Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Writing Wednesday: The Sweet Reminders of Rejection

A funny thing happened about two months ago: I hit a complete dead-end in my agency hunt.

It's not that I ran out of steam, or ran out patience.

I ran out of agents.

On the advice of a fellow writer, I kept my search limited to members of AAR (Association of Author Representatives). I looked at this list -- pages and pages and pages of names and contact information -- and thought I was set. I could be searching for an agent well into my second novel, possibly even second child. I searched and researched and sent queries to every agent who seemed to represent my type of book -- and a few who probably didn't (fun side story: I've, on more than one occasion, accidentally sent out queries to cookbook agencies, children's lit agencies, and/or academic textbook agencies).

I continued this way for over 6 months. I was downright feverish in constantly editing my query, my synopsis, my sample chapter. Some days I'd submit to as many as 10 agencies. In a better economy, this would probably have been labeled as reckless, if not downright stupid. But given the current state of publishing, my spray-and-pray method was really all I had.

And then … I hit the end. I submitted to as many agents as I possibly could. Something to the tune of 100+ agencies. I had even submitted to additional agents within one agency after the first agent passed. I had a few nibbles: a partial manuscript here, a full manuscript there, but nothing ever fleshed out.

And I was left thinking: okay, wtf do I do now?

Part of me geared up for part 2 of my publishing endeavor. Another part of me wanted to take a nap on the nice new couch my husband and I purchased.

Take a gander as to which part won.

Even though I'm on a bit of a publishing hiatus, every week or so, I get a rejection email back from an agent I queried upwards of 4 months ago. Once upon a time, rejection emails were a punch to a gut. I'd see the "Re: Query" in my inbox and get all excited, like a little child hearing puppy barks from downstairs on Christmas morning. I'd click on the email only to find out that the puppy barks were actually just the washing machine acting up and my main Christmas present was a reminder to get a job.

But now? They're just what I need to keep chugging away. A brief reminder that, even though the ball's not in my court (if only because I chucked it to the other side and scream, "I hate your stupid game! I'm telling Mom!"), the journey is not even close to being complete. I'm still in the queue for many agencies. My name is still out there, even if it is being systematically ignored. And even if it continues to be ignored, so what? I have back-up plans to my back-up plans. And this is all for Manuscript #1 -- who knows what will happen when I finally finish it's bastard little brother, Manuscript #2. I've got enough plans to keep me happy and delusional well into my 30s. And by then, I'll be so weighed down with kids and a mortgage that I won't even notice that my writing is gathering dust.

And even though I'm taking a break and focusing more on crafts and reading and somehow surviving as a teacher in New Hampshire, this story is not nearly over. And hopefully, when I resume my hunt again, I'll come up with snazzier names for my books outside of Manuscript 1 and 2 (although that does have a nice ring to it).

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Diverse Families "Curriculum"

If NAEYC (The National Association for the Education of Young Child) ever backs me into a corner and demands an example of social diversity in my curriculum, I always have this story. The best part is that this was never planned, and instead happened organically -- which, as every teacher can attest, the best lessons always come about that way.

My former classroom's dramatic play area had a bin full of wooden dolls for the dollhouse. They came in every ethnicity you could think of, although they all tended to wear the same monochromatic shirts and pants. One of my students was meticulously sorting out the dolls, placing the white dolls with the other white dolls, the Chinese dolls with the other Chinese dolls, etc.

I asked what she was doing, and she replied with, "Making the families!"

I asked her how she knew which dolls belonged in which families. To that she replied, "I look at the color of their faces."

Out of no where, I suggested to her, "Well, what about their shirts instead of their faces? We could make a family of all red shirts."

And just like that, my student went from 7 homogenous families to a hodgepodge of skin tones. Other students even joined in. We made a "Red Shirt" family, a "White/Gray Shirt" family, a "Yellow Shirt" family, and a "Blue Shirt" family (as those were all the colors the dolls' shirts came in).

To give you an example of our diverse family, I present to you the "Blue Family":

(The first student decided the man with the blue pants should join the "Blue Family", because, "Blue pants is close enough. I don't want him to feel left out.")

