F is for Fabric

“Hey, nice bag!” says kind stranger.

“Thanks!” says proud owner.

“Where did you buy it?”

“Oh, I made it...” proud maker says, blushing.

“Oh, no way! I really like the fabric! Where did you get it?”

Here's where I've always wanted to say,“Oh, yeah, I made this fabric." Well, wish granted!! I have, literally, CREATED MY OWN FABRIC! The exciting story about how this came to be is as follows.

So. When I was at Purl Soho (which is just straight up ridiculous, by the way, have  you been to that place?) back in February, I found this book which inspired the emotions on the right:


If you’re unfamiliar with Heather Ross, you are (like I was only a few months ago) living in a world of boring fabric designs.

Not only are her prints rich in color, but they incorporate original drawings and artwork that evoke happy nostalgia. I am particularly drawn to how she combines hand-drawn art and Photoshop... and ever since I discovered this book, I have been DYING to dive into this challenge:


And challenge it was: Several really ambitious artistic endeavors all wrapped into one.

First: Decide to draw the chicken.

Choosing my subject was actually a piece ‘o cake. Meet Maude.


I found this card in probably 2005 at 16 Hands when it was on Main Street in Ann Arbor. (Note: I have since tried to get more of them, but it doesn't seem they are making them anymore!) And, since Maude has made her way with me to all of my various homes, front and center on my wall, and she ALWAYS manages to make me chuckle... I decided it was time to pay homage to her and her foam yoga mat.

What is it about her that is so captivating? I mean, she not only asks us a good question around life and work ethic, but she also exudes personality. Something about the way her little plastic chicken legs angle in towards each other, or how one eyeball is just a tiny bit larger, or the fact that somehow her little plastic hip juts out to one side ever so slightly... Sass and angst all wrapped up into one plastic chicken.

Maude, you are my hero.

Second: Draw the chicken.

Wow. I guess I hadn’t drawn in a while. She’s not only complex in her emotions, but Maude is difficult to duplicate. Truly a rare bird.

Third: Photoshop the chicken.

So here’s where my fabulous Photoshop training came into use! I got down and dirty with the polygons, the command T function, the marquee tool, and I got up close and personal with Maude, pixel by pixel.

After some deliberation, I decided on a chevron pattern and tried to stick to the original color palette as much as possible, in order to honor the original card.

Here are some thrilling screen shots of the process:


Fourth: Print the chicken.

Do you know about Spoonflower? WOW. I have known about them for a little while now; I follow them on Instagram, and my friend Susannah has printed fabric with them before. But now, I truly am a believer. Essentially, you upload a JPEG file and they PRINT FABRIC WITH YOUR DESIGN ON IT. That’s it! So simple.

Here's the process (Captured in a mere three photos!)

Spoon1 Spoon2 Spoon3

And now... I await my yard of "Maude the Yogi" fabric! So exciting! What should I make with it? Leave me a comment below if you have an idea!

E is for Education

“Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in...”

Not like school is the same as being in the Corleone family or anything... but school’s out for the summer!? Not entirely! This week, I had the awesome pleasure of teaching a sewing camp called “Accessorize it!” ...and please don’t forget the exclamation mark.


All but one of my students (age 10, approximately) hadn’t used a sewing machine prior to showing up to class on Day 1. Fresh meat! And thanks to some generous friends and colleagues, we had a 1:1 ratio for machines. We spent the week cranking out all kinds of accessories: bracelets, drawstring pouches, pins, tote bags, infinity scarves, and even hair scrunchies (hello 90’s!).

To summarize:

The experience was educational for all parties. The students were eager and energetic, their final products were elegant, and their egos were elevated (ever so slightly) and I believe they have truly caught the sewing bug.

Yay! More little sewists for the world. But I'll tell you who also learned a thing or two... this guy. (Pointing to myself.)

Basic lessons learned:

  1. Bring extra sewing machine needles. Within 20 minutes of the first class, two needles broke, and we were down to three machines. Rookie mistake!

  2. Draw lines for students to sew along! Beginners (who are also ten-years-old) tend to veer off course.

  3. When drawing said lines, DON’T use a turquoise Sharpie. Use a writing utensil that doesn’t bleed through!

More exciting lessons learned (or re-learned):

  1. Sewing is FUN.

  2. Watching a bobbin wind is AH-mazing. I had a crowd around me EVERY time we had to wind a bobbin. They were in complete and utter awe.

  3. Sewing on a machine is a lot like driving. Therefore, when a person under the age of 16 is sewing... do NOT assume they understand the “your foot controls the show” idea.

  4. Do not even bother to give advice to a ten-year-old about which colors look best together. They have their own ideas about that, and cannot be convinced otherwise.

  5. Also, don’t bother telling a ten-year-old about what is/isn’t trendy. Making an infinity scarf is apparently a lot less fun than making a long piece of cloth that you can turn into a blindfold or use to whip your friend.

Now... "E"njoy a few pictures from class:


Hey you! Check out the "Blue Tool" here. This thing is MAGICAL for turning straps and threading drawstrings.

D is for Detroit

This activity is a DOOZY. It involves not one, not two, but three things I really like:

1. Making a case for something. 2. Machine applique (or “fancy patches” as I like to think of them) and... big surprise here... 3. Detroit baseball*.

(I promise to not mention baseball again for at least a few letters. See below.)

So here’s the story with the “D.”

Back in the day, I used to make little cloth cases for iPods (back when they didn’t look like iPhones...remember those things?). A few of you probably still have your aforementioned case, even though it's probably serving more as a dust protector than anything else at this point. But, man oh man, I used to love making those little guys. The whole touch screen fad really put me out of business. Poof! Just like that, I had nothing to make snug little cases for! Wahh. And so ensued a dark period.

