The Sewing Report: The end of the Pants Fitting Saga

The end of the pants sagaSo-o-o-o-o, a few months ago, I reported on sewing the most perfect patch pockets I had ever made only to find the pants didn’t fit. Which was beyond aggravating and last month I whined a little more about it. Well, I finally got the verdamnt pants fitting and done. Raised the back waistband a bit. Added an inset along the side – which my good friend Hilary had suggested and I resisted until I realized that the original pattern included one on top of the inset along the inner legs. The waistband is still a little low and keeping them up will be a challenge, but I’m done. I’m getting suspenders and I will wear the pants. It’s just going to have to wait until November because they’re corduroy and it’s too hot now.

Granted, the weekend schedule around the Old Homestead has been a little packed. But I have to say, it’s pretty cool what happens when I finally get a problem project done. I finished the pants during Memorial Day weekend and cut out a few more projects, never mind that I had at least three waiting for me. Oh, and I made bias tape, but I’m saving that for a later and skirt

But this weekend, I finished the skirt I’d cut out on Memorial Day. It was a way-easy straight skirt, which meant I could draft the pattern straight onto the fabric (a useful tactic since my measurements tend to be a moving target). Better yet, I could put reminders, such as seam widths, right onto the fabric, and, boy, did that help. I did remember to document my notes, though.

I also sewed up a blouse I’d cut out, sheez, maybe a year ago? It’s been a while, certainly over six months ago. Figures – I’d put on a bit more weight since then and the blouse is a little tight, dummit. But here’s the cool part – if you look at the top part and see those diamond-shapes?I made trapunto embroidery, which is not at all hard to do if you have a double needle. It does help if you make it on a piece of fabric that matches your eventual outfit and one that is large enough for the pattern pieces you’re using. It also helps to cut out enough collar pieces the first time around.shirt close up

So, the lessons learned are 1.) when you’re stuck on a project, sometimes it helps just to power through the mess and get it out of your face; 2.) documenting little things like what seam allowance you’re using where makes it a lot easier when you’re putting everything together; 3) taking good notes for your future self will save your backside; and 4) you don’t make mistakes – you take advantage of them and create design details instead.

Anybody know where I can get some really cool suspenders?

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From the Dark Side of the Fridge: Learn to Cook


Last month, I went on a tear about how TV (in the person of Chef Gordon Ramsey) is totally messing us up about what is good home cooking. Shortly after my little call to action to encourage folks to cook more at home, I realized that I’d stepped in it. Part of the reason a lot of folks don’t cook at home is that they don’t know how to cook.

I’m not talking about following a recipe. That’s not that hard to do, and many folks do it quite successfully. But being able to recognize that there’s a problem with a recipe, knowing what to substitute when you discover you don’t have a critical ingredient, being able to figure out when you really need to follow this or that step and when you can buzz on to the next one – you need to know how to cook to do all that.

And even if you do know the basics of cooking, day to day cooking is a grind. I’ll admit it. I don’t particularly like cooking. Come 6 p.m., I would much rather be folding my hands around a dry martini than a wet flounder, to quote my patron saint Peg Bracken, author of The I Hate to Cook Book. I know foodies snub it because so many of the recipes rely on canned soup. But, seriously, it’s actually an early feminist tract. The book came out in 1960, the heart of The Mad Men Era, when women were expected to find caring for their loved ones the end-all, be-all of their lives and here’s good, old St. Peg suggesting that women could find other things more fulfilling, even if the cooking still had to get done.

In any case, I began to understand the real reason for this space. I need to teach folks how to cook. And I’m the best one to do it because, unlike folks who genuinely find it relaxing to come home and start chopping veggies, I don’t. I get it that you’ve got a mess at work to untangle, three kids to keep from killing each other, and a guilty conscience for giving in and stopping at the drive-through window for the third time this week. No, you’re not particularly interested in whipping up a meringue by hand for a dessert after making a full dinner (another skill Ramsey thinks everyone should have).

