Monday, March 25, 2013

Back in MY Day...

Such a loaded phrase. "Back in MY day..." 

I don't like this phrase, not just because of the condescension with which its normally used, but because of how rigid it is. To idolize the past and dismiss and devalue the present is to decide the best is already behind you. You have peaked, and will never again attain the levels of joy you once had.

Does that sound pleasant to you? To declare that your best years are already behind you, and now you're just coasting until you kick the proverbial bucket?

I think the thing that bothers me is that it denies the inevitability that the world has changed. And furthermore, it nullifies the world's *right* to change.  To evolve. To blend the old and the new, and come up with something unique and special that has never been before.

And it's exclusionary.  To say "back in my day" is to say, "my day is over, it's your day now." Well, that's great, except that now I can be part of your day, but you can't be part of mine. My glory days are over now, and you missed them. I've added all the things to my life I'll ever add, and you're just not on the list. Sorry.

How depressing. And limiting. What about stories? What about cultivating a shared history? Don't you want to pass on your legacy? Your experience? Too often, our own children are too young or too disinterested to benefit from the years of experience we've gained. Shouldn't we pass our knowledge on to someone who can use it?

But I think the biggest issue I have with the phrase "back in my day," is that it implies that "my day" is over. Last I checked, I was upright, above ground, and breathing. Every day I'm a live, every day I draw breath, every single second of my entire existence is "my day." Because, figuratively and literally, the day we stop adding to our lives is the day we die.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Forced Perspective

"And I say hey, it's just an ordinary day, and it's all your state of mind. At the end of the day, you've just got to say, 'It's alright.'"

I had a great conversation with Scruffy last night. We were talking about social injustice, and how its unfair that so few have so much when so many have so little.  I was getting riled up, until I looked around me.  I saw walls and floor that kept out the cold. I saw lights with the power on and a fireplace that would turn on if I lit it with a match and burn all day if I wanted. I saw musical instruments and games systems, and all sorts of creature comforts. I realized I had food in my fridge, and a bank account that, while only by a margin of 86 cents, was in the black. And I had a huge support network of family and friends.

I realized that I was richer and more educated than 75% of the global population, and that was being conservative, and here I was complaining that the teeniest bit of the top 25% had more than me. I realized that "rich" and "poor" is a giant matter of perspective.

I live in one of the more affluent counties in a state that, were it an independent country, would have the 8th largest economy in the world, and my household makes about 10 grand a year less than the people around us. It's a big difference, but if we were in another area, our "meager" income would make us superbly wealthy.

And we have chosen to live where we do. That's the piece a lot of people miss, I think. We made the choice to live here, and we made the choice to participate in the activities we do, and spend our time the way wes spend it.

Would we be more comfortable if we never had to ask for money, or go without certain things, or choose which bill to put off? Absolutely. But still, even with all our worries, we are exceptionally fortunate in being who we are, where we are, exactly at this time in history.

BAM! Perspective.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sewing New Seeds

I've loved to sew since I was six. When I was a kid, I would beg my mom for quilting scraps and use her sewing machine to make an endless supply of small pillows and "purses" which were really just pieces of rectangular fabric sewn in half. I would give them to my mom, who would accept them graciously, though I'm sure she sighed inwardly.

In high school, I made a few of my own Halloween costumes, and took quite a few costuming classes in college, but it wasn't until I took an internship at the Renaissance Faire that I really learned to sew.

About ten years ago, I was dating a man (let's call him Captain) who worked for the original Renaissance Faire. More on that part of my Geek later. Anyway, he wanted to share his passion with me, so he asked if there was a job for me in the Costume Shop. I had no idea when I met the Costume Director that I would be meeting a woman who would change my life.

I should probably start by saying that this woman, who we'll call Momma, can be very intimidating. Large, loud, and opinionated, never afraid to offend people and always saying what she thought. Because of this, she acquire several unkind nicknames, and reputation for being... well, a bitch. On first meeting her, I was completely terrified. But out of love for Captain, I decided I could get over and stick it out for the three months I would be working for her.

