Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fly Away with Me

Thirty-thousand feet up in the air a circle of sunlight on a plastic tray table transports me further than the plane I'm in ever could, to a time and place lodged in the happiest corners of my memories, where I keep Christmases and home-comings and everyday bits of my childhood that make tears well up in the corners above my smiling cheeks like dewdrops in the creases of a daisy.

The warm beam hugs my small frame as I lie on the floor, stocking feet swinging in the air, chin perched on tiny  hands above elbows planted in rough gold carpet.  The crowd from the tv screaming behind the roaring white noise of jet engines and oxygen circulation systems, as though even an Airbus can yell, "go Pack, go."  My mother cheers.  The man behind me snores. I ask my daddy for some more popcorn.  I take another sip of my hot tea.

The bright light creates rainbows on my paper at the edges of the window's shadow, rainbows on the golden carpet fibers enthralling my curious young eyes.  I glide my hand, smoothing the paper, watching a hundred dazzling, sparkling stars dance and twirl on the plastic wall and someone else's seat, my aging eyes behind corrective lenses still enthralled by the magic splendor of prisms in the sun.

Outside, the dark ridges of the Appalachians flow under a sheer veil of mist as a river winds off in the distance. Outside, the world is brilliant in the gleaming white of a Wisconsin winter, clear and cold.  Skies of the brightest blue.

I am grateful to be tucked inside, in my sunbeam, warm and glowing, from the love around me, from the memories inside me.  In my mind.  In my heart.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

For Rain or Shine

“Mommy, can we do the umbrella class at Bungalow?”  “Well, ok,” she said, neither of us realizing what we were getting ourselves into.  I don’t know what we thought making an umbrella entailed.  A couple hours?  Some scissors?  Magic?  Well, it turns out to be a little more than a couple hours,  a little more than some scissors, and no magic.

The hardest part was choosing the fabric.  I had a concept in my head, but nothing was singing out to me, and the fabrics I kept finding myself drawn to didn’t match a thing in my wardrobe.  Mommy, however, little over achiever that she is, found her fabric right away.  She was a good deal of the way into assembling her umbrella before I had my fabric selected.

Mommy chose two complimentary fabrics: a cute  print on white with 1950s-style Parisian women doing things around Paris, shopping, sitting at a cafe, standing by the Champs Elyse or near the Eifel Tower; and a large grey polka dot on white. 

I chose a black and white print of cityscape silhouettes, people in business clothes going here and there with briefcases interspersed with large round clock faces and park bench scenes. WP_20150328_018 I liked the modern, busy city feel of the images combined with the old-fashioned simplicity of black & white.  It seemed perfect for a busy city like D.C.  I had some trouble choosing a complimentary fabric, but eventually went with a black, grey and white flower on a variegated pink background.  I hedged a bit, looked at lots of fabrics, and pretty much just went with this combo because I was tired of looking and race-horse Mommy was on her third lap.  And being the little trouble-maker that I am, that wasn’t enough.  I decided I wanted a binding along the bottom and picked black with small white polka dots.  Mommy and the lady helping us, Peggy, cut the polka dots into strips and ironed it into double-fold bias tape.

attaching binding First step to making umbrellas is to cut out your 8 panels.  Then – here’s where things seem a little backwards – you hem them each individually.  Since I was putting on binding instead of hemming, I had to sew each bias strip onto the bottom of my panels while Mommy hemmed hers (well after Mommy hemmed hers cuz I’m a slow poke).

Next, you sew all the pieces together, being sure to leave an opening at the top for the umbrella post.  You also make a strap to wrap around the umbrella and hold it closed and stitch that onto the umbrella.  It turns out those are the easy parts.  Then, you put your machine away and take out the hand needle.  Oh boy.

WP_20150328_025The umbrella frame is kind of scary on its own, like a giant pokey spider.   It comes with 9 parts to be assembled onto the frame, 8 little metal tips and 1 cap.  The metal tips are sewn onto the umbrella covering and then lock onto the ends of the metal frame.  The tips are sort of like little metal tube socks.  At the top end, there’s holes in the metal across from each other for stitching the tips to the umbrella.  It’s a little tricky at first, and it helps a lot to safety pin the tips to the umbrella covering and slip onto the frame first, then slip them off the frame one-at-a-time to sew individually, removing the safety pin after a few stitches.  The really cool part about this step is you get to see how your umbrella’s going to look!

We had to go home before I got to sewing on the tips, but Mommy was able to finish her umbrella during the class.  After she sewed on all the tips, Peggy helped her glue the cap onto the top of the umbrella.

gluing the top

button Next, Mommy sewed each seam to the umbrella frame.  When she got home, she added a button and button-hole to the closure strap.



Voila!  A beautiful umbrella.

Mommy's umbrella


Mommy and her umbrella

Mommy’s going to spray hers with waterproofing so that it can actually be used as an umbrella.  I want mine to be a parasol for the hot D.C. summer sun, so I’m not spraying it with waterproofing.  I originally wanted to add lace to it, before I picked out my fabrics, and am still toying with the idea.  But for now, here’s my parasol.

business outfit cropped 

It wound up perfectly matching the outfit I had on that day, the polka-dotted side of my wrap skirt and a light pink blouse with black and white spectator stilettos.  Goes ok with my suit, too.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Apparently, the Okapi Says “Meow,” Too

People seem to always think my Halloween costume is a cat.  At least this year, it was only one person.  There were a lot of interesting guesses: cat, reindeer, giraffe.  The giraffe was actually the closest.  And I’ll cut them some slack; a lot of people don’t know what an okapi is, unlike a zebra.
So yes, this year, I was an okapi.  My second-favorite animal, after a giraffe.  Okapis are actually the nearest living relative to a giraffe.  They have shorter necks, but very long tongues.  Look ‘em up; they’re pretty neat.

Here’s an okapi.
okapi cc by charles barilleaux Okapi CC-BY Charles Barilleaux, available on Flickr.

And here’s me dressed like an okapi.
okapi shot at home

As is the custom, I made my own (um, custom) costume.

amazon dressI ordered a brown sweater dress from Amazon, figuring at least when I’m done I’ll have a nice new sweater dress.  I wear my sweater dresses a little longer  than was suitable for okapi-making, so the first thing I did was tack the hem of the dress up quite a bit.   (Right: actual length of  PattyBoutik Women’s Cowl Neck Long Sleeve Knit Dress.)

okapi legsI had ordered women’s brown tights and white leg warmers from Amazon as well, but the leg warmers were cream and the tights were dancer-leg brown, so neither of those worked.  I decided to go with an old pair of brown tights I had even though I was originally thinking I wanted something thicker.  They worked.  (Left: Okapi legs.)

