Halloween: Sew Fun!

Zoning out one day a few weeks ago, I scrolled through the promotions tab of my e-mail to see an announcement from JoAnn Fabric that their Halloween fabrics were 50% off. And, that got me thinking…wouldn’t it be fun to make a Halloween skirt to wear to work? One Sunday, my mom and I went to the store, and I found some fun black and gray zombie fabric. Two yards plus a zipper and I was ready to make myself an A-line skirt.

Over the summer, I had googled how to make an A-line skirt pattern and found plenty of tutorials on how to measure and draft a pattern. Then, because it was already too late to go to the store for pattern paper, I kept surfing and found a video of how to make an A-line without drafting a pattern. By using a skirt you have that you know fits, you can create your own skirt without all the math involved in drafting your own pattern. I have unfortunately lost the link I used. If the directions that follow sound like you, put a link in the comments. I’ll give a shout out if the video I saw was yours!

Simply lay the skirt down on the doubled fabric and mark one inch all around. There’s your pattern. The blogger went on to show how to split the back and put in a zipper in the center back and a simple rolled waistband, but as I looked at the skirt I was using as a pattern, I noticed that the zipper was on the side. Why should I go to the trouble of splitting the back? Why not just put the zipper on the side? I did and was very happy with the results. This gave me the confidence to make a Halloween skirt even though I did not have much time. Luckily, I also realized that I shouldn’t just double the fabric because I didn’t want the zombies on the back to be upside down. Instead I cut one piece, then laid it down on the rest of the uncut fabric and used it as a template for the back.

Again, I’m very happy with the results. Because at my school the students do not come in on Halloween (it’s a faculty conference day), I wore my zombie skirt yesterday. At first, many students did not notice the zombies, but then, wow! Lots of laughter and Walking Dead references! And when students asked where I got a skirt like that, I answered, “I made it. It’s easy, and if you learn how to sew, you can have a zombie skirt too for less than $20.” Needless to say they were impressed, but I hope some were also inspired to try.

Then, after work, I went to an art opening and out to dinner. But this is New York, so no need to explain why I was wearing zombies. I look forward to pulling the skirt out again next year!

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No Time to Read? Read This!

In our busy, busy world, some people find it hard to find the time to read. While I can’t understand this personally, I can help them out! Recently, I took on a challenge to write 18 word stories. It was a challenge to get a story arc into just 18 words, but the experience was fun. Even though I didn’t win publication, I enjoyed the writing. I hope you enjoy these micro-micro-minis: something to read when there’s no time!

1. Warning Sign

The wheelbarrow tilted against the barn door told Norah the drought continued. Sven would be hungry again tonight.

2. Love on the Dice

The deliberate way he counted the Yahtzee dice showed Milo that James might yet make a good husband.

3. Velveteen’s Nephew

The polka-dotted bunny slipped his bonds and tumbled away from her homespun dress: looking for love, finding mud.

4. Inspiration

“Down the rabbit hole,” Lewis swore as he watched his prized marble disappear. Suddenly, he had an idea!

Solitude/Companionship

I’m sitting on a bench on Central Park West, under a spreading tree whose green leaves are starting to yellow and fall. There are plenty still providing shade and shelter from their lofty boughs, but there is also a carpet of dry, brown leaves on the cobblestones below. The temperature feels like summer; the air smells like fall. It is as if the climate is currently of two minds and cannot decide which way to go. Only the waning afternoon sun gives the advantage to autumn.

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Similarly, I was thinking today of two competing attitudes that complement and contradict each other in our quest for creativity; solitude and companionship. Obviously there are times when we need solitude. We need to sit ourselves down at that desk or kitchen table or library cubicle and pound the words out, or at that easel or at that sewing machine, etc. etc. You get the picture. Creativity requires us to be by ourselves frequently to actually create, but conversely, you can’t do it alone. In the simplest of terms, once we share our work with the world, it and by extension we, are no longer alone, but more than that, our creative juices are stimulated by being with other people. The experiences we have in the world ignite a creative fire within us that we must fan until we can produce an explosion of writing, painting, sculpting, sewing,…

I think the toughest part is knowing when we need each of the two states: remembering to disconnect from the world from time to time to be with ourselves and our own creative fire and also pushing ourselves to get up and get out to mix with people and try new things to rebuild the fire within.

