Thursday, September 30, 2010

Front yard progress.

We recently installed a new fence and gate in front of our house. One that will, we hope, keep dogs and baby in and crack addicts out. (That's not asking too much, right?).

So here's the progression. When we bought our house, the whole front yard was cement. If you look us up on Google street view, you will see a car parked in the front yard. Classy, huh?

This "before" photo features a dead tree over the porch, a decrepit bench, a "green bin" (we do municipal compost!) and random litter.

Cement, dead tree, trash.
When I was pregnant with Joe, we saved up and paid a couple of guys with jackhammers out to get rid of the cement. That took a couple of days. But we didn't immediately replace it with much - just some cedar mulch. Here is the front yard right after the cement was removed and before we laid the mulch.

A little better.

Since then, we have made slow progress in landscaping the front yard. The mulch was probably a good idea, because, despite the moonscape you see above, we've found the soil to be quite friable. This year, we planted some baby trees - a fig and a maple - and tons of creeping thyme, rosemary, sage, and oregano. And a couple of tomato plants, of course.

And just this week, we finally got rid of the ugly chain link fence and had a new fence and gate installed. Not too shabby, eh? (Golden evening light should get some of the credit for the improvement.)

Dead tree finally gone - replaced by fig, maple, herbs, tomatoes.

I admit, our progress fixing up the front yard has seemed excruciatingly slow at times. But when I see this, I feel that, slowly, but surely, it's coming together. That's a nice feeling.

P.S. We're off to New York City for a long weekend! Stroller - check. Ergo baby carrier - check. Awesome brand new toys to bribe Joe with on the five hour flight - check. Eek. Wish us luck! Have a great weekend.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pro-development books for babies.

Until recently, Joe was never much of a reader. Two pages into every book, he would run away and get back to his usual activities - harassing sleeping dogs and throwing stuff - leaving me to finish up by myself. Which I often did, because ... well ... I'm a nerd. I want to know what happens!

But recently, Joe has been pretty excited about books, and frequently makes it THREE WHOLE PAGES into a book! Very exciting!

Joe seems to especially enjoy books about trucks and earth movers (things he loves in real life, too), so, eager to encourage any kind of book lovin' in my little bruiser, I went out and bought a bunch of books about trucks and construction equipment. Which Joe loves.

Like this one:


Just some pictures of trucks. Nothing too controversial. That tow-truck is enormous, the kind that can tow other enormous trucks!

Tow truck

And this classic, which inspired me to decide, at age six, that I wanted to be a garbage truck operator when I grew up. ("Great!," my parents responded, "Aim high, honey!")


This one makes construction machine noises, which Joe loves and Crouton HATES.

Noisy Building Site

It's great that it represents construction workers of all different races, and even includes some women workers.

But then you find out, at the end of the book, that the workers are building an ugly residential subdivision! Which is called "Sunrise Developments" and ... well ... ugh. Don't these folks know that the residential housing market is totally stagnant right now?

Sunrise Developments?

But as far as pro-development propaganda goes, Joe's absolute favorite machine book, Machines At Work, really takes the cake.

Machines at Work

It has colorful, vivid pictures, and short, punchy sentences.  

Knock down lovely historical building.

Like, "Knock down that lovely building designated on the National Registry of Historic Properties!"

Bulldoze that Tree.

And, "Bulldoze that 200-Year-Old Native Heritage Oak!"

Build new, ugly, modern building.

And, "Build that Giant Eyesore Parking Structure!" Yikes.

Clearly not the most environmentally friendly message!

So I've decided to write an Environmental/Local Government Lawyer Board Book, which will present a more balanced view of development and construction, and will include exciting captions like "Prepare Environmental Impact Report!" "Seek Planning Commission Approval of Tentative Subdivision Map!" "Vest Those Entitlements!" "Mitigate impact to the Red-Legged Frog!" and "Record Conservation Easement on Adjacent Marshland!"

Maybe it will even show the construction of pedestrian- and bike-friendly, mixed-use, public-transit-accessible, infill, brownfield development? Archaeological and biological consultants will visit regularly to inspect potential archaeological resources, mark drip lines for Heritage Oaks, and check for nesting raptors. Giant water-sprayers will keep construction dust at a minimum, and big dump trucks will remediate the hazardous wastes in the soil (which were caused by an underground gas tank, of course - it's a brownfield).

The final development will feature clearly marked bike lanes, drought-friendly landscaping (watered with reclaimed water, of course), recycling bins, and municipal compost.

Oh, this is going to be SO COOL.

Monday, September 20, 2010

How to entertain your toddler while you sew.

1. Buy a box of bias tape, rick-rack, seam bindings, and blanket bindings off eBay for $10. Add whatever other odds and ends of trim you have laying around. Don't worry about keeping it organized, you can always untangle the rick-rack from the bias tape if you have to, and anyway, the box only cost $10! (Also, did you know that bias tape used to come in 100% cotton, in all kinds of beautiful colors that are no longer offered? Second hand vintage bias tape is the way to go.)

