Batik Party: Color To Last A Lifetime

how to batik, backyard batik, ironing memories,

The grass is spread with dyed shirts drying in the sun. It seems fuchsia, cobalt blue, and orange are the favored colors of our backyard batik party.

We approach this ancient art using shortcuts that would make a purist shriek. First we peel faded paper from old crayons, revealing the richer hues underneath. The crayons are melted in tin cans bubbling in a big pot of water on our camp stove. Then grandmothers, mothers, and children together, we crowd around picnic tables and paint the gooey wax onto cotton shirts, pillowcases, and tote bags. Some of us splash abstract designs, others draw intricate pictures. Eager conversations quiet as artists concentrate on their work.

Next we dunk them into pails of dye—gumdrop yellow, indigo, rose, pale green or sky blue. Children set their projects out on the grass to dry in the sun, then run off to play. To complete the process the wax has to be melted out of the fabric, ironed over and over on newspaper until no more will seep out under the press of a hot iron. Nothing of the crayons will remain but color locked into the fibers, wax resisting dye.

I drag my wooden ironing board out of the dark closet and pull it into the bright yard. My sister gave it to me as a humorous wedding shower gift but my mother’s friends in attendance thought it refreshingly practical. I’ve only used for the odd art project. The rickety wooden legs have to be forced into warped slots which hold them in place. The children come from catching frogs in the creek, from roasting marshmallows over the fire, from all over our property just to watch their mamas stand over the ironing board.  “Can I try?” and “Wow” is the standard kid response. Cautioning them to hold their fingers only on the handle and to keep the iron moving we let them work the wax out of the batik designs. Recognizing the possibility of danger they are entranced, as if we’ve let them use power tools.

They wait impatiently for their turns while the seven of us women sit at the picnic table eating hummus, Greek salad, and chocolate cake. We talk of how far we’ve come from our own mothers’ ironing boards here in the slow-to-evolve Midwest. Christie describes her mother as a “laundry fascist” who did her wash on Monday and ironing on Tuesday, regarding stains with the same disgust as sins.  Holding to such an immutable schedule of laundering was what her mother believed “good women” did. The moral character of others could be determined in part by the cleanliness of their clothes, making the world a more easily understood place. Christie’s mother still gives advice on stain removal, valuable irony-tinged information for those of us trying to live simply.

Debra remembers looking for a summer job in back when classifieds in her hometown paper were displayed in separate columns: Men Wanted, Women Wanted.  As a high school sophomore she had difficulty deciphering descriptions like “Gal Friday” and “sturdy middle-aged woman.” She avoided waitress jobs, not only because of the potential pats on the rear but to spare herself the necessity of ironing a uniform each day.

I volunteer memories of downtown shopping trips each summer. My mother put me in a crisply ironed dress and tied matching ribbons at the bottom of my braids. My grandmother never left the house unless impeccably clad. She sewed her own lined suits, wore stockings and girdle every day, and carried dress gloves in her purse no matter the season. I recall waiting as they shopped at iconic Cleveland department stores Halles and Higbees, then they took me and my sister to the tea room. A trip to the ladies lounge followed.  I remember hopping up to the toilet, admiring my shiny shoes as my feet swung off the floor.  But I was afraid to unlatch the door because frightening noises often came from other stalls in that fancy pink restroom. Ladies who moments ago were delicately patting their lipsticked mouths with heavy cloth napkins were now making groaning noises.  I knew full well at the age of four that ladies did not make such noises, particularly in public.  Something bad had to be happening.  I pictured them transformed into monsters.  When I finally left the stall and made my way to the line of sinks I watched in the mirror as other doors opened.  Demure ladies stepped out as if they’d made no such sounds. Only years later did I realize that these women were struggling with heavy girdles which cut into their summer-weary flesh.

We laugh at domestic memories as our children finish the exotic task of ironing. When we look up from our reverie they have started a game of hide and seek. Their voices sound distant in the gathering darkness. Their small shirts are now bobbing from wire hangers along the porch. One by one we iron our own shirts as the sun goes down. The smell of crayons hangs in the evening, imprinting memories to last a lifetime.