Then, seven years later, when I was least expecting it, that dark, case-making-less era finally came to an end. Last week my sister told me about a special early birthday present she was getting for our mom, who had recently re-earned the “super” part of her Super-grandma title. Sweet crafting serendipity! It didn't take me long to decide what to do.

A kindle, you say? It’s essentially a GIANT iPOD!!

So I got to work. It was foggy and rainy out (can it be both? Cuz it was.) There was no shortage of coffee. I had a fancy loaner sewing machine and fabric from my trip to Purl Soho. There was a Tigers v. Red Socks game on. ‘Nuf said.

*Now, regarding the theme of the "fancy patch" on this case: I know I must across as some sort of obsessive fanatic. I mean, I already confessed my love AND mentioned it again in the "C" post. But I will say, in my defense, that the Detroit Tigers “D” is more of a tribute to the recipient than it is to my own tastes. It just so happens that we have the same taste when it comes to baseball. Okay?

1BOARD-D D1 D2 D4 D5 D6 D72BOARD-DD9B D8 D9 D9A Detroit-GIF

Hey you! Did you notice I didn't actually HAVE the kindle? I'm sure my pretty awesome cardboard replica fooled you. It's up for grabs if anyone wants it. Let's just pray to the sewing Gods that the case fits on the real thing.

C is for Craft Party

Nothing screams “Wild Night” quite like a Craft Party, am I right?


There are few things I look forward to more than a good old-fashioned crafternoon. I mean, can you blame me? Let’s talk about it for a second. You've got sassy conversation, healthy and unhealthy snacks, some kind of needle and thread, and (if you're lucky) at least three types of crafting adhesive. It’s pretty much the perfect way to spend an evening. (Okay, well maybe I’d like there to be a baseball game on the radio, but I can survive without that one.)

And last night’s Etsy Craft Party at the Creativebug HQ was no exception.

If you’re ever in the search for creative inspiration, I highly recommend that you check out Creativebug. They offer affordable online classes for everything your little heart fancies... from quilting to paper crafts to making lip balm. They not only have top quality videos, but they have coralled the crème de la crème of instructors... some of my ultimate crafting idols are teachers for Cbug; Melanie Falick, Radmegan, and of course, the woman who LITERALLY gave birth to Alphabet Summer, my very own mama, Sue. (When you do go to their site, you’ll see why it’s not just because of my mom that I love the site! But also watch her bio video... it features my Grandma Tiny, among other Alphabet family members!)

I was first introduced to Creativebug back in January when my mom was filming her classes here in San Francisco. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some of the rock stars behind the scenes; Jeanne, Kelly, Courtney... who are not only inspirational artists in their own rites, but are proof of what amazingness can happen when truly good people put their creative minds together.

So last night I headed over to Potrero Hill with my new 50mm lens and my all-around-life-partner-in-crime, Molly. Paper art genius Courtney (Paper Musings) was leading an activity in making ATCs (which, it turns out, does NOT stand for Air Traffic Controllers, but Artist Trading Cards) and faster than you could say “black and white chevron washi tape,” we were crafting our night away!

Now, Molly and I are no strangers to being around Craft Royalty (back in March we attended Craftcation together, but more on that later), but we were, as usual, humbled by the openness and warmth of the Creativebuggers. And, in other serendipitous news, it just so happened that we were ATC-ing across the table from Ali and Emily from the Makerie, the creative retreat in Colorado that we had been swooning over for months. Ridiculous! It was a crazy night, that’s for sure.

Thanks for having us, Cbug! We are inspired.

Scroll down to enjoy the pictures of Courtney’s GORGEOUS studio design for last night’s party.

1CB1 YES 2CB2 YES 3CB3-BOARD 4CB-YES 5CB-Jeanne16CB-WORKING-YES7CB-Dancing 8CB-Studio 9CB-10CB-Board-3

B is for Baseball

THANK GOD “B” is the second letter of the alphabet, because I have been dying to tell Baseball how I feel about him for some time now, and I am so relieved that I don’t have to wait any longer.

Baseball, I LOVE YOU. There.

Baseball2ALERT: For those of you who, upon hearing the word “baseball,” feel the sudden urge to yawn, don’t skip this post! I have included this little visual treat to keep your eyes from glossing over.

So here’s a little background on the “B” activity.

Every year at my school, the seventh graders write essays that are based on the NPR series “This I Believe.” They are personal, honest, and often touching declarations that challenge the thirteen year old mind to dig deep; they examine themselves and their core values. It’s a REALLY GREAT EXERCISE. And every year, I promise those little sweethearts that I’ll write one of my own. And so the familiar scene played out again last month. Them asking, “so what did you write about, Ashley?” Me, dodging the question, “Hey, sooo ahhh what’s up with that Justin Bieber dude, anyway?” I simply cannot live with the guilt any longer.

So, below you will find my attempt at This-I-Believing it. Thanks to Jodi for the advice and edits. Even though it is still a work in progress, you all can thank her for improving upon the wretched, mind-barfy first draft.

Oh, and did I mention, we literally force them to read their essays out loud a là NPR? Therefore, everybody, I have taken this as an opportunity to practice what I preach. As I prepared this recording (found below), I realize now why some of them might burst into tears or run screaming to the bathroom. It’s HARD to read something personal out loud! But, Alphabet Summer is all about “trying new things,” and “stepping out of one’s comfort zone,” and all that...

