Friday, September 05, 2014

comfortable clothing and related thoughts

As summer was winding down, I finally got to make some tank tops I've been wanting to make for a while.  I used this pattern and made six.  It was such a great experience!  

I have a hard time finding clothes because when I go to the mall I tend to settle.  Things that are on sale aren't necessarily what I like best.  At thrift stores selection is unreliable at best.  However older things are often made better than what's available now.  Compare vintage L. L. Bean to the stuff made in China they currently sell.  You know, sweatshops are bad vibes as well as low quality.

So I struggle to put together a wardrobe that feels right for me, that looks like me.

Making these tanks feels like a breakthrough.  I have a pattern I've customized slightly, that I could repeat.  I can get one done in a day.  I have fabric for 2 more in the pipeline.

Having clothing that fits right and is of high quality makes you feel different.  Growing up I didn't often have those types of clothes.  I often felt uncomfortable in my clothes, and now, looking at people who appear to feel comfortable in their clothes, I wonder if that affected me.  

Those clothes made me feel that life was inherently uncomfortable.  

That's something I would like to change.  Starting with these 6 tanks.  And hopefully expanding to other items, whether purchased or made, new or used. 

I want to feel comfortable and well-equipped for my life.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

what i've learned--kitchens

Not my kitchen; from here
I've moved a lot.  I can look back and remember a lot of places, and what they felt like.  In my search for home, I'm looking for a place that reminds me of the best aspects of each place I've lived.

My tumblr page has a lot of images tagged kitchen.

We like to cook as a team so it's important to me that a kitchen functions smoothly with 2 or more people helping.  This is what I've learned so far about kitchens:

1.  Our current kitchen and the past 6 kitchens were laid out with the sink, stove, and refrigerator in a line.  In my opinion the best layout is a u shape that isn'
t too big or too small.

2.  There should be ample space between each work station:  washing dishes, prepping/chopping, and standing at the stove.  Our current kitchen has about 12 inches between the stove and the sink, so it's hard to wash dishes if someone is at the counter chopping vegetables.  I've read that 24 inches is ideal.

3.  There should be a suitable place to set things that you take out of the fridge.  The best arrangement we've had for this was a tiny kitchen with an extra small fridge.  It worked because you could sit at a chair (at the table) 2 feet from the fridge, and unload what you wanted onto the table, and then start chopping/prepping on the table.  The other person still had easy access to the stove and sink.  It's amazing that that tiny kitchen functioned so much better than the larger kitchens we've had since.

(That kitchen was also laid out in a line, but because the tiny table & 2 chairs were on the opposite wall, it formed something of a triangle.)

4.  Natural light is best.  Our current kitchen is quite fancy, with granite countertops and classy dark wood cabinets, but it has only 2 windows, one to the outdoors and the other facing a carport with limited light.  The dark cabinets seem to block a lot of light, particularly when cabinet doors are open.  I'd far rather sacrifice some storage and have more natural light, which is so much brighter than the overhead lighting.  It's really hard to see what I'm cooking, even with the over the range light on.

5.  Open shelves.  This works best if you regularly use everything that is displayed on the open shelves.  Otherwise, they do get dusty.  In our last place, we removed the cabinet doors from the upper cabinets and left the lower ones on.  (I'd love to do this here, but the cabinets are fancier and from my 1 day experience as a cabinet installer, I know this type would be very tedious to re-install.)

Open shelves means you can skip the step of opening a cabinet and directly reach for the bowl or mug you need.  Your plates, mugs, and collection of mason jars and spice bottles is rather appealing to look at.  You can keep the less beautiful things in the closed cabinets.

If you've ever bumped yourself in the face opening a cabinet too swiftly, you'd probably appreciate open shelves.

