Friday, December 28, 2018

New Year, New Me

My writing corner in what isn't the dining room
I don't know whether anyone is still out there (are you??), but I just hit publish on a series of Venice vacation posts that never got written.  So there are all the pretty pictures, which are too pretty just to hide forever in the inside of my computer, but craft show season, my job, the holidays, and random other complications got in the way.

I decided just to let the photos go out there into the world without all my words.

Which is not to say I didn't want to write the words; I did.  I miss writing here.  I've been doing other writing, though, and I seriously hope I have some news on that front in the new year.

But in the meantime, I hope you enjoyed whatever holiday(s) you celebrate, I hope you got some rest and relaxation in before real life got you in its grip, and I hope you come back next year, when I PROMISE to write more regularly.


Sunday, November 4, 2018


Velvet chair with an opinion
One of my favorite things to photograph while traveling is shop windows.  There's always something I haven't seen, or it's displayed or made differently than I'd find at home.

There are quite a few mask photos here, but then again, it's Venice.  Canals and masks, those are two of the givens.

Also other interesting goodies, but I'll let you see for yourself.  Photos are all captioned.
Mechanical horse in a bookshop

Bookshop dioramas - I love the violin!

Art supply store with real ground pigment

Glass flowers - gorgeous!

I thought the triple face was interesting

The shoes on the right, please

Spice store - as pretty as the ground pigments
The smell that came out the open door - amazing
The steampunk style masks were on sale
Lovely shop, famous for making masks for Eyes Wide Shut
and other films.

Thursday, November 1, 2018


Living room on the canal
So we took ourselves away for a few days almost two weeks ago.  It was planned a while back, and then I didn't exactly forget about it, but I did deliberately not think about it.

There's just been a lot going on, with work and fall craft shows and everything else, that a vacation felt somewhere between self-indulgent and an interruption.

Didn't we have enough to do?

Which sounds stupid, I know - who bitches about going on vacation?

I took myself for coffee in town a few days before we left and thought about it, and realized what my problem was.

We've been in the house since the beginning of March, but we're not done yet.  And that bothers the hell out of me.

Sitting area in the bedroom
It shouldn't, considering what else we've accomplished in that time - packing to move, cleaning and selling my house, cleaning, painting and selling Mario's house, and cleaning, painting and listing his rental property (which hasn't sold yet), but sometimes logic doesn't enter into it.

I live by my to do lists, and my list wasn't done.

So I didn't deserve to have a treat.

Except . . . what?

View from the windows
Of course we deserved a treat.  We'd cleaned, painted and sold two houses, bought a house, moved into it, and still managed to carry on our normal lives with only minimal disruption.

Craft shows haven't been particularly profitable this year, but (a) the weather's been awful, and a few outdoor shows have canceled, and (b) I think there's some cosmic ledger that says 'you've done well enough on real estate, slow down and let someone else make a few bucks on the craft shows.'

So I exhaled, got over myself, and we went to Venice.

We had a gorgeous Airbnb.  When I went there 18 years ago, by myself, I found a small, cheap hotel a few streets from the nearest canal.  This time, I wanted a canal view.  And I got one.

Big, comfy bed
The apartment was near Campo san Mauritzio, which was so hard to find that when we went out for the first time, I took pictures all the way, like breadcrumbs to track our way back.  It was an adorable little place, a tiny kitchen, a sunken living room with double doors right on the canal (with a glass balcony which kept the rising water from entering the apartment), a miniscule bathroom and a lovely big bed under a beamed ceiling.

The weather was unexpectedly warm - in the 70s for the first few days we were there - and we left the bedroom windows open when we went out.  Big mistake.  When we tried to go to sleep that night, all we could hear was the whine of mosquitoes.

If you look closely, you can see that
the water is above floor level.  Yikes!
I'm not much bothered by them, except for the noise, but Mario is bug bait and when he got up in the morning, his shoulders were covered in bites.

