NIght at the Opera with teenagers

On dress rehearsal nights the San Francisco Opera lets school groups in free. Milo’s high school choir class came up to see La Cenerentola, armed beforehand with scripts and analysis and background about opera. I was super excited to get to go along because I can’t make it very often to Redwood City to his school events, which is sad….. I miss out on a lot. But I can’t drive — and it takes 5-6 hours of cab/bus/train to get there and back even though it would be 40 minutes one way by car. So, I can’t show up as a parent at his school very often. Bah.

It was a fabulous night out. A bit hard to try to keep up with everyone and manage wheelchair, crowds, elevator, stairs — winging it all the way, and it worked out well. Milo and Danny and I sat together with the kids and the choir teacher. I could tell Milo and I were both enjoying the music and you can see our excitement from the picture…. We were feeling inspired!

Milo and Liz at the opera

It’s been a while since I was at the opera house. We saw Nixon in China (which I loved a LOT). And some years ago a friend of mine took me to various operas because she had a box and season tickets. I can hardly remember which ones but do remember the fun of dressing up, the box itself being awesome, and thinking about all the books I’ve ever read where people go to the opera and have a box and a complicated social scene. Very fancy. I also have a lot of thoughts about how rare and splendid this kind of music must have been a couple of hundred years ago, and how amazing it is that there were beautifully designed music halls before there was electronic amplification. Imagining what the experience would have been like back then makes me feel like I’m traveling in time or am seeing eveything on more than one level at once.

Opera house curtains

The entire night was extra fun because of the energy of the whole audience, all the kids very excited to be there and commenting to each other on the theater, the show, their unusual formality (many kids were dressed up) and their commentary on the songs. I liked hearing from the cheers and appplause which characters and songs appealed to them. Basically anything that was comic. They were more fun to be in an audience with than the usual rather uptight overly quiet and suppressed/suppressive classical music audience!

Opera with class

My own favorite bits of the opera were the arias where there are 4 or 5 characters singing at once and the notes and lyrics interweave in a complicated way. This is one of my favorite things in any kind of music. I go into a trance trying to pick out separate parts and then add them all together, hearing them separately and together at the same time. I get very excited and want to bounce around in my seat. I may have done this and punched Danny and Milo in the arm a bit or squeaked with excitement.

A nice break to end my month and a half of arthritis flare-up, not going out except for doctor appointments or physical therapy. Could not tell if I was going out foolishly or if it was going to be ok. It was more or less ok!! With lots of painkiller though. It was physically gruelling but didn’t set me back any in my ankle rehab.

Just blogging a bit frivolously to break my trend of not writing anything because I feel like I have to say something super meaningful or well thought out. Screw that, right?

Noisebridge circuit hacking

I’ve been helping out lately at Noisebridge during Circuit Hacking Monday. One week, some people showed up expecting the event and no one was there to run it, so I ran it for someone I knew from She’s Geeky, her friend and teenagers, and a couple of extra adults who were here from Norway and Denmark for Google I/O. I had just been pawing through the soldering supplies, organizing them a bit as I searched for what I needed for my project (messing around with a LilyPad Arduino), and had found a little bag of cheap LED light up badges shaped like teddy bears. So we used those tiny kits to make blinking badges. It was chaotic, but fun.


I talked with Mitch Altman to find out where his kits for sale were and if it was okay for me to sell them while he’s out of town, and then send him the money. I might, though, just order some kits as cheaply as I can find them, and keep them independently to avoid hassle. As I end up giving tours to lots of new people, many of them from out of town or overseas, I could do them a favor by giving them something geeky to do in the space rather than sit and check their email!

The next week things were back to normal as Miloh and Rolf were at Noisebridge to run the class. Before they showed up, a teenage volunteer helped me set up soldering stations. More and more people kept coming in so the situation got quite chaotic again as we were giving them tours of the space and trying to find room. I realized that next time I would approach things differently — clearing the whole area of people who were working, and setting up 20 or more stations ahead of time, so that we weren’t doing setup and giving tours at the same time.

