Sunday, December 9, 2012

Street Treats

Back when I lived in San Francisco, we used to find cool things out on the street all the time. And we'd even bring them into our homes--a thought that is unheard of in this day and age. But we didn't even think about bed bugs back then. As far as I knew, they were something Henry Miller had to deal with in 1920s Paris as he ran around from brothel to brothel in Tropic of Cancer. I found coffee tables on the sidewalk, bought couches from strangers on Craigslist. Cool bookshelf in an alley? Why not! Just bring it on in! People do, after all, throw out some really cool stuff. But in the last six or seven years, this kind of street scavenging is absolutely out of the question. At least in major city areas. And if I see a mattress on the street, there is a good chance I will cross to the other side. 

Which is why it was so surprising that I brought this sewing machine into my house yesterday. After all, I found it on the street! 
I was walking to the grocery store and passed by my neighbor's house, as I always do. There is a very sweet old couple that lives in the building. Between April and September, they sit outside in folding chairs and listen to the radio, and they say hello to every single person that walks by. As I walked by their house yesterday, I saw this table sitting outside. It's tall and skinny, not a terrible looking end table but not spectacular either. Aside from the fact that we don't need any more furniture in our house, the whole "don't take furniture in off the street because it might have bed bugs" thing keeps me from looking at any street furniture too seriously. But then, on my way back, I noticed a cord hanging down from inside of the table. I stopped in my tracks. Could it be? Sure enough, I lifted the top of the table and inside was an old Singer sewing machine, neatly tucked inside the table. 
I ran into the house, where Robb was sitting on the couch, and said something along the lines of "how much will you hate me if I bring a piece of furniture in off the street." After a quick pow-wow, we ascertained that it must have belonged to the elderly lady next door, and that she was probably getting rid of it because she no longer sews--not because her house is infested with bed bugs. So I ran outside and lugged it in.

The bad news is the belt is broken and it's missing the power cord. The good news is that those things are pretty easy to fix, and it is gorgeous and fits perfectly in our kitchen, right beneath a little homage to the Sierras that I have unconsciously put together over the years (a string of pine cones, a framed photo of a pine tree that belonged to my great grandmother, and a grizzly bear bottle opener).

I just love these old built-in machines. They're so smart, and so neat, and so much more glamorous than the plastic Kenmore I'm currently using. I mean, when in use, the table extends to give you a whole new work surface. And when not in use, the machine folds down inside of the table, and the foot fits neatly into a slot on the inside, leaving nothing but a simple, practical table behind. It's like a transformer for sewing goddesses, and I love it.

A quick look at the serial number reveals that this one is from 1948. Oh, the spectacular garments that my neighbor must have sewn back then! I imagine her in a homemade coat dress, the lapel smoothed, her hair pulled back from her face, and her lips red and glossy. Was she married to her husband then? Was he back from the war or still off in the Pacific? Oh, the stories...I'm dying to know. Now, when I see them outside in their folding chairs this April, I just have to work up the nerve to tell them that I'm the one who took the machine, and that, I hope they know, it is in good hands.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Last Week's Cake

I must admit, after a long, challenging Monday, it's hard to remember the pure elation that went into making this cake last Thursday night. Isn't it funny how far we swing during the course of just one week? My cycle typically begins with a fabulous "the world is a good place to be" type of feeling on Friday, an energetic, hopeful lilt on Saturday, a sleepy, slightly moody Sunday followed by a bad night of sleep, followed by a rough Monday at work. As the week goes on, I usually remember how to fall asleep before 1 a.m. I might turn off the TV at night and do something, think something, make something, see someone, and by the time Thursday arrives, I am a fully formed, nearly hopeful person again, ready to enjoy my weekend. Thursday is one of the better days, I think, right on the cusp of greatness. And this last Thursday was one of the best. On the docket after work, I had already planned to make a birthday cake for my sweetheart--and I do love devoting an entire night, at home alone, to baking. But then, as we were finishing dinner and I was hunting for my sifter and marveling at how I had managed to buy duplicate bags of confectioner's sugar and cocoa powder when I already had plenty of both at home, we got a phone call. First Robb's phone rang and he missed it, then my phone rang and I missed it, and then we both looked at our phones and saw that our friend Ryan had called. "Baby!" I yelled out, and Robb beat me to calling Ryan back. Our friend Jess, Ryan's wife, had gone into labor. 

