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Sunday, May 29, 2011

365-111-114 A Day with Friends

Today held a special treat:  friends from several states away are here in my state vacationing, and we spent the day together.  I did not bring out my camera until the last half hour, so I did not get photos of all of her family.
The girls both sat for a few photos.  The little one asked to have her picture taken, and, when her big sister wandered back outside for a few minutes, I asked if she'd let me take a couple photos.  Both are such pretty and sweet girls! 
It could be nature or nurture, or more likely both, because their mom is lovely, too.  I didn't ask her to pose, but snapped this candid as she was watching her littlest.
I love how he is keeping his hand on his mom.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'll wear it anyway, at least once. Simplicity 4236


I bought the fabric probably a decade ago, along with the zipper and thread to match, and the pattern, Simplicity 4236, last year.  In my head, the fabric was perfect for the pattern, swirly loveliness.  On Monday, I decided to stop putting off learning to sew and located my size,18, on the pattern and forged ahead.  Mostly, I was nervous about getting the zipper in place.  As it turned out, the zipper was the easy part.

This was the first time I'd sewn a skirt and the first time I've used anything but cotton.  I don't know if the fabric makes a difference, but the seams do not lay flat.  They don't bunch horribly, but they don't drape and swish like the rest of the skirt.  It's more noticeable on the side seam than the hem, but the hem is not pretty, either.  I could not cut the skirt longer, so I made an inside piece to keep the hem as long as I could.  I have skirts made this way, but apparently it works better with cottons than with polyester.   Or it works better when the seamstress knows what she is doing.

Also noticeable, after I finished it, was the fact that the skirt did not fit.  The pattern said that it would fit one inch below my natural waist, so when I tried it on as I was going along, I ignored the nagging feeling that it was too big.  I shouldn't have.  It rested on top of my hips, dipping down in front to slide under my pudgy belly, which left the hem in front about two inches longer than in back.  Not a flattering look.  So I took out a couple inches by sewing a straight line on the side opposite the zipper, making a false seam.  (Actually, looking at the pattern, the girl on the right also looks like the skirt is resting on her hips, but, having a flat stomach, the look works for her.) 

So now it fits, but remains wonky-seamed.  I plan to wear it anyway, at least once.....and I plan to keep learning.  After all, I did learn to sew a zipper.  Next time, I might get the size right, and after that maybe the hem.  (Did you know that learning new things wards off Alzheimer's?  Perhaps when I am old, I will be able to sew my own clothes and remember my phone number.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

thoughts on: Home Staging that Works

Home Staging That Works: Sell Your Home in Less Time for More MoneyHome Staging That Works: Sell Your Home in Less Time for More Money by Starr C. Osborne

What sets this book apart from other staging guides, and many hgtv shows, is the insight that buyers are younger than sellers, and that you can market your house more effectively by knowing what appeals to that younger generation.  Simple and brilliant way of framing the issue.  I had never thought of staging in those terms before, but upon reading the first chapter, it was obvious to me who the potential buyers are in my neighborhood.

Starr Osborne does devote chapters to thorough cleaning and decluttering, but it is her knowledge of what the different generations are looking for in homes that makes the book worth reading.  She gives lists of dos and don'ts for outdoor spaces, paint choices, artwork, furnishings, and room usage.  Definitely, I will be implementing these ideas before I put my house on the market.

(I am not putting my house up for sale anytime soon.  At least, I have no plans to do so, but I would like to, so I enjoy reading and dreaming about it.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

365/109-110 Three works in progress

I do not usually have more than one project going on at a time.

I am determined to learn to sew something wearable-in-public (as opposed to pajamas)
and started a skirt today.
So far I have learned:
Cutting a straight line is harder than it looks.
Pattern instructions are written for people who know what they are doing.
I'll never learn if I don't try.
Yet to learn:
How to sew a zipper in place.

Last night I started the next lap blanket, a simple feather and fan pattern.  Perfect TV knitting.
We just finished season 4 of Dr. Who.  One more season on Netflix, 
then we'll have to wait until next year when the current season, 6, comes available.

I finally thought of something that would be improved by an embroidered robot:  a purse!
I think this one is from two summers ago.  Maybe three.  
It is a basic canvas bag, big enough for my camera, and it needs a little whimsy. 
I had the perfect colors of floss on hand, so everything is gathered, waiting for me to start.
I even ironed the pocket where I'll be placing the preppy pink and green robot.

