Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Weather Ups and Downs

After weeks of cold, ice, and some snow, it's warmed to the fifties in my region. I've taken advantage of the warmer weather by getting out in the garage to cut, sand, and stain our new baseboards and door frames. I'll post pictures once I actually get around to installing them indoors.

Now, I'm off for for some sunshine with a four mile hike around a nearby lake!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Recent Projects

Here are a few of the projects I've finished recently.
This is a silk and linen jacket that I embellished with a tranquil symbol. I love how it turned out!

This is an XL men's sport jacket with a tree image in a fabric comprised of earth-friendly messages.

I made this purse for myself the other day. The pattern is from jennalou's Etsy shop. The pattern is a snap as is, but of course I couldn't resist making some modifications. I made it an inch larger, and modified the inside pocket, but would place the straps a bit differently (not on the outer edge, but inward a bit) if I make another.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


After hauling some cast-offs to the Treasure Shop, I took a peek inside. Ten dollars later, I have two display items for my next craft fair.

Rather than drop them at the consignment or re-sale shop, I'm listing these babies on e-Bay. I adore them, but they never fit me right.

Monday, December 22, 2008

People Pay to Be a Part of This?

Today's review is of the nonfiction tome titled Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities, by Alexandra Robbins.

To be honest, I didn't fully read this one. I read the first third, then skimmed (exactly as the student who loaned me the book told me she had done).

Interesting? Yes, to a point. I wanted to scream at the featured girls for not seizing control of their lives the way they claimed to want to. I wanted a more fluid writing style. Mostly, I wanted to cry at learning the following:

75% of college women who develop eating disorders are members of sororities.
date and gang rape by fraternities to sororities is so common that it's expected.

certain sorority houses have required replacement pipes due to damages caused by the stomach acid of so many purgers living together.

the charity "work" that most sororities do consists only of fund-raiser parties, not actual in-kind donations or volunteerism.

minorities are "token" members.

strict dress codes exist, as do codes of behavior, conversation topics, and hair styles.

There's more, but why bother, right? I hope that there's a good side to sorority life, but I haven't seen it yet. My own university had a minor Greek presence; peripheral at best, so I'm not well-acquainted with the concept and read/skimmed this book to learn.

Bottom line: I'm not impressed by the information, or the manner in which it was delivered.


In the frigid weather we're having, my sewing area in the basement reached only 52 degrees today. In that temperature my hands weren't working too well, so I hauled my sewing machine and a few supplies up to the kitchen. Maybe the temporary set up will boost my productivity. I have been sewing more, but there's never enough uninterrupted time to satisfy me.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Self-Centered Post

Reading LenoxKnits' spectacular post about all the things she loves about life reminded me of a piece I assign my creative writing classes. I tell them to compose something totally positive about themselves, to create a time-capsule of who they are, what they stand for, and what "little things" matter to them.We call it a "Statement of Self" and the assignment was inspired by Sharon Flake's book The Skin I'm In, wherein the main character decides, "who you are is all you've got."
It takes very little encouragement for kids to take this assignment seriously, although all of us have trouble eliminating negativity and focussing on boasts. Former students I encounter often say, "I still have that thing I wrote all about me," and I tell them that's exactly what I hope for.
One tenet of my creative writing instruction is to always complete and share the same assignments as my students because I want my students to see me as a practitioner who understands how difficult it is to share writing with others. To this end, I also refrain from scoring their assignments beyond complete or incomplete, though I provide feedback and develop a written dialog about writing progress with each student.

Enough about my philosophy of education. Here is the statement of self...and no, the kids didn't see the version with photos.

Who I Am and What I Believe

(It’s Good to Be Me)

  • I am informed, educated, opinionated and stubborn.
  • I am reluctant to trust.
  • When people say nice things about me, I suspect insincerity.
  • Ignorance, intolerance, and lies anger me.
  • I am fiercely independent. I despise feeling helpless or relying on others, yet the mere suggestion of life without my husband is emotionally crippling.

