Friday, December 30, 2011

Fresh starts and motivation

I’ve exercised regularly most of my adult life. Some of that is because I served in the Army, sure, because physical fitness is part of the culture plus everyone gets regular fitness tests. You'd get written up if you didn't pass and those test scores counted in the promotion boards. So we all worked out.

But I wouldn’t say I was ever all that dedicated; in Basic mostly I just wanted to be done. We did PT every single day and we did old school exercises like squat thrusts and push-ups and five mile runs in our combat boots. I picked up the habit of sort of phoning in the exercises, not really paying attention to things like how I stood or held my back or anything like that. At that point I wasn't working out for me, I was working out because I had to. Unfortunately I carried that attitude into my workouts for a long time.

But I did work out pretty regularly for years after that. My mother had lots of exercise tapes back in the VHS days, so I had lots to choose from when I visited my folks. And she was very generous and often got me a copy of the ones I really liked. Those Jane Fonda workouts were pretty good, to be honest. They included a lot of aerobics, usually 20 to 60 minute workouts, plus later tapes incorporated free weights too. But then everything moved to DVD, except those Fonda tapes. For whatever reason, Warner didn't release her workout tapes on DVD. So I struggled a bit and sort of sputtered to an on-again-off-again routine, not consistent and regular.

Almost seven years ago, something changed for me. Don't get me wrong, I was no more of a sluggard than I’d ever been. It’s just that I’d undergone the sixth of the seven abdominal surgeries I’ve had and my belly was done fighting with gravity. I realized that I had to make a change or else I was going to end up with the worst case of grandma belly in the world—and I wasn’t a grandmother.

So I begged my best friend to go to Pilates classes with me at our company's fitness center, and she did. I started to realize that how I did those exercises actually mattered, and how often I did them mattered as well. Slowly, slowly I got a bit stronger. I think it took about six months before I could do a roll up with no modifications (Kerry cheered for me in that class). The Pilates class was only offered once a week at our gym, so I started doing yoga once a week too. I tried step aerobics (and felt very klutzy), zumba (which was far too free form for this child of Jane Fonda's grapevines), the treadmill (too boring) and the elliptical bike (always crowded). But I stuck with the Pilates and yoga.

And my work paid off. Just eight months later, I had the seventh (and I hope final) surgery. I recovered so much faster, even my poor abused/severed belly muscles. I have mostly stayed faithful to regular work outs over the last five years—I got in the habit of three strength workouts and three aerobic workouts every week, I’d switch them up so I wouldn’t get bored, although doing the same tapes over and over can get stale. I also picked up running while still living in Kansas City. That filled the gap of no good aerobic workouts that are not interval training, and last 30+ minutes. Living in Boston meant I had to find alternatives to running during the winter months, so I have a couple of not very good aerobic workouts—yes, I still miss those Fonda workouts. I flat won’t run on snow and ice, and I won’t pay for a gym membership either. I think it's the height of silliness to pay to work out, then have to get to the gym, change clothes, work out, change again and then get home. No thanks.

In the last two years, I’ve struggled with motivation. I fell pretty badly right after we flooded in 2009 and screwed up my elbow. That, in turn, affected any work out with free weights. I got utterly tired of my two yoga and Pilates DVDs (I’ve had them for seven years now). And then this past year, I just sort of started phoning in the workouts again.

But the thing is, I still have weak abs and that will never change. I can’t just rest on my laurels of having gotten fit and then do nothing to maintain that fitness. And I’ve had enough of phoning it in. I didn’t wait for the start of the new year. Two weeks ago, I started back up again. Yes, those same workouts are boring, so I ordered another DVD. According to the reviews on Amazon, this is a 40 minute aerobic torture test by Jillian Michaels. I will tell you, I got spoiled in years past with those Fonda workouts, but they still aren’t available on DVD. Since the current fad is to do short interval aerobic training I’m kind of excited to have found a 40 minute aerobic workout. Of course I haven’t done that one yet so I may change my story. Stay tuned for a review.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Signs Christmas is over in my house

  1. I don’t remember to plug in the tree lights when I get up in the morning.
  2. The Starbucks Christmas blend coffee is almost gone from our house and is gone from the stores.
  3. Peppermint ice cream is gone from the stores, too.
  4. Aunt Bill’s fudge (BEST candy ever and made by my folks) is also gone.
  5. Menu planning is back to normal.
  6. I’m even a little tired of pumpkin pie.