365/108 Finally enough rain to use my umbrella!

Last week was the first time I got to use my new umbrella,
new as in given to me last July.
We do not get much rain.

Friday, May 20, 2011

thoughts on: Made to Stick

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others DieMade to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath

I get annoyed with myself because I can't recall things I want to remember, like my telephone number, while my brain will not let go of things I wish to forget, like the theme song from Gilligan's Island.  I've often thought this was some sort of personal flaw, but according to Chip and Dan Heath it's all in the presentation of the idea.  Some are "stickier" than others.  (Okay, they never mention telephone numbers or theme songs, but I can extrapolate.)

In Made to Stick, they explain why some ideas stay with us and others don't - regardless of how useful or important they may be - and give a simple checklist for developing ones that are more likely to leave a lasting impact.    Of course, they employ those very techniques as they explain the process to us.  I just finished the book, and it'll be interesting to see if a month from now I still remember them.

The topic immediately caught my interest, but I was not certain if it would be applicable to me, not being in the business world.  Happily, I found it both interesting and applicable.  As I was reading it, I was thinking how, at various times, I have and have not used each of these six qualities in my attempts to teach my children (both as their academic teacher and as their mom).  I still have one teen left - here's to making life lessons stick!

365/106 &107 Almost Allium



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

365/105 Tulips in a Hailstorm

thoughts on: Lincoln's Melancholy

Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His GreatnessLincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk

Shenk interweaves two threads in his book.  He reveals Lincoln to us through the eyes of his contemporaries, and he explores the differences in how "melancholy" was perceived in the 19th century and "depression" is today.  As he does so, he proposes that Lincoln's melancholy/sadness/depression was an integral part of who he was and what he accomplished, not something which, had he been cured, would have benefited him.  Or us.

Heavily drawing on letters and first hand accounts of Lincoln (and there are volumes of them), Shenk easily shows us that Lincoln's friends, neighbors, allies, and foes all remarked on sadness or melancholy being Lincoln's most distinctive trait.  Unlike today, this was not viewed as a  liability.  It caused enough concern at one point for his friends and neighbors to put him on what we would call today a suicide watch, but it was not considered something that would impede him over the years from working, marrying, and achieving greatness, which he did.

Indeed, Shenk feels that his lifelong melancholy, and what Lincoln learned through it, that enabled him to weather the ups and downs of politics with integrity and pursue a cause that he knew was greater than himself with humility.  It is a compelling argument, one that resonates as true.

Side notes, of a personal nature:
I say my husband is a pessimist.  He says he is a realist.  According to modern research, he is right.  Depressed and/or pessimistic people have more accurate perceptions of reality than happy people.  Apparently to be happy requires glossing over the bad or not noticing it.  Ignorance truly is bliss.

My husband used to like to argue with me about causes of the Civil War.  I don't know why.  He was very argumentative when he was young.  My side of the argument, which annoyed him because it lacked logic and was usually accompanied by tears, was that God wanted slavery to end, because it is just plain wrong, and that is why slavery was the true cause of the Civil War, no matter what people themselves believed at that time.  Guess who agreed with me?  Abraham Lincoln!  He cried a lot, too.  So now I consider my tears and lack of logic in good company.

Monday, May 16, 2011

365/104 Not a good weekend for Trixie

The cancer is definitely taking its toll.  Trixie is not feeling well.  She has that distinctive smell and breath of the ill, and it seems to be causing her to not trust her water.  She goes to get a drink, dips her tongue in, then decides against it.  

She was lethargic yesterday, and I realized that she was dehydrating.  I am now giving her dishes of 3:1 water to beef broth and sometimes milk.  I also put her on antacids, because this type of cancer is known to cause ulcers and other gastrointestinal distress.  She is still eating and interested in food, so I am hopeful that as long as we can keep her hydrated, she will not feel too badly.  At least, not for a while longer.  About lunchtime today, she perked up and wandered about a bit, but mostly she is wanting to rest on my lap. 

Better with Wings


I decided to both make a flock and add wings to the unloved bird.  My daughter and I worked on these together, mostly hand stitching, but some parts were done by machine.  The wings were all done on machine, then attached by hand.  The heads were all handsewn.  Some of the breast pieces were handsewn, some machine.

There are seven little blue birds.  Each is unique in its combination of fabrics and quality of stitching.  (My daughter did much more attractive head seams, but my tails are neater).  Yet they are all related because they share fabrics.  They are cousins.

