On Writing

Picacho Peak, Arizona

I want to be a novelist because I have this story rattling around in my brain. I can see the characters. I can taste the food I’m describing. I can smell the smoky air in Mozambique and the pollution in Phoenix — my settings. I have conversations with the characters in my dreams, which completely rocked my boat the first time it happened. I know who I want to play their roles when this tale hits the big screen.
I want to be a novelist because I am my happiest when I am writing. I love sharing stories, which I’m sure is why I also enjoy blogging and traveling. When I go into a bookstore, I always go to the literary section to see where my books would be on the shelf. One day, they will all be lined up right there between Donleavy and Dostoevsky. In the meantime, I push a gap between those who have published before me and visualize my stories in print, the title the spine, a quick and grabbing summary on the back.
I want to be a novelist because I want others to see a new perspective — the world travels of a well-meaning girl who simply wants to leave the earth better than when she arrived. My stories are fundamentally a part of me — I can’t imagine any writer feeling otherwise.
For the first time in a long time, I’m feeling rejuvenated in my writing and am making great progress on the hurculean task of editing novel numero uno. The carrot at the end of the stick, other than my dreams of sitting on the yellow couch, is addressing the characters in story numero dos, who are crying in the corner from neglect.

So You Want Some Frida Too?

Create Your Community

I smiled at the number of email I received yesterday reading, “Why doesn’t my Target/community/country have Frida Card Day? No fair!” Guess what? It easily could.

Follow these easy steps and you too can have an organized crafting community, no matter where you are:

1. Find a space. Maybe your church, local library, YMCA, local bookstore or Rotary Club has a place where you can meet.

2. Figure out what you want to create. Frida cards? You can find a slew of her stamps here. And here. This is a great paper resource. Visit your library for art books to have on hand for ideas. (You may also want to consider asking your local Target or Wal-Mart for funding. They have gobs of community dollars and are often looking for ways to spend them. If you have a multicultural art project you are presenting to the community — score!)

3. Send out an evite and let your friends know when and where to show up. (Or better yet, use your fancy new stamps to lure them to the event and send a simple postcard invitation.) Ask them to bring friends, paper and envelopes to share and their creativity. Post a notice at your office, church, bagel shop, gym, favorite craft store, bookstore.

4. Bake something sweet to share. Show up early. Set up your stuff and wait. If you organize it, they will come. And if you organize it, I want to hear all about it. You want Frida? Make it happen!

One of my resolutions this year is to create my community. Tomorrow night, I’m hosting my first “community” dinner. I’ve invited a bunch of friends, left it open for their friends to attend too and sent out a menu. I’ll have plenty of food and I expect plenty of great conversation in return. And then, we’re going bowling. I hope to do these sorts of meals once a week as a way to get to know my neighbors, mingle with new folk and spend time with the people I love.


Que Viva La Frida!

Frida stamp, portrait

A friend emailed me the other day about a Frida Kahlo-inspired class taking place at the Mesa Art Center in January. I rounded up some girlfriends, headed out for Mexican food and off to the center we went to play with watercolors, stamps, construction paper and embossing guns. The class, which was subsidized by Target (how I love thee Tarjay, let me count thy ways), cost just $1! It normally costs $30, but thanks to Target and all those community dollars they spend, we got to make 5 cards for a buck. Plus, the awesome instructor told us there were extras and if we had enough time to make more — so I made 10.

Frida card making station

One of my favorite memories of the day was when I sat next to Paul, a 60ish gentleman who was obviously out of place. He first asked me who this “Furda” person was and I told him about Freee-duh. I explained the Mexican artist holds a bit of a spell over many women.

frida collage card
card idea -- embroidery thread to hold in paper

I’d never seen this technique before. The card’s inside paper is attached with embroidery thread woven through two small holes.

We admire her intelligence, curiosity, creativity, passion, strength and ability not to kill the great love of her life, who ended up sleeping with her sister. I wanted to say, “Haven’t you at least seen the movie? Yes, Salma has a mustache, but wowie. She is gorgeous regardless.” By the end of the afternoon, Paul and I had bonded over rubber stamping and Mexican artists. I nearly had him hating Diego Rivera too.

embossed in turquoise

I learned a new technique on this one too — masking. You cut out an exact replica of your major stamp (Frida) and then place it over the original image so you can stamp a background stamp perfectly around her. Then you remove the mask and voila — background without marring your original image. You can’t tell, but she is embossed and sparkly — perfect just as Frida should be.
No word yet on the February $1 Target class, but you’d better bet my crafty, frugal self will be signed up pronto.


