To Dye For

Dyeing 1My daughter invited me to attend a fabric dyeing workshop at a clothing manufacturing facility in Los Angeles’s fashion industry. We were greeted by Jodie Dolan, president and founder of the Dolan Group, a company with several brands including Dolan, 34°N118°W and Guest Editor, clothing that sells at Anthropologie, Barney’s, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Shopbob and boutique retailers. The program was part of a monthly series of craft events Dolan launched to raise funds and awareness for a project the designer has undertaken to help make life a little easier for some in Los Angeles’s burgeoning homeless population.

While 58,000 is the official count of homeless persons in Los Angeles County,  it is believed the unofficial count is more like 120,000 owing to the many people sleeping in their cars who do not get counted in the annual homeless census. And with LA’s Skid Row and the Fashion District operating in fairly close proximity, it was just a matter of time before the two communities would interact. Dolan herself began volunteering at the Monday Night Mission where she learned about the nonprofit’s Shower of Hope, a mobile truck and shower trailer that makes stops in two Southern California locations and offers 30 to 40 showers on Saturday mornings.

The next logical idea for people involved with clothing was to provide a way for homeless people to clean their clothes. Thus was born The Laundry Truck LA, a 301(c)(3) nonprofit founded by Dolan to provide washer/dryer sets that will operate four hours a day three to five days a week, totaling up to 5,000 loads per year.

The dyeing workshop was part of a fund-raising effort to raise $150,000 for a laundry truck and a year’s operating expenses. Dolan Handmade, the monthly craft workshops, is part of that effort. The Dolan Group will also donate a portion of  sales from its direct-to-consumer website,, as well as a portion of sales from Dolan clothing sold at retailers.

Dyeing 2 At the workshop I attended, electric crock pots filled with natural dyes in several different shades stood ready, along with blank silk scarves and tote bags and an assortment of items for creating patterns on the fabric. Mimi Haddon, named the Dolan Group’s artist-in-residence, was also on hand to provide direction to those of us learning the techniques for the first time. An MFA candidate in fiber art at California State University, Long Beach, Haddon teaches textile art and natural dyeing classes at the Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles.

When our fabric reached the desired depth of color, we each removed our pieces to sinks to rinse in cold water and then hung them outside to dry where their bright colors and fanciful designs waved in the air, providing a cheerful addition to a stark industrial parking lot. Great fun. I might just do it again.

Dyeing 3



About All Those Guns, Here’s An Idea

Last Saturday, I’d planned to spend the day cleaning the apartment while listening to TV coverage of the March to Save Lives. I hadn’t so much as picked up a dust rag before the action on the screen caught my attention and held me transfixed for the rest of the day. Also in several instances, brought me to tears. It was such an impressive display by young people — teenagers and younger — brought together from all over the country, from inner cities and affluent suburbs, and places in between, representing different races and ethnicities, all united in the common conviction that gun violence must stop. They give hope for the future.

In the days after the March, praise was effusive for the young organizers and guarded optimism expressed that at long last some changes could possibly come about. I thought about all that lethal hardware, more than enough to arm every man, woman and child in the nation, with plenty left over to inflict on other countries. What could be done with it all?

And then I remembered the Flame of Peace Monument I saw in Timbuctu. It had been erected to mark the end of the Tuareg uprising in the 1990s. The Tuareg are descendants of nomadic  Berber camel drivers and traders who once roamed the Sahara and the Sahel, that great swath of Africa between the Sahara Desert and the green and forested areas to the south. They are dark-skinned with Caucasian features and frequently dress in long robes, called boubous, and with distinctive turbans that wind around the head and include a veil, called a tagelmoust that extends to cover the rest of the face. (I assumed the head-and-face-covering was designed as protection against the swirling desert sand, but research informed me that there was much more to it. Presumably, it also accommodates the social requirement of not showing one’s face to a person of higher rank.)

In the 1970s and ’80s, extended droughts caused huge losses of livestock among the Tuaregs who felt the national government was not doing enough to help their area of Mali. Civil war was averted when the Tuaregs were given more prominence in government and civil service positions. A ceremonial burning took place of 3,000 weapons, many of which are incorporated into the peace monument.

So what about that? Let the peaceful gun owners keep their firearms (properly purchased and licensed by those of an agreed-upon age) for hunting, target shooting, trap and skeet competitions, and for  those who feel the need, protection for themselves and their families. Consign the weapons of war to the military. And all others? Follow the Tauregs’ example: Destroy them or turn them into art.


Note: You can read about my entire trip to Timbuctu in African Tales on this website.

