Category Archives: Lifestyle

Update: OMG IT’S (sort of but not really) DONE!/The Peggy Carter Project

It’s been a while since I updated you on what’s going on with #thepeggycarterproject. So here goes:

I just finished sewing the test skirt in muslin!!!!!!!

Okay, so maybe I didn’t *exactly* finish – I did something funny along the way and the waistband extension didn’t come out long enough – but I’ve now gone through the process and can put the skirt together. I’ll have to be a little more careful with the zipper, and the button hole will likely be a challenge, but at this point I’m pretty confident that I can make a skirt, and that it will fit.

It was harder than I’d anticipated, mostly because sewing takes a lot of patience and as each step advanced I got a little more nervous about moving on to the next one. (The next step now is actually cutting up my beautiful fabric, so hopefully I’ll be able to screw up the nerve soon.)

wpid-wp-1430574952317.jpegAt last update, I was in the process of cutting the fabric out. Now, it was time to stitch things together. With the exception of one seam, which I sewed the wrong way round (didn’t bother to go back and take it out because this isn’t the actual skirt, the sewing went pretty well – aside from a major tension issue that popped up midway through. (And no, I don’t mean the part where I cried.)

0420152125 0420152125aWhen I took my sewing machine home to show my mom, we decided that the best thing was really to buy a new sewing machine (because why wouldn’t that be the best thing, right?). It was more than I wanted to spend (this project is fast becoming a money pit in its own right) but it made a huge difference in sewing the last few seams. When it arrived, I sewed a few lines and sent her a photo; she approved. The old machine, she said, wasn’t punching the thread through the fabric on both the top and bottom, and given the price and time involved in getting the machine a professional tune-up, the newer machine just made more sense. Here are the photos I sent her; they’re much tighter and more uniformed than what I was getting from the older machine. The new machine also controls the speed of the needle more precisely, which was nice because sometimes you don’t want to go super fast or super slow but somewhere nice and comfortable, in the middle.

I won’t post close-ups of the zipper because the zipper is a travesty and something I will be practicing a few more times before I do it on the actual skirt, but here’s what it started to look like:

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You may notice – or you may not – that while this looks skirt-sized, it is also a bit smaller than you might expect, given the size of my waist. Well, kids, this is where I learned something important about sewing: read the directions. Like, always. Like, four times. Then read everything actually written on the pattern. Like, always. Like, four times. Because sometimes it turns out that just because you only cut two of one pattern piece, it doesn’t mean you don’t cut four of another pattern piece. Who’d’ve thought, right? You need two side panels on EACH side of the skirt, not just two side panels in all.

wpid-0419151229.jpgThat realization came to me, unfortunately, AFTER I had bought a roll of permanent pattern paper because I thought that I was going to have to size the entire pattern up significantly. It was while doing the math required to figure that out that I went back and looked at the pattern again. And realized my mistake. The things writers will do to avoid doing math, you know? But it worked, in the end:

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Next, it was time for the fusible interfacing. After doing a lot of math (this math was unavoidable), I had figured out that it made more sense just to buy a bolt of the stuff (about eight bucks from Joanne Fabrics, though the prices I saw varied WILDLY depending on where I was sourcing from). Interfacing is used to make sure parts of the suit keep their form – so it gets used on bits like the waistband and eventually the suit lapels (eep!). You don’t need loads of it for the project, but if I keep this hobby up it’ll be nice to have on hand.

0420152149For the skirt, the interfacing is fused to the waist band, then the waist band is folded over onto itself and then sewn to the bottom panels of the skirt. The process was a little tricky. The first step was cutting and fusing the interfacing. By this point in the project I had moved on to a “let’s just get it done” mentality, so I wasn’t super careful about cutting it out to match – all that caution is going towards the final product. I placed the fabric on a towel (I don’t have an ironing board, judge not) then laid the interfacing down on top of it. Then you put another towel on top so you don’t get the interfacing glue stuck on your iron, and gently press the interfacing down with the hot iron. Eventually, you pick the iron up and put it down on the next bit of fabric.

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0420152157aNext, you have to press up the seam of the waist band so that you can eventually sew that to the skirt band. This was kind of annoying because you have to make sure the seam is going to be even, and it was sort of confusing to read the directions and figure out what was supposed to be getting pinned facing what. But I soldiered through it and got it done!

Finally, the nightmare of sewing the waist band to the skirt. I didn’t even take pictures of that process, it was so miserable, but once I did that and ran it through the sewing machine, look what happened!
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It might be a little bit messy, but it’s served its purpose, and you know what that means…the next time you hear from me on this project, it will involve real fabric, having to work methodically and carefully, and maybe even a finished skirt!

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Gotta stay inspired, you know?

