Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I heard today about the death of Odetta, a folk singer whose music I remember listening to when I was a little girl. It's been a couple of weeks since Miriam Makeba died--I *loved* listening to her when I was little--and a couple of weeks before that, it was Studs Terkel. (I didn't know about him until I was an adult, but I think he had a lot in common with those two great singers.) Their deaths make me wonder who from that generation and area of endeavor might be next to go--a morbid thing to think about, I know, but not that strange, I guess.

When I heard about Makeba, I immediately ordered her first album on CD; it took more than two weeks to arrive, which I took to mean that a lot of people were just getting reacquainted with her music. I don't think the kids are as crazy about it as I am, though, when we were driving to the supermarket in a sleet storm on Sunday, Astrid seemed to agree heartily with me that Makeba's voice sounds both "fiercely joyful" and "joyfully fierce."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sad Mano-Warmers

My office is fre-free-freezing now that winter has hit Chicago in earnest. I regularly use a neon-green blanket on my lap (where no one can see it), but I can't type with my hands under a blanket. So, over the past couple of weeks of surfing, I was happy to see the many fingerless glove ideas around the crafty blogosphere. As always, I was sure I could improve on the ideas I'd seen. For one thing, with the gloves that start with a sleeve from a felted wool sweater, I was worried that I'd get itchy--so I decided to line my cuffs with some cotton lycra. That seems to have been an okay design change. But I also thought I'd use some of my many, many yards of foldover elastic to keep the cotton and lambswool together around the knuckle area. Bad idea, as the photo shows. The one without the foldover elastic is goofy-looking enough. I'm not sure how I'll approach my next pair.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Exquisite City

Last Saturday, the kids and I went to see a very cool exhibit, "Exquisite City," in a theater on the North Side of Chicago. As in the old game "Exquisite Corpse," the artists who contributed to this show were each asked to imagine, in cardboard, one city block in Chicago--without knowing how the other artists were picturing the assignment. Astrid was clearly feeling like Godzilla as she stomped around the "streets" of the miniature city--and I was a little nervous that one or more blocks might tumble in her wake. But both she and Elliot were impressed by the level of detail many of the artists achieved, as well as the humor and weirdness of many of their creations. In the same place, there was a little voyeurs' heaven....a wall full of windows into which we could stare. Elliot and I really liked the Mexican wrestler with the knife in his back. Astrid was not so delighted by this window.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Talking after class

Lately I've been getting home around 8 or 9 on Thursday evenings. I teach from 2-4:30, but I've been observing other instructors' evening courses--so by the time I've sat in on the first half of someone's class, I still have an hour-long commute home, often in very dark and rainy weather. I'm *really* tired on these evenings, but also a little wired (adrenaline from my dark drive, I guess).

Tonight I got home in time to kiss Elliot goodnight, and then I sat on the couch with Terry just chatting. For some reason, this is something we don't get to do all that often, so it was very, very nice. The best part of chatting was this: Terry recounted for me a conversation he'd had walking home from Elliot's school. The conversation consisted of Elliot explaining how he'd worked a math problem involving cube roots--how he'd set up the equation, the false starts and missteps he'd made, and how he did the whole thing without using any "materials" (he's a Montessori kid).

I'm sure that long ago I learned how to do whatever it was Elliot had to do today (I used to love math), but I don't remember how to do it, or even why it's a good thing to know how to do. But there was something very sweet to me about Elliot walking his dad through a problem that really interested him, and then knowing that his interest mattered enough to his father that Terry would remember what Elliot said and then tell me about it--especially when he knows that I don't get the math. Terry admires both of our kids' thinking, and his love for them comes through so clearly when he's telling me what's going on in their heads.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Marathon sewing lady

No pictures right now, but man, have I been a-sewin'! While Elliot was away at Nature's Classroom in Wisconsin last week, I wanted to sew him a new bathrobe (with Malden Mill's polarfleece that I got for $1.95/yard at I bought four yards each of brown, grey, and wine). I was able to trace off the pattern and cut the fleece by Thursday evening, but I was worried that I wouldn't get to do any actual sewing before he came home on Friday afternoon at 2. I got up early on Friday, got Astrid to school, and sewed non-stop until 12:30. Done! And it looks great: a deep chocolate brown, with nice big patch pockets. All Elliot needs now is a pipe to smoke....

