Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Vintage Singer Buttonholer.

Look what I got on eBay for only $7.49! A vintage Singer buttonholer attachment! I hear that these things make beautiful buttonholes, and I am sorely in need of beautiful buttonholes, let me tell you.

Vintage Singer Buttonholer

How does it work? Great question! I have no absolutely earthly idea. Do you?

Vintage Singer Buttonholer

It looks like a vintage stapler mated with a mutant robot-alien, doesn't it? I haven't even sorted out what part of this thing attaches to my machine. This should be fun. Stay tuned. (Seriously, I'm not even sure it will work with my machine, but for $7.50, and without much description or a clear photograph, I just closed my eyes and bid. And then I won. Oops.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Choo choo.

Joe is currently obsessed with trains. Especially Thomas the Tank Engine and friends. So I decided to appliqué a train on my next Tee for Two raglan t-shirt. The problem is, he liked the appliqué so much (from a travel themed fabric that has been sitting in my stash for years now) that he wanted to carry the shirt around saying "choo choo" and he didn't want to actually wear it. I finally wrangled him into it, but he kept signing for "help" to take it off so that he could go back to carrying it around.

Choo choo.
Walking down the stairs.

Due to these rather complex objections, I couldn't get him to pose for a straight-on shot where you could see the whole shirt, but he was happy to show me his new "choo choo" set with tracks.

Playing with his trains.
Choo choo! (Those are his red Oliver + s Sailboat pants.)

I made myself a skirt this weekend too. This is the "Helena Skirt," which is a free pattern download from BurdaStyle. It's a very simple style - a high-waisted, button-down skirt with pleats. I love the way this turned out. Easy and very wearable. I used a textured denim that might even pass for "business casual" (i.e., not limited to casual fridays).

New skirt.
I took my cardigan off for a whole hour!

I added some in-seam pockets in a contrasting fabric. I like my skirts to have pockets. I like to have some place to put my BART card. I totally winged it with these pockets, using a pocket piece from another pattern, and all I can say is, I'm never going to make another skirt without pockets again. Piece. Of. Cake.

Contrasting pocket.
Yes, that's a bandage on my finger. Be careful chopping onions.

Yes, we've had some shorts/summer skirt weather, finally. I'm afraid to jinx it, but actually, the weather has been gorgeous these past couple weeks - much warmer than our usual foggy June fare. We've been soaking up every ray of sunshine we can, and so have our plants.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Joe has a speech delay. Now, obviously, there are many worse things than having a child who is a late talker, but trust me when I say it's very, very hard to hear a professional tell you that your vibrant, bubbly, drop dead gorgeous baby is "developmentally delayed."

No way. Are you kidding me? My baby is perfect. Just look at him!

Insert nagging worry here. I'm a mom. I worry. Like all moms, I worry constantly about vague, amorphous, wildly unlikely possibilities, like "Joe has a temperature of 99.7 degrees. Could it be meningitis?"  Which is why it's especially hard when your child gives you pretty darn good reason to worry. Like, when he was almost two, and we thought he might have said "mama," once or twice, but we weren't sure. You can't write that worry off as imaginary.

Of course, Joe's (lack of) speech doesn't seem to bother him one bit. He gets his point across extremely well without much verbal symbolic communication. For example, if he wants yogurt, he simply goes to the cupboard and picks out a bowl, then goes to the fridge and removes the yogurt, and then places both items directly in front of one of his parents with an expectant look and grunt.

You have to admit, this doesn't leave a lot of room for doubt: Okay! Yogurt, coming right up!

So we're definitely not suffering from a lack of communication in our house. Just verbal communication.

And other than speech, Joe has hit all of his other developmental milestones right on time, or ahead of time. His motor skills have actually caused me quite a bit of worry ... not because they are delayed, but because they are too advanced! Seriously, how many other nine-month-old babies can climb ladders? Unlike his risk-adverse, clumsy, last-one-picked-for-every-sports-team mama, Joe is strong, nimble, adventurous, and fearless (translation: a major handful).

