Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

I've never been much into celebrating New Year's Eve -- it's just not a holiday that speaks strongly to me. Some years we've gone out to a party. One year we hosted a party. One year I had a gig. But our latest tradition is my favorite. We stay home, build a fire in the fireplace, and spend the evening together. Q does a great job of building a fire, and we have fun putting in special pinecones that make colored flames. A quiet, peaceful evening is just what I most need after the stresses of end-of-semester grading and holiday shopping. And I get to start the new year with my best friend and beloved. What could be more perfect?

I hope you all have as much fun as I will. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Beaded bellydance bra

I never got around to taking pictures of the dance costume bra I finished over the summer. This goes with the beaded bellydance belt I finished a while ago. I made the bra from a Kwik Sew pattern, using denim from old jeans, reinforced with stiff, fusible interfacing. The cups were then further reinforced with fusible fleece and two layers of buckram. I covered the finished bra with stretch velvet to match the belt. Then the beading began!

The motifs are all hand-beaded, one bead and sequin at a time. The motifs are a mix of glass seed beads of various clear and silvery tones, Swarovski crystals, and Czech glass beads, edged in sequins and more glass beads. The oval cabochons and the big triangular crystal on the top part are made of sew-on Swarovski crystals that were then caged with glass seed beads. The fringe is made with glass seed beads and three kinds of Swarovski crystals to make a pattern.

Under the fringe, I beaded a swirly design to match the design on the belt. It's hard to see in the picture, but this is a raised design. The fringe moves while I dance, of course, so this design peeks out under the swaying fringe.
The straps are too plain, and I'll probably do more beading there at some point. But the costume is wearable at this point -- in fact, I wore it for a performance in August, and it fit well and held up to the rigors of dancing. I also got a number of compliments from other dancers, so I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out.

Winter has arrived

Baby, it's cold outside -- a good day to curl up at home and stay warm.

And today, we got our first snow of the season.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sex and cookies

Yesterday's Psychology Brown Bag was great fun, as always. I posed the question of why gender equality and feminism are associated with higher sexual satisfaction for men and women than male dominance (e.g., patriarchy). There were great suggestions and questions from the students and faculty in attendance. We talked about the effect of gender roles, sexual scripts, education, relationship factors, communication, and more. We discussed the continued impact of gender roles in the U.S. -- for example, do heterosexual women feel comfortable asking men out, or are men still doing most of the initiating? It was a terrific discussion, and my closing comment was that they should go forth, be feminist, and have great sex. Better living through science. ;)

We also had light refreshments, because I think food makes for better conversation. Some of it I buy at the grocery store -- fruit, sunflower seeds, hummus, carrots, chips. Some of the food I cook. I usually make a batch of pasta with basil pesto -- this is the pesto we make from our own garden, according to my partner's family recipe, and it gets rave reviews. And then I bake some cookies or cupcakes or quickbread, as I'm a big fan of sweets.

By far, the most popular cookie I have ever made (and I've been doing this for a long time) is Seven Layer Cookies. I've had people propose marriage after tasting these cookies. I often make them for events because, in addition to being tasty, they are quick and easy to make. I got this recipe from my friend Becka in high school. She wrote it on the back of a flyer for Duff's Business Institute (which encouraged you to make a collect call to get career advice -- always suspicious); strangely enough, this flyer fits into my recipe card file perfectly. I made the cookies with Becka at one point, and her main advice was to make sure to get the condensed milk into the corners of the pan. I've come up with a few additional suggestions over the years -- it's easier to use boxed graham cracker crumbs instead of mushing up graham crackers into crumbs, for example, and greasing the pan facilitates the cookie removal after baking.

So many people have asked me for this recipe that I figured I would share it with all of you. Enjoy!

