Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Operation ribbit, status report

Phase 1—Pattern cutting
Phase 1 status: Completed 10/29/2007, 23:30

Phase 2—Amphibious gear construction

This phase of costume creation was one of the trickiest. I used McCall's pattern #8953, an easy-to-sew pattern that can be customized as a lion, cat, rabbit, bear or kangaroo. While the body suit was fairly straightforward because I could follow the pattern, coming up with smaller details that made it look like a frog was a challenge.

Using some plain white paper and a pencil, I sketched to create a template for some froggy-looking digits. From the template, I cut them out of the green fleece and then sewed a layer of fleece to some thick batting. My plan was to then sew the back layer of fabric to the reverse, turn it right-side-out and voilà!—froggy hands! Sadly, the execution left something to be desired. I realized that I hadn't left enough seam allowance and that the thickness of the batting would make it impossible for me to turn the hands right side out. Back to the drawing board.

Above on the left you can see my first (failed) attempt at froggy digits. In the middle is my next (successful) attempt. I used my original template, but cut an extra 1/4" around the outside for a seam allowance. Then, instead of sewing one layer of fleece directly onto the batting, I just sewed the two layers of fleece together and then turned it right-side-out, as seen on the right. Finally, I stuffed it with little pieces of batting.

Here is the completed body of the costume. The froggy hands are pinned to the arms, but after Jimmy tries it on so I can place them in the right spot, I'll hand-sew them to the ends of the sleeves.

Phase 2 status: Completed 10/30/2007, 21:45

Phase 3—Headgear and footgear construction
Phase 3 status: In progress as of 10/31/2007, 10:15

Monday, October 29, 2007

Operation ribbit

Today's mission (should I choose to accept it): Cut out all the pattern pieces for Jimmy's Halloween costume.

Mission background: At the beginning of October, I asked Jimmy what he wanted to be for Halloween.

"A black kitty," he answered. Relieved that he wanted to wear last year's costume, I started to look forward to a relaxed and fun Halloween.

Then last week, he announced, "Mom, I'm going to be a frog for Halloween."

Oh, really? Great. So on Friday afternoon when we drove down to Yakima for our monthly Costco run, we stopped at Jo-Ann Fabrics and I bought three and a half yards of bright green fleece (because let me tell you, Halloween gets cold here!) along with the necessary notions.

If I pace myself, hopefully I can avoid the last minute sewing frenzy of the previous year's costume construction.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Harvest festival

Yesterday we went on a family outing at a harvest festival in Roslyn. They had a pumpkin patch, a hay maze, and lots of other fun activities. We got some cute pix of the kiddos, but somehow Jim managed to evade the camera this time around (probably because he was the force wielding it).

Oh, and is it just me, or does it look like Audrey's eyes are going to stay blue?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Birds, bees and other creatures

During the past week I've been rereading Dandelion Wine, a novel by one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury. More on that some other post. In the preface, Bradbury discusses his creative process. He talks about going back to memories of childhood and picking a visual or a word or a smell and starting with that, then seeing what unfolds. I've been ruminating on his idea and this morning, my own inspiration hit me.

The "F" word. I know, I know—it's an unlikely muse for someone like me, but hear me out.

It was 1977, and I was in second grade at Fauntleroy Elementary School in West Seattle. Fauntleroy was down the hill from where we lived at a rental house on Donovan Street, the house with the lilacs.

The school closed in 1981. The last time I was there was for Ruth's wedding reception, five years ago. Behind the school, the playground was a ruin of twisted steel, patched here and there with decrepit rubber mats, like so many peeling bandaids vainly trying to hold together the hopelessly cracked asphalt. The still-handsome brick building space was rented out to a day care, a dance school and private events.

In 1977, though, Fauntleroy throbbed with life, the pulsing blood of school children pumping reckless through each arterial hall. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Crawford, was an awe-inspiring woman with silvery blond bobbed hair. More than once she chastized me for losing myself in a book at the beginning of class, only to surface, startled, in the middle of the Pledge of Allegiance.