I think our next art party will involve candy cigarettes and paint flinging, ala Jackson Pollack.

easy batik, iron in some memories,

How To Host A Batik Party

This process isn’t “real” batik. It’s an approximation that’s fun and basic. It’s also time consuming, messy, requires close attention when wax is near heat, and can stain anything from driveways to flesh. That’s why you should make it into a gathering of friends who will share the effort and joy. And why you should do it over grass as much as possible.


  • lots of newspaper
  • old crayons with paper removed, sorted by color
  • chunks of paraffin
  • empty cans (16 oz or larger food cans), paper wrappers and tops removed
  • large disposable roasting pan
  • thick and thin paintbrushes you’re willing to throw out afterwards
  • old camp stove or electric skillet you’ve willing to have wax spilled on
  • fire extinguisher
  • metal sheeting for safety (we found a piece in the garbage)
  • tarp
  • ironing board
  • picnic table and/or sturdy tables to work on
  • clothesline
  • clothes iron (it too may get waxy)
  • clothing dye (can use Rit Dye or order more professional dyes from Dharma Trading)
  • large buckets for dye (you can often get them free from store bakeries and delis, food is delivered in them)


Ask everyone to wear old clothes, hair tied up where applicable, and to bring food and drinks to share. They also must bring items to batik. That might be t-shirts, tote bags, curtains, pillowcases, skirts, ties, etc. The best are all-natural fabrics such as cotton, hemp, silk. If it’s a blend, a high natural content is preferable.

Preparation: Mix dyes in buckets. Most dyes need hot water to dissolve. Some need other ingredients so make sure you’ve checked in advance. You’ll want at three to five separate dye colors. If kids are involved, you may not want too many conflicting colors. Repeated dips will leave them with brown or grays. (Educational but possibly not what they intended.) Leave the buckets out in the yard as dye stations.

Spread the tarp over the picnic table and/or work area. Put the metal sheeting down where the camp stove/electric skillet will sit.

Step One: Put different colors of crayons in the empty cans. Add a few slivers of paraffin to each can. You also want a can with only paraffin for clear resist areas. Put the cans in the roasting pan. Fill the pan with several inches of water, about a third of the way up. Keep a pitcher of water nearby to keep filling as water evaporates. You do not want to spill water in the wax.  Heat gently to melt the crayons and paraffin. Once it’s liquified turn the heat off and it will remain liquid quite a while.

Caution. SUPERVISE CHILDREN, hot wax burns. NEVER leave wax over heat unattended. NEVER put out a wax fire with water, which spreads it. Instead it must be smothered (fire extinguisher or fireproof lid over it, we kept an old grill lid handy).

Step Two: It’s time to paint designs or pictures on fabric. Just dip brushes in melted wax. Make sure you return the right brushes to the right container. Use clear paraffin in areas where you want the fabric color to show within or around your design.

Step Three: Dip all or select portions of your fabric into dye of choice.

Step Four: Hang on clothesline. Do another fabric item or simply wait for your item to dry.

Step Five: Put several sheets of newspaper under and several over a single layer of your dry fabric. Iron to melt the wax out of the fabric. You’ll need to replace the newspaper sheets several times until wax no longer melts from the fabric.

Without (or Beyond) College: 24 Tools For Success

resources to skip college, careers with no college, collaborative success,

Free to explore options. Image:

What doesn’t add up

It’s easier to teach an old dog new tricks than it is to change old mindsets. Like the one that insists that all the years up to 18 are preparation for college. After that a bachelor’s degree or higher must be obtained because college is THE ONLY route to success.

This dusty way of thinking relies on old figures showing that college leads to high-earning careers. That’s true for people who become doctors, engineers, and lawyers. Oh wait, that’s not so true for lawyers now either. New law school grads can’t find jobs  and their average student debt hovers close to $100, 000.

Equating college with success doesn’t take today’s realities into account. In thirty years the consumer price index has increased two-and-a-half times while the overall price to attend college has risen sixfold.  Today’s students can’t simply work their way through college. This was possible back in 1970.  A student could easily work 14 hours a week at a minimum wage job to pay for an education at a public institution. Today a student would have to work full time at minimum wage, leaving very little time to fit in those classes.

So students go into debt. The average graduate gets a diploma along with more than $25,000 in debt. Payments are expected to begin right after graduation or the student will begin accumulating additional interest as well as penalties and damaged credit. The pressure is on to find a job.

