Category Archives: whining

Why not all hobbies are business endeavors

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Ok, this post is a rant, but it really is not meant to be unkind. If I thought someone in my life read this and felt like it was directed at them I would die of humiliation. It’s not directed at anyone, nor has anyone in my life offended me, but I do just need to get this off my chest. So here it goes.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a stay-at-home mother in possession of good crafty skills must be in want of a side job.” Oh wait, that’s not true at all. Let me explain.

My life and home are filled with homemade stuff. Curtains, pillows, napkins, tablecloths, hats on top of kids’ heads, socks on my feet–you name it, I’ve sewed it/knitted it/crocheted it. I even blog as as a hobby to document my hobbies. Because that’s fun for me–it’s my pastime. I don’t want to sew as a job. I don’t want to knit as a job. I don’t want to crochet as a job.

It’s not ok to ask someone to sew, knit, crochet or craft for you unless that person has a business or has been known to solicit work before. Asking a person to make something handmade for you is an unacceptable presumption. If you thought someone had a beautifully clean house, you would never ask them to come be your housekeeper. If you thought someone did a nice job painting their woodwork, you would not ask them to come paint yours. If you thought someone had a well-behaved dog, you would not randomly ask if you can pay them to give your dog lessons. (I could go on.) There are exceptions to these, of course, for very close friends or family who have a history of sharing labor and time with each other, but I’m not talking about those exceptions.

I am never bothered when friends or acquaintances compliment my projects, wish they could make those things, wish I would make them one (teasingly), or ask me to teach them how to do something or give advice on a project. (Actually, the opposite–I’m flattered by all those things.) Teaching a friend how to do a skill is well within the scope of friendship. I don’t actually think I’m very good at teaching crafty skills, which is one of the reasons you almost never see tutorials on my blog, but I would never be bothered by someone asking for my help, nor would I ever mind giving it a try. I also love making gifts for friends and relatives. Being able to give handmade gifts is a special joy. People who know they are going to get a gift from me and give me a hint about something handmade they want are just making useful hints. I’m not talking about that.

Asking someone like me to do unsolicited paid work is completely different. I do not like it when people ask me to do jobs for them. I don’t do it, either, because I’m not for hire. I’m not offended, but I just want to explain why it’s not really ok to ask me or any other crafter, even if the intention is good. I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago. I’ve held professional jobs making a reasonable amount of money. My current state of unpaid employment is something my husband and I have put a great deal of thought into. (You can read our reasons for homeschooling here.) Our family budget is not of public concern, nor would it be polite or acceptable for anyone to presume that the amount of money I could make by sewing for someone would be worth the bother to me. Adorable and fashionable clothing and home-furnishings can be purchased at Target. (Talking about the lives of the people who made those items is beyond the scope of this post, but you you probably have a good idea.) Beautiful and high-quality clothing and home-furnishings can also be purchased lots of places from upscale stores to small boutiques or online from domestic sellers on Etsy. When people suggest that I do a sewing project for them, they seem to think they could get a quality, hand-made item from me for under the price of a similar item at Target. Inevitably, they also significantly underestimate the time and effort involved in creating their desired project. In fact, just purchasing good-quality yarns and fabrics often causes home-sewn or knitted items to be more expensive just in materials than their Target counterparts. If I were doing sewing or yarn-craft jobs, I would be forgoing the precious, hard-won moments I wrench from my busy life to enjoy my crafty pursuits, giving up creative control over my projects, and creating an item that would net me (maybe) just enough money to go buy non-handmade items for my own children and gift recipients at Target. I’m profoundly uninterested in doing that.

Some craftspeople and artists decide to transform their skills into businesses, so they sell on Etsy or on their own websites or in stores or boutiques. They make crafting their job. Just like other jobs, they turn part of their day over to the execution of the tasks that encompass their job, and it happens to be crafty-related. That’s terrific, but I don’t want to do that. Being able to do something is not the same thing as being interested in doing that thing as a job. Prices of items on Etsy or of handmade goods in boutiques reflect the amount of time and effort it takes to sew or craft. The prices of domestic-made goods on Etsy are fair, and they reflect the time and materials in the handmade objects.  That’s how selling handmade items can be a living for some people, but it would not be worth it for me. I don’t want to put my children in daycare so I can craft for money.

