Month: July 2014

Grey Matters


The moment I turned into a teenager, the first thing I wanted to do was dye my hair. It represented rebellion — what can you do to assert yourself in an Italian American family that prizes long, dark, feminine, traditional hair? Dye and shave parts of it off, naturally! It also represented creativity — I didn’t only want to make works on canvas or paper, but wanted to embody them. It was the 1980s — did I want Nina Hagen red? Siouxsie black? Something else? By the time I was in my 30s, I had dyed my hair many varieties of red, burgundy, black, and plum (the bleached streaks were a one time thing, never to be repeated! SO not a blonde).

Sometime in my late 30s this changed. My life was what I made it into — no need to rebel. In fact, I was reveling in it! I was so immersed in making and doing that dyeing my hair seemed like a total drag and waste of time. Rebelling at this point in my life would be to stop doing the thing I lost interest in.  I still felt the need to express myself through my appearance, but what I wanted to say changed: I felt impelled to communicate that aging was a natural, beautiful, and valuable thing. I was also becoming concerned with the environmental and health implications of commercial dyes. Did I want to continue to put these chemicals in the waterways and on my body?

What changed everything was my train commute.  I get horrible motion sickness, and can’t read. So, I sit and daydream and people watch. There I observed the Silver Fox.

She wasn’t always a Silver Fox. She was once a Reddish Brown Fox. She wore beautiful, creative clothing, always carried a bag full of books and work over her arm, and had a competent, stately air about her. One day as I sat behind her, staring at the back of her head as commuters with motion sickness do, I noticed the telltale silver line in her part. As the weeks progressed, it got bigger and bigger. Pretty soon, the crown of her head was silver! Within a few months, she bobbed her hair, and just a few inches on the bottom retained color — it looked pretty cool. After a few months of that, she got some layers and cut it a little shorter, and her transformation into a Silver Fox was complete. Now, her hair is back to shoulder length with bangs, gloriously silver.

I admired the hell out of her — she made the transition with style and completely without apology: she wore her metamorphosis proudly. I had a secret mentor and this dyed little caterpillar was ready to become a silver butterfly! I stopped dyeing my hair two years ago and never looked back.

Alas, I am not a Silver Fox yet. I have grey strands throughout the front of my hair. I have some killer cool grey streaks on the sides of my head.  My bangs are pepper with some salt. I’m still rebelling and communicating with my hair, each silver strand I earn as time passes allowing me to say things louder and clearer: aging is a natural, beautiful, and valuable thing. I care about what goes on my body and in our waterways.    I honor how I feel, instead of covering it up in a socially acceptable way.

Grey Matters.



This top that I made had a previous life as my husband’s XXL t-shirt. He never wore it because he said the neck hole was small and it felt binding. I took it over to sleep in, but understood what he meant — the neck was binding! I really liked the cotton of the shirt and the color, so I knew I could do something with it.

After some searching on thee internet, I decided I would take my favorite t-shirt, lay it on top on this giant shirt, and see what I could do. The original shirt was so large that I could  fit my entire t-shirt in the middle of it, like never used fabric!

I freehandedly cut the shirt about a half of an inch bigger than the t-shirt I was using for a pattern for a seam allowance. Then, I needed to decide how I was going to sew the thing together! As I mentioned before, I banished my sewing machine to the basement, so some kind of hand stitching would need to work.

After a little thinking and looking through some books, I settled on the blanket stitch. I thought it would not only stitch the seams together, but deal with the raw edges a bit. I used #10 pearle cotton in black to do my sewing — I thought it would be strong. I chose black because I thought it would make a nice contrast around the neck and bottom edge.


Once I got to stitching, though, I started to prefer the seamed edges even on the sides! I decided the inside was the outside pretty early in the sewing of this top 🙂 It made perfect sense — my love of visible mending, Alabama Chanin’s hand stitched jersey clothing, and good ole punk DIY utilitarian sitching all came together as my influences for this top.


Yay! Not only was this new top zero coupons, but it took something I already had and gave it a new life. I’d like to do more of this (re)working of items I already have but do not use into items I use and love! I wore it yesterday and actually got compliments on it, which surprised me (but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since I work at an Art School, where the signs of Making are a Good Thing!)!