For the bottom of the legs and the forearms, I used little girls’ tights.  I got size 12-14 for the legs and toddlers’ 2-4 for the arms.  I cut the feet off (and hemmed them and sent them to Munchkinhead) and cut leg lengths suitable for their purposes.  Then, I cut rings out of the rest of the leg.  It worked really well.

first bum stripe
one side of bum stripes For the bum stripes, I used the top of the toddlers’ tights because they had the cable-knit pattern all the way up to the top, unlike the girls’ tights, which had a sort of control-top looks-like-tightie-whities thing going on.  I hand stitched the whole thing with big stitches in back so it’ll be  easy to remove without snagging the dress.  I sewed the bum stripes with the dress on my dress dummy to ensure everything would stretch correctly once on me.  First, I sewed the top down on the full piece.  Then, I cut one stripe, sewed it’s bottom and the top of the next.  Then cut the next stripe, and so-on and so-on.  (Right, above: Okapi bum stripes in progress.)

tail stitchingtail bastingThe bum needed one more thing after that, a tail.  I bought some chenille, fake fur and quilt batting at Jo-Ann’s.  I cut a wide strip of the chenille, making the stripes in the fabric vertical.   I cut a matching width of  batting and basted the two together.  I cut a piece of fake fur about two inches long and basted that to the center of the bottom of the fabric and batting.  I folded it in half, including the fur, and stitched across the bottom and up the long side.  (Right: basting and stitching tail.)

 Then, I had to turn the tail.  This was almost as difficult as turning a Barbie sleeve, and on top of that, I could hear my friends @tromboneforhire and @jackgibson laughing hysterically in my head.  Eventually, I got it fully turned and sewed it to the top of the bum.
finished okapi bum
ears in progressLastly, I needed headwear.  Mommy and I realized while looking at photos of okapis and the stuffed okapis in her zoo, that okapis have horns.  I needed horns and ears.
For the ears, I found giant brown pipe cleaners at JoAnn’s.  Who knew such things existed?!  (Probably Munchkinhead…)  They were super easy to bend into the right shape and wrap around a brown headband.  I have enough left to make a nice monkey tail if anyone ever needs one.  (Right: Ears in progress.)
okapi headshotFor the horns, I used another  brown headband and Styrofoam cones covered in brown felt.  I tacked the felt to the cones with small pins and used scraps of felt pinned to the bottom, around the headband, to attach the cones.
I found out the day before Halloween that only male okapis have horns.  I wasn’t ready to give up on them because 1) they took some effort, and 2) the cones were expensive!  I had to buy a pack of 6 for $9.  One of my coworkers saved the day by declaring that it was fine, I was just a transgendered okapi.

One thing I know for sure, I was a happy okapi.
harley, okapi and joker
Okapi with her friends at their Halloween party.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Wrap Skirt

It may have been the worst pattern I’ve ever seen, but it is one of my favorite skirts.

That’s the summary on the wrap skirt I made; my first fully-Bungalow project.  I don’t remember if there was one on display, or just the picture on the pattern envelope, but whatever I saw looked cute and I went for it.

The wrap skirt is reversible.  My goal was to make it something that would go with most of my blouses so that when I’d come home from work, I could take off my suit and have a house skirt to throw on over my slip instead of changing my whole outfit.

I chose black with medium-sized white polka-dots for one side and then looked around the store for another fabric for the reverse.  I found a fun print with lions and India-looking circles and leaves.  I thought the fabric was grey with black leaves (like it looks in the picture).  It certainly looked that way in the store light, but when I got to Mommy’s, I discovered it’s actually beige with blue leaves.  Blue and beige don’t really go with black and white.  I tried to remedy this by picking a sash fabric that goes with both.  I chose light grey and white chevrons, which I fear instead goes with neither side, but whatever.  It works well enough.

wrap skirt pieces

no seam allowances The “pattern” was a sheet of paper with two parts of a trapezoid printed on top of each other.  You can’t even cut them out separately and tape them together!  You’re  supposed to trace each seam size part onto freezer paper and then tape the freezer paper together.  On top of that, this pattern was designed by a quilter.  That trapezoid doesn’t include any seam allowances!  And, the instructions tell you to stitch half-inch seams.  What nonsense is this?!  I could have – should have – skipped buying the pattern and just drawn my own trapezoids on the fabric with chalk.

wrap skirt Ceci n’set pas une pattern

Being a garment sewer, I gave my skirt proper 5/8” seams when I made the skirt.  I also had to lengthen it several inches as the “tea length” version barely came to my knees.  Apparently this quilter is also quite short.  She may also be a little on the chunky side as this “one-size-fit-most” pattern gets just small enough for my waist when the ties are pulled as tight as they go, and at 5/9” and 165, I’m not exactly tiny

Crazy pattern and instructions aside, the resulting skirt is quite cute.  I don’t quite wear it the way it’s designed. The ties are super long so that the ends of your bow hang down almost to the bottom of the skirt.  I prefer to wrap the ties all the way around my waist.  That helps keep the skirt up.


wrap skirt in Canada (3)

Monday, September 7, 2015

Adventures Con Ivory: Costa Rica

IMG_0103 They say Costa Rica is beautiful, and it is.  But what they don’t tell you is the most beautiful part of Costa Rica cannot be seen.  From the moment you step your first foot outside, it is there.  Wrapping you, swirling around you from your ankles to your neck.  The thick air.  Draping over you, like a smooth cotton sheet, gliding over your shoulder and slowly dropping to the floor, brushing over every nerve, making even the tiniest hairs dance, warm as it touches you and cool as it glides away.  Neither hot, nor cold.  Dancing past you, over you, around you, tip-toeing across your back, whispering in your ear, sliding down your hair and tossing it free.

Sure, the scenery is gorgeous, too.  Tall palm trees reaching high into the sky.  Green fronds rippling before the stars, seeming to touch the tips of fluffy clouds whispering by.  Bushy trees with their wide leaves and squat, spread canopies of cover. 
Bromeliads peppering the ground, popping up among a group of ferns or grasses, piercing orange, hungry bromeliads.  Banana trees, mango trees, papaya trees, fruits hanging low on heavy branches, plump and waiting for the last days of ripening.  Birds soaring, perched on tree branches, spray-painting the sidewalk an unmistakable white.  Green feathers that disappear into the magic decor that is “green season.”  Black feathers, glistening like oil in beads of water splashed down their backs.  Tiny birds of the most royal blue.  And the chirps and peeps and the squawks.  Oh, the squawks!
Or the people, the welcoming, sweet, pleasant people, who seem only to know happy, at least to strangers, and are considerate and courteous enough to somehow make a pattern of wild, narrow roads with few traffic signals work.  Who greet you cheerily with a “Buenos Dias” or “Buenos Aires.”  Who smile patiently as you try to mutter through very broken Spanish and who respond to ever “gracious” with an enthusiastic “mucho gusto!”  These things are all wonderful, too.

But, to be still, to just be, wrapped in that blanket of air, is the most beautiful part of all.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Reflections upon finishing Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga

Sometimes I just hold the pen above the page and wish that it were possible for raw emotion to spill onto it without the need for words or letters or sounds or coherent thoughts.  I suppose artists can do that.  I am not an artist.  I am only human.  An empathetic human fighting to save her soul from the destruction of the masses.  Fighting to find truth despite “the way it is.”

Tears ring my eyes.  The soft patches underneath, beginning to droop with the signs of ma age and lessons of life, are hard with dried salt from tears that escaped some time ago.  Humanity—is anything but.  Cruelty.  Justification  Righteousness for us.  Condemnation for them.

