Aaron and I finally got iPhones last week. I also recently lost patience with my Dell laptop -- it was wasting endless amounts of my limited work time "thinking" about stopped scripts (whatever those are) -- and bought myself a new MacBook Pro. So I guess I'm a full-fledged Apple person now. Aaron -- and some of my nerd friends -- are far more excited about this than I am, but I'm definitely pleased with both upgrades. I certainly appreciate having an awesome computer, given how much I use one. And I'm getting the hang of the phone. There are a few things that are different about it (I'm actually almost confused by how user-friendly it is) but what's most different, and has been most helpful thus far, isn't an app or another fancy feature. It's a simple setting that can ostensibly be changed, although I don't ever plan to change it.
My old phone constantly updated me when I received emails; my iPhone, on the other hand, waits for me to ask, and then takes a moment before telling me what's new in my inbox. I guess this setting preserves battery power or some-such because the phone isn't continually refreshing its signal and updating this information on its own. It turns out that it also preserves my relationship with the present moment. This sounds a little cliche already, and we've all heard (and espoused) the value of 'unplugging', but actually doing so (even in tiny increments) can be revealing in showing us just how plugged-in -- and potentially checked out -- we really are.
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After my initial, tentative success with sewing toddler pants, circa January of this year, I've hashed out a couple of additional pairs, and met with only semi-satisfactory outcomes. The fact that I actually don't know how to sew or read patterns, am at heart a die-hard imperfectionist (measure anything? Bah!), worked from a sub-par tutorial to begin with and immediately decided, after that first pair, that I knew the pants-making process by heart and no longer needed instructions at all... has resulted in a few pairs of weird-fitting -- if wearable -- variations on the pants theme, and many a ripped out seam. Now, it probably wasn't wise to begin some of these sewing projects -- which require thinking about what items will look like when attached to each other and turned right-side-out -- on weekdays after midnight. Also, since I clearly sew recklessly, and with little knowledge -- which requires the aforementioned ripping of seams and, in my case, some literal cutting off of mistakes -- it would probably have been best to approach the learning curve with inexpensive fabrics. But, had I heeded these (arguably obvious) acts of prudence, I wouldn't have encountered the various frustrations -- and their funky outcomes -- that have culminated today in 1) a thorough understanding of how toddler pants are sewn, simply and without a traditional pattern (plus, where it's okay to cheat); and 2) a damn near perfect (finally!) pair of Kaspar trowsers... If I may say so myself.
I'll just put it out there candidly first that these pants almost didn't happen at all. I meant for them to be pants all along, having bought their fabric for that purpose, but my first attempt at pants this past week (after several months of not sewing at all) did not pan out as planned... and my first thought this morning was that I should perhaps turn the Buddha fabric into a pillowcase and abandon the pants thing altogether. As for the first attempt, I'd tried to make decent pants out of some cute mustache fabric, but had made every single one of the mistakes mentioned above, and -- through sheer force of will (the one benefit of sewing recklessly with expensive fabric is that you'll be far less likely to just throw your half-finished travesties away) -- ended up with an acceptable pair of pajama pants that will fit Kaspar when he's... six? They're not terrible, but I certainly wouldn't have paid $30 for them as they are... and I had wanted to make pants, not pajamas, as thin as the line between those items may be. Have a look:
I guess it was the same stubbornness that forced those pajama pants into at least making the sleepwear cut, or maybe my inner psyche knew I had a really good daytime-wear pair within me, but -- for whatever reason -- I did decide to give pants another go with the Buddha fabric today. Having the mustache pair and its arduous process fresh in my mind, I knew what major mistakes to avoid. And remember Jenn from my first (fairly successful) foray into pants-sewing? The one who's sewing machine I inherited? Well, girl is good sewing juju, cuz she came over today, too, and look what happened. Pretty good pants. She was working on a project of her own, but she pep talked me through one stressful, almost-ruined-the-whole-thing moment (and said, tactfully, "Wow, you're brave" when I reflexively cut off some fabric that probably should not have been chopped), and otherwise made the morning fun and relaxing, which is how sewing and crafting and that kind of thing should be. I'm pretty sure it makes for better results, too. (Thanks Jenn!)
