Something is happening really amazing...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cakein' 2: Electric Boogaloo

For reasons that were equal parts wanting to master that damn frosting and just plain wanting more cake, I made another angel food cake yesterday. I left it in the oven just that much longer, let the sugar syrup for the frosting get just that much hotter, and in spite of my really strong memory that swears the top of an angel cake pan used to fit over the top of a bottle, I discovered that it hangs upside down just fine if you just set it on a ramekin. No balancing required.

Awesome enough to warrant sprinkles!

The takeaway here is obviously Make More Cake. Make lots of cake. All in the name of improved confidence in the kitchen and in general.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fractions are hard, so you get some characters who are 4/6 Shepherd, 2/6 Huskie, and 1/6 White Wolf. No dog is a mutt.

Three of my students shared their coauthored fictional dog universe with me yesterday. Damn, if I’m not inspired by that fine bit of paracosming. They have many chapters of the first novel written, as well as a slide presentation. I won't share too many details. The name for their universe is pretty clever for being invented by ten year olds, and I don't want to spoil things in case they're poised to become the next Erin Hunter style collective.
There are currently 37 slides in their presentation of the various characters in this universe, detailing each dog's family history, personality, and magic powers. (Examples of Dog Powers: “Fire and Dreams.” “Liquids and Shapeshifting.” “Darkness and Gadgets.”) Many of these descriptions hint at elaborate plot points. (Woodsmoke’s pup Marceline has a few character traits that are delineated “After Curse.” Oooh...) 
I love that carefree, unselfconscious creativity.
I am fortunate enough to have a friend who I have been collaboratively storytelling with for years (We call it "play by email Dungeons and Dragons," but it's much more like writing than gaming), but we don’t indulge in lengthy slide-shows about all of our characters and the intricate tapestry that is their histories. But man, wouldn’t it be fun to, though?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Eat them up, yum!

In a moment of unwisdom today, I taught my students the roly poly fish heads song. Sometimes you're pouring little piles of goldfish crackers onto napkins and these things just happen.

(Yes, I am a highly trained professional educator. And like most in my line of work I spend a great deal of time dishing out class snack, opening Go-Gurt tubes, and putting newly-lost teeth in ziplock baggies. I teach 5th grade.)

(Did you know that the fish heads song has a whole bit about drinking cappuccino with oriental women? I didn't until I played it in its entirety on the Smart Board this afternoon. The lyrics passed uncommented on.)

Perfectionism and teaching never go really well together, and sometimes they clash in ways that make me want to crawl under a bed and hide for the rest of my life.

(When was the last time I fit under a bed? Do you remember what it was like down there? Dark and quiet and smelling like your pets?)

Today was the day my kids began drafting the 'informed opinion pieces' that are supposed to be the final product of this district mandated writing unit that takes months and months to complete, and at least last year did ultimately result in some pretty fine fifth grade writing. Which is a good thing because it is a LONG unit filled with recursive reading of challenging texts, and though the topic is engaging and the kids actively participate in the discussions and activities, they tend to come away from the experience believing that they hated every minute of it. When my students from last year drop by (which they do fairly often as their middle school is right next door), they see the anchor charts on the wall and shudder "Oh no. You're doing that unit?" (It doesn't kill them, and it does make them stronger, so...?)

Anyway, you know the concept of the terrible first draft? Imagine feeling personally responsible for 25 terrible first drafts. I am not actually personally responsible for them, of course. They reflect the students' growth and effort as opposed to mine, and I can no more take credit for the incomplete sentences and half-baked ideas being scratched out today than I can for the beautiful final drafts my kids submitted last year. It's about them. Not me.

I think I do an ok job of keeping my neurotic anxiety to myself in the classroom. You should hear how chill and promising that things will get fixed and made better later I am with anxious writers. (I never take that attitude with myself.) Then I go home and want to cry because apparently none of my students know how to write a sentence.

It was the first day of writing. I need to chill.


It was my birthday last Wednesday, so I made myself a cake. Damn skippy you can make your own birthday cake if the best cake in the world is your grandma's recipe and no one you know (including yourself) knows how to make it. I thought learning it would be a great gift to myself.