Except the job market sucks. While a greater share of 18- to 24-year-olds are in school than ever before, the employment rate is worse. Half of today’s young college graduates are either jobless or underemployed in positions that don’t require a degree. Since the 2008 recession, the largest job growth has been in the lowest paying jobs. Some of the biggest projected employment openings are in low paying, lower-skilled positions such as home health, waste hauling, and transportation.  The problem isn’t just in the U.S. Twenty-five percent of young people are unemployed in the Middle East and North Africa, more than 50 percent in Greece and Spain.

What does add up

In the real world, grades and tests actually don’t correlate with adult accomplishments.  We know there are fresher, more interesting ways to learn. Our experiences teach us to pursue success on our own terms. That has to do with crafting a life based on our passions, our integrity, and the unique vision each of us brings to the world. That’s true whether we’re lifting a hoe or a conductor’s baton.

The college highway is actually one of many roads to the future. People everywhere are finding ingenious and collaborative ways to flourish, with or without a degree. Here are some of those ways.


Learning Empowerment Tools

1. ZeroTuitionCollege (ZTC)  is an online community of self-directed learners. If that’s not inspiration enough, it offers information for travel, building a portfolio, finding a peer community and much more. ZTC was founded by Blake Boles, author of Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree, a manual with thought-provoking and empowering information on each page.

2. It’s My Life: A Guide To Alternatives After High School is a free e-book put out by the American Friends Service Committee. It includes a rich array of information about apprenticeships, service work, travel learning, and careers both inside and out of the mainstream.

3. UnCollege is packed with information and advice, like “How To Learn Anything” (complete with downloadable sheets to write your own personal learning plan). UnCollege was started by Dale J. Stephens, whose book Hacking Your Education will be published next year.

4. Intern Match helps you locate paid and unpaid internships in your area of interest.

5. BackDoorJobs connects you with short-term job adventures around the world.

6. Volunteer Match helps you get experience doing what you care about.

7. Idealist lists all sorts of internships, volunteer opportunities, and jobs.


Learning Exchanges

8. Trade School is a barter-based learning space, meaning you don’t have to pay to learn.

9. Citizen Circles are small groups of people who meet to learn together, with an emphasis on collective learning and action. No fee.

10. (un)classes are casual ways to meet and learn from people in your area.

11. Skillshare is like the eBay of local education. You can learn what you want from someone in your community as well as teach others what you know. Fee. 

12. P2PU is a grassroots global community working together to learn by completing tasks and providing feedback. Free.

13. FreeSkool is whatever participants create. Some are informal gatherings to share knowledge, others are networks brimming with activity happening in parks, living rooms, and community centers in IthacaSanta Cruz, and dozens of other cities in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Check out piece in Shareable about how to set up a FreeSkool


Collaborative Solutions

14. Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis is co-written by 20-somethings who are developing collaborative consumption networks and connecting via “lattice” rather than scrambling over each other to climb the corporate ladder. Get this book for free by “paying” with a tweet.

15. Generation Waking Up empowers young people to connect and create a thriving, sustainable world.

16. The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community This book helps people find practical and legal solutions for scaling down their work hours, possessions, and expenses by sharing everything from childcare to cars to living space.


Free and Nearly Free College Online

17. Coursera pairs with top universities to offer full courses to a global network of students.

18. Khan Academy has a free and ever growing library of 3,200 videos in the sciences to humanities, along with exercises to help learners practice what they are seeing.

19. University of the People is oriented toward awarding degrees to students all over the world, using online courses and charging only an admission fee. It has accepted 1,500 students from 130 countries

20. Academic Earth offers free online classes using video lectures from leading university professors. It’s possible to sign up to earn an online degree, fee unknown.



21.  Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree by Blake Boles

22. Hacking Your Education: Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will by
Dale Stephens


23. 40 Alternatives to College by James Altucher

24. DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz

The Future Belongs to the Curious from Skillshare on Vimeo.

Mother & Child Are Linked At The Cellular Level

fetal cells heal mother, life long benefits of pregnancy, baby's cells help mother,

Fetal cells remain to heal a mother throughout her life.

Today is my youngest child’s birthday. As my mother used to tell me, we always carry our children in our hearts. I know this is true emotionally. Apparently it’s also true on the physical level.