If you want to kill someone, the first thing you do is make them “something.”  Savage.  Negro.  Jew.  Terrorist.  Enemy.  Fetus.  Animal.  Anything but “human.”  Anything but us.  And it is so easy to do.  So easy to draw a line.  So easy to say “me” “not me.”  “Me.”  “It.”  “Me.”  “Those things.”  And once it is done, once the line is drawn, once the leap is made, there is no barrier to the fierceness, the destruction, the uncaring, the harming, the ability to bring pain.

*     *     *

Pain.  Pain.  Pain.

It hurts.

It hurts to receive pain.  It hurts to recognize the immense depths of giving pain of which you are capable.

It hurts to look evil in the face and recognize yourself.  As much as it hurts to look at the broken lying in a heap and see your pain.

I am the broken and the breaker.

I am the shame and the shamer.

I am the victim and the victimizer.

We are.

We all are.

And we call this “humanity.”

And we justify the doing, even as we lick our own wounds.

And there is no end.  Only a new sense of us and them.  Only a new line drawn, even as we express horror at the old one’s place.

Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga purports to be an account of a young man exhibited in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo in the early 1900s, but it is so much more than that.  It is an unabashed look at global race relations, America’s role in the rise of eugenics and the influence of her preeminent scholars on Adolf Hitler, a gasping account of King Leopold’s horrors in the Congo, and a brave attempt to make an “other” one of “us.”

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Buenos Días Bogotá

“Like someone had picked up Berlin and dropped it in Florida.”  That was my first impression of Bogotá.  But as we kept driving, that description melted away – every turn, every corner, the city seemed completely different and always new.  A giant city bustling with people and traffic.  Oh the traffic!

Bits and pieces of familiarity sprung out at me like neon signs; others were lost in the huge array of newness.  A speed limit sign reminiscent of the game, Mille Bornes, Alfred and I attempted to play as kids, made  me think of France.  A random cow along the side of the road and a packed minibus conjured up thoughts of Zambia.  The palm trees brought to mind a conflated mess of places I’ve lived and visited.  The large square between the Supreme Court and the Congressional building, filled with pigeons who didn’t even flinch when you stepped next to them, transported me to San Marcos Square in Venice.  Small pieces of familiarity floating in a sea of new.

Bogota Some things that ought to have been familiar mixed in with the overwhelming activity of the city in a way that prevented my mind from grasping the known-ness of them.  Bars on windows, garage-door shuttered shops, coach buses, plantains. 

A place so different from anywhere I’d been it could turn even the familiar into something new and strange.  At breakfast, I filled my plate with fresh fruit, eager to try all the strange things before me and ate my piece of watermelon whole, seeds and all.  It wasn’t until I was finished that I realized watermelon is something I know, that I never would have done that at home and probably ought to have removed the seeds.

Meals were a delight of adventures.  Fresh fruit of all kinds, blackberry juice, fresh strawberry juice in milk, varieties of cheeses I couldn’t pronounce tucked inside a crepe slathered in mushroom sauce, a drink made of mint and ice and apparently nothing else (a mint smoothie?).  There was some jam at breakfast that was sort of a yellowish-green.  It looked strange; I had no idea what it was.  So, of course, I had to try it.  It tasted like something I’d eat in art class.  (I didn’t have it again, though my juice at breakfast the next day was the same color.  It did not taste like art supplies.)  Scrambled eggs in sort of a day-glow orange hue, honey dripping off the honey comb into the serving dish, black olive jam (yum!), cornmeal cheese buns (almojábana, I think), flat pastries of all kinds, and the most gorgeous giant desserts that I never saved room for.

The menus were the only thing I could mostly handle on my own.  Thank you Mr. Trizzle and years of authentic Mexican restaurants and taco trucks in the Yay.  The rest of the time, I kept looking for the English signs that accompany the Spanish, or the small English print that is always somewhere on the signs on the bus adverts in the US.  I wasn’t looking because I expected it to be there.  I was looking out of habit.  I would find myself doing it and shake my head at myself.

I did manage to carry out one thing in Español without help from anyone: Fed-Exing Alfred and Nathy-Boo a postcard.  Either Colombia’s postal service is lacking or Colombia is lacking a postal service.  I’m not sure which, but Fed Ex seemed to be the only option.  The difficult part was spelling their address.  “Seite dos” – that part was easy.  “Te aye rrr rrr ah say aye.”  I couldn’t remember the vowel sounds at first.  Why didn’t I write it you say?  I was spelling it verbally because the clerk couldn’t read my handwriting.  Luckily she showed me the price on a calculator.  I can count to 10 and know 20, but once we’re in the thousands, I’m lost!

I felt awful about not being able to do more than greet - *sings* Buenos días, como esta?  Muy bien gracias y como le va? *done singing* and asking “habla Inglés?”  (Thank you again, Oakland.)  But the people were very friendly and helpful.  I guess I was expecting Paris, but Paris is, well, Paris.

Bogotá is in the mountains and surrounded by mountains.  There is one called Monserrate (which first I thought was Mount Serrate, and then when I saw how it written I kept picturing Moulin Rouge for some reason) that has a gondola up to the top – no believed me that this was the correct “English” word for the basket in the sky that takes you up the mountain.  Monserrate can also be climbed.  I must come back someday to climb Monserrate in my hiking boots like Table Mountain in Cape Town.  Or, if I am too old by the time I return, I’ll take the gondola up like at Banff in Canada.  And next time, I should come with someone who likes coffee!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Permanent Display

Stop it.

Stop calling me beautiful.

Stop saying I’m pretty.

In the middle of a conversation,

When I thought we were talking,

When I hoped you were listening.

Now I know,

You are not listening.

This in not a conversation.

I am talking,

But I might as well be squawking, chirping, growling, barking,

Like the other animals in the zoo.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Life After Life in my life

Life after life So I finished the book.  The book I didn’t like.  I can’t say I liked it by the end.  I also can’t say I hated it as much by the end as I did in the middle.  And somewhat begrudgingly, I have to admit it is sticking with me in a thought-provoking life-contemplating sort of way that isn’t wholly disagreeable.

I’ve sometimes wondered how my life would be if I’d done x instead of y.  Most often, if I’d kept the extension I received in the Peace Corps and moved to Livingstone instead of Nashville.  But I’m far more of a fate-ist than Ursula or Kate Atkinson. I  believe things happen for a reason, even if I don’t understand the reason at the time.  And, I believe the big things will work themselves out the way they’re intended to be despite my smaller (or even bigger) choices.

God has a path for me.  Sometimes I see it clearly.  Sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I’m not even sure where the next step goes and I stumble around for awhile.  But in the rearview mirror, when I look down that path, even the stumbling makes sense.  Sometimes I need to be further down the path than other times.

So Ursula’s many lives in some ways have me thinking again of what ifs.  But rather than having regrets or dwelling on the past with anything less than appreciation, Ursula’s effect is to make me feel calmer about the future.  As I tell people who ask I’m not scared about doing this thing or that or some circumstance they think is crazy, “God’s got me.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fancy Flight

avianca logo Ben Stiller and one of the Wilson brothers are talking to Egyptians.  Jennifer Garner is annoyed with what looks to be an anorexic Matthew McConaughey.  And next to me, Robert DeNiro is taking a walk in a park.  I’m listening to Beethoven – and while his 9th Symphony is pleasant, I’m reminded of one of the reasons I prefer flying Southwest – simplicity.  Some might call it no frills.  I think of it more as freedom.  Freedom from the entertainment of others.  Intrusion-less into the calm reflective or comradery time that is my time in the air.