Here’s a concrete example. I recently sold my fox purse in an online forum for used goods. I blogged about the purse here. I actually made it last winter, I think, and by this fall I was tired of carrying it. It was showing a little wear after 4-6 months of use and had a stain on the handle, which I disclosed in my online ad. I paid $17 for the two pieces of fabric I used to make the bag, then let’s say another few dollars for the other bits–a zipper, 2 D-rings, elastic. thread. I’m not sure how long it took me to design and sew the bag, but I’m going to estimate three hours. This would have been three hours squeeze out over the course of several days and across multiple sittings. It would have been a few minutes while supper was baking, a little time while the baby was napping but after I’d finished shorting laundry, a stolen moment while my oldest answered math questions I’d set her. It was time I spent at the sewing machine sewing instead of keeping my kitchen floor clean, catching up on the church committee work, or grading last week’s spelling work. I could not put a price on that three hours. No amount of money could have made the effort worth it if my project weren’t meant as a treat for myself or someone I love. Yet I felt like the effort was worthwhile to me just for the love of crafting, and the satisfaction of making something just right for myself. I enjoyed envisioning and creating the bag in those stolen moments. I enjoyed carrying it and knowing it was unique. I enjoyed turning $20 in materials into a bag that didn’t come from Target. When I was done using the bag, I asked $10 for it because I thought that was a reasonable price for a used bag with a stain on it–the price had no relation to the value of the bag to me when it was new. I was pleased to sell it almost immediately; I was vastly annoyed to immediately receive solicitations that I make new ones for would-be purchasers. They had no idea how much I’d have had to charge for that bag to make it even remotely worth making it new. The $20-ish dollars in materials plus the $1,000,000 for my time would have undoubtedly seemed outrageous to them (they who expected me to produce more to sell for $10!???). I’m sure the would-be buyers didn’t mean to offend, but just the suggestion made me realize how far afield the perception of the value of handmade items is from their actual value, both in time and money.

So my point is this. If you want handmade items, patronize an established business, art fair, or Etsy. Expect to pay more for the item than you would pay at Target. Do not ask other people to use their crafty skills for you. Do not offer to pay people for items they are not offering for sale. You may mean well enough, but it’s thoughtless and annoying. This is a public service announcement and is intended as enlightenment and explanation, not as chastisement or ridicule. XO

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My trailer might be cursed

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It’s taken me a little while to gather up the energy for this post. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time and perspective to have a proper laugh over events that really aren’t funny as they are happening.

We sold our beloved red trailer and bought our ’67 Yellowstone in June. It took a few weeks and a team of elves to get her nearly into camp-ready shape. We tried to take her out in the heat of July but were thwarted by problems with our doorknob. The rest of July was just too unbearably hot to think of camping. August was pleasant but somehow we were never able to go. More than one weekend Rob or I suggested that we might finally make it away for a long-awaited inaugural night in our trailer, but for one reason or another no 24-hour space could ever be carved out to get away.

In the meantime, I made progress on our doorknob issue. The actual replacement knob was just too expensive to consider. I found a similar knob that I thought would work, but when it came in I found that the inside knob prevented the thing from closing if it were installed, and that the opening on the side of my trailer door could not quite accommodate the hardware. I ordered the handle version of the same knob and asked my kind brother if he’d cut a larger opening on the side of the door. He was glad to do this but had not yet had a chance to do it when mid-September rolled around.

In August, when our schedule prevented us from camping, we did make a date with some friends to go together in September. We still held out a hope of going by ourselves before that date, but in early September our towing vehicle overheated and had to be taken in to a garage. We were hoping for a minor radiator problem; instead we discovered that our old Discovery needed a whole new-to-it engine. This was unfortunately in keeping with all the other experiences we had in the first two weeks of September, what with the plumber, the electrician, the waterproofers, electrician again, and the sad state of Rob’s primary vehicle making us wonder why our karma took such a nose dive. But I got through the upheaval in my home and the pain of writing the checks by fixing in my head an image of how much fun we were going to have finally camping with our friends. We were to get our old ‘Rover back on that Friday, and would load it up and head for camp with our friends after soccer practice on Saturday. I daydreamed about the dog finally napping on her little bedroll, about finally getting to use all the sweet accessories I’d had so much fun collecting, and in general of relaxing in that space and using the night away as a barrier between the problems we’d been having and the new week that was to start on the other side.

