Sunday, November 26, 2006


Another Christmas craft sneak peek:

And a new banner, only almost a season late! I said I was going to make a change when I switched over to blogger beta, which I've only just done. Is blogger beta really all that? Worth the time and aggravation? We shall see. I've heard the switch can cause some hiccups in bloglines, so if it does, just swallow a spoonful of sugar or drink water upside down or something and the spasms should subside. Or – BOO!

I'm feeling a bit post-holiday letdown-ish today. We've gone from a boisterous houseful to just our little family in two hours flat. But not to fear, the Cavalcade of Houseguests continues later this week with the arrival of my father and stepmother from Germany.

Here's a little scene from the archives:

We've been reading Goodnight Moon to Iris since she was a tiny baby. The other morning she began "reading" it to us. At the second appearance of the kittens and mittens, she looked up and asked, like the suspense was killing her, "What do you think happens next?"

Um, we say goodnight to the rest of the room?

I hope I didn't ruin it for anybody!

Friday, November 24, 2006


the beauty and bounty of our holiday table

J's cooking every night


family who are also my friends

friends who are my chosen family

this big old house which packs them all in for the holidays

a free hand with the letter Y stamp

red wine

front-loading washing machines

the miraculous hair stuff my neighbor gave me

70 percent cocoa content

pants that fit

greyhounds (the drink, not the dog. Oh, what the hell, the dog too)

Wednesday night phone calls with Kat, who introduced me to greyhounds

Allegra D

books by Laurie Colwin

coffee with cream

the creative community of the – Godhelpme, I'm going to say it – blogosphere

friendships with people I've never met

flannel sheets

finding my LOMO, last seen last year and presumed stolen, while ransacking my studio for origami paper at 1 a.m.

two hours to myself while everyone takes Iris to the zoo

big change ahead (watch this space)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

ghosts of christmas past


Busy busy. Since everything I’m working on now is Top Secret till after the holidays, here are some pictures from last year’s handmade Christmas to tide us over.

I made and embroidered these linen tea towels for my dad and stepmother’s new kitchen. Forgot to take photos of them before they were whisked back to Germany, where said kitchen is located; my dad just emailed me these.

Thanks Dad! Hope to see them in their new home soon!

Last Christmas I also made so many presents out of felt that J jokes I am making him a felt Porsche this year. Won’t he be surprised if he’s right!

Readers of the late, great Martha Stewart Kids magazine may recognize the felt seasons book, which I adapted from a Martha design. Next to it is the architect’s kit I made for J, a variation on one made some time ago by Stephanie of littlebirds. The little black doohickey is an iPod case for my sister-in-law with the Burning Man logo embroidered on it. Because, as she would tell you, the man burns every day. And then there’s Iris’ little bunny, which I didn’t make (I wish!), but for which (for whom?) I sewed and embroidered a little felt frock.

My father-in-law is an avid puzzler, so I made this mosaic of family photos for him and sent it away to be made into a 500-piece wooden jigsaw puzzle. It came back with cunning little pieces shaped like wine glasses, airplanes, hammers, and all manner of things tucked in among the standard-issue amoebas. Since my father-in-law can put together 500 pieces in his sleep, I made it harder by giving him a key with the mosaic all mixed up, so he didn’t know which pictures were connected to which until he was done. The nice thing about this present is that it has been making the family rounds so we have all gotten to be puzzled in turn.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 20, 2006

window shopping, Ellsworth Avenue

These dolls are kind of Nightmare-Before-Christmas-esque, but I think that makes me like them more, especially the stocking-capped elf with the peppermint candy suspender buttons.

P.S. It snowed today. Didn't stick, but still. Snow, people.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

recipe for a rainy sunday

A steaming cup of chai tea:

1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamom
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 14 oz can condensed milk

Mix spices and condensed milk thoroughly. Refrigerate 24 hours, if you can wait that long. Then, brew a strong black tea, such as Assam. Stir in 1/2 to 2 heaping teaspoons of chai mix per cup of freshly steeped tea.

Hot cha!

Saturday, November 18, 2006


It is three days till the Cavalcade of Houseguests, Thanksgiving Edition, and the contents of our kitchen are residing in our sunroom. And in our dining room. Because J is sanding and refinishing our kitchen floor. Which is a good thing. And really, is there ever a bad time to have a house full of sawdust?

Or a sinus infection?

On the plus side, I've finished Christmas gifts for three family members. I've conceptualized gifts for three more, which is half the battle, or some fraction, anyway. Even if it's a tiny fraction, I'll take it.

Having a handmade Christmas is so important to me in so many ways, and one of the things I love is that my Christmas shopping consists of the Handmade Arcade, a big trip to the fabric/arts & crafts supply store, and ransacking my own stash and supplies. Done! I know some people love the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, but I'm not one of them. I'm happiest when I can hunker down in a holiday cocoon of my own making. At home.

All this crafting is also therapeutic, and I've needed it. It's been a stressful week, and it's left me in a state of suspense/dread (not sure which is appropriate, so ricocheting between the two) about something I care about very much. Sorry I can't be too much more specific than that at this point. But getting some Christmas crafting done makes me feel... a little more in control. And that's all we really want sometimes, isn't it? To feel in control. Is that so much to ask?

P.S. Misplaced fabric paint update: I shouted it out!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

the crafty gene :: final installment

Still with me?

Actually, my return to crafting was bit of a delayed reaction. The first year of Iris’ life, I was so intently preoccupied with her that I hardly thought about all the things I put aside when she roared onto the scene. But as she toddled into her second year, still very demanding but not quite so totally 100% hands-on as in those infant days, the crafty urge crept back in through the cracks. I began craving the creative outlet of making things (aside from a baby and milk) again. I took up embroidery again after a 20-year lull. I dusted off Helen and began to put her through her paces. And I stumbled across the infinitely inspiring world of craft blogs. Loobylu, littlebirds, Soulemama – if any of you are in the house, I’m sending you a big salaam for showing me what you could do in your spare minutes here and there. If it hadn’t been taken, I might well have named this blog While She Naps.

My grandmother passed away while I was living in Japan, more than ten years before Iris was even a twinkle in my eye. How I wish they could have known each other! But even if my mom is right and the crafty gene skips a generation, meaning Iris hasn’t got it, I hope my girl learns from J and me what I learned from my grandmother: to be resourceful. To find satisfaction in creating the things you use. To use your creativity to transform your environment into one that is unique. That it is possible to opt out of mass consumerism. That you can make something beautiful from scraps.

Monday, November 13, 2006

the crafty gene :: second installment

Continued from a couple days ago. That's my grandmother, Irma, around the time she got married (1930).

When I got older, my grandmother gave me her old sewing machine. I don't know exactly how old it was, but can you picture the ones that were black metal with gilt floral painting on them? One of those. It must have been one of the very first electric models. Anyway, my college roommate and I got inspired by an adorable, expensive dress in a boutique window and whipped up copies on Grammy's old machine. They turned out pretty well. Afterwards, of course, we had to be careful not to wear our matching dresses at the same time. With our footless tights. Which are back in style now, along with my entire wardrobe from 1989. But I digress!

In my 20s, I seemed to have all kinds of time for making things, probably related to my drifter’s approach to employment. I took classes in stained glass and carpentry. I started printing fabric and painting furniture. When I left for Japan, I cast off my grandmother's old sewing machine (more regret!), but I managed to borrow one now and then. Among other things, I made a kajillion cloth napkins that I still use daily.

Eventually I went to graduate school and after that, life became very full. I now had a career taking up a lot more time and energy than a job. I got married and traded my maintenance-free apartment for this cracked, creaking old fixer-upper of a house. It's the ultimate craft project, really, and it has been the recipient of plenty of J’s and my creative energies. But perversely, my crafty gene reasserted itself with a vengeance after my daughter was born, when my free time had diminished almost to the vanishing point.

On the edge of your seat? Tune in tomorrow for the final installment of this epic post!

Sunday, November 12, 2006


More sneak peekage. Thanks for the comments on yesterday's. I put the paint on that freezer paper stencil after I posted it and was really happy with how it turned out... until I realized I somehow also managed to get paint on the back of the, er, item. Aaaargh!

I know this is the worst photo ever posted in the short but prolific history of the blogosphere, but it must be posted because I'm asking for your help. It is out of the question to procure another, um, thing, re-cut that insanely intricate stencil, and do it over. Not going to happen. So, I see my options as:

1. Camouflage the mistake somehow. Stumped on this one.

2. Attempt to remome the paint from this area. Does anyone know if and how this can be done?

3. Give gift as is with apologies and hope the recipient appreciates that imperfection is part of the charm of the handmade.

I realize I'm being cagey with information in my attempt to keep my gift, defaced as it is, a secret, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on salvaging it.

While I'm at it, thanks for all your comments, all the time. I can't overstate how much I appreciate each and every one. To echo Meg, though, I have not been very good about ackowledging them, and I feel badly about that. For a while I was posting responses to comments in the comments, but then I stopped because I wondered if anyone really ever went back to check. I'm going to start doing that again, though, in hopes of getting a more conversational vibe going.

Lastly, I promised you pictures of my take from the Handmade Arcade, and here is one. No, it was not taken under an infrared lamp, but in a restaurant with walls painted the color of the inside of a blood orange. J and went there last night on a date and I wore a necklace that I bought from imogene. It's a little hard to see, but it's small square green bead strung within a rectangle of ebony wood on a thin silver wire. Love. It!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

handmade arcadia

Just back from the Handmade Arcade. At one point, I had aspirations of having a table there myself, but that turned out to be crazy talk. Maybe next year... if I get started in January.

This year was the biggest it's ever been. There could so easily have been a whole fair of nothing but beautiful bags, another of all handprinted cards, another of just jewelry....

So the place was packed, and I had Iris with me, which didn't make it easy to execute my shopping m.o., which involves a brisk circuit of the entire scene, followed by lingering repeat visits to my favorites, then agonized back-and-forthing over final purchases. But the girl persevered amazingly well, only melting down once when I suggested that ten minutes was really enough time spent spinning a rack of sparkly earrings. If the kid had pierced ears, she would've been that vendor's best customer.

I ended up finding a couple presents for friends and family and of course, a couple things I couldn't live without. I'll have pictures eventually – I'm pleading bad light again – but for now you'll just have to trust me: the stuff was amazing.

Just a few of my favorites:

Alison Rose I got a great shirt from her last year.

imogene. Annie collects things that make me swoon.

The Broken Plate Pendant Company I scored a couple presents here. Shh! Plus, she said she could make something from the shards of a Japanese bowl I still can't bring myself to throw away, even though it broke six years ago.

Giant Dwarf I bought one of Sue's hats at the very first Handmade Arcade and have been loving it for years now. It's all I can do not to buy more every year. Must. Restrain. Self!

StrawberryLuna She's done posters for so many of my favorite musicians, it's like she has her studio in my iPod. Oh, and her artwork is gorgeous! And she acted like my child's weird, grubby but beloved plastic stingray was The Shit.

Bright Lights, Little City Cocktail umbrellas made sublime.

squidfire I'm a sucker for tentacles. No pun intended.

Before I go, here's a sneak peek at my own Christmas crafting.

Also, though I need to be focused on the holidays at hand, I'm contemplating this cool messenger bag I got gratis at the National Trust conference a couple weeks ago. I'm digging the blue stitching and conspiring how to cover up that HGTV logo.

Friday, November 10, 2006

the crafty gene :: a serial post

What, did Target just distribute an enormous overstock of brand-new fake-o Vans to thrift stores across the nation?

Because I, too, found a brand-new pair at Goodwill. (Actually, there were several. At the East Ohio Street Goodwill, if any locals want in on this.) These are a couple sizes bigger than Iris wears right now, so I have some time to consider how to embellish them.

Between overcast skies and the end of daylight savings time, which means it’s dark by the time I get home from work, it has been difficult taking pictures lately. Here’s a belated look at another thrifted shirt I appliquéd for Iris. I love this little fox. I can say that because I did not draw him myself, but copied him shamelessly from Gymboree. Yes, I know he needs a trim.

This little project brings me back to Helen, a subject I’ve been wanting to return to since I posted about her last month. I think I'll spread this here post out over a couple of days... I can feel it spinning out loooong.

I think one reason I'm so attached to Helen – that's Helen plural, both my sewing machine and what I know of her namesake – is that she reminds me of my grandmother.

My grandmother had a young family during the Depression and learned to make everything. One of the great regrets of my life is that my 13-year-old self did not appreciate the high school dance dresses she'd made for my mother in the 50s. When Grammy was shedding belongings before moving back to Pennsylvania, she offered the dresses to me if I wanted them. They fit me like the proverbial glove. But I was a typical teenager and did not appreciate the painfully out-of-fashion New Look silhouettes (this was the 80s, dropped waists were in), polka-dotted taffetas (Laura Ashley florals were all the rage), and knee-length circle skirts (I wore my skirts either very short or very long, and skinny). So to Goodwill they went. Maybe that's why I'm addicted to Goodwill now. I'm always looking for some other family's castoff treasure.

My mother says the crafty gene skipped a generation – hers. Me, I've made things all my life. When I was 10, my parents gave me their old kitchen table (chrome and formica! another vintage treasure consigned to the dustbin of family history) for a craft table, and I spent hours sitting there making dollhouse furniture out of odds and ends. I remember particularly a fireplace with pebbles glued on for “fieldstones” and a popsicle stick sled I painted Radio Flyer red. Dressers with working drawers made of matchboxes. Lamps made of golf tees with toothpaste-tube caps for shades. Our neighbors learned to give me first dibs on all manner of bits and scraps before throwing them away.

To be continued.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

so funny i forgot to laugh

“I just waked up! It’s morning-time for me. I used my potty once and then I didn’t go back. I pulled up all my stuff. I pulled up my undies and my pants. And I pulled up my shirt.”

[gentle maternal laughter]

“I pulled up my shirt!”

“You pulled up your shirt?”

“Laugh when I say that. I pulled up my shirt.

[forced maternal laughter]

“No, not like that. Like this: ehehhhhh. Hahaha!”

Monday, November 06, 2006

poppy love

Today, in a mailbox which normally contains nothing more exciting than bills, credit card offers, and catalogs...

This amazing felted poppy pin from Sarah! Of course, the nighttime indoor artificial light was horrible for picture-taking, but just wait till you see it on the lapel of my wool winter coat! We won't leave home without it, my trusty coat and I. A little handmade beauty to brighten up the long dark season ahead. Thank you Sarah! I love it.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

F is for...

Fallingwater. This iconic image – what my grad school architectural history professor used to call the "worm's eye view" – can be found in any book on Frank Lloyd Wright worth the paper it's printed on, but I couldn't resist taking my own shot at it.

Form. I love how this beam is bent around this tree.

Foliage. Oak leaves still clinging to their branches above the sea of rhododendrons in the woods around the house.

Football on the TV at the fine local establishment we patronized for dinner. Go Stillers! as the natives say.

By the end of the weekend, friends of Ronica and Amy's had become friends of ours.

Friday, November 03, 2006

just sit right back and you'll hear a tale...

...of what I have been doing instead of Christmas crafting. The National Trust for Historic Preservation conference has taken over my life this week. Yesterday I led a four hour tour (but fortunately did not end up shipwrecked with my tourmates).

Today I got to be a tourist in my own city, or nearby anyway. Seen on Ohio River Boulevard: a sign for a drapery store which said, "We go to great lengths." Ha! I love a good retail pun.

Tonight continues the Cavalcade of Houseguests which began earlier this week with my friend Will, in town from Minneapolis for the conference, and will go on through Christmas. This weekend's installment: my sisters-in-law and four friends making a pilgrimage to Fallingwater. I'll be back with that tale, with pictures, when the dust settles.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

rock wobstah

It rained, but the lobster must go on!

After trick-or-treating, my little crustacean in cable-knit tights reminded me of a part of the Halloween ritual I had all but forgotten: the joy of dumping out your candy on the living room floor and sorting it (and sorting it and sorting it... why have we never thought of giving her a big bucket of candy to play with before?). There was the difficult decision of which one to choose for eating after dinner ("Mommy, can you promise me I can have this one?"), then she generously doled out treats to all us candyless grown-ups. Sugar highs all around!