Climb into a recycling bin that is almost as tall as me without upsetting it? This is how it's done, mom.

But I would sure love to know a little bit more about what's going on under those cute curls.

Those are some seriously cute curls.

While Joe didn't seem interested in imitating sounds or parroting things back to us for most of his second year of life, this kinesthetically advanced little boy picked up sign language like nobody's business, learning a vocabulary of about 40-50 signs in just a few months. The problem is, Steve and I may or may not remember which sign is which at any given moment. This leads to many exchanges like this one:

Joe: Frantically signs something.
Me: "Book? Cheerios? Cheese? Horse? Pig? Timmy fell down the well?"
Joe: Sigh.

Anyway, at two years old, while his peers were having fun at their immersion French/Cambodian preschools, Joe still only said a few words (and "mama" was not one of them), and despite constant coaching from us (which had taken on a desperate, imploring tone), showed no interest in repeating sounds after us. A speech assessment put him almost a year behind his peers (again, very hard words to hear about your perfect child, especially when a year is half of your lovely child's life!). The good news was that this meant he qualified for free, in-home speech therapy through California's Early Start program. Which is totally awesome, by the way. (Governor Brown, if you're reading this: Please don't cut their funding.)

Joe must have heard this good news (or maybe he just finally got tired of his mother forgetting the difference between the signs for "book" and "cheese"), because about a week before our first scheduled speech therapy session, Joe suddenly turned into a little parrot, imitating everything we said. We had heard that many late talkers really blossom around the two year mark, but we weren't prepared to watch Joe double his spoken vocabulary in about four days. Wow! Look at him go!
So that's where we are now. Every week, a nice lady named Sarah comes to our house with a suitcase full of toys and plays games with Joe. What's not to love about that? Speech therapy is awesome! And Joe is learning new words every day. Useful words like "help," "up," "down," and "milk." Of course, he's still far behind his peers, who spend their time discussing the finer points of Descartes - in French, naturally - but we are thrilled to see Joe genuinely interested in learning to talk.

And as he learns new words, I discover that he understands concepts I never knew he grasped, like "red," "green," "yellow," and "blue." Now, when he tells me that his overalls are "boo," my heart shatters into a million little pride-filled pieces. 

Perfect. I'm so proud of my quiet, stubborn, strong, agile, intelligent little boy.

Maybe one of these days, I can stop worrying about this issue and go back to amorphous concerns?
This whole motherhood thing: it's intense, huh?

Friday, June 17, 2011

"Frugal" gardening: Herbs.

Lush patch
My messy front-door herb patch.

Most of my hobbies are things that folks used to do from scratch because it was cheaper (or they had no other options) before mass industrialization: Sewing, baking bread, growing veggies. They are all "frugal" hobbies, and all of them have become more popular with the downturn in the economy, as folks look for ways to save a little dough.

Which is why it's really interesting that I seem to lose money on all of them!

For example, gardening. Blog posts like this one, itemizing the savings brought by a vegetable garden amaze and baffle me. I admit, I don't keep close track of our spending vs. the market value of our harvest, but I would be surprised if, finances-wise, our garden broke even. I live in California, land of cheap, cheap, cheap produce. Even local, organic produce at the farmers' market is inexpensive compared to conventional produce in other parts of the country (where they have to ship the produce from, you guessed it, California). And I live in a cool-summer climate, with about two weeks of good tomato season (I'm not going to win any prizes for my tomatoes at the County Fair, that's for sure). And I plant too many flowers (poor return on your investment). And how do you account for the value of your labor, anyway? 

So while I try to save money on gardening (by planting from seed when it's easy, etc.), I'm not really a "frugal" gardener. I garden because I enjoy it, not because it saves me money. It's good for the planet, it's great exercise, and it's fun to play in the dirt, watch things grow, and eat the things you grow.

In my experience, however, there is one type of garden plant that really pays its own way: Herbs.

