Sunday, August 24, 2008

Connecting Threads

So I've been learning to sew lately. That's one of my very first projects above -- the ubiquitous tomato pincushion. It's been such an interesting process. I grew up in the 80s, with a high-powered corporate attorney mother. She is a brilliant, talented lawyer, but she certainly didn't sew. And while one of my grandmothers was actually quite an accomplished craftster, we weren't especially close, so I never learned any of this from her. I wish now that I HAD asked her to teach me to sew, knit, crochet, etc when she was still alive. I think it would have been a wonderful way to get to know her better. But, alas, I wasn't all that interested in this sort of thing until recently.

So, at the start of this process, I could not have been more of a beginner. I could sort of sew a button on a shirt, but I'd never actually touched a sewing machine before. I started by taking this class called "Crash Course Sewing" at a local sewing shop, StitchCraft. It was a 2-hour course on the basics of using a sewing machine, and I cannot recommend it enough. Nicole, the owner of the store, is a fantastic teacher! She made it all SO easy and non-intimidating, even for an utter newbie like me. After I took the class, I immediately went out and trolled ebay for a sewing machine. Then, last weekend, I took a second course with Nicole, on making a summer blouse. I used this pattern, by Mahnee Titus and this was my result:

(Please ignore the off-center buttons, I need to pull them off and reattach them. Or add a second set parallel to them. I haven't decided which yet. Since they're purely decorative and don't actually have any fastening function, either is a possibility)

And here I am wearing the shirt. (Sorry for the out-of focus picture -- my camera would NOT cooperate). But, do you see? It FITS! And for any of you who actually know me you can see that it is totally, as my friend Lisa would say, a Chris shirt. I even wore it to work on Thursday!

I was very glad to have someone walk me through the process. Nicole gave me lots of hints about working with patterns, cutting fabric, etc. that were SO helpful in getting around some of the things I had struggled with with my very first project -- a dust cover for my sewing machine.

So, anyway, I was laid up all weekend with this crazy summer death cold (In August! WTF?!?) Here is what I spent most of yesterday and today making:

Isn't it SO cute!? It's the Birdie Sling from Amy Butler, and it is a ginormous bag. Much bigger than I usually carry, actually, but it was so cute I couldn't resist. And I'm glad I made it. It can fit books and a water bottle and a sweater and all kinds of stuff all at once. And it's made of quilting cotton with a layer of fusible interfacing to give it a little more strength, so it's pretty light-weight. It turned out so well that I'm actually planning on making several of them to give as Christmas presents. So, uh, if you're a girl who is likely to be on my Christmas list, pretend you never read this. Uh yeah.

For any of you who are interested in the details, the main fabric here is from Amy Butler's Midwest Modern Line, and the polka-dotted fabric for the handles is from Mary Englebreit's line of quilting fabrics. You can't see it in this picture, but the bag is lined in pale yellow and has two big pockets. The pattern had a lot of steps, but was quite easy to make, actually. I only had to Google one thing -- how to make gussets (The folds that square up the bottom of the bag a bit so it sits flat). And I'm getting better at using my machine, too -- I also only had to "unsew" and redo a couple of seams that I messed up. I am just thrilled at how this turned out! It's completely made me want to run out and buy more patterns and make more and more and more cool things . . . I think this hobby could get out of control!

But anyway, the thing I wanted to say is that in this weird way learning to sew has made me feel this closeness with my grandmother that I never really felt while she was still alive. She and my grandfather, my dad's parents, were typical midwest farm types -- stoic, practical, not especially warm. Wonderful people, but I always felt sort of . . . distant from them, especially in contrast to my mother's side of the family -- effusive, raucous italians. When my grandmother died a few years ago, I saved some of her old sewing and craft materials. Something about them just called out to me. And so I sewed this purse using my grandmother's measuring tape, seam ripper, straight pins and I felt, I dunno, almost like she was there with me. My grandmother stored her sewing pins in a small plastic compact that was once filled with face powder. Every time I open it, her scent wafts up to me, bringing back memories of her, wearing a sweatshirt she had made herself, bringing us jars of cherries preserved from her own back yard. Her working at one of her many looms, making a colorful rag rug. The green velveteen stuffed frog she sewed for me before I was ever born, which is in so many of the earliest pictures of me in this world. I wish I would have asked her to teach me to sew when she was still alive, but at least as I'm learning now, I feel like there is a little bit of her here with me, anyway.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Random thoughts

1. Why does the little weather thingie in the toolbar on Firefox always say that there is "light rain" in Petaluma when I am looking out the window at perfect sunshine and blue skies. (And, when y'know, it doesn't actually RAIN in this part of the world oh, all summer).

2. Why can't I have a job that allows me to jet away to the Bahamas and get paid to learn how to SCUBA dive?

3. I have discovered that my neighbors have an absolutely lovely lemon tree in their backyard and I have struck a deal with them. They will provide me with all the lemons I could possibly want in exchange for a few jars of my lemon curd. Score! Now if mother nature would just get on with it already and ripen the darn things!

