Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What the Heck is a Cheeky Cognoscenti?

So, what's a Cheeky Cognoscenti, you may ask?

Dictionary.com defines a cognoscente as: "a person with superior, usually specialized knowledge or highly refined taste; a conoisseur" and "a person who has superior knowledge and understanding of a particular field, esp. in the fine arts, literature, and world of fashion." The word is derived from obsolete Italian, and pronounced "con-yuh-SHEN-tee" in its plural form (cognoscenti with an "i" at the end). My favorite definition of cheeky, on the other hand, comes from the web site The Very Best of British: The Americans' Guide to Speaking British: "Cheeky means you are flippant, have too much lip or are a bit of a smart arse! Generally you are considered to be a bit cheeky if you have an answer for everything and always have the last word." As you're probably starting to realize, I really like WORDS, particularly unusual, colorful, precise words with layers of meaning, words that are rich with imagery and flavor. Although I'm not arrogant enough to think I know all there is to know about everything I'm interested in, I do enjoy the arts and try to find out as much about my various interests as I can. I'm also a smartass. And I like the anachronism of mixing these two words together, with their wildly different connotations and origins. To me, a cheeky cognoscente is what you get when you mix Eliza Doolittle with Leonardo da Vinci -- you get someone I'd very much like to invite to dinner!

Must See if you're anywhere near Charleston, SC: The Angel Tree on St. John's Island

Okay, you have to see this tree in person.  It's a live oak and it's reputed to be the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi river.  It's over 1,500 years old -- it was a sapling a thousand years before Christopher Columbus set foot on the continent -- and it's absolutely awe-inspiring.

Not only is that all one tree, but it's not even the whole tree -- this tree is so big, I couldn't even get a picture of the whole thing.  The canopy is over 17,000 square feet and the tree stands 65 feet tall.  The tree's limbs stretch down to the ground.

Here again, this is all one tree, and you're not even looking at the whole thing.  And you can't really get a feel for the enormity from the picture because there's nothing in the photo that establishes the scale.

This is the same shot, but I zoomed in so you can see the easel on the left, which stands about 5' high.  Now you can scroll back up to the previous shot, look for the easel again, and get a better sense of the size of this tree.  You're probably wondering why I didn't take a picture of a person standing next to the tree, aren't you?  Well, unfortunately, when we got there at 11 o'clock on Sunday morning, the tree was closed.

Okay, fine -- so the park was closed, and the tree happened to be in the park, behind a tall wire fence that I was not up to climbing. 

The Angel Tree is located on St. John's island just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, in a public park.  If you're ever out that way, it's definitely worth the detour.  Just think how many human lives have come and go, how many human dramas have unfolded, how many crises have come and gone, how much the planet has changed since this little acorn sprouted in the dirt on St. John's island.  And the tree has outlasted it all.

Wouldn't you know it, though -- a developer is trying to clear the surrounding forest area on three sides of the Angel Tree to make way for a bunch of condos and a shopping center, despite warnings from experts that to do so would imperil the Angel Tree.  To add your name to a petition seeking to block this development, follow this link.  To see more pictures and learn more about this tree, go to http://www.sciway.net/photos/coast-sc/angel-oak/.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hesitation, Procrastination, & a Handful of Excuses: I'm FIXING to Start That Pettiskirt Project!

WELL... As you can see, the Princess Pettiskirt pattern has arrived from Kari Me Away, and I have also received the turquoise nylon chiffon from AFC Express, the 1 1/2" single face satin ribbon in Shocking Pink and the 32 mm carnation ribbon rosettes in Shocking Pink, both from M&J Trimming, and the turquoise polyester crepe back satin and 1" non-roll elastic have both come in from Fabric.com.  I have plenty of thread in this color (at least I'm pretty sure I have enough) because this was the color of the bridesmaids' dresses for Janice the Manice's wedding.  So I have everything I need for this project, and it has all been neatly stacked in my sewing room for about a week and a half now -- what's my excuse?

I did at least open the pattern envelope and glance through the instructions.  They include what seem to be pretty detailed information about gathering with ruffler feet, which is a good thing.  Here's a picture of my Bernina Ruffler Foot #86, in case you're not familiar with these contraptions. Intimidating, isn't it? Although I've owned a ruffler footsie for my sewbaby for several years (ever since I tried it out in mastery classes), the only project I've used it on so far was the ruffled ribbon inserted in the edge of Princess Petunia's baby quilt, and I seem to recall that there was some struggle and swearing involved in the process.  I'm sure that, as with all sewing techniques, there's a learning curve associated with the ruffler foot, so hopefully some of these tips and tricks will make the ruffling go more smoothly for me this time.  Because there is A LOT of ruffling to be done on this pettiskirt...

