Wrapped and Ready

Dear Finny,
How are you my friend? How is the running going? How is the garden? Is your sweet Bubba back on American time after his international galavanting? Speaking of, as you know I am leaving tomorrow on a jet plane and won’t be back again (for a few weeks.) Anyway, to hold up my end of the Fin and Donk Sewing Adventure bargain, here is my wrap skirt for the June/July challenge:

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In a not so humble moment, I have to say this is my favorite thing I’ve ever sewn. I love it. I love the color, the simplicity and the way it swishes when I walk. It is just too fun! I can’t wait to make more of these from Nigerian prints when I get home.

In other news, and yes I know it has been blogapalooza around here as of late, but I’m weening myself from technology and trying to get it all in while I can: we celebrated AJ’s birthday early this morning at the bagel shop. You may remember AJ from previous hedgehog entries. He is one of my sweet friends and he was thoroughly surprised and happy with the delivery of a casserole of these heavy cookies this morning. He walked around the bakery handing them out to customers. Then he told me an hour later he had an artery exam. If I’d only known! These take four sticks of butter, 6 eggs, a cup of oil and lots of chocolate. Not to mention the cookies or nuts. They are basically a heart attack wrapped up in a cookie bar and I made him an entire casserole minutes before he was seeing a cardiologist. How’s that for timing? Nothing says happy birthday like a nice gift of cholesterol.

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Okay, off to do some continent hopping. Last post for a bit. Thank you all for your sweet traveling words. Can’t wait to check in soon from the first stop: Nicaragua.

Take care Finny. Can’t wait to see how your garden goes when I get home.


Juntas, Vamos a Viajar el Mundo

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“Feet, why do I need them, if I have wings to fly?
Frida Kahlo

My new travel bag, made with some CAOK-gifted fabric featuring my favorite artist, from Viv of Maine. Amy Butler birdie sling, canvas interior and handle. Red polka dot pocket for luck inside. Will hold: stack of books, journal, camera, Nalgene, snacks, knitting project, gum, lip gloss and my passport. Something about traveling with a bit of Frida makes this all that much more exciting!


Prickly, Soft Olive Barrel Seeks Dark Green Saguaro – No Cats

Nora Desert, founder of the So Nora Dating Club, is happy to announce a new crop of ladies interested in finding their soil mates:


Meet Bea. “I love to cook. Bring a good bottle of emulsion and let’s get to know each other.”

Stary Aloe

Trish: “I love to swim, so pack your trunks! You bring the watering can, I’ll have the soil, and let’s see if we can’t figure out how to make it work.”

May want to join the hairclub for men

Rose: “Yes, my parents found the name ironic. No, I’m not sickly sweet. Apply only if you can complete the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. Oh, and I prefer nitrates over phosphates, fyi.”

Wide leaf

Lola: “I like coffee, bookstores and Star Trek. Do you like chess?”

Sea anemone

Marnie: “Ohmygod! This is so fun! We should totally go out for lattes and shoe shopping. You need shoes, right? I mean, your pot is definitely leaning. Not to be rude, but I seriously think we need to go shoe shopping. See you at Lowe’s?”


Valeria: “Habla Espanol?”

Super model of cacti

Pilar: “My favorite days are 100 degrees. I love the soil I’m planted in and can’t imagine a vista better than mine from this patio. If you’d like regular sun, occasional rain and a good solid foundation, apply within.”


Marnie: “Ohmygod. I cannot believe you just said ‘apply within!’ hee hee!”

Throwing it Together

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My creative cooking side is pretty hit or miss, but I searched around to create a few dishes for weekend festivities without having to go to the grocery.

First up — pineapple upside down cakes for Alma’s early birthday celebration. I took a yellow cake mix, some applesauce, a lemon, a can of pineapple rings and some crumb mix I had leftover from a muffin recipe and threw them together. I used the applesauce to make the recipe lower in fat. Alma is dropping weight like it is her job and I knew she wouldn’t bother enjoying her birthday cake if she knew she’d have to run it off later.

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Mike and Sam were in town and having a pool party. Mike called and asked if I could bring a “Kelli creation” to the party. I had about two hours to prep and no motivation to go to the grocery. The result was two-fold:

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I took a package of taco seasoning, a can of black beans, a can of garbanzo beans and some pickled jalapeños (including the juice) and threw them into the blender with some lemon juice.

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This dip I loved. It could be great warm with cheese on top, or cold with pita. It was just spicy enough and I liked the added white beans.

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I also made some green tea sugar cookies. Morag (my old roomie) left behind some packages of Chinese green tea powder. I found them in the pantry and threw them in with my standard sugar cookie recipe, although I also added applesauce to these to make them more cake-like. The flavor was a muted sweet sesame. I really liked them, although I think I should have baked them for 5 more minutes.

