Gardening: Tincture of Time

Today, in a discussion on FB with a friend from college, I realized that the secret to wonderful perennial beds is years of trial and error!

For instance, about 2/3 of the coral bells and tiarella that I plant die; the proportion is probably larger for pulmonaria. But when they do take hold, they grow big and become robust and beautiful. A few species I have given up on; for instance, I have never yet had a Jacob's ladder pull through to the next year. And some plants, such as Solomon's seal, can thrive almost anywhere. But generally, it's a matter of microclimates, I think. I just  keep trying until I match the right plant with that microclimate, so eventually I hit a winner. By now I've been doing that long enough that most of my beds are happily filled.

I think there's an analogy to life here, but life conditions aren't as stable as conditions in a garden bed. The target keeps moving, too. Certainly, though, Supergee and Womzilla are the best perennials I have discovered ever! And my job, which flowers well, seems pretty robust and long-lived.

Mood: chatty

Clothing! Fabric! F/SF/horror/comics!

I just posted a general update; this is specific discussion of my adventures in made-to-measure clothing projects.

As you know, Bob, my big indulgence financially is buying the fabric and notions for & paying dressmakers to sew clothing. I only have a a few patterns--4 dresses, 5 tops/shirts, 1 skirt, 1 trousers, 3 jackets (1 shirt also works over 1 of the tops)--because the dressmaker who is so great at adjusting patterns moved away after those were done. However, it's plenty, because the fabrics are so various.

Generally they are novelty fabrics for quilting: the only downside is they have to be ironed, but they have the designs I love. I have acquired mighty skillz in shopping for fabric and notions--eBay, Etsy, and online in general. (The best search engine is, much better than the others.)  I occasionally get fabric at Spoonflower online, but it is very expensive, so I ask for it as a holiday gift.

My original goal was a few personal themes: celestial, esp. suns/moon/stars with faces; rodents (all but two fabrics and one kind of buttons were "mice" rather than "rats," but we know!); book and/or writing related; fairy tales and nursery rhymes, esp. the cow jumping over the moon; cows; Alice in Wonderland (surprisingly popular but, suddenly a couple of years ago, astonishingly expensive in eBay and Etsy, hadly available elsewhere).

I did do one dress for the International conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, but then came prep for DetCon1, and I really got into science-fiction designed fabric. Then DetCon1 got me really excited about con clothing, and, well, now I have enough projects for me to wear a new dress each day to four conventions a year (a generous estimate, given that my work is heaviest on weekends) for five or six years. I class them generally as horror, science fiction, fantasy, and comics. The ICFA just started a Fairy Tale interest group, so I'll wear some of that clothing that I had made anyway.

That's background. The main point of this entry is that I am amused by what I find in fabrics in each category.

SF fabrics are pretty good and readily available. Only one is SF per se, a UK-distributed collage of sf movie posters that I finally tracked down at a reasonable price. But lots of depictions of stars and planets, often with rockets and/or flying-saucer shaped craft. Perhaps because these are often classed as fabrics "for boys," if the faces of the spacemen are given, they are often actually space kids, which I just don't incline to; but usually no figures are depicted at all, or you get a spacesuit with a blank faceplate. Robots are also moderately common, inclining towards cute but not predominantly and/or not badly so. The main design that is almost always too cute for me is the aliens; many fabrics out there, but over 3/4 cute, goofy, or both. I wish there were more just futuristic scenes not in space, but there's so much in space that I'm not dissatisfied.  And I just got a great circuit-board design that strikes me as very stfnal but not space. I've only been able to find one sf print with rockets and atoms, but it's great and I had it made into a comfy fleece coat.

Horror is abundant, partly because Halloween is a big theme in fabric. I love to look through the Halloween fabrics and find those that don't look too Halloweeny: no pumpkins, purple or green background instead of orange, no words like "Halloween" or "trick-or-treat." Some fabrics are not designed for Halloween, although they may also be marketed that way, especially having to do with moster movies, and there is a small line of fabrics based on The Walking Dead comics (a twofer for me!). Altogether, I have fabrics with ghosts, haunted houses, witches, zombies, vampires, motifs including rats, references to Poe, movie monster, generic hairy monsters, scary bare trees, ravens (with or without the Poe), headstones, skulls, magical potions, creepy disembodied eyes, spiders, and I'm sure some I've forgotten. Some of these also come in cute versions--especially the generic hairy monsters--but I can avoid them. I have not yet been able to find a Grim Reaper fabric I like--and I have searched and searched!--and the closest to Lovecraftian is a tentacle coming out of a cauldron in one fabric. Still!