  • I love tattoos, but tire of incorrect assumptions made because of my ink.
  • It may not be realistic, but I believe I could survive most anything. I have the will, the knowledge, and a great deal of stamina.
  • I am well-acquainted with depression, but have neve r felt a desire to die. I can’t imagine ever being ready for life to end.
  • I resent and mistrust obligatory gift-giving. It would be meaningful and preferable if gifts were given spontaneously and from the heart rather than on designated da tes.
  • A gourmet meal with close friends and meaningful conversation…such are the best nights of life. I’m a slow-foodie and a locavore whenever possible.

  • I enjoy solitude. Going solo to a movie, out to eat, or away for a day is refreshing. It’s good to get away and miss (appreciate) the people you love.
  • I do not understand how anyone can’t cook. It’s just following directions.
  • I used to fear settling down and never wanted more than a backpack of essentials. My perspective has changed. Home is not an albatross .

  • My greatest hope for my child is that he will grow into a kind, empathetic person.
  • I can be a cold-hearted person. I have cut people —even relatives--out of my life, and I would do it again. People treat me right, or they don’t deserve my company.
  • I never forget how someone has treated me.
  • I love being outdoors: gardening, building things, cycling, hiking, and primitive camping.
  • I’m very concerned with doing the right thing. Ethics, equity and justice matter.
  • Hypocrisy infuriates me.
  • I refuse to let fear make my decisions.
  • I fear regret.
  • Live music is one of the best pleasures of life.
  • I love knowledge. Documentary films, thorough and un-biased news reporting, and “how to” DIY instruction are building blocks I can play with.
  • I define love as when another person's well-being is essential to your own.
  • Parenthood has taught me more than any other experience, book, or class.
  • Manners matter. I can cuss like a prisoner, but I have only cursed at someone once. I still feel guilty about that loss of control. Words are permanent, even if the emotions behind them are not.
  • I believe in the power of words and the ideas they represent. Words can, and do, change lives.
  • I read and read and read and read.
  • Thinking before speaking continues to be the toughest, most frequent and important challenge I face.

  • I believe it is wrong to raise ones voice or fist in anger. Violence begets violence. Authentic love cannot bear to cause pain, and that sort of pain should never be endured.
  • I believe everyone should know how to drive a stick shift and navigate by a map and compass.
  • I believe anyone can change if they truly want to. It’s just easier to make excuses.
  • I believe that once obtained, power is nearly always abused.
  • I believe that America could be a much better place.
  • I am one tough cookie; a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
  • Maybe I think too highly of myself.
  • I made my life the way it is and I like it. Whenever I don’t, it’s up to me to change it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Good Book about a Bad Thing

I bought this because I mistakenly thought it was a new Chris Crutcher book, and because the teaser on the flap sounded intriguing.

Instead, I discovered a "new" author who has woven a complicated, emotionally truthful book that takes seriously how very seriously teens take remarks to heart.

The topic of suicide is handled frankly, yet somewhat reservedly, and ultimately blames the only person who can be justly blamed. The positive effects of the tapes on the lives of the grieving are deftly emphasized, and may transfer to the lives of readers.

I will tell many students about this book, for they deserve good books-- even on topics that frighten us all.

One complaint: If I'd been Asher's editor, I would have axed the intro chapter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sew Recent

I haven't listed any new items in my shop for quite some time. That's because I'm focused on embellishing clothing right now. In my experience, clothing doesn't sell well on Etsy. My wearable items get loads of hearts, but it's understandable that people want to try clothing on and see how it feels and looks.

At the StrangeFolk craft fair this fall, the first tree branch jacket I made was my most admired item. It was displayed prominently and drew people to my tent The jacket sold within hours. Before the delighted and adorable shopper who was exactly the right size, a dozen people tried it on and asked if I had more. At the time, I did not. Next time I will.

