Monday, October 30, 2006

the search is over

After years of looking, I finally found the perfect brown boots. Would it be too much to get them in black too?

[Updated by popular demand: apparently I am not the only one who has been longing for the perfect boots! Mine are by Born, but these are the closest I could find to them on the web.]

Sunday, October 29, 2006

fall back

Fall is

in full

I was going to say bloom, but that's pretty much the botanical opposite. Still, that's what it feels like.

It was a dark and stormy naptime. M came over and we turned the dining table into a Halloween costume workshop. Nothing like getting ready for the holidays waaaay in advance!

Anya's pony costume turned out pretty punk rock, thanks to M's artful interpretation of Anya's declaration that she wanted a red mane and tail. Iris' lobster get-up proved somewhat vexing, especially the claws. But one of the reasons Halloween is celebrated at night is to obscure the imperfections of homemade costumes, right? I'll let the little lobster model her costume for you herself in a couple of days.

It's a bit late in the season to evoke that back-to-school feeling, but let me tell you, I was feeling it when I found this yesterday at Construction Junction, a place I always seem leave a little lighter in the wallet than when I went in. I haven't tried to clean it yet, but I'm pretty sure it's going to need a restorative coat of chalkboard paint. (Anyone used this stuff – any tips?) It's destined for our someday-soon-to-be playroom on the third floor. Wish us luck getting it up there!

Friday, October 27, 2006


Iris, peering into the toilet after pooping: "It looks like a dolphin fish!"

On an unrelated note, yes I hear your sighs of relief out there: Meg, I lay the fact that my entire family is addicted to the woollyhoodwinks newscast entitely at your feet.

Iris: I like the blue one so much!

That would be Ludic. As I know since I am now at least as intimately acquainted with these sandwich-size creatures as with my own family. Mayhem, mayhem!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

iris' new favorite toy

The Photobooth application on my MacBook.

"I want do dat" [mimes jabbing finger on touchpad].

"I will grow and grow and grow and be a big kid and eat lots of candy!"

"Oh really? Who told you that?"


But guess who ate broccoli for dinner?

Monday, October 23, 2006

make new friends, but keep the old

Meet Helen. She's a circa 1960 Singer Slant-O-Matic. Her name is a memorial to her original owner, the woman from whom we bought our house, who left behind her sewing machine along with its manual, oil can, box of extra feet and throat plates, itty-bitty screwdriver, Art Moderne sewing table and, in one of its drawers, a copy of The Complete Book of Sewing, copyright 1943. (I was going to post a picture, but there was no way I could stop at just one. A whole book could seriously be written about that book. Or a whole blog, if you wish.) Helen was, fortunately, a supremely organized person. She all but gift-wrapped everything I would need to take up sewing again, and so I have.

She even left a million little paper packets of needles – and the randomly repurposed boxes she kept them in (ahem!).

Lady's Man brand aside, sometimes I try to imagine the lives Helen and her husband, Edward, lived here in this house. She was his second wife. (We keep around a photograph of Edward with his first wife which we found in the basement.) She mended their underwear, specimens of which I also found in the drawers of the sewing table. He kept fish for a hobby. On our circuit breaker, there is a room labeled "fish room" (it's the room that will become my studio, in fact). We also found umpteen fish bowls and a mummified fish skull. After he died, she rented rooms.

Helen (the machine) is a workhorse. She can be temperamental at times, but she gets the job done. Her next mission, should she choose to accept it: turning a toddler into a lobster for Halloween. One week to go – better get cracking on that one!

If I haven't been spending quite enough time with Helen lately, it's because I have a crush on someone new.

Since this little beauty arrived, we've been practically joined at the lap. Somehow, though, I don't think she's going to be passed down through the generations in quite the same way as Helen.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

tools of the trade

Have I mentioned yet that J is an architect? An older architect he sometimes works for recently gave him this anachronism: a Leroy lettering set. Complete with templates in various heights, tracer pins, and scriber arms, this was used to print perfect block letters on architectural drawings, back in the dinosaur days before computer drafting. So technical, in its analog way. So cool.

We've been super busy here at J & A Industries. The kitchen project is moving forward (more pictures soon). Yesterday we bought 8 feet of butcher block countertop. Whoohoo!

Other rooms are in transition, too. Even as I type, J is in the basement making supports for his new desk so that he can move into his (drumroll please) own office. For the past five years we have shared an office/studio, and that was a fine, if cluttered, set-up until he started working from home. Then we started seriously bumping elbows. So we are in the midst of setting up one of the little attic bedrooms as his office, and the former shared space will be mine, all mine! Once again, my sewing machine, desk, and project table will all be in the same room. It won't be a freshly-painted room, alas, and I'll have to give it up when and if our little family expands (no, I'm not pregnant). But for a while anyway, starting soon, I will have a dingy little lovely little room of my own.