6.  Regarding counter height, I would like to copy the following snippet I found in a book recently:  "In rethinking the philosophy of the kitchen, I realized the need for a new approach to counterspaces in terms of height and materials.  First, there should be a stainless steel or granite cooktop that is impervious to food acids and can handle very hot pans;  then, two different heights for food preparation and chopping, made both of hard end or flat grain wood such as maple, cherry, or oak.  A water repellent teak or stainless steel surface that slopes surrounds the sink.  The sink itself should be at the highest level to make working in the basin (generally 8 - 10 inches deeper) comfortable.  The chopping block is then about two inches lower.  Finally, think about installing another counter six inches below that--or slightly higher than a table for such appliances as a Cuisinart, juicer, or coffee maker, that can double as a food prep area for children."  --Johnny Grey, custom kitchen designer

I'm already of the mind of having eclectic furnishings in the kitchen rather than a matching set of cabinets, and this suggestion works well with that.

7.  Eat in kitchen is desirable!  Even in my tiniest kitchens I've managed to squeeze in a small table which I've always used rather than a larger table in the living area (it ends up being the work/project table.).  In my dream kitchen I'd build in a booth next to a window.

8.  Access to the outdoors, preferably via a patio or deck.  I like to step outside and pick some herbs.  If the outdoors is visible and directly accesible, you're more likely to take breakfast or a cup of coffee outside.  If you have to step through 3 doors and a gate, it's easier to stay in.  The outdoor eating area would ideally be shady in summer and sunny in fall and spring.  You can get this with a removable canvas awning or a pergola with a vine (grapes, wisteria) that loses it's leaves in the winter.

9.  I like to hang pots & lids on the wall.  I also hung the biggest bowl and a colander over the sink where they can drip dry.  These items are harder to store in cabinets and they're easily accessible this way.

10.  Pantries and cabinets should have shallow shelves so items are not stacked in front of other items.  This way you won't lose track of what you have, and you don't have to move something to get something.  Also, if you're not using something, you can think about getting rid of it since you'll see it all the time.

11.  You can place a viney plant in the corner of the kitchen farthest from a window, and it will grow toward the light.  Place a few hooks in the wall to support it.

12.  I wash plastic bags and then hang them to dry using clips that stick to the fridge.  Then I have a storage system for the bags (a smaller card board box for regular bags and a clothespin for ziplocs) so that I can reuse.

13.  Compost.  If you compost, you can keep quart sized yogurt containers with lids on a counter.  Once they're full, place them in the fridge or empty them into the compost.  When we lived in an apartment and didn't have our own compost, we'd wait until we had 6 or more yogurt containers and then made a trip to the compost pile.

14.  Keep a stack of dishtowels (ones you like) for using as a napkin, drying rack, or to pile washed greens and veggies on.

15.  I have a cabinet dedicated to coffee and another for baking.

16.  Make a little cubby for a kitty to keep you company while you cook.

17.  Have a place for recycling.

This is my very personalized summary of kitchen design notes.  I may come back and add more if I think of it.  Otherwise I'll move on with my weird and wacky ideas about bedrooms and bathrooms.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


we live in a house.  there are trees in the back yard.  the trees drop twigs, which we collect.  a flame catches on the wood.  this is fire.

flour, water, salt, and oil makes a dough.  the dough is cooked over the embers of a fire, and turned.  we add tomato sauce, pesto, cheese, and wait.  this is pizza.

i print a pattern and cut and glue the paper into shapes.  i pin the pattern to cloth.  scissors cut the cloth.  i will press it and sew it with a needle and thread.  this is a shirt.

life offers us objects.  certain tools cut materials.  other materials join them together.  being humans, we like to make things, so we learn the skills, and make things for ourselves.  this is my life.

Monday, June 30, 2014

thoughts on virtue

Photo taken at Botanical Gardens in Asheville, NC
When facing life's pain, I feel a need to commit to a belief system that grounds me.  I guess this is what religions provide many people.  I've found that my beliefs have come to me as I reflected on my experiences and sought goodness and clarity through much of the chaotic struggle of life.

