Saturday, September 16, 2006

A 3 Hour Tour...

The Desert Tour: A One Act Event

Scene I: The Hummer

Imagine a dusty Hummer, originally bright shiny yellow. Now knock the doors off and replace the roof by a canvas sheet just over the roll bars. Add rock-sized dents and take it out into the hot, hot desert driven by a chatty local named Jeff who can name each hill's tetonic plate and says "we come in peace, it's all good" to appease strangers holding loaded center-fire rifles.

The Hummer holds 10 scared tourists easily, but we were only 5 and had plenty of room to be extra scared. Seatbelts were required as doors were not. Later, MM's brother revealed his seatbelt was Missing In Action. He was sitting safely next to MM, buckled in, and then made the dubious tradeoff of a better topside view for no seatbelt. At one point he was hanging onto the canvas top and started feeling grommets popping off, one by one! He was laughing as he told us, so I'm not sure it's as dire as it sounds :)

The tour started with driving out of Palm Desert on Thousand Palms Canyon Road, a long straight flat road that took us through creosote bush, sagebrush, and dried grasses. And a lot of sand. As we drove, Jeff pointed out the mountain straight ahead. The gray mountains in the back are some of the oldest on the planet, while the sand-colored range in front are some of the youngest. Between them is the San Andreas Fault. We stopped for a while at the 29,000 acre Coachella Canyon Preserve with an oasis right on the San Andreas Fault. Apparently the action of the 5 mile deep Pacific Plate grinding away at the 50 mile deep American Plate makes the rock at the edges porous. Since the desert is sitting on the 10th largest aquafer on the planet, the porous rock draws the water to the surface.

An Oasis in our Path

The oasis was choked with enormous indigenous palm trees, shaggy with dried fronds. Some were straight and tall, others leaning, still others felled completely and rotting in the shallow water. Swimming in the water were small guppy-like fish with teeth. Jeff took all our cameras and had us stand on a bridge which spans the fault and then took our group shot picture. As you can see, the environment was pretty SPOOKY with all those huge trees! After the ritual picture-taking, we clamored back up into the hummer, via a stool, to drive down Dillon Road to the Berdoo Canyon turnoff. What a great ride! Dillon Road cuts across all the runoff gullies from rainwater erosion and it was like riding a roller coaster up and down. Wheeeeeeeee!

Scene II: Berdoo Canyon

Ten miles down the road we hooked a left onto the Berdoo Canyon turnoff (can't really call it a road, or even a track). We were now driving on a dry riverbed, rocks, boulders, and scree. The hummer bumped along past some locals who were getting ready to do some target shooting, climbed a 12" hump where the scree road met a dilapidated paved single track, on into the canyon. Such beauty! We still had some daylight and the landscape was washed to a pale sand color all around with sagebrush, creasote bush, cat claw acacia, lavender, teddy bear joya cactus, mesquite, and a whole bunch more I can't remember. Huge boulders were everywhere. Along the drive Jeff mentioned the ways local Indians used some of these plants in their daily lives:
  • mesquite: used for food; the sap crumbled for a perfume
  • native palm trees: used the dried fronds for thatching their homes; ate the fruit berries
  • teddy bear joya cactus: ground the roots into a paste and used it as an antibiotic ointment
  • creosote bush: used the creosote to line their baskets. When it was cured, they could actually carry boiling water in them.
  • cat claw acacia: they used it as a black hair dye - an Indian version of "Miss Clairol".
  • There were others, but I didn't have enough available neurons left to remember them!
Scene III: Wildlife Sighting

OK, enough mental wandering. Back to the tour... So there we were, admiring the high ridges, taking in the flora, etc. Jeff casually mentioned he had seen a male big horned sheep that morning. A nice robust, healthy male. He was concerned about the animal because he hadn't seen it's harem, and usually at the lower levels, the animals tend to be scrawny. Jeff thought it might be stalked or hunted by a bobcat (bobcat?!? Now he tells us we need to watch for carnivorous toothy things!)

