Thursday, December 4, 2008

Book: Falling into Manholes

Subtitle: The Memoir of a Bad/Good Girl

By: Wendy Merrill

I can't resist a memoir, especially one that reminds me of my own monk/party girl split. This book was easy to read in a day, in 15-minute intervals interspersed with doing chores. It was definitely on the depressing side, and the writing style was annoying because it felt like the author was just trying too hard to be cute and clever and show how many little plays on words she could invent for any given situation. It comes out very late in the book that her little word games are a coping mechanism, which almost makes the fact that she wrote practically an entire book of them even more depressing. I mean, I do long division in my head to cope with stress, but I wouldn't publish a book of it.

I wouldn't recommend this book unless you are a diehard memoir fan like me or have an interest in stories about recovery. One thing I would say is pick up the book if you are in the store, and look at the author's photo. She is a knockout, but as the book describes, she has major self-esteem issues. It just goes to show that it doesn't matter what you look like but how you feel about yourself. Yesterday at the dentist the assistant asked if I ever had braces or wanted them and I just said, "Who am I, Julia Roberts? I do not need perfectly straight teeth." I mean, ability to chew? Check. Let's move on to more important matters. But skip this book.

Book: How Starbucks Saved My Life

Subtitle: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else

by Michael Gates Gill

A decent book. I did at one point wonder whether it was his idea to write it or one of his Starbucks supervisor's, because it reads at times like a giant ad for the corporation, interspersed with backflashes of shameless namedropping. The overall story is a good one, though, and interesting to someone like me who is fascinated by people's journeys to earn the money to buy food. I would recommend this book mainly because it is such a quick read and because the basic story, summed up adequately in the subtitle, has a good message. Money isn't everything, and the trappings of success are sometimes more of a trap.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Practice fabric

Because I'm still a rookie sewer (that's one who sews not place where waste travels), I hate to use fabric that's too nice until I get better and am finally making things I will actually be able to wear. I have a not inconsiderable amount of incredibly gorgeous nice high-quality fabric waiting for me in my stash when the magic days of increased skill level arrive, purchased before I realized how far away those days are. Meanwhile, I have to work on other fabric to get better, and that's what I call practice fabric. Stuff that was acquired cheap or free where the investment is low in case I screw up, because let's face it, I probably will.

This morning something funny happened. Back in the spring, I inherited some fabric from The Professor's mother, and a couple of pieces were decent-sized lengths of what appear to be pretty nice wool. Stuff for which I would expect to pay at least $20/yard if bought new. Well, I figured that stuff would be put away to use when I get better at sewing, because it's just too precious for a new sewer to use. Not practice fabric. But when I looked for a cheap wool or wool blend at Joann's yesterday per the instructions of my home ec teacher friend, I had no luck, and a trip to the nicer fabric store yielded only some nice polyester fabrics that I was assured would behave similar to wool because of how they are woven. They were a little pricey, though, at $13/yd for one, $15/yd for the other, so they don't really help me in terms of being good practice fabric.

I made enough progress on the simple cotton skirt yesterday to know that I am going to have to start over in terms of adjusting the fit of this pattern, and since The Professor is teaching today, I have to wait to get measured before I can start that process (he's my faithful measurer). So, I'm cleaning up the sewing room, and I pick up these pieces of nice wool, just to see how much of them I have, and a receipt falls out. Turns out The Professor's mom got these at a mill closeout kind of place. And she (not me) paid $13. For both of them. In 1981. Hmmm, I think those could be practice fabric after all. I think I will still take a quick jaunt to the other local fabric store and see if they have any remnants of a wool blend out of which I might eke another practice skirt, though. Heaven knows I need plenty of practice.

Friday, November 21, 2008

More happy news

Yesterday one of my dreams came true. I don't know how, but magically, I got Pandora to play via my Squeezebox (mine is an older generation version, not so sleek but just dandy). I'm currently listening to Coles Whalen radio (you might need a Pandora account for that link to work), but should my mood change, oh, the choices I have. I don't think I've mentioned before how much I love Pandora, but I love it. And now that I can listen to it through my good speakers, instead of my shitty little computer speakers? I love it even more.

The radio is keeping me company today while I (fingers crossed) finish a skirt I have been working on sewing for a couple months. Not a couple months of actual work. Very small amounts of working on it spread out, for no good reason, over a couple months. This project is one that should be able to be done in a day. Last night I called a home ec teacher I met at a draping class I took in September who generously agreed to give me some sewing coaching to confess how stuck I was and what had happened. I tripped up at the waistband stage, but the good news is, my problems are probably not because I suck but more because I didn't know enough about different kinds of interfacing and used the wrong kind. I felt so much better and wished that I hadn't waited so long to call her for advice.

During the course of the conversation she said something that I hope to be able to say myself someday. She said, "I could make a hundred wool skirts really quickly." Fantastic. I'm finishing one cotton skirt slowly, but maybe once I finish this one, I'll make another and will take less time to do it. Next up is definitely going to be wool or a wool blend, because a) that's what my home ec teacher mentor told me to use, and b) it's snowing here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Movie: Romeo and Juliet Get Married

I loved this movie. Loved it. Start to finish, it was a delight. The acting is stellar; the story is wonderful. I was cheering along like I was at a soccer match myself, and that's saying something, because I'm not what one would call a sports person. See this movie. It's subtitled, but it's so completely worth it. It's the story of Romeo and Juliet set in modern Brazil, and the star-crossed lovers are fans of rival soccer teams. What are you waiting for? Go rent this movie now. You will thank me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Making my life easier

I haven't been keeping up on my movie reviews on this blog. We don't have cable, so we watch DVDs from the library instead, and despite my success with TV Turnoff Week (man, do I ever get tired of linking to that site? No, I do not), I watch way more TV than I would like to admit. Usually it's good background noise for knitting, but also because my brain, except in cases of extreme interest in some hobby or other, refuses to do anything productive after about 7 pm, there's a lot of evening TV viewing in our house. But lots of the stuff I see isn't even worth writing up, so I just let the list fade away. Well, I am making an effort to spruce up Ye Olde Blogge here, and I'd just like to keep track for my own reference, too, so I added a little Recently Viewed list in the sidebar (over to the right there, you can't miss it) with links to the shows or movies I've watched on DVD. Enjoy! If you want more details on anything, feel free to ask, and if something especially fantastic wafts in front of my eyeballs, I'll be sure to pipe up about it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Second harvest of the day

Some potatoes, a little more broccoli and another cabbage.

He grew all this stuff from seeds people! Well, the potatoes are grown from other potatoes, but how incredibly cool is it that he took seeds and turned them into food. Are we going to live on what we can grow? Not any time soon, but it's a nice supplement to all the money we spend at the farmer's market, and if next year we can grow more, and the year after that a little more, so much the better. This soup is going to be pretty darn good.

And while I chop mountains of vegetables (carrots, leeks, jerusalem artichokes and collards done, onions, potatoes, broccoli and now cabbage to go), The Professor is outside building a pathway to our side door, taking advantage of the warm (albeit wet) weather while we can. I better get back to it, but I am just so excited about food being produced this late in the year that I couldn't contain my excitement for even a moment.

We grew carrots

Well, The Professor grew them. I had nothing to do with it. But weren't these a lovely surprise to get from the garden today?

Here they are fresh from the yard:

And here they are all cleaned up and ready to be chopped up for soup:

We managed to get some food from our front yard this year. Among other things, we grew tomatoes, a couple little heads of broccoli, two wee cabbages, some peas (delish!), and a mess of rogue tomatillos that were mostly left to die on the vine because I didn't know what to do with them. So not a lot of food, but some, and I didn't do a good job of chronicling our efforts at all, mainly because they weren't our efforts but just The Professor's efforts. He didn't do such a great job of chronicling either. I have photos of some of the stuff we grew around here somewhere, and I will try to put together a post with a little more information about our first year with veggies in the front yard. For now, though, I've got soup to make.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My trip to City Hall

Yesterday afternoon I chanced to read an email from Green City Blue Lake, a local non-profit promoting sustainability in Cleveland and beyond, and I found out that there was a meeting today of the Cleveland City Planning Commission to allow public input on a proposed ordinance to allow (and regulate) the keeping of small livestock within the city limits: chickens, ducks, rabbits, bees, etc. Because this issue relates so closely to our food supply, I knew I had to attend, and I am so glad that I did.

