Thursday, December 29, 2011

I want to sew, but there is a seven foot tree in my way.

One major downside to sewing in the living space is that sometimes your space gets infringed upon by, you know, living. I love our Christmas tree and all, but I need get this giant tree out of here so that I can access my sewing machine again. Now that I've chucked my ridiculous handmade Christmas list, I'm feeling like I might actually enjoy sewing again. Especially, you know, for me.

First up: A zip pouch for my banjo fingerpicks. I'm thinking something basic like this.

Did you know I have never made a zippered case? But it can't be that hard, right? Right?

I've caught another cold (this is just not fair!), so I'm calling in sick (honestly, all of my clients are on vacation right now, so work is deadly quiet anyway), and I'm going to recruit brother/uncle Harpal to help me with the task of packing up all of the ornaments and getting this tree outtahere.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lois Short: Banjo Picking Girl.

Things are still pretty busy around here, as we wind up this holiday season and this year with Chanukah parties, family gatherings, and trips to see friends. I'm still practicing my banjo as regularly as I can, though, and spending hours scrolling YouTube for good banjo videos researching banjo styles and techniques.

This gem gives me hope - maybe by the time I am Lois Short's age, I'll be able to play banjo this well (or maybe not, but maybe I can develop some kind of passable skill?). I still have some time. And check out her amazing smile at the very end. She's having a lot of fun. If you can watch this video without grinning from ear to ear, you might want to check your pulse. (What? Not everyone is filled with delight at the sound of banjo picking and purposefully off-tune folk singing? Well, you banjo-resistant folks are missing out, in my opinion.)

This amazing video was shot by Alan Lomax and crew in at Lois Short's home in Closplint (also known as Klondike or Rutherford), Harlan County, Kentucky.  July 24, 1983.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas.

Madonna with the Green Cushions (Maria Lactans), Andrea Solario, 1st quarter of 16th century, oil on wood, Musée du Louvre, Paris. (I just couldn't resist the adorable breastfeeding Jesus. Possibly Jesus breastfeeding as a toddler? Anyway, awesome.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve.

We made some Christmas cookies. Joe "helped" mix the batter in the stand mixer by getting his face dangerously close to the paddle. That is only a tiny fraction of the butter that went into this recipe.

Stand Mixer.

Later, after Joe put on his special mama-made red PJs (so what if they were made almost a year ago?), mama rolled out and cut Christmas tree shapes, and Joe helped Uncle Harpal put the sprinkles on.
Christmas cookies.


Joe was so excited about all of this that he hardly put his tongue in his mouth once. Sticking your tongue out really helps with concentration, don't you know.


Joe feels that it is important not to be too stingy with the sprinkles. Check out this look of rapt attention.

Some sprinkles were eaten. The cookies look great. I am pretty sure Santa will be pleased. Ahem. *Wipes crumbs off mouth.*

Joe thought Christmas Eve was pretty fun. He has no idea what's in store for tomorrow.

Merry Christmas and God bless us, every one!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beginner's Mind (and other things I've learned from my toddler).

I've been having fun learning the rudiments of banjo picking these past weeks. I have been practicing almost every evening, after Joe goes to bed. At this point, I can pick out a few songs. Slowly, tentatively, with long pauses before "difficult" chord changes. ("Difficult" in quotes because I'm pretty sure that most seasoned banjo players do not have difficulty changing from C to D7. Ahem.) My fast-pickin' banjo days are still in the distant future, but I'm making progress.

This experience has been especially interesting as I am reminded of what it's like to be an absolute, rank beginner at something. This is something that is easy to forget. Like most 30-somethings, I tend to do the same things I've been doing all of my life. Things I am at least moderately okay at. Even sewing - although I am always learning new things, I haven't been a true "beginner" at sewing since I was in junior high school. I left my "brand-spanking new lawyer" days behind quite a few years ago as well and I am well-practiced in sounding like I know what I'm talking about (sometimes I do know what I'm talking about). My frisbee catching skills have been dismal since the dawn of time, and do not appear to be very amenable to improvement. But it's been a while since I wholeheartedly embraced "beginner" status at a new hobby.

What does it mean to be an "absolute rank beginner" at something? Well, it means you'll feel like you really suck. For a long time. Totally sucking at something can be a challenge for a perfectionist like myself. I like to be good at things. I don't like to be bad at stuff.

This is where observing your toddler can provide helpful hints. After all, toddlers are rank beginners at a lot of things. Joe is a beginner at many things - building tall towers with blocks, configuring train tracks, communicating with words. Does it bother him that he is not expert at these things? As far as I can tell - not at all.

When Joe sees something he wants to do, he just jumps in and gets to it.  With a smile on his face! When things don't work out the first time, when he falls flat on his face, he just picks himself up and gets back to it, usually still smiling (the black eye, on the other hand, will stick around for two weeks). He doesn't care what other people think. He takes joy in pointing out and naming things and it doesn't bother him that he doesn't enunciate every syllable perfectly. He delights in saying things as well as he can, and we delight in hearing him give it his best shot.

So here's a not-so-radical concept my toddler has a better handle on than I do: Learning is fun!

This is the spirit I'm trying to bring to the banjo. I'm not bad at the banjo. I mean, yeah, my Foggy Mountain Breakdown still leaves a bit to be desired (are you kidding me? I haven't even tried to play Foggy Mountain Breakdown), but that's not because I totally suck. It's because I'm a beginner.

There's a difference.

Thanks, Joe.