Suddenly, he shouted "THERE HE IS!" He turned the hummer around and drove really fast back the way we came, scanning the ridge for the beast. (Of course, I thought he should have been watching the track for those pesky rocks and other things to avoid.) He stopped the truck and got out to walk behind the last ridge the sheep was spotted, poking a walking stick into bushes and piles of gravel (for hidden rattlers)We stood and watched. Then, HOT DAMN! There they were! Two female Big Horn sheep, scampering up the mountain and finally over the ridge. No sign of the male, but we were pretty excited to see the others. Jeff said it had been 100 tours since he had the last sighting of any sheep. What a treat.

Scene IV: Desert Sunset

Back to the hummer to drive past a decommissioned presidential bunker big enough to house 92 people, food for two weeks, tanks, hummers, and army equipment. It was installed at the beginning of the Cold War, and filled in with concrete, buildings torn down, etc in 1988 when the Berlin Wall fell.

We drove to the top over broken pavement and scree to take some beautiful pictures of the sunset over the Little San Bernadino Mountains. In the fading light, the desert took on a beautiful soft quality full of color. What a difference from the daylight landscape! The mountains in the distance were rosy pink from the sunset with gray and blue ranges behind. Around us, the walls of the canyon showed pink areas of rock with gray and black features, shadows washed purple over the riverbed. Time to head back home. Suddenly the light was gone and everything around us was BLACK! I mean, we could see a whole lot of nuthin' - no way to see without the hummer's headlights, top spots, and sometimes even the interior light. Jeff seemed to know where he was going, but to me, the rocks we had driven over on our way into the canyon loomed large in our headlights.

Epilogue: Singing for our Supper?

We got home safe and sound at 8 PM, and we were a mess: hair windblown, filthy from dust, and super SWEATY. Ugh! We were also super hungry. So, we went to the only restaurant we thought would take us in that condition. It was an Italian restaurant with a big sign out front proclaiming "KARAOKE!" Now normally, I'd see that and run the other way, but I was with 4 other people who were also hungry. So I thought, "what the hey" and in we went. We had a nice dinner fortified with really big mugs of beer. Then the karaoke started. It wasn't as bad as I thought. For the most part people were really pretty good. A couple of guys sang some country songs and people were dancing the two-step and Cowboy Cha Cha around the room. Then Paula and Jane started singing and they were great. What fun - I think this was the best day of the vacation.

That's it for this trip. I finally got to see a desert - something I have looked forward to all my life. And I loved it.

Shibori Girl

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Family tripping

It's been quite a while since my last post, so there is a lot of catching up to do! I can't believe I haven't written anything since Marbleman's (really dry) follow-up to the vacuum. [Marble Man says it was done on request.]
Marble Man and I are here in Sunny Southern California for a mid-September family wedding. (We'll post the photos in a later entry.) Our family needs no urging to gather for a party, so the exodus from Philadelphia, Boston, and North Carolina commenced. We flew into Palm Desert. Man is it HOT! *mops her sweaty brow* My sister-in-law, Paula, and I went to a flea market to seek out her favorite bead vendor. We both made the woman's day by handing over a heavy sack of cash for some very nice shiny and sparkly things. When we get home, we'll make some gawgeous jewelry.

After the flea market, we headed to LA where the wedding would be held. On the way, we drove past what must be thousands of windmills. Seeing them all lined up, churning away, it looked very otherworldy. Two hours later we were in LA. Ahh, much cooler, but what's with all that smog? I know there are mountains on the horizon, but where? We had a lovely lunch at the LA County Museum of Art and afterwards toured the art glass exhibit there with Paula. Wow. I was so surprised at what attracted me. I thought I'd go for the delicate twiddly pieces, but no. I went straight for the BIG (I mean MASSIVE) sculptures. They really spoke to me. Now, I just need to find a nice big house to hold them all :) AND ditch Marble Man for a millionaire to buy them for me! (Just kidding, MM) [Marble Man says "get a job!"]

