Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter Reading

Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, Twisted, Catalyst) settled right in and took over my life for a bit.  The book is both disturbing and engrossing...much like anything that portrays adolescents honestly.

As a pre-teen and early teen, I read a lot of novels about girls with eating disorders, and really felt like there was nothing new to be said on the topic.  Because the author includes myriad other "issues," and this is not a typical anorexia/bulemia novel. 

Halse-Anderson wraps the package with appealing text tricks that consistently fit the narrative.  There's intrigue, mystery, and a lot less whining than I expected.  The fears, the longing, the determination, and the affection among characters feels real.  The inner dialogue is effective, and must have been fatiguing to write.

It's fascinating how some authors are able to make me relate to characters with whom I share no common ground. Halse-Anderson has that gift. 

I'm wishing some of my seniors hadn't graduated this month.  I'd love to pass this book along to one who's found her way out of eating issues, near-death scenarios, and the related hospitalizations.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Look What I Made Today

Behold Heather Ross' summer blouse pattern v. 2. This is the fabric that needed to become a blouse!

Now I just need to wait for weather warm enough to wear a thin cotton blouse.

Not Worth the Climb

I am a Roland Smith fan. I am interested in the outdoors, and adventure sports. I wanted to enjoy this book. Maybe I was expecting too much.

I found many elements of the plot implausible and seemingly unplanned. I also spotted five or six editorial errors (grammar and typo issues) which was annoying, and made the book feel like a rushed project.

The book had its moments, most often filtered through Vincent or Zopa, but I doubt I would have finished this book as a teen or pre-teen intrigued by My Side of the Mountain, Avalanche!, Cady Woodlawn, and other tales where characters pushed themselves beyond the expectations of others, and reveled in the outdoors.

I was happy with the final chapters, however.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Weekend Sewing, by Heather Ross, is filled with projects I've been planning to get around to sewing for a long time. Today, I traced a couple of patterns and used one for a trial run. I read through all of the errata on her site, and on her Flickr group and made adjustments accordingly.
I made the blouse from an unusual fabric: stretchy, ribbed linen. It's a fabric I had a lot of, and I wanted to test the pattern on excess fabric because it would break my heart to make mistakes with the beautiful prints I have set aside for this blouse. Here is a detail shot of the fabric.

My comments on the pattern:
  • Unlike others, I did not cut a larger neckline.
  • I did hem the sleeves four inches, and they're still lengthy.
  • I lengthened the shirt by two and a half inches, made a tiny hem, and it's just the right length.
  • I made the medium, but might just try the small. If not, I will narrow the shirt body by an inch and a half next time. It's not as maternity-looking as I feared, but it's a bit trapezey.
  • I shortened the placket, but not quite enough. Like others, I see no need to cut that far only to sew it up again.
  • I sewed the sleeves to the shoulder pieces, then sewed straight up from the wrist to the armpit to the bottom hem. It seemed quicker and I can see no reason not to. It was easy to press the seams this way, too.

Friday, December 25, 2009


It's Christmas Day, and snow is falling at our house.
Whether your celebration of Hanukkah ended a week ago, your Solstice table was set earlier this week, or your Christmas festivities are now drawing to a close, I hope your celebration was filled with love and joy.
The chill darkness of winter has settled in, but I'm looking forward to each incremental increase in daylight as we creep toward spring.

Friday, December 18, 2009

An Awakening

The novel Awake, by Elizabeth Graver, holds power in its knowledge, its awareness of maternal nature. Graver takes on the trepidatious theme of lost self when absorbed by wifehood and motherhood.

Her prose is brimming with insight about our choices, relationships, and defeat in a tone of moderated confession, neither remorseful nor boastful. "We're just animals with noisy minds," the narrator muses after an intoxicating, escapist, adulturous encounter. "For the first time in years, I wasn't looking or attending, protecting, feeding, prodding or keeping track. Gone. It was my greatest fear, but at that moment it meant nothing to me. I was no longer a mother, scarcely a human. I knew nothing of family or love or sickness or death or the long, hard work it takes to live even the most ordinary life. I knew nothing."

I remain moved by this book, which made me appreciate my insomnia and gave me much to think about and even abashedly relate to.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What I said, Bunny bread

Interesting NYT piece on Etsy and the "Quit your day job!" hobby/business concept.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Everything is a Choice

Craft show vending has really been fun, but it's time for the business phase of my hobby to end. The income from a business-minded venture is nice, but it's not my primary motivation. That's why my Etsy shop has been shuttered for a while.

