Smart Clothes

Smart watches that can check our email. Virtual-reality headsets. Smart eyeglasses with teeny computer screens—an exciting idea, maybe, unless you’ve ever had trouble getting used to bifocals. Clothes that can use energy from your movements to recharge electronic devices.

Wearable technology might be mostly at the experimental stage, but the melding of fashion and technology into smart clothes isn’t just for “Star Trek” anymore.

Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether technology geeks are really the people we want designing our fashions. Here are a few smart-clothes options I wish they would work on:

• Clothes smart enough to pick themselves up off the floor, wash themselves, mend themselves, and put themselves away.
• Clothes smart enough to convert spaghetti-sauce stains into energy.
• Clothes for toddlers with sensors to alert parents if kids climb up on top of the refrigerator or find the hidden stash of gourmet chocolate.
• Clothes for women of a certain age, programmed to send a flow of cold air through their fibers at the first sign of a hot flash.

In the meantime, while the scientists and engineers are happily playing with wearable electronics, here’s a low-tech bit of design that would make life easier in today’s high-tech world. Pockets.

It makes no sense to me. Right now, cell phones are evolving from accessories to necessities. They’re getting bigger and smarter. They are becoming lifelines to the rest of the world, not just for communicating with other people, but for everyday activities like taking photos, reading, navigating, finding addresses, making grocery lists, and looking up answers to random questions like, “Is an avocado a fruit or a vegetable?” (It’s a fruit; I looked it up.)

Because phones are used for so many things, they are increasingly important in a “don’t put it down except in the shower” kind of way. They are always just a ringtone or a vibration away.

So why don’t today’s clothes have pockets big enough to carry them in?

Oh, many men’s clothes do. But just look at the current styles for women. Skinny jeans so tight that, if you have a quarter in your pocket, people can see whether the outer side is heads or tails. Tights. Tall, form-fitted boots. Short, form-fitted jackets. Clingy layered tops. Dresses so short that pockets would hang lower than the hemline.

It might be useful if some of those creative techie nerds would turn their attention to designing better ways to carry around our essential electronics. Phone sheaths in those tall boots, maybe. Shoulder holsters. Necklaces—known, no doubt, as “neck-tech.” Wrist straps. Fashionable phone belts. Phone-holding scarves. Small, obedient, tech-toting dogs.

Except, if we’re honest about it, we know why this is a place that fashion designers refuse to go. Even the most stylish woman outfitted with such accessories would look like a refugee from a bad spy movie or a geek wearing a tool belt. No wonder so many women still lug purses the size of carpet bags.

And come to think of it, those “Star Trek” uniforms didn’t have pockets, either.

Categories: Fashion | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

You know it’s cold when . . .

You keep the butter on the kitchen counter instead of in the fridge, and it’s still too hard to spread.

You wear long johns and thick boots to a classical music concert.

You notice that everyone else in your row at the concert is also wearing heavy boots. (You can’t be sure about the long johns, but you know which way you’d bet.)

A friend who has two indoor cats and three sort-of-tame outdoor cats now has, “temporarily,” five indoor cats.

You keep your exercise clothes in your car, and it takes the first half of your workout just to warm up your tee shirt.

The cast-iron bathtub is so cold in the morning that your feet are still freezing when you get out of the shower.

A stray wasp in the kitchen sink is so cold it is barely moving, and instead of swatting it while it’s vulnerable, you pick it up with a spoon and put it by the furnace vent.

You decide the attached garage is the greatest architectural achievement since the flying buttress.

You use the warm-air dryer in a public restroom to dry your hands, and it feels so good you get as much of your body under the dryer as possible and stay there until someone comes in and gives you a funny look.

You tell yourself that anyone who goes south for the winter is a wimp, and you pretend your feeling of superiority makes you feel warmer.

You look at the calendar and realize winter won’t officially start for another month. It takes five dark chocolate Hershey Kisses and a cup of scalding coffee to help you recover from the shock.

Categories: Just For Fun | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Intelligent Design–Or Not

I don’t know much about design, but I know what I like. Or more precisely, I know bad design when I try to use it.