The best part was that, not only did the family members have different skin tones, but none of the families were of the normative "Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, Dad, Sister Brother" grouping. Some families had all men as the adults. Some families were primarily made up of the "Grandparent" dolls. My students might not have walked away thinking, "Families come in all shapes and sizes and I should adjust my thinking accordingly!" But this little activity helped lay the groundwork for a different way of viewing families. And this isn't even factoring in the mathematical skills gained by sorting dolls according to shirt color.

All this, from simple "playing".

And this is why I love early education.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Three-Strand Pearl Necklace

One of my favorite jewelry making projects has been the multi-strand necklace. And my favorite kind of multi-strand necklace projects to read about have been the ones that are joined together by one chain. These kind of multi-strand necklaces tend to be a hodgepodge of chains, beads, and rhinestones. Since I'm not bold enough to pull that look off, I decided to pull out my big bin-o-beads and make a fake-pearl multi-strand necklace instead.

For this I got: a large-link chain, lobster clasps (because I hate tiny clasps on necklaces), large jump rings, small jump rings, split rings, fake pearl beads, wire cutters, bent-nose pliers, needle-nose pliers, beading wire (not pictured).

First, I measured the large-link chain around my neck to see how long I would want it to be and clipped accordingly. For a more choker look, the large-link chain will be roughly 2/3 the circumference of my neck. For a longer look, the chain ends will meet the tops of my clavicle.

Using a medium-sized jump ring, I attached a large lobster clasp to one end of the chain. I then adorned both ends with large jump rings. These jump rings will house the strands of pearls, so I suggest keeping them open.

Now, I originally wanted to use a very thin chain for this project. This blew up in my face before I could even measure the first strand. Luckily, I bought beading wire way back when I was nutty about making seashell jewelry and was able to scrounge that out from my crafts table.

I started with the shortest strand and worked my way out. I measured how long I would like the wire to be and clipped accordingly, understanding that at least 1"+ on each end will be used to twist the wire into place. Using pliers, I twisted the bead wire onto one of the split rings. I found that, after the first twist, if I thread the wire through the split ring and twist the wire a second time, I'd get a much more secure twist.

And then, I beaded. For my necklace, I started the shortest necklace with: 3 tiny beads, 4 medium-sized beads, a lot of regular-sized beads -- and then 4 medium and 3 tiny beads to finish it off. It was all trial and error to figure out exactly how many beads to use. The only thing to keep in mind was that I needed at least an inch of wire at the end to twist it to a split ring.

Once I finished, I placed the split rings onto the large jump ring, starting with the rings connected to the largest chain. I kept close attention to how the bead strands hung -- were they clanging together, bunching together, etc? When they seemed to coexist nicely, I slipped the other side of the strands on the second large jump ring (again, starting with the largest).

To add a little flare, I decided to tie a little bow on the end opposite of the lobster clasp. To keep the bow from falling apart, I sewed a quick loop through the knot.

My cousin is getting married in North Carolina in March. This necklace seemed to be the perfect accessory for an outdoor island wedding. Like a true girl, I fashioned my outfit around the accessory, and found a fitting sundress. Now, if only I had the right shoes...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ribbon and Scrunchy Headband

Of the many things I have been blessed with as a result of my relationship with my husband, his family truly tops the list. From an incredible sister-in-law to a hilarious brother-in-law, warm-hearted and intelligent parents, aunts and uncles who went the distance and then some for our wedding, to grandparents whose humor and wit make any day better. Even though I come from a large family myself, I welcomed his family with open arms, adopting them as my own long before my husband even proposed.

Last week, we lost one of the most inspirational ladies I know. If I end up having even half the strength, the wit, and the drive that Grandma R had, I'd consider myself blessed. The woman had battled numerous illnesses, cancers, the loss of her husband after his battle with cancer, and soldiered on, always with a joke on hand. I remember visiting her during a chemo treatment, and even in the middle of one of the most arduous medical treatments a person can go through, she had no problem dishing out jokes with ease.

