Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Best Thing I Ever Did

Almost a year to the day and I finally have something to say.

I have the ultimate excuse though.

Clearly, I have been busy.

Last month, we were pleased to welcome the newest, and most welcome, edition to our messy, loving, and occasionally fraught household.

We have a daughter.  I have a daughter.  I'm not biased or anything but clearly she's perfect in every way and obviously superior to all other babies.  Apparently becoming a mother also means you become insufferable.  Just don't follow me on Instagram.

Jesus-I'm responsible now.

I took a year off from blogging and all sorts of other extraneous things because I wanted-actually needed-to focus all my attention on my other great undertaking.  I decided tackling my first year as a teacher while undergoing my first pregnancy was challenge enough.  This was probably not also the year to delve deeper into couture sewing techniques, or teaching myself embroidery, or learning a foreign language. or trying to alter patterns that will not cooperate.  I've learned restraint.

I successfully completed my first year with nothing but ideas, enthusiasm, nerves, and excitement for the year ahead.

I successfully grew and delivered a human being with the mental, emotional, and physical strength of my body.  She is my masterwork-the best thing I ever did.  Seriously.

Life is still hard.  Still challenging.  Still bleak and depressing at times.  Still messy.  Still unorganized . . . . but we made it.

We made it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


I am a voracious reader.  I especially love romance novels-the sweatier the better.  I owe both these things to my very first foray into illicit reading, Bittersweet Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor. 
Today, I couldn't tell you what it was about but at the time, it was so impressive that I chose Singing Wind as my "Indian" name during summer school in the fifth grade.  I devoured that book and Zebra historicals with the hologram stickers were special treats.  I read about, and absorbed, all kinds of nonsense about the romantic confederacy, happy darkies, noble savages, dirty savages, drunken savages, pretty much every single form of rape possible, caricatures of sing-songy, opium addled Chinese. . . . really any and every offensive portrayal of man, woman, and beast.  I soaked it all up and overlooked a lot because I was pretty much only in it for the scrumpin'. 

Just keeping it real.

Needless to say, as a tween, my politics were still developing. 

These days, I couldn't force myself to read half of the books I devoured as a kid.  I had to give up on Nora Robert's MacKade Brothers series because the characters romanticized the Civil War era in a way I found really off-putting.  These are Nora Roberts books so you know I couldn't fault the writing or the storytelling.  In fact, the characters' thoughts and feelings were in keeping with the setting.  The books take place near Antietam, Maryland and there is a subplot that revolves around the ghost of a southern widow.  Something about it, probably the absence of any alternate narratives, just raised my hackles.  I have a similar response to Gone With the Wind which I thought was bullshit even as a child, and The Help, which I refuse to read on principle.

It seems strange to say it, especially in connection to this genre, but too much historical romanticizing is my book kryptonite.

Romance, particularly historical romance, is pretty white.  Your main characters are probably white, straight, and conventionally attractive in unconventional ways.  On one hand, that's fine.  I don't think historical fiction or historical romance are or should be bound by modern sensibilities.  What bothers me is the way many stories are told.

The Boatwright Sisters from The Secret Life of Bees movie
This example isn't a romance but I find it illustrative.  While the Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is chock full of magical Negroes with whimsical names, it doesn't bother me as much because at least those characters represent different facets of the black experience.  June Boatwright is pissed, May Boatwright is irreparably damaged-and that is important.  It's not as one-dimensional. 
I also don't mind a little period or character appropriate racism.  I just read Lord of Scoundrels by Lorretta Chase and the hero, Sebastian Marquess of Dain, has all sorts of internalized self hatred that results in internal dialogue like,
"The worst was that he couldn’t stop. The worst was that his passionately intent expression had somehow become genuine, and he was no longer talking in Italian about drains, but about how he wanted to unbutton, unhook, untie every button, hook, and string . . . and slip off her garments, one by one, and drag his monstrous blackamoor’s hands over her white virgin’s flesh."
Lines like these may offend some readers but they didn't bother me because I thought it made sense.  I understand the self hatred and internalized racism that makes him feel like he is a monster.  He doesn't look like his white, English father at all.  The darkness of his skin and his Italian heritage have always made him an outsider and a target for mockery as a child.  His self-loathing is real.  It might be the realest thing I've ever read in a romance novel.

Similarly, another Chase classic, Mr. Impossible, presents a more complex depiction of the European presence in Egypt.  The main characters never question the appropriateness of their presence in Egypt or their right to various Egyptian antiquities. They also exhibit paternalistic attitudes towards the Egyptians and other non-European peoples.  Both of these things were period appropriate.  

