Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Reviews: Lincoln and The Postmistress

Review 1) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

You know there are hours of your life spent reading that you will never get back when a glance at the acknowledgment reveals an author's sources to be Wikipedia and Google. As a reader, I was more shocked by the authors blatant revelation of his lack of research than the fact that it was so painfully obvious that academic research was lacking. Essentially, it's the life story of Abraham Lincoln, explaining the death of his mother and those whom he loved and lost in his life as victims of vampires. After his mother's death, young Abe commits to killing every vampire in America. Trained by a "good vampire" Abe learns to track and kill his enemies. Eventually his efforts results in the Civil War, since southerners were in a conspiracy to keep slaves to feed vampires.
Yes, I am a naive history geek who expected more from this title. Sure, I knew it was fiction. No, I didn't expect a completely authentic biography. But seriously, I did expect more. With all of the semi-credible civil-war historical fiction out there, I expected Grahame-Smith to display a more scholarly approach to his work. Instead, the reader is filled with the same high school history stereotypes of North and South that completely ignore the complexity of the situation. He fills the pages with pseudo-history in a made for Hollywood fashion. While explanation of what happened at Roanoke is imaginative, the poorly photoshoped photos do little to add to the story's credibility as conceivably possible. In short, this work joins Meyer's Saga in the long line of vampire writing that is an insult to the term "literature." Thank heavens that at least Lincoln's vampires don't sparkle.
Grade: D-

Review 2: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Compared to the first read, this one could only prove better. Luckily this historical fiction shows indications of author invested research, adding credibility to both the story and strengthening the reader's bonds to the characters.
The story focuses on seemingly unrelated people and places shortly before the US enters WWII. A doctor from a small town in Massachusetts travels to a London under Nazi attack. There he meets and American radio correspondent shortly before his own death. The radio correspondent travels Europe, looking for a way to voice the situation of Jewish refugees, the doctor's wife awaits the return of her husband. This story is filled with heartbreaking scenes and the reader becomes involved in small town life.

I smiled, I cried, I ached for each of these incredibly believable characters. Again, not 100% historically accurate, though the author openly acknowledges and explains the logic behind her shortcomings. Although the story is more about the characters than the moment in history they share, they interact in a firmly researched realistic environment.

Grade: B+ StumbleUpon

This is Why the World Needs Libraries

Yesterday provided one of those "adventures in closing a library" moments. A patron and member of the military was required to have several online forms completed and printed to be turned in tomorrow. I honestly can't say why he waited until almost 9 pm to do this. Though he is a father and had the little one in tote, so I can't judge that he had nothing better to do prior to that time. Of course we ran into snags with the website, resulting in my staying a half-hour after closing to make sure the patron got what he needed.
What I can say, is that I'm proud of our library. We're an academic library on a public university campus, which means we welcome community patrons to use our facilities. I respect that we make computers and the internet accessible to all. With our hours even in summer, we remain open later than most public libraries in the area. We truly were this guys last chance to get the forms he needed. We also provide the ability to search/retrieve forms and troubleshoot computer gliches that you wouldn't get if you were attempting to do the job at your own computer.
Sure, not everyone in America needs these services, but there are enough out there who do. And while I'm not the biggest fan of turning libraries into huge computer labs and viewing librarians as constant technical support crews, this is becoming a big part of what libraries do. For people like my patron last night, this is why libraries matter. StumbleUpon

Monday, June 28, 2010

Saturday Adventure: Punch and Judy

I am a firm believer in supporting local business when possible, though admittedly lack the economic resources to do so as often as I would like. Savannah is a city filled with dozens of small boutique businesses, including those that carry the oober nice/ slightly pricey/ quality baby merchandise. Punch and Judy's is once such boutique.

I had read about them at least a year before and had been meaning to seek them out. An ad in the Savannah Morning News gave me the confidence to tackle this adventure last Saturday. When we parked outside it's Habersham Avenue location, Rich had to offer an obligatory reality check before we exited the truck. One look at the merchandise in the window and we knew we were out of our league. I noted that we were just there to look, and that they don't charge for browsing. Besides, some of my best ideas come from trying to imitate something really cute that only a boutique like this would carry.

In case you have any doubts, Punch and Judy's carries very nice baby things that you won't find anywhere else. I'd always known I wanted a wooden high chair (not those flimsy plastic/aluminum jobs everyone carries that I know the dog could knock out with her tail). Had we not received an antique one from my father, I would have been begging and drooling. They carried several to choose from, which is impressive, since other than Amish Oak shops near home, I'd never seen anyone carry them. And, all things considered, they weren't priced that out of line.

