Thursday, August 29, 2013

Road Block

Why do people in ship mutinies always ask for "better treatment"?  
I'd ask for a pinball machine, because with all that rocking back and forth 
you'd probably be able to get a lot of free games.  
~ Jack Handy 
(on negotiating
the conditions of
your employment)

My request to work part time was formally turned down yesterday.  

I'm feeling pretty upset...  :(

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer Days and Laundry...

Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.
~Garrison Keillor
Last Saturday was the August iteration of our summer monthly pool party tradition.  I think they get easier and more fun each time - probably because we have sorted out a routine that works for everyone, and that everyone knows. 

What do I mean about having our routine down?  Well, on my part, for example, I used to put a lot of energy into planning and preparing the menu each time - trying to make something special, like homemade mac & cheese and trying to balance kid-friendly with healthy. 

Now I just stick to grilling burgers & hot dogs, potato chips, cup cakes and some fresh fruit - with soda and fruit juice to drink.  Not particularly healthy, but it's easy for me, everything gets eaten and all of the kids are satisfied. 

For their part, the kids know to throw on their life jackets and spend the next 4 hours or so playing in the pool.  They keep themselves happy and busy all afternoon and into the evening.  They climb out when they want a bite to eat - but we don't try to have a formal meal time.  I probably join them in the pool every other time - it's fun, but exhausting!  ;)

I can't explain how good it feels to sit back in a lawn chair and watch 10 or 12 kids play happily in the pool for hours - laughing, splashing, swimming, showing off, etc.  It also feels really good to see how they improve in both their comfort in the water and their skill - without any coaching or pushing or lessons.  The young girl in the photo above, for example, has some kind of handicap (maybe cerebral palsy?) and originally could not be left unattended, even with a life jacket.  She would flounder wildly and end up face down in the water...  Now, however, she can control her body and swims all around the pool (in her life jacket, of course), having the time of her life!  In addition to just making her happy, that has to be good for her, right? 

We've been ending each party with a birthday pinata - this month, Dani (5 years old) picked Justin Bieber as the theme and her family sent a JB pinata.  It was the first time when I've held up the big stick and asked, "Who wants to go first?" and all of the adults yelled, "Me!  Me!  Me!"  ;)

You know, the whole making a pinata with your favorite movie star or cartoon character on it thing seems weird to me.  Doesn't it seem a little odd to celebrate someone or something that you love by whacking the stuffing out of it?  ;)

Our foster teen enjoyed the party quite a bit too - that was her in the first picture and the JB picture.  She's been making herself a part of our family by having dinner ready for us when we get home from work at night - last night it was chicken and potato empanadas topped with salad and salsa - delicious!  A woman could get used to this!  ;)

She also went into our closets and did all our laundry for us one day...  And I mean ALL our laundry...  The blue jeans and t-shirts, the delicate hand wash only things, the dry clean only things - every single article of clothing has been run through the washer and drier...  Sigh... 

What are you going to do?  ;)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Everyone is Entitled to My Own Opinion

My opinions may have changed, 
but not the fact that I'm right.  
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Have you taken the survey on the Coletterie web site?  Sarai and Rachel are designing a new forum and they would like to know what we like and don't like about the other sewing and crafting web sites we visit.  

The survey goes through a bunch of popular web sites (think: Pattern Review, BurdaStyle, etc.) and, for each one, they ask some questions about how often you visit and contribute to that site, what you gain from that site (inspiration? knowledge? friends?) and what things you like and don't like about that site.  

It took me a fair bit longer than the projected five minutes - but that is because I was familiar with almost every web site they asked about and I took the time to write out additional (optional) comments about each site.  

In addition to hopefully helping them design a totally awesome new forum(!), I found it really interesting to think about why I spend more time on some sites than on others...  

(And, of course, being the data nerd that I am, I'd really love to see a summary of their results!)

So, what would your perfect forum look like?  Are there any particular things that you just love about a particular existing site?  Any pet peeves?  

Next week, I'll summarize any comments left here and tell you the things that jumped out at me when I thought about my experiences on assorted sites.  