I’m also a darned good cook – which has a lot to do with the fact that I love to eat. And I’ve learned how to make tasty food that’s reasonably healthy, but more to the point, how to get it onto the table with a minimum of fuss and mess. I’ve had to deal with the picky eater, being tired to the bone and too broke to afford delivery, waltzing into the kitchen to make dinner and realizing I forgot to take the chicken breasts out of the freezer again. I get it. You’ve got something on the stove that’s just about done and that’s when the kids decide to start throwing blocks at each other, you have to deal with that right then, but then what you were cooking ends up the color and consistency of a hockey puck. That sort of thing is very discouraging.

Which is why I’m here to help. You can boil water. More to the point, I’ll let you know when you need to and when it’s a waste of time and energy. You can eat healthy meals made from scratch that don’t contribute to global warming and labor injustice, and still have some money in your bank account afterwards. And some time to sit down with the people you care about and relax. I’m here and I will lead you through The Dark Side of the Fridge.

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts: Why You Should Care about Women in Hollywood

From the surface, it looks like the kind of “inside baseball,” only relevant to those immediately involved kinds of stories. But when I saw this Los Angeles Times story last May, about gender discrimination in Hollywood, I realized it’s a much bigger story.

The gist of the story is that the American Civil Liberties Union has decided to goose the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, along with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to start investigating Hollywood’s woeful track record regarding hiring women and people of color for directing jobs.

You may think this is about a bunch of rich White kids whining. It’s anything but. What folks don’t get is that the directors are the ones who are telling our stories in the two most influential media around: films and television. And over 80 percent of the folks directing our TV shows are White men. Almost 98 percent of the people directing the top 100 money-making films from the last two years were White men.

I’ve got nothing against White men, nor am I saying that they can’t tell a woman’s story without some sensitivity and understanding. What I’m objecting to is that they have the majority voice on the telling of my experience – which seems a little out of proportion to me. Okay, a lot out of proportion. And that’s not even considering the problems faced by women of color in The Industry.

I and a lot of other women complain quite a bit (and quite appropriately) about the sexist images of women in the media – about how we’re portrayed as little more than sex objects or kick-ass types who ape male characteristics, but still have big boobs. And women are justifiably frustrated by how entrenched these attitudes are. But if the people largely responsible for telling the stories are all guys, how’s that going to change?

As the LA Times story pointed out, it’s going to be hard to bring that kind of change about via the courts. Hiring in Hollywood involves too many different entities.

But what we have forgotten is that Hollywood responds to only one voice – the box office (or the virtual one involving advertising dollars). We’re the ones buying the tickets, so ultimately, we’re the ones with the power. We’re the ones watching the shows, buying the products. Individually, maybe we’re not so loud. But collectively, we are invincible.

So I say it’s time to start raising hell. You can start by sharing this post or writing another like it. You can start by avoiding films directed by men. You can start by commenting every time someone complains about how women and minorities are portrayed in films and on TV and reminding folks that Hollywood is a closed, exclusive community that will only hire White guys. When we make noise, we get noticed. Trust me, the nice folks making your movies and TV shows do not want to look insensitive or sexist – never mind that they are. If we, the ordinary people out there, start complaining loudly enough and the dollars follow, we can and will change things.

The Sewing Report: It’s Not Been Going Well

SeamPinnedI didn’t mean to sound snarky. My husband was, after all, offering to bring my lunch to the easy chair where he thought I was doing some hand-sewing.

“I’m unsewing,” I grumbled. As in taking apart a seam. Actually, three of them – two side seams and part of the inseam.

Some of you may remember a couple months ago, I did a perfect install of two gorgeous patch pockets onto the back of some new pants. Problem was, the pants didn’t fit. And, yes, it did take me a couple months to get around to picking apart the side seams in the hopes of making them smaller.

I don’t usually have problems measuring and cutting, so I was rather peeved when I couldn’t get the pants on, not to mention the back being way too low. I like low waistbands, but this was a bit much. Here’s the interesting thing – the pants still didn’t fit even after I made them bigger. Best I can figure is that it’s the crotch seam that’s too tight. Now I just have to figure out how to add a gusset to make it all bigger without it showing too much and calling attention to my crotch.