But I can still be inspired by truly great banjo players ... (Check out the way Earl Scruggs' right hand hardly moves at all! Dang! He could do that in his sleep! He probably does do it in his sleep! The man really makes it look easy.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas in Oakland.

Despite catching a cold, we did manage to get a tree up this weekend.

Christmas in Oakland

This is probably the biggest tree we've ever had in this house. Since I can't even reach my sewing machine there behind the tree to the left, it's not looking good for any pre-Christmas sewing. That's okay. I'll just play banjo instead.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Banjo! (And bonus raincoat!)

Banjo and raincoat!

Every once in a while, there comes a really good day. Monday was such a day.

On Monday morning, I posted here about my desire to pick up a used banjo to start learning on. That afternoon, I posted a status on Facebook saying pretty much the same thing. Mid-afternoon, my friend Shelby offered me a free loaner banjo! Would I like to pick it up that night at our regular Sacred Harp singing?


When I got to the singing, my friend Linda handed me a bag containing a raincoat that didn't fit her and she was planning to give away. She brought it "just in case" I wanted it. She saw the FB banjo exchange, so she knew I would be there.

The raincoat fits perfectly.

The raincoat is totally gorgeous.

The raincoat is the perfect shade of tomato rusty red.

Heretofore, I have never actually owned a raincoat. (I also never carry an umbrella. I like to pretend that it never rains here. However, that is not actually the case, as I learn to my soggy regret every year.)

Hell yes, I want your raincoat, Linda!

I have been wearing my super awesome new raincoat all week. Who cares that it's not actually raining? Tomato red is a neutral, folks.

Banjo and raincoat!

And here's my loaner banjo! I've been practicing vigilantly er, diligently for three whole days and I can say with confidence that I still pretty much suck. However, I am having fun!

I have great friends.

My cup runneth over. Seriously.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Not sewing.

Apparently, the mere idea of sewing all of those Christmas presents was enough to completely chill my sewing mojo. I haven't so much as touched my sewing machine since announcing my intentions to make a guzillion presents for folks. There's nothing like a long to-do list and a hard deadline to drain all of the fun out of a hobby, right? Let this be a lesson.

Since sewing sounds about as appealing as getting a root canal right now, I've had to turn to other obsessions. So I've become fixated on learning to play banjo, and spent the past few days combing Craigslist for used banjos. Watch out - this may morph into a banjo blog, right before your eyes! (If this sudden talk of banjos seems a bit random to you, just keep in mind that I gave my child the middle name Roscoe after the great Roscoe Holcomb. My close friends and family have seen this coming for a while.) Just what I need, right? Another hobby!


In other news. Last night, we had dinner with our friends and their little boys. Getting ready to go, Joe was so excited to see his friends that he took off running towards the front door, and tripped and fell, hitting his face on a little metal space heater on the way down (thankfully, it was turned off). Ouch! He was pretty bummed for a minute or two, but characteristically got over it almost right away. I think I've mentioned that Joe has a freakishly high tolerance for pain, right? So we forgot all about it.

Well, a few hours later, we realized he had given himself a black eye! It took us a little while to remember the likely cause. (Ahem. A&J, sorry for jokingly accusing your child of punching my kid in the eye, ahem.)

Baby boy has a shiner.

It doesn't seem to be bothering him one bit now, but it looks pretty awful! My poor little bruiser.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Gifts Update, Harper's Style.

Number of Christmas gifts I plan to make this year: At least 5 or 6.

Number of Christmas gifts completed so far: 0.

Number of Christmas gifts started: 1.

Amount of time spent on one gift I have started: 10 minutes.

Average amount of time that each gift will require: 4-5 hours.

Number of days left until Christmas: 17.

Back-up plan: Huh?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Old Man Jeans, with Photos.

As promised, here are Joe's new "old man jeans." Old man because they are high-waisted, elastic-waisted, pleated, and bright blue!

Old man jeans.

Here they are cuffed (they're pretty long on Joe - an accomplishment these days, when Joe seems to grow a half inch between cutting and sewing) so you can see that they are fully lined. In band-aid flannel. An appropriate choice for my little bruiser (who doesn't use that many bandages, because honestly, most cuts don't even slow him down for a minute!).

Old man jeans, cuffed.

I used to the Oliver + s Sketchbook Shorts pattern (of course), lengthened into pants. This was my first time lining them, and it was really easy. For the lining pieces I removed the details like pockets and fake fly. After sewing the legs and crotch seam, I basted the lining fabric to the outside fabric at the waist and then added the waistband. I folded up the denim for the hem.

Here's a detail of the fly. I tried the bar tack technique outlined in Sewing For Boys. I like it, although it does not mitigate the old man thing at all.

Fly detail.

And here's a detail of the cuffs, so you can see the lining fabric. This bandage fabric was part of one of the sock monkey flannel lines, I believe.

Cuff Detail.

Last, and probably least (it is so hard to get Joe to pose for photos these days!), Joe wearing the pants and relaxing on the couch.

Old Man Jeans

And here's the side view. They don't look as old man on Joe as they do on the hanger. But I still think he needs a Fred Rogers cardigan to complement these.

Old Man Jeans

I have a bunch of other projects just waiting for the sewing mood to strike. Check out this pile! I bought a couple new Oliver + s patterns for Christmas presents for some of the little girls in my life, and I'm excited to get started on them, and trying not to think about how unrealistic my holiday sewing list is this year.

New projects pile.

That's orange corduroy on the bottom of that pile.  And red flannel with bees, and blue velveteen, and a soft organic ditzy floral on top.

So much sewing to do! So little time!