of Mine is only sold at Wal-Mart.) Gift receipts would have solved that problem.

So the moral is: if you absolutely insist on giving clothes, at least provide a gift receipt so the recipient doesn’t have to drive all around the kingdom looking for the source store and so they can return it for more than $1.25 if they need to. And if you buy them clothes, make it at least 12 month, 18 month, or even 2T.


Scheming Colors, Part 2

color wheel

color wheel

In my previous post, I talked about how the hardest part of selecting knitted accessories for my outfits is matching or complementing the colors. I discussed how to use the color wheel, the addition of neutral colors, and the consideration of hue, tone, tint, and shade. I described contrast and monochromatic color schemes. The angles I’ll discuss in this post include: seasonal colors, colors for your skin tone, your body shape, whether it’s casual or formal, and more.

Seasonal Colors. I had a lot of difficulty finding information on this—not because it’s not out there, but because there are a lot of resources for determining how to select colors to your skin tone and your skin tone is defined as “Spring,” “Summer,” “Autumn,” or “Winter.” Nevertheless, generally speaking, colors that you see in nature in the spring (greens, blues, yellows—bright colors) are “Spring” colors; those you see in nature in the summer (spring colors and khaki [think sandy beaches], etc.) plus all lighter colors and white (which keep you cool) are “Summer” colors; those you see in nature in the autumn (orange, yellow, red, brown, etc.) are “Autumn” colors; and those you see in nature in the winter (white, blue, gray or silver, etc.) plus all darker colors and black (which keep you warm) are “Winter” colors. If you’re wearing dark brown, orange, red, and yellow (colors of autumn leaves) in May, it looks out of place.

Skin Tone Colors. With the right colors for your skin tone, your eyes, skin, and hair glow; imperfections are reduced; and you appear bright and alert. With the wrong colors for your skin tone, your eyes, skin, and hair look drained; imperfections are highlighted; and your face fades into the background. Generally, skin tones are divided into four categories (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter), but the updated typology is based on twelve skin types instead of four To find your skin tone and what colors you can wear, go here for a quick analysis or here for a full analysis.

Body Shape. Dark colors recede, thereby making you look thinner. Light colors project, thereby bulking you up.

Formality. Generally speaking, darker colors are more formal than lighter colors.

Warm and Cool. Warm colors include red, orange, and yellow. Cool colors include green, blue, and violet. Analogous colors are groups of colors that are all warm or all cool. Designers often combine analogous and contrasting colors, such as one cool and two warm or two cool and one warm.

I hope this helped you. It sure helped me!