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March 2008

the rebirth of the WC

toilet plant

In a cheery little apartment bedecked with warm rays of sunshine, there lives a funny little toilet with a happy little plant.

blender plant

Very nearby, a wrinkled old man of a blender relishes the new green life sprouting from within.

These photos were taken almost a year ago at my friend's Mexico City apartment. I'm not sure why they've been sitting for so long in my picture files, but its high time they were resurrected. I mean, really ... how can these not bring a smile to your face? They speak to me on so many levels.

Aesthetics - Perhaps the most shallow of reasons, yet significant nonetheless. I love the bold innovation coupled with the homeyness of the plant life. I think every morning would start off right if I had my bowl of oatmeal next to a repurposed toilet-planter. Don't you think?

Roots - Antiques and thrifted finds enrich our surroundings and provide fodder for our imaginations. Who were the people that used them? What kind of home(s) did they have? What was life like when they were brand-spankin' new? And the toilet? Reflecting on its past life is just plain funny. But gee - it is one useful invention!

Responsibility - Repurposing. Keeping used objects out of the landfill and keeping us from going out any buying something new.

Did you see that Blue Yonder is having a repurposing contest? The toilet-planter won't be entered because I can't claim it as my own creation, but I'm sure you all have some excellent ideas and/or repurposed works of art. So empty out your trash bin and get crackin'!

gravity experiment goes curiously awry

gravity experiment gone curiously awry

the culprit assesses the situation from high ground

the culprit assesses the situation from high ground

Aside from this riveting feline-style scientific experiment, what in the world have we been up to this past week?

The week began with an overnight trip to big-city Chihuahua where we stocked up on gouda cheese, cashews, olive oil and red wine (all of which we consider vital to our gustatory happiness, but which we can't find here in Creel.) Upon return, we were greeted by red and orange blinking lights on our modem. In other words, bad news. For days, our internet connection cut off every 10 minutes or so. Several visits from Telmex technicians later, we apparently are up and running once again.

Fortunately for me, this lack of access to the 'nets helped me to buckle down and get all of those instructions written and diagrams drawn for the Elsie Mae and Lola aprons. And there's more - but that's a surprise, and you'll have to wait until I have pictures to show for it!

I've also immensely enjoyed your comments and ideas about homemade/thoughtful/non-commercial gift giving. If you haven't had a chance to read through the comments yourself, I highly suggest it - it's a great resource for future gift-giving.

Off to sew things ...

and celebration number 27 passes quietly


For posterity's sake, and the little old lady me, I thought I would record the bit of requisite gluttony that occurred yesterday in honor of the vernal equinox and my 27th birthday.

The day passed with a nod and a smile, devoid of all of the hubbub generally associated with birthdays. All of our friends are out of town for the Easter holidays, and Patrick and I enjoyed the quiet day, sipping a rare coke from recycled glass bottles (so much tastier this way - why do we stand for all of this PLASTIC? Plastic toys for children, plastic food containers, etc. Have you watched this video yet? If not, then consider it my birthday wish!)

The dearest birthday gift I received this year came from my Mom, in the form of a short email, describing our first meeting. I must preface this with a bit of a birth story - I was born by emergency C-section after three days of labor, in an age where medical technology hadn't caught up with the most pressing needs of mother and child to connect right after birth. My mother was under complete anesthesia, and I was born at 7:28 P.M. I'm sure it was even a while before I was put in my father's arms, as they washed, bundled, and did whatever else they deemed "necessary" for a newborn before handing her off to bond with family. Nonetheless, my Mom's description was lovely:

I have a memory of our first eye to eye contact that I cherish.  Bundled tightly in a soft blanket you were placed in my arms at about 4:00 in the morning.  Your eyes were wide open and you seemed to be ready for conversation.  I brought you close to my face and told you how happy I was to finally see you and hoped I would be a good mother to you.  Your little mouth puckered an "o" and your eyes seemed to open even wider. I was dumbstruck by the realization that we had been "talking" for many months and that while you grew and rested under my heart - loved sight unseen - nothing had prepared me for the outpouring of love that funny little face evoked!

I'm touched beyond the scope of words that my Mom offered me such a thoughtful, immaterial gift this year. Patrick and I have a bit of a tradition of "gifting" in non-traditional ways ...  by  turning commercial holidays on their heads and using the occasion, instead, to find little extra ways that we can express our love for each other. For example, yesterday I was the recipient of breakfast in bed and a heavenly shoulder rub. In the past, we have written out "coupons" on index cards, which could be "redeemed" at any time. Here are a few examples from a batch that Patrick gave me on our first anniversary, right before we moved to Mexico. (And yes, Amelie is actually an anniversary gift!)

gifts of love coupons

Do you eschew the commercial, the contaminating, and the mass-produced for thoughtfulness and homemade gifts? I'd love it if you could leave a comment and share your ideas and suggestions for giving more meaningful gifts for parents, partners, and especially children. Who knows - perhaps our small efforts will make an impression on our own children, friends, and families, and we can stamp out at least a small patch of that omnipresent commercial wildfire, fed by corporate marketing to children. If you have a chance, read this article that was published around Christmastime. It's certainly food for thought.

seeing green

Okay, who let loose the frolicsome leprechaun? Really, I can't think of another reason why it would have snowed in Mexico on Saint Patrick's Day.