Like the dangling coffee cup. During a recent trip, we had breakfast in a coffee shop—one that, from its prices and decor, clearly thought of itself as “upscale.” The food was okay, the coffee was okay, and the tea would have been okay had the water been hotter.

And the cups, because of their design, were practically unusable. The basic cup was a perfectly nice classic shape, wider at the top and curving down to a smaller base. It was the handle that was the problem. It was small and perfectly round, stuck onto the cup near the top. Think a donut clinging to the side of a pitcher. Or imagine Mickey Mouse with only one ear, and that a small one with a piercing that had gone horribly wrong.

If you care, you can see a photo of the cup at the website linked below, but here’s a rough sketch:

illy cup sketch

If you put your finger through the hole to pick up the cup, you couldn’t curl your other fingers beneath the handle for support without burning your knuckles against the side of the hot cup. If you tried to pick up the cup by the handle without that support, the weight of the cup would tip forward, spilling half the contents into your plate or your lap.

The only way to actually drink out of the cup was to treat it like a Chinese tea cup without a handle. This meant picking it up with both hands, carefully, at the top, so as not to burn your fingers.

The coffee shop advertised proudly that it served illy (not my typo; the “I” is not capitalized) brand coffee, and the cups obviously came from the coffee company, because “illy” marched proudly in red across the front of each one. When I took a look at the illy website, all became clear. The coffee cups aren’t merely vessels for drinking out of; they are art.

Here is the explanation, taken straight from the website: the illy company has “rethought” and “elevated” the coffee cup to “meld the sensory pleasures of coffee and art.” The company sells a variety of cups, with designs by a variety of artists, as an art collection. Buying one of these cups gives you an opportunity for “an experience that fully engages the senses and the mind.” The cup’s shape, created by an architect and designer, “was a full meeting of form and function: a vessel made to optimize diffusion of aromas and retention of heat, while establishing an entirely original tactile and aesthetic experience.”

Well, form and function may have met, but they obviously didn’t get along well. Apparently the designer was so focused on the aesthetic experience that he never got around to testing the cup to see whether an ordinary, non-artistic person in need of caffeine could actually drink out of one.

I have to admit, though, that there’s one way the cup design is a great success. Suppose you pick it up by the handle, and it tips forward and spills hot coffee into your lap, causing you to jump up, drop the cup, and utter several heartfelt expletives. Congratulations! You have just enjoyed “an experience that fully engages the senses and the mind.”

Categories: Fashion, Food and Drink, Living Consciously | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Being Pleased By Small Things

“Little things please small minds.” That line, spoken in the weary tone of someone forced to deal with annoying and inferior beings, was one of the ways my high school algebra teacher reacted to adolescent acting-up. Since this man soon left teaching in favor of selling insurance, maybe he eventually figured out that sneering at “small minds” wasn’t an effective disciplinary tool.

Besides, he was wrong. As someone who is often pleased by small things, I prefer to see this quality as a sign of a large mind—the mind of someone who is present in the moment, noticing and appreciating the details that can sprinkle enjoyment across an ordinary day. Or maybe it’s just a sign of a quirky mind. That works, too.

At any rate, here are a few of the small things that have pleased me lately:

1. Folding down the back seats in my new Honda CR-V for the first time. The process is such a little piece of tidy engineering. One pull on a strap pops the seat cushion up against the back of the front seat. One pull on another strap simultaneously tips the headrest forward and releases the seat back, and when this is pushed flat the headrest tucks itself neatly into a space just its size against the seat cushion. Quick and easy, and Bob’s your uncle.

2. Spending several—well, maybe a few more than several—enjoyable minutes browsing the Internet trying to find the origins of the phrase “Bob’s your uncle.” It’s British, but no one seems to know where it came from or what it means. Those of you who also wonder about things like this can check out a couple of the possibilities here.

3. Being careful, as usual, not to make eye contact with one of our resident cottontails when I passed it in the front yard on my way out to get the newspaper. They seem to think they are invisible if we don’t look directly at them, so out of courtesy we try not to disillusion them.