3. Put box on floor, preferably shut with one piece of tape. Use mild reverse psychology to give your toddler the idea that these are grown-up things and not for babies. Turn the other way and pretend not to notice when said toddler makes a gleeful grab for the box of goodies.

4. Quick, go get some ironing done!

5. While pretending not to notice, let toddler make an enormous mess, unravel everything, and explore all of the different textures. Silently congratulate yourself on allowing your child to explore and learn, Montessori-style, while simultaneously indulging your current favorite hobby and obsession.

6. Pin and sew like the wind!

7. When toddler's interest in box begins to wane, throw some rick-rack over his head and watch him giggle as he tries to untangle himself.

8. Sew, sew, sew!! Your time is limited!

9. Okay, take a break and enjoy the show.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Learning curves, cont.

Remember this project?

Here is how each and every seam in this dress went:
  1. On the first try, utterly and totally screw it up. As in, sew the pieces together backwards, or sew them together and realize that four inches needed to be taken out, or sew them together and then realize I had sewn the dress I was wearing into the seam too.
  2. Painstakingly rip out.
  3. Sew again. This time, the pieces were right side out, and my dress is not connected to my project. It just looks like crap on, because it doesn't fit, or has wobbles, puckers, etc.
  4. Painstakingly rip out again.
  5. Toss project aside in a huff. Complain to husband and/or housemate that I have only three hobbies, and I'm not actually good at any of them! Waaaaaa! Get pep talk.
  6. Go to bed.
  7. Next day, try seam ONE MORE TIME. Try on. I hate it, but I'm too tired to redo it.
  8. Promise myself I will never sew clothing again. Get another pep talk from husband and/or housemate.
  9. Another day passes, I try dress on again, and I realize, it's fine! Who cares if I'm not going to get  a medal for "Most Beautifully Installed Zipper"?
  10. Move on to next seam.
  11. Rinse, lather, repeat.
A dozen IPAs* (Racer Five, Lagunitas, and Sierra Nevada Torpedo, thanks for asking), two big spools of thread (that's what happens when you do every seam three times!), and who knows how many pep talks later, I'm done! Ta da!

As worn to work, with practical footwear and without the white gloves.

A detail of the fabric and the tucks around the neck.

Best compliment: "Wow. That actually looks like a real dress!" (Thanks Rebecca!)

I am really happy with how this turned out. It is indeed, a real dress! It fits, it is comfortable, and I will actually wear it. In fact, I wore it to work today. I had to restrain myself from blurting out to everyone, "I sewed this dress MYSELF!" like a happy little 4H'er. The fact that no one raised an eyebrow and asked, in a supportive, but somewhat concerned voice, "Did you make that dress, Inder?" seemed like a good sign!

I thought it would be cool to break it down by cost, as so many frugal sewing bloggers do, but this is all I could come up with:
  1. Vintage pattern: I can't remember. I bought it online a long time ago.
  2. Fabric: I can't remember, but I have a nagging feeling it might have been kind of expensive, and best forgotten. The fact that I used something that I had been holding onto for years, rather than buying something new, is points in my favor.
  3. Bias binding, seam binding, zipper, thread, and hem binding: $9
  4. Beer: $15
  5. Labor: $2 million.
  6. Therapy: Full cost yet to be determined. 
  7. Psychological toll on housemate/husband: untold.
Of course, amortized out over the next several years, the dress will be a much more affordable $200,000 per wear. So that's a relief.

Joseph Roscoe, please keep your soggy Cheddar Bunnies away from this one!

* The beer had nothing to do with my mistakes, I assure you. It was used solely for crying into.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Learning curves (and zippers).

It's too hot to bake bread right now, and the vegetable garden is producing plenty (we finally got some decent tomatoes!), but it's on its last legs. I should be planting winter crops, but as you know, I never do.

So what am I up to? I'm sewing. A ton. Baby pants. Baby dresses. And now, I'm attempting to sew myself a dress.

If you've been following this blog for years, you know that sewing for myself is not something I do often.


Because I suck.

I love the idea of sewing clothing for myself, but I have really high standards for clothing that I wear. It has to fit properly and be nicely made. My sewing skills are just not up to the challenge. I can make a garment, sure, but will it fit? Will it be flattering? Will I actually wear it? I don't want to waste my time making things I won't use. And so I make quilts, baby clothes, potholders, and perhaps the occasional apron.

But here's the thing: You have to be okay with doing things badly if you ever expect to get better at them.


Which leads us to my latest foray into overambitious garment sewing!

Not my actual pattern. Mine is a size 14 1/2. And it's too small.

In theory, I'm making View 1: the longer sleeved, fuller skirted model. "Half-Sized Slenderette" seems to be vintage pattern speak for "Petite," by the way. Which, based on this pattern, seems to have meant "stumpy torso with very, very long legs."

In reality, I've reacquainted myself with this old friend:

That's a seam ripper, in case you are not familiar. It is used for ripping out all of your bad sewing, for the fifth time.