Seven Layer Cookies
1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 stick margarine or butter
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 oz. butterscotch chips
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
1 1/2 cup coconut (I use the sweetened kind that comes in a bag, not a can)
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (if you chop them small, they will be more likely to stick to the cookies and not fall off) [I consider this ingredient optional -- I often make these cookies without walnuts and they are just as tasty]

Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 X 13 inch pan. Melt the margarine or butter, and mix with the graham cracker crumbs. Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan, making sure it covers the entire pan evenly. Sprinkle on the coconut, then the chips, making sure that they are evenly spread over the crust. Then pour on the condensed milk so that it covers everything (don't forget the corners!). Sprinkle on nuts. Place in oven (350 degrees F) for 30 minutes, until the top is light brown (the edges will be dark brown, crystallized, almost burnt looking). Take out, let cool. Cut into bars with a sharp knife. It's easier to get the cookies out of the pan if you cut around the edges of the pan first, and then cut into bars. These are pretty rich, so you might want to cut them into small bars (I usually cut them into 24 or 32 pieces, depending on my mood). If there are any left, store in an airtight container.

So now you can have satisfying sex and cookies afterwards! Just don't get crumbs in the bed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. There are so many things to say and so much that needs to be done -- more research, better access to treatment, eliminating the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS is not just an epidemic because of its biological virulence. Cultural factors matter here -- women's disempowerment, sex tourism, sex trafficking, poverty, inadequate sexuality education -- all have to be addressed if we are to reduce the spread of HIV. But let me just take a moment to talk about one factor: sexual guilt and shame.

Shame and guilt surrounding sexuality are doing nothing to help contain this epidemic -- in fact, they only facilitate the spread of HIV. Guilt and shame lead to discomfort, silence, and denial.

Discomfort: Feelings of guilt and shame make us uncomfortable. So we become uncomfortable about sex -- unwilling to address it directly, speaking only in vague euphemisms. Uncomfortable going to get tested. Uncomfortable buying condoms. Uncomfortable using condoms -- research has found that those who feel guilt and shame about sex are less likely to use contraception consistently. Discomfort about sex doesn't stop people from having sex, but it does make them less likely to engage in safer sex. And when we are really uncomfortable, we don't want to talk about it at all, leading to . . .

Silence: When we feel ashamed or guilty about something, we don't want to talk about it. So we are less likely to talk to our partners about our sexual history (for example, men on the down-low). We are less likely to discuss testing with our partners prior to sex. We are less likely to negotiate safer sex practices with our partners prior to sex. We are less likely to talk to our children about sex, less likely to provide them with the comprehensive sexuality education they need to make educated decisions about their sexuality. And so silence results in the ignorance that continues the spread of HIV. It was this shame-based silence about HIV/AIDS that delayed any systematic response to the epidemic in the United States for so many years, and there is still a conspiracy of silence surrounding HIV/AIDS in many countries today.

Denial: We would rather not admit that we commit shameful acts. So if sex is embedded in shame, we try to deny our own sexuality. We don't admit to ourselves that we are sexually active -- which means we don't need to buy condoms, get tested, or talk to our partners. That doesn't stop us from having sex, but it means we are unprepared and more likely to engage in risky activities. When sex is considered shameful, government leaders deny the existence of stigmatized sexual activities (e.g., homosexuality, prostitution, sex trafficking) and go on to deny or minimize the issue of HIV/AIDS in their country.

I'm not saying that a shame- and guilt-free sexuality would cure AIDS or make HIV go away. But it would help us do what we can to protect ourselves, reduce the spread of the virus, and eliminate the stigma that it carries with it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Patriarchy does not equal Pleasure: Sexism Makes for Bad Sex (Pt. 1)

Courtesy of

I'm in the midst of preparing for my upcoming Psychology Brown Bag discussion this Wednesday at Montgomery College, and I thought I would put some of the research together for those of you who can't attend. I'm starting with the claim that patriarchy (cultural systems that give men greater power than women) is likely to result in decreased sexual satisfaction, as compared to cultures in which men and women have greater equality. A bold claim? Perhaps so, but I've got the data to back it up.