Well, I've been busy working on several design projects for clients, and then I was sick, and then there was Father's Day (which included a water gun war that ended with a head laceration requiring a trip to Urgent Care and two staples), and then there was that day that I realized the house was filthy and went on a crazed cleaning spree, so those are my excuses.  Today I've got some paperwork to attack here in my office, laundry, grocery shopping, and a doctor appointment later this afternoon for the little Walking Wounded One, so I don't forsee lots of free time for sewing.  However, the great thing about having a dedicated sewing room is that I don't have to waste any time putting projects away or taking them out again, and even 10 minutes a day adds up to eventually completing a project.

Sometimes I think the hardest part of any project is just getting started, so my plan for today is to bring the pattern instructions with me to read while I wait in the carpool line this afternoon to pick up the boys from Camp Invention.  Then tonight, after the kids are asleep and the lunches are packed for tomorrow, I hope to at least get started cutting the chiffon into all those long strips.  Maybe tomorrow afternoon after my hair appointment I can find some time to get my sewbaby set up with the right needle and thread and do some practice to get comfortable with my ruffler foot before tackling the actual project.  I have a meeting with a client on Thursday morning and then Bernie and I are headed to Charleston and/or Pawley's Island on Friday for a quick weekend getaway without the kids (thank you, Grammy and Grampa, for your babysitting hospitality).  Then I have a client's drapery installation scheduled for midweek once we get back, but other than that my schedule is still pretty open next week so I'm hoping to find some good blocks of time to work on the pettiskirt.  One day at a time!

Monday, June 21, 2010


First of all, thank you for the kind comments of sympathy during my bout of boogeritis.  I investigated the neti pot option Susan suggested, but by that time the boogers were more in my chest and throat than in my nose, plus the whole idea of nasal irrigation freaked me out a bit.  What if I do it wrong and accidentally flush my brains out through my nose, like the ancient Egyptians did during mummification?  I'm too young to be a mummy!!

So I opted for some good, old-fashioned shopping therapy instead.  Nordstrom Summer Shoe Sale to the rescue!  My husband and children even came shopping with me this weekend, and with a little help from our Nintendo DSi games, a good time was had by all and I actually accomplished all of my shopping missions.

Last summer I practically lived in a pair of dark brown beaded flip-flop sandals because they were so comfortable and easy to slip into or kick off at the back door, but last year's sandals have seen better days.  To replace them, I bought this cute pair of Think! "Julia" sandals in Espresso.  Right out of the box, they are as comfortable as a pair of Birkenstocks but much cuter:

...and I got this pair of Vera Wang Lavendar "Diane" sandals in Black leather, also unbelievably comfortable.  I've never had casual sandals made from such supple leather before:

You can't really see them in that picture, so here they are with my feet in them.  Notice my fabulous shimmery plum pedicure, courtesy of the spa gift certificate my menfolk gifted me with on Mother's Day:

Now that I had my practical, everyday, running-errands-and-getting-the-kids-to-summer-camp shoes squared away, I was able to get some dressier sandals.  These "Ibiza" sandals from Via Spiga are unbelievably comfortable considering their 5" platform heels, and they are going to look great with skirts, dresses, and other professional outfits for days when I have to impersonate a grownup to meet with clients or sales reps.  I wore them to church yesterday and then to the Fresh Market to pick up some produce for Father's Day dinner, and I had so much fun looking down at the tops of all the short people's heads:

And now, brace yourselves, for I have saved the very best for last.  Allow me to introduce you to my new date night shoes, the studded leather "Clyde 2" platform sandals from Vera Wang Lavendar:

Although I'm not about to wear them when I need to chase after my kids, these really are very comfortable shoes.  Again it's a 5" platform heel, which, if you have never tried them, feels like instantly losing 10 pounds and transforming yourself into a supermodel.  The only thing that feels better than that is knowing that I got all these shoes for less than half price.  Boogers are no match for sale day at Nordstrom!  I'm feeling better already.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Woe is Me: Skip this if you aren't in the mood for my self-pity

It's 84° and sunny today in Charlotte, North Carolina.  It's the kids' first day of summer vacation, the neighborhood pool is open -- and I am feeling very out of sync with this beautiful day because I have a nasty out-of-season cold.  My throat hurts, I can barely speak, and I'm coughing up yucky yellow slimey stuff.  The injustice of it all!  This isn't January; it's the middle of JUNE!

