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Friday, July 26, 2013

The Family Business

There is something irresistible about a kid’s lemonade stand. It’s such a sweet concept, so full of innocence and hope. You can see the excitement in kids’ eyes as you take a moment out of your day to take them seriously. They take such pride in telling you what they have and in carefully pouring a cup as you tell them how thirsty you are and how glad you feel to have spotted their stand. It makes them feel great but it also touches my heart, and reminds me what it was like to be a kid with a lemonade stand.

This morning as I was walking near home, I spotted a stand with a 21st-century edge. No lemonade here. Since it was 9am, they sold coffee, orange juice and homemade muffins. The stand was a few doors down from an elementary school where the summer session is in full swing and parents are bustling about, carrying kids’ backpacks, and still rubbing the sleep from their eyes. Coffee? Now there’s a smart idea!

I studied their menu. Yes, these kids had created a menu using a computer. They framed the menu and placed it atop their card table, which had a table cloth on it as well as organized stacks of napkins and everything else that might be needed. (These kids are pros--I may see if they can come over and help me set up the next time I have people over for dinner!).

Not being a coffee drinker myself, I bought a cup of juice and a muffin. A girl of about eleven poured me some juice into a paper cup, fit it with a plastic lid, and handed me a wrapped straw. Her brother, who looked to be nine years old, got tongs and took a muffin off the tray and put it into a small brown bag. He folded the bag and offered me a napkin. Honestly, these kids had thought of details I never would have considered, so clearly they are future entrepreneurs.

Their dad sat behind them on a folding chair. The kids were a little shy but Dad made up for that by waving a sign and calling “Coffee stand this way!” The kids were adorable. They took their business very seriously and I could tell they wanted to do a great job. This trio had it down. Dad took care of advertising and the kids provided excellent customer service. What a team.

Just before I left I commented that they had an excellent location. And isn’t location (almost) everything? The muffin was yummy, too, so they have a winning combination of good site and good quality.

It gives me a happy feeling to live in a neighborhood where people help find lost dogs, where my neighbor two doors down asks to borrow my vacuum and the family down the street gets our mail when we’re gone. We visit kids’ lemonade (and coffee) stands and people say hi as they pass on the street. There’s community here. The coffee stand is going to be open each Friday, I was told, and I’ll be back. I need a refill…


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Symmetry, Shymmetry

It can take a year to make a dress. Did you know that? I’m not talking about Lady Diana Spencer’s 1981 wedding gown, which had a train so long it wrapped around the earth 1.8 times. I’m talking about my own dresses.

I should clarify. It may not take hundreds of days on end. But I just finished a dress that I started in 2012.

Have you had experiences like this? Your creative juices are flowing when you start a project. You’re excited. You have momentum. You get at least half of it done and then screeeeeech. You’ve been halted by a hurdle you don’t know how to handle. So it goes in a box marked “unfinished projects.” Sadly, I do actually have a box of such things. I’m trying to get better about finishing projects but these things take time. A year or more.

Last month I pulled a half-finished dress out of this pile, determined to breathe some new life into it. Instead of going with the symmetrical design I’d begun in 2012, I swung a U-turn and went with wild, unsymmetrical instincts. (Maybe my mood had shifted in the year since I’d started this project. 2012 was an even number, and symmetry is even. Maybe 2013’s being an odd number encouraged an odd approach. Who knows?!)

I love the effect so much more than the symmetrical idea I had last year. It’s fun and playful and I love wearing things with personality. Can you tell I like purple? I finished it just in time to pose in front of my neighbor’s beautiful jacaranda tree. I’ve named my dress, by the way. It’s called “Purple Pizazz.”

What have I learned by making this dress?  

1)      Creating clothing without using a pattern can be very freeing but will probably take a long time. You end up reworking challenging areas that aren’t coming together as you’d planned.

2)      Asymmetry is quite fun!

3)      There’s no need to give up on a project just because you’ve hit a road bump or two. It’s okay to put it aside for a while until inspiration strikes.