For more on this project:

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The Unfinishable To-Do List

dT8Rd9ATeOne of the best lessons I learned about time and workload management without going crazy was at one of my first jobs in New York City. I was working for a boutique architecture firm at the time, and suffice to say, there were days when my “task list” in Outlook stretched over pages and pages.

At first, I would go nuts trying to get everything done each day, so I could start the next day with a clean slate. Eventually, my manager and I started having regular meetings – sometimes daily – where we’d review my task list and she’d help me prioritize what had to get done. When we started, we’d mark a few things, but I’d still try to rush through them and get to the other items on my list.

Then, one day, I watched as she managed her own to-do list and realized I was making a very basic (and very mistaken) assumption: that all – or even a majority – of tasks on my list were going to get done at all. The next time we sat down and she told me what I needed to prioritize that day, I realized that she truly did not expect that I would finish other things on my list that day.

The realization was liberating.

It’s been several jobs and several years, but nowadays, I keep a running task list – I use a Google app called “Manage It,” though their task canvas also works. Part of having the running task list is knowing that it is unlikely to ever be empty. The other part is not beating myself up when I don’t get as much struck off the list as I’d like.

For someone like me, who was used to stressing about finishing things quickly (and well) and moving on to the next item, always reaching for that blank slate, this was a major change in philosophy. It’s left me calmer, happier and provides a fantastic tool for one-on-one meetings with my current manager: she can see what I’m working on, see what my priorities are, and give me direction on when my workload might enable me to help others on my team. Since I’ve detached from needing to finish every task every day, I stress less and recognize that my workload, while immense, is also manageable.

What techniques do you use for managing your workload? Simple to-do lists? Automated apps? Do you try to finish everything every day, or are there things you keep on your list just to make sure you don’t forget them?

Pro Tips: When Your Android Phone Dies

I should really make sure to put this in a protective case before I go travelling tomorrow, I thought, juggling two bags, my phone and a coffee cup while trying to open my car door. I had a busted-up Otterbox at home, but had never gotten around to replacing it, and was planning a trip the next day.

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Irony-hungry trickster god, you say?

Almost before I finished thinking it my phone leaped from my hands, bounced off the ground three times, and lay there. Face down. Like some irony-hungry trickster god had expressly decided to fuck with me. My phone (an LG G2, highly recommended) had taken some spills in the past, but a sinking feeling in my gut told me this time was different. That sinking feeling was right.

You know the rest of the story: shattered screens, insurance claims, phone replacement hassles, data backups, two-hour drives with only the radio to keep me company… But here are two tips that made the process WAY less painful and stress-inducing that it would have otherwise been, and some things I’m doing to make sure I’m covered in the future.

For the now:

  • Did you know Google lets you make voice calls for free in the US and Canada, straight from your gmail account? I didn’t. But holy cow. Without this function I’d have had to drive into work to make my insurance report. You’ll need to allow pop-ups on your gmail page, which you can do by clicking the little puzzle-piece looking icon that will appear in your URL bar. Not only was I able to call my insurance company, but by sorting through my google contacts via my Chromebook, I was able to reschedule a phone meeting from Skype to Google Hangouts, when I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to let the other party know what was going on.
  • Have phone insurance. Whether it’s the pain-in-the-neck version from Best Buy or insurance via a private provider (mine came as an option on my renter’s insurance), have phone insurance. With my renter’s insurance, the total cost was under $20, with a $50 deductible. At Best Buy, it costs something like $10/month, and they tend to take a few days to replace your critical external brain (well, I find it critical, maybe you’re not as tech-dependent as I am). Whichever way you do the math, it’s a better option than being hundred of dollars out of pocket for the replacement.

For the future:

  • Have a USB OTG (on-the-go) cable to hand. Without having pre-installed software onto my phone, this is the best option for unlocking and accessing my files. It allows you to connect a mouse to your phone via mini USB, and I’ve spent the last half hour looking to see whether I can get ahold of one at any local store. Not even the local Walmart (or any of the five Walmarts within driving distance) keep them in stock. Major fail, major annoyzballs. If you’re very clever and very handy, there are instructions on making your own with a soldering iron – or a lighter, or matches – but ten minutes futzing with teeny weeny copper wires made it clear that metalwork of any sort is really not my calling. Wound up ordering one from Amazon; even if I replace my phone before it arrives, at least this way I’ll be able to get back precious photos of the nieceling. Which brings me to:
  • For gods’ sake, BACK THAT SHIT UP. I used to have a direct upload from my camera to one of my cloud drives; when I moved to my new cell phone provider last year, I didn’t take the time to set up phone photo backups anywhere. DUMB. Just dumb.
  • Install a remote-access option on your phone. I’m hoping to get AirDroid set up once I get my hands that USB OTG cable; it lets you access your phone from a PC or Mac (and now has a web interface).
  • Consider rooting your phone. Apparently there are apps out there that now root your phone quickly and easily, as opposed to a few years ago when you had to have technical know-how to do it. Rooting your phone gives you more access and control over its software and accessing your data. Easier to do before the fact than after.
  • Buy a goddamn phone case that fits and works well and will protect the screen of my replacement phone in the future. Because, well, duh.

