Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Princess and the Prius

Mercedes ML500 just like mine, but without the smeared up windows and crumbs,

So a week or two ago, I was suddenly seized with passion for the environment mixed with outrage over the high cost of gasoline.  Now that I'm on sabbatical and no longer need to fit 54" bolts of fabric in my car on a regular basis, perhaps my gas-guzzling SUV was no longer necessary?  My father had been gloating about how his new Lexus hybrid CH200h hatchback gets 42 miles to the gallon, whereas my Mercedes ML500 gets, um, well -- somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-18 miles to the gallon.  And of course, the Benz is a picky eater who only eats PREMIUM.  I entertained fantasies of saving hundreds of dollars in fuel costs every month while flaunting my Holier-and-Greener-Than-Thou attitude in a stylish, luxurious Hybrid of One's Own. 

Lexus CT200h Hybrid, just like my Dad's
In a fit of inspiration, I drove over to the Lexus dealership to look at their luxury hybrids.  I quickly came to my senses about the CT200h as I mentally packed my sons into the back seats, with their bookbags, piano music, school projects, and my purse piled on the front passenger seat, a violin and a trombone in the little trunk area, and the groceries and giant sacks of dog food -- where, strapped to the roof?  Then the nice Lexus man showed me the Lexus HS hybrid, a 4-door sedan with more head room for back seat passengers and space for more junk in the trunk.  The HS hybrid gets 35 miles per gallon of fuel, though, not quite as good as the CT, and when I went home and told Bernie about it he complained that there were plenty of cars that got 30 miles to the gallon without being hybrids.  He humored me by going to the Lexus dealership to test drive the car, then (loudly, embarrassingly) proclaimed "You will HATE this car, and I will have to hear about how much you hate it EVERY SINGLE DAY.  No!!"  The car salesman meekly offered his opinion about the "peppiness" and "driving pleasure" of the hybrid sedan, and my darling husband ticked off the flaws I had overlooked in my own test drive: the much slower acceleration, the increased road noise interfering with my classical music, the jarring jolt of every bump in the road...  He even complained that the door of the car didn't feel heavy enough.  Who needs a heavy door?  Me, apparently.  "She's used to driving a rocket ship that's built like a tank  -- Hey, what's this one?" His eyes had alighted on an even bigger hybrid sedan with even lower gas mileage (and a much higher price tag), some LS or GS something or other that looked like it should be packed full of men in suits on their way to a business lunch.  Nope; not the car for me.

We drove home, Bernie victorious, me sulking ever-so-slightly.  Then Bernie talked to his sister, who sang the praises of her Toyota Prius.  Bernie said, "If you really want great gas mileage, you should at least test-drive a Prius."  Oh, fine.  So we went to the Toyota dealership.

First off, the Toyota dealership is on a separate planet from the Mercedes and Lexus dealerships.  It's in another galaxy, far, far away, populated by salesmen named Vito (I am not making this up!) who shoo you into a little cubicle and insist on "getting some information first" before they will show you the car you came to see.  Then, when you protest that you are pressed for time and really just want to take a quick look at the car, Vito enthusiastically declares, "I can sell you a car in FIVE MINUTES!!"  Oh, goody!  The girl at the reception desk of the Toyota dealership is playing with her phone and never greets us or even makes eye contact.  No one offers me a complimentary beverage or snack.  It's like the difference between shopping at Nieman Marcus and shopping at Target, except that Target has much better customer service than the Toyota dealer. 
The UnSexy, Uninteresting Toyota Prius V
Bernie asks Vito to skip the formalities and let me drive the Prius V, because it's the biggest Prius model and, when you are 6'8" tall like my husband, you firmly believe that BIGGER IS BETTER.  I open the driver's door to this car, and immediately I smell the weird chemical smells of pleatherette upholstery.  I ask Vito, "Is this real leather upholstery?"  Unbelievably, Vito launches into a nonsensical spiel about how "you can't get real leather upholstery anymore unless you're buying a Rolls Royce."  Whaaaa?!  Do I look that stupid?  Whatever -- I told Bernie I'd drive the car, so I get in.  The Prius V drove a lot like the Lexus hybrids, which makes sense since they are all part of one big, happy car family.  Now that all the burled wood trim and posh interior detailing of the Lexus was stripped away, I was much more aware of the difference between how these cars feel to drive versus how my big SUV drives.  Ugh -- Fine, Bernie, YOU'RE RIGHT.  Once the giddy new-car excitement wore off, I would be very unhappy with a car that didn't take off like a bat out of hell when I stomped down on the gas pedal.  And yes, I DO need to stomp, because I like to drive like the Batman on the interstate.  Ah, Prius V, how did I hate thee?  Let me count the ways: 1. Your stinky fake leather upholstery and chemical fumes.  2. The lack of instrumentation near the steering wheel.  Why did they stick everything in the middle like that?  For the benefit of backseat drivers?  3. Your overwhelming stripped-down station wagon vibe.  4. The horrible Toyota dealership, which I will happily never set foot in again.