4)      A completely different approach can be liberating. If your first tactic doesn’t pan out, consider other ways to get to your goal.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have at least five other sewing projects that have been marinating in the unfinished box for a year or so. It’s time to finish these projects! There’s a cheerful pink dress I started recently and it needs to be completed. Now that I’ve announced it to the blogosphere I will have to make good and finish it. I’ll be back soon (ish), so don’t go anywhere!

Friday, July 19, 2013

And This Little Piggy...

For those of us with little kids (or anyone who has been around little kids lately), we’re familiar with the story people tell as they tickle someone’s tiny toes. Each toe has a story, starting with the big toe and ending with the baby one. It’s a playful thing people do with the (usually naked) toes of babies and little kids, who find it exciting that their toes have personalities and are the stars of the show. It starts out, “This little piggy went to market. This little piggy stayed home.” The last piggy supposedly cries, “Wee, wee, wee, wee, all the way home.” I’m here to change the ending on this story. Why does the little one have to cry and feel sad? I say this little piggy went to the Piggly Wiggly and was treated like a king!

Let me take a (baby piggy) step back a moment and tell you why I’m blogging about toes. This morning I am taking a happy meander down a nostalgic lane. I’ve been obsessing about Piggly Wiggly, a supermarket chain that has the most charming name. I want to shop there! Sadly, most Piggly Wiggly stores are in the Southeastern USA. I’d have to drive at least 1,000 miles (maybe 2,000) to reach one. And I don’t care how many coupons they might give me: I can’t quite justify driving twenty hours for a loaf of bread!

Anyway, Piggly Wiggly once had stores in San Diego. In 1938 there was one at the corner of Park Blvd and El Cajon Blvd, close to where I lived in North Park in 1998. I will share the photo of the store, but you must forgive how grainy it is. It’s a photo I took of a newsprint photo, torn out from The Reader, years ago. But it’s all I’ve got right now. (I spent thirty minutes online trying to find a better photo but our local historical society does not have a photo (or any record) of a Piggly Wiggly on that corner.) Although the grocery store had closed long before I moved to that neighborhood, the building still remains. I was tickled when I learned that a building I’d passed many times had been a Piggly Wiggly. That name is so fun to say. It makes you happy just saying it. It’s adorable!

These thoughts were crossing my mind this morning at 4 a.m., when I should have been counting sheep, not pondering pigs. Eventually I told myself I could not lie awake thinking about Piggly Wiggly and that the pigs could wait until daylight. When I awoke this morning I sat down to write an explanation of why Piggly Wiggly is enchanting.

It goes beyond my interest in old architecture and the history of supermarkets, which are a piece of our societal makeup, something to which everyone can relate. There are grocery stores on every corner, it seems. But Piggly Wiggly stands out among all these stores because of its cheerful, rhyming name.

The first Piggly Wiggly was opened in 1916 in Memphis, TN, by Clarence Saunders. Saunders was the first to open a self-service grocery store. Previously, customers gave a list to grocery store clerks, who would gather the items for the customer. Saunders noticed how inefficient this was and decided to revolutionize grocery shopping by having customers gather their own food, using baskets or carts. I think we can safely say—97 years later—that the idea caught on. When asked why he had given his stores the bizarre name of Piggly Wiggly, Saunders said. "So people will ask that very question." Clearly, the memorable name lingered in peoples’ minds and the stores continue to draw customers. As of 2013 there are more than 600 Piggly Wiggly stores in America.

This photo (courtesy of JP shows a roadside sign for Piggly Wiggly, with a 1950s style. Irresistable!
A 1959 edition of the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper advertises Piggly Wiggly locations in eleven San Diego locations (some open on Sunday!). The newspaper ad boasted a deal for ham, at 35 cents per pound.  

Perhaps the littlest piggy toe would think twice about going to a Piggly Wiggly where ham was the special of the week. But I still like to think about that piggy having an ending that does not involve tears but instead, cheers. From now on, when I talk about the five piggies, I’ll end it with the little one going to Piggly Wiggly and receiving a standing ovation. Long live Piggly Wiggly!