Even with my craft supplies divided between two floors, I've been working away, mostly presents that I have to keep under wraps because their recipients have been known to lurk around here. I've also been strategizing on the job front and trying to turn up the heat under a project that has been simmering on the back burner for far too long. It's a book. That's all I can tell you right now. Well, I'll tell you tiny bit more just so you don't get the idea I'm writing the Great American Novel: you'll want to get it for all the architectural and planning history geeks on your gift list next year.

Now, for a little mental fresh air, a picture of Iris and her best girl Anya running to the playground together yesterday.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

en thoo' ze az'əm

"Iris, do you want to help put together the salad?"

"Yeah! That will be so special to me!"

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

gimme an I! gimme an R!

Long but satisfying day today: a field trip with colleagues – mostly, thankfully, not from my own dysfunctional office – to study public art in Cleveland. Admit it, you're jealous! Well, maybe you should be: it was truly inspiring. These images are from the reading garden at the Cleveland Public Library, a splendid little urban pocket park.

[Updated to add: These marvelous things didn't just materialize! Let's give credit where credit is due, shall we? Bronze figures and gates by Tom Otterness; reflecting pool wall by Maya Lin and Tan Lin.]

From the home front today, J reports this observation from Iris about a sign they saw: "I! R! S! Those are letters in my name! ...What are all those extra letters not in my name?"

A couple signs I saw in Cleveland that made an impression:

"Beehive School." I can see this going either way: a busy hive of activity, or a colony of worker drones?

"Indisputable Barber Shop." OK, I believe you!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

thrifty sunday

This morning the power tools got a respite while we attended the naming ceremony of Baby Medha (the recipient of the girlie booties I made a couple of months ago) at an Indian restaurant in the suburbs. It was very lovely, full of incense and flower petals, and Medha was exceptionally sweet. Iris, who last saw Medha's mother when she was eight months pregnant, observed, "Neha's tummy is not full." She doesn't miss a trick! All our tummies were quite full by the end of the buffet luncheon, dal and samosas and paneer, oh my.

And what do you know? There was a Goodwill at the other end of the strip mall and I didn't come up empty there either. Some kids' clothes (though where is everyone else thrifting Oilily, is what I would like to know... that never happens to me) and these dishes:

Lotus plate and wooden whatnot server. I am a sucker for peapods.

Five mod little dessert/bread plates which will be good for parties. We try not to use disposable plates/napkins/cutlery, so I'm always looking to boost our resources for large-scale entertaining. Not that we do so much of that. But maybe we will, now that we have these dishes. Can you tell they even have silver edges? So fancy!

Oddly enough, there was also a full set, including serving pieces, of dishes to match this orphan teacup that came with our house and which we oh-so-glamourously employ to hold matchbooks on our bathroom windowsill. My first response to this coincidence was to think I should snap up the set, but fortunately my second response, quick on the heels of the first, was to ask myself if I really need a million pieces of china with this little chair and other fusty-by-design domestic furnishings on them? No, I do not. But if you do, you can find them at the Goodwill on William Penn Highway in Monroeville. Tell them I sent you only if you want to see bewildered expressions on their faces.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

open door policy

So what started as prying up a couple of broken tiles has snowballed into a full-scale kitchen remodel. Here we see my father-in-law toting a piece of our kitchen wall out the back door, mere minutes after he and J sliced it out with a Sawzall. The plaster was still hot. See our sunroom through there? Right there, where it used to be so close and yet so far?

It will be a while until the dust settles in this kitchen, but the more of it goes out to the trash heap, the more I like what's left, ragged edges and all.

Friday, October 13, 2006

WIP :: floored

Thanks to a crazy contraption that has replaced our phone, modem, and router all in one, and also looks like it could guide the space shuttle in for a landing, our home is again buzzing with the power of the internet.

I sort of miss our old-school phone, whose spiffiest feature was that it was cordless. Recent acute internet withdrawal to the contrary, I am not really a big technophile. But we had to give the Unmerciful Gods of the Internet what they wanted, and what they wanted apparently was for us to have a space shuttle docking station in our home. So we do. Right now, I can hear J and Iris putting it through its paces. Why do I have the feeling my two-year-old is going to be re-educating me on how to make a phone call?

Now for some Brute Force League crafting: The Ugliest Kitchen in the World is about to lose its title.

Last night J began some exploratory demolition where the leak from the broken dishwasher had caused the floor tiles to buckle and break up in front of the sink.