So sometime this week I guess I’ll haul out the boxes and take things down. Then the house will look a little bare until I get used to those decorations not being here.

If you decorated, are you ready for them to be put away now?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A sewing Christmas

I was counting up the projects I made for Christmas this year and I think I set a new personal record. If I've counted correctly, I made like 12 presents. Hey, it's an Elizabeth-made Christmas! And the gifts Kent and I received will help us both hone our sewing skills:

I've been reading the Threads issues we've gotten already, my Bernina storage box is packed full of presser feet and accessories and I've even cut out a top using the rotary cutter and mat. Kent says the clapper (wooden thingy) makes a difference when pressing collars and seams and he likes it a lot.

Now I need to get the sewing projects for our vacation finished up. The end of January will be here in no time.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A couple of Christmas left-overs

Not food left-overs; just images and a bit of text.

Christmas dinner
We had Cornish hens, potatoes, creamed onions, cranberry sauce and a tossed salad. Oh and a good (and cheap) bottle of Malbec.

Eddie and a new toy
The boy cats absolutely go bananas over any toy with feathers and this toy was no exception. We had to put it away about 10 minutes after unwrapping it or the toy would have been destroyed.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Or as the cats would say--Meowy Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Random Christmas memories

I alternated spending Christmas and Easter with my mother and my father. Some of these memories are with my father and some are with my mother.

Breakfasts in the two households were different but both included foods that were part of that family’s traditions. So my mom would make a Swedish tea ring—until the year she found the Victorian Tea Pastry recipe and ditched the tea ring. The tea ring had to rise twice so Mom either made it the day before or got up at a ridiculously early hour to make it. My step-mother tended to have things like country bacon, and biscuits and gravy.

When I was six or seven, I spent Christmas in Denver with my father’s side of the family (his parents lived there) and I got my first ever watch. I felt so grown up.

In third or fourth grade, my mom and dad lived in Lexington, KY for the first time (we returned there a few years later for Dad’s residency and fellowship). I remember Mana and G’Pa came for Christmas and Mana had sewn my brother and me each a large green burlap bag with our initial on the front in red braid. I don’t remember what presents they put in there but I sure loved that bag.

That was the same year my mom made Doug and me each a super cool stuffed animal. I think Doug’s was a large white dog because he was really into Call of the Wild. I got a cat of course, and he was made of a very cool, mottled patterned baby corduroy. Doug and I often traded animals back and forth so they may have actually been given the other way around. But at the end of it all, I got them both because Doug wanted something else I had.

In sixth grade, back in Bryn Mawr with my father and step-mother, my mom and dad had sent me the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar (yes, on vinyl). I played those records to death and still have every word on that soundtrack memorized. That was the last year I spent Christmas with that side of the family. Long story, but it was how it needed to be.

And skipping ahead to my mid-20s, I will never forget the year Mom and Dad gave me and Rick a portable dishwasher. Mom cleverly wrapped a box of dishwasher detergent and somehow I did not figure out what it was until the moment I started taking the paper off the box. See, I have the ability to touch a present and just know what it is. It’s such a strong, reliable ability that Mom usually forbids me from touching anything and in fact this year, she mailed everything to Kent so I wouldn’t be tempted.

Got any special memories from your past Christmases?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wild Kingdom

Did you ever watch that show or something similar when you were growing up? I did and sometimes I think I'm living in a show like that because this isn't a house we live in. It's a Cat Habitat and we are living with the big game cats.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas meals

What do you have on Christmas day? Are your meals tried and true favorites? Are they foods you’ve always had?

For breakfast, I’ve served Victorian Tea Pastry (called Pea Tasty by my sons when they were little) plus a fruit salad made of diced pears and apples tossed with a bit of vanilla yogurt. We'll have that this year because it's just so good. Lunch is normal, whatever we’ve been eating lately. That means it will probably be my spicy vegetable soup plus some chips.