I may not be making much progress towards a lovely wearable vintage-styled dress, but I am learning a ton.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Cloth diapering for people with WAY too much time on their hands.

Back in March, I wrote a little blog entry on Cloth Diapering For Busy, Tired People, wherein I explained that far from requiring martyr-like sacrifice on our part, we found cloth diapers to be convenient, easy, and basically, no big whoop.

Well ... it turns out that was because someone else was doing the laundry (we subscribed to a diaper service).

A few months ago, I canceled the service and starting washing my own.

"How is that going?" you ask.

I would love to be able to say, "It's great! It's easy-peasy and we're saving money! I don't know what all the fuss is about!"

But really, it looks like this:
1943 "Lynn Massman, wife of a second class petty officer who is studying in Washington, does the washing every morning."
Except my kitchen is not that cool. And my baby doesn't just chill out on top of the table (I look back with no small amount of nostalgia on the time when I could just put Joe down somewhere and he would stay there and look adorable ... if there was ever such a time). And I need that apron! And okay, fine, I don't actually boil my diapers on the stove top. (Maybe I should. Maybe that would get them clean?)

Now, I definitely don't want to discourage anyone from washing their own diapers. A lot of people find that washing their own is totally do-able. I seem to be facing several unique challenges in my diaper washing endeavors, namely:

  1. I live in an area with fairly hard water.
  2. I have a front-loading high efficiency washer, and cloth diaper washing is not an area where "water efficiency" is a desirable thing.
  3. I refuse to rinse poops off of diapers. Or use rice-paper liners. Or, dear heaven, dip and "swish" dirty diapers in the toilet. How do I put this? "Um ... hell no."
  4. My husband is even more adamant than I am regarding item #3.
  5. I am lazy.
So I am washing my own diapers. But it requires running every load through three or four different wash cycles. And then dealing with the fact that they are often STILL not clean. And I am not loving it.

And this is coming from someone who enjoys hanging her clothes on the line to dry.

You know those frugal/green posts about how effortless it is to be environmentally correct? The posts that urge that, indeed, YOU CAN DO IT TOO!

Alas, this is not one of those posts. Sorry. Anyway, I miss my diaper service. That's all.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cannot. Stop. Making. Baby. Pants.


These may be my favorite pair yet. They were commissioned by my friend Anne, for her baby girl Maeve. Anne chose the fabrics, and I admit (with some shame) that I was a little skeptical at first - I felt that the two prints would clash a bit at the borders. But then I landed on the idea of using a little bit of contrasting trim at the meeting point (red, of course), and I have to say: Anne has an amazing eye.

I want a pair of these for myself, as pajama pants. I love love love them.

You may have perceived by now that orange is one of my favorite colors, especially for babies. I do not subscribe to the pink/blue gender divide. I like bright, saturated, gender neutral colors on babies. And stripes. And faux bois. If a pair of pants must be frilly and feminine, they should at least be green. Or orange. Or orange and red, with mixed prints. I don't dislike pink at all (in fact, as a girl, it was LIKE TOTALLY, my VERY FAVORITE color), but it is so overdone. As Anne says, "I like pink, pink is great, but does everything have to be pink?"

Rhetorical question: Why is it so important that our babies be recognizable as girls or boys from a mile away? First of all, babies don't care one bit whether they are boys or girls. Second, I don't need to wear pink all the time to assert my femininity. Other colors are allowed!

The only reason I can think of to assign gender identity to children from birth is so that we (as a society) can start the gender programming as early as humanly possible. Starting with that 24 week ultrasound if possible! Keep everyone in their place!! Police those babies! This way, no one is the least bit confused about their proper roles!

Am I just being cynical?

I acknowledge that little girl clothes and little boy clothes are adorable ... perhaps it's as simple as that. But gender neutral clothing is pretty cute too. Let's face it, these balls o' chub would be just as cute in a loin cloth. So I'm not convinced.

I wish I had the guts to dress Joe in pink. It would complement his dewy complexion. It's annoying that pink isn't "allowed" for boys. It's a perfectly lovely color, and it is not intrinsically "girly."

It doesn't bother me when people think Joe is a girl. I correct them, of course, but it does not bother me. I mean, you have to admit, he is a very pretty little boy! So I also don't understand people who get upset because someone thought their little girl was a little boy for a split second. It's hard to tell. Boys and girls look amazingly alike until puberty. In my opinion, there's no shame in "guessing wrong" or asking gently, "she? or is it he?"  It's true that if you don't dress your child in head-to-toe blue or pink (and maybe even if you do), people will guess wrong, but I don't see anything annoying about that. Why do we care so much?

So - what, are we afraid that the wrong clothes will make our kids gay or something? (Heaven forbid! I'm not going to even start trying to unpack that one!)

Talk amongst yourselves ...

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. Pants.


Maeve might be the (second) cutest baby in the whole universe. She is simply delicious. Don't you just want to chew on her chubby arms?

Green eyes

That's my boy there, in the overalls. Of course.

Joe's crafty mama