Tuesday, February 17, 2009

my playground

I'm having a wonderful time in New York City with Mister Stevens and our longtime friend Elspeth, who dropped in on her way from England to Trinidad, and who looks like a million dollars. Last night the three of us walked around Harlem to get ingredients for the fish pie Elspeth made for dinner (too good for leftovers), Elspeth and I eating patties, and it was just like fifteen-plus years ago, when we used to day trip Ann Arbor because there was more fun to be had than in Toledo.

As we were going around, ordering basa at the fish market and red wine at the wine store -- even though Elspeth admonished us that white goes with fish -- I felt myself in a place of ease and comfort, present in a way I haven't been. I've been sitting in my house in Houston, doing what my friend V calls ruminating, flipping the same What am I gonna do's? and Why haven't I been able to kill these tired old thoughts? over and over, and it's so soothing to come where everything feels alright. Walking along is just walking along. Talking is just talking. The people to whom we tip our hats along the way just that. No import.

There is so much to be said for knowing people forever. Old friends help me locate the open space, the space that eludes me when I'm alone. What's really lovely is that with them that space is always there, always welcoming me home.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

the accidental review: stencil 101

You've seen it before.

You call yourself going to Jo-Ann's for a zipper. But it's Friday night and you just got paid, plus you've got a 40%-off coupon burning a hole in your pocket. You imagine yourself high-minded and frugal, but you know you can't go in Jo-Ann's with ample time, flush with cash and a coupon, and come out with just a zipper. As soon as you park in front of the joint, you drop the facade. You walk in the door looking for trouble, and at Jo-Ann's, you always find it.

Before I found the trouble I was looking for, I had taken advantage of the Butterick pattern sale, had my zipper and a few other doodads. I was navigating the tricky waters of the 40% coupon, trying to find something that was worth the discount, but that wouldn't cost a sacrificial amount of money even afterward. Something that was just the right price, and that I really wanted at the same time. Sometimes the two don't meet, and you wind up using the coupon on something paltry, and you get cheated out of that fresh-kill feeling.

It was not mine to be cheated, because sitting in a shopping cart filled with waiting-to-be-shelved books was Stencil 101. I upturn every rock in Jo-Ann's -- and it ain't easy, because it's dark as a cave in those stores -- to find something fresh and interesting, something I haven't seen before. The minute I excavated Stencil 101, I'd found it.

I've been on the hunt for good stencils for a while, but I'd never heard of Ed Roth, the book's author, who sells Mylar stencils and supplies via his website, Stencil1. Apparently Brooklyn-based Roth is a stencil guru. His style, drawn from street graffiti, is bold and direct, no cuddly teddy bears or adorably seasonal bouquets.

With Roth's designs, you can bring a little urban cool indoors (or wherever you might need some). I like to be surprised, so I didn't look through the book in the store, just realized what it was, salivated over the good times to be had, and bought it. When I got home and took my time with it, I grew more excited, because the intro section on how to stencil, stenciling supplies, and the history of stenciling is both educational and inspiring.

After I read through it I wanted to stencil everything, even Mira (I checked; she's got enough room on her sides). It was after 1am, so I had to wait, but I planned to start with an obvious and easy surface, the baby onesie. (A note on onesies: At Target, I initially bought the Gerber brand, but took them back for the Circo brand because the Gerbers run tiny and feel cheapy thin for stenciling. I'd recommend Circo for better quality.)

I had fabric paint on hand, having ordered it last summer just in case. I got it, along with some fabric brushes, here. There are paints for light-colored fabrics and others for dark-colored, so keep that in mind. These go on lighter fabrics.

Turns out fabric brushes don't work as well as special stencil brushes, which I didn't have, but Roth -- heck, let's call him Ed; he's our new friend -- Ed says foam brushes work, and that's what they had at Hobby Lobby, so that's what I got. (Did I mention I live two minutes away from Hobby Lobby? These are dangerous times.) I also got a spray adhesive, which is one of the options Ed recommends for securing the stencil to the surface you're going to paint.

If I have one beef with Stencil 1 -- okay, I don't. But it would be nice to have a picture, rather than just descriptions, of the brushes and other supplies that he lists. You can leaf through the book and find a few, but I like to have an all-inclusive image to match up to what's on the store shelves. I'm hardly anal, except when it comes to craft supplies.

Once I got everything together, which didn't take a lot of effort -- don't we love that? -- I started working on my onesies. The only problem was that I couldn't stop. I was planning to stencil two or three, all for Mister Stevens's new Goddaughter, Soleil, who is a month old. (Don't show me a month-old girl and not expect me to make something for her.) I ended up stenciling all five onesies, the last one front and back.

Still hungry for more, I stenciled this ugly Hanes sweatshirt I bought on the Target sale rack for $1.64. I got the shirt for warmth, not looks, but I think the stencil is an improvement. I was desperate to keep stenciling, so I didn't take the time to center the design or anything. I also had in mind to use it as a tester to see if the paint washes as well as I've heard it does.

So, this stenciling thing. How good is it? The best. I am officially All About It. It's virtually fool-proof, not as messy as you might think, and I can't imagine crack is more fun to do. The instructions in Stencil 1 are simple and yield fantastic results. The fabric paint dries quickly, so you could make a same-day shower gift.

