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December 2008
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February 2009

January 2009


Things have been quite bookish around here these past few days. I had to slip away to a secluded corner in the vast labyrinth of Duke's library to work on my book manuscript. Just like the old college days, when writing was best accomplished while surrounded by billions of printed words.

I must admit, there was a moment there, mid-week, when I started feeling sorry for myself for having this book manuscript on my plate. I was sniffling about how I wished I could be focusing on the baby and not on the book.

I felt like I had an anvil weighing down on my shoulders.

Thankfully, dear Patrick was around to gently woo me back into the world of contented productivity. All it took was a few days of library internment while I churned out a large portion of the written section of the manuscript. Despite my cheery studio and welcoming work space, I needed a change of scenery. My studio tends to be a place that encourages my mind to jump around from idea to idea, project to project. It's a place of creative inspiration - not focused writing, I came to realize.

saturday morning reading

Focused, productive days bring about such a feeling of contentment. In keeping with the spirit of "get done what you can during the day, then relax," P & I hopped on our bikes and headed into town for a fresh bagel breakfast and a trip to the local bookstore.

I'll be spending most of my Saturday with this book, setting aside only a few hours for book writing. Because even in the busiest of times, we need to be good to ourselves.

How are you being good to yourself this weekend?

house tour: the living room

living room 1

The living room of our 1940's rental has its quirks. The fireplace is off-centered on the wall. Those logs in there? Just for show - it's made for burning coal. The logs came with the house, and the little cat has taken to using them as her scratching post.

If this were our house, I would paint the walls bright white. In my opinion, the khaki is a light-suck, as the living room faces north. 

To combat the light suck-i-ness, I covered the brown, thrifted couch in a white slip cover and added some white globe lights to the mantle along with a second-hand mirror, a glass decanter and some vases. I found the white shag rug on sale at Urban Outfitters.

living room 2

The green, crocheted throw was a $5 thrift store find, and the pillows were hand-made by yours truly. Our coffee table is actually a hand-built chest that I bought from some local artisans while we were living in Mexico.

thrifted "hurricane lamp"

Here's a question for you ... what in the world could my glass "hurricane lamp" have been in its previous life? It says "water line" and "delco light." Now, maybe it's just me, but I always assumed that "lights" and "water" don't mix. I'm perplexed.

mantle decor

The glass balls inside the vases are from an estate sale - they were going for $1 a bag. 

living room 3

Ahhh ... the puff chair.  I'd been wanting one of these since high school, and my parents had it sent to us as a housewarming gift. If you sit down, don't expect to get up. It's where I do most of my embroidery and hand applique work.

The bird throw was sewn by dear Amanda, and I threw together that yellow bird pillow using a precious piece of fabric from Anna Maria Horner's Drawing Room collection.

living room 4

Where's the entertainment center? You're looking at it. Books. Lots of them. And, perhaps most importantly, the crazy-awesome floor speakers, with plenty of room in front for dancing. We don't own a television. I know, we're odd. But it's been ten years since I lived in a house with a television (with my parents) and I just don't miss it. I'm used to not knowing the weather forecast. We just open up the door and adjust our clothing appropriately!

the speakers and cat tree

Here's a good look at the hand-hewn cat tree. No joke ... this was chopped down by our talented carpenter friend in Mexico (hola, Juan Daniel!) and made into this custom cat tree. It also had the honor of voyaging from Creel, Mexico to Durham, North Carolina on top of our Toyota RAV 4. I'm sure the folks at the border patrol hadn't seen anything like it before. "Whaddya have in the car?" "Oh, a cat tree, an electronic piano, a wooden chest, and a whole load of Montessori learning materials. The usual." 

It seems surreal that just six months ago this was our living room in rural Mexico, flanked on one side by a granite rock and kept livable by that antique wood stove. Those were happy, yet cold times. How different our lives are on this side of the border. You know what I miss? Our friends. The neighborhood children who would knock on our door and ask us if we wanted some of the tamales that their mom was making. The one-room neighbohood store where I could pick up fresh corn tortillas just before lunch.

I remember all of those things when I look at our cat tree - an enchanted cat tree, indeed. 

Stay tuned for the kitchen tour!

house tour: the studio

There's currently no fabric strewn across the floor, so come on in! I know you've seen glimpses of my studio before, but that was before all of the living and sewing that has occurred here in the past several months. Welcome to my favorite spot in the house, where I spend my days/nights/wee small hours of the morning.

The nine-foot long wooden table is a local thrift store find that we painted white. As for the red shelving that houses my fabric? That's the only "new" furniture in here. We bought it at an unfinished furniture store for a reasonable cost and stained it ourselves.