Autumn is a lovely time to build a fire. Don’t hibernate yet; get out there and collect that firewood.

Writing/Not Writing

I haven’t written much here lately, but I’ve been writing. Sort of. Or well, rather I’ve been starting many things. You see, I’ve started having my students draft and free write on a more regular basis this year, and I’ve been writing alongside them. We respond to poetry and prose and sometimes simple statements or questions. Sometimes, I share my work with them; sometimes I do not. I want them to value their own thoughts, so I do not default to sharing with them first. I let them share their ideas. But I do let them see me write, and every so often, I put something I scribbled out with them up on the Smart Board and let them see me do some preliminary revisions.–More of a “this is how revision is done” thing than a “this is what I think about the topic” thing–They can see me write and hear my words without me telling them that this is what one should think about this topic. It’s still early, so it’s hard to tell how well it’s working with their writing, but I do know that they are not as reticent about writing as they were in the beginning of the year because they are seeing it as a class work activity rather than a big assessment. That in and of itself is the beginning of a win.

As for me and my writing, this activity has left me with the beginnings of many pieces and ideas jotted down for others. Despite the fact that the real season is autumn, it feels like spring in my writing life–planting seeds that I hope will germinate and come to fruition. I hope you don’t feel neglected, and I hope you’ll stay with me through the planting season and will be around to see what has grown.

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A Walk in the Park

Today, I took my first walk through the park for this school year. Immediately upon entering, there was a jazz trio greeting me.

Then, around the corner, the Alice in Wonderland statue was, for once, not teeming with children and tourists, allowing me to snap a photo.

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And the pond was full of sailboats.

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Next, coming around the corner by the boat house, I ran across a student with her boyfriend lagging five steps behind. She seemed rather embarrassed when I said, “hi” as I passed.  I smiled.

And the smiling continued as I came into Belvedere fountain which was positively glistening in the sun.

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I took all of this as a very good omen. “It’s going to be a good year,” I thought. But then, I exited the park and discovered that the subway station is under construction.

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Two more long avenues to the next subway was not the way I wanted to end this glorious walk. Oh well, it was still lovely in the park.

Leo

This is my baby Leo. He was a prince among cats. I lost him almost two years ago in August 2016 after a battle with kidney disease and cancer. And I was finally able to paint him. Not only is it difficult to paint a pet you have lost and loved, but he was also a tuxedo cat, and let me tell you black cats are harder to paint than tabbies or calicoes or the like. The more colors, the easier it is to give the impression of depth and substance. But I had already painted Lionel, Leo’s successor, and it was time to give Leo his own painting of honor. Here is the result. I’m pretty pleased. Do not be afraid to tackle those projects so very close to your heart. Your heart will let you know when the time is right. Listen to it.

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The Water is Wide

Verdant green rises

On either side,

Thick and lush,

Cool and shaded,

Peaceful.

But the water is turbulent

Churning waves,

Deep and wide

From every direction

Intending to

Upset your raft.

In the distance,

You can see

A calm stretch of water,

Placid and serene,

Before the river turns

Into the unknown.

The Past Comes to Life

I have to brag a little bit today. Four years ago, after my father-in-law passed, my husband and I inherited his parents’ dressers. As my in-laws had been married well over 50 years, these dressers, while quality made, had seen their years of use (and abuse through a couple of moves and five kids). So, we decided to refinish them. And pretty quickly, I got to work sanding them. The sides and top were easy. But then, the drawers! Ugh.  I ran into a couple of snags. First, we had had a minor disagreement with our garage mates because their contractors were using a wet saw inside the garage while all our cars were there. We thought they should set up in the courtyard instead because any debris thrown by the saw could mar the cars’ exteriors. Therefore, I didn’t think I should sand my dressers in the garage either. Second, I could not get the hardware off. They were screwed in tightly; plus, I didn’t have a large enough screwdriver. I was afraid of stripping the screws, and well, leaving myself screwed.