If you want to listen (you may have to click on the m4a file link after the word "Download"):

[audio http://alphabetsummer.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/ibelieveinbaseball.m4a]

If you want to read:

I believe in baseball. The game of baseball. Baseball is numbers. It’s technique. It’s skill and luck, it’s human error and precise measurements. Baseball is humility. Baseball is pride. Baseball is a marathon and a sprint. Baseball is disappointment. Baseball is celebration. Baseball is life.

Echoing the ins and outs of the human existence, the game itself is a thing of beauty. Sometimes the shortstop is out in the dusty field, unsure about what’s coming his way, but knowing that the batter is looking to smash the ball over his head. And sometimes he’s up to bat, his sole responsibility is to get something going, all eyes waiting to see what he’ll do with the pitch thrown. Baseball can be so dog-gone slow, dragging on and on for hours into the middle of the night. Or, it can be fast. Double plays, grand slams, stolen bases... the course of the game changing depending on how the ball leaves the pitcher’s fingers.

Sometimes, players slump. They strike out every time they get to the plate. People talk about what’s going on with them and then they get all messed up in their head about it. Or whack... they finally hit the ball but it goes right into the shortstop's glove. But then... sometimes they get hot. On FIRE. Man, when it rains, it pours. A twelve game hitting streak, hitting it out of the park in consecutive games, or maybe they even bat through the cycle or win triple crowns.

Quite often, players get humbled. If the basic mechanics aren’t there, then the pitcher will never consistently throw that curve ball. They make mistakes, they watch the people around them make mistakes. They go on the disabled list. They pitch a shutout into the 8th inning, and the closer can’t seal the deal. They lose some.

But it’s all a part of something bigger. It’s you, it’s the pitcher, it’s the catcher’s throw to second, it’s the warm-up swings, it’s the signs from the third base coach. It’s the sacrifice squeeze, it’s the right fielder on the warning tracks, it’s the person who sews the number on the back of the uniforms, it’s their high school coaches. It’s the manager’s long walk out to the mound, it’s the high-five to the guy who got the sacrifice out, it’s the seventh inning stretch. It’s the sunflower seeds, it’s that punching gesture the home plate umpire makes on a called third strike, it’s the belly flop slide into home.

Turns out it’s not hard to pinpoint the things I love about baseball. A distraction, an obsession, a pastime, a tradition. The game can be magical, inspirational, heart-breaking. It’s perfectly imperfect. What more could you ask for in this life? This, I believe.

Hey you! Did you click on the "This I Believe" link up there? It's an essay that Jackie Robinson wrote in 1952. It's pretty cool.

A is for Amateur Animation

Ahhh! The letter A is such a high profile letter! I mean, it’s my letter. It’s ridiculous how much I adore that block letter A. And it's the FIRST letter! The Alpha of the whole summer. I have lists upon lists of amazing activities for the first letter. So many of my favorite things start with this letter. Artichokes. Avocado. Apple Pie. Arizmendi. Ann Arbor. I mean, just look at my house: A-Collage

I mean, really.

And there are two more that aren't even pictured.

But back to the blog.

Okay, here’s the story of this year's letter A activity:

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to participate in the Photoshop training course, Blogshop, here in San Francisco. Ever since then, I have become a Photoshop junkie. More specifically, I have gone cuckoo for the animated GIF. I do not exaggerate. I made my friends suffer through a photo session involving a five person rotation (with props) on my loveseat to create my first GIF. I documented a school project by creating a GIF for each of the groups (there were 22), and then placing them in a 3 by 7 grid (check out my page on the wiki if you’re a Friends schooler!) and it was...awesome. Potentially migraine-inducing, but awesome just the same. And yet, I still haven’t satisfied my ravenous hunger for animation.

Enter Alphabet Summer.

Back when Alphabet Summer was just a twinkle in my little Valencian eye, my “Save Tuesdays” crew in Spain used to craft it up HARD CORE. Once, we even rented a giant apartment in Denia and spent THE ENTIRE WEEKEND CRAFTING. It was wild. It was there, somewhere between a stop-motion animation session and a hair dyeing extravaganza, that my little blob friends Maxi and Carmel were born.

Occasionally a way to illustrate internal turmoil, and mostly just because they’re so fun to draw, they became my favorite two-dimensional amigos. Maxi is the nervous, anxious one; Carmel, his laid back and fun-loving contrast. They generally are only seen in my journal, but they eventually became the main characters in my second NaNoWriMo novel (2011’s thrilling Star-Crossed Glovers, about an adult co-ed softball league, among other equally as exciting things.) Who knew back in Valencia that Maxi had been the starting catcher on his college baseball team and was working a dead-end job in Ferndale, Michigan, playing Wednesday night softball with a group of misfits?

So, here you have it: A little bit of simple Photoshop magic + little blob creatures = Amateur (but amazing) Animation.

Everyone, this is Maxi, and this is Carmel. Maxi, Carmel, meet everybody.

The GIF plays on repeat, so if you miss something just watch again!


ABC... Easy as 3...2...1...

Well, it's that time of year again! It's a time when I say goodbye to teenagers and hello to two months of summer! And thankfully, since I live in San Francisco, my first day of summer vacation greeted me with cold, God-awful fog. A perfect day to stay inside and prepare for Alphabet Summer! Who needs sandals, sunglasses or outfits that don't require leggings? That's so "summer-normal." I love wearing my puffy jacket and Smart Wool socks in June!


As I'm drinking hot herbal tea, I'm also preparing for my "A" post. BREAKING NEWS: My sewing machine is IN THE SHOP until Wednesday. Gasp! It's okay, everybody, I'm actually totally geeked about what's coming up. Spoiler alert: Maxi and Carmel* are involved.

*If you're unfamiliar with Maxi and Carmel, don't fret. If you know them, then you're totally excited right now, aren't you?

