Thursday, March 29, 2007

transformation of a room

Oh how I hate testing! This week we're administering our school's exit test (to evaluate whether students pass their level) as well as the TOEFL (the standardized test of English ability to study at a US university). The students are all so stressed and nervous, and I hate having to be the strict proctor. I try to reassure them, but when so much is riding on your performance, how can you relax? I am so glad to be done with my own test taking days, but it's still exhausting just to be around them!

In my last post, you saw one corner of the new work room, our former office. I'm so happy with how it's turning out. Because it's just a work room and I don't need much privacy, I've been keeping the windows uncovered, and the darkness that I used to hate about the room is now gone! It actually gets some natural light even though it's on a very shady side of the house. I thought I was going more traditional than my usual with the look of the room (added bun feet to a bookcase!), but I guess that's kind of my aesthetic anyway. It's my alter ego that lives in that super mod house, but in reality, we have touches of contemporary in with traditional.
Those Arizona Tea bottles are the coin-collecting vessels :) Anyway, this room has come so far. This was the room that contained most of E's grandparents' and great-grandparents' things (it was their house), so there was a lot to go through. Lots of memories. We kept a lot of it, but moved it out of the house. Even though the room is totally different now, I hope the former inhabitants would approve because we, like them, are builders/crafters/fixers, and E and I have made it our own, just as they had done. So you can see why I'm so amazed at how far this room has come.

Monday, March 26, 2007


I really love the idea of making quilts because I really love quilts, but I want it to be easier than it is. I'm satisfied with the piecing I finished a while ago on this one (folded up on the sofa), my second quilt. I started hand basting the 'quilt sandwich' together and then realized that everything had shifted. I left it alone for a few weeks, which seemed to renew my motivation, and returned to it last week. I completed a few lines of quilting and then realized that the backing wasn't pulled taut like the top. I struggle so much to get it all to go under the machine, but it's so big and unwieldy. I'm hoping it's just inexperienced me and my oldish, basic machine that are the problem, and that all my ideas for beach blankets and bed coverings will one day be possible. But does everybody experience the same difficulty in maneuvering all that bulk? I mean, if the process is more stressful than enjoyable, what's the point? I really need some encouragement on this one!
On a more positive note: Something that I'm having a little more success with is meal planning. We're trying a few new recipes this week get out of a rut. I haven't been enjoying eating like I usually do, so I splurged a little on better ingredients and found some new recipes to test, and I feel much more inspired to create yummy menus and meals. Sunday we ate a spinach, mushroom, and gouda fritatta. Yesterday we tried Alton Brown's red snapper pouch, only I used tilapia fillets because I didn't want to deal with the bones and eyeballs. And tonight we enjoyed a sandwich idea from Real Simple: Double deckers with smashed white beans, sprouts, cucumbers, red onion, avocado, and we added tomatoes. Yum. I think all of these will be put into regular rotation!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

background noise

Well, Friday turned out to be a long, pleasant 'no work day.' We finished off the day with a trip to the beach, dinner with my parents and a rented movie, The Prestige. It's the second magician movie we've seen recently (also The Illusionist), and both were enjoyable. It was nice that we relaxed so much on Friday and then still had Saturday for more projects.

A small sewing project that I just finished up is this TV cover. I really love this new velvety fabric I picked up at a nearby home dec fabric store. I'd love to play around with free motion quilting/embroidering and do something like these leaves.
While I grew up in a not-much-TV household, E's family keeps TVs on for background noise. So we have this second TV (just in case!) that rarely gets turned on and that's housed in our office. The cover is just a quick solution so that I don't have to look at it now that I'm sewing in that room. Eventually I'd like to make a nice quilted one like this for my sewing machine. E can't understand why I don't have the TV on the whole time I'm working (even though my back would be toward it while I use the sewing machine). I prefer silence or good music that's not too loud while I'm working. Maybe I'm boring, but it just seems like too many stimuli otherwise. How about you--when you're being creative, do you like to have background noise?