Speaking of (re)working — my husband has found a new job! On Monday he flies to Chicago, IL for orientation at his new company. He’ll be telecommuting, with short trips to the main office here and there. It seems like a great opportunity! It will be an adjustment for both of us with him working from home, but what is life but a series of changes? I can say that our cat Woody likes David working at home A LOT!

One challenge is that David’s health insurance with his old job ends this month, but his new insurance doesn’t kick in until November 1. This means he has to go on my insurance for these three months, and boy howdy is it expensive. Even with David’s new position, I still won’t be able to attend school this coming semester — the money will be going straight to insurance. I’m becoming more and more OK with the idea, though. I’ve already planned months of new skills to learn, booklists, and projects galore! I also imagine David might be wanting to get out of the house a little more than usual since he’ll be working from home, so maybe we’ll have some local adventures.

Here’s to (re)working!

They Don’t All Work Out


Sometimes, when you read other people’s blogs, life seems a bowl of cherries. Posts go from one high moment to another, and it gives a false impression of everything always going right, la, la, la! We know that isn’t true, but I think it is valuable to share the things that don’t go right in order to show that isn’t true.

For example, my spectacular flop at making solid perfume. You might think by the photo above that all was well with my little experiment with equal parts beeswax, almond oil, then 25 drops of rose absolute in jojoba oil. That couldn’t be further from the truth! The perfume is solid alright. This ratio of beeswax and oil produced a perfume so solid that it is impossible to put on! Even if I scrape some out with my nail, it never quite rubs in.

Then there is a problem with the scent — namely there is none. There is the faintest wiff of rose for about two seconds and then, nothing. From the bit of reading I’ve done on perfumery I should have known — there are no base notes or fixatives in this recipe — of course the scent will be fleeting (to put it mildly).

Back to the drawing board! When I have sufficiently recovered my pride, I’ll scrape out the container and reuse the beeswax and oils with more oil, base, mid, and top note essential oils, and a bit more research. I want to see if I can make something really lovely and natural to wear every day. I love perfume and a restrained, natural one should be enjoyable to wear and not bother others with sensitivities or invade other’s olfactory space with unwanted fragrance.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Wartime Farm

I just spent much of my free time this week watching all eight episodes (and the Christmas special!) of Wartime Farm. I had heard of the series (through the online knitting community — I saw the sale of Alex’s amazing vest pattern by Susan Crawford for the Land Girls charity) but didn’t realize the episodes were on YouTube for all to watch until another blogger mentioned it.

I’m not even sure how to begin to describe how fascinating and instructive I found this program. The many ways of making do out in the fields and gardens as well as the home and kitchen both amazed and inspired me. Ruth, Peter, and Alex were the perfect living history presenters — their can-do attitude, work ethic, and smarts really impressed me. I loved seeing and hearing all of the historians and enthusiasts the main hosts interacted with on the show (I have more faith in humanity, knowing there are still traditional blacksmiths, potters, and flax farmers in the Western world!), and paused whenever someone who actually experienced the war was on the show sharing their memories. I thought I knew a pretty good amount about the subject matter, but I repeatedly exclaimed, “I didn’t know that!” as I watched. Children’s work camps picking herbs for the pharmaceutical industry? Hundreds of people living in caves in London? Pig clubs? Roofs on hay houses made of weeds?


I thought all of the little details were great — everyone was grimy after they worked (and I appreciated how few clothing changes they had, and how they portrayed soap rations), exhaustion, frustration, and anxiety were shown, and difficult emotions were explored with respect and gravity — I found the issues surrounding animals and the farm sensitively but realistically done for one example. The show was conscious that we (and they) could not experience what it was really like, most importantly because we know “what happened” as the people experiencing it did not — it makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

Viewing Wartime Farm has definitely enhanced my ration project. I desperately want to finish the vest that is on my knitting needles, am thinking about growing a patch of soapwort, and am eyeing all of my resources in a new light. What can I use in a different way, what can I stretch, what have I not utilized at all? I’m going to miss Ruth, Peter, and Alex — but did see that they have worked on Tudor, Victorian, and Edwardian Farm shows! I’ll be tuning in!

Leather Balm

My every day purse (and by every day, I mean every day for the last 6 years (!) was looking sad and dry and in need of some TLC:



Poor thing!