So, my friends, let this post be the official countdown announcement for "Alphabet Summer 2013." It's on.

Say hi to Maxi!

See below for this year's Alphabet Anthem:


Z is for Zeitgeist! (The End.)

True to it’s definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary (the general intellectual, moral and cultural climate of an era), Zeitgeist has been more than representative of this era in my life.
The closest bar to school, I have spent many sunny (read: chilly) San Francisco Friday afternoons on the patio at Zeitgeist.  For those of you who have not experienced this place, I am sorry to say that I have no picture proof.  Because of the “flexibility” on what you can smoke outside on their enormous open-air terrace, the “photo police” are on constant patrol.  So, I am challenged on my last blog entry (sad sigh) to photograph the big Z in words.
Picture (for those Ann Arborites) a very large Dominicks, minus the family vibe, plus a large biker-bar contingency.  Wallet chains, tattoos, suped-up hipster road bikes hanging from the bike rack with the warning to not leave your bike or else it will be gone.  Four Port-O-Potties, delicious hamburgers, and the occasional Tamale lady.  The best Bloody Mary in town, according to some.  Sunglasses, skinny jeans, card playing, giant heavy glass pitchers of beer, American Spirits and Parliaments as far as the eye can see.
Check out their website for a few actual photos!  http://www.zeitgeistsf.com/
I chose to celebrate the end of my blog drinking the only beer with a Z in the name, the Franziskaner Hefeweisen.  Delicious.  Now, here comes the Zeitgeist-induced self reflection!
Favorite blog entry:
I really enjoyed talking to my Grandma.  I think that was the most fun, in terms of process and final result.  In terms of a crafty activity, I really like the DIY skinny pants I made!
Hardest blog entry:
Well, naturally, the most physically and mentally demanding one was that bloody Patchwork Quilt.
Most enjoyable to make blog entry:
I had so much fun at the Tea Party!  That was a great day.  The X-tra credit research was also fun, in that dorky way. And obviously, Vacation was unbeatable.
Favorite thing about blogging:
My favorite thing about this experience has been the writing.  It turns out I really enjoy writing!  I was scarred by graduate school, and assumed the process of writing and editing was always painfully boring.
What have I learned from this experience?
That when I get set on something I like, I become stubbornly obsessed with it!  I had several minor panic-attacks when something went wrong (paypal sucks) or when I would have trouble coming up with ideas.
What would I change for future Alphabet Summers?
Not a lot.  I think I would like to have more photography skills in order to properly capture the experience.  I would also love more web design and HTML knowledge.  And while I’m asking for things, I’d also like a bigger work space!
I would like to say thank you to everybody who kept up with my little summer challenge. Thanks to my devoted comment-ers, who made me smile. Also important to me were those silent partners out there, too. You guys rock.
This is just the end for now.
Thanks and adiós por ahora!

Y is for Year.

Last week, on the first day of school (yes, I realize I missed my August 23rd deadline by two!), I heard Jodi greeting everybody with an enthusiastic “Happy New Year!” Such wise words, I thought to myself, especially now as I enter into my second year in San Francisco.
To commemorate that first year, I made a collage. If I've learned one thing from the Quakers, it's that thoughtful reflection is therapeutic. My collage looks like something out of a third grade art show, but essentially it did the job. It's amazing what a color printer and some Mod Podge can do!  For lack of picture proof, a lot of things are not included, but some memorable ones are: My first breakfast at Tartine, my first trip to the two story Target (with shopping cart escalator), carrying Stella in the Baby Bjorn, and of course, my trip with the 7th graders to Nicaragua.
As I embark upon my second year in the Friendly middle school world in San Paquito, I realize that I have gained not only an inspirational group of colleagues, several dear and devoted friends, and a loving and bearded boyfriend. I have also gained invaluable knowledge about the world, about being green, and about crafting.
But, like in all reflective practices, one cannot help get nostalgic.  As this Alphabet Summer draws to a close, I can't help but honor those ladies whose Tuesday evening traditions were my true inspiration.  May the crafting spirit stay alive for everyone!

X-tra credit!

Were you one of those people who always took the extra credit opportunities in school?  I think it says something about a person, whether or not they are comfortable broadcasting their own nerdiness to the entire class.  As a middle school teacher, I am reminded of how it takes a very special teenager to actually do this.  But there they are, the geeked-out minority, not afraid to rush up to the board to conjugate a verb.  And, bless them, they will most likely grow up to write a blog entry about how finding extra information for the sake of learning is oh-so-thrilling.
On that note, this summer, many questions have come up.  So many, in fact, that they have been written down into a little notebook.  So, I have set out on this second to last weekday of freedom to uncover the mysteries and give myself gold stars for extra credit.

1. What exactly is a glacier? And I can’t remember how to say it in Spanish. 2. What causes a volcano? 3. What is up with the supervolcano in Yellowstone? 4. Why are barns red? 5. How did those dumb car stickers with Calvin peeing start? 6. How does Google know about traffic? 7. Who was the original artist that made those catchy newspaper cut-out magnets with 50’s housewives on them? 8. Why is there only one type of bear spray on sale in Montana? And why is it so expensive? 9. Why do all movies use 555 numbers?

