Saturday, July 31, 2010

What I'm Up To

These are petits pains du chocolat, something like what we had in Jamaica. Imagine, please, that the coffee beans are brewed. I drank my entire cup before thinking to snap a picture. The recipe is linked to the picture, and they are delicious, simple, and decadent. A perfect breakfast treat or mid-morning snack (Clint ate two) (the pig).

Jared's been practicing his technique for scaring geese away. Imagine him hissing at you. It scares me, so it should work quite well on a certain goose we know.

And I'm still working on making birthday cards. I've gotten caught up on July, finished August and all but one September, and am weaseling my way into October. But you see how difficult it is to be the product of a family as big as mine--and married to one even larger! These are (mostly) just immediate family, people! It's ridiculous(ly fun).

And this is what I'm listening keep me motivated and feeling creative. And feeling artistic and cultured. (Did you know Gustav Holst taught music for 30 years at a school outside London, even when he was crazy famous?) (That's dedication).

So that's my plan for this rain-threatening day. I've got to get through December at least before we go back to (gulp) school. So I'll stop distracting myself by blogging.
I'm going now.

Yes, right now. Diving back in.

Maybe I should have one more pain au chocolat. For inspiration, of course.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How to Make a Plastic Bag Holder

If you're anything like me, you have a wad of plastic grocery bags lurking under your bathroom sink, where they seem to multiply and spread out, trying to take over the entire cabinet. They defy any attempts to be corralled into a smaller area, and they take up space that rightfully belongs to a plethora of other Much More Important Items, such as toilet paper, cotton balls, and bottles of shampoo and body wash.
Last night, I decided enough was quite firmly enough. It was time to show those plastic bags who was boss. You're probably thinking I took them to the recycling bin, and that would have been quite effective. Nothing like throwing things into a smelly dark place to show your dominance. But no, I had to do something more creative and lovely. So here you go. And thanks, Mom, for showing me how it's done.

One 12" x 23"piece of fabric
One 3" x 6-1/2" piece of fabric for the tab (or you can use 6" or so of ribbon)
6" of 1/2" elastic

Here are all the pieces laid out on my ironing board. Pretty simple, huh?

After you've measured and cut your pieces, the first step is sewing the tab. If, of course, you're using ribbon, you get to skip right on to the next step.
To make the tab, fold the tab in half lenghthwise and press. Then open it up and fold one of the edges to the center crease and press, and then do the same with the other long edge. Here you can see me holding it open.
Once you've got it pressed, run a straight seam about 1/8" from the open seam.
(This method beats the crap out of trying to sew a tiny little tube and then turn it right side out.)
Next, you're going to make the casing for the elastic. Press down about 1/4 on one of the 12" ends of the body of the bag holder. Then make another fold a little more than 1/2" and press.

Sew close to the inner edge, so that you leave a tad more than 1/2" to thread the elastic through.
Momma taught me a trick for inserting elastic. Attach a safety pin to one end of the elastic, and then use the pin to push the elastic through.

Keep an eye on the end of the elastic, though, and once the end you've started from has just a peep of elastic showing, stop and sew that in. Run your machine back and forth across that elastic a few times to hold it in place. This should be right near the edge of the fabric, so once you sew your bag holder together, those stitches won't show.
When you get the elastic all the way through, do the same crazy-mad stitching on the other end.
This is what it will look like.
Hooray! You're about 2/3 of the way done!

Now turn up the seam on the other end of the bag. Press 1/4" and then another 1/2", just like you did when you made the casing. Run a straight seam along that baby.

Next, sew your tab (or ribbon) in place. This extra stitching will help keep the tab secure. I put it maybe 1/2" below the top of the bag holder. Stitch back and forth a few times.

Then, turn your bag inside out, matching up the long raw edges and keeping the tab inside the bag. Stitch along that seam, and do your best to match up the top and bottom. If you're like me, you get a little hasty and a tiny bit imprecise and they might be a little off. Don't berate yourself. It's a plastic bag holder, for cripe's sake.
Here she is, hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Doesn't she look proud of herself?

And here she is, looking even more proud, replete with lots of plastic bags.

