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March 2012

Miss Helzer


"All my scattering moments are taken up with my needle."  ---Ellen Birdseye Wheaton, 1851

Today I continue my month-long reflection of the legacy of women who've played a role in my life.


In seventh grade, I was excited to have home ec class in my schedule.  I already knew how to run a sewing machine (a little), but I was eager to learn how to put together pieces to make a garment.  And I couldn't wait to learn to put in a zipper!

I remember being a bit totally intimidated by Miss Helzer when I first stepped into her classroom.  She was tall and imposing.  Somewhere in her 40s.  Impeccably dressed and made up.  Always.  She sewed her own exquisitely tailored suits.  Everything matched.  She was VERY put together. 

You always knew where you stood with Miss Helzer.  She had a certain . . . look.  With one eyebrow raised and one eye kind of squinted . . . that just said, "You CAN'T be serious."  She could stop you dead with A Glare.  She didn't put up with any shenanigans.  You did things her way. . . or you were on your own.  And. . . she hated things that looked "home spun."

There was a huge sign on her bulletin board; kind of a sampler of sorts.  In big letters, it said:

So shall you sew. . .
So shall you rip!

Miss Helzer?  She was a Pain in the Ass teacher.  A stickler.  She was totally By the Book when it came to following the Rules of Sewing.  As a 13-year-old, this was not welcome.  I just wanted finished products.  What did it matter . . . if the grain was straight; or what my "back waist length" measurement was; or - for God's sake -- whether my pattern pieces were pressed before laying them out on my fabric???  Was it really THAT important if your plaids matched up?  If your tension was properly adjusted on your sewing maching?  If you understitched your facings?

And what WAS that sampler about?  So shall you sew. . . so shall your rip?  What did that even MEAN?

In her class, of course, I towed the line.  I graded my seams.  I placed my pins perpendicular to the cutting edge.  I pressed my seams open using a tailor's ham.  I followed proper protocol when wielding my seam ripper! Begrudginly, I learned the "right" way to sew.   Despite my irritation with Miss Helzer's "pickiness," I wanted to please her; I wanted her to like me; I wanted to avoid her looks of disdain.

But in private, when I sewed for myself at home, I was sloppy.  And lazy.  I took shortcuts.  (And it showed!)

Over the years (and long out of home ec), I started to care much more about my finished products.  I really wanted to avoid that . . . homespun. . . look.  I found myself adopting more and more of Miss Helzer's lessons; her techniques; her "proper" methods of doing things.

And you know what?  My projects started to look a whole lot better!

So, thanks, Miss Helzer!  Every time I put in a proper zipper, I think of you.  Whenever I take the time to prewash my fabric and straighten the grain, I think of you.  Whenever I understitch. . . or hem a pair of pants. . . or put in a buttonhole, I think of you. 

And, by golly, whenever I rip (which is often), I think of you!  So shall you sew, so shall you rip!

Super Star . . . But He Didn't Get Far . . .


Ten on Tuesday topics like this week's -- Ten Soungs That Put You in a Good Mood -- really throw me for a loop.  On the one hand. . .


it's fun and easy.  Because my brain is crammed with songs.

But on the other hand. . . it's really a challenge.  Because I obsess.  I shuffle songs in my mind all day long.  I feel like John Cusak's character in High Fidelity, over-thinking the songs for his mix-tapes.

Anyway, it's time to put myself out of my misery -- and just list ten songs that make me happy when I hear them:


  1. Midnight Train to Georgia -Gladys Knight & the Pips
  2. The Joker - Steve Miller Band
  3. Get Back - The Beatles
  4. Hotel California - The Eagles
  5. Vertigo - U2
  6. Maggie May - Rod Stewart
  7. Paint it Black - The Rolling Stones
  8. What if God Were One of Us - Joan Osborne
  9. Little Jeannie - Elton John
  10. China Grove - Doobie Brothers

(And here's my list of "Honorable Mentions."  I know.  I know.  I can't help myself.  These were the rest of the songs in the running!   Skateaway (Dire Straits), Here Comes the Sun (George Harrison), Rikki Don't Lose That Number (Steely Dan), Open Arms (Journey), More than a Feeling (Boston), One Week (Barenaked Ladies), Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac), Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen), Mind Games (John Lennon), Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay (Otis Redding), Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young), Billie Jean (Michael Jackson), Band of Gold (Freda Payne), Only Want to Be With You (Hootie and the Blowfish), Penny Lane (The Beatles), Viva La Vida (Coldplay), You're So Vain (Carly Simon), Jackie Blue (Ozark Mountain Daredevils), Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell), Teach Your Children (CSNY), I'm on Fire (Bruce Springsteen), Vogue (Madonna), Paradise by the Dashboard Lights (Meatloaf), Kodachrome (Paul Simon), Light My Fire (The Doors), Layla (Eric Clapton), Oliver's Army (Elvis Costello), Margaritaville (Jimmy Buffet.)