In a survey of older men and women (40-80 years of age) from twenty-nine different nations, Laumann et al. (2006) found that men and women in countries with more gender equality (such as Western countries) reported greater sexual satisfaction than those in male-dominant countries (such as those in East Asia and the Middle East). In the Western nations, two-thirds of men and women reported that their sexual relationships were satisfying. In Middle Eastern countries, fifty percent of men and thirty-eight percent of women stated that they were satisfied with their sex lives (although there was some variability among the nations in this cluster), and in East Asian nations, approximately one-quarter of men and women reported positive sexual satisfaction. In other words, older adults living in more patriarchal nations reported lower sexual satisfaction than those in countries with greater gender equality, and this was true for both women and men. In other words, patriarchy doesn't just diminish women's sexual satisfaction, it makes sex worse for men, as well.

It is also worth noting that in all three of the cultural clusters, men reported greater sexual satisfaction than women, although the survey found greater gender differences in the male-dominant countries than in those with greater gender equality. "This pattern suggests that the type of gender regime is important for gender differences in sexual well-being, but true parity remains an ideal even in countries where beliefs about gender equality are more widespread." (Laumann et al., 2006, p. 158). Western nations may be more egalitarian, but they haven't reached true sexual equity yet. (We already knew that, right?)

Within any one country, some hold more patriarchal beliefs than others. If male dominance is bad for sex, then we would predict that feminists would have better sex lives. Of course, this flies in the face of widely held stereotypes that feminists are ugly, undesirable, and anti-sex. To the extent that feminism is viewed as anti-male, some might believe that feminists would have trouble in heterosexual relationships (Rudman & Phelan, 2007). However, Schick, Zucker, and Bay-Cheng (2008) found that female college students who more strongly endorsed feminist beliefs had a greater sense of their own sexual feelings (sexual subjectivity) and enhanced sexual motivation, both of which produced increased sexual satisfaction. In both college students and a non-student sample, Rudman and Phelan (2007) found that heterosexual women reported greater relationship health and sexual satisfaction when they perceived their male partner to be feminist, and men reported greater sexual satisfaction to the extent that they perceived their female partner to be feminist. Rather than impeding sexual satisfaction, these studies indicate that feminism enhances sexual satisfaction. (Of course, we need to replicate these studies and have more diverse samples and measures to be sure of their results, but still, the data are encouraging.)

So there you have it. Patriarchy is bad for sex and gender equality is good for sex. Now, to the interesting question -- why? I have my own ideas, which I'll be discussing on Wednesday, 1-2pm at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD. I'd love to hear your thoughts, though, so feel free to post a comment.


Laumann, E. O., Paik, A., Glasser, D. B., Kang, J-H., Wang, T., Levinson, B., Moreira, E. D., Nicolosi, A., Gingell, C. (2006). A cross-national study of subjective sexual well-being among older women and men: Findings from the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, p.145-161.

Rudman, L. A., Phelan, J. E. (2007). The interpersonal power of feminism: Is feminism good for romantic relationships? Sex Roles, 57, 787-799.

Schick, V. R., Zucker, A. N., Bay-Cheng, L. Y. (2008). Safer, better sex through feminism: The role of feminist ideology in women’s sexual well-being. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32, 225-232.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Why are these slides a funny color?

I've been scanning in old slides that I got from my maternal grandparents. It's been fun to have more family photos from long ago, as I have very few photos from that era. But I've also learned the importance of color correcting these slides. When they are scanned in, they have a colored cast that is quite distinctive and makes them look dated. I have been using the color correction tool in Photoshop (I use AutoCorrect so I don't have to set the levels myself), and the difference can be quite dramatic. Here's the original scan of my mother and her parents (Christmas, 1962?):

Here's the color corrected version:

Here's the original scan of my brother and me (note my anxious look -- this shows up a lot in my childhood pictures):

Here's the color corrected version:

Here's the original scan of my brother (whose own son looks *exactly* like him at this age). I love this picture -- just look at that big grin!

