The Home Ec Retrospective

Behold, Frankenshorts! It's aliiiiive! (I think the red box in the sewing basket is my old Home Ec "pincushion.")

This weekend I did a couple of things that I don’t do often. I baked meringues for my husband as part of a you-do-yard-work-and-you-get-cookies arrangement. I also — in a desperate and probably vain attempt to extend the lifespan of my favorite cut-off shorts — sewed a patch and re-sewed a seam.

Both of these activities made me remember my Home Economics classes in junior high. My district called our school junior high, and not middle school then, although by the early ’90s lots of school systems were switching over to the 6-8 middle school format, rather than the 7-8 junior high school model. We were taught Home Economics and Industrial Arts, which roughly translated to Cooking and Woodworking in the seventh grade and Sewing and Printing in the eighth. I knew from books and television and people in other towns that not all schools had these extras, and I remember wondering if we were weird because we did.

I didn’t think I needed Home Ec. I had already done baking projects at home. My mother, an accomplished seamstress and the granddaughter of a professional tailor, had already taught me a little about sewing. She taught me to work with patterns and sewing machines when I was in grammar school. We made doll clothes together during summer vacations.  Like many middle schoolers, I figured I already knew everything when I walked into Home Ec class in junior high school. Yet, today as I finish repairing the seam on Frankenshorts, I find myself tying off the thread with a knot taught to me by my Home Ec teacher, not my mother. I’m even using the same spool of thread and the same box of pins we bought when I started the course in the fall of 1991.

At the time, Home Ec seemed silly to me. I liked the break from regular classes, but I didn’t feel like I was learning anything useful. Our cooking curriculum seemed – except for one notable day when we made pizza – completely made up of cookies, learning measurements, and cleaning up. In our sewing class, we made pillows and stuffed animals from plush “kits” ordered from a catalog. I can’t deny that I enjoyed making pillows and bringing them home, but I still think the course might have been more absorbing if it featured some element of clothing repair. At 13, I was definitely interested in learning how to patch my beat-up denim jacket, in letting down the hems of my pants (I was too tall for almost all my clothes) and in fixing the holes in my favorite shirts before my mom used those holes as an excuse to throw them away. Our teacher had her own methods, and so we made the probably-less-controversial pillows.

Looking back at it, there was a feeling of fiefdom to my junior high school Home Ec classes. When you walked into the rooms on the Home Ec corridor, you were entering the teacher’s world. Sewing machines, mixers and ovens were fiercely protected. Names were assigned to things that didn’t need new names. Baking mix was called Master Mix. Anything that held pins was a pincushion, even if was a box or a bag or anything else that is manifestly not a cushion. There seemed to be this war, waged in semantics, that was constantly being fought, although I didn’t feel like the teacher was struggling against me or my fellow students. As a former schools reporter, I now wonder if that war was being waged against an administration that questioned the need for cooking and sewing classes in middle school.

I could be wrong about this theory. When I check out my old school’s website, I see that cooking is still taught. In fact, the most popular recipe from that course, beloved of even the most jaundiced seventh graders, is posted on the site. Cinnamon rolls. Mmmm.  Click here to download, and enjoy.

Sadly, there are no sewing classes listed. And I didn’t see many sewing classes in other schools when I covered education for the newspaper. As I finish work on Frankenshorts, I can’t help but think that sewing is really a valuable skill for anyone to have. Even if they learn on silly plush pillows. Even if all they know how to do is sew a stupid Band-Aid patch onto a pair of jeans. Sewing and cooking are a couple of useful skills and they will be until we evolve fur or photosynthesis.

Brother

One of my first memories is of either standing or being carried down a wall of baby toys in Toys R’ Us by my father or by an uncle. I’m two and a half years old. It’s November. I’m staring at that wall of toys because I have a job to do, an honest-to-goodness task, and it’s my responsibility, because I’m no longer a baby. I’m a big sister, and I’ve been charged with picking out my baby brother’s very first toy.

I probably didn’t take too long to do this. Probably just a few minutes. But it seems like I was staring at that wall of toys for hours. I guess that makes sense; child time moves three times slower than time as experienced by adults. (Unless a swimming pool is involved. Then child time moves five times faster than adult time.)

Anyhow, I finally selected a yellow and orange plastic rattle, shaped like a bell. I remember thinking that it seemed like a good toy for a boy, but a little bit different. None of this blue-for-boys stuff. My little brother was special and deserved a special toy. I was very proprietary of him right from the beginning. Mom tells me that on that first visit I informed someone that “we just had a baby.”  I might have just chosen him a new toy, but I was pretty sure that he was my new toy. Mom and Dad had produced this child just for me. I remember clutching that rattle in my sticky toddler hands as someone held me up to the nursery window at Waterbury Hospital and pointed the new O’Connell, Chris, out to me.