And so they sat. And sat. And sat. In the garage.

But this spring, we decided this is the time. A friend was moving from a furnished apartment to an unfurnished one, so I told her she could have our old dressers. This gave us the impetus to actually finish the dressers. We got the hardware off and finished the sanding and got ready for the next step.

The next step, eh? My husband and I watched quite a few YouTube videos and learned that the next step is not staining, as we had thought, but pre-stain conditioner. Since these dressers are probably close to 60 years old, we thought this was a good idea. Then the stain–three coats–followed by four coats of polyurethane for protection, with a light sanding in between coats. Some nights, my husband and I would come home from work and apply the stain, then sit with a glass of wine outside our garage door “watching paint dry.” Good times. Actually, they were.

The hardest part, I think, was the hardware. I started with Brasso and scrubbing down a piece. Close to 60 years of tarnish takes a long time to remove. It was too hard. I had to find another way. Back to Google. I found a site that told me to soak the brass in a 3-1 vinegar/water mixture for 1-3 hours. I went for 3. Amazing. That took off about 70% of the tarnish. Then the Brasso polishing went much more quickly. But those first couple of pieces I had done before the Google search were already tarnishing again. I couldn’t have that! All this work could not be undone so quickly. Back to Google again! Lacquer is the answer. So after I cleaned all the hardware, I used a spray lacquer to seal them–five coats just to be sure. They should stay bright and shiny for years to come.

Tonight we finally put the hardware back on the drawers and put the drawers back in the dresser frames. Beautiful. We are so lucky.

Sometimes we exert our creativity (and muscle) by refinishing an heirloom and bringing the past back to life in our lives.

Poetry Notes

Summer vacation has begun, and so, therefore, also has my quest to complete all the creative tasks that I start or germinate during the school year. Today, I am sitting in my local coffee shop going through an old notebook of writing ideas, and I came across some notes from September 20-22, 2002. Though the notes are not titled (as I am always encouraging my students to do!), I have been able to deduce that they are from my first visit to the Dodge Poetry Festival which at that time was held in Waterloo, NJ. I attended High School Teachers’ Day on Friday and stayed for the general sessions on Saturday and Sunday. It was a wonderful experience. Now that the festival is held in Newark, NJ, it is possible for me to bring my students to the High School Students’ Day. If you are a teacher and can get to Newark for a day trip, I highly recommend the Dodge. It is an amazing experience for both you and your students. Teach them through experience that poetry is not a dead white man’s art form. Poetry is a living art form, and there are many amazing living poets practicing their art right now.

Here are a few notes from that weekend that I wrote down then and still feel connected to now:

If you don’t begin in imitation, you won’t go very far in poetry.

“The more poetry you read, the more original your poetry will be and the less poetry you read, the more clichéd your poetry will be.” Edward Hirsch

When we read poetry, we are looking for something.

How to Teach Poetry: cross the line between literature and creative writing. Make them write; make them follow the beat; it doesn’t have to make sense; make them see the care and the craft.

Coleridge hated the sound of his own name; like to be called STC. (Fun Fact!)

If your writing doesn’t keep you up at night, it won’t keep your reader up at night.

Memorization is important.

Reading a poem well shows better understanding than a test/writing.

Have a poem on you at all times!

Ground covered: poems have to move/change you; begins in one place, ends in another; how did we get there?

Read with your students not to them.

Poetry is a participatory experience.

A lot of teaching includes steering the student to the right poet.

Teach poetry in reverse chronology.

Lyric poems are not about history; they are about time, immortality.

Student Frustration: they speak English, the read English, but they don’t understand this; it causes frustration, discouragement. They feel inadequate and then become hostile. (***Current Note: We must help ease that frustration; we must lead them to poetry in a way that allows them access.)

Chain poem: Give them the first line and give them a crazy first name. Help them realize that they don’t have cooperate with the ideas of the first line.

These are most of the notes from the first day. Think about your poetry; think about your teaching. I bolded a few lines that I find most important. Which notes resonate with you? Comment below with your favorite line from above or add your own note.

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