Sometimes science is filled with transcendent meaning more beautiful than any poem. To me, this new research shows the poetry packed in the people all around us.

It’s now known that cells from a developing fetus cross the placenta, allowing the baby’s DNA to become part of the mother’s body.  These fetal cells persist in a woman’s body into her old age. (If she has been pregnant with a male child it’s likely she’ll have some Y-chromosomes drifting around for a few decades too). This is true even if the baby she carried didn’t live to be born. The cells of that child stay with her, resonating in ways that mothers have known intuitively throughout time.

Fetal cells you contributed to your own mother may be found in her blood, bone marrow, skin, kidney, and liver. These fetal cells appear to “treat” her when she is ill or injured.   Researchers have noticed the presence of these cells in women diagnosed with illnesses such as thyroid disease and hepatitis C. In one case, a woman stopped treatment against medical advice. A liver biopsy showed “thousands of male cells” determined to be from a pregnancy terminated nearly 20 years earlier. These cells helped her body recover just as fetal cells you gave your mother rush to help repair her from within when she’s unwell.

Fetal cells may influence a woman’s autoimmunity, although it’s not yet known if they are always beneficial. According to fascinating accounts in Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy, the more fetal cells there are in a woman’s body, the less likely she is to have conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. That’s not always the case. It’s thought that sometimes a mother’s body may instead battle those cells, thus provoking autoimmune disorders. (Apparently family dynamics are complicated even at the cellular level.)

There’s evidence that fetal cells provide some protection against certain cancers. For example, they’re much more prevalent in the breast tissue of healthy women than in those with breast cancer. Fetal cells are less common in women who developed Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting they provide late-life protection. Fetal cells can contribute stem cells, generate new neurons in the mother’s brain, even help to heal her heart. Her heart!

Look around at your family. Any woman who has ever been pregnant, even if she miscarried so early she never knew she was with child, is likely to be a microchimera (a person who carries the cells of another person).  Fetal cells have the imprint of her child’s father and his ancestry. Fetal cells can be shared from one pregnancy to another, meaning the cells of older siblings may float within younger siblings. These cells are another reminder of the ways we are connected in a holographic universe.

Overall, the presence of fetal cells in a woman’s body is associated with substantially improved longevity, with an overall mortality rate 60 percent lower than women whose bodies don’t contain such cells.

I’d like to think that my fetal cells helped my mother battle the congestive heart failure that eventually took her life. I like to consider that I carry within me my older sister’s fierce intelligence and that my talented younger brother benefits in some way from the cells of both his sisters. Knowing that I carry the cells of my four living children as well as babies I lost makes my heart ever more full on this special day.

We heal our mothers and our children heal us. Again poetry takes a back seat to nature’s awesome secrets.

The Antidote Is Awe

cure for stress, coffee ritual, easing worry, finding peace,

My husband and I seek refuge on the porch each afternoon in a ritual known simply as “time for coffee.” Somehow just out the door we’re a step away from the pull of obligations and worries. Here we feel centered by the light through the trees or the sounds of birds or the strange lumbering grace of a bumblebee in the flowers.

Our lives, and yours too, are twisted into knots so complicated we can’t see where they start or end. Those complications are made of bills to be paid, old arguments that didn’t heal, long hours and too little sleep, by endless political bluster and the fallout it causes. It’s good to let go of those tangles, even for a while.

Today on the porch we watched an insect we’d never seen before. It skittered without visible wings, its body open like the spokes on a wheel or the arms of a star. It looked improbable as an undersea creature swimming in the air. We gaped in quiet wonder until it was out of sight.

A few moments of awe are all it takes to remind us that our lives aren’t about those knots. We are pulsing, breathing wonders ourselves in a world bursting with miracles.  It takes looking closely at only one thing to see those miracles, whether watching a spider spin her web or looking at fungi that seemed to spring up overnight.  We exist for so short a time on this beautiful planet. We clamor over concerns when our lives may be better measured by how much awe we allow ourselves.

I have things to do, but it’s time for coffee. I’m heading for the porch. Hope you do the same.

We are, perhaps, uniquely among the earth’s creatures, the worrying animal. We worry away our lives, fearing the future, discontent with the present, unable to take in the idea of dying, unable to sit still.   Lewis Thomas 

Reprint from my farm site Bit of Earth Farm