Okay.  So here’s the dirt:
1. According to Wikipedia, a glacier is a perennial mass of ice which moves over land.  Se dice glaciar en español.  Duh. This is the Perito Moreno glaciar en Argentina.
2. Well, here it is, thanks Wikipedia: There are four causes that I could determine:  Volcanoes are generally found where tectonic plates diverging (moving away from each other) or converging (colliding). A mid-oceanic ridge, for example the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, has examples of volcanoes caused by divergent tectonic plates Pacific Ring of Fire has examples of volcanoes caused by convergent tectonic plates coming together. By contrast, volcanoes are usually not created where two tectonic plates slide past one another. Volcanoes can also form where there is stretching and thinning of the Earth's crust (called "non-hotspot intraplate volcanism"), such as in the East African Rift, the Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field and the Rio Grande Rift in North America.  Volcanoes can be caused by mantle plumes. These so-called hotspots, for example at Hawaii, can occur far from plate boundaries. Hotspot volcanoes are also found elsewhere in the solar system, especially on rocky planets and moons.
3. The Yellowstone Caldera, or the Yellowstone Supervolcano, like Hawaii, is believed to lie on top of an area called a hotspot, where light, hot, molten mantle rock rises towards the surface.  The area experiences between 1,000 and 2,000 measurable earthquakes a year, but the last full scale volcanic eruption occurred 640,000 years ago.  Residents of Victor Idaho and the surrounding area can rest assured, because the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Utah and National Park Service scientists with the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory maintain that they "see no evidence that another such cataclysmic eruption will occur at Yellowstone in the foreseeable future. Recurrence intervals of these events are neither regular nor predictable."[Wikipedia] Phew!
4.  According to the Farmer’s Almanac: Many years ago, choices for paints, sealers and other building materials did not exist. Farmers had to be resourceful in finding or making a paint that would protect and seal the wood on their barns. Hundreds of years ago, many farmers would seal their barns with linseed oil, which is an orange-colored oil derived from the seeds of the flax plant. To this oil, they would add a variety of things, most often milk and lime, but also ferrous oxide, or rust. Rust was plentiful on farms and because it killed fungi and mosses that might grow on barns, was very effective as a sealant. It turned the mixture red in color.  When paint became more available, many people chose red paint for their barns in honor of tradition. Interesting.
5. Origin of Calvin peeing stickers. As far as I could find out, the stickers are not sanctioned by the creator of Calvin & Hobbes, and the only “real” information I could get on who was the first to do this was from sites like Uncyclopedia and the Onion.  But, I did find this out on Wikipedia:  Almost no legitimate Calvin and Hobbes merchandise exists outside of the book collections. However, the strip's immense popularity has led to the appearance of various counterfeit items such as window decals and T-shirts that often feature crude humor, binge drinking and other themes that are not found in Watterson's work. After threat of a lawsuit alleging infringement of copyright and trademark, some sticker makers replaced Calvin with a different boy, while other makers made no changes. Watterson wryly commented, "I clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo."
6. Holy...  Ain’t technology somethin’? “If you use “Google Maps for mobile” with GPS enabled on your phone, that's exactly what you can do. When you choose to enable Google Maps with “My Location”, your phone sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast you're moving. When we combine your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, we can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions. We continuously combine this data and send it back to you for free in the Google Maps traffic layers. It takes almost zero effort on your part — just turn on Google Maps for mobile before starting your car — and the more people that participate, the better the resulting traffic reports get for everybody.” http://googlemobile.blogspot.com/2009/08/bright-side-of-sitting-in-traffic.html
7. Anne Taintor:  http://www.annetaintor.com/
8. Bear spray.  The only one we could find on sale in Glacier National Park was the brand “Counter Assault,” which is advertised as “the Original.”  But I figured out why we could only find this one kind ($49.99/canister).  According to their website (http://counterassault.com), they are the official providers to many government agencies, one of them being the US National Park Service.  Ah ha!  P.S. If you are going there let me know, you can have our unused (thank god) canister. Also, they don’t tell you what to do in the case you do encounter a bear, so I found this great website (if you ignore the comic sans), if you’re interested:  http://www.yellowstone-bearman.com/b_spray.html
9.   The question about the 555 numbers came up under the argument, “When you see a 555 on the movie screen, doesn’t this just remind the audience that what they’re watching is fake?”  Well, once again, I consulted the Wikipedia machine, and found this interestingness out: Phone companies encouraged movie companies to use the 555 prefix starting in the 1960’s.  Nowadays, only 555-0100 through 555-0199 are reserved for fictional usage, and only within the US.  Check the website for a funny story about Gary Larson being sued in Australia for having used a 555 prefix to call Satan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/555_%28telephone_number%29).  Ha ha!
Do I get my extra credit points?

W for Wallet.

Ahh, yes.  My favorite item to make.  I wonder why that is.  Is it my general philosophy on crafts and men, that they must carry a lot of cash?  Ha!  No, that’s not it at all.  I think it’s because we look at wallets almost as much as we look at our cell phones, and having them made with pretty batiks is just so aesthetically pleasing.  Yes.  It’s so pleasing, in fact, that it nearly offsets the anxiety one feels when the wallet is opened only to find that there is, in fact, no cash, and the nearest ATM is four blocks away.  Nearly.
Nevertheless, this particular wallet was custom made for one Victor Idahoan as a replacement for a previous model (Note to potential customers: my wallets are not necessarily like Apple products and do not need an upgrade after two years.  She just wanted a new one.)
I was given free reign on the design and colors, and while it came out bigger than expected, the bright side is that it can now double as a passport holder!  My “company name” is currently in limbo (Alphabet something or my old Olive? Any ideas?) so I opted for the free-hand “Libby,” which did get a few excited yelps from female friends and wallet covet-ers.
Have a look at the wallet-of-fame:

V is for Vacation!

