Sunday, March 29, 2009

Something to Sit Upon

I found this chair and a matching Captain's version at a thrifty-vintage place in Hollywood. I was immediately smitten, but they were quite damaged.
I'm pretty confident with fabric and a stapler, and reupolstering was no problem, but the whole refinishing and painting thing was a little challenging, in that it requires some degree of attention to correct form. I'm going through a phase in which I'm experimenting with doing things the way you're supposed to--just to see if maybe there's something to it. In this case I primed the chairs and sealed them with miniwax. I wish I hadn't primed them because the color would have been nice with dark undertones, and a slightly more distressed look. The miniwax just seemed silly; I couldn't tell it was there except in the places it dripped. Now I know. I'm going back to doing things catch as catch can.
I decided to indulge my passion for turquoise and red, but the turquoise is much bluer and vivid than it appeared on the strip. Vivid is the best descriptor for these chairs, in fact. They would fit well into a children's book, maybe something illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama.
How they fit into our house is another matter. I always forget that our home is actually rather stately. It's got a lot of red, but not so much of this vivid blue. Time to introduce it, I guess.
Overall I'm very happy with the chairs, though they may not spend too many months in these colors. I like, also, that under that spiffy paint they retain a memory of their previous bumps and bruises. There's some long mystery life there that's come into our kitchen.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Photographing the Wild Small

I would like to take this opportunity to complain about my camera. I must insist that I am really quite a competent photographer, even in the face of all this blurriness. I was, after all the Marshfield High School Yearbook Photographer, very Winona Ryder. But those were the sweet days of all manual 35 mm. My current camera serves me quite well unless I want to get closer than, oh, three feet from an object. It's a shame, because I notice that so much of what I want to show you all, so much of what beauty and creativity and making things with your fingers is about lies in the details. At least my cats photograph pretty well.

Lisa requested more terrarium photos, so here is the best I seem to be able to do.And finally, here is A with his nose in a particularly photograph-resistant terrarium. Scott is out of town. Perhaps he misses him and sees a resemblance in the little gnome I whittled. At least my cats photograph well.Yes, they are all lidless. I began with lids, but found that for the most part the glass I had chosen pretty much obscured the view. I have one bell jar, and I've been looking for something spectacular for it. Perhaps I will find just the thing soon.

(Once, when A and I were still living a bachelor life, pre-Scott and B, I got him some beautiful guppies named Persimmon and Guanabana. For a good week he sat in exactly this pose, nose in the fishbowl, until they died, either from fright or kitten snot. He wanted to eat them post-mortem, but my human sensibilities got in the way.

Here he is, seven years ago, slimmer, head in an empty fishbowl. There should be some homilie or koan about this. Oh, I just recalled that once the fish had moved on to their next life as tigers or whatever, I stuck a wooden Buddha in the fishbowl. Have you all gotten to the age where you notice that you're quite consistent in your personality? It feels rather unoriginal.)

Following Directions

These might not be the most beautiful cakes you've seen come from the Noland-McEachern oven, but my God they're good. I've been on this "I should really use a recipe occasionally" kick and I chose, for my first, the orange juice and olive oil cake with pine nuts from Apples for Jam,
a cookbook that is truly a delight to read and, it turns out, one that has at least one really amazing recipe.

The ingredient list contains only orange juice, olive oil, pine nuts, eggs, flour, sugar, and baking powder. The simplicity is very appealing. It's got a rusticky peasant feel, but with an awful lot of refinement. It was delicious. Sweet and subtle. I served it with vanilla Greek yogurt and a dollop of marmalade. It's going in the Permanent Record.

I can't say I followed the recipe to a T. A tee? Neither one. I always feel like there's a lot of room for interpretation in a sentence like "beat the yolks until sturdy." It's like taking multiple choice tests--if you think about it hard enough you can make a good argument for at least a couple of answers, generally. But I always managed to do okay on tests, and this cake turned out beautifully. Next time may be another story.

Friday, March 27, 2009


"Beauty is not a luxury. Beauty is a strategy and a necessity."
--Terry Tempest Williams
at her Portland lecture Wednesday night

Photo by Scott, of course.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just sayin'.

Terraria Hysteria

I've had little luck with my terraria so far. Lisa and I had great fun picking out likely looking glass bits at the Goodwill, but everything I've planted looks wan, or just dead. This is new today, in a family liqueur glass. The tiny chair is one of my Best Things. It's right at home here. I'd like to be able to sit in it.