After finishing the pants, I wished I'd taken photos throughout the process of sewing them so that I could break it down here on the blog for y'all. There are only a few good pants tutorials out there, but they're far between, and they're not made for reckless sewers who don't know what they're doing (aka people like me). So, photos or no photos, I'm going to break it down for you anyway, and I've even created some little illustrations to help make it all the more clear. (HAHA. Okay, drawing's not quite in my wheelhouse, but I gave it a shot.)
What follows is a tutorial for making cuffed toddler pants with a contrast-fabric lining, for people who don't know how to sew. If you do know how to sew, you may find these instructions confusing, because I'm not using sewing lingo, or maybe I'm using some sewing lingo improperly. I wouldn't know.
The pre-game: Make your "pattern"/template
Choose a pair of your kid's pants that fit well. Lay them out on a few piece of scrap paper (I used three, lined up vertically), tape the paper together, and trace the around the pants pretty generously. Get the basic shape. Add some length to the legs to allow for cuffs. And add some height between the crotch and waist; all of the pants I made before the Buddha fabric pair barely allowed for Kaspar's butt to fit where it should, and he had to constantly hike them up while playing. Honestly, even the Buddha fabric pair is borderline skimpy on crotch-to-waist distance and could have handled a few more inches of fabric. If it looks weird, remember that you're going to fold the waist over -- so you need the extra fabric there. Here's the pattern I created, laid out under the pants I "traced." I gave a lot of extra wiggle room since those pants are 2T, and K is quickly coming up on 3T. The final product pants actually fit him perfectly right now without much room for growth, too, so I again could have gone bigger. (Don't go totally apeshit with this instruction, or you'll end up with pajama pants for three years from now. Just be generous, especially length-wise on either end, while tracing.)
You want the shape of your paper pattern to look like mine, with that little point and everything. That's gonna be the crotch seam. (If you go too crazy with that little point, though, you'll end up with a weirdly wide crotch, a la the mustache pants.)
Steps 1 and 2: Pin your pattern/template, cut your fabric
Fold Fabric A over onto itself (maybe by a third) and place your pattern along its folded edge as shown, i.e. with it's straight edge along the fabric's folded edge. The side with the little crotch point is NOT along the folded edge. You probably want to pin it in place. Cut around the pattern/template as shown. (Leave the folded edge alone... you're gonna unfold once you have your shape cut out.) Then do this again with fabric A. Then repeat these steps with fabric B. You will end up with four cut pieces of fabric.
Step 3: Pin and sew
Unfold both of your pieces of Fabric A and lay them onto each other, printed sides together (so you'll see the faded sides). Their shape will look a lot like the shape below. (Trust me, this will look like pants soon.) Pin from the crotch points to the waists, then sew as shown (where the dashes in my drawing are). Do this again with Fabric B. Don't forget to put the printed sides of the fabric pieces together.
Step 4: Look! Almost-pants! A little more sewing.
Open up your sewn pieces (you now have two pieces instead of four) and adjust them until they look almost like pants (as below). Lay them flat. You'll see it. Pin the inseams (I think that's what they're called?) and sew one continuous line to close that sh*t up, as shown. Just where the dashes are. Do this for Fabric A and B.
Step 5: Insert your lining
Turn your Fabric A "pants" right-side-out, so the printed, more vibrant side of the fabric is now visible, and your stitching is not. Keep your Fabric B pants inside out. Insert your Fabric B pants into the Fabric A pants. You're inserting the lining. Shuffle things around with your hands until the two pants fit relatively evenly together.
