Who do you think you are?

30-something mother, wife, lawyer, writer, design junkie, craftaholic, cook

likes: clever tools, snazzy colors, working for justice, kid wrangling, Meyer lemons

dislikes: inefficiency, civil discovery, most shades of purple, Tori Amos

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Tuesday
Apr052011

Six Point Two

So. March happened. Whew.

As you can guess, although I appeared to have lost the password to my blog, I was actually running like a crazy hamster in a wheel in "real" life. And when I say running, I mean jogging. But I'll get to that.

Although work occupied most of my time, I did find a few spare hours to do something creative a couple of weeks ago. 

When Spoonflower announced their Project Selvage competition with Michael Miller Fabrics, my first thought was, "Ooh, shiny!" A competition to design fabric for baby boys! Yay! Fabric! Boys! After I got past my native magpie reaction, I raced from idea to idea, imagining whole collections, doodling, making notes. And then I remembered that I hate to compete.* So I put all that stuff aside. Because I know how much amazing talent there is out there—I didn't stand a chance.

***

When I was a kid, I was, shall we say, socially challenged. I had a hard time using my powers for good. It's not that I was a hard-hearted or mean kid. I was just nervous and weird and a little inside my own head. I still am. It's just that now, I don't worry that this means I should expect exile to a desert island at any moment. But when I was 9? 12? 15? Not so much.

One of the chief ways I isolated myself from other kids was by staying inside. By the time I was twelve, I had convinced myself that I was not good at outside-type things. You know. Things requiring coordination in excess of well-timed page turning. But the truth was, I was just fine at these kinds of things. Sure my elbows flew out at weird angles when I ran. And I had a wicked air ball. And, ok, I was not exactly the picture of grace on a pair of skates. Of course, if I had stepped outside of my head for even a second, I would have realized that hardly any of the kids I knew were destined for Olympic medals.

But perspective was not my forte. So I withdrew further and further into my persona as the athletically-challenged brainy girl. 

Then, in 9th grade, the jig was up. I met my match. The Presidential Fitness Challenge. Every 9th grader was required to take P.E., and the fitness challenge was he centerpiece of the spring semester's curriculum. Things started off auspiciously. Sit ups. I can do sit ups. Sit and reach. Seriously? If flexibility were a sport, I could totally letter in that. Pull ups. What? No problem. All the girls were terrible at pull ups. One mile run... Cue the sound of the needle skipping across the full radius of the record.

At the age of 14 I had never sat behind the wheel of a car. I had no concept of how long a mile was. All I knew was that it was the single longest unit of measure I'd ever encountered. It may as well have been the distance to the moon for all I knew. As the day for the mile approached, my dread kept pace with the mounting spring South Carolina humidity.

The assignment was simple. 4 times around the track. Anything under 12 minutes would be passing. Our PE teacher made it clear that anything less was not just failing. It would be the stuff of Greek tragedies. She may as well have shod me in lead boots on Mars.

The gun went off. I kid you not. She had a track gun. Overkill? You be the judge. Either way—it went off, I took off. And I was actually fast. For approximately 9 seconds. At which point I began to feel a searing pain goring me from between the ribs shielding my heart. Which seemed poised to explode. The next few minutes is a blur, but I think I made it around the track at least once before I lay down in the middle of the track just beyond my PE teacher. I may have been out of breath and losing my mind, but I still had my flair for the dramatic, dammit. 

Eventually, I got up. I walked. I whined. I shuffled. I walked some more. And as the stopwatch clicked to 12:01, I crossed the finish line. Somehow Greek tragedy works better when your name is Antigone or Electra.

So, yeah. I failed the mile. It was 10 years before I ever contemplated running another step.

***

On the last day to enter the Project Selvage country, I got my head out of my you-know-what, and I put together a design that had been in my head for weeks waiting to be born: old-fashioned baby toys who run away to join the circus.

To my great delight, the design made it to the semi-final round of the competition. 75 designs are competing by popular vote to be one of the 10 finalists. Voting ends tomorrow, April 6 at 12 PM EST. If you'd like to vote for my design (or any of the other wonderful designs—you can vote for as many as you like), the contest voting is here. It'd be swell to make it to the top 10—finalists are expected to turn their first design into the anchor for a collection of 6 patterns. I'd love to do that. But it's been fun, no matter what.

***

It's been more than 20 years since I failed the mile. For years I let that moment define me. I'm just not athletic—no big deal. I'm uncoordinated. So what? I exert myself mentally, so I don't need to do physical exercise. Makes sense, right?

At the end of January I got on the scale and saw that I weighed the same thing I did two weeks after my son was born 5 years ago. Er. Whoops.

So I started running. 30 seconds at a time.

Last Saturday, I joined nearly 40,000 other people in running across the bridge that is the central landmark of my town. And which is very, very long. With the help of a lovely pair of running buddies, I put one foot in front of the other and jogged every step of 6.2 miles.

Six. Point. Two.