Now, I’m 36 years old and I’ve had things break before. I really do know that when cars are supposed to be done on Friday that they sometimes aren’t. I know that getting through stressful events by focusing on one that may not happen is not really a good coping strategy…but somehow in the heat of it all I lost that wisdom. So when Friday morning came and I phoned Rob to make arrangements for picking up our ‘Rover and found out that it wasn’t actually ready at all, I should have dealt with it better but I didn’t. Instead, I’m sorry to say, I, um, lost my shit. I cried like a baby. I cried about my kitchen sink, and my dishwasher, and my basement, and the wire to the garage, and the hole in the back of Rob’s car hood, I cried because I knew that I should actually get a grip and be grateful that our family is whole and healthy, I cried about the money, and mostly I cried because I really, really, really wanted to finally use my damn trailer and I couldn’t.

Rob said we should go camping anyway. We had a tent and we had supplies, we had friends planning to meet us, and we had all the s’mores ingredients I’d already bought. I knew he was right. I didn’t want to break our date just because we couldn’t take our trailer. I occupied myself with other things for an hour or two to calm down and then I sat down to make a list of the things I’d need to gather to go tent camping. Then I started crying again. Almost everything we needed was in the camper. I was going to have to go in and out of my trailer a hundred times to unload and repack all our sleeping bags and gear, and I felt like root canals, childbirth, cat poo cleanup, or that “Call Me Maybe” song on endless loop would have been preferable to taking our camping gear out of the Yellowstone without ever having used it in there. I promise I really did (and do) have perspective on where my Tiny Ass First World Problems fit in the grand scheme of things, but that perspective isn’t actually all that helpful when you’re in your kitchen losing your shit over a disappointment that may not be worthy but is still very real.

I thought about ways to get myself out of unpacking the trailer. The most achievable scenario seemed to be renting a truck to tow it to our campground. We spend a certain amount of money on each family member for Christmas; if I petitioned to use my Christmas money this weekend to secure a rental truck no one was likely to complain. In fact, the kids seemed very enthusiastic about the idea (they were disappointed too, after all) and I think Rob must have felt like anything was better than me crying about it again. I discovered that the rental car companies would not rent me a car to use for towing, but that I could secure a U-Haul pickup with a hitch for a reasonable price. I went to make my reservation and discovered that most of the area’s U-Haul pickups were already reserved for the weekend, but that I could pick one up 10 miles away in Indiana. I’d have to be driven over by Rob and the kids, be charged for mileage back to my house, hitch the trailer and drive the 28 miles to our campground, then do the whole thing in reverse the next day and have the truck back within the 24 hour rental space. I didn’t even hesitate. Mileage charges for Christmas, a time constraint, and the extra hassle couldn’t possible be as bad as unpacking my trailer to go tent camping. I reserved it.

We were a happy band of campers that Saturday morning. We checked off the soccer game, packed our cooler, picked up the U-Haul truck. I wasn’t bothered that I didn’t have the new doorknob on the trailer yet. The old one still shut but just wouldn’t lock. I bungeed it to the handle-grip next to the door to make sure it wouldn’t come open in route.

I invited Belle up into the passenger’s seat of the U-Haul and we left home, with Rob and the kids following me in our family car. (The family car, for the record, does not have the towing capacity to handle our Yellowstone.) Our friends sent us a text message that they had arrived at our campground and secured a nice site for us to share. I sent back the happy message that we were leaving and planned to be there soon.

We’d gone about a mile into our 28-mile trip and had not yet reached the highway when the trailer door flew open. I pulled over and surveyed the situation. The bottom of the handle-grip to which I’d bungeed the doorknob had come off the side of the camper and lost its screw. The top still seemed to be firmly attached. I went inside the trailer and collected duct tape, made sure no items inside had shifted to where they were likely to hit the door and force it open again, and then duct-taped the door shut all around. I made a loop with the tape and re-attached the handle-grip to the doorknob as well, for extra security. We laughed cautiously at having to stop so soon into our journey but felt like we’d remedied the situation and traveled on.