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I’m taking a baggie of food with me to travel — some to share and some to avoid eating mystery meat in a fit of hunger. Protein bars, instant oatmeal, Crystal light are all in there. I’m trying to convince myself I won’t end up drinking cold Coke in the bottle. Pretty sure Nirvana is inside a cold bottle of Coke on a hot, humid day.


Segundo Pajaro

birdie sling #2
peek inside the birdie sling
birdie sling, uc
green birdie sling

Amy Butler birdie sling #2, in home decor weight fabrics and canvas.
Pattern modifications: I did not use interfacing, but instead opted for canvas for the top panels and handle. I did not use the interior pocket pieces, but instead created a smaller, divided version. I still haven’t mastered the gusset technique, but for a great example of someone who has, check out this beauty.

Birdie bag #2 is off as a gift to a coworker. I’m making myself one of these, along with that skirt, this week sometime to jazz up my otherwise drab travel fashion.


Kneading Change

whole wheat bran glob of bread

I spent yesterday morning with my friend’s three-year-old daughter on my lap, eating a pancake breakfast leisurely in the sun, feeding the birds our leftover crumbs. It was such a nice, peaceful way to start the day and it certainly made me wish I had more three-day weekends on the calendar and more three-year-olds in my daily routine.
I didn’t think twice about handing her bread to throw to the birds. We’d eaten plenty and it would have otherwise gone in the trash. We sat there, watching the finches try to fly away with chunks that were way too big for their tiny bodies. Eventually a few pigeons and crows showed up to clean up the feast and help their smaller friends.
This morning I woke up to an NPR news story about hunger in Afghanistan. Bread prices are soaring and there isn’t enough naan to go around. My heart broke as I listened to a father talk about splitting the four pieces of bread he could buy each day to feed his family of six.
I’d fed more to pigeons just yesterday.
I’m leaving Saturday for Nicaragua and then off to Africa and frankly the travel couldn’t come soon enough. I’m prickly and ready to have my spirits renewed with travel. I know the theme around here lately has been very heavy-handed; I’ve been having a harder time than normal understanding global inequities and my mood has soured. I couldn’t help but look at the sample bread basket at the coffee shop this morning, full of free slices of whole wheat, nutritious bread, and think of that Afghani father. I know eating less in Tempe, Arizona may have little change on the wheat prices on the other side of the earth, but I am sure that continuing to consume at my typical American-pace isn’t helping matters. I took my cup of coffee and sat down in tears to think. How do we even things out? How do we make sure everyone gets enough food? I’m not talking about Hummers or Plasma TVs or diamond engagement rings. Just food. How do we, as a specie, figure this out?
I don’t have the answers, but I’m working on them. In the meantime, sorry pigeons — no more bread for you.


Cheering for The What

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I’ve just finished reading, “What is the What” and I have to say — it is an excellent, heartbreaking work of genius. No coincidence it’s author — Dave Eggers — already wrote a book by a similar title. This biography of one of the Sudanese Lost Boys had me laughing and at one particularly horrifying point, crying into the soft gray pages. It is a great story that needed to be told 10 years ago. I applaud Eggers for taking such a series of such daunting topics (Sudanese politics and history, refugee life, asylum, immigrant life in the United States) and making them humorous, entertaining and thought-provoking. For example, one of my favorite scenes puts the narrator at an Atlanta Hawks game sitting with Manute Bol — the token spokesman for Sudan in the United States. There he sat with a gaggle of other Sudanese refugees, newly moved to Atlanta. They were all malnourished, confused by their surroundings and totally overwhelmed by their environment. If being in the stadium with the basketball game occurring wasn’t odd enough to their much more simple sensibilities, imagine half-time. These conservative men were about to lose their minds when the cheerleaders came out:
“They performed a hyperactive and very provocative dance to a song by Puff Daddy. We all stared at the gyrating young women, who put forth an image of great power and fierce sexuality. It would have been impolite to turn away, but at the same time, the dancers made me uncomfortable. The music was the loudest I have heard in my life, and the spectacle of the stadium, with its 120-foot ceiling, its thousands of seats, its glass and chrome and banners, its cheerleaders and murderous sound system — seemed perfectly designed to drive people insane.”
Then, as if to add insult to their cultural injury, these refugees watched as the women loaded guns (guns! They’d just barely escaped with their lives) with t-shirts. T-shirts were precious to this group. They’d traded clothing along their routes to survive. I’d never before considered what a ridiculous scene this must be to a foreigner and how it flaunts American excess at each cartwheel.
Four out of five bananas, absoloodle.

