Why people live here.

I appologize in advance for the shameful lack of arts & crafting on this blog as of late.  I hope to return to our regularly scheduled program as soon as vacation is over…although I really don’t want it to be over. The photo below is from my current project, a bag I’m making for my mum to hold her knitting (update: I finished! pics to come!).


In the meantime, I’m posting one last string of photos of the place where I’m staying.  Ever since I was little (four?), my grandma and grandpa owned a big house in the woods along the Puget Sound.  To get to this house, you have to drive down a long gravel driveway through the trees.


Then you come out into a clearing where you can see the house, shop, shed, and schoolhouse (that’s my brother-in-law on the tractor and my sister standing carefully out of the way).

The house is located at the top of a bluff overlooking the water. You get a lovely view of Vashon Island from their back deck, and downtown Seattle is visible off to the left. We like to think that it’s the best place to watch the fireworks each 4th of July; we can see the lightshow but avoid the crowds and noise.

So I have to say that, while I detest the traffic, I can understand why people live here. This is the view from the front porch yesterday morning,

and this was from this morning.



You might notice that the ground looks rather frosty. The combination of yesterday’s rain and last night’s chill produced an amazing thick frost that coated all the leaves and branches – almost like snow, but more delicate.


I’m supposed to be packing right now, so I’m going to have to cut this short. But I’ll leave you with a few more views of the elusive Mt. Ranier, which made some rare appearances yesterday and today (you might have noticed it on the right in the sunrise photo above). It was really nice of God to give us something big and beautiful to look at as we creep down the freeway going 20 mph.

Next time: mom’s knitting bag, some Christmas presents in review, and happy little cousins receive handmade dolls (a Success Story).

Christmas Day.

Today is Christmas, and what a great day it has been.  This post is full of photos for the sake of relatives who couldn’t be here (or rather, we couldn’t be there). Uncle Ted, Aunt Laurie, Grandpa, little cousins, Mom & Dad Gibbs, Esther – we missed you.

The morning started out with one of dad’s annual obscure Victorian poems (this was one was actually quite legible and very good).


Then the present distribution commenced.



The dog – who didn’t get her present until lunchtime – felt a little put out, but we assume that the big beef bone she got later on put an end to that.


Husband got a sweet blue and brown tie from Marian and Jacob.  Wife might have helped pick it out.



I got what might be the first hat anyone has ever knitted for me.  Marian has just re-learned how to knit, and her hats have fabulous little elf points on top (not shown).


In return, I gave her one of my sources of pre-Christmas stress, a hat and mitten set.  The mittens turned out well and she likes them.  Success!  The hat is a little big, but since she’s my sister she has to wear it anyway.



Dad got obscure music (Maria Muldaur, anyone?) that Josh and I hope he’ll like.  We, um, also hope that also hope it won’t drive mom crazy.


We gave Tim some slightly less obscure music (Beirut + Wilco).


Marian gave mom some sparkly lip gloss.  Very daring.


Marian also gave dad a really sweet father-daughter photo from her wedding.


I have to stop at this point and admit that, for all my crafting plans, Tim’s presents from Japan were the show-stoppers.  That guy really knows how to pick ’em out.  I’m saving mine to show later, but I’ve got photos of some of the stuff he gave the rest of the family.

(This is Stewart, Marian and Jacob’s conure, helping Marian unwrap her present.)


Marian got a real Japanese tea set.


Dad got chocolates (which conveniently “expire” on December 28, so we have to eat them right away).  They came packaged in these amazing little boxes – must try to save some.


Jacob got a Japanese cookbook that is a) written in English and b) supposedly contains recipes that aren’t way too complicated to cook in the states.


Mom got some special Japanese yarn that she asked for.  She oohed and aahed for a long time and has already started knitting a hat.



Josh asked Tim for a piece of clothing with scrambled pop culture references.  I think Tim did very well – we have NO idea what this sweatshirt means.


The dog got nothing and expressed her distaste for the situation by yawning loudly.  And then she found a nice little bit of carpet to sleep on so the part where we have the food would come faster.