Which means I may be finding other things to do with my sewing time. Kind of like I’ve been doing for the past two months. Okay, not really. It has been busy. But playing games with gussets is not my idea of a good time. But the pants are so cute. But what if it shows? But, but, but…..

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From the Dark Side of the Fridge: Real Home Cooking

DinnerPlatesWineI forget when Master Chef premiered on Fox, but it was about three or four years ago, back when I was a TV critic. That’s the competition show in which ordinary people put their cooking skills up against each other in the usual challenges and eliminations. It features Chef Gordon Ramsey as the head judge. I was watching the advance screener of the show and realized I was getting really annoyed. At first, I thought it was Ramsey, who is annoyingly full of himself, and wrote it off as his schtick.

But then he kept going on about how the competition was about celebrating home cooks. And I realized he was celebrating home cooks by turning them into restaurant chefs. Huh? And then there was his big thing about having to use only the finest ingredients? Say what?

That’s when I started feeling a little insulted. It was as if Ramsey was saying the only good cooking is done in restaurants by people who use only the best. Excuse me, it does not take any great talent, though maybe some training, to make fabulous ingredients taste good. You want to make Kobe beef taste good? You sprinkle some salt and pepper on it and make sure it doesn’t overcook. That’s it, baby. The finest ingredients are easy. The really talented cooks are the ones who can make the lousy ingredients taste good.

If you think that’s impossible, then you have been brainwashed by Ramsey and others of his ilk. Women have been making lousy cuts of meat, entrails and borderline vegetables taste fabulous for generations. Some of the great French classic dishes, including coq au vin, boeuf bourgignon and cassoulet started out as hearty peasant fare, cooked by women trying to figure out how to make stringy old chicken and scraps of stringy meat taste good. African American women took the worst bits of the pig and made chitlins a delicacy. Chinese women made chicken feet tasty.

I’m not saying there isn’t a lot to be learned from restaurant cooks. There is. And I love eating in restaurants, so please do not take anything written here as negating any of that. But home cooking is a different beast and if you want to celebrate it, then don’t focus on the hobbyists, who spend the weekend carefully shopping, then using every pan and dish in the kitchen whipping up some fabulous gourmet treat, placed perfectly on a plate worthy of a magazine layout. Focus on the women and men who day in and day out, stretch their food budget out to buy what they can afford, then get dinner on the table night after night, after long days working at whatever they do. Who create delicious meals out of nothing and a warm and welcoming space for families to come together and share their lives and be present to each other.

There’s a lot being said about the obesity epidemic in this country. There are many, many factors, including inactive lifestyles, and over-processed foods loaded with sugars. But I would argue that a big part of the problem is too many meals eaten in restaurants. I know that’s when I start to gain weight. And I start losing when I eat at home. Which also means that a good solution to the epidemic might be getting folks to start cooking and eating at home. We, as humans, connect over food. Meals form the basis of religious ritual in both Judaism and Christianity. Food is community.

There are those who insist that connecting with each other through food and meals is dangerous, that it’s what’s making us fat. I want to knock those idiots upside the head. The obesity epidemic started when the tradition of the sit-down family meal started falling apart. The solution to obesity isn’t making us afraid of our food, but instead (and counter-intuitively) it may well be to make us fall in love with our food again. And with spending time together in the kitchen and at the dining room table.

Yes, daily cooking can be a real grind. It’s not easy to come up with dishes that are tasty and healthy and budget conscious every night. But we do it because it’s important, not only for our physical health, but the health of our spirits. Because it’s important for growing healthy, loving families. Kind of like what our moms did for many of us when we were growing up. And generations of mothers before that.

Gordon Ramsey does not believe in home cooking. He believes in restaurant cooking at home – which has its place. But real home cooking isn’t about showing off. It’s about getting it done. It’s not about the finest ingredients. It’s about making the ingredients you have taste great. Real home cooking is about bringing families – however you define that – together in what winemaker Wes Hagen called “The last great analog ritual.” It’s the most important work there is.


Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts: The Modern Version of Laudanum?

PrescriptionI almost wished I hadn’t brought it up.