I haven't been downtown too much since I moved to the Cleveland suburbs about 5 1/2 years ago, so just getting dropped off at City Hall by The Professor was enough of a new experience. The security at City Hall is not at all intimidating: a guy looked in my bag. Feh, no big deal. My only other municipal building experience in Cleveland was at the Police Headquarters where I went to fight a parking ticket (broken meter), and they had sent me through a metal detector and my bag through an X-ray, then confiscated my knitting needles. This time I took a crochet hook, and I got a fair bit done on a little project bag during the course of the meeting.

The City Hall building was beautiful and stately, with a huge atrium and broad stairways, and I wished I'd had my camera with me to take a picture of the beautiful marble water fountain I passed. When I sat down at the meeting, I noticed that I was feeling quite jittery. I think municipal buildings make me nervous, or maybe it's being anywhere near the workings of government, I am not sure. I was glad that I had some yarn to keep me calm.

I was surprised at how many people stated their names and then copped to owning illegal chickens and bees. I suppose that as of today their flocks are probably legal (depending on the size of the flock, because the ordinance did have some restrictions), but still, yipes. Actually, I think that was what had me so jittery, now that I think about it. Even though they said many times during the meeting that these ordinances are enforced on a nuisance basis (like, they aren't driving around looking for illegal henhouses and busting the owners, carting them away in the paddywagon; if you keep chickens and you don't keep their area clean and your neighbors complain, someone comes out and... I don't know, but you get in trouble), it still freaked me out.

At the very end of the meeting, I finally screwed up my courage, with the help of the guy sitting behind me to whom I confessed my fear of speaking at the meeting and who vetted my whispered version of my input and told me "Yeah, they need to hear that." My input was simple: I just thanked them for considering more liberal legislation for livestock ownership in the City because they would be setting an example for the region and leading the way for other areas, our suburb for instance, to follow suit. Now I just need to find out who, if anyone, is leading the charge to get a similar revision to the ordinance in front of our City Planning Commission.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I voted

Not that there was ever a question, but I went and cast my vote for Barack Obama for President today, and a mess of other things as well. By the time I was done, my line buddies (neighbors, that was a treat) were long gone. As I was walking to the polling place this morning, the library at the end of my street, there was already a line out the parking lot and onto the sidewalk. That line had dwindled by the time I left to being contained inside the library, but seeing it brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. My stomach had butterflies that were like the cumulative effect of first day of school, first day of college, first date, driver's license test and every job interview I've ever had all rolled together, with maybe a little bit of kid-on-Christmas thrown in for good measure.

This election is the first time I've voted at my polling place on Election Day in a major race (not counting primaries and special election). In 2004 and 2006, I was volunteering to work for Election Protection all day , so I had voted early by absentee ballot. It was a new experience, and a good one. I hope the polls stay that busy all day, and that people are willing to ride out the lines to do their civic duty.

And now, we pray.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Yesterday we did 1.8 miles in the morning, and this morning The Professor had to leave early, so we did 1.8 miles after he got home from work. So far we've walked every day since Sunday when we started. It's only a little bit every day, but it's something.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Movie: The Oh in Ohio

Parker Posey. That really should be all I have to say. But I'll say a little more. Not only is this movie set in the town where I live, so you get a little view of our city's skyline, it's just a really cute movie. Parker Posey rocks, of course. And Paul Rudd is good, too, a solid performance. Danny DeVito, as well, quite a worthy contribution to the film. Good story, enjoyable soundtrack, a few laughs. I'd recommend this movie to anyone. It's light and funny, pleasant. And did I mention it stars Parker Posey? Really, that's all that needs to be said.

In other news, The Professor and I walked 2.5 miles yesterday morning, plus I did another 1.7 on my own. This morning we did another 2 miles. My left ankle is a little grouchy about it, and the weird histamine reaction I get when I do even low-impact exercise like walking (that's the one hitch to which I alluded before-- again, a topic for another post) has intruded slightly into my life, but I'm sure we'll go again tomorrow anyhow. Micromovements.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


One area of my life I've long been wanting to improve is the whole fitness/exercise thing. When I lived in Philly, every day I walked, I biked, I skated, I stood around waiting for (or riding on) the bus or subway. I walked to the grocery store, I biked to work and to social events, I took full advantage of that wonderful location right near Kelly Drive for my last few years there, skating 45 minutes (about 8 miles) most days, except when there was some %$#&@! regatta happening. I did join a gym at one point, but frankly, I hate the gym. Other people's germs and sweat, having to worry about how I look and what I wear (not that I had to, but I did), showering in public. Honestly, the public gym is pretty close to my definition of Hell. Not to mention a lot of money. The one thing I enjoyed at the gym was the aerobics class on the mini-trampoline, but not enough to keep going, especially when biking and skating, despite a small up-front investment in equipment, are pretty much free.

Since moving to Ohio, a lot of the activity that was built into just propelling myself around town and through life vanished. Moving to the suburbs and having a car have meant I've gained maybe 20 pounds or so since I moved here. Not that 10 of those I maybe kind of needed to gain-- I see photos of myself from back then and I do look a little malnourished (of course, now when I see photos of myself I think I look, shall we say, overnourished, but there must be a happy medium). I also didn't eat too well in Philly, eating tortilla chips with cheese and salsa for dinner way too often, and I didn't realize it until maybe a year or two ago when I found out that I'd been consuming way too little protein pretty much ever since I started living on my own. I'm still working on getting my diet to a healthier place, and I'm renewing efforts to get the exercise piece going, too. Yesterday The Professor and I walked around the block, which is surprisingly just over a mile. That seems pretty big for a block to me, but great, I'll take it. This morning, we walked around a few blocks, totalling up to about 3.8 miles according to Google Maps. I am glad we did.

SARK talks about micromovements in her book, A Creative Companion. The idea as I recall (the book isn't to hand just now, and I don't want to break my stride to go find it) is that by doing one tiny thing that moves you toward your goal, eventually you will get there, and tiny changes are easier to make than huge ones. Not exactly a novel concept, but I like the way she presents it. Today's micromovement was walking a few miles in the morning. I'm hoping to keep moving forward toward having more regular exercise in my day-to-day life. Walking to my J-O-B is one way I can build in more activity, so I'll try to do that at least one day this week. There's one little hitch to the walking, one obstacle as yet to be addressed, but that's a topic for another post.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Movie: Evan Almighty

In the spirit of playing catch-up, one of the other movies I watched recently that I enjoyed immensely was Evan Almighty. I've been a Steve Carell fan ever since Little Miss Sunshine, which is in my top 10 favorite movies ever. So, I was predisposed to liking this movie, but even beyond his important contributions to its success-- the man is a master of comedic timing-- it was cute. Silly, sure, but it had a mildly positive message (sadly quite watered down and toothless, but it was a comedy, not a docudrama, so what can we expect?), and the interaction between Carell, Wanda Sykes and John Michael Higgins that occurs about 50 minutes into the film was priceless. It's just too bad they cast Lorelai Gilmore as his wife. No, I don't mean Lauren Graham. Apparently they cast Lorelei herself, only they took away her mini-me foil and had her tone it way down for this show. Ugh. But if she was the only down side to the movie, that's not too damning. The animals were wonderful, and the DVD extras were almost all worth watching, which is not often the case. I liked learning that the director endeavored to encourage a greener movie set by getting bikes for all the cast and crew who were willing to try alternative transportation and by donating the materials from the struck set to a local Habitat for Humanity. It's a nice step in the right direction. Anyhow, the movie is worth seeing. I'd recommend it to anyone, and if you see it and decide you hate it, just wait for the scene at the 50-minute mark before you turn it off. Trust me.