During the event Miloh and Rolf really took over the teaching aspect. I was somewhat trapped with my scooter in a corner because of the number of people, the table arrangement, the many chairs and the backpacks all over the floor. So I also would like to look at making the central area of Noisebridge less cluttered with tables, chairs, and stuff for the future so that I can participate. In my corner, I again hung with some kids and the teenage volunteer, and a guy who couldn’t hear well. The kid didn’t have a computer to look at the instructions for his kit, and needed a lot of one on one help as he was maybe a bit non neurotypical. The guy who hung out with us could not hear well in a situation with background noise. I’m in the same boat — I’m in my 40s and just can’t hear in a loud, chaotic situation. The kid fixed his Mintyboost and then made a tv-b-gone. The other guy made a blinky badge then was hooked and got one of those big name LED badges, I think. He appreciated the How to Solder comic book print out that I happened to have on me because he missed all of Miloh and Rolf’s explanations. I thought it was interesting that, marked out as somewhat different and disabled, I ended up doing more one on one work with people who had particular access needs.

Our volunteer also was super helpful in that capacity and seemed unusually alert to access issues, like that chairs or cables were in the way of my scooter or that it might be hard for me to get up to get supplies on high shelves. After the event when his dad came to pick him up I saw that his dad had one arm and walked with a cane. So growing up with a parent who has some mobility issues he might be more tuned in than others usually are.

I thought both those things were interesting! And figured it is a pretty good role for me at CHM. If you have particular access needs or are going to bring a bunch of 10 year olds to Circuit Hacking Monday (Mondays at 7:30pm) then feel free to email me with questions and see if I can be there & be helpful:

Basic supplies are running low. We have lots of soldering irons, including a bunch that I think Jake, Lilia, and MC Hawking won in a contest, but they’ve seen very heavy use over the last couple of years. So there are a lot of kind of crappy soldering irons and a few decent ones. We might be able to clean them or swap the tips cheaply. We have lots of snippers and wirestrippers. We need solder, weighted holders with alligator clips and lenses, more of those weighted bases with copper wool for cleaning soldering iron tips, and more de-soldering braid. Plus it would be so nice to have a supply of many kinds of coin cell batteries. After I talked with Miloh about that he shared a giant complicated spreadsheet with me. I haven’t read through it yet! But it would be great to get particular donations for restocking our electronics supplies.

We have shelves and shelves of hardware junk, in bins, and a wall of tiny little parts in tiny drawers meticulously labelled!


Yesterday I spent some nice time in the afternoon doing a Dice Kit with my son. We couldn’t find any decent epoxy or glue, so went to the fabric store on the corner, but ended up getting a big tube of contact cement from the dollar store. I gave a lot of tours and hung out with my friend who came by to fix her headphone wires. We’re both going to help TA at Black Girls Code in San Francisco. She ended up also using the wood shop for another project – modifying wooden artists’ brush handles to make those long tapered sticks so useful for holding up long hair and especially dreadlocks. Claudia aka Geekgirl showed up too and told me about how she is going to Rwanda in September and has a job there teaching IT and computer programming to middle school girls. Nifty! Meanwhile, my son played with MC Hawking and read comic books in the library after he was done with the Dice Kit. Along the way he learned to figure out the values of resistors from the color code chart (and learned it is not hard to just memorize the numbers.) We looked at my LilyPad and he got to the point of comfort with the code to make a scale go up and down again and modify the time of the notes. I gave the world’s worst and briefest explanation of what a function is and what it means to pass it variables, but he caught on with no effort. I’m very spoiled as a teacher when I set out teach him anything! He gets the idea too quickly!

Anyway, I sat up far too long that afternoon, and sadly had to leave before Replicator Wednesday kicked off. It has been nice going out into the world a bit more, this last month, more than just for the grocery store and physical therapy.

One last note: this is what happens if you leave your bike blocking the elevator at Noisebridge!!! It gets put into the E-WASTE bin!


In search of ping pong balls

The two gross of ping pong balls that I ordered online aren’t here in time to spray paint them black to use as cannonballs for the party. So I went off this afternoon in search of the cheapest ping pong balls in bulk in San Francisco. It ended up being super awesome.

First I found this place online, AMDT Club. As I drove over to it I couldn’t quite picture where it was, somewhere on Lombard St. so either in North Beach or Chinatown or in between. But on the way there I ended up on top of a very steep hill, looking out over all of San Francisco, Coit Tower, and the Golden Gate Bridge. The shop was on Lombard, but on the part of it that feels like a quiet residential street, across from a park and public pool. As I pulled up in front of the store I realized it was a neighborhood center for kids. About 50 middle school kids mobbed the shop on their way home from school, buying trading cards, sodas and candy, and also getting ramen noodle cups and heating them up to eat in the front part of the store. The back of the store was the table tennis club. Kids pay $100 a year to be able to come in and play, and lessons cost extra. They also have home work tutoring. On their site you can see the kids in team uniforms.