All the Print I’m Fit to Read

Walter Williams did a number on me. So, also, Rachel Maddow. And now just recently, Farhad  Manjoo in The New York Times. All of them, and many others, have conspired to make it exceedingly difficult for me to give up reading print editions of newspapers. This is so even though everyone — friends, family members, financial consultants — keep advising me to get my news online. Saves money, saves trees, saves time. Why am I being so old-fashioned?

I don’t know that “conspired” is the right word since none of these people has any idea that they are feeding into my dilemma. Furthermore, Walter Williams has been dead since 1935. But he’s as good a place to start as any. A journalist from Booneville, Missouri, Williams originated the concept that journalism education should be “professionalized and provided at a university,” as the University of Missouri Journalism School explains on its website.  “Toward that end,” it continues, “with the blessing of (the university) and the state legislature, and with financial help from the Missouri Press Association,” Williams started the world’s first school of journalism in September 1908. (I was there for its 50th anniversary when a World Press Congress brought journalists from around the world for discussions and seminars. I missed the 100th anniversary held a few years ago. )

Williams was the school’s first dean and later became the university’s president. Even though he was long gone by the time I was there, his inspiration lingered. A copy of his Journalist’s Creed that begins, “I believe in the profession of journalism. I believe that the public journal is a public trust, that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public…” is displayed in bronze in the National Press Club in Washington DC. Also on yellowed paper in every place my husband Ed and I lived in.

Ed and I met at the university where he was a graduate student and I was completing my Bachelor of Journalism degree. We married and set off on a lifetime of journalism-related jobs on one coast and the other back and forth several times. Always, wherever we lived, we had at least one newspaper delivered daily, and when we were working outside the home, we made it a point to rise an hour earlier to give us time for coffee and the newspaper before starting our days. (Ed died a year and a half ago so I suppose any amateur psychologist could deduce another reason for my reluctance to discontinue the practice.)

Rachel MaddowBut now for the other enablers. Rachel Maddow, whose MSNBC programs are must watching every day for me, said something during this whole intolerable mess our country is involved in now that struck me. She, whose journalistic background has been limited to broadcast, pointed out that nearly all the substantive information that has been unearthed about Russian interference in our democracy has come from print journalists, specifically, from those working for large publications with sufficient staffs and time for digging. Broadcast outlets with the tyranny of time to fill can report the result of that digging — and are doing so. But as Maddow pointed out, it takes both endeavors to get at the truth. And it’s no secret that newspapers of all sizes are struggling. She then looked directly into the camera and encouraged her audience to  help save print journalism by subscribing to their local newspapers. How can I not?

And as for Farhad  Manjoo, he wrote about his experiment in self-imposed avoidance of digital news over the past two months. “I turned off my digital news notifications, unplugged from Twitter and other social networks, and subscribed to three print newspapers…plus a weekly newsmagazine,.” he wrote. His experiment still includes podcasts, email newsletters, and books and magazines. He wanted to continue to be informed, he wrote, “but was looking for formats that prized depth and accuracy over speed.”

He continued, “It has been life-changing. Turning off the buzzing breaking-news machine I carry in my pocket was like unshackling myself from a monster who had me on speed dial, always ready to break into my day with half-baked bulletins.” Now he is embarrassed about how much free time he suddenly has.

As someone close to age 40, Manjoo reveals he always liked getting his news on screen, “available at the push of a button.” Even with his experiment, he said, he “found much to hate about print. The pages are too big, the type too small, the ink too messy, and compared with a smartphone, a newspaper is more of a hassle to consult on the go.” I guess he never got, as I did from my father, a lesson in proper folding of a paper to enable reading on a bus or subway without encroaching on your fellow passengers’ spaces. (Fold vertically and then horizontally, tucking the read pages behind one another as you go.)

Today, twice Manjoo’s age, with my newspaper-reading taking place at home sitting in a comfortable chair, I admit it’s very pleasant being able to spread the pages out between my arms and turn them. When I’m finished, however, I do replace all the sections back into their original configuration before packing the paper up for recycling. Ed did that too, and we insisted the kids approximate it. Used to drive them nuts. “Oh, you old journalists,” they’d grumble.

On social networks, Manjoo says, “every news story comes to you pre-digested. People don’t just post stories — they post their takes on stories, often quoting key parts of a story to underscore how it proves them right, so readers are never required to delve into the story to come up with their own view.” (Which is probably what I’m doing here, so I’ll stop and urge you to look at Manjoo’s story in its entirety.)

But one last plug for print. If you Google “retention of information in print versus online” you’ll see the results of several studies that give the nod to print.  People absorb and retain much better what they read in print, these studies reveal. And as someone who needs to hang onto whatever shreds of information I can, I find that comforting.

As for the paper vs. screen dilemma, my journalist daughter maintains, “Whether on paper or online, good journalism is still good journalism.”




