Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Representative Images for Funky Finds Application

Item Type #1: Mini Quilts 

  • Quilts size for wall-hanging or table-top use
  • Machine-pieced and quilted by me (all quilting is done by me on a domestic machine; stitch patterns are hand-guided, not created via a computer/sewing machine program)

Wall hanging: Approximately 12" x 11.5" 

"Mug Rug" 6" x 9"
Slip a tea bag or a treat or a letter to Santa in the pocket!

Wall hanging: Approximately 9"x 12"

Wall Hanging: Approximately 18" x 18"

Item Type #2: Lined Clutch

  • 8" wide
  • 5" tall

Item Type #3: Zippered Pouch

  • 5" wide
  • 3.5" tall
  • Fully lined
  • Lightly padded

Item Type #4: Key Fob

  • 5" long
  • Looped for use as wristlet

Saturday, October 25, 2014

On American Beauty

Edited 10/26/14

Earlier this morning, I went into Ulta to buy some conditioner that isn't sold in other retail stores. After picking up the bottle, I decided to walk up and down the aisles as I let my mind wander. This meandering through big box stores isn't retail therapy in the form of numerous needless purchases, but I enjoy the break from phones, from responsibilities, from worries.

The store was busy because of a Bare Minerals makeup event. Women signed up for free consultations as they entered the store, then shopped while waiting for their turn in the makeup chair. I had no interest in the special event, so I continued up and down the aisles until I reached the premium makeup section of the store. This section of the store is distinct from the area that contains everyday brands like Neutrogena and Revlon, whose products can be purchased for a third of the price (oh, how I covet one of the Naked eyeshadow sets!).

Logically, the premium makeup aisles are adjacent to the premium skin care products. Thus, as I turned reached the end the aisle dedicated to Urban Decay products, an Ulta employee stopped me. I had a smear of something black, possibly eyeliner, on my cheek. As I wiped my face clean at the nearest mirror, one that magnifies one's pores, all I could see were my unplucked eyebrows, which family members have previously referred to as "feral." Fortunately, after years of commentary, they've accepted that regular eyebrow plucking isn't high on my list of priorities. Unfortunately, combining a face smear, a stranger and a magnification mirror brought my inner ugly duckling to life.

The employee, a dyed blonde with plenty of premium product on her face, began assessing my skin. After explaining her credentials ("I work in the face care section), she said something along the lines of, "I can see that your acne is acting up. It's probably because of the hormones from pregnancy. Do you know you're not supposed to use products like salicylic acid when you're pregnant?" (I am 30 weeks pregnant, and it shows.)

I said, "Yep!", ready to turn away and continue drifting aimlessly through the aisles. Instead of stopping there, the employee, whose other potential customers were enraptured by the beauty event at the front of the store, proceeded to explain the benefits of a $53 face cream that is useful to pregnant women with acne who can't use the typical topicals ("I can't lie. It's expensive....Such and such ingredient is an acid, but it's plant based.")

After the employee finished reading me the contents of the face cream and listing the benefits to my face, I excused myself saying that I would keep the product in mind. As I finished drifting up and down the remaining aisles, I paid particular attention to the various eyebrow rescue kits, which all seemed to contain two shades of powder and eyebrow gel that "keep them in place for 24 hours!" My pleasant escape from reality was at its end, as I pondered whether I should invest in improving my appearance with one or more of the makeup sets available.

I wasn't too worried about the so-called acne that the employee found so noticeable. I've chosen not to follow my pre-pregnancy facial routine in order to limit what chemicals my body absorbs. In addition, what the employee noticed are scars and some freckles. If you look closely, you'll that I have blackheads on my nose, but today, there are no pimples or other hormone-induced eruptions. As a teenager, however, I did have horrible acne. To get rid of the evidence, I would have to have a chemical peel or something other equally horrific treatment. And, until today, no one has bothered to tell me they notice.

But, notice this employee did. Miss Manners would be appalled, though plenty might think that it was my own fault, really. I hadn't bothered to apply makeup--and usually do not. Why not? Because it requires re-application. Because it melts away with the sweat on hot summer days in Texas. Because I work from home and often don't see anyone other than my husband for days in a row. Because makeup is expensive. Because my husband seems not to care that I apply makeup only occasionally, when I'm in the mood to do so. Because my friends seem to love me whether I have the stuff on or not.

As I drove away and had more time to process what happened in the store, I had to consider the two reactions the interaction provoked in me. One on hand, all of the socialization about beauty in American society and my own insecurities began to surface. What to do? Apply some makeup, pluck some stray hairs and be beautiful--or at least demonstrate that I care about being beautiful? Doing so would somehow improve my life, right? Maybe more people would like me. Maybe I would be happier if I purchased some new eyeshadow and an eyebrow rescue kit and put them to use while also vowing not to leave the apartment without having applied concealer and a mineral powder foundation.

On the other hand, what the hell is wrong with this woman and all the beauty ads and perfect-seeming stars we look up to as role models? Is buying $53 face cream going to help me earn more money? Will it aid me through natural labor? Through my first days as a mother? Will it make my breast milk come in more quickly? Will it make my unborn son love me more? Will my improved appearance make my husband want to make more babies, right now? Will the value I get from the $53 purchase be greater than whatever else it is I plan to spend my "play money" on this month? 

The employee who shared her product recommendation with me wasn't snarky or condescending, and I don't think she intended to insult me. I'm not angry with her, and she did not ruin my day. Instead, I see her as a reflection of society at large, of a beauty zombie who does what many of us do and make a first assessment of another that is only skin deep. Meanwhile, I can cheer inwardly and be thankful that the child currently stomping on my bladder is a boy. His teenage years are likely to be awkward and acne filled, but that will be okay. Chances are no one will ever stop him in a store to suggest that he load his cart with expensive products that will make him more beautiful, more lovable, more desirable, more worthy. His frenemies will not whisper that he is ugly and therefore unworthy of popularity. A peer in school will not comment about him, as one said about me, "[S]he's a dog!" He will not ask his partner if he looks fat before he walks out the door. He will, I hope, just be. That's enough for me. I hope it's enough for him.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Saturday in the Park

We visited the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens and started experimenting with a new-to-us camera.

At just over seven months pregnant, I weigh as much as my husband.
We spent time at this flower bed playing with the aperture settings on the camera.

 The butterfly bushes adjacent to the rose garden are host to a swarm of monarchs right now.

Looks like spring!

Belly in the hole!


Sunday, May 4, 2014

NYC Quilt: Tour de Brooklyn

More memories from The NYC Quilt.... 

This quilt block was created by a friend who rode the Tour de Brooklyn (roughly 20 miles) with me on June 5, 2005. I did a search for the 2005 Tour de Brooklyn and found this blog written by a participant that same year -- the first year of the ride! The author has some good shots of the ride in progress. (For anyone interested, this year's tour is on Saturday, June 1.)

 The block's creator is an accomplished graphic designer -- but rest assured that he did not ride a penny-farthing. The ride itself was tiring but fun, and in addition to riding down Ocean Parkway, which was closed to traffic, I remember having to dismount to carry my bike up and down stairs at each end of a pedestrian bridge. I also have a vivid memory of being at a stopping point and hearing the click-click-click of multiple riders clipping their bicycling shoes into the pedals.

Later that year, in August, I went on a solo bike ride from my apartment in Williamsburg to Roosevelt Island, a skinny island between Queens and Manhattan. A paved path rings the island, so I decided to check it out. The quiet island has a modern hospital at one end and the remains of an abandoned smallpox hospital at the other. It was hot out, and I hadn't slept well the night before (post-breakup blues). Apparently, I shouldn't have attempted the 12-mile bike ride when I did. Just a mile or two from home, as I rode down a residential street, I crashed my bike. To be more specific, I crashed my bike into a parked, unmanned red car. There were no moving vehicles on the two-lane street. I must have zoned out because I remembered riding and then seeing a side mirror in my way.