Step 6: Sew your cuffs. With a few (optional) reversible pants notes
Sew your two pairs of "pants" together at the cuffs. But don't sew across the cuffs in a way that will sew your pants SHUT at the cuffs. Go ahead and open those babies up, and sew in a circle. Like, the cuff is a tube. Keep it that way. Just make those fabrics stick together. I tried to render this below, as per the parenthetical "pant leg" and its copy, which reads "Ignore the phallic nature of this drawing. It's a 3D pant leg! Sew the 2 fabrics together at the opening like so -- all the way around." Follow the dashes, people. That's all you have to do. You don't even have to do any fancy folding to hide your work, since you're going to fold the whole shebang into cuffs anyway. BUT, if you want to make reversible pants, this is where you will do things a little differently. Go ahead and Google that. OR don't, because you'll probably still be rolling cuffs up when your kiddo wears the pants, and no one will be the wiser as to where your stitches show. If you've provided enough length in the legs, you'll be able to rock a double cuff roll and pull this off.
Step 7: The waist. A necessary evil.
For your final step, you're going to fold the pants (both fabrics together) over at the waist so you like the look of things, pin in place, and sew almost all the way around. I just let my stitches show here, sewing along the outside, over all that folded fabric, and toward the bottom of the waist's... cuff... Leaving room between the stitches and the top of the pants for an elastic.
Which brings me to the elastic. Once you've sewn almost all the way around, thread your elastic through the waist-cuff tunnel. I stick a safety pin on one end of the elastic and then just shove this into the 'tunnel,' and push it through a little bit at a time (this is a trial and error, feel-as-you-go maneuver), being sure not to let the other end of the elastic disappear into the tunnel, too. Your elastic should be shorter than your tot's waist is measured around, since you want it to stretch and hold the pants up. Once you've threaded it through and have both ends in hand, sew the elastic onto itself (I overlap its end pieces by several inches before sewing together), and then do your best to sew up the rest of the waist cuff nicely so the elastic is totally contained in the (now closed) tunnel.
Things might look a little crazy at any number of points in this process; this is where I chopped off a chunk of fabric and almost ruined the Buddha pants. But, it might also be a piece of cake. (I've had easy times of it before.) If it's rough, you can improvise. My elastic was too long and my waist got wiley on the Buddha pants. I had to repin and then deal with my missing fabric chunk after cutting fabric off without thinking it through. I added belt loops (and sewed a makeshift belt thing) to account for any looseness. The loops also covered a few weird-looking waist spots well. (The pants are not "damn near perfect" if you really get down to investigating.) It all worked out in the end.
And there you have it! Toddler pants! If you're an impulsive and stubborn type like me, go ahead and make your first pair with too-expensive fabric so you'll see it through. Or, if you're wise and more normal and have read through these instructions before actually embarking on your project, get some less-expensive fabric and learn the ropes. After you get the hang of them, toddler pants are easy. Let me know how yours turn out!
I am ALL about the toddler-wearing right now! So is Kaspar, which is pretty much perfect when it comes to busy airports or long days out and about, when Kaspar can run around to his heart's content and then find a cozy spot on one of our backs as we continue doing our out-and-about thing. (Win to the win, people.) I've written about our recent adventures in toddler-wearing here. Read up! Get your toddler on! It's a happy family revolution!
We have -- and love -- an organic Boba carrier. This thing goes the distance, from birth to 'big boy' (or girl), is super easy to get on and off, and is made to last. We absolutely plan to pass ours down to baby #2, whenever that happens, and probably to friends and family from there, if I can stand to let it go. And, I want to pass one along (brand new, obvs) to one of you. Yeah, you!
Want to win it? Lurkers aren't getting nothin' tonight, so leave a comment below and say hi! I'll be happy to virtually meet you (or meet you again -- love to the regulars!). I'll then choose a random winner on Wednesday, October 10; I'll announce the lucky mama here and also contact you via email, so don't forget to leave your address in the appropriate field when commenting. (It won't appear online, and I'll never give it to anyone else.)
Thank you, Boba, for hosting the giveaway! And good luck, y'all!
10/10/12 Update (Drum Roll, Please): Let's all give a big round of applause to Liz, our lovely Boba giveaway winner!
Liz, I'll email you for your deets (color preference! Woot!) and address, and you'll have your new Boba in no time. Everyone else: thanks so much for entering! Come back and say hi often, and keep an eye out around these here parts for more awesome Alt-Mama giveaways. ...Because winning's not just for Charlie Sheen anymore.