This could be the most well traveled blog entry yet! 3,411 miles, five states, many mountains and several pounds of ice cream later, the letter V has earned it’s victory as the most liberating activity in the alphabet.
In a post-vacation downer today, I sought alphabetical inspiration in Ken Burns´documentary on the National Parks. America´s Greatest Idea Ever, it seems! Don’t get me wrong, I am not taking for granted the fact that I got to see not only the breathtaking Grand Teton National Park but ALSO the awe-inspiring Glacier National Park in one ten-day journey. And surely these places have inspired many a writer, politician and tree-hugger. But where documentaries, pictures and words cannot do justice, I will just say that you must see these places. And hurry! The World’s Greatest Destroyer Ever, Global Warming is making the glaciers go bye-bye.
Besides the “ooohs” and “wows” and “holy mothers,” there were other highlights from this epic natural expedition. Montana, it turns out, is a heavenly place to be, especially in the summer. Now I truly understand the meaning of “Big Sky.” And the license plates! They have 135 different options! Talk about complicating the license plate game, sheesh! (We got 34/50 by the way.) Also, they have the tradition of slapping a giant letter on the town mountain in a very abbreviated Hollywood sign style. My alphabet brain was truly enjoying figuring it out, especially when there was an “M” in Butte and and “L” in Missoula. Perplexing.
Anyway, to conclude, I would like to give a special thanks to: The Salvation Army in Twin Falls, ID for the $.75 belt that held my shorts up; Libby Paglione, for not only reading my blog but for being the best tour guide in Victor, Idaho; The mechanic in Victor for fixing the headlights for free; The Bureau of Land Management for the free camping along Highway 50; The Sleep Inn, Idaho Falls for the first shower after four days of camping; Chris’ mom, Martha, for the GPS unit that persevered where the iPhone failed; Nick Hornby, for writing Juliet Naked so that we could listen to the audio book for nearly 8 hours; The voice actors on the Juliet Naked audio book for doing unintentionally hilarious American/English/Scotish accents; and last, but certainly not least, Doodle Jump, the best/worst iPhone game since Angry Birds.

U is for Used Books.

A lot of people were curious to know what I missed about the US while living abroad for so long.  Big hamburgers?  Giant parking spots?  Spatial awareness while walking down the street?  Nope. Used bookshops!  And, I arguably chose the best neighborhood to find these dusty treasures.  Although most recently my favorite has been Half-Price Books in Berkeley, the Mission is loaded with second-hand reading material.  In honor of my one-year anniversary of being back in the US of A, I decided to take a used book tour and look for U authors. Unlikely?  Perhaps.  I started out at my house on 16th street and ended up at the ultimate used-book center: the Mission branch of the SF Public Library.
My first stop wasn’t a long journey: Adobe books, literally across the street.  By far the most chaotic in terms of organization, Adobe is also the coolest and the quirkiest bookshop in the neighborhood.  It’s full of dusty paperbacks, worn-out lounge chairs and even more broken-in SF natives.  Today, I went to the Spanish section to look for my U book:  Score!  An staple from any undergrad Spanish lit course: Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, Martir.  On the inside, a bookplate proving its origin at the UT Austin Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
Next up, Community Thrift.  Usually fairly reliable for $1 books, but unfortunately today’s trip was quick.  Their “U” section?  One book.
Further down Valencia street, I thought I would try out the sci-fi specializing Borderlands, whose U/V combined section contained approximately zero books by U authors.  Next door at Modern Times Book Shop, another fruitless search through their used book section, which consists of a cart on the street.
On to Dog Eared Books, also known as the place where I purchased my first used book in San Francisco (Armistead Maupin’s More Tales of the City.)  Here, I noticed a slight obsession with John Updike.  An entire shelf!  My interest is peaked.  Anyone have any opinions about this author?
My last stop was the library.  Frustrated and fed up with the letter U,  I took on a different mission:  Audio books for my upcoming road trip to Montana.  A sparse selection, but I managed to walk out with a few, including Jack London’s Call of the Wild.
Conclusion? There are not many authors whose names begin with the letter U.

Tea Party!

Yesterday, Molly, Claire and I indeed "took some time for tea" at Lovejoy’s Tea Room in Noe Valley (www.lovejoystearoom.com).  We were truly transported to your English grandmother’s country house for tea and crumpets.  What a tea-rrific place!  Mismatch china to perfectly clash with the mismatch antique furniture, lace and doilies as far as the eye could see.  A mixture of tables full of families, giggling girls like us, and the one standout all-male table.
The Earl Grey and China Rose Petal tea was bottomless, and the sandwiches were crust-less and triangular. Our favorite was the Pear & Stilton sandwich. With two thirds of our party convinced we remembered what Stilton was (me claiming "mild, like a white cheddar" and Claire sure it was "not strong at all"), it turns out to be of the stinky, strong blue variety! The scones were pretty much authentic (according to Claire, an actual Scottish person) and the Double Devon Cream was richer than butter.  Having become a self-proclaimed coffee snob since moving to San Francisco, Lovejoy’s took me back to my days of living with English gals, who would not really consider themselves fully hydrated if they didn’t have at least one cup an hour.
After we finished what the menu referred to as “Light Tea,” involving about 15 cups of tea and 12 pounds of butter, we headed across the street to Lovejoy’s Attic, where you can purchase tea paraphernalia, including (to Claire’s delight) Branson Pickle and McVitie’s biscuits.  And what tea party would be complete without trying on kitschy English party hats?
Afterwards, because for some reason the caffeine in tea doesn’t make your head spin around until you’re sleepy in the same way that coffee does, the three of us were fueled with enough tea energy to take our wallets over to Fort Mason for the Renegade Craft Fair (www.renegadecraft.com), a place which needs no explanation.  As if the day needed more terrific-ness!

S is for Science.