Or grandkids, depending on your point of view.  In June or July, we will be mounting them on a branch, which may or may not be painted white, and installing them at my mom's house.  "Installing" makes them sounds like a work of art, doesn't it?  I'm thinking, rather than a mobile, of putting a branch in a pretty flower pot filled with plaster.  Depends on what appeals to my mom.  So, Mom, think about it.

Now that I've made them, I have to revise my opinion that $80 for a mobile made of birds is a ridiculous price.  If they are handsewn, the maker is earning less than minimum wage at that.  I still wouldn't pay it myself, but it is a fair price.....but, regardless, birds should not be wingless.  Adding the wings made all the difference in how I feel about these.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

thoughts on: Girls on the Edge

Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls-Sexual Identity, the Cyberbubble, Obsessions, Environmental ToxinsGirls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls-Sexual Identity, the Cyberbubble, Obsessions, Environmental Toxins by Leonard Sax

I rarely read parenting books, but the subtitle on this one caught my eye. I thought I would read it, then, if it was good, suggest it to my husband, because our daughter will be thirteen in a couple weeks. Not only did I give it to him to read, I promptly began recommending it to friends with younger daughters.

The four factors were not ones I have not heard about or considered on my own, but Sax presents them very well, and the extent of some of the issues was truly beyond what I had imagined. I loved the way Sax put each of the first three issues, sexuality, cellphones/internt, and obsessions, into the context of girls developing a strong sense of self, one that is not dependent on how others view them and is multi-faceted. He shows in each of these areas how today's culture is robbing girls of the time they need to figure out whom they are and whom they want to become. The fourth factor, environmental toxins, explores possible causes for the earlier ages American girls are entering puberty, effectively ending their childhoods prematurely.

Sax does not only identify the crises our daughters face. He offers practical advise for minimizing the risks. Some of these are as basic as setting rules about internet usage, and some are quite specific training techniques to minimize the risk of sports injuries. (Girls are more likely to be injured playing sports because most training exercises were developed on men. Their injuries present differently, so they are also less likely to receive prompt treatment for serious injuries.) He also discusses the importance of women of all ages reaching out to teen girls. He stresses the importance of multigenerational relationships between women.

Funniest quote, in the context of the need for girls to make sound, lasting friendships with a few, rather than seek the approval of many: "A Facebook "friend" is not a real friend, any more than Cheez Whiz is real cheese."

Friday, May 13, 2011

craft book: The Sweater Chop Shop

The Sweater Chop Shop: One-of-a-kind Creations from Recycled SweatersThe Sweater Chop Shop: One-of-a-kind Creations from Recycled Sweaters by Crispina ffrench

I have felted sweaters (intentionally) and made things from them before, but I have never been entirely satisfied with the look of the finished object.  When I saw this book at the library, I thought it might offer better finishing techniques.  It did not.  The finished objects pictured in Chop Shop did not look significantly better than my own items.  I am now willing to accept that this is simply a style that does not appeal to me.

I do not love this bird.


I went to a craft/flea last Saturday, and one of the items I saw there was a bird mobile:  small fabric birds on branches, suspended by clear line.  Cute.  $80.  Not that cute.  I googled when I came home and found the free pattern for the birds and sewed one up this morning, using scraps from a quilt I never finished.  Difficult to see in these photos, but the chest is a print of birds.

I sewed it by machine, but the head was a bit pointy and the chest jutted out oddly.  So I took the stuffing out, turned it inside out again and went over those areas with hand stitching.  That evened them out nicely, I think.


 These are the befores, showing the wonky angularity.






Still, I don't love this bird.  It is cute, but holding it in my hand, its lack of wings and eyes displeases me.  I might still make more and mobile-ize them; perhaps en masse, varying in fabrics, they would have greater appeal.  I don't know.  Should I add wings?  I put little French knot eyes on this one after photographing, barely visible, but knowing they are there matters to me. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

thoughts on: World of Geekcraft

World of Geekcraft: Step-by-Step Instructions for 25 Super-Cool Craft ProjectsWorld of Geekcraft: Step-by-Step Instructions for 25 Super-Cool Craft Projects by Susan Beal

I read/look at a lot of knitting and craft books, and I've decided to go ahead and post my thoughts on some of them, too.  I'm not going to include them on my reading list in the sidebar, but I'll share my ramblings with you.