Fantasy should be at least as diverse as horror, right? But it's not. Most of it falls into a few categories: fairies ("elves" are only Christmas elves and "gnomes" are virtually all garden gnomes), dragons, unicorns, and wizards. And all except for the last are rife with the cutesy! Finding unicorns that are not pink and/or rainbow sparkly is tough, although it can be done. Why not manticores, fire salamanders, nixies, valkyries-- The only Classical myth fabrics are the constellations! I have found fabrics with unicorns and flying horses, but it is too bold to make good clothing, imho; I've seen mermaid and Loch Ness monster fabric occasionally, but too cutesy. The most variety ever is in a fabric line including this, that same design on cream instead of black, and this--from which I'm getting made trousers, a skirt, two tops, and a kimono-style jacket. There is of course Alice in Wonderland, and a recent line did 1001 Nights.

Comics are mostly superhero-type, but I'm also getting Rocky & Bullwinkle, Peanuts (I got Snoopy-shaped buttons), and one romance-comic design and one of romance-comic panels with dysfunctional word balloons. Last year I wore a dress of Batman fabric, all moody monochrome except for the yellow of the insignia, that I am proud to say a friend deemed :badass." Next year will probably be an incredibly garish "girl power" fabric with Supergirl, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman. I also have some fabric on the way that is weirdly Kirbyesque mythic/superhero/Eternals without being actually Kirby or any recognizable characters.

So, yeah, set for a few years of conventions.

Status: just as glad my yoga teacher cancelled so I can write this & still garden for hours

Doin' Well

I can't believe that I haven't written since February, but I'm only now feeling more or less normal--at least, normal for me, if not normally normal in the usual normal sense.

It wasn't just the death of youngersib but also going through her belongings. I'm happy to say that about 200 boxes & almost all of her furniture went to three households (including mine) and various charities, and the house not only went on the market but is already sold! Clearly, it was worth pushing my limits to get the house cleared out in early Spring. But I really wore myself out doing that along with some periods of intense teaching. When I got back from the International Conference in the Fantastic in late March--wonderful as always but not restful--I was wiped. I even was unenthusiastic about my teaching, begrudging of short days because I wanted the whole day off.

Now I'm rested and catching up again. We three culled about 12 more boxes of books (Womzilla may correct this in comments), and now the 20th-century fiction and the science books are all on shelves (no piles, no horizontalizing in front of the shelved books) for the first time in months, maybe a few years. The VA hospital closed down after Sandy (Boo!), but we are now donating books for the NYPL to sell.

Work is again more of a joy than a chore. I do have to learn logical notation--as Womzilla said, watching my not-ps and not-qs.  In the past, students for the LSAT (entry into law school) and SHSAT (entry into special high schools in NYC such as the Bronx High School of Science), the only tests with that kind of logic that I teach, have been able to follow my combination of pattern recognition, Venn diagrams, and intuition; now I have one student for each who can't. But I no longer feel grudging about spending prep time when I'm not teaching, let alone teaching on short days. (I never resented teaching on long days, oddly; it's just Sat. and Sun., and because it's a full day each time, I never got into other projects.)

One recreation has been assembling fabric and notions for my made-to-measure clothing. Because the Credulous Dressmaker will not sew fabrics with "idols, monsters, and witches," I found another dressmaker locally whose work I like--a very active Christian, she still has no problem with my World Fantasy Con fabrics, since the point is, after all, about fiction.  I indulged in part because fabric seems to be getting more expensive, especially on eBay, and I now have projects for literally five to six years of fantasy, science-fiction, horror, and comics outfits for conventions!

Also, gardening! Which I want to be out doing by 2:00 p.m., so I can get well into it and still be ready for my yoga at 4:30. My blood sugar has not been great lately, and gardening helps a lot. It also cheers me so! Actually, it's been more strenuous than I recalled, so I don't enjoy it as much in the moment as I expected--that always gets better--but it raises my background level of mood quite noticably.

Of course, the guys are still totally wonderful. Supergee has gotten his courage up for cataract operations in June, so I have those two days blocked out to go in with and care for him. Mainly I feel so blessed with how we resolve differences. I told him & Womzilla that one benefit of watching Dr. Phil is that it helps me see, by comparison, how lucky I am.