Dinner will be different from what I usually make. I’ve made my mother’s pork recipe for years and I do love it but I’m ready to have something else. So I found a recipe for Cornish game hens in Nigella Express cookbook that sounds good and mostly hands off. The recipe calls for putting sweet potatoes right in the roasting pan with the hens. I will put in one for me and a couple of small red potatoes for Kent since he despises sweet potatoes. I’m also making an autumn salad (romaine, diced pears, toasted pecans, feta cheese, dried cranberries plus balsamic vinaigrette), and creamed onions. I already made a pumpkin pie this week and if it’s still around, we’ll have some of that. If not, we’ll have peppermint ice cream.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I rule!

When I was still in the active duty Army, I had long hair. Army regulations (it's a PDF, and the regulations about female hair are on pages four and five) require that females not have their hair go below the bottom edge of their uniform collar and not interfere in putting on or wearing a protective (aka gas) mask. So I put my long hair up in a bun, but I always wished I knew how to French braid my hair because I love how that looks. Years later, when I was in the Reserves, I grew my hair long again and tried a few times to braid my hair myself but failed miserably. So I’d go to my hair stylist’s house early on drill days and pay her to braid it.

That got old, and also expensive. I remember one week in January I was frustrated with myself for not being able to braid my damn hair. We’d had a box of fresh Florida grapefruit given to us for Christmas and since I was the only one who really loved them and there were far too many for me to eat before they went bad, I’d juiced up a bunch to make Greyhounds. I sat in the family room watching some show I don’t remember, sipping my drink and fuming over my hair. Enough was enough, I thought. I was earning all sorts of academic awards and honors in college but couldn’t figure out how to braid my hair?? That was just crazy! And that night I taught myself to French braid my hair.

Today I figured out my serger and I did it without drinks. I won’t say I’ve mastered it but I did get a wearable, usable garment out of it—the purple sweater I moaned about here. And I’m pretty happy with the results, even if the process was more painful than it needed to be.

Basically, I cut apart every seam in the garment except the shoulder seams and then I serged them all back together again. That means I took out about ¾ inch in every single seam—and the finished garment is not too small. I had already taken out a lot of width in the pattern when I cut out because I didn’t have enough fabric. Altogether, I cut my version of this top a good 10 inches smaller around than the size I should have cut according to the pattern directions and sizing charts.

But all’s well that ends fairly well. I’d post a picture but Kent is heads down working on work stuff and my efforts at self-portraits generally stink.

Monday, December 19, 2011

If it aint baroque

Don’t fix it. Hahaha sorry I crack myself up.

OK here’s a glimpse into the circuitous thought process of Elizabeth. Last week while listening to Christmas music, I heard something on Pandora—I don’t recall what—that reminded me of Handel’s I Know That My Redeemer Liveth. And here begins my strange train of thought.

“Oh I loved singing that piece. I want to hear it again.”

So I tracked down a recording and listened.

“Man I used to have a voice.”

No the recording wasn’t me, duh, but hearing those notes brought back the sort of muscle memory of singing them.

“Oh yeah, I was really into baroque, my poor oboe teacher.”

I got a music scholarship for oboe at KU, even though I wasn’t a music major. That meant I had to perform in a certain number of ensembles each semester and also take lessons. Part of taking lessons meant playing for a jury at the end of the semester. Well right off the bat, I got fixated on baroque music. I played only baroque pieces in my juries for two and a half years. That's five juries of nothing but baroque. My poor teacher must have been so sick of that era after having had me as a student.

Finally in my sixth semester, and shortly before I injured my arm which ended my playing days, I told her I was up for something different. She literally gaped at me with surprise.

Hums the aria and then begins to sing it but with new words:

I know that my cats do sheddeth.

And here endeth the journey through my strange brain.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It’s not a wadder but

It’s not really wearable either. I made McCall’s 6408 out of the lovely purple mohair/wool material I got in Idaho. Before cutting out the pattern, I read the reviews on Pattern Review, which I like to do for new patterns so I can avoid known problems. The reviewers uniformly said the pattern ran big so I cut a size smaller than I normally would. I should have cut two sizes smaller because the sweater is too big, and not by a little.

