Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I'm The Happiest Christmas Tree: Simple Smile-makers at Christmastime

I'm the happiest Christmas Tree 2012
 It's the most wonderful time of the year.  No, seriously.

I won't go so far as to say that I live for Christmastime, and I won't claim to be fully on the "nice" list, and I certainly am not going to assert that every day in the last week and all of December will be a darned good day, but apart from my undying love of summertime, I really do believe Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.

I have so many pictures I've taken lately (and over the past several months), in anticipation of a blog that never got written.  I've gotten over the guilt and the feeling of total sloth, because, frankly, I'm so busy sometimes my head spins.  But despite being busy with life, there are a few things that I always take time out to do at this time of year - alone, with my family, or with friends.  They could easily each be a blog post on their own, but for the sake of brevity I've condensed and pictorified.  Here is a list of them - my top-ten Christmastime smile-makers. Ho ho ho. Hee hee hee.

*  *  *
10 Reasons to Smile this Christmas
*because we all, like it or not,
actually do make time for the things we love,
no matter how busy*

Roman's magical snow globe

10. Christmas Cards / Mail in generalI am a mail addict.  I love sending letters and cards and getting them in return.  I always spend an inordinate amount of time doing our Christmas cards and choosing the right photo, and hand-stamping the envelopes.  One year I even wax-sealed each one with our monogram.  Not this year!  I bought pre-made cards, wrote minimal messages, and let Roman do most of the stamping (sorry Aesthetic Gods!).  But I loved sharing that experience with him.  He drew pictures in several of the cards (he remembered doing it last year and was excited to do it again) and asked all kinds of questions about why we send cards and what they mean.  He also loves getting all the packages in the mail and is slowly being driven insane by boxes that I've told him are actually for him but he can't open. One of the perks of being a grown-up: slightly larger amounts of patience :)

9. Christmas Parties / Cocktails / Get-togethers
This is the first year in a loooong time that I am invited to Matt's office Christmas party.  I am super excited because I feel like these little get-togethers, while they may seem trivial, actually really bring people together.  I love meeting and getting to know the people my husband spends most of his time with during the week.  And the food and booze is usually really good :)  One particular amazing party in NYC with deep-fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with homemade mozzarella comes to mind.  Meeeeeemories....

The globe and my favorite Santa
8. Snow Globes & Trinkets Galore
I don't know why but I've always found snow-globes really magical.  I bought one for Roman last year as a present at Home Goods and he absolutely loved it.  This year it was the decoration he was most excited to see come out and without fail he goes up to it every single day, turns it over, winds it up to listen to the song and watch the snow fall around Santa.  Then he says - get this - "Happy Christmas, Santa." *melt*

I also love the trinkets and decor I've amassed throughout the years - random Santas from Goodwill and that people have given me, special table cloths, gigantic wreaths that can only be used once a year, and my very, very special nativity scene that my mom gave me (Roman is annoyed that Baby Jesus hasn't shown up yet :)).

7. That Creepy Little Elf: Finksy
I know this is a semi-controversial part of Christmasnowadays.  Some consider The Elf on the Shelf a commercial cop-out / scam and think he's creepy looking.  Some think it's the best thing since the naughty-nice list, and well, just talking about theoretical elves.  I am somewhere in the middle.  But what I can say is that it definitely captivates.  My son, who cannot, to save his own life, remember to feed our fish Frankie on a daily basis, wakes up every single morning and promptly goes scouting around the house looking for his elf Finksy and what kind of mischief he has gotten up to.
So far he has eaten our marshmallows, dangled from the chandelier, peered at us from above the fridge and played with Roman's favorite toy cars.  It's a fun tradition that I'm glad we adopted.

6. Hot Choco-latty & Martian-mallows
Roman's favorite drink ever.  I make it with Mexican Abuelita Chocolate, Ancho-chile powder and fresh Mexican cinnamon.  I use Maseca or corn starch to thicken it slightly and serve it with copious amounts of martian-mallows (as we call them).  Guaranteed to get even the grinchiest in the Christmas mood.