He found wood boards in decent shape, so he kept going, lifting whole panels of plywood, tiles and all, and ripping out the little cook-book-case which, while useful, is in the way of our plan to restore circular circulation to our first floor via a passageway between the kitchen and sunroom.

By the time Iris and her grandmother had finished watching Kirikou, most of the old floor, along with the bookcase and baseboards, was gone.

And good riddance! Some sandpaper and polyurethane and this old wood floor will be bee-yoo-tiful, no? A little rustic, sure, but that's OK. And once I have a kitchen floor that I love, I may be able to live with the black-and-yellow wall tile – more of the oh-so-classy 2-cents-apiece plastic stuff – for a few more years.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

just a quickie

Thanks for your well-wishes, those who commented on my last post! Yes, Kirsten, that table and chairs is from Ikea (of course! sometimes I wonder if I can get through a single post without mentioning that name), and I do think it would be fun to get a group going to see how everyone has decorated theirs. I think there is already an Ikea Flickr group, so maybe that is the place... I will check it out as soon as my internet connection is restored (this weekend, hopefully).

So, since I am back at the library, trying to make the most of my 45 free minutes, this is just a drive-by post to share a couple things I have gotten accomplished, other than ranting and raving at the Uncaring Gods of the Internet:

My first real attempt at applique. Flowers? Balloons? Lollipops? You decide! The stitching is a little... wobbly, but all in all I'm pleased.

A quick-and-easy gallery for Iris' artwork (twill tape + little wooden clothespins) in our front hall:

(Just ignore the wall-is-falling-in effect... actually our house is standing up quite straight.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

the day the modem died

There is good news and there is bad news, as J always begins.

The good news is that our dishwasher is finally fixed! Now I can get my dishpan hands out of the Palmolive (or Ecover, as the case may be).

The bad news is that the dishwasher paid its malfunctioning karma forward to our internet service, which was iffy over the weekend and yesterday crapped out altogether. Good lord, this is what it must have been like to live in the twentieth century, back before Google and blogs, when we simply had to wonder about random trivia, the fates of ex-boyfriends, and the minutiae of strangers’ lives!

Remember when you were a kid, the story about the night the power went out in a fictional neighborhood just like yours? At first the family despaired of how they would get through the evening without lights, TV, and other taken-for-granted conveniences. Then they ended up eating dinner by candlelight and talking and telling stories and having the best time and saying they should turn off the lights and the TV more often. I would like to say that I am spinning my internet deprivation into a golden opportunity to rediscover slower pleasures. But look at me, I've come to the library to get my fix.

Partly I wanted to check in here to mention that what with the busted modem and other extenuating circumstances – such as a family member who is very sick and sad and staying with us right now – I am not sure how much I will be posting in the near future. I would like to and I will try. This outlet, and the conversations it has started, have become important to me. But, to quote the cinematic classic Airplane, I guess I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

Now how about a little more good news? Here’s a parting shot of Iris’ table and chairs, which I finished painting this morning:

And a gratuitous cutie shot of Iris, dressed to match.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

things that make you go hmm

Iris: Dogs are dogs and people are people and wild boars* are pigs.

*Not quite as random as it may seem: a wild boar figures prominently in Kirikou at la sorciere, still a top-shelf favorite around here.


Iris: Why you say "hmm"?

Me: When I say "hmm," it means I'm thinking about something.

Iris: What you are thinking about?

Me: All different things... something different every time.

Iris: What you are thinking about this time? Wild boars**?

Why yes! I can't get the snorting, stomping, horned, hairy beasts out of my mind. But you, sleep tight and sweet dreams, little one!

**That reminds me of an anecdote from when I lived in Japan. A certain Japanese teacher was so eager for English conversation practice that he would get up before dawn, drive two hours to pick me up and two hours back to deliver me to the school in which he taught and where I was to guest-teach for the day. One day he asked me:

"How are the students at Shirama Junior High School [which I also visited]?"

Me, trying to think of a word or two which would sum them all up: Hmmm...

Him, helpfully: Pure of heart?

Right! How did he guess? Pure of heart. Just what I was searching for!

Friday, October 06, 2006

financial corner

After my last post which, believe me, only scratched the surface of the things we haven’t had the time or money to do around the house, I thought I should get constructive about the problem instead of just grumbling about it.

So, without further ado, I offer the following proven money-saving techniques:

1. Have a child! You will feel the savings immediately as you stop paying the high cost of entertainment outside the home. Movies, plays, concerts, dinners out, even the cable bill – what you don’t have time for, you won’t pay for. Invite your friends over for a paper-bag puppet show! Bonus savings: as a parent, eliminate your need for an alarm clock and spend that $12.99 per decade somewhere else.

2. Share belts! Put on a few extra pounds, then borrow your husband’s belts instead of buying new ones for yourself. Saves on self-esteem, too.