Hopefully, you’re less of a klutz than I am, and hopefully that means you’ll never ever ever have to go through this process. But if you do, hopefully the above will help you navigate the loss of your external brain more easily.

Update: Cutting Out Fabric #ThePeggyCarterProject

wpid-0316152218.jpgJust a quick update re: my progress on The Peggy Carter Project. After one unsuccessful attempt at cutting out my design in cotton muslin, the second attempt went much more smoothly. This time, I knew to cut out the little notches, and properly cut along the fold – so that my earlier panic about the fabric not encircling my ample waist proved to be a result of my learning curve, and not of the pattern being screwy.

wpid-0321151431.jpgThe next step is stay-stitching the tops and bottoms of each panel. Which will require finding the instruction book for my sewing machine, since in the couple weeks since I did my mini-project I’ve forgotten how to make the needle go backwards.

I’m also waiting for the lightweight interfacing to arrive, since my local sewing shop doesn’t appear to stock the right weight.

I also ordered some ribbon for my hat.

And started a Pinterest board for this project.

Malawi Needs Medicine Bottles

Early on in dealing with the back injury that laid me low last year, I realized there were going to be a good number of prescription medication bottles floating around my apartment. I couldn’t stand the idea of throwing them all away. Thinking of the sad state of American medical care, I thought, “There’s got to be some kind of art project in this.”

I thought my chance had come last Halloween, when my friend and I did a joint costume at a science-themed Halloween party. She was “old medicine” (Victorian dress and a bottle of “snake oil,” a.k.a. whisky) and I was “new medicine” (a fluorescent orange t-shirt with a billion empty prescription bottles hot-glued on) and the whole thing was pretty hilarious.

wpid-screenshot_2015-03-11-19-09-19.pngAfter the party, though, I still couldn’t bring myself to throw away all those little orange bottles. So I threw them in a storage container and figured, sooner or later I’d find the reason I was hanging onto them.

That reason turned up in my Facebook feed the other day. A friend posted a plea from a group called The Malawi Project, asking that people clean and donate their old medicine bottles to help provide safe and clean medication storage to the people of Malawi.

wpid-0314151851.jpgEarlier tonight, I started cleaning my old medicine bottles. It took two and a half hours, but  I boiled, scraped and cleaned each bottle  (the remnants of glue were particularly annoying). It wasn’t fast, but after a while I got into a rhythm, and at the end I had a full box of medicine bottles that I’m going to post out to the Malawi project this week.

wpid-0314152131.jpgI know a lot of people who take regular medication, and while it’s a little time consuming, this is such a great way to help others and keep plastic out of landfills. Set up your laptop, start up a show you enjoy, and presto – a few hours later, you’ll have done something to help others in a really concrete way. And if you do, leave a note below – and help spread the word!

Mini Sewing Project #1: Draft Blocker

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While it’d be awesome to be able to sew this flawlessly and right out of the gate, I’m trying to be realistic.

 

In my quest to create an Agent Carter costume, I knew I’d have to undertake a few smaller projects along the way.

I just finished my first one: a draft blocker for my front door!

Skills acquired:
– Pinning fabric along a seam
– Sewing in a straight line
– Re-threading the needle
– Using a seam-ripper
– Changing a broken needle (yup! Broke one on my first trip out!)

Lessons learned:
– Oh my god this is going to take so much patience.
– No, really. SO MUCH PATIENCE.

wpid-0301151455.jpgSince I didn’t start off thinking I was going to make anything useful, I kind of just folded over one of the fabric remnants I’d bought last weekend and started sewing. It fast became obvious that I had to actually pin the edges of the fabric together if I wanted to have something that didn’t taper into a point at the far end.

Enter the seamripper. It took a little googling to figure out the most effective way of using it, but once I had that down, easy-peasy.

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Next, the tedious part: pinning along the entire outside of the folded fabric so it wouldn’t slip and become uneven as I sewed. That took about ten minutes. I played videos on Hulu while I worked on that.

wpid-0301151526.jpgOnce that was finished, it only took a couple of minutes to sew the seam, then flip what now looked like a sock flag inside out – so the hem would be on the inside. Not bad!

wpid-0301151534.jpgFinally, I stuffed it full of actual socks, those with holes and some that I’d lost the mate to, until it was long enough to fit (almost) all the way across my door. Since I didn’t feel like getting back up to grab a needle and thread and finish sewing by hand, I just tied off the very end, which I think is kind of cute anyways. And – ta-da!