One crisp morning as I was hanging my blue and yellow parka in the coatroom, I heard it whispered. Scandalized sniggers. Later, as I sank behind the wide wooden expanse of desk, exhausted by lunch recess, I heard it again, from the scalawag seated just to my left. I turned and whispered it back, but even then my voice had the (unhappy) ability to project, and I quickly found myself facing the stern visage of Mrs. Crawford. With a single look worth a hundred lectures, she dispatched me to the principal's office.

Mr. Richardson and I were already well acquainted, and he gestured for me to be seated on an uncomfortable wooden chair in front of his massive desk.


I abjectly explained that I had said something bad, and told him what it was.

"Do you know what that word means?"

I shook my head no.

"I'm going to send you home, and when you get there, I'd like you to tell your mother what you said and ask her to explain to you exactly what it means." I was dismissed.

The quarter-mile walk home up the hill was especially long that afternoon. Mr. Richardson must have called my mother because she was forearmed with a pencil and notepad. She started with the obligatory brief remonstrance about the unsavory nature of the "F" word. Then my mother—the daughter of a nurse who would one day become one herself—segued perilously with "When a mommy and a daddy love each other," and launched into a detailed clinical description of human intimacy, complete with anatomically correct drawings, to scale.

Fascinated, terrified and disgusted all at once, my eight year-old eyes never looked at boys quite the same. Or my own parents, for that matter.

I'm thinking when the time comes to have The Talk with Audrey, I'll probably skip the pad and pencil.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Leave me alone, mom

Trust me, I can't even begin to describe the amount of cajoling it took to get my camera-phobe son to allow me to take the following pictures. I don't know what's gotten into him lately; he claims to not like the flash, but I think there may be more to it than that.

The thing is, for a few glorious weeks in October, we have this amazing pink and golden light in our front yard as the leaves on the elm and maple don their vibrant fall hues. And the smell: crisp and smoky-sweet. Fall has always been my favorite season, and this town is a wonderful place to experience it with every single sense. I wanted to capture just a little of it while it lasts.

So this afternoon while Audrey was napping, I sneaked the digital camera into my back pocket, grabbed the rake, put the baby monitor at full volume on the front porch, and Jimmy and I made a leaf pile.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Juicy like lucy

On Sunday at church Jim and I were called to be the emergency preparedness specialists for our ward. It's interesting timing because Jim's parents, who live in the ward right next to ours, are the emergency preparedness specialists for their ward. So when Jim and Gail told us about an opportunity to make and preserve grape juice from some Concord grapes they had gleaned down in Clearview, I decided I couldn't pass it up: if I was supposed to be leading my ward's effort, I had to walk the talk.

Gail, who has been preserving grape juice for years, was gracious enough to show me the ropes yesterday and let me use her kitchen and canning equipment. I supplied my own jars, lids and rings. Contrary to what you might think, making grape juice doesn't take a lot of constant work (like, say, canning peaches) nor does it turn your feet purple. Your fingers yes, but not your feet. Rather than using the type of operation made famous by Lucille Ball, we used a steam juicer like this: The process for making grape juice is simple. The juicer sits on a burner on the stovetop, and is kept on high heat. The bottom part of the juicer is filled with water (and a little bit of vinegar if you have hard water like we do), which has to be replenished every hour as it boils down. The next section collects the juice as it is steamed out of the grapes, and has a hose connected to it from which the juice flows out and can be collected in canning jars. The top section is similar to a large colander, and is filled with grapes (or other fruit or vegetables to be juiced).

Over a period of an hour and a half, about 36 cups of grapes will condense down to about four to six quarts of juice concentrate. (To make juice for drinking, mix roughly one part water, one part finished concentrate.) Because the juice comes out boiling hot, it doesn't have to go in a water bath for the jars to seal themselves; we just wiped the rim of the jar clean after filling it, put on a sterile jar lid (boiled in hot water), and screwed a ring on tightly. As the jars cooled, they self-sealed, and voilà!—canned grape juice concentrate, with a shelf-life of about five years. Not to mention much higher quality and much less expensive than store-bought juice.

