26 October 2010

Supernatural Self Control

I did it! Friday night when I signed off, when I was sure I would fritter away hours playing bejeweled, I actually popped in a Christmas movie and made something. I made this little guy:
And here he is with the new birdfeeder we just put up.

Keep in mind that he is a prototype. His mouth coals are too big, and his button coals should all be on his middle bump. But otherwise, I'm pretty happy with him. I debated about how to do his arms for quite a while. I jut don't like felting appendages, and I wanted him to have branch-like arms but figured that pipecleaners wouldn't be the right scale. So I settled for wire, and although it isn't brown, I think the silver gives a nice festive effect and may just be my future snowman arm solution.

As to the Christmas movie dilemma, I've decided to throw caution to the wind and just start watching my Christmas movies. It's not easy to fit 20 movies into a month. Last year, I was saving Year Without a Santa Claus for last and didn't even get to it. No Snow Miser. No Heat Miser. Unacceptable. So this year, I'm starting early. I don't know how I feel about my departure from tradition, but I'm trying not to think too much about it.

In other news, I stumbled upon a site with over 1500 free crochet patterns from Lion Brand yarn. I skimmed through them and found 15 new crochet projects I want to try. I think this might be my next crochet venture. As my baby bump begins to make an appearance with promises of bigger things to come, I'm starting to realize that I need a few more sweaters so I don't stretch out my entire current wardrobe. And I can wear it after my pregnancy because it's open in the front so my bump won't hugify it. Win-win. I'm a little nervous about crocheting clothing, especially in a "one size fits most" pattern. But it's basically just a rectangle, so if it doesn't work out, it can just be a baby blanket. Win-win-win. Speaking of babies, if our little turnip is cooperating, we should find out if it's a boy or a girl a week from today!!! Woohoo!!

22 October 2010

Inconsistency, excuses, and the like

Well, so much for consistency. I guess it's just not in my nature. For instance, Jason and I were talking a few weeks back about scheduling. Jason is a teaching assistant for Greek this year, which means he has to be at an 8am class every Monday, Wednesday, Friday. So he's been waking up early every single morning so as to have a consistent sleep routine. This does not seem at all logical to me. If I had to wake up early three days a week, you'd better believe I would be sleeping in as late as possible on the other days to help my body catch up for the glorious morning sleep I'm missing.

Consistency, discipline, routine...just shackles for a boundless imagination, right? I know that in order to be a serious artist, I need to work on that. At the moment, I could blame it on the little avocado growing inside of me, turning my days into an endless cycle of eating, being hungry, feeling sick, and eating again, but I was no more consistent when I was not pregnant, so it seems unfair to cast the blame on my unborn child. Let's just say that unemployment has not corrected all my shortcomings as I had hoped that it would. I keep telling myself I'll get serious as soon as I start to feel better, but that is a very subjective deadline.

Last week I did have a better excuse. Jason had a week off from school, so we planned a quick trip to Jersey, just Monday to Wednesday. Now, in order for this story to have full potency, you need to understand something about me and roadtrips. I. Do. Not. Stop. The only reason I permit a pause is because the car has run out of gas. Then it's fill up, grab something quick to eat from the gas station, and--if you must--go to the bathroom, but do it quickly, and we're on our way. Normally, Jason and I do the approximately 6 hour drive from Boston to the Promised Land with one quick gas stop on the Garden State Parkway, never leave the car, eat only the snacks we've packed for the trip, and we're there. But then I got all pregnant, which means that little apple baby was pushing on my bladder, and I just could not take it. So we pulled over in Connecticut, which is about 3 hours sooner than I generally permit a stop. I ran into McDonald's, took care of business, and when I came back out...the car would not start. Would. Not. Start. So we called AAA, watched helplessly and mournfully as the Wiggler was pulled onto the bed of the tow truck, checked into a Connecticut hotel for the night and sat in said hotel room watching Sports Center, Gator Hunters, and American Chopper until 3:00 the following day, when finally, with a new fuel pump, a large sum of money evaporated, and a very frustrated Robin, we went on our way. That will teach me to stop for a bathroom break. Never. Again.

Well, being that we didn't get to Jersey until Tuesday evening, it seemed silly to just stay the night and head out the following day after all that trouble. So we said we'd leave on Thursday instead. But then along came a Nor'easter, which is just no fun to drive through, so we ended up happily stranded in Jersey until Saturday, which meant that I got more time with the fam, and Jason got another round of golf with my brother-in-law Justin. Win-win-win.

But...that also meant that I didn't blog last week. I figure it's a pretty solid excuse. Except that Friday night brings my first post of this week. But what you have to understand is that blogging for me is not just about posting. I also have a HUGE blogroll that I read, and if I get behind, it's quite overwhelming, and the blogosphere becomes a dark and dangerous place that I avoid at all costs.

Nevertheless, I have begun a few new and exciting projects, which I will now reveal for those of you who championed this very long prelude.

This lovely little work in progress is going to be a cuff. Cuffs have been pretty big in the crafting world for a while now, and I have never gotten on board. I think they're kind of silly. But I found a pattern for one on ravelry that I fell in love with--probably mostly due to the color, harvest gold, which is my current color-crush--and I decided to suspend my prejudice for a chance to have a harvest gold crocheted cuff and to learn a new crochet technique called broomstick lace (I followed the tutorials found here.), which I simply adore but makes me quite nervous, which is why I haven't finished my cuff yet. Yup, we'll say that's the reason.

Here is a yard sale find from a few weeks back. It is a copper helmet ice bucket. I saw it, and I said to Jason, "How likely is it that someday we are going to throw a medieval-themed party and need a helmet-shaped ice bucket." Jason: "Um..." Me: "Pretty likely, right? We can't not buy this!!" Jason: "Yeah, you're probably right." And it was only five dollars...a total steal for something that most people would find completely unnecessary and odd but is now on display in our apartment as a victory and a treasure. (Sidenote: I have the most wonderful and obliging husband in the world.)

Here are a few felted projects that just require a few finishing touches. The holly is going to be a hairclip, and the little ball will be an ornament once it has a hook. The star was an experiment in felting with a cookie cutter, and I'm not entirely sure yet what it will be when it's done. I felted these pieces in preparation for the seminary Christmas bazaar that I did last year. I decided that this year, I really want my inventory to be all about Christmas. So I plan on making all sorts of Christmasy things from stockings to nativities to ornaments to aprons complete with Christmas cookie recipes to Christmas accessories like holly hairclips. I even took the time to list out everything I want to make, complete with pricing plans and special deals and everything I need to buy for supplies and display. And that's as far as I've gotten for five reasons:

1) I'm going to a wedding the first Saturday in December, which is when the bazaar was last year. And if I'm not going to be there, motivation becomes more difficult. I should just prepare anyway because I don't know when the date for this year's event will be announced, and it's not like things like stockings and felted creatures go bad. But still...no deadline = no motivation. Such is my way.

2) I don't have everything I need at my fingertips. I desperately need pipe-cleaners and just haven't gotten my act together enough to get dressed and go to the store.

3) I've found that my compact little crafting arrangement in my one-bedroom apartment is just too crowded to be a happy space. And before I can get down to sewing Christmas stockings and Christmas bunting and other miscellaneous Christmas cheer, I need to clean the bedroom, which has become the shove-zone for all things left homeless in the move from two bedrooms to one. And let's face it...brainstorming about all the wonderful things I can make is WAY more fun than cleaning.