A few of my favorite excerpts, from the voice of the narrator, Valentino Achak Deng:

After being assaulted in his own home in Atlanta by African Americans who nearly kill him and refer to him as “Africa” and “Nigeria” during the attack, he says:
“Each time I find myself giving up on this country, I have the persistent habit of realizing all that I have here and did not have in Africa. It is annoying, this habit, when I want to count and measure the difficulties of life here. This is a miserable place, of course, a miserable and glorious place that I love dearly and of which I have seen far more than I could have expected.”

And so poignantly when discussing his love through war, refugee camps, and establishing life in a new country that might as well be in a new solar system, he says,

“I cannot count the times I have curses our lack of urgency. If ever I love again, I will not wait to love as best as I can. We thought we were young and that there would be time to love well sometime in the future. This is a terrible way to think. It is no way to live, to wait to love.”

If you are interested in Africa, the immigrant experience in the United States or the Sudanese Lost Boys — this is a must read. We have a large population of Lost Boys in Phoenix. Many work at the airport. I’m know I’m going to embarrass myself next time I see them; I imagine a series very inappropriate but well intended hugs and handshakes. A perhaps a sincere apology, if I can muster it, that I had no idea what’d they’d gone through until now. I am so sorry such inequity and injustice can occur.


Ouch. Yay! Ouch.

side of ipod case
veclro earbud pocket on the front

It seems the professional stars have aligned to collide this week; so many of my friends are having hard work-weeks. Yesterday I got home unexpectedly hours early from an afternoon meeting and by 4 pm I was in my pajamas, under the covers with a glass of Cabernet so big, I think it might be illegal. About 6:30, the fuzziness started wearing off and I decided it just might be a good idea to not become the crazy 20-something who comes home from work early to lounge around in jammies and drinks the afternoon away while talking to Rachael Ray on the tube.
I pulled myself together, washed out the glass and made some dinner. I also decided the evening wouldn’t be wasted; there isn’t enough time in my day to stress about my job. The only thing it does is make my hair fall out and make me eat my weight in frozen yogurt. Neither leave me feeling terribly attractive or too great about myself. A sense of accomplishment, however, is a sure fire self-esteem boost, and considering I’d had all that wine, it was impossible to drive to the Golden Spoon.

ipod case
inside of amy butler ipod case

Instead, I wooed my Singer and a new Amy Butler pattern. Voila — a pink iPod case. I bought this Amy Butler fabric on eBay years ago and have been nursing the one yard through several projects. I think I’m going to make a couple more of these as gifts. And yes, the seams in those photos would be much straighter without the trip down Cabernet street. Stop judging.

palm card with envelope

With the same sense of using what I have in the craft studio, I pulled out some paper and ribbon to make some new cards. I am a bit of a correspondence junkie and it was so fun to use ribbon scraps to make these.

blue and orange ribbon card
Asian purple card

I’ve got a stack of June birthday cards ready for the mail and am working on July. Mozambique doesn’t have postal service in Beira, so it is wise to get these done now. (Ah, junk mail. I never thought I’d consider you a luxury.)
Also, I decorated some notebooks with leftover fabric scraps and stamps for friends who are also traveling this summer.

cd travel journal
ja travel journal
travel patch, cu
in which to keep my secrets
summer travel journal, front
giraffes on the back of my journal

And maybe a fabulous giraffe journal for moi aussi.
For waking up with a mild hangover, I was pleasantly surprised to see my studio table covered with completed projects. Now, about that packing…


Asante Sana!

Houston, we have t-shirts

Asante sana = thank you very much in Swahili. Neither Nicaraguans nor Mozambicans speak Swahili, but I’m pretty sure they’d also find this new vocab word of the day more interesting than the Gracias! or Obrigado! they’ll be sending you when they receive these amazing t-shirts.

box of tees in my closet

My guest room is packed with packages. I’ve received a suitcase full of tees from my parent’s church in Texas. A Brazilian mother’s group in Phoenix created a beautiful box of little shirts with Portuguese sayings. In fact, shirts have arrived from half a dozen countries with some of the most touching notes. It is hard not to get a bit overwhelmed by your generosity.

suitcase mailed from Texas

Thank you. I don’t know how else to tell you how much you rock.
Thank you. Gracias. Obrigado. Asante sana!


P.S. If you are looking for an excellent book about Africa, I am savoring “What is the What.” It is the tale of one of the Sudanese Lost Boys. I’ve known very little about the Sudanese conflict and am enjoying this story so much. Also, I am really excited to see this movie. Africa, here I come! 9 days until Nicaragua; three weeks until Malawi!