Well, three months turned into 7 years. Momma became my boss, my mentor, and my friend. I even lived with her for a while when Captain and I were having financial difficulty. And she taught me so much more than how to sew. She taught me how to handle delicate situations, and the psychological value of a clean workstation. She told me stories from her past, and taught me how to craft an excellent punchline. But most important, Momma taught me to believe in myself, and helped me learn to love and respect Me.

Momma died almost three years ago, and I still cry every time I remember that I'll never see her again.  Never hug her, and tell her I love her, never hear another story, never learn another nifty shortcut. She is survived by literally hundreds of costumes she made over the years, and I smile every time I see one at Faire.

And in a way, she's survived by me. She used to call me her Little Principessa, and joked that she would adopt me if my mother ever passed away. She taught me almost everything I know about sewing (just not everything she knows), and I haven't done it much since she passed, it was just too painful.

Today, I'm making a large number of costumes for my little brother's Latin club, and for the first time, it doesn't hurt to look at a sewing machine.  I'm still miss her, and I still wish I could call her and ask her how to deal with crinkle chiffon, but I'm okay.  I like to think she's watching me, whispering in my ear when I'm doing something clever, and screaming, "CLAIRE-BUH! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" when I do something wrong.

Don't worry Momma, I bought extra and its still a week before opening.

Friday, March 8, 2013


It's weird being a stepmom.

I used to have this picture in my head of how my life would look when I found my future husband.  Even though I was a stepkid twice over, I always pictured I'd find someone who was unattached and we would build our lives together.  It never occured to me that the love of my life might already have a life to blend with mine.

This is, of course, very silly.  First, even unattached people have lives beyond the significant other.  They have friends, family, career worries, money worries, goals, needs, and foibles.  It's very easy to lose sight of this as a single non-parent, because your life is simply your life, and while it involves others, it's not inexorably linked to anyone's.

The second reason I should have kept an open mind about finding someone attached is kind of sad, but true.  The number of divorces holds stead at a little more than half of the number of marriages.  This means that, statistically, if I meet someone willing/ready to marry, chances are they're already divorced.  In fact, five of the six men I've dated were then or are now divorced, and two of them have children.

There's this whole paradigm shift when you start dating someone with children.  The picture of what your life is going to look like starts to shift.  And there is always a moment of freak out.  Mine started the evening of the first full day I spent with Scruffy's kids.  I was not at all convinced that I was going to be able to handle sharing Scruffy not just with children, but with children that weren't mine.  I would forever be linked to a person that Scruffy had loved before me, and for about an hour, that was completely unacceptable.

I got over it for selfish reasons.  I literally cannot picture a person existing that I could ever love more than Scruffy.  So I resigned myself to give it a college try, though in the back of my brain, I thought I knew that I would never be as happy as if Scruffy had never met his first wife.

But the kids changed my mind.  I don't know quite when it happened, but they stopped being something I was going to have to get used to and started being status quo.  Then the started being that brought me such joy.  And now, I can't imagine my life without them.

It's still hard, because even though I love them, I'm not their mother.  I don't know what each scar is for, I can't tell them baby stories, and there's always this feeling in the back of my brain that I'm being judged by the "real" parents around me.  While I might know rationally this is untrue, the fear is still there.

We make it work though.  I tell the kids stories about my family, and ask them about their scars.  I do my best, and I love them, and all my parent friends tell me that's what matters.  We have fun together, and love watching movies and playing games and dancing and just being a family.  This is, of course, at ages 8 and 9.  We'll see how the tweens and teens go...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Things Nobody Tells You About Buying a Wedding Dress

There are probably hundreds of articles about the best way to buy a wedding dress.  Personally, I don't think there's one right way to do anything, just the way that works best for that person at that time.  But after my experience shopping for (and purchasing) a wedding dress, I'm pretty confident there's a wrong way.

