Archive by Author

One Dead Person Who Is Definitely On the Invite List to My Imaginary Dinner Party

30 May

Today I want to talk about someone I admire. She lived over a century ago, her name was Lydia Maria Francis Child, and she was a 19th century badass.

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Portrait from her collected letters

Most people have never heard of her but they probably know the first verse of a poem she wrote:

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandmother’s house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.

Knowing only that, you would probably picture her as a silly Martha Stewart-esque house wife. Cheerful, rosy cheeked, with an annoying inclination for “the way things used to be”. This picture is far from correct.

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Hale Farm and Village

I learned about Child when I did an internship at Hale Farm and Village years ago. I was encouraged to read her book The American Frugal Housewife Dedicated To Those Who Are Not Ashamed Of Economy. At first I only paged through it, unimpressed by the random list of tips for 19th century housewives. But when I finally read it properly I was grabbed by her introduction. In it she says:

“The writer has no apology to offer for this cheap little book of economical hints, except her deep conviction that such a book is needed. In this case, renown is out of the question, and ridicule is a matter of indifference.”

“The information conveyed is of a common kind; but it is such as the majority of young housekeepers do not possess, and such as they cannot obtain from cookery books. Books of this kind have usually been written for the wealthy: I have written for the poor.”

Every piece of advice in the book is intended to be one hundred percent practical. Child is practically poetical on the topics of frugality and economy, and she had little patience for frivolousness or vanity. When writing about how to maintain combs she advises:

“The jewellers afterwards polish them by rubbing them with dry rouge powder; but sifted magnesia does just as well- and if the ladies had rouge, perhaps they would, by mistake, put it upon their cheeks, instead of their combs; and thereby spoil their complexions.”

That, my friends, is nineteenth century sass.

There are even a few tips and “receipts” that are still practical, or at the very least intriguing, including one that has been all the rage on pinterest. Rather than a modern day Martha Stewart, think of her instead as the life-hacks queen of the 1830s.

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Hale Farm and Village

Of course, the majority of the book is outdated today. Very few of us need her advice for keeping butter in brine, making our own lye from ashes, or her three different preventions for lockjaw. (I like to think that if she were alive today, we would share zealous opinions on the subject of anti-vaxxers.) The America of Child’s Frugal Housewife was very different from our own, and struggling with it’s own contemporary issues. Yet, even today, her devotion to economy is still valuable. American Frugal Housewife was a great success for Child, and led her to publish other domestic manuals.

But she didn’t just publish domestic manuals. In fact, she was a prolific writer who published works in a wide variety of genres. Over her career she authored works of historical fiction, children’s literature, comparative history, political opinion, and romance. More importantly, she was a driven activist, fighting not only for women’s rights, but also for the abolition of slavery, prison reform, and against Indian removal. Certain aspects of her activism make me think that she would be right at home among modern feminists, particularly the way that she campaigned for the rights of less privileged minorities. She seemed to understand that there was a connection between white supremacy and the rights of women. That was something that other prominent feminists didn’t always get.

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Photo shamelessly plundered from Wikipedia

She gets even more badassery points because she managed to use her writing to support herself through her husband David’s rocky legal and political career, even during a period of time when he was jailed for libel.

Sure she is not without her flaws. Her style of writing, while probably entertaining for her intended audience, today seems a bit trite. Today’s women might be annoyed by how freely she issued parenting advice considering that she did not have children herself. But I admire her because she didn’t shy away from controversy, and used her talents to create positive change.

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From a letter about John Brown to Virginia Governor Henry Wise.

In a society where talking about money was borderline profanity, she saw that women with limited means couldn’t learn how to manage their households. So she wrote a book for them. She wanted children to have both constructive ways to play, and reading material that was entertaining and educational. She published several children’s books and took on an ambitious project: the first American magazine specifically for children. She saw that slavery was entrenched in American culture and scandalized polite society by writing against it, advocating for the black right to vote, even for interracial marriage. She was unapologetic about her controversial beliefs in a society that expected women to fade into the background.

And Lord help you if you ever found yourself at the receiving end of her sarcastic italics.