After that, we kept the windows shut except for when we wanted to lean out and look at the tiny, narrow canal outside, or smell the slightly stagnant, fishy scent (which I love, but then again, I love when we drive down the shore and the first smell you get is the funky back-bay smell).

It was nice having an apartment as a base.  Even if we don't use the kitchen much, or at all, other than the fridge, I like having the extra space and the privacy.  Once upon a time, I was the kind of traveler who used dirt cheap bed-and-breakfasts, the kind with the shared bathroom down the hall.

Age and a decent salary has its privileges.

And the fridge did get used, at least.  Bottles of prosecco and my new favorite, the bottled Bellini.  I've had Bellinis before, but I hadn't realized you could get them pre-mixed and in personal sizes.

Here's to champagne and peach juice for breakfast.  Yum!

The airport opens right onto the water
As far as the traveling itself, it was probably the easiest flights ever.  For the first leg, Philly to Dublin, we got in an hour early, and despite warnings, the ground crew wasn't ready so we had to wait for the plane to get attached to the gate.  And then we had to wait for someone to open a cafe, but it was all good.  Dublin to Venice went quickly.  The longest part was the line at the airport for the Alilaguna boat, which took groups of 50+ into the city, stopping along the Grand Canal to disgorge passengers and luggage into this magical city.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Green space

This is one of the many small parks near our house.  It's only about 3 blocks away, and sometimes I walk down there just to sit on the wall and read, and listen to the water.

On the town map, it's listed as "undeveloped," I guess other than the pipe that contains the creek which would otherwise run across the intersection.  The town comes in and cuts the grass and checks on the trees periodically, but otherwise it's left alone for the neighbors, their dogs, and an overabundance of squirrels to enjoy.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

My little corner

In addition to my work room upstairs, this is my other special place in the house. I've never had a dedicated office for my desk, but this is the next best thing - it's in what was the dining room, which now has the bookshelves and a loveseat - and it's partly open to the living room. Because of the layout, I am blocked from a lot of the TV noise, so I can work downstairs while Mario is watching TV, and still feel like we're in the same place.

The desk is getting its own post because it's become a lot more important lately. Several years ago, I talked on the blog about the novel I was writing and the process of submitting it to agent. Well, I did submit, and I did get an agent, but it didn't work out the way I would have liked. While I do have some afterthoughts about the agent and the submission process, I also know now that the project she was submitting was not as good as it should have been, and that certainly didn't help matters.

It's been about 2 years since I got the book back, and during that time I haven't written much. I've done a lot of sewing, picked up a permanent part-time job, and bought and sold various pieces of real estate, plus the untold joys of moving house.

Now that we're settled, I've started hearing voices again. (These are the good kind, don't worry). Part of me would like to play with a shiny new project, but the bigger part of me isn't ready to let go of a book that I think is really good. So, for the last three weeks, I've been going through it chapter by chapter, doing a much more thorough edit than I did last time. I thought I did a good edit last time, but there's always more to learn. The book as it stands now is much tighter, and the pacing is much better. Or at least I think so.

I have about 4 more chapters to go, and then I think I will put myself through the submission process one more time. Because, hey, why not? If it doesn't work this time, I'm considering self-publishing. Because, also, why not?

What are your thoughts? Has anybody done this? Do you have any opinions on traditional publishing vs. self-publishing? Inquiring writers want to know.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Dinner time

The service in this establishment leaves much to be desired.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Close to home

A few weeks ago, we had a hot spell that didn't want to end.  I'm generally pretty accepting of weather; it can get unpleasant, but it's going to end sooner or later, and then we'll have something different to complain about (like the biblical rains we've had recently).

But this heat wave was a bit more than I was up for.  The worst thing was it was trapping me in the house under a fan, and since it's summer, I want to explore my new surroundings.

One morning, I got out around 8:30, right after Mario left for work, and headed west from our house.  We'd already walked north a ways, and south and east led to areas covered by our drive back to Philly each day.