While the main characters probably saw imperialism as right and in order, Chase's Egyptian characters clearly had different ideas.  I would go so far as to say that the supporting characters were also more fully developed than they might have been in other books.  They had lives and histories outside of their interactions with the main characters.  They had motivations outside of those of the main characters.  They were considered and written with some care.  

In some sense, my personal kryptonite is a version of the wallpaper historical.  That is, as defined by Lydia Joyce and quoted on Smartbitches
When servants, the poor, laborers, and working women are wallpaper, I just can't believe in the book.  When India, China, the Americas, and the Gold Coast are wallpaper, I just can't believe in the book.  

It doesn't have to be that way.  The Proposition by Judith Ivory is a smokin' Victorian romance featuring a ratcatcher hero of all professions.  It represents the lives of the working class in ways rarely seen in romance.  Elizabeth Hoyt and Courtney Milan are two more authors who write great books with great characters that tend to break the mold of what you would expect.  The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt gives you a unique perspective on life in the countryside with a commoner hero and a Georgian lady.  Milan's entire Brothers Sinister series addresses labor rights, expanding suffrage, academic sexism, gender, race,  and ableism.  I loved them all but The Suffragette Scandal made me want to stand up and cheer. 

We need diverse books, and we also need complex books.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Regimen 2014

This post contains affiliate links
Behold my extension-free glory!
I have further simplified my already pretty basic hair routine.

The Tools:

(Left to Right, Top to Bottom) Microfiber Towels, TRESemme Naturals Conditioner , Shea Moisture Organic Raw Shea Butter Deep Treatment Hair Masque ,Curlformers
The Process:
Step 1: I divide my (dry) hair in eight sections, four on each side.

Section by Section
Step 2: Cleanse each section with apple cider vinegar and water.

I no longer use shampoo.  I mix equal parts Apple Cider Vinegar and water together in a spray bottle and use that on my scalp and roots instead.  My scalp has been much less itchy and dry since I switched to this combo.  This both cleanses and dampens my hair for the next step.

Step 3: Slather on conditioner, detangle, and twist.

I still use TRESemme Naturals Conditioner and I have it in a handy pump bottle for this step.  I finger detangle the follow up with a wide tooth comb.  If I had a lot of knots or afro seeds, I might follow up the comb with the Denman.  More often than not, I don't.  Once I have the section detangled, I put it in a big twist and move on to the next one.

Once all the sections are done
Step 4: Rinse in the shower. 

Most of the time I just give the twists a squeeze.  If my hair was really dirty or otherwise funky, I might undo each one and do a second conditioner rinse.  I usually don't though.

Step 5: Wrap my head in Microfiber Towels.

I use two towels like these designed for drying cars.  (Not the actual ones linked but these are a similar size, texture, and price.)

They soak up a lot of water.  I wrap my twists in the first towel and leave it for five minutes or so.  Once that towel is soaked, I go in with the second towel to blot my roots and squeeze more water out of my twists.  When I do this, my hair is mostly dry.

Section by Section
Step 6: Apply Shea Moisture Organic Raw Shea Butter Deep Treatment Hair Masque as a leave in and apply seven or eight Curlformers to each section.

I got these Curlformers years ago and ignored them for a long time.  I use them now because I have discovered that with these, I can have dry hair in about three hours-which is a little like performing miracles.  They are also a really versatile styling tool for natural hair.  Naptural85 has a lot of really great videos on the subject.

I also like them because they stretch my hair without heat and pre-section it for twisting. 

Curlformers aren't cheap (in a less mature age this statement would have called for at least one f-word.) If you are interest in them, invest in the longest ones available.  I bought the long and wide and now my hair is so long that it is sticks out of the ends-you can see the fuzzy evidence below.  If I had bought the extra-long to begin with, I wouldn't have this problem.

Step 7: Release Curlformers and twist.

Generally I put each curl in one twist.  If it's a big curl or if it's feeling a little scalpy, I might split it into two twists.

I leave these twists in for a couple of weeks usually before untwisting.  (The twists themselves I usually wear in buns or ponytails.)  The resulting twist out usually looks pretty good for another week.  Hence, three weeks of stretched-out, styleable hair per wash.  

The Verdict:
I cut out quite a few steps to expedite the process.  I don't do a separate deep condition.  I don't henna or color as often.  I don't do a thorough detangling every wash.  I don't dry in twists.  I don't sleep on them and style in the morning.  