3. Drop your iPod one too many times till it breaks. Then, turn a deaf, if wistful, ear to the siren song of iTunes.

4. Nobody likes it when their dog dies, and I don’t recommend pursuing this as a money-saving strategy. But an unexpected demise can free up funds previously committed to kibble, tennis balls, and vet appointments, not to mention, depending on how doting a boss you were, grooming, specially-baked bone-shaped cookies, T-shirts, canine Halloween costumes and other accessories. Of course, you will have to weigh these savings against your natural inclination to memorialize your beloved pet. Will you purchase a special urn for its ashes, or perhaps an inscribed stepping stone for the garden? Our family has chosen this economical method: store ashes in glass jar on living room bookshelf, where child occasionally spots them and asks “What’s in there?”

5. Think back: did you buy a croquet set as a joint purchase with your best friend many years ago, when you were young and single and living in the same city with nothing better to do than whack balls through wickets on weekends? Good! Even though she kept the set when you moved away, still think of it as half yours and you won't spend money on the redundant purchase of another one.

There, your wallet should be feeling fatter already.

Now for that other pesky barrier to getting things done: Time. That's a tougher proposition. They say you don’t ever find time; you have to make it. But so far, the only way I’ve come up with to “make” time is to steal it – from your employer, from your kids, from yourself. But don’t worry, Jiminy Cricket, this kind of stealing is (sometimes) legal and (most always) socially acceptable, so go ahead and do it. It’s the only way you’ll get to blog.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

corners of my home: cure for house lust

Meg commented recently that looking at my pictures was giving her major house lust, which was extremely flattering but made me realize I had better 'fess up to how we really live or face allegations of Blog Fraud, a serious sin of omission.

Exhibit A: The Dining Room

Our dining room walls were wallpapered when we moved in, and except for the sconces and J's penciled notes on the wiring, they look exactly the same today as the day I peeled the paper off. Some visitors have found this look romantic in the manner of decaying Pompeiian frescoes. Yeah, well, they don't eat in here every day.

How I envy people whose dining rooms are finished! Painted! Whole of wall and ceiling! Ours will be someday, too, but that someday is far off, farther even than we thought when we bought the house and laid out our timeline of home improvement goals. And an optimitic timeline it was. Time itself, money, J's admirable desire to do all the work on his own house himself, and the boisterous fact of a little one underfoot have all delayed our grand plans to make this room worthy of all the hours we spend in here.

Did you know that the dining room is becoming an obsolete feature of American residential architecture? If you had asked me when we were house-hunting, when I was living in an apartment with a huge eat-in kitchen, I would have said that a dining room was not important to me, either. But now that we have one, I would never give it up. Our family loves to cook and eat together, and it's great to be able to shut the door on the messy evidence of the culinary creative process and repair to a room whose sole purpose is the enjoyment of dining. We always eat by candlelight, partly because it helps our Pompeiian walls to recede into darkness.

This is where we punched a hole in the dining room ceiling to spy on the original ceiling, encapsulated 18" above this one, lovely cove mouldings and all. There is even still a light bulb, untold decades old, hanging from the original fixture wiring. They just built the new, lower ceiling right over it (under it, I guess, actually). Why did they do it, the previous owners? Were they trying to hide water damage? Save on heating? Who knows? One fine day we'll demolish the dropped ceiling and restore the original one and from that day forward I will eat and sleep in here, I will never leave this dining room, ever, I will be so happy.

And before we leave this photo, anyone who can explain to me why Iris always looks up at this very part of the ceiling, points to it and exclaims "A reindeer!" will receive a special surprise from Santa this Christmas.

Here's the scar where we tore out the cedar closet the previous owner had built to store her fur coats. In the dining room, people! We punched this hole to see if the original pocket doors had been sheetrocked into the back closet wall. Yes. Grr. They had. Oh, and look, in the background, do you see our Permastoned living room fireplace? Someday I want to tile that. You know, in my free time.

Exhibit B: The Intersection of Finished and Unfinished

The tangerine paint belongs to a room that was probably the original butler's pantry, though sadly stripped of its cabinetry by the time we arrived. In its remodeled state, it serves as a reminder that things do get done around here. The unfinished part of the picture is the future site of a restored passageway to the kitchen. We got as far as tearing out a full bathroom entirely lined – walls and ceiling – with cheap plastic tile (2 cents a piece! We found a newspaper ad for it under some old flooring in a bedroom), leaving behind this lovely grid of exposed cement. Actually, we got a lot farther than that: half that former bathroom is now the powder room that J built, which I will post a picture of soon as further evidence of progress. The kitchen, though – that's another dose of anti-house-lust for another day.