My time will not give rise to legendary stories of race-day glory. But that wasn't the point.

When I finished, I called my husband, who related my son's central concern: Did you win, mommy?

It all depends on how you define winning.

So, yeah.

*This is just a genteel way of saying, "I hate to lose." Go with it.

Saturday
Feb122011

For the Love of Soup

If I had to pick a favorite food group, it would have to be soup. From bisques to bouillabaisses, I love them all. So when it's cold outside, soup is often my go-to meal.

Matching the boundlessness of my love for soup is the boundlessness of the quantities of soup I tend to make. So I often have leftovers. Soup freezes well, but unfreezing a huge block of soup can take longer than simply whipping up a new batch. So, more often than I'd like to admit, I have found myself with three or four giant vats of soup in the refrigerator in various stages of petri dish.

Last year I volunteered to make cupcakes for my son's Valentine's Day party at school. Naturally, I wanted them to be heart-shaped. Naturally. I found a remaindered batch of silicone heart molds and had just enough to make 24 chocolate hearts. Awesome. But there was just one problem. Now I had 24 heart-shaped silicone molds.

But then I discovered that just as baked goods sprung magically from the molds, so, too, do frozen ones as well. Now, whenever I make enough soup to serve an army, I just put the molds on a sheet tray, ladle them full of soupy goodness, and pop them in the freezer to firm up. Then I can pop them out of the molds and into a freezer bag. When it's time to pack my lunch, I just pop a few soup hearts into a container--portion control is easy, and I don't have to worry that somewhere between my house and my office I'll end up coated in the leaked contents of last night's split pea soup. Score!

White Bean Soup with Kale and Sausage

This isn't so much a recipe as a formula for soup. Use what you have and what you like.

32 oz cooked white beans (navy or cannellini work well)
1 large head kale or mustard greens
1/2 lb Italian sausage (hot or mild), casings removed
1 shallot, finely chopped 1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 T olive oil (or bacon grease, if you have that lying around)
Water or stock

1. In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, brown the sausage in the oil. When the sausage is nearly cooked through, add the celery and shallot, stirring to coat with the oil. Add a pinch of salt and sweat the vegetables until they are crisp-tender.

2. Add beans, kale, and water (if you reserve the cooking liquid from your beans, through that in, too) to cover, about 2 quarts.

3. Simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

That's it! Hearty and healthy soup that is ready to serve or freeze.

Sunday
Jan302011

Happy Beeping Valentine's Day

BEEP!

In spite of a decades-long disinterest in the hoopla surrounding February 14, I started making Valentine's Day cards as soon as my little boy was old enough to hand them out to his friends at school. I can still picture my mother, hunched over our kitchen table, hand calligraphing the cards I had helped her make (butterflies fashioned from pairs of red foil heart stickers) for my class in the first grade. And so, I guess, it just feels right for me to continue the tradition with my son.

This year I planned to do as I have before and make a single, unisex design, but when I got to fiddling with the colors for these robots, I just couldn't resist the traditional pink on red color scheme. But my son was insistent that we had to have a version with the turquoise robot. I think two robots are better than one, don't you? And because I love envelopes, and I love patterns, I thought these would look swell coming out of tiny circuit board envelopes.

There are three pages in all: the first page has both envelopes and one of each card—the envelopes will be easiest to fold if you print them on plain paper. There are also separate sheets with 9 of each card design, so that if you want sturdier cards, you can print these on stock and cut them to size. These are old-fashioned teeny tiny cards, so don't try to put them in the mail, as they are too small for USPS, but just right for school chums.

And if robots aren't your thing, don't forget to check out the dinosaur, cowboy, rocket ship, skunk, and alligator valentines I've shared here in the past. 

As always, you are welcome to download and print as many of these as you like for personal use. Please do not alter or redistribute them.

Sunday
Jan092011

Handmade Holiday Recap: Of Owls and Cowls

If you are a regular reader of this site, you know that I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the inexplicable profusion of owls and cowls on handmade sites like Etsy. It's not that I am anti-owl nor anti-cowl. It's just that I eschew a certain hipster je ne sais quoi that seems to coalesce around these otherwise unrelated partners in rhyme.

And yet, as the handmade holiday got underway Chez Industrialiste this year, I found myself casting on for the first time in years and knitting up a cowl. And I must say, I rather liked how it turned out.

I didn't have a pattern—I just cast on a bunch of stitches and improvised. A little stockinette at the beginning for the soft rolled edge, and then a variation on seed stitch for a little visual interest. Freestyle knitting for the win!

And just as I was putting the finishing touches on my cowl, I received this in the mail:

And that, friends, is what's called paying attention. My friend Courtney is both a wizard in felt and a comedy genius. When I unwrapped this little goodie she sent I laughed until it hurt. He's been hanging on my back door, and I laugh every time I see him. I laugh doubly when my little boy notices him and shouts, "NO OWLS!"