Here's the color corrected version:

I'm curious about why there is this colored cast, though. It could be a function of the film developing techniques at the time (movies from the 1960s and 70s have a very different color cast because of changing film techniques, for example). Or it might have been done intentionally for slides, as a way of compensating for the effects of the warm light being cast by the slide projector (which would have been yellowish). Or is it just a function of these slides being old, and that the colors have changed as they aged? If anyone knows why these slides might be off-color, I'd love to know the answer.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Momix Dance Company

What was I doing on Halloween? I was out with a zombie (Q), my father, and his wife. We all went to dinner at a new-ish restaurant in Clifton that serves nouvelle cuisine. The restaurant has been remodeled and looks spacious and elegant (although quite different from the previous establishment), and the food was very good. Plus, several of the wait staff complimented Q's zombie costume, so that was a good sign. (He did a great job with the makeup -- it was very creepy.) Then we went to see the Momix Dance Company perform the Best of Momix. I hadn't ever seen them perform, and it was truly magical. I've only seen a few dance performances that got me to say "wow" more than once during the show. They used props inventively, including what looked like a rolling jungle gym that the dancers climbed upon and spun around, a set of big bouncy balls for an adorable faerie-like dance number, and two dancers who performed in full skis. Even the traditional ribbon prop used in Chinese dance got new life, as it appeared almost as a neon tube, flowing in cursive shapes and spirals around the dancer. The whole show was mesmerizing -- the lighting, the costumes, and of course, the performers were just flawless. As with much of modern dance, I'm not sure if the music was as tightly integral to the dance performances -- in some cases, the choreography clearly coordinated with the music, and in most cases, the music cast a reasonably appropriate mood, but the dances weren't so uniquely tied to the music as in folk dance. The dancers were really amazing, though -- strong, flexible, and completely spot-on for each number. The performers got two standing ovations, and completely deserved them. You can see clips from another version of the touring show here. If you have a chance, go see Momix perform.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Today's visual inspiration . . .

is all about COLOR! I love deep, intense, vibrant color. Stained glass windows can have wonderful and inspiring color, such as these from the Basilica Notre Dame in Montreal:

and this cupcake and ice cream shop, also in Montreal:

Of course, I also have lots of color at home in my fabric stash.

It's been a grey and rainy couple of days, and I guess I just needed a shot of color. We now return to our regular programming . . .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fiber fantasy scarf

So I finally finished the scarf I started a while ago. I had laid out various yarns and ribbons in a faux-weave pattern on a water soluble stabilizer, stitched them together and then added free-motion embroidery in purple and gold metallic threads. I hadn't liked the way it came out initially -- it was too wide, too short, and not drapey enough. So I put it aside and went on to other things. Then I got the idea that I could cut it apart and put in ribbon inserts to make it longer and drapier. So that's what I did this weekend.

The ribbon inserts and fringe are recycled sari fabric that I knotted to add interest and texture. I also added some more free-motion embroidery.

I quite like it now. Since I cut the initial scarf in half lengthwise, I have another section to play with. I haven't decided if I'll make another scarf like this or use it for something else.

In the meantime, I have all kinds of ideas for variations on this theme, so once I get through a couple of other projects, I plan to make some more scarves with this technique.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bunny Drama

First, the little bunny comes into the backyard and nibbles the grass and clover.

It catches sight of me, and freezes for a few moments (predator!).

Then it goes back to eating and hops around a bit. But everything itches!

To reach that back area, the bunny does a full-on Exorcist twist.

Then the little bunny suddenly jumps up and runs away. Why? Uh-oh, here comes a bigger bunny!

The big bunny catches sight of me, and stares (predator!).

The big bunny has solo access to the bean patch (absolutely favorite bunny food) for a while. But then, the little bunny approaches, slowly hopping through the carrot tops.

They nibble a bit. The little bunny gets closer and closer to the big bunny. They circle each other.

The big bunny comes up to smell the little bunny. It looks like they might get along.

But no! The big bunny makes a sudden move, and the little bunny becomes a leaping blur as it catapults over the carrot tops.