I stood around the shop waiting to buy my 144 ping pong balls (the cheapest kind) appreciating the spirit of the shop owner and the people who run the ping pong club for kids, not just giving lessons but really making a community center where kids want to come and hang out. I feel like so many people don’t like the chaotic and lively nature of middle school and high school age kids, but here was a place where they were welcome and appreciated. How beautiful!

That's what Grandmas are for, I guess

My mom just gave Moomin an earful of stories from her childhood. I tried to get my great-grandma to tell me about her childhood once. “Come on, Nana, what was it like, what was different? What was it like being a little girl in 190-whatever?” She couldn’t think of anything to say but finally said that she missed the fun of chasing the iceman’s horse-drawn wagon and begging for chips of ice. Since she got so embarrassed and her story made it sound like her childhood utterly sucked, I never asked again!

Not so with my mom. She regaled Moomin with stories of how her sisters and she would brutally gang up on each other for elbow and kick fights. Usually she wasn’t the one ganged up on, because she was the middle sister. She always tried to be the goody goody.

Life was incredibly unfair. She had eczema, so she couldn’t wash the dishes. Instead, one sister would wash the dishes one night. (Mime a sister daintily doing the dishes, nose stuck in the air, lording it over Tiny Grandma-to-Be and then flouncing off.) And the other sister would do the dishes on the other night. But *every night* my mom had to set the table, clear the table, dry the dishes and put them away, take out the trash, burn the trash! “Now I ask you, is that fair? Why didn’t they just buy me some fucking rubber gloves and let me take my turn washing the dishes!” (By this time Moomin is on the floor laughing, rolling around and holding his stomach.) Never mind the part about having to leave off watching Perry Mason 5 minutes early to set the table. How is THAT fair. Why didn’t they just have dinner 10 minutes later?

Every time she said “We were BRATS!” it was the funniest thing in the universe.

We ended up with some 50 year old resentment from the middle sister that she had to wear her (taller) younger sister’s hand me downs and constantly endure people’s surprise that she was the older one because she was so short. Then, a grim tale.

“And one day we were waiting for the bus after school and I got SO FED UP. I pushed her off the steps, and a teacher saw me. She said “K—!!!! You go right inside and tell your teacher what you did!” (Look of disbelief and deep consideration-of-not-doing-it.)

Moomin was hanging on every word… he completely understood…

“And I thought, what the hell! I’m going to feel like an asshole! So I went in (miming it) and told her (high little voice) “Teacher I pushed my sister down the steps.” And my teacher said “Did she get hurt?” and I said “No!” and she said “Why did you do it?” and I was like “Because she’s a little bitch! She’s a 5 year old bitch!”

Moomin was in physical pain from laughing so hard at his hilarious grandma. I followed him to his room where he kept trying to unfurl himself from laughing-too-hard-position. “OH MY GOD I can’t believe she SAID that” he screeched. “Please help me stop laughing!”

“Do you really think she said that when she was so little?”

“No!!! Why I can’t I stop laughing?”

I think of the bit in Louise Fitzhugh’s book “The Long Secret” where the grandmother tells Beth Ellen, “Shy people are angry people.” Certainly true for both my mom and Moomin. I think her stories are awesome, because little kids like Moomin don’t really hear enough about the actual feelings of people and instead a bit too much about what we want them to feel or think they should feel.

I’m not sure what he will conclude about the olden days. Maybe that little kids in crinolines swore a lot and went around brutally elbowing each other over rolls of Lifesavers.

It was magic!

These sketches are from two small books I made for Moomin when he was two. One is a simple picture book called “What Little Birds Do” that has a different verb and action on each page. The other was a book about how our cats cast a spell on him to give him cat ears and a tail, and they all went together to Cat City on a flying train to eat tuna fish ice cream cones.

It was fun to find the preliminary sketches for that book, which I’ve lost completely. I’m a sloppy, sketchy artist but try to make the sloppiness part of a style rather than the ineptitude and laziness than underlies it – and to me at least, the sketches have a cheerful & dynamic charm.

Milo liked seeing himself in drawings a lot! If you like the drawings in my “sketches” set on Flickr then leave a comment for me!

They’re watercolor pencil and fine point black felt tip marker.

I hope you are inspired to make your own little books for your kids, which will then inspire them to make books too.