Un-Friending Facebook

It’s going to be hard to avoid being smug.facebook cracked

The current revelations about Facebook and how 50 million users’ information was accessed by the election data company Cambridge Analytical is frightening.  Brian Williams referred to it on MSNBC as “data harvesting.” It has led to scrutiny by regulators, apologies from the media giant and a promise to improve oversight. It has also led many users to cancel their Facebook accounts. The scandal, NPR noted, “is grounded in everyday America — after all, it was the millions of women, men, parents, grandparents, friends and old acquaintances on the site who had their data accessed.”

Not me. Never did Facebook, not even at the urging of friends, family members and others. One relative who will remain nameless said, “If you were on Facebook I could send you pictures of my grandchildren.” I told him I know how to open picture attachments on email. “But,” he countered, “if you were on Facebook I could send you MANY pictures.” My thought exactly.

I’ve written before on this site about the apparent inability of proud parents, grandparents, pet owners and the like to edit the pictures they post on Facebook or in their holiday correspondence. I know, digital photography makes it so easy to get multiple images, and it’s hard to choose the best one (or two or three or …). But I wish they were able to at least try to emulate professional photographers who must sift through myriad images and select just one perfect one.

When asked why I refused to consider Facebook, I’d say, “I don’t want to feel obligated.” It would be one more obligation in a life already over-full of obligations. Having a website that very few people look at is somehow comforting. If a person manages to stumble upon my site and leaves a comment, I respond if I want to. Usually I want to and do, even if it’s just to say thank you. But if I don’t want to, I don’t have to.  Like when someone wrote accusing me of being an “elitist” because I had wondered how the person many people thought was best qualified to be president lost to the person many people thought was least qualified. I have to admit it was tempting to try a reply defending so-called elitism. (What exactly is wrong with aiming high?) But I didn’t.

My website was launched when I thought I had finally secured an appointment with a literary agent to help with a book I’d hoped to get published. The site was a way to describe my background and to show my writing ability.  (Ultimately, the agent never looked at the website, and our meeting consisted of a lecture on aspects of book publishing I’d already acquired through my own research. That meeting was the extent of our contact.) To keep the blog from getting stale, I tried to post at least two items each month. But even that became impossible in the face of various family and personal emergencies, and my blogging went into hiatus.

I’m back now but in no way feeling smug about having chosen to bypass Facebook. There are just too many other dangers out there in the digital landscape. A loss of privacy — and worse worries — is the downside to the digital revolution, isn’t it?

OMG. The Big 8-Oh!

Holy Crap. Mom’s 80!St. Patty (2)

That was my daughter’s planned heading for the invitation to my St. Patrick’s Day birthday celebration. She also had planned that I would make lasagna to serve the guests so she could say, “This is how Italians celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.” (I am only half Italian but that’s okay; I do make pretty good lasagna.) In the end, we decided to skip the whole idea because many of the probable invitees would also that weekend, with us, be honoring the memory of someone else’s mother who recently died in her eighties . The event for me seemed suddenly more inappropriate even than that heading.

These days my thoughts are, probably not surprisingly, centered on the swiftness of time’s passage, along of course with many memories and sadness for those who have already gone.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was counting the days to the birthday on which I would be eligible for my driving test? I went that very day, aced the test in someone else’s car, and went home to hit up my father for his car keys. I still remember the exhilaration of that first solo drive. And now I’ve just experienced my first use of the ride-sharing app my daughter installed on my phone. Time moves along. Now, all of us of a certain age live in terror of the day they’ll think it’s best to take away our cars altogether. How did we get here?

I’m not complaining. I realize how fortunate we are — we of what was called America’s Silent Generation — to have lasted so long. In my case, it’s longer than either of my parents. And that thought ushers in more melancholy ones. Like what did I do with all that extra time I was given? Write great literature? Solve world peace?

Okay, enough. This can only get more morose. Somebody better give me a mug of green beer – quick!

Mug of green beer

Honoring Dr. King


The current New Yorker magazine has a fascinating piece by Jelani Cobb describing the long torturous journey the Martin Luther King Day holiday took to get to today’s observance. Even as someone who lived through those times, it comes as a surprise now to realize just how long a journey it was.

In the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968, thousands of shocked mourners from across the country congregated in that city to march downtown on the path that King had traveled. “The march served as a momentary validation of King’s work,” Cobb writes, but one of the marchers, U.S. Representative John Conyers of Michigan, “hoped to craft a more enduring one.” That same week, he introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to make King’s birthday, January 15, a national holiday. The legislation languished in committee, Cobb writes.