5. Christmas Lights
Or, I should say, "LIIIIIGHTS!!!!" as that is what we scream in my family every single time we pass a house with lights.  It was a game we played our entire childhoods and I have so many sweet memories of driving through neighborhoods with my sister and cousins, screaming our heads off, delighted at the handiwork of many a dedicated husband / father.

Intense blue LED glory
Matt tried his hand at outdoor Christmas lighting for the first time this year, not without grumbling about renters insurance and light bills going up.  Baptized by LED, my not-so-little Grinch is now both a believer and a serial light-clip hoarder.  And I quote: "I freaking love efficiency."

4. Cookies, cookies, cookies!
Jesus loves me, this I know.  "How?" you ask.  Nope, not the bible.  It's because somewhere along the way he allowed my secret-ish chocolate chip recipe to come my way via Bon Appetit magazine.  I started making these chocolate chip cookies 7 or 8 years ago, and I still cannot think of a single recipe that I've tried or tasted and like better (sorry Ben's Cookies).  These cookies are a gift from heaven above.  And so is the fact that my husband is a bona fide cookie monster.  It makes baking them all the more satisfying to watch Matt gluttonously gobble them up. :)

The best chocolate chip cookies ever.  Period.

Which brings me to my not-so-secret confession: I HATE Gingerbread.  I don't just dislike it.  It's one of the few things I find positively not-yummy.  Ironically, Roman LOVES gingerbread cookies.  So every year now, I have adopted a new tradition: making gingerbread men.  I usually try one every year just to reconfirm that, yep, I still hate them, but watching him decorate them is worth the somewhat unrewarded baking effort :)

Roman's little Ginges.

3. Good-Smelly Things: Dried Orange Ornaments
This year I wanted a more rustic, natural looking tree set-up.  So I decided to actually make one of the many crafts I'd pinned on Pinterest: dried orange slice ornaments.  So easy and so beautiful.  My house smelled like oranges for a whole day and it really adds a special touch to the tree. Totally recommend.

2. Dedicated Christmas Music Stations
I am one of those people who turns the Christmas music on the day after Thanksgiving.  I never get sick of it either.  The other day I put the regular radio on and as soon as I heard Niki Minaj switched back.  Too blasphemous.  Not holy or choral enough.  And certainly NOT ENOUGH JINGLE BELLS UP IN THEA'.

My favorite Christmas song this year comes from a Christmas compilation Carla made me last year post-xmas after I bugged her about not having the Carpenter's Christmas CD we grew up with.  I had never played it until a week ago because, while Christmas music flows uninterrupted throughout December chez moi, it is NEVER played outside of the season.  Roman loved it from the moment he heard it, and I must admit, so did I.  Check it - and thanks Caaaa :) -  "I'm the Happiest Christmas Tree" by Nat King Cole.

1. Christmas Trees of the Fresh Variety
Maine spoiled me in many ways. I now can't stand not having fresh Lobster available to me for under $10/lb.  I have been converted to full-bellied clams and can't go back (this is a disaster of epic proportions living in Colorado).  I have intense and rage-inducing oyster cravings at very random times.  And, of course, I now judge people who have fake Christmas trees.

I grew up going fake my entire life.  Don't get me wrong - the convenience and monetary factor are not lost on me.  But once you've cut your own tree, smelled the smells, seen the sights - you just can't go back.  We didn't cut our tree down this year (long story) but we did get a fresh one at our local grocery store (another long story) and it's actually almost nicer than the super fancy self-cut, self-chosen one we got in Maine last year.  Full, tall, majestic and pinier-smelling than a Bath & Body works candle.  UH-MAZING.  Decorating it with 3 year-old Roman this year was a half-success.  Only 1 ornament was broken (Matt's fault, just sayin'), and we got a new reindeer / elk ornament to commemorate our first year in Colorado.  Nothing beat when Roman started reminiscing about the ornaments we had from all the places we've lived.  He's only 3 and already the memory-making has begun and become meaningful. 

It's a wonderful life, people.   Merry Christmas.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween & Feliz Dia De Los Muertos 2012!