Most of the time, it was a "hurry up and wait" kind of process. Once an hour I changed the water. The grapes had to be cycled through about every hour and a half. I spent a lot of time reading, chatting with Gail, and playing with the kids while I waited for the juice to process. As the juice collected, I would fill two or three jars at a time, and then go back to doing other things.

The most demanding aspect of the whole operation was the sheer amount of time it took. I started at about ten in the morning and it took me until almost 11:30 last night to finish four fruit boxes full of grapes, which yielded just over four dozen quarts of concentrate. By the time I was done, my feet and back were killing me—and my kids wanted to, as well! Actually, Jimmy and Audrey were surprisingly patient and cooperative with the project. Fortunately, we were at Grandma's house, and she had plenty of toys and books. So Jimmy exhausted the possibilities for building amazing contraptions with Tinkertoys, and Audrey napped most of the day. I was able to stop and nurse her when she got hungry.

All the hard work was worth it: as I labeled the jars and gently placed them back in their boxes, it was immensely satisfying to see them full, gleaming garnet like giant jewels. I know that this new calling will be a blessing for me and my family.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A sight misunderstanding

Jimmy and I were cleaning up the kitchen yesterday. On top of the microwave we found a necklace he made recently in his Sunbeam class at church. Attached to a string were small circular pictures on the theme of making good choices. I asked him if he wanted to keep or toss it.

"Keep," he said. After a few moments of careful consideration, he solemnly shared with me what he considered the most important wisdom from that particular lesson:

"Honesty means that you don't talk about eyes."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Quite possibly the best birthday present ever

Did I mention that in the past week Audrey started sleeping through the night? Gotta love a girl who gets her beauty sleep (so that I can get mine)!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Feliz cumpleaños a mi!

Today I have two reasons to celebrate: this is my 100th post, and I'm 38! The photo above is circa 1970, just before my first birthday. I haven't changed a bit, have I?

So, here are a few thoughts: a couple weeks ago, my younger sisters turned 31 and Dorothy posted on her blog a very thoughtful birthday meditation. What she wrote got me thinking on how I feel about growing older. Shortly after that, I was in the waiting room at the doctor's office and read an article in Newsweek on women coloring their hair vs. letting it go gray. The debate on whether women lose some of their social power by going gray added fuel to my thoughts, as I had recently been trying to decide for myself whether to start coloring my hair again now I'm no longer pregnant.

The culmination of this mental ferment is my realization that in the last few years I have finally become comfortable in my own skin, in a way I never was during my teens or twenties—when I arguably looked better (or at least had lower mileage).

Doing a triathlon last fall was a huge catalyst in that change because I came to respect my body (warts and all) and appreciate its tremendous capacity to accomplish what I asked of it. Sure there are things I'd love to tweak (and probably will), but I like who I am inside and out. Being happy with who I am motivates me to want to take better care of myself and safeguard my health, but ultimately frees me from the crippling self-judgement I've struggled with in the past. It's a good feeling to realize I'm okay with growing old gracefully, embracing my cellulite, wrinkles, stretch marks and gray hair (which Debbie likes to call my "platinum highlights").

After all, I've earned them.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Who's your daddy?

My dad was in town today. I haven't seen him since last summer, when he and Lo (my step-mom) were here for an almost-as-brief visit that ended abruptly when Lo had a late-night trip to our small-town ER because she woke up vomiting blood. She was flown to Seattle for special care the next day, and ultimately made a good recovery, but we didn't have much of a visit with anyone except Guido (their cat). Guido stayed with us for several weeks while my dad was in Seattle with Lo sorting out her medical issues.

Unfortunately Grammy Lo wasn't able to make it up for this visit, but Grampy Trout got some good quality time with his newly minted granddaughter. He treated us to lunch and afterward we hung around and he told me stories about my grandfather.

Here is a gem among photo ops: a rare shot of Jimmy almost smiling, as he is lately camera shy. Not that he has any qualms about taking pictures; he's actually quite good at it (he took the one of me and my dad).

Thanks again for the visit, Dad. I know you spent more time in the car just getting here (not to mention the return trip!) than we actually had for our visit, and I really appreciated it. I miss you already.