On Saturday, I started working on pants for Astrid. Unfortunately, the polarfleece is a bit heavy for pants--the construction of which I'd hoped to streamline by using foldover elastic. I made one pair from the fleece and had to do a regular elastic casing. Then I pulled apart three *way* outgrown pairs of jeans I sewed for Elliot and used them to cut out three pairs of jeans for Astrid. I've got one sewn and I hope I can get to the others tonight or tomorrow. Since the fleece didn't work too well for regular pants, I think I'll use a lot of it for winter pajamas---maybe even some for me....

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tired and happy....happy!

I've been super-busy with papers to grade, sick kids, Halloween costumes to make....and a new blog I've been writing for work. (As you know, life blog and work blog must never cross the life blog has been on hold while I've been getting the work blog up and running).

None of this matters, of course....what *matters* is my pictures from Election Day! I work across the street from Grant Park in Chicago, and, while I decided not to stay downtown for the rally (I wanted to be home with my husband), I really wanted to document my experience of living through the giddy tension of the hours before election returns came in. I even walked over to Sears to buy a nifty little ultracompact, as I didn't have our clunky (but beloved) old digital camera with me. An expensive, impulsive purchase, but I'm glad I did it.

What a day! What a night! What a speech! It's a gooder-than-usual day to be alive.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Halloween's on its way, and cold weather, too

Chicago was blessed with an absolutely gorgeous Indian Summer weekend--75 or 80 both days--so we've been wearing shorts and doing yard work. (I make a point of mowing the lawn at least once every 60 days....I'm hoping today's session will be my last until May).

Even with the beautiful weather, I was able to think about the chilly times that are on their way, so I did two things that I'm quite proud of (well, technically three). First, I made air conditioner covers for our ancient, ugly, and inefficient dining room unit (which we will replace in the spring) as well as for Elliot's bedroom unit. I used two layers of sand-colored microfiber suiting that was given to me by a woman I happened to meet on the el train a couple of years ago---she was ready to have a baby and was trying to get rid of sewing cloth she didn't see herself using in the next few years. The cloth in question would have looked great on her, as she was a beautiful brown woman from Pakistan; the same cloth would have made me look like a beach. (Not a "beached whale," as the cliche goes, but the actual beach). Underneath the cloth, I created a two-layer plastic sheeting cover for each unit. I haven't yet addressed the leakage all around the units....but considering that I left the dining room unit completely uncovered until early December last year, I'm feeling really, really good about myself.

The other fall thing I did was to get started on Astrid's Halloween costume. She wants to be an alien--which was Elliot's costume last year--and I had just enough scraps from his ensemble to make up the better part of hers. She'll have black tights and a black turtleneck underneath the cool jumper I put together (made with Simplicity 5391, now out of print). I love how the binding came out---I used some of the fold-over elastic I bought from SewZanne's, and it worked great. I also made a metallic teal batwing "sweater" to go over the jumper--really, it's just sleeves and a bit of a back--I figured out how to make it from an old Threads article. Now I just need to design her Alien Headgear, which will probably be based on whatever big-enough plastic beverage container we empty between now and next week.

Elliot's going to be a ghost; right now we're haggling over how high-concept it should be. I have grand ideas about an apparition covered with the washed-out photos of Civil War soldiers or WW I sailors, but it sounds like he just wants to be "a scary ghost." My mother wisely reminded me the other day that Elliot's getting to the age at which any recommendation I make will be completely unacceptable; she urged me not to press my luck with him, so I will try not to. (Perhaps *I* can be a high-concept ghost....)