Green kitchen
Needless to say, the outside environment was not so generous in its showing of green. I had to look elsewhere. I found a bit of the sought-after green in my kitchen, in the form of a reusable grocery bag ...
Irish Soda Bread
... whose contents, with the help of that same impish leprechaun, eventually morphed into some delectable Irish soda bread (recipe here.)

So let's talk Irish, shall we? I have not a nip of Irish blood in my veins, but I've been hankering to be Irish for a long while now.

It all started when I was 18 and I got into Notre Dame.  For four years, I could officially claim to be Irish without anyone raising their eyebrows. Suspiciously soon after my Irish-ness expired when I graduated from ND, I married a Mr. Patrick McElwee. Some might claim that the "shotgun wedding" was simply my way of hanging on to my Irish (better) half for good. I took his last name largely for the Irish mystique. Oh, yes ... we did consider hyphenating or coming up with an alternative name, but we figured that Anderson-McElwee or Andlewee just didn't work. So wee McElwees we shall be, the whole lot of us.

Patrick is as genuinely Irish as they get. He looks the part. His father was barely born in the US, and I was fortunate to have known his late grandmother, who always sang "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" in her dementia. No joke! Here's a little video that Patrick and his siblings put together last year, soon after her passing:

Patrick has many more Irish stories, old and new. Consider this one - he is a proud descendant of Michael McElwee and Nial Shiels, The Fanad Patriots, who gained their fame by killing their abusive English landlord.

In Patrick's formative years, he had his two elderly Irish great uncles living with his family. He's also visited Ireland on several occasions, during which he 1.) was on a bus with cousins while everyone started raucously chanting "IRA! IRA!" 2.) his great aunt, when asked for directions by British soldiers, gave them directions to march straight into the river, unbeknownst to them, of course.

I could go on about this whole Irish business, but let it suffice to say that I am proud of my adopted heritage, and yes, in case you were wondering ...

we do dance the jig.

horsing around (sheepishly)

Mexico March 15 420

Mexico March 15 407

Mexico March 15 382

horsing around

We experienced a grand tour of the horse stables this past Friday. One of the dads in my school community gives horse tours in the area, and he kindly told us all about the horses and even "shoed" a horse in front of the children! They got to ride the gentlest of the animals - some even rode by themselves in a corral.

Another highlight of the day was the hilarious sheep "chase." A rope was loosely tied around the neck of a ewe (what a good sport she was!) so that when the end was pulled it would easily come off. Small groups of children were put in the corral with the ewe and were charged with removing the rope from her neck. I'm not sure who laughed more - the children or the adults watching them!

It was a nice way to draw to a close the first half of this second semester. Bring on the vacation!


love me some linen

embroidered patch from berlin's whimsy

Look what arrived in my Mexican P.O. box today! Amber and I did a bit of an exchange - a few sewing patterns for some of her knock-em-dead handwork. I'm hoping that having this lovely piece of Amber's in my home will help filter some of her embroidery mojo my way! You never know.

At the moment, I'm pleasantly paralyzed (creatively) due to the 10 yards of beautiful linen that I can finally call my own. I've waited literally years to find affordable linen. Now that I have it, I'm overwhelmed. There are SO many ideas floating about in my head, but I can't seem to lasso any idea in particular. Part of me is fighting the perfectionist that lurks beneath my more nonchalant surface ... why would I feel like I need to create a masterpiece as soon as the needle hits this wonder-fabric? Silly. So I decided to start with a pattern - a pleasant warm-up of sorts.

quilting bee stichette in progress

You already know how much I admire Hillary's work, and this "Quilting Bee" stitchette is just another testament to all that is wonderful about Wee Wonderfuls. I can already see the finished embroidery hanging on the wall of my new studio once we move to North Carolina!

I'm confident that once I'm done with the Quilting Bee I will be able to skip intrepidly into a future filled with original designs. Do you ever get this perfectionist-induced creativity block?


ode to the lola apron

The Lola Apron 3
Another apron, Meg?

The Lola Apron 1
Really now.