If you have just a few pots, and you want to grow something that will save you a little money, plant some perennial herbs like sage, oregano, thyme, mint,  and rosemary. If you have a little plot of land, plant a dozen parsley, cilantro, and basil plants. You won't need a complex spreadsheet to figure out that you've saved a bundle and managed to avoid a heap of little plastic packages and bags. Buying little bundles of fresh herbs at the store ain't cheap, and since most recipes only call for a sprig or two, often half of the bundle goes to waste anyway.

I can't remember the last time I bought fresh rosemary (or sage or thyme). In my climate, they grow year round. Each plant, which has provided fresh herbage (in exactly the amount we need at the time) for our cooking for years now, cost about what one of those bundles in the produce section of the grocery store goes for. If you grow from seed, you could probably have 100 plants for the price of one bundle. (But who needs 100 sage plants? This is an example of a time when growing from nursery starts is plenty cost-effective.)  And in our Mediterranean climate (these herbs are native to the real Mediterranean), they practically grow themselves. They like dry, poor soil. No kidding: The best way to kill a sage plant is by planting it in really nice soil and watering it a lot.

This rosemary plant started out as a tiny little seedling in a 2" pot.

And in the summer, we are usually well stocked with cilantro, parsley, and oregano. Oregano is perennial but dies down in the winter. Cilantro and parsley are annuals and will eventually go to seed and die, so we usually plant several six-packs each of parsley and cilantro throughout the season. (Dill is another good annual herb. We're growing some this year - for potato salad and pickles.)

And of course, mint. No discussion of herb gardening would be complete without a plug for and a warning about mint. Not only is mint easy to grow and delicious in teas and cocktails, it spreads like crab grass and is damn near impossible to kill. Okay, you've been warned. Keep it far away from your prized vegetable patch (or very contained). Mint julep, anyone?

In an effort to get rid of some persistent crab grass, Steve once sprayed this patch with the potent herbicide, Roundup. The crab grass died. The mint patch survived. (Don't try this at home, kids. Roundup is nasty stuff.)

Basil is a wonderful herb to grow as well, if you have the conditions for it. Our local snail/slug population seems to think we grow it just for them, like some kind of special mollusk treat, so I can't say we get our money's worth from our basil crop - in fact, we hardly get any basil crop at all. But if we could grow it well, it would definitely save us some money, because we buy a whole heckavalot of fresh basil.

And those are just the basics, the workhorses of our kitchen. There are many more exotic herbs that give you less bang for your buck, but are beautiful, aromatic, and attract bees and butterflies to your garden (which in turn keep your fruit trees and other vegetables pollinated and happy).

So there you go. Herbs are money.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A boy and his pit bull.

Napping on our (raggedy) couch.

Joe and Omie, napping.

Joe and Omie, napping.

Joe is learning what we already know well. Direct contact with a snuggly pit bull makes a person sleep more deeply. To the point of sleeping in and missing an appointment. We call this "dog sleep poison." As in, "I'm sorry I'm late. My pit bull Omie poisoned me and I just could not get up."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More Celebrate the Boy, San Francisco Summer edition!

I made Joe another t-shirt using the Tee for Two pattern, this time with long sleeves (again, very appropriate for Summer in our neck of the woods).

I thought the combination of stripes and day-glo orange knits would make this top "fun" and "bright." But the end result looks more like Crusty the Clown vomited on my child. It's fascinating to me how, no matter how long you've been sewing, no matter how good your "eye" is, you really have no idea how something will look until you're done. Sometimes I imagine "bright" and end up with "hurts my eyes." This would be one of those times.

It would be hard to lose Joe in a crowd in this top, that's for sure! (Of course I had to combine the crazy top with bright green shorts, adding to the visual cacophony. I like green.)

New t-shirt.
Fun, bright, and painful to look at for more than a couple of seconds.

Oh, no, not again!
Oh, no, not the dirt hole again! (It's "shorts weather" only if you are a British boy who attends public school.)