4. I am learning to sew. I have been composing a post in my head for, like, a week, about this, so I won't say much more than that. Oh, except that I made a shirt on Saturday that actually looks like I bought it in a store. I KNOW! Who'd've thunk I'd be capable of that particular feat of home-ec-ness.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Reading Update: July 22 -- August 11

Chris Adrian -- The Children's Hospital

Hmm. Don't know quite what to say about this one. I really enjoyed parts of it, and even though it's over 600 pages long, I never once felt like I was ready to bail on reading it. (Rare for me in a book of that length). However, Adrian desperately needs a better editor, if you ask me. This novel could literally have been 200 pages shorter. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that cutting this book way back could have taken it, for me anyway, from a merely good novel, to a really great one. There was just so much here that felt like the author was being allowed to be overly self-indulgent. So much unnecessary verbiage to muck up the lovely bits. Ugh.

David Benniof -- The City of Thieves

I really enjoyed the main story of this book, but I was thoroughly irritated by the "frame" bit at the beginning. Completely and totally unnecessary. Especially since the author doesn't even come back to it at the end. Basically, the only purpose for it being there is to allow the author to finish the book with a cutesy little surprise ending. SO not essential to the book. I wish that Benniof would have just trusted his amazing writing ability and let the story stand on its own.

Jeanne Birdsall -- The Penderwicks

Cute kids chapter book, of the variety that I would have adored as a kid, if it had been out then. It reminded me quite a bit of the Narnia books, in terms of the sibling relationships in the story, but it's not a fantasy book.

Hillary Jordan -- Mudbound

Quite lovely, really, in a melancholy, grey-skies and rainy days kind of way. The scene at the beginning of the book with the two brothers burying their racist ass of a dead father drew me in immediately and I was hooked. And the ending is quite wonderful, too. Jordan does the best job of any author I've read, I think, of recognizing our very human desire for a happy ending, even while she is simultaneously aware of the reality -- happy endings aren't always a part of real life, even when they're really, really deserved. Highly recommended.

Junot Diaz -- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Tried and failed. I just don't get the hype. I read about 20 pages and was so freakin' irritated with the postmodern pretensions that I couldn't take it anymore. Mr. Diaz, please repeat after me: "Footnotes do not belong in fiction. Footnotes do not belong in fiction. Footnotes do not belong in fiction. Not even if they're trying to be wryly self-aware and funny." Blech!

Laura Kasischke -- The Life Before Her Eyes
Another FAIL. This one came off the recommended shelf at my local indie bookstore, Copperfield's, where they have never before steered me wrong. However, I found the main character of this book so very smug and self-congratulatory that I wanted to reach right into the pages and smack the beejezus out of her. Too bad, too, as the first few pages are quite lovely and haunting.

Also: Dozens and dozens of very easy chapter books, for work. Seriously. Pretty much every "first chapter book" out there, I've read it! My current Excel grid of notes on books I've read for this project is hovering at 119. Urgh. So you can understand, perhaps, why most of my at-home reading of late has consisted of craft books and travel magazines that can be read in 5-minute bites.

(I have been trying to post this stupid reading update for literally three+ weeks now. I think the inevitable summer lethargy has set in or something)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

dumb and dumber

Dumb: The fact that only 4 women of 22 on my soccer team showed up for our tournament today. It was six-a-side, and not really a competitive thing, so we just begged and borrowed players from other teams, but still . . . annoying.

Dumber: The fact that this bee-yotch from my former team (which I left after 1 season because it was full of mean girl cheerleader types) totally tried to get all snotty with me today. We were sitting next to them in between games and I was about to step in and play on a team that's not mine, because they were also short people. So this woman from my old team sees that and was all like "yeah, Chris reeeeallly likes to switch teams. She just floats around wherever" in this totally snotty voice. WTF? Are you really that upset that I left your team? Seriously?

Dumbest: The fact that I managed to well-sunscreen my face, neck, ears, etc and yet somehow completely forgot to do my legs. My calves were covered by shin guards and socks, but OMG are the backs of my knees red. Owwwww.

In other, non-dumb news, this women's athletic wear catalog, Athleta, is having a warehouse sale in my town this weekend. I went this morning and scored some SWEET deals -- fabulous Isis ski pants, a one-piece athletic swimsuit for lap swimming, a couple workout shirts, yoga pants, and a warm base-layer shirt for winter sports. All for, like $50. Seriously. The ski pants alone would have been 3-4 times that regularly. SCORE!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


The first time as an adult that I had a pet die, I was blown away by how much grief I felt. We always had pets when I was a kid, and while I have vague memories of sadness when one of them passed away, I don't remember the loss really affecting me that much. The only pet death I even remember explicitly was when I was in 8th grade and my hamster, Pavlov, killed my other hamster, Skinner. (Yes, I was that geeky). I remember discovering them, bloody in the cage, and then sitting on the dirty steps in the garage, sobbing hysterically while I waited for my dad to get home and comfort me. But other than that, nothing. Maybe that's just the blurring of time, or that kids are just really resilient creatures, or that those pets were not as much mine as the pets I've had as an adult. I dunno.

