Friday, March 3, 2017

An Old Cat and a New Robe

'How we're spelling comfort here today. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

February Mail

Diana, who reads along here, commented in January that she had found a rock with a heart painted on it, and recently, said heart arrived in my mailbox.  What a treasure she's passed along here!  Sweetly packaged with tiny heart-shaped beads and a pendant and the dearest letter. . . .This made my day.  Thank you again, Diana.    This little package has been one of the bright spots of this winter. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

A _Little Women_ and Louisa May Alcott Package

The end of my January project!  After finding these Little Women book character dolls on ebay a couple years ago, I finally have them fixed-up the way I want and ready to mail.  When I started donating books to my former elementary school's library, Little Women was one of the first titles I sent copies of, but it took me awhile to find character-dolls that appealed to me.  Most I've seen online look little more like generic old-fashioned dolls than they do any specific character, and many are porcelain which is impractical for a children's library.  After a long search, I found the handmade dolls below--Beth, Meg, Jo, and Amy, from left to right--(and would I love to wear Jo's entire outfit in real life?  Yes.  Yes, I would.  Have I mentioned before how much I love almost every charming stitch designed by clothing line Ivey Abitz  Gah!!)--
--and knew these were what I'd had in mind all along for the kids.  
Each doll is marked with the initials SL and dated 2011, 
and the detail and care put into these by their maker is impressive.  I wanted to personalize them a bit more for the students, though, so I wrote each character's name onto her dress in fabric marker and then stitched over the marker in case the ink fades in the future. 
I hot-glued-and-then-sewed-on a few iron-on patches to each doll that depicted the character's interests too.  Meg wears a watering can and home/garden gate and her twin boy-girl babies. 
Beth wears sewing needle and thread, a kitten, her beloved piano and music, and my attempt at an "I love my family" patch. 
Amy's patches are mostly art-related, with easel, crayon, paint palette, and a Paris one since she was the lucky sister who got to study abroad instead of Jo. 
And dear, bold Jo!    I added a pencil and paper to the front of her dress along with writing/reading-related patches.  (Her dress!  I'd change into it right now.  Those colors!)  It was a shame to alter the beautiful dolls, but I think they will draw more interest to the books this way.  Sometimes kids need a nudge. 
Louisa May Alcott is both a woman and writer I deeply admire, so I fixed up an Alcott doll to accompany her March sister creations.  This doll was on etsy a few years ago and had a simple enough face to be perfect as Louisa May. 
I removed the little basket of felt strawberries that had been sewn into its hands and replaced it with a miniature copy of the Little Women book--sewed it and then hot-glued it into the hands (trying to make these dolls last as long as they can with kids handling them).  :)
 This is another doll with which such care was taken.  Look at that braided hair.  So sweet.  
As I had with the character-dolls, I labeled the Alcott doll with the fabric marker, as well. 
I have already donated a couple copies of Little Women, a "Little Women at Christmas" excerpt-type book, and The Little Women Book:  Games, Recipes, Crafts, and Other Homemade Pleasures.  Now the dolls will arrive along with two copies of a Louisa May Alcott biography, a picture-book version of Little Women for younger readers, and The Louisa May Alcott CookbookOhhh, if the kids who attend this sweet school don't become interested in this book or author, it won't be for lack of trying on my part!  Here's to good books (and cozy January projects).  :)

Monday, January 30, 2017

~ We are how we treat each other, and nothing more ~

I've had this song on repeat-play most of the day here.  'Love, love, love.   ♥  

Friday, January 27, 2017

January Comforts

I have reached "that"point in January and am sure some afternoons spent tromping through the woods or some long walks in general would lift my spirits, and as soon as the sky stops spitting out rain and rain-that-isn't-sure-if-it-would-rather-turn-into-snow-yes-let's-be-snow-now-no-let's-turn-back-to-rain every day, life will feel a bit brighter.  We had a couple gorgeous days in the sixties last week, but I had hurt my back and didn't feel up to getting outside to enjoy them.  Ohhhhhhhhhhh BLEHHHHHHH, January 2017 is getting to me, but it is especially book-filled, and Stuffed has been making a nest of a throw pillow and sometimes an afghan on my lap every time I sit down to read lately. 
In addition to all the usual news articles, I've made my way through my probably-annual rereading of the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, have gotten a few chapters into The King's Grave:  The Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds by Philippa Langley, and am now beginning chapter forty-three of Stephen King's The Stand.  'A rather mixed bag the past few weeks, as my reading tends to be, and I'm enjoying it all--as  much as one can use that word for taking in some of the news (and some of The Stand, for that matter)Winter after winter after winter--in any season, but ohhhhh, these winters, especially--the reading saves me.  And thank God for this floofy little cat on my lap while I do it