On Southwest, I sit in the front row – nearly every time, certainly every time I can – and all the rest of the plane does not exist.  There is no seat back in front of me to crunch my knees.  There is no tray table that doesn’t go flat on my lap.  There is no meal that I can’t eat while everyone else scarfs down food.  We all have the same little baggie of snack something.

I read, write, knit or make friends with the person next to me.  They’re always exceedingly nice.  Mark, the 7’ tall Warriors fan from Australia.  Hamed, the Algerian Berkeleyite with a fabulous seasonal home in North Africa.  The very pleasant gentleman who calmly tolerated the walking stereotype valley girl and her purse doggie.  But Southwest doesn’t fly internationally, so here I am, 10 rows back in seat 14D.  The seats are spacious.  There’s no seat back in my knees, but the tray table doesn’t fit over my legs. 

I have grand plans of reading, but the shiny sparkles of tv screens pull my eyes, darting in every direction.  A man wearing a plastic sheet as a boa, what looks like Julianne Moore dying of AIDS or consumption.  A cave man smooshing the face of the Australian chick from the acapella movie Munchkinhead loves (the one where the sequel has the Packers), and a bunch of old men in a park with that guy who sings “Party Rock Anthem” (what?).  So my book sits on my lap and I blame these fancy flights, these bored passengers taking advantage of the free entertainment, for my lack of interest in Susan Sell.

Truth is, her eye-poking style of writing makes me rather crabby and I’m already having difficulty being nice to the world.  I should have packed some Ruth Okediji instead, or Pride and Prejudice.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Why “Don’t Resist” Advice is Not the Solution

Sitting on an airplane, the man in front of me was watching 12 Years a Slave.  I glanced up.  Two men were just hung.  A third was passing and was kicked by a white man to move along.  The hung – as being hung - looked at him, at the man passing, with what in their eyes?  Not pleading.  I don’t know.  He looked back knowing it was their last look, and they were hung.  Bodies twitching violently in the air, high above the crunchy brown leaves and the stained hats of the stained white men.

This is why “don’t resist” is not an acceptable answer to the pervasive police brutality against black men in this country.  For over 200 years, we have told black men they have no dignity.  We have emasculated them with commandments that they obey our orders and our force or die.  To tell them the solution to not dying is to just obey is not ok.

“Obey, and fight it later in court,” and this, somehow, is supposed to be “justice.”  Without even getting into the skewedness of that system, even if they “win” by not having charges filed or by getting a case dismissed on a 4th amendment violation, their dignity has still been taken.  There is no justice for that; there’s no getting that back.  The closest they can get is a civil judgment or settlement against an officer or a department by their family after they’re dead – or maybe, in extremely rare cases (Walter Scott), a Colors of the Wind quote murder charge against the officer.

The solution is not “don’t resist.”  The solution is showing respect and acknowledging dignity.  It is officers treating human beings as fellow men – not “others,” not “criminals,” not “thugs,” not “pests,” or “suspects” or “perpetrators.”

A lady who had testified during the Congressional Briefing on The Justice Package said on the news, “it’s the system, not the officers.”  Well you know what? The officers are the system.  And until they can treat other humans – black humans, black male humans – with respect, the system will not change.

“Do not resist” is not the answer.  It only addresses the symptom of “death in police custody.”  It does not address the problem, the raping of black men’s dignity, the continued degradation and emasculation of the American black male. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

When eh’s turn to grrrrr’s

***Spoiler alert*** I’m going to winge on about the plot. If you have any interest in reading the book, don’t read this post.

So I’m still reading Life After Life.  Surprisingly pretty far into it; it is a fast read.  I’m still not feeling it.  In fact, this week, the book went from tiresome to loathsome.

Ursula is finally the main character, but her character is constantly something different.  I suppose this could be part of the point of the book – different choices lead to different character development – but it comes off more as different character leads to different choices.  Sometimes the difference isn’t even her choice; it’s some other character’s.  That all leaves a very eh feeling in my throat.

The downgrade of my opinion of the book happened rather quickly.  I was sitting on the cramped bus as we slowly and not-at-all smoothly jutted and lurched down the road to the Metro station.  Ursula was going up the back stairs of her house for a handkerchief when her brother’s friend comes down the stairs, pins her to the wall and rapes her.  Excuse me?  Besides the logistics of this – in 1920’s clothes, standing, on the stairs – what the?!?  You don’t just plop that down on someone in the middle of their morning.  It took me a couple hours, a few walks around the hallway, Twitter friends, and a concerted effort to throw myself into my work to function.  Bedtime, hours – and now years in the novel – removed from the event, brought nightmares.

The plot line gets more ridiculous from there.  Rather than allowing Ursula to find strength in this experience or recover, or anything, anything at all encouraging, she winds up being beaten to death by an abusive husband.  One can never triumph over their ills, huh? 
It only gets more infuriating.

The whole “thing” about this book is that Ursula dies and comes back and makes a different decision that allows her life to go better.  So, after her husband kills her, she comes back and starts again.  I’m hoping the author gives her a shot to overcome this ordeal – come on author, you can do it.  But no, in order to not wind up murdered by her husband, she has to not be raped.  To achieve this, she punches her brother’s friend in the face when he tries to kiss her, months before the encounter on the stairs.  Last time, she didn’t stop him from kissing her.  This made me even angrier than the surprise logistically implausible stair scene.  It makes what happens on the stairs her fault.

She’s died again since then.  Several times.  There have been some other versions of the story, but in none of them – so far – does the stair scene happen again; she always fends him off at the kissing scene.  Now, she’s hanging out in Bavaria with Eva and Adolf in the 1930s.  Um…. ok….
Yet, still reading.  (But seriously eyeing up that new copy of International Intellectual Property on my shelf.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Lunchtime Visit to Kenya

I didn’t particularly like her story, the one that won the Caine Prize.  I guess it’s good I’m not the judge.  It’s not that I didn’t like her writing – I was rather ambivalent, in the American sense of the word, about it.  But, I didn’t care for the topic.  It was depressing, gruesome, death-filled in its ghost and background characters that were nearly ghosts.  She was going to be reading from that story, and I knew that, but I went anyway.

Some small part of me hoped that hearing the story in the author’s voice would make me like the story more.  The rest of me, well the rest of the part that had caused me to get up from my desk and clip through the dangerously smooth tunnels under the old buildings, justified it as “how could I not go?”  What an opportunity, to take a lunch hour, a common daily happenstance that nearly everyone has, to listen to authors, scholars, intriguing people from all corners of the globe, talk about their passions.

So here I sat, in the Africa and Middle East Reading Room of the Library of Congress, listening to the 2014 Caine Prize winner, Okwiri Oduor from Kenya reading a story I didn’t care for in a dull unpoetic voice.  She would say later in the interview portion, “I used to fancy myself a poet, but now I know better.”  I agreed, and simultaneously felt connected to this young – younger than Munchkinhead – African woman with a style simultaneously flamboyant and subdued echoing of Whoopi Goldberg, thick twists and nose ring with Keds and dreary faded navy capris.
The interviewer started with “When did you start writing?”  Why do they ask this question.  Is there anyone who does not write as a child, anyone who has access to paper and does not take to it with a writing implement?  Of course, Okwiri gave the expected “as a child” answer and then continued.  She spoke of her muses, her influences, her hopes, her reality:  Africa is bustling with young writers and burgeoning support systems, reading groups, writing groups, publishers, etc.  She spoke of rediscovering Swahili literature.  She spoke of the continent, not of Kenya, finally effusing emotion as she expressed her desires for unfettered visa-free travel and the equivalent of “in-state tuition” for all Africans at any country's universities.  A true pan-African.  I shall check back in a decade.  I’ve known many Pan-Africans in their 20s.  By their 30s, they view this idyllic panacea of Pan-ism as foolish.

By the end, I still had no love for “My Father’s Head.”  However, I had found an interest in Okweri as an author and imagine I will seek out her future work, particularly if she returns kuandika kiSwahili as she did years ago.  And I’ll look for her kiSwahili translation of “The Last Wave.”

She’s about to start a writing program at the University of Iowa.  I really wonder how this shy, Afri-centric, bold woman is going to survive in Iowa City.  I expect she’ll find herself rather bored and lonely with few familiarities.  I wanted to hug her and tell her she’s brave for going.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Commute pt. 2

I looked up from my book, through the glass pane.

There was a woman staring at me.

Not quite middle aged, but grown.

She looked sophisticated, yet with a roughness showing at the edges, as though someone had tried to fix a scratch in marble with 50-grit sandpaper.

She stared straight ahead.

“Where did she come from?” I wondered.

In my head, I’m still the gangly 13-year old with wild hair and a crooked half-smile.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Page After Page, eh.

I’m reading this book called Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.  The front of the book is six pages of glowing reviews.  It’s a National Bestseller, etc. etc.  I’m not feeling it.  By page 164, the best way to describe the book is “tiresome.”

It’s like reading a Choose Your Own Adventure, except when you do something stupid and die – like standing under a tree in a thunderstorm – you don’t have to back up and choose a different option because the author does it for you in the next chapter.

Supposedly, the main character is Ursula, though for the first third of the book she does little more than keep dying.  Her mother, Sylvie, seems far more the main character.  Now that Ursula’s living a little longer each time, there’s at least something happening.   I keep reading because I don’t like leaving books unfinished.  But so far, definitely not impressed.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Commute

Five seconds.

Five hours?

Five years?

How long is this eternal moment?

How long until you become human?

How long until I become human to you?

We stare through the glass, like a child at the zoo.

But who is caged?

Who is free?

And who is the animal?

Five seconds.

I look for your eyes, but they are obscured by the reflection of my own.

We stare at each other;

In that instant;

In that moment;

In that never-ending five seconds.

We are ourselves and everyone

- standing across from us

- next to us

- all the faces in and through the glass.


Searching for humanity.

For a soul.

For an indication that we are more than  forms moving through the world.



Five Seconds.

Five pensive seconds.

Five reflective seconds.

Five evaporated seconds;

The doors open.

Whatever we were, we are not.

We are only obstacles in each other’s way, each trying to get from where we are to where we’re going.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Yes, Virginia, Copyright Can Change the World*

Anthony Seeger_001 I got to attend the most awesome presentation, and since there really isn’t a better place to write about it, y’all are just going to have to put up with some fun IP stuff.  (or… you know, go back to looking at Twitter.)

The Suyá

Professor Anthony Seeger is a ethnomusicologist who has been studying and working with a remote indigenous society in Brazil for nearly 45 years.  (He’s also, based on the hints from the introducer and his references to “Uncle Pete,” Pete Seeger’s nephew.)

Professor Seeger began his work with the Suyá in 1971.  He and his wife moved into the tiny village and he began learning about their music.  They taught the Seegers much.  They had songs they’d learned from fishes, and songs they’d learned from trees, and songs they’d learned from tribes they’d captured.  They had songs and ceremonies and art and all sorts of things that they’d gathered over the centuries and incorporated into their lifestyle and their Suyá culture.

A Giant Shift

Then, in 2004, Gisele came - Yes, that Gisele – and everything changed.  Gisele came for a commercial purpose, but more importantly, Gisele came with an NGO and Gisele came under requirements of Brazilian law.  (And this is where I start pulling out books from my “IP and writing shelf”".”)

Brazil and Protection of Culture

In 2001, Brazil enacted Provisional Act No. 2.186-16, on Genetic Heritage and Traditional Knowledge.(1)  Brazil has a very rich biodiversity (hello, the Amazon!).  For the peoples who have lived amid this biodiversity for generations, there’s a lot of knowledge related to the plants and animals in their surroundings, knowledge about what can be used as medicine, how to prepare things, how to find things, etc.  Basically, the communities have a lot of knowledge that has commercial value to outsiders.  The Act required, among other things, the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of traditional knowledge related to this biodiversity.  And the trend and norms exemplified by the Act apply more broadly to cultural aspects of indigenous societies in Brazil.  If you want to use it, you ask and you compensate.


As Professor Seeger tells the story, Gisele wanted to use some tribal designs on sandals.  She wanted to do some good, too.  I don’t know which came first.  And as discussed above, there were rules to follow: ask permission, compensate.  So, she partnered with an NGO to approach the Suyá about using their tribal designs.  She’d get to sell her sandals; they’d get $200,000 compensation for use of their culture; they’d get to be in a commercial; she’d get to be painted with their traditional body paint.(2)  Everybody’s happy.  Except…

The Suyá learn about the concept of ownership over traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, and they go “wait a minute, we borrowed this stuff from other tribes.  What if the other tribes get mad that we’re using it?  What if they want some of the money?  What if they kill us in retaliation?” New concerns to them.

The Kïsêdjê

The Suyá began taking a critical look at their culture in a way they never had.  What had been “ours” was now analyzed to decide whether or not it really belonged to them.  And they started making changes. 

For the Commercial

First it was small things, mainly for the commercial, mainly so they wouldn’t have to worry about other claims on that compensation.  All the female body painting in their community had been borrowed from tribes further up the river.  They thought hard and “remembered,” reconstructed, what their traditional body paint must have looked like before incorporating paint styles from the other tribes.  This is how they painted Gisele.  For the music and the ceremony in the commercial, they chose very old songs that they were sure were theirs, a ceremony taught by the mice, not from another tribe.

The Songs and Culture

Changes continued long after Gisele left.  They stopped singing certain songs, stopped making certain handicrafts. – They created a brand new style of basket that has no practical purpose whatsoever other than being sold as a tchotchke to tourists, because they were worried about selling the baskets they used daily, which were incorporated from another tribe.(3) – They changed their language.  They even changed their name!  Suyá was what other tribes had called them and they’d gone with it.  But they’re original name for themselves was Kïsêdjê.  Now, they are the Kïsêdjê again.

The Language and Knowledge

Before Gisele, there was no word in their language for theft or stealing.  They would say to the outsiders, “you white people, why do you think that when you give something away you have less?  When we give something away, we have more.”  After Gisele, there are words for stealing and theft.  Their history used to talk of being great conquerors and all the things they borrowed or took from other tribes.  Their history has changed.  There are things they were given; things they learned.

