Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hallmark, don't steal this idea

This evening, after work. Iris and I are sitting in the window seat in Tuscany Café, passing the time with beverages and crayons, waiting for J to get out of a meeting so we can all go to dinner.

"I will draw a nice picture for Daddy. [pause] I'm thinking what I can do. [pause] I'll draw an eel!"

P.S. You can draw an eel, too! Here's how: 1. Apply crayon to paper. 2. Draw crayon across paper in more or less straight line, trailing off toward the end. 3. Voila! An eel! 4. Variation: Draw crooked spirals as if illustrating tangled yarn. This is a "kiki eel."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

whipped cream and other delights

Any Herb Alpert fans out there?

So. I have not been writing here much because these days it's all about the grim morass at work and I don't want to use this space as a dumping ground for that. Bad enough that I dump it all on my loving, long-suffering husband. I just want to ask, though, a completely hypothetical question: what kind of boss takes stuff from your desk, stashes it in a drawer in his office without telling you, and then when you realize where it has gone and confront him about how totally inappropriate this is, simply says "It was falling on the floor and I was afraid it would get stepped on"? I ask you.

But there have been bright spots in the form of happy family moments and even some crafting as an outlet for seriously pent-up creative energy.

There have been things like whipped cream on waffles. Oh my.

And Iris' first haircut. Not that she has much hair to cut, it is still so babyfine, but it had grown to the point where we, as a family, searched deep within ourselves and decided the time had come to even out the ends. I barely had to sweep the porch floor afterwards, but scissors were used, so it counts.

And a trip to the Carnegie Art Museum for the last weekend of their Fierce Friends exhibit, true to form as the royal family of last-minute attendance. It was a true all-ages show with something for everyone from toddler to grown-up. At one point Iris commandeered one of the clipboard, paper, and pencil setups that the curators had thoughtfully left strewn about and asked J and me to draw our own renditions of some of the animals. She and J collaborated on a tiger (he drew the outline, she gave it its stripes), then she added some marks around its bared teeth and told us, "That's its dinner. It's eating shrimp, scallops, tofu, and rice." Mmm, I'll have what the tiger's having.

And I made another pair of booties, this time a hybrid between Heather's pattern and one from an old old copy of Martha Stewart Baby (the very first issue from 2000, if you must know, as I know I must if I were reading this), and this time for a girl. I am pleased to report that making them was a much less frustrating experience than last time now that my sewing machine is all sorted. I was going to wait to post these till I could take a better picture, but then what the hey.

And the baby boy for whom the first booties were made was born on Saturday morning. His name is Teddy. Oh happy day!

Friday, August 25, 2006

unsung (until now) heroes of the barnyard

Not much going on here except for, you know, total upheaval of life as we know it. So I'm just going to post a picture of two piggy banks, one J's from when he was a babe (well, he's still a babe, just in a different way) and the pink plastic one Iris could not bear to leave Ikea without (she actually slept with it for a couple weeks after we got it, hard plastic, rattling change, and all). Followed by the forgotten verses of "Baa Baa Black Sheep." You probably forgot them because you never learned them in the first place. And you never learned them in the first place because we just made them up!

We're sort of uneasily waiting for the implications of the second verse to dawn on Iris. If she declares her vegetarianism before the age of 3, you'll know why.

Moo moo, brown cow
Have you any milk?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Smooth as silk [or should it be Silk™, given the current advertising campaign?]
Pour it in a pitcher, pour it in a cup
Pour it in a bottle and
Drink it all up.

Oink oink, pink pig
Have you any ham?
Yes ma'am, yes ma'm,
Better than Spam™.
Rasher of bacon, tender loin
Purse from a sow's ear
Fill it with coin.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

the cupcake office

This morning Iris announced, “I’m not going to school. School is for parents. I’m going to the cupcake office!”

Hey, wouldn’t you?

Speaking of which…

You might have noticed that around the frazzled edges of this so-called blog has been lurking a lot of anxiety about work.

At first I thought it was a tumultuous transition to the new mayor and department director who took over at the beginning of this year. I figured I could ride it out, and at moments, I was even optimistic that things would work out for the best.

But I was wrong. Miserably wrong. Things went from bad to worse, then kept on sliding toward intolerable. I am not sure how much bleaker it can get, but signs are that I am going to find out.

The pisser is that I still like and care about the actual work I do. I just have reached a point where I can’t deal anymore with this new and hostile culture that has taken over my formerly friendly and supportive office. My unhappiness there is affecting every area of my life. I am cranky, grumpy, teary, and tired. Oh, and with a hair trigger. A joy to live with, you can be sure.

I have tried to adapt, I have tried to make the proverbial lemonade, I have tried to hunker down and focus on my work and not care about the rest. But none of that has helped, so I have made a scary, sad, exciting decision.

