Back to School


It’s that time of year again, and I’m joining the back-to-school crowd with a few new learning projects of my own.  For 25 years straight, my life followed a school schedule, and though I’m no longer a student or teacher at school, old habits die hard.

I mentioned last week that I’ve recently started sewing lessons.  Lately, I find myself drawn towards traditional activities that every person used to know, out of necessity, how to do, like gardening and basic construction.  Hence my never-ending home improvement projects, last year’s herb garden (you should see my basil this year–it’s so happy since I put it in a bigger pot!), and now with the sewing.  Come the apocalypse, I don’t want to die as a result of my own lack of skills in these basic areas.  Or, you know, greet our zombie overlords in any non-cute clothes.

It’s not like I haven’t taken sewing lessons before.  We did a unit on sewing in 10th-grade Home Ec, and my mom, who is an excellent seamstress, tried to teach me, and I’ve made forays into the world of fabric and thread many times on my own, in various bursts of unaccountable optimism.  It never took.  I can replace your toilet no problem; my sewing projects generally look like a drunk monkey put them together with its own three hands.  I am, shall we say, challenged when it comes to kinesthetic learning.  It takes me a long time and a lot of practice to learn physical things.  The concepts seem straightforward enough, but something gets garbled between brain and hands, and despite my best efforts, things never quite work out the way I want them to, or the way I see them in my head.

But I am trying to overcome that.  And as I love clothes, and am tired of being at the mercy of cheapass, unoriginal, and overly expensive plus-size retailers, I’d like to have the option of DIYing it if I can learn to sew.  We’ve spent the first two lessons creating a customized pattern to perfectly fit my particular and abundant curves, and I have the fabric picked out for two skirts. I should have something wearable within the next two lessons, and I haven’t cried at the sewing machine yet.  A new personal best for me!

In addition to sewing, I’ve been learning to play the ukulele.  Beth and I made my uke several years ago now, and it sat, lonesome, in my guitar cabinet while I struggled along with guitar, never taking the time to learn ukulele because I had so much to learn on guitar.  While that situation hasn’t changed, and I’m still learning new things on guitar all the time, I decided I’d really like to learn to play my beautiful uke, so I joined a uke meetup group.  I’m the youngest ukester during the weekday sessions by at least 30 years, as it’s mostly retirees, and there are not a lot of retirees my age.  There’s one other lady close to my age that I’ve seen at the Sunday gatherings.  The songs we play are pretty easy, and that’s just what I’ve needed to learn where the chords are on this new instrument, so it’s been pretty beneficial so far.  It’s no longer a foreign instrument.

And I’ve been corresponding in Spanish with an internet pal to slow the appalling atrophy of my second-language skills. Foreign language is very much a use-it-or-lose-it proposition, and once I quit teaching, where I used it every day, I started losing it fast.  The occasional conversation with random wrong numbers and strangers I’ve discovered don’t speak English isn’t enough to keep the rust off.  At first, I found myself looking up tons of words in the diccionario, and taking forever to write in Spanish, but with every exchange, it goes faster, and now I’m more likely to look things up in the dictionary to check my memory, rather than to find a completely unknown word.  And I’m happy to find that I’m right more often than not.  The more I write in Spanish, the more it seems to prime the pump, and vocabulary comes back to me bit by bit, stuff I’m surprised I ever knew.  I grow more confident all the time, and am feeling like I’m no longer at such a great risk for losing my Spanish.  I’ll have to find an outlet to practice spoken Spanish, too, in time.  Writing is great, but I need to pick up my speed.  Ain’t nobody got time for me to consult my dictionary and 12 verb tenses mid-conversation.  And I need a refresher on subjunctive usage, and verbs that change meaning in the preterite.  Fortunately, I’m a trained Spanish teacher, and can provide these booster lessons for myself.

The funny thing about all this stuff is that it’s an odd time of life for me to be picking up new things (or refreshing old ones), considering age and hormones are conspiring to make my brain, and my memory, less reliable than in the past.  But it feels good to really stretch my mind, and challenge it.  For years, at work, the only mental challenges I had were bad ones, mostly dealing with the interpersonal workplace drama, politics, and the consequences of variable competence amongst my fellow inmates.  There was nothing that really pushed me mentally and woke me up.  And even when I had to really focus on something, it was nothing new; it was merely painstaking.  I hadn’t realized how true that was until I started up with all this stuff and revisited the joy of really concentrating hard on something new, and the feeling of accomplishment with each new baby step forward.  Of making mistakes, and knowing they were part of the process.  Of playing a Spanish song on my ukulele in a fabulous new skirt.  

Well, it may be awhile before that last one happens, but I’m on my way.  And, I hope, keeping my mind reasonably agile going into the latter half of my life.

So what about y’all?  Learning anything new lately?



Amazing what you can find at Jo-ann’s these days


When I first heard the guttural groaning and snarling, it was coming from 15 feet away and about knee-high.  At first, I just ignored it and continued to look at the overwhelming varieties of fabric confronting me at Jo-ann’s, whither I’d gone directly from my very first sewing lesson in nearly 3 decades yesterday in search of something that would make a cool skirt or two.