Lisa's terrarium is doing well, I hear. Let's hear the advice, Lisa.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Apartment Dwellers No More

We have a garage! We can saw and hammer and paint and lug around gigantic sheets of MDF (a new vocab word: medium density fiberboard).

As we have only a mere one extra room to dedicate to books, however, we still have a storage problem. Scott just built us a lovely orange extension to our original book case. It's almost like having those custom built shelves we're going to have to get some day. You can't tell, but in most places the books are three deep. Another shelf is in the works for the other wall. I love the shelf, though the books are a bit much. Some of you know how I feel about libraries. I seem to be doomed to live in one. There's a Borges story in which a library holds every book ever written plus every book that ever could be written, and in one of them is the secret of life. People lose themselves in the stacks, whole wings go forgotten for decades, people die there. The enormity. The horror.

Good thing we just pared down our collection!

P.S. Thanks to Mom and Dad for the Christmas Saw!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gift Update

The sweetest thank you I can imagine.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Happy Spring!

Last night, Scott and I were sitting around an equinox fire in our backyard, discussing how happy we were about spring, when I spied a daffodilly object I swear wasn't there that day. It's quite a ruffled many-petaled daffodil, and I'm just thrilled to discover our new yard flowering! I'm out to dig today, and hope not to disturb too many percolating bulbs or seeds.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Elizabeth took up some needlework and was sufficiently amused…

Unoriginally enough, I am obsessed with Jane Austen. I’ve read it, juvenalia and all, many times. I created a shadow box diorama of the Bennet parlor when I was 13, and was forced to do quite a lot of pre-google research on furnishings of the time. I know a great deal about the fashions as well, and thanks to a nice fundamentalist Christian boy in Moscow who was writing a Marxist Master’s thesis on her, I know what kind and how many invisible servants must have supported the households. Thanks to John Sutherland's wonderful and ridiculous books, I know a bit about which Italian phrases were hopelessly passe and that the trade that took Fanny's uncle to the West Indies had to have been in slaves.

What I wonder, and what is under-depicted in the movies, is the kind of needlework they’re all plying away at constantly, with varying levels of competence and fatigue. I believe they sometimes made little footstool covers, which I imagine to be of this kind of work (I don’t really know how this cushion was created or when--it came from Scott's Mom.) I think there’s also some netting that happens, which I imagine to be a sort of tatting or lace creation. I would like to know. Do you?

I don’t think quilting is ever referred to, though Jane and her sister Cassandra created this beauty, which would have been absolutely painful to complete by hand. Can’t imagine it. If you want to make your own, there are directions online, but few images of what the ladies would have been doing otherwise. One Penelope Bryde seems to have published a pamphlet entitled “A Frivolous Distinction: Fashion and Needlework in the Works of Jane Austen” which is long out of print, and which I’ll bet is more about fashion (Mrs. Norris’s green baize—weird choice, used for covering billiard tables!) than needlework.

I have learned that the Regency lady would definitely have a small pair of gold embroidery scissors shaped like a stork—like mine! And also that pirates (and other sailors) often took up embroidery during long journeys. They had to be proficient with a needle to keep their clothes together, and with little else to do, needlework presented itself.

Any more information from my well-read friends? Or would anyone like to catalog all of the references to needlework in the big six? We could collaborate on a study…

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The lark's on the wing...

Could it be spring? It snowed last week. But I came across these crocii on my walk home from the bus stop. They're not pushing up through the snow like they do in Moscow, but remain a pretty clear indication that all's right with the world.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Something New

I just learned to cross stitch. What with one thing and another, I've had my hand in a whole lot of craft pies. Between Campfire (which, yes, I was in until I was sixteen) and my parents' commitment to providing me with awesome things to do, I hooked rugs, made coiled bowls from rags, carved stamps out of soap, made quite elaborate puppets (a paper mache and fabric cat named Gorgeous who had a rhinestone in her nose was one masterpiece I remember from grade school), made paper, learned to spin, to weave, joined knitting 4-H and knit one long row while listening to Vanilla Ice over and over again, embroidered "Stacy + Bryan" and other similar phrases on pillows for my middle school friends, made a soft-sculpture telephone, and, well, more. I didn't do much of it for long, but I have a basic understanding of a lot of crafts, especially those involving needle and thread. I did not, however, learn to cross stitch. In fact I had no idea how or with what it was done.

Turns out you get some special fabric with squares on it and you just embroider x's.