Ryan came over and dropped off his little King Charles pup, Mister, and uttered something joyful and slightly panicked like "I'm gonna be a!"Mister sulked on the couch. (He can't stand our dog Camper...too licky, too sniffy, too jabby in his giant eyeballs.) And then before I knew it, Ryan was off to the hospital and Robb was off to work and there I was with two mismatched dogs and an ambitious cake to bake.
I had forgotten to look up any cake recipes that day, so I did a quick search on my phone for a recipe in the grocery store. One of the first ones that came up was from Ina Garten--Beatty's Chocolate Cake--and when in doubt, always go with the Ina Garten recipe. There is a reason her cookbooks sell better than anyone else's. Her food is no fuss brilliant, her instructions could not be clearer. And you don't even mind doing annoying things like buttering the cake pan, then placing your parchment paper in the pan, then buttering it again and flouring. You know there is a good reason she's telling you to do it and you just do it. 
While Mister stared at the door, pouting, and Camper chewed on the loudest of his squeaky toys, I did things like mix up this sinister butter-cream frosting, all the time my brain jumping around erratically, one second marveling at how my dear friend Jess was going to be a mom, and the next wondering if a from-scratch Caesar salad would be a good side dish for Robb's birthday dinner the following night.
While we waited for the cakes to cool, the dogs fought for prime real estate on my lap. Mister, who has the genetic edge of being an actual lap dog, won most rounds. 
And of course, because it was Ina, the cakes came right out of the pan, almost disturbingly moist and fluffy. (Could it have been the buttermilk? Or the bit of vegetable oil? What makes this cake so superior?) Because Robb loves chocolate and cherries, I found myself straining a can of cherry-pie filling--I spread the cherry liquid onto the middle layer of the lake, and the cherries themselves would go on top later.
Before long, I had a happy little cake on my hands. Yes, this cake would do just fine. It was adequately frosted, only a bit lopsided. But I started to think about those cherries and got nervous...wouldn't they roll right off the top?
Indeed, they would! Those cherries needed a blockade of sorts. A spiky blockade--the very best kind. And soon enough I found myself getting out the pastry bags and the pastry tips and scooping gobs of extra frosting into the bag. Note to people as daft as I am--make sure to put that pastry tip in the bag before you fill it with frosting. (This is how, at one point, I found myself with chocolate frosting up to my elbow, attempting to wrestle a pastry tip into the point of a full bag of frosting...not as delicious as you might think.)
The party? It was full of wine and my favorite people and a kazoo sing-a-long and a damn fine Caesar salad if I may say so myself. The cake? Bright and happy, intense and gooey (the cup of espresso she tells you to add to the batter is absolutely crucial). And the photo Jess sent us as we were wrapping up dinner? The best thing ever. Little Wren Devlin. Happy birthday to her brand new sweet soul, and to Robb's sweet soul, too. It was a great birthday weekend indeed.
And now, because it's Monday and a girl's got to do something sometimes to improve her mood after a long day, I am going to go eat some of that cake.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Jess's Girl

Know what's amazing? When a girl you grew up with is having a baby. I first met my dear friend Jess when she was 15 years old, on the first day of rehearsals for Into the Woods. She rocked a really cool bowl cut and swooped in to take the lead as the Baker's Wife with her booming, gorgeous voice. Naturally, we were all intrigued. Over the years, I've watched her grow out of that bowl cut and into a smart, gorgeous, fashionable New Yorker. She's mean and compassionate and hilarious all at once, and she's one of my favorite people. So naturally, she's going to be a great mom.