So, in an effort to help future brides avoid my headaches, and perhaps give some past brides a chuckle or two, I present to you:


 1) You're gonna be topless or in your underwear in front of a total stranger. 

It's funny, I had been a bridal consultant in my late teens, but this piece had somehow slipped my mind; you will be in a dressing room in all your strapless bra glory with someone you probably only met that day.

2) Pick who you shop with well.

Everyone has a different sense of style, so even though its important to pick someone with good taste, make sure they're also someone who respects *your* taste. I personally recommend limiting the group to 1 or 2 people.  As they say, too many cooks spoil the soup.  I was fortunate that my shopping companion was not only perfect for me, she was also my mom. 

3) It helps to be tipsy.

Buying a wedding dress is stressful.  They are, for the most part, white, which makes most of us feel bigger than we like.  They are almost exclusively expensive.  If you drink, consider having a glass of wine before you go.  If you don't, consider meditation or yoga, something that will help you arrive in a happy, relaxed state.

4) Go local.

I'm a big girl who's trying to lose weight, used to work in Bridal Retail, and works as a freelance professional costumer, so I have very specific ideas about clothing.  All of this makes me a very picky shopper.  Now, as I said, every person is different.  I've heard many storeis of girls who went to large chains like David's Bridal and Alfred Angelo, and found the dresses of their dreams.  But if you're picky like me, a large chain store might not be for you.  They have a script they follow, and they bring their own style and opinions to the table.  A smaller salon will often offer a wider selection of designers and prices, and if you're lucky, they'll let you pick through the racks yourself.  I had an excellent time at Jinny's Bridal.

5) Try on that weird one your mom likes.

You really never know what you're gonna like until you try it on.  I had an idea of a soft, casual chiffon dress.  My mom brought me one that was satin and had a lot pleating, and I didn't really think I'd like it seeing it on the hanger.  But I LOVED it as soon as I tried it on.  In fact, that was the dress I decided on in the end.  So keep an open mind and try on suggestions you don't immediatly hate, even if they seem weird.

6) Don't buy a dress you've worn for less than 20 minutes.

Seriously, girls.  You are going to wear this dress for eight hours minimum.  You will dance, hug, walk (or if you're late, run), cry, laugh, eat, drink, and sit in this dress.  Do you really want to commit yourself to dropping that kind of dough on a dress you don't feel comfortable in?

7) Add $200-400 to every price tag.

This one I knew about from my time in the industry, but no list such as this would be complete without mentioning: Tax and Alterations.  Nobody is a perfect size 6, not even perfect size sixes.  Chances are, something on your dress is going to need to be adjusted, and with alterations, you get what you pay for.

Let me say that again: you get what you pay for. Yes, your tailor can probably hem the dress, but a professional alterer will work more frequently with wedding dresses and will know how make those changes while preserving the style and look of your dress. 

8) Don't over-research.

I'm a planner.  Not as in a Wedding Planner, as in a person who makes plans and keeps journals and spreadsheets and folders.  So both times when I went shopping, I had spent hours pouring over catalogs and websites, and had created online records and documents of which dresses I liked.  What I found was that a) stores and salons often have the previous season's dresses which b) you will not have seen before and will only frustrate the sales associate and yourself searching for. 

Its good to go with some style ideas and pictures for reference, but don't kill yourself pouring through an entire collection.

9) It's supposed to be fun.

Try to keep things in perspective.  You've met the person of your dreams, and are preparing to spend your life with them.  Your Wedding is the beginning of that, and it's an important day, but in the end, its a single day out of your life, and your wedding dress is a garment you will realistically only ever wear once.  You want to be happy with it, but not having the dress you want will not ruin your marriage, or even your wedding.  Remember the reason you're shopping in the first place, and you'll be fine.