Elders from the village went upriver to see some of the tribes whose songs and ceremonies they had incorporated. (4)  Those tribes said, “these are not ours anymore; you have changed them; you have made them your own; they are yours now.”(5)  But the Kïsêdjê do not want to take chances.

Professor Seeger was last with the Kïsêdjê several years ago.  He is going back soon to see what else has changed.

How We Got Here

Brazil’s laws and cultural norms surrounding  Traditional Knowledge (TK) and Folklore did not arise in a vacuum.  The concept of TK as something that should be owned and protected under the guise of intellectual property began in the 1960s as the global IP community was amending the international copyright treaty, the Berne Convention.(6)  But, it didn’t really pick up steam until the late 1980s and early 1990s when international  Intellectual Property was being shifted out of this sort of wishy-washy handshake treaty home to the very toothy jaws of international trade law.(7) 

In both its initial incarnation and its full blown growth spurt, TK was and is, a response to external intellectual property norms being imported, first through colonialism, then through multi-lateral treaties, and finally through trade agreements. Brazil was always at the forefront of this pushback.  (8)

Following the Path to TK as IP

Gisele brought the Kïsêdjê the concept of ownership over culture.  The rules of the Brazilian society to which Gisele belonged had taught her that cultural elements belonged to the community whose culture they composed.  Scholars and policy people had built this idea into Brazilian culture.  And not just the idea that the cultural elements belong to the community, but that the community has the right to exercise control over the use of the elements by others, the right to prevent use, the right to be compensated for use, the right to determine the manner of use.  Scholars and policy people had applied these rights to the elements they found most valuable in their own countries and communities.  These rights come from a foreign framework for individual ownership of individual’s creations; a foreign framework that was being foisted upon them by other communities looking to increase the market size for the most valuable elements of their own cultures.  It’s a long, connected road.

Mind Blown

I was absolutely stunned by the manner in which the Kïsêdjê incorporated all this.  Pulling out elements that had been in their culture for centuries because they originally came from a different people.  Can you imagine if every culture tried to give back the things they borrowed?!

Can you imagine English without its loanwords?  Can you imagine not teaching preschoolers Ring Around the Rosy, Frère Jacques or Happy Birthday because they’re British, French or Canadian, respectively, and not American?  What would we have left?  What would we eat?!  If we gave all the borrowed cultural elements back.  The idea is baffling.

Drastic changes in a tiny little community in the middle of Brazil’s vast forests are the result of the trade-exportation of Euro-American concepts of Intellectual Property.  Talk about a butterfly effect!



*But is this the change we were aiming for?

(1) This was followed in 2005 by Decree No. 5.459 of June 7, 2005 on Genetic Heritage & Traditional Knowledge.  Since Gisele came to the village in 2004, I’m focusing on the 2001 provisional act.

(2) We got to watch the commercial twice during Professor Seeger’s talk. It’s quite neat. I couldn’t find it on YouTube.  It’s in Portuguese and for sandals.

(3) I find this particularly fascinating because the purpose behind copyright and intellectual property laws in general in the Anglo tradition is to spur innovation.  Coming up with a brand new basket design is innovation.  So in that regard, the concept of TK protection did exactly what is was supposed to do.  However, how useful is innovation that leads to an article that useless from a practical stance?

(4) An anthropologist who studied one of the upriver tribes was in the audience. That was pretty neat.

(5) In Western Copyright law, this would be like the concept of a work that becomes so uniquely its own and removed from the original on which it is based that it is no longer considered a derivative work of the original; such as the relationship between Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight.

(6) WIPO has a great TK background briefer

(7) Google ngram showing growth of the term

(8) The Implementation Game (Carolyn Deere) goes into this in much more detail on p. 42.

Updated 4/13/2015 with video link.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bed Nook

“Are you getting divorced?”  The store clerk asked nonchalantly as if asking how I liked the town or something.  I was at Big Lots, buying my new bed.  Buying a twin bed because it’s all that will fit.

nook before changes The nook off the main room at my new place, now dubbed “the bed nook,” is exactly the size of a twin bed.  As soon as I realized that, I knew it’d be perfect.  It looked like the previous tenant had used it as an off-shoot of the kitchen.  There was a large shelf with a microwave and an interchangeable basket shelving unit like Munchkinhead has in Cudahy attached to the wall.  I relocated both.

nook before bed (1) As I mentioned in a previous post, I painted the walls in the nook blue and repainted the ceiling above it with a fresh coat of flat white.  I also gave the alcove near the window a fresh coat of white.  I made sure to put anything I’d want in that storage unit in it before setting up my bed.  And I made sure that would be stuff I wouldn’t want to get to unless I were moving again, because once that bed’s up, I’m not getting into the storage unit.  Luckily, the water meter is viewable from the hole in the side of the alcove.

I use the alcove basically as a nightstand.  In the alcove, I placed a holder of some sort that I picked up at my aunt’s house.  I think it’s for mail or something, but I use it to hold my books so they won’t fall through the cut-out in the wall down into the storage unit.  I also placed my alarm clock on the alcove shelf with a power strip so I can plug my phones in at night. 

WP_20150401_004The outlet is in the middle of the wall, which is nice.  It’s easily accessible even with the bed in place.  The nook has it’s own overhead light with switch.  (The rest of the apartment, aside from the bathroom, is on a single switch.)  And that switch is in the nook itself but still reachable from the main room.  Perfect.

To help separate the bed nook from the main room, I decided to hang curtains around the foot of it.  I considered a bed net (1)number of different fabrics, including heavy light-blocking curtains, but in the end decided to go with a light beige mesh.  The mesh allows light to flow into the main room from the alcove window, but still separates the nook and the room.  The beige goes well with the main room color scheme and the mesh has sort of a mosquito net feel that works with with the African decor in the main room.  The net is hung from buttonholes in the top of the fabric on a number of  brass cup hooks screwed into the ceiling.

The bed nook is super cozy and a great place for sleeping, especially with the down comforter and four quilts on my bed.  It’s a nice, quiet area away from any work spaces in my home, reserved solely for rest and sleep.  Having a window right nearby is very nice and I am excited for the breezes this will provide in summer.  I love crawling into my bed at night and hate crawling out of it in the morning.  A perfect score in the test of a good bed.

my bed nook (2)

(And for those of you who were wondering: yes, it’s on risers and yes, I have to practically jump to get on it.  The top of the bed is 39” from the floor.)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

“Yes” is Not the Absence of No

I learned something very interesting the other night.  It won’t surprise anyone that Berkeley public schools have a very liberal sex education program.  They start teaching it early and they teach it often.  The part that I found so interesting is that the guys are taught that sex is not okay without an affirmative yes.

This is a huge difference from the “sex is not okay if she says ‘no’” that my class was taught in high school, that’s the prevailing message in our media and mainstream culture.  Compare those two:

Sex is only okay if she says yes.

Sex is not ok if she says no.

This is not me asking Mommy for a cookie by whispering, “do you mind if I have a cookie?” out of hearing range because Mommy’s silence means “no.”  This is huge.  What an astounding difference between the results of those -

Sex is only okay if she says yes.

Sex is not ok if she says no.