I am going to quit. By the end of the year. Sooner if I can, but the end of the year is the deal I have made with myself.

In the meantime, I am shaking every tree looking for something new. Pittsburgh is a small pond (sorry for the mixed metaphor with the trees in the previous sentence – are we in some kind of cypress swamp here?), and I realize I may have to leave my field (oh, now there’s a field in our metaphorical landscape!), but I am open to new experiences. Desperation will do that to you. And certainly, learning some new skills and perspectives can’t hurt, whether I end up circling back to my chosen profession eventually or not.

If I don’t find the cupcake office, at least I can get out of the antacid office.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

self portrait in an elevator

At work. Suffice it to say that this elevator is going down. Plummeting. I have got to get off. I am making A Plan.

More self portraits here.

Monday, August 21, 2006

all I ever wanted

Hello! Did I mention I was on vacation last week? Meaning that, since a big trip was not in the cards for us this year (though I so wanted to go to my cousin's wedding last weekend in Austria... sigh), I did something I've always wanted to do: I took a vacation at home.

Some highlights:

1. Iris, regarding her late-afternoon shadow: "I yook yike a grown-up on the ground. I walk on my hind yegs."

2. Going out to eat at brillobox while our neighbors, Timo and Liz, babysat. The next morning, Iris said to me, “I’m so proud of Timo!” I'm guessing he must have either pooped on the potty or eaten all his dinner.

2. Tim the Sewing Machine Repair Man paid a house call to my cantankerous old machine, and after several adjustments and a lint-rod-ectomy, wherein he removed a tiny part peculiar to Singers that had warped to the point of causing problems, the old girl is sewing smoothly again. Hooray! Planning new projects without fear!

3. Well, we did take a little trip, a mid-week overnight getaway up to Lake Erie, whose shores are more beachy than you might think. After getting over the fact that sand! was between her toes! aaaah! my persnickety child relished her first visit to “the beach:”

and ride in the kayak with her dad.

4. Whiling away naptime on the porch with Kat (that’s Aunt Kat to Iris – she has two aunts on J’s side, so just because I am an only child, why shouldn’t she have at least one on mine? Kat is like a sister to me), who was here for a long weekend, while Kat knit

and I made my first (lopsided) pom-pom under her tutelage and crafty companionship:

pom pom, originally uploaded by aoneko.

Today, back to the old grind, and it is getting old indeed. Re-entry is so hard.

Monday, August 14, 2006


I was setting out for the store this morning with Iris in her stroller when I saw the woman who lives at the corner of our block hurrying toward us. Her hands were full of books, children's books. She explained that they were her children's when they were young, and she thought my little girl might enjoy them now. "Downsizing," she explained with a smile.

And what lovely books! These are only some of them. Iris and I spent all morning reading through them. Our neighbor's children must be my age if not older – all the books date from the 1960s/early 70s. There are some telling details, such as the very Free-to-Be-You-and-Me, tomboyish Goldilocks dressed in a turtleneck, jeans and sneakers who samples the accommodations in the three bears' house. And how about this picture from Books Are Fun (1974) (click on the image for a bigger, clearer version):

It's hard to pick my favorite part of this whole psychedelic-bibliophilic scenario, but it just might be the baby bookmobile with the pom-pom fringe on top.

Also, there are a few Mother Goose books in the bunch, and in all of them, the hapless old woman who lives in a shoe is still whipping her children soundly before sending them to bed as in the version I heard as a kid, not "kissing them sweetly" as in the revisionist versions Iris has had up till now. (Dilemma: do we read the old versions as they really are or substitute the kinder, gentler words of the new one?)

Of course, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is a classic, and I'm so glad to have it for its portrayal of an urban winter wonderland. But perhaps most of all I have fallen in love with The Reindeer Book (1965) for its treasure trove of woodcut-style illustration:

Thank you, neighbor.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

in which I admit to harboring lots of licensed merch (or, a post in blue and orange)

This morning Iris and I went to the playground, then to a nearby café, where we ran into our friend Lois and got to share a lovely lunch with her. Lois is a terrific writer and an inspiring craftstress. When we got home, I told Iris, "I want to show you something special," and I led her upstairs to my bedroom where this blue bunny resides.

He's the only one of the random toys J and I had before we had Iris that has not been relinquished to her. Lois made him several years ago, and I hugged myself with lucky glee when I won him in the Gist Street raffle.

After we talked about how Lois made the blue bunny (and clarified once more that Iris may visit and hug him, but he is Mama's blue bunny), she said, "I want show you something special. C'mon, Mama," and led me into her room. There she picked up one of her stuffed animals, a white cartoon rabbit in an orange shirt, and carried it back to the blue bunny.