There definitely were times that my personal philosophies were wayyy off.  But forming them and expressing them to myself and then realizing how flawed they were helped me to eventually discard them with conviction, and then replace them with more appropriate beliefs.  Here's an example.  It felt like I was called to be a strong, self-sacrificing woman.  I could tell (I thought) that I was stronger than those around me, so I decided I'd follow Christ's example in taking in all the evils and darkness in the world and giving forth love.  In my friendships I focused on being there for others, but felt uncomfortable leaning on them.  After spending time with others, I could only relax and care for myself when alone.  I kept my deepest joys private.

Then came marriage.  Living with someone meant that my fundamentally unsustainable approach to relationships (giving too much, not really knowing how to take care of myself when others were around) eventually had to fall apart.  This wasn't a pretty process, but I am grateful for it.  I'm glad that I have had to struggle through the discomfort of asking for things I needed.  Instead of keeping my interests and desires secret, I've brought them into the open and gained freedom and joy.

Because I can recall forming the idea of being a self-sacrificing Christ-like hero, I was able to see and reject that behavior.  I identified it as self-neglect, which fostered resentment and frustration about the fact that my life wasn't going the way I wanted it to.


Here's another belief I've held for some time.  We could call it "Virtue is its own reward."  Not in the smug, self-congratulatory sense.  To me this means that there is no external reward for 'good' actions.  Good actions benefit you and are good because they are beneficial.  Bad actions are those which do harm to ourselves or others (usually ourselves and others).  Calling things "good" and "bad" isn't really necessary but it is a common shorthand.  Is it morally wrong to leave garbage on the beach?  Is it wrong to constantly think self-critical thoughts?  Why worry about whether it's wrong?  These are not healthy choices.  

Believing this helps me because it's not fear of punishment that directs me to make 'good' choices.  It's knowing that good/healthy choices are better for me and for other people in my life.

This also helps me to deal with encounters with people who are unkind or insensitive.  Rather than seething over their inconsideration, and becoming cynical that there is no justice, I believe that justice is always at hand, and the person who acts unkindly is hurting themself as well as me.  Of course it may be their own pain that causes them to lash out as well.  But to respond with nastiness towards others only deepens the pain and the separation from fellow-humans.

On a good day, I can hold on to this and remain grounded even when bad things happen, when people are selfish, or refuse to respond reasonably to polite requests.

On a bad day, I feel separate from others, lonely in my misery, and am probably just as 'bad' as anyone else, kicking a flower out of unhappiness and the need to spread my pain.  Not a good approach, and it feels bad, too.

A married man who has a habit of flirting with other women is hurting his wife's feelings.  She has a right to be angry.  At the same time, this man is hurting himself.  He is weakening his relationship with the person who could be his strongest ally.  Why would he do this do himself?  There is probably a reason why.  Dig a little deeper and understand that these behaviors have roots and histories.  It doesn't excuse the behavior, but it helps to have a different perspective.  Otherwise it just looks like there is a jerk who hurts his wife and gets away with it, and she just has to put up with it.


I travelled to Asheville, North Carolina for five days last week.  Mountains, music, and art, with a lot of creative and spiritually minded people.
Hiking off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

values and other thoughts

It looks like I blog about once a month.  Let me write something here before May ends.  Below you see my little friend Wendell who is taking a look at some tests I graded as the semester wound to an end.

Wendell loves to climb into the middle of whatever I'm doing.  I'm sure your cats like to do the same thing.  

One of my themes this month has been searching for what my values are.

Maya Angelou said courage was the most important virtue, because without it you couldn't practice any of the other virtues.  I saw a quote recently attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. that said something like "Without justice there can be no peace."  I wonder as I work my way through this year what my values are, what my religion is.  A bumper sticker I spotted once said "My religion is kindness" which resonates also.  I've always felt truth to be one I placed a high value on.

Simplicity and plain living continues to resonate as one of my values.  I feel happiest when my day consists of simple chores such as washing dishes, making bread, doing laundry, sweeping the floor.  When my life is orderly, most tasks feel simple.  I can be focused and do one thing at a time.  

I just finished reading "Daybook" by Anne Truitt.  It inspired me to write more thoughtful journal entries of honest reflection.  Her journal entries are so enriching.  It is truly amazing what you can discover by simply writing down your thoughts.  In my head, I go in circles, but on paper, I can end up making a few steps forward.