So there you have it: a project that you can make in under an hour with minimal expense. If you don't have spare fabric, you could use a tea towel or a spare pillowcase cut to size. If you can sew a (relatively) straight seam, you can do this. Go for it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How to Hygenically Clean Lizard Poo Off Your Table and Other Important Items

If you want to prevent your lizard from using your dining room table as her toilet, I would first politely suggest that you not allow said lizard onto the table in the first place. But if your son is that dangerous mixture of persistent and cute, you may have to allow occasional reptilian visits, (okay, this is the first time. And the last. Don't get so grossed out you never come over for dinner again. Just keep reading) to the area on which your family regularly dines and prepare for ensuing natural disasters.
At this point, it might be prudent to mention two interesting facts.
1) A bearded dragon only poops once a day--if that.
2) When a beardie poops, it comes out in two little turds. One is black and the other is white. That is very interesting, isn't it?
The primary reason Squirt got to cavort on the table this morning is that Jonah wanted to show us how she eats blueberries, which, admittedly, would have been interesting to see. But unfortunately, he had already fed her quite a few and she wasn't interested in blueberries.
But then, she did something even more spectacular. I had already pegged her as a quick learner, but even I was amazed by this. Check it out:

Yes, that's right. She can balance a blueberry on her head. Quite impressive.
So we let her do that for awhile and applauded quietly, so as not to startle her and cause her to lose her balanced blueberry. Eventually (and I know this might surprise you) I got tired of watching a lizard balance a blueberry on her head, and I began to clear away the breakfast dishes.
That's when it happened.
I suppose I should be impressed at Squirt's continence, as this is her first poo-tastrophe since we got her last fall. But there you have it: the law of averages states that if you take a lizard out of her cage often enough, the likelihood of poo coming into contact with your home surfaces is dramatically increased. I had always envisioned it happening on the carpet, and really, I'm not sure whether the dining room table isn't a better place for it. It is, after all, easier to clean.
So here's your tutorial:
1) Make your kid clean up the mess under close supervision. It is, after all, entirely his fault.
2) Actually, first back up and express your chagrin in language as strong as you deem effective.
3) Make sure the poo is wiped off first with a sterile piece of toilet paper.
4) Use the strongest chemicals in the house to remove all traces of poo from the table.
5) Watch your kid scrub the entire table, all the chairs, and the floor too for good measure. While he's at it, ask him to scrub the bathrooms, too. Asking never hurts. He may feel guilty enough to do it.
6) Wash said toxic chemicals off the table. It wouldn't do to poison your family. Frowned upon, you know.
7) Put the lizard back in its cage. Maybe do that bit first, actually. This might be a two-poo day, even though Jonah insists it has never happened.

Other Items:
Yesterday, I found success in my months-long search for a better storage solution for my paper. I have the tiniest bit of an obsession with paper, which will likely surprise you. Since I'm not obsessive about anything else. Especially not books, cake, chocolate, coffee, birds, or my husband. And funny things. Okay, and my kids too. ;)
But the paper stack was getting a little obnoxious, and it was hard to find the right piece when I wanted it if it was all stacked together. I took a picture to show you, but even the camera was appalled and refused to focus:
Okay, actually, I'm lying. The huge stack was put together just for the purpose of exaggeration. I used to keep it in three separate piles on the topmost shelves you can see in the far right of the picture below. But still, it should be clear to all of us that something needed to be done.

And if you've visited me anytime recently--and if you're observant, you'll know that the empty corner in the background used to be the abode of a lamp and the printer. But that area was just a dust magnet, and it irritated me.
So it seems only fortuitous that when I set out to my two most trusty suppliers of crafty goodness I was bound to find the perfect solution. Jo-Ann let me down, and I was forced there to (kindly) give one of the workers a piece of my mind about their lack of paper storage options. Seriously? What woman wants to store everything in plastic containers? How cute does that look? And they did have colorful boxes for flat storage, but they were 9.99 each and while they would have looked nice, I would still have the same problem. I wanted open storage.
I think I may have heard an exuberant angel choir backing me up as I stepped into Michael's. How else to explain that I found the exact solution I was hoping for AND it was on sale 40% off? I got the whole contraption for 17.99 and put it together myself. Look at this baby!

While I'm at it, let me show you the whole craft area. Looks good, huh? (And she's modest, too, folks)

I was working on making some birthday cards, and then I realized how dusty my stamps were and the stuff on the shelves, too. I dust weekly (or something like that), but I certainly don't take all those durn stamps off the shelf and dust them...or the stuff under the counter, either. Why would dust go down there? That's just silly. But I could trace my initials in every single box and ink pad I picked up. It was embarrassing. That's how it all started.
It's all about keeping things clean, you know? Whether it's lizard poo or your craft area. Cleanliness is next to...(you're so smart!)

Monday, July 26, 2010

In Which a Boy Becomes a (Bat)Man

This is the story of a bat.
This is the story of a man, his wife, a boy, and a bat. Two of them were very frightened.
Before our story can properly commence, it is important to know some things:
1) bats love our house...especially our bedroom
2) my husband is deathly afraid of bats
3) I'm not
4) neither, apparently, is Jonah

This is the story.
Last night, a girl named Kir was sleeping peacefully in a bedroom blessedly free of humidity. The windows were open, a breeze played with the curtains, and all was sheer summertime bliss.
Then, her sleep was rudely interrupted by a dire shaking. Someone was cowering and whimpering beside her. That someone was her husband. Sometimes, Kir's husband has bad dreams about chasing bad guys, and she has to wake him up from them. Sighing, Kir rolled over to wake him up so they could both go back to sleep, but she quickly realized this wasn't Clint's bad dream. This was real.
"A bat," he whispered, his voice muffled by the sheet over his head. "There is a bat in our room."
Sure enough, Mr. Bat took that admission as his cue to swoop low over their heads.
"Do you want me to get the bat out?" Kir asked, sighing again.
"We can't," Clint replied, his voice desperate and sad. "The door (we have a balcony off our room) is blocked (Clint's been roofing and the debris has mostly landed on the balcony)."
The bat swooped low again. Clint moaned. "I need to get out of here."
"Why don't you go sleep somewhere else?" Kir asked.
"What about you?" he replied.
"I'll be fine," she said, pulling her bravery britches up nice and tight. "Bats don't scare me."
So, Clint scurried out of the room, hunched over with his pillow over his head. Let me tell you something: a man scurrying in his underwear is a funny, funny thing to see.
Kir snuggled her pillow and prepared to sleep.

Here is something true: The Thing that Secretly Scares You a Tiny Bit becomes much more terrifying when you are alone in the dark.

It was hard to tell for sure in the dark, but that Durn Bat sounded like it had started mucking about on the floor. She could distinctly hear his little claws scratching the wood, and she was pretty sure she heard the rasp of his leathern wings on the floor. What is that creature doing? she wondered. Reading Larry's Kidney? It's not very good... Then she thought about what it might feel like if he decided to crawl up the wall and flop down on the bed next to her. She will freely admit, she was not shivering in anticipation. That was fear shaking her. Pure fear. In principle, bats are interesting creatures. When said Bat is snuggled up close to a girl in the place of her husband, it becomes not so interesting.
Kir turned on the light and stood up, ready to do business. First step, glasses. Second step, try to get that blasted door open. (Here is something else you need to know: old house move and shift in odd ways. Humidity + old door = difficult thing to open.) She couldn't budge it! Kir needed to call in reinforcements. That or give up.

At this point, you might be wondering what the title of this post has to do with anything. Fear not, brave reader. All will be revealed.

So, fearing rejection, Kir tromped downstairs to Clint's escapist bed on the couch, where she admitted defeat. He offered to let her share the couch; she pretended to consider. Then Kir proposed her request: if he would come up and jimmy the swollen door open, she would shoo the bat out and we could both sleep in peace. After brief hesitation, he agreed.
It took some wrestling, but Clint got the door open and then promptly ducked back toward the door, nodding at Kir to commence with bat removal. She stood in the center of the room, her arms raised above her head in the posture all bats recognize as utter bravery and defiance. It is possible that Clint may have chortled (hard to tell when his teeth were chattering so) and he squeaked something about going to look for a Thing to Get the Bat Out. He left.
Just moments later, the bat decided to take a breather, collapsing spread-winged nearly at our heroine's feet. Poor little guy was just exhausted from swooping over their heads. Kir was so surprised to see him there right in front of her that she just stared at him for a moment. By the time she realized she could trap him on the floor with the towel that was dangling just in arm's reach, he must have sensed her motives for he recommenced his swooping.
That's about when Clint returned with his Thing to Get the Bat Out. It was an inflatable soccer goal (with nets, of course) about 5 feet wide and maybe 2 feet tall. You're probably thinking what Kir was thinking: What fool would use a butterfly net when he can use an inflatable soccer goal. Right? Exactly.
She might have looked at him with a tiny bit of disdain, but maybe because he was using it more as a shield than a Bat Shoo-er. That's when the door opened and Jonah stepped in. "What's going on?" he asked. Maybe he was surprised to see his parents cavorting about the room at 2:24 with an inflatable soccer net. Maybe not. He's pretty unflappable as a rule.
"We have a bat," Kir said.
"Oh," he replied. "Let me go get something." And he left in a hurry.
Now it's go time, Kir thought. Surely this boy genius would return shortly with a Real Net. Ten seconds passed and he came back into the room with this:

This is Nathaniel. At this time, the author is not sure whether Nathaniel has Bat Catching Abilities. All he did was sit slumped in Jonah's arms while the kid watched his dad duck and weave and watched his mom calmly track the flight patterns of the bat. Then Jonah set Nathaniel on the bed.
He watched unblinking as the bat landed on the curtain and clung there, quivering with exhaustion. Then, Jonah stepped toward Clint and took the inflatable soccer goal from his father's unresisting hands. Kir knelt, poised but motionless, on the bed, watching her son step into (bat)manhood. He crept toward the window, the soccer goal raised toward the bat. He crept softly, as only a boy accustomed to tracking helpless animals, such as squirrels and salamanders, through the forest can move.
The bat hung motionless and Jonah trapped it there in the inflatable soccer goal. Somehow, it must have realized it was trapped for it began to flutter about, turning then and clutching at the net with its tiny batty fingers.
"Get it to the door! Get it to the door!" Clint shouted, holding fast to the trim around the bedroom door.
With a grace that defies written expression, Jonah danced that bat across the room, his arms certain and his feet steady, in a path straight for the door. Maybe it tasted the free air of the night sky, but a few feet from the door, the bat turned, winked at Jonah, and fled into the darkness.
That is how a boy became the man he is now, on a night so fresh in the my memory because it was only last night, and how he assumed my mantle of fearlessness. Hail him, for he is brave and worthy. Jonah, the Bat Catcher of the Genthner Home. His mettle will likely be tested very soon.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book Review: A Little Sweet and a Little Tart

I'm not sure where I heard about this book (maybe in a magazine), but any book about cake is sure to whet my appetite for words. Because I am not ashamed (after forty-six sessions of CakeLoversAnonymous) any more to admit that cake and I--well, we have a sweet relationship based primarily on my unyielding desire for consumption. The kind that leaves not one crumb behind. I have been known to--no. I'm not ready to share That yet.
So I put the title on my amazon wish list, and guess what sweet-ums got me for my birthday? That's right. This book. I took it with me to Jamaica, figuring it would be a fun read (go ahead and picture me as I pictured myself in the weeks before we left: I'm sitting on the beach with a drink in my hand (the drink has a pink umbrella, okay?) and I look up and wave at Clint every so often as he paddles around in the ocean). And it was. A fun read. A very bizarre fun read.
Here's a picture of me fulfilling my fantasy:

Yes, I'm almost done with the novel at this point, and it was durn
difficult to pose pretty for Clint when I was that near the end.

So, on to the review. First, the premise: Rose Edelstein is nearly nine when she first realizes that she is not like everyone else. Her mother is testing a recipe for Rose's birthday cake and when Rose eats a piece, instead of tasting lemon, she tastes emptiness. A dark, swirling emptiness that overwhelms her.
As Rose grows older, she realizes that she can taste the origins of her food and the emotions of all who have had a hand in its journey to her plate. She knows, for example, when sitting down to a spaghetti dinner, where (city, state, plant) the pasta was manufactured, that the man harvesting the tomatoes is worried about money, and that her mother is still sad and feeling lost.
Soon, Rose can no longer eat her mother's cooking. She fiddles with her dinner and buys junk food that has been manufactured by machines--free of the taste of anyone's sorrow or concerns. It takes her awhile to learn that she is alone with her "gift," that no one else can taste what she can. And this realization isolates her.
But she isn't the only strange one in her family. Rose's mother flits from job to job, finally settling with carpentry (and sliding into an affair--which Rose immediately tastes--and keeps to herself). Rose's father has a deep fear of hospitals, keeping from directly seeing the birth of either of his children or ever visiting a loved one there. And Rose's brother, Joseph, is the oddest. He appears to be autistic, maybe, incapable of making any lasting friendship except for the one he has with George, who seems equally as gifted as Joseph but without the constraints of Joseph's impediment--whatever it is.
As the novel unfolds, Joseph grows more reclusive--even vanishing a few times unexpectedly--and Rose begins to fall in love with George, who treats her with love, but a love that is more friendly than anything else. And then one evening, everything gets very, very strange. Like X-Files strange. Transformation and transubstantiation strange.
Yeah, that's what I said too. Still scratching my head about it.

I was hoping for a book that fed my cake-lust, and this one didn't do it. It held my attention; it was very, very bizarre (especially the last 75 pages or so), but that's about it. By the end, Rose was still struggling to cope with her "gift," she learned that she was NOT the only gifted one in the family, and--uh--that other bizarro thing I don't want to tell you.
Okay, let's be honest. You're probably not going to read the book after a review as dismal as this one, are you?
Twist my arm.
Promise me cake (chocolate, please).

Joseph? He's been playing around with space and time. Star Trek stuff, right?
And he figures out how to...put himself in something else...I think.
So that one night that changes everything: Rose goes to check in on him (he's moved into an apartment, but mom is paranoid and someone has to check on him daily--and he's stopped answering his phone). And she finds him calmly sitting in an aluminum folding chair.
Okay, you're thinking. That's not that weird.
Then she realizes he's holding very still.
Then she goes to look closely at him because there's something about his ankles that looks wrong.
She lifts up his pant leg.
And his foot and the chair leg are the same thing. Like, his foot has turned into the chair leg. Like, you can't tell where one starts and the other ends.
So she panics, right? Who wouldn't? And runs screaming (quietly--don't want to disturb strange brother) to the other room to call her dad.
She's only gone for a few seconds, but when she returns, Joseph is gone.
Because (of course) (I know you're wondering why you didn't see this coming) he has Become the Aluminum Folding Chair.
And that is why Rose marks the back of the chair. Which is what you would do, right? So Joseph the Chair doesn't get mixed up with Chair the Chair I or Chair the Chair II...
Now that I think of it, I think this novel would have been much more interesting if Joseph had been the protagonist. He's a weirdie, for sure. And I like weird about as much as I like me some cake.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Time: it keeps on ticking

Today at Summer Writing Camp, our Sacred Writing Time prompt was really just one word:


Here is what I wrote:

Cecilia Braddock had the great misfortune of being the only girl in the history of time for whom it ran backward. She looked right; it wasn't that obvious at first.
She was born a mewling infant with the customary downy hair and angry skin and tight-fisted wailing, but even the myopic nurse who administered Cecilia's first dose of HIV commented, squinting from frantic infant to concerned mother. "This one's got wise eyes, missus," she said, passing Cecilia to those desperate arms. But Maggie couldn't think about Cecilia's eyes--wise or not--not when the angry spot on her baby's wrinkled thigh was already swelling in protest.
Cecilia, though, she heard the nurse and agreed heartily, whilst also deploring the idea that someone could be so observant and yet so cruel. That needle, glittering cold, inserted so callously into the skin pinched between thumb and forefinger, injecting hot and pain into a leg that had just hours before recovered from the trauma of birth.
While Maggie cradled her and cooed to her, then dropped into a doze, her arms still clutching the becalmed Cecilia, the baby looked about the room. Without any tutelage, she could read. Not just the directions on the IV bag printed in English, but also Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, and Arabic.
She had no idea, then, how anomalous she was. Nor would she likely have cared. The window revealed a sky gray with smog and a few pigeons struggling for purchase on the thin limestone lip of the building across the street. Which had been built in 1926, she knew, designed by Abraham Parker, with eighteen floors and two elevators, both of which were still operational--an uncommon preservation in this city that preferred new to old always.
Cecilia didn't consider how she knew language or architecture. She just accepted it, like she had the first bright lights, the smothering cold, the formula in a bottle--sustenance oral instead of umbilical.
Only Cecilia's father seemed to understand her. He arrived as dusk settled over the city, his tie askew and his hair rumpled. He had been the other man on the outskirts of her birth, Cecilia realized, the one who had nodded, glanced at his watch, and left before she had drawn her fourth breath.
"Father," she said when he walked into the room, and he looked up, startled, dropping his jacket on the floor. Blinking, Devon unfolded his glasses and hooked them around his ears.
"Cecilia," he asked, "did you speak?"
Maggie was snoring softly, so Cecilia had to raise her voice. "Why didn't you stay?" Cecilia asked, recognizing the querulous in her tone and despising it.
Carefully, carefully, Devon lifted Cecilia from Maggie's arms and carried her to a chair near the window. He didn't answer her question. "Who are you?" he asked, looking hard into her eyes.
"I'm your child."
"Yes--but--" Devon's brow wrinkled.
"Babies don't usually talk," Cecilia supplied.
"How long have you--"
"Since I was born, I know for certain. But there are a few flashes I recall from the darkness before. It is possible I began to be cognizant in utero, but it was so dark, so muffled."
Devon shook his head, shock darkening his eyes as belief settled in. "I've never heard of anything like this," he said. "Not any time, anywhere. I wonder--"
Cecilia wondered if her father ever completed what he began.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Writing Camp

Last year, my friend Elizabeth Valente approached me with an idea to co-teach a summer writing camp for young writers. She teachers middle grades at Trinity with Clint, and she's a great language arts teacher. She knew of a number of students in seventh and eighth grades who loved Creative Writing, and she knew I loved teaching it.
So, we hashed out a plan for the week-long writing camp, and the first year was a great success. This year we modified our format a bit as well as our location, and the first two days have been fabulous.
We start each day at 9 with Sacred Writing Time, a time in which we provide the students with a prompt. They can follow the suggestion, but they don't have to. After that, we have a mini-lesson, and then most of the day is devoted to time for students to write individually, a time in which we write ourselves and also offer our advice and suggestions individually. Students also have time to break into small groups to share their work, their ideas, their triumphs and frustrations.
For those of you who like a writing challenge, I thought I'd share our first two Sacred Writing Time prompts. Enjoy!

Day One: Mining the Heart (well, actually this was our mini-lesson, but it's like a SWT activity)
On a sheet of paper, draw a heart that nearly fills the page. Inside the heart list things you love, things you feel passionately about. If you'd like you can write things you despise or dislike outside the heart. Hopefully, doing this will inspire you with writing ideas. (Mine is below)

Day Two: Where I'm From poem
First, list any objects or people or sayings or events that are integral to who you are. Think back to childhood, to your family life, to hobbies and friends, to teen years and early adult years. Then find a way to organize those things into stanzas. Try to be specific and evoke a sense of who you are.

Here is a snippet of a sample we read:
i'm from cub scouts
and demolay,
from tiddlywinks,
black licorice,
and bazooka bubblegum,
from "squeeze my finger"
and "just try it--you'll like it,"
excerpt taken from poem by Hallie Herz in Nancie Atwell's book Naming the World: A Year of Poems and Lessons

Here is my poem (still a rough draft):
I am from Greiner Gardens
which once boasted three of the vegetable variety
but now just one--
you count flower beds and
thereby can revert (comfortably) to the plural.
I am from Rich and Laura
who had--as he once said--
the gift of giving
and so she did to seven of us
(blond stair steps people called us).
I am from compost bins brimming with coffee
grounds sprouting a kicking pair of
outraged young legs
and (purportedly) at least one mouse
I am from Grandpa's farm--the barn floor streaked
with sunlit fingers
hay dust puffing as we jumped
onto a forbidden pile.
I am from Pleasant Lake where friends
are made as easily as mud
but none are mine

I am from enormous green eyeglasses
and a hard-earned Polo shirt
which I wore too often
I know: photos don't lie
But I just wanted the mantle of real fashion
to touch me, if only briefly
I am from curly hair
that bounces when I'm happy
and from the small rebellion of wearing flip
flops till frost nips my toes

I am from chocolate shops
the smooth dark depths
the elucidating depths
as I've grown a bit of discrimination
and bypassed Hershey for Lindor
and then the really good stuff
I am from the chocolaterie in Chicago that
I can't find again
and from the one in Ashville--the Chocolate
Fetish, where each truffle enfolds
a world of flavors
Now I am from snobbery
as I cross desperate arms
before a glassy case, armed against
inferior mass production

I am from bookstores dark and musty--weighted
with the dust of wisdom and the fragility of type
tottering moldering piles
But also from Horizon Books on Front Street
and Schuler's on Grand River
those havens thick with new paper and fresh glue
of fresh brewing coffee and raspberry-
white chocolate scones

I am from snapping cold blue-gray sunrises
in the moment when night yields to day
as I sit awake too early on a Saturday in February
drinking coffee that is still too hot
And I am from the grandeur God paints
each evening which even Hopkins struggled
to convey
As I sit on the patio at Camp Arcadia,
glowing with reflected glory, and wish for words

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Peacocks make a lovely purse

Some people think peacocks belong only in the wild. Some would broaden the realm to include zoos and nature preserves. There are a few people (who are still amazed, in fact) who have found a peacock or two in their vegetable gardens. But it seems safe to assume that everyone would agree that peacocks should appear as often as possible on purses.

Sew anyway (after that fantastic intro), I had this fabuloose fabric, and I wanted to make a nice, tropical looking purse, but wasn't sure on a pattern. I wanted something new. I diddled around online, looking at Amy Butler's website and Anna Maria Horner's, but nothing clicked. Then I just typed "free purse pattern" into a google search, and I came up with TONS of hits. Now, some of them were just plain silly. A monkey could have figured out how to sew those things. But, I guess, free usually = monkey business, and I should have expected most of what I found. But THEN, I stumbled across this website. Should've known BHG would be generous with the freebs. They have lots of other free purse patterns (just look here!), but the one I found was EXACTLY what I was looking for. Well, pretty much...just didn't like those silly handles.

This is the picture from the BHG site

(See what I mean about the handles? things could be better)

(okay, actually, I just didn't have a third coordinating fabric)

(at the time, that is)

So, I knew I wanted to do everything BUT those--okay, you know what I'm talking about. Sheesh! I feel like I'm just repeating myself.

I basically followed the pattern, but I made it a teensy bit bigger, because I like my purses nice and large. Gotta fit the book in there, and I just feel so green telling clerks I don't need a shopping bag. (Plus, I hate all the plastic baggies. There are only so many one household can handle.) (And you should know I'm just talking about smaller purchases. I don't carry a purse large enough to fit the weekly groceries.) (That would be crazy.)

Get back on track, Kir.

Right. So, I had to add some piping along the tops of the peacock pockets, even though the pattern said to fold it. One can't have one's peacocks upside down, can one? (Especially if one's narwhal has no choice but to be sideways)

So this is the purse with the piping (see it? it's teal) but it has no straps yet.

This when I had to do a serious intervention.

That's right. I had to go visit the maternal unit. Since she is the font of all wisdom and knowledge, I knew she'd know how to make my purse straps. I finally found a nice coordinating fabric (thanks, Jo-Ann!)--but needed her divine inspiration. We tried lots of ideas and she came up with the perfect solution. That's right! Eyelets. Why hadn't I thought of that?

So here's what I did. Mom and I decided eight eyelets would do it, so after one false start (drrg! bought grommets instead of eyelets! read the package carefully next time, kir) and 8.45 (that's dollars and cents) spent on the package, I was ready to go.

First, measure your purse and divide by eight (cause you have eight eyelets, right?), making marks for placement. Since my purse was 36 inches around, I had a mark every 4.5 inches. I made them about 2 inches from the top so as to have some gathering space and marked each spot lightly with pencil.

Then, it's time to cut. Use your scissors to carefully make a hole and cut an X just big enough to pop the top of your eyelet through the hole. The back of the eyelet package (oh, and if you're a first-time eyelet purchaser, make sure you get the "kit" package as it has the setter and other thingy that holds the bottom in place included) says to cut circles, but an X will suffice and it's a lot easier. Especially if you're cutting eight.

You need a very hard surface, like an anvil (but you might not have one of those--or if you do, it might be all greasy and nasty because your husband uses it for nefarious purposes which he calls "building things"--but which we all know is just a shoddy ruse) or concrete. Cover your surface with something to protect your purse and then set it all up.

First, you set the base thingy on a piece of cardboard so it doesn't get all scratched up by the concrete. Then, you poke the "front" part of the eyelet through your X and set it on the base thingy. That's what the picture above shows.

Next, you lay the scary claw part of the eyelet claws-down on the inside of your purse and cover it up really quickly with the setter. Then smash the setter as hard as you can with the hammer. (You need to hold on to the setter, even though I'm not doing that in the picture. I didn't want my fingers to hide what it looks like). Smash away maybe 8-12 times, depending on your vengeful swing.

Sometimes you might get so crazy with the hammer, you might make the whole caboose stick together. No sweat! Just tug a little on the fabric and it will come apart. If your eyelet seems loose, put it all back together--setter-claw part-eyelet front-base thingy--and pound some more.

When you're done, you'll have this lovely purse with eight eyelets in it. You should stop and feel the pride fill you now, especially if you wimped out last time and asked your husband to set the eyelets for you. You might want to call him and gloat, or maybe just sneak into the kitchen and have a bite of chocolate. Whichever seems appropriate. Or, of course, you can do both--which is what I did.

Next, you have to make your strap. Cut two 5" strips of the fabric for the straps. Cut them all the way across the fabric, so they will each be about 45" long. Sew the strips together at one end, to make a really long 5" strip. Then fold it right sides together to make a tube. Turn and press.

Weave it in and out of the purse, starting on one of the sides and ending there. Tuck one raw end inside the other and stitch them together.

When you want to open the purse, just pull it apart, and when you're ready to carry it, just pull up on the straps in the middle and put it over your shoulder.

NOTE: the straps did end up being a bit longer than I'd like, so I ended up tying knots in each end to shorten them--I was feeling too lazy to get the machine back out and do it right. But the knots don't actually look that bad...

Finished product:

This is what my purse looks like when it wants me to take it shopping.

And this is my purse dreaming it's at a cafe in Paris (shh! don't wake it up! it's so happy)


One yard pink fabric (the lining)

2/3 yard peacock fabric (the outer pockets)

1/3 yard teal fabric (straps)

1 package extra-large eyelets (with setting tools, if needed)

1 package coordinating piping (if desired)


Friday, July 2, 2010

It's been six years since I was first asked to teach Creative Writing at the high school where I teach, and with every trimester that passes, I fall a little bit more in love with teaching it. Not to say I didn't love teaching it from the first moment of the first class; I did. But now, I am even more enraptured than ever.
So, as I was perusing the bargain racks at my local bookstore and saw this baby for only 3.99, I thought I might have something in common with the main character.

(picture of cover links to author's blog)

Arabella Hicks is (just like me) a wannabe novelist struggling with her text (although she, poor thing, has been struggling for seven years and I just wrangled with mine for two before completely giving up on the thing) (don't know which is more pathetic, really). She is a freelance editor, but also (here comes the like-Kir part of the book) teaches a creative writing class. Arabella, though, teaches an adult ed class. Her collection of students is quite a mixed bag. A couple nut jobs, a guy fascinated with porn, another guy who won't stop asking "craft questions," a pill popping suburbian mom, and a closet transvestite. Oh, and an older guy who dresses fabulously--and who spends most of the class period hitting on her. I don't usually have such an eclectic collection in my classroom.

Arabella juggles her time between classes with the work she hates and visits with her mother, which she hates almost as much. Arabella had to put her mother in a nursing home, and she has recently become quite frail. But Vera's frailty doesn't stop her from putting Arabella in her place. And of course, Arabella struggles with the guilt she feels for not caring for her mother at home.

It's a quick read, and I enjoyed Arabella's lessons and lectures immensely. The stuff about her mother felt a bit whiny, though, and there were times Arabella just lost all my sympathy. She floundered through her life most of the time, never able to figure out what she wanted and how she was going to get it. She knew she wasn't happy, but she couldn't figure out why. But instead of bending her brain to that issue, she just complained about it.

Here's something I found, though, on page 52 that spoke so clearly to how and why I teach:

Arabella's mom was asking her why she teaches and whether it really is possible to teach someone to write.

"It's not so much about teaching them the craft of writing," Arabella says, "because they could probably figure that out from reading a book...It's about creating an environment in which they think they can write. That's the secret of a writing class. A good teacher makes her students feel secure enough to write their stories."

Exactly. So, students of writing, here are some exercises for you straight from Arabella's class.

1) Make a list of your five obsessions. Now write a few paragraphs about one of them.

2) Think of a person from history who intrigues you. Write a description of that person eating a meal. What would he eat? How would he eat? Who would eat with him? What would they say?

3) A boat sinks during a storm, and only ten of its passengers make it onto the lifeboat. One by one the survivors are knocked off until, after a month at sea, only two survivors are left. There is not enough food for both of them, and one of them is going to have to get rid of the other. One of them is a teenage girl who is very strong for her age, but she is blind. The other is a musician from a successful boys' band. He is twenty-six years old and smaller than the girl. Who will survive? Write the final scene.

4) Think about a family gathering: a holiday, a birthday, a funeral. Write about that gathering in the first person from the point of view of a child.

5) Write about a place that was important to you growing up, but don't put people in it. Just describe it as though you were painting a picture with words.

6) Two people are having a conversation. It can be any two people you want, but this is the first line of dialogue: "Kiss me."

7) Imagine a moment of crisis: someone shooting a bullet into you, someone about to be hung, someone going under anesthesia, someone falling in love at first sight across a crowded room. Write a few paragraphs describing the crisis, trying to expand time as you write so that the moment becomes as tense as possible.

8) Choose a novel or short story that you like and try to discover its theme. How does the author get the theme across? Title? Plot? Names of characters?

9) This is an exercise in learning to find creative solutions or how to write yourself out of a corner. There is a man sitting in a tree, and he is wearing a tutu. What happened?

Try one of these exercises, and let me know how it turns out.

Exercises taken from Breen, Susan. The Fiction Class. New York: Plume, 2008.