 Fortunately for you, I am NOT going to give you a high-resolution, close-up shot of the yucky yellow slimey stuff, because that would be really gross.  However, I'm not done complaining yet, either.  I feel like an overweight golden retriever is sitting on my chest and won't get off.  I'm exhausted even though I got plenty of sleep last night.  I took Alka Seltzer Cold Plus medicine about an hour ago, which has helped me ignore previous bouts of snuffly boogeritis much more than it is helping me today.  I even resorted to chicken noodle soup for lunch, and I hate chicken noodle soup!  But none of it is helping; I still feel terrible.  Did I mention the sensation that my head is stuffed with sawdust, which is creating uncomfortable pressure and causing everything to sound weirdly muffled? 

As a matter of fact, today I feel as lousy as my office looks:

Depressing, isn't it?  This photo doesn't even do my mess justice, because my desk is hiding all of the piles of paperwork and memo samples stacked on the floor around my chair.  I have to leap over the piles to get to my chair, which is difficult to do with an 80-lb. golden retriever sitting on my chest and my ears packed with sawdust.   

While I'm on this Positive Attitude kick, let me also share that I'm out of skim milk so I can't make a latte, my shoulder and my back hurt, and my nose is sore.  I'm pretty sure a pimple is brewing below the surface near my right eyebrow.  And, despite how grouchy and miserable I'm feeling, I can't lie down and rest all day because I have work to get done on two different clients' projects, so I have to go feel miserable in my pigsty of an office at least until that's done.

Monday, June 7, 2010

As the Homework Ceases, the Mommywork Begins!

Over the last month of the school year, the boys' homework tapered off considerably and finally stopped altogether towards the middle of last week.  Disgusting, isn't it?  Miss one lousy school day due to a snow "storm" (that means anything that sticks to the ground for more than 5 minutes here in Charlotte), and they slap you with a makeup day because each day of instruction is supposedly so crucial to the kids' intellectual development.  Meanwhile, the last 10 days of school are pretty much a waste. 

So this year, I decided to fight back -- with the invention of Mommywork!  As we were driving home from school on Thursday, 9-year-old Lars gleefully informed me that he would not have any more homework for the rest of the year. 

Me: "When we get home, I want you to put your shoes away and go straight to the kitchen table to do your homework."

Lars: "I don't have any homework!  Homework is over for the rest of the year!"

Anders: "I don't have any homework, either."

Me: "Good!  Because I picked out some Mommywork pages for each of you out of your workbooks!"

Boys in unison: "Whaaaat?!!!"

Lars: "But that's not fair!  Everyone knows the best thing about summer vacation is no homework!"

Me: "Wrong.  The best thing about summer vacation is no school.  And anyways, it's not homework; homework is assigned by your teacher.  This is Mommywork, which is totally different.  If you guys want me to keep buying books all summer long, you'll do a couple of quick Mommywork assignments every day.  All those books are expensive!  Remember those Ranger's Apprentice books I just ordered from Amazon?  They'll be here tomorrow, and I'm only going to give them to you if you do your Mommywork.  Deal?"

[Boys grumble in reluctant acquiescence.]

Meanwhile, I'm inwardly chortling with glee -- I have just convinced two little boys to do extra homework all summer long in exchange for the privilege of reading.  I must savor this moment.

So, what exactly is Mommywork going to be?  Well, the boys are both well above grade level in just about everything, so my objective here is not for them to catch up or necessarily even get farther ahead by doing extra work over the summer.  It's just that it took the whole first month of school to get the homework routine established.  Their ADHD meds wear off about an hour or so after they get home from school, so if they don't go straight to the kitchen table and crack open their books the instant they walk in the door, they are doomed.  If they still have homework to do at 5 PM, then keeping them on task to complete a simple assignment becomes an excruciating saga of tears, threats, desperation, and misery for the entire family.  So Mommywork is more about keeping up the routine of homework and the habit of sitting down to do homework as soon as they get home from their half day of summer camp.