4) I really don't like felting that much. But I know that people would buy felted nativities because they're unique and adorable and a person can't have too many and this is a Christmas fair on a seminary campus and I've figured out the perfect pricing model for them if I can make them simple enough to be cost effective. Win-win-lose. Win: I sell stuff. Win: People get to buy something that's handmade and high-quality and unique and affordable that they will use for years and years to come. Lose: I have a lot of felting to do.

5) I am a staunch traditionalist. My family would tell you that this is a gross understatement. For example, one year my family had to delay Thanksgiving dinner for 2 hours because I threw a holy fit that there was no cornbread and how could it be Thanksgiving if there wasn't any cornbread and I don't care that stores aren't open let's just figure out a way to make some cornbread. (My magician of a mom somehow pulled it together, and I think I ate only cornbread that Thanksgiving dinner to complete my emphatic principled stand.) All that to say, I desperately want to get in the Christmas spirit in order to jump-start my Christmas production. In order to do so, I would love to pop in one of the 20 Christmas movies in my collection and felt up a winter storm. But I do NOT start Christmasing until the day after Thanksgiving. Ever. And it isn't even Halloween yet. So I'm having quite the ethical dilemma here.

So there you have it. Excuses, excuses. But now I'm going to quit my whining and actually get something done. Because it's about freaking time, yes? I couldn't agree more. But maybe I'll just find something for me and little avocado to eat first. And then maybe I just might turn on the tv to make sure there's nothing on. And then I will probably just finish reading Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time before hopping on facebook and bejeweling myself into a stupor. You know, self-knowledge can be kinda dangerous when not paired with supernatural self-control. I'll let you know how it all turns out.

08 October 2010


In which Robin welcomes herself back with a grand announcement...

I'm pregnant.

And the long and short of it is that that is the reason I haven't been blogging.

I quit my job back in May, and my last day was July 6th. And very shortly thereafter, I got pregnant, spent three weeks traveling up and down the eastern seaboard and the following weeks feeling very ill indeed. So here I am, in the middle of my 14th week of pregnancy and starting to feel slightly more human in the moments that Jason and I manage to keep me hydrated and fed (which--let me tell you--is a never-ending battle for a person who normally enjoys a constant state of dehydration and does not enjoy eating).

In addition to the whole building a baby thing, I have actually gotten a lot done in my absence. There's so much making and living and processing that I haven't told you about, and it started to feel overwhelming. So I put it off. And then it was really hard to re-enter the electronic universe when I had been away for so long and not only had to catch up on writing my blog but also on reading everyone else's, not to mention email and facebook and etsy trends and mod cloth new arrivals and playing family feud. *phew* Back when I worked in an office and didn't have enough to do to fill the lonely hours, I built a very complex and time-consuming electronic universe. It was my lifeline. But now that I am not confined to my office, it's a little harder to motivate myself to stay connected online, especially with such a backlog. And that--in addition to being pregnant, and maybe moreso than the excuse of feeling sick--is why I have not been blogging.

But that just about catches us up on a personal level, and I trust you will forgive me for being m.i.a. these past months. I'm officially back now. I promise.

With the exception of August and September, I actually have been pretty consistently diligent on the making front. Here is all I have done in my absence:
  • Compiled a recipe book of all my favorites
  • Finished the massive (5 ft x 5 ft) granny square blanket I started back in February
  • Finished Megan's birthday (last November) felted gnome
  • Finished Amy's birthday (last December) crochet purse
  • Made a crazy quilt pillow for my friend Thais's high school graduation present
  • Made dolls with a few ladies in my church for a charity
  • Learned a new recipe (Avacado Salad) and mastered a few that have previously given me grief (Pizza Dough and Guacamole)
  • Wrote an extensive manual for work
  • Designed a new crafting space
  • Made a tote bag/road trip kit for my neighbors who moved to Mississippi
I've decided that that is sufficient for a catch up. I'm not going to write separate posts for the above projects because that's just too overwhelming a task. But if you have any questions or want to hear more about any of them, let me know.

I also:
  • Hosted my in-laws and brother-in-law for a weekend
  • Moved into a 1-bedroom apartment
  • Saw Mary Poppins on Broadway
  • Spent a week at Delanco Camp, during which I was a teacher, craft lady, dean of women, and on the music team
  • Spent a week in South Carolina playing with my 4-year-old nephew Jesse and meeting my newborn nephew Micah
  • Took a side trip to Williamsburg with my mom on the way back up the coast
  • Spent a few random days in Jersey with my family
  • Found out I was pregnant
I spent the next two months feeling sick and overwhelmed, but now with the help of bullet points and the start of October, I am turning over a new leaf:
  • I'm very close to being finished with a crocheted blanket I started for my dad's birthday (back in April). I finished all the squares last week, and now I just need to hook them together.
  • Last Friday, Jason and I played at another Kalos Coffeehouse. This time, we got to be in the front scheduled half of the night instead of the open mic section, which was a nice little love-pat for my ego and also a lot of fun. We played Run That Darkness Down, Orion, and Ebony. Jason played piano on the last two, and I LOVED what he was able to put together. We also figured out that in order to have fun practicing music together, I need to eliminate the phrase "can you do something that sounds kinda like [insert ambiguous semi-musical nonsense]." All in all, despite the fact that our actual performance was a little shaky, I think that it was a great success, if only because we actually enjoyed playing music together during practice, which just might be a first.
  • Last night, I did some drawing/coloring to help reconnect with my imaginative self. I drew a morning glory, a little sailboat on the ocean, a scene with assorted fairy tale abodes, and a ballerina playing a 3-stringed mandolin. While I was drawing, I listened to a Seabear album, which was totally relaxing and good for my soul.
  • I finally joined Ravelry, which is a huge network of knitters and crocheters. And I found some lovely and exciting free patterns that I really want to make along with some good crochet book suggestions and overall inspiration to start spreading my hooks beyond the realm of the beloved granny square.
  • In 4 weeks, I get my first ultrasound, which--if little lemon is cooperating--should reveal the gender of my baby, at which point, I will begin a flurry of baby-themed-making that is gender appropriate and the results of which I have absolutely no room for in our new apartment.
So there you have it. Robin is back.
[hooray! confetti! streamers! hallelujah chorus! cake for everyone!]

21 May 2010

A Dress for Daisy

Once upon a time, two of my very good friends were getting married. It was an evening wedding, and I knew that the bridesmaids dresses were floor length, so I figured it would be on the formal side. I scoured by closet and could not find a single thing to wear. It seemed that every dress I owned was either white or not formal enough or too tight or lacking an appropriate accompanying cardigan or didn't fit right or just not in style. The real problem is that I have become addicted to Mod Cloth. I spend hours on this site cataloging favorites that I will never ever be able to afford to buy. (It's not all that unreasonable considering it is a site that hosts independent designers. I'm just not the sort of person who drops $50-100 on a dress.) Anyway, due to the hours I spend daily on Mod Cloth, for the first time in my life, I have a solid handle on what sort of styles are "in." And there is nothing in my closet even remotely close.

So I figured I would make something. I had tons of jersey fabric I bought last year about this time. I think what happens is it gets warm outside, and in my rejoicing that I don't have to wear sweaters every day, I decide I want to be cute and trendy. But I don't have the money or the peace of mind to go clothes shopping when my dresser overfloweth. So I decide that I should make myself a new wardrobe. Naturally.