I have sleep problems. I fall asleep perfectly easily. I just can’t stay asleep.  So while researching some foot problems (because the condescending SOB of a podiatrist wasn’t any real help), I saw that sleep problems are part of fibromyalgia, and I thought let’s ask the G.P.

No, she says. Fibromyalgia is one of those things that’s only diagnosed by observation and when everything else is ruled out. I braced myself for what came next. “It could be depression. Have you considered antidepressants?”

Face plant time. It’s beginning to feel like a conspiracy to get me on antidepressants. Even the condescending SOB of a podiatrist suggested them at one point. My OB/GYN suggested them for my menopause symptoms. I tried HRT instead, which did make me depressed. But when my very nice young GP suggested it, it started to sound like the modern version of laudanum.

Laudanum, a tincture of opiates including morphine and codeine, was prescribed to a lot of women in the 19th Century for female problems and hysteria. Later critics suggested that it was a way of keeping women shut up. I suspect that most doctors meant well – given how effective it was for coughs and pain, it was pretty popular. But there was probably a certain amount of unconscious sexism going on. She’s emotional, she needs calming down, give her laudanum.

I had read that the majority of patients taking antidepressants were women, so I did the research. Interestingly enough, I searched on what percentage of antidepressants are prescribed for women and pulled up multiple articles on how depression is being over-treated. According to a 2011 report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, one-tenth of all Americans over the age of 12 are taking antidepressants and 23 percent of all women between the ages of 40 and 59. That’s one in four women my age. I mean, I knew there were a lot and at the rate the drugs have been pushed at me, it didn’t entirely surprise me. Still, one quarter of women my age are taking antidepressants. That seems like an awful lot, especially when you consider that according to the World Health Organization, only 5 percent of the population actually has depression. (Note – this particular study focused on Nordic countries, but the stat was cited in several of the articles I read and is footnoted in the study.)

Even more interesting was this article from the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, by Dr. Joel Paris, MD, which suggests that not only is depression grossly over-diagnosed, so is the prescription of antidepressants, which haven’t really been shown to be effective in patients with mild to moderate depression, although the drugs are very effective for patients with severe depression. Which is exactly what I’ve come to believe. I mean, I know folks for whom the drugs have been literal life-savers. And I want to be crystal clear here – if you need antidepressants, for heaven’s sake take them.

I just question whether I need them. I saw a proposal for a study that suggests that the current screening tests are neither that accurate nor that accurately used. I couldn’t find the conclusion, but the concerns the doctors brought up were pretty unnerving and certainly echo my experience. You see, I’ve been depressed – that little experiment with HRT I noted above. My husband was getting pretty worried about me and, frankly, I was too. And, by the way, I was sleeping better. Now, I will get punchy, whiny and okay, depressed after two to three nights without decent sleep. But I know how I felt when I was depressed and I am not even close to feeling that. Even after this last seven-night jag I was on.

I know women will report depressive symptoms more readily than men. But still I can’t help but wonder if doctors, in an effort to treat something that often does go unreported when it should be, are going overboard. I can’t help but wonder if the medical mind-set is to look at a middle-aged woman who can’t sleep and immediately assume depression instead of trying to find out whether there might be something else. The sleep doctor I consulted with certainly didn’t. He just said that the CPAP I use was helping me not to snore and when I asked if the results showed any other issues, he said I was probably depressed. Not that the results showed it – just that I was acting that way. In fact, nobody has really considered any other potential source for my sleep problems. They’ve all assumed (or have appeared to) that it’s depression and do not seem interested in looking further.

Not unlike the doctors of the 19th Century, they’re reaching for the easy answer.

There is a reason I find this insanely annoying. I tend to get side effects a lot (again, see the HRT). I am not willing to give up two to six months or longer to let doctors play games with my brain chemistry in the hopes that something will work. I am a creative. The deadening effects of antidepressants would be deadly to my creativity at a time when I really need it. In short, antidepressants are a really bad idea for me and I’ll have to be in a really, really bad place before the potential negatives would be outweighed by the benefits.

Depression is a serious disorder and if you are chronically miserable, don’t want to do anything, especially stuff you used to love doing, if you’re spending all day in bed because you just can’t face the world, then, yes, you need to get help and antidepressants may be exactly what you need. For the rest of us, I’m not so sure.