How abut YOU?  What songs put you in a good mood?


Join the fun!  Sign up for Ten on Tuesday here.

Making a Statement

My daughter, Erin, is home for a visit this week.  (It's her spring break.)  As many of you know, she is a grad student at Carnegie Mellon University, just finishing up work for her Master's degree in English Literature and Cultural Studies.


Erin is particularly interested in literature as it intersects with pop culture; or "new media."  She is frequently frustrated in her efforts . . . because the field is just emerging, really, and changing as fast as "media" does these days!   She encounters both professors and students who are not quite. . . well, ready . . . for the "new" in "new media."  Erin, though, has always (since her tiny toddler days) been incredibly perceptive to the world around her.  She is . . . On To Something . . . and she will perservere.  (Just wait.)

Anyway, she has a blog of her own, and she frequently (between tales of life in a new urban setting, the frustrations of graduate school, video game reviews, and political rants) writes of her own thoughts about this emerging field.

I thought it might be fun for her to become a "guest blogger" here on my blog today.  When I read this post of hers last week, I was quite moved.  I hope you will be, too.

Take it away, Erin. . .

Statement of Intent

I was born between 1980 and 1999. I am a Millennial, and they keep telling me that I am the future. 

I grew up with the Internet. I transitioned from cds to mp3s, from VHS to DVD. I learned to type before I learned cursive. I learned my multiplication tables from Math Blasters. I grew up with Nintendo and Microsoft and Apple and cellphones.

I was twelve years old on September 11, 2001. I remember sitting in my classroom—I believe it was pre-algebra—that morning, watching the classroom television in silence, transfixed by the image of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. I remember not really understanding what was going on or why it was happening. I was twelve. My main concern: were there any planes coming to get me? 

I watched President Bush address the nation. I watched him declare the “war on Terror.” I remember a time before Homeland Security. I followed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on and off as I went through middle school, high school. I watched some people I graduated with go off to war. I went to college. I cast my vote for Obama in 2008. I watched the banks collapse only to be bailed out. I studied the corporate greed. I saw it happen before my very eyes.

I follow Occupy in the news, I watch the police and the politicians try desperately to stop the most deadly force: a group of people who have seen the world collapse...and not seen anyone trying to fix it.

I study new media and culture. I bash my ideas against a wall of resistance. The professor doesn't understand that there is no difference between a book and an eBook. It's what is written that matters. I think they're afraid of me and my ideas. Because they know when I was born.

I was born between 1980 and 1999. I am a millennial, and I am your future.

And I’m not going away.


Right Plant, Right Place

As you all know, I love plants.  Out in my garden, or inside my house.  I love watching them grow and change.  I love it when they flourish.  I love sharing my space with foliage and blooms and roots. 

I do not, however, fuss with my plants.


If you are one of my houseplants, I pay close attention to your light requirements, and I place you in the proper environment.  You get water once a week.  On Fridays.  But only if you're really dry.  In spring, when I'm more motivated, you might get a little plant food once in a while.  Every now and then, I may re-pot you.  I will pinch off your dead leaves and dust you when the mood strikes.  I will give you music, some conversation, and some laughter.

Beyond that. . . well, you're on your own.

A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting our local organic market/health food store and I found this sweet little plant, growing on a mini-topiary form, and I couldn't resist.  I brought him home with me.


This is not a good photo, and I am sorry about that.  Sadly, it is the only one I have.  The thing to note in this particular photo is that the plant is . . . alive.  And thriving.

The care tag on my new little plant looked like this:



I put the little guy in my sunny, east-facing window.  I gave him water; a good drenching, actually.

"Keep moist?"  No.  That tag should read . . . "Provide bog-like conditions for this plant.  Water thoroughly every five minutes.  Be sure there is Not One Particle of Dry Soil in this pot.  Better yet, submerge the entire pot in water!"

Because two days after a drenching, this happened:



Crispy.  Beyond all hope.  A casualty.

At first, I was disappointed. 

But now?  Not so much.  I have a cool pot and a topiary form.  I'll find another plant to grow in its place.  One that isn't fussy and won't require constant care.  The adorable little angel vine?  Not the right plant; not in my place!