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My suit fabric is meant to arrive tomorrow, so I’m hoping to share a few photos of my supplies later this week. I also have a second length of fabric and one more door that could use a draft blocker, so I might try and do that later this week-  though I’ve used up all my dead socks, so we’ll see how it goes.

For now, I’m feeling pretty accomplished. So accomplished, in fact, that I’m going to go eat a bagel pizza. Nom!

FOMO, Writing & Creativity

FOMO, in case you haven’t heard the term, stands for “Fear Of Missing Out,” and I think it’s something every artist – every person, really – feels from time to time.

Back when I used to buy each year’s edition of the Writer’s Market, I would pore over its pages for hours on end, highlighting the magazines and publishers that sounded like good matches – thinking wild thoughts about how I could submit to each of those opportunities, but never finding the time to act on what I had selected. And meanwhile, the things I did write seemed impossible to match to a market.

wpid-img_20150110_011616.jpgThe internet has only intensified this problem. Along with constant updates of word counts and projects and successes from other writers (and I’m happy for them, don’t get me wrong) there’s a constant deluge of opportunity  – and without having pinned down a calendar of those opportunities that lets me plan ahead, it can be tricky to take full advantage of all the opportunities on offer.

Playwriting opportunities, calls for work with low pay but fascinating concepts – there’s almost never enough time between finding an opportunity and writing down (let alone revising) my work into something I can send out, which isn’t helped by the fact that I see most opportunities just days before their deadlines. And when I do end up with a workable idea, I’m just as likely to save it and self-publish (like with Short Frictions, purchase link to the right), which is a terrible habit that I need to break. At the very least, I should be sending those pieces out to online (and print, though it seems there are fewer of those every day) venues in the hopes of making sales before collecting pieces and publishing them. (For example, after sitting on Blutnacht for over a decade, I saw an opportunity it would have been perfect for…but it doesn’t accept reprints, so that’s that.)

wpid-img_20150222_092153.jpgPart of the problem is my attention span – which is, I’ll admit, woefully flighty at times. Part of my excitement over The Peggy Carter Project is that it’s going to stretch out over time, with enough small pieces, that I can flit from makeup to hair to sewing to shoes to lipstick to other details as I please, constantly working towards a cohesive, finished product.

wpid-img_20150110_181302.jpgBut part of the problem is that I have a hard time anchoring myself in one piece for as long as it takes to complete, these days. There’s so much I want to do. And recently my creative outlets have been non-verbal just as much as they have been about the written word.

I can stand in my kitchen and throw paint on a canvas for an hour or two and have a finished result that I can hang up to decorate the walls of my house. I can spend half an hour gelling and pinning up curls then laze around the house waiting for them to dry, then wet my hair down again and tackle the problem spots (which I’m still maintaining revolve around my hair being shorter than is ideal).

wpid-0217151935.jpgI’ve even started to resurrect my old interest in creating complicated, nuanced cocktails…even though these days I barely ever drink them.

I’m not complaining about any of this – not by a long shot. But it is a re-adjustment, to go from being creative with my words at home, at night, and feeling like a total zombie in my previous day job, to having a fulfilling day job with exciting projects that engages my creativity and then coming home at the end of the day and feeling like I’ve gotten a lot of words out, had some fun, and can explore other avenues of artistry. (Again – this is NOT a complaint – I know how lucky I am to have a job that doesn’t leave me feeling sick with dread every Sunday night, with colleagues who are engaged with what we’re doing, where I’m able to be a creative writer for a living every day).

wpid-0217152332.jpgAll that said, I have a writing project right now – a sitcom about expat Americans in Scotland – that is in desperate need of a rewrite and a second draft. So at some point this week I want to print that out, and that way when I’m practicing my pin curls next weekend I can double-task and go through a full rewrite on that. (Though it wouldn’t hurt to be working on a computer that ran at faster than a crawl to make that happen, quite honestly, since Final Draft isn’t available for Chromebook and I’ve yet to find a comparable program.

Anyways – more updates on pin curls and makeup tutorials coming soon – probably later this week – but I wanted to take a minute to pause and talk about the other kinds of creative work I’m up to just now.

How do you balance your creative outlets? If you’re a writer, do you maintain interests in other art and craft forms? If your “home” medium is more visual or tactile, do you explore other ways of expressing yourself? And for those of you lucky enough to be working on passion projects for your day job, do you get all your creative juices flowing at work or are there things you save just for yourself? Looking forward to answers in the comments.