Whimsy Scribble

5 Essay Collections To Add To Your Reading List

Scribbler's SuggestionsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

I've been making the effort to try and get more of the projects I've been working on up and posted, but realized it's been a long time since I posted some stuff from the non-crafty side of my life. I've always been an avid reader, though as most know, time and interest in reading varies over time. While I generally gravitate towards primarily science based non-fiction, recently I've been reading many more essay collections and loving them. It's so easy to fly through a collection in a night or two, a big difference from most of my non-fiction reads, which leaves you with a very different fleeting immersive reading experience. While compiling this list, I became aware that practically all of these authors have well-read blogs that inspired the books. So, if you are someone who enjoys reading blogs (I hope you do!) they are definitely worth checking out.

1. The Wrong Way To Save Your Life By Megan Stielstra

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It is a quick read, which I generally expect from essay collections, but I was really impressed by the varying format of essays. In some chapters, she succinctly summarizes major events of a decade of her life, simply highlighting major events, feelings, experiences etc from various years of her life. In other essays she goes into more depth of certain areas of her life such as her career in higher education, helping educate teachers about inclusiveness in their ever changing world of academia, or her experience as a new mother experiencing postpartum depression. 

What really stood out to me however was how strong her voice and personal opinion came through in all her writing. This is a very new book, published in the midst of the chaos of the Trump candidacy, and while this is far from a political book, her strong feelings ad frequent outrage about what is happening in our world was of course inevitably mentioned in certain essays. There was something comforting to me about reading her anecdotes. I very much connected to her voice and often felt like her views were a seamless combination of mine and my best friend's: almost like reading a transcript of a leisurely conversation of ours over a cup of tea. 

This book is one of the most enjoyable I've read in awhile.

2. I'll Tell You In Person By Chloe Caldwell

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This was a very fast, yet enjoyable read. It is somewhat forgettable as it is a self-proclaimed collection of essays from the life of a 30 year old who has not done anything particularly remarkable in life. For that reason however, it is quite relatable. Each essay keeps you reading on to the next, telling snippets of life going through teenage years and then through her 20's, dealing with changing relationships with parents and friends, drug abuse, skin problems, general growing up in a fairly average way. To her credit, the author manages to make the mundane enjoyable to read. 

3. People I Want To Punch In The Throat By Jen Mann

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For me, this was yet another somewhat forgettable collection of essays, which I still enjoyed reading. I think for many this collection would be much more relatable, but for me there were not very many essays in this collection that really struck home for me. Largely her essays deal with her experiences in motherhood and marriage - things I relate very little too. However, for people with more interest/experience in a typical suburban family life, this would be a great read. Her writing is very funny, if at times walking the line of hyperbole and stereotyping. 

4. We Are Never Meeting In Real Life By Samantha Irby

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I really loved this collection. Very quick and mostly light hearted, I would strongly recommend this as a "summer read" sort of book. The author is clearly a comedian and has a great skill at intertwining her wit into everything she is writing about - from her awkward romances and "less than perfect" body to her disinterest in going outdoors and the long lasting effects of being raised in poverty. The humor is more often than not fairly self-deprecating, and several essays may be a little too graphic for some reader's taste - I however loved it. Of special interest to me was her hilarious relationship with her cranky decrepit cat. She occasionally tells stories involving her work as a receptionist at a vet hospital, which as an animal care professional, I couldn't help but appreciate the somewhat distasteful humor that we all in the field have to develop, but have very few with whom it's appropriate to share.

5. Stories I'd Tell In Bars By Jen Lancaster

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I have very mixed feelings about this essay collection/memoir. Truth be told, I would be super irritated by anyone who told me any of these stories in a bar. While Lancaster is certainly a talented writer and I found her writing very compelling and easy to read, the content itself annoyed me. To me, she came across as a very self-absorbed, somewhat obnoxious personality. While the book by definition is a collection of memoir based essays, a better-than-thou air comes through in her writing that I didn't find as oppressive in other similar collections. The essays are largely focused on her relationship with her husband (a relationship that I personally would not want to emulate, but that she freely offers advice as if she is the only one who knows the secret of a long lasting relationship). She disseminates other lifely advice and opinions of others (that I generally disagree with) in such a brash and definitive way that I am extremely put off by her. At one point in the book there is even an off-handed comment about her need to self-publish her memoir due to others lack of interest, a feat that she proudly congratulates herself for, but for me was just a fact that made me feel more justified in judging her for her all too self-important air. Nonetheless, I can't deny that the book itself is decent, even if the voice in it annoyed me. 