~Robin

From Reading Green to…. Sleeping Outside

20 May

The day April posted that she was going to take on a challenge to read harder I found myself squirming with guilt. Should I take on the same challenge? I love reading, and I should try to diversify what I read.

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To tell you the truth I feel like I already have. During our month long earth day celebration I read several books that would not have gone to on my own. For the most part, they were great. I was glad that Earth Day gave me the incentive to pick up treasures like The World Without Us, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or Trash (which I thoroughly enjoyed but never got a chance to review.) Still by the time the end of April rolled around I was counting down the days until I could put the blog reading aside and finish the Magicians series and dive into Wildwood.

But there was another thing that drove me nuts all through the month of April: I was spending way too much time chained to my laptop. I wanted to get out more, but April is a busy time for me, and I’m a slow writer, so I spent the majority of my limited free time staring at a computer screen and slowly going crazy. In a few months I’m going to start taking classes for grad school, and I’m sincerely worried that it’s only going to get worse.

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Less of this….

But I just happened to wander over to Semi-Rad that day and Brendan had issued his own challenge. Spend 31 Nights between now and September sleeping outside. Quite honestly, accepting his challenge feels a bit like cheating. This challenge is genuinely impossible for people who don’t have the money or the means to get them to a park that allows camping. Not everyone has a backyard to sleep out in, or they live in areas where it’s unsafe to sleep outside. I just happen to be one of the lucky people who occasionally gets paid to sleep outside. And my backyard is a park. I’m spoiled, and it’s something of a travesty that I don’t enjoy it more often.

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So I’ll take that challenge. Even though I probably should be setting goals that are just a little bit harder, I genuinely want to do this. Because even if it only manages to drag me away from the glow of the computer screen and into the outdoors for just one night, I won’t regret it. Not even a little bit.

~Robin

P.S.
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Definitely more of this.

Kitchen Adventure and a Recipe

13 May

Somewhere in the middle of April my friend Grecia invited a bunch of us over to show us how to cook.

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Grecia makes amazing dishes that she learned from her grandmother who grew up in Michoacan Mexico, and we happily eat her food at potlucks while moaning in gastronomic ecstasy. But Grecia is heading to the Marin Headlands soon (lucky gal) and she was gracious enough to teach us how to make a few of these dishes before departing.

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It was a delightful afternoon of friends, laughter, and amazing food.

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This is Marya’s excited face!

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I don’t remember what was happening here, but it was apparently really funny.

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We spent forever trying several different ways to get that stupid lid off. Then Grecia swooped in and rescued us. Yep, she used her teeth.

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Marya is still excited!
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She seriously could not contain herself.

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Flautas con Salsa Verde de Aguacate or Salsa de Papa, y Queso Fresco

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Mole con Sopa de Arroz

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It was an amazing feast.

Grecia even gave me permission to share her recipe for Tamarind Water.

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I wish I had gotten a picture of the tamarinds. I had never seen one, and the bowl of them caught my attention the second I walked into the kitchen. Within a few minutes Grecia had us peeling them and turning them into a delicious sweet and refreshing beverage.

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Agua Fresca de Tamarindo
Ingredients:
2-3lbs of tamarind
Sugar
Water
Intructions: Peel tamarinds and set to soak in water (overnight
preferably). Add more water and squuuuuuezee the juice out with
your hands. Keep adding water until you have squeezed all the juice
out and the seeds are left behind. Strain the juice into a container
and add sugar to your taste. Enjoy!!

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Katie works the tamarind magic.

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Food time. Out of our way!

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Many Good Noms.

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Clean up? No problem. Mila is on it.

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Such a great afternoon.

~Robin

Karma Project: Nepal Earthquake Relief

1 May

Several years ago my friend Glen became friends with a sherpa named Karma in Nepal. Together they created the Karma Project to provide employment, healthcare, and education to Karma’s community. Last Sunday’s earthquake dramatically changed the scope of the project, and now they are using tents and other resources meant for alpine expeditions to house people who lost their homes in Kathmandu.