The first blazer pictured is from Maurice's and has a batik tree skeleton on the back. I chose to leave the front of this one untouched.

Next, is a decade's old menswear corduroy jacket with lapel and back panel embellishments constructed from a log cabin flannel print quilter's fabric.
I'm not sure how well men's jackets will sell, but I plan to have a few ready just in case. I fear the lapel diamond feminizes it, but who knows-- perhaps a fair lady will choose to buy and wear the jacket.
The last pictures are of a ladies J. Crew pant suit with a calico tree and leaf applique.
The pants were too hard to put on the dress form, but they match and prove a slimming combination.
I've got eleven more clothing items to match up with appliques (doves are coming up next) and then I'll have to shop for more. It's a great mix of labor and pleasure, this project!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Reading is like breathing

All together, I finished four books this weekend, though two barely count because I was already half way through them. Regardless, it felt great to have a few hours to read each day!

Young adult literature didn't appeal to me until I took a class on it. (There were 43 books to read in that one month course!) Even as a teen, I preferred perusing the adult section of the library.

Things have changed. It's a job requirement that I stay up to date with current adolescent lit, and be able to recommend titles to reluctant and voracious readers alike. Besides, there are some fantastic YA authors these days who refuse to sugar coat teen life.Laurie Halse Anderson is royalty in the YA universe. Not only are her books unfailingly realistic and straightforward, they're studied in classrooms far and wide while she is still in the prime of her career. Speak, in which a teen reacts to an atrocity by refusing to use her voice for nearly a year, has spoken to a great many students. Catalyst, in which a preacher's kid endures academic heartbreak, theft, and an unsatisfactory romance appeals to older teens. Twisted, her newest paperback, is what I read yesterday afternoon.

Twisted opens with a two page lead-in that perfectly focusses the narrator's voice and reveals just enough about his crappy family and social situation to compell the reader to turn pages until the end. The main character is not the greatest guy. His failings are plentiful, yet empathetic.

The concept isn't overwhelmingly original, but its execution is grand. Hints of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky and Run Softly, Go Fast, by by Barbara Wersba are found in its pages, probably because the three books have frank and guileless male narrators in common.

The events of this story are not comfortable to witness, but their honest-yet-cleanly-wrought details will draw even reluctant readers into the tale.

Another book from this weekend is Teachers Have it Easy. I certainly am not in the target audience, but I found the tome intriguing. Within its pages are confessions from former teachers about why they left the profession, and confidences from current teachers about their struggles. All of the teachers interviewed felt passion for the energy of a classroom, but frustration with the existing system.

I am always alert for "new" or alternative methods of teaching, always yearning for that ideal student-teacher ratio with the freedom to teach in an organic manner: siezing and expanding on interests of the pupils, and, therefore, I oft end up disilusioned. Creativity is being squeezed out of the classroom in favor of uniformity, in a misguided quest for better and better test scores.

Without preaching further, I'll say that the book is meant to reach policy-makers and voters concerned about educator quality. (It's not meant to discourage devoted teachers!)
Read on!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cubby Kitchen Cabinet

In August, I built what I dubbed a "hanging pantry" . It fit many of my spices and sundry baking and cooking supplies, all in easy view, freeing up some valuable cabinet space. The problem was that we kept bumping into it, even though it only jutted out four inches.
Last weekend, after ensuring there was no wiring in the way, I put my jig saw to the drywall and cut this long, narrow inset, then taped and painted the area to match the surrounding wall. The space was narrower than I'd hoped. Usually there's about 16 inches between studs, but since there is an intake vent beside this space, it's rather small.Yesterday, I installed bracket strips so that the shelves would be adjustable. I also cut shelves and trim, then stained the pieces.Later in the day, ShadowBoy, my young assistant and I caulked and tacked the trim around the cubby, and stocked the shelves.We're pleased with the result, and glad to have foregone creating a cabinet door for it. Working around the phone jack wasn't much of a problem. Not all of my bottles, jars, and spices fit in this small space, however, so only the lesser used ingredients are stowed in this cubby.I had done a similar project a couple of summers ago, when I created this (currently sparse) display nook at the opposite end of the hallway. What I've learned is that I grow more patient about taking my time and doing things correctly with each DIY project I undertake. With the shelves pictured below, I was intimidated by the precision involved in installing brackets for adjustable shelves, and made them permanent instead. I regret that, and know that it was worth the extra time and frustration to make the pantry cubby shelves adjustable. Heck, I've already re-arranged them twice!It's the same with sewing. Once, I avoided zippers and button holes and the like. Now I understand those facets are well worth the risk of screwing up a project. Actually, the trickier a project is, the less likely I am to hurry and make errors.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Recommended Reads