For the most part, their prices in general weren't out of line for what you were getting. Everything was high quality and very well made. Sure it was more than we could spend, but I wouldn't think twice about it if I could. The furniture in particular would realistically last through several babies, and most would transition through childhood. Bedding displays were cute, colorful and imaginative. They were unique and unlike the generic commercialized themes that everyone else (ie babies r us) carries. They were also, relatively classic/traditional, which I personally loved.

Rich fell in love with an overstuffed upholstered glider. It rocked, swiveled, reclined, had a footrest and side pocket. He was convinced we could afford this chair. Visions of day long hockey marathons danced in his head. As the voice of reason, I pointed out how much more practical a gorgeous armoire would be for our storage needs. With adjustable/ removable shelving, a bar to hang clothes and several dovetailed drawers it could easily accommodate Johnny's wardrobe, blankets, toys, and still have room. Since neither piece would fit well in our small apartment, we were forced to decline.

They also carried Bummis prefolds. Since this is the first time I'd actually had the chance to feel the difference in person, it was nice. I gave Rich a pop quiz on which type of cloth diaper I was holding--he passed. He could finally understand the difference between a quality prefold and the birdseye gerber prefolds at Babies R Us.
Among the list of things I'd probably never purchase, but found charming just the same, there was selection of heirloom quality linen bibs and bonnets. They had french lace trims and beautifully detailed embroidery. Outfits featured smocking and high quality fabric. While Rich is right, I'd be heartbroken when Johnny puked all over a $40 sleeper they were still very cute.
I think the most amusing part about our adventure was overhearing another couple shopping for a car seat. The wife had clearly done her homework and knew she wanted an infant carrier, transitioning to a booster later. The husband, however, thought he wanted the convertible seat so he would only have to buy one car seat. The wife patiently prodded the sales lady to reveal the advantages of her plan, to which the husband gradually agreed. This really wasn't fair to the husband, but rather amusing to the observer.
So we loved the huge stuffed animals, the unique wall art, the hooked rugs, the elephant piggy banks, this stuffed chenille sheep that opened to lay flat and just about everything else we saw there. We'll definately be back to browse.
You can browse online too at: http://www.punchandjudysavannah.com/ StumbleUpon

Friday, June 25, 2010

Waiting for My Real Life to Begin

Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I'll keep checking the horizon
I'll stand on the bow, feel the waves come crashing
Come crashing down down down, on me

And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart
Let the light shine in
But don't you understand
I already have a plan
I'm waiting for my real life to begin

--Colin Hay

I’m working on being patient. I’m working on trusting that everything will work itself out. I’m not perfect at doing either of these things, but I am trying to be better.

The past week or so has been a test of my patience. No, nothing exciting happened, which I suppose was precisely the problem. We’re waiting for Johnny. At the same time, I’ve been waiting for a better job. I’ve been waiting since well before graduating six months ago. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to move home for almost three years. Heading into the third trimester, the ability to travel for interviews is concerning. Not to mention, the odds of being hired at this point in the pregnancy probably are slim.

I worry about leaving Johnny with strangers. I worry about finding trustworthy caretakers on our second shift schedules. I worry about affording child care. In a perfect world, we’d be back home and I’d have family I could trust him to.

Yet, maybe this is where I’m meant to be for now. If I stay put, I at least have some sick/vacation time built up for maternity leave. I’m not trying to play Pollyanna and put a positive spin on an otherwise stressful situation. Instead, I’m trying to find the patience to accept the blessings I do have. I’m trying to focus on the joy in my life. I’m trying to quit waiting for my real life to begin and instead enjoy the life I am leaving.

It's gonna happen soon, soon, soon
It's just that times are lean

And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart, let the light shine in
Don't you understand
I already have a plan
I'm waiting for my real life to begin

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nursery: Nearly Done

Oh how I love tacky glue

And now for the latest installment of pictures of crafty goodness used to enhance the former dining room of a one behttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifdroom apartment in our efforts to create an economically chic nursery. This week's topic: Wall Art.
Since we aren't supposed to pain the walls, and I'm not too keen on having to paint them back on the off chance the opportunity to move on presents itself, we've found less permanent ways to decorate.

Exhibit A: trendy fabric modern art display.
I used scraps of material used in other parts of the nursery, stretched over a a series of various sized embroidery hoops. Add thumbtacks on the wall, and voila. If I was ubber crafty, I probably could have covered the hoops with paint or ribbon, but I think they are fine as is. The hoops cost an average of fifty cents to $1.49 and are available at most craft stores (except the Jo-Ann's in town). The do make more colorful plastic ones, but I prefer the wooden ones anyway--not that I embroider or know the difference.