Rhyme Time

I doubt you lie awake at four in the morning, wondering which thoughts amble through my mind at four in the morning.

But I’ll tell ya anyway.

Just before 4 a.m. this morning I got out of bed to use the bathroom. Next, I fed the cycle by getting a drink of water. In opening the fridge I remembered three things to add to my grocery list. Fumbling in the dark kitchen, I found a red ballpoint pen and scrawled a short grocery list. This led to an image in my mind of a grocery store whose name always makes me smile: Piggly Wiggly. Naturally, this name led me to remember a phrase I recently read in a book and found absolutely delightful: higgledy-piggledy. (Higgledy-piggledy refers to something done in a  careless or disorganized. Two other phrases that also mean disorganized also self-rhyme: helter-skelter and pell-mell. Ironic that these rhyming phrases mean something that is not organized as the rhyming sounds give them a bit of an organized sound. Oh well…the mystery of words…)

On a roll, I’ve jotted down a few other phrases that are memorable and playful because they rhyme: righty-tighty; okey-dokey; Laffy Taffy; pooper-scooper. Rhymes are fun. (Or is it that someone like me—who loves words and silliness—finds rhymes delightful? Either way…)

Do rhymes help our brains to remember things? Certainly. The human brain is fascinating. For all that scientist know about the brain, there are parts that are still a mystery. I love that my brain is busy categorizing things and making associations, even at 4 a.m., when I’m more asleep than awake. Let’s retrace my thought chain:

Bathroom—drink of water—grocery list—Piggly Wiggly—higgledy-piggledy—rhymes.

Like me, you may have moments when you can’t remember how or why you got onto a tangent. I often stop myself mid-sentence and ask those around me how I got to talking about rhinoceroses, for example. Genuinely confused, I ask, “What were we talking about? Sewing? Politics? Volkswagen buses? Oh, who knows?!”

The brain certainly is an amazing organ. Sometimes I cannot quiet my brain in the middle of the night. It wants to figure things out, and my body wants to rest. A tug-of-war. Thankfully, my body usually wins and I can sleep.

I’ll bet you’re glad I was able to get back to sleep at 4 a.m. today. After all, you were the one who insisted that I explain the bathroom-Piggly Wiggly connection!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Super-Duper Sunglasses

Cheap Frills Tutorial #2
Hey, y’all. I’m back with my second tutorial . I’m all about making fun, creative, colorful things to wear or enjoy, and making them on the cheap makes me especially happy.
This tutorial involves turning sunglasses that are just there into sunglasses with flair.
(Honestly, though, I feel a little silly even calling this a tutorial. It’s so easy to do and hardly requires specific directions. But I’ll plow on and share with you a quick, simple way to bring some fun to your face.)
1.   Get your hands on some inexpensive sunglasses. The pair I’m transforming cost $4.

2.  Look through your nail polish stash and decide which colors you want to use. (If you don’t have a nail polish stash but you want to make over your sunglasses, you can find inexpensive nail polish in every color of the rainbow for as little as $1. Why nail polish? It comes with its own tiny brush, it comes in a ton of great colors, and it is durable.)

3.  Make sure the rims of your sunglasses are clean. Open the glasses and stabilize them on something that will support them and keep them steady. Because I’m ultra-classy (and because I’d just come back from the store) I had a package of toilet paper nearby and found that propping the open sunglasses on a roll of tp worked very well. The tp has some give but also is fairly firm, which keeps the sunglasses from moving while you’re painting them.

4.  I started painting the outside rims of my glasses. I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue my design all the way across the front of the glasses. There’s no wrong way to do this, so relax! I chose to do polka dots because I love them, but you could paint stripes or squiggles or anything that comes to mind. When you start to paint with the nail polish brush, make sure that there is enough polish on the brush but not so much that you will get a giant flood of polish on your glasses. If you want to make a very tiny design, dip a toothpick into your nail polish and make your design with it.