Believe it or not, once I was done making Astrid's alien dress yesterday, I grabbed an atrociously-huge, never-ever the right size pair of jeans I made a couple of years ago, and I turned it into a jumper for her, using the same pattern I'd just traced off for her Halloween costume. I used homemade bias tape for the bindings, and I salvaged a pocket from another way-too-big dress I made myself a year or so ago.

I think I'm done sewing for the week.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Working my way back up

A long silence, huh? It took me a while to get over the stomach bug I had when I last posted--and an even longer time to catch up on my backlog of work. I'm just about done with the article revision that was supposed to be complete in mid-August....I don't think I've ever been so late with a piece of writing. Fortunately, the editor isn't quite done revising her piece yet, either. Elliot's birthday was on Friday, the 26th--and boy, were we in cupcake heaven (except me--I was sick). We made 48 cupcakes for Elliot's schoolmates and teachers, and there must have been a few kids missing, because he brought home about 10 of them. I like this picture because it looks like Elliot is growing out of Astrid's head.

Lots of anxious fall days, watching the economy implode. I heard people on NPR comparing the current panic to the terrible uncertainty following the 9/11/01 attacks, and while it seemed like an outrageous idea at the time, I confess I've had some moments since then when I could see what they were talking about.

Onto a more pleasant subject: Astrid's been taking her Saturday morning art class for a few weeks now, and she's really enjoying it. I don't think it's providing the level of challenge that her Montessori teachers urged us to try to find for her, and, to be honest, I don't think she's doing anything with her teacher that she couldn't do with me--but it's very nice for her to have someone else to work with. She's quite strong-minded, and we do sometimes step on each other's feet when I'm teaching her. I have definitely enjoyed sitting outside the studio, in the fall sunshine, doing my class prep on Saturday mornings. I hope the weather will stay nice....

Last Friday, Astrid had her annual checkup--including three shots. In the waiting room before the appointment, she drew this picture of Frida Kahlo. (Yes, she is quite focused on Frida Kahlo.) In this drawing, Frida Kahlo is working in my office (all of the furniture and fixtures are pretty accurate), and she's using the computer to create a self-portrait. As you can see by her "Woo-Hoo!", Frida's pretty happy with how her self-portrait is coming out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

How much pink and blue linen is left?

A few months ago I bought some v-e-r-y w-i-d-e linen for making curtains. I *did* make a set of bathroom curtains with the pink, but the blue isn't as pretty in "real life" as it was online, and both shades are so wrinkle-prone that I've opted not to make any clothes with them. (Really, the only time I iron is when I'm sewing.....I think I ironed a shirt for Elliot last year, when he celebrated his first Sacrament of Reconciliation at church....).

So we're been using the linen a little square at a time, as the foundation for our embroidery experiments. Here are two that I've finished over the past couple of weeks. They're a little small, so I'm not sure what I'll do with them--perhaps applique them onto a pillow. The bigger ones we've made have turned into pillow covers in their own rights (we posted Elliot's little partridge pillow a few weeks ago.) Most of those haven't been posted here because they are likely to end up under certain people's Christmas trees.

I'm pretty pleased with both of them. The Fire Chief (not a great photo--sorry) was based on an image in a very early book that Richard Scarry illustrated for Little Golden Books--Cars and Trucks (and see the updated posting about the bowdlerized early-70s version of the book--it's the one I have, and boy is it weird!). The bright primary colors of Scarry's illustration don't come through in this simple embroidered rendition, but I think the spirit is there.

The Young Pioneer design took a lot longer. It's based on a teeny part of a very complicated textile design in Jill Kachurin's 2006 book Soviet Textiles. (What a great book--I'm so glad I bought it! I sure wish some of the textile patterns she curated for her 2006 exhibit at the MFA in Boston would show up in someone's quilting line.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Concentric circles from my belly

Today's highlight was me sobbing on the phone to my mother, in full view of my five-year-old daughter, who later claimed never to have seen me cry before that moment. Hurray for rites of passage!