Remember back when I got Daisy Dressform? I altered an existing skirt I would never wear into something cute and wearable. Here is the post. I learned a lot from that project, and I listed out all of the little lessons I would take into making clothes in the future. The first lesson was, "When it comes to clothes, it is wise to follow patterns, learn your way around, and earn the right to improvise." So I searched through all my books of patterns looking for just the right dress. But...I had a vision. And of course there was nothing in my pattern books that met my vision. So I improvised. Naturally. (Funny that even in my list of lessons from Daisy's Debut, I said, "Will I follow this advice in the future? Probably not. I have too many exciting ideas." Well, at least I know myself.)

I did start with a skirt pattern I had lying around (Simplicity 4236). Unfortunately, I cut the pattern out in the wrong size. (Note: if you are a 2-4 in real life, you're a 10-12 in simplicity patterns. I have no idea why they do this except to screw with you.) Thankfully, I noticed this before I cut my fabric, but it meant I had to guesstimate what size I should actually be, which meant that I ended up with a bunch of extra fabric in my skirt. Noted. Lesson learned.

Next I needed a top. But of course I didn't have any sort of pattern for the kind of top I wanted. So I took some extra pattern paper left over from my skirt, laid it over my dressform, and cut out the shape I wanted, cutting and taping paper together as needed, like so.

This was absurdly fun. It was kinda like a cross between sculpting and putting together a puzzle. My dad says that to carve a duck decoy, you take a block of wood and carve away whatever isn't duck. (I doubt that concept is original to him, but that's where I learned it.) That's kinda how this felt. I pinned the paper on Daisy and cut away whatever wasn't dress. If I cut too much, I just taped on some extra paper and tried again.

Once I had the shape how I wanted it, I cut out my fabric. I now have the dress fully assembled and pinned to Daisy. And here it is:

And that's where it stopped. I realized that the wedding was 2 days away, and there was no way I'd be able to finish it in time. So I went to H&M and got a $13 dress that was perfect.

Nevertheless, I really do want to finish this dress. It will be gathered a bit at the bodice, and it will get ties at the waist to bring it all together. I'm not sure if it will be stretchy enough as is or if I'll have to add a zipper (*terror*). I also have never sewed with jersey fabric before, so this should be interesting. Also, the other fabric is not jersey, which I'm sure is probably against the rules. But it's just so pretty!

I'm finally beginning to understand how to dress and accessorize in colors. Like Stacy and Clinton say, "It doesn't need to match. It needs to 'go.'" So I chose a complimentary color to the green in this bright reddish pink. It kind of reminds me of a watermelon. And I really like it. But I'm not sure how often I'll wear it. So I need your help here. Should I use all green instead? Or maybe a patterned fabric that has the green in it? Or maybe a royal purple? I just don't know. Which is part of the reason this dress remains unfinished (you know, besides that face that I have no idea what I'm doing and I like it so much now that I'm scared that sewing it will ruin it).

But there you have it. At the very least, it is currently an outfit for Daisy, who has been naked and hiding in a corner since I finished that skirt back in June. How embarrassing!

15 May 2010

Breakfast Pizza

Remember the Great Goat Vote from back in September? Of course you do. Well, as you know, my mom did not win the goats. But that little contest did get me reading the blog that sponsored the contest, and I still read it to this very day. No hard feelings. Okay...a few hard feelings, but I read it nevertheless. Every once in a while, the blog author posts posts called "Probably Something You Would Like." They are little collections of goodies and curiosities and whatnot found online that she thinks her readers will be interested in. Here is an example of a PSYWL. And that just happens to be the very post that inspired one of my weekly makes: Breakfast pizza. Here is the link to the actual website where the recipe is found (sorry...lots of links today) and the picture from that website:
I saw that pizza with the eggs and the cheese and the yummy crust, and I knew that this would be a craving I would not forget. Sure enough, one lovely Saturday morning--the first that Jason and I had together in a very long time due to prolonged weeks of youth group trips and extensive paper writing and whatnot--Jason and I made breakfast pizza. Ours didn't look nearly as good as the original, but seriously...it was amazing.

I changed the recipe somewhat. (Surprise, surprise.) Here, for your duplicating pleasure, is the recipe:

1 pizza dough*
3-4 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
Olive oil
2 Tbs butter, melted
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
4 eggs
Whatever other seasonings and toppings you desire

*Yes, I realize I could/should have made my own. But I actually wanted this to happen, so I just bought some pizza dough from the store. You can generally find it in the bakery section.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Spread a bit of olive oil on your baking sheet/pizza pan/baking stone. Then sprinkle it with flour. Dip your hands and the ball of dough into the flour. On a lightly floured counter top, pat the dough into a disc with your fingertips, then drape the dough over your fists and carefully stretch it from beneath to form a 12-inch circle. (That's probably the right way to do it. But if you're feeling more adventurous, you can try tossing the dough like they do in pizza shops.) Place the dough on your oiled/floured pan. Form a crust by folding the edge over all the way around.
Combine the melted butter with garlic salt and Italian spices. Brush this over the entire pizza, crust included.
Then sprinkle the surface with the Parmesan, then the mozzarella, then the bacon.
Gently break the eggs right onto the pizza. (It helps to do this close to the surface, otherwise the egg will plop into your pizza, sending your cheese flying.) Gently puncture the yolks and spread the eggs out just a bit.
(I know if looks gross. Just run with it.)

Top with whatever else you want. I added some fresh parsley just for color. But I think fresh basil would have been fabulous. You can also try mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, onions, ham...basically whatever you like in an omelet would be excellent.

Bake for 5 minutes, then rotate the pizza. Bake 2-3 more minutes. If your crust is looking dry, brush it with olive oil. Bake 1-2 more minutes. (Total baking time 8-10 minutes)

Cut the pizza into approximately 3 inch squares with a pizza wheel, and enjoy!
I highly recommend this recipe. It's really easy and fun and very cheap to make and will easily feed 4-5 hungry people.
Another fun variation to try would be to split the dough and have everyone make personal breakfast pizzas with whatever toppings they like. How cute would 4 little pizzas with an egg in the middle be! Also, just because it's called breakfast pizza does not exclude it from being a very satisfying go-to dinner selection. There is no bad time for breakfast!

05 May 2010

Will You Put Me Back Together?

It had been a lonely 4 weeks. Jason took the youth group for a week-long missions trip to New York City. This meant he was missing the last week of his semester, so the week before and the week after the trip included heavy paper-writing. He finally finished everything, and then we had 3 evenings together before he went to Wheaton for his brother's graduation. So between all of that and sitting by myself in my office all day every day, it had been a very lonely 4 weeks. I think I handled it pretty well, all things considered. I am generally pretty bad about being by myself. But it was good to spend some Robin-time, to have some space to myself outside of my office, to repeatedly watch Jane Austen movies, to catch up with my family, to think. It was good, reflective time. But it was also exhausting. Being by myself completely drains me. I am not a very outgoing person, but I am very much an extrovert in that I feed off of other people's energy. It's something I have a hard time creating on my own. When I am alone, simple tasks like eating dinner become daunting. And ambitious plans for crafting fall by the wayside. And the idea of blogging...writing entries that would be littered with loneliness and sadness...it just was not at the top of my to-do list.

A few weeks ago, I had a large personal disappointment. I can't really share it explicitly here at this point. Most of you already know. I was handling it quite well...being very logical and reasonable about it. Bottling my grief and putting on a happy face to share the news with my family and friends and small group. But after the initial shock of the disappointment, and after my prepared speech, I had to deal with the difficult and overwhelming question: "What now?" This is something I was not prepared to face, for all my planning and preparation. How do I move forward? How do I readjust the vision I had thought God had cast for me of this happy little future? How do I reconcile myself to the idea that God gave me a vision that is now not going to be fulfilled? What does that say about God? What does that say about what I should do now? What will my life look like now that I don't have this thing to look forward to? What will happen to my hope, my newly recovered good spirits, my reestablished bounce?