Skeletoricus Romanicus Minimus

Halloween ranks high on my list of holidays for many reasons, high among them the candy and the ridiculously cute costumes I get to put Roman in, but also high on the list is the fact that Halloween in its modern-day American incarnation is an amalgamation of so many interesting and diverse cultural traditions, culminating in the right to walk from house to house in funny / scary costumes unabashedly asking for treats while threatening tricks.  When else are friendly threats of mischief nationally sanctioned?!  I love it.  My husband loves it.  And now that he really gets it, my candy-monster-son loves it (went to the dentist a couple of days ago, btw, and no cavities - which seriously soothed my conscience :)).

Being back in the Southwest this year, I feel like I can finally embrace the Mexican side of Halloween: Dia de Los Muertos.  It's not really something we ever celebrated as such in my family; for example, we never made altars and left offerings to the dead, hung out having a picnic on the graves of loved ones at the cemetery, and we certainly never worshiped Santa Muerte.  
Midge Calavera courtesy of Roman's artistic skills and Wal-Mart.
But one of the memories I do have of my brief childhood in Mexico is that of getting little sugar calaveras (skulls), hand-decorated in bright colored icing for the celebration.  I used to love nibbling on the pure sugar, breaking the little head apart in a silly but kind of macabre tradition.

The papier-mâché mask in all its glory.
These days, Calaveras have become a kind of hipster-chic symbol of Halloween / Dia de Los Muertos and Mexican culture in general. They have even started popping up as year-round decoration in places as unexpected as El Rayo Taqueria (a beloved, delicious and authentic but very, very non-hispanic taqueria in Portland, Maine).  But no matter how mainstream or unrelated to Dia de Los Muertos they become, I still see them as a small piece of my heritage, and a great opportunity to teach my son about one half of his.  Oh, and did I mention that they are also a fantastic excuse to create a gigantic papier-mâché skull-head as the crowning glory of my son's Halloween costume this year?  Well, they are. :) Several plaster explosions later, my kitchen is a disaster but my son has the coolest skeleton mask around!

I was also determined to buy a couple of sugar calaveras for Roman this year.  After uselessly cruising around all the various Mexican grocery stores in our area without any luck, I finally broke down and took Roman down to Santa Fe Drive - a slightly seedy area of downtown Denver full of fabulously crazy art galleries and artists.  We entered the gallery for the Chicano Humanities & Arts Council to find a room full of art portraying that very unique blend of Mexican / American / Chicano kitsch, beauty and culture.  The current exhibit focused, of course, on Dia de Los Muertos and Roman enjoyed perusing the many scary and colorful skeleton faces.  We also found out we'd missed the calavera decorating workshop by a week (dammit!) but we were able to buy two plain sugar skulls to decorate ourselves.  Whether that will happen is still very much in the air, given that we've already carved two pumpkins, painted another, and put together a pretty impressive Halloween set up on our porch (given that we've only had ~2 years to hoard decorations.

Which brings me to something else I'm really enjoying this year about Halloween on the
Our window display
American side of Halloween culture: the unofficial Halloween house decorating contest going on in our neighborhood.  If these people are this hardcore about Halloween, I kind of cannot wait until Christmas.  I'm hoping Matt will be shamed into putting lights up this year - he totally got roped into the Halloween madness and started complaining that I hadn't acquired enough tombstones and zombie/skeleton/mummy effigies to hang from the flower hooks on our porch. :)  There are definitely some cutesy houses with sweet happy pumpkins and funny ghosts, but for the most part everyone on our block went for the evil-more-gory-than-necessary Halloween, which I can dig after years of being stuck in places like London and Abu Dhabi where you're lucky if someone puts out a pumpkin at all.

Get crazy!
 So, all in all, Halloween year number three for Roman has been a success - if it weren't for the Catholic Church.  My current annoyance revolves around the fact that on Halloween Roman has to dress up as a Saint for school.  Seriously?  His real costume rocks.  Why can't he show up as a skeleton? Or batman?  Or the Pharaoh (is that sacrilegious?!)?!