Movie: Notes on a Scandal

I've been lax in my movie updates. Watched this yesterday when I couldn't figure out what else to do with myself. Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy, it's got to be good, right? Yep, it was. It wasn't exactly an up film, but it was worth seeing. Bill Nighy was especially fantastic, even though his part was relatively small. I do think he is just wonderful and was delighted to see him in it; I hadn't realized when I picked it up, what with my know as little as possible about a film before I see it ways. It was the kind of movie that would provoke some good lively debate afterward, if one wasn't watching it at home with the cat. Heck, the cat slept through most of it, anyhow. But I'd recommend this movie. No major violence. Good score. Wonderful acting. Compelling story. And if you watch it (or have seen it already) and want to come back here for some lively debate, well, come on. I'd be happy to oblige.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I'm buying a loom

Now that I just sent the first payment to the amazing Dawn, I am going to be getting this baby (scroll down to the 3rd photo to see the true prize) some time in the next month or two. I am overjoyed. A dream I've had for so long of learning to weave will finally come true. I fell in L-O-V-E with the Kessenich looms at MDSW back in May, and I had a moment of temptation a few months back when Dawn was selling a 24" Kessenich. But I really wanted the 36", and now I am getting it. I could not be more thrilled. It will be quite an adventure going to get it. It's a long drive (nine and a half hours!), and I'm not sure yet how we're going to transport it, because it's not going to fit in the Prius. There may be truck rental or the purchase and attachment of a trailer hitch to one of our cars involved. I hope The Professor will be able to make the road trip with me. I've got to figure out where to put it, too. It's a pretty substantial piece of equipment. Hooray!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Audiobook: Gentlemen of the Road

Subtitle: A Tale of Adventure

Written by: Michael Chabon

Read by: Andre Braugher

It took me a bit to warm up to this book, but I blame my own failure to read either the subtitle or the blurb on the back of the box for my initial lack of enthusiasm. Having no idea where the book was set or who were its characters, combined with the reading of various quotes at the beginning of the book, which are less obvious, when heard, as separate from the story, I started out with something of a handicap. I'm glad that I stuck it out, though, because the story was enjoyable, the writing was wonderfully descriptive, and even if the action was set in a very different time than the language used to tell it, the afterword by the author was worth the whole investment. The working title of the book was something other than the published title, and I'll leave it to y'all to find out for yourselves what it was. Braugher does a fine job as reader, as well. His voice is rich and comforting, and his expressiveness adds a nice layer to the story. I'll probably try to find out if he's done any other audiobooks (could he be my new Scott Brick?).

I've been a fan of Chabon's ever since The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which I first read so long ago that I can't even remember when it was-- in college? Just after? It's one of my favorite books, and the writing is so good it's one of the few that I have read multiple times (the others being J.D. Salinger's, well, all of his stuff, John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, and Madeleine L'Engle's Ring of Endless Light). I haven't been keeping track of his more recent work, and this book inspires me to get through the backlog of titles Chabon's been cranking out since I quit paying attention, in addition to another read of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a perfect book for the end of summer.

I would definitely recommend this audiobook as a delightful accompaniment to any long-distance car ride. At just over 4 hours, it's the perfect length for, well, a visit from Cleveland to Pittsburgh.

(Pssst: The photo of the book is a link, too, because I finally realized I could do that.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Book: Lasermonks

Subtitle: The Business Story Nine Hundred Years in the Making

by: Sarah Caniglia and Cindy Griffith

If in my sewing life, I'm a shark who has yet to make the kill, then in my reading life, I'm Goldilocks. If Nickel and Dimed left me too hot (burning with desire to do anything possible to avoid a low-wage life), and Bait and Switch left me too cold (chilled to the core with fear for the future of regular old jobs) this latest book, another just-over-one-day read, was juuuuust right.

I learned of this book from the newsletter Winning Ways written by Barbara Winter, but I had learned of the ideas behind this book from my friend Rachel on her blog, which is what drove me to read it (that and it being available at our fabulous library). The idea of a business (in the case of an abbey of monks in Wisconsin, selling toner and more) supporting charitable works seems like a wonderful one to me, and I enjoyed reading about how the monks have grown their business with the help of the laywomen who authored this book. My only wish would be that the authors had made it a little more clear who they were and how they came to participate in the monks' project, because I kept rereading the first few pages of the book thinking, "Huh? Who is we?" To save others the confusion, two women learned of the monks' project from a news story, wanted to sell the monks their online toner business and instead wound up helping the monks grow theirs.

Lasermonks is not a very good primer for someone who actually wants to start a social enterprise, the advice they give is vague at best, but it's a nice inspiring story about a social enterprise that is thriving. It gave me some food for thought as I continue on my path of trying to find work that sustains both me and the world. Could I possibly employ a similar model? They donate all their profits to charity. Gulp, sounds daunting, but maybe it could also provide much-needed motivation to get off the dime as well as momentum to keep going. Can I get in a similar mindset with regard to customer service? Their practice is to follow the Rule of St. Benedict, which essentially says treat every guest (customer) as if he or she might actually be Jesus Christ popping in for a visit. You know, like royalty. Those who know me know that I am not quite that much of a people-pleaser, so that sounds even more challenging, but it's certainly a worthy aspiration.

I highly recommend this book to other entrepreneurs who are looking for ways to tie a business to good works (Rachel, I'm looking at you) or for anyone who, like me, might have been reading too much depressing stuff lately and needs a pick-me-up. Oh, and if you need to buy toner? For heaven's sake, check the Lasermonks out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Book: Bait and Switch

Subtitle: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream

by: Barbara Ehrenreich

If Nickel and Dimed lit a fire under me to do something with my talents and energy, this book chilled me to the bone. Instead of going under cover as a wage slave, Ehrenreich investigates the world of white collar job-seekers, and it seems like the entire time she's in that world, she's standing in the middle of something that is rotting from the inside out. I have never been part of the big corporate world she tries to penetrate. When I have taken my various breaks from attempts at self-employment, my jobs have been at non-profits, academic institutions, and in the cozy (read: incestuous) world of medical publishing, hardly in the same league as giant pharmaceutical and telecommunications companies. I have always thought that I could never squeeze myself into the mold that those kinds of employers would require me to inhabit, and to hear her tell it, I've always been right. I would wither and die if I had to get a job-job in the sort of setting that she describes. Heck, I almost did wither and die at the couple jobs (non-profit and academic) that most closely tried to emulate that big corporate world, and the only thing that kept me from doing so was excessive quantities of wine. But what really made me shiver about this book is how Barbara Ehrenreich, who I hold in pretty high esteem because, well, have you read any of her books? The woman is sharp. How could she possibly fail to get a job?

I thought often of my friend Steve (Hi, Steve!) when I was reading this book, wondering what he, as a different sort of career coach than the ones Ehrenreich visits, would make of it. I also thought of my friend Loreto who turned me on to the news that a sort of sequel to Nickel and Dimed had been written in the first place, wondering whether it made him feel better or worse about his government job. And I thought of my friends who can exist in that world (Brian, Jaffa, and Beth come to mind) and wondered how on earth they do it.

This book reinforced that self-employment is the only way to go for me. Even if you're not entrepreneurially inclined, I would recommend this book just on the basis of the wry humor that Ehrenreich brings to such a depressing topic as begging for crumbs at the big corporate table. Her writing is crisp and punchy, and the topic is quite compelling to anyone who is less than 100% satisfied with his or her work life. Sadly, there seem to be a lot of us.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book: Nickel and Dimed

Subtitle: On (Not) Getting By in America

by Barbara Ehrenreich

I read this book while on hiatus from Not Buying It, which was both too boring and too depressing to carry on reading at the time. Nickel and Dimed tends toward the depressing side as well, although the writing is far superior and the social commentary vastly more concise, appropriate and compelling. Yes, Ehrenreich was also writing about an experience constructed purely to produce the fodder for a book, but let's face it, she just did a much better job. For one, thing, her jokes are funnier. I couldn't put Ehrenreich's book down and finished it in only a couple days. It was fascinating, and it made me want to get off my butt and put my nice shiny college degree to good use.

I would recommend Nickel and Dimed to anyone, especially anyone with even the slightest interest in economics or the effects of employment on class in the US. If you ever wanted to know what it's like to wait tables in a greasy spoon or clean toilets for a living, it's much easier to read this book than to go out and experience it first hand. It was certainly enough insight for me, and the entire time I was reading it, I just kept thinking how lucky and privileged I am to be able to get a better sort of job than the people in that book. Soo lucky. Thank you, stepfather, for paying for my college. Thank you Dean Tidmarsh for keeping me from dropping out. Lucky, blessed, and grateful am I.

I notice while adding links for this post that a quote by Ehrenreich praising Levine's book appears at the top of Levine's book page. Well, I'm glad she liked it. That makes one of us.

Nickel and Dimed is definitely worth a read, though. Enjoy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Book: Not Buying It, My Year Without Shopping

By: Judith Levine

Well, this title appealed to me for obvious reasons. I finished it a couple months ago but haven't logged it here because, well, it just wasn't that great. Nothing to get too excited about and hence my delay in reporting on it. In fact, the only person to whom I'd recommend it is my friend Adi, and only because the writer and her partner split their time between Brooklyn and Vermont. The writing was decent, but the book really sagged in the middle (I wound up setting it down for a couple weeks and reading something else), and on top of that, the author conducted her experiment during 2004, so the reader gets the depressing opportunity to relive that year's presidential election, which is not a plus in my opinion. My main beef with this book is that the personal account, which constitutes all the good bits, is too frequently peppered with social and political commentary on the state of the world and instead of being an insightful look at one person's experience it too often turns into a boring rant about consumerism's many evils. Blah blah blah. Like I said, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone but Adi, and even to Adi I say, have a good back-up plan to revive yourself from potential boredom.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

And for tonight's entertainment...

The Professor and I are going to learn about native plants of Ohio with the Cleveland Permaculture meet-up group. Woo hoo!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Yet another project and general update time

I am like a shark circling around and around but who has not yet gone in for the kill. There are still no new pants in my life, or any other finished garments, but I just ordered a kit to make a customized dress form. I need the dress form for a draping class that I signed up for on impulse. I wanted to take the class on sewing your own underwear and just figured, what the hey, that's near my birthday, I'll treat myself and do both. I'm excited. The dress form project should be interesting. I'm trying to get some others to join me in the adventure. I don't know many other sew-ers who live near me, but I have one person who might be interested, so that's something. And The Professor has graciously agreed to cover my nearly naked body in plaster cast material.

I haven't felt much like writing here lately. Nothing good to report, and I don't really feel like this blog is the place for whining about my life, so I have been laying low.

I watched a wretched movie recently. Just Friends. I will spare us all the bother and just say Don't See It. Trust me.

On the knitting front, I bought some new yarn. Linen and silk because I wanted to make something cute and summery. Still working on it. I scoured Ravelry for patterns, and finally I found one that is exactly what I was looking for (Ravelry link), but no pattern is available and the maker hasn't yet responded to my message asking for more details on when one might be for sale. Not so patiently, I wait, and meanwhile I contemplate just trying to figure out how to make it myself.

I also bought some Berroco Suede because it is one of the exact colors that was recommended as flattering by my guru, Cynthia Guffey. The color I got is called, I only just realized, Clint. What an unflattering and odd name. Clint? Seriously? Who thought of that? The pattern I planned to make was Coachella (another not-so-appetizing name), but I'm starting to think better of it. The neckline is exactly what I want, but as for the rest of the shaping, well, I don't own a racer-back bra, and this garment is not going to look good sans undergarb.

The really big news around here is that in a week from today, The Professor and I will begin our Grand Home Wiring Update Adventure. We're going to devote a full week plus a day or two to trying to get our entire home upgraded from knob-and-tube to romex. Pray for us.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Movie: House of Sand and Fog

Can I just slink back here after a month of not posting anything, after three significant trips under my belt this spring/summer and no meaningful blog posts to show for any of them, with a mere movie rant? Is that an affront to the blogging world? Well, it's either that or continue radio silence over here, so movie rant it is.

I hated this movie. Hated it! God, I loathed the female lead so much from the first moment she appeared on the screen. You know how I usually don't like to give away anything about movies, in case you, Dear Reader, plan to watch them? Yeah, that rule is being suspended today. If you want to see this movie and don't want to have any of it spoiled for you, Stop Reading Now. The rest of you, read on.

So this idiot gets evicted from her house because of a supposed bureaucratic mix-up, non-payment of business tax. She swears she never had a business and doesn't owe the money. Although I think if you take money from people to clean their homes, yeah, you have a business and should be taxed, but that's just me. They didn't really get into those details. Her husband has left her (probably because she's some form of addict, alcohol, I think), and she's too depressed/lazy to open her mail and find out that her attempts to clear up the tax mistake failed. I've been mighty depressed before, but I never stopped opening official-looking mail. She deserves to be evicted because of her stupidity alone.

The police officer assigned to evict her takes pity on her and helps her move her crap into storage, and then later proceeds to start an affair with this blight on humanity, at which point we also discover that he is corrupt (framed someone for drug possession, but it's okay because the guy he framed was a wife-beater). So not only is she an idiot and a pathetic loser, she's also a homewrecker (the cop has two kids). Not only is he corrupt, he's a cheating bastard. The woman and her bent cop boyfriend now proceed to harass and bully the innocent family who has purchased her home at auction, threatening them with deportation (they are immigrants from Iran) and then locking them in their own bathroom for a night after they tried to rescue Idiot Girl from two suicide attempts. Did I mention that bent cop is also kind of racist and narrow-minded? Of course he is.

The man who spends the night held prisoner in his own bathroom comes up with a plan to make everyone happy (he gets the house so he can raise money to send his teenage son to college, Idiot and Crooked get some money to start their shitty new life of depravity), and in the course of executing it, his son is unjustly murdered by some other police officers. So he goes home, drugs his wife with an overdose of something to kill her (a mercy in my opinion), kills himself by asphyxiation (tragic), and then Idiot Girl shows up and realizes, yeah, it's really not my house any more. Oh, and Cheating Cop goes to prison, where he belongs. Hated This Movie.

Sure the innocent family isn't completely innocent. The guy isn't exactly gentle with his wife, but at least he's honest and his values are basically to make a better life for his children. Maybe the message of this movie is that nothing is black and white, that no one is either all good or all bad? I don't know what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish. I certainly didn't waste any time on any of the DVD extras.

A while ago, Scott Adams of Dilbert fame did a blog post about a new movie rating system. I would add another criteria to expand the Sadism rating to include Murder, Suicide or Violent Death. If only such a rating system existed, I could have been spared watching this piece of garbage. And while I'm amending Mr. Adams' wonderful new scheme, let me also add that all movies should come with a warning as to whether or not cancer is being used as a plot device. A C means yes, no C means no. That would be another good addition.

But back to the movie recommendation: avoid this one like the plague. Sure, Ben Kingsley gives an excellent performance, as does the actress who plays his wife, but trust me, I am saving you two hours of your life that you will not get back. Unless you want to be angry about injustice and depressed about tragic loss that could have been prevented so easily, this movie is not for you. Go do something, anything else instead.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Check it out

I finally took the time to install the amazingly cool Ravelry progress bars on my blog. Look! It's right there on the right. These are all the knitting projects I haven't touched in ages. Links to more details (hyperlinked project name) are only available for Ravelry members, alas, but clicking the little photos takes you to the larger image on Flickr. I added these in preparation for a big Getting Unstuck on My Knitting Projects post. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Book: The Big Turnoff

Subtitle: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid

By Ellen Currey-Wilson

I got this one out of the new books section of the library, a delightfully sunny open spot where I know just which shelves have the memoirs on them. I figured this book was especially appropriate for TV Turn-off Week (I just had to get in one last mention, did anyone else who's reading participate this year?), and it was a quick read. It was a little bit difficult to read at times, because I recognized myself a bit in the author, and she seems like a bit of a whack-job in parts. I also was reminded in part why I don't want kids: I might be the same kind of parent, rather extreme about some things. That and all the horror stories my neighbors and others are constantly telling me about pregnancy and child-rearing. They don't mean them as horror stories, but to me they are. Losing your teeth to the calcium needs of the fetus? Being covered in someone else's vomit? Not for me.

Anyhoo, back to the book. It was decent. It might sound arrogant to say it, but often I read books and think, I could do better than that. One might not believe it from the quick posts I dash off here, but I really think I could do a better job. And maybe if I didn't watch so much TV (well, DVDs) myself, I would get around to writing a book some day, so until then I'll shut up and just say bravo to the people who do get it together to publish books. Meanwhile, it was good to read about someone else kicking the habit. I consider it TV to be of my worst vices, a shameful addiction. I want to just put the TV(s) in the attic for a few years, but it's my numb-out drug when things get too overwhelming, which is so often these days. I don't know if I would recommend the book, but I would recommend TV Turn-off Week next year. I might not even wait until next year to try it again. I got a lot of reading done (switching escape modes, I know, but one has to take it in stages sometimes, right?), and I felt happier overall. I definitely could use more of that.

Book: The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton

This book was one of the rejects on the day I picked A Dangerous Fortune, but I picked it up after finishing that one. I had gotten it on sale, I think, ages ago and then never read it. Either that or I inherited it from my mom, not sure. It was worth saving all this time, either way. I liked it. My vast ignorance of history serves me well in the genre of historical fiction, because I'm never quite sure how things turn out. Set in the 1850s in Kansas Territory, it's the fictional autobiography of a wife of an abolitionist settler. The really enjoyable part of this book was not so much the plot, which was good, too, but the voice of the narrator-heroine. It was also the perfect book to be reading as I passed through Gettysburg on my way to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. My Gettysburg and MDSW adventures are topics for another post, but I enjoyed visiting a similar time period in this book, just prior to the Civil War. I would recommend this book, to anyone really. It's a solid piece of fiction, exceptional writing, not quite a dandy good yarn, but with a story line that's certainly good enough to keep one entertained and interested right up to the end.

Movie: Starter for 10

I am so jealous of Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall. Why can't my job description include making out with James McAvoy? Seriously, I ask you. I only got this movie out of the library because he was in it, and he's my current favorite eye candy. It was actually pretty decent as a film. It could have been a lot worse plot-wise, and I still would have liked it for the visuals alone. The plot was a tad predictable, but I didn't mind. The second best part after dear James (actually, third best, because first best was really James in the DVD extras talking in his regular enchanting Glaswegian accent) was the 80s music. Ah, it took me back. University in the 80s, or in my case late 80s-early 90s, listening to 80s music. The Cure, The Undertones (who didn't make the soundtrack, oddly), The Buzzcocks, it was all there. And in at least one case, they played the whole song. I love a good musical transition in a movie, playing a whole song while moving something significant along. Plus, another happy ending. I recommend it, especially for anyone with a fondness for 80s tunes and pretty blue eyed Scottish men.

Movie: Martian Child

Watched this movie for the first time back in March on the plane on the way home from Scotland, but I had missed the first minute or two of audio fiddling around with the channel settings, so I wanted to see it again. It was nice to watch it on a screen larger than 8 inches wide, although it would have been even nicer to see in the theater because the imagery was so lush in places. John Cusack and a cute kid. I enjoyed it. Sad, maybe moving is a better word, in parts. Those abandoned child stories always get me right in the gut. But a good story, and good acting, and it was pretty, so overall I give it a thumbs up. Plus, happy ending, yay. Too few of those in the world.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Book: A Dangerous Fortune

by Ken Follett

To set the scene: It's late Sunday afternoon. I've just finished reading The Big Turnoff (review still to come, but it's a memoir, still my current favorite genre), and the library has closed. One more official day of TV Turn-off Week remains. Sure, our house is full of books, but are any of them things I want to start reading Right Now?

I pull a few off the shelf. A Jane Smiley novel bought at a bargain table that's sat untouched for years. A novel my Dad loaned me (whoops, thought it had been a gift). Some astrology books. Knitting books from the library. Nothing appeals. I wish I could go to the library and get the book I want to read next, The Plug-In Drug, just to torture myself, but that adventure will have to wait. The Professor suggests another Ken Follett novel. I read a page or two, not really interested, but then...

I got sucked in. So, I started this book Sunday evening, and I finished it today. That's what not watching TV will do to a girl (it still hasn't come back on in our house). I stayed up way too late reading last night and still managed to wake up this morning at 6:30 am and be at work by 7:30 am (ugh). I enjoyed the book. The one thing I will say is that Ken Follett is much nicer than I am. His villains suffer, but they do not suffer enough for me. I want them to twist in agony for a really long time, and I want a front-row seat to watch it, but I am consistently denied. Maybe I need to start writing my own novels so that I can bring some true wrath down on a villain of my own. Maybe after he has written a novel and spent so long with the characters, he has a soft spot for even the bad guys and that's why he lets them off the hook. Maybe he has an editor who censors out the full punishment inflicted on these villains. I do not know the answer, but it frustrates me.

So, not as good as Pillars of the Earth, and frankly a tad predictable because of having read it, but a fun quick read with the usual good triumphing over evil in the end. And fiction is becoming interesting to me again in a way that it hasn't in a long time, so that's a pleasant side effect. The Plug-in Drug is waiting for me at the library now. I think I will wander down to fetch it.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Book: In Defense of Food

Subtitle: An Eater's Manifesto

by Michael Pollan

This book is woefully overdue at the library, but I had to wait a while to get it, so I was willing to pay the fine for me and The Professor to read it, and since it was TV Turn-off Week last week (hmmm, have I mentioned that enough times yet?), I was especially concerned about having compelling books to fill the void left by the boob tube. I finished it Saturday, and The Professor's about half way through it. Soon, fellow library patrons, we will return it so that you can have your turn.

When I first started this book, I could only read it in small doses, because the overall message, while hopeful, is bolstered by some rather depressing facts about the industrialization of our food supply. I was pleased that Pollan referenced, albeit briefly, one of my favorite books and one that stoked my love of non-fiction, The Paradox of Plenty by Harvey Levenstein, which is brilliantly written, funny, enlightening-- all the things I look for in a book. I wish I had had Pollan's book 17 years ago when I read Levenstein's, although I don't think this new book could have been written then. What I like about Pollan's book is that it cuts through the BS about diet recommendations and says, you know what? Forget all that, we don't understand the science well enough and we might never; just make healthy choices and be done with it. And he's quite clear and simple about what those healthy choices are, which is refreshingly useful. Trying to follow nutritional recommendations has never really worked for me, but I think I can follow the simple rule to eat only food that my great-grandmother would recognize as food. That one's easy to remember.

I remember when my inner health-food nut was awoken from it's slumber by my dear friend Adi feeding me sprouted grain breads and different kinds of nut butter on our lunch break from the American Poetry Center one day. Not long after, I started taking macrobiotic cooking classes and got turned on to delicious things like Jerusalem artichokes and hato mugi (the most delicious barley in the world). I remember the first time I ate burdock and thought, How can I have not known about this delicious food before now? If only I'd had Pollan's book telling me, yeah, none of what you've been taught about nutrition is based on a solid enough foundation to put your faith in it completely, I think that would have helped me quite a bit even when I let macrobiotics slip away from me. Alas, I've had to muddle along without it, but now that I've read it, I hope to use these simple ideas to improve my diet even more.

The book is well-summarized by the seven-word description on the cover, "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much." I would summarize his recommendations for eaters in eight words. "Shop at the farmer's market. Plant vegetables. Cook."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Book: The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken

I read about this book on someone else's blog (spoiler warning: she tells more about the books contents than I will). I have no idea how I even found and started reading that blog, but I thoroughly enjoy it. The writer, Tea, spins lovely tales, takes fantastic photos, and from what I can tell makes incredibly delicious and complicated homemade food. It's always a treat to see a post of hers pop up in my Google Reader.

Well, we all know how much I can't resist a good memoir, so when I heard about this one I went straight to my library('s web site) to check it out. Since it's TV Turn-off Week this week, I have been reading in the evenings, and I plowed through this book in only a couple days (Michael Pollan was, through no fault of his own, bumming me out). I haven't read the recipes in the back yet, but I do plan to make some homemade ravioli at some point, if for no other reason than to heal The Professor's relationship with this fine foodstuff. Apparently as a child, he was served some canned cafeteria ravioli in school, and since the rule at home was Clean Your Plate, he just sat there crying because they were so disgusting he couldn't force himself to eat them, until a kind teacher released him from ravioli jail and let him dump the vile things in the trash.

I'm planning to use mom's pasta machine (I know my limits), and heck, maybe even the KitchenAid again. Reading about food is hungry-making, though, and last night I finally couldn't stand it anymore, and we went out for dinner to a newly opened Japanese restaurant a few blocks from our house because the author mentioned gyoza as a ravioli-like item from a non-Italian cuisine. These were interesting gyoza, I think they contained either fish or chicken, not the beef I'd been expecting, but that was fine. I was all about the pasta wrapper anyhow.

About the book: I enjoyed it. Well written, compelling, and informative. I learned a lot I didn't know about ravioli and cooking traditions in general, I was drawn in by the family history aspects of the book, and I sincerely cared whether she'd achieve her goal of finding the lost recipes and recreating them successfully. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in food and culinary tradition (ahem, Kelly, Anne, Claudia). But I would caution you to plan to have some delicious meals ready to go because while you are reading, you are going to get hungry.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bread again

Okay, this development might not be as exciting to anyone else as it is to me, but I had to share. I've been continuing to make bread since my initial post about it a couple months ago. I've been using the same recipe (whole wheat version) every time because trying to get it so that I have the recipe in my head and don't need the book, which is looking pretty ratty already from always being opened to the same page and getting flour and water splashed onto it. And I've started making double batches, because The Professor loves his bread, so we go through it pretty quickly, as in two loaves in maybe 4 or 5 days? Bread does not get stale around here.

Well, one thing I've noticed is that the loaf that gets made in the one terra cotta loaf pan I have always comes out way better than the one made in the metal pan. Okay, that's nice, but I only have one terra cotta loaf pan. But wait, I do have a terra cotta pie pan. So today I made my first attempt at a braided loaf just so it would fit better in the terra cotta pie pan. Check this baby out:

Isn't she lovely? I can't wait to tear off a hunk of that bready goodness and slather it with butter. Mmmm, mmmm, guess what's for lunch today?

And the regular loaf is looking pretty yummy, too (albeit washed out from the flash).

In other news, this morning I had my first astrology lesson. I met Bill Tuma last year through the Cleveland Astrology Meetup. As far as I can tell, a successful meeting of this group has never taken place, but Bill and I managed to connect on our own (thank you, Bill, for reaching out to me), and now he's teaching me astrology. In return, I'm helping him get his online astrology business off the ground, using my sharp administrative and get-it-done skills, donchaknow. I'm having lots of fun. Our first conversation about his business was last week, and I just had so much fun brainstorming and problem-solving with him, and it was especially nice that he was very open and receptive to most of my suggestions and to the homework assignments I gave him.

If there's a way I can do more of that kind of work, I think that would make me very happy indeed, which reminds me that I need to follow up with the brilliant Steve Coxsey, with whom I shared a little of my reverie last week via the Fast Track forum, a membership site started by Valerie Young for people trying to get their own business ventures going, and others who, like me, want to find work that is going to feed our souls as well as our bellies. Steve was kind enough to email me his reactions to something I wrote there to Armelle, another member, and he's given me some thinking to do. What did I say to Armelle? Just that "I guess you have to be careful having me as an accountability buddy, because I will not rest until you are living your dream life." Hear that, Bill? That goes for you, too!

Excuse me, now I need to go eat some bread. I need to get fueled up for my bike ride to work!

Updated to provide a link to one of Bill's astrology articles online.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I rode my bike to work

That is all. Oh, and it's TV Turn-Off Week. Do join me in switching off the tube this week. I've started reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, currently overdue from the library. Loving it so far.

Monday, April 21, 2008

[We'll] dance to anything

Anyone else remember the Dead Milkmen's Instant Club Hit? There's a little homemade video on YouTube with some bizarre and non-sensical-to-anyone-who-doesn't-know-the-maker visuals, but it does have the song, if you want to enjoy a little walk down Memory Lane with me (I'm looking at you, Chris and Dave). There are two YouTube videos, so if you want to hear the whole song, pick the one by lamers1111.

Moving right along, the reason for the title: It was quite an eclectic little dance weekend for us here. Friday night The Professor and I kicked things off by going to Viva Dance Studio for the monthly swing dance. I am embarrassed to say that Friday was my first visit to Viva, but it definitely won't be the last. Of course the marvelous Loreto and his wonderful DJ skills made for a delightful time, but my highlight was dancing with Eddie (sigh), and hey, neat, just realized he used to live in Philly. Anyhow, we had a lovely time, and I will definitely get my butt out there again next month. I even got some work done on a new crochet project in between dances.

Saturday evening we walked to a nearby church about a mile from our house for some contra dancing. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. It was a small crowd because of a competing special event in Oberlin, but we were actually glad to dip our toes in the water of a smaller pool. It was fun, but we left on the band break because we were tired from having spent the day working in the front yard, disposing of some shrubbery.



Before anyone gets all but-they-were-so-pretty on me, that's about 100 sq ft of prime real estate freed up in our south-facing front yard for growing things we can eat. Plus, at a recent lecture about landscaping we attended, there was a woman complaining about some bushes or a hedge or something in her front yard that she had disliked since she moved into her home 20 years ago but had never bothered to take down. I already endured those bushes for almost 5 years, and I did not want to be her in another 15. They were even worse when I first moved in, before I bonsai-ed them. Here, have a look:

I did rip out the ivy on Week One at the advice of the home inspector. Nothing growing on the house, a pretty sensible rule. But still, I let the pine loaf remain until I had a better plan. Now The Professor is planning a series of little keyhole garden areas, and he's even started to build a path. I'll get some good photos of that soon and share them.

But back to the dancing! Last night was the cherry on top, we got to see Anti-Flag at the Agora. It wasn't so much a dance event, but the music was great as it always is when these guys take the stage. High energy, the crowd going wild; it is always such a joy to hear them rock out. And even though I haven't been to a show since the last time they came through town and played at the House of Blues, the familiar movements of hands thrust deep in pockets, elbows locked, swaying back and forth from left foot to right, the bobbing of the head in time to the music, all came back to me with ease. Alas, The Professor was not feeling it, and he did not join in even when #2 said "Everybody jump!" or "Raise your hands in the air!" He even remained motionless for the grand finale of Drink Drank Punk. I don't know how anyone could stand still during that song; I was almost ricocheting off our little back corner (I'm old enough to know I don't belong in the mosh pit anymore). And now that I've had time to listen to their new album, I'm definitely digging many of the songs, and it was great to hear them live. I think "Good and Ready" is my favorite, with the title track following close behind. But the whole album is great. If you haven't gotten a copy yet, what are you waiting for?

We (I) did have a brief moment of concern when we found out Justin hadn't put us on the list of people who could come backstage to say hi after the show, and I was worried I wouldn't get to give him the present I'd made him, but luckily that back corner we'd staked out was right near where Justin came to greet some other people after the show, and we caught his eye and got whisked down to the basement for a little visit. It was great to see him, though, and he liked the present. This post is getting too long already, so I'll post photos and a little write-up about that project later this week.

Hope everyone else had a lovely weekend, too. I'm off this morning to visit my cousin and her new baby. I might even ride my bike, because it looks lovely out and No Impact Man depressed the hell out of me again this morning. I'm going to try to hang on to the weekend's happy dance memories a little longer, though, and I think I'll go play that Dead Milkmen song again just for kicks. "You'll dance to anything by Depeche Commode..."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pants Progress Post Plus

Before we begin our regularly scheduled program, I have a few highlights from the week. I skipped Ladies Who Launch Monday night to work on a crochet project. It's a gift, so photos and details will happen after it's gifted this weekend. I was sad to miss seeing Kim and Jennifer, but I hope to see them soon.

Tuesday was E4S, which was fantastic as always. I especially enjoyed hanging out with Victoria at the registration table and chatting with Bill about solar power. Talking to the guys from Fresh Fork was also fun (as was the small world moment earlier in the week of realizing I know someone else involved in their project).

On Wednesday, the Project From Hell was completed at the J-O-B. Happy dancing ensued. I am so glad to have that off my plate as I'd been working on it since September. I also started a new fun thing helping someone I know get his online business off the ground. We just had an initial phone chat, but I got to do what I love: cheerleading, problem-solving, and planning what to do next. Oh, and encouraging him to contact the brilliant Rachel to do his site (not sure yet whether they'll work together, but I have my fingers crossed).

Yesterday I made bread for my man. It's delish, probably the best yet. I wasn't using warm enough water before, and my yeast wasn't rising enough, so this loaf was lighter than previous ones. It's nice to get better at bread-making. I also got a massage and watched a cute movie; review to come over the weekend, but for now I can say: James McAvoy, swoon.

And now for our regularly scheduled program.

Today I finally got back into the sewing room. The Professor helped me move all the stuff up to the attic that was deleted from the room when I did the organizational fine-tuning in there a few weeks back, so no pile o' crap to trip over on the way into the room. The mending that had accumulated on the sewing table was tossed aside, the stack of muslin squares next to the machine got their edges overcast (using that spiffy new foot, which I love) so they can be safely laundered in preparation for The Great Dyeing Experiment yet to come. All is well.

I got sifted through the pattern, because I had the original pattern, the edited-in-'06 pattern (yes, I've been on this quest for a while), and the newly re-edited pattern all out. I put away the outdated versions and made myself a list of all the corrections to confirm and/or finish making to the current version. After getting the first few crossed off the list, I hit a snag. I'm going to put more detail into this post than the average reader may find interesting, and then I'm going to send a big SOS to all the sewing peeps that I know asking for help and guidance. Sewing peeps, if you are reading this, please help! Thank you in advance.

In the final meeting I had with Cynthia, she recommended on paper something that wasn't pinned into the fabric mock-up, an additional little 5/8" tuck under the butt at the outer leg seam. Kind of lack plastic surgery but using fabric-- adding shape to the garment to give shape when I wear it. The idea made perfect sense at the time, and I had this great light bulb moment of Getting It when she made that change. The instructions she gave me were to then add that length that the little wedge took out to the cutting line at the bottom of the leg. I thought I understood how to do that, and I'm realizing now, um, no.

Here's the pattern piece I'm using (blue arrows indicate the snag spot):

And here's a close-up of the area. See the slightly darker triangle where the paper is folded over itself and how the fold goes from the outer edge to that line in the middle of the pattern piece?

So I thought, okay, follow those same guidelines for figuring out where to put the extra wedge at the bottom of the leg:

But wait a minute, this result doesn't look right (green arrows indicate new cutting line):

Gah! What do I do now? Even if I taper the line all the way from the 5/8" addition to length at the outer leg seam to the unchanged bottom point of the inner leg seam, the hem is going to be a diagonal, and that can't be right. Do I just add 5/8" all the way along the bottom? I am, for the moment, stumped.

Well, now I'm going to start calling people I know (Anne, your phone will be ringing soon) and probably even emailing Cynthia, although I don't expect to hear back from her right away-- she's a busy gal! I don't understand why I get so hung up on these little things. I wish I didn't, but my sewing confidence is low. While I'm waiting to hear back on the SOS, I might try to do something easy to just get my confidence up. I've been wanting to make some flax seed eye pillows, that's about as easy as it gets, so maybe I'll go find some nice fabric scraps and try that.

Meanwhile, how can I expect to get any work done with this cuteness distracting me?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Books: World Without End and Pillars of the Earth

I got almost all the way to Scotland and back with my knitting in my carry-on, but in Glasgow, coming home, they told me my knitting needles would not make it through security and that I'd have to check them. To be fair, they were kind enough to tell me so before I checked my bag, so I put them in the suitcase and pouted. I then indulged myself in buying two new books, including this one by Ken Follett, sequel to his Pillars of the Earth, which I had finished while on vacation. I actually started the first book before vacation officially started, which made for a bit of a problem, because I couldn't put the book down to do things like pack, so I packed very quickly the morning we left (but I didn't forget anything, so it was all good).

Pillars of the Earth
was good, a very compelling story, a real page-turner. The Professor's entire family had been encouraging me to read it for years, and I was glad that I finally did. I liked most of the characters, except the evil villains of course, who I dutifully despised. I thought the story was well-crafted and interesting. A nice healthy serving good triumphing over evil in the end.

World Without End
was equally compelling. I couldn't put it down and read it very quickly for the 1,111-page book that it was. It was a bit too similar to the original for me to enjoy it quite as much. It was much easier to know what was coming because of all the parallels, and that dampened my enthusiasm but only a little, because I still gobbled it up. It took a lot longer for good to triumph over evil in the second book, there were fewer swings of the pendulum between good guys and bad guys prevailing, and one of the main bad guys in the second book was not a guy at all but the plague. Sure, it's historically accurate, but watching everyone get killed off by a disease is much less satisfying than seeing them get their come-uppance in a more fitting manner, as they did in the first book. Still, it was good, and I recommend it to anyone looking to escape his or her life for a few days.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

PSA for locals: Tree school!

Next Saturday, the incredible Jen Braman, owner of Peace of Nature Landscape and Design, will be talking about trees at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes. If you want trees to thrive in your life, Jen is the woman to know. She is also smart, funny, and she has cool hair. Last year I attended a longer series of classes with her and another instructor called Homeowner's Tree Survival School, also at the Nature Center. If they ever offer that program again, I encourage everyone who can to take it. I learned a lot about trees. I haven't actually done anything to take care of the trees in our yard yet, but I am moving in that direction, and I've got way more knowledge about tree care than I ever did before. Here's the info from the Nature Center's email:

Homeowner's Guide to Magnificent Trees
Saturday, April 19, 10 to 12:30
Trees add value and beauty to your home. Learn how to plant, grow and maintain healthy trees with certified arborist Jennifer Braman, owner of Peace of Nature Landscape and Design. Class size is limited. Call (216) 321-5935 to register.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Compact: We Might Be Bagging It

Today's excitement was me driving all over hell's half-acre looking for an overcast foot for my sewing machine to use on these *&$#(@% pants. I went to the always disappointing and useless Pins and Needles first, because they are the closest and I was trying to conserve miles, but when they not only didn't have what I needed (after I called ahead to see if they did and was told yes) but started ignoring me mid-assistance for another customer, I left. I decided to just drive straight to the always helpful and well-stocked and -staffed Barnes Sewing Center, even though it's considerably further away. Well, straight is a bit of a stretch. I stopped and bought a map, too, and not just for fun but because I had only a vague idea how to get where I was going from where I was. I was driving The Professor's beloved Prius, Lyra, and my handy little pocket folder full of directions, which included Barnes, was in my car, so I finally bought the map book for the area just south of where we live. It will come in handy again soon, no doubt. So that's two new things I bought today, completely flouting the Compact, feeling no guilt whatsoever.

And last week, while I'm confessing, for lack of a better word, I bought Anti-Flag's new CD, The Bright Lights of America. I haven't listened to it yet, because I've been engrossed in a book (Ken Follet's World Without End, which I finished this morning, thank heavens), but we had to buy it to earn Anne's undying gratitude and do our part to help with first week sales figures, although I think we missed helping by a day (at least our hearts were in the right place).

In positive Compact-ish news, I took a glass food storage container with me to the bakery yesterday and got them to put the sandwich I bought in that instead of a plastic clam shell that they usually use (I've asked for my sandwich in a paper bag in the past, but it hasn't gone well).

Now I can overcast the raw edges on the seam allowances of the pants that will not be trimmed. It's not a necessity, but Cynthia Guffey does it, and by Jove, if Cynthia does it, so will I. The last two of her videos that I bought at the Expo came in the mail today. Sweet.