I faced these questions, and I'm still facing them. It has not been easy to continue with life as normal, especially when I have had to spend so much time by myself. I am not completely devastated. I have not lost all hope. But I do feel discouraged, disjointed. I drew this picture as a prayer:

It's based loosely on the style of Emily Martin, one of my favorite etsy artists. (Here is her blog and her shop.) It's not exactly my vision, but my drawings rarely are. Even so, I think it made my point, and it was cathartic in its way.

There have been very few times in my life when a door has been definitively closed. I suppose that makes me lucky. Twice it was my own doing, and twice the decision was made for me. Those four instances have sent my heart wandering down paths that the rest of me does not get to follow. It's an ugly little monster who at best is called, "What if?" and at worst is called "Regret." And as my imagination follows my heart along its own little adventures to undiscovered worlds, I sit in an office. Alone. I don't know when it will all make sense. I don't know how the pieces will come together to reveal a master plan. I fear to be reunited under the current vision of my life, scared that I am doomed to mediocrity. But the fragmentation is painful. It's hard to know who I am with so many unconnected pieces. This most recent disappointment has surely been the least dramatic of my four closed doors. But it has left me raw. It has left me scrambling to recover my carefully guarded survival mode, all the while fearing the zombie as much as the hurt. So I am currently in limbo once again. I am in the waiting. I'm looking forward to a much-needed change one way or another. And in the mean time, I'm up and down. Most of the up has been fueled by the Phoenix Suns sweeping the San Antonio Spurs on their way to the western conference finals. I know it's silly. But I literally cried tears of joy over their victory on May 9th. For all their being beat down by the Spurs over the years, the Suns finally and decidedly defeated their Goliath. And that has given me a strange sort of disembodied hope that good does win over evil, and everything will work out in the end.

There are some exciting things coming including pictures of the long-awaited and now completed granny square blanket, new recipes, a recording, and updates on several UFO's (UnFinished Objects). I hope that today finds you basking in the sunshine or at least heading towards the sun. I'm doing my best to turn my face in that direction.

10 April 2010

A Little Dish

I have a friend named Lexi who I love. She is fun and creative and just a lovely person. One of our most favorite things to do together is to paint pottery. You may remember the Harry Potter pitcher and the pear plate. Both of those were done at Glazed pottery painting studio in Gloucester with my dear friend Lexi. It had been ages since we'd gotten together, so we finally set another pottery painting date back in April. I was hoping to paint a travel mug for my mom like one I had made for her two Christmases ago that has since broken. But Glazed was out of travel mugs, so I decided to paint a little dish instead.

I have a sickness for cutting boards and little serving dishes. I swear I have at least 7 or 8 other dishes that house crackers and some sort of spread. But this little dish will be used for crackers and homemade preserves when I do my next craft show. I have no idea when that will be or what preserves I will have made. But when that day comes, I will be ready because I now have this little number:I painted it to match the display cabinet my parents made me for Christmas. It includes my business name and a secret little sparrow that will be revealed when it's time to refill the preserves. It turned out a little more lime-y than I intended, but such is life. It's so hard to tell what color something will be once it's fired and the ceramic paints take on all their shiny brilliance. It's also hard to photograph shiny things. But I love how my mosaic coffee table is reflected here:
Overall, I'm quite happy with how it turned out. So happy that I am determined to do some craft fair research so I can use it. Which will also mean making some more inventory to go along with it and a subsequent etsy shop (hopefully coming this summer). Finally. Crazy what a little dish can spark, don't you think?

31 March 2010

Vanilla, vanilla and...vanilla

I have quite a bit of catch up to do since we're approaching May's midpoint, and I left my blog dormant through most of April. I think for now, I'll just plod along and leave the posts up on the day I post them for a bit, and I'll backlog them later. Here's a post I actually wrote back around Easter weekend but never posted because I couldn't get a camera and a cord and a computer all in the same place at the same time. But I have finally triumphed on that count, so without further ado, here is a very old post for your reading enjoyment:

I have so many baked goods in my apartment right now it's ridiculous. I have The Best Fudge Brownies Ever that Jason made for me. Those are enough to satisfy my every culinary desire. But several special occasions this weekend required my baking skills. And here I am to tell you all about them.

The first occasion was Jason's brother Josh and Josh's friend Justin were coming for a visit. There were driving out from Chicago to visit a couple of schools on the east coast, and they were wondering if they could crash with us. All they needed or asked for was a place to sleep. Yeah, like I could have guests coming into my house and not make sure that they were well-fed. And on top of a family visit, it was Josh's birthday. So of course I was going to make him a birthday cake, right? Right. So Jason called his mom and asked what kind of cake Josh likes: vanilla cake with vanilla frosting. Of course. Talk about my nightmare dessert. Not the slightest hint of chocolate to be found. Oh well. It was Josh's birthday, not mine, so I made him what he would like.

I used a recipe from Megan's mother-in-law that is known as "Mrs. Benson's Cake." It is an excellent doctored cake mix recipe with the perfect texture. (Before you yell at me for not posting the recipe here, rest assured that I am working on a full recipes page, and it will be included therein.) It called for two 10" cake pans, but I only have 8" cake pans, so I used those thinking it wouldn't make too much of a difference. But when the cakes were done they were quite high, and layering them on top of each other would have made for a very tall cake indeed. So I decided to make 2 mini-cakes instead, cutting each cake in half horizontally to add a layer of frosting. Vanilla frosting. I only made one of the two and saved the 2nd cake for later frosting.

Josh and Justin and Jason all really liked the vanilla-vanilla cake. I thought the pillsbury vanilla frosting on a vanilla cake was kind of gross. But they were happy, so one chocolate-less dessert success.

Before my victory could settle, I had to think ahead to my Easter lunch. Jason and I were invited to have lunch with our neighbors, Megan and John (who we LOVE), and a few of their friends we didn't know very well. I volunteered to bring my mom's from-scratch mac'n'cheese (again, recipe forthcoming) and a dessert. Megan was making some sort of chocolate pie, so once again, I felt that I had to make a non-chocolate dessert. "Well, fine," I thought. "At least I already have a good cake to start with. But I am NOT frosting this one with store-bought vanilla icing because it will be gross and I've never met some of the other people we're having lunch with, so this is my chance to make a good impression." So I searched madly through my cookbooks for a good vanilla frosting recipe, which I found in trusty old Better Homes and Gardens. I headed to the grocery store to pick up a box of confectioners sugar.

We were also invited over to my pastor's family's house for Easter dinner. It took me a very long time to get back to them because I wasn't sure what time lunch would be. When I finally worked out the timing, all of the primary dinner elements were covered, so I volunteered to bring...you guessed it...a dessert. But there was no way I would be compelled to make yet another chocolate-less dessert. So while I was at the grocery store, I picked up the ingredients to make Robin's Chocolate Raspberry Bundt Cake of Deliciousness. (That's what it's called in my family traditions cookbook.) I got everything I needed, and when I got back to my parking spot, I decided it would be a good idea to call and see if it was alright for me to bring a chocolate cake. I expected an answer along the lines of, "Heck yeah! Your chocolate raspberry bundt cake is delicious! No way we're turning that down." But instead I was met with, "Someone else is already bringing chocolate cake." I was crushed, thoroughly discouraged and slightly perturbed and indignant that someone else would dare to make a chocolate cake when I was coming to dinner. Then the small rational voice interjected with, "They probably don't know you're coming and that you're on dessert duty." Okay, okay. Fine. I won't make my chocolate cake. But I am NOT going back to the grocery store. So I trudged inside with my now useless groceries.