We were on the highway traveling through Louisville’s west side when my duct tape job gave way. The door to the trailer flew open with so much force that the door’s window shattered in a spray of glass. The metal handle-grip detached from the side of the trailer and flew through one of the trailer’s back windows, also shattering it. Rob immediately phoned my cell to ask if I’d seen it, but really, how could I have missed it? We were near an exit and we took it, pulling into a vacant lot right off the highway. Rob and I got out of our vehicles and stared at the broken glass shards that were all that was left of the door and back windows. Rob put his arm around me and kept saying, “I’m so, so sorry.” I knew he really meant, “please do not start crying again. Please.” I fetched the trash can from inside the trailer and we disposed of what glass was left in the broken windows.

At this point we decided to try bungees again. I had a stout bungee in the back of our family car and with the windows out we had more possibilities for places to hook it. We got the door shut very firmly and duct-taped again more thoroughly for redundancy. We made it across the state line and were only a couple miles from the exit where we’d leave the expressway when the door swung open again. We took an exit and made for another parking lot. The bungee had shredded like dental floss. I don’t know if it was an old bungee, maybe a little brittle after a lifetime in the back of my car, or if the force of the door was just too much for even a bungee in good health.

We were only a few blocks from a hardware store I knew of, but Worth had fallen asleep. If Rob left me with the trailer in the lot he’d have to wake the boy up to take him inside the hardware store. We couldn’t wake a sleeping kid; I abandoned the U-Haul and the trailer in the parking lot and crammed myself and my fifty-pound dog into the front seat of the family car. Dorothy, Belle and I sat with sleeping Worth while Rob went in and purchased a bucket of fresh bungees. We made it back to the trailer without waking our boy, got Belle transferred back to the U-Haul, then set about securing the door with as many bungees and at as many points as we possibly could.

Once we finally pulled in to the park which housed our campsite I felt like we we’d come much farther than we had. The grumpy lady who took our money asked skeptically if we had reservations. I thought “bitch, you are not going to keep me from camping here.” I assured her we had a spot and drove off without listening to whatever else she had to say to me. No dominatrix gatekeeper with a librarian complex was going to stop me now. We were united with our friends, parked the trailer at our spot, and then I parked the U-Haul at the lot designated for extra vehicles. Another camper told me he liked my truck. I didn’t whack him.

The next 18 hours passed with far less drama. Some of our party got covered in ticks, but at least that is a possible hazard that always comes with camping. The children had great fun burying small cars in dirt and then exhuming them; the grown-ups drank a lot of wine and beer. Our dog went into overprotective watch-dog mode and growled at everyone outside our party all night long. But it was fun. It was fun to finally put down the bunk and hoist Dorothy up. It was fun to unroll the bedding and sleep on my polka-dotted cushions. Our friends’ homemade wine was delicious, and it was even better to drink it out of the aqua-swirled cups I’d placed in the trailer cabinets with such great expectation. We walked, we sat, we drank, we talked. The weather was perfect, the food had all the smoky flavor of a real fire. Ahhhhhhhh.

I’d like to end the story there but unfortunately there is a wee bit more to it. We stayed in happy camper mode a bit too long the next morning and were in a rush when we finally bungeed everything closed, hitched the trailer back to the U-Haul and pulled out. Our configuration of bungees this second time around didn’t seem to be as well-engineered as the day before and the door started swinging open and then quickly, violently closed as we drove down the state road near the campground. We did what we could but were still concerned about getting home with out incident. After our first stop to rearrange bungees I realized we were probably not going to make it home in time to turn around and return the rental truck within our 24-hour window, and two days of U-Haul rental was a more generous Christmas gift than I’d intended to claim. I phoned my parents, who lived much closer to our campground, and appreciated their willingness to house my trailer until we could get the door secured.

We dumped the trailer at my parents’, dropped off the U-Haul in the nick of time, then piled once more (dog on my lap) into the family car to get back home. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired after such a short trip. My nice brother came to my aid a few days later, installing the new knob and even pulling the trailer back to my house for me. We think we’ll get our Rover back this week, and Rob already has a new camping destination in mind.