 I don't particularly relish the idea of dressing Roman as someone who was a) flayed alive b) suffered from the stigmata c) was torn apart limb by limb - though I do admit the appeal of having him carry a head around on a platter a la St. John the Baptists (somehow I suspect that get-up wouldn't last an entire school day).  In the end, ignoring all the fantastic suggestions from my friends on facebook, we decided to go with St. Lawrence (I caught Matt changing "Sanctus Laurentius sum" to Roman this morning).  Yes, he was  technically grilled to death but he's the patron saint of chefs (because he was grilled to death...shocking!) and Matt found a harmless enough picture of him online which happened to match some clothes we hadd, so we decided - well, he is St. Lawrence the Roman, which works well for Roman Lawrence. :)

Pharaoh? Mummy? Or heretic?
As soon as he gets home, though, we're jumping out of the white toga and into the fantasmagoric bag of bones that will be Skeletoricus Romanicus Minimus. :)

*  *  *

Happy Halloween Y'all!

Mine, Matt's & Midge :)

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Friday, October 19, 2012

There's a Small Town in My Mind.

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX
*  *  *
Regina Spektor

I must have left a thousand times
But every day begins the same
Cause there's a small town in my mind
How can I leave without hurting every one that made me?

Oh, baby, baby it's all about the moon
I wish you wouldn't have broke my camera
Cause we're gonna get real old real soon
Today we're younger than we ever gonna be

Stop! Stop, what's the hurry?
Come on baby, don't you worry worry
Everybody not so nice nice

Thought you ought to know by now
Everybody not so nice nice

Oh baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby,
It's all about the moon

I must have left a thousand times
But there's a small town in my mind
How can I leave without hurting every one that made me?

*  *  *

I love the new Regina Spektor CD.  Her first song, "Small Town Moon", and especially its first stanza, really encapsulates exactly how I've felt for a long time (almost exactly since the first day I moved out of my parents' house when I was 17 years old to go galavanting independently on the Penisola Italiana).  I must have left a thousand times, but everyday begins the same.

I wondered so many times that first year outside the proverbial fold, when I'd return to Texas for good (would I ever return to Texas for good?), where I'd make my home (my forever home this time!), and would it be anything like that small town in my mind (and heart)?  It's impossible not to idealize your hometown - in my case, only after years of dissecting it, dismissing it, rejecting and oftentimes forgetting it.  When I first left, I was perpetually torn over what-could-have-been, guilt over having left too soon, left too many people behind.

It wasn't until last week that it all came full-circle.

I found that when we drove from Colorado to Texas last week, retracing (almost exactly) a route I drove nearly 16 years ago with my Girl Scout Troop, I was happy to take in the rolling hills of New Mexico, the painfully flat plains of Oklahoma, the hot dryness of Palo Duro Canyon, singing wildly to Is This the Way to Amarillo.  There were no tinges of sadness. I find myself healthily nostalgic about the small town that made me, and all the people and things from my past that I chose to leave there.  Everything I'd done made sense, had purpose and meaning and a clear end: my wonderful life today. 

Going home to my mom's house (no longer the house I grew up in) and picking up a small u-haul's worth of belongings that had been patiently stored for 15 years by my mother - a mix of travel nicknacks (whosits and whatsits galore, might I add), hundreds of post cards, old Christmas gifts, wedding favors, love letters, homecoming pictures and childhood awards - was the final step I'd been waiting for since the day I walked out of my parents' home in 1998.  I often lamented that I'd always felt like I was still half-way in Texas because I'd never completely left: so much of my childhood, my adolescence and so many of my memories still sat in a closet waiting for me.  But last week, rifling through old pictures, I finally felt that I no longer needed to hold onto silly mementos because the life I had before - so different and yet equally wonderful when compared to the adult life I have now - was a fully cemented part of my past.

It's hard to leave places behind.  I've done a lot of that.  Maybe because my mother and sister hate moving so much I felt I needed to make up for it in extreme wanderlust.  Have I ever regretted a single voyage, move or random pick-up-and-go?  Well maybe hitch-hiking from Germany to Amsterdam wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done, but - no, not really.  I have so much perspective, so much respect for other people and places, and, finally!, so much more respect for those who choose to stay in one place and love it hard - something I could never fully understand until now.

Matt likes to joke that we're "seeing the USA in our Chevrolet" (Seriously, "the Rockies out west are calling you"?! who knew.) every time we take a road trip.  We are.  After 15 years of seeing almost every other place I could think of (or at least afford), I'm so happy and feel so blessed to be back in America - the country I petulantly swore I'd never move back to (because I was going to raise my kids in an idyllic small town in Greece, don't you know?  It could still happen!).  I have rarely felt more pride than when we drove from Maine to Colorado in June - seeing America in all its glory and taking real pleasure in touring a coal mine, eating hamburgers at one-horse-town diners, petting llamas in the middle of West Virginia or discovering the birthplace of Quaker Oats in Missouri, watching my son (I actually have a child! this still shocks and thrills me!) marvel at the OZ Museum in Kansas, and enjoying a romantic bottle of wine with my husband and soul mate in the Rocky Mountains, our new home.

It's so funny.  I have a million memories of exotic and awe-inspiring trips. But in the end, no matter how much more open my mind and heart have become, I have a small town in my mind.  It feels good to remember my roots - and set down new ones at last.

*  *  *
Our First Drive Cross-Country

West Virginia

Gramma Llama

Shaker Village, Kentucky

St. Louis, MO


Have a Heart.

West Kansas

East Colorado

Palo Duro Canyon, TX
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Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Street & The Company: Portland's Street & Co.

When Matt came to interview for his job in Portland back in March of 2011, the first place he ate was Street & Co.  It was the first place he had Lobster in Maine, the first place he had raw bar in Maine, and the place where he first fell in love with Maine oysters.  It was also the first place he insisted on taking me when we had our first date night in Portland.  Because I'd never seen or heard of the place, I wasn't sure why he was so adamant, but I went.  And since then it's probably the restaurant we've eaten at most frequently in Portland.  We take all our visitors to it, and while there was a brief period when I claimed to be "sick of it" - a claim I would now consider blasphemy coming from another - I was soon back again, scarfing down oysters, eating melted butter and garlic with a spoon, being welcomed by our regular waitress, and harassing the bus boy who looks like The Little Prince.

* * *

View onto Wharf Street

The Street

There is a small - almost invisible - little street (you could almost call it an alley way) in the Old Port of Portland that is not to be missed. It is home to some of the most quaint and quintessentially-Portland stops: Beals Ice Cream shop (where Roman scarfed down his 2nd birthday brownie sundae), the back side of Gritty's pub (a local brewery and home of the 100-beer-mug club), two wonderful Italian restaurants (Vignola and Cinque Terre), and, among others, our favorite fine-dining seafood stop: Street & Co. This street offers an uninterrupted, fully-pedestrian cobble-stone path down the center of the Old Port, away from the traffic of Commercial Street and Fore Street. In the day it smells the way a 19th C working port might have smelled - briny and damp but with infinite red-brick character. At night it is transformed by the dim yellow lights of the old fashioned lantern posts and the clippity-clopping of shoes on the misty cobblestones. I could not imagine a more fitting setting for our final date-night meal in Portland than on Wharf Street.

*  *  *

The Company

So, it only took us 14 months and a near dozen meals to figure out how to eat right at Street & Co. We've tried almost everything on the menu (which doesn't vary wildly given its self-proclaimed mission of serving "very fresh seafood" and the predictability of what that will mean in Maine - lobster, Sole, Bluefish, oysters, the occasional John dory). But that's not a bad thing at all because I don't think I'd ever get sick of eating their grilled lobster and linguine or their Sole Francais. But that's not what we had on our last visit.

What we finally realized a week ago is that despite the beautiful dining room - cozy and warm with a view into the open kitchen (think Fore Street but in miniature) - and despite the aesthetically perfect waiting area with its exposed beams, quaint windows and views Wharf Street- what we really love to do is eat at the bar. The glazed concrete bar where the scrupulously clean oysters - the real stars of the show - are simply and appealingly arranged before you. Where you can jealously watch a 16 year old boy wearing a mesh glove shuck oyster after oyster with enviable dexterity late into the evening. Where the small but varied collection of wines is kept in amazing glass-faced, antique wooden shelves And where conversation among patrons can be as private or convivial as you wish.

In fact, I don't have a single bad word to say about my Calamari Puttanesca, Matt's clams with caramelized onions and chorizo, our dozen oysters (6 winterpoint, 6 Norumbega - both from Damariscotta, I believe), or that freaking champagne vinegar mignonette they make - but one of the things I enjoyed most about our visit was chatting with the waitstaff and Harry McEvoy, the hilarious bartender who told us about how he "ebayed [him]self," his history with knife-throwing, kept the crazy-good Standard Baking Co. bread coming, and got me hooked on this Vinho Verde. We also managed to strike up a conversation about Maine and the beauty of doggy bags with an inquisitive and appreciative Berliner on his way to an auction in Fairfield who looked truly disturbed by having to use his hands to eat lobster. That was fun to watch. :)

I left the restaurant feeling satisfied that I'd had a taste of the best Portland had to offer - in scenery, ambiance, comradery, and food. And that makes giving up familiarity, the sea, and all the fruits that go with both of those a much easier pill - nay, oyster - to swallow.

With mignonette, of course. 

*  *  *

33 Wharf Street
Portland, ME 04101

Tel: (207) 775-0887

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Old House by the Lindens: Goodbye to Portland, Maine

Seaweed in Boothbay Harbor, ME

*  *  *
The old house by the lindens
  Stood silent in the shade,
And on the gravelled pathway
  The light and shadow played... 
...The birds sang in the branches,
  With sweet, familiar tone;
But the voices of the children
  Will be heard in dreams alone!

And the boy that walked beside me,

  He could not understand
Why closer in mine, ah! closer,
  I pressed his warm, soft hand!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from "The Open Window"
 *  *  *

Has it been over a year already since we left Abu Dhabi, since we arrived into Maine?  At this time last year were we just preparing to leave the Eastern Promenade and move into our dear "house by the lindens"?  Is it really my last Saturday, my last weekend here?

Yes - it's all so.  And next Thursday we load up the Tahoe, hand over the keys to the green house on Linden Street and start on our cross-country trip to the Mile High City.  We've known about this move to Denver almost since we moved to Portland, but that doesn't make leaving the place we've called home for 14 months any easier on anyone.  There's a lot we've come to love about Portland - friends, favorite spots, memorable restaurants, and new-old-habits that we'll have to re-make in our new city.  And while we're all very excited for the move to Colorado - desperately excited for the place we hope we'll stay permanently! - I can't help but feel a little nostalgic about the memories we've made in Maine: the good, the bad, the salty.

There's a lot I could say on the subject, but instead, here's another pictorial list of our favorite and most-to-be-missed impressions from our year + in the land of lighthouses and lobsters.
*  *  *

An "Open Window" into Our Year in Maine
very Longfellow, I know :)

After leaving Maine we will sorely miss...

10.  ...sunsets on the Eastern Promenade...
Heck, sunrises, mornings, noons and nights too...
Sunset on the Eastern Promenade
Munjoy Hill, Portland ME

9.  ...that amazing view of Portland you get while walking on Back Cove trail...
It's pretty in the sun, rain, snow, and mysteriously striking in the fog...
That View from Back Cove

8.  ...the beautiful harshness of the Maine winters...
Harris Farms
Dayton, ME

7. ...the best fried whole-bellied clams around
(served with homemade tartar and cocktail sauces, of course)...
Fried Clam Plate at The Lobster Shack
Two Lights, ME

6. ...Maine's incredible oysters - raw & fresher than you can imagine - with mignonette...

Our favorite place for fresh oysters in Portland is:
Street & Co on Wharf Street

5. ...the abundant, verdant forests; trees, trees everywhere...

Deering Oaks Park
Portland, ME

4.  ...walking in the Old Port on a beautiful day...
Custom House Street
Old Port, Portland, ME

3. ...the beach, and beautiful proximity to that healing salty smell...

Pine Point Beach, Scarborough ME

2. ...dipping our feet and watching seaweed in the frigid water off our favorite dock...
The Dock on the Eastern Promenade
Portland, ME

1. ...our green house by the lindens, and all the memories it holds...

Linden Street
Portland, ME

PS: For those of you who noticed the small tweaks in appearance, my new peony blog title picture is also a shout-out to Portland; it was taken on my front porch and the flowers were picked from our wonderful garden.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Sartorial Forays & Roman's Super-Cape!

Super-Roman and his home-sewn cape.
When I bought my sewing machine last summer, I embarked on a long and perpetually unfinished journey through the many-splendid worlds of sewing and DIY projects.  Looking back, I've been surprisingly prolific.  I say 'surprisingly' because I'm fairly sure that Matt believed I would never make a single thing once I actually bought a sewing machine.  Part of it is that I have an awesome, dedicated craft space in my house.  Another part is that I discovered how easy it is to make everything and anything, including your own patterns, once I actually just gave it a shot.  What have I made?  Well...  

*  *  *

Brenda's Sartorial Forays 
of the last year

Roman's blanket!

2. Then I made (no joke) 6 or 7 baby / kid blankets out of fleece, embellished with felt names (see above) and funny figures: several with elephants for my friend Frances' Ella (pictured above), for my friend Gabby's little Isaac, and two for my friend Sandra's twins Sam & Zoe. Oh and I also made one with a scooting ladybug for my friend Monica's new little Anna.  Then I made a twin-size one with a butterfly for Ava and another twin-size one - Roman's - with a giant blast of color and his name in the middle.  They were fun and by the end I was really good at it. :)

3. I made Roman and Ava both a pair of pants from this awesome tutorial, patches on the knees and all. 

4. I've made three different paintbrush holder rolls, inspired by this tutorial.  One for me, one for my mother-in-law and one for my sister's birthday (surprise Carla :D).  I think Carla's definitely turned out best because it was my third and therefore had the advantage of me knowing what my mistakes had been, but I also REALLY love mine because it is made of a fantasmagoric coral-colored Geisha cotton fabric that I think I'll never, ever get sick of.

5. A couple of months back I also finally made the project that started it all (here's the tutorial), the reason I bought my sewing machine: a super-hero cape for Roman.  I labored for quite a while on the colors to choose and the superhero emblem to use, partly because Roman himself is so conflicted on the superheroes he likes.  He thinks Spiderman is mean (probably because he watches the 1950s episodes on Netflix in which he is kind of mean).  He doesn't know who Superman is.  And he's a little unsure about Batman, though generally that tends to be his favorite.  Here lately he was given a Captain America doll, but, like his father, seems to consider him a bit of a wuss
given his lack of Iron Man-esque super powers.  All this was too much input for me and in the end I decided to make it a Super-Roman cape.  The "R" in all its glory centered on the back.  And despite the fact that it's a double-sided, reversible cape, I left the inside blank and just made it a kick-ass bright, neon green that looks slightly distressed.  Just thought that would be cool to have :)

 Roman is not SUPER into dress-up yet (despite my desperate wish that he was), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that a cape had great appeal to him.  He LOVES running in it.  He likes how it flies behind him and makes pretending to fly all the more credible somehow.  He didn't take it off for days.  He ate in it, wanted to sleep in it, insisted on wearing it to school, and even though he hasn't worn it for a while, I know he still loves it.  You should have heard him bragging about it and how "[his] mommy made it for [him.]"  It kind of melted my heart. :) 

It was a great choice for a simple sewing project.  And I made it big enough that I know he won't outgrow it for several years.  Score.

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So there you have it: my first year's adventures in sewing and the bountiful fruits of my labor. It's really a shame I didn't take pictures of most of this stuff.  Maybe I'll request pics of the sewings in use with the kiddos and update this blog.  Yes, I think I will. :)  And here they come...
Twins Zoe & Sam enjoy their blankets in the garden!
Baby Ella and her "Ella"-phant blanket.

My Ava and her Butterfly "car" blanket -
she uses it every day on her way to and from school :)

Little Isaac looking mighty pleased
with his elephant blanket.

Don't let his size fool you.

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