For Jess's little girl, I wanted to make something sweet, but not too sweet, and not just any old thing would do. So after much consideration, I decided to make her a very simple little quilt and a very cuddly little stuffed mouse. (And I cannot tell you how happy I was when I visited Jess and Ryan's new apartment and found that they were painting the baby's room seafoamy blue  and wanted to decorate with pink  accents. YES!)
For the quilt, the hardest part was picking the fabrics. When I saw this pale pink polka dot, it absolutely spoke to me. The border could have gone lots of different ways...a blue stripe? A solid yellow? But no, this floral was the match I was looking for. (I may have squealed a little bit when I held the two fabrics together at the shop.)
I used the polka dot fabric for the front and back--two yards is the perfect amount for a 36" x 44" baby quilt. Just fold the fabric in half and cut it down the fold. Slip some batting between the two pieces and you're ready to pin the layers together! The actual quilting could not be easier. It's just long rows of wavy lines, about two inches apart, and to make them you just let the quilt meander back and forth as you push it beneath the foot. Once you've quilted the blanket, you add your binding and you're all set. 
The mouse doll was more of an impulse creation. The blanket needed a friend! Years ago I edited a sweet little book called Kata Golda's Hand-Stitched Felt, which features a whole family of stuffed animal projects, and the author sent me a kit for making this mouse girl. (You can buy your own kit here!) You just cut out the felt pieces and whipstitch all around them--the sloppier the better!--and then you stuff the mouse's head and body and sew them together. I finished this little girl in one night, and it was so so so fun.
The scariest part, of course, is sewing the face. But you really can't go wrong. I gave Jess's mouse girl a sneaky little smile, because I can already tell that her daughter is going to be just a wee bit mischievous. 
Finally, to top it all off, I made a gag-worthy matching card to go with the gift. I know! It was too much! But sometimes I can't stop myself. Especially when I'm happy for someone. And I could not be happier for Jess and Ryan.

Come on, December 13! Let's meet this girl already!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Art & Editing

As Robb and I walked through the Met last weekend, we started to get into that lovely hour-three rhythm, where you stop reading every placard and accept that you aren't going to see everything. We spent far too long looking at a medieval crossbow and breezed right by the Monets, not really feeling too enthused about all that pastel. Right about the time our legs were starting to ache and we were searching the map for anything that contains the words "wine" or "lounge," we entered a room packed with people on a guided tour, all of them snapping photos of this painting. 

I thought to myself, is that a Vermeer? Is that the Girl with the Pearl Earring? And upon closer inspection, she was painted by Vermeer and she did indeed seem to have a pearl-ish bobble hanging from her lobe. But that face...I felt like I would have remembered such a ghoulish little girl. I snapped a photo on my iPhone so I could do further research (over a glass of wine) and we got the heck out of that crowded room.

As it turns out, it was not, in fact, the celebrated Girl with a Pearl Earring painting (she's down below). But the styling is so similar, the turn of the face, and the streamers hanging from the crown of her head. I almost wonder if she was Vermeer's practice model. Was he just gearing up for the main event? Though no information seems to exist on who these girls are (except the more famous one is clearly Scarlett Johansson), I did find it interesting to learn that Vermeer did not consider these paintings to be portraits—he described them as tronies, which means expression. He wanted to capture the suggestion of a personality and highlight unusual features. The Met website calls her face haunting, and I would have to agree. I also love this: "The essential element in many of Vermeer's pictures—the viewer's curiosity about a young woman's thoughts, feelings, or character—is found here in deceptively simple form."
I like this "essential element" in Vermeer's paintings so much that I've decided to borrow it in my own art form. Last week, I finished writing a very long short story (too skinny for a novella, too fat for short fiction...will she settle on a size in time for prom?). The main character in this story is a very lost woman, though I find her beautiful. And as I read through my sister's edits on my first draft, I'm trying to keep the character's visage in mind. Her unusual features, her perplexing behavior, and ultimately (hopefully) her redemption. I hope to be subtle, yet colorful and full of light. It is my ultimate goal to engage the reader's curiosity about this woman's thoughts, feelings, or character--all in a deceptively simple form. For that reminder, I will go ahead and thank Vermeer. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sweater

I tell ya, this hurricane thing has been pretty crazy. Having grown up in California, I had no idea what to expect. On Monday--the day the fun was due to begin--I sat at the dog park giving Camper a pre-storm run as another friendly dog owner explained to me how in Florida, coconuts can literally fly off the trees and kill you during a hurricane! He advised me to get some nonperishable goods and stay inside. While we don't have coconuts here in Brooklyn, I decided we should listen to him.