You can see in this picture that the arm seam is well below my shoulder. This pattern isn't supposed to have a dropped shoulder, though. If you look closely in front where my arm pit is, you can also see the material bunching up there. It’s also too big across my back.

To be honest, I’m not sure how to fix this. I don’t want to just start whacking away because I’m afraid I’d end up ruining the sweater. Other than being too big, it’s great. The mohair/wool combo means it’s warm, the color works well for me, and it’s something that could be dressed up or down because of the fabric. As it stands right now, I can wear it around the house and that’s really about it.

After Christmas, I will haul it into the fabric store I go to here and ask their advice. Other than that, I got nothing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I know what love looks like

It looks like the tiny live tree delivered to me today, complete with little ornaments and a string of lights. Kent did this because he knows how much I’ve missed having a tree. We used to have a really great artificial tree that (I swear) did not look artificial but we couldn’t put it up our last Christmas in Kansas City and we knew it was much too big to bring to Boston.

We did put up artificial garland on our mantel and Wally hopped right up there and started eating it. So no garland either.

Kent decided it was worth trying with a live tree (as in we can plant this after the holidays—the information sheet included with it says it grows to six feet tall. I promise you it will never get that tall in our patio. We just don’t have enough sunlight. Anyway . . .) and if it didn’t work, oh well. I'd say the tree is a success already.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What I did yesterday

I made this Amy Butler birdie sling bag. It’s pretty large, and as you can see it’s quite colorful. I think this bag will work very nicely when Kent and I go to Jamaica at the end of January.

I changed some things when I made this bag. The directions call for it to be fully lined with a very lightweight fleece and also to be reinforced with interfacing. I nixed both of those because I wanted a bag, not a blanket. I also decided not to add top stitching. The materials are plenty busy and I didn't think the top stitching would add anything in terms of looks or stability. It sews up quickly; I started sewing late yesterday morning and was done by mid-afternoon.

Here's a picture of the lining plus one of the two pockets plus you can see one of my sewing tags.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Walk with me

The first summer after we bought our lovely old home in Kansas City, we went to a lot of estate sales in our neighborhood. Keep in mind that the homes were all built around the turn of the last century (ours was built in 1905) and many of the homeowners were the second set to own the homes. So it makes sense that they were beginning to shuffle off.

Most of those sales were unremarkable and just filled with the odds and ends of a long life. Mostly we glimpsed the way the houses looked before people started updating them or modernizing them. We wanted to stay true to the era of our own home so we loved seeing these houses.

One estate sale was different. Eva Brancato had been a war bride from England and she’d outlived her husband by many years. I have no idea if he left her with a pension, but she was able to keep her home and it was in decent shape. She’d also had a sewing business and one table was full of her equipment and supplies. I wasn’t in the market for more machines or anything, and her fabric was pretty old and not to my taste. But her sewing basket with scissors, needles, thread etc were there, along with two zip lock baggies full of interesting buttons and trims. I bought all three of those items and still have some of those things today.

When Kent and I were in Oklahoma two years ago, his mother Ardis let me go through all of her notions for any I might use. So this picture shows some exceptionally cool buttons from Ardis, a couple of shoe buckles from her too, and also Eva’s sewing label and Ardis’ sewing label (I have a sewing label too but mine is small and says By edj in blue like that).

People have sewn their own clothing forever; I know my fiddle farting around is nothing new and isn’t ground-breaking in terms of clever sewing or exceptionally well-designed patterns. But I do like feeling connected to the women who’ve sewn before me. My Mana (mother’s mother) sewed a lot, my own mother made lots of our clothing when I was growing up, and she still creates artisan quilts today. Kent’s told me about how much his mother, Ardis, sewed—not only clothing but a lot of crafts too. Then there’s Eva, this woman I never met, who supported herself through her sewing. It’s like being a member of a very old, very well-established club.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


This block was part of a huge set of high-density foam blocks. We got them for Alison and Eliot to play with in September so they don’t owe us anything now. Apparently, though, the cat has decided these blocks are now his. He keeps going into the closet where the container is, and he fishes out a block to play with. As you can see, he plays hard.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Words matter

This week on NPR, I heard a story about t-shirts sold at either Forever 21 or Penney’s (I forget which and am too lazy to go look it up) that have slogans like Allergic to Algebra on them. The story described how a mother was disturbed enough by the message on those shirts that she started a tweet campaign against them, and enough people joined in that the shirts were removed from the stores.