4. Watching my just-turning-two granddaughter discover that the front wheels on a push bike were too wide to fit between the coffee table and the couch, and then watching her get it into the space anyway—by turning it around and backing in with the aplomb of an experienced trucker parking at a truck stop.

5. Being amused by an eccentric carrot from the farmers market, which was short and fat at the top, narrowed into a pencil-sized curl for a couple of inches where it must have grown around an obstacle, and then expanded again at the tip. It resembled an acrobat in a very tight corset.

6. Over breakfast at a restaurant in western British Columbia, browsing through a brochure about the mining communities at Crowsnest Pass and realizing that “Colliery Tipple” would be a wonderful name for a very dark ale. (A tipple, by the way, as I learned from my geologist companion, is a structure at a mine where the extracted ore is loaded to be hauled away.)

7. Noticing a beautiful iridescent beetle, gleaming in the sun like a purple opal no bigger than my little fingernail, while we were out walking one morning.

8. And finally, I was especially pleased by one last small thing. While we were squatting in the middle of the street appreciating the beetle, the pickup that came past slowed way down and went around us instead of squashing us like, well, a bug.

Categories: Living Consciously, Odds and Ends, Travel, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Romancing the Stone

It’s a beautiful piece of sculpture: two figures, slightly larger than life-sized. A lovely young woman, kneeling as if to pick up the jar she has apparently just dropped, gazes up over her shoulder at a man standing beside her.

He is a step away from the woman, gazing back at her with his hand extended, perhaps beckoning or reassuring. He doesn’t appear to be doing anything practical like giving her a hand up or offering to help pick up the jar. It looks more like he’s encouraging her to look at him.

True, he’s well worth looking at. His thick, curly hair is a bit much, but he’s handsome, with an interesting face and the kind of toned, muscular body that comes from regular visits to the gym. This is obvious to the most casual observer, because the only thing he’s wearing is a strategically-placed piece of drapery.

The electricity between them fairly crackles. The piece is like the cover of a romance novel captured in stone.


Of course, maybe romance, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. The kind of love the artist intended to portray is open to question. Because this sculpture, by Bruce Wolfe, (there’s a better picture here) is in the mission church in Santa Barbara, California, and represents Jesus and Mary Magdalene. It depicts the moment he speaks to her, after she has come to his tomb and found it empty.

Maybe the intensity between the man and woman is religious. But my guess is that any fan of The Da Vinci Code who believes Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married would find supporting evidence in this beautiful artwork. Or maybe Mr. Wolfe was just following a venerable tradition, going at least as far back as the Renaissance, of using religious themes as a vehicle for portraying the human body with a minimum of covering. Just think of Michelangelo’s “David,” or all those images of Adam and Eve with and without their fig leaves.

On a side note, the first time I saw actual fig leaves on a tree in Turkey, I was surprised. They’re large, all right, but their shape doesn’t lend itself well to modest covering. They look almost like hands with the fingers spread apart. fig leafThere’s a lot of open space in a fig leaf. It would take several of them, layered carefully, just to create a fig-leaf Speedo.

But fig leaves and draperies aside (don’t we wish), I saw this sculpture recently in the company of another woman who, like me, is respectable and responsible and old enough to know how to behave in public. And we came close to getting the giggles like a couple of 13-year-old girls at a Mr. Universe contest. We had to move on to another section of the church before we embarrassed ourselves with our whispered but decidedly non-religious comments.

But not before she summed up our reaction. “Wow. That’s a hunky Jesus. I’d follow him.”

Hmmm. As a strategy for religious conversion, that just might have its merits.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kayak Spelled Backwards is Still Kayak

I love water. I drink it by the gallon. I find it soothing in the shower. I enjoy hearing it drum on the roof during summer rains. I even—don’t tell anyone—appreciate using it, warm and soapy, to wash dishes.