Even more humiliating was the fact that a man in a van had turned onto the street just as I crashed. As I stood up, adjusted my helmet, and grabbed a sip from my water bottle, he drove by me, asked if I was okay and implied that I should stop drinking vodka while riding. Fortunately, I was only bruised up and not bleeding, so I made it home in one piece.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Meet Midget Block 62

Until yesterday, I had stalled out on my Dear Jane. I was working at a pretty fast clip until I hit Row G, Block 2. You can see the version Anina (author of the blog "That Quilt") created here. The block just doesn't speak to me. Last weekend I did a search for 4.5" blocks and found the Sentimental Stitches website. Under "Free Patterns" is a treasure trove of 4.5" of "Midget Blocks," based on a Depression-era quilt. The patterns for blocks 1-50 are no longer free, but (as of now) you can still download the patterns for blocks 51-174.

I decided to replace G-2 with Midget Block 62:

The directions printed with the block suggest a combination of paper-piecing (which I did) and hand-piecing. I didn't think through the construction of the block before beginning, so regular hand-piecing wasn't an option. Instead, I ended up stitching together the star, then turning under 1/4" on all edges. I hand appliqued the star to background fabric.

I don't recommend doing this. Instead, I suggest paper-piecing the striped diamonds. Rather than trim them, leave each piece larger than it needs to be. Then, create an English paper-piecing template for the diamonds, triangles and squares. Sew those pieces together by hand. Now I know!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Dear Jane Update -- 10 Years Later

I've been working on my version of the Dear Jane quilt for approximately ten years now. I think I did my first block sometime in 2004 at a class at NYC's City Quilter. (In the book, I've written down the date that I completed many of the blocks--but not always the year. The earliest complete date I see as I flip through the book today is January 30, 2004). I have between 60 and 70 of the center blocks left to complete, and I've started laying out my blocks using the "My Block Chart" of the EQ software created for the quilt.

My original plan was not much of a plan. I wanted to do a red and black quilt. Slowly, "red" came to mean "orange/pink/maroon/red" and "black" came to mean "black/grey/white." I didn't plan to do a trip around the world, like Jane did, but now that's the design I'm aiming for now. I am not redoing any blocks, though, so my trip around the world will be a little less clear than others'.

Recently, a friend who started a purple Dear Jane and joined a monthly "support group" told me about a blog with tutorials for each block: http://thatquilt.blogspot.com/

I've been checking that website for tips, as well as the worksheets provided by Judy and Diane (who teach the Dear Jane class at The City Quilter), the tips at the Dear Jane website, and other tidbits I've picked up doing Google searches. I recently found a flying geese tutorial that I really like--it's the second one in this Connecting Threads blog post.

Today, I'm going to finish out the row G patterns (not Row G in my chart, above, but Row G in the Dear Jane book). G2, which Brenda titled "Mohawk Trail" is quite ugly, in my opinion. So, I'm going to do a 4.5" variation of the "Swirly Twirly Dresden" block by Rachel of the Quilting Lodge instead.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

163 Jackson Street (The NYC Quilt)

I lived in Brooklyn, NY for three years, and when I left, for the only time in my life, I felt like Carrie Bradshaw: in love with a boyfriend who happened to be a city. So, in August 2006, the month that I packed up and returned to Texas, I cut squares of fabric, backed them with freezer paper, and picked up a set of fabric markers. I took blocks to The City Quilter--a place where I had worked part-time, took classes, and hung out with amazing, creative women (and men)--and to a goodbye gathering at my favorite dive bar. Friends and strangers contributed blocks, and I created a larger quilt top by creating blocks from a city-themed fabric.

Just this month, seven and a half years later, I finished the quilt.

It's not beautiful and the design isn't well-balanced, but I love the finished product. Looking over the blocks that others created for me has brought back a flood of memories, many of which I wouldn't have been able to tell you about before looking over the quilt. I created two blocks for the quilt, and one of them, which depicts my apartment, has provided me with a name for the quilt: 163 Jackson Street.