What really caught my attention was the sound clip from another woman, also a mother, who basically said she didn’t see what difference a shirt like that made, they’re just kids and it’s just words or something to that effect.

I couldn’t disagree with her more. Words do matter, they matter a lot. What we tell our children has a lot to do with how they see themselves including what they think they can and cannot do. We all have those childhood tapes in our heads—some are positive and sadly, many are not.

If we tell them they are clever and good at something, I think that can influence their behavior. I remember overhearing my mother and first grade teacher talking about me right before Christmas break that year. My mother asked how I was doing and my teacher, Miss Floyd, gave her an update on me. She said that I was in the second reading group but there was no reason I couldn’t be in the top reading group if I wanted to be. That idea was new to me, that I could be in the top reading group and it was almost like I was given permission to get there. So I did. I’m not sure that would have happened without her saying that and me overhearing it.

I wish I’d gotten that message about math too. I didn’t do well in math until I got to college. Partly that’s because I went to five different elementary schools so math was very disjointed for me. I didn’t get the continuity or practice that’s necessary to master basic math skills. I also wasn’t told I could be good at math. Based on how difficult math was for me, I decided I was awful at it and that I hated it.

Flash forward to college. That was the first time I had to do a lot of math, over and over until I mastered the concepts. I realized I was actually quite good at it once I’d had enough practice. I still didn’t particularly love it, well not all of it, although I absolutely adored statistics and computer science math.

My experience with math is why I tell every little girl I see that she will be really good at math and science. Sometimes I get puzzled looks from the adults nearby but I don’t care. I want that message to get out and I want girls to realize they can be cute and also kick ass at algebra.

Edited to add a link to the article Jeanne mentioned in the comments. Go read it!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The indignity of it all

Now that we have a decent HVAC system (one of the few positive things to come out of our flood), our apartment gets quite dry in the winter. I have to add water to the cat’s water fountain twice a day, my poor nose suffers and so do the cats. They all get a bit of dandruff on their backs near the bases of their tails. It’s especially bad for Eddie because he’s large enough that he can’t really groom there all that well.

I do my best to stay on top of the problem by grooming all three frequently but this year has been unusually dry quite early in the season. So last weekend, we bathed all three cats but only on their backs near their tails. I took this video after they were all done and as you can see, they don’t hate me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Where did they go?

I have three sets of measuring cups in my kitchen. Two are cheap plastic sets by Kitchen Aid I think, plus I have a set of Foley metal measuring cups. We make the majority of our food from scratch and use all three sets at the same time pretty regularly. But the Foley set is my favorite set by far. Partly it's because they stack better, always a good thing in a home with not much storage. It's also because the metal cups have the amounts they measure stamped into the handle, while it's just painted on the plastic cups and the paint is wearing off. Plus the metal cups are a lot sturdier. The other day, when a handle from one of the plastic ¼ C measuring cup broke clean off, I decided to look around online for another set of the Foley ones and order them.

Only Foley is out of business.

I can find other metal measuring cups but they have very long handles which means the cups don’t fit well in our drawer. I also tracked down a set online, and learned to my surprise that Foley, whether metal or plastic, are now considered vintage. Who knew?

So now I need to decide if $14 plus shipping is just way too much to pay for a set of measuring cups.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

No poo? Not for me, thanks

Have you heard about no poo? No, I’m not referring to toilet habits but to shampooing. Some folks are forgoing shampoo or switching to specialized hair cleaning products that aren't shampoo, either for the environment or to improve the condition of their hair.