When funeral arrangements were made, I found out that she wanted no one to wear black. She wanted festive colors -- specifically, the color purple -- not the morose and solemn black. I don't even own shirts that are purple, let alone something dressier. So, with only a day to think of something before I flew to her funeral, I decided to create a purple headband.

My biggest problem would be the elastic. I have tried sewing in elastic before, only to have a hot mess on my hands instead. Also, I have a huge Irish noggin, so buying a purple headband and embellishing it was out of the question.

What I gathered to create my headband were: a regular hair elastic (I never made it to the drugstore in time to buy new ones, but I chose one of my no-edge hair elastics). I also got out my measuring tape, my rotary cutter, and purple ribbon.

I first measured roughly how long the elastic was, just so I could get a decent idea as to how long the ribbon should be. I then measured the full circumference of my head, vertically, around the part where the headband would go. I got back a self-esteem-crushing 22 1/2 inches. Subtract roughly 3 inches for the elastic, and I had a general idea as to how long the ribbon would be when all was said and done.

The 19 1/2 inch measurement would only be used once everything was in place. I actually cut 23 inches of ribbon as my initial cut. In case I measured wrong, in case I needed to fold more ribbon over the elastic than I planned to, etc. As you can see, Salem made sure I kept focus on the project, as I had essentially an hour between coming home from work and packing for the next day's flight to make the headband.

I folded over both edges of the ribbon to the halfway mark and pinned it in place every two or so inches. I set my iron to the lowest possible setting and carefully ironed the hem into place.

After sewing the edges, I folded one end over the elastic and sewed it into place. Be sure to place the elastic on your right side of the needle, where there will be the smallest amount of space between the needle, the foot, and the elastic. As you can see, I did the opposite. This resulted in a sudden zag of my thread.

Eh, live and learn (and remember the dimensions of the needle's foot).

Afterward, I folded the ribbon over the other side of the elastic roughly at the 19 1/2" mark, pinned it, and (carefully) tried it on. It took a few adjustments, and it turned out I needed even less ribbon than I measured (which gained me back a little bit of self-esteem). After making sure the ribbon was straight and the ribbon was folded in the same direction as the first side, I sewed the second strap into place.

Although I'm ecstatic with how it came out, I won't be modeling it, for two reasons: 1) I don't have the time to set up the tripod and take some self portraits, and 2) I feel like that would be taking away from this post. Because, at the end of the day, this post is not about an inability to sew in elastic, or my huge noggin, but the celebration of an incredible lady.

Dedicated whole-heartedly to Grandma R.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

T-Shirt Shag Carpet

Even though I made a kitty superhero cape with an old pair of pajama bottoms, I still had a whole trash bag's worth of old clothing. Again, thanks to Pinterest, I stumbled across this amazing idea and found a great use for at least half of the trash bag's clothing.

For this I grabbed: an extra large t-shirt, scissors, and shirts. Lots and lots of shirts. Socks, if you have them. My husband gave me a bag of socks that had holes in the heels. Since my shag rug would have no real rhyme or reason when it came to color, I used my husbands black and white socks to add some sort of continuity.

To create the base, I cut a rectangle out of the front of the shirt. I kept it as close to the edge of the shirt as possible while still staying within the borders of the hem, sleeves, and collar. If you want your shag carpet smaller, or a different shape, cut accordingly. In fact, now that I think of it: if you want to make a circular shag carpet: do it! Cut out a circle and rock on!

I then pinned and ironed two sides of the base, sewed the hem, then lathered, rinsed, and repeated with the last two sides. I'm sure there's a better way to handle hemming corners, but the easiest for me is to just fold the last two sides in, pin, iron, and sew.

My base.

For the "shag" portion, find as many old t-shirts, pants, socks, scrap materials, etc, as possible. Cut the fabric into roughly 1 1/2-2" x 6" strips. The website I got this from suggests a rotary cutter for this operation and now it is my turn to suggest it. You can get a cutter/board set for $20 at Michael's and it really is worth it, especially if you plan on doing other fabric projects in your future. Everything became infinitely quicker -- and easier, as I found myself stripping the t-shirts of every usable swatch.