DIY Livingroom Curtains

DIY & ProjectsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

I'm getting ready to move at the end of the month. It's a little bit bittersweet, as there are many things I love about where I am living now, but there are many positives to the move as well. As much as I hate moving (I've done it a decent amount and I hate it more and more each time), it is always exciting for me to think of new ways to fit my things into a new space. Recently it's making me really appreciate and think more about some of the little projects I've done around the place. I thought I'd share the quick livingroom curtains I made a while ago (and unfortunately did not take photos in progress). Nonetheless, curtains are something so easy that anyone should try.

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Curtains I'm sure are one of the first sewing projects that people feel comfortable tackling. I am a decent sewer, but am far from a perfectionist, so slightly imperfect curtains are a project that pull together VERY quickly and make a big impact on a space. Our little livingroom space really needed to be brightened up a bit, since it easily starts to feel a little cave-like. 

I've gradually done a lot of projects in the livingroom, such as our small storage couch and large futon with covered cushions, which both have a lot of light bare wood keeping the space feel more open. I opted for a cream colored sheet music patterned fabric for the curtains, coordinating well with our light neutral walls and all the bare wood.


To add a little pop of color I made fabric loops for hanging the curtain. I started by hemming the two curtains (due to my amount of fabric and the placement of our windows, each window only has one large curtain). I ironed flat the top hanging loops, folding raw edges in, then stitched the loops at the bottom to adjoin them to the top edge of the curtain. 


I picked up some 1" dowels to use as curtain rods. I had great plans to make simple wooden hanging brackets to slip the dowels through, but I had a very frustrating afternoon of uncooperative power tools, so I gave up and came up with a cheap and simple solution: metal shelf brackets and zip ties. Now, you are likely classier than I and think this is an unaccepatable look, but I've actually found it to be very subtle and keeps the room feeling open. However, any number of curtain rod solutions could be used. 

A friend recently visiting my place and admiring many of my sewing projects asked me where I find such great fabric. The answer is simple: online. I am someone who HATES going shopping, so I quickly jumped on the rising trend of online shopping. The only trick is that you aren't able to closely match colors (if this is important to you, hit up a local fabric store with a paint chip or other small sample to compare your fabric selection to). If you are picking a fabric online, make sure you pay attention to the TYPE of fabric you are selecting (these curtains are a simple quilting cotton that allows lots of light in but many people prefer a thicker canvas/upholstery fabric for curtains) as well as pay attention to the measurements given with the sample view so you can get a sense for how large the print you are picking out is in reality. My two favorite places to find fabric are Fabric.com and Fabricworm. So do a little browsing, pick out a fabric you love, and tackle some easy DIY curtains to give a room a quick facelift!


DIY Cushion Covers With Piping

DIY & ProjectsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment
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Couches have been a sore spot of conversation in our house for awhile now. After several frustrating moves and stressful roomate conficts, I ended up with a strage mixed matching of couches that probably belonged at the dump and didnt at all fit our space. I remedied our small livingroom seating through making a small storage couch, but we were left for a long time with our comfortable, but disgusting, large couch as our primary seating and only option for overnight guests. The couch went through many phases of its transformation. On a whim, when we arranged for other bulky items to be picked up as trash, we threw out the frame of our couch, hanging on only to the inner mattress from the pull out couch feature and all of the cushions. I pulled an old futon frame out of storage to be used to support the matress with the cushions placed on top. This was a comfortable solution and easy to cover with some fabric (a necessity to have washable covers with pets in the house