The Lola Apron 2

Don't you think it's ti
me you joined A.A. (Aprons Anonymous) to talk about your little problem?
How could I stop myself? When I found this vintage apron for sale over at Joyful Abode's Etsy shop, I didn't think twice.
vintage apron find

Isn't it lovely? The fabric has the feel of a soft bed sheet, and the circle pockets are just to die for. The voices in my head wouldn't cease until I had made myself another.

And I have a confession to make. As much as I love my two Emmeline Aprons, the Lola is, hands down, MY FAVORITE APRON EVER.  I don't know what it is. The fit is super. I love the retro flair of the bias binding and rick rack accents. I love it SO MUCH that I am looking for excuses to wear it. That frying pan? Yep. It needs to be washed again. (And you don't know how much I used to detest doing the dishes. Okay - maybe it's the Flylady that has had me on the right track as of late, but the Lola apron certainly deserves a hefty percentage of the credit.)

So. Pardon my effusive babbling. Of course, this means that Lola, along with Miss Elsie Mae, are both in the process of becoming printed patterns. The good news? Starting this Friday I have fifteen days off, during which I hope to plow ahead in this somewhat arduous pattern-writing process. Maybe if I tell myself that I can wear the Lola apron only when I sit down to write instructions? Now that is an efficient working plan!

building a firm foundation

building the petronas towers 1

Concentration. A grand plan. A careful touch. The pleasure of being architect, structural engineer, and construction worker all at once. If you stick your tongue out a bit further, that precariously placed block will most certainly stay put. The young visionary learns all too quickly from an error in judgment, but the driving force of the grand plan leads him right back to the construction site to work up a plan B.

building the petronas towers 2

This morning, I was delighted to see that one of my students had placed a photo of the Petronas Twin Towers (once the tallest in the world) on his work rug. With a quick, I'm-on-a-mission gait, he went back and forth from the shelf to his rug, retrieving the pieces of the pink tower and the brown stair. This is the fruit of his labor:

building the petronas towers 3

Right on, little man - take an idea and run with it!  I swear, my greatest epiphanies as a teacher come from the students themselves. Hats off to you, Diego, for the following idea, which could be used both in the home and the classroom.

Search high and low (and most likely in old issues of National Geographic) for excellent quality photos of architecture from around the world. Include photos of well-known landmarks, such as the Taj Mahal, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Empire State Building, and the Pyramids. Don't forget to also include typical houses from around the world. Mount the photos on card stock, write a sentence or two about the building on the back, and laminate for durability. Keep the photos in a special folder titled "The Architect's Library of Inspiration" or something of the sort. Provide wooden blocks and a sturdy foundation.

I've put a good deal of thought into appropriate (and inappropriate) toys for young children. While I'll spare you a soapbox speech at the moment, one thing I can say for certain - if my own children have no store-bought toys other than quality wooden blocks (and a hefty selection of art supplies), I would say that they wouldn't be missing out on a darn thing. But then again, I'm one of those weirdos who has never owned a television and never will and who is planning on having nightly family jam sessions with my future children.

The word on the street is that these blocks are amazing. I'm also partial to the sets that are available from Michael Olaf's catalogue. We have the Roman Arch set in my classroom as part of the physics curriculum, and I'm personally envious of any child that has the deluxe wooden block set. How cool would that be?

To sum it up - provide blocks, and they will build.

never in a million years part two. the cat speaks.

amelie on the new lens
Dearest Very Large Animals Who Have Warm Laps,

Amelie here. I thought I'd bring you up to date on the latest news from the Amelie-Timoun Kingdom, since Meg seems to be a bit preoccupied with all of the new things that Patrick brought back from his trip to the U.S. in Timoun's traveling bed (I think they call it a suitcase.) There's this new thing that she's been sticking in my face - she said something about a camera lens. She's been babbling on in that odd language of yours about the magnificence of the low aperture number that allows her to take photos with an awesome depth-of-field in low-light conditions. Yawn. It's time for me to take a little nap. Here are a few more pictures to keep you occupied while I doze.

vintage apron find

bag of goodies from the other side!

Okay, that was a nice nap. Thanks for your patience. I know you humans like to be doing things all the time and neglect your hourly naps.  Personally, I don't understand how you get through a 24 hour day without sleeping for 16 hours of it. You should try out my circadian rhythm. I think you'll like it.

Well, I really should get to the point because before you know it, siesta time will once again be upon us. Meg wanted me to tell you that she had a lovely time reading through all 347 comments with your name suggestions for the new apron, and that she has finally settled on a name! While my own vote was clearly for Amelie, she ended up picking Elsie Mae.

A big congratulations to Melody, who suggested the name Elsie in honor of her own great-grandmother.  Meg went ahead and slapped Mae onto one end because she "just couldn't resist!" Humans. You all are so funny about your naming obsession.

Goodness me! It's nap time again. I must curl up immediately into a ball. Wishing you all a purrfect evening!

Paw print,