March Madness

I'm not a basketball fan.   But I do catch the whole March Madness thing . . .


just not the college basketball kind! 

During March, I get caught up in my own March Madness:  A need to spruce things up -- not just around the house, but in the project queue as well.  So I've put together a little bracket for myself.  My own little March Madness "competition"!  Let's see which project(s) make(s) it through this month. . . to be crowned. . . Kym's March Project Champ!  (My "Elite Eight" is listed above, in the brackets.  Next week I'll reveal my "Final Four."  The excitement builds.)

How about you?  How do you celebrate March Madness?


I had to chuckle today when I read Carole's blog.  She will soon be celebrating her 50,000th comment!  (She'll be sending a prize to the lucky 50,000th commenter, so be sure to go . . . say something!)  As for me, I'm nearing the 5,000th comment on my blog!!!  (Which sounded so much better before I read about Carole's Ten Times More Impressive milestone!)

So . . . celebrate with us: 50,000 for Carole; 5,000 for me!  Say something.  Win a cool prize!  (Maybe you'll even win one from BOTH of us.  Now wouldn't THAT be cool?)

Helen, Donna, and Nee-Cie


"You can't just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream.  You've got to get out there and make it happen for yourself." 
-- Diana Ross

It's March.  Women's History Month.  I typically acknowledge this special month. . . even though I have a problem with women's history having to be assigned a month.  I know.  I know.  I've struggled with this over the years, and I've just decided to go with it.  A month is better than no month at all. 

So.  Women's History Month.  A time to celebrate the legacy of women.  This year, I've decided to acknowledge and honor those women who've had role in my life; women who've contributed to who I am today.

The other day, I started thinking about . . . music.  As you've probably figured out, I always have a song running through my head.  I listen to music in my car.  When I work at my computer.  In my kitchen.  When I work out.  Heck, I even work for music organizations!  And I wondered where this came from. . . when did that Soundtrack of My Life begin? 

My sister is like this, too.  Some of my best memories of our earlier times are of the two of us, huddled around some radio or another, waiting to hear one of our favorite songs.  (Procol Harem, Di?)  My sister even had one of those rare and coveted part-time jobs in high school -- working for the local record store. . . spinning vinyl. . . every day!

So, where did this come from?  Not our parents.  No.  The influence of music started early. . . and came from other sources.

Hit it, Supremes. . .


When we were little girls, my sister and I had two sisters as our babysitters:  Helen and Donna. I used to get pretty excited when Helen or Donna came over to babysit us (although Di hated for our Mom to go anywhere; she wasn't happy about babysitters) . . . because they were nice.  And cool.  It would have been the mid-sixties when Helen came; later in the sixties when Donna came.  They had bubble-flip hairdos.  They wore paisley dresses.  Donna had real go-go boots.  When you see the screaming girls who loved the Beatles or the Stones. . . well, that could've been Helen or Donna.

Helen used to come over and tune in the radio.  She loved Motown.  Diana Ross and the Supremes.  The Temptations.  Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.  The Four Tops.  She listened.  We listened.  I loved it!

I remember that Donna was more outgoing than Helen.  Very bubbly and giggly.  She was our sitter one summer, when my mom had just gone back to work part time.  She would come over and tune the radio to Larrrrry Luuuuuujack, a DJ in Chicago.  She loved Freda Payne's "Band of Gold."  She would listen for it all day on the radio, and then we'd all dance around the house whenever it played.  Donna had a little '45 record carrying case, and she would bring her carefully-organized record collection to our house sometimes to play on my little record player.  Donna taught me to dance.  The Twist.  The Freddie.  The Monkey.  The Pony.  She was awesome!

Donna and Helen provided my introduction to "rock-n-roll".  So different from the music of my parents!  So cool!  So hip!  They introduced me to Motown and Top 40 and popular radio stations. . . so much a part of my own love of rock-n-roll and pop music.  The very beginnings of . . . the Soundtrack of My Life!

And, then. . . there was Nee-Cie!


"Nee-Cie" (short for Denise) was the youngest daughter of some friends of my parents.  Nee-Cie was probably about 3 or 4 years older than me -- and I felt so lucky to be able to spend time with her.   She was So. Cool.  Nee-Cie would invite me into her room. . . her teen-ager room. . . her cool-beyond-belief teen-ager room! . . . and let me catch a glimpse of her totally-groovy 13-year-old existence in 1968.  I remember just . . . breathing in her coolness. Posters on her wall!  Make-up carefully arranged on a dressing table!  SEVENTEEN magazine!  A pink fuzzy rug!  It was like . . . having face-time . . . with Marcia Brady!!! 

Nee-Cie was far beyond a '45 record collection.  She played entire record albums for me!  Nee-Cie introduced me to the Stones.  Jefferson Airplane.  The Doors.  But, mostly, she shared her love of the Beatles.  I remember sitting on the floor in her room - on the pink fuzzy rug - as she carefully instructed me in all things Beatles.  She filled me full of Beatle-lore, showed me pictures, relayed stories, played me songs, wrote out lyrics . . . and then quizzed me on all of it.  Just to make sure I really understood.

And me?  I just sat there, playing with her Spirograph, taking it all in -- thrilled, feeling pretty cool,  and adding to the Soundtrack of my Life.

Easter circa 1970

And so today, all these many years later, I acknowledge the Legacy left me by Helen, Donna, and Nee-Cie:  A love of pop music and a constant awareness of . . .what's playing on the radio!


It's in the Bag!!!


This week, Carole has us emptying the contents of our purses for Ten on Tuesday . . . with Ten Things in Your Purse.

Here's my (current) handbag.


Rather biggish.  Slouchy.  Easy to carry.  Goes with everything.  

Here's the inside view.


I don't tend to over-fill my bag with junk.  I tend to carry just what I need.  Here are the things I consider essential; the things  you'll always find in my bag:


  1. Wallet (with it's own subset of handy things inside!)
  2. Phone (My Precious. . .)
  3. Keys (with flashdrive and Eiffel Tower charm.)
  4. Glasses (This nifty glasses case carries both cheaters AND sunglasses in one!)
  5. Small notebook (for my grocery lists, errands, and miscellaneous notes-on-the-fly.)
  6. Lip balm (Burt's Bees with Mango!)
  7. Hand lotion (Neutrogena.  The best.)
  8. Mints (Altoids. Because I adore the tins.)
  9. Ear phones (Because you never know when you'll need to plug in.)
  10. Re-usable bag (I actually carry 3 and use them all the time.)
  11. Starbucks coffee cozy (I carry one and re-use.)
  12. Umbrella (A tiny little mini-umbrella.)

Oops.  That's twelve things.  But those are the items I always have with me. 

Sometimes, depending on my day, I'll add a book.  Or my iPad.  Maybe a bottle of water or some knitting.  Occasionally a make-up bag or some hairspray.  If Jenny is with me, some dog treats and a poop-bag.  But, generally, this is it!

How about you?  What's in YOUR bag?


Join the fun!  Sign up for Ten on Tuesday here.

Together We'll Make History

Time for a soundtrack. . .


I would climb any mountain. . .


Sail across a stormy sea. . .


If that's what it takes me baby. . .


To show how much you mean to me.


And I guess it's just the . . . garter. . . in you . . .


That brings out the . . . knitter. . . in me. . .


I know I can't help myself.


You're all in the world to me.

Garter stitch.  Stripes.  Feels like the first time!  Ravelry details here.

It's Snowing, but I'll Garden Anyway, Dang It!

Last Friday, it was snowing big, heavy snowflakes here in Kalamazoo.  And I was totally buried in my work deadline. 

Perfect day for gardening, non?

Why not!


My pal, Sandie, and I had discovered a little article in the February issue of Garden Gate magazine (one of our favorites) about turning milk jugs into mini-greenhouses and starting perennial seeds in the winter -- growing them outside.  Sounded like a perfect project to us!

So we assembled our materials. . .


and got to work in my kitchen!  (Although we eventually moved out to my garage.  This is a Messy Project.)

I was especially excited about trying perennial seeds, something I have never done before!  I dig up and divide perennials all the time, but I have never really thought about starting perennials from seed.  This year, I was inspired.  I have some very special seeds, sent to me by my friend Chiko, and collected from her own lovely garden in Colorado.  I'm so excited to have some of Chiko's plants here in my landscape!


So, Sandie and I prepped. . .


and pounded. . .


and planted!


Just what we needed on a busy, snowy afternoon in February!


(My mini-greenhouses today.)

Hope and promise . . . for spring!


Agave update:


The blooming finished.  I cut off the stalk and remaining leaves.  If you look closely in the soil . . . you can see three little sprouts coming up at the base of the main plant.  They are growing faster now.  I think these are going to be . . . Baby Spots!  (I'm so excited. . .)