In summary, a good time and many good presents were had by all.  (Still to show: my new Amy Butler book, which I plan to put to good use ASAP, and the Japanese fabric that Tim braved a very girly store to get for me.)


But, before I go, I told Josh that I would post some photos of our Christmas dinner.  Mom brought home a massive piece of beef that had the salivary glands of every male in the house watering since 8:00 am this morning (okay, females too – we’re none of us vegetarians).  I found the guys repeatedly opening the oven door “just to make sure it was still there.” 

So, I present what will go down in history as the Great Christmas Roast of 2006.



It was delicious.


Top 10.

My bags are packed, my presents wrapped, and Josh is picking me up early from work.  Hooray, it’s almost time for a real holiday!  We’re leaving this afternoon to spend Christmas week at my grandfather’s house in Port Orchard (Seattle area), so this might be my last post for awhile.  After I get back, I promise lots of photos of people wearing assorted handmade items, my long-lost brother, general Christmas jubilation, and maybe even a gingerbread house.


In honor this being (possibly) my last post of the year, I have made you a Top 10 list.  Now, Josh is a “Top 10” kind of guy but I have a hard time making lists.  Things flow around my brain in organic, amoeba-like fashion instead of forming hierarchies.  Soooo, whenever anyone asks me for my favorite movies or top five records, my brain freezes.  (Not so my husband, who used to spend his spare time working out elaborate Top-20-Opening-Songs-On-A-Record types of lists with his friends.  Kinda sounds like torture to me. )


All that to say that this is my first list of this kind, and it was slow in the making.  Enjoy.


Top 10 Crafting Discoveries of 2006


One. SouleMama. 

SouleMama was the very first crafting blog I discovered, and after clicking on a few comments I discovered a whole new blogging world.  Other early discoveries included…


Two. Inside a Black Apple, Wise Craft, A Bird in the Hand, Little Birds, Angry Chicken.

These are a few of the ones I check regularly, but there are A LOT of blogs out there that showcase the great stuff people make.


Three. You can’t do everything that everyone else does.
At first I couldn’t get enough of the indie-crafting thing and spent every spare internet moment trying to find new projects, new crafters, new ideas.  But after awhile I got overwhelmed by the amount of inspiration and productivity.  I also couldn’t justify spending so much time hunched over the dining room table making stuff at the expense of real-life friendships.  I felt like I should make as much stuff as the twenty people whose blogs I read, which is just not possible what with husband and work and friends and all.  So after a few months of gorging myself on eye candy, I’ve *tried* to settle back into a more reasonable schedule (this month excepted, heh heh).

Four. Three Pink Trees.

Three Pink Trees was the first crafty blog written by someone I know in real life, and it gave (and gives) me hope that crafting can be a way to strengthen friendships instead of just channeling energy into internet la la land.  LaVatican is another blog in this category – I got to talk with Lauren on the phone the other night and it was great! 

Five. It’s fun to subvert people who are keen on subverting the system.
The Handmaid dolls started out as an art assignment to create a “subversive” product that could come out of a vending machine.  So I made some dolls that protest the marketing of plastic, mass-produced, oversexualized dolls to little girls (see the row of Bratz at your local Wal-Mart).  But mostly I just wanted to sew something – take that, WSU art department! 

Six. iPhoto books are a great way to present your stuff.
That said, after 6 or 7 hours of failed iPhoto book attempts I feel I need to make a little addendum to my encomium of iPhoto:
iPhoto 6 = da bomb
iPhoto 5 = your stuff will probably come out okay
iPhoto 4 = weeping + gnashing of teeth 

Seven. Venue is (almost) everything.
It sounds simple, but it’s taken me two craft fairs and a boring day sitting at a craft table to deduce that good sales result from: a) a location where there are lots and lots of people, b) people at the venue who are in a shopping mood and not just walking by, and c) people at that venue with disposable income who are interested in your stuff.  I like Pullman and Moscow a lot, but I think that “c” is a lot smaller here than in a place like, say, Seattle.  Might need to find new venues. 

Eight. If I don’t make myself draw or paint, it won’t happen.
I like crafting, but I started out wanting to be an illustrator/artist.  What happened to that? 