Often, I find great books by perusing lists on Amazon.com. Recently, I've been enjoying the books of Caroline Leavitt.

Living Other Lives is about love and grieving, and the author has intimate personal experience with both subjects and the accompanying emotions. This is one of her best, and is not nearly the downer it sounds like!

Family concerns our need for ties that bind, and our fears about losing, maintaining, or tangling those ties. Told in multiple perspectives, this book represents the range of emotions concerning trust, betrayal, and loyalty.

I first discovered Caroline Leavitt when I found the book Girls in Trouble . It follows the lives of the main characters through years' worth of realistic and unpredictable choices, conflict, regret, and acceptance.

Coming Back to Me had its strong points, but it has been the book I've enjoyed the least from this author. The tensions among the three main characters were just right, but the scenario was entirely depressing.

For more thorough comments on these and other books I've had something to say about, see my reviews on Amazon.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Photographing Merchandise

In the far corner of my basement, near the windows and doorway of our walk-out, beside the laundry lines, I take pictures. Quality pictures aren't simple, but I keep learning about what works best. Some colors present more of a struggle. Blue, for instance, drives me nuts because the background somehow picks up the hue as well. And light colors, like yellow, are nearly impossible for me to capture with any crispness. Shadowy corners still plague my shots, as seen below.

I've learned, though, to write down which settings work, and to manipulate the digital images with software. It takes time, but I can manage to represent my sewing projects now.
This is important, because the clearer the image is, the more confident the consumer is.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Drawing Tutorial for Pre-Schoolers

In this video, my son will teach you how to draw Peep.

These days, his creative side is blossoming. It's most evident through imaginative play, and story-telling, but he's finally showing interest in drawing as well. Kids--they're ahead in some areas, behind in others, and it all evens out in the long haul.

Considering how long it took to upload this video, I don't anticipate sharing others!

On a completely different note, I made soup with leftover turkey, some carrots and such tonight. (Food photography is exceedingly difficult--why do my dishes never look appetizing on film?) I only make noodles from scratch a couple of times a year, but I love love love them!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Essential Book Meme

This idea comes from PaperMenagerie, by way of the High Desert Diva:

List the following:
(a) Fiction book
(b) Autobiography
(c) Non-fiction book
(d) A fourth book of your choice from any genre

Explain why the books are essential reads in no more than 30 words per book.

This is an agonizing task for any bibliophile! Choosing favorites is tough, if not impossible, for me. I'm having difficulty refraining from listing runners-up in each category!
A. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffeneger

It's contemporary, original, well-written, complex example of magical realism. The emotional context and content are so strong I feel like I live the story rather than read it.

B. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Newer memoirs and autobiographies are affecting, but not nearly so much as (all versions) of this well-known slave narrative.

C. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Barbara Kingsolver's fiction is superb, but this account of her family's endeavor to be locavores for a year is informative, entertaining, and a text-book for changing unhealthy habits.

D. Tramps Like Us, by Barbara Morgenroth

It has long been out of print, but I own two copies. Though an avid reader, this was the one book I could fully relate to as an adolescent. I ended up living out my own version of this bildungsroman.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Breakfast

I'm not usually a pancake fan, but this recipe is scrumptious and filling. I make it year-round, but the oatmeal and brown sugar flavor is especially good in the winter.