Inside the Toyota Prius V
See that weirdness?  There is no spedometer, no displays whatsoever anywhere near the driver.  Everything is in the middle and you have to crane your head to the right just to see how fast you're going.  I'd be zooming down the road, and my kids would be scolding me for speeding and I'd just have to take their word for it and turn up the radio to drown their protests.  And they're calling this the Mama Prius?

Inside the Mercedes ML500
Toyota, take note: This is what the inside of a Mommy Ride is supposed to look like.  Pretty wood trim on the console, doors, and steering wheel.  Spedometer located sensibly where only the driver can see it, because the passengers should mind their own business and quit telling Mommy how to drive. 

This princess can't tolerate the Prius, so I'm keeping my Benz.  I'll just have to make up for my planet-trashing SUV by buying organic produce and bringing reusable shopping bags with me when I go to the store!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Don't Bug Me; I'm On Sabbatical

So, have you noticed that I haven't posted about my interior design business lately?  I wrapped up the last of the client projects I was committed to in January, and was feeling incredibly burnt out and uninspired after several years of working long, crazy hours and trying to "do it all."  It got to the point that, when my office phone rang, I felt annoyed, yet I still felt obligated to meet with every prospective new client -- after all, that's why I was investing in marketing, right?  To get prospective new clients to call me!  However, I found that I wasn't able to get excited about these new clients' projects like I used to, and I found reasons to turn down each of the new clients, with mixed emotions.  First and foremost, I feel that each and every client deserves enthusiasm, creative energy, and fresh ideas from their designer, and I have no business taking on anyone's project if I'm feeling uninspired, unmotivated, or even resentful about it.  But at the same time, I felt guilty about actively advertising for new business, and then turning away (rejecting?) people when they sought out my services.  So I temporarily postponed my direct mailings to give myself a little breather.

Then in February, I was sifting through the hundreds of emails in my in-box in an attempt to figure out what I was supposed to send to school for each of my sons' Valentine's Day parties, and I realized that I had only been getting emails about a party for my third grader, Anders.  I sent Lars's fifth grade teacher an email to see if I'd inadvertenly been left off the email list, and was shocked when she replied that they don't do Valentine's Day parties any more after fourth grade.  This was a punched-in-the-stomach, wind-knocked-out-of-me moment.  There have been so many parties I didn't attend or field trips I didn't chaperone because "now isn't a good time for Mommy; I'm too busy with work right now."  Yes, elementary school parties are all the same: snacks, crafts, and a few photo ops, with more scowls of embarrassment each year, but I had no idea, when I chose work over Lars's fourth-grade Valentine's Day party, that it was my last chance.  I went back through all of the pictures on my computer, trying to figure out when was the last time I went to a Valentine's Day party for Lars, and realized that I had missed every one of them since 2008:

Valentine's Day 2008, Lars is Back Row, 2nd from the Right

The painted rock in this photo reads "1st graders Love Mrs. Steadman."  The last time I showed up for Lars's Valentine's Day party was in first grade.  I missed second, third, and fourth, and now there aren't any more.  My February photos for 2009, 2010, and 2011 are all of other people's draperies and sofas and kitchen cabinets instead of pictures of my kid and his buddies making Valentine's Day doily crafts with pink frosting smeared all over their faces.  Robert Brault has been credited with saying "Enjoy the little things in life.  One day, you may look back and realize they were the big things."  At the time, the tedious classroom Valentine's Day parties seemed like such little things compared to the "important" work piled up on my desk, but now that it's gone and I can't get it back, it feels like a really big deal.

Around this time, I began taking a hard look at our financial situation: what was coming in, and where it was all being spent.  I talked it over with my husband (over and over and over again) and decided that we could get by without my income if I curtailed some of my extravagant spending habits.  Last month, I finally took the plunge and disconnected my business line and took down my web site.  My favorite existing clients can still reach me on my cell phone if they need me (you special people know who you are!), but I'm pretty much on sabbatical this year.  Many businesses offer their employees the option of taking an unpaid sabbatical leave once every seven years.  I've been in business by myself for over a decade, working seven days a week with very few vacations, so I'm way past due for my sabbatical!

I never decided what I wanted to be when I grow up, you know.  It's not as though I deliberately planned a career in interior design -- I just sort of fell into it, to justify the purchase of an expensive sewing machine (a long story for another day).  It worked out well in the beginning when the kids were little, because at first it was something I was only doing part time, occasionally, while the boys were in preschool.  This was supposed to be something temporary, while I was home with small children, and I was going to figure out what I REALLY wanted to do professionally at some distant time in the far-off future.  I have learned a lot (mostly the hard way, through expensive mistakes) over the past decade about the principles of interior design, about marketing and running a business, and I have had the opportunity to meet and work with so many wonderful people in this industry whom I otherwise would not have known.  I have enjoyed the challenge, the creative outlet, and the satisfaction of seeing my designs come to fruition, and have been blessed to work with the best clients imaginable who appreciated and valued everything I did for them.  However, I never in a million years would have deliberately chosen to be an interior designer.  I studied voice performance, secondary education, and majored in history in college.  I'm going to be 39 next month.  I think it's time for me to figure out what I really want to be when I grow up, don't you?  Right now, I just want to be Lars's and Anders' mom and Bernie's wife, go to the grocery store without makeup on, read a couple of novels, and finish that quilt!

I don't know how long my sabbatical will last, or what my next move will be professionally.  Maybe I'll start something new in a year or two that builds on my prior design experience, or maybe I'll strike out in a completely different direction.  Meanwhile, I'm exercizing, practicing piano, and signing up for quilting classes.  I have time to help Anders with Suzuki violin practice in the afternoon, and I have time to make Lars's favorite egg salad sandwiches for his lunch box.  My kids are both doing much better in school since I pulled the plug on my business and am able to take a more active role in homework supervision and communicating with their teachers.  Most importantly, I'm not constantly stressed-out and sleep-deprived anymore from working all night long after the kids go to bed, so I'm much more patient and deliberate in my parenting.  As Bernie likes to point out, "If Momma ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy!" 

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have just enough time to make myself a latte before it's time to pick my boys up from play rehearsal. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Otto the Wonder Dog Warbles Like Whitney

Okay, so my dog doesn't actually sound at all like Whitney Houston, and neither do I.  Deep down, I know my dog is only joining in because he thinks I'm howling like a wolf, but I prefer to think that we understand one another on a deep, musical level that transcends the differences of our species.  Lulu, meanwhile, thinks we're both nuts.

And now, without further ado, I bring you Otto the Wonder Pup:

(you do have to suffer through listening to me sing the verse, however, because Otto doesn't really get into it until the refrain):


Today, I ignored the laundry, cleaned nothing and did not set foot in the sewing room.  Instead, I figured out how to make a video of my dog singing with me, which I then posted on YouTube.  I am feeling very tech-savvy.  Now all I need is a nice, hot latte and my day will be perfect!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Welcome to Rebecca's Ugly Quilting Blog!

"Regulated" Stitches?
You know all those other quilting blogs, where beautiful projects with exquisite workmanship are showcased on a regular basis?  This is not one of those -- not today, anyway, and probably not tomorrow, either.  Just take a gander at the lovely free motion quilting in the photo above.  Since I used invisible nylon monofilament thread in the needle, we're looking at the back side of the quilt in this photo.  The straight lines were stitched with a walking foot, stitch length set to 2.5, and then I attempted to stitch in the ditch around the curved seam of a drunkard's path block using the BSR Bernina Stitch Regulator contraption for my Artista 200/730 machine.  This magical machine footsie is supposed to count the fabric threads with a "laser" as I'm moving the quilt with the feed dogs down, automatically adjusting the needle speed so that I get nice, even stitches despite my relative inexperience. 

Dr. Evil explains the "Laser" Technology of the Bernina Stitch Regulator
Hmmm...  Do you think Bernina would like to use MY quilting sample to advertise their technology?

Bernina Stitch Regulator, courtesy Bernina USA
There are two different "modes" for the BSR foot, and since I got wretched results with Mode 1, I'm going to see if Mode 2 works better for me.  I got herky-jerky hiccups each time I tried to reposition my hands on the quilt because the machine kept stitching when the fabric moved slightly.  What most annoys me, though, is that the stitch length does not look ONE BIT "regulated" to me.  They are all way smaller than the 2.0 length the machine was set for, and each stitch is its own unique length, many of them tiny little locking-stitch length that will provide me with HOURS of fun as I attempt to unpick them with a seam ripper.

Well, when all else fails, there's always education, right?  I've signed up for a machine quilting class at a quilt shop in Concord next month.  Drastic times call for drastic measures!  All of my quilting books and blogs to read are all well and good, but there's nothing like having someone who knows how to do it looking over your shoulder to tell you exactly what you're doing wrong.

Not that I'm going to just put this quilt aside for the next few weeks!  I'm going to try wearing those kooky rubberized quilting gloves.  I'm going to try BSR Mode 2, and I'm going to try flinging the BSR contraption across the room and doing it the old fashioned way, with a plain old darning foot and no training wheels.  I may even try to use the walking foot and turn the quilt around under the needle, although I doubt that will work.

In case you're interested, here's what I accomplished so far, the straight lines quilted with the walking foot:

Straight Seamlines Quilted, Except for Circles

I quilted the seam line and two additional quilting lines to either side of the seam lines, both vertically and horizontally, except for the seam lines transecting my circles.  Next I want to quilt just the circular seams, before going on to do something pretty in the center of each circle. 

And now, a special treat to reward those who have stuck with me throughout this whole whining post:

Little Bald Lars with his Roman Square Quilt
That, friends, is the first quilt I ever made, a Roman Square for Little One Lars's "big boy bed" back in 2002.  It has school buses, doggies, sailboats, and all sorts of other I Spy fodder, and it is still on his bed today where it shall remain, until the new quilt is finished!

Happy Sunday!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Men and Boys in Easter Suits, with Ties!

Father and Sons in Easter Finery
Don't my menfolk clean up nicely for Easter Sunday?  Now that I see the pictures, I think the boys' jacket sleeves were too short.  Ah, well -- I got a full year out of those cute little suits, and Anders will be wearing Lars's next year!
Lars & Anders at Church

This one is my favorite.  What more could I ask for?

Well, the boys are back at school, and it's the first day of the last marking period.  We're in the home stretch of the school year, with summer beckoning from just around the corner.  Where did the year go?!

I managed to sneak in a little quilting time yesterday afternoon while Bernie was fiddling with his bushes in the back yard.  I finished the "straight" lines with the walking foot.  The quotation marks are because it came out looking like graph paper drawn freehand, without a ruler.  You get the idea that the lines are INTENDED to be straight and evenly spaced, but you wonder if the quilting wasn't done during a mild earthquake.  Also, despite the anguish and care that went into starching and basting this quilt, the dreaded evil pleats have been cropping up all over the back of the quilt, like this:

"Straight" Quilting with Stitched-Down Pleat

It's not as if that's the only place it happened, either.  There are so many places where I've got stitched-in pleats, it's almost like it's an intentional design feature.  You know, the way the ubiquitous clumps of dog fur dust bunnies all over my house are an intentional design feature, not an indication of slovenly housekeeping.  Ahem!

Where did I go wrong?  I honestly don't know.  Maybe I didn't starch the backing enough.  Yet the stiffness and stability provided by the starch seemed to wear off gradually as I handled the quilt, rolling and unrolling, folding and unfolding it while I was quilting.  Now it doesn't even feel starched anymore, but there's plenty of quilting left to be done.  Should I have used MORE safety pins for basting?  Was I tugging and pulling too much as I was quilting?  This thing is monstrously huge and heavy, and the table that I set up to the left of me does absolutely no good whatsoever.  I'm really struggling with the bulk of this quilt.

Well, the good news is that I NO LONGER HAVE TO WORRY THAT I'LL RUIN A PERFECT QUILT WITH POORLY EXECUTED FREE MOTION QUILTING!  It's definitely NOT perfect anymore, by any stretch...  ;-)

I packed away the walking foot, cleaned out the lint and oiled my machine, put in a fresh #60 sharp needle, and wound up several bobbins.  Next time I go in my sewing room, I'll be doing some free motion practice with the BSR foot in preparation for quilting those circles "in the ditch" of the circular seams.  Since it's not exactly a cake walk to stitch in the ditch along a straight seam line, with the help of the feed dogs, I'm VERY NERVOUS about how this is going to go, but I just can't see any way out of it.  That line needs to be quilted and there's no other way to do it.  I just have to know that it won't be perfect, and be grateful that I chose the invisible thread so my mistakes won't jump out at me from across the room!

Wish me luck!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Eggs 2012

We colored our eggs yesterday! We attempted to do the Martha Stewart electrical tape striping and marbling techniques I found online. As usual, it's never quite as easy as it appears in the instructions. For one thing, the narrowest electrical tape Bernie could find was 1/2" rather than the 1/4" called for in the tutorial.  The kids had a lot of fun with the tape, but I found it difficult to position it as precisely as I wanted to.  Next year Bernie wants to try this again using pinstriping tape from the automotive store. 

Anders Gets Serious With Electrical Tape
As for the marbling, I didn't follow the instructions very precisely. I think I made the marbling dye bath too deep and put in too much olive oil, so next year I'll spend some time finding more appropriate containers for that part.  Oh, and NOTE TO SELF: Next year, remember to put plastic gloves on before I start playing with food coloring, to avoid a reprise of the lovely manicure I'll be sporting for Easter Sunday:

Even if I had time to get a manicure today (I don't), I don't think there's anything they could do to get that gross green dye out from under my nails.  Whatever -- next year, GLOVES!!

This morning the kids had their Easter egg hunt and egg decorating party at church.  I managed to get one sneaky shot of Lars before he noticed what I was doing:

...And then I got the "Why-is-my-mom-so-embarrassing?!" look in all subsequent photos:

"I am way too cool for you, Mom."  -- Lars

See?  So grown-up and sophisticated, this eleven-year-old.  How sophisticated?  Why, THIS sophisticated:

Anders, as usual, dyed almost all of his eggs green.  If it was up to Anders, EVERYTHING would be green.

Meanwhile, Bernie was stalking around with his camera, looking like this from an adult's perspective:

...and looking like THIS from a small child's perspective:

Pretty scary, don't you agree?

Now the eggs are taken care of, Easter suits are all clean and ready for church tomorrow morning, and my husband is speaking longingly to me of ligustrum bushes that he wants to plant.  It's a beautiful, sunny Saturday.  Happy Easter, everyone!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Three Days Until Easter? It's Egg Time, Baby!

Grammy Coloring Easter Eggs with Lars, 2003
Remember when your kids were really little, just barely old enough to understand that something special was going on when the holidays rolled around?  Remember how exciting it was to set up the Easter egg dye for the first time and watch their amazement when the eggs changed colors before their wide, wondering eyes?  You didn't need to do anything fancy, and you didn't need anything other than food coloring, eggs and vinegar to create those memories.