Just don’t ask me to dunk my head under the stuff. I like to keep my essential elements in their proper places: water is for drinking, air is for breathing, and I prefer my nose to have free access to the latter. (I developed this firm belief long ago, during swimming lessons on chilly June mornings at the Gregory municipal swimming pool, under the inexperienced tutelage of a teenage boy who kept his blue-lipped little charges in line by threatening to duck them.)

I also tend to believe that little plastic boats are meant for toddlers to play with in the bathtub. If, theoretically speaking, I ever wanted to learn to paddle a kayak, I would be inclined to do so at Rapid City’s own little Canyon Lake, on a summer evening so calm that the resident mallards could use its still water as a mirror. Not in anything larger or more active. Rapid Creek, say, or the Missouri River, or Lake Michigan.

And certainly not an ocean. Oceans have waves. And seaweed. And sharks. Besides, that immeasurable quantity of water is more than I care to get personally involved with.

How on earth—er, on water, then, did I ever wind up out on the Pacific Ocean in a flimsy plastic kayak?

The friend we were visiting in beautiful and charming Santa Barbara, California, had planned the kayaking expedition, and I couldn’t think of a graceful way to say no. I merely hoped secretly for some small act of God—not an earthquake or anything, but maybe a thunderstorm (drought-stricken California could use the rain, after all)—to prevent it. I was like the bride who knows perfectly well she’s making a serious mistake, but she doesn’t know how to back out once all the family members have been invited and the bridesmaids’ dresses have been bought.

God chose not to act. So I ended up on a beach on Santa Cruz Island with a dozen other people who all seemed absurdly enthusiastic about the idea of paddling along the rocky coast in shallow plastic boats.

Learning I would be in a two-person kayak with my partner, equally inexperienced at paddling but at least able to swim, helped. The wetsuit helped. The snug-fitting and reassuring life jacket helped. The guides’ patient, thorough instructions helped. I especially appreciated the part about “you don’t have to go into any cave or channel you’re not comfortable with.”

None of that did anything to alter the fact that, if we tipped over and went under water, I would probably lose my contact lenses and spend the rest of the outing unable to see the front end of my own kayak.

But we didn’t tip over. We managed the paddling with an astonishing degree of coordination. We saw harbor seals and sea lions and dozens of coastal birds. We negotiated the inside of a cave. We learned one can hold a kayak in place by grabbing a stalk of kelp and using it as an anchor. We got safely back to the beach after an hour and a half, with no harm other than tired arms that felt more limp than the kelp.

Am I glad I did it? Yeah, probably. After the fact, it’s always gratifying to know you did something you were afraid to do.

Was it fun? Um, well. . .

Okay, I did grudgingly began to consider the possibility of the potential that, with some practice and some kind of solution to the contact-lens issue, kayaking might eventually begin to be sort of fun.

At least on Canyon Lake.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Finding the Key

I may not be the tidiest and most organized person in the world. (Okay, based on the state of my desk, a photo of which I have NOT included here, an unbiased observer might conclude that I’m not even in the top ten percent of tidiest and most organized people in the world.) Still, I keep track of things reasonably well.

Things like car keys. I have had a driver’s license since 1967. I have owned cars and carried my own sets of car keys since 1970. I’ve kept careful track of every one of those keys. Even when it didn’t matter much, as in the case of the little white Datsun station wagon that could be started just as easily with the house key as the car key. (My then-teenaged son was the one to figure this out; I prefer not to know exactly how or why he made the discovery.)

In my entire driving history, I have never lost a car key. Until now.

I bought a new car last week, my third Honda CR-V. That’s “new” as in “2014, fresh off the lot, only 38 miles on the odometer” new. It’s the first time I’ve ever bought a car that somebody else didn’t own first. It feels luxurious to drive. It allows me to talk on my smart phone with its audio system. It has enough bells and whistles to be exciting, but is still familiar enough to be comfortable.

And, instead of browsing through the manual, learning how to use all the great technology this car offers, what have I spent my free time on since I’ve had this car?

Trying to find the second key for my previous car. In my defense, it’s my partner’s key rather than mine. But since he’s been gone all summer, I’m afraid the person responsible for that key vanishing from the top of his dresser has to be me.