Back in the hole.
Yep. The dirt hole.

Dirty shorts.
Dirty Leprechaun shorts.

New t-shirt.
Well, if anyone could pull this off, it's Joe.

Okay, maybe I do love this shirt after all! Joe looks so cute in everything, even clown vomit.

I'll be boring y'all to tears with raglan t-shirts, I can just feel it. Check out the great details that Made by Rae incorporated into hers recently! I'm loving sewing with knits - there's hardly anything to fit, for one thing. I don't know what took me so long.

So for my next one, what about kelly green and day-glo orange? Those seem to be my favorite colors for baby clothes, might as well embrace it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Celebrate the Boy: San Francisco Summer.

There's an event going on in the sewing-mama blogosphere right now: Celebrate the Boy Week, Summer 2011 edition!

I'm a little late to this party. I think the week might have ended yesterday? Oops.

And the only thing I made this week was ... er ... cozy corduroy pants for Joe. I've already made Joe three pairs of shorts this year. And we're still waiting for shorts weather. Whereas corduroy is in season approximately 352 days a year in the San Francisco Bay Area. So we'll call this Celebrate the Boy, Summer in San Francisco-style!

Green pants.

Green pants.

I used the Oliver + s "Sketchbook shorts" to create a pants pattern, something I first saw on the Five and Counting blog. Basically, I just traced the shorts pattern and then used a pair of Joe's pants to figure out how long they should be (plus some extra, because Joe is growing like a weed, so most of his pants are too short these days). I did the mock-fly, but omitted the button on this pair. The fabric is lime green baby wale corduroy. I noticed that I make Joe a lot of green clothing. I like green.

I tried to do something different this time and photograph Joe in his natural habitat - our backyard. But you can probably guess what happened. Within five minutes of putting him in his new pants, Joe was sitting in a hole dug by the dogs and playing with dirt. So these pants were only clean for about 30 seconds. No wonder Joe never seems to have anything to wear even though I am constantly sewing for him!*


Playing in the dirt.

What can I say? The boy loves to play in the dirt. And I don't blame him. He's a chip off the ol' block in that respect.

* I ended up brushing off his pants and then letting him wear them the rest of the day. No point dirtying even more clothes!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Front garden update.

After a late start, the garden is slowly coming together. The back yard, home to two dogs and a toddler (with a plant-destroying push wagon), still needs a lot of work, but the front yard is going to be totally epic, dudes. 

Front garden 2011

Okay, maybe it doesn't look that epic right now. But, if all goes well, this will be a sea of calendula, shelling beans (see that tee-pee in the middle?), sunflowers, and tomatoes in August. There won't be anywhere to walk, but I'm hoping it will be overflowing with bounty.

As friends and long time readers of this blog will remember, our front yard has gone through a pretty dramatic progression since we bought our house. Here's what it looked like when we moved in:

House before

Nice, huh? This was back in 2006, so if you want to know what I saw in this house, the answer is: a big yard, hardwood floors, a reasonably decent foundation, and a slightly less exorbitant price tag than all of the other houses we had looked at. Remember those days? If I had a dollar for every time I heard the statement "You can't lose money on real estate!" I would probably be able to pay off my exorbitant mortgage.

Ah, if only we had known then what we know now. We were suckers, but as far as that goes, at least we are in very good company.

But let's not dwell on that - back to the front yard! After moving in, the first thing we did for the front yard was to remove the concrete parking lot covering the whole yard. While we appreciated the extra space to put several old junkers up on blocks, we decided we would prefer room to plant. After that, it looked like this:

House after removing concrete

So now you are starting to see why the current yard deserves the adjective "epic," huh? Compared to that moon-scape, almost anything would be epic.

For posterity's sake, here is the current view (definitely not an "after," as this is very much a work in progress):

House Spring 2011
One of these days, I'm going to ask the city to put in a street tree.