What a profound effect on our rape culture.  The affirmative eliminates the questions of too drunk or too incapacitated to refuse; it eliminates the ‘she was asking for it,’ the ‘she was playing coy,’ the ‘she secretly wanted it.’  It puts all the control of the situation in the woman’s hands and it requires her to take control.

The affirmative yes requires the woman to be sure, to make a decision, to take responsibility for what is going to happy and what she is going to do.  That is powerful and scary.  There is plenty of writing, plenty of anted octal stories I could  share from friends over the years: girls grow up in a world where sex is wrong, where they are dirty or wrong or a bad person if they want it.  The affirmative yes requires them to be able to get past all that and accept ownership of their desires and feelings.  (I expect the Berkeley version of sex ed also teaches girls that sex is ok and good and doesn’t layer on the guilt stuff, but I don’t know for sure, just a hunch; hippies and all.)

The affirmative yes requirement can still cause problems; misunderstandings can happen with someone afraid to say “yes” as afraid to say “no.”  A couple may have some fights, they may need to work some things out if he’s waiting for a yes and she’s waiting for action.  But it’s a better trade off.  The results of a misunderstood unsaid yes will not lead to criminal charges.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Making Room for Clothes part 2

Even with my fabulous new double-decker closet pole, that closet can not hold all my clothes.  I generally have kept most of my clothes on hangers, pretty much everything other than undergarments and socks.  Circumstances were dictating a change.

The apartment came with a neat little white bureau of some sort.  It has a large cabinet with two shelves, a smaller cabinet with two shelves and two small drawers.  I also got a white dresser from my aunt’s house.  Between these two items of furniture, I was able to tuck away most of the clothes that people traditionally fold: t-shirts, trousers, handkerchiefs, sweaters, etc.

But what to do with all my dresses and skirts that didn’t fit in the closet and big bulky things like hoodies?  Poles to the rescue!  Poles installed by a partial-Pole. Hee hee.

WP_20150113_003 After making the hanging pole in the closet, I had a length of metal closet pole left over.  I trimmed it down to the appropriate size and installed it next to the fridge.  I’d originally had a tension shower rod running through that space, from under the overhang, but that kept falling under the weight of my jackets.  A mounted closet pole is much sturdier and works great to hold all my hoodies, my shawls, my scarves and my extra winter jackets, including my high school letter jacket.

Original attempt with the shower tension rod.

closet pole

Mounted closet pole

That shower tension rod went to good use elsewhere, with two other shower tension rods.  The three of them are hung together as a cluster across the narrow part of my Dressing/office/sitting room.  They essentially split off the dressing part of the room from the office/sitting part. 

At first, I just had two rods.  That didn’t work so well; gravity and all.  With three hung all three together they balance out the load by sharing the weight.  One has cardigans, one has dresses, one has skirts and empty hangers from whatever’s in the wash.  Since redistributing the weight that way, they haven't’ fallen.

dressing room

Quick, knock on some wood.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The skinny white fat Nigerian in my head

Note: I usually do a book review post when I finish a book.  But I decided to do something different with Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah and instead share thoughts and comments in a pseudo-real time.

The protagonist is a fat Nigerian.  We know this within the first page or two of the novel.  But the image in my head is a faceless slender white woman.  The same image I’d have for Elizabeth Bennet.  I realize this.  I try to change it.  I try to think of one of my larger Nigerian friends, a well-off woman who I can’t call fat because she’s lived abroad enough to consider it an insult coming from an American.  It doesn’t work.

I keep reading; the image changes.  As Ifemelu grows, the image in my head flushes itself out.  It begins with Ifemelu’s flashback to her school days in Lagos.  The image begins to take the form of a slender African teenager, drawing on any number of the girls in my Zam-fam, my village, or around the neighborhood in Abuja.

When Ifemelu immigrates to America, when she’s new and lost and navigating the strange straddling world of her aunt who has already been in America for some time, the image grows.  It becomes easy to fit each new bit of her into the image in my head.  Her clothes change.  Her attitude changes.  Her hair changes.  She relaxes her hair; she practically shaves her head; she grows and afro.  These changes manage to stick -  although for some reason she has a blonde afro – not white girl blonde, dyed honey blonde.  This protruding of my subconscious strikes me as odd again.

As the scenes pop back to the present, the Ifemelu in the hairdresser’s chair becomes a large, Nigerian woman with black hair being put into braids, puffs of unbraided hair sticking up in front.  An Americanized Nigerian woman who’s become bitter and condescending in ways that would probably surprise her young self (but fit perfectly into the developing image in my head). 

It takes at least half the book before this Ifemelu, the one described on page two, can finally take shape in my mind.

It bothers me a bit, that I cannot take a written description and make an image of it; that my defaults are so ingrained that it takes 200 pages, 200 pages of slow growth and character shaping, to get to something close to the written description.


… For some reason, I did not have the same trouble with the male lead character, Obinze.  Perhaps because my first introduction to him was as a school boy.  By the time he showed up as an adult, he’d morphed into a melding of Kevin Hart and Idris Elba.  I’m guessing the combo is because Obinze is described as not tall.


Apparently Lupita Nyong’o is going to play Ifemelu in the film.  I’m having a really hard time picturing that.  She’s so tiny and doesn’t look at all Nigerian.  At least the actor they have for Obinze, David Oyelowo,  is Nigerian, even if not Igbo like the characters.  Of course, they’re both such stellar actors, they’ll probably pull if off splendidly.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Greetings to You

She said, “Hi. How are you?”  and I walked away, having already said good morning.  I knew it wasn’t really, “Hi. How are you?” but rather “Hi. How are you.” 

It reminded me of our German exchange student who used to complain “People ask how you are and then walk away!”  She’d try to answer them, thought it was a real question to which they wanted to know the answer.

And I thought of the children on the side of the road in Zambia who would yell, “I’MFINE HOWAREYOU I’MFINE HOWAREYOU I’MFINE HOWAREYOU,” over and over again as if it wsa two words instead of five, as if yelling “HELLO HELLO HELLO” and not a question and answer series.

It bothered me to walk away.  It probably would have bothered her more if I’d answered.

Friday, March 6, 2015

While We’re Young and Beautiful

We are told we will not be young and beautiful forever.  Every piece of our culture and our lives we are told this.  Bettery hurry and catch a man because our flower will fade, we will wilt, we will not be young and beautiful forever.

No, I will not be young forever, but I will be beautiful.  I look around me, at the women in my life who are older than me, and I see it.  we are beautiful forever.  It is a changing beauty.

I look at my mother and my aunts; they are beautiful.  They were beautiful at 20.  They were beautiful at 40.  They are beautiful at 60.  I look at colleagues, and church ladies and people on the street.  No, they are not young, but they are beautiful.  I will not be young, but I will be beautiful.

You cannot scare me, life.


… And as for the young, I’d have to live a very long time to run out of men older than me ;)

*Title taken from the Carrie Underwood song “We’re Young and Beautiful

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Making Room for the Clothes part 1

My new place has one closet.  One not-so-very-big but oh-so-very-tall closet.  The ceilings in the apartment are only about 7feet, but for some reason, the bar in this closet is still higher than most, almost near the top of the closet.  “This is awesome!”  I thought to myself, “so much potential.”