But yeah, it's looking like the Compact experiment might be coming to a close. I'm not willing to forego a necessary supply like a sewing machine foot when I need one, or a friend's band's CD when it comes out, or to resist buying yarn when I'm on vacation in Scotland. I don't think we'll entirely stop considering how we can avoid purchasing things, but I don't think I'm going to keep promising myself I definitely won't purchase anything, because it's just not working out. We might have cut our consumption as far as we're willing to go already. No final decision reached yet, but that's the update for now.

Now, to sew!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

I feel better now

Good things:

Taxes are complete, and I only owe a small amount to the state. I get some chump change back from the city, and the Feds owe me, but I'm just letting them keep it until next year. All my Roth contribution stuff got straightened out, no penalties, so I'm on track with contributing for 2007 and 2008. Yay. The returns will go in the mail tomorrow. No tears, no gnashing of teeth. It's a welcome change. I finally found a good accountant if anyone needs one.

I found out last night that my dear wonderful friend Marty will be visiting us some time this fall. Halle-freakin'-lujah. Marty left Philly for Seattle not long after I came here to Ohio, and I've missed him terribly. I can't wait for his visit, which I hope will coincide with a good dance event (Bohemian if we're lucky?), because I love to dance with my Marty. He's super fun. I am eternally grateful to him for teaching his special secret balboa move to Andy. Don't ask Andy to show it to you, because he only got to learn it for my benefit. It still makes me smile every time.

It's warm out. Didn't even need my coat today. The crocuses are up, the leaves of lilies and daffodils are starting to come up. There have even been blue skies and sun recently. Wonderful gifts after such a long grey winter. The Professor spent a chunk of time last weekend planting seeds in cups and putting them in the window. We might have some home-grown vegetables this year if all goes well. That will be awesome.

A big project at the J-O-B is finally getting tackled, and the end is in sight. I love crossing things off my list. I'm committed to working extra hours until its complete. Look for a happy dance soon.

I'm getting a massage on Friday. My right ITB has been sore for months. It will be nice to get some relief, even if it's only temporary.

That's about it. Happy things. I needed some.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

I'm sad

I got news this morning by email that last week a guy I knew from swing dancing killed himself. A funny, sweet, kind, awesome guy. A good person, a good dancer, a good soul. I hadn't talked to him in years, since I moved away from the city where I knew him, and since I quit traveling to dance events where I might have run into him. What a sucky, shitty, fucked-up way to start a Saturday. I've been having enough trouble this week coming to terms with the loss of a freakin' TV character in a show I've been watching on DVD, and now this news. Ugh. Rest in peace, my friend. I'll remember your fantastic sense of humor (quick dry wit, my favorite kind), your welcoming presence when I was a new dancer, your kind face. I didn't know you were so sad that you had to go this way, and I'm sorry for that. I would have done anything I could to let you know the world needs all the good people like you it can get.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Personal best and signs of spring

Today marks a record-setting event for me. In a few short hours, once I receive one last piece of information, I will have gotten everything to the accountant for my taxes before April 15th. I don't think I've accomplished that feat in maybe 10 years or so. It's been Extension-land for me for a long time. It helps having an accountant who gives you a deadline of early March, and if you don't get stuff in by then, you're fired. I was more prepared this year than ever before, having started to keep a simple pocket file on the shelf by my desk for anything tax related. As it came into my life, I just put it in the folder, and then when my early March deadline rolled around, it was mostly all there. Not everything made it into the folder, but a lot did. This year I'll do an even better job, and 2008 will be even less stressful. Progress is nice.

In other news, yesterday on my way to the J-O-B, I saw a little bird fall off an electric wire overhead into the street and then flap around on the pavement in the middle of the street for a couple minutes. I had stopped my car to figure out if there was anything I could do, and was trying to find something in my car to use to sort of shovel the poor guy to the side of the road so he wouldn't get hit in case he recovered from his fall. I didn't want my human scent on him in case it would make the other birds back at the nest kick his ass or something, but I didn't really have anything appropriate in the car. Anyhow, I finally got out of the car empty-handed just to see what the precise problem was (broken wing? hurt foot?), only to find out it was, in fact, two birds... getting it on. Luckily, upon my approach, they decided to move their assignation to the treelawn, and I got back in the car and continued on my way. Ah, spring!

The pants project was postponed (say that 3 times fast) last weekend, having been bumped so I could do the fine-tuning of the organization of the sewing room, which looks fantastic now, almost ready for some showing-off pictures. Everything is all labeled and accessible and stored logically. The pants will be much easier to accomplish now for having taken the time to set the stage. Stay tuned for photos and, I hope, bragging about how great they turned out.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Victory is (almost) mine!

I thoroughly enjoyed the past 4 days at the Cleveland Sewing and Quilting Expo. I only took classes with Cynthia Guffey, so I can't give a review of the overall array of classes, but Cynthia's were, as always, incredibly informative and valuable, and I'm so glad I attended them all. I especially enjoyed her classes on collars (how to edit collar patterns to make collars fit better), necklines (how to choose flattering ones for your face and how to invent new ones), bound pockets and buttonholes (I can't wait to practice making more of these, they look fantastic and her method makes getting a fantastic result simple enough for even a novice like me), and of course, pants fitting. The event organizers also made some changes to the layout of the vendors and registration areas this year, including getting a new (nicer) entrance, which were vast improvements in my opinion. If you have any interest in sewing or quilting and can attend this show next year, I highly recommend it.

When we last left our heroine, she was working furiously to complete her mock-up in time for last Wednesday's class. At around 8 am on class day, I got it close enough (zipper in and a rough estimate of the waistband attached at waist at least, but without the waistband facing turned under and whipped in), leaving me time to shower and dress, pack food and drive to the I-X Center, arriving at class only 15 minutes late. But I don't think I missed too much, and when I got there, imagine my surprise to discover that a full sheet of instructions on how to complete the mock-up, including the important line "Email Cynthia with any questions" had been accidentally omitted from my registration packet. Wow, would the process of making this thing have been soooo much easier if only I'd had those instructions. It had occurred to me around 5 pm on Tuesday that maybe some such error had occurred, but at that point, I figured it was too late to call them and find out, so I just muddled through. I did learn my lesson, though, and next time something looks wrong to me, which the mere supply list did look insufficient as far as the promised "detailed instructions for preparing your mock-up" when I originally got it, I will definitely call and ask.

I didn't get photos of my mock-up before Cynthia fitted me, but here are some photos of it after 3 passes at tweaking the mock-up.

Rear view:

Front view:

Rear close-up (aka, how cute my butt is going to look in these pants):

Only the left leg got all the final tweaks, and it's interesting to me to see how much of a difference those little changes make. The tweaks have been transferred to the pattern, and that T-shaped adjustment that you can sort of see if you click on the butt close-up (see that dotted horizontal line?) was particularly hairy to make on paper, but Cynthia showed me how to do it, so that was good. She even recommended an additional nip in below the butt when we were fooling with the paper pattern piece, so we'll see if that works or if I need to back off from it a bit. The little bump on the side hip is just a result of the adjustments I had to make to the crotch depth and will disappear in the next mock-up. I will definitely post more photos when the 2nd mock-up is done.

Now that I've got the green light from Cynthia that I am done tweaking and can make another mock-up, I'm going back up to my lovely sewing room today to tidy up and get back to work. I want to keep my momentum going this year. The Professor (who kindly donated his photography services to this morning's post) is down in the basement making maple legs for the nightstands for our room. Another nice DIY day here at the old homestead.

Oh, and I would also like to mention that I did not buy any more fabric or yarn at the show. I was only a little bit tempted and then only once, by some lovely rust-colored wool coating for 25% off, but it's from a local store, Cutting Room Fabrics, which I thought had closed but only moved, so I just decided that by the time I'm experienced enough to make a coat, they'll have something else equally pretty for me to get. I did choose to break the Compact and get some of Cynthia's videos, mainly because there is no way I could buy them 2nd hand, nor would I want to do so. Cynthia deserves to get every penny for her genius. I did also get some scissors that she recommended. I could rationalize them as art supplies, but honestly, when it comes to sewing, I just do what Cynthia tells me, and if she says these scissors will make my sewing go better, I believe her. I hope to back on the Compact straight and narrow now that March's temptations of Scotland and the Sewing Expo are behind me.