One conviction I hold is that I am responsible for my own happiness. Therefore, I must recognize and change any aspects of life that impede joy. Cutting back on sewing to create only what interests me (right now that's clothing, decor, and gifts) will allow me to feel less like a factory, and to pursue other interests:

  • I'm taking classes next semester (yeah!) for the first time since becoming a parent (yikes!).
  • I'm writing. (Any volunteers to critique me along the way?)
  • I'm reviving some fitness goals now that my knee is allowing moderately regular poundings again. (Running and riding partners are welcome.)

Recently, I bundled much of my "merchandise" to give away, which feels great--I'm shedding a skin and ready for something new.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Books and more books

Michelle Wildgen, author of You're Not You, is senior editor for Tin House magazine, which impressed me before I even began to read. The book is a slow read, but not in a bad way. The pace of this novel appeals to me in the same way that the slow food, slow living, and slow bicycle movements appeal to me.
Although I'm not the narrator's age, I was easily able to identify with her, and to root for her. I was also enamoured with Kate, her employer, and enjoyed dissecting the dynamics among characters. The segments written about food and cooking were mouth-watering!
Wildgen neither shies away from nor sensationalizes sex scenes, recreational drug use, or masturbation. These matters are a part of the novel just like they are a part of life.
5 reasons I love Shift, by Jennifer Bradbury:
1. I love bicycles as art, as machinery, as transportation, as recreation, and as conversation.
2. I have been to many of the locations along the journey taken by the characters.
3. I have always yearned to undertake a coast to coast ride.
4. It's written by an English teacher.
5. The characters are real, and just plain likable. The parents are great, and I especially like the characters the boys meet on their travels--reminiscent of Travels with Charley in Search of America.

Right behind You was SUCH a swift read, I can barely remember it and I only read it yesterday. Engaging, psychologically interesting, and fast-paced, I'll be recommending it to my students.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Earth, Wind, and Fire

Months after making this scarf, I've taken a picture of it. It's soft and comfy to wear, and dresses up a tee-shirt really well.
Today, I made an orange scarf as a gift for a friend who complimented my brown one. The tutorial I followed is found here.
This part can be worn with the ruffly scarf, or on its own. It's simply two braided strands of the same fabric.
Here's the scarf I made for a friend.
And here's the mass all together.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Speak the Truth

Speak Softly, She Can Hear, by Pam Lewis is capably written, but a disappointment after her other novel, Perfect Family.

Portions of the book were rivetting, suspenseful, and filled with dread. After a certain point, though, I had figured out the reality of the main character's situation, and grew impatient for the conclusion.
Eddie was not enough of a study, and plain evil. Naomi had depth. Will captured my heart. Carole was entirely believable.
I do enjoy the author's fixation on secrets, and how so often the only harm comes from keeping them. It's a rich trope to mine, and fascinating fodder for thought.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

All Wound Up

Unwind, by Neal Shusterman, is a Gateway Readers Award book and a truly riveting and memorable dystopian novel.
Set in the future, when it sounds absurd that "everyone was selecting their leaders not by their ability to lead, but by where they stood on [a] single issue," the life vs. choice battle has been settled with an unsettling treaty.

The book follows three primary characters, but there are multiple dynamic players on the second tier as well. Every character has a purpose, and every character deals with internal and external problems.

By virtue of the plot, the setting changes frequently. Each place is clearly described and charged with atmosphere.

I especially like how the author broaches sensitive topics in a subversive manner. Along with a tone of humane sincerity and an edgy sense for pacing, Unwind offers psychological insights, political and religious food for thought, action, and entertainment.

Gritty, Futuristic Urban Faery Tale

I'm not a fantasy fan, and rarely read books of that genre. However, I've read ten of the fifteen Gateway Award nominee books this year, and I'm not about to stop.

Good thing, too, or I'd have missed this book.

Wicked Lovely is strange, and different, and not nearly as dark as it tries to seem. Seth is lovable, loyal, and just a bit offbeat (sounds like Edward, eh?). Aislinn is independent to a fault, a bit reckless, and more powerful than she realizes. The Winter Queen is unredeemable, and the Sun King is a surprisingly sympathetic character. Donia is probably the most intriguing.