He has remained the newest O’Connell for the past 31 years. Tomorrow that changes. My little brother is marrying his best friend, Cayla. And then we will have a brand new O’Connell.

In which the author is confused by Linkedin

Early this morning, I got my latest invitation to join Linkedin.

I get a lot of these, because I’m not on Linkedin. The very first request came a few years ago, when I was working at a newspaper and an old source sent me monthly requests to join Linkedin. I got one every month for at least a year before either he stopped trying to invite me or I left my job and lost access to that email account. I can’t remember which happened first. Anyhow, since then, I’ve received Linkedin requests from all sorts of people: former co-workers, current co-workers, students, family members, people I’ve met once, people I haven’t seen in years and friends of my family.

It seems like everyone’s on LinkedIn, and since I’m a sucker for groupthink, I’m beginning to wonder: Do I need to be on Linkedin? And if so, why?

I have checked out the site. It looks like a non-scandalous, grown-up version of Facebook, where people use phrases like “communication skills” and “can-do attitude” in lieu of “OMG” or “LOL.”

And although I realize the site is used to network professionals, I can’t figure out if it is useful or not.

It’s not as if I don’t love social media. Those who suffer my Facebook status updates and my Twitter feed can attest to the fact that I love The Network. It’s ridiculous. I’ve been waiting for it all my life:  I write words and people react to (or fail to react to) those words almost instantly. It’s instant gratification. Sometimes it’s instant mortification. And it’s done wonders for my writing — Facebook has honed my comedic skills by teaching me that 80 percent of everything I say is not funny.

Same thing with Twitter, which has allowed me to gradually connect with other writers, and which has also taught me how to craft very, very short sentences while including hashtags and replies.  And these two sites are really just the latest in a series of social media innovations that I’ve loved and abused. Before Facebook, I was on Myspace. Before that, Livejournal. Before that, I was on Friendster. And before that, there were various messaging and file-sharing groups that I can barely remember. ICQ and Hotwire (I think it was called HotWire. It could have been HotLine. Livewire? I don’t know. The software I’m talking about is from 1995. It’s been lost in the mists of time.) Also, AIM and unsupervised chat rooms, and even the old Apple chat software Broadcast.

All of them were useful in their own way, just as Facebook and Twitter are useful to me now, as I build a reader base and follow what’s going on with my friends and in the world. But LinkedIn? How is that useful? Isn’t it just a way to get my resumé online?

And so, because I have no answers of my own, I end this blog with an obnoxious crowd-sourcing series of questions. Are you on Linkedin? Is it useful? How? Have you obtained a job or gained contacts by being on Linkedin? Please, corporate types. Help a sister out.

 

Free things for Christmas

I keep forgetting to use one of my own photos as a holiday card. So this isn't a holiday freebie, but it could have been.

I love Christmas. I also love free stuff. So putting the two things together always makes my day. And because sharing makes everything better, I want to share my a few of my favorite holiday freebies with you.

1) Free holiday music. Last year, I was in desperate need of holiday music. I had only one holiday CD, and I disliked that album intensely. It had exactly one good carol on it. The rest were second-rate, mid-century carols by mediocre artists. If we lived in a just world, those songs would have been lost in a record company’s basement, but we don’t. Somebody dredged the carols up and stuck them all together on a disc which I got – I kid you not – from a cereal box. Chex, I think. Anyhow, my feelings about the album are beside the point, because I lost it while moving. While I didn’t miss the album at all, I totally missed having Christmas carols. I know I could have turned on the radio and tuned in to any one of the stations that plays holiday music for the month of December – hell, WEBE 108’s signal is so strong that we can actually hear Bing Crosby singing White Christmas on appliances that aren’t radios.  Still, I was so sick of all those songs. I’ve been hearing them since I was born. The last new carol on those stations is probably Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” and that came out when I was in high school.  I wanted something new. Or at least something good. My savior was Amazon’s MP3 store, which gives away 25 holiday tunes during the month of December – one for each day. And for the most part, the music is really good. Yeah, Dan Fogelberg and Carly Simon occasionally sneak into the line-up, and there are at least three versions of “Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel.” (To be fair, there is a cool metal version this year, by the lead singer of Judas Priest.) But generally, the music is by contemporary artists and there are even new carols. My favorite this year is Winter Hymnal by the Fleet Foxes.