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

Friday, March 23, 2007

projects projects projects

Lately we've been doing projects nonstop--house/car/yard stuff. On weekends and even weeknights we've been getting so much done. The white chair was a weeknight project--E had repainted it (we have a bunch of these chairs we discovered in the garage after we sold the table + six matching chairs--oops), and we added a new covered cushion. Both of us thrive on that feeling of accomplishment, but I decided we needed some time away from projects, so we (I) declared our day off together today a 'no work day.' E is itching to mow the grass, but hopefully he'll let it wait. So today has been spent painting pots at a neighborhood studio, eating, playing nintendo, walking the dog.

The bowls and tray will be fired and finished next week. I can't wait to see how they turn out.
Off to the beach!

Thursday, March 22, 2007


"A monument of wild nature, it had become engulfed in a tide of shabby, box-like buildings and stood among them sublime in its incongruity, mooring the neighborhood to its past, to an ancient, long-forgotten forest soul."
-Marc Peter Keane describing a camphor tree in a Kyoto shrine in The Art of Setting Stones

After being so sick last week, I've closed myself indoors this week, waiting, checking the weather--for the pollen forecast, not the temperature--and enjoying nature through this book. At this time of year, trees are not my friends, but I couldn't live somewhere without them. What I love about our neighborhood is the number of large trees, mostly live oaks, that shade the streets and houses. When E and I explored local neighborhoods (long before we were ready to buy a house), I had trouble imagining living in the many developments that had been bulldozed before building. It just didn't seem right that the houses were taller than the trees. I love being under a tree in the same shade others have enjoyed during the tree's history. In this book of essays, Keane gives amazing descriptions of different details of Kyoto gardens and what they tell us about history, humanity, and nature. It's such fascinating writing along with his beautiful black and white drawings.
I ventured outside for a walk this morning, and haven't felt congested yet, so I'm hoping I can get back out there and enjoy the trees again!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

working WITH me

For once. Does it ever seem like everything's working against you when you're sewing? Thread runs out, needle breaks, cut something too short... Well, for once, things were going my way when I was finishing up this skirt. When I pulled it off the machine after the last stitch, I didn't have to cut the bobbin thread--the last 3 inches or so that were left on the bobbin trailed from where I had just backstitched!
I'm fairly happy with the way this wrap around came out. I used my own measurements to make a pattern based on the directions from Sew What. I increased the overlap in the back (just 6" sounded too risky, or maybe risque, for a windy day) and added the gray trim and ties, hopefully to tone down the loudness of the rainbow stripes. I think I actually sewed with the wrong side out, but I had planned to use the textured side when I bought it on sale ages ago. The other side looks like patchwork, but is flat. And my biggest accomplishment: my first button hole, well, tie hole. Not too hard after a couple of practices. My most favorite wrap skirt has the ties set up this way, with a button hole on one side for one tie to feed through, so I copied that. I really like that it's made for my proportions--store-bought patterns seem to have tiny waists and larger hips, which doesn't work for me!

Hope everyone's having a good week.

Monday, March 19, 2007

lunch time/everything in its place

How is it possible to stay so busy on a day off? I thought I would have gotten so much more done by now, but with all that I have planned, I can't see how lounging on the beach will fit into my spring break!

Some great mail arrived today. I'm so excited about my new lunch sack from juliemarie. And I might just have to order some of her cards--she included a note on one of them. I'm not packing lunches this week, but it will be put to use on Monday when I return to work. What a perfect time to start using my new Japanese-style food container from Mitsuwa, a gift from my friend in Chicago. I've had it since Christmas, but I haven't used it because I don't want it to get all stained like the rest of our plastic containers! I may just have to pack only rice balls and such in it.

A replacement towel bar also came today. I was able to install it, and I know E will be surprised when he sees it. He was really frustrated when he broke the original one and nowhere local carried the replacement piece. I really love racks and hooks and shelves...anything that creates a "place" for storage.

Got a decent start on a skirt inspired by Sew What. Maybe I'll be able to model it tomorrow!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

before and after

Who knows how long it will stay this way. By arranging my fabrics by color, I realized that my stash is overwhelmingly heavy in blues, greens, and browns/naturals. These three stacks are almost everything, which doesn't seem like all that much now that it's folded into neat, same-size pieces. Check out this method for folding--I used a tupperware lid.