I am not quite geeky enough to recognize everything in this book, but I'm geeky enough to enjoy it anyway.  The book is very well done.  Not only do we get geeky crafts, beautifully displayed, but we get background on each designer, websites where we can see more of their crafty or geeky selves.  I especially like the "best geeky memory" feature for the artisans.

Truthfully, most of the crafts featured do not appeal to me.  Even if we had saved all the Star Wars action figures, I would not be making terrariums for them.  Nor do I feel the desire to memorialize Oregon Trail hunting expeditions or anything relating to Mario.  I did enjoy looking at everything, and I like seeing craftiness cross the country-motif barrier.  It's wonderful to see people of all sorts making things that reflect their own interests.

There were three projects which stood out to me:  a morse code quilt, a mosaic toolbox, and a cute robot stitchery.  Two of those are on the front cover.  I doubt I'll ever make the quilt or toolbox, but I am trying to think of what I could embellish with that robot.  A placemat would be perfect.  Maybe a pillow.

Summery Placemats

Remember the yellow fabric I did not use on my dining room chairs?  After a little deliberation, I decided I wanted to use it for placemats, but not for the dining room, for the kitchen/family room.  It is one room, not two attached rooms.  Behind my sofa I have a flip top table, which we can flip down and use chairs and eat while watching tv, as pictured above.  Truthfully, more often, we sit on the sofa and put the plates behind us when we are done, even when we are not watching tv, as pictured below.  I plan to leave them there, like giant coasters.

Sewing always reminds me of certain truths:

1.  I am not a perfectionist.
2.  I am not a planner.
3.  I would experience less frustration and save time if either of those were different.
4.  I am happy anyway.

I wanted oversized, padded, not quilted placemats, so that is what I made.  However, I am rather afraid these will fall apart in the washing machine.  Not being quilted, the only thing holding the three layers together is one row of stitching at the binding.  The backside is hand stitched.  Also, I totally blanked on how to properly apply the binding, and started at corners, resulted in very fiddly and frayable corners.

Only time will tell, but in the meantime, I'm really happy with how they look.  There are only four of them, because that is how much fabric I had.  Ideally, I would have liked six, but four will do nicely.

Monday, May 9, 2011

365-103 Beautiful Blues & 104 Tasty Toes

 I love those gorgeous blue eyes.
She loves her toes.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Blue Diamonds, blanket 8

This is the first time I've knit this pattern.  It is from Our Best Knit Baby Afghans.  It took a few rows of diamonds before I got the swing of it.  It's not a difficult pattern, I just seemed to have a mental block about one particular row.  Once I got past that, it moved along quickly.

Even so, this is not a favorite.  It doesn't lay as nicely as others, wanting to bunch, which keeps the diamonds from looking their best.  I think it would look better knit at a tighter gauge, on smaller needles.  It is worsted knit on tens.  I think eights would have given the fabric a better drape, but of course, it would not have been quite big enough for my purposes then.  Were I making it for a baby, though, I'd use smaller needles.

Light blue Lion Pound of Love this time.  Looking at my stack of completed blankets, half of them are a shade of blue.  Two are the exact same yarn, a denim blue, which I regret.  The next one will be purple.  I already have the yarn in the box beside me.  After that, I think I shall go pink or yellow to balance things out. 


thoughts on: The Brontes Went to Woolworths

The Brontës Went To WoolworthsThe Brontës Went To Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson

Quirky, whimsical, and eccentric are the words that spring easily to mind when describing this book. Since I enjoy all of those in fiction, I found it a delight, albeit a difficult to describe one.

The Brontes Went to Woolworths throws you, from the very first page, right into the rich fantasy life of the Carne family, a trio of sisters and their widowed mother. Told primarily by the eldest, Deirdre, we learn of their family enjoyment of imaginary friends. Some of these are of the familiar sort, pets with lives and attitudes, former nursery toys who have moved abroad; and some are real people with whom they have taken a fancy, and created lives for and imaginary relationships with.

One gets the sense that, since most of these characters are male, and older, that the loss of their father looms large in these fantasies, but this is not analyzed or explored. Nothing is. It is simply told, which I find delightful. I like that the author throws you right into their lives, and leaves you to sort out which bits are imaginings and which are real. She also throws in an occasional letter from a governess to her family, so we get glimpses of how the family is perceived by outsiders.