Nine. I will always have more Great Ideas than I have time or energy. 

Good thing I have a husband who regularly reminds me of this and assures me that it’s okay if I’m not doing something all the time.


Ten. My husband is the bestest.

I guess this isn’t really a “crafting discovery,” but Josh constantly puts up with mess on the table, fabric scraps on the floor, and a wife who’s too busy/tired to cook dinner.  Need I say more?


Last word: it snowed this morning!  That’s actually not very good news because we have to drive to Seattle (and I was sure I’d slip and break something when I walked to work), but the little dusting we had at 8:00 am was really, really beautiful.


Merry Christmas.

Some biscotti.

Last night’s big project was to finish the biscotti I’m giving as my office Christmas presents this year.  I sort of messed up the present thing last year and gave larger presents to a few people, only to discover that around here people give small gifts to everyone.  I wanted to bake something other than cookies, so I got ahold of a biscotti recipe and gave it a shot.


According to Josh, my biscotti turned out really successfully.  It’s crunchy, almond-y, and slathered in chocolate with vanilla stripes.  The only problem is that the recipe didn’t make as much as I thought it would (why is that always the case??), so everyone only got two pieces.  But the hand-stamped gift tags should count for something, right? 


As I was dipping pieces of biscotti in chocolate I watched Little Miss Sunshine, which – as Josh agreed – was much better than we’d thought it would be.  The VW that needed a running start was hilarious; I don’t think you can come up with something like that unless it’s happened to you.  And I really really like DeVotchKa, so the soundtrack was a nice surprise (“How It Ends” is one of my Favorite Songs Ever).


Amusing office moment of the day: did you know that the Missouri Botanical Garden is very particular about being a Garden, and not Gardens?  I didn’t, at least not until after I had 350 holiday cards printed that included an announcement about a “special tour of the Missouri Botanical Gardens.”  Oops.  My very kind supervisor helped me cover 350 s’s with white out.

Another amusing office moment: I read through lots and lots of applications from international students, so I see a lot of Engrish (“Dear officer, I am very interesting in your program…”).  But today’s was the best – one student’s letter of recommendation came from an assistant professor who had spent two years as a “poster-doctor” in Germany. 

If you don’t spend any time around postdocs, you might not find that funny. But I did.

Just some hints.

I wish that I could show photos of the things I’ve been working on instead of just dropping hints.  I’m trying to remember to take photos before I wrap things so I can Show & Tell after December 25.  Hmph.  So, despite an evening of craftiness, all I can show are the following:



In the meantime, workplace stress continues…I’ve got a meeting in 10 minutes and really, really hope that I don’t have to bring anything. 

A busy week.

I feel as though I should talk about the weekend, but it already seems like a long time ago.  I’ve been totally snowed under at work this week with the kind of snow that requires big plows and gravel and traction tires.  If one more person asks me to whip up a “holiday” card – less than a week before Christmas – and send it out to 300 people, I’m going to ask them to take a number (in a very polite tone of voice).  My lunchbreak writing has been interrupted every five minutes by calls from my very nice printer, who has agreed to print, trim and fold said cards at the last minute.  And do it again tomorrow.

Last Friday’s office party was okay.  It was loooong (3 hours?) and full of people opening presents in public, which is not that exciting unless you’re the person.  But the food was TERRIFIC and the guy running the bar had good taste.

As a preface to what I got at the party, I’d like to introduce you to a company called Giant Microbes.  I learned about them last year from a grad student and actually gave my sister and her then-boyfriend two of them for Christmas (the Common Cold and Athlete’s foot, I think…or was it the Flesh-Eating Virus?).  So, someone in-the-know thought it would be fun to give me this little critter as my Secret Santa present:

Giardia Plush Doll

I agree that he’s kind of cute, but how would you like it if you had to stand in front of a crowd while your boss read a description of Giardia to everyone?  A, um, kind of vivid description?  A faculty member sent me a photo she kindly took of the experience.  It’s probably good that my back is turned, since I ran through a lot of facial expressions trying to decide which one was appropriate.