I lived in a three-story walk-up in Brooklyn, just a few blocks from the Graham Avenue stop on the "L" line. At the top of the building was a decorative statue, and while at first glance you might have thought it odd to live in a building topped with a gargoyle, a second glance revealed that instead you lived in a building guarded by a stone turkey.

I started out in apartment 1A, a little studio apartment of approximately 400 square feet. The rent was $900 a month, so after paying that and the rest of my bills, I didn't have much spending money. (I taught in the public schools. Starting pay was $39,000 at that time.) Because paying rent was taking so much out of my take home pay, I got on Craigslist before renewing my lease and found an ad posted by someone who needed a roommate. Two emails later, I learned that the person's name was Dan and that he lived at 163 Jackson Street, two floors above me. I moved in (the larger apartment was approximately 450 square feet), and my share of the rent dropped to $625.

If you look at the quilt block, you'll see that I've drawn some stick figures. The one on the right is me. The little person in the middle is Dan (a short, skinny Japanese guy, definitely smaller than me). To the left is Stephanie, who became my roommate when Dan moved out, and her cat Tonto. Not pictured is Udi, the Israeli roommate who replaced Stephanie and then refused to move out when I did because he intended to become a squatter.

163 was three buildings from the corner of the street, and at the corner was a laundry shop called "Bubble Spa" (see the top right of the quilt block). For part of the first year, I dragged my laundry up and down the stairs of the apartment building to Bubble Spa and paid $3 or $4 a load to use their washers and dryers. Then, I got smart and exhausted (I was a first-year teacher and in graduate school) and started paying Bubble Spa $0.69/lb to wash and fold my laundry for me. Never has anyone folded laundry so well! Of course, paying $14 or $15 to have someone else do my laundry was another reason my money supply was limited. In less popular areas, you could have your laundry done for only $0.40/lb, but I wasn't going to cart the laundry farther than I had to.

Three other businesses are represented on the right side of my block: C-Town, East Met West (that's not a typo), and a 24-hour bodega. C-Town was the closest grocery store, just over a block away from my apartment. When I first moved to NYC, shopping of any kind was stressful, even at a small grocery store. Why? First of all, I wasn't familiar with the brands. I remember going into C-Town to buy a jar of pickles but leaving with none. There were shelves of pickles, and not one brand name I had ever seen before. I had no idea which brands in front of me were popular or even generic. I had to go back home, regroup, and buy pickles during a later trip.

Also confusing was that C-Town did not carry shampoo, toothpaste, or contact solution. I had to buy those things across the street at a pharmacy--imagine a small Walgreens. Directly next to C-Town was a produce shop (C-Town didn't carry any fresh produce either). The produce next door was seasonal and in good shape, but expensive. My dad visited me at some point and bought me a "granny cart," one of those metal carts with four wheels that you can use to lug things around. I would walk fifteen or twenty minutes to a different, bigger, cheaper produce store and come home happier...until I had to get the granny cart and all of my oranges up to the third floor. I stopped shopping at C-Town after a city-wide blackout. About a week after power was restored, I bought some chicken breast. They had gone bad, and from then on I worried about being sold food that hadn't been refrigerated properly.

East Met West was one of two Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood. I got a tofu and pork dish and huge containers of hot and sour soup on a regular business. The food tasted good, cost little, and could even be delivered at no extra charge. Getting Chinese food in Texas requires a car and more money. And, forget delivery.

The 24-hour bodega was my number one neighborhood stop. There, I discovered single-serving cups of Hagen Daz Dulce de Leche ice cream, homemade blocks of tofu, and any other items that I needed to get through the day's crisis.

At the left side of the block are two neighborhood characters. Bruno belonged to an older man who lived across the street from 163. That man, like most of the neighborhood's elderly, had immigrated from the same village in Naples to Brooklyn decades earlier. Daily, I would hear the neighbor yell, "Bruno" in his deep, cranky, Italian-accented voice.

Watching over everyone, of course, was the Virgin Mary. I presume she watched over the neighborhood. I only saw her come out in public one time, wearing a cape of money. There was a parade in her honor, and  the parade was no more than two parts long: the Virgin Mary on her trailer and the people walking behind her.