The California Academy of Sciences +21 evening.  Half-price tickets, alcoholic beverages, DJs, and hundreds of twenty and thirty-something “singles looking to mingle.”  Was it science, or simply chemistry?
Full access to the rain forest, the aquarium and the Extreme Mammals exhibit.  A Capoeira show.  All the cool and dorky science fun, minus the kids.  Only, this was really just a bunch of grown kids in a giant adult-sized playground.  Grown women shrieking as they ran to the children’s eel cove.  Some guy shouting things at the sharks.  A museum dude showing a special exhibit of baculum, or penis bones (he was particularly proud of the one belonging to the walrus, which the Eskimos use as a club to hunt.  “It’s really heavy!” he exclaimed!)  It was surreal.
Up with the Extreme Mammals, I learned what it takes to fit into this category, and quite frankly, I felt like a mediocre mammal. I have no large tusks, no enormous antlers or a crazy-long tail! But I was particularly taken with the AMAZING ADJECTIVES they included in all of the descriptions.  Someone was having fun with their thesaurus!  Things like “the biggest brain ever!” and “massive metatarsals” and “unbelievable arm strength” and “the most mind-blowing creatures to ever walk the earth.”  Props to the crafty wordsmith who wrote the clever catch phrases.  My friend Susannah would have been in heaven at the marsupial display, where it explained the “awesome pouch births” with the title, “Hang in there, kids!”  Oh, bless them, trying to make science fun!
Down in the aquarium, it was a pretty dreamy scene.  The lights were low, the house music was turned up, and the cocktails were flowing.  I half expected to find a couple making out near the nautilus tanks.  But alas, it all seemed fairly PG-13, and I managed to get some great shots of the underwater party animals.  My last image was seeing a group of friends plopped down in front of the Phillipine Coral Reef, staring up at the scene, mesmerized while the DJ played Men at Work’s Down Under to close out the night.
Outside in the foggy night, groups of excited mammals were saying their awkward goodbyes, perhaps exchanging phone numbers, perhaps wondering how the hell to get home from the middle of Golden Gate Park. All in all, the evening was very amusing.  A very entertaining way to witness science in action.

R is for Reading.

After the Patchwork Quilt fiasco, I was having trouble looking at the sewing machine.  And the hangover was pretty rough, so I had to come up with an activity that involved sitting still.
One of my favorite sitting-still summertime activities has been to listen to the radio program Forum with Michael Krasny for it’s entire two hour broadcast every morning, while working or doing things around the house (read: checking Facebook).  It’s really hit-or-miss, but one highlight was hearing David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas) talk about his new book, and then later that evening going with Chris to hear him read in Cut Wood, CA (Corte Madera).  He is an amazing writer! I haven’t read any of his books yet, but I just know!
Another highlight was the program on Mystery writers.  There were three guests (Cara Black, Jacqueline Winspear and a guy whose name I can’t remember), all mystery writers, and they were invited to discuss their books and the genre in general.  I have never really been a huge mystery reader, but something about them really grabbed my attention.  I really do want to attempt to tackle Cloud Atlas again, but these mystery books just seemed (how do I say it without offending anyone) more accessible.
So, since then I have started reading Murder in Belleville, part of Cara Black’s series that takes place in Paris.  Since, as some of you know, I have taken 16 weeks of French this year and am now not only a fluent French speaker but an expert on France in general, I liked the idea of reading about something familiar.  The main character is Aimée Leduc (whose mother was American, and in flashbacks featuring conversations with her, she refers to herself as Amy.)  The experience has been enjoyable, and I’m admittedly addicted to the plot.  And, once I find out who killed the poor woman in Belleville, I have the added satisfaction that there are 10 more books waiting for me in the series.  Since I’m currently 564th on the wait list for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, it’s pretty likely that I’ll be spending some more quality time with Aimée.

Mind your Ps and Qs!

I had to wait a full 24 hours before I could find my Ps and Qs to write about this project.  I had to go out and consume some Pints and Quarts to forget about this project.  Me and this project are still not on speaking terms.  This project is such a huge b-word that she takes up two entire letters.  She and I got into a full-on physical battle, and I have to aches and bruises to prove it.  And this morning, when I could barely stand up because I felt like I had done 4,209 squats, I was definitely not “minding my language,” as the expression goes.
This project, I can only imagine, is the equivalent of what a parent must feel towards their child.  A very big commitment, yes, rewarding, sure, mostly a giant pain in the ass, most definitely.  At the moment, the quilt is acting like the bratty teenager who causes irreparable emotional damage without showing any real remorse.  And, if it’s one thing I’ve learned about teenagers, its that it takes a really special one to step up and mend fences.  Therefore, I think I will have to be the one to bite the bullet and make peace.  Sigh.
Patchwork Quilt.  Ugh.  The words still make my upper back/ neck area tense up.  It started out as a fun project.  40% off on materials at the Fabric Outlet on Mission, another awesome Denyse Schmidt pattern, the ambitious confidence that I would be making my first big quilt.  But my eyes were indeed much bigger than my stomach on this one, and three days after I started, I have an aching body and not even a quilt to keep me warm at night.  Perhaps someday, when my knees are healed and I can actually stand up from the sitting position without grimacing, I will forgive this project.  But for now, I’m thinking it’s on to the next letter for some R and R.

Olives and oranges

Not necessarily the most appetizing combination for an appetizer, but clearly a perfect pairing for a pencil case! I went back to my old notebook where I used to record all of the things I made/sold back in Valencia, the home of the oranges. Since I have moved to the “Other Orange Grove,” as some people (me) call California, I haven’t found the time to make/sell much of anything.
So, I wanted to get myself back into the groove by somehow channeling my creative energy towards my former home. I wanted to make something functional, something that would aide in the organizational nightmare that is my desk. So I found the pattern that I used to make Elizabeth and Julio their his & her pencil cases back in February 2009.
The fabric might look familiar to some. One of my jugglers features this exact combo! The olive print comes from a little shop in Ashland, OR. The oranges are from R & C Patchwork near Girona, Spain. Some might also be familiar with my obsession with olives, which became a sort of unregistered brand-name for the things I made/sold in Valencia.
Enjoy the product of my trip down memory lane!