We drove down Wilshire Blvd to Santa Monica and saw lots of sights along the way (Rodeo Drive is pretty posh!) Wow, it's even cooler here - about 70 degrees. Now, where is that jacket? We spent two fun-filled nights in Santa Monica at a high class joint, Le Merigot, right on the ocean, 2 blocks from the pier. I have never in my life been so pampered. We had the softest sheets and duvet. Oh, I didn't want to get up! (Just five more minutes, puh-leeze? This cloud is so fluffy.) The bathroom was fit for a king and queen. Beautiful rust colored marble, a lighted magnifying make-up mirror, a little mirrored shelf next to the tub with a votive candle on it, and on the edge of the tub, on top of the bath mat: a goldfish squeaky toy for the bath!!! How much fun is that? It was exquisite. The first night, a few of us walked down to the Santa Monica Pier to people-watch and ride the ferris wheel. LOTS of fun. There is nothing like getting stopped at the top and looking down to see nothing but ocean rollers coming in. (Marble Man screams like a girl: OHMIGOD We're all going to DIE! HELP!)

The next day was sunny and beautiful, and it was time for the wedding. All decked out, (and looking quite fab, I must say), we headed up to Northridge to the wedding site. What a nice wedding! Marble Man's cousin married a very sweet, beautiful young woman with a gracious family. The ceremony was outside the clubhouse of a country club, right next to the sand trap. While the rabbi kept us all very entertained, people were zinging past in golf carts, and I was thinking, what do we all do if some guy shouts "FORE"? Do we all hit the deck and hope the ball hits the person next to you? Body armor does not go with my outfit. Luckily we didn't have to find out. (Shibori Girl & Marble Man pictured at right)

The reception was raucous and highly entertaining. We sat with the rest of MM's family AND the very same entertaining rabbi and his wife. The guy was a laugh riot. He kept us in stitches right up until the cake cutting, and then he and his wife cut out. After a luscious meal, we danced our little tuschies off and partied right up to when the DJ packed up. We left knowing that we had gained a new and loving branch of the family who made us feel welcome.

After the wedding, we drove back to Santa Monica and walked the 3rd Street Promenade, watched street jugglers and break dancers and gawked at storefronts. We had the BEST hamburgers for dinner (loaded with fresh avocado, onions, and tomatoes). I bit into mine and felt like I had just had a religious experience. My taste buds were singing.

Another blissful night in that gorgeous hotel, and it's time to pack up and head down to Laguna to visit more family. Many reminiscences later, we went to Laguna Beach and strolled the boardwalk. Marble Man's parents decided to sit there and people-watch some more while the rest of us wandered some shops. What a nice town - not many chain stores, lots of personality. We ate a delicious dinner and piled back into the car to drive back to Palm Desert for the rest of our vacation.

Today the temperature is supposed to be 108 degrees. That's just inhuman. (Don't tell me "but it's a dry heat"; hot is just plain hot!) Marble Man and Paula are out playing tennis as I write this. Better them than me. Oh, they just staggered in the door, slightly red in the face. They CLAIM it wasn't too bad, but I don't believe it... Oops, Marble Man just exploded.

The rest of this day is devoted to recovering from the pace of the trip so far *pant, pant* We spent a good part of the day at the swimming pool. Nice breeze, palm trees, mountains in the background, and lovely cool water in the pool. I took off my flip flops by my chair and duck-walked over to the side of the pool. Those paving stones around the pool were SUPER HOT!! I think I might have seared my feet to the medium-rare stage. One experience was all the learning curve I needed. After that, I wore my shoes to the side of the pool stairs and left them there for the return trip to my chair. Later in the afternoon, I felt both eyes burning ("like, they were on fire, man!") and my lids were swelling shut. Oh good, that was the look I was going for (not). Turns out I'm allergic to the sunscreen we chose. I've almost recovered now that I sat with an ice pack on my eyes for an hour. Tomorrow, I wear a BIG hat to cover up - no more sunscreen.

Wednesday evening we took a 3 hour open-air hummer tour of the outlying desert. Way cool.
We were picked up at the hotel by our tourguide "Jeff" in a bright yellow hummer that looked like it had driven over a few rocks in it's day. No doors, just an open framework with a canvas top for shade. Thank GOD for seat belts! We learned so much on this tour that it will have to be a post all on it's own. Stay tuned...