Um... in spite of my best efforts, it did not look much like my grandma's cake when I finished with it

J said I should take a picture of it, and at first I resisted. It was UGLY! My "fluffy white frosting" did not set right and was more runny than fluffy. Also, I might have taken it out of the oven a minute or two too soon, and I DEFINITELY had slapstick misadventures trying to get the hot angel food cake pan inverted onto a bottle in a timely fashion, so it collapsed a little.

It tasted good, though, and I am trying to be more at one with first drafts of all sorts, so here it is.

Delicious! Droopy, but delicious.

 Notice! It's half gone! Because it's delicious! Maybe by this time next year I'll master the art of tasty AND pretty, but if I have to have one or the other, I suppose I got the better of the two.

Monday, March 16, 2015


I'm pulling out more stitches than I'm leaving in in the circle tree sampler. At this rate, I'll never finish, which isn't so bad since I listen to audiobooks while I work, and I'm in the middle of a good one. (Among Others by Jo Walton. The reader has a great Welsh accent.)

Walked to the thrift store this afternoon and was pleased to see that they'd put summer clothes out. Took that as a cue to pull down the basket of summer things I'd found over the course of the winter (our local thrift shop is the only one that pulls its clothes by season) and hang them in closet. Looking forward to wearing new clothes this week, but still feeling a pretty strong case of Sunday blues.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Within the lines

According to leader of my book club, it is an impressive thing when I toss out the directions to something and try to do it on my own.  She mentioned a time that I'd given up on the hopelessly complicated pattern to the mandarin collar on a dress I was making. I knew what mandarin collars looked like, and it was pretty clear how the pieces could fit together to make one. It was not at all clear how the directions even involved the collar shaped pieces, much less how they would all come together. So I sewed the thing in the way that seemed obvious and ignored the directions that I didn't understand. The collar worked.

Tossing out the directions and doing my own thing is definitely a pattern of mine when it comes to creative endeavors, but I don't know that I would categorize it as one of my positive traits. Though the collar was successful, the dress itself, and the costume it was intended to be a part of, was a disaster. Definition slapdash. And I think that's true of a lot of things that I make.

Not that I make a lot of things.

I am trying to do more though. That's part of what the book club is about. We're working through Kim Werker's Make It Mighty Ugly toward the end of 'conquering our fear of failure and creating our own masterpieces.' Or something. (I have not conquered my fear of failure. Or my suspicion that my attempts at art are not worth the effort.)

Anyway. Directions. Tossing them out. Going it alone and all that.

The "art" I do mostly is needlework. I draw stuff on cloth and trace it with the one stitch I know. (Beautiful stem stitch which curves so nicely.) These projects are limited by my drawing skill, which has never progressed beyond almost-but-not-quite there where proportions are concerned. I've been using a light box and working from photos, and that's a little better.

Anyway, I just finished my most recent needlework drawing. It's a portrait of my favorite singer, taken from a picture of him wearing all white and angel wings.

Andy Bell is kind of my spirit animal.
Or maybe my final transformation -- the Eternal Sailor Moon of my personality.

Anyway, so I'm embarrassed to use that as a contrast to what I'm going to talk about next because it feels in that case like I'm setting up my silly stitched drawings as something Good to counter the Bad that is coming. But anyway.

One of my favorite moments in literature is in Kurt Vonnegut's Bluebeard. A friend asks the main character, an abstract expressionist painter, why his art is "art." He says something to the effect of, "Because if I wanted to, I could do this," and sketches a perfect likeness of his friend.
One of my biggest fears about things that I make is that I haven't reached technical mastery in a way that makes wandering away from conventions acceptable.
Somehow, I got it into my head that knowing more stitches would count toward the kind of proficiency I think I need to have. (I think I am going in that direction because the alternative is to become better at drawing and that is a prospect that is intimidating. It sounds hard.) Anyway, though I don't find working from other people's designs very satisfying, I decided to buy a kit toward the end of broadening my repertoire of stitches.

I chose this design.  

Dimensions Needlecrafts Crewel Embroidery Tree
I thought it was pretty.

I mistakenly thought it looked easy, too.

I usually use a pretty tightly woven fabric for embroidery, even though that's "wrong." In my experience, it makes curved lines come out better. Did you notice that the above design is all circles? Or that the fabric provided is a heavy and with a low thread count, the sort that is usually used in embroidery? Have you ever tried to make a bunch of circles on a grid? I had not.