It looks like the big bunny has won this dominance contest. But here comes the little bunny again. . .

Getting closer and closer . . .

How will this end?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Karmic muffins

Periodically, I give baked goods or other foody gifts to our neighbors. It just seems like a nice thing to do, particularly since we ask them to take in our mail or watch the house while we are away. Last summer, for example, I made tons of blueberry muffins and gave them to all of our (close) neighbors. Yesterday, our neighbor across the street came by with her son to bring us homemade banana muffins (with vanilla frosting and colored sugar, no less!). The bible says “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” -- a way of saying that good deeds will bring you benefit. Well, I guess I cast my muffins on the waters, and they were returned with frosting!

We ate the karmic muffins, and they were delicious.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Grave statuary

Why is it that so many of the statues in cemeteries depict female figures? From our meanderings in a cemetery in Montreal, we saw a number of beautiful examples of statuary, particularly female figures. We saw this one when we first came into the cemetery, and were struck by its lovely lines and the eloquent way it depicted grief -- "how original!" we thought. Then we saw several others with the same design, and figured there was some mortuary catalogue with this headstone as one of the designs. *Sigh* It lost some of its eloquence after that. But it's still quite pretty.

This one had a bit of added whimsy, since someone replaced her bow with a stuffed animal (honestly, it wasn't me!).

And, of course, angels could be of either sex (or sexless), but seem to be depicted as female or feminine in many cases:

I love the way that metal gains additional texture with age -- she almost seems to be weeping. I'm not sure what the significance of the large feather is, though.

So, why are women keepers of the dead -- why are we charged with grieving and mourning and watching over the graves? Is this found in all cultures?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Giving myself a hand . . .

Well, more like 1100 hands. Illustrations of hands, that is. I scanned in 1166 19th-century illustrations of hands from one of the Dover publications of permission-free images. Now I have lots of handy (pun intended) digital illustrations for use in my artwork. Whee! Here are just a few of the illustrations from the book:

I love illustrations and clip art -- I get all kinds of ideas percolating when I look at them. I wish all the Dover books came with CDs, but at least I can digitize the images myself with the scanner. I have a number of other Dover books that I will scan in (in whole or part) when I have time -- that way I can build up a library of digital images to use when inspiration strikes me.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Today's visual inspiration

From a cemetery in Montreal, Canada. I love the strong vertical lines in this statue, and the swooping curve of the trailing sleeves. There is something very elegant in the clean lines, and her pose is peaceful and meditative, without being too sorrowful. Again, I see the Art Deco influence in these statues.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Today's visual inspiration

Art Deco details from the Hotel Clarendon in Quebec City, Canada. I think these types of designs would look fabulous as surface design elements on a garment -- I'd love to interpret them in gold foil or embroidery on a coat or jacket. I'm not usually drawn to Art Deco, but just look at those luscious spirals and elegant lines -- beautiful.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pondering the elements of design

I came across three photos I took of this lighthouse on the St. Lawrence river (near Tadoussac in Quebec, Canada), while we were on a whale-watching/fjord boat trip last year. Each one placed the central design element (the lighthouse) differently within the frame:

The lighthouse is centered, small and distant

The lighthouse is centered, larger and closer

The lighthouse is still larger and closer, but now off-center

How do these different types of placement affect the response to the photo? I generally like the main design element to be large, close, and centered (as in the second photo), but in this case, I didn't. The second photo is fine, but looks too much like a stock picture or a postcard. The first photo, while not providing as much visual punch, gives me a sense of the lighthouse being lonely and isolated, which seems appropriate as a theme. In the third photo, I get a sense of movement and energy that I don't get in either of the other two -- I should remember that an off-centered design element can be very engaging. Which one do you like best, and why?
Addendum: I hadn't thought of it, but someone pointed out that the horizon line also differs in these pictures -- the third has horizon line more horizontal and the line of the hills is just below the largest part of the lighthouse, which is part of why it is so pleasing.