Ladies, Fire Up Your Singers!


Winner of the November/December In Stitches sew-along: Flossieteacakes with that couture apron. Isn’t that shot fantastic? Nice work on the sewing and photography. {Note to self: take more time to set up shots. Look how nice your projects can be displayed if you don’t get impatient!}

New book for 2008: Simple Gifts to Stitch. We took a poll. You may have voted, you may not. Either way — we’re pretty sure you are going to love this book.

New project: The Button Scarf, with a photo due in the new photo pool by February 28. I need to sew a couple birthday gifts for cold weather friends, so this frankly, works out perfectly.

Finny & Donk's Sewing Adventure!

New name for this fabulous sew-along: Finn and Donk’s Sewing Adventure. Grab your backpacks and don’t forget your thimbles, this is going to be another fabulous ride through the wild land of Domesticity. We’ll be sewing projects with random winners selected from the pool — so make your photos stand out and feel free to email us with any questions. Thanks so much for playing along!

~Kelli, aka Donk
and my northern California bff: Jessica, aka Finny

P.S. Did you hear about that fabulous Amy Butler contest that you may already have a project completed you could enter? Check out Finny’s blog for details.

Tutorial: Jewelry Wrap

Christmas 2007: Jewelry Wrap Tutorial

Last year I was browsing the Red Envelope catalog (love their personalized gifts and earrings) when I saw a tiny photo for a leather jewelry wrap. My necklaces are pretty much always tangled because of the petite leather earring box I keep them in at the bottom of my gym bag. (Go figure.) I liked the idea of a small pouch that would help keep everything organized, so I studied the photo, asked Meg for some advice and took this project on as my homemade girlfriend gift for 2007. I ended up making 25 of these and giving them with a piece of handmade jewelry made by a local retired couple.

on the mantle, ready to be wrapped: Tenth Day of Christmas

{Three cheers for my pledge to buy locally and go handmade. Woot!}

stacked up on the couch: Tenth Day of Christmas
jewelry wrap: Tenth Day of Christmas
frida button: Tenth Day of Christmas
orange inside: Tenth Day of Christmas

They went over well and I tried not to let the backhanded, “Wow! This is so great. Your sewing is really improving,” sting after the tenth time it was said.
Anyway — a tutorial for you peeps interested in making your own fabulous jewelry wrap:

Cotton fabric
Two zippers
heavy-weight, iron-on interfacing
A button, needle, thread

Cut two rectangles measuring 11″ x 18″ from your front fabric and lining fabric. (I varied these.)

Cut one rectangle measuring 11″ x 18″ from your canvas. Set these aside.

Cut one necklace pocket measuring 11″ by 5″ from cotton fabric.

Cut two necklace pocket flap measuring 11″ by 3″ from cotton fabric.

Cut one ring holder measuring 11″ by 4″ from cotton fabric.

Cut one necklace pocket flap interface piece measuring 11″ by 3″.

Take your two necklace pocket flaps and pin them right sides together. Now iron on the interfacing to one of these sides. Sew 1/4 inch seam around the edge leaving a 1″ hole to turn your work. Trim corners, turn right side out, press. Gently turn under remaining 1″ and complete with top-stitching around entire outside edge. Fold in half width wise and iron crease in center. Place 1″ piece of Velcro 1″ above the bottom edge. Sew around edge.
Put to the side. Your pocket flap is now completed.

