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.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Six Yards

About two months ago, I spontaneously ordered six yards of wool/silk jersey online. The package arrived and inside was a small, tight mound of fabric. I was at first taken aback by how little fabric six yards seemed to be...the bundle was so small! But the package itself had a nice heft to it. Oh, I realized...this is one of those fabrics that has drape. And bounce. That clings and flows. This, I thought, will be interesting.

I bought the fabric intending to make myself an Alabama Chanin dress. Nothing fancy. Just a sweet little thing in gray that I could slip into and feel like a lady on weekends. (Over the years, I'm sorry to say, I've found that I barely try at all on the weekends, typically wearing clothing that is just a notch nicer than pajamas. Showers are optional and hair-dos involve a rubber band and no mirror.) The dress is supposed to be entirely hand-sewn, but since summer was already waning by the time I began, I opted to machine-sew it...despite the fact that wool/silk jersey is delicate and slippery and requires some wrangling. I'm a "just get it done" kind of girl, after all, and this dress needed to be done already.
By Saturday afternoon, I finished the dress! And as I went to put away the remaining three or so yards of fabric, an idea crawled up into my brain: A high-waisted skirt, something super drapey, a little bit full, and a little bit long. Before I knew it, I had wrapped and pinned several swaths of fabric around my waist and was hunting for some sort of cotton to use as a built-in belt. Boom! Five yards later, I had two new articles of clothing...both made from charcoal gray silk/wool jersey. 
With just one last, long section of the jersey left, I had an idea (and here is where I probably should have gone to bed). I decided to make a scarf with the jersey fabric on one side, and a bright orange-and-white gingham on the other. Why did I pick orange, you wonder? I'm not quite sure (see also: I probably should have gone to bed). I think it had something to do with a lust for color in winter, the way we all need a pop of something vibrant here and there. A reminder that clothing can be fun.
Speaking of fun, this final yard was probably where I finally lost my mind: when I wrapped the scarf around my head and turned it into some sort of vaguely ethnic headdress. (I think I was going for a Girl with the Pearl Earring kind of look?) After sending the "can I pull off this turban?" photo text to Julie, I finally turned off the sewing machine. It was 2am on Saturday night (yes I am a total party animal). Six yards later, I finally went to bed. I dreamt of sewing, of course.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Frida's Ensemble

In early June, Megan had a baby, and though I didn't get to meet little Miss Frida until early August, I already knew how much I would love watching her grow up. And how much I would love watching Megan grow up, too.

When I first met Megan, she was 27-years-old and had just returned from a many-months-long trip to Europe. Both wordly and world-worn, she came home to San Francisco to find that her best friend Mark had started dating a 23-year-old SoCal transplant (me). The first time Megan and I met, we huddled together in Mark's bedroom amidst a thick layer of cigarette smoke, surely listening to whatever the newest release from Bloodshoot Records was that day. We instantly became very good friends, not unlike the easy way that children make friends when they are young. Without overthinking, without wondering if the enthusiasm is shared, without wondering if you can trust your secrets, or if you're oversharing. The joy of making a lifelong friend is an instantaneous thrill, and ten years later, I'm not surprised to see the bond is still going strong.
In the month leading up to Frida's birth, I knit furiously and thought about who Megan would be now, what her life would look like with a child in tow, and how lucky Frida was to be born into the world of such a strong, interesting woman. I guess you could say I knit my good intentions into it, though Megan reports that they keep finding strands of my long blonde hair knitted into the fabric, so I guess you could say I knitted more than just my intentions into it? (For those with hair phobias, sorry...I know that's sort of gross. We find it funny.)

Because Megan is passionate about hot pink (and most bright colors for that matter), I figured that Frida would not be a pastel baby. But she also would not be a carbon copy of her just couldn't be so. For Frida, I chose this deeper pink, a vibrant fuchsia...let's go ahead and call it hot plum. And because she will be a San Franciscan and a German (her father is from Berlin), she will need a hood to get her through the damp winters, and she might as well start getting used to wool now. (Superwash, of course...I'm not insane.)
Soon enough I realized that it had to become an outfit, and so I whipped up this amazingly fast and satisfying baby kimono from Heather Ross's Weekend Sewing. An old tablecloth and a few yards of bias tape and we had ourselves a matching set. (For those crafty types who need a last-minute killer baby shower gift, I highly recommend.)

Before I mailed the package off to a yet-to-be-born Frida, I did what I always do with baby clothes: modeled them on my old teddy bear. (The effect is a bit creepy, but you get the point.)
Personally, I think Frida is a far cuter model. And in Megan's always excellent fashion opinion, red and hot plum do go together. I'm so glad that I made the sweater in the bigger size, so she can wear it with the super long sleeves rolled up now and still be wearing it this winter as she grows. (For those who are interested, the sweater pattern is called the Audrey Hoodie, and it's from the fabulous book Vintage Baby Knits by Kristen Rengren!)
As for meeting Frida? Words sort of can't explain. It's funny how when you meet the baby of an acquaintance, you might feel tentative and not exactly melt into a puddle from the cuteness. Hell, you might even think the child looks like a squirming alien. But when you meet your best friend's baby, you go straight over to her and grab her little hands. You find yourself holding her and bouncing around and singing a little song that you just made up, and you stare and wonder and catch glimpses of your friends' expressions in her furrowed brow. Honestly, it felt like I was meeting a person who  already knows the punchline, who already knows the stories, who is already in the club, even though she has yet to learn any of it. She will. After all, she's one of us girls now.