But when my cat Kermit died a few years ago, I was devastated. He had a seizure in my arms out of the blue one afternoon. Though we rushed him to the vet immediately, it was too late. He'd had a congenital heart defect and his little heart finally just gave out. I remember walking around in a teary daze for days. Weeks even. Missing the way he always had to be touching me. I'd raised him from kittenhood, working hard to socialize him and overcome his skittishness. He'd been with me through multiple moves across the country. Through my breakup with my ex-fiance. Through the beginning of grad school (and, as it turned out, the end). It felt as though I had lost a person in my life. But I always thought it would be easier the next time around.

I don't know if that's turning out to be true. Sure, I know what to expect more this time, because I've been through it before. But I miss Scout pretty terribly at the moment. Last night, I dreaded going home from work, because I knew she wouldn't be there on the porch, waiting to be let in and fed her dinner. I knew she wouldn't be there to curl up with my just as I was trying to go to sleep. To lick and lick and lick with her rough little tongue until I paid attention to her. I realized that I didn't have to put away the ball of yarn I was working with on a project, because Scout wasn't there to bat it all over the house, tangling the red wool around the sofa legs, under the dining room table, into the coat closet. Three days in, I'm still breaking into tears at random moments, hit by sudden aching bursts of missing her. Scout moved with me across the country, too. From Chicago to DC and then from DC to here. She was always good for a funny story or six. She was the longest cat I ever saw, stretching her skinny body out as she craned to look at whatever she found interesting in the moment. Everyone who met her loved her. I feel terrible guilt over letting her be an outside cat. If I'd only kept her inside, this wouldn't have happened, the voice in my head keeps telling me. But she was always so much happier outside than she was in. And I don't keep myself inside just because I might get hurt. And, really, let's be honest, Scout used up her 9 lives long ago with all of her escapades. She had a good life, short as it might have been.

And losing her has reawakened fears that are always lurking there for me -- terror over the possibility of losing my parents, my sisters, D., all the other people I love in my life. Fear of getting old and dying myself. Frankly, the circle of life scares the crap out of me. And sometimes I worry that I don't feel things as much as other people -- that I bounce back more quickly than I should from anger, from sadness, from whatever I'm feeling. My moods feel so . . . transient, so quicksilver. And then something like this happens and suddenly I fear that I feel too much. Fear that the sadness won't go away this time.

I guess what I want to say is this: My heart hurts. I'm hanging in there, but it's hard -- so much harder than I expected.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Not the post I hoped to write today

Today, I went to the county fair with some friends. Much fun was had by all, and I'd planned on writing a wonderful post with lots of pictures.

Unfortunately, life decided to up and bite me in the ass, instead. A little while after I got home, I got a call that my cat, Scout, had been hit by a car and that she didn't make it. Obviously, I'm devastated. RIP Scouter. I miss you already.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Not quite doing wheelies, but moving in the right direction

Today I did something I've never done before -- I rode my bike someplace that I would normally drive. This is a big deal, because I am an extremely nervous bike rider. I very nearly learned to drive a car before I learned to ride a bike, for starters, so I don't have that deeply ingrained childhood "feel" for being on a bike. Plus, until a few weeks ago, I had never even ridden a bike on the road before. I bought my cheap-ass Target bike when I lived in DC, but only ever rode it on the C&O canal towpath, which is pancake flat gravel, with no cars.

But dating someone who rides his bike constantly has helped me see just how many places I could get to on my bike instead of in the car. So today, I was brave, and I rode to the library. It's only a couple miles away, but the ride involved multiple left turns, crossing two major streets, and riding across a drawbridge. I cheated a little, riding on the sidewalk when I had to go across the scary bridge (that metal grid stuff it's made out of freaks me out even in a car -- there was no way I was riding a bike across it!). But I did it! Go me! And as I was riding, freaked out about impending left turns, hectic intersections, etc, I realized that I was feeling pretty much exactly like I did as a new car driver. Back then, I would sometimes go miles out of my way just to avoid a left turn onto a busy road with no light, and my heart would pound in the same way it did today on my bike. But I learned to drive a car just fine, and now I'm not even (very) afraid of driving in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, or any of the other major cities I've lived in and visited. The fear is, I realized, an unavoidable part of the learning curve, and the important thing is that I did it anyway. (And my only injury was a minor scrape on my finger from when I snagged it on something sharp locking my bike up. Clutz!)

I doubt I'll be commuting to work on my bike anytime soon, but progress is being made . . .

P.S. I have been watching lots of old kids TV shows lately for work. Do yourself a favor and go YouTube Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader on The Electric Company. I promise you won't regret it!