Take your ring holder fabric and fold it in half length wise. Press crease. Now turn in 1/2 inch of the top and bottom edges toward the crease. Then fold in half again, completely enclosing your exposed edge. {You may have done this trick in the past to make purse handles.} Topstich around all edges. Don’t worry about turning the two ends under. We are going to add Velcro to one end and tuck the other between the seams when we sew all the pieces together.

orange edge: Tenth Day of Christmas

With a rotary cutter, cut your lining fabric into three sections, horizontally. You want these to be varying sizes. Mine were 3″ wide, 6″ wide and 9″ wide.

sewing ideas: Jewelry Wrap Tutorial

Sew the first two sections back together by adding a zipper. Then sew section one and two (now sewn together as one) with an additional zipper. Your lining fabric should now have three sections, with two zippers running across them horizontally.

zippers: Jewelry Wrap Tutorial

Take the necklace pocket and turn under the top (11″) edge twice. Zigzag stitch across this edge. Fold the pocket in half lengthwise and crease with an iron. Center your first piece of Velcro 1″ below top edge. Sew around the edge of the Velcro, attaching it to the necklace pocket. Pin the necklace pocket to the bottom of your wrap, well beneath the second zipper. Pin your completed necklace flap above the pocket, lining up the Velcro so they match.

ring holder closure: Jewelry Wrap Tutorial

Now place and pin your canvas rectangle behind your lining fabric. Place and pin your ring holder between your first two sets of zippers. You can either use a hot glue gun to add velcro to the lining and the backing of your ring holder, or you can sew these on before sewing the canvas. Your choice.

necklace closure: Jewelry Wrap Tutorial

Carefully sew a 1/2″ seam around the outer edge of the lining, sewing the canvas to the lining. Then sew a center divider (or two, like the photo above) to create compartments in your necklace pocket. Sew the pocket flap down. Then sew as close as possible to the top of each of the zippers to create actual pockets between the lining and the canvas.

Once these are completed, place your backing fabric and your completed lining right sides together. Place 1″ of coordinating elastic, turned in a loop, sandwiched between these. This will be used as your button closure. Stitch a 1/4″ around all edges, making sure to leave a 3″ gap to turn work right side out. I like to backtack over the elastic to make sure it is sewn firmly.

Turn right side out. Press. Turn under remaining 3″ hole and sew seam shut. Press again. Fold into thirds. Find appropriate placing for button and sew on by hand. Fill with bangles and bobbles and enjoy!

wraps, stacked: Tenth Day of Christmas
wrapped and ready: Jewelry Wrap Tutorial

Notes in the Margin

Nico isn’t mine. He is adorable though, isn’t he? I love taking photos of dogs and dream of the day when I have one of my own. My current home (tiny) and schedule (stupidly busy, minus all that sleeping) isn’t keen to good dog ownership at the moment. Fingers crossed these will change in 2008. When I make the great leap into doggielandia, it is more likely to be this variety from this lovely locale. If you want to see a super sweet pooch, I’m in love with Ted from afar.

— In Stitches winners, a new project and more fabulous domestic surprises to be posted Monday! Sorry for the delay. Holidays, travel, etc. Someone was out gallivanting in Italy and needless to say, it wasn’t me. Like how I passed the buck on that one? Hee hee.

Stay tuned. Same batty time. Same batty channel.




My new buddy Nico. He likes naps too.

I’m known within my family and friends as the girl who can, and will, always sleep when given the opportunity. In college I was so sleep deprived that when I’d make it home for a weekend, I’d regularly sleep 14-hour stints. My parents were baffled. In I’d come, dropping of laundry, gulping down a plate of meatloaf and then snuggly in bed I’d stay for extended periods of time until my carpool swung by to haul me back up the mountain for another round of academia. Alas, my love of sleep hasn’t wained as an adult. I can still regularly sleep for 10 hours (with the occasional 12-hour beauty) without a problem.
This is especially annoying to my friends when traveling. There is something about planes, trains and automobiles that lulls me into the sweetest naps around. I was definitely the crying baby that was driven around the block once or thrice to be calmed in the middle of the night. I am still the baby that hates going out past midnight. It takes an afternoon nap to keep me alert. Yep, living la vida AARP and loving it.
For the last two weeks, however, I’ve been impressing even myself with my magical slumber powers (that sounds kinky, doesn’t it?). Once my family arrived for the holiday, I switched into relax mode and I’ve yet to return, even though they’ve long since gone back to their homes. I’ve been reading and reading and reading and going to bed to read and get warm and finding myself sound asleep at 8 pm regularly. I woke up this morning after another 10 hour voyage to dreamland with my glasses and novel across my chest. I hadn’t even moved. Ridiculous.
Obviously it is time for another challenge to tackle, but I just haven’t decided which one. A full Ironman in 2008? Actually complete the editing and publishing of my first novel? Write the second? Climb Kilimanjaro? Hmmm… maybe I’ll go lie down for a bit and consider my options.