The day went like this: rainy rainy rainy, wiiiindy, rainy. Then really fucking windy! Camper and I stood at the back door and watched our puny little fruit trees flop in the wind. (In fact, below is a really boring video I took of the yard which is only good for the very end when Camper growls at the wind.)
For the rest of the day, I ate all of the nonperishable food first, like I wasn't supposed to, and only on day three of not being able to go back to work have I started in on the lettuce and fruit. Our power stayed on. Our internet worked. My phone stopped being able to make or receive calls (much to my mother's dismay). I feverishly searched the internet for updates on what the hell was happening out there in Manhattan and beyond. I let Camper out now and then and was a thrilled to feel the wind pushing up against the glass door (you really had to put your shoulder into it if a big gust was blowing). Four stacked lawn chairs blew across our yard, and our big green party bucket (you know, the things you fill with ice and put your beers in) got crushed. RIP party bucket.

We fared pretty well. Others we know did not (and seeing as a lot of people still don't have power and lost absolutely irreplaceable belongings, they're still not doing well...and my heart goes out to them and my shower is open to them).

But if there was one bit of good news this week, it's that I made some major progress on Robb's sweater. That's right, it turns out that hurricanes provide the perfect conditions for marathon knitting. When I wasn't shoveling my face with cheese-laden snack foods, I was working row after row of Stockinette. What I'm holding in the photo above is not, in fact, knitted long johns, but the completed front and back of a cardigan!
(So you can understand it better, I have tried it on for you as it will eventually be worn. And from the back. Note that it will have arms and will not look like a hippie cape, as it does here.)
We're still a long way off from being done, but finishing the back put the wind in my sails. As many of you know, it's been nearly two years since I started this sweater--and I'm still not convinced that it will fit Robb, nor am I convinced it will look good on him--but progress is progress. The sweater is currently being blocked on my kitchen floor, pinned down to a bath towel, and when Robb gets home from work, it's try-on time! And then possible sewing up the sides time! And then picking up stitches for the arms time! It feels like a miracle.

In other news of astonishing amazement, I finished the first draft of the story I have been working on, and I'm sure I will have lots more to say on that topic soon. For now, I am basking in the unique glory that comes with saying you're going to do things and then doing them. Now, both the story and the sweater have a lot more work ahead of them (I guess you could say the story needs to be sewed up and have some arms added to it, too). But phase one? Complete!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jess's Future Stylish Child

So you know how in my last blog post I went on and on about how focused I am right now? How I'm not really crafting all that much? How I'm only working on Robb's sweater and the writing of an epic story? Well, it turns out I'm having trouble keeping that focus. This is hardly a surprise.

Last night as Robb and I watched the debates, I knit his sweater furiously (literally...these debates make me tense!), working row after row of knit and then purl, knit and then purl, trying my hardest not to watch the expressions on the candidates' faces (I hate watching men smirk). After an hour of knitting, I threw the cardigan over Robb's shoulders to see how much further I have to go in the back. Five more inches, including the ribbing. It's getting there folks, it really is! I'm in the zone now. However, I'm a wee bit worried that my gauge was off and we're discussing our options (there might be some panels added to the sides, beneath the underarms--a knitting maneuver that scares me. What will that do to the armholes? What do I look like, a surgeon?) At one point I declared how great I'M going to look in this sweater once it's done, so the confidence level is clearly shaky. We shall see, folks, we shall see...

In the meantime, I keep finding things that I want to knit (but can't yet) for my dear friend Jess's future stylish child. Jess is incredibly fashionable, and she's having a girl, so it only follows suit that this girl will be fashionable. (Though I'm sure that's what they all said about Chastity Bono when she was born, and that apple fell pretty far from Cher's fashion tree...which is probably a good thing.) Well, we'll have a few years of dressing Jess's little girl up before she starts forming opinions. But I MUST finish Robb's sweater before I cast on another. Really, it's imperative.

In the meantime, I'm dreaming of this little potato sack sweater. I found the inspiration on Pinterest and followed the link to this fabulous Finnish blog. I have no idea what she's saying--or if there are actual instructions on how to knit the sweater--but it's so simple, so straightforward, so timeless, I really think I could make it up. (Famous last words, I know.) I mean, it's all garter stitch! And it's chunky as all get out, which means speedy results! And it's for a baby, so no shaping! Plus that little color-blocked tummy just kills me. I think I'd avoid the hood as that just seems like I'd be asking for trouble (especially since I'm talking about making up my own pattern).