"See?" she said. "They are same! White rabbit and boo rabbit!"

You won’t believe how many things Iris has with this little white rabbit on them. My stepmother has been piling it on since before Iris was born, apparently having assigned her to be Iris' personal cartoon mascot. In the US, she’s called

But in Holland, where most if not all this swag came from, she’s

So that’s what we call her, though I suspect we butcher the pronunciation. The storybook actually touches some raw nerve in Iris. When we read it to her, she weeps uncontrollably, then begs us to read it over and over until she spirals into a heartbroken sobfest, so we’ve had to put both versions away.

But that’s okay because we have plenty more, non-weep-inducing Nijntje in our lives. This is just a sampling:

iris' wonderful world of nijntje, originally uploaded by aoneko.

My stepmother also gave us this by Dick Bruna, Nijntje’s creator:

Aside from the obvious perfection of the title, it is a wonderful little book. The subtitle seems to mean "a book without words," and it is comprised entirely of pictures which tell the story of a girl who makes her friends happy by sharing her toys (including a rabbit Iris recognized immediately as Nijntje – coincidence or a little bit of product placement on Dick Bruna's part, hmm?). So great for non-scripted, interactive storytelling.

Does Miffy/Nijntje have a TV show? We know her only by the gifts we've received.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

booties accomplished

So I managed to finish the booties in the nick of time for Paige's baby shower this afternoon, no thanks (OK, grudging thanks) to my sewing machine, which has started refusing to sew more than an inch or two at a time before coming unthreaded. Thank goodness all the seams were (a) short and (b) hidden on the inside. I ended up doing a fall theme since that is probably when the booties will be worn. I wish I had had time to take a better picture, but when I say I finished in the nick of time, I mean I had to run almost literally straight from the melon-farming frickety-frackin sewing machine to the party.

I am typing this with polished fingernails, a circumstance which has not occurred since my wedding, because the shower had a spa theme. I had to laugh at one point when all the women were sitting around, punch and cupcakes in (manicured) hand, talking about football. What a baby shower cliché!

Friday, August 11, 2006


I love this illustration from one of Iris' alphabet books (An ABC Bestiary by Deborah Blackwell). I think it may just be one of the most brilliant illustrations from any children's book, ever.

I mention it at this very moment because that exasperated quail pretty much sums up how I'm feeling about my creative endeavors right now. Just substitute "craft projects I am currently working on" for "quilting." It may be that I really need a new sewing machine, which I kind of hate to contemplate.

On a happier note, tonight J and I are going out on a date! I can't remember the last time. He and Iris are out on the porch right now waiting for Mr. D, the world's most beloved babysitter, and I am off to see if I still know how to apply eye makeup.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

neko rants about underpants

Iris will be moving into new a room with new, more potty-forward teachers at her childcare in September, and I’ve decided that when that happens, we’re going cold turkey on the diapers/pull-ups. Iris is ready, and lord knows so are we. So my plan is just to bring in lots of extra clothes and underwear and let the potty training begin succeed.

With this in mind, the other day I went to Pittsburgh’s ancestral downtown department store, Kaufmann’s, to stock up on size 2 underpants. Kaufmann’s is in the process of being converted into a Macy’s, and Macy's commitment to its customers apparently is No Children’s Undergarments Without Corporate Character-Driven Gender Stereotyping! Maybe, as a person who buys store-brand pull-ups to avoid the aggressively gendered Disney designs of the name-brand ones, I should have been prepared for this, but I wasn’t. When I first bought panties for Iris at Kaufmann’s, a couple months before the Macy’s transition, I got packages of plain ones which I tarted up myself at home with polka dots, animals, and other designs she likes. I was pleased. Iris was pleased. All was right in the department of size 2 underpants.

But now! The only girls’ underwear Macy’s has is adorned with Disney princesses (gag), Barbie (I’m giving that a big pink plastic NO), My Pretty Ponies(what are they if not Barbies with hooves?), Dora the Explorer, and some blonde cartoon tween named Lizzie Something-or-Other. Oh, and there was Elmo, but only left in size 8 because hello, kids’ underwear makers, if you’re trying to ensure you’ll have unsold inventory, put the same red furry face on underpants for eight-year-olds that also appears on their kid siblings’ diapers!

Okay, so I guess Dora and Lizzie are not really so offensive, feministically-speaking, although I don’t actually know about Lizzie. I’m just annoyed to have no choice but licensed cartoon characters. Iris doesn’t even watch those shows. And even if I were willing to dress her in licensed underwear, each package included at least one pair with a big, stiff, itchy polyester appliqué of the featured character on the front. On behalf of my child’s skin, no thanks.

