Category Archives: miscellany

Fridays at Home: Making a decorative pillow

18th October 2013

My friend Brandy recently sold her house and moved into an apartment. She was ready for more flexibility and to be closer to the big city where I live (Ha!). Fortunately, the apartment she rented allows tenants to paint the walls, so she and I picked out paint colors for each room, and the apartment dragged their feet eventually painted it.

She’s done an amazing job downsizing and making her apartment one of the coziest I’ve seen in quite some time, but she still wanted some accents. For her birthday, I decided to whip up a pillow for her bed. I came across some fabric I love and had had for ages in hopes of it matching something in my house. It didn’t, but when I pulled it out, I realized the two colors were exactly the colors of Brandy’s bedroom!

A quick trip to the fabric store for a pillow insert, contrasting fabric, and trim led to this project last Sunday. And for those of you who have never sewn or are afraid to venture away from handsewing, give this a try.

1. Mom and I measured the pillow and allowed an additional quarter inch for the seam allowance (the portion of the fabric that will be sewn together, like a ditch of sorts).

2. I’m lucky that my mom has an amazing embroidery machine. She was so sweet and embroidered Brandy’s initial on the silk contrast fabric for some added oomph. [Side note: I adore the tone-on-tone embroidery. So nice.]

3. I laid out my pillow fabric, measured, and placed my contrast fabric on top in the center. I finger pressed the edges before using a pressing cloth to iron them more accurately. [An iron is one of THE best tools when it comes to sewing. My mom keeps one next to her machine.]


4. I pinned the trim between the pillow fabric and the contrast fabric. The trim has a lip that slid underneath the contrast fabric easily. Use your pins horizontally for ease in removal.



5. Mom helped me change out the presser foot (the part that guides the fabric and holds the needle in place) with a zipper foot to allow for the bulk of the trim. Here she is getting it started. The trim made it really simple to follow a straight line all the way down. [When sewing bulky trim, it is helpful to guide it with your fingers or a pencil to keep it from expanding.]


6. We switched the zipper foot back to the regular presser foot. Then you flip right sides together, and sew up three sides. Since I was using a pillow insert, I needed to leave one of the shorter ends open so the insert could fit it.


7. Once you insert the pillow, you have to sew up that last side. We tucked the fabric in, and I used a slip stitch to close it up. Mom embroidered another project while I did this step, and we talked about the joy of handstitching. I forgot how calming it is to sit and work with fabric, watching something you made come together.


Voila! Ok, so these are really crappy iPhone photos, and it was dark out, but you get the idea. This project was super simple but turned out great, and Brandy loved it. 🙂


Homemade gifts are so fun and customizable. It’s also nice because if you look for monogrammed pillows or pillows made from decorator fabric online, they are incredibly pricey. Pillows aren’t inexpensive to make, but they certainly shouldn’t cost what some vendors charge. And you guys know I love the DIY life (…mostly).

Happy Friday!


A Reader’s Responsibility

27th March 2013

This morning, while my eyes were still trying to adjust to the “open” position, I was perusing Twitter. One tweet in particular brought me into the land of the living a bit more quickly than normal.

tweetI was, as you can imagine, irritated by this, but I was also puzzled. First off, does Sara J. Henry believe only libraries are buying her books? I see photos of author signings in her Twitter history, so obviously not. The tone of her tweet is quite sarcastic, and I phrased my response thus: “Dear author, out of all books, I chose yours, library or no. & if I told you I enjoyed it, might I not tell others?”

I wanted this author to understand that the library is typically not going to make or break an author, but an attitude of disdain toward a reader may. Now, I say all this, but I in no means want to deride Sara J. Henry. I’ve followed her on Twitter for quite some time. However, after last month’s hullabaloo with Terry Deary discussing libraries costing him money, I thought it might be time to speak up, particularly after Henry tweeted a link to this blog post about readers helping writers.

Of course, this is quite a large topic, and Terry Deary’s article bothers me particularly because he writes children’s books – books that are expensive to make but are also expensive to buy and finished quite quickly. Not only that, but low-income families are very often the ones to use the library. I was part of one of those when I was young.