Carless in L.A. – Trippin’ Out

It seems that at the moment we are neither carless, nor in L.A. (although by the time you read this, we should be just getting home).

As I have noted in past posts, when those times come up that we simply can’t get to where we need/want to be without a car, we will rent one. For example, two years ago, as we were beginning our carless adventure, we had a very sick dog who was too big to take on the bus. So I rented a car to take him to the animal hospital and bring him home after his surgery. It was well worth it. Fred (who was already 15 years old at that point) was with us for another 18 months before he went to his reward.

We also take extended trips by car. Last summer it was a remote section of the Northern California coast. This year, Monterey and the San Francisco Bay area. Although this trip is about family. In any case, renting a car is still cheaper than either flying or the train. There are buses, but I don’t think we’d get to Monterey that easily.

I do think one of my next vacation goals will be figuring out how to get to some of these spots without a car. That could be fun. We’ll have to see. I have to concede driving is fun, too.

The Sewing Report – Repair Cafe

Not much to report on this month because I haven’t had a chance to do any sewing, except at our local Repair Café. It’s a monthly event that’s all about cooperative economics and keeping things out of landfills by repairing them. We usually have it once a month or so at varying locations in the Pasadena area. I just show up and sew, which I did this past Saturday. And so I have a few random thoughts, but not much else.RepairCafe

1.) Repairing other people’s stuff is way more interesting than fixing your own. Like many folks, I have a huge pile of clothes that need new buttons, holes patched and various other mends. I’ll get around to them. Really. I will. But shortening the sleeves on someone else’s shirt and patching it? No problem. Done in minutes with a grin.

2.) If your sewing machine won’t sew right, more often than not it’s because you have it threaded wrong. Had that one reinforced by not one, but two sewing machine repairs that our other seamstress, Mary Gothard, had to help our tinker Scoops deal with. Especially if the darned thing was working before, get out your manual and try re-threading it.

3.) It’s surprising how far you can get by just diving in and doing it. I pulled a zipper replacement that would have gone a lot more smoothly if I’d actually paid more attention to what I was doing. That being said, two other seamstresses didn’t even attempt it. Granted, zipper replacements are a massive nuisance. And this one was on a vintage dress with great sentimental value. And the replacement zipper provided was an invisible one. And I hadn’t slept well the night before. And, yes, I turned the air blue while working on it. Oy. It got done and the rip I tore got fixed. Moving on.

Our next Repair Café will be at Villa Park in Pasadena, California, and I will be there with my sewing machine and serger. At least, that’s the plan. If you’re in the area, feel free to bring all those items that just need a patch or a button or other stuff. We have all kinds of workers, including tinkers, who can repair clocks, toasters, vacuum cleaners, you name it.

And finally, a big shout out to fellow seamstresses Mary Gothard, Jennifer Michaud, Shelley and Bya, all of whom made it even more fun by sharing resources and ideas.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From the Dark Side of the Fridge: Why No Recipes

NoRecipesAs I noted in an earlier post you’re not going to find a lot of recipes here. That’s mostly because I seldom use them. It may seem a little odd for a cooking blog not to feature recipes. And I can understand where someone starting out as a cook might find that a little intimidating. After all, following recipes is largely how we learned to cook. I even had a cookbook for young people that insisted a good cook always read the recipe through completely then followed the steps exactly.

But I also grew up with a mother who rarely used recipes and when she did, she seldom followed them exactly. She was a darned good cook, too. Apart from a few family favorites, making dinner was a process that Mom riffed on like a jazz musician. Then when I began my career as the family cook, I soon learned that recipes weren’t always that accurate. Or they just featured ingredients that my ex-husband didn’t like. Or I didn’t like.

So eventually, I got out of the habit of relying on recipes to make dinner and discovered something. Dinner happened a lot faster and with a lot less hassle. You’d think the opposite would be true because when you’re making it up on the fly, you have to think about what you’re going to do next. I find, however, recipes slow me way down because I have to stop and check to make sure I’m doing the next step right.