I spent the next several hours in a mad search through my cookbooks, trying to find something that was not chocolate (so my dessert wouldn't completely put the chocolate cake to shame, so grand was my indignance) and not vanilla (because I most certainly was NOT going to make 3 chocolate-less desserts in 3 days). After hours spread out on the living room floor with the boys trying to watch March Madness over my indignant huffs and puffs over vanilla desserts, I finally settled on my mom's Cape May squares from my family traditions cookbook. Surprise surprise. I don't know why I have so many books of recipes when I almost always end up making something from my mom's arsenal. I had everything I needed to make them. Except that I'd have to use the confectioner's sugar intended for my homemade frosting. Good thing I bought some chocolate frosting at the grocery store just in case. I hoped Megan wouldn't mind and was somewhat relieved that there would be some chocolate in my weekend.

So I frosted cake #2 with chocolate fudge chip frosting, made my best batch of mac'n'cheese ever, and set to work on the Cape May squares. How can I describe Cape May squares? They are a layered bar with yellow cake on the bottom and...a sort of sweet, cream cheese custard on top. They are way better than they sound. But I wanted to add a little interest so I mixed in some of my homemade strawberry jam with the cream cheese layer. I cut up the squares and put them on a plate so I could test one and make sure they were edible. The result was subtle and delicious. And my presentation of the bars, all arranged in a diamond configuration and covered in powdered sugar and adorned with strawberries and freshly picked flowers, was quite impressive. But I forgot to take a picture. Of course.

So here are the remnants of the vanilla x's 3 Easter weekend.
And here is what I learned: if you're going to make dessert, claim chocolate early.

30 March 2010

Good Friday

Now that I'm all caught up, I figure it would be good to not wait a month before posting again. Consistency...that's the goal...

Two weeks ago was was Holy Week. Church wise, Holy Week is my favorite week of the year. It is power-packed with goodness. Sure, I love the Christmas pageant, the Christmas Eve service, the general spirit of Advent, the deep mystery of the Incarnation, the Christmas carols. There isn't much that tops Christmas. But it's Holy Week that houses my favorite service of the year: Good Friday.

Maybe that's weird. Maybe it's strange that I look forward to a service that centers around the death of Jesus, that focuses on His agony and barely even glimpses to Sunday morning so as not to rush too quickly from death to resurrection. Historically, I have not enjoyed Good Friday services. I much prefer the Easter Eve vigil type of service, one that is triumphant and celebratory and even somewhat raucous in its exultation. But for the past two years, my church has celebrated Good Friday in a very particular way. Last year we went through the 7 words of Christ from the cross. This year, we did 8 stations of the cross, following Christ's journey from Pilot's sentence to Jesus' death.

I've been to 3-hour-long Good Friday services where several local churches come together and the pastors each share a mini-sermon on one or two of the last words of Christ. From what I remember, those services were dry and dull and intentionally depressing. Granted, I was young. Even now, I don't really do "sad" well and even less so then when I would rather be skipping around sheep fields in my pigtails than sitting inside a dark church on a beautiful spring day that I had off of school.

But my church goes through these meditations through the eyes of lay people, each sharing their insights and gifts in a different way. Each person has a different perspective, a different way of looking at Good Friday. And even though each person and each reflection is so unique, the service flows together seamlessly, a perfect tapestry displaying the beauty of the body of Christ. It is deeply beautiful and profoundly powerful. This service models what I think the Church should look like, each person using his or her gifts to benefit the rest of the community.

This year, we included several art-based reflections: two drawings and a song. Music is a staple of any Christian gathering, but I loved the presence and valuing of physical art in the service. Recently, Andy Crouch came to Gordon College and spoke about culture-making and the need for the local church to encourage and promote all sorts of making. This is an issue that is very close to my heart. I struggle a lot with what it means to be a Christian artist...not a person who produces art that has outright Christian themes and messaging, but a Christian who is also an artist (or an artist who is also a Christian) and the intersection of those two classifications. I struggle with how so labeled "Christian art" is often of a lesser quality than what those outside of the church are producing. I blame this somewhat on limited resources but Christians are plugged into the ultimate resource: an infinitely creative God. So that is really no excuse. I think the bigger issue is that the church is very good at accepting people's "offerings" of their gifts and encouraging them for trying. This is evidenced by church camp talent shows where the people who get the loudest applause are those who are trying rather than succeeding. We celebrate their courage and their effort. We're good at doing that, and that's good. But I think we fall short in two equally important and equally compassionate areas: 1) guiding people who are not gifted in certain areas toward areas in which they are gifted, and 2) training up and encouraging people who are gifted in certain areas to become more excellent and promoting excellence as a worthy and God-glorifying value. Okay, I'm going to end my soapbox rant there and go back to the Good Friday service...

Last year, I put together a masterpiece I entitled "The Blood Medley." It is an arrangement of all of the best good old Methodist blood hymns: Nothing but the Blood, When I Survey, Hallelujah What a Savior (Yes, I used a song with Hallelujah during Lent. All you good high church people, know that I struggled with this and found it to be unavoidable.), There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood, Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb, and And Can It Be. Because I was working with such quality source material, The Blood Medley is nothing short of brilliant. Solid gold.

My pastor asked me to do The Blood Medley again the next time we did Communion at church. Sadly, though brilliant, The Blood Medley is also very vocally challenging, and it requires two voices, and every time communion rolled around (which is sadly only once a month), either Jason or I was sick and incapable of producing the necessary vocal range for a performance worthy of The Blood Medley in all its glory. This was the case for this year's Good Friday service as well. Sorry, Blood Medley. You'll have to lie dormant for at least another month.

This year, I was asked not to provide a bonus musical number but rather to give one of the actual meditations in song form. My station was the crucifixion, Jesus being nailed to the cross, the thieves on His right and left, the mocking of the crowd. I've been thinking about the song for weeks. I wanted to write a hymn. I had the opening line of each verse and a haunting melody that is probably a combination of several hymn melodies already in existence. I had a framework for what I wanted each verse to communicate. I had a few ideas for words and lines that fit in my rhythmic scheme. So I figured it would be a relatively easy song to write. I would string together some of the best loved phrases from the classic hymns and paint them into a new story. Well, an old story but told in a new way, like those photo mosaics that use tiny photographs to recreate a classic image (like this one)...existing pieces of art used together in a new way to display a grander scheme. So with so many puzzle pieces in hand, I thought this would be an easy song to write. Just put it all together and fill in the gaps. Easy peasy, right? Wrong.

I had the hardest time bringing it all together. I just couldn't communicate what I wanted to communicate. I spent a long time bashing myself on the head with this song. I asked Jason for help. We talked through the significance of the crucifixion, the depths of Christ's suffering, the deep realities of the cross. And the song just wouldn't write. So I walked away from it for a few days, weeks, whatever. And then Good Friday came up and I still didn't have a song for the service that night. So I sat down and I tried again.

It's generally hard for me to get in the spirit of Good Friday. There is a part of me that minimalizes Christ's suffering on the cross because I feel like anything is endurable for a short amount of time, especially when you know it won't last forever and something good will come out of it and you'll be fully restored in the end. In a season marked by an unclear future and purpose--a season in which I feel like swiss cheese and uncertainty is the holes--the cross does not stir the proper emotions of compassion and conviction because Jesus knew it didn't end there. He knew the victory to come. He knew the pain wouldn't last forever. Maybe I'm wrong about that. Maybe His scars still burn with the sins of the world. I don't know. Maybe that's completely theologically off-base. But all that being said, I had a very hard time writing a stirring song about the crucifixion.