5.    Nail polish dries within a few minutes but I recommend allowing your newly-painted glasses to dry for an hour or two before you wear them. Some of my polka dots were thick and I wanted to be sure they were 100% dry before I did my test drive with them.

6.   Wear your super-duper sunglasses out and enjoy the fun of having a completely unique accessory. I got a compliment on mine the first day I wore them. People will notice that your glasses have personality, and so do you!


Total cost: $5. (I already had several cheery shades of nail polish but I bought sparkly blue for $1, plus $4 for the glasses.)  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

It's A Guy Thing...

I may never full understand my hubby. I’ve been observing his behavior for fourteen years, noting tendencies, recording reactions, studying nuances.

My conclusion: he is different from me.

No, it did not take the full fourteen years to come to this conclusion. But it’s becoming clearer with each year.
Take yesterday, for example. I came home to find a lifetime supply of citrus sitting near the front door.

“Craving Vitamin C?” I asked with a smirk. He nodded, smiling. “And guess what? Those aren’t even 25-pound bags,” says he. “I weighed them. They’re each 38 pounds. I got all three bags for $20. We can give some to our neighbors.” I roll my eyes.

He’s brought home gigantic quantities of stuff before. Many times.

I’ve decided it’s just a guy thing, something I won’t fully understand—EVER--no matter how long I know him. If our ancestors were hunters and gatherers in the wild, Hubby’s tendency to hunt and conquer giant quantities of food is clearly a remnant from the predatory instincts of his ancestors.

When he goes to the local supermarket he comes back with humongous quantities of meat. I give him the look, because we’ve had this debate before. Many times. “Hubby. We do not need a month’s worth of chicken. I would prefer not to eat the same dinner every night for thirty days,” I explain. Again.

“But it was 75% off,” he says earnestly. “It was practically free!”

“Hubby. We discussed your game plan before you left for the store, remember? You were going to avoid the meat department. You weren’t even going to look in direction of the meat department. You were only going to get apples and milk,” I remind him.

“But…but…but…it was 75% off! I couldn’t not buy it,” he says with eyes wide.

And what can I do? I can’t argue with this logic because he and I will never see eye-to-eye on this matter. For him, walking away from such a deal is unfathomable. For me, it would be easy. Oh, sometimes I get something in bulk, and I’ll freeze portions of it. However, Hubby cooks the entirety of what he buys and expects that everyone in the house will be as happy as he is to eat chicken for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next week.

Oh, I love my hubby. His heart is in the right place. But I do have to tease him about the bulk thing. I’ve heard that other guys do this, too. My friend’s dad bought a 50-pound bag of white rice once, much to his wife’s distress.

So I roll my eyes, tease Hubby a little, and we continue to speak our own separate languages when it comes to grocery shopping. And tease him I will continue to do, as long as the cave man hunter in him continues to bring back food for fifty, when we only need food for five. Plus, he teases me constantly. The subject rotates but he’s a giant tease so I have no problem blogging about his hunting the oranges and dragging them back to our cave.

All this reminds me of a cartoon I loved watching as a child, The Flintstones. In the opening credits the Flintstones are at a drive-in restaurant and papa Fred orders the Brontosaurus ribs that are so big they tip the car over. I wonder if Hubby watched that show, too. Maybe that’s where he got his hunger for big quantities. Or maybe it really is something I’ll never understand but must somehow accept. Maybe it’s just a guy thing…

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Think Pink!

The flamingo is my favorite animal, hands down. So you can imagine by ecstatic face when I spotted flocks and flocks of them in the sky recently.

Look how cheery they are with their bright pink color and their wacky, wiggly necks. Of course, I pulled over to take photos so I could share this happy scene. I think flamingos are a good reminder not to take life so seriously (and believe it or not, I need reminders like this). In a world in which much of nature is shades of green and brown, a cheerful pink anomaly is a squawk that halts me in my tracks, prompting me to laugh and to appreciate the fun things in life.