Thursday we pack up and flapped our wings back home. I love traveling, but there is nothing like sleeping in your own bed after being away, if only I would GET sleepy. How is it possible that while in California I was on EST, and once I get home, I'm suddenly on PST? It's Midnight here and my bod tells me it's only 9AM and time to go party!

All in all, I love California. Lots of different ecosystems, lots of beauty, (some not so beautiful). I have many mental images to help spur some more creativity into new work.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Vacuum Hints & Add-ons

Now that we've had the Eureka Boss SmartVac 4870 ($140) for half a year, we've got more feedback. And down below, I explain some hard-to-find hints that Eureka left out of their manual! What a find.

Parts, parts, parts... That's how many I've bought. All in all, about a $70 extra investment in these more-or-less essential add-ons that do not come with the unit:
  1. mini-blind attachment: although you could use the low-suction setting (secret explained below), you'd still have to align the blinds one way (eg, curved side towards window), vacuum, then align them the other way (curved side away from window) to clean that side. Instead, I got a 4-pronged attachment that slides between the blinds and cleans 3 blinds at once. It's not as easy to move that thing through the blinds as it would seem, but it does a better job than, say, the soft brush. This particular one is made of hard plastic and the fingers are covered in felt that stirs up the dust so the holes on the side of each finger can suck it in.

  2. Extender hose: the 5' hose simply cannot extend to the heavens (have you noticed how dusty they are up there?) and not even to the top of our 7' bookshelves. Seems like a couple more feet of hose would have fit into the standard hose, but nooooo, we need to save the petro products... screw the dinosaurs! They're extinct, already... Give me my hose length! Did you know that you can buy as many feet of hose as you want? I got mine in the Vacuum Cleaner Hospital, Elliot Road, Chapel Hill, NC -- a good high-end store that sells mostly shiny Euro-vac's with names I have trouble pronoucing. So what you do is buy a bare hose, by the foot, and a tip for each end: one that can attach to the end of the Eureka hose and the other upon which the normal Euraka attachments can be mounted.

    Here's some pix with the complete hose, and with the hose screwed off. The seal is not perfect, and I think they need a much better way to attach the hose so it doesn't fall off the Eureka hose, but I still like it.

    A bleed hole is included in the new handle, and that's missing from the standard Eureka hose. Here's pix with the hole closed and open, and it's variably adjustable to any size between the two settings.

  3. HEPA filter: those one-use filters are about $24. You can also get the washable filter for about $40-50, which pays for itself in only 1 changing. I've not quite figured out how to clean the filter, since it's probably best to vacuum it... I guess you need two: one to use when you're vacuuming the other. :) Or you could just wash them...

  4. Fridge coil: Next I'd like to get one of those long thin heads that fit between refridgerator coils. Currently I use a yardstick wrapped in a cloth to pull the dust out, then vacuum it off the cloth. Could be easier but luckily I only do the fridge every couple of years -- whether it needs it or not! :)

Why they left these out of the manual is only a guess, but I'd say it's a cost cutting measure. [See dinosaur rant]. Here's what I've figured out. Any other hints would be most welcome:

  1. the big yellow rotator switch that sets floor or hose suction can be in any position. If you put it anywhere inbetween the 2 extreme settings, it acts as a bleed hole, taking some of the suck out of the hose. The picture shows it set to a middle position. This is useful for delicate cloth (drapes) that would be totally sucked into the hose at full suction. Nice.

  2. You probably know that to tilt the main body, you press the little gray foot button. Press the button again to fold the unit almost flat. This lets it get under some furniture and most dinosaurs, should you run into any.

  3. If your extender hose falls off, thread the standard hose through the handle so that the full weight of the standard hose is not straining the hose-hose joint (which would pull it apart).

  4. There's a little loop of plastic on the back of the handle which you use to hold the electrical wire off the ground, so that you do not run over it as much. I usually coil the rest of the wire in my hand (that is, the part that's not still in the vacuum's cable holding circuit), and release/recoil it as I move away/towards the plug. What a pain.