Photos by Natalie Parker
I hated leaving New York, and I hated this quilt top when I first put it together seven years ago. I was obsessed with the ugly parts of it and wanted to re-assemble it, but I didn't have the energy. Now, all I care about are the beautiful parts--the memories and the thoughtfulness of the people who contributed blocks.

Sprouts and more Sprouts

In mid-February, my in-laws drove in to take me and my husband out for a birthday meal (both of us have February birthdays). Part of the visit involved "Christmas," otherwise known as present-time, and we each received a "healthy" gift. My husband received a brand new yogurt maker, circa 1970, purchased from eBay. My mother-in-law has the same one and had purchased a back-up but never needed to use it. The appliance works perfectly, and my husband loves it.

My healthy gift was the Leafy Sprout Starter Kit sold by The Sprout People. The Easy Sprout Sprouter allows you to grow two tablespoons of sprout seeds in less than a week and requires very little counter space or sunlight. Really, all you need is seeds and water for rinsing the seeds each day. 

I've finished growing my first batch of sprouts (French Garden blend)--two tablespoons of seeds makes an enormous quantity of sprouts.

The Leafy Sprout Starter Kit comes with nine one-quarter pound bags of sprout seeds. Each bag of seeds is equivalent to 10 tablespoons of sprouts, which produces the pictured amount of sprouts five times over. That's 45 batches of sprouts, which is roughly one year's worth of sprouts if you can figure out how to eat an enormous quantity of sprouts within one week's time. 

If you, like me, have a hard time imagining how to eat this many sprouts in one week, you might decide to grow only one tablespoon worth of sprouts the next time around.

Ladies and gentlemen, my mother-in-law has given me the gift that never stops giving: 90 batches of grow-your-own sprouts. 

Start sending recipes.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Our Homemade Centerpieces

Because pinning a tutorial of my own making to Pinterest will make me feel worthier as a pinner and a crafter...how to make a centerpiece quickly and cheaply.

  • Flowers (we hired a florist for this part)
  • Vases (we bought 12 from a wholesale warehouse)
  • Used books (shades of green, $0.50 to $1.00 from the Fort Worth Public Library sale)
  • Cardstock (any color)
  • Glue gun
  • Packages of moss from Joann's or Michael's
  • Compass
  • Other basic implements such as scissors
*We both love jigsaw puzzles, so we spread puzzle pieces from a puzzle we had done together on the tables.

Book Selection:
Don't get too matchy-matchy. Do consider the size of the books you buy/borrow/use. We had some stacks of two books and some of three. You want to make sure that your vase and moss rings will fit on the smallest books. We sorted and stacked our 12 sets of books prior to making the moss rings.

Step 1:
Place your vase on a sheet of cardstock (or a filing folder) and trace the footprint of the vase onto the paper. Then, use a compass (or a dinner plate, etc) to draw a second circle -- our rings were roughly 2" wide. Cut out the center and around the outer ring. Place your vase in the ring to check the fit.

Step 2: 
Heat up the old glue gun and start attaching moss to the ring. Intermittently place the vase back into the center of the ring to make sure it still fits. (I dislike the smell of this packaged moss.) Slap the moss on until the paper ring is covered. Use small-to-medium sized chunks to imitate a natural look, and remind yourself that you are not making a wreath. Your moss ring doesn't need to be symmetrical, or very large. Save the small, smelly chunks of moss in the bag. You'll put those on the centerpiece the day of the event.

Step 3: 
Test your moss ring + vase + book pile. Look okay? Throw everything in boxes and bags, and do something else with the rest of your day. On the day of the wedding, we did the following:
1. Set out books and arrange
2. Place a moss ring on each stack of books
3. Place a vase in the center of each ring (We took the vases to the florist prior to the wedding and picked them up filled with water and flowers.)
4. Place leftover moss clumps on books and scatter moss leaves
5. Got married and wondered what the hell we were going to do with 12 matching vases