I continue to do research about home design principles.  My most valued text is "A Pattern Language" by Christopher Alexander.  I began a project where I sketch out floor plans of all the homes I've lived in, and recall what was effective, what was awkward, what was cozy and immediately drew you in.  While buying a home and fixing it up is appealing, there is something about designing a home that I desire intensely.  It is one of my life's goals.  

Researching how homes work, finding out how furniture can or should be put together, how materials work, how humans feel when they interact with spaces and objects...all this fascinates me.  

Oh and I want to design my own clothing as well.  Perhaps I am a maker and designer first of all.

And I struggle with the fact that I am good at teaching math, but it seems to matter very little.  I try to have some fun with it, as much as I can.  But now that the semester is over, I am taking a hiatus from human interaction and trying to spend as much quiet time in nature as possible.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

what is wrong with this picture?

I have this rant I've been holding in.  About stuff that seems to be considered normal, but doesn't make any sense.  I saw this cartoon in the New Yorker that shows I'm not the only one thinking about it, which is a relief.

Corporations are certainly willing to bulldoze any pristine wilderness in order to create profits.  Environmentalists protest and are told that stopping the project will make a lot of workers unhappy--they need the jobs!

But all these companies are outsourcing jobs overseas, and lobbying lawmakers to pass more free trade agreements, so that fewer and fewer satisfying jobs remain.  The reason they do it is profitability, and an obligation to shareholders.  And who are the shareholders?  Well, anyone with a regular retirement fund, right?  So basically some wholesome middle aged person approaching retirement has a stock portfolio.  So the person's retirement fund needs to grow, but meanwhile, that person’s kids probably won’t be able to find meaningful work.

Am I missing something? 

I do not want any part in wall street and its sins towards the people and the earth.  so how can I prepare for retirement?  I’d like to own a home mortgage free—so I don’t make banks rich while paying off the house.  not sure if either one of these are possible, but maybe owning a home debt free is a way to care for myself in my old age.  or part of it. 

Modern life is such a trap and I’m trying to escape all the things that people take for granted as inevitable parts of the American dream:

1) college debt/loans
2) expensive wedding
3) mortgage
4) corporate job
5) retirement portfolio

I keep feeling pressured to capitulate, to join everyone, to not be such a weirdo and just be happier.  Of course I want to own a home, and to have a secure old age, not to mention to be able to buy clothes without agonizing over lives ruined in a factory in China to make my cheap t-shirts.

I read a profile of a Quaker, John Woolman, who seemed to agonize with many of the same dilemmas back in the 1700's.  In addition to being an early abolitionist, he was thoughtful how he ate, dressed, and worked, and how this impacted others.

The little I've read about him inspires me to stay weird and true to my vision of simple living in a way that is worthwhile.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

walking invisibly

"I now feel under-equipped if I walk out of my apartment without my mobile phone, but I used to travel across the world with almost no contact with the people who loved me, and there was a dizzying freedom, a cool draught of solitude, in that. We were not so monitored, because no one read our letters the way they read our emails to sell us stuff, as Gmail does, or track our communications as the NSA does. We are moving into a world of unaccountable and secretive corporations that manage all our communications and work hand in hand with governments to make us visible to them. Our privacy is being strip-mined and hoarded."

-Rebecca Solnit
From this article.

I like the feeling of walking, paying cash, and reading a book or having a conversation.  All of these are activities that aren't monitored by corporations. 

The feeling of doing something real is different than the feeling of doing something online that others will be able to monitor.  You feel real to yourself, absent any witnesses. At times it seems important to blog about or post the important events of our life.  That posting makes them more real.  But there is a realness that the internet can't bestow on our life.

This past weekend our internet was out for 2 days.  Weirdly and inexplicably, we had access to youtube, and nothing else.  No one was able to explain this.  Now it is fixed.  It helps to be able to look things up.  But not having internet is a wake up call:  my life can be real without the internet connection.