And regardless of whether or not you leave a comment here, if you have some opinions, click on over and fill out their survey - it's not often we get to help design a resource for ourselves from the ground up!  :)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lessons from the Furlough

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is 
his success, his influence, his power for good. 
Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.
~ James Allen

You may remember that, as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense, I was one of thousands facing a forced furlough - a 20% reduction in hours and pay.  It was projected to last for 11 weeks.  We found out recently that, thanks to various budgetary shell games and sleight-of-hand shenanigans, it would only last 6 weeks.  Last week was our last "Furlough Friday."  

Guess what I discovered during those 6 weeks?  

I discovered that the negative impact on the amount of work I could accomplish was minimal compared to the positive impact on my life.  

I discovered that weekday evenings could have enough time to do more than just eat dinner, call my grandmother and go to bed.

I discovered that 3-day weekends let me get all my chores done and still have time to do something fun.  

I discovered that Sunday evenings don't have to be filled with dread for the upcoming Monday morning.  

I discovered that I could breathe.  :)


Working forty hours a week doesn't really seem like an unreasonable requirement.  

(To be fair, with my commute, it's more like 52 hours per week.  Still, lots of people do it.)

So, I should just suck it up and deal with it, right?  After all, that's what the American work ethic says...  And how else am I going to get ahead?  be a success?  change the world?  convince others of my commitment to my career?  make a name for myself?  

Surely I'm not going to argue that having time to sew, to weave, to ride my bike, to take a dance lesson, to cook a special meal, to hang out with some friends, to volunteer teach an ESL class, to take someone else's child to a singing lesson - to do things that are fun, things that I enjoy - that these things are as important as working hard on my career and professional success, am I?  

When searching for a quote for this post, for every quote I found like this one:

"There is only one success - to be able to spend life in your own way."   
~ Christopher Morley

There was one like this...

"The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will."   
~Vince Lombardi, Jr.

...making me think that I just need to strengthen my will and put my nose back to the grindstone and deal with it.  

But I've spent the last couple of years dreaming of retirement and wondering how I am going to make it another 10 years...  That's not right, is it?  

So, I asked my boss about the possibility of working 32 hours per week and I have permission for a 6-month trial.  

I haven't committed to it yet.  (I still have to talk to someone in HR, to make sure I understand all the implications for my benefits - vacation hours, health insurance, retirement, etc.)  

But the "cons" seem to mostly be about going against cultural norms and negatively impacting other peoples' perceptions of me; I don't think that those things should determine my course in life.  

The "pros" are simple - a calmer, happier life.  

With the possibility that my working hours will actually be more productive as a result...  ;)

What do you think?  What would you do if you had this choice?  

I do make this promise: I will remind myself every day to appreciate the fact that I have this opportunity - that I can cut back my work hours and still make a living wage - that my employer offers me this possibility - that my husband supports this choice...  


I'll leave you with some of my favorite recently-found quotes that support this choice:

“You'll never achieve real success unless you like what you're doing.” 
 Dale Carnegie

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” 
 Maya Angelou

“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, 
and in between he does what he wants to do.” 
 Bob Dylan

“Don't set your goals by what other people deem important.” 
 Jaachynma N.E. Agu

“The moment will arrive when you are comfortable with who you are, 
and what you are– bald or old or fat or poor, successful or struggling- 
when you don't feel the need to apologize for anything or to deny anything. 
To be comfortable in your own skin is the beginning of strength.” 
 Charles B. Handy

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure 
but of succeeding at things in life that don't really matter.” 
 Francis Chan

“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.” 
 Bessie Anderson Stanley

Monday, August 19, 2013

Gratuitous Kitten Picture

Extraordinary things are always hiding in places people never think to look.
~ Jodi Picoult

"There you are!"  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Postcards from the Underside

Art is about the edges and the sharp corners...
~ Scott Thompson

Across the last few evenings, during short breaks from worrying about taking on the responsibility of having a teenager in the house, I made a little bit of progress on the postcard blouse.  I worked on the neckline facing.  