None of this will make sense unless you submerge yourself in this otherworldly tale of an apocalyptic nature. I like the atmosphere of the book best of all.

Warning: drugs are mentioned, sex is involved, and matters of life and death are at hand. Wicked Lovely is written for adolescents, yet does not shy away from these realities of high school.

I give it three stars: unusual is good, but easy ground to falter upon. The pacing was uneven, and the setting and conflict unclear/confusing at first.

If only the author's web page were not under reconstruction, I'd love to learn more about the capricious nomad who wrote Wicked Lovely.

By the way, this is the first book in a series. According to the Amazon reviews, many read it to fill the hole left by Twilight's end.

Monday, November 23, 2009

No Such Thing

This weekend I read Perfect Family, by Pam Lewis, and am already on the waiting list for her other novel, Speak Softly, She Can Hear.

I'd describe Perfect Family as a literary thriller. The characterization is strong, the pacing even, and the denoument just right.

One simple thing that I really enjoyed about this book were the character names. Pony, Tinker, Jasper, William, and Mira were embodiments of their monikers.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reading, Writing, and Grading

I'm sorry to say that none of the books I've read in recent weeks have been exceptional. (I try to only review books I enjoy, so as not to hurt the feelings of those I hope to one day count as colleagues.) A couple you may find worthwhile are mentioned below. Sorry for the lack of photos and links.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac was a solid book. It bogged down a bit in the middle, but everything in the story happens for a reason. I'm looking forward to the March release of this author's next book for adults, and I'll be reserving copies of her other two existing books. (Gabrielle Zevin also wrote the script for Conversations with Other Women, a neat conversation-driven movie with the fascinating actress Helena Bonham Carter.)

The Penny Pincher's Club
was a fluff of a story with a whole lot of believable characters. It seemed to be more motivational than entertaining, yet it sticks with me. Sarah Strohmeyer is the author.
Lately, I'm not at all interested in sewing for profit. At first I thought it was a period of recuperation after the intensity of the Strange Folk Festival, but the feeling lingers. I didn't exactly peak, but I reached goals pertaining to creating a quality booth display filled with inventory and a tidy sum to deposit afterward. Now I'm over it. All I want to do is make one-offs for gifts or personal use and return to fitness and writing as my primary personal endeavors.

If this feeling sticks, it leaves me with the question of what to do with my inventory and craft show paraphernalia. Suggestions?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Another Jancee Dunn Book!

Despite its (intentionally) cheezzzzzeeee cover, this book is one I urge you to crack open because it will crack you up!
In But Enough about Me, Dunn writes about her family, her phases, her eccentricities, and her encounters with famous people while working for Rolling Stone, MTV2, and Good Morning America.
In chapters that alternate between personal and professional life, she tells the stories she must have told a million times already.
This was a super-quick, fun book to read.
I reviewed her novel just a few weeks ago.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Change of Focus

On Sunday morning, I used this simple tutorial to change a pair of brown gaucho pants into a marvelously slouchy scarf for myself. Heeding the warning from this blogger, I reduced the number of squares by more than a dozen, and it's still more than twice my height. That makes for some fun ways to wind it around myself, though!

It was a nice indulgence to make something for myself. I think I could easily fall away from the workhorse, selling mode and begin to craft items for my family and home instead.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Expect the Unexpected

Based on the jacket flap, I thought I knew what to expect from this novel. The story arc appeared to be straightforward, and for the first 99 pages it basically was. Beyond that, all of my predictions proved incorrect. This makes for a great reading experience, but (in order to avoid spoilers) a sparse review.

Let it suffice to say that the characters are entirely likable and their problems are entirely plausible. I commend the author for creating extraordinarily likable, friendly underdog characters, and then forcing them to endure trauma, trials, and tribulations. I struggled along with them, wanting only for them to be safe, happy, and confident.

There were a few areas where I felt the passage of time was unclear, and that Sage's character was described too overtly, but neither bothered me as much as the cover art (though it is nicely done). Males and females will enjoy this book, but the sensuous cover may deter some guys from carrying it around.

The bottom line is that Brian Katcher writes entertaining and realistic stories that adults can enjoy as much as teens. My students adore Playing with Matches and they are already raving about Almost Perfect.