The new front fence makes such a difference, right? And you can see hints of greenness! I hope that by mid-summer, it will be more than a hint of green.

But right now, everything is still pretty small and not very photogenic. Baby plants just aren't that interesting to look at.

Little jalapeno.

Sunflower Plant
Teeny weeny sunflower.

Bean plant
Baby bean.

See what I mean? But there is so much epic promise hidden in those little plants!

Our little fig tree has really gone crazy in its first year of life (first year in our garden, that is). I love big, mature fig trees so much. Well, at the rate this baby is growing, it should be a beautiful, arching tree in only ... uh ... 15-20 years? Here's the side-by-side (top-to-bottom) comparison.

Fig 2010
Fig tree
Fig 2011
An aside: Is anyone interested in purchasing a "fixer upper"? Please consider this house, directly across the street from us. We are not picky about our neighbors - seriously, all we ask is that you not deal crack from your home (what you do when you are not home is none of our business and we won't bother you about it). This is an investment opportunity, people. Opportunity.

Abandoned house
If there is anything worse than a crack house, it is a condemned, boarded up and abandoned crack house.
How is your garden growing this year?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cosleeping mama cat and baby kitten.

Okay, so I'm not normally one to foist kitten videos on everyone I know. I mean, I'm a dog person! But Joe and I are just entranced by this video right now, which I first saw on Dagmar's Momsense:

The best part is halfway through. Wait for it ... wait for it ...  SNUGGLE. Gah. So cute.

Joe and I used to sleep like this when he was a lil' one (complete with newborn baby twitchy movements). Now ... well, not so much. These days there is less snuggling involved, and a lot more "JOSEPH! DON'T KICK ME IN THE FACE! THAT HURTS!"

The idea that cosleeping may not be safe for the baby seems laughable when you wake up to being punched in the nose on a regular basis. I'm sorry, cosleeping (with a toddler) is a hazard for the parents! I think I would be much safer if I slept in alone in a crib, thank you.

But when it's snuggly, it is so, so, snuggly. Thanks for the reminder, mama cat.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Back to the Oakland Zoo.

Remember when we went to the zoo last year? On that trip, fifteen-month-old Joe couldn't be bothered with most of the large animal exhibits (alligators napping in the shade just didn't do much for him), and we didn't even make it to the lions, tigers, elephants, and giraffes. He got the biggest kick out of the goats at the petting zoo and the lizard exhibit - places where he could see the animals up close and personal. Oh, and park benches. He loved the benches.

Well, this morning we took Joe back to the Oakland Zoo, and it was a very different experience. What a difference ten months makes!

This time, Joe insisted on walking, by himself, most of the time. (This child does not like to hold hands. I am currently trying to teach Joe to hold hands when he crosses a street or in parking lots, but it usually ends up with him dropping to the ground like a rock in protest, and me throwing him over my shoulder, kicking and screaming, and carrying him across the street like a sack of flour. To think this child used to be super clingy!)

I don't need no stinkin' stroller.

Walking on his own.
See how wet his pants hems are? Puddles are FUN.

This time, we made it up the hill to the big animals, and Joe loved the giraffes!

Joe and giraffe.

Joe watches the giraffe.
See ya later, parents.

And the elephants!


Joe pointing at elephant.
I was not able to capture the frantic ASL signing of "elephant" on film.

And the baboons!


Fun with fences.
Which is cooler, the monkeys or the fence?

But some things don't change. Like goats. It's hard not to love these goats. They're so cute and friendly!

Joe and mini-goat.
Dang, those little goats are cute.

Almost as cute as my lil' guy, but not quite.

Joe and goat.
Oooh, a big goat!

When I told Joe to be more gentle with the big goat (no ear or tail yanking), he decided to throw a tantrum in the soft straw.

Tantrum in the straw.
But the ears are the best part, mama!