First, the tall bar means I can hang up my long dresses and my catsuit without them dragging on the floor.   That’s excellent.  It also means there’s room for a double-decker bar.  So, I built one.

I went to that fabulous hardware store and picked up a metal clothes pole, two eye bolts, two S hooks and two pieces of 6-ft lengths of chain.

I wanted the double-decker pole to only be half the closet so that I still had a place to hang my long dresses.  I measured that space in the closet and cut the metal pole to size with my hacksaw.  I’m not very good at cutting straight with a hacksaw, especially when I’m using my legs as a clamp to hold what I’m cutting.   The edge is a bit crooked, but not too bad.  I used the wire brush attachment on my Dremel to remove burs and smooth out the cut edge of the pole.

Then I drilled my holes.  Well, I tried to drill my holes.  I had a 1/16” drill bit the hardware store gave me for free that was strong enough to go through metal.  But my eye bolts were 1/4” and the only bits I had big enough for that were masonry and dry wall bits.  Neither would go through metal.  I had to put the project aside for a week while I gallivanted all over the country and come back to it when I had the proper bit.  I picked up the proper bit in Milwaukee.

Once I had the holes drilled, I put the eye bolts in and screwed on the nuts.  I put holes in both sides of the bar so that the eye bolts go all the way through, making the bar studier when it’s on the chains.  I put one end of each piece of chain on empty hangers and hung the hangers on the closet’s existing pole.  I put an S hook on the other ends and the other side of the S hooks on the eye bolts.  And there I had it, a second level in my closet!

closet bar

I have it arranged now so that my long dresses are in the single-decker area, my suits are on the top level of the double-decker area and my blouses are on the hanging bar.  It’s working great so far.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Fleetwood Mac

Mommy and Daddy and I were supposed to go together, in February, in Milwaukee.  But I left.  So I went alone, in January, in DC.  The chance to see Fleetwood Mac, the entire group, live, was something I couldn’t let moving get in the way of.  So I got myself a single ticket, took the bus to the Verizon center, and took my seat between people who could have been my parents instead of my parents.

I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect the band members to look 60.  They do of course, because they are.  I think their clothes haven’t changed, though.  Stevie Nicks wore a black flowey outfit with high-heeled boots.  It’s good to know Mommy isn’t the only senior citizen who can still rock 4” heels.

My ticket said “obstructed view” but I’m not sure what was supposed to be obstructing it, other than the woman with the extremely large head a few rows ahead.  The seats were on the side near the front, waaaay up top.  They were pretty neat because I could see the stage well and see backstage, and see the backside of the screen where everyone appeared in mirror image.

The band opened with “The Chain,” which I found personally appropriate since that’s the song that got me into Fleetwood Mac when Bone Thugs N Harmony sampled it in their “Wind Blow.”  The show was sort of divided into 3 parts, 4 if you count the encore.  The opening and closing pieces were upbeat, high energy, full group songs.  The middle was slower, more melancholy, and  served as an intermission for pretty much everyone but Lindsey Buckingham.  He was joined for a part of it by Stevie.

“Landslide” was just Stevie and Lindsey.  “Landslide” made me cry.  I think it always will.  Music is like a time machine, transporting our hearts and the depths of our emotions to another place, another time, another us.  That song takes me back to a very dark and painful time.  But I still love it, it’s such a beautiful song and a visit from tears now and then is good.  Once everyone came back on stage, they started rockin’ again.

I was surprised when the set didn’t end with “Don’t Stop.”  But, since I could see backstage, I could see the band was coming back on and figured they’d do it during the encore.  And a few songs into the encore, there it was.  An older couple down a couple rows from me got up to dance.  So did some very drunk young ladies at the end of the row.  I thought it’d be the end of the show.  But I was wrong.  Christine McVie took center stage for “Songbird” and then everyone got loud and rambunctious and Mick Fleetwood went a little nuts with some whooping and hollering.

The show involved a lot of talking, something between nearly every song.  -  Much different than the Metallica-style I’m used to where every song bleeds into the next.  Lindsey was trying to talk about all the heartaches the band went through and how the personal meaning of a particular song had changed through the different stages of his life, but the crowd wouldn’t let him.  People kept cheering and yelling “We love you!”  He lost his train of thought; he eventually gave up and just played the song.  I felt bad for him; he was trying to share his soul and the crawd wasn’t listening.

At one point, Stevie was talking about her history, how she joined the band, and her inspiration for “Gypsy,” and she said go after your dreams, no matter what others tell you, conquer fears, chase the dreams, etc.  It felt so perfect, making me not feel alone in this giant brand new city, making it feel right to be here, chasing my dreams, going after that thing that made so many people say, “you want to do what?!” and some very special others say “ok!”

The show was awesome, Mommy, Daddy, and my auntie who got my ticket are going to love it!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

New Home

Somehow, I manage to keep moving into smaller and smaller places.  El Cerrito smaller than Nashville, Cudahy smaller than El Cerrito, and DC smaller than all. But it is going to be so cute!

It’s a one-bedroom spot euphemistically called an “English Garden apartment.”  It’s the basement.  It has it’s own entrance out back to the “garden.”  There’s a main room and the other room that’s called a bedroom, and a bathroom, and a hallway, and a nook, and the house’s laundry room and furnace room, and some under-the-stairs storage.

I’ve adjusted things a bit.  The nook is now my bed nook.  It has a window and a very large alcove above a storage area that houses the water meter.  It’s holding the things that would normally be on my nightstand: alarm clock, phone chargers, reading books, journals, etc.   The “bedroom” is now my dressing/sitting/office room.  The main room is combination kitchen and living room, also makes julienne fries, it will not break, it…. sorry.  Too much Aladdin.

It is mostly below ground in front and in back, so the windows are small and there’s an air conditioner in one.  But I’ve found that opening the curtains and the back door lets in a fair amount of light.  The below-ground bit also means there’s stairs to go up when you go out.  They’re under a cement porch.  Duck!  There’s a good chunk of cement missing from all the people who have hit their heads.

It’s going to be a lot of work to get the place set up.  I’m hoping by March.  But I’m already in love with what it’s going to be.  moving fridgeThe first thing I did was move the refrigerator out of the main room.  It was taking up almost a quarter of the room.   There’s a very large area at the bottom of the stairs.  I measured the opening between the stairs and the wall, at the molding, and it was just big enough to get the fridge through with some finessing.

fridge's new home Fridge’s new home.  (Above, moving fridge through the gap.)

Then I painted.  It was amazing what a fresh coat of gloss white on the painted woodwork did to the place!  It suddenly seemed bigger and brighter and no longer dingy.  The walls in the place were peach, pretty much the same peach as our old Africa Room in Cudahy.  I painted the bed nook the blue that my bedroom in Cudahy was.  In the dressing/sitting/office room, I painted one accent wall the green that Munchkinhead and I had put in the hallway in Cudahy.  In the main room, the back wall of the room is actually the hallway wall; that side is open except for a pillar.  I painted that wall a dark brownish red that I got at the fabulous newly opened hardware store I found in town.  I was their first paint mix!  It’s going to go very well with my African decor.  I gave the rest of the main room walls a fresh coat of peach.  I also touched up the ceilings.

accent wall

Main room accent wall