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Especially for Jenny, Another Birthday Candle

This is how the candle-taped-to-the-treat-idea began, Jenny.  :)  I couldn't get home for my 2009 birthday, so in the package Mom mailed that year, she included a pink candle taped to a store-bought cupcake.  :)  (The little one-story pink house beside it was a flea market find from just the day before, she had explained on the card.  [I am always looking for cute one-story houses.])  The candle really is a charming idea, and one I need to remember more often.  I clipped from a magazine years ago the idea to mail someone a box of already-blown-up gifts along with his/her birthday gift, and I love that but have yet to try it.  (I always imagine the balloons bursting during shipping.  [I should mail blown-up balloons to myself first as a trial.]  Anyway, here's to sweet moms and sweet ideas. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The First Ten Days of the Year

The new year is beginning with a flurry of book-buying for my former elementary school.  I will have donated about six hundred books by the end of this month so am very much on-track with my goal of donating a thousand by my fortieth birthday in May.  "Did you know that all media's now half-off on Sundays?" the thrift shop cashier asked me last week as she rang up my stack of books.  I did not, and the new prices will make my goal even easier to reach this spring.  'Fifteen like-new hardcover books last week for practically nothing--like a wink from the universe.    I also did not know that Mary Poppins dolls existed--!--and lo and behold, this one, complete with carpetbag and umbrella, will soon be flying off to the school with the related books. 

Mom's January 4th birthday proved tricky to get a package out in time for since there was no mail here January 2nd for the New Year's postal holiday and I didn't want to mail it the Saturday before and have it--with cookies inside--sit in a post office or postal truck over the three-day weekend.  With a few little wrapped gifts nestling them inside the box, gluten-free nut roll cookies ended up being Mom's birthday treat this year.  I used a bag of Bob's Red Mill-brand gluten-free pie crust mix and was completely charmed by the packaging.  This would make a darling print.  And it's pink! 
My original plan had been to make rugelach, but the dough was too sticky to roll properly and I hadn't remembered to leave myself enough of the flour for that purpose, so after a messy attempt at the rugelach, I ended up making a dozen nut roll cookies for Mom instead.  Had I put a bit more thought into my Plan B, I'd have made a tidier thumbprint cookie with the nut filling so they would have looked prettier.  Next time.  These turned out, though, with the nut-mixture mixed right into and around the dough, and they tasted good.  
The nut-mixture was about 7 oz. of walnut-meal, maybe 3/4 cup whole milk, a cup or so of sugar, an egg, and most of a stick of butter--cooked until boiling, then just kind of rolled into the pie crust-cookie dough.  Next time I make these, I'll add some of the walnut-meal to the flour so there will be more nut-flavor throughout. 
I baked them early in the morning on January 3rd--the day before Mom's birthday, so. . .cutting it close--practically ran to the post office with the package as soon as I'd finished wrapping it all, and was told that it likely wouldn't reach her until the day after her birthday.  Bah! to postal holidays!  And no, it did not arrive in my parents' morning mail delivery on Mom's birthday, which made me sad.  (She did not care--"Getting mail tomorrow will just extend my birthday, Vally!"--but I very much did.)  We talked just a few minutes that afternoon since she and Dad were on their way out dinner and a movie.  She called me before I left for work the next night to let me know that just as they'd been leaving for dinner, a postal van had pulled up to drop off her package--an unprecedented second mail delivery in a single day for them--so she had received it on her birthday, after all.  ♥  And yes, she loved the cookies.  :)
As the temperature outside has bounced from a painful 8° one day to now-raining-and-near-40° a few days later, I have mostly been a homebody, contentedly sorting books and puttering around the apartment, save for walks to and from work, the thrift shop, and the post office.  'A peaceful and most satisfying first ten days of the year. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Proving Yesterday's Point :)

'One of my all-time favorite heart-finds, this caught my eye at work earlier today.  Happy new year, again.  :) 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

~Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.~ Roald Dahl

It is a sunny 45° in late afternoon now, warm enough to enjoy open windows awhile, and with them this stunning view of the brick wall across the way.  :)  (My dream of apartment-rooftop baseball game-watching lives on!)  It is buoying to discover today--today of all days--that a bold and shining star exists inside each of these seemingly-simple Tulips, there all along for anyone who would just look for it. 
Happy new year. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

~I'm looking out for angels, just trying to find some peace~

George Michael's music has been so much of the soundtrack of my life.  His sweet, pure voice!    I cried some yesterday after learning he'd died.  Just last month I had emailed my friend Kent and mentioned my love of George Michael.
"Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" is playing on MTV the last days of my first grade school year and I am dancing around the living room with my toddler brother.  Mom tells me she thinks the song is cute too and mentions that she heard that the song originated with a note one of the singers had left for his mom, so forever and always, I will associate it with not only George Michael's and co-singer Andrew Ridgeley's moms, but also with my own mom and with these cozy days in my favorite blue house, as if we'd all been here together, laughing as we sang the silly, sunshiny verses.  ♫  "Wake me up before you go-go, 'cause I'm not plannin' on goin' solo. . ."  ♪  I am imagining myself dazzling the TV audience of "Solid Gold" while I dance around the coffee table now.  ♫ "You take the grey skies out of my way, you make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day. . . ." ♪  And George's clear, gorgeous voice repeating, ♫ "WAAAAAKE me up!" at the start of the verse as the song continues. . . .  ♫  "Wake me up before you go-go, don't leave me hangin' on like a yo-yo" ♪ through my giggles to my brother--Like a yo-yo!  Ha!--as I twirl around.  And that most-satisfying-to-sing-along-with line:  ♫ "Taaaaake me dancin' toniiiiiiiiiiiiiiight."  ♪  So ends first grade. 

"Careless Whisper" is second grade and one of the first music videos that informs my imaginings of what Adult Life might someday be like:  The sparkling lights of a city at night, summery fun on sailboats, stunning sunsets. . . .Well, Adult Life looks promising, even if "guilty feet have got no rhythm."  Poor, sad, beautiful George in the video, though, and I just can't look away.  
Soon the opening drumbeats of "Everything She Wants" are everything.  And it turns out, they will forever have the power to transport me instantly back to1985.  Instantly.  Play this for me when I'm ninety years old and I will immediately report that I am really finishing second grade, my older brother is finishing fifth, little Brian just turned three, and gymnast Mary Lou Retton's Wheaties commercial and the Saturday morning cartoons are my favorite things.  At eight years old, I don't understand the song's lyrics, but I love its sound and George's soaring "I work! So haaaaaard! for youuuuuuuuuuu!"  ♪  Instant '85, that. 

"Last Christmas" is forever one of my favorite Christmastime songs.   When I called Mom last night and and told her of George Michael's death, one of her first comments was, "But that song!  It isn't Christmas until we hear that song every year!"  Just last week, while we were together for our early Christmas, it came on the radio while she was baking and I was wrapping presents, and in unison we called out to each other, "There it is!"  :)  ♫  "Once bitten and twice shy, " ♪ Angel-Voice sings.  "I keep my distance, but you still catch my eye.  Tell me, Baby, do you recognize me?  Well, it's been a year, it doesn't surprise me." ♫  Dear heartbroken George, but he's determined to live and learn and love again.  'Love this song.  ♫  "This year, to save me from tears, I'll give [my heart] to someone special." ♪  'Love, love, love this song.  

By the time I am devouring the Laura Ingalls Wilder book series and Laura's budding relationship with Almanzo in the fifth grade, I am more than ready for George Michael and Aretha Franklin's romantic duet, "I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)."  It has been one of my top-five favorite songs since I first heard it on a cassette tape my mom bought me called "Hot Hits."  So many of the songs on that best-of album will be some of the 80s' greatest--"Mary's Prayer" by the group Danny Wilson,  "Don't Dream (It's Over)" by Crowded House, "Human" by Human League--but I rewind the tape over and over again to listen to George Michael and Aretha Franklin and vow that if I ever have a wedding, I want this song to be played at the party after.  This was something of which eleven-year-old Val is sure.  Watch and listen.  It will be one of the finest things to come out of the 80s, with too many great lyrics and perfectly-hit notes to recount here.  Pure joy, this song, start to finish.  It will be an anthem for me while I fall in love, while I recover from broken hearts, whenever I'm struggling my way out of bouts of depression, and whenever I just feel like belting out a song around the house.   Pure joy as George sings,  "I don't regret a single moment--Looking back--When I think of all those disappointments, I just laugh, I just laugh. . . ."  ♪   
And pure joy at George's sassy shimmy at Aretha around the two-minute-and-fifty-four-seconds mark of the video, because you just know he feels this song--he gets it--and because he and Aretha are so clearly enjoying and respecting each other's talents here too.  In interviews I find when older, I will read that singing with Aretha was a dream come true for him, so no wonder it shows in the song and video.  It all just glows with sweetness and triumph.  I love that this song exists, period.  