So I decided to scrap it all, all the partial verses I had trudged through, the neat little framework I had built. And I added a chorus. A simple, "Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy on me." I ended up scrapping the chorus for the final performance of the song, but it was a necessary starting point in writing the song...the pencil lines behind the sketch that made the whole thing meaningful for me. And I started writing.

As I wrote, I was called to remember that the hands and feet that bore the nails belonged to a Person. And not just any person...a Person who performed miracles with those very same hands and feet. I thought about the people He healed, the children He encountered, His gentle touch as He imparted healing and love and forgiveness for sins. I remembered the places He walked, the dust He gathered on His sandaled feet and the hems of His robes. I remembered that He was a person. A person who went places and did amazing things. And how tragic it was for His followers, His friends, the world, to lose such a person as that to a bloody and humiliating death.

I remembered the mocking. I condemned the mockers for their impudence and audacity. How dare they shout curses at a dying, seemingly helpless man, let alone a man they bowed down and worshiped days before? I was angry at them. Disgusted. Ready to call down fire from heaven.

I wanted to remind those people about just Who it was that they were crucifying. I wanted them to know that they were killing and cursing the Person who gave them life and held more power than they could imagine. I wanted them to know that He was innocent and they were guilty. And that's why He was dying before their eyes.

And then I tried to imagine the baseness and hardness of heart that would stir those people to be so angry and cruel. I thought about their expectations of Messiah, their oppression from the Romans, their hope that He would come and free them from years of subjection and derision and restore them to a favor with God that would be witnessed and feared by their captors. They wanted justice, violent and triumphant justice. They expected a conquering King. And He was finally there. They knew the kind of power He had displayed. And then they saw Him hanging on a cross, giving up on the cause, not fighting back...silent like a lamb being led to slaughter. Powerless. Weak. A failure. Their deepest longings, all their hopes and expectations, all the ways they dreamed the prophesies would be fulfilled, were hanging on a Roman cross. And to them, that meant that this man was not the Christ as He had claimed to be. And to lie about something so sacred, to manipulate their deepest and most heartfelt expectations, was a sin guilty of a public and torturous death. I don't know anger or indignation that would compel me to mock a dying man. But I do know what it's like to have an expectation of what it will look like when God shows up, to feel as though He has promised me grand deliverance, and to have my hopes thoroughly disappointed. I know that it doesn't make me sad. It makes me angry. It makes me question who God says He is. It makes me feel as though I am entitled to a more powerful God. And now I know, that when I demand anything of God other than Who He is and what He does, it makes me just like those people shouting at Jesus to come down off the cross and save Himself. He could have. But He didn't. And those people are the reason. I am the reason. He cared more about saving me than about sparing Himself. His desire and passion for a restored relationship with His creation was greater than the pain, the shame, the death. And that is why the cross is a symbol of strength and of victory. Because He was able to forsake and restrain His power and to love a twisted and corrupted people and to say, "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing."

And it is in that spirit that I wrote this song and that I now share it with you. Without any further ado, I give you my Good Friday offering...

"They Nailed My Jesus to a Cross"

They nailed my Jesus to a cross.
They nailed His hands and feet,
The hands that made the leper clean
And caused the blind to see,
The feet that walked upon the waves,
Those wondrous feet and hands
now covered with Messiah's blood.
Behold! The Son of Man.

They nailed my Jesus to a cross,
A thief on either side.
And all around the crowd demands
My Lord be crucified.
He could have called the angels down
So justice would be served,
But He Himself bore all the wrath
Their guilty souls deserved.

They nailed my Jesus to a cross,
God's one and only Son,
Light of the world, the Word made flesh,
The Christ, the Holy One.
Behold Him now, the mighty King,
His glory veiled in shame.
My Lord was broken and condemned
Though I deserve the blame.

I nailed my Jesus to a cross.
'Twas I who drove the nails
With all my sin and all my pride
And all the ways I've failed.
Yet Jesus looks down from the cross,
So ready to forgive.
He says, "My child, do not fear.
I died so you could live."

Once again, this is a weak and partial half-disclosure. Without the intro, the melody, Jason's brilliant piano accompaniment, this is just a poem, and not an excellent one at that. I felt bound, limited within the constructs of the song. There's so much more I wanted to communicate. I found myself repeatedly complaining, "There just isn't enough room!" Maybe the chorus would have helped that. Maybe not. But there you have it. Another song. My 3rd in 8 weeks of this 2nd year of weekly makes. I've had one awful, one brilliant, and one good enough. Which is exciting to me after a full year of creativity unmarked by music. I might finish this song with a resurrection verse. Maybe not. We'll see. I think if I went back to it, I would feel the need to edit, which is not fun for me, so I probably won't. But the song served its Good Friday purpose. And it gave Jason and I another opportunity to play an original song together, which I just loved. So I am satisfied.

29 March 2010

A Brightly-Colored Mushroom

Last Saturday morning, I woke up early. Not on purpose. The one day I get to sleep in...but no such luck. There really is no good explanation for why I was so wide awake on a Saturday morning. I am never ever wide awake. Ever. The only reason I can conjure is that I was having a dream that would not allow me to sleep any more. In my dream I was crocheting. But I wasn't crocheting the granny square blanket I've been working on for almost 2 months now. And I wasn't crocheting the cute slippers I made for my sisters for Christmas. I was crocheting a mushroom. And in my dream, I figured out how to do it. So I think my dream woke me up so that I could use this new knowledge it had worked out for me.

I obediently got out of bed, packed up a hook and some yarn, and Jason and I headed to Panera. Because really, if I'm going to be awake in the AM hours of a Saturday, I'm getting an asiago bagel bacon egg and cheese sandwich out of it. (Seriously, if you haven't had one of these, it will change your life. Go to your nearest Panera tomorrow morning and get one. They serve them up to 10:30am Sunday-Friday and up to 11:00 on Saturdays.) There we sat in Panera, Jason working on the computer and me crocheting a mushroom.

And as it turns out, my dream was right. I do know how to crochet a mushroom although I had never done it whilst awake. Here it is:
Pretty cute, huh? I have absolutely no idea what the point is of a crocheted mushroom is, but there you have it. I can do it. My dream taught me how.

Also during that Panera trip, I read through a journal I wrote while I was on a 3 week wilderness expedition before I started my freshman year of college. I had never really been camping before, but I thought that if I could get through 3 weeks hiking through the wilderness with 8 complete strangers, freshman year of college would be a breeze.

So I set out into the woods with my new hiking boots and my new hiking backpack and absolutely no idea about what I was getting myself into. And let me tell you, it was one of the most difficult and physically taxing experiences of my life. There were times when I thought to myself, "What if I just walked into that ditch right there and twisted my ankle? They couldn't make me keep going." Don't get me wrong...it was also one of the most satisfying and beneficial things I've ever done. But there were moments and days when it was really hard.

In one of those moments, I saw a little brightly-colored mushroom growing on the forest floor. It was a little burst of orange in an otherwise brown landscape, and I thought to myself, "That is one colorful mushroom in an otherwise very drab environment. It looks so out of place, but here it is. And it's doing just fine. If that little mushroom can survive and even thrive in this environment, so can I." And from that moment on, whenever I saw a brightly-colored mushroom, I was reminded that I belonged there and that God was with me and that I could still be my colorful little self, even in the middle of the wilderness.