I've been reading a few pages of Sew U before bed at night, and you guys were right, I really do like this book! I like Wendy's conversational tone and how she goes back to the very basics, but still talks about finishing details that I'm usually too lazy to do. I think I'll take her advice and spend the extra time to make my clothes look more polished when I get around to using one of her patterns.Some reviews I've read for different sewing/quilting books on amazon say 'not the best book for a true beginning sewer/quilter' or something to that effect. But Sew U (so far--or should I say 'sew far':)) seems to do a good job of making things clear. The book that was indispensable for me when I started sewing was this Singer book. It was a Christmas gift from a friend a few years ago and came in super handy during my "self directed learning project" in one of my masters classes. More on that in a minute. What is so helpful about the book are the "1100 full-color how-to photos." I can read so many pattern explanations + diagrams, and still not get it, but these photos make it so easy to understand tricky-at-first things like adding a zipper.
My masters is in adult learning, so one class assigned us to experiment with our own self- directed project. We were to chose something we wanted to learn and reflect on our frustrations and successes. My classmates learned to play the guitar, lose weight, choose wine. Before this project, my mom had helped me sew a few skirts, a window panel, some scrunchies, but by taking responsibility for my own learning, I gained so much. While some in the class weren't as motivated (one classmate failed at teaching herself to save money), I took off running. On presentation night, I wore the skirt I'd made and showed off my freshly sewn sofa pillows. I'm so happy I discovered sewing in this way. It gives me a feeling of independence, my own creative outlet.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Under the [beautiful] weather.

Thank you for all the comments lately. I love to hear from those who read my blog. I will definitely let you know what I think of my new books. They've all arrived now, but I've only flipped through the Lotta Jansdotter one so far. The sewing projects in it look very simple, some similar to the ideas in the Denyse Schmidt book and another of my favorites, Last Minute Fabric Gifts. But what really makes Lotta's final products so appealing is her fabric. Is her fabric available for purchase anywhere?
Well, for those of you in colder climates who have been feeling envious of the spring weather we Florida girls have been raving about, let me tell you that it does have its drawbacks. Kobe, the pup, was the first to start suffering from the pollen. He's now on a medication to relieve his skin allergy. I guess by keeping him inside more than usual, I also protected myself from the menacing yellow dust. Our school spent Wednesday outside at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm (more like a zoo). A few sneezes turned into a sinus infection and a day out sick from work. When I went back to school today, a lot of students had symptoms, too.
Also, a blanket of giant love bugs is covering our fence and garage. I guess they're harmless, but walking through piles of them gives me the creepy crawlies. This is funny: according to Wikipedia, legend has it that love bugs were created by accident at my alma mater. I do remember having masses of love bugs on my car after driving back to Gainesville in the spring. Hmmm.

So enough of spring! Bring on the suffocating humidity of summer. At least there's no pollen or love bugs!

Monday, March 12, 2007

spending those pennies

With spring break coming up, I figured I had been saving my pennies long enough and decided to buy some of the books in my sidebar. I'm hoping to spend lots of time reading and sewing next week. Sew What and Sew U are on their way. It's going to be hard to keep my hands off these until next week! The Lotta book, which arrived today, is sitting on my freshly painted new table/desk. To brighten up our office, I'm filling it with white furniture, and it feels so clean.
One of the pieces is an old nightstand my grandfather gave me. It was a dark oak laminate that I wasn't too crazy about. I have fallen in love with it in white, though. Until now, we've painted most of our hand-me-down furniture black, but I love the serene look of Anna's bedroom. Hoping to hang shelves and get it all put back together this weekend so that I can enjoy my week off! Only 4 more work days--and one's a field trip!

By the way, did you know that you can cash in your coins at a coinstar machine for amazon money? There are lots of other companies that participate, too. Coinstar doesn't take the usual 10% or so, so you get the full value of your coins. Since E puts his change in a jar at the end of the day, it seems like the stuff we order from amazon is free. So you see, I really had been saving my pennies!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

spring cleaning + decorating

This weekend, the weather has been gorgeous. It was definitely a beach weekend, but we stayed busy with projects around the house. It's finally time to get out the table runner I made last fall. In November, E and I hosted our first Thanksgiving. It was just his family (8 of us total), so it wasn't too difficult. In anticipation of the big meal, I came up with my plan for the 'tablescape.' I'm glad I started early because it turned out to be a pretty involved project.