  5. Click the carpet/floor switch to the floor setting before turning on the unit. That spinner brush, if accidentally left on, can deface some bare floors in not time flat.
Happy vacuuming!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

OK, I Lied...

I've taken a break from everything the past few weeks to get life in order. The weather Sprung great in late May (past tense of Spring) and I was bitten by the gardening bug. Two weeks later an old vegetable patch in the front yard was transformed into a nice 10x10' garden complete with birdbath and seating area. Now if only the Venison -- I mean deer -- would stay away!

Now that the outside was taken care of, the inside of the house needed serious attention as Marble Man's parents were coming to stay for a week. Can't have them seeing how we really live, now, can we? So we fired up that fancy new vacuum cleaner -- zoom zoom -- attacked mystery piles of who-knows-what in corners and on surfaces, and now it's so clean we don't recognize the place. Time to throw a party!

We had a lovely visit with the parents, saw movies, ate out a lot, had lots of visit time. The week sped by really fast. Now it was time to get back into the swing of a regular work schedule. (What's that?!?)

After my last post, my Batgirl ego was pretty excited to be back in the batcave, doing what I love to do. Then for a few weeks after that, my hand was screaming at me to "cut it out, already"! As a result, I have decided to do just enough fabric dyeing to keep our local quilt store stocked (and my pockets full of sorely needed beer money) and some custom work for individual clients (that's money for beads). The rest of the time, I'll concentrate on the jewelry-making, since it doesn't seem to bother my delicate parts as much (the thumb pain's connected to the wrist pain, the wrist pain's...). Disappointing, but a logical move to make I think since, being in pain is such a pain! (I can always add the fabrics in slowly, to keep stock up for my scarf collections and maybe the silk shawls.)

Meanwhile, I've had such a long break with all the house improving going on, that I can't remember what the heck I was working on when I stopped! I cleaned up my studio space, put everything away, and now I'm like, "HEY, what the...! Where was I?" So, I look at this as a creative kick in the pants, (so to speak) and I can do whatever floats my boat at this time. I'll figure out what was in the works at some point - like when I come across a half-finished pair of earrings and say "Oh, yeah! Now, how do I make the other one to match this one?" [I've discounted photocopying as a valid way to reproduce earrings -- too flat]

I have received a lot of positive yummy feedback from family and friends about the jewelry pieces I have already finished, which is great news and tells me I am making some killer jewelry, as they would be the first ones to point out any weaknesses. Now that I have a bit of inventory completed, I need to find the right outlet. I have a few options. 1) I could try to get invited to participate in a home show for the Christmas season. 2) I could suck back a glass of wine for courage and start cold-calling galleries and boutiques. 3) I could have the jury slides made and apply to the regional craft shows. 4) write a really nice letter to Warren Buffet, asking if he'd like some other charities to make donations to (that's ME!).

I am leaning toward options 1 & 2 for now. I have a few friends and family who are artistic and have had success at home shows. So, I'll put out some feelers to see if I would be welcome with my new line of work. I think that jewelry has a wider appeal than the fabric arts do, so I might have some success with the store buyers too. I would make the cold calls to introduce myself, then send out a packet of information including pictures. If I do it right, I should be able to get some appointments to bring work in for review. Cross your fingers!

Now it's back to the bead mine...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

She's BAAaack!

I have been dyeing for two days now, and it feels GREAT! Yesterday I boiled up one big pot of water outside, about enough to get six buckets going. I thought that would be a good way to start up: six buckets and I'd be done. 'Cause then I had to get all the fabric off the poles, squeeze it all out, wash and dry it, as well as hosing out the buckets and poles for the next session (pant, pant). So, six sounded like a good beginning amount - I didn't want to wear myself out. ('Though I was mighty tired anyway!) It felt sooooo goood to get back to work.