As soon as I saw Humblebee and Me’s post about concocting your own leather balm, I knew I had to make it for my purse.

It was super simple — just:

25g beeswax
25g cocoa butter
50g sweet almond oil (or other not-too-greasy liquid oil)

which you melt in a double boiler type set up (I just put my tin in a shallow pan of water and it worked great) and cool to harden.


I used a tiny round tin that tea was in to replicate the tinned shoe polish look!

I am happy to say that this stuff works GREAT! I rubbed it in with an old rag, let it sit a little, then went over the purse with a fresh clean rag to take off any excess (it was so dry that there wasn’t much excess). Look how nice my bag now looks — it gleams!


I was so excited that I rounded up every leather item in my possession (two other bags, a few pairs of shoes, a few pairs of boots) and gave them a treatment. It only took a half hour and everything looks gorgeous — and most importantly is moisturized and protected. Like anything, leather items will last longer and look nicer longer if taken care of. I want to do this once a season.

The other cool thing about this balm is that it can also be used on alive humans 🙂 I think it would do well on dry heels and cuticles. I know my hands felt fantastic after I used this on my bags! Not something you can say about commercial shoe products.

This was a zero coupon endeavor — I had all of the supplies already (although I’m getting SO LOW on cocoa butter. I think I can make one more batch of body butter when my current batch runs out and that’s about it! I’m hoping I can make it to the new year, but if not I have a good amount of soap coupons left to get some more of this important ingredient).

Many thanks to Humblebee and Me for a fantastic recipe! I love her blog — do check it out for loads of amazing DIY.

Half Full

I was sitting and doing some stitching, and all of a sudden it dawned on me that I am half way through this year’s Challenge! I’ve been on the ration for 6 months and I have nothing but good things to say about the experiment so far. Having limits has helped me make some good, careful decisions and also has given me that extra push to try new things. I don’t think I would have tried soapnuts, for example, if I wasn’t faced with soap rations. I’m so glad I did, though — I think they are terrific! The Challenge has also unwittingly prepared me for my husband’s layoff. I already have some really great habits and workarounds in place, and it gives me strength that I can incorporate even more when the need arises.

In the funny way that things happen, the day before my husband was notified about his layoff I received my tuition reimbursement at work (it comes out to be a little less than 50% of tuition and fees once everything is said and done). I earmarked some of that money to replenish my sad and tired warm weather wardrobe. I only purchased a few things before I got the news (and of course, I then stopped. I put the rest of the money toward getting ahead on bills and stocking up on dry goods such as beans!).

Here is what I got, for coupon resolution purposes:

Diamond Days Cap Sleeve Top



Twilight Mandala Dress


7 CLOTHING COUPONS! (I used the lesser of the coupon amounts because the item is fair trade & benefits a charity — which, according to, actually does the work it claims to do).


3 yards of a small polka dot poplin to sew a dress:



I also got this pattern to use to sew the dress — but patterns aren’t on the list as needing coupons — I just wanted to show ya 🙂


I have some other fabric in my stash that I can use for additional dresses with this pattern, too. Love the comfy shift dresses!

…and last but not least, I’m sad to say that my home made deodorant is not making things pleasant in this 95 degree and humid weather. I broke down and purchased:



It is only a 1 on the concern scale at EWG, doesn’t irritate my sensitive skin, and thank goodness — it works. I can go back to the home made stuff once autumn returns.

So that was my shopping spree. I think I got good value for the amount of coupons spent — even though I will be wearing these things in the summer, I will only need to put a cardigan over them and can wear them in the winter. I would have loved to have gotten a new pair of yoga capri pants (mine are faded and worn) but I’ll make do.


Clothing: 34 out of 66
Soap: 28 out of 36
Tea: 3.5 out of 10

I’m thrilled that I’m half way in and still have just a wee bit over half of my clothing coupons, and way over half of my soap coupons! I’m a little concerned about my tea coupons, but I’m going to try my best to make my remaining purchases for the year in a strategic fashion!

Happy six months of Life During Wartime Challenge. I am seeing the glass as half full, for sure.

P.S. If you are interested in the clothing, I purchased from the Greater Good network of stores: