Saturday, January 21, 2012

Black Acacia.

When we moved into our house six years ago, there was a large black acacia tree overhanging our back yard, in our neighbor's yard but right on the fence line.

It was evergreen, and cast a deep shade over our back patio year-round. And it dropped leaves and little pink seed pods in abundance, which in turn were constantly being dragged into our house by our dogs and kid. I'm very pro-tree, but this was not a species I would have chosen for my backyard (and we have way too many trees on our property to begin with; when we moved in there were no less than nine badly maintained and half dead trees in our small backyard).

But if this were all, we'd probably just live with it. After all, we live with a lot of less-than-ideal things on our property. Like a lot of folks these days, we simply don't have the money (or equity) to make large improvements.

Here's the problem: Over the years, this tree just seemed to get bigger and bigger.  And lean deeper and deeper into our property, until the fence was bowed out several feet to accommodate it. Even I couldn't ignore the evidence that this tree was essentially slowly falling onto our property. An enormous branch jutted out over Rebecca's bedroom and scraped the roof during storms.

Tree Before
Arborists getting ready to remove that crazy leaning tree.

The tree became known around our house as "Steve's Arch-Nemesis" because of all the time he spent trying to trim it back and disposing of trimmed brush and wood that didn't even seem to make a dent in this giant monstrosity (it turns out branches look a lot smaller when they're on the tree than when they're on the ground).

It was time to remove this tree, before it crashed through our roof during a winter storm. Since I wanted the tree gone and my husband alive, we opted to hire professionals.

We had no problem getting a tree removal permit from the City of Oakland. The City Arborist/Inspector said, "Black acacias aren't good for much besides firewood" and waived the permit fee due to the hazardous state of the tree.

Well, as of Wednesday, it's gone! The workers finished the work minutes before it started raining, and it hasn't stopped since, so the timing couldn't have been more perfect.

No Tree
After: NO TREE. (That's Joe climbing a ladder with Steve to the left.)

(Note: Having guys with chainsaws in the backyard acted like methamphetamine on Joe, who ran laps around the house at three times his usual speed, screeching with joy and excitement for hours while the work was going on. This child's calling may be in power tools. Just saying. I realize it's a bit early to say for sure, but his passion for construction does not appear to be fleeting or fickle.)

It doesn't really look like much - basically, we removed an ugly tree to reveal an ugly fence and an ugly dead tree covered with ivy. But it's a major improvement in two areas, at least: (1) Sunshine!! (2) Safety. It's a little hard to tell right now, because it has been overcast and raining for days, but I think this is going to open up our back garden a lot and allow us to plant a much wider variety of flowers and vegetables, including some more heat-loving plants. I'm pretty excited.

And I'm sure Rebecca will sleep a little better knowing that there will be no branches crashing into her bedroom, this winter, or ever.

And we scored a huge amount of firewood!
In closing, it's pretty awesome. We've never had a lot of money to make huge improvements to our house or garden, but slowly but surely, we are making it a little nicer. And that feels good.

Joe climbing a ladder
My heart was beating hard as I took this photo. As you can see, Joe was unfazed.

Also, in case you had forgotten, my son Joe is fearless, bold, brave, and nimble. All I can say is, he didn't get this from me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


We like to play a game with Joe. We say a word or phrase or sound, like "Hee hee," and Joe responds by saying "No hee hee." Joe and I just made this up, but I think it's the perfect speech/play therapy game for a two and a half year old who loves nothing more than putting "no" in front of what you just said.

It usually goes like this:

Me: Hee hee.
Joe: No hee hee.
Me: Ho ho.
Joe: No ho ho.
Me: Hi hi.
Joe: No hi hi.

See? It encourages Joe to repeat sounds, while giving him the fun of saying "no" to everything! Enriching and hilarious!

The thing is, Joe uses made up words for certain items. Joe-isms, we call them. So, for some reason no one has fathomed, Joe calls cars "toys." (Did he get confused by "toy cars"? Who knows? This has been going on for a while.) He calls the garbage truck a "ga-ga guck." (An approximation, I think.) Milk has always been, and still is "gulky."

One of the strangest and funniest pieces of Joseph-ese: Fire truck is "tunnel ga-ga." I have no earthly clue.

So these days, this game often sounds like this:

Me: Car!
Joe: No toy.
Me: No car?
Joe: No toy. No toy.
Me: Fire truck?
Joe: No tunnel ga-ga.
Me: Fire. Truck. (Enunciating each sound.) Red fire truck.
Joe: No! No red. Tunnel. Ga-ga! (Enunciating each sound.)
Me: Fire.
Joe: No fire.
Me: Truck.
Joe: No truck.
Me: Fire truck.
Joe: No tunnel ga-ga!
Me: (Cracking up.)

Clearly Joe understands the words "car" and "fire truck," since he so consistently replaces them with his versions each time. No matter how many times we refer to the object by its correct name, Joe will patiently, with the tone of a caring but somewhat put-upon professor, correct us with the appropriate Joe-ism.

Rather than influencing Joe's speech, it seems Joe's training is having an effect on me, and I increasingly find myself referring to fire trucks as "tunnel ga-ga's."

It turns out that speech therapy can go both ways.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Another little thing for little Aspen.

I had to make one more little thing for baby Aspen. These are Made by Rae's Big Butt Baby Pants. I finally buckled and bought the pattern recently, after seeing a guzillion absolutely adorable iterations on the internet. Of course, I'm a little crazy, so even though the pattern clearly calls for woven fabrics, I had to make it, for the very first time, using stretchy cotton/lycra knits.  I just remember I preferred dressing my newborn Joe in knit fabrics, which are so soft and comfortable and washable. Plus, you can get a little more wear out of knits because they stretch to fit your baby a bit.