Two months later, Coretta Scott King founded the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. “It was intended to serve as a wellspring for works of the type to which her husband had dedicated his life,” Cobb writes, “but it was quickly deployed in a secondary mission: to lobby for the holiday.” Mrs. King later described it as “a day of interracial and intercultural cooperation and sharing.”

Cobb continues: “In 1971, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King had led, delivered to Congress a petition with three million signatures in support of the effort. In 1973, Harold Washington, an Illinois state representative who was later elected the first black mayor of Chicago, sponsored a bill that made his state the first to recognize the holiday. A handful of other states followed, but there was little momentum. Coretta Scott King kept up the pressure on elected officials, writing, speaking and testifying twice before congressional committees.”

In 1979, a House bill failed by five votes, despite President Jimmy Carter’s endorsement and the composition of a special song by Stevie Wonder. Finally, in 1983, Cobb writes, “a bill written by Jack Kemp, a Republican and Katie Hall, a Democrat, passed in the House. Jesse Helms, who had denounced the 1964 Civil Rights Act as ‘the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress,’ tried, unsuccessfully, to have the bill, which was sponsored by Edward Kennedy, sent back to committee. Undaunted, Helms moved to have King’s FBI files declassified so that the Senate might explore the specious claim that he was a Communist stooge. In a fit of anger, Daniel Patrick Moynihan threw a copy of Helms’s documents to the floor of the Senate, denouncing them as ‘filth.’ The bill passed by a vote of 78 to 22, and President Ronald Reagan, despite initial reluctance, signed it into law in November of 1983, declaring that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day would be celebrated every year on the third Monday of January.”

It had taken 15 years, and even then, it was not fully recognized in all the states until 1999 (New Hampshire was the last). And furthermore, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi insist on also celebrating on that day the birthday of Robert E. Lee.

I have visited the King Center in Atlanta twice. The second time was during the 1996 Olympics with our daughters. As they lingered over exhibits, I chatted with the lovely young African-American tour guide who expressed surprise when she learned it was my husband’s and my second visit. “We wanted our children to experience it,” I said. Her eyes filled with tears. “He’s our hero too, you know.” And we hugged.




How did the person many called the best qualified ever to run for president get defeated by the person many called the least qualified ever to run for president?

How did the candidate whose campaign was waged with class and integrity lose to one whose campaign was laced with insults and lies?

How did the FBI director get away unscathed with injecting – in violation of FBI rules – an ambiguous statement about an ongoing investigation just 11 days before Election Day only to amend it 48 hours before balloting with the equivalent of “never mind.”

And finally, how did the candidate with the most popular votes lose to the one with the fewest?

hillary-clintonI don’t know the answers to the first three questions, but I do know the answer to the last one: the Electoral College. According to the Los Angeles Times, in November 2012 Donald Trump himself tweeted, “The Electoral College is a disaster for democracy.” For once I agree with him. So did Hillary Clinton. In November 2000, according to The New York Times, the then newly elected senator from New York said, “I believe strongly that in a democracy we should respect the will of the people, and to me that means to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”

The New York paper also noted the irony that “after months of railing against what he called a ‘rigged’ election, (Mr. Trump) has become the unlikely beneficiary of an electoral system that enables a candidate to win the race without winning over the most voters.”

We are the only country in the world with such a cockamamie system, yet another legacy of our history of slavery that continues to bedevil us. The LA Times explains that the system “is part of an agreement between states, including Southern states that had more slaves than free men who were eligible to vote.” Fearing that the more heavily populated Northern states would dominate those in the South, the framers of the Constitution came up with “a compromise that divided power based on counting the ‘whole number of free persons’ in the state as well as ‘three-fifth of all other persons.’”

The paper goes on to state, “Thanks to this infamous deal, the Southern states were bolstered and given more seats in the House of Representatives as well as more ‘electors’ who selected the president…The Civil War ended slavery and the three-fifths deal, but the electoral system survived as the method for choosing the president, in part because the Constitution is very hard to change…”

There may be another way, however. A petition making the internet rounds describes The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), an agreement among several states and the District of Columbia to award all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the overall popular vote in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. It doesn’t kick in until states and territories whose electoral votes reach a combined total of 270 signed on. So far, 10 states and the District of Columbia with a combined electoral vote total of 165 have joined this effort.

In the meantime, what do we do? Take comfort in the graciousness of Mrs. Clinton’s concession speech? In the equally gracious way President Obama welcomed to the White House the man who demeaned and tried de-legitimizing for more than eight years? Take pride in showing the world the way a democracy does it?

Or, perhaps, take heart in David Brooks’ laugh-inducing conclusion to today’s column: “After all, the guy will probably resign or be impeached within a year. The future is closer than you think.”