And with inspiration like that, how could I not get into the making mood? Next stop: sewing machine. I'm not the world's greatest seamstress, but I have loads of small pieces of fabric (aka "strike-offs") from my textile design business. I also have loads of women in my family who are famously freezing all the time. So I sewed up a bunch of small warming pillows featuring an assortment of my fabrics—essentially, these are just a couple of rectangles of organic cotton sewn together and filled about 1/2 to 2/3 full with flax seed. A few seconds in the microwave, and voilà! Cozy warmth.

And still more knitting. And paper crafts. And sewing. A lot of things made it out of my grips without getting caught by my camera. And then there's the knitting I'm still working on (oops) (based on this pattern):

Finally, you may be wondering if I managed to turn my pirate snowman drawing into a stocking for my son. I avoided it for weeks for fear that I wouldn't be able to execute the idea that had taken root in my head. And then it was Christmas Eve. I pulled out the felt I had stockpiled from last year, and, miraculously, I had every color I needed. But other gifts had to be finished before going to my mom's house that night. And so later that night, we came home from my Mom's house fat, happy, and exhausted. After making, ahem, preparations for Santa's arrival, I collapsed. No stocking. Not one stitch.

I set the alarm for 4AM. It went off. I actually got up. And by 7:45 in the morning, I had built a snowman:

Whew.

I think this was my favorite handmade holiday ever. Hope yours was great, too.

(And now I'm off to the post office...if you are my little sister and you are wondering where your #@&!* gifts are...the check, I mean, cowl, is in the mail...)

Saturday
Jan012011

2011: A Produce Calendar Odyssey 

Happy New Year!

Last year I resolved to eat more locally grown and seasonally appropriate fruits and vegetables. And to aid in that effort, I made some quirky little calendars. And  while I have occasionally snacked on an apple in june or sliced up a hothouse tomato in the doldrums of February, I think I can report that I have mostly lived up to that resolution. I like to think the calendars helped with that.

This year I took a different approach to my seasonal foods calendar. Each month features an illustrated fruit or vegetable, along with reminders of the other goodies that are at their peak in that month. Obviously, growing seasons vary around the globe, but I did my best to approximate what is generally in season in large parts of North America for each month. I'm very happy with the way they turned out, and I hope you are, too.

***

But it wouldn't be the new year without a new resolution, right? And working through these drawings for the last few weeks has given me a lot of time to think about what I ought to challenge myself to this year. I've decided that 2011 will be my year of taking care of myself. That means, of course, continuing my seasonal produce odyssey. But it also means getting more sleep. Reading more books. Finding more quiet. Getting more exercise. Singing more 80s pop songs at the top of my lungs. And—ahem, this is the hard one—valuing myself. And that starts today.

This website is a labor of love for me. I would be doing it even if you weren't reading. But it's so much more fun because you do. Because you write to me and share your own funny stories, because you are kind enough to tell me, from time to time, that you appreciate what I do. I use the site to promote my tiny side business, and I get the occasional affiliate payment because you buy something from Amazon after visiting my site (I'm looking at you, Kate!), but this is not a money-making endeavor. And that's okay with me. I LOVE sharing my little doodles and flights of fancy with you, and as long as Cottage Industrialist is around I will ALWAYS make those freely available.

But. And there is a but. This is hard work! For this year's calendars, I designed a new font, refreshed my research about the seasons for North American produce, and drew 12 brand-new illustrations. All-told, I put in about 40 hours of work on these. And but for wanting to brain myself while drawing kernel after kernel of corn, I loved doing it. Still, as I labored stroke by stroke over the thistly choke on March's artichoke and the craggy details of October's carrots, I got to thinking about the widely held concern among artists and craftspeople about the danger of giving their work away, especially in the era of Etsy and the internet. If we make something freely available because we take joy in sharing and we enjoyed the work for its own sake, are we saying, "This thing I spent all this time making is really cool, but it's only worth $.00"? Are we, in essence, devaluing ourselves and our work? Are we letting our desire to share our work (which is an eensy bit tied up with ego, but that's a whole other conversation) trump our desire to be respected and valued for it?

I don't know. But here's what I'm going to do about it today. I'm not going to plaster my site with ugly ads. No, I'm going all NPR on you. Yep. If you want to support the stories and projects and designs that you get here, you can show your support (in any amount you choose) with a small PayPal donation.* If that's not your thing or you don't have a dollar to spare, that's a-ok—I love emails, too! I'm happy you're here, no matter what. It's not about the money, it's about reminding myself that my work and my time are valuable.

So, without further ado, here they are, in a single, printable PDF—convenient, yes, but also huge (15MB), so be patient! Each calendar is sized to print on a single sheet of 8.5x11" paper.

Now go eat your vegetables!

*This is different from NPR in at least one very important way, though: my site may not be profitable, but I am not a non-profit, so don't go claiming your donation as a tax deduction, or I'll have to take off my blogger hat and put my criminal defense lawyer hat to keep you out of trouble!