Status: glad to be back on LJ

M for Metaphor

In my work helping academy students with their regular English assignments, I have one student whose class is reading V for Vendetta. I'm having a good time discussing it with her, although I began rereading it last night & stayed up too late as a result.

In addition to it being a great text, we had one of those moments I love: when the student has misunderstood the work, I explain it, and the student genuinely understands it in a new and better way.

In this case, at issue was V's long speech over the airwaves in part 2. My student didn't understand its pervasive metaphor: V is speaking to the public like a boss unhappy with employees, but the "job" that the public has been slacking off on is that of being responsible human beings. As we spoke, the student came to understand some parts of the speech that she hadn't before  & really seemed to appreciate the coolness of the whole underlying-metaphor approach.

I also got an even better appreciation of how Moore and Lloyd use words and pictures together in a way unique to the medium. For instance, when V says that we have been given numerous opportunities for advanacement but have turned them down, he stands in front of a statue of the Buddha, indicating what he means by a promotion. I pointed out that these juxtapositions allow the rteader to draw hir own conclusions, in turn reducing the preachiness quotient.

One of my students doing reading & writing for me decided that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland wasn't as interesting as he expected, while another liked it & is going on to Through the Looking Glass. For the former, I'm starting a program I thought of for another student his age: we'll go through some Norse myths (<a href="">Asgard Stories, by Foster and Cummings</a>), then some Coyote stories, then Michael Chabon's Summerland. The student even likes baseball; I don't so much, but I loved the novel anyway & am enjoying rereading it. I'm not sure how much we should go into fairy literature before the novel; I usually start a fairy unit with A Midsummer Night's Dream, but I don't think this student would be up for that. I may dig further for poetry in addition to what I have & use, or I may sink to using Puck's speech from No Fear Shakespeare (The horror!).. I love how syncretistic Summerland is.

Status: Skyping from home for work today, later

Credulous Dressmaker

As you know, Bob, for at least a couple of years now, I've paid  a woman for made-to-measure clothing from the patterns, fabric, and notions I buy, almost all online. She's very good and pretty reasonable; in fact, when she moved to Texas, I continued sending her material for new clothes. It doesn't matter much that the patterns are so similar, because the fabrics are so different. I adore novelty fabrics with celestial themes, nursery rhymes, rodents (almost always called "mice," but we know), books or alphabet for teaching, and many more.

Recently, I have begun going to World Fantasy Con after years and years away, and this has motivated me to get even more into horror-based fabrics. I wear some to the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts also, but for WFC I want some fantasy (unicorns, fairies, dragons) but a lot of horror. I've enjoyed the challenge of finding fabrics of ghosts, witches, and monsters that do not show too much that they were mostly designed for Halloween. For example, every year at the ICFA I wear one comics outift too--this year is a stylish bat-signal dress, monochrome except for the yellow--and I was delighted to find a two-fer, in reprints of *The Walking Dead* panels featuring Michonne offing walkers.

I can understand some of these designs being a bit off-putting to the dressmaker, a New Age type in some ways who believes that negative images will be toxic to her life. And she does spend hours with the fabric for even the simplest piece of clothing.

But she is also the most credulous person I have ever met, in addition to naturally being prone to extremes anyway. Actually, she doesn't believe just anything: the common thread is fear, with a leitmotif of harmful deceit. She is a 9/11 truther, convinced GMOs are poison--literally, she spent one whole day (off from work) grieving for the children who are victims of the Satanist Masonic pedophile conspiracy in the Vatican. It's so sad, because she really is a sensitive, caring person, and this stuff really upsets her.

The best thing in her life is that since moving to Texas, she has begun beign recorded for a Christian record company. She does sing beautifully and compose her own songs; for a while she sang professionally on cruises and at international hotels.

Yesterday, however, I got e-mail that as a Christian, she would no longer work with fabrics of "idols," "monsters," and "witches."

I honestly do not know if this is the stance of her new friends at the record company or more of the same "I know it's true because I saw it on You Tube." She did send me links to YouTube videos to explain her views.

Thanks to craigslist, I have already found another dressmaker--local and it seems far less expensive--with whom I will meet tomorrow. She seems very open & friendly, knows that some Christians, for instance, will not celebrate Halloween but does not herself feel such images are wrong in any way. I usually can tell I'll like someone when we laugh together on our first conversation, and the new dressmaker and I did that in a really promising way.

Yet this, coming after the measles outbreak, really has me thinking some deep and troubling thoughts, wondering if our wacky human brains just aren't made for good thinking. As her preference, it's inarguable; it's really the hard-line stance about what Christianity requires and the YouTube videos that bother me. I do still know that truth is not just a consensus issue, that careful thought is not only possible but practiced every day--still.