I was just starting to get over my chest cold when some viral evil sneaked into my tummy, and I am sick-sick-sick. The worst part, as I have already confessed, is that I am also full of self-pity. No stiff upper lip for me. And no sense of perspective, either--as my mother gently (but correctly) reminded me.

As a way of celebrating my own self-absorption, I offer this excellent news item from The Onion. The reporter doesn't know where the dot is, but I do.

Breaking News: Series Of Concentric Circles Emanating From Glowing Red Dot

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rough week....

I'm sitting in the living room with Astrid, who is watching Curious George on PBS. I had just arrived at my Chicago Loop office this morning when I got a call from her school--she was in the nurse's office, about to throw up. I said I'd be there within 45 minutes (the usual time getting home on the El); today, of course, the subway was broken down, and I ended up taking the scenic route--75 minutes by bus--and then walking 15 minutes to her school--only to find her sitting cheerfully in the nurse's office. (Did I mention that I have bronchitis, and that between this chest cold and Astrid's stomach virus last week, I've been to work twice in the last eight weekdays?)

We walked the rest of the way home, with lots of singing and joking from Astrid, all of which stopped when I told her that she couldn't watch TV once we arrived at the house---at least not until the official school day was finished. This seemed outrageous to her. After arguing with me a bit, and hearing that she was "addicted to TV--like a smoker is addicted to cigarettes," though, she became very sober and independent. She read, did homework, ran an errand with me--then, when we were back and it was 3:30, I told her she could watch some TV.

In the meantime, I am worrying about work, wondering when this parenting-while-employed thing ever gets easier (not that I've known parenting any other way), and feeling cruddy. I got a reminder from an editor about a revision of an essay that was due one month ago; I do not feel equipped at the moment to think and write, but when will I be? Instead I am ripping out the button-down collar from a Lands End men's dress shirt that I hope to refashion (but how? no clue right now....). An un-constructive act for a day with not much to show for it. Blah.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Some songs just need a little more....cowbell

Since I've just started my two-month Wardrobe Refashion pledge, I thought it might be appropriate to "refashion" one of my favorite songs about style. Whenever I hear Cake's "Short Skirt, Long Jacket," I picture Astrid in about 13 years. She certainly seems like someone who might someday "use a machete to cut through red tape."

What better way to take a great song "to the next level" (god, I hate that phrase) by mixing in a little--OK, a *lot*--of cowbell?

If you want to try it yourself--with this great song or another of your choosing--go to

(Two confessions: I tried to embed the code from the site onto this blog, but there's an error in the code, and I'm not HTML literate enough to fix it, plus all the copyright legalese sort of scared me, in a way that my husband's disapproval and tsk-tsking usually doesn't. So I'm giving you a thoroughly public-domain picture of a cowbell instead.)

(Another confession: our family [husband included] also greatly enjoyed cowbelling songs like The Modern Lovers' "Modern World" and Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man," though Mo Tucker's drumming on the latter tune actually make the cowbell seem a bit redundant. Is that possible?)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A favorite dress lives on

Over the past two weeks, I've been refashioning one of my all-time favorite early-90s dresses into two new pieces of clothing. I wish there had been digital cameras back when I used to wear this dress, because my memories of it are so happy: I wore it to my nephew Sam's 1st birthday party (he's now a sophomore in high school!), and I wore it a lot when my husband and I were teaching in SW Oklahoma. My students thought I was very bohemian (though I don't think that's the word they used....). I bought it in a deadhead shop in Colorado Springs during a short stint teaching at Colorado College (where I also got my degree). It was a knee length sundress with an empire waist.