Note the pleased expression on my boss’s face as he prepares to read the tag to everyone.

As for Saturday’s craft table at the Dahmen barn, it was also long.  And cold.  And not particularly profitable, until my mother showed up (thanks mom!).  I am officially done with crafting anything that is not a specific gift for someone until January.  Special thanks to everyone who bought a pin, barrette, or card (or who is the intended recipient for one).

A few people have asked me if I have dolls for sale, so I’ll clear the air about those.  I only made two Handmaid dolls and they are intended as gifts.  The dolls and the brochure were ostensibly an art project and not a project for sale.  However, I think that I will try making more dolls in the coming year (including ones for small children without buttons or small pieces that can get lost), so please let me know if you’re interested in one post-Christmas.  They will probably be larger – the Handmaids were only about 7 inches tall – but will also be made with vintage fabrics, embroidered faces, etc.

I’m running out of time, so I’ll squeak in some pictures of my weekend crafting.  I can’t show photos of the presents, obviously, but I will show the progess I made on my wrapping scheme.  I like to wrap all of my presents the same and to pick a new theme each year.  This year I re-used some of my bird stamps to make gift tags.


Yes, I should have had some for sale at the craft fair.



I’m combining the tags with plain brown paper, some plaid wool, and ribbon, and I’m really happy with the way they look.  So, family, now you know what your presents will look like.


How can I keep from singing?

There are a couple of things that I want to squeeze into this post, all of which vaguely refer to the title.  The first is that, for the first time in my life, I am the proud owner of a sewing machine.  Diane McGarry – one of the world’s most charitable individuals – saw my previous post and volunteered to give me a machine  she had bought at a yard sale for her own children (none of whom have turned out to be keen on sewing).  I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but I can’t wait! 


As I was admiring my new possession’s fantastic pleather bag, I remembered that I had prayed for a sewing machine earlier in the month when it became clear that a) I probably wouldn’t get one for Christmas and b) I couldn’t afford one myself.  Now, I’ve been reading a lot of Guideposts lately (don’t laugh! someone leaves them in the women’s restroom at work) and one of the things I find most distressing about the magazine is the emphasis on the Power of Prayer.  Having a bad day?  Not enough food in the fridge?  Send up a little prayer and Someone will mysteriously answer your request, leaving you vaguely reassured that you’re loved.  I have no idea whether the magazine has always been like this and don’t want to look down on grandmas who eagerly await their monthly issue, but Guideposts is SO focussed on the praying and the prayer and not at all on the Answerer of prayers.  God listened to my prayer and blessed me, and I think that’s a lot more important than the fact that I sent up a measley, self-centered little whisper a few weeks ago.  My response should be gratitude and a desire to use His gift to bless others – please hold me accountable for this.


My second thing to share is less serious – I’m working on a new round of pins and barrettes. 


When I came home from work yesterday, I was feeling really stressed out because I have way too much work to do at work and way too much work to do at home.  After trying to “relax” for a little while, I finally pulled out my fabrics and ironing board and started picking out patterns and colors.  And then I sat at the dining room table with my scissors and started cutting out little circles and flowers.  And you know what?  I forgot all about student applications and websites and filing and the big pile of unfinished presents on the other side of the table and felt really happy just to be working with the fabric.


I think that work feels cursed some times more than others – lots of thorns and thistles, not many vegetables.  But sometimes I remember that God gave Adam and Eve some work to do before the Fall, and it was undoubtedly very satisfying to them to garden all day. 


Josh believes very strongly that we will have work to do in Heaven, and I have to say that I agree.  And that I’m glad.


Finally, tonight is the night of the ol’ office Holiday Party.  I call it the “office” party, but it actually includes the whole research institute where I’m based.  These events are usually full of delicious potluck food and awkward conversation, so I’m only partly looking forward to it.  Last year I was responsible for putting together a long and supposedly humorous slideshow, which is not a very nice job to give the New Person.  This year we skipped the slide show (insert happy dance) and are doing…karaoke.  Yup, karaoke.  My supervisor rented the machine and I figured out how to hook it up to our digital projector, so we’ll lure groups of twenty or so to the front of the room to sing carefully selected non-religious holiday songs.  The groups have to be big so that the Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German, French, Bulgarian, Swiss, Italian, Mexican, Croatian, and Indian people who don’t know secular American Christmas songs will be willing to  mouth “watermelon” in front of their coworkers (I probably forgot a few nationalities – we’re a diverse group).  Me?  I’ll probably spend most of my time fiddling around with the projector.  But when I’m not, how can I keep from singing?