I could never see myself embracing this idea entirely because I’ve got oily hair. As oily hair goes, mine’s not the worst case in the world—you wouldn’t look at my hair at the end of the day and think “gee, let’s harvest that to solve the world’s oil crisis.” But it’s meant I need to wash my hair every day. I have some friends, including my best friend Kerry, who have dry hair and can gleefully skip washing their hair for days on end. Or at least they can skip a day. I’ve always been a little wistful about that because washing and drying my hair takes more time than the rest of my morning routine put together. I have a lot of hair and even though each piece isn’t thick, there’s so much of it that drying it generally takes about 20 minutes.

Recently I’ve been on a big kick to get out of self-imposed ruts. These ruts include things like only wearing super bright pink polish on my toes, wearing my hair only parted on the right, or not trying on clothing I’ve decided will look horrible on me while it’s still on the hanger. So this fall I’ve bought and used a dark purple nail polish (still not entirely comfortable with that color yet), and I’ve tried on a cowl neck shirt even though I was positive it would look awful on me (I was wrong and I got the shirt). Yesterday I decided I would try not shampooing my hair.

I put my hair up in a clip, took an otherwise normal shower and followed the rest of my morning routine regarding clothes, make up and so on. I was tickled to gain the extra time normally devoted to fixing my hair.

And that’s the end of the positive report. Even though every other bit of me was entirely clean, I felt ultra greasy all day long. Plus my hair, which normally looks good when it’s put up, just looked nasty. Or maybe that's the greasy feeling affecting me. All I know is that this morning’s shampoo never felt so good.

Can you skip days for hair washing? If you can, then know I’m a tiny bit jealous. But I’m not jealous enough to try that again. At least not for another 10 years or so.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

76 Trombones

Well no, actually it’s 76 sewing patterns. I took an inventory of my patterns so I could sort them out and know exactly what I had. I even created a spreadsheet that contains the pattern company name, pattern number, a brief description and whether or not I’d made it.

First, I don’t need any more skirt patterns in my life ever. Second, I have more than a few patterns I haven’t sewn yet. Shame on me. Third, I do not know what I was thinking when I bought the stuffed animal patterns. I hate making those.

Finally here’s the sorting/inventory mess in progress.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Past

This week I got out our Christmas decorations. As I told Kent in October, I missed having the house decorated last year. Of course last year we were both gone so much, plus we went to Oklahoma for Christmas itself that we really didn’t have an opportunity to decorate. But this year is different. We are staying home.

We need this time together. My previous job’s travel tended to cluster in the spring and summer, while Kent’s job gets crazy starting late summer and continuing through the end of the year. Between work and Thanksgiving, he’s been gone the last three weeks and was home a week before that but gone several weeks before that. So we are looking forward to some quiet together time.

As I unpacked the boxes, I realized we had not really decorated for Christmas since 2006. We had the best house for Christmas decorations in Kansas City but in 2007, the house was on the market so most Christmas decorations weren’t allowed, although I did put some artificial garlands on our mantel. We had Eddie and Wally by then and Wally promptly started eating the garlands so they got put away almost immediately. In 2008, we were here but still had far too many things in the house to put up decorations. The tree had been abandoned before our move as far too large for Boston living (plus Wally would eat it). Without a mantel, I had no place to put stockings. I did put up a wall hanging my mother made for me years ago but that was about it.

Eddie is our present?
2009 was a bust since we’d flooded and the surviving Christmas decorations were at the salvage company. That’s the year we bought our little ornament tree and I cried in Target when Kent said we should get it. And of course last year we were just not around.

Going through the boxes was almost like opening presents. I found a pet collar I really didn’t remember we had. It's the one in the video I posted earlier this week. I think we bought it for poor little Sammie cat. Since he was pure black and the servant stairs in our Kansas City house had no lighting, we had already put a belled collar on him so we’d know where he was. We figured he wouldn’t mind the collar but sadly I have no pictures of him in it.

I know we got this stocking for him, because I remember the conversation Kent and I had about how silly it was to spend $12 on a stocking for a cat. Now I wish I had two more, although I still don’t know where I will put any stockings, let alone stockings for cats.

Do you decorate? If so, how much? When do you take things down? I take our decorations down on New Year’s Day. I also stop listening to Christmas music the day after Christmas.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I'm a mean one

Just ask my cats.