It was one of many lessons He taught me in those 3 weeks. But I think it's especially pertinent to my life now. So I brought that little crocheted mushroom into my office, and it's now sitting on my desk reminding me that I can be a little burst of color in a somewhat drab environment, that God is with me, and that I'm going to be just fine.

28 March 2010

The Best Fudge Brownies Ever

When I get in a food slump, I like to read the recipes that come on the back of food packaging. I hardly ever actually try them, but they often inspire me to use that food item for something other than the specific purpose for which I bought it.

Cooking is something I want to be really good at. And to be really good at anything, first you have to learn to follow the rules, and then once you've mastered the art, you can break the rules all you want, and then it's called ingenuity. But if you never follow the rules and just do your own thing from the start, you'll never reach mastery of anything. This goes for poetry, music, painting, science, exegesis, driving, language, you name it. Every medium has its limits, and you must first learn to respect those limits before you break them.

But I get bored following all the rules. Which is probably why I'm the jill-of-all-trades type. I learn just enough about something so I can improvise because my goal is always to create something new. (Okay, maybe not with driving, but you get my point.) I run into this issue a lot with sewing. I have a really hard time completely following a pattern. I also have issues following recipes. I like to add my own ideas, change things up, bring something into existence that has never existed before!!! It's just more exciting for me that way. And maybe the end product is not always "better" than the result the recipe or the pattern or the rules stipulated. But it's an exercise in imagination, and I think that's more important.

But then I bought a bag of King Arthur Flour. And on the back was the recipe for "The Best Fudge Brownies Ever." Now I am sure that plenty of people have made that claim, but when King Arthur makes a claim about a baked good, you best listen. So I did. I made the recipe without one single alteration. And let me tell you...these are the best fudge brownies ever. So here, for your culinary pleasure--without alteration or interference from your truly (except to say that I used ghirardelli cocoa and mini chocolate chips)--is the recipe:

"There's no dessert more satisfying than a warm, fudgy brownie; and we daresay these are the best brownies you'll ever bake. Cut through the shiny, delicate top crust to reveal a deep-dark, rich, super-moist brownie underneath, perfect with a cold glass of milk (or a scoop of vanilla ice cream!)."

The Best Fudge Brownies Ever
1 cup (8 ounces) butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups Duth-process cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups chocolate chips

*Increase the salt to 1 teaspoon if you use unsalted butter.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch pan.

In a saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat briefly, just until it's hot, but not bubbling; it'll become shiny looking as you stir it. (Heating the butter and sugar a second time will dissolve more of the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on your brownies.) Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl.

Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla. Add the eggs, beating until smooth; then add the flour and chocolate chips, beating until well combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the brownies for 28-30 minutes, until a cake tested inserted into the center comes out dry (though it may have a few crumbs clinging to it). The brownies should feel set both on the edges, and in the center. Remove them from the oven, and after 5 minutes loosen the edges with a table knife. (This helps prevent the brownies from sinking in the center as they cool.) Cool completely before cutting and serving. Yield: 2 dozen brownies.

(Disclaimer: I forgot to take a picture of my brownies. This is a picture from the King Arthur website from a similar recipe.)

Is your tummy growling yet? Mine sure is. I am thoroughly taken by these brownies. Those of you well versed in the art of brownie-making will know that these are just a touch on the cakey side due to the 4 eggs. So that means they're not quite as chewy as box brownies. For a long time, I thought box brownies were the pinnacle of browniedom. But there's just something about brownies made from scratch. They're just so satisfying. Jason thinks they're a little on the rich side. He's probably right. It's a good idea to make these when you have a few friends to help with the consumption. And seriously, friends and homemade brownies? It doesn't get much better than that.

edit: Blogging about these brownies today was just slightly tortuous. So I resolved to make them as soon as I got home from work. I trudged home through the rain salivating over these deliciocities. And lo and behold, I walked in the door and was greeted by the most fantastic husband ever and a pan of freshly baked "best fudge brownies ever." Yeah, I know. You are all jealous. And you should be. These brownies (and Jason too) rock my face off!

27 March 2010

A Flower for Tea

Last year for my birthday, Jason took me out to tea. We went to a little tea shop in Salem next to Rita's Water Ice, and he diligently sat with me and ate scones and tea sandwiches because that is my ideal meal and one of my most favorite things to do. He drew the line at cucumber sandwiches, so I ate all of those. It was a lovely time. He also gave me a "coupon" to be taken out to tea sometime again within the next year.

Well, my birthday is coming up again soon, and I wanted to make sure to use my coupon before it expired. So a few weekends ago, we planned a date at The Wenham Tea House, which is the oldest continually operating tea house in the country.

I was very excited to go to afternoon tea. I wanted to get all cute and dressed up and springy because that just seems appropriate for tea. I know that people have afternoon tea all year round, but it just seems like a springish thing to do. Maybe it's the flowers on the teacups. I don't know. But regardless, I envisioned a springtime afternoon tea experience.

Unfortunately, I live in New England, and we don't really get spring here. We get endless winter followed by a few weeks of freezing rain and mud and then the trees start blooming around the end of May and two days later, it's summer. So as you can imagine, on the mid-March day Jason and I set out for afternoon tea, it was just above freezing and raining in torrents. There go my cute springtime attire plans.

But I would not be defeated. I found my warmest skirt/sweater combo and went to work on a coordinating headband that would add some flowery goodness to the ensemble. And here it is:
Unfortunately, I took these pictures on another rainy day so the color isn't fantastic. The flower is actually a bright purple, so it springed up my outfit quite nicely for a lovely pseudo-spring afternoon tea.

26 March 2010


Let the catching up begin. Bring on March! Contrary to what you may think given the pleasantness of the warming up of the world, I really do not like March. I find it absurd that a 31 day month does not include a single holiday. And by the time March rolls around, I have no patience for its flip-floppy weather. Just be warm! What is so hard about that?? Okay, enough ranting. Now we can bring on March.

My first weekly make of March was quite a mystery for some time...even to me. I had been rummaging through my fabric scrap drawer and had come across some lovely strips of flannel. I decided that I would make some sort of bag using a single continuous strip of cloth. I was inspired by a bag I had seen once that was made entirely out of a continuous zipper. Here is a pretty good example. If you need a little better of an explanation, here is a scary infomercial-type video that shows how it works. Yikes.

Anyway, that was my starting point. I decided to use two different fabrics to emphasize the sweet diagonalness of the pattern. And I just started sewing the long strip to itself winding around and around as I went. (I really need to start taking in-process shots because I'm sure this makes no sense.) When the strip ran out, I stopped sewing and evaluated what I had...which was a bag with 3 corners on the bottom. I spent the next 2 hours--Yes...2 hours--trying to figure out how to tuck in the bottom single-cornered side so that I would have a nice rectangular, flat bottom with a front and back and sides that were squared off. I folded and pinned and unpinned and refolded. I cut out a cardboard bottom to see if pinning around a solid piece would be easier. It wasn't. In short, this bag--or whatever it was--totally owned me.

So I took a rotary cutter to it. (That's the sewing equivalent to a pizza wheel.) I cut off the double cornered half and sewed up the side. I now had a flat bag. Much smaller than my original intention and not nearly as cool. But it turns out that when you sew a strip of fabric diagonally and 3-dimensionally, it just doesn't come out squared. End of story. Defeat accepted.