A few blocks from the house, I saw a little sign that said "swedish cabin."  I'd seen that sign before, on the main road we used to get to Philly or further west.  No idea what it was, though.

I followed the arrow on the sign to the next sign, and the next.  Eventually, I came to a sign that said "swedish cabin, 3/4 mile" with one last arrow.  This took me up a quiet, paved road along Darby Creek.

There were mid-week fishermen along the banks, but no other traffic.  I walked for about a half hour (longer than it would normally take, but it was already in the 80s), and eventually, the trees on either side gave way to a clearing.

The cabin, according to the little historic marker out front, was built between 1630 and 1650, which makes it the oldest surviving building in Pennsylvania. It was originally intended as a trading post for Swedish settlers and Native Americans, and after that it had a fairly checkered history.

By the 1970s, it had fallen into disrepair and was heavily vandalized.  A "friends of" group formed, had it designated historic and began restoration.  Now it's open on Sunday afternoons for a few hours for tours, but otherwise, it's just this lovely quiet spot at the end of a quiet road.  With water.

I'm a sucker for water.  If I'm hot, the only thing that really makes me feel better, is finding running water to splash around in - or at least put my feet in.

I found a bank that wasn't too muddy, took off my shoes, and did just that.  It was cold, fast-moving, and the feel of the water moving over my feet took my body temperature down a good 20 degrees.

I sat there for a while, until I heard voices on the path, and a few joggers arrived with the same idea.  We nodded and said hello, and after a few minutes I got up, shook myself dry, and started back toward home, in a totally different frame of mind.

I'm not a big fan of exercise for its own sake.  I'll run, if I'm being chased, but as a recreational activity, it's overrated in m book.  At some point, I'll get my bike put together and have that option, but for now, I'm on foot.

It's just been lovely finding so many quiet, green places close to home that make me feel like we've moved much further from the city than we have.

The best part of this little morning wander away from home was the clearing effect it had on my head.  I'd been puzzling away on how I wanted to start on a project (the happy family of critters I wrote about recently), and when I got in from my walk, I went right to the machine and started work and it all made sense.

A few days later, it got a bit cooler and I got Mario to walk out there with me on the weekend.  I found a more direct route than the follow-the-signs route I took the first time, and the whole walk (about 1.5 miles) took a little over a half hour.

Coming back, we took a slight variation that I had noticed on my walk, but not taken.  I already wanted to get back to my sewing machine, and I was afraid that another side trip would distract me - and it would have.  Turns out there's a whole recreation area down there by the creek, with areas for cookouts, a swimming hole, a water fall, and - most fun for me to watch - ropes for adventurous swimmers (all adolescent boys) to swing out over the water.

This path took us out to a dog park near the main road, and when we got there, we realized we passed that park nearly every time we drove west, without knowing any of it was back there.

Driving can be nice if you know where you're going, but if you're trying to explore a new place, there's nothing better than getting lost on foot, and finding out for yourself what's close to home.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

At last

It's finally done. Or as close to done as it's going to get right now, since I probably shouldn't have been working on it at all.

But a maker's gonna do what a maker's gonna do.

We've been here since March, and even before we moved in, I knew what I was going to have to do with my work space. In the old house, I had an enormous 4 x 8 conference table as my workspace, but that wasn't going to work here. The whole room is only 8 x 10. I spent some time at the office browsing Ikea for ideas, and ended up deciding on two 5 foot long work tables, one at standard height and one with adjustable legs so that I could have a cutting surface that wouldn't wreck my back. I printed out the list of what I needed, and put it aside until there was time to deal with it.

Is there ever time? I worked on a few commissions, and started trying to get ready for spring craft shows, but I wasn't really motivated. I did it, but I was thankful there weren't very many shows scheduled.