I got off to a rocky start, as far as figuring out how to align the side pieces with the front center piece.  First, I initially mistook the clip marks in this picture for the two marks on the pattern pieces:  

As you can see from the pattern pieces themselves, there is NO WAY that you can get the center piece to stretch to fill the space between the two marks on the side piece!  But that wasn't my only issue - the written instructions say to line up the mark on the side piece with the top of the front piece.  But the text on the pattern pieces themselves say to line up the 2 marks...  

In the end, I just split the difference and aligned the mark on the side piece to be mid-way between the top of the front piece and the mark on the front piece.  (So, I was wrong no matter which instruction I was supposed to follow...  You know, just preparing myself for living with a teenager.)  
I always find it so awkward to stitch together pieces that don't begin and/or end together.  It looks so wrong to me:  

I guess it looked a little better after I pressed the seam to one side:  

The next step was to attach the front and back facing pieces:  

Finally, I got to fold up a narrow hem along the bottom of the neckline facing, and that fixed the funky mis-matches between the pieces in front:  

Now, THAT's looking more reasonable:  

The last bit I had time to do was to stitch the facing to the blouse along the neckline, right sides together, clip to the pivot points and then turn the whole thing right-side out.  

For me, this is the crux - getting nice corners.  Here's one corner seen from the outside:  

And the same corner seen from the inside:  

I've done this pattern once before and one corner came out well, but the other was a bit lumpy and doesn't lay smoothly.  This time, both corners look pretty good.  :)

I think I'm down to three remaining bits: the sleeve bands, the hem and the back closure (buttons and button holes).  Who knows?  Maybe I'll be wearing it to work next week...  ;)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"Plot Twist!"

Life is all about how you handle Plan B.
~ Suzy Toronto

It looks like Plan A has fallen through and we are back to Plan B - the couple who has been voluntarily and contentedly childless for the entire 31 years of their marriage is about to take in a foster teenager.  

Oh well, at least it's for those easy teenage years...  ;)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Postcards from the Back

"I don't suppose you have read Lord Chesterfield's 'Letters to His Son'?"
...Well, of course I hadn't.  Bertram Wooster does not read other people's letters.  If I were employed in the post office I wouldn't even read the postcards.  
~ P.G. Wodehouse

Over the weekend, I was able to squeeze in some time on my postcard blouse.  As you may remember - or maybe not - it has been so long I barely remembered myself! - I had completed the front of the blouse:  

This weekend I worked on the back.  First up were the two vertical darts:  

Then, interfacing the back-centered button band.  

As before, I started by stitching the interfacing to the edge of the fabric - with the non-sticky side of the interfacing against the right side of the fabric.  

Then this opens up and folds over, so that the sticky side of the interfacing is against the wrong side of the fabric (and you have a nicely finished edge):  

Press and then fold over the interfaced band and press again.  

Finally, I attached the two back pieces to the front along the shoulder and side seams.  Here is a close-up of the back, turned inside out, so that you can see the dart and the button band:  

Next up - the neck facing,  If I remember correctly, this involves some tricky inside corners - fingers crossed that I can get them sharp and flat.  

Oh, and toes crossed that I get to work on it before another month goes by!  ;)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Gratuitous Kitten Pictures

I gave my cat a bath the other day...they love it. 
He sat there, he enjoyed it, it was fun for me. 
The fur would stick to my tongue, but other than that...
~ Steve Martin

A rare love-fest between Popeye and Sophie:

I'm not sure what to make of Sophie's paw around Popeye's neck - this love fest may not be 100% voluntary on his part...  

But he doesn't seem too upset.  ;)

"Here, let me get that nasty collar off for you..."

"Ah, this is the life!"  

Friday, August 9, 2013

City Adventure

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.
~ Augustine of Hippo

We spent the morning of our last day exploring the town of Campeche - apparently a typical harbor town during the Spanish colonial period.  There are narrow streets and historic buildings:

Remnants of the fortified walls designed to protect the inhabitants from pirates:

There were also a number of pieces of art work by Jose Luis Cuevas (I'm pretty sure this is the right artist) along the side walks.