After I sketched out the potato sack above, I started thinking I might prefer an A-line sweater for this little girl. I do suspect, after all, that she's going to be very girly. Though for a baby sweater, the lines might get lost (she's not gonna do a whole lot of strolling for a while, right?). So maybe the A-line comes for her first or second birthday. I picture it with goloshes. Don't you think? So I guess I really am saving this one for a rainy day...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Writing Stories

I haven't been doing much crafting lately. It's true! And it's a rather strange thing for me not to give into every creative whim. (I usually begin each weekend by making a list of things I would like to make, practical or not, and making them just because they sound like fun at that very moment.)

Instead, I am using this lovely cool autumn to focus my efforts. I am reading a lot. I am going to finish Robb's sweater if it kills me. And, most importantly, I have been learning how to write again.

I have been reacquainting myself with that odd mix of anticipation and frustration that comes with yearning to sit down and write a story--knowing without a doubt that you have something to say--and then just as your fingertips are about to touch the keyboard, not being sure that you will say it correctly.

I will be in the midst of writing dialogue and think, no no no, this is all wrong. This character would never say it this way. And then I keep going, just doing it wrong.

I have spent too many hours on 500 words, rewriting, rephrasing, cutting, adding.

I have had moments of elation, where I strike clear down to the bone of what happened. And I have had moments where I am sick to my stomach, calling up my own stories--the ones I don't like to tell--and integrating them into the plot line. Sometimes your own stories are the most important ones to tell; to put them into a story is a way of extracting them from yourself. After all, if left to their own devices, these stories will knock against the walls of your stomach in endless circles.

There have been lots of treats. A tall canister of whipped cream sits in the fridge and occasionally gets shook up and applied to the top of extra fancy homemade iced coffee. There have been bowls of salty popcorn and cool slices of cheese that I eat before bed. There might be a sundae in my future tonight. These are my rewards for having sat down and continued the story.

I'm not sure yet if I'm writing a story or a novel. All I know is that it ends with knitted bikinis, and I feel relieved to know the ending. Aren't you intrigued? Me too.

I heard something recently that was said by Deepak Chopra in the back of a van while he was being interviewed by Rainn Wilson (it's really worth a watch if you have a few minutes). He referred to the creative process as "divine discontent." This is how we feel when we aren't sure how the story is going to tell itself, when it's not yet clear how we are going to create what is in our mind's eye. His theory is that this is when we are at our happiest. When we are making art that only we can make, and when we are solving the riddles that are involved in making it.

I adore this theory. I really do.

Which is why tonight I tried to write a scene with an old man and a young woman, and when I discovered that they didn't know what to say to each other, I didn't panic. I just haven't worked it out yet. Who they are to each other, how it would feel to be in their shoes. It will probably come to me while I'm walking, and I'll need to duck onto a stoop and jot down a note. It will be something mysterious that will only barely make sense to me later, like "Egg McMuffin!" or "His wife is dead!" (And yes, these notes usually have exclamation points, because when you figure out why your character is where he is and is behaving in that particular way, it really is quite exciting.)

It's all exciting. Every bit of it. Even the never-ending sweater I'm knitting which I will the rare moments when I'm not stuffing my face with reward cheese.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Textile Porn

Some weeks have a theme. The theme might be something as trite as "I watched a lot of Friday Night Lights" or "I drank a lot of Syrah." Some weeks I eat almost exclusively Mexican food. Some weeks I play an inconceivable amount of solitaire on my phone. This week, however, the theme has been textiles. Which photographs much better, I must say, than Mexican food or video games.