However, I don't want to waste their time with boring busywork, either.  So I went to Barnes & Noble and got an assortment of colorful basic skills workbooks that would reinforce what they've been doing in school.  I like the Flash Kids series Gifted & Talented: Reading, Writing & Math by grade level (you can find this series here at Amazon) , but the reading and writing exercises in the fourth grade book are nowhere near challenging for Lars, so I also got him a Basic/Not Boring Language Skills: Writing workbook written for grades 6-8+. 

You can find that one here.  The first time Lars saw the book, he was intimidated by the grade level and I had to put the book away.  But today I tore the page out ahead of time so he wouldn't know which workbook it came from, and gave him one page of identifying passive voice sentences and rewriting them in active voice, and one page of using personification to create strong visual images.  He did great on both.  Some of my favorites of his personification sentences:

"The sun glared down on Bedullin (?) tribesmen in the desert."

"The numbers marched across my math test."

"Our porch light winked repeatedly as we slowly unplugged it."

"The fog swam through the neighborhood."

I'm liking this Mommywork concept more and more every day!

Here's one parting photo for today, Lars and Anders hanging out on a bench at the grocery store while the cashier was ringing up our groceries.  They have little brain teaser activity books that they asked us to buy from the magazine rack in the checkout lane.  Don't they remind you of young Nils and Frasier?  I hope I don't end up with a Maris and a Lilith as daughters-in-law someday...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What's Blooming Today: Magnolias, Day Lilies, and EASTER LILIES!

William Shakespeare wrote that "brevity is the soul of wit" (Polonius says this line to Lady Macbeth in Hamlet, in case you're interested).  By Shakespeare's standard, most days I'm a witless, rambling fool -- but then again, so was Polonius.  Nevertheless, I'm going to try to be more succint than usual today and just share some photos of what's blooming in my garden right now.

 This is one of my favorite red day lilies, which my devoted husband dug up out of a flower bed at our old house before we moved.  The contract for the house didn't actually specify whether all plantings were included with the sale of the home, and these lilies hadn't even sent up shoots out of the ground yet so the buyers didn't even know they were there, but I wasn't taking any chances -- I made Bernie dig them up in the dark of night while I held the flashlight.  These lilies now live in a triangular bed around the lamp post that I've nicknamed The Flower Dump due to the fact that we've been just dumping flowers there willy-nilly when we don't know where else to put them.  Half the time, we don't even remember what's planted there, and although I've considered digging things up and rearranging them more attractively, that would spoil the surprise of random forgotten flowers springing up unannounced.  Like these pretty little orange lilies, not sure if they're technically tiger lilies or not:

Here's another beautiful lily that I don't remember buying or planting:

And, last but not least, I was thoroughly surprised when these two Easter lilies bloomed in the Flower Dump!  I now vaguely remember planting last year's Easter lilies in the flower dump after they'd finished blooming and the foliage was yellowing, but I had forgotten all about it until the blooms opened up the other day.  I still had this year's Easter lily out in the screen porch, so I added that to the other two out in the garden for next year.

Here you can see how well the trailing petunias are doing in the Amazingly Magical Birthday Flowerboxes that Bernie built for me.  Those are more Mystery Lilies in the Flower Dump that you see in the foreground on the right:

Here you can see another of my flower boxes and a mass planting of Stella D'Oro day lilies in the beds on either side of the front door.  That's a pink crape myrtle on the right; it should be in full bloom within the next week or two.  The Stella D'Oro day lilies have gotten huge this year; there weren't nearly as many of them last year.  We probably should dig them up and divide them in the fall, maybe plant a mass of tulips in the same spot while we have it all dug up:

Our evergreen magnolia trees have started to bloom, too.  All of the ones we've planted are the Little Gem variety, which is faster growing, more compact, and therefore better suited to my impatient nature and small yard than the slow-growing behemoths that most people think of as Southern magnolias.  Do you see the little insect peeking out from the center of the flower?  Hello, little guy!

Last but not least, I leave you with some pictures of my guilty garden pleasure, the kitschy little red-hatted gnomes my kids got me from Smith Hawken a couple of years ago. 

Usually I'm not a fan of "lawn ornaments," but these guys are pretty little, they're in the back yard near the woods, and you don't notice them unless you're up close. 

They make me smile.  Don't worry; I won't be adding fake dear, flamingoes, or statues of the Virgin Mary to the front yard any time soon!  These gnomes are keeping watch on some little baby hostas and an azalea that has finised blooming for the Spring.