So I blatantly ignored the fabric requirements, but luckily, they turned out great and I am totally hooked by this easy and adorable pattern!

Newborn BBB Pants
Babies in stripes!

I got my brother to pose with the pants, for scale. These seem so tiny to me. They seemed so ridiculously small that I actually pulled out a pair of newborn pants of Joe's to compare. If anything, these pants are actually on the big side of the 0-3 month range, so apparently it's just been a while since I handled any itty bitty infant clothing.

Newborn BBB Pants
Orange bottom.

That butt gusset is so frickin' cute. Just saying.

I know, they're really loud. I hope and trust the recipients will appreciate a baby with a Blaze Orange butt as much as I do. Safety first, I always say.

(Did these pants remind you of something?)

On a totally different topic, what do you do when your toddler, who no longer naps, falls asleep over a late snack at like 5 p.m. (at the table, mind you), thus potentially wrecking bedtime?

Joe sleeps over milk and cheerios.
Yeah, same blaze orange fabric for Joe's shirt. Two yards didn't seem like a lot of eye-popping orange knit, really.

Photograph him? Oh, good. Me too.

Joe sleeps with milk and cheerios.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Something small for a small baby.

Our friend Pauline is now home with her new baby and out of danger, and we are so grateful and happy for her whole family!

Of course, I just had to make her little baby a few small things. Remember that owl fabric I got from Spoonflower a couple months ago? Well, it has been sitting patiently all this time, waiting for the perfect project. And here's the perfect project! A "Baby Sleep Sack," a.k.a. "newborn gown thingy-ma-jig" for Pauline's baby girl, Aspen.

Baby Sleep Sack
Wide awake owls. For a sleep sack. Hehe. I am so clever and funny.

I used the pattern from Growing Up Sew Liberated. The neckline is just like the envelope tee, which I tried for Joe a while back, with mixed results as you may recall. But sure enough, with more stable fabrics and a true "rib knit" the results were much better this time. I'm really happy with how this turned out. Spoonflower's organic cotton knit prints are expensive, at least by my standards ($27/yard!), but I will say that they sew up like a dream. Stretchy, yet wonderfully stable under the presser foot. The texture and weight is very forgiving and seams don't seem to wobble or stretch much at all. And of course, the prints just cannot be beat. It's really hard to find interesting printed knits at fabric stores; with Spoonflower, you can even design your own prints! (Not that I have done this, mind you. But you can! It's an option!)

Baby sleep sack, detail.
This neckline turned out so much better than the "Flashdance top" I made Joe!

This is size 0-6 months, and although I don't have any newborns close by to measure it against, it seems pretty big to me. Definitely closer to 6 months than 0 months. But I'm hoping that's a good thing: Most parents gets heaps of newborn-sized clothes before their baby is born, and fewer bigger clothes, right? It's good to have a few things for baby to grow into.

Before sending this package off, I'm working on another small item to include. I'm excited. More about that soon! Hope everyone is having a nice weekend!

Speech update/random tangent: Joe says "brachiosaurus" now! And I gotta say, it's really pretty hard to be worried about the speech development of a kid who can identify dinosaurs. We're so proud. He regularly uses three word sentences now, and can express a lot of basic and not-so-basic (i.e., wacky and hilarious) ideas. Joe will be getting assessed for school district services in the next couple of months (he ages out of the Regional Center when he turns three in May), and honest to goodness, we will be happy if he qualifies for services (because the services sound awesome and fun) and we will be happy if he doesn't (because that would mean his delay is now considered minor and not warranting intervention).

Basically, Joe's still a bit behind his peers but WOW: he has come a long way in the past eight months!

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Year's Resolutions.

Before New Year's this year, I had some ideas for New Year's resolutions. Self-improvement ideas. Ideas for building on my sewing and banjo skills, planting an ambitious vegetable garden, and scrubbing the kitchen floor more.*

But then we spent our New Year's eve terrified for our friend Pauline and her family, and now most of those ideas seem silly, self-punishing, and totally unimportant. What I'm left with is the following:

  1. Treasure my family and friends.
  2. Play a lot of banjo.
  3. Enjoy learning some new things!
So this makes the second year in a row that I've really pretty much eschewed New Year's resolutions in their usual form. And it feels pretty good, really. I might make a habit of it.

* I know, right? Fat chance.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Banjo pouch.

I made this little zip pouch for myself last week to hold my banjo finger picks, tuner, and capo (er, when I get a capo). I just used scraps from my stash and the shortest zipper I had (seven inches).

Banjo zip pouch

The outside fabric is a Japanese print I've had for a while. The lining is a deep read calico with dragonflies that I have had for time immemorial.

Banjo zip pouch

Making the pouch was really easy, once I figured out the mechanics of sewing the lining. I mean, it has some imperfections, but considering this was my first try, not too bad. It was definitely a good way to get back into sewing after several weeks of negative sewing mojo. Near-instant gratification.

One tip: Before you sew the whole thing together, open the zipper partway. I learned this lesson the hard way and some seam-ripping was involved.

I used this tutorial, but there are a million of them on the 'nets, and I'm sure a lot of them are great. This pattern has a slightly flattened bottom, which is nice, because it stands upright. Sort of. Turns out I should have flattened the bottom of mine a bit more (I wasn't following the directions that closely, so they are probably right). Live and learn.

Banjo zip pouch

It does what it was intended to do, and keeps my finger picks safe and snug!

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year.

We spent our New Year's worrying and praying for our friend Pauline, who had a baby girl on December 26th, then went into septic shock from an infection just a few days later. After several very tense days for her family and friends, she is now doing much better, has been released from the ICU, and has started down the long road to recovery. Our thoughts are with her and her family right now.

Happy New Year, everyone!

I will be back soon with some sewing updates and maybe even a 2011 retrospective or two.