We have had a significant change around here in the past week - I have a new office mate! The gossip is great, he sometimes brings me lunch, and he's really cute. My husband Patrick has officially been displaced by the baby room preparations, and has brought his slew of grad school books and paper writing exploits into the studio. He is, however, under the strictest guidelines to keep all of his books and papers off of the floor, because the floor, as we all know, is for fabric.

the dear husband's corner

The room is painted with Behr's Sweet Rhapsody. The tall, white shelf to the right is built-in, and houses all of my craft books, mags, camera gear, iron, embroidery floss, fabric scraps, paper supplies, the Xyron , and a file box containing all of my sewing and knitting patterns.

work desk

Here's my desk - a white, thrifted number. Above it is my inspiration board, an easy make using burlap sacks that have been hot-glued around cork boards from Michael's. Currently, I have a lot of old pictures of my mom and dad peppering the display, along with the constant presence of a few pages from the most recent Anthropologie catalogue.

inspiration wall 1

The mini clothes pins are from Impress Rubber Stamps. The calendar is a PDF download from Etsy seller Little Brown Pen.


Here's a favorite corner - a gauzy, antique baby dress displayed above my to-do-list/miscellaneous niceties board. Some thrifted doilies, along with one made by my great-great Aunt Dorothy, decorate the spot.

to-do board with great-great aunt's doily and thrifted baby dress

re-covered ironing board

Recently, I re-covered my ugly, icky ironing board using Lisa's fabo tutorial.

the brown bucket was what my great-grandmother used for her notions

Here' a bit more family history on working display - my great-grandmother's brown notions bucket, where I house my buttons.

pattern packaging central

Finally, I've revamped the pattern packaging/shipping area. All of the patterns used to be in boxes on the floor in this corner, but that was an untenable situation given 25+ weeks of pregnancy. Repeatedly bending over to grab patterns was not doing wonders for my back. Enter an ugly little table that we were going to get rid of via Craigslist, bedeck it with an antique, hand-quilted wedding ring quilt that I grabbed for $8 at a local thrift store, and my back (and eyes) are much, much happier with the situation.

Up next this week - living room and kitchen house tours!

25 weeks

25 weeks pregnant

mostly comfortable
goodbye toes
food is good
swimming just like him
running, too
shiny, full hair? yeah right
singing to him
hoping he doesn't mind violin practice as much as the cat
reading out loud
wondering who he will be

in praise of the memory game

family memory game 1

A few days ago, Alicia and I had a funny email exchange about the oddity of being a craft blogger while writing a book. You see, there is a ridiculous amount of craftiness going on behind the scenes, but it can't be shown around these parts until we have the publisher's thumbs up. Consequently, you probably think that this is becoming a cat blog, right?

Every once in a while, I'm able to fit in a non-book sewing exploit like this one here, which happens to be from Alicia's over-and-beyond-lovely book, Stitched in Time: Memory-Keeping Projects to Sew and Share .

It's full of projects that I wrote down on my "must make" list (all of which must be completed in the six weeks I have between turning in my final book manuscript and the arrival of the baby [insert eye roll and chuckle here]). Because, heck - we all know that once he arrives I'll just want to stare at him all day (and night) long. And that will be when this little space shifts from a cat blog to a Mama blog.)

family memory game 2

So let's talk about the memory game, shall we?  As a Montessorian, I'm a big fan. I used many variations on the memory game in the classroom - as a tool for increasing concentration and spacial awareness in addition to vocabulary-building activities.

This fabric version is great. It was my first time printing photos onto fabric, and I think I'm in love. Too bad my love alone won't fill the color ink cartridge! If you don't want to splurge on the cost of the special fabric, I would just print off the pics and paste them onto little squares of foam board, or print them directly onto a thick card stock.

I thought Alicia's tip to make the game using photos of family members was stellar. It does make for a rather large collection of tiles, however. I'll end up rotating them to attain a more manageable number depending on the needs of my little boy as he grows.

Here are just some suggestions for using the memory game with children:

  • Matching game - Once your child begins to show interest in things that are "the same", introduce the tiles as a simple matching activity. Place the tiles face up and show the child how to pick up two that are the same and place them in a basket to one side. Start with a small number of pairs, increasing the number as s/he needs more challenge.
  • Distance matching game - Separate the two sets of tiles and place them, face up, on rugs/child-sized tables at a certain distance away (gauge the appropriate distance by how far your child can walk between the sets without becoming distracted by something else en route!) Provide a "marker." This can be a bean, a fancy coin, or other small object of interest. Show the child how to play by placing the marker on one of the tiles. Walk over to the other set of tiles and find the matching tile. Pick it up, and place the pair together in a basket near the first set. Continue, placing the marker on another tile. Introduce more tiles as your child is up for the challenge.
  • Vocabulary cards
  • The last step in all of this is the actual playing of the traditional memory game, placing the tiles face down and turning over two at a time, searching for a pair. From my own experience, I would say that some four year-olds and most five year-olds will be ready for it, but observe your own child. You wouldn't want him/her becoming frustrated.
  • Make lots of different versions of the memory game! If your child is interested in arthropods, make an arthropod version. Perhaps s/he has presidents on the brain? A collection of presidential paintings would work, too. Think musical instruments, animal and plant kingdoms, and more specialized sets such as felines, canines, and flowers that grow from a bulb. The possibilities are endless! The more specific you become with your memory games, the more challenge is added for the child. I like to compile photos for such things by using this site for access to free stock photos. It's been a godsend for all of my Montessori material making.

morning tea

Now go and have a cup of tea. This photo really makes me laugh, because despite all of the pretty images and "perfect little snapshots" into my life, things are (gasp) not always so perfect. While I'm writing this Patrick is outside in the icy morning trying to get our driver's side car door to close. Imagine me driving your pattern packages to the post office while trying to hold the door shut! Ha. Such is real life!

P.S. Don't worry, Mom. I'm sure Patrick will figure it out. He's good about stuff like that. :)

tutorial :: midwinter sunbathing

midwinter sunbathing 1

1. Become a cat.
2. Become lazy, if you are already a cat.
3. Get yourself adopted by some humans who have this fabulous invention called "central heating" where hot air comes out of walls at - get this - cat height.

midwinter sunbathing 2

4. Find a sunbeam on top of a comfortable sleeping surface (this can be anything from an unmade bed on the floor, fabric, or a pile of books and papers. Your choice.) It's best when this comfortable sleeping surface is strategically located directly across from that thing that spews out hot air, what humans call a vent.

midwinter sunbathing 3

5. Expose as much of your body surface as possible to the sunbeam for maximum absorption. This works best if you are a ridiculously fat cat.

I hope you liked my tutorial.

Paw print,
Timoun McElwee

SPOONFLOWER! must. sit. on. hands.

Okay, this is just too much for me. Not only can you design and print your own fabric with Spoonflower, you can use Adobe Illustrator images as well as photos, paintings, and hand drawings. All that, plus this place is just a few miles down the road from me. Um, field trip? Yes. I have this sudden urge to become a fabric designer and throw all of my pattern writing to the wind. (Don't worry. I'm totally sitting on my hands. I WILL NOT ALLOW MYSELF to do anything with Spoonflower until my little deadline is met.)

But, geez - talk about scream-out-loud awesome. You can read even more about Spoonflower here.

**EDIT** It just occurred to me - wouldn't this be great for printing children's artwork to fabric? Oh, the possibilities!

house tour: musical dining room

First off, thank you so much for taking the time to leave your thoughtful comments regarding our parenting philosophy. Many of us appear to have so much in common, and that's so heartening to us - to know that we are not alone in our hope that we can provide a joyful, fulfilling childhood for our little boy. I'm going to close the comments to that post so that I can focus on moving into the future with a positive outlook and an open mind. Again, thank you for all of your kind words and advice!

Now ... on to more superficial business - home decor!

Everyone likes a good photographic house tour, right? Good. Because I'm nesting, big time. (Grace made me laugh talking about her impulse to clean the floors with a toothbrush. You know you're pregnant when you seriously consider adding this task to your to-do list, as soon as you finish organizing all of the closets.)

Our home is a 1940's three-bedroom rental with a finished basement (where my sister-in-law is currently living.) We moved to North Carolina with virtually no furniture (aside from our piano and a cat tree hand-hewn from a tree in Mexico.) Living on a graduate student stipend supplemented with my small business means that all of our furniture was purchased second-hand. Honestly, even if I had oodles of money, I'd still buy my furniture second-hand - I just think it looks funkier and more homey. It does take patience. Take my dining room table, for example.

primitive dining table with potential

I've been pining for a primitive, farmhouse table for, like, ever. It needed to be small - we just don't have the space for anything standard-sized. I found this petite old lady at my favorite thrift store, Everything But Grannie's Panties. I had to conceal a scream. I know, I know. Are you one of those people (like Patrick) who see all of its imperfections? Yes, it needs some TLC - from Patrick, his sander, and his paint brush. Perhaps that's why he wasn't squealing in delight like I was? Poor guy has a very long list of refinishing favors, being that I'm pregnant and out of commission with that kind of potentially lead-y and fume-y stuff. Anyway, I love it.

The chairs are another one of those Patrick projects - I see them painted white one of these days. The cushions were a quick refinish with some stash fabric. I'm not sure if I'll change to a sturdier, home-dec weight fabric sometime in the future. For now, it works.

turquoise ball jars - thrifting find

These Ball jars? Also a thrifting find. The thrifting gods have been smiling down upon me as of late.

wall of family history

Behind the table is the Wall of Family History - a total work in progress. First, I find a funky frame that I like at a thrift store. Then, I pester the family for old, black and white photos of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. I hope to have the entire wall filled by the time all of my pestering and thrifting is complete.

family reflections

Here's a favorite - my 4' 10" Mexican great-grandmother holding my mother when she was a baby, showing her a rose. The "matting" is some leftover paper and trim from my wedding programs.

dining/music room

dining/music room view 2

In case you didn't notice, our dining room doubles as a music room. Here's the second-hand music stand for my violin practice, the Yamaha weighted electronic piano (Patrick's baby), and my guitar. That piano book? It's my gift to Patrick this holiday - Christopher O'Riley's piano arrangements of Radiohead. We saw him in concert and were smitten, and Patrick is already rocking out to Everything in its Right Place.

funky light fixture that came with the house

Finally, check out this light fixture that must be a house original. It makes me happy.

More house tours to come!