Sara Henry, on the other hand, writes adult fiction. Last year I read 150 mostly adult, fiction books. No, I did not buy them all, but for about 16 years, I have sustained my reading habit and been responsible for my reading material. At even an average of $10 a book (so I’m knocking out hardcovers, which I own plenty of), and assuming I don’t buy more than I read (ha!) that’s over $1,000 a year. For many, including myself, that number is shocking. When my bank first allowed me to divvy up my expenses, and I saw my book purchases a few years back, I was appalled. I began to use the library more frequently.

As a blogger, even though I receive copies of books from publishers, I still buy entirely too many books (30 last month alone…I know, it’s an illness).

So I was curious. For a mid-level author (meaning, not Stephen King), about how many times will the book be checked out? I called my local branch to figure this out. Unless it’s a hugely popular author, they only order one copy per branch, and there are five branches total in my city. We looked up Lawrence Block. Four of the branches each had one copy of his 2011 novel A Drop of the Hard Stuff. The total number of checkouts for this book was 26. The most popular branch checked out the book 19 times. The other branches had a significantly lower number. We looked up several other mid-list authors and discovered the same thing. We determined that, on average, each mid-list book is checked out approximately seven times. So perhaps that is money out of the author’s pocket, but wait – many readers check out books they’d never buy (and end up buying others by the author), and libraries also buy a large percentage of books.

This post by Kristin Laughtin, “Are Libraries Good for Authors?” looks into this in greater detail:

How much?

Publishers count on a significant portion of their revenue from libraries. In 2009, public libraries and educational institutions (which include school and college libraries) bought $14.6 billion of the $40 billion in books sold. Over a tenth of net book sales are to libraries. The absence of libraries would be noticed! (Link.)

A tenth of book sales. That’s quite a lot, considering again that many library patrons will check out a book he or she would never otherwise buy. Laughtin also points out that a library isn’t 100% free. Taxes go toward the maintenance of libraries, and those outside of city limits pay fees to enjoy the library. The cost may be minimal, but it is indeed there.

Plus, in this community of readers, though it may be anecdotal, many of you have indicated if you enjoy a book at the library, you will likely buy it for your shelves. When I was an adjunct instructor on a meager salary, the library became my only source for reading material. Did I like that? Well, I loved that it was available, even if I didn’t love not owning the books I wanted.

But beyond that, referring back to author Jody Hedlund’s post about readers helping to promote writers – I want to talk about responsibility. It’s a word that comes up quite often these days in reference to books, authors, and bookstores. Jeff O’Neal at Book Riot is one of the most recent to discuss the guilt inherent in many articles supporting indie bookstores, but I’ve noticed it more and more often in terms of the author/reader relationship. From the opening of Hedlund’s post, it rankled:

Dear readers, did you know authors need YOUR help in promoting their books? Yes, they really do!

Many readers already do a superb job promoting the books and authors they love.

Now let me stop right here and say: I do not consider bloggers average readers. By virtue of the blogger/publisher, blogger/author relationship (one I avoid), responsibility is or should be considered. However, an average reader? It’s those words “superb job” that stick in my throat, as it is indeed a job to complete the “twenty easy but effective” things a reader can do to help an author.

So just what is the responsibility of an average reader? I can think of only one: to read. (oh, and not to pirate.)

There are some connected thoughts here such as reader engagement, but ultimately, they boil down to this: Readers should read. They should read if they can’t afford it (by visiting the library), or if they can afford it (by buying). I am not personally responsible if an author doesn’t get the kind of coverage he/she desires or deserves. Similarly, I take no part in the negotiations that happen between authors/agents, authors/publishers, authors/editors. All of those relationships directly affect an author’s pocketbook. My desire to check out one book from the library most likely does not, particularly when we keep in mind the average number of checkouts on a mid-list book.

If I read said book, I do not have an obligation to write about it, tweet about it, tell my book club about it, or talk about it, in general.

I do do those things. But it isn’t my responsibility.