*full disclosure: Brian Katcher is a personal friend. (Hi Brian! I liked it!)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Still Hungry

Catching Fire is book two in a trilogy that began with The Hunger Games. Click here for my review of book one.

I finished Catching Fire early Saturday morning. As much as I loved the first book, this sequel took over 60 pages to catch my attention. Even then, there were so many twists and turns that I lost interest occasionally. Every time I'd get drawn in, the character's circumstances would change abruptly and I'd have to refocus.

In spite of its weaknesses (repetitive ideas, maze-like plots, and limited exploration of the coolest aspects: the uprising, fugitives, rebels, and mockingjay connections) I became engrossed, and will look forward to the next installment.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Uncomfortable, yet Riveting

Boot Camp, by Todd Strasser

Although the topic and setting might appeal to at-risk kids, the main character represents only one fraction of that audience. He's prodigiously gifted, extraordinarily wealthy, and one half of an anomalous relationship. He's as big a misfit (largely due to his honesty) at the boot camp as he is elsewhere. In spite of (or because of) his advantages, Garrett is an extremely sympathetic character, and that makes the story work.

The events of the book are unsettling and believably rendered right up to the end.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Insomniac Reads Again

Billie Standish Was Here is an outstanding book that readers can inhabit.
Superbly set, written, and paced.
Simultaneously real and delicate, with a flawlessly consistent voice.
Nancy Crocker is the author.

A great companion book would be Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

This I Believe

The NPR standard (and books) This I Believe is a favorite of mine. Begun by Edward R. Murrow, it gives essayists their due time in the limelight (over 60,000 submissions!), and provides an interested audience for musings about life.

I edited This I Believe essays for a dozen former students this fall, and finally settled on a topic to doodle about on my own time. It's not a full essay, but here's one thing I believe, even if I don't always heed it:

The words, "I'm just kidding" should be eradicated from our collective vocabulary.

In the halls of the school where I teach, I hear the words and see their effect far too often. Though the little phrase is an off-hand admission of regret for what's been said, we'd all be better off without that not-so-little white lie.

Hearing the phrase "just kidding" doesn't erase the hurt, but it does erode trust. Speaking the phrase doesn't soften harsh words or retract what's been uttered. The impulse to tell someone I was only joking simply means I should have kept quiet to begin with.

People try to excuse offensive behavior with the "just kidding" Band-Aid instead of sincerely apologizing. The phrase is an effort to redirect insecurities onto the verbal target ("Can't you take a joke? I didn't mean it.") rather than owning up to rudeness.

If we don't mean it, we shouldn't say it, and if a truth needs to be told, it shouldn't be masked as meaningless ribbing. I'm willing to bet that "I'm just kidding" is the most often told lie. And it's no joke.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Books of Late

It's been ages since last I shared my thoughts on a book. Here are a few from the past couple of weeks.
For many chapters, I wondered why Impossible, by Nancy Werlin, had been labeled a fantasy. At most it seemed like magical realism. By now I've decided that there simply isn't any better label available.

I had looked forward to this book for some time, having enjoyed The Rules of Survival and Double Helix, and Impossible did not disappoint. If you have a hard time getting into books outside the realm of realism, here's your entry point. Werlin is not the kind of writer who ends up in a rut; each story she spins is different from the last.

P.S. If you're a Simon & Garfunkle fan, you'll have other reasons to like this book.
I picked up Jancee Dunn's book, Don't You Forget about Me for three reasons: first, the cover is hard to resist; second, the title's reference to the Breakfast Club appeals to my generation; third, it's by Jancee Dunn! (Dunn wrote many a cover story for Rolling Stone, and VJ'd for MTV2.)

The story itself concerns a woman whose life is much different than mine, but with whom I can easily relate. It's about a 38 year old woman's selective memories about her teen years, and the chance to resurrect those good parts. Her class reunion, and her adolescent diary remind her that those glittery memories aren't so golden after all.