These changes have resulted in a process that allows me to finish my hair in one day instead of two (or more).  I have not noticed any ill effects from cutting out deep conditioning and extra-tender handling.  If anything, my hair seems to be thriving on lack of attention and constantly being fucked with.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Simplicity 2497: Sewing It Up (Part II)

So . . . this has become an ordeal.  First, voila

That face probably tells you all you need to know.
I finally finished this damn dress.  Guys. . . just. . . whatever.  
Here is my review.

Pattern Description: Misses dress in three lengths with neckline and sleeve variations.

Pattern Sizing: Misses sizes 4-20

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I like the cute sleeve variations.  I do not like the whole size zipper into a pocket thing these Cynthia Rowley patterns seem to dig on.  I also did not like the proportions of the finished product.  I liked the sleeves of view B, but with my

Fabric Used: Rayon blend

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I did a full bust adjustment and added a few inches to the sides, waist, and skirt to make the pattern fit my body.  I outline that saga with a few cusswords and excruciating detail here and also here.  I also lengthened the bodice an inch and a half to make the bodice less empire and installed a center back zipper instead of a side zipper.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I will sew this again, mostly because I am not terribly happy with my first finished product and the potential for really cute dress-ness is still there. 

Conclusion: I really like the idea of this dress still, but so far not the dress I made.

My specific points of contention with this finished product are as follows:
I love these sleeves but. . .
I did make some tweaks to make it more wearable.  I removed the original sleeves and re-cut the sleeve lining from view A to make simple cap sleeves instead.  These sleeves will fit inside a jacket or cardigan  which is good because my quick and dirty waistline leveling fix on the back of this dress is far from attractive.

Ultimately, I am giving in on this version of the dress.  I think I made some mistakes here that, even if corrected and executed perfectly, would not result in a staple wardrobe garment.  It's not bad at all.  I've already worn it out once and to a job interview at that. . . but I don't love it. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Little (Werewolf) Romance

Beauty and the Werewolf (Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, Book 6)
The Blurb:
The eldest daughter is often doomed in fairy tales. But Bella—Isabella Beauchamps, daughter of a wealthy merchant—vows to escape the usual pitfalls.
Anxious to avoid the Traditional path, Bella dons a red cloak and ventures into the forbidden forest to consult with "Granny," the local wisewoman.
But on the way home she's attacked by a wolf—who turns out to be a cursed nobleman! Secluded in his castle, Bella is torn between her family and this strange man who creates marvelous inventions and makes her laugh—when he isn't howling at the moon.
Breaking spells is never easy. But a determined beauty, a wizard (after all, he's only an occasional werewolf) and a little godmotherly interference might just be able to bring about a happy ending.…
My Favorite Line:
"Slowly, regretfully, he drew back. "I think I had better--we had better--stop now,' he said.  "Before things get quite enjoyable, extremely messy and potentially damaging to glassware and papers." (301) Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey 2011, Luna/Harlequin, New York

Why I Kind of Love It:
  • I am a sucker for any fairytale adaptation but Mercedes Lackey's entire Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series is just great fun.  
  • You get strong characterizations, fully fleshed out characters and a wide variety of cultural settings and traditions.  
  • This Beauty knows what she wants and goes after it.
  • The wizard is more along the lines of Leonard from the Big Bang Theory than Sirius Black.
Also Check Out:

The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey

Monday, January 6, 2014

Working On My Fitness: No Breaks

Pinned from here . . .  and of course, there's a Pinterest board for that!

Happy holidays and all that.

The holidays are weird.  Do we celebrate them so much as we endure them?  Just me?  Okay.

The thing that I have learned this holiday season is that if I slack off anywhere, it should not be on my gym schedule.  I took a break from working out the week of Thanksgiving because of traveling and weird work schedules and that break stretched into about three weeks-almost without my notice.

There were no physical changes to snap me back to my senses.  Instead, I noticed a steady slump into depression.  Not working out regularly is a little too taxing on my mental and emotional health.

Here's the thing. . . I don't LOVE working out.  I am mortally embarrassed by the people at the gym who like to make love to themselves in the mirrors with their eyes while working out.  I am a little put off by the manic sounding fitness updates of some of my more committed facebook/pinterest/internet friends.  I can't imagine myself ever looking forward to just sweating.  If I ever post a selfie from the gym I have probably been coerced in some way.  Like-it might actually be a proof of life thing because I've been kidnapped.  Seriously-call someone.