Yesterday's session was actually to prep for today. My girlfriend wanted to dye some fabrics of her own for a quilt, so I needed to make sure I had enough propane, that the burners were in proper working order, yada, yada, yada... Today, with Fran's help, we had about 25 colors going!!! I couldn't have done it without her, since she did a lot of hard stuff. She schlepped buckets across the yard, hosed stuff out, stirred; she was a dyeing machine. What a good day. Now my stuff is in the washer churning away and I'm looking forward to seeing them dried and ironed (that's the fun part).

Now that I have had a chance to take a breath, grab some lunch, and cool off, I realize just how tired I really am: I could use a nap! :) So, the rest of the day I'll plan what to do during the next session. I think it is reasonable to try to do the heavy dye work maybe 3 days a week for now, and see how my hand and elbow feel. I might just have to scale it back to once a week in the beginning so I don't relapse my tennis elbow. For now, it is marvelous to be back to doing what I love to do.

Your dye-covered fabric queen

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Back on Track

After my last post, I went back to the orthopedist. She took one look at my elbow and told me I needed another cortisone injection and some physical therapy. I must be getting used to the shots because this last one barely hurt. But, she went clear down to bone (I had a great honking bruise for 3 weeks!). After some more physical therapy I am now-pain free for the first time in a year. My mood is so much better I hardly recognize myself. :)

I am a bit leery of getting back to work - afraid I'll do something dumb and hurt myself again. So, to get some hand strength back, and to feel productive, I have been making jewelry. This has been a passion for a few years, but on a personal level. Now I have been doing it with selling the pieces in the back of my mind. It feels good. It feels darned good. I ran a few pieces past a friend who works in a local craft gallery and her response was: "we have got to get these out there!" It's nice to have affirmation that I'm headed in the right direction. I seem to enjoy working with little teeny twiddly seed beads. As my sister-in-law, the artist, says, "it's nice to see little tiny pieces making a greater whole." This little choker is an example of this.

I have also kept up with my drawing and feel an improvement with each one. Here is one I finished this weekend, and I am very happy with it. I cannot believe I let this go for so long! I never realized how much I've missed it, I guess. So, I will keep on keepin' on and post my progress here.

I did get to do some fabric dyeing last month, (just to prove I still can) and managed pretty well, although my hand let me know I'd used it for a few days afterward.

Signing off for now...

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Well, shoot! There I was a couple of weeks ago, feeling pretty good about life. Then, BAM! I tripped over the dog and hurt my elbow again. I've been babying it for a week now and it's still not right. So, I'll be visiting my favorite orthopaedist soon to see what's what.

It's a good thing the dog is so darned cute or he'd be toast by now, PETA concerns aside. I posted a picture so you can see for yourself. Also, so you'll know that I do actually have a dog. I had a few people read my last post and saw my comment about walking the dog and they wondered if that was just a euphemism for a bodily function, or if I really do have a pooch. Here's the proof, the whole proof and nothing but the proof. Don'tcha just want to grab his little cheeks and give him a scritch? I'll put a bell around his neck and look where I'm going so I won't be so clumsy the next time.

The upside of this latest wrinkle in my recovery plan is that *SHhhh! Don't tell anyone...* I actually like all this freedom from deadlines and being able to do whatever the heck I want to do for the moment. While I wait for my elbow to settle down, I can still draw whatever I like, meet my friends for lunch, etc. And since I had planned for the rest of this year to be recovery time, well, it's just a good thing I'm not in any rush. Also, now there is no excuse for not getting my taxes done on time! I think our accountant just might keel over from shock if I bring the stuff to her before March 30th. Maybe I should get one of those little oxygen tanks to carry with me just in case. :)

more drawings from last week:

Monday, January 30, 2006

So How's That Doodling Going?

For the past two weeks I have been "noodling with my doodling", as promised in my last post! I haven't started sketching my new clothing ideas yet, as I first thought. I wanted to see how rusty my drawing skills are after a 20 year hiatus. After the first two test drawings, I can safely say... I've still got it! Whew, what a relief. Since it took me several years of drawing lessons to build the skill, I really didn't want to have to start all over again. I've posted the two best sketches right here. Now that I remember how much fun sketching can be, you can bet I'll be making time to do it a bit each week. I let it go because there just weren't enough hours in the day to fit in all I wanted to do. Sketching kind of got lost at the side of the road, so to speak.