There is also a cathedral built in the 16th century.  According to our guide, Catholic churches have 1 tower, cathedrals have 2 towers and basilicas have 4 towers.  

It is beautiful and was especially moving for Ana, who is a devout Catholic.  In this photo you can see Ana and Michelle sitting in one of the front pews:  

It was a wonderful trip!  The kids were really well-behaved - there was no bickering or whining or complaining the entire time.  The places we visited were awesome!  In a few years, when the next batch of Ana's nieces and nephews reach the age of 12 or more, we're looking forward to planning another Mexican adventure...  ;)

I'll leave you with this group photo in front of the cathedral:  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Jungle Adventure

Fife... simply walked off by himself, into the jungle to look at all the things which would continue to exist after he had ceased to. 
There were a lot of them. 
Fife looked at them all. 
They remained singularly unchanged by his scrutiny.
~ James Jones

One night we stayed in cabins ( along a jungle river.   

The next day we took a guided walk through part of the Lancandon jungle.  Our guide pointed out the wild life (insects and butterflies) and plants and explained how his ancestors had used the various plants for survival.  

We hiked to this gorgeous, 25 foot waterfall:  

In the U.S., there would have been warnings posted everywhere, liability waivers to sign in blood, roped off areas, etc.  Here in Mexico, we were just told, "Enjoy!"

And so we did.  :)

In case you are wondering if it was a bad thing to do - to expose these kids to some luxuries of civilization such as nice hotels with air conditioning and running hot water and swimming pools - you can feel reassured to know that the jungle "lodge" (with a separate building holding community bathrooms) was the favorite place to stay for at least 2 of the kids and the waterfall was declared unanimously to be the best part of the whole trip!  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Pyramid Adventure

The pyramid shape is said to hold many secrets and amazing properties. 
One of them is a sense of wonder.

We visited four Mayan sites (with links to the associated Wikipedia entries):
  1. Yaxchilan
  2. Bonampak
  3. Palenque
  4. Edzna
Here is a map of southern Mexico with these sites (along with many others) located:

The first one that we visited was Yaxchilan - a small but important city along the Usumacinta river that was at its height of power in the late classic period (approximately 600 AD to 800 AD).

We got to Yaxchilan via a motorized canoe along that river, with Mexico on one side and Guatemala on the other side.  From the canoe we saw several monkeys sleeping in the trees and one small crocodile sunning itself along the bank.

Nearby Yaxchilan is Bonampak, a small site that is known for its well preserved murals illustrating the life of the Mayans.  This carving of a Mayan warrior killing his enemy with a spear was on the ceiling above my head as I ducked through a short opening to enter the "Temple of the Murals."

The colors and details of the murals inside the temple were amazing - bright yellows, bright reds and bright blues!

I can only assume that the people depicted in the image below went through an acrimonious divorce at some point...  ;)

We visited Yaxchilan and Bonampak on the same day.

The next day, we visited the Mayan city of Palenque.  There are estimates that, at its peak, maybe 7,500 people lived there - many more than in the previous two Mayan cities we visited.

Almost every site, regardless of size, had some kind of ball court, like the one below from Palenque:

I was surprised by how narrow the ball courts were and did some internet research on how the game may have been played.  My favorite video is this one - the beginning goes on a bit about rubber balls in Mexico, but if you watch to the end (2 minutes and 16 seconds), you'll see the re-enactment.  

My favorite part of this site was the profiles that were carved everywhere:  

I don't know why, but I found those really fascinating.  

And the last site we visited (on yet a third day) was Edzna, again a smaller site that is off the beaten track but known for its five-story temple:  

I loved this one, mostly because it was almost deserted (I hate crowds).  

Well, deserted of tourists - we saw plenty of native inhabitants:  

And Ana hopped over a chain, ignoring a prohibiting sign, ("I'll get down if someone tells me to"), in order to pose for this picture:  

It's amazing to think of these civilizations, so many centuries ago, developing writing, mathematics, astronomy...  I wonder if, someday, people will visit the ruins of our cities and speculate about our culture and technology...