But, I have come to realize that I NEED  to work out. 

I need to go out and do things that are really hard for me because focusing on doing those things makes it possible to just be quiet in my mind.  I guess working out is a kind of meditation space for me.

I need to work out because I need to stick to a schedule that is just mine.  Every other part of my day feels like it has been taken up by things I need to do for other people.  I work to make money for myself, sure, but my schedule is still dictated.  My fitness schedule is really the only one that I have complete control over.

This wild impulse to commit some holiday martyrdom over Thanksgiving meant I relinquished my schedule in favor of other things. . .  and it did not go well.  I felt more stressed, more rushed, and more unhappy than I have felt in a while.

So I will be heading back to the gym-along with everyone else this month.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Simplicity 2497: Sewing It Up

This is quickly becoming a saga. . . here's why.

Once you've made your muslin and checked your fit, your next steps should be selecting your fabric and sewing up the real thing.  This is where I made my potentially fatal error.

I decided I wanted a red dress.

I did not think at all about the composition of that fabric other than that I wanted a woven fabric-not a knit for this first dress.  I picked what I found to be the perfect red in Joann's that also met the qualifications allowing me to use a 60% off coupon.  I got a great deal on four yards.  (No, I didn't actually need four yards but just in case.)  

I pre-washed it and dried it and that's when I realized that my "perfect red" fabric was also a linen.  Or maybe a "linen"-I did get it at Joann's.  Linen is nice and all, but it is a stone BITCH to sew if you aren't that great at sewing in the first place and in any way inattentive.  If you are me, in other words.  It shreds if you look at it funny.  Not quickly or dramatically . . .  the threads just quietly unravel as you cut and sew it. 

Like dark, diabolical magic.

It also grows miraculously . . .  perhaps to compensate for its tendency to slowly disappear as you handle it.  It expands . . . almost overnight.

This should show you what I mean. The only length I added was at the bodice bottom.  This thing is huge on me and it shouldn't be.  I ended up trimming off four inches from the bodice sides.  That's insane.

And look at this sleeve.   What is up with that upper arm weirdness?  

Here it is with a lot of the bodice fullness removed and a last minute sleeve change.  The 3/4 sleeves just looked too weird so I did the short puffed sleeve instead.  

Better, but some things are still off:

  • You might wonder why my waistband is so tilted.  Me too!  I have this problem a lot and I think I may need to add a different alteration to my repertoire.  I requested Fit For Real People from the library so hopefully I can find what I need there.  The internet's best advice so far has been . . .  This is in FFRP.   
  • Where did all that back fabric come from?  I like the fact that the dress is not getting intimate with my back fat but something about this looks suspicious.  Like I'm trying to hide the fact that I am hiding the partially reanimated spirit of Voldemort on my back . . .  or something.
  • Are these pockets low?  This is probably due to my lengthening the bodice.
  • The zipper looks damn good from this side.  I tossed both the pattern instructions and the general guidelines for installing an invisible zipper.  I vastly prefer this method.
  • This side zipper is also almost entirely unnecessary.  It's inaccessible for me-my T-Rex arms can't zip or unzip it easily while I'm actually wearing the damn thing.  Plus I haven't used it since putting it in.  There is enough room to just pull it off and on over my head.
  • The puff sleeves are cute but they are a little snug.  I also made a mistake in the construction order and I have an exposed seam that should have been covered by the lining. 

I am feeling very meh about this dress now. . .  and it's a bit of a bummer because I was seriously pumped before.  

I don't think I will finish this as is.  In fact, I think I will take it apart, make some more alterations, and then put it back together.  I still love the color and at this point it's gotten personal.  I can't let the fucking pattern win.  It thinks it has beaten me!

I did a little more internet research and here's what I think I will do.  

  • Raise the waistband back up an inch or so.
  • Make a tilted waist adjustment
  • Reconstruct the sleeves and add a little more ease.
  • Remove the side zipper and put it in a center back seam*.  It will be a lot easier to fit and make changes once I do that.
I'll have to pick the whole damn thing apart and re-cut a few pieces but eh. . .  I can do that while listening to podcasts and thinking about all the stuff I haven't been writing for this blog.  

The plus is that it shouldn't take me long to sew it back up again once I get started.  I know how to do all the annoying bits now.  

*I won't share with you the various contortions that make it possible for my short armed self to pull up my own zippers.  It would be really awkward for us both.
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