Ed's love affair with the stencil is infectious, and he sets us up nicely with a list of resources and a gallery of VCPs (Very Cool Projects). Not to mention the fabulous stencils he's selected for us. They are laminated card stock, so most of them won't last beyond a few uses -- especially my beloved Afro Girl, due to the fineness of the design. I'm going to order the Mylar version from Stencil1, which by the way, is a treasure trove of information about the craft. Go there and watch Martha Stewart stencil one of Ed's designs with Cynthia Nixon.

Ed encourages us to make our own stencils. I take his instructions as a command, not a suggestion. I've been clicking around, checking out supplies. (Hell yeah I want a stencil burner! Whuut?!) Soon I'm going all the way over the edge, and don't think I'll be looking back, because I won't.

ETA: I sent Ed an e-mail to thank him for turning me into a stenciling fool, and he posted about this review on his blog. Check it out!

Friday, February 06, 2009

frankie valli slept here

January was fun. The Bubs. Natalie. Very closely followed by my partner in crime for nearly 30 years, Steven.

Steven, bka Mister Stevens, was only here overnight, but it was fabulous to see him nonetheless. Neither of us could recall the last time we'd seen each other. We won't go that long again. I'll be visiting him in NYC in a couple of weeks.

Since our time was limited, I mostly drove around and pointed out stuff, trying not to get us lost. Before his flight home, we went to what I understand is a Houston institution, The Avalon Diner ("Justly Famous Since 1938"). Just like the Singer store, the Avalon is deceptively tucked inside a strip mall. Its outside we know too well, but its inside is anachronistic. I wouldn't be surprised if the waitresses, who appear to be in their 50s and 60s, have been working there since they were teenagers. One of them is pictured, sitting down, propped by an elbow, world weary. (Which doesn't mean we didn't get great service.)

Mister Stevens and I followed the song in our approach to the meal. Really good, classic American diner food. I'm going to stay out late and get a hangover so I can eat there in the proper context.

Yeah, man. Mister Stevens is cool. He's got the forty-year-old's mark of cool, fresh ink.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

gone fishin'

It's a shame how much work I'm shirking today. I'm still in my pajamas, so of course that means me and water haven't been acquainted. I'm soaking up the sun and going 'round and 'round on something for me. Yarn's got me under its spell, for sure.

In a little while I'll break free. But it sure is fun while it's lasting.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

we had a time, we had a time

That's what my grandmother would say about any good gathering she'd been part of. It's what I'm saying about Natalie's visit early last month. Child, we had a time. I've been meaning to tell you guys just how good a time (and Natalie already has).

Natalie is easy summer breezy. She's my ride or die chick. She's not fussy, is easy to share a restaurant dish with, and can find fun even when it's hiding. It doesn't hurt that we have so many of the same interests, and a determination to indulge them all whenever we're together. In case no one has noticed, I love Natalie.

I remember starting to post tributes to my friends in LA. I got a few done, then started writing one about Natalie, right after she brought me here to Houston and abandoned me. (Oh c'mon, she did!) That was the end of the tributes. I couldn't finish Natalie's without crying. It'll have to be enough to say I am blessed with great friends from coast to coast, and that Natalie's visit reminded me of how very fortunate I am.

So, what did we do?

She was here for a few brief glorious days, and we built our schedule around one of our favorite pastimes, eating. We had Mexican, Turkish, and Thai. I made the standard American breakfast, (turkey) bacon and eggs, a couple of mornings, and the night she arrived we worked on finishing off my chili. (I made a lot. I'd frozen some for Natalie.)

Of course we hit my favorite spot -- I think it's on Natalie's list of favorites now too -- The Guild. Forget about it. If the apocalypse comes, I hope The Guild is the only place left standing. I think this would be okay with God, seeing as it's The Guild Shop of St. John the Divine, and proceeds go to charity. (Okay maybe add St. Vincent de Paul to the post-apocalypse list. That way I'd have a place to go for side trips.) We found some goodies at The Guild, naturally. Natalie bought me some lovely things, including this beautiful vintage Pyrex dish. (It features a pretty kitchen towel she gave me for Christmas.)

My score for the day was this lamp. I love, love, love its corky goodness, a surface like the moon (I may change the accordion shade sometime). I bought it for my bedroom. Natalie said it's too humongous as a night table lamp, but when she saw it in the room, she liked it. Some day it might makes its way to the living room.

We also hit Yarns 2 Ewe. I hadn't been back since right after Natalie left the last time, and now that we've spent more time there, I have to tell you the selection is out of sight. We had a blast. I only bought a couple skeins, but I felt up every skein, hank, and ball in the joint. Natalie did some damage, but she was allowed, since she was on vacation.

Another day we walked around Rice Village, checking out Project Runway's Chloe Dao's Lot 8.

We stumbled on a fabric store there that had prices that were the most outrageous I'd ever seen. I mean just way over the top. Cotton prints for 19.99 a yard, and I couldn't see a special thing about them. Such nonsense. We had to make up for it, so we went to Glick, a discount fabric warehouse. Glick is great for home dec stuff, trims, and cotton prints like Alexander Henry in bulk. We looked at fabric for me to make curtains, and Natalie bought some pillow forms. They carry multiple sizes at great prices, and they're stuffed with down, not polyester. Unfortunately, Natalie couldn't get them in her suitcase, so I inherited them. Here's Glick's great wall of tassles.

It was wonderful having Natalie here. It didn't feel like home until she came. Even Dancing James Brown, spotted during our travels, knows what I'm talking about.