I have Lena Corwin to thank for this week's theme. We have been shooting the how-to photos for her second book (her first book was the incredibly gorgeous Printing By Hand), and for this book, Lena and her team have camped out at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn--a wonderland for weavers, dyers, and screen printers. If it has to do with fabric, they teach classes on how to make it there. The works in progress on the looms scattered about the studio are swoon-worthy.
Also swoon-worthy are the textiles that will appear in the book. Like this screen-printed linen Lena designed. Just look at those crisp lines and that saturated dye!
And these woven place mats, with a solid fabric weft and sweet floral warp.
Even the wash rags at the Textile Arts Center are gorgeous, having mopped up countless ink spills in lovely shades of everything.
Back in my own home, I've had a few less exotic textile moments. Like this vintage dress I recently tried to alter. Check out those horrifying stitches around the armhole, made by the excellent teamwork of myself and the bobbin from hell. Last Sunday I worked up the nerve to take out the rat's nest of stitches, and now the dress is ready to wear. Win!
I also found a use for this funky upholstery fabric I've had kicking around for the last year. I've come to realize that funky fabrics are at their best on the inside of a bag--not all of us want to fly our psychedelic flag so loud and proud.
But on the outside? Why not keep it simple with a coral linen, accented by creamy white cotton straps.
Soon enough, I will start playing with some wintry wool fabrics for my HeyAllday Handmade bags. Not these ones, mind you. These ones are very fancy fabrics that I found at a men's suiting warehouse. Want to know how much they cost? Sixty dollars a yard, my friends. Oh but these cashmeres came in the softest blues and creams. I will dream of these woolens whilst shopping online for their more affordable brethren. (Any hot tips, people, let me know!)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dear Tomato

Dear Tomato,
I don't usually like to resort to this type of language, but you suck. All of you. (Well, not the cherry tomatoes, they are just fine). But you? You are infuriating. You are stubborn and selfish. I gave you just as much as much sunshine as other years (and don't try to tell me the apple tree created too much shade...we all know how wimpy that apple tree is). And yet you refused to turn red! Here you are, bright green, plump, enormous, so very nearly delicious. But hello? It is October 3! You just aren't going to get ripe, are you. I can tell you're going to be a dick about it. I've been watching you since early August...I know what you're up to. And I think it sucks.

Why can't you be more like cherry tomato? Sure, cherry tomato was a little late to the game this year, but she came through. Cherry tomato was in the "shade of the apple tree," too, and she did just fine. I'm talking to you Supersteak. I'm talking to you Big Rainbow. WTF??

I hope you have enjoyed not fulfilling your destiny.


With that off my chest, I will now turn my attention to one of the crops that has worked this year: pole beans! These here are Kentucky Wonder Beans, and they are disturbingly large and plentiful.

Last night I used a ton of them in my favorite pasta dish: Orzo with Everything. This is a recipe that my sister made at my house years and years ago, and I have since then adapted to my own mish-mash of ingredients. It's like a big, awesome salad made from whatever you have in your crisper with some noodles added at the end. As a rule of thumb, though, it must contain some sort of pasta, some sort of crunchy element, some sort of bitter element, something salty, something acidic, and something fatty.

Here's how I like to do it:

Get a big pot of salted water going and turn the oven on to 350. Chop up any vegetables you want to roast (I used peeled beets, shallots, and garlic) and put them on a baking sheet. Toss them with olive oil and a bunch of kosher salt and bake them for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, what else do you have in your fridge?

I chopped up some radicchio, arugula, and basil and threw them in a big bowl. And then I blanched my pole beans in the boiling water and chopped those up, too.

Once the beans were boiled, I added my pasta to the water.

I grabbed some olives and capers and tossed a bunch in, and then for crunch, I chopped up some roasted almonds.

A whole package of feta joined the party, and so did the roasted veggies when they were done. And finally, in went the cooked noodles, which sort of wilts the lettuces and melts the feta.

To finish it off, I whipped up a dressing with several glugs of olive oil, a good squeeze of lemon, and a healthy dose of champagne vinegar. (For the record, I ate thanks to you, tomato!)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Floor Books

Here is what I don't like about e-books: if I want to judge someone's intelligence and taste, I have to find their e-reading device and stealthily peruse its contents while the person is not looking.

That's not really my style, though. I much prefer that we all keep our books out in the open, where we can scan their spines and gain an understanding of what kind of treasures and trash we have all allowed to enter our brains. That said, I would like to invite you to my floor, which is where I keep an ongoing stack of books. (I usually read in bed, and whenever I finish a book, I just set it on the pile next to me. Apparently, I haven't cleaned in a year.)

So, in full disclosure of what I have allowed into my brain this year, I present you with a brief write-up of my current stack of floor books. (Please feel free to judge my intelligence and taste based on this stack.)