Exhibit B: Johnny's Fishing pond.

Rich's fear when I first explained the "grand plan" for the themed nursery was there would be too much green and not enough blue for a little boy's room. My compromise solution was to create fish for the wall behind the crib. Though I feel we certainly have enough blue, I do like the fish accents.
There are essentially 3 species of fish on these walls. Fish type A were made from cotton fabric. Two fish outlines were cut, sewn right sides together, flipped, stuffed and mounted with thumbtacks for eyes. Since I used scraps, I winged the outlines "on the fly" to best use the amount of scrap I had.
Fish type B were similarly created from felt. Since felt won't fray, I was able to sew right sides out, and provide more detail in the tails/fins. I also used some decorative stitching to create gills. The fabric for these fish was also scrap from another project, so my selection in color/size was limited.
Fish type C make up the majority of the school. They are only fabric on the outside. I started with fish "patterns" from online coloring sheets. I traced the outlines onto card stock (mostly display packaging material from the many shower gifts). I then cut a piece of fabric roughly a bit bigger than the cardboard fish. It needs to be big enough to cover the cardboard fish, but not too much bigger, since bulky fabric makes it difficult to tuck around details like fins. I then glued the fabric to the back of the cardboard, trimming excess as I went. These fish were stuffed with tiny fabric scraps and tissue paper before sealing the final section. The slight stuffing gives the fish a little more dimensionality than they would otherwise have. Rather than using thumbtack eyes, they are mounted to the wall with packaging tape. In the future, I may add ribbon details or button eyes, but for now, they are fish silhouettes that rise off of the wall.

Exhibit C: memo boards.

For these memo boards, I purchased 4 frameless cork boards. Originally, I was going to buy a pack of 4 cork tiles. However, I got a great deal on these frameless boards at Michael's (1.49 each I think) and they are thicker and more sturdy than the tiles appeared to be. I used leftover batting from the glider "reupholstery" project cut just slightly larger than the boards. I covered the batting and board with cute fabric. I would have rather had a staple gun or hot glue gun, but settle for craft glue to hold the fabric in place since it was what I had on hand. I used thumb tacks to hold the fabric snug until the glue dried. I added ribbons to the front, as well as more upholstery tacks at the intersection. Ribbons were secured with tacks and or glue at the back.
The memo boards currently feature cut outs of classic picture book characters. I found the images with google images and used a color printer. In the future, the boards will also feature pictures of Johnny, his family, and important reminders like feeding schedules.

Exhibit D: The pond mirror.
This is by far my favorite nursery addition. I wanted a mirror for the nursery, because every baby I have know (okay, probably older than newborn) has loved making faces at him/herself in the mirror. I liked the idea of tying the mirror into the pond theme, but didn't know how well it would turn out. Rich picked up a very economical mirror from Target for under $5.00. After some debate, we planned on taping the book character cutouts around the frame, and calling it a day. That is, until I decided to experiment.
Armed with my trusty gingher scissors and some solid cotton fabric, I began to cut reeds and cattails. Initially, I planned to sew, flip and slightly stuff the reeds. This seemed to be too much work for the effect I was attempting to accomplish. However, having planned on sewing, I ended up with two of each cattail, which allowed me to create a nice framing effect. I had to careful position the reeds so they weren't too obviously the same.
Now a more thorough crafter probably would have opted for double stick tape. However, since this was such an economical mirror, I didn't feel too bad breaking out the tacky glue and sticking the fabric pieces directly to the mirror and frame. My stroke of true genius came in the form of two green "hills" (aka scraps from cutting the reeds), which cleverly disguise what otherwise would be a messy looking knot at the bottom of the "pond."

Exhibit E: Window treatment
Nothing fancy here--more scraps put to good use. I created a pennant shape from paper then transferred to a more sturdy cardstock. I traced the shape on fabric and cut. The top tab was folded over ribbon, ironed to make the fold more likely to stay, then adhered with tacky glue. Ideally, I would have loved to have cut the edges with pinking sheers--though this project showed exactly how dull my current pair is.

Exhibit F: Burp cloths
Not exactly nursery decor, but fairly practical. I created 1/2 dozen burp cloths as they seem like a practical invention. My creations will hopefully prove both sturdy and absorbent. Side A features a soft but durable cream terry cloth, purchased for 1/2 price from the remnant bin at JoAnns. Side B features and even softer piece of flannel--mostly from scraps from previous projects, like the receiving blankets. They vary in size--due in part to the scrap nature of the flannel, or the remnant shape of the terry cloth--allowing me to get the most from the materials on hand. Ideally, I shot for 16x10, but some are longer/shorter on one or both dimension.