So where does this leave me? Must I order those smug but cartoon-free “won’t wear anything else” underpants from a certain Swedish children’s catalog – again with the Swedes! – that cost more per pair than a Kaufmann’s 3-pack? (Which brings me to a related rant: why are simple, unadorned children’s clothes in general so much harder to find, and so much more expensive when they can be found, than ones that are all junked up?) Or drive – and you know my feelings about that – out to some suburban big box in search of anonymous flowers and butterflies? Would they even have them there? Why does this simple errand have to be so hard? Maybe I’m just making it hard, but sheesh, would it kill Macy’s to carry some kids’ underwear that’s not printed with advertisements for TV?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

self portrait in an enclosed space: the car

This is me in my 2004 Volkswagen Passat station wagon (or “sport wagon” as I guess they are called now. When did grocery shopping become a sport?). It's the first car I have ever owned (mutually with J) and my ability to drive it represents one of the great accomplishments of my adult life: finally, in my 30s, learning to drive a 5-speed. J taught me. He believes driving an automatic is not really driving, just steering.

Before I learned, I always used to scoff at people for saying that driving a stick shift was more fun. Now I must admit I agree. It's just that, in my case, fun is relative. To me, the car is the ultimate confinement. I do not particularly like driving or riding in cars. One of the reasons I live in the city is the ability to opt out, whenever possible, of being strapped to my seat in a little metal capsule.

But I’ll admit I suffer it gladly when it comes to hauling the week’s food from the Strip, or loading the way-back with those big flat boxes from Ikea, or when it’s raining and J gives Iris and me a dry, door-to-door ride downtown.

I guess you could say I'm a foul-weather fan of the automobile.

More self portraits at Self Portrait Challenge.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

corners of my home: Gartenswerge

Gartenswerge means, more or less, "garden gnomes" in German. But surely you remember that from your high school Deutsch. (What? You took Español and learned words like "mojito" instead? Hmph.)

So perhaps I should have posted this to Corners of My Yard, but if you want to get all technical (and I sincerely hope you don't) these guys live on our front porch. Someday we'll make a nice gnome home for them in our backyard, someday when it's less of a jungle out there. As with my basement, I won't be divulging any corners of my backyard for some time.

I did not exactly invite the Gartenswerge into my life for the same reason that I never have and never will see the Lord of the Rings trilogy: I have an aversion to hobbits, leprechauns, and all other imaginary (that's right, IMAGINARY) little people living in alternative societies underground. But sometimes you don't get to pick your cultural signifiers.

My Gartenswerge were a present from my father and stepmother. A few years ago, we visited them in Holland, where they were living at the time, for my birthday. My stepmother is formidably organized. She keeps notebooks of lists. One of them happened to be lying about, and I happened to spy in its open pages the imperative, "Get dwarves!"

Get dwarves?!?

The implications of this were so profoundly weird, I forced myself to put it out of my mind. Until my birthday, when I unwrapped my present and realized "Get dwarves" had been a reminder! To pick up my birthday present! Whew! Garden gnomes – you shouldn't have!

Actually, the perfection of this present was in the good laugh we all had over my genetic destiny, which is, apparently, to adorn my home with Gartenswerge. You can take the girl out of Germany, but you can't take the German predilection for gnomes out of the girl. Much less her parents.

A postscript to this story, which is actually J's favorite part: the next time my American mother, who is effortlesly fluent in German despite not having spoken it daily in 35 years, came to visit, she remarked offhandedly, "Oh, where did you get the Gartenswerge?"

Because once you learn about garden gnomes, you never forget.

Friday, August 04, 2006

good things

as Martha Stewart the Omnimediapotent* would have it:

1. The monstrous heat has broken, and the molten puddle in the bottom of my brainpan has begun to reconstitute into something once again capable of thought.

2. It's Friday.

3. A package from Julie, my friend since we were 14, who lives in Paris with her husband Nicolas and son Damien. J and I feel a strong kinship with this family, even though J has only met them a few times – likewise I, Nicolas – and despite distance and different languages. Among other kindnesses, Julie has supplied Iris with the most beautiful French clothes since she was a mere papoose.

Iris wanted to model her new dress immediately. Yes, it fits, and roomily enough that I suspect it will fit the three-year-old she'll be next summer, too.

And the details! – the ruffled straps! – the pintucking!

Even the tag is pretty.

Thank you, Julie! Merci, Nicolas and Damien!

*I'm not speaking to her since she chucked Martha Stewart Kids for this froufy new folly, "body + soul." J says she's called a bunch of times, weeping and apologizing, but I won't come to the phone – nor darken the doorstep of any of her houses – until I get my subscription back.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

it's an acquired taste

After we put Iris in her crib and before she goes to sleep, I, and only I, must pat her back while she engages in 10 or 20 minutes of verbal free-association.


"I do not like beer. I will be grown up. I will drink a beer when I'm grown-up, someday."