P.S. If you didn’t catch this recent editorial in the NYT, it is worthy of your time. I feel like finally someone climbed in my head and eloquently described my views on this presidency and our status internationally. Today’s letter to the editor in response make me hopeful for our country’s future.

P.P.S. Iowans, our future is in your hands today. No pressure, but please get off your asses and get to the caucus.

Feliz, Indeed


Back from my quick trip across the border to bring in the New Year with a spicy Mexican kick. Alma, one of my grad-school friends grew up in Yuma, Arizona. She has family living on both sides of the border who were having a fiesta to ring in 2008. I’ve travelled to Guadalajara to visit her family and was excited to be included in the invitation. Being surrounded by a Mexican family is one of my favourite cultural experiences. I lived in Mexico many years ago and quickly learned to appreciate the living, breathing, crazy entity that is a Mexican holiday celebration with a giant family. Enough food to feed an army? Check. Enough people to man an army? Double-check. Mariachis? Occasionally. Margaritas? Definitely.
{In contrast, I have six cousins total. I’m pretty sure Alma has 40-plus living in the immediate area. Her mom is one of 9; her dad is one of 7. Yeow. One of the many plus sides to this adventure? I wasn’t expected to know anyone’s name because with a family this large, no one gets them all right.}

A few cultural observations:
~ On New Year’s eve, you wear red underwear for love, yellow for money. You eat 12 grapes — one each second before the clock strikes midnight, and make a wish with each gulp. And yes, one of my wishes was that I didn’t choke to death. You throw your arms around each other and kiss everyone in your group on the cheek when the ball drops. {I wore red, naturally. Money is overrated.}

~While cigarette smoking in public is a thing of the past in Arizona, not so in Mexico. If there is one distinct smell that immediately brings be back to this country, it is Marlboro Reds. They seem to be the cigarette of choice; my eyes, skin, hair, coat reeked of their poison. I’m simply not used to being around smoke.

~New Year’s in Mexico means lots of guns being shot into the air. And dynamite and fireworks. I fell asleep listening to this cacophony after exhausted prayer.

~I am still abnormally tall in this country, the leaning tower of gringa. I am also abnormally hungry when salsa is served with everything.

~Food in Mexico = heaven. Homemade tamales, barbecue tacos, fresh guacamole, salsa galore. The fresh corn tortillas were so good with a bit of white cheese, guacamole and beans. And God bless this family for letting me eat like this at every meal. {Who wants cereal when you can have tacos. For breakfast.}

Meds in Mexico

Meds at a discount: never mind you may or may not have a prescription.
~The border towns are clogged with dentists, pharmacies and ridiculous other out-patient clinics. Long lines of very White, seemingly Midwestern folk, stood outside of these waiting to be seen. Dental and optometry seem to be the most common reason people travel thousands of miles to be seen. Never mind they are leaving the US to be treated at an incredibly discounted rate. For example, a root canal in Mexico costs $400 after all the visits and the medicine. The same procedure without dental insurance in the US would likely cost more than $1500. Tell me something hasn’t gone totally awry with our health care system?

Cameras at the border

Hi big brother! Cameras watch the border.
~Mexicans continue to amaze me with their warm, loving hospitality. Even though they sit through ridiculous queues at the border (while holding their American passports) and put up with the discriminatory glare of border agents, border dogs, border cameras — they continue to smile and be the sweet, fabulous people I adore.

I hope your New Year’s was wonderful. If nothing else, we know 2008 will be great: we get a new president! Hopefully, this one will know what to do about the dental diaspora! Of course, our dental care system isn’t all bad and yes, we do have fair dental practices like Dentist Kennewick. But, looking at the bigger picture, a lot needs to change to meet today’s requirements. If only we had more practices like Dentist Kennewick then, there wouldn’t be an issue. Would there?!