Are there authors I really like and choose to support? Most definitely. I will buy anything Rainbow Rowell or Ian Rankin writes. And I will attempt to buy that book on its publication date (if I can afford to, after bills and food) – because I want to help an author. Because I chose to put my money where my mouth is. Because ultimately, I want to read that book, and I want these authors to write more books. Might they still choose not to write more? Most certainly, but if that’s the case, it won’t be because Jennifer Ravey in Texas did or did not buy the most recent book they’ve written. Because the writing of that book, the process of getting that book published, and the marketing of that book are not my responsibility. Period.

Ultimately, Jody Hedlund is correct. If a reader really wants to help an author whom he or she likes or admires out of the goodness of his or her heart, by all means, promote the heck out of that book. But understand, authors and readers, it is not your job or your responsibility, and don’t you dare feel guilty for that.

World Read Aloud Day 2012

7th March 2012

I am so excited for today’s post and have been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks because today is World Read Aloud Day: Change the World, Story by Story.

LitWorld has this to say about WRAD:

Worldwide at least 793 million people remain illiterate.

Imagine a world where everyone can read…

World Read Aloud Day is about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology.

By raising our voices together on this day we show the world’s children that we support their future: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their words to change the world.

Thankfully, I grew up in a household where books were always important. My mom and dad both love to read, and not only did my mom read and do great narration when she read to us, but in the summertime, we also chose a family book and read from it each night. These are such special memories for me. So, in honor of World Read Aloud Day, I asked my aunt if she would let me share my cousin’s newfound love of books in a video. My mom read her The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone and illustrator Michael Smollin a few weeks ago, and she’s officially in love. Ella even got her own copy for her birthday and didn’t really want to open her other presents. She walks around saying, “Oh, I am so embarrassed” – her favorite line from the book. So here we are, Ella and her Gigi, reading The Monster at the End of the Book. I hope you enjoy, and I hope you take a chance to check out LitWorld and its message and consider making a donation.

I know. Cuteness overload. 🙂 So what’s your favorite book to read aloud or be read aloud?

P.S. I love listening to books, and Audible is a convenient, relatively inexpensive way to do that. Right now they are having a special where you can join for $7.50 for the first three months. You get one credit for an ebook each month. If you’ve ever priced audiobooks, you know that’s a deal. Plus, right now they’re running a $4.95 sale for members only. It would be a great time to join up!
[The Picky Girl makes a small percentage if you click on the affiliate link, fyi.]


2nd March 2012

No Fridays at Home today, though I will in all likelihood spend Friday at home. 🙂 Between jury duty Monday and Wednesday and prepping for my students’ midterm exams next week, I am tired. As promised in last week’s Fridays at Home post, this weekend I cleaned out my closet, did a ton of laundry, cleaned out my office, and scrubbed my floors: I’m talking on my hands and knees scrubbing. 108-year-old wood floors don’t play around. I can sweep and mop, but once a month, I have to do a good old-fashioned scrubbing with Johnson’s Oil Soap. They’re looking pretty darn good.

Let’s suffice it to say, I slept well this week. I don’t really dream, or at least I don’t remember my dreams, but sometimes I have great ideas when I’m asleep or in that half-awake/half-asleep state. I knew I wanted to do a new feature on the blog – bookish but not just a review. Then it came to me: a bookish advice column.

What is a bookish advice column? Well, just like a normal advice column, I need readers to ask questions. Silly questions, real questions, serious questions, it’s up to you. I, in response, will do what I do in real life. Relate it to books (or, as I often do in the classroom, to the show Friends). Got a man problem? Let’s break out the Jane Austen, if only to show you what not to do. Someone stole your lunch from the fridge at work? Let’s see how Pietra Brnwa from Beat the Reaper would handle it. You get the picture.

So. This is collaborative. I need questions. You can comment in this post, or if you want to be anonymous, send me an email at Depending on the amount of questions I get, this could be weekly (maybe on Saturdays) or more sporadic.

Ask away, dear reader.