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Glen has organized a fundraiser to help Karma evacuate his family to a safe location and deliver supplies to the villages of Paiya and Sibuje.

The situation in Nepal is bleak and will become worse. Glen is the calmest and most level-headed person I know. I’ve seen him calmly climb things that scared the crap out of me. Last year he encountered a mountain lion on an evening run, and instead of going home and vowing never to venture out of the house again he continued jogging. The amount of worry he’s shown this past week worries me more than anything else. Any donation (even to another relief organization) would be greatly appreciated.

~Robin

Earth Day: Sharing Nature with Children

30 Apr

Read Green 6.

As I mentioned earlier, children benefit greatly from exposure to nature. If you want more information, I would recommend starting with Richard Luov’s Last Child In the Woods or The Nature Principle. But I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually read either of these books cover to cover, and that’s not exactly the topic I wanted to talk about for my last Earth Day post.

Instead I’m going to assume that you already have a vested interest in sharing natural places with a child in your life, but don’t know how to get started. Maybe you are the parent of the child in question, or lead a scout or youth group. Or maybe you are the cool and/or crazy aunt or uncle who just wants to teach the little nugget to appreciate the outdoors. The good news is that you don’t need an advanced degree in ecology to create meaningful experiences for children in nature. All you really need is a healthy dose of common sense when it comes to safety and some basic knowledge of how to reduce your impact in your natural areas of choice. Once you’re armed with those, feel free to dive into these resources:

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The first, Joseph Cornell’s Sharing Nature with Children is such a classic that I couldn’t help but steal it’s title for this blog post. More than thirty years after its first publication the activities in it are still pure gold, even for a generation of kids who grew up being amused by computers and video games. I challenge you to find a child under the age of eleven who doesn’t enjoy playing Camouflage, Bat and Moth, or Meet a Tree.

The activities are divided into three categories. (And in true outdoor educator form each category is named after an animal. That is how you know this book is really legit.) Bear activities are calm and often introspective, crow activities encourage observation and physical activity, and otter activities encourage playfulness.

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Another great book that uses a slightly different approach is Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown. The first part of this book is geared more towards expanding the skills and perspectives of the mentor, (that’s you,) and the second half dives into activities. It is definitely intended to be more of a curriculum guide than a collection of stand alone activities but don’t let that scare you away. It also focuses more on tracking and survival skills than Cornell’s book, but includes meaningful activities about awareness and community building.

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When my friend Sal described this last book to me, I thought it was too good to be true. There was no way a book existed that connects children with natural places using outdoor activities and books. And yet it does. The book is called A Sense of Place by Daniel A. Kriesberg. While this book is definitely more geared towards teachers, I don’t think the activities are too complicated or difficult to be useful for the rest of us. Plus, if you’ve stuck with us all the way through the month of April you clearly have an interest in books and the environment; it would be kinda great if you could pass those on to the next generation.

Those are just a smattering of the resources I know and love. If you want more ideas I am happy to chat about it. Leave a comment or send us an email.

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Thanks also to everyone who read along with our annual month-long Earth Day celebration. Thanks especially to Mara for writing a guest post, commenting, and also for always being awesome. To Lisa and Rebecca for their proof-reading rescues. To Bethany and Jamie at the El Portal Library who helped me find and check out a huge mountain of books. To Sal, Rebecca, Ayla, Becky, and everyone else who told me about awesome books I should read.

<3 ~Robin

P.S.

Earth Day: The Wild Trees

28 Apr

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Rebecca recommended The Wild Trees to me a few years ago. I picked it up and was immediately sucked in. It tells the stories of a team of researchers who endeavored to learn more about the coast redwoods….by climbing them.

Don’t worry, it’s not a research paper or an expedition report. It’s a wonderful story about the personalities and the lives of the people who were drawn to these trees. My friend Kim recently read this book, but had one complaint: it was keeping her awake because she couldn’t put it down to go to bed. My roommate Ayla saw the book lying on the table last week and she has already finished it. It really is that good.

I don’t know how else to convince you to read it, other than saying that reading it fills me with the same sort of wonder and reverence I feel when I watch this video:

Seriously, go read it.