Have you hugged a flamingo today?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Patriotic Eyebrows

It’s America’s birthday today, a day I love, which culminates in fireworks tonight (yippee!). My day started as most others do but it’s not any old day, of course. When Hubby came into the kitchen to give me my morning hug he pulled back, surprised. “What?” I asked. “My eyebrows? Why are you surprised that I have blue eyebrows today? You live with an artist. You should expect such things from me!” I’ve got my patriotism on, folks. I’m patriotic all year long, but today gives me an excuse (as if I need one) to throw on festive clothes, accessories, and make up.

This morning I walked to the community garden in my red, white and blue. Somebody who lives nearby had this lawn decoration up. I dig their gusto:

At the garden I passed under the canopy of sunflowers and marveled at my neighbor’s corn, which is at least seven feet tall now. The couple with the corn also grow gigantic zucchini, and they happened to be at the garden when I arrived. They offered me one of two gargantuan zucchini, and when I hedged they insisted that I take one. At home I took photos of it, along with my friend’s cucumber, which I’m delivering tomorrow. As you can see, these super-sized veggies are as big as my rolling pin. Everyone thinks Americans biggie-size everything: cars, appetites, refrigerators. Zucchini, too, it seems.

As I walked back from the garden I said hi to neighbors, who found my spirited clothes fun. But one couple out walking looked nervous as I approached with my hearty hello. Was it my blue eyebrows that threw them off? Or did they think I was out to sell them an authentic piece of Betsy Ross’ original flag? They seemed more relaxed once they realized I’m wacky but harmless and that “hello” was all I wanted from them.

We Americans may appear loud or excessive to people elsewhere. Americans may have bigger cars than people in other countries, and some Americans come across as having huge egos. But if we’re guilty of going big, I can say with pride that we also have a lot of heart in this country.
Happy birthday, USA!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Fling

I’ve been having a spring fling (in summer) but it’s no secret. My fling made me feel extra alive. My senses were heightened, my heart full. If you insist on all the details, I’ll spill ‘em.
I’ve been having a fling with a small country town in the Midwest. My heart belongs to San Diego, but while my body was in Missouri, I was enamored.

Had trees ever looked greener? Had the country air ever been so full of chirps and hums of country critters? The sky seemed bigger, the clouds puffier and more layered. Rolling hills, and a (real!) deer, grazing in a meadow under a tangerine sunset. Was it real or was I dreaming? Had there been this many wildflowers the other times I’d visited?

Bobbing in the breeze were white flowers as flat and lacy as doilies.

Orange Asiatic lilies pop up in bright clusters throughout the countryside. 

Spiky pinky-purple blossoms the size and shape of gumdrops bordered the meadows.

This wasn't my first time visiting hubby’s family in Washington, Missouri. I've been six or seven times before. But this was the longest trip and one without a big event like a wedding or graduation, so there was more time for me to explore. This time I noticed different things, like the rolls of hay dotting the fields. We'd never visited in late June before, so we must have missed this season. I think the rolls are beautiful! I love the contrast of how their cylindrical shapes are smooth and even from far away, but textured up close, with strands of straw poking out in a hundred directions. Seeing the hay rolls made this scenic countryside truly farm land, in my eyes. Sure, I'd seen farms and cows nearby on other visits, but the hay rolls showed me another crucial piece of the process, an essential ingredient in the cycle of a farm year.

I studied the woods and the town with a fresh eye. This time I noticed how very, very green it was. Granted, the town had an unusual amount of rain this spring, so it really was greener than usual. But maybe I appreciated the environment more this time. I saw the beauty of the woods and its trees of different shapes, sizes and varieties. I noticed the colorful wildflowers in periwinkle, yellow and purple bordering the country roads, like embroidered details at the edge of a quilt.  