Luckily, he was quickly distracted by how neat the straw is. I tried not to think too much about all of the goat turds and who knows what else in the straw. After the "don't yank ears" tantrum, I wasn't in the mood to deal with the "don't play with poopy straw" tantrum. I take the parenting advice to "choose your battles" very much to heart.

Huh? I was upset? STRAW!

But Joe's very favorite part of going to the zoo? Stomping in puddles, of course. And park benches.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I continue to experiment with knits.

After finishing the Colette Blouse this past weekend, I took a little break from sewing and spent my evenings vegging out on the couch instead of sewing. I have been having such a great time sewing lately, and I am chock full of inspiration, but I did have this realization that between my job, chasing Joe around, keeping up with my ambitious classics reading (have I mentioned that I am currently 1/10th of the way through Les Miserables, and 9/10th of the way through The Grapes of Wrath?), gardening, cooking and domestic work, and my endless sewing projects, I do not get much real "down time"!

On the one hand, I am definitely one of those people who thrives on constant activity and work - it sounds crazy, I actually feel that the harder I work, the more energy I have (keeping in mind that I do not dig ditches for a living - my work is mostly of a more mental variety). On the other hand, sometimes even I have to just sack out on the couch and watch reality television.

But I couldn't stay away from the sewing for long, of course. Last night, I went back to my machine (slightly dusty and still threaded with brown thread from the Violet blouse) and rethreaded it for Knit Experiment # 2, a tee shirt for Joe!

I have been seeing the "Tee for Two" pattern from Patterns by Figgy's all 'round the internet, complete with helpful tutorials and endless adorable examples, so I figured this would be a good tee shirt pattern for a knit rookie. Plus, I just love raglan sleeves on boys, I really do. They have that "unkempt stripey handsewn vintage Sesame Street" vibe that I love so much.

Yesterday I read carefully through the awesome tutorial provided by Patterns by Figgy's and actually walked down to Britex to buy some water soluble basting tape.

(Aside: The proximity of my work to Britex Fabrics basically means nothing but trouble for me. The fabrics there are so beautiful, so tempting, and I don't know what they are piping into the air there, but after a half hour of browsing gorgeous fabrics, I start to think things like "Only $39.99 a yard? Why, that's a steal! I'll take two and a half yards!" Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.)

Then last night, I just cut out a tee shirt (in the same fabric as the pants I made last week - I used every last scrap of this stuff!) and sewed it up, completely ignoring the tutorial and leaving the water soluble basting tape unmolested in its package.

And it turned out great! Easy-peasy! When I showed it to Joe, he said "Vrroom!"

Joe eating cheerios in his new tee.
I can only take pictures of Joe when he's watching Thomas and eating cheerios. Otherwise, all you see is a blur.

Seriously, now that I can sew knit PANTS and knit SHIRTS for Joe, I feel capable of sewing his entire wardrobe (something I doubt I will actually do, but it sure feels good to know that, even in a zombie Apocalypse, my child would be adequately attired!).

Tee for Two.
Love the raw edges on the sleeve.

This pattern is totally awesome, by the way. So many possibilities: The pattern comes with three different sleeves, and a cute slightly gathered front for girls, and a dress version. And the size range - 12 months to 7 years is nutso-awesomely-wide. (And they offer sizes 7 to 14 years as well!) You can do exposed raw edges, or you could put the raw edges on the inside. And the pattern does not call for any hemming at all, which is great because that's where my knit-fabric seams tend to get the most wobbly-lumpy.

Tee for Two.
Here you can see the exposed raw seams.

Anyway, blah blah blah, EXCELLENT, you should totally go buy it, etc.

I have to say, the whole indie pattern thing? It's so cool. These young, hip options just weren't available when I was learning to sew way back in the day. Back then you were pretty much limited to the "Big 4" pattern companies, which catered to middle-aged women.

(Wait a minute. I'm turning 35 this year. I am that demographic. Crap!)

So you're not going to believe this, but it is still raining. And not just a little drizzle, either, but RAIN. I think my next iteration of this shirt will have long sleeves.