I decided to make the table runner reversible so that I could use it more than just in fall. I knew I wanted to do some organic-looking piecing, I came up with a plan that would waste the least of my large cuts of fabric. Unlike Denyse Schmidt's method using unmeasured strips, which is good when using smaller scraps, hardly any fabric had to be trimmed off the edges to square it up before binding. First I figured out how long I wanted it--I think ~90"--and how many different fabrics I wanted to use. I cut equal lengths of each fabric (~18") so that they added up to a total of a little more than 90". Then I stacked and pinned them before cutting lines through the stack. Then I separated the angular stacks and numbered them (mentally) and began randomly choosing a different fabric from each stack in order 1-2-3-4-5-6 to create a stripey block the same size as the original cuts of fabric. So you can see the 'blocks' if you look closely, from the brown corduroy down to the striped and floral one--you can see that those six pieces form an 18" square. For others, this may be too much work to save too little fabric, but I kind of liked putting the puzzle together.

Welcome spring!

Friday, March 9, 2007

finally: free daylight hours.

No, blog, I haven't forgotten about you, I've just had trouble taking photos this week. Something I noticed and then confirmed with my photographer friend is that I really need to be using natural light to get the best shots. But that's been hard this week since it seems that I'm at work during most daylight hours. IN JAPAN


So, when I didn't have any new photos, I was looking back through old photos to see if there was something to post, and I went back as far as three years ago, when we did a bunch of traveling. I got really nostalgic looking at the photos of our everyday life in Japan--I'm so glad we photographed EVERYthing: the supermarket, the view out our bedroom window, our bedroom. When we renovated our current house, we tried to replicate the feeling of that Japanese bedroom in our sunroom. And looking at the old photos, I think we did a pretty good job. The bedroom was such a peaceful place, which I think a bedroom should be, with no furniture (just our futons on the tatami) and nothing on the walls. We've tried to keep the sunroom pretty minimalist, too, and there's even a futon in there, but it's the western type.Today I prepared my go-to lunch for the end of the week when there's not much else to eat. I've found that keeping lots of these mediterranean-type ingredients on hand can make it so easy to make pizzas, pastas, bruschetta. Most of these items have a pretty long shelf life: pesto, sundried tomatoes, feta, capers, olives, pine nuts, pepperoncinis. Just add some fresh spinach or tomatoes and it's even better. I'm getting hungry again just writing about it!

Monday, March 5, 2007

Sewing Seeds

This is a girl's skirt I recently made for Randi's project, Sewing Seeds. I followed one of the online tutorials she provided, and it really was only a 2-3 hour project. I think what Randi and her daughter are doing is great, and I hope a few more people will sign on to help them reach their goal of 75 skirts.

Has anyone attempted sewing Roman shades? I was sort of exploring that option for our office makeover, and came across this site on making art quilt roman shades. It seems like a fun way to incorporate fabric into the design, but is doing the math and stringing them up really as easy as they say? I know we just started this room, but I'm already ready for it to be finished.

Have a great week!

Saturday, March 3, 2007

bye bye red!

As of this week, a major new project is underway in our household. The mission is to make our office 'useful.' Up until now, it has been that room that so many people seem to have, you know, on shows like Clean Sweep, that catch-all room that's so cluttered it doesn't serve much of a purpose other than storage. When I really started thinking about why I never use it, I realized it was the amount of stuff, but also the color and lack of light.

After my post on blue and grey, you might think our house has lots of cool colors, and you'd be right. But somehow the office became the RED room. It started with some red curtains Ikea sent my brother by mistake. Then these red painted panels with kanji E and I did in a Japanese calligraphy class. Then a red autographed Steve Young jersey. E loved it, and the asian-y black and white on red is kind of cool, but red just isn't for me. So, today we karate chopped E's dilapidated particle board desk, which will be replaced by a new rubberwood table I plan to paint white. It feels good to stop trying to "make it work" with a bunch of hand-me-down furniture, and try to make it a functional room. There's a lot to be done, so I'd better get back to work-- I think those red rectangles are going to need a second coat of primer!

and a note on the last post: I made only the patterned linen skirt, and I used butterick: fast and easy b4397, a pattern I've used twice to make linen skirts.