~Robin

P.S. It’s also just happens to be the book that I reached for when I needed a chunk of text for the Read Green artwork that’s been plastered all over this blog for the past month.

Earth Day: Books in Nature

26 Apr

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Everyone in Yosemite is slightly relieved that we finally got some precipitation this past week. It isn’t even close to enough to relieve the drought, but every little bit helps. We’ve seen the effects of the rain most dramatically in Crane Creek, which runs smack through the middle of the burned area from the El Portal fire last summer. With no plants to hold the soil back the deluge of water has filled the creek with sediment.

The book in the picture is Your Water Footprint by Stephen Leahy. It provides a good overview of current water use issues, and includes a pretty extensive section on the water footprints of everyday products. It also provides several suggestions for how to reduce your individual water footprint, and well made visuals accompany the information.

In truth, I wanted to review more books about reducing water footprints, and after scourging the local libraries, the shelves of Barnes and Noble, the collections of other Central Valley libraries, and even the library of the environmental organization I work for, I was disappointed by how little I found. You would think that in a place in such a dire state of drought, resources like this would be in high demand. Friends, this does not bode well for us.

~Robin

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Earth Day: Nature Journaling

24 Apr

Read Green 6.

You may have noticed that I’m a big fan of dragging art supplies out into the woods. Nature journaling gives me an opportunity to practice my art skills and refine my observations of the natural world, but that’s not why I do it. I really just enjoy hanging around outside and seeing where my eyes and my paintbrush will take me.

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The only hint that I can really offer about nature journaling is that it’s more fun if you don’t pressure yourself to create a masterpiece. Make sure you’re having fun even if your painting of Tissiak ends up looking like an inbred armadillo.

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For everything else I’m going to refer you to a few books on the subject:

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I would start with Keeping a Nature Journal by Charles E. Roth and Clare Walker Leslie. It takes the “no pressure” approach to nature journaling. It focuses mostly on tips and techniques for seeing and observing the world around you, and only scratches the surface of technical drawing skills.

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If technique is what you want, The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature by Cathy Johnson will deliver. It includes techniques for drawing and painting in a variety of mediums.

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Grinnell journaling is a technique that incorporates science into the journaling process through methodical recording and observation. I was blown away by How to Keep a Naturalist’s Notebook by Susan Leigh Tomlinson. She managed to write a book that seamlessly incorporates science, art, and outdoor ethics.

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Maybe you still can’t imagine why someone would ever want to make a nature journal, or you just want inspiration. You should pick up Barbara Bash’s True Nature. It’s a little hard to read, but that’s only because every time I try to sit down with it, I find myself wanting to go outside with my paints instead.

Grab your art supplies and get out there and color!

~Robin

Earth Day: 50 Children’s Books to Read on Earth Day

22 Apr

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There are many good reasons to sit down with a child and read a book with them. Children also benefit greatly from spending time in nature, specifically unstructured time to play freely. As adults we have a great opportunity to build literacy and help them forge or reinforce their connection with the natural world through reading.

Fortunately, there are many well written and beautifully illustrated earth conscious children’s books. At the beginning of April I started making a list of books that I wanted to feature here for Earth Day, and had no idea what I was getting into. After a few weeks of looking through the library, rifling my shelves and asking friends I had a long list, and it’s still growing. A handful of books fell into clear and concise categories; you will find them at the beginning of this list. All the ones that defied easy categorization are at the end.

Books About Animals

Animalia by Graeme Base

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Antlers Forever by Frances Bloxam and Jim Sollers

Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies

Blue Berries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

The Family of Earth by Schim Schimmel

Living Color by Steve Jenkins

Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

The Mixed Up Chameleon by Eric Carle

Mossy by Jan Brett

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Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr

The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer, Steve Johnson, and Lou Fancher

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

There’s a Hair in my Dirt! by Gary Larson and Edward Osborne Wilson

Ubiquitous by Joyce Sidman and Beckie Prange

Very Hairy Bear by Alice Schertle and Matt Phelan

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Books About Environmental Heroes

Life in the Ocean by Calire A. Nivola

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Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson

Manfish by Jennifer Berne, Eric Puybaret

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnel

Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor and Laura Beingessner

She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head by Kathryne Lasky and David Catrow

Books About Stewardship

The Earth and I by Frank Asch

Hawk I’m You’re Brother by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall

The Lorax by Doctor Suess

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Books About Specific Habitats or Places

The Desert is Theirs by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall

In a Small, Small, Pond by Denise Fleming

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Letting Swift River Go by Jane Yolen and Barbara Cooney

A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry

Song of the Water Boatman by Joyce Sidman and Becky Prange

Everything Else

All the Water in the World by George Elly Lyon, and Katherine Tillotson

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The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales by Dawn Casey and Anne Wilson

Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse

Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle, Theresa Howell, and Mike Gordon

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The Earth Book by Todd Parr

Flotsam by David Weisner

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstien

The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry

The Green Mother Goose by Jan Peck, David Davis and Carin Berger

One Well; The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss and Rosemary Woods

The Princesses I Know by Ayla Mae Wild

Re-Cycles by Michael Elsohn Ross and Gustav Moore

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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and Susan Jeffers

There Once was a Sky Full of Stars by Bob Crelin and Amie Ziner

A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry and Marc Simont

Water by Frank Asch

Where Do Mountains Come From, Momma? by Catherine Weyerhaeuser Morley

Where Once There Was a Wood by Denise Fleming

You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim

Happy Reading!

~Robin

Earth Day: Overdressed (and a Refashion)

20 Apr

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A few months ago, Mara came to me with a dress she wanted to refashion. While we worked on the dress she kept starting sentences with the phrase “In this book I’m reading called Overdressed she talks about how (insert something we were working on) changed because….” After a few sessions of this I finally got the hint that Mara wanted me to read it. So I checked it out of the library, and it was great. I spent most of the book thinking that Jillian the ReFashionista would love it. Then I found myself reading about her in chapter eight! When Earth Day rolled around I knew I wanted Overdressed to be among the books we featured but it only seemed fair that I let Mara tell you about it since it all started with her.

~Robin

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I am honored that Robin has asked me to write a guest blog for Earth Day. She asked me specifically to write about a book I shared with her: Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline.

This book made me realize that my perception of clothes becoming cheaper and less well-made was not just “back in my day…” thinking and was actually true. Not only are the clothes in stores getting worse, but the world has totally changed for garment workers.

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But my edification is not why Robin asked me to write. It’s because this book, combined with Robin’s amazing creativity and sewing skills, inspired me to rework my Mom’s vintage blue velvet dress. Here is a before shot of me in the dress about 16 and a half years ago. (That toddler graduates this year!) The dress fit OK back then.

After reading Overdressed I realized that this was the perfect dress for a remake. It no longer fit, had seams rather than serged edges, and a long hem that I was happy to cut shorter. So I brought my dress to Robin’s house.

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At first she did not want to cut up a 1950’s cocktail dress, but then I started spouting from Overdressed. She was convinced, or, at least no longer quite as reticent. Then she found out it was my mom’s dress and then we had to go through it all again. I assured Robin that my mom would be impressed if we made it wearable, and besides, she gave it to me. It was mine now!

After a couple of weekend afternoons with Robin’s coaching, I had a brand-new dress with a shorter hem, shorter sleeves, and a stunning new back to go with my now short hair. I debuted it at a fundraiser for Mountain Crisis Services.

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When my mom saw the dress on Facebook she picked up the phone to tell me what a spectacular job Robin and I had done with the makeover. Thanks Mom!

I am now inspired to take one of my step-mom’s hand-me-downs and have Robin coach me through another makeover. This sort of sewing fits in with my Reduce-Reuse-Recycle (in that order) lifestyle.

I was bitten by the “makeover for clothes” bug several years ago when I came across Stephanie Girard’s Sweater Surgery: How to Make New Things From Old Sweaters (Domestic Arts for Crafty Girls) and have had fun reinventing sweaters as all sorts of new items. You may be able to get Sweater Surgery or Overdressed from your library. Because Earth Day is everyday!

~Mara

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