I’m not sure how I feel about it. We’ve gone to a lot more trouble than I ever intended to have a little family fun. The adventure reminded me a bit of our day trip to Mercer County, without all the poo and nudity and with a little more genuine frustration. I’m still working on laughing about it properly. I’m hoping that after this experience and the one before it, the next time I post about traveling with our Yellowstone I’ll just be gushing about all the fun we’ve had. Yes, indeed.

One unhappy event and a dog bed

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A nostalgia photo: me with the keys to the only car I’ve ever chosen for myself, March 2008. 

It’s been an eventful week. Dorothy’s at a drama day camp, we had a nice visit from Aunt Stephanie, and, unfortunately, we had a car accident. Belle seems to like riding in the car so I’d taken her with me to pick Dorothy up from camp. We were almost home when the light turned green for me at an intersection and I drove forward. Unfortunately, Mr. Wears-the-Same-Color-as-His-Sports-Car-With-Vanity-Plates thought that his red stoplight did not apply to him and he zoomed through it–and right into my car. I honked/swerved/braked and all of that, but the impact (to my front passenger side) was still pretty fierce. My back got quite a jolt and the pup hit the floor. Thankfully, the kids seem to have come through the crash just fine, safely secured in their correctly-installed car seats and Worth still rear-facing. The pup picked herself back up with no ill effects, and I’m hoping my sore back is a temporary issue. My car, however, is not so fine. The impact sent us on a little half-spin that seems to have made one of my rear wheels tilt toward the center. Not good. I drove the vehicle the remaining blocks to my house at about 5 mph, with my father-in-law carefully following behind, but the conditions deteriorated such over the course of the short drive home that I’m quite worried about what’s going to happen to my beloved car. It shakes and trembles, screeches and takes jolty little nose-dives to the left without any input from the driver. I’m trying to remember how grateful I am that all my humans (and one canine) are still in one piece, but I’m also pretty upset about the car.
My mother has been sweet to loan me hers until we can come up with a better interim solution, but it’s a lousy feeling to be without my wheels. My car has the hitch, so there will be no camper-towing for a while. I’m also almost ridiculously fond of my car (I get gently made fun of for this sometimes) and it makes me sad to be without it. My car is just such a great fit for my life–there is a perfect spot or feature for all of my little people, gadgets, or travel-related needs. It’s not too big and not too small. Up off the ground but not towering. I spent many hours researching and reviewing cars after my old Civic was crashed (along with, unfortunately, my right arm) back in Dorothy’s infancy, and I’ve always felt that though nothing can make up for a right arm that never got back full range of motion and always knows when it rains, getting to pick just the right vehicle for me while my husband was still in law school was a nice consolation prize. My fingers are crossed that the damage isn’t as bad as it seems, and that maybe I’ll be back on my own wheels soon.

Ok, enough of my whining. Belle needed a special comfy place and I’ve made her a dog bed. I used two standard-size pillows that I hooked together with snaps along one long side of each. This way the pillows can be detached for easy machine-washing. Otherwise I think a well-padded dog bed for a pooch the size that Belle will be would not fit in the washing machine. The bed is located in the hallway right outside the bedrooms of our human family members. I used leftover bird fabric from the curtains in my bedroom, machine basted to an old flannel sheet for added body and sturdiness. The bottom is just cut from a thrifted sheet, with overlapping edges for easy removal. Belle seemed to know exactly who the bed was for and plopped right down. I’ll have to take regular photos of her on it as she grows, to record her growth as her puppyhood speeds by. She’s a sweet little dog. 
I’ve been reading up on puppy training since we’re such dog novices. I love this book, written by a group of Eastern Orthodox monks who raise and train dogs to support their community. I hadn’t expected to enjoy reading about puppy training, but was pleasantly surprised when I fell quite engrossed by this bit of puppy prose. They take their dogs very seriously–I sometimes wonder if some of their very serious anecdotes and advice are a bit tongue-in-cheek?–and present all of their information and recommendations thoughtfully and thoroughly. I recommend it to anyone sharing a home with a puppy.