Then one day, I just couldn't take it anymore. I went online and found that Ikea was running a sale. All the things I wanted were 10% off. Sounds like a sign from the craft gods to me. I ordered everything, paid an extra $5 to have them pull it for me, and we drove down to Ikea the next day and loaded my entire new workroom into the Outback.

Needless to say, I probably should have painted the room before I built the furniture and hung old pictures on the walls. But I will get to that eventually. Or not. The important thing is I'm working, steadily and well.

Turns out I wasn't unmotivated at all I was just uncomfortable.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Happy Family

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a woman who owns a shop in South Philadelphia.  I've sold things there occasionally, and she's the organizer of some of my favorite craft shows.  She had someone looking for custom work.

The customer had written and self-published a picture book for her soon-to-be grandson, based in part on a small stuffed monkey she had purchased.  She wanted someone to make the monkey's parents - who were, obviously, a bear (mom) and a beaver (dad).  Because storybook.

I met her at a coffee shop near my office.  She brought the book and the monkey toy.  I looked through the book, took photos of a few illustrations to get color ideas, and we shook on it.

These aren't  the same as my usual animals, and they're probably never to be duplicated, because I didn't enjoy the process of making them that much, but I did enjoy the end result.

I brought the monkey home with me (because he needed shorts), and I spent a day or two fiddling around with ideas and making drawings.  But every time I looked at my fabric stash, I drew a blank.

There was no rush - she asked for them within 30 days because she was going to visit her daughter then - so I knew I had some time to puzzle it out.

Then, on a Thursday, about a week before they were due, when I was still looking at a monkey with no shorts, and some dark brown cashmere blend sweater fabric, I gave up and took a walk.  It had been hot out for the better part of 10 days, and this was the first middling-hot day and I needed out.

I started walking west from the house, toward Clifton Heights.  We've driven up that way but I don't know the area at all yet, so I thought I would just walk for a while and see what there was to be seen.

Soon I encountered a sign that said "Swedish Cabin," which turned out to be (possibly) the oldest building in Pennsylvania, built in the 1600s as a trading post.  It was about a 1.5 mile walk from my house, but I got to sit on a rock and soak my feet in the icy-cold Darby Creek for a half hour, and then I walked home again.

When I went upstairs to my workroom, all of a sudden the project made sense.  I started cutting up the fabric, and by the time Mario got home from work, I had completed the beaver (complete with suede tail), his turquoise suit, and was about half done the bear.

Sometimes you just need to get away from a project and get some fresh air and exercise, and everything falls into place.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Labor and delivery

Sometime last year, at least a month before Christmas, my friend Danni (pictured here) messaged me and wanted to order a doll. She said it didn't have to be done by the holidays, because she knew I was crazy, but anytime after that.

After that, of course, I started packing. Then we moved. Then I unpacked. I didn't even get much spring craft show sewing done, though I did enough that I didn't embarrass myself at the few events I scheduled.

Every so often, as I packed, unpacked, and sewed, I'd remember the doll. And then something else would crop up, and I put it off. I had fabric put aside but that was the extent of my work at that point.

Then, one day on Instagram, she messaged me and said, "Babe, it's been 6 months! Are you making the doll or giving birth to it?"

Sometimes you need to light a fire under my ass. The doll was done and in her hands within two days.

I just wish I could make a doll that had her smile.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Happy Fourth!

We recently had another time travel incident.  The calendar may say 2018, but in Lansdowne, it felt like some earlier, less contentious (but still very diverse) time.

There was a parade in the morning, which I did not attend because we had six straight days of temps in the high 90s and I could not move from under my fan . . .  on the first floor, where we've taken up residence lately because it got too hot too fast to put the AC in the bedroom window.  So Mario's on the couch in the living room, and I'm in the next room on the loveseat.  It works, for now, but guess what's happening when it cools off?

Going by the photos, the parade was standard Americana - fire engines, string bands (for you non-Philly readers, just go Google "Mummers Parade" and thank me later), kids on homemade floats, high school bands.

I honestly didn't know people still did this stuff.  

In the evening, there was a concert and fireworks down on the high school football field.  The town officially stopped fireworks a while back, but the local athletic association didn't want to let them go, so they fundraise every year, in addition to selling tickets to the actual event.. We bought tickets - though the fireworks were certainly visible outside the school field, and outside the town, it just seemed more fun to sit on the bleachers and ooh and aah with our neighbors.

I was impressed.  Small town it may be, but these fireworks were as good as any I've seen on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philly, without being shoulder-to-shoulder with several hundred thousand sweaty, semi-drunken people.  There was even a pre-show concert, and the girl singing the national anthem at the beginning of the video can certainly hold her own.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Looking like Revolution

But it's only the neighbors starting their July45th celebration a few days early.

Wednesday is a full-on small town parade (let's see if I can get out of the house by 9 a.m.) followed in the evening by a concert and then a fireworks display at the high school field.

I've never been big on going to see fireworks. The crowds, the annoyance of trying to get home after.  But these are about 6 blocks from our house, so I'm all in.

Monday, June 25, 2018

African Dolls

 I recently listed a new batch of African dolls in my Etsy shop.  I hadn't made any in a while, and I came across some remnants of wax print fabric while I was unpacking, and decided it was time.

I think I mentioned before that the first of these was made for a former co-worker, who had an African neighbor who took care of her granddaughter.  When the woman prepared to return home, my friend asked for a piece of her clothing and asked me to make a doll so that her granddaughter would always remember her.

They're fun to make, and I love the colors and prints of the fabrics.  I've found a few bits in thrift stores, in addition to using the leftovers from the first doll, but most of these were from remnants provided by sewing friends.

These tend to sell better online than in person, for some reason.  I sold one last fall at an outdoor event - a little girl fell in love with the doll, and was starting a spectacular meltdown when her grandfather told her she couldn't have it.  She didn't understand why, but when I looked at him, I did.

His wife looked from the doll to me to the granddaughter, and elbowed him in the ribs.  "Give her the doll," she said.  "She's growing up in a different world than we did, and there's no point in trying to stop it."

I think he would have liked to try, but the women - his wife, his granddaughter, the doll and me - won out in the end.

And though I admit I didn't like why he didn't want to buy the doll for her, I give credit where it's due.  He knew his wife was right.  That little girl is growing up in a different world, and there isn't anything he can do to stop it.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Squirrels in the Attic

When we moved in, the house across the driveway had been empty for a while (as had ours), but while ours was maintained and improved by the elderly owner's sons, this house was headed for bank sale.  It didn't look too rough from the outside, but I spoke to the couple who did most of the renovation for the new owner/landlord, and plumbing, wiring, walls, floors all needed redoing.

Another issue the house had was squirrels.  One of the neighbors called it Squirrel Manor, and they were right.  You could see them popping in and out of vents, downspouts, under the eaves.  Wherever they wanted to.

One by one, the openings were blocked up, and the squirrels had to look for new housing.

Guess where some of them moved? 

We have an ornamental drop ceiling in the bedroom that I considered ripping out when we moved in, but it was in good condition and it was pretty, not that metal grid office drop ceiling, so we let it be.  I'm regretting that now, because while the critters apparently entered through the attic, there must be a breach in the original plaster ceiling (isn't there always, in the case of drop ceilings?), and they decided it was much more snug and comfortable in the 3" space between the plaster and the fiberglass drop.

And the sound of their little claws on that drop ceiling . . . makes me crazy.  Like, can't sleep in the bedroom underneath them crazy. 

Now I'm in the midst of dealing with animal control, wild animal removal, humane traps and homicidal fantasies.  It's amazing how your feelings about cute fuzzy animals change when they invade your home. 

Animal control found a few small openings in the stucco (squirrels only need a 1.5" opening) and packed them with sharp metal mesh.  I found 2 more narrow openings in the attic crawlspace which were hidden behind the roof edge/gutter on the outside, and Mario stapled multiple layers of metal screening over them. 

But they're still up there, and obviously there has to be another exit because it's been days since we did the work in the attic, and the sounds are not the sounds of frantic-to-escape, hungry, thirsty squirrels.  It's a squirrel party, all the time.

A different company is coming out this week.  The tech is planning to remove a small section of the drop ceiling (which I no longer have any attachment to whatsoever, surprisingly), and then he'll be able to diagnose the situation better.  He said that the amount of noise we're getting at night doesn't say squirrels to him, unless they're flying squirrels.  He thinks it could just be mice, and the small space they're in is magnifying the noise.

Much as I don't like the idea of mice, I can handle mice.  They're nowhere else in the house, I've seen no droppings or mess, no food packets have been ripped into in the cabinets, and the cats aren't bothered in the least.  Mice can be trapped in a variety of ways, plus they don't like peppermint oil, which I have in abundance from the time we had mice in the mudroom off the old house.

Either way, mice or squirrels or Rocky the Flying Squirrel, I will prevail. 

I just won't sleep much in the meantime.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Garden Progress

We've had a LOT of rain in the last month. A lot.  Like the amounts of rain where the ground squelches like a sponge for the next day kind of rain.

But it's been good for the garden, and because I haven't gotten the rain barrel set up yet - because I haven't gotten the stupid shrub stump out of the back yard yet - it's enabled me to put aside a good bit of water for the times when it hasn't rained.

For your consideration, two photos of the tomato beds:

May 6 - a day after planting

June 19 - after much rain and enough sun
 Also, the blueberries are coming along pretty well.  The progress varies - for some reason, the bush in the back of the yard (pictured) is growing like crazy, and as they progress toward the house, their growth is less. 

Nature is weird.  They'll catch up.

But the berries are turning blue, and I got spikes and netting in the ground last weekend so that the berries are protected from the birds and squirrels as they're ripening.  And the birds and squirrels are interested. 

I have issues with squirrels.  More on that soon. 

Happy summer!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Houndstooth Hound

When I'm doing craft shows, people ask where I get my materials.  Occasionally I've joked that I take things off my friends' backs.

This time it's almost true.

About a month ago, my co-worker, Sylvia, wore this red-and-black houndstooth print top to the office, and as soon as I saw it, I wanted to make dogs from it.  She, understandably, didn't understand.  

"But I like it." 

"But I'm wearing it."

"You don't really need it.  You have a million tops.  When was the last time you wore this one?"
"I wear it about once a year.  But I like it."

"I'll make one for your niece, if you give me the top."

She made the mistake of mentioning it in front of her niece, and as you can see, I got the top.  It was large; the pattern pieces were small.  These are for small kids - no eyes or bits they can tear off, and they sell pretty well.  

Her niece was happy, too.  

I can't wait to see what Sylvia wears next week.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Mama, Bear

One of the things I miss most about West Philly is our favorite brunch spot, Renata's Kitchen.

It used to be our favorite neighborhood restaurant, period, but they shortened their hours a year or so ago and became all brunch, all the time (or at least until 5 p.m.).  So I gave up paella, but despite what Anthony Bourdain had to say about brunch - and if you don't know, look it up - it's still one of my favorite ways to start out a weekend.

The owners are a really sweet couple, and they've sent more than their share of extra goodies our way over the years, so when they recently had a baby boy, I got the dad to hand over one of his baby blanketd.

Fast forward to last week, when mom, dad and baby were all at the restaurant, and I got to hand off the bear.

As you can see, the baby is ridiculously cute, and amazingly placid.  Mom is glowing.  Maybe this is what happens when you luck out and get a baby who sleeps through the night at the age of 2 months.  (But then again, she runs front-of-house at a restaurant.  She can get cooperation with an eyebrow, so maybe he's a fast learner?)

I was happy to make this one - they're such a nice couple, and I wanted to say congratulations and thank you for years of good food and friendship.