The (modified) recipe is originally from the November, 2004 edition of American Baby magazine.

Oatmeal Pancakes

1 cup milk
2/3 cup quick-rolled oats
2/3 cup flour
2 T brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. oil
1/4 tsp. vanilla

Heat milk in a small saucepan. Stir in oats, remove from heat, cover and let stand for five minutes.
Stir flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center for the liquid ingredients.
In a small bowl, stir egg, oil, and vanilla. Add egg mixture to oats, then pour into dry ingredients. Stir to combine.
For eight pancakes, pour 1/4 cup portions of batter on skillet. Turn when bubbles are plentiful, and cook a minute longer.

Nutrition facts:
184 calories
7g total fat
1.5g saturated fat
25g carbs
2g fiber

I eat a couple, then save the rest to eat throughout the week. Great with syrup, apple butter, or even on their own.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thrift Shopping

Thrifting has emerged as a point of pride for many shoppers. It used to be that the stock rotated slowly, and gems could be had for a quarter. Over the past couple of decades, prices for used goods have risen along with the overall quality of goods offered second-hand. Lately, when I drive past any of my favorite shopping haunts for used merchandise, the parking lots are full and cars are illegally parked nearby.

While this is a welcome sight for the sore eyes of an environmentalist, it brings with it some proprietary sorrow. I'm not used to competing for a place to park at establishments like Goodwill. Instead of reacting to this sight with camaraderie, I mainly stay away, leaving the bargains for those who need them more.

Today, however, I treated myself to a five dollar spurge at a lesser-known store called the Treasure Shop and picked out some brand new office supplies, as well as three suit jackets to embelish/upcycle. The prices were reminiscent of 1991, and for bringing my own shopping bag, the kind lady at the register knocked $1.50 off my total!
I am inspired to design some great appliques for these sport coats. Since discovering what a popular item this jacket was at the Strange Folk Festival, I've been collecting used, brand-name women's jackets to re-make, and will also experiment with a few menswear items for next fall.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

White, Silver. Gray.

After procrastinating a few cycles of routine dye jobs, I reached a decision. A few weeks ago I declared to all who would listen that I have stopped dying my hair.

Now, I'm eager for the transformation. I find my eyes drawn to long gray hair with a sort of lust. One day, I will proudly sport a long, silvery braid. Pictured below is seven or eight weeks of growth on my crown. It's going to be a long wait for that braid! Tonight I did some image and advice searches online. My twofold purpose was to find tips on gracefully growing out the dyed locks and to seek shorter hair cut ideas for the journey. What I discovered surprised me: Gray is chic.
There are sites devoted to the evolution to gray, with glamorous (rather than earthy) photos of celebs such as Glenn Close, Emmy Lou Harris, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Evidently, an Oprah episode was dedicated to proud silver manes. GrayGirls.com is fueling a (r)evolution. Flickr photos celebrate natural hair. (I dare not share these photos here for fear of infringement, but click to view them.)

Newspaper reporters like William Loeffler have observed, "This is not your grandmother's gray. No longer is it compressed into a schoolmarmish bun or crinkled into a blue rinse. It's seen in clubs and art galleries, coffee houses and fashion runways. It's worn long and straight, cut into a punk-style buzz or crimped into flirty curls" (Philidelphia Times).

Books have recently been written about women's avoidance of gray, as well as an emerging spirit of acceptance. (Hyperlinks are to books.)

It seems my decision has coincided with a movement of sorts. I'm okay with that. After all, white, silver, or gray hair symbolizes peace.

Gray Haired Scorpio, signing off.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween was a fun time. G was asked if he was a Roman soldier or a gladiator, but he was adamant about his knighthood. Too bad his mama made such a pitiful duct tape lance!