Since I know my hand can draw what my eyes see, I'll start actually doing work this week. What will that be like, I wonder? I've had such a long break that I can't think of where to begin! I guess, I'll jump feet first into the middle of some project and work my way out. I still have to limit the time I spend at any task, so I'll start with itty bitty baby steps, and see where they take me.

After my shows last Fall, I am REALLY low on my shibori scarves. Making more will be priority one. I have several of the components dyed already, I just have to sit down and match complementary pieces together and stitch 'em up. Add beads at the corners for tassels and weight, and voila, glorious art is ready for the wearing. I'll post some pix when they are done. Meanwhile, if you just can't wait to see some examples, you can visit my website at

Time to go walk the dog...

Shibori Girl

Sunday, January 08, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

As a rule, I never make New Year's resolutions because very shortly after I make them, I break them. I stopped making resolutions because I couldn't take the guilt. This year, though, I broke my rule and made three:
  1. keep my studio clean to promote good work habits
  2. get strong and healthy, and
  3. rework my older designs and make them even more appealing
Well, thanks to MarbleMan's research and persistence, we have our new vacuum to clean up our act for this new year. The studio looks like a fabric bomb went off in there, so it's time to shovel it out to prepare for this year's production. This involves getting up all those threads embedded in the studio carpeting (and pins, and beads, and...). It sounds like I'm a slob when I work, but really I'm just "focused" on the job-at-hand. So, as soon as MM stops playing with the new toy, I can get started.

2005 was a very difficult year as a result of a recurring tennis elbow. Who knew that ironing 30 yards of fabric a day was a bad idea? In April I suffered a dibilitating hand injury (to my dominant hand, at that!). My doctor ordered me to rest both injury sites for 6 months. After that I could start working for 30 minutes a day. She's saying this to someone who usually works 10 hours a day! It was torture. But now I am finally pain-free and can start my dyeing and sewing again. Crops will grow again, and the cows are finally happy.

At my last show in New York City, I had oodles of requests for jackets and blouses to be longer. So, it's time to rework the designs for that. When I use my hand it tends to cramp up on me, so part of my physical therapy for my hand is to doodle a little bit each day. My grand plan is to sketch my new clothing designs so that I can call it working.

Once the new designs are in place, it should be a little warmer outside and I can start dyeing fabric again. (The high temps now are about 50 degrees which is still a bit cold to do any substantial work). Now it's time to toddle off to do my doodling...

Shibori Girl, Fabric Mistress

Dyson vacuum not Ready For Prime Time

After you dye all that fabric, you've got to do something with it. I like to sew it into clothing, handbags and scarves, littering scraps and threads all over the carpet. Which brings me to the point: our vacuum sucks, but not enough. And the 15-year old Kenmore cannister spews dust out it's butt like the morning after bad Sushi. We needed a new one.

Consumer Reports to the rescue! They measured suck, weight, ability to scale small buildings in a single bound, whatever you need to know. Sometimes they actually write this stuff in their reports, too. :) So the challenger was the undiscovered Dyson DC14 (US$500) vs. the Eureka Boss SmartVac 4870 ($140). [Hmm, I'd say that if you're stuck with the vacuuming, you're not so smart, but perhaps you are the boss.] The Hoover WindTunnel ($300) was actually rated highest, but is a little noisier, according to CR.

First, a quick check with Amazon's feedback section. An interesting check is that the factory-reconditioned Dyson is not actually reconditioned, according to half of the recipients. Yup, the reconditioned units might be cheap to buy, but it still has the problems that folks returned them for in the first place. This says to me that Dyson is not experienced enough in manufacturing. They've got excellent ideas, but have not executed them quite right. Give them a couple of years -- I expect great things from their factories! Some folks were actually enamoured by the Dyson's pretty colors and clear chambers, but the chambers show all that extra dust collected by their whirling whirlies (no, not the type you get in grade school -- these leave your hair much nicer than a tour through the toilet) and I don't see the utility of retrieving a prized gold earing from a clear chamber vs. an opaque bag. Just split the bag. If you're vacuuming up all that many earings, perhaps you're holding the vacuum a little too high.