My New Yorker holiday bow prototype.

2.) Home-made paper bows. I got this idea from my brother, who made his own paper gift bow for my mom’s birthday present last week. I think that’s an awesome idea because I never have enough gift bows. Well, I do, but because I scavenge the bows off last year’s unwrapped presents and re-use them, all of my paper bows are smushed beyond recognition. So I’m making bows, using the below video and our pile of old New Yorkers. At left is my first attempt. It’s a one-in-the-morning bow, so it’s not winning any prizes. But it’s still really cool to be able to make them.

3.) Desktop wallpaper. This isn’t actually holiday stuff. But I thought I’d include it because stars are a part of the Christmas story and also a part of the fabric of almost every other religion on the planet. And also because this is just cool. The Hubble Space Telescope posts its best images on its website. Several of those images can be downloaded as wallpaper for your computer. I like the cloud towers in the Carina Nebula best. It’s an awesome way to see the stars, even if you’re staring at your screen.

Happy holidays.

Home.

Sometimes I still accidentally refer to my parents’ house as home.

I’ve been out of the house, more or less, for a decade but it’s an easy mistake. They still live in the same awesome, 100-year-old house I grew up in. Its silhouette has changed over the years, trees have grown up and come down, and it’s recently been painted yellow, but it’s still the same house I was brought home to as an infant. It provided the setting for all of my childhood dramas, games and fantasy. I spent hours in the backyard. I used to look out my window at the hills opposite and imagine the kingdoms that lay beyond them. (I was disappointed to learn that the hills were only hiding Waterbury.)

I know where everything in this house is, and a lot of the things I used to think of as mine are still here – the mural on my old bedroom wall, the painted rock that serves as a doorstop, the shelves on which my international doll collection used to sit – but recently something’s changed. Continue reading

December

To celebrate the first day of the last month of the year, I thought I’d write about a 15-year-old song that always seems new to me: Collective Soul’s “December.”

These guys haven't aged a day... in my mind.

I know I’ve posted about my strange ‘90s nostalgia before, but really, I’m not delusional. I know that the ’90s have receded into the mists of time. I am dimly aware that I graduated from high school more than a decade ago and that everything that was new then is old now. And not vintage/retro/awesome old, either. More like passé/outdated/has-been old. And if I ever forget this fact, I teach a roomful of community college students who are more than willing to remind me, on a weekly basis, that I am a geezer.

Nevertheless, there are some things from the mid-’90s that I persist in thinking of as brand new, and one of those things is Collective Soul’s 1995 hit “December.” Why? No idea. Perhaps it didn’t get played to death on the radio stations I was listening to in high school. Or maybe it’s the harmonies, or the violins, or just the fact that the music is so good. Or maybe I didn’t pay too much attention to it 15 years ago and it’s taken this long for me to absorb the song. I don’t know. But every time I hear it, it gives me that quality-new-song feeling, the feeling I’ve almost forgotten, when you turn on the radio, hear a song and think “wow, this song is actually good.”

Every time it comes on the radio, I still feel exactly the way I did the first time I heard it, when I was getting ready for school in the morning, putting on my flannel shirt and clogs, and slipping my Spanish 3 book into my backpack. I thought then, and I always think now, “hey, what a good song.” And I always think the song is newly released.

Well, until recently, when I heard it on the classic rock station. That was jarring. When I complained, my husband, who is 14 years my senior, laughed and welcomed me to my 30s for what seemed the umpteenth time in two years. I hope the classic rock station thing hasn’t ruined the new-song-feeling for me. I’d like to think that “December” is new for all the rest of my Decembers.

For any of you who’d like to see the 15-year-old video from YouTube’s partner site Vevo, I’ve posted it below, in all its 1995 alternative, long-haired, blazer-clad glory. May you also get that good-new-song-vibe from it. Happy December.

Pet owners like that are the only pet owners here.

 

I spent most of yesterday wandering through various veterinary facilities, husband in tow. We sat in waiting rooms and exam rooms, carrier in my lap, or worse, the carrier sitting on the floor, its occupant out, growling, firmly held down on a metal examination table.

It was more than 48 hours since she was able to eat or drink or move freely.

Last week I posted about my cat, Copy, and her vet fears. This week she’s in the veterinary hospital with a mysterious bacterial infection. What happened? No one knows. She was in magnificent form at the vet’s for her vaccinations  Friday. She hissed, she spat, she did her best Linda Blair impersonation. We apologized to the vet techs and murmured sweet nothings to the cat and brought her home for the bath she needed. And then she was bafflingly ill. Continue reading