But please remember that a rotary cutter is sharp. If you are moving fabric around, I suggest putting the safety up. Otherwise you'll find yourself knicking your fingers.

Also, if you find yourself knicking your fingers, don't take a picture of it. Just go and wash your bloody hand.

Salem decided my pile of old shirts was a good sleeping spot.

My pile before I decided to do some shagging (wacka, wacka). Please note that this pile is not nearly enough for a full shag carpet.

From about 1" from the edge, mark 1-centimeter or so slits about 3/4" apart. I used a ruler and washable marker, but you can also use chalk or even just eyeball it. Afterwards, you can either use scissors or an exacto knife to poke the holes. The exacto knife makes things much easier.

Do not worry about making the holes the full centimeter wide. In fact, I suggest against it. The holes will naturally get wider as you shag.

I'm just getting dirtier and dirtier with this blog post.

After you are done, I suggest throwing it in the wash to get rid of the marker/chalk. I also suggest taking your strips and assorting them by color into ziplock baggies. It makes things a lot more organized and cleaner and easier to move the project to various rooms in the house. Which will be needed, because the next portion is extremely time consuming, so the chances of doing it in many rooms (heh) is very great.

The website suggests threading a strip down the first hole and up the second. For my shag carpet, I placed the strip on top of the portion of the base that would face the floor. I then thread the one end of the strip halfway through the first hole. I would grab the other end and thread the rest of it through the second hole. If done correctly, you'll see a nice little loop in the back of your base. Above is a picture of the first few shag threads. Also pictured is my bedroom's television set, as this part of the project is extremely long. So, bust out some DVDs, find a good show on TV, and go at it.

Remember that all strips -- with the exception of the edge pieces -- with share their holes* with two other strips. That means, for the second strip, thread it halfway through the second hole and the other end through the third hole.

How my project looked after watching three DVRed Craig Ferguson shows in a row. I called it a night by then.

Don't be afraid to cut up strips as you go along. And remember that the possibilities are endless: if you want to do a pattern, do a pattern. If you want to a certain color scheme, do a color scheme. I lucked out in that most of my old clothing is pastel-colored, so I got the nice contrast of the white socks and pastel shirts with the black socks and the one rogue dark-colored shirt.

I came home on my lunch break to work on it some more, and came across this.

After dicing up 5 pairs of socks, 8 t-shirts, and finally catching up on all my Late, Late Show episodes, this is the final result.

Since the website I got this from starts off her post with wiggling her toes in her new carpet, I decided to wait until I finished before I did the same. And it was definitely worth the wait. I now have my shag rug right by my bedside, so I have something comfortable to rest my feet on as I desperately try to wake up in the morning.

*Heh, share their holes.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pearl Bead Necklace

As a girl who suffers from what I call Audrey Hepburn Syndrome, I have an obsession with pearl necklaces. And, after saving that excess bit of chain from the second belly chain, I knew exactly what my next project would be.

For this, I needed: the excess chain, lobster clasps, split rings, small jump rings, medium jump rings, pliers, wire cutters, and fake pearl beads.

I first measured exactly how long I wanted the necklace to be and clipped accordingly. I used small jump rings to attach the clasp and loop to their respective ends of the chain. I purchased large lobster clasps because there's nothing more frustrating than those tiny clasps that most necklaces have. And since I have more split rings than I know what to do with, I decided use to one of them as my loop.

I recommend putting on your chain immediately after and see if the length is to your liking. Now is the time to clip the chain and reattach the clasp.

To figure out the pearl bead's layout, I placed the beads inside the chain according to what pattern I wanted. I say the inside because, if placed anywhere else, they'll roll away and leave you frustrated.

I made sure to attach the center bead first. I found the exact middle of the chain and attached the middle pearl onto the chain with the small jump rings before working my way out.

To attach the medium jump ring to the pearl: open the jump ring with pliers. Hook one end into the bead. Then, using your hands (since a slip of the pliers will quickly strip the bead of its luster), bend the other end of the jump ring to the other side of the hole. Tighten (carefully) with pliers, and attach to your chain with the small jump rings.

And when I say "open the jump ring" -- I mean "turn it into the letter C" (as pictured).

The best way to go about the rest of the beads is to count out how many chain links distance that each bead should be. Just eyeballing it will give you a headache. Mine are space 4 chain links apart.

The smaller the bead, the smaller the beading hole, and the more frustrating the beading experience. Hence why I nixed the last 4 small beads in my design. After getting tiny bead #2 hooked on a jump ring, I declared my beading done and tossed the other tiny beads into its bin.

At some point I might gain the gumption to attach those last 4 tiny beads on the necklace, but definitely, definitely, definitely not now.

It's a different take on the pearl necklace, and I must admit I'm thrilled to find an excuse to wear it. It's not exactly something you'd wear on, say, a breakfast trip to Tiffany's, but it's a great workplace accessory.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Photo Friday

I don't exactly have a title for this one, but this bike really struck my fancy after a blizzard in Boston in 2009. All the colors around me (and the bike) were completely washed out, covered in either dirty snow, ice, or salt, and here was this back with possibly the most intense dual-color combo this side of the Mississippi (red & blue).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Writing Wednesday: Words with Friends Writing Prompts

Writing prompts are supposed to help a writer get into the writing spirit. At the very least, it's a lot more productive than looking at a blank Word document and going, "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit." Unfortunately, I haven't done a writing prompt since my senior year creative writing course.

Thankfully, like Alec Baldwin, I love Words with Friends. I tend to play with a lot of fellow former English majors. Last month, one of said Friends suggested that, at the end of our current game, we should each take 15 random words and write a short story. I upped the ante and said that we should pick the words out first (instead of scanning the board and thinking what could fit) and write our short story in one take -- no rough drafts, no multiple writing sessions, no edits. Bonus points if you can get two (or more) words in the opening sentence.

This is what I came up with from that game. It's nothing to submit to The New Yorker over, but it was a great project and a great start to a very fun writing prompt tradition. And, since I have been a bit stagnant in writing Book #2 (specifically Chapter 3 of Book #2), I'm diving headfirst into this in the hopes that I can get back on track:

No * Joy * Elf * Dole * Heap * Bride * Below(s) * Build(s) * Flat * Weed * Aged * Sermon * Not * Sing * Due

There was no joy for the bride on her wedding day.

She had spent years planning it in her head, watching her friends go before her. Or technically after, walking down the aisle after the now-bride preceded them as a bridesmaid.

Years have gone by since the majority of her friends have been wed. My, how she aged! She had sworn she would someday meet the right guy -- that she would be able to weed out those who were less than perfect and find Mr. Right. She'd find him, she'd know right away, and right away she could build a life with him.

But that was not what life had in store for her. Instead of giving her a prince, life doled out years of loneliness and confusion and mixed feelings and heartbreak.

So things should've changed when she met Brandon. They met at church, no less. He came for the first time, heard her sing, and made his way to the choir's area by the end of the sermon.

He was a recent divorcee, and willing take her out even though her looks had fallen flat. So she really didn't have a choice but to agree. After nearly 40 years, a wedding was more than due. Right?

She had asked her friends -- at this point in their lives, looking more like mothers than bridesmaids -- to leave the room. Her legs gave way by the time the door closed behind her, her dress in a heap by her waist. She looked around, desperate to find a reason to stand back upon, before resting her eyes on the patio doors.

The bride gathered her dressed and walked onto the balcony. Below her was the hotel's back yard, its trimmed grass bordering a vast forest.

All at once she could see herself escaping through the woods, dancing like an elf from tree root to tree root, dirtying her gown with moss and bark, leaves gathering in the delicate spirals of her hair.

There was joy for the bride in that moment, as she gathered her dress even more, lifted herself off the edge, and flew off.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

09 10 11 12
Blogging tips