The one place I know it can’t be is in the car. In getting it ready to sell, I cleaned the glove compartment, under the seats, under the floor mats, all the little compartments in the console, the cup holders and side pockets in all four doors, and the “hidden” drawer under the passenger’s seat. I found several fast-food napkins, two stray water bottles, three old tubes of lip balm, a peppermint, and seven pennies. No key.

I emptied out my purse and turned it inside out. I found cough drops and cough drop wrappers, unused but battered tissues, 57 cents in odd change, four faded store receipts, a few expired coupons, and two old grocery lists. No key.

I checked under and between the seat cushions in the couch, two recliners, and the rocking chair. I found a handful of lint, a nickel, an unexpected dollar bill, and an embarrassing amount of popcorn. No key.

I examined every reusable bag I routinely carry in my car, plus every reusable bag that’s ever been in my car. I checked the gym clothes bag, the library book bag, the craft/project bag, the big shopping bag, the small shopping bag, and the three string bags. No key.

I looked in every jacket, coat, and pair of pants in every closet in the house. By the time I got done, I had had my hands in more pockets than a Tammany Hall politician. No key.

But there’s still hope. I’m not ready to resort to this yet, but I know there’s one last strategy that’s sure to work. All I have to do is cough up $150 to make a new key. Within hours, like magic, the old one will turn up.

Categories: Just For Fun | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Arriving By Appointment

No waking people up in the middle of the night. No mad rush to get to the hospital on time. No inconvenient showing up when one member of the grandma support system was out of town. No fuss, no chaos, no drama.

Eden Lynn, a most considerate little person, arrived by appointment. She was scheduled to come into the world by C-section at 7:30 on Tuesday morning, and that’s exactly what she did. Quiet arrival or not, however, “no drama” isn’t the same as “no excitement.” Eden brought plenty of that with her, as well as lots of joy.

Truly, after the first dozen or so, it’s hard to find something new to say about a brand-new grandchild you’ve only just met. She’s beautiful. She’s precious. She’s sweet. It all begins to sound clichéd.

But that’s because it’s all so true. And because when it comes to meeting a tiny new person, words are simply not enough to describe the sense of awe and wonder. Getting to hold an hours-old grandchild, looking into blue eyes that are deep with mystery and innocent wisdom, is a privilege and a blessing. It’s a chance to participate in a miracle.

So far Eden seems to take the miracle of her arrival quite matter-of-factly. She appears to be a calm and relaxed little girl, looking around her with interest but no alarm even when she was only a few hours old.

As the youngest in a busy and active family, she’ll probably need all the calmness she can muster. Her big brother, just turned three himself, seems proud to have “two sisters!” He was uneasy, though, about the disruption in his world, with grandmas temporarily in charge while Mom and Dad were at the hospital. Things are better now, with everyone back at home. Or so he thinks. Poor kid, he has no idea that the disruption has only started.

Eden’s big sister, not quite two, pats the new baby in a vaguely approving manner when she gets the chance. I’m not sure she grasps the full implications of being bumped up from “baby sister” to “middle sister,” but it won’t take her long to figure it out.

And did I mention the two vociferous beagles? They probably won’t find the new baby all that interesting at first, but she’ll get their full attention once she gets old enough to spill food on the floor.

The household Eden has come into will be filled with noise, activity, and enough chaos to keep things interesting. It will also be filled with love, laughter, sharing, and support from an extended family thrilled to welcome this newest member.

Maybe that isn’t quite paradise. But it’s certainly close enough.

Categories: Family | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Hungry Caterpillar and the Yuck Factor

The tips of our tomato plants were missing. Well, okay, some tips of some branches of two plants.

At first we blamed the usual suspects, deer. A little munching from them is only to be expected. It’s a normal hazard for any tomato plant foolish enough to poke its limbs through the fence and wave them temptingly to the outside world.