This small town has fewer than 14,000 residents, although residents from neighboring towns drive in daily and double that number. Still, that seems so small to me, coming from a city with 1.3 million residents. Actually, their town has grown a lot in the last decade. Every year I notice more stores that have set up shop in town, although there's still a lot of green space in between. I still marvel that behind their big box store there are woods. Woods! Behind the big box store near where I live is a freeway! And that's not a knock on San Diego, a city I truly love. But coming somewhere different shows you not only about the place you're visiting, but also about the place you live. San Diego is famous for its gorgeous beaches, famous zoo, universities, and of course, Shamu. But in Washington, trees and hills dominate the view. Washington has cows and barns where San Diego has freeways and traffic! My walk each morning began on a gravel road--yes, gravel! I grew up in Los Angeles, worked in San Francisco and now live in San Diego. Needless to say, I haven't spent much time on gravel roads, but I'm charmed by them. It’s a piece of the country experience. 

On our last morning I took a 40-minute walk on a paved back road and had it nearly to myself, seeing a car drive by only twice. I liked the solitude. The sounds of nature were all around me: the tsk-tsk of rain drops on my nylon umbrella, the calls of birds and the chirps of crickets in the nearby woods, the shimmy of leaves in the breeze. On my way back I heard the putt-putt of a farmer steering his tractor across a field.

Not only do country and city have different sounds, they also have different animals. I saw cows and horses, pigs and lambs. I see the occasional squirrel in my city but in the country squirrels and cottontail bunnies frequently leap across the path. In the woods behind the house are the Marco Polo calls of cardinals, wood peckers and blue jays.
The highlight of the trip was meeting our new baby cousin. Everything about him is adorable, from his smile to his toes. I love his tiny fluttery fingers, the smell of his soft, soft skin, and little noises he makes.

There’s more to tell about this trip, but I’m saving other tales for another day. It’s fun to visit someplace so different from where I live, a green oasis in the middle of our nation, filled with red barns and blue, blue skies. Can you blame me for having a crush on farm country?!

The Pickup Artist

There seems to be a mysterious pickup artist in our neighborhood. I have evidence. We discovered the signs this morning.

Now before you start thinking I’m talking about a pickup artist in the sense of Casanova, let me clarify: I’m talking pickup trucks. While we were away, Hubby’s truck became pickup art (created by pickup artists, naturally). Are you confused? Allow me to explain.

We got back from our trip late last night. Although it was dark we saw that the lid covering the pickup’s bed was quite different from how we left it nearly a week ago. This morning we examined the truck in the light of day and saw that it had been transformed by an artist—or more likely, a team of artists in collaboration. The lid was spattered such that it looked like a Jackson Pollock canvas. (I’m assuming you know Pollock for the drip paintings he became famous for in the 1940s and 50s. Pollock laid canvas on the floor and moved around it, dripping paint from above.)

Apparently the birds in our neighborhood decided to create a surprise painting on the lid of Hubby’s pickup while we were away. (I would have accompanied this post with a photo, as I usually do, but I figured you would prefer to imagine the poop rather than see it.) The birds worked in partnership with Mother Nature, who scattered thousands and thousands of tiny green dots of pollen in such a fine mist it looked like she’d used spray paint. Next, it was the birds’ turn. Channeling Pollock, they dribbled large, irregularly-edged white splotches onto the truck’s lid. The birds added long splashy drips of white. Others contributed brown flecks, sometimes on top of the white splatters, sometimes not. There were flecks on the windshield and orange dots on the hood. There were spatters and dribbles on the side mirrors, bumpers and roof. We found splats and streaks high and low. In the 6+ years we’ve owned the truck I’d never seen it that dirty. Restoring it to its pre-trip state would be a big job, something for the whole family.

Out came the rags and bucket. Out came the soap made for such messes. The disco tune “At the carwash” played through my head as I scrubbed and scoured the truck. We wiped, rubbed and swiped at bird poo and sap. At last the truck looked as good as new better, and all signs of the birds’ tribute to Pollock had flown away.

I’m sure the birds will return before long to punish me for washing away their spatter art. They’ll leave their nests at a coordinated time, flying straight for the zone above the truck, and will stage a poop-in, in protest to our carwash. And I’ll have to pick up their parting gifts.

I’ve been an artist since I was a young child, but I’ve never painted a truck. Yet it seems as though the pickup artist around here is ME!