About midway through the book, Deirdre meets an object of their fantasy lives: Lord Doddington, an elderly judge with whom the family became infatuated when their mother had jury duty. Watching the integration of the real Doddington and his wife into the Carne's lives was so sweet.

Ferguson creates such sympathetic characters, with so little exposition. It begins and ends abruptly, as if a window had been opened and closed, and yet the story within is enough.  (This was a delightful contrast to the last novel I read, Game of Thrones, which was all exposition and not enough story.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

thoughts on: Saved by Beauty

Saved by Beauty: Adventures of an American Romantic in IranSaved by Beauty: Adventures of an American Romantic in Iran by Roger Housden

Housden carries with him a long cherished, admittedly romantic notion of Iran, which he wants to experience firsthand, and then share with the rest of us.  He travels to Iran shortly before Obama's inauguration, choosing his British passport over his newly acquired American one.  He has a few contacts there, which inevitably lead to a few more, and a list of must-see places to visit.  He states that he "wanted to look beyond the political wrangling altogether, to the truth and beauty of an ancient and sophisticated culture; to know something of life as it is lived there, beyond the slogans and the headlines; to touch the creative spirit of Iran and to be touched by it in turn."

It was that last part, "the creative spirit," which made it difficult for me, the reader, to feel that I had seen the truth.  Most of the people we meet are gracious, beautiful, successful, and western educated.  Many maintain residences in both Iran and Europe or America.  While Housden marvels at their ability to switch between two such different cultures, I find myself wondering how people live who do not have the option of spending half the year in America, people who could not afford to send their child to Oxford, people who are not among the elite.  Is life in Iran as beautiful and sophisticated for a housemaid as it is for a filmmaker?  These questions distract me, but this is not the book for them.  This is a book to charm us, and it does.  The descriptions of the beauty of the gardens, the domes, the people, the food - everything (except the hookas) sounds lovely in Housden's beautifully descriptive words.

A spiritual window shopper in his youth and now a secular humanist, Housden is especially interested in Sufism, the mystical side of Islam.  Visiting shrines, watching whirling dervishes and swallowers of rocks and razors, Housden sees not "blind faith," but "an imaginative leap," which he says is in short supply in the West.  It is remarks like these that made me sad for Housden.  He sees so much beauty in a place to which he knows he will never belong.  He can believe in miracles, but only in a land unlike his own.  It feels like so much misplaced longing, and, for me, it obscured Iran.  I never felt like I was seeing life in Iran; I was seeing Housden, as he experienced Iran.

365-102 Pink Tulip

I've been happy with all the bulbs and tubers I've purchased at Costco,
including these pink tulips which we planted last fall.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

thoughts on: Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

This book is a 600+ page preface to a story that only begins to unfold in the last 200 pages.  Excruciatingly slow.  I do not mind books that are low on plot, but they need to compensate by presenting characters whose complexity increases as the book unfolds.  A well drawn character will draw me like a cat to tuna, but Martin's saga is soap opera bland.

Game of Thrones crawled along, each chapter named for the character who carries that bit of narrative.  Usually, this is a device I like, especially when told in first person.  I like differing perspectives on events, enjoy seeing characters through each others' eyes.  That is not what happens here.  Here, we get scene changes, most of which follow the same storyline. 

(The one storyline that is most distant from the others I found the most interesting, but I am uncertain whether that is because it is better written or because I just needed a break from the very slow pace of the main storyline.)

Also, like a soap opera, the characters are much slower than the viewer/reader.  Frustratingly slower.  You know that happy feeling of figuring something out a chapter ahead of the characters?  Then realizing the author deliberately misled you, and figuring it out anew?  Not in this book.  In this book, you are desperate for the nice guy to realize he is being played because it is painful to read hundreds of pages of cluelessness.  You know who will die, and you wish it would happen sooner because you just want something, anything to happen because how much preface can you bear???

I know this book has a huge fan base, which I am certain will grow with the current HBO series, but I won't be reading the other books.  I have only question that I care about, and I googled it.  Four books written and it has not been answered yet. 

Free Comic Book Day is this Saturday

Free Comic Book is held the first Saturday in May.  Last year, we picked up several comics, planning to use them in crafts.  We never did cut them up.  They were read many times, however, and we passed a few along to others.    

Locate a store near you, and enjoy a few free comic books!  The stores each have their own policies.  The ones nearest us allowed three free comics per person.

(Our loot from last year)