Book 1: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I fell in love with Barbara when I read her amazing nonfiction book Animal Vegetable Miracle many years ago, which inspired me to start gardening. Discovering that Barbara Kingsolver is NOT just a gardener and is in fact a world class fiction writer was a great literary treat. I especially enjoy her fledgling Arizona-based books, like The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven. The Poisonwood Bible seems to have been a turning point for her writing. She took her plot line to Africa, and this book is long and dense and far more disturbing than her earlier work. But it is breathtaking in scope, and horrifying in a "flesh-eating ants" kind of way.

Book 2: Role Models by John Waters. John Waters signed this book for me, and then I read it. It's weird and disjointed and uncomfortable and I love it, just like him.

Book 3: The Garden Primer. A very thorough book on gardening. (See Book # 1)

Book 4: Sweet Valley Confidential by "Francine Pascal". Yeah right, I'm sure this was written by Francine Pascal. This book was written by a 9th grader. It's the Wakefield Twins all grown up! Elizabeth moves to New York to work in the thee-a-tah, and know what? I don't even remember. I just had to read it. (P.S. It was so good.)

Book 5: Emma by Jane Austen. Purchased for its pretty embroidered cover; enjoyed for its awesomeness. I still haven't re-watched the movie Clueless, which Julie told me was based on Emma. Did everyone know that but me?

Book 6: Bossypants by Tina Fey. This was a delightful read, and it made me wonder if I would have wound up being on SNL if I had just gone to do improv at Second City after college. (BTW, that was never in the plans.) She just makes it all sound so easy! Be funny, go to Second City, get on SNL. Boom. Also of note is that I bought this book in an airport terminal on my way to Spain. It was this or The Hunger Games, but Robb convinced me that The Hunger Games would make me feel anxious while traveling. He knows me so well!

Book 7: Nancy Drew's The Sign of the Twisted Candle by "Caroline Keene". This is one of the O.G. Nancy Drews. Written in 1933, she's got style, she's got a fabulous updo, and she has a big mystery to solve! Which she does! Are you surprised?

Book 8: Nancy Drew and the Mystery at Lilac Inn by "Caroline Keene". See Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Shark Submarine.

Book 9: The Encyclopedia of the Exquisite by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins. This book is freaking fascinating. A curated collection of fun facts about the history of everything, from champagne, to hot air balloons, to ballet to the Bartlett pear. You will feel smart and smug as you read this book, and you will have lots to talk about at cocktail parties and on uncomfortable first dates.

Book 10: The Color Purple by Alice Walker. This book blew my mind when I was in college so I decided to read it again. Still blew my mind. If you haven't read it, READ IT. Now please.

Book 11: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Six years ago, my sister insisted that I read this book. I started it, but then my life promptly went bananas due to a break-up and subsequent move. Let's just say I was not in a state of mind to read about golems. But try try again, and I did. And once you figure out what a golem is (I had no idea), it's really an amazing read. And I don't even care about comics.  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Halfway House

I feel it important you all know that as I begin writing this blog post, the lyrics "Ooooh, we're halfway there, oh OH living on a prayer!" are blasting in my head. That's what I get for trying to tell you the story about my weekend and how I only got halfway along on everything I started.

I think the problem is the dogs. Yes, we should certainly blame it on the dogs.
For one whole fun-filled week, we are watching Camper's friend, Carl Barks (yes, that is his full name.) Camper and Carl spend most of their time chewing on each other's teeth. It makes a horrible clanking sound, but they seem to find it fun. These two have gotten into more trouble together in one week than Camper has ever gotten into on his own. The first night we had Carl, he pooped on the floor. So naturally Camper did, too. I think it was a solidarity thing. They have broken out of their barricades, slept on our heads, chased squirrels to an inch of their lives, whined, cried, been tied up together outside of the fabric shop like a two-headed monster, and together, they managed to get an avocado off of the kitchen counter and eat the entire ripe contents by the time we got home. An hour later, I got off the phone with animal poison control (who informed me they would be a little sick but just fine). Thanks a lot, internet, for telling me they might DIE.

So I was a little off my game.
There were these sunflower seeds that I roasted. Do you know what a pain in the ass it is to roast your own sunflower seeds? Well let me tell you! After you cut the head off the sunflower, you have to go through and extract each individual seed with your fingertips. After a thorough cleaning (and an inspection for worms--GROSS), you then soak the seeds in salt water for 24 hours, then roast them for 30 minutes or so at 350. When they came out of the oven, I put them into a cute little bowl and saucer I made in pottery class. Guess what? MOST of the sunflower pods didn't even have seeds. We were just sitting there, chewing on these salty little shells, and every now and then you'd find a thin little sliver of sunflower seed goodness. I kept thinking, this would be the perfect diet food! You do all that work and get like 5 calories, but the salt makes you feel like you ate something.

