Monday, November 30, 2009

Book fair!

Earlier this month we had the book fair at the Museum of Printing History.  Here's me with my offerings:

Regular readers may recognize some of these books, especially my two miniature books in the left corner.  (Those went quickly.)

The little books in the middle, in the neon covers, are tiny staple-bound notebooks; I find them useful, and usually have one in my purse or wallet, but they didn't sell, at a dollar each.

All three of these ones went, though.  All I have left is a few of the Florentine-paper ones, and one with Rome on it that I forgot to bring but that (see post below) is now destined for the perfect sister-in-law.

Much fun!  My second fair, not as exciting as the first (because I spent all of 3 weeks making things, rather than a few months like last year, so didn't have much variety or any of the little earrings which sold so well last year), but still a very good time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Christmas List

Oooh, stuff to make!

-Mother: (she might someday come here, so it's a secret!)

-Father: that's always one I'm stuck on, as he's sometimes difficult and doesn't pretend well if he's not sure he likes something.  He may get a hat, like the rest of the men.  Or a last-minute book buy, as has sometimes happened.  I normally come across something great for him (old scouting book from the used book store, or, one year, a gizmo that turns your Nalgene bottle into a French press coffee maker!), so we'll wait and see.

-Grandmother: Sewing caddy, from pattern here.  And, as she's got fragile skin, lotion, like every year.  Perhaps someone's handmade lotion off of Etsy -- I can make lotion myself, but, well, I'm not very good yet, and... see fragility of skin, as mentioned.  Not good.

-Grandfather: Perhaps some of these.  He loves Churchill.

-Sister: (she might actually check this blog, so it's a secret!  But at least two homemade things.)

-Brother: Shaving kit (from pattern here) and perhaps also skull hat (from pattern here)

-Aunt who likes things made for her: Sewing caddy, as well.  And perhaps a tea wallet, as she's always on the go.  There's a zillion patterns out there, and I've got tons of scraps.

-Aunt who doesn't appreciate most things made for her: something purchased (perhaps purchased from someone else who's made something?)  (I'd skip her altogether, but she *gives* very nice gifts -- that's my only "obligation"-style gift.  Everyone else is a joy; last year I made her a little pillow, though, which did please her and was a joy to make.)

-Uncle who likes food: food :)

-Uncle who likes things made for him: oooh don't know yet -- perhaps another book, although I did make him a day planner last year.  But he's always super-appreciative of any homemade gifts, no matter how awful (he's a schoolteacher, which might help!), so he's a joy to give things to.

-Girl cousins, and the teacher uncle's girlfriend: Rae's Buttercup Bag, in various colors (there are 4 girl cousins)

-Boy cousins: skull hat, as above

-Perfect sister-in-law: coptic-bound book with map of Rome on the covers, as she's going to Italy with her family (may toss in one similar for perfect sister-in-law's little sister)

-Sister's husband (for some reason, I think of him that way, and think of my husband's brother as the brother-in-law): a secret, purchased from the Small Object (we get each other tiny things each year -- last year I made him a head cover for a golf club, and they got Himself a Texans hat)

-Brother-in-law: Don't know, but I got some lovely brownish variegated yarn that I may make into a hat.

-In-laws: no idea.  Worked for years on their last present -- think I'll just leave it to their son to buy them something this year! 

-Himself: perhaps a sweater (the back's done!), perhaps a gym membership -- we'll see.  And, if I can figure it out, a scrub hat with the Texans logo on it.

And some of my melt and pour soap for everyone (Himself won't let me play with lye, so all I can do is melt and pour or refashioned "hand-milled" soaps).  In flower shapes and floral scents for the girls, in herbal or otherwise manly cubes for the guys.

One skull hat
most/all of the Buttercup Bags
book for perfect sister-in-law (well, nearly complete - just needs to be sewn, which takes no time at all)
part (each) of what mother and sister are getting
Sister's husband's gift
as mentioned, back of Himself's sweater
soap :)

And to think, some people want my family to go to a one-gift-for-someone-out-of-a-hat scheme (and I *know* I'll draw the difficult aunt!).  They can do it if they want (they usually complain about having to spend money (because they feel bad if they haven't spent a certain amount per person), or feeling guilty when other people give them things), but I get such joy out of making things for other people that I'm not going to let their psychological hangups or financial guilt trips deprive me of that!