N is for narwhal.

This past June at the end of the school year, me and my students became obsessed with this Scatergories-type game called “Alto!”  Because fifth grade Spanish vocabulary is somewhat limited, we had a rule that one of the words could be given in English, because, in the end, it was supposed to be a fun game.  When the letter “N” came up and one of the underdog teams shouted “ALTO,” I was excited to hear some new voices.  There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned “quiet student finally finding their voice” moment.  So, when they got to the category “animal,” my heart sank.  I had to disqualify them.  They wrote narwhal.  “Um, I think we need to use real animals, chicos,” I said.  You want to hear a room full of twenty-five 10-year-olds go crazy?  Try telling them that an awesome unicorn-like creature (that, in reality, actually does exist) doesn’t exist. They looked at me/ yelled at me like I was some fool who actually believed that the world was flat, and had just tried to convince them of this fact.  Talk about losing credibility!
Since that fateful day, the pesky narwhal sure has poked his little nose into my life in other ways.  Remember back to my late night screen printing class?  Claire’s print was of a narwhal! You can see her beautiful work below. I asked some other non-10-year-olds, and sure enough, they all knew about narwhals.  I consulted the Google machine.  One of the entries calls it, “the best mammal in the ocean.”  There’s a Facebook page dedicated to it.  National Geographic refers to it as “the unicorn of the sea.”  In fact, in the Viking times, narwhal tusks were sold for more than their weight in gold to people believing they were unicorn horns.  And I was thinking it was something out of the latest YA sci-fi fantasy series! Ha!
Today, I set out to redeem myself with the animal kingdom by creating a stuffed animal effigy of this not-so-mythical arctic creature.  Although it wasn’t my intended result to make a caricature of the poor beast, that is what happens when you use a combination of intensely bright colored fabric, not enough stuffing, and absolutely no pattern or warm-up.  In hindsight, I probably should have just written a haiku.

Sources for all of my narwhal knowledge? Where else but National Geographic and Wikipedia.

"M" marathon!

Martes. El martes por la mañana. I have to admit, I started off my marathon feeling a little moody. After a week emerged in the Midwest summer heat, back home in the “sunny” Mission, the clouds and crisp air was making me feel melancholy. So I started out by mailing my friend Mar a letter. I miss her, just like I miss all of my amigas back in my second madre tierra. It made me smile.
Next up, I walked up towards Market street and caught MUNI (SF public transportation) to a movie matinee in the mall on Market and 4th. Me and six other people (three of them women on their own with bags of popcorn, just like me!) enjoyed the film, The Kids are All Right, starring Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore. Maybe it was because of the time of the month, or perhaps I was tired and still in the midwest time zone, but this movie made me cry. Me gustó mucho. My favorite kind of movie: memorable character development with a non-cheesy, slightly-awkward portrayal of real life. The music (including MGMT at the end) rocked. Afterwards, I meandered a bit through the mall, walked to Macy’s and contemplated buying makeup at the Mac counter, but decided I didn’t really have the money for such a meaningless purchase.
So I made my way back to the Mission on Bart, direction Millbrae. I grabbed my MacBook and moseyed over to Maxfield’s House of Caffeine (across the street from Mission High) for a single soymilk mocha, where I finally solved the mystery of the word myriad.

This word has plagued me for some time now. I remember being told that it should never be used with the word “of.” I would refer to Interpol’s accurate usage on this one, from the song Slow Hands: “You make me wanna pick up a guitar and celebrate the myriad ways that I love you.” But then yesterday, I was browsing Chris’ guidebook on the windy city (long story), and, noticed this: “The best times to come to Chicago are when the myriad of city-sponsored music and food festivals... (p.6)” Hmmm. If the ultimate grammar geek is using “of,” I need to get to the bottom of this!
So, I consulted the master, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary: “Recent criticism of the use of myriad as a noun, both in the plural form myriads and in the phrase a myriad of, seems to reflect a mistaken belief that the word was originally and is still properly only an adjective. As the entries here show, however, the noun is in fact the older form, dating to the 16th century. The noun myriad has appeared in the works of such writers as Milton (plural myriads) and Thoreau (a myriad of), and it continues to occur frequently in reputable English. There is no reason to avoid it.
I feel much better now, thank you m-w.com!

Next thing on the agenda, to finally cancel that pesky Myspace account that I tried to get rid of about six months ago. This time, within minutes, they followed through, and just like that, my relationship with myspace is all over.

After a mini-siesta to maintain my energy, I met Molly for a beer at the Monk’s Kettle, where we both had Belgian beers (a McChouffe for me, a Maredsous Blonde for Molly) . Then more peeps came and our group multiplied to five and we headed to our favorite Mexican joint in the Mission for some famous margaritas and a meal (I had the torta milanesa: a breaded steak sandwich? Next time, definitely the mole.) The service was mediocre, but the margaritas were magnificent and the company was marvelous. Our last stop, a nightcap mojito. Minty goodness. Then it was off to sleep by midnight. I felt tired, almost like I had just run a marathon.

M musical melodies: Modest Mouse, Maná, MGMT, Joni Mitchell, Madonna, the Magic Numbers, Matisyahu, the Mendoza Line, M. Ward, Laura Marling, Marvin Gaye, Ida Maria, Bob Marley, Lisa Mitchell.