Who among us doesn't wonder about the embers of past flames? (Oh hush. Of course you do; it's just that most of us know to leave the past alone.)
Jennifer Weiner's latest book, Best Friends Forever, also hinges on a class reunion. There aren't any surprises in store for readers of this one, but it's still entertaining to flip pages as the story unfolds.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Giddy by Association

MayaMade is Etsy's featured seller right now! Her products are simple, yet not simplistic. Her blog is an oasis of peaceful photographic visions, decorating inspirations, and delectable seasonal recipes. I urge you to check out her blog and shop. (Please see my sidebar for her link; my computer is not allowing me to hyperlink right now.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Sad Part: Strange Folk Comes but Once a Year

My helpful husband and I drove separate, packed vehicles and arrived at my booth space on Saturday morning with three and a half hours to prepare for the 10:00 opening. After my husband helped to unload the gear and set up the tent and grid walls, he scooted away to entertain our son for the day. In spite of what sounds like ample time to prepare, I had only five spare minutes to use the restroom and pick up my artist's badge before greeting shoppers.
I had expected the changing area in the rear of my tent to draw more t-shirt sales, but ended up taking it down on Sunday. The openly visible mirror seemed to attract more people.
The t-shirt rack definitely welcomed more attention after I hung several examples along the walls. The fabric in the corner is hiding my tent weights, which were five gallon buckets filled with sand ($26 for all four corners combined) The front pair were masked by drapes, and the other corner weight was behind my counter.
Below is a glimpse at the view behind the scenes. Here's where the vendors in my row took a breather now and then. The folks on either side of me were friendly non-smokers, for which I was grateful.
The weekend was a fun retreat and a successful venture, with visits from friends and family who were enthusiastic supporters that were careful not to impede business.

I'm hoping for the opportunity to return to this fantastic festival next year.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Being Strange

I'm looking forward to a fantastic weekend of strangeness!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Prep Time

Strange Folk Festival is just days away, so I've been working on preparation. On Saturday, my other half helped me set up the tent I bought via Craigslist a few months ago.

The grid wall panels were also a Craigslist bargain. They will hold bags and purses for sale. The spinner rack is for headbands, key fobs, and wrist cuffs. The extra white walls in the back corner are to create a changing area, where there will also be a full length mirror and hooks. The "counter" will hide supplies for transactions and re-stocking. On the right hand side of the booth will be racks of clothing I've appliqued.

Now, we are just hoping that the weather forecast changes for the better before next weekend. Rain would be a real drag on my family's fun, and income.

At a party over Labor Day weekend, I mentioned my yen for an old work truck so that I could haul my own mulch for the garden. Cooincidentally, one of the guys I was talking with said he was willing to part with this 1982 truck for a mere $300. With Strange Folk next weekend, my husband was eager to go pick up the truck so that hauling all my gear and merchandise would be simpler.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

As Seen on TV

Today, Autumn Wiggins, the woman who invented and runs the Strangefolk Festival in O'Fallon, Illinois, appeared on KMOV's Great Day St. Louis to publicize the most amazing and fun craft festival in our region. See the video here. Autumn's segment begins 10 minutes into the show, and my jacket's moment comes around 12:45.

This is exciting for three reasons: the more exposure and advertising this event gets, the happier I'll be in my little vendor booth; it means that Strangefolk is just around the corner; and she wore one of my jackets on TV! It's barely visible in the shot above, but this is the jacket she chose to wear.

Thanks, Ms. Wiggins, for putting one of my products, and my shop name, under the limelight!

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Day at the Races

The Tour of Missouri bicycle race began this afternoon in downtown St. Louis. We got to watch several loops of the criterium course. It was awe-inspiring to see the big names in cycling ride through our fair city. Since the Tour of Georgia folded, our state race is second in prominence only to the Tour of California.

Between laps, we explored the merchandising areas, scooping up free cowbells, bike pins, bumper stickers, back packs, wholesome food samples, and other goodies. We also explored City Garden. (More photos of that sculpture/fountain/garden/play area another day.)

New Banner for my Craft Show Booth

The other day, I sewed up a banner to hang above the entrance of my craft show booth. A length of bedsheet leftover from backing a quilt was just the right size for the top layer. Many flashy fabrics beckoned, but this quiet paisley flannel seemed to offer the right color mixture to go with my business cards. I sewed the flannel to the back of the blue sheet, then traced letter outlines in pencil. After sewing along the penciled outlines of letters, I cut them out (reverse applique).
Fancier fonts certainly appealed to me, but I decided to go with the most readable lettering.

Now I just need to iron it, slip it into the EZ-Up banner sleeve, and roll it up until the Strangefolk Festival.