We ventured to Yellow Springs, Ohio this past weekend. Aaron has family in Dayton and its surrounding areas, and his sister's starting her first year at Antioch College, so we went to give her a proper send-off and to see some folks we haven't visited since Kaspar was just eight weeks old. As it turned out -- and you'd never guess this from the surrounding towns leading in to Yellow Springs -- the town itself (with only 4,000 perma-residents) is a little hippie-slash-hipster oasis of awesome coffee, great restaurants, super-cute houses and community-oriented spirit the likes of which one rarely encounters between the coasts. We were smitten.
We play a hypothetical "we could live here" game almost compulsively when traveling; Asheville certainly came under consideration, and Concord, New Hampshire even got a few tentative votes this past August. (Two days in, however, after I'd run into a classmate from middle school who told me I 'looked different' without blue hair, I changed my tune and told Aaron I can never move back to the place I grew up in... but it is a really nice place for those of you who might be scoping.) We're both mostly-freelance at this point -- though Aaron might also take up with an animation company in the coming year -- so we're actually semi-serious in considering relocation possibilities. Despite its very-small-town shortcomings (I'm assuming they exist), we were pleasantly drawn in by Yellow Springs' uber-liberal, and surprisingly international, flare.
The town has a cool history. Besides being comedian Dave Chapelle's childhood home (and an off-the-beaten-path weekend spot for celebs who prefer low-profile hangouts to the Hamptons), Yellow Springs was founded by about a hundred aspiring utopians back in 1825. Many Quakers also took up residence there, and it was one of the final stops on the Underground Railroad; some of the town's historical homes still feature their original hiding spots that helped deliver American slaves to freedom. In keeping with its activist roots, the town was also a civil rights and anti-war hotspot during the 1960s.
We stayed at the Springs Motel just outside of town. It was clean, campy and cheap, and included a mini-fridge, which is a necessity when traveling with Kaspar; the first order of business, wherever we go, is to stock up on non-allergenic edibles for him. We were lucky to stay in a house when we hit up New York City this past summer; some friends who live right around the corner from our old place gave us the keys and told us to make ourselves at home. A few things had changed but our intimate familiarity (born of walking everywhere too close for the train) with the lay of the land -- combined with a full working kitchen -- made keeping Kaspar well fed during our stay extra easy. In Ohio this past weekend, it was a bit of a different story. We stopped at a supermarket on the outskirts of Dayton and couldn't find one piece of organic produce. (I was astounded, which Aaron found amusing.) We did find some "fruit squeezies," yogurt, frosted flakes, some organic hot dogs (score-- Kaspar's fave, and free of wheat fillers) and some Kraft string cheese (cringe) -- because hey, artificial hormone-laden dairy products pale in comparison to the crazy that is a hungry travel-weary toddler; I'd suspected Kaspar's diet would not exactly be 'balanced' while we were away, so I'd made juice the morning we left and determined to suck it up and feed him what we could find when we arrived. As a nice surprise, though, when we visited with Aaron's grandmother (see Josephine, pictured here), she directed us to the apple trees she'd planted decades ago, in her backyard. Our boy tried his hand at apple-picking for the first time ever, and piled up a serious stash. Thus, we were ready for motel mealtimes, which at the very least included some non-toxic fruit.
Luckily for us, Yellow Springs' restauranteurs were more than happy to help our kiddo (and us) to delicious, satisfying fare. The guy at The Spirited Goat coffee shop gave us a steaming mug of hot water to heat Kaspar's hot dogs in for a two-hot-dog breakfast on our first morning in town... Which was promptly followed by some brown rice, steamed broccoli and a buffalo burger (cooked, unadulterated, in its own pan) at The Sunrise Cafe; Aaron and I had a rockin' breakfast there, too, and returned for dinner the next night (also excellent). I always take it as a good sign when a town's population of restaurants is disproportionately large, and each of our choices in Yellow Springs brought with it friendly, knowledgeable waitstaff, local, organic yummies and a personal, family-friendly vibe.