My efforts are embarrassing so far.


This is a football. Not a circle.
Back to the original point of this post though. I suck at following directions. Looking at my own work compared to the professional photo, I now see that I did my green satin stitched circle all wrong and will have to pull it out, along with a couple of my early small brown circles. I find it frustrating, but I think it will be good for me in the end. You only get better at things by sucking first.
I am definitely sucking first, so I guess I'm on the right path?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


J and I are in a unique situation this year. We temporarily don't live in the condo that has been our home for 12 years. We'll go back once the obligations that are keeping us away are taken care of.

(It's a long and complicated story involving parents and their growing need for care. Or perhaps it's a short and simple story that happens to be too sad to fully recount. Once J's mom is settled somewhere permanent with the proper level of assistance, we'll move back into our home and sell hers.)

As much as possible, we're trying to treat this extended vacation as a unique opportunity to evaluate the way we live from a more objective vantage point and make potentially huge changes without the hassle of living in the middle of these transitions as they happen.

I've read Marie Kondo, and while I'm not completely sold on her method (I'm sorry, but the clutter of too many books actually does leave me joy, so where does that leave us now?), it has inspired me and J both to begin scything through the unmanageable piles of crap that have accumulated in the name of our collections and obsessions. I thought mine were clothes and books, mainly, with a secondary helping of craft things. I've radically pared down the mess (while leaving plenty of books to cozily crowd every shelf in the house), and I decided to spend today addressing the craft supplies.

What I realized, as I ruthlessly tossed generous lengths of perfectly good fabric, jars of glitter (but you love glitter!), strands of beads purchased on sale because BEADS! FOR CHEAP! and other things that I might have some day made something with (but didn't), was that my real problem is ephemera. Memorabilia. I've kept every diary, every birthday card I've received, and every notebook paper drawing anyone has ever made for me since I was in high school if not earlier. Photographs. God, photographs. Sketchbooks. Schoolwork. Letters. I used to have pen pals in high school. So many giant storage bins filled with paper.

What am I going to do with all of it?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

"But... you want to go."

That was my partner J's response to my answer for why I was skipping an upcoming concert --  "Nobody wants to go."

Normally J and I would go together, but the timing doesn't work out this year.

Anyway, the concert. I'm a big fan of Amanda Palmer, a fairly polarizing singer. "Hard to casually enjoy or dislike," says one critic, and I'm in the not-at-all-casual enjoyment camp. I think she rocks, and I connect to her audacity, defensiveness, and tendency to fuck up in public. (I am aware of the criticism regarding her entitlement, and I think it's fair, but I appreciate her public vulnerability and, at the end of the day, I just really like her music.) I've been to all of her local shows since The Dresden Dolls and loved each one, though the most recent one was slightly diminished by the friend who invited herself along and then proceeded to post openly derisive commentary to social media throughout the show. (That was at the height of the not-paying-musicians-even-though-she-made-a-million-dollars mess. Again, not excusing AP...)

I did not ask that friend if she'd go with me to this show, but I did ask a few others. ONE casual acquaintance said he'd like to go but didn't have the money. Everyone else had issues with her personally and wouldn't consider it. It's fair; she's that kind of public figure.

But anyway, I put this concert out of my mind because it didn't look like I'd find company.

"So you'd rather not go to the show than go alone?" Asked J, and ... damn. I hadn't considered it that way.

I am great alone diner and alone movie goer, but I've never been to a show by myself. There are other factors to consider - it is on the expensive side, AND it's in a work week, AND it's in a work week when there's another work night event that I want to go to where I might possibly have company. BUT, do I want to miss one of my favorite singers? Not really.

This blog is going to be (I hope) about happiness and reconnecting to it. The title and other quotes come from a student's "analysis" of Cinderella. (English is her second language, hence the irregular syntax, which I thought made the sentiments sound even more beautiful.)  Of course, I don't believe in anything as simplistic as "Because she behaved and wasn't rude, something happened really amazing to Cinderella." but I do think we have more of a hand in our happiness than I've been acting like I do lately. And even though it's dorky (and not very Amanda Palmer-y, actually) I totally believe that it is better to be kind and cheerful than otherwise.

I haven't decided whether to buy one single ticket to this show or not. But I'm excited by the possibility, and I want to do more things that make me feel excited.