But the moaning and growling continued, and with a brief side-glance at the source, I announced to the bolts of calico, “There’s a zombie in here!”

The racket continued, and shambled a little closer to me, so I turned to face it and said, “Zombies don’t sew!” as I stared down into its surprisingly clear eyes.

I must be pretty terrifying to the undead, because this sent the zombie back to hide behind his grandmother’s knees.  But it wasn’t long before he’d peeked out again and sallied forth, moaning and groaning for all he was worth, until he’d reached a spot between racks where he could hide and keep an eye on me.  Whilst growling the entire time.  Naturally.

Clearly, there was no option but to speak to this creature in its own language, so I snarled and groaned and hissed right back at it.  This may have been a tactical mistake on my part, because it seemed to only embolden the zombie, and he came ever closer, until it was too much for him, and he scurried back to his grandma again.  And then he’d come out again, we’d exchange growls, and back he’d go, notably more animated every time.

Grandma, however, had been engrossed in her shopping for quilting supplies, and had missed the subtle zombie negotiations that had been taking place for the last five minutes, and when her wee blonde zombie returned to her, loud and agitated, she scolded him for making a nuisance of himself in the store, as grandmas are wont to do.  Grandmas don’t always understand the ways of zombies.  She may have had some awareness, though, because in the middle of chewing the zombie out, she paused and asked, “Are you playing?”

At this point, I announced from down the row that we were, in fact, playing, with the part about me being a bad influence on 3-year-olds in craft stores tacitly implied.  Kids love me; what can I say?  Babies in high chairs flirt with me at restaurants all the time, and I of course flirt back, making sure to look very straight-faced and adult when their confused parents look up from their phones trying to figure out why their infant is giggling madly for no apparent reason.  I figured I owed it to the zombie to make sure he wasn’t going to be in too much trouble, considering I had contributed significantly to the delinquency of the walking dead.

Once the details of the situation were made clear to Grandma, the zombie took that as permission to basically lose his shit (in the most adorable way possible), and stalk me in earnest, his purpose seemingly to get me to chase him back, and of course I obliged, wary though I was that it might’ve been a trap, though I saw no other zombies lurking.  I was only 20 feet from the scissors and seam rippers, and if I had to, I could sprint to the instruments of zombie destruction before he could shamble over there.  Also, I felt pretty confident that while he could’ve gotten me in the ankle, he would’ve needed a ladder to eat my brains.

Eventually, Grandma had both found what she wanted, and had had enough of our tomfoolery, and she insisted her zombie heel to her side, despite his protests.  I waved goodbye, and the zombie waved goodbye, and I continued my way down the row of fabric and lost track of them.

Further searching did not turn up any better options than the two bolts I already held in my hands, so I made my way over to the fabric cutting table, where there was, of course, a line (there’s always a line).  And who should be standing in front of me but Grandma, though the zombie had shambled off.  And boy, wasn’t he surprised when he came back to the line.  But now he was shy, because the game had been interrupted, and we were stuck with mere English to communicate now.  As the (putative) adult, I broke the ice.

“Those are some pretty nice Spiderman shoes you’ve got there!”

“They light up,” said his grandmother, as he stomped his feet to make Spidey’s eyes light up.

“Sweet,” I said.  “I saw some little girls with backpacks that light up at the store the other day.”  We agreed that that was probably a good safety feature, especially for kids who have a tendency to dart out in front of cars.

“Are those your fast shoes?”

Kayden, the artist formerly known as “Zombie,” said he was very fast, and he would show me just how fast, when his grandmother put the kibosh on that.

“No running in the store!  We only run outside.”

Who knew that zombies had a debate team?  Because Kayden then pointed out that if he waited to run outside, I would not be there to see him.  I inferred that this would be a minor tragedy, as far as he was concerned.  And when you’re “almost four,” even minor tragedies are still pretty damn tragic.

I assured Kayden that I believed that he was indeed very fast, but Grandma relented, and told him he could run down the empty aisle next to us to show off his impressive speed.  And off he went, Spidey’s red eyes flashing with every step, until he got to the end of the aisle, turned left, and, I presumed, started back towards us up the next aisle, but then he disappeared.

“I guess he got lost?” I said to the grandmother, and she and I continued to chat, but soon I heard the clomping pitter-patter of feet that were trying hard to be very fast.

“You’re already back?  No way!” I said, as he turned the corner, and made a big fuss about how fast he was, and that those were definitely some fast shoes.

Then we talked about how old he was (which he offered with no equivocation at first, but it was evidently a matter of some debate later, because, as he said, someone named Rebecca had said he was four, and she was obviously some authority by Kayden’s reckoning.  “Who’s Rebecca?” Grandma asked.  “She’s a girl.”)  And we talked about what color he was going to paint the train in the wooden craft kit Grandma was buying him.  All of the colors, as it turns out.

The party ended when Grandma’s number was called, and there were some other toddler-types hanging around with their moms closer to the fabric-cutting desk, and I was left in the dust, because another 3-year-old, in a fedora no less, is far more interesting than an old lady who speaks marginal Zombie.  Understandable, really.  I wasn’t even wearing a hat.