Aaron's sister, Sylvia, gave us a tour of her dorm at Antioch College; its lush campus closed briefly a few years ago, but the college has re-opened, paying its first few waves of students' tuitions for them (free college?? WHAT? Had we died and gone to Sweden?) and kicking things off with a bang. Its buildings are being completely re-renovated, and Sylvia's dorm was suh-weet. Also, entirely forward-thinking as far as renovations go, complete with solar panelling across the entire roofline, filtered-water fountains with little tickers telling passers-by how many plastic bottles their usage has saved, and various other green features that promise to make a big impact. The town, too, boasted lots of bike racks (very much in use), public recycling receptacles, and -- as the dude at The Spiritied Goat told me -- a public water supply that, by popular demand, is completely flouride-free. This level of broad municipally-encouraged environmental responsibility definitely reminded me of Asheville; I hope these small-scale experiments in city-wide greening (not just greenwashing) will provide working examples for bigger cities to follow. (I recently wrote about Toronto's extremely advanced city-wide composting system; my friend who turned me on to it -- who recently relocated from NYC herself -- noted that Toronto is far greener in general than American cities are.)
Anyway, Aaron's aunt borrowed a tricycle from a friend, and we walked up and down the paved bike path running through town (and, evidently, all the way to the next town over, Xenia) as Kaspar got the gist of pedaling. We also hit up the playground at the local elementary school just after the end of the school day; Kaspar hung out in the sandbox and we chatted with a mom who relocated, with her family, to Yellow Springs from Las Vegas several years ago. (She was also originally from New Hampshire.) We wandered around the neighborhoods a bit, too, drooling over several stucco houses and noticing a certain art deco architectural bent. For such a small town, there were a lot of people out and about, both downtown and in their front yards, which mixed one of the pros of metropolitan living (people, and the energy they give a place) with the sleepy, safe feeling only a small town can offer. Paired with vibrant fall foliage, it was no wonder Yellow Springs is a popular place. I was shamelessly, every bit a tourist, but felt welcomed, and very much at home.
Whether we'll actually move to Yellow Springs remains to be seen. I'm not sure how I feel about the size, and about all that conservative dull-i-tude in surrounding Ohio. Our list of potential home bases is long and our preferences are varied; returning to our Brooklyn digs this past summer reminded us of all that we adore about big-city living, but we didn't feel called to return to it, exactly. San Francisco and Vancouver are both on our radar. (Aaron also loves LA, but I'm not so sure.) Asheville was fun but ultimately felt kind of gimmicky and been-there-done-that, as a small college town and all. I love the idea of Santa Fe, but so far it's only an idea. I also like the idea of going very rural -- of a barn home, or a yurt. And we've done some collective, far-flung daydreaming of Buenos Aires. (No idea how that would be on the food allergy front, but hey -- a step at a time.)
All told, we're in Austin right now, and actually, it's just right for our current collection of work-life puzzle pieces; I was semi-worried for both myself and Aaron, before returning to New York, that we'd both feel leaving there had been a mistake, and I was relieved when neither of us did. But I was completely shocked when Aaron said he was glad I'd had the foresight to suggest we move to Austin when we did. (He loved living in New York.) We get to have a house and a yard here, but we haven't gone straight-up suburban. Our friends are diverse and interesting and cool, and very real; they hail from all over and they aren't all parents themselves. The ones that are parents are also great people, and we're able to do the family thing without feeling boxed in. I've lived in small towns before (and even small cities) and it's hard to fall into multiple categories in them, or to grow up and change (because yes, my hair is different now than it was in 7th grade); I loved that New York allowed me to simply be myself, in my many manifestations. Austin allows for this, too. (Or maybe I just don't feel the need, these days, for some kind of outward approval.) Austin's been good to our family, for sure. We're here for now, and it's home. We like to travel and we like to play our what-if game. And if work and weather eventually lead us elsewhere (I adore Seattle's rain), we have a list of "we could live here's" to guide us well.