At a sleepover at my friend Apryl's house the next summer,  we laugh ourselves into hysterics when she tells me that her parents bought her George Michael's new album, Faith, but told her not to listen to it because they think one of the songs on it is too raunchy for kids.  "Then why did they buy it?!"  I shriek through my laughter, and "I know!" she shrieks back, and we giggle over that the rest of the night.  "Are you allowed to listen to anything on it?"  I ask.  (Because:  "Faith," "One More Try," "Monkey". .  .Come on, Apryl's Parents!  These are great songs!  [How can anyone listen to "Faith" and "Monkey" and not feel like dancing?  How can anyone listen to "One More Try" and not marvel at his voice?  That note around the three-minutes-and-twenty-three seconds mark!!])  But no.  They have bought it for her because they know she likes him and wants his new album, but she is not to listen to it.  That will still make me laugh twenty-nine years later.  We remain innocent enough in these final days of elementary school that hearing the song in question--even analyzing its lyrics, between more giggles and shrieks, of course--wouldn't mean anything to us.  And anyway, we don't listen to George Michael to decode lyrics.  He just makes good music.  We like listening to him sing.  We like watching him dance.  We like singing and dancing along with him.  
(The sexiness of both his trademark stubble and of his voice during every single "BAY-BEE!" of "Faith" don't register with me at age eleven, but a future Val will say in regard to both:  Hubba hubba.  :)  )    

Junior high, high school, and college are all marked by his beautiful Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1.  His cover of Queen's "Somebody to Love" for a Freddie Mercury tribute concert in the 1990s is his voice and showmanship at their finest.  Both the rehearsal of the song and the performance itself are online, and both are powerful.  Watch the rehearsal and catch David Bowie listening, obviously impressed, at side-stage.  Delight, as I do, in Queen guitarist Brian May laughing with George after one-minute-and-forty-four-seconds.  Watch the show itself and enjoy both the high note seemingly-effortlessly reached at the four-minute mark and George's strut every time he turns toward the band between lines. 
"Waiting for That Day" is one of the gentle and bittersweet songs I can't help but keep torturing myself by listening to after my best friend Sommer's death, these last few months before high school graduation.  ♪  "My memory," George sings clear as a bell while I weep, "serves me far too well."  ♫  "Freedom" finds me in my early twenties dancing around my off-campus apartment as I finish packing while waiting for my parents to arrive to take me home at the end of a rough school year.  ♪  "Now I'm gonna get myself happy. . . ."  ♫  Yes, do that, George.  Let's all do that.  Because by the late 1990s, he is making the news more for tabloid-ey personal issues than for his music, which is a shame--"[It] was my own stupid fault, as usual" he famously acknowledges in an interview about one arrest--since he seems to have the type of sensitive but troubled personality that somehow finds him only ever hurting and sabotaging himself.  But his talent is pure, and he always seems like a goodhearted soul, and I always love him.  As part of a rare televised interview,  he shyly gives a brief tour of his garden and of a few rooms in his home, and it pleases me whenever I think of it after to imagine that maybe at this moment--or this Christmas--or this spring--George Michael is both healthy and happy in his idyllic English cottage-- 
--curled up with his dogs and a good book in one of these chairs by the fireplace--
--or beginning a new song at this old piano.
And it has been nice to imagine that.  He is one of my "80s people" with whom I'd have loved to have shared my finished memoir someday.  And I have to believe that he somehow already knows all this, even all about Mom and I with "Last Christmas" and Apryl's parents with her forbidden album-gift and our fits of giggles over itTonight I find myself still hoping, more than ever, that he is reveling in well-being and joy, and that he has finally found what seemed to be hard-fought-for peace.  I hold on to my mental picture of him sitting at his piano and see him safe and sound and singing a new song.   'Cause I gotta have faith, faith, faith. . . .