P.S. If you come up with a stellar name for the feature, you might just be rewarded…. (hint, hint) The best I can do so far is Dear Reader (which I love for the Jane Eyre-ish note to it but not sure it’s quite right. Plus, it only addresses my half of the advice).

Fridays at Home

24th February 2012

Yesterday when I got in my car after class, the thermometer read 82 degrees. Ok, that’s not hot, but a week ago, we had near-freezing temps. Of course, the phrase “near freezing” in Texas means I have to wear a jacket. 🙂

I always hate, though, how the temperature jumps from chilly to hot. No in between. However, I’m trying to make the best of this sunny-one-day-stormy-the-next weather, and I think today is going to be my Spring Clean day! That is, if it’s sunny. If it’s rainy, it’s prime reading time.

Plus, you guys know my obsession with Pinterest. For someone like me who did this with magazines, a binder, and colorful dividers, it’s a fantastic tool. I’ve also come across some great cleaning tips, and if you’ll click on the picture, the link takes you to Real Simple, and tons of great ideas.

*Via Real Simple

Since I have a lemon tree outside that produces enormous lemons at a rapid pace, I have definitely put pieces of lemon down the garbage disposal. Such a great scent in the kitchen.

I also love the recommendation to use newspaper for cleaning glass. My mom taught me this years ago, and it’s so immensely helpful. No streaks!

This one is just genius. In the South, we rely on fans. Even with the air blasting, sometimes the humid air needs help moving around. Fans also collect dust like crazy. When I first saw this, I thought “Ooooh. So that’s how you do that.” I always tried wiping the blades, and of course, dust would go everywhere.

Now I can’t back this one because I haven’t tried it, but as cleaning my stovetop is my absolute least favorite cleaning job, I will be trying this for sure. (I’ll let you know how it goes). Supposedly, once you get the stove clean (ha!), you wipe it down with car wax, which should help future spills come up more easily. We. Shall. See. Get ready, stove. I come armed with carnauba.

As for daily cleaning, activities, the number one thing that has helped me is having baskets strategically placed across the house. I have one by my reading chair in the bedroom where cases for DVDs I’m watching stay. The remotes go there every morning when I make my bed. There are also some Maddie toys stashed there where she can reach them. On my bookshelves, I have a separate Maddie basket for her hairbrush, leash, toys, etc. It really helps when I’m cleaning quickly to know exactly where her stuff goes. I have a small tray right by the front door where mail goes. I also have a small trash can by the front door for junk mail. We will not get into the box/basket system in my office because you would think I’m crazy. 🙂

Here are some daily cleaning activities:

1. Make bed as soon as I’m out of it. Every day. Because then, at least something has been accomplished. Plus, I love my bedroom and seeing it all nice and pretty before I leave is always nice.

2. When I brush my teeth, I clean out the sink. Toothpaste is a great cleaner for the faucet. I use one hand to brush and the other to clean. 🙂 Then I wash my hands.

3. As I head to the kitchen to grab my protein drink and the bottled water I prepped the night before, I bring my water glass and anything else that belongs in the kitchen with me.

4. When I get home, I prep a very late lunch, and when I’m finished, I put any remaining dishes in the sink into the dishwasher. I also try to do a daily wipe of the countertops because I hate cleaning the kitchen, and it can get ugly. Fast.

5. Put on a load of laundry. I never have a ton of laundry because I do small loads every couple of days. Then while I relax for a bit, I listen for the washing machine and switch clean clothes to the dryer.

6. When I shower after the gym, I try to tidy up the bathroom. Once a week: I keep a scrub brush in the shower so if it’s getting any buildup, I can tackle it then and there. If the toilet needs cleaning, I pour some bleach or vinegar (whichever I have) and let it sit for about 15 minutes and flush away any mess.

7. Once a week: On Saturdays after the gym, I strip the bed and wash the sheet’s duvet. This is also when I do a thorough sweeping and mop. Heck, it just adds to my workout.

So…way more than you wanted to know, but that’s about what I’ll be doing this Friday at home. What are you up to this weekend?