Because of the seams from the strips, I had a large amount of flannel folding all over the place inside my bag. So I decided it needed to be lined. I pulled a random bit of fabric from my scrap drawer (now a large pile on my floor) and cut it to what I thought would be the right size. But flannel, though soft and lovely, is thick and obnoxious, so measuring the outside of the bag produced a lining that was too big. I measured again and resewed. Still too big. So then I got really angry, took the rotary cutter to my lining and whacked off about a half an inch. Maybe it was a full inch. I don't know. I was distraught.

Of course, my lining was now too small, but I was determined to make it work. I thought, "Hey! Maybe if I add straps to the sides, it will make up for the gap-osis between my lining and the outside of my bag!" Brilliant, Robin! And you already have a matching strip of fabric cut into the perfect width! I sewed it up and tried to turn it right-side out. But again, we were working with flannel. And there was no way that little strip of fabric was ever going to turn right-side out. So what to do? I didn't want to waste any more fabric on this stupid bag. But what else could close the gap between my lining and my outer shell? Why, a zipper of course! Because I'd never sewn a zipper into anything before, and what better time to try than for a project that was a complete disaster? Really, how hard could it be? I even had a zipper that was kinda sorta almost the right size! Woohoo!

Well, I'm guessing that the right time to sew in a zipper is not when the bag is otherwise fully assembled, and especially not when your liner and your outer shell don't match up. So it was a...trying experience. But I ended up with...

a zipper pouch...that is only somewhat functional...and will most certainly fall apart if you don't hold it just so when operating the zipper.

So, was my little diagonal bag project as nifty as a continuous zipper bag? Not even close. But I did try a few new things including some very poor geometry. And if you don't look at it too closely, it is kinda pretty. And the original intention of the diagonality remained intact. So there are small victories in the midst of disaster.

As a side note, in searching for bags made of zippers, I found this little number, which just might have to be an upcoming project. Maybe once March is over. I think I'll have better luck and a better state of mind come April.

25 March 2010

Show #5

So back at the end of February, there was another Kalos coffee house. This one was to celebrate the 2nd issue of the arts journal put out by the seminary community. The theme was "Light." Here is the post about my submission to the journal. I had both of my cathedral window wall-hangings on display:
The night before the coffee house, I still didn't have any way to hang either wall-hanging, so I was working on sewing sleeves on the back to hold a dowel so they could hang. And then the power went out. So there I was, sitting on the living room floor, hand-sewing by candlelight. It felt so lovely and colonial. (But I must tell you...my candle-light stitching was far from impeccable.)

I got some really positive reactions to my cathedral windows. People seemed to like them. But it is a little difficult because I'm the only person who has submitted any sort of textile anything to the 2 editions of Kalos so far. So I don't know if people really get what I'm doing or not, if they see what I do as "art." I guess it doesn't really matter because these cathedral windows are really important to me and grew me in so many ways. Even so, I do hope that a fellow sewer or crafter of some sort steps up for the next issue. There are quite a few talented writers and photographers who contribute to the journal, but I think a little more diversity of media would make it better. Just my opinion.

This time, the coffee house was in a smaller, darker room, with strings of lights hung overhead. The feel was much cozier than the first coffee house, which was held in the great hall, which has terrible acoustics and is not really conducive to listening or focusing attention on the stage. Once again, I played in the open mic section of the evening. (I'm not sure what one has to do to be a part of the "regular program," but I'm not going to get into that right now.)

I asked Jason to play with me, which was a great call. I know that I'm capable of performing by myself, but when I do, all I can think about afterward are the many mistakes I made on the guitar which then made my voice a little shaky for a beat or two. It's fun for me to share my songs, but it's much more fun to have a little back-up. Enter Jason. Jason and I have tried to play my music together before. It's always been a little frustrating and slightly awkward because so many of my best songs were from a period when our relationship was really shaky, and the main content is about not wanting to marry Jason. I write from emotional overflow, so tumultuous times produce stellar songs out of me. But it makes it hard to include Jason in those songs.

I've never wanted to do music by myself. That has never been part of the plan. So I decided to try to incorporate Jason for this coffee house and just see how things went. He is a much better guitar player than I am, and our voices blend quite nicely, so there was no reason we couldn't make it work.

I flipped through my journals and songbooks to try to figure out what songs to play. Light is one of my go-to metaphors so I had quite a few to choose from. I stumbled upon this song I remembered starting a few months ago and was surprised to see it edited and finished. I don't remember doing that. It's called "Run that Darkness Down," and it is currently one of my favorite RGO's (Robin Giberson Originals)...right up there with "Orion" and "Bouncy Ball in a Blender." It saddens me that I can't upload sound clips on blogger. It seems wrong to have the lyrics here without the music. Don't get me wrong--I think they stand alone just fine, but the song is a much better experience when heard. Oh well. So as to try to include you in this lovely bit of songwriting, here are the lyrics:

Somewhere the sun is rising.
I don't know why it's hiding.
I wish it would ride out with banners flying high.
And with his tail between his legs
The dark would quickly run away
Cutting his losses, mumbling curses as he fled.
And I...I would run that darkness down.
Oh and I...I would run that darkness down.

Somewhere a breeze is blowing.
I don't know where it's going.
But if it's warm, I wish it'd pick me up on the way.
And without one backward glance
You know that I would take my chance
That breeze would carry me to a brighter kind of day.
Oh and I...I would ride out on the wind.
Yes and I...I would fly out on the wind.

It's hard to fight against the sleep
That's making all my darkest dreams
Seem like they're really real and coming after me.
So I will just turn on the light
And I will let that light fight
All of my battles 'til the morning rescues me.
And on that day...I will run that darkness down.
On that day...I will run that mean old darkness down.
Yes and I...I will run that darkness down.
Oh and I...I will run that darkness down.

So there you have it. A song that I have written in the recent past that isn't awful. Quite the contrary...I'm really proud of this song. It isn't too deep or profound. It's just a really fun song to sing and to play and it brings a little hope and sunshine to my cloudy days and instantly improves my mood. Songwriting success. Way to go, Robin.

So Jason and I played this song and "Oh Little Forgotten," aka "My Sparrow Song." I wrote that one back in my junior year of college. It's loosely based on the Matthew 6:25-34 and 10:29-31 passages that tell us not to worry because God cares about us more than the sparrows and they do just fine. That's not really the tone of the song, but that's the basic message. The tone is more, "Stop being so scared. Get up out of your ashes. God has not forgotten you. He is here even now." It's a message I need to hear continually, and this song has been really helpful in reminding me of the truth of God's presence and love and provision and challenging me to believe He is here.

So back to the coffee house...Jason and I played these two songs. He played guitar on both and sang harmony for "O Little Forgotten." And it was the most fun I've had playing music since CMC. It all went so smoothly, and I didn't have to worry so much about my guitar playing or my vocal tone because Jason had my back. So I could just focus on the words of the songs and the truths they communicated. I could just sing those truths to my soul and enjoy being filled up with them.

We got quite a good reaction, which is always my least favorite part. (I never get nervous or start to shake until it's over.) But I was pleasantly surprised when several different people asked us if we play out often at other places. We do church stuff together but never stuff like this. So that was encouraging that we seemed like we did it all the time. And one guy even came up to me to tell me that "Don't Mess with Me" was the highlight of the last coffee house. I was completely floored by that...mostly that he remembered "Don't Mess with Me" and that I was the person who did it. That was way back in October!

So this is a very long post to say that I really enjoyed the February Kalos coffee house. I'm excited to see what the next theme is. I've decided I'm going to submit a song in addition to whatever else I do to see if that'll get me into the non-open-mic portion of the night. And I'll definitely be doing more of my music with Jason from now on. And I'm excited about "Run that Darkness Down." I wish you could hear it!!