Relying on recipes also got to be a problem when one of the ingredients wasn’t there. Maybe it hadn’t been added to the shopping list. Maybe someone ate the cheese I was saving for a casserole. Maybe the meat didn’t get defrosted again. So more time was wasted trying to find a recipe that used what I had or in running to a crowded supermarket to pick up those one or two items.

I do use recipes occasionally, such as when I’m trying to learn something new, like how to make Indian food or a classic cassoulet. But most of the time, I’m all about pragmatism when it comes to cooking. I don’t want to spend my time measuring out and checking and re-reading. I want to get dinner on the table so that I can spend my time connecting with my husband.

Because that’s why I cook. It’s not a hobby for me. It’s about providing good food and a relaxing atmosphere for the two of us. It’s about food that tastes good and is good for us. It’s how we eat. Hopefully, this will offer some ideas and good thoughts for you, as well.

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts – Always a Good Reason

Over the years, as I’ve been involved in various clubs, churches, and other groups, periodically something odd would happen. All of a sudden, I was no longer greeted with interest. I’d volunteer and no one would take me up on the offer. In a couple cases, I got dis-invited to some event or other. I suspect the people involved weren’t trying to be mean. I suspect they thought they were saving my feelings. And the first few times, I even bought it.

There was always a Good Reason for this rejection – just not the real one. The real reason was that I made somebody uncomfortable somehow. But the excuses I heard. Someone once said that I used too many big words. And the end result was always the same: I felt hurt and as if I was being marginalized -which, in fact, I was. These people were behaving badly and justifying it by having a Good Reason.

What got me thinking about this was something that happened to my friend and neighbor Roni last week. She woke up one morning and there was a SWAT team in her backyard. I’m not sure exactly how it all happened, but the officers had a warrant to search for some stolen computers on the premises. They didn’t find them, but still impounded my friend’s iPad until she could prove she owned it. At least she wasn’t arrested. Roni, by the way, is a hairdresser and this happened at her mother’s house. Her mother is a retired elementary school music teacher.

A SWAT team to recover some stolen goods? Yeah, that seemed more than a little heavy-handed to me, too. Roni’s Facebook feed lit up with that very sentiment. Although, the interesting thing was that few of Roni’s friends seemed surprised. Oh, wait. I forgot to add one critical detail. Roni and her mom are Black and we all live in the same mixed-race neighborhood, where we Whites are the minority.

I’m reasonably certain they wouldn’t have sent the SWAT team to recover some stolen goods in my old, White neighborhood. I know they didn’t several years ago, when someone had a warrant served on him. They sent out a couple detectives and maybe a squad car. And that wasn’t the only time cops were called out for various and sundry crimes, including drug sales and use.

It’s a different story in my current neighborhood – where traffic stops routinely result in the drivers in cuffs sitting on the sidewalk. Where a hair-dresser gets guns pointed at her and her iPad impounded. Oh, yes, there’s a Good Reason for the way these things are handled, but I find it very hard to believe that it’s the real reason. The real reason is that the people involved are Blacks and Hispanics. But in each individual case of this kind of injustice, someone is hiding behind a really Good Reason.

Now, I get that my experiences with a bunch of rampaging neurotics are a far cry from the very real harm of racism. But it’s the same behavior that perpetuates that same racism. People don’t want me around, but they don’t want to be mean, so they come up with a Good Reason for getting rid of me. We don’t want to be racist, so we assume police officers have a Good Reason for harassing innocent people, for kicking the bejeebers of perhaps not-so-innocent drunk drivers, for shooting or otherwise killing unarmed Black males. But the end result is the same – Black men are 19 times more likely to be killed by cops than White men. And that’s not even counting all the harassment and the SWAT teams being sent out needlessly. When we justify the inexcusable because there’s a Good Reason, we’re participating in that same injustice.

I’m not advocating that we assume the worst of all cops – that’s just as unjust. We just have to look at the results, and in this case, there’s a whole lot of injustice going on.

Maybe if more of us faced up to the reality that law enforcement treats people of color far differently than they do White people, maybe if more of us said this is bullshit, then maybe we could expect and demand law enforcement that treats all people fairly. Because when the end result is the same, there is never a Good Reason.