The dress has been too small for me since before Astrid was born, but I didn't have the heart to give it away, and I felt sad every time I saw it hanging in my closet. Now that it's a top and a little jumper, I can see (parts of) it all the time.

I used the skirt to make the top for me. I drafted the pattern myself: it has darts in the front and side panels, so that it's loose but not shapeless, and it has plenty of room for my tummy. I used scraps of store-bought bias tape for the neck and armholes (I didn't mean for the bias tape to show in front, but I was too tired to rip it out when I noticed my it's now a design feature.) So far, I've worn it to work with my favorite black, bias-cut crepe skirt. I've been drafting/altering test versions of Kwik Sew 3338 to wear underneath this blouse (and others--now that I have a pattern I'm happy with, I'll make more of these woven tops--I have a couple more batik dresses that I'd love to rework).

The top part of Astrid's dress was the bodice of the batik dress. I took out about four inches from the center front, and made two deep tucks near the shoulder-blades. With scraps from my blouse, I appliqued fish onto the cotton/lycra skirt, and I added rick-rack seaweed on the back. Carrie's applique tutorial at Whole Cloth Designs showed me how to use freezer paper to make appliques lie flat. I was able to keep the binding on the armholes and neckline in place, so the whole thing was very quick to put together. This was good, because I decided not to be lazy about the hem: I fused it with Stitch Witchery and used a double needle so it would be really neat. (I usually just zig zag the hems on Astrid's knit clothes--doing it the nice way takes me twice or three times as long.)

I have one of my extra-special chest colds right now, so I've promised myself that I'll be very sedate sewing, and *definitely* no cleaning (last weekend I scrubbed the dining room floor--it took three hours....). I'm going to sit, embroider, and maybe paint a bit with Astrid. Oh, yeah, and cough a lot.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Maria Von Trapp and Betty Ford?

I just remembered something that one of the PBS presidential historians said last night after Cindy McCain's treacly tribute to her husband. I was not listening *all* that closely, but I am quite sure that one of them reported this bit of historical weirdness: apparently, after the RNC Convention in 1976, Maria Von Trapp (of The Sound of Music) contacted Gerald Ford so that she could urge him to publicly silence his wife, Betty. She told him that he might have a chance of beating Jimmy Carter if he would just shut Betty up.

In the process of researching this odd morsel of information, I have found all kinds of icky information about the real Maria Von Trapp (and some more nuanced, sympathetic accounts of her life), but nothing about her antipathy toward Betty Ford. I guess I'd like to know if there's any truth to the story....then again, there's enough weirdness and bad behavior in my world. I probably don't need to welcome any more of it into my brain....

Thursday, September 4, 2008

When you've lived in a box, everything becomes clear

I gotta write a little while I watch John McCain's acceptance speech, or I'll probably lose it.

The hagiographic video before McCain's speech--narrated, of course, by Fred Thompson--made a lot of implied comparisons between JMc and Jesus. From the sound of it, McCain experienced multiple resurrections.

Of course, Guiliani's and Palin's speeches the night before were exercises in nastiness. Palin, in particular, is an excellent speaker--but what mean-spiritedness in both talks! By deriding Obama's work as a community organizer, both of them showed their fundamental opposition to all the kinds of progress that probably couldn't have happened without the work of grass-roots organizers. Civil rights movement, anyone? Not if these folks had had their way....

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

As promised, our Labor Day mural

It's a little messy this year, as Astrid and her friend Anaya decided to make handprints with paint made out of chalk and water....within 90 seconds they both looked like they'd just auditioned for Blue Man Group. But it also features some inventive job titles, including Iguana Petsitter (Elliot), Street Juggler (Terry), and Fashion Designer (Anaya).

It was supposed to rain last night, and didn't, and it was supposed to rain today, and so far it's dry---so our mural is very slowly being carried away on the soles of the many pedestrians--workers, students, and pleasure-seekers--who walk by our house on their ways to and from the train. Viva los trabajadores y las trabajadoras!