One easy solution for someone who's anti-materialism (but unwilling or unable to make things for everyone), financially straightened, and also feeling obligated to have something for everyone, is to do what one good woman I know did once with "teacher gifts" for her child's school -- gave a donation to the Heifer Project in the name of the teachers of the school (all together) and then gave each teacher a card (which she prints herself, using Greetings Workshop) saying, "a gift has been made in your name to the Heifer Project," etc.  I see no reason why it couldn't similarly be done for "The Smith Family," with cards for each.  Print them yourself, costs no more than the cost of the ink and paper, and with good enough paper you'd never know the difference.  (I'm always surprised at the stores -- $4.50 for a simple card?)  Then you've done something good for someone else, haven't spent more than you could afford to ($50 for many charities will do much more good and bring more joy than $15 each to a dozen family members!), haven't given things they probably wouldn't like very much to people who don't need anything, and got rid of gift-giving obligations in a way that the people you give the cards to are obliged to act pleased about!  (And many of them would be, in fact.) Also, if you're making things but stuck for ideas, there are other one-size-fits-all ideas -- cookie-mix- or tea-mix-in-a-jar all around, or (like me with the cousins) one gift for all the girls, one for all the boys, or (as my mother used to do when there was a bumper crop of berries, which there hasn't been for a few years) a jar or two of homemade jelly all around.  If your friends don't appreciate it, your friends don't need gifts.  If your family doesn't appreciate it, too bad.  They're your family, and they know you and your views on things, so they should be happy that you think they're worth any effort at all!  (Well, minor hypocrisy here: if there's someone in your family who doesn't appreciate it, but is a REALLY good gift giver (like the aunt above), it might be worth it to buy something for that person!  But, in general, rule holds.)

As for me, I have to make things, and don't have much success selling the things, so it's good for me to have the opportunity to give them away!  I'm easily pleased, so I love everything I get in return (and usually my favorite gift ends up being something a teenage cousin picked up for fifty cents at a flea market), but I don't keep a tally on who gives and who doesn't, and I don't mind at all if you don't give me anything -- so long as you allow me to give you something!

What's on your list?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Marshmallow Utility

Before my current job, I was a high school economics teacher.  I like to think that I was a fun one, too.  We did in-class exercises to help illustrate basic economics principles, and my students seemed to enjoy those days just as much as they days we watched educational videos (the days when I had to have one-on-one progress talks with each student). 

My favorite exercise was teaching the students about marginal utility -- a lesson I called "Marshmallow Utility."  To their credit, the students remembered the name, and whenever marginal utility came up on a test they could identify it. 


The big kind of marshmallows works best, as it has an effect faster.  Bring several bags.

I lined up several volunteers at the front of the class, and had them plot their happiness (after consuming zero marshmallows) on the blackboard. 

Fed each one a large marshmallow, and then had them plot their happiness again.  Everyone's went up.

Fed each one another large marshmallow, and had them plot their happiness (general sense of well-being, etc.) on the board.

Repeated several times.

For all except one girl (who absconded with the rest of the bags after class!), each student reached a point at which one more marshmallow made them feel a bit worse, whether from over-saturation or from dietary concerns. 

That, I explained, is marginal - or marshmallow - utility.  How much happier will one more marshmallow make you?  For all except the marshmallow-lover, the first additional marshmallow caused a big jump in happiness, the next few increasingly smaller jumps in happiness, and eventually an additional marshmallow causes a loss in happiness.  Similarly, if you're a supermarket, the first cash register makes things much better, an additional cash register makes things quite a bit better, the seventeenth cash register makes things very slightly better ... and eventually you reach a point where adding another cash register doesn't solve check-out problems but instead makes it so crowded it's hard to get your carts out the door.  If you've got a restaurant, one more helper in the kitchen is great, two is even better, fifteen means you're always tripping over each other.  Something massive, though, could be the equivalent of my marshmallow-lover -- if you're trying to pick up all the trash on the entire Pacific coast, for example, you have to go a very long way before the marginal utility of one more worker becomes negative. 

Lesson?  Keep eating marshmallows until it would be detrimental to chow down on another one.  Keep adding workers until the marginal utility of one more worker is less than the marginal cost of that worker.  (If I'd charged the students a nickel a marshmallow, they should keep buying marshmallows as long as they got at least five cents worth of pleasure out of each marshmallow.)

Economics is fun :) and tasty!