Exhibit G: changing table
Not one of our personal crafts, but still a semi-essential part of the nursery. Sure we didn't "need" one, but I am awful grateful to have received one as a shower gift. Considering the dinning room has no current storage, I like having the changing table to store many of our baby necessities. It's packed to the gills. We could definitely use more storage, but the debate as to how best to meet that need is still open for discussion.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Weekends of Crafty Goodness

What does one do on a rainy holiday weekend? Craft projects for the nursery, of course. The dining room of our one bedroom apartment now comes close to resembling a nursery thanks to some crafty and creative additions.

For Christmas, I finished the "hockey quilt," for Rich. It's a standard Crib size with an Ohio Star pattern. I used flannel for both the front and back, and a cotton batting. A large portion of the quilt is machine quilted (in the ditch. Hopefully the machine quilting will help it hold up better through many washes. The white squares are hand quilted in a "net" diagonal checkerboard pattern and the star centers feature a hand quilted redwings logo outline. I made the pattern for the logo by tracing the shoulder patch from the Winter Classic jersey. The border features blue and red prairie points. This quilt doesn't really go with the nursery theme, but we think Johnny will like it just the same.

Several weeks ago, I created about 4 receiving blankets out of flannel. They are simply 2 1yard cuts sewn right sides together, then turned out and finished. For two of the blankets, I cut the 45" down to 36" so the resulting blanket is square and easier to use for swaddling. Very simple, but Jo Ann's has so many cute flannel patterns and they look very nice. The double layer of flannel should prove to be pretty warm too.

I also created a dust ruffle--yet another layer in my shabby chic decorating. The fabric for the dust ruffle was easy to obtain. We had an old blue and green striped fabric shower curtain we weren't using. The fabric was cut to fit the crib length. Remnant pieces were added at the headboard and foot board to complete the look at no cost to us.

This weekend I created a "crib caddy"-- a fabric creation with pockets designed to hang from a crib and keep necessities handy. We're actually tying it on to the changing table, as that's where we need more storage anyway. Besides, it's a small space, so everything is within arms reach of everything else. I used grosgrain ribbon instead of the prescribed bias tape, which seams fairly sturdy. I followed a simplicity pattern, which made it seem more complicated than it was. Having made it once, a second one should go together easier, but it's not on my priority list.

Since the cost of a new glider was not in the budget, we've decided to recover our old glider. Structurally, there is nothing wrong with the old one, other than the fact that the cushions were old, a little worn and not very comfortable. I wrapped the old cushions in 2 layers of high loft batting and a layer of fleece. For this project, I used a full size pre-packaged batting, which was enough for the cushions, and ottoman, with enough left over for the memory boards. I very quickly tacked the batting/fleece in place with some loose hand stitching. Tacking things down was a good idea; I could tell it would have been a nightmare trying to stuff the cushions into the covers otherwise. I chose to cover the cushions in a blue and white gingham.With the cushions on the fabric, I cut out two pieces with roughly 1 inch extra all the way around. I stitched together three sides, leaving the "bottom" open to insert the cushion. Once the cushion was inside, I hand stitched the opening with some ribbon tabs to tie the cushions to the chair.

So we have this "pond" theme for our nursery, and above Johnny's crib is his own lily pond. We made lily pads from green fabric. I used coloring book images to create a rough pattern and enlarged the pattern to various sizes. Two pieces of fabric were stitched together, turned right side out and filled with a little bit of scrap fabric or fiber fill. To create "veins" I used a variety of machine stitching patterns. Some of the lily pads were sewn to the blue tulle "pond" canopy. The canopy is attached to the ceiling in a random draping fashion using thumbtacks. Rich did most of the ceiling work as I directed from the ground. Next, we added extra lily pads suspended from fishing line, as well as tissue paper "lilies." Sparkling blue butterflies from Hobby Lobby's summer decor finish off the ceiling masterpiece. We were careful to keep the canopy far enough from the ceiling fan, but close enough that when the fan is on, the hanging pieces have some movement.

On the wall behind the crib we painted pre-cut wooden letters. You can find these letters at just about any craft store--ours happen to come from Walmart, where they were marked down. Rich gave the letters two base coats of white. I added green and blue accents and voila, for much less than $16 a letter we have a cute wall decoration.
Under his name, we added a frog. It's actually a kid's summer placemat from Jo Ann's for $1. We may add accent fish to the sides yet.

On the to do list yet... Finish the memo boards, create a window treatment and more wall art. I might make a "pond" mirror--but that's not a priority. StumbleUpon