Tutorial: Reversible Ribbon Handle Tote

ribbon tote tutorial, right side out, completed

Want to learn how to sew an easy-peasy tote bag? There are gobs of other tutorials out there; I’m just adding my voice to the chorus. Be warned: my sewing is incredibly simple. I’m not a stickler for making things perfect so much as making them they way you like them and finding perfection in the process.

ribbon tote tutorial

First, find two fabrics you like. Wash, dry and iron these. Some other helpful supplies include a tin of pins, scissors, a rotary cutter and ruler and an iron. You’ll also need some wide ribbon for the handle.

ribbon tote tutorial, even off your bag lengths

Cut your fabric exterior and lining in two equal rectangles. Mine are 10 inches wide by 18 inches tall, doubled. In other words, my fabric is folded along the bottom.

ribbon tote tutorial, cut your pockets

Also, I created two pocket rectangles, each 5 inches wide by 8 inches tall. Cut these pieces out and iron them.

ribbon tote tutorial, uneven edges

I use my rotary cutter to even out my fabrics so they are the same size.

ribbon tote tutorial, pocket top edge turned under

Take both of your pocket pieces to your ironing board and turn under the top edge 1/4 an inch. Then turn it under again 1/4 an inch so your raw edge is not exposed. Iron this folded edge flat and then sew a running stitch (basic stitch) down the edge. Backstitch at each end to lock your stitches.

ribbon tote tutorial, pocket edges turned under, ready to be pinned, sewn

Once this is completed, come back to the ironing board and turn under the other three sides once. They don’t need to be double folded. Once you have these turned under, pin your first pocket to the center of your exterior piece (or where ever you’d like the pocket to be on the bag).

ribbon tote tutorial, pockets pinned

Repeat this with the pinning of the second pocket on the lining piece. Be sure to pin this pocket on just one side of the exterior and lining pieces. Stitch the remaining three sides down on the pocket, leaving the pre-stitched top edge completed. Voila — your pockets are done.

ribbon tote tutorial, select your ribbon for handles

Now take your ribbon and make two handles. I like my handles to be at least 18 inches long so I can get the bag over my shoulder. That said, you can play with the length to fit your needs. Place the first piece of ribbon with both raw ends matched up with the exterior top raw edge. Place these ribbon ends at least 8 inches apart. Pin the ribbon down.

Repeat on the other edge of the bag, making sure to also space them 8 inches apart. Fold the bag in half to see how the ribbon handles match up and adjust to make sure they are evenly spaced on both sides of the bag. Then sew these down, one at a time. I like to sew and backtack several times across the ribbon to make sure the permanency of the handle.

ribbon tote tutorial, right sides sewn together, ready to join lining, exterior

Now your handle is complete.

ribbon tote tutorial, sew right sides together

Voila! Now fold your exterior fabric together – right sides together. You should have two raw edges along each side and one raw edge along the top. Pin down each side and follow by sewing a ½ inch seam down each side. You can choose to sew across the bottom too – but for this simple tote I prefer to use the natural bottom created by the fabric’s fold.

Repeat this process by folding the lining right sides together and sewing both raw sides together. If you want to trim the bottom corners, you can. Also, if you have sloppy edges – you can trim these too. Just be careful not to catch your sewing in your scissors or you will have to sew the seam again.

ribbon tote tutorial, lining, exterior pinned together, leaving a 6 inch hole

Now turn the exterior fabric right side out. Carefully place the exterior bag inside the lining bag. The lining will be inside out – the right sides of the fabrics will be together when you place the exterior inside the lining. Tuck the ribbon handles between the lining and the exterior. This is an important step.

Starting at one side, match the seams and pin around the top raw edge of the lining and exterior bag top, leaving a 7 inch hole in the pining between two of the ribbon handles on one side. Once you have the lining and exterior pinned together, carefully sew a ¬Ω inch to 1 inch seam around the bag, being mindful not to sew all the 7 inch hole. Backtack at each end.

ribbon tote tutorial, sewing right sides together
ribbon tote tutorial, sewn together, leaving a hole

Now, carefully pull the exterior and lining through this 7 inch hole and iron flat. Then tuck the lining inside the exterior and iron flat, especially around the top edge where you will still have a 7 inch hole. Press and sew a top stitch around the top edge of the bag, closing the hole.

ribbon tote tutorial, stuffed with travel goodies, ready for adventure

Voila ‚Äì your reversible ribbon handle tote bag is complete! I’ve filled this one with travel goodies for one of my traveling companions this summer.

Other options to consider:
Use interfacing to make the bag sturdier
Use gussets at the bottom to make the bag stand up and not have a flat bottom
Use a grommet to create a key hole at the top of the bag

Perfect for the anti-plastic grocery bag movement, as a lunch tote, to keep in your trunk to manage the little things that seem to always be rolling around, to keep on the back of your bedroom door for junk you aren’t ready to sort through yet, etc.

Email me with questions or corrections. And let me know if you make one of these!