Mood: sigh

Back from Michigan/Youngersib's House

I just spent Monday through Thursday in Michigan, going through youngersib's house during the day and hangin out with eldersib and the three dogs (two of which had been youngersib's) at night. Actually, Monday night the house was dark, and I didn't go over until daylight Tuesday (breakers tripped). One of the evenings was especially nice, dinner with eldersib, Nephew, and his new girlfriend.

Her house actually did not look at all like this icon, thanks to earlier heroic work by Nephew and Math Guy (edlersib's husband) and a family friend. They got out any outright garbage, went through papers, recycled most magazines and catalogs, etc.

However, that sums up the hugeness of the task. I've decided that youngersib was not a hoarder, but was a bad housekeeper who was really, really into shopping. For an ordinary person with an ordinary life, I'd say a shopping addict; but because she had such a limtied social ci5rcle and was so physically limited by illness and mobility issues, sometimes shopping was, pretty reasonably, the biggest entertainment in her life. And of course being a bad housekeeper means you lose items and have to buy new ones.

That said--wow! The amount of stuff still in the unopened package is amazing. I filled three boxes (somewhat smaller than a banker's box on average) with unopened hygeine and home-medicine products, one smaller one of unopened cosmetics--all of which the Purple Heart charity is interested in, according to their web site. Oh,and that's in addition to over a box that size, maybe two, for eldersib's family to use & some, worth shipping or taking home in my suitcase, for us three. I know I'll find something similar with the office supply/stationery stuff when I hit her study next trip.

But I think she had a pretty decent life, most especially for someone with her health issues, overall. One major reason I wanted to do this job is to get to know youngersib's recent life better: we were still just as emotionally close, but I didn't know her daily life. Between sifting through her belongings and conversations with eldersib, it's working. For instance, as I matched DVDs woth their boxes, I could tell she had been (re)watching the whole run of The Andy Griffith Show. Most of the CDs were ones I would have guessed, but some surprised me. For instand, I know she loved Dan Fogelberg's music when she was in college, but I wouldn't have guessed she'd have bought a CD. Some CDs were by artists I didn't recognize. The books, CDs, DVDs, and few remaining magazines showed a nostalgic but very active intellectual life, which I of course expected but was glad to see.

Some of the work was just putting stuff in boxes, as with the clothes that Math Guy had laundered. The only sorting was from drawers, closets, cabinets, the tops of some tables and counters, and the kind of little caches we all develop but Math Guy hadn't gotten to, a bag here and a box there. I just kept open boxes for each type of thing to donate, as well as one for eldersib's house and one for me, and put in items as I came across them. Trash in two bag-lined garbage cans, paper in big paper leaf bags from the garage. Time consuming, a little too much bending, but pretty easy overall. Of course, the Cow of Virtue I took to keep me company is the one called Industry. (However, she has no shoes.)

I did a fair amount of research the week before I left, and I'm really, really glad that some organization wants almost everything of value. I prefer that to just throwing out even good used items--let alone unopened packages!--and I know youngersib would want it this way. I guess it would be a lot less effort to just hire a dumpster, but even more than the emotional satisfaction I'm getting, what a waste! And Ann Arbor is great for donations. There's even a food charity (on a street called Carrot Way!) that takes cans and unopened boxes of food that are not more than six months past the sell-by date. So far, they're getting two small-but-significant boxes just of unopened packages of tea! We have to deliver to them (although as eldersib says, nothing in Ann Arbor is very far), but most of the charities will come to pick the stuff up, including Michigan Pug Rescue, for which I am boxing up pug-themed statues, mugs, t-shirts, throw-pillows; pug dress-up clothes; extra dog beds; and other stuff. Youngersib had a really large box just of dog toys with the tags still on! I'm paying to send medium-sized boxes of lighter pug stuff for the three out-of-town rescues I contacted before I found the Michigan group.

I am taking some stuff to ship home, including some of nostalgic value, some items I have always secretly coveted (including a set of sheets printed with planets and rocket ships), and some items that are light to ship but we can always use. I no longer have to buy new frying pans or more good coathangers. But that pay-off is far less than the emotional one and the knowledge that youngersib's shopping will benefit others.