Next Monday: results of the $5 Secret Santa Gift Exchange, or Whether or Not Someone Livens Things Up by Throwing an iPod into the Mix.

In praise of iPhoto.

(This is a shameless advertisement for Apple iPhoto books.  You have been warned.)

I got to make my first iPhoto book for the fine arts class I took this semester and was instantly hooked.  The book-assembly process is kind of frustrating – iPhoto is set up to be a no-brainer, which means that if you have brains and want to change any of the pre-sets they make it as difficult as possible to figure out where to do that.  BUT, once you fiddle with the layout and the text and then the layout again ’cause that thing you did on the first page knocked everything else out of whack, it’s fine.  You punch in your credit card numbers and address and wait an agonizing week until a stylishly thin cardboard mailer arrives in your mailbox.  And then, after admiring Apple’s nod to minimalism, you rip it open and pull out your new iPhoto book.  And then you gently caress the pages with your eyes, hold it to your nose to smell the fresh printing inks, run your fingers down the perfect binding, and smile.


You have just published a book.


You see, the clever people at Apple figured out that, deep in their heart of hearts, lots of people want to publish a book.  They want that book to have their own photographs and (maybe) text and to look as much as possible like something you’d pick up at Barnes & Noble for your coffee table.  The thrill of opening that first tiny book with my photographs printed on perfect, machine cut, glue bound pages was amazing. 


The book/brochure I just received has its share of small disappointments – the text is a little pixelated, the layout is a little “off”.  But I love it so much more than anything I could ever get from Kinko’s that I’m perfectly happy to forgive its minor faults. 


Apple, I forgive you for messing up my text.  You published a book for me.


Today is an extremely blustery day.  As I walked to work this morning, huge gusts of wind would suddenly pound my coat, making it flap wildly.  If I had long hair, I probably wouldn’t have been able to see…as it was, I’m sure every short piece stood on end.  I was listening to Pulp c. 1996 on the iPod and it was very complimentary to the weather –  Common People was accompanied by a face full of common leaves and spray from passing cars.  And the extra bonus?  The wind was like a giant hand pushing me up the hill.

As promised, I spent last night sewing (and watching Cars with Josh…can you think of another studio that’s as consistently good as Pixar? we couldn’t). 


Slowly-but-surely things are getting done!

Question of the day: would you find “The Office” funny if it was YOUR office?  Josh and I were talking about potentially-humorous office situations, and have to say that I think  it’s easier for some people to find their own situation funny than for others.  Even if they can both laugh at a third-party situation.

Tension problems.

The really really nice sewing machine that I borrow from my mother started having tension problems last night, which meant that I also started having tension problems.  There’s only one little old man in our area who can fix these things, and he takes a loooong time.  This is a huge problem when you plan(ned) to sew a bunch of your Christmas presents. 

After sobbing about discussing this calmly with my husband for a while, I was able to re-evaluate the things I “need” to get done before Christmas.  I’ve scaled back some projects and scrapped others, replacing them with something simpler.  And I have come up with a slow-but-adequate solution: handsewing.  Stitch by tiny stitch.  I actually really like handsewing, so this isn’t a dreadful thing (I handsewed two full-length curtains once when I moved to a new city and didn’t have any money, sewing machine, or anything else to do).  It’s just time-consuming.  If you need me any time between now and Christmas, I’ll be at work or sitting on our little couch with a pile of fabric and thread on my lap.


(Addendum: And then there are the tension problems arising from other people at work, but I’d better not get into those…especially on the office computer.)

Mom, if you happen to read this before I call you, I don’t know what I did to the sewing machine but I’ll pay to have it fixed. L