So off to Best Buy to actually try our own tests. CR has scientists and test engineers and loads of stastistics, but they rate the noise as a number from 1 (needs ear protection) to 5. What I want to know is if the pitch is high and whiny or low and bold. How does the noise change when I use attachments vs. carpet cleaning? Stuff CR doesn't tell you. I've got to ask Why? Have they not heard of the web, where all the stat's and your mother's age can be posted without space restrictions?

OK, so here's the test: Best Buy has a power outlet! The Dyson already dust and dirt in it, so we, well, tested (yeah, that's the word... tested!) how easy it was empty. Oops, it's really easy. Oh well, gotta clean that up. Can't have a dirty Best Buy, can we? Let's try the Dyson first. OK, gotta put it back together first (remember we emptied it's chamber). Hmm. Where's the on switch? Oh, I see: their graphic designers hide it so well that they needed to attach a little label explaing where it is. OK, the Eureka wins there with a simple international 0/1 switch. Was that so hard, Dyson? (Eureka 1, Dyson 0) OK, a vacuuming we go... HEY! What the ...? It can't clean up the stuff that just came out of it? I'm starting to think that the Twilight Zone was perhaps history, not science fiction. Maybe I didn't put it back together right, or maybe it's set wrong. Let's see: a switch for carpet vs. bare floor. That's set to carpet. No carpet pile adjustment. I recall from the Amazon reviews that it automatically adjusts for pile height, so that's OK. Well, maybe the carpet is too tough for it, so let's try the Eureka. Two passes and it's all up. Well, Eureka 2, Dyson 0.

Test 2: can the wand reach our 10 foot ceilings?
  • The Eureka has some 3 tubes and the hose, so there's only, ummm, 32 possible ways to connect them. Let's experiment... The tubes are all different thicknesses... this only connects to here... this has a little icon that says it goes on the hose... OK! 5 minutes later, we have a wand! Let's reach above our heads and voila! it reaches and the hose comes out of the bottom of the vacuum so it's going to be stable.
  • Now the Dyson. Doh! I see a hose but how do I get it out? Ah, the little label says to press this button to release the wand. There's a 12 inch tube integrated into the handle through which a 3 foot tube slides. In one position the tube is pushed down the unextended hose, keeping the normally flexible hose rigid. Cool idea. Pull the tube out of the hose, press yet another button, and the handle with it's short tube, detaches. Spiffy ergonomics, Batman, we've got a handle on the wand! But all those buttons. Can we ever remember them? Again, 5 minutes to figure it out. The hose emerges from the bottom of the main unit, like the Eureka, so it's probably stable, but many on Amazon complained about that. Perhaps this unit has been redesigned to avoid that?
Finally, there's the ongoing price, assuming nothing breaks. The Dyson has no bags, and has a washable HEPA filter. Euraka bags ($2), plus you need a new HEPA filter ($25) each 6 bags, and a new rubber belt ($6) every year. Let's say you fill a couple of bags a month (eg, you have a dog, child or husband), so that's 24 bags/year ($48) plus 4 HEPA filters ($100) plus a belt ($6). Opps. The Dyson breaks even in only 3 years. I guess we'll have to vacuum less often. :( In my mind, it's Eureka 2, Dyson 1. Of course, you could get the washable HEPA filter ($40) and cut the yearly cost from $154 to $54 (with an extra $40 the first year). That's more reasonable. Eureka 1.5, Dyson 1.

The Eureka has this carpet pile height adjustment that is not quite obvious. Seems simple enough, but it took me 5 minutes to figure out how to turn off the carpet spinner on my flat floors. The trick is to tilt the vacuum (use the foot pedal) first, then set the switch to "floor". Seems like every time you set the vacuum upright, it turns off the spinner "automagically", which is great but when you tilt it again, it tends to turn back on. And why this be on the handle, where it belongs?

Eureka wins, but Dyson will catch up, especially if they read this blog.