But here's the thing that is interesting to me about cross stitch right now: it looks pixelated. I kept looking at cross stitched stuff and wondering what it was that made it look kind of hip. Then Scott saw the awesome Russiany lampshade I got on clearance at Urban Outfitters and saw pixels where I saw needlework. Oh, of course, I thought. That's what it is that's appealing about these designs I'm drawn to--the weird overlap between the retro dorkiness of cross stitch and the retro dorkiness of pixelation.

And then, of course, there's just something so pleasing about all this revival of the most quaint needlecrafts. Not your granny's cross stitch and all, you know.

My dear friend Mary Mac got me interested in this. She admitted she enjoyed the art form, but didn't like the patterns she could find. I pointed her to Subversive Cross Stitch for inspiration, and found this pattern and others like it on Etsy, created by WabiSabi. Then I decided to do them myself. Sorry Mary.

And, yes. I followed a pattern. But I see no reason why you couldn't create your own with relative ease. The drawback to cross stitching is that it is time-consuming. This took me five episodes of My So Called Life (in a row). And it's a super simple pattern.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gifts for an Inscrutable Age

I know a lot of children under the age of five. After that, they get a little vague to me. I know the month by month adventure up until reading age so thoroughly that my occasional observations of older children seem pretty inconclusive. I know I was once between the ages of six and twelve, but I don't remember it very well; instead I remember Island of the Blue Dolphins and Are You There God, It's Me Margaret and Anne of Green Gables. I was reading. What other children do or think or feel or like, I'm still not sure about.

But there are a couple of them who I am fond of. A month ago my very sophisticated twelve-year-old friend Leo melted my heart by saying that if he ever grew up to be very very rich he would have a whole jar of guitar picks in every room of his house. The moderate nature of this aspiration seemed so childlike, and yet he usually seems quite grown up (at least to me.) So Scott and I decided to help him toward his goal a little. Scott ventured out to the guitar pick stores to see how many we could reasonably get, being not at all very very rich ourselves, and then I found a Moleskine composing notebook I included, just in case. I found the above music-themed fabric, which I'm hoping is more rock and roll than lame, and made a little pouch for it all so as to better hold on to his picks when traveling.

His nine-year-old sister Fiona had mentioned that she wanted either to be an actress (of course) or a reporter or an author. She's well on her way with the acting career, but we felt, naturally, that we should foster the writing bit. I discovered that they have just brought out Moleskines in bright pink, and we bought two, one for a journal (adventures and secrets) and the other for a writing notebook (important thoughts, overheard conversations, new words, drafts of stories). We also bought a reporter's notebook (big stories and breaking news). And I sewed a little bag for her as well, after spending about an hour at Fabric Depot, trying to channel the aesthetic of a girl so big as nine. We went perhaps a bit overboard supporting the institution of Moleskine, but I think there's something powerful in taking children's aspirations seriously, and in giving them adult-quality tools.

All this made me think there might be some redeeming aspects to that long stretch between preschool and adolescence, and that perhaps we won't have to send any children we have to boarding school for those years after all. As long as they let me sew for them.

A technical note: I tried fusible velcro for the first time, and was very disappointed. It pulled away from the fabric when I tried to open the bags. I have to admit though that I bought it by the yard and so the packaging (with the directions) stayed at the store. I think I probably did it right... but hard to say.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dear Friends and Family,

For a long time I've had an imaginary craft blog. I've composed posts, imagined photographs, but felt a little too sheepish to carry it out. Something about blogging makes me very uncomfortable. I can't really pretend it's modesty; I did write a memoir when I was twenty-three. But... let's call it a problem of audience. Who am I writing too? Well, you, you wonderful people who I don't write enough letters to, real people, and also the imaginary ones. The thing is that I'm not a good enough crafter to warrant the kind of blog I imagine, and you real people, while you always have plenty of love for me and my projects, can't really be all that interested in my adventures in mitring.

And yet, in spite of this great big objection of mine, my imaginary blog won't go away, so I decided it was time to give it life. So humor me a little. I'm sure to talk a lot about books, and My So Called Life, which I just discovered holds up remarkably well, and the feral lettuce growing in the sidewalk cracks down the street, so if buttonholes get you down, just skip that part. My mother once gave me official permission to only read the peace parts in War and Peace and to skip the whaling bits of Moby Dick. So, you know... she's a wise lady.

Oh. Some of you know (and heart) Walter Ong. For those of you who managed to escape studying Comp Rhet, he wrote an essay that most first-year writing teachers read called "The Writer's Audience is Always a Fiction." How I came to have a scrap of fabric with "I Heart Walter Ong" printed on it is another story.

Alternative Post Title: You Are Not A Fiction.