Seriously, why do people do this?
Next up were two botched dress upgrades. The first was an attempt to dye a cute little white dress I bought at a thrift store. I was thinking indigo ombre. Doesn't that sound fabulous? All in all, it was a $14, one-hour-long failed experiment, so not a big deal. But let me just give you this word of advice: You absolutely cannot dye synthetic fibers with RIT dye. The box tells you that, and you may be tempted to not believe the box. But seriously, the box means it. So this little polyester Grecian goddess number? Yeah, it turned a color I'm going to call "silvery cream." It's fine. It's whatever. It is NOT ombre. And it is certainly not indigo. I would show you a photo of the "after," but it's, um, sort of the same.
Next up, I decided to do a little surgery on a vintage dress I bought online. The dress is so cute, but the sleeves were hideous and made me look boxy and frump-a-dump, so I decided to do a little hem at the shoulder and lop them off. The first sleeve went off just fine. The second, I don't know what happened. I think an evil spirit lives in the bobbin of my sewing machine. When I got around the entire armhole, I looked on the underside of the fabric to see the most hideous knot nest looping its wicked way all around the inside of the sleeve. It was so nasty looking that I just set the dress down and backed away slowly. In fact, we might just pretend that never happened.

There was, however, one bright shimmering project that went beyond the halfway point today--I potted this succulent. I had intended this pot and saucer to be a little planter, but the holes in the pot had partially filled with glaze (see: amateur potter). So after we threw out the stupid sunflower seeds, Robb drilled holes in the bottom of the pot through the glaze and I popped this little succulent in place. It took about three minutes, but it was deeply satisfying. With the help of Bon Jovi, I lived on the prayer that I would finish a single project this weekend, and my prayers were answered.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Little Tableau

When Robb and I were on our honeymoon, we decided to leave the confines of our Caribbean resort and go across the street to an establishment called Tequila Joe's. I donned a faux denim romper, Robb put on his nicest cargo shorts, and we sat in the shade of the patio, sipping terrible margaritas. It should be known that the logo for Tequila Joe's is a cactus (that looks not unlike a pickle) wearing a sombrero and playing a saxophone. Lucky for you, I attempted to ride the mechanical bull at Tequila Joe's later that evening and this photo managed to capture the sign in the background.
While we were sitting on the porch of Tequila Joe's, a man by the name of Pierre approached us and asked if we wanted to buy any of his art. He had many pieces of art, this Pierre, most of which were painted with tempera paints in primary colors. I'm afraid Pierre didn't have much finesse. But then, as we were about to turn him away, he showed us this painting of an epic waterfall splashing down into a cool lagoon. There were the twin Pitons peeking above the clouds, actual palm trees with real color blending, and everything rendered to scale. That is, except for the two little primary color sailboats floating through the water. (Were they un-manned toy boats? Or was it just a very large jungle?) Pierre, I'm afraid, had taken someone else's work and painted his little boats over it, which was just pathetic enough that we gave him a twenty and declared it our first marital art acquisition. (It even came with a real plastic frame!)
Pierre's fine artwork now hangs in our living room against a dramatic red wall. Beneath the art is one of my great grandmother's Spanish dolls, and to the left is an old photograph of my great grandmother's brother, Pauly, who I learned recently had his heart broken as a young man in the 1930s. (He was a Protestant, but he married a Catholic woman and they had a child together. Their families, however, were not happy with the intermingling of the religions, so her parents convinced her to take the child and leave him; he never saw them again.)
Right in the middle of it all is a bowl I made in pottery class. It has no other purpose than to catch the errant pocket change and leftover skeins of yarn that pile up on the coffee table, but I like the way that it ties the corner together. The ridiculous painting, the stoic doll, the sadness of Pauly, and a little something I made.

So often these days I see little tableaus arranged in people's homes, and I know they mean something--at least I'd like to think they mean something--but I'm not sure what. In my home, anyway, every little thing has a story. And this was one of them.