But last week, we started seeing signs of munching that was clearly an inside job. No deer could reach that far inside the fence. Besides, it was a different MO. Deer browse their way along, taking a nibble here and a bite there. This critter ate everything in its path. The tender tips of several branches were completely gone. Leaves had disappeared, leaving nothing but rows of stumpy stems on bare branches. Worst of all, the inside halves of several green tomatoes had been sheared off.

This was serious, but once we started looking closely, it didn’t take long to find the culprits. Tomato worms. Big, fat, juicy green ones. Several inches long and as big around as my thumb. Yuck. I know, they’re really caterpillars, not worms. Still, yuck.

You wouldn’t think something that big would be hard to spot, but their green color is a perfect match for their surroundings. It’s amazing how much a fat green caterpillar can resemble a delicate tomato leaf. Finding them was an exercise in the value of camouflage.

Removal was something else again. The standard advice is to “pick them off,” but I didn’t want to touch anything with such a high yuck factor. My solution was to take my kitchen scissors and snip off the branch that held the intruder. Then, with the caterpillar still methodically munching, I carried the whole thing across the yard and flung it into the brush pile. (And yes, I washed the scissors.)

I know, in the interests of protecting the tomato crop, I should have squashed them. Or snipped them in half with the scissors. But I just couldn’t; they were way too juicy.

I have wondered, now and then, if an aversion to snakes and other creepy-crawly critters could be something we’re born with. An instinct, even, meant to protect us from things that might be poisonous. It would be such a good excuse for my extreme unwillingness to touch something like a tomato worm.

But I’m not sure that’s a valid theory. As evidence, there’s a family story about one of my cousins. When she was nine months old or so, not walking yet but able to do a lot of exploring on all fours, she was outside in the yard. Her mother saw her come crawling down the sidewalk, grinning. Well, probably grinning. It was hard to tell, because she was grinning around something clutched in her mouth—a fat, green, juicy tomato worm.

No yuck factor there, apparently. At least not that she was born with. So it must be something we learn. I bet, by the time her mother got the caterpillar out of her mouth, she had learned it very well.

Categories: Wild Things | Tags: | 3 Comments

Playing With a Full Deck

When we were kids, our family was so frugal . . .

Cue chorus: “How frugal were you?”

We were so frugal, we only had two decks of cards.

At least, that’s how I remember it. They were the classic Bicycle cards, in the original cardboard boxes, which were kept in the top drawer of the china cabinet. They served us kids for countless games of Hearts and Old Maid, both of which left me with a lasting suspicion of the Queen of Spades. The grownups sometimes played Hearts, too, or poker for small change. (Side note to the unwary: keep your wits about you if you ever play poker with my mother.)

We played plenty of games of solitaire as well, which in my experience is a great way for a kid to learn the value of integrity. It may be easy to cheat when you’re the only one playing, but cheating takes all the fun out of winning. The biggest challenge with solitaire was to play a complete game without a sister looking over your shoulder to point out that you could have played that red seven on that black eight.

But no matter who was playing with them, when the games were over, the cards were put back into the boxes and back into the china cabinet. Those decks survived intact, jokers and all, for years. For all I know, the cards in the drawer today are the very same ones.

Another game that’s still in that drawer is the much-used Scrabble set. The box has been held together by a big rubber band for years now, but all the tiles are still there. Possibly because, a long time ago, my mother made a handy little drawstring bag to keep them in.

I’m not sure what my point is here; I certainly don’t want this to be a rant about how kids these days don’t know the value of things, blah, blah, blah. But I am a bit embarrassed to consider how many decks of cards I bought for my kids over the years. True, it was a different time. Cards were cheap, an impulse buy before a road trip or a little gift to drop into a Christmas stocking. But they never lasted long. First the jokers vanished, and then a stray ace or a six got lost, and pretty soon the rest went into the trash because you can’t play games when you’re a few cards short of a full deck.

It is true that the more stuff we have, the harder it is to keep track of it. Which sounds like a very good excuse for being the cheap grandma who doesn’t buy the grandkids a lot of toys.

But at least my Scrabble set, which came with its own bag, still has all the tiles.

Categories: Family, Living Consciously, Remembering When | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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