I'm going back at least once more, probably Feb. 9-12.  This time it will be easier, since I can make appointments ahead of time, for instance, for Habitat for Humanity to come in and judge what furnishings they want. I like to go into an all-out work fugue for something like this, and it'll be nice not to have to think about making phone calls etc. Math Guy will be in this weekend and get the water turned back on (bills slipped through by accident), although I labeled & left the Pee Pitcher in case it is needed.

Mood: Still tired but relaxing, glad to be doing it but glad to be home

Getting Back to (ab)Normal

Yesterday and today I've felt like myself for the first time since this Fall. After youngersib died, I came back to a week of intense teaching at the academy during Thanksgiving break; I feel as though I was just over the most intense grief when the Christmas break started and I began more weeks of 35-40 hours of full-on teaching, no breaks, with 15 or so commute hours added in. Within a week after a laxer schedule, I got a tenacious, snot-abundant cold.

Next week, I'm flying to Michigan to go through youngersib's house, taking what I want and dispersing most of the rest of her belongings to various charities. Frankly, I'd rather do that after the ICFA, but Math Guy is in a hurry, especially because he's the executor and youngersib's finances were in a bad shape, and there are indeed huge benefits to getting the house on the market early in the spring.

I'm still grieving youngersib, but the unprecedented, huge, ferocious, and spontaneous waves of feelings (mostly sadness and anger) are over; now it's more situational, triggered by sometimes-the-damnedest things in the environment, as I was used to from earlier familial deaths. I made a very bad mistake last week by watching a documentary on antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I used to love that kind of stuff, but now it was too reminiscent. At least I can still enjoy reading about and watching documentaries on Ebola!

This week I've actively enjoyed working around the house, mostly doing laundry and finishing up tidying and organizing the dining room. It is exactly for such times that I uploaded a good housekeeping icon, as opposed to the messy icon I have used for major decluttering in the past.

I've begun making jewelry again, mostly for oldersib and myself, but also some necklaces I think I want to sell. One of my resolutions this year is to learn to use the digital camera (including the hard part, downloading and manipulating and uploading and all that), and then I think putting stuff up on eBay will follow naturally.

womzilla and I finished watching all the past seasons of Parks & Recreation a short while ago & are now enjoying the final shows. We've begun watching 30 Rock from the beginning & are now midway through season 3. I'd resisted because I thought it would be more about TV as a business, sort of like The Larry Sanders Show; instead, it's just a clever office comedy with good characters--in fact, much like Parks & Rec.

Mood: mellowesque

Recommended Movie: Horns

womzilla and I just finished watching Horns, a recent movie based on the novel by Joe Hill.

I enjoy Hill's fiction in general, and I think Horns in particular is outstandingly meaningful and original. It's a love story and a murder mystery and the story of what happens when a mostly ordinary person begins growing horns that give him the powers of the devil, including learning everyone's darkest desires and being asked for persission to act on them. It uses quite a bit of Christian/devil imagery without accepting the dichotomy and taking either side: the closest to an ethical position that the story offers is that "sometimes there is no right answer," and then you have to pick the sin you can stand "and live with it."

The movie is an excellent adaptation, with all that originality and the strengths of the original in terms of character and plot. A somewhat less linear structure, with more flashbacks, works even better in a movie; the movie doesn't include some of the symbols in the novel, but it chooses the basic ones and uses them well. It's a nice combination: the movie is very visual, and it keeps the key points, but it isn't too literal in presentation of scenes from the novel (except perhaps at the end). Most of all, it gets the tone right, with a skillful blend of humor on the one hand and serious angst on the part of characters and you-want-to-look-away-but-you-can't scenes that make the viewer queasy on the other.

Overall, as one would expect from a story about human passions and sins, the movie presents a very intense two-hour experience.  It's somewhat bloody, especially towards the end, but I wouldn't call ti a horror movie. It does explore the secrets of the human heart, but it does so in too understanding and hence sympathetic a way to create pure fear or revulsion. As the protagonist says when giving two police officers permission for their hidden desires, "It's only human."

Mood: teaching akmost 40 full hrs/week, glad to have a day off

Online Wake Today for Youngersib on FB

Today from 4-8 EST, there will be an online wake for my younger sister on my facebook page.

I don't know how to handle those of you who don't know my real name: I'd be happy to tell you, but I don't want my real and Lj names linked in any searchable online way. Bummer.

Also, I've posted responses to some of the comments to my previous LJ entry. Thanks everyone--whether your comment sparked a specific response from me or not, I appreciate it greatly.

I'm doing pretty well, generally just more grompy and sad.