Fast forward about a decade, and I am starting to realize that there may be more holiday craft memories BEHIND us than ahead of us.  Which is why I'm ramping things up a bit this year, with more advanced egg coloring plans that are better suited to my 8 and 11 year old helpers.  I'm not going to know ahead of time which year will be the last that my kids are interested in coloring Easter eggs, so we can't take any eggs for granted!

I've been trolling around on Pinterest for ideas (you can see all of them on my Easter board here), and I've narrowed it down to a few ideas that are different enough to pique the boys' interest, but easy enough for them to get good results without too much assistance:

Madras Electrical Tape Eggs, by Jen Wallace of Indie Fixx, tutorial here
These eggs by Jen Wallace of Indie Fixx remind me of madras plaid Easter shirts or ties, and they were made by wrapping the eggs with electrical tape and repositioning the tape between colors, an idea Jen got from a Martha Stewart Living tutorial here

I like this idea because we already have electrical tape out in the garage, and it's just basic egg dying with a fun twist. 

Another Martha Stewart idea we'll be borrowing is the DIY egg drying rack made of 1/2" foam core and straight pins.  Ingenious!  I've always hated the ugly blemishes you get on the eggs if you set them on a paper towel or back in the egg carton to dry, and with multi-dye techniques you'd get multiple ugly splotches, one for each color. 

The second technique I want to try this year is marbleized eggs, another Martha Stewart project (instructions here).  This is another method that builds on basic egg dying.  First you color the eggs the way you normally would and allow them to dry, and then you swirl them in a second shallow dye bath in a contrasting color, with olive oil drizzled in the dye bath.  I'm picturing this kind of like how they drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar on a plate at the Olive Garden when they bring the bread out.  Is that the Olive Garden, or the Macaroni Grill?  It's one of those Italian restaurant chains where Bernie refuses to eat because he always gets an upset stomach every time we go there. 

Back to the eggs!

Eggs Embellished with Temporary Tattoos
One more idea to throw into the mix: In the past, when they were much younger, I tried giving the boys stickers to embellish their Easter eggs, but I seem to recall they just fell off, resulting in disappointment and tears.  I found this photo from Tina Roth Eisenberg of SwissMiss showing plain brown eggs decorated with temporary tattoos.  Lars LOVES temporary tattoos, so much so that he'd plaster them all over his face if we allowed it.  My boys probably won't be excited about sweet little bunny rabbits, but maybe I can find some fake tattoos that will fulfil the twin objectives of arousing little boys' enthusiasm while respecting that this is, after all, a religious holiday (there will be NO SKULLS AND CROSS BONES on our Easter eggs.  Period!).

If Bernie ever comes back from getting his oil changed, I'll head out to round up supplies for our Easter eggs.  The boys have an Easter egg hunt and craft party at church on Saturday, so that means I need to dye four dozen eggs today and have everything ready for decorating them on Friday.  I'll try to remember to post pictures!

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spring Blossoms, Or That Which the Dogs Have Chosen Not to Destroy

A Spared Rhododendron Blooms Bravely in the Back Yard
Amazingly, a rhododendron has been spared the malicious attentions of Lulu the Terrible and is blooming prettily in the back yard.

I had to come in pretty close to get this picture without also including the torn-up sod and chewed-up Indian Hawthornes in the foreground.  We're focusing on what IS working in the garden today.

Aren't the purple irises in the Flower Dump lovely?  Too bad spring flowers are so brief. 

This morning, Lars-of-Ours spent an hour or so pulling up clover and other weeds from the front flower beds.  He did this not out of gardening enthusiasm or filial love, but as forced penance for having raided the candy-filled plastic Easter eggs this morning before his parents got out of bed.  Ahem!

Bernie and the boys just left to go fishing, and I'd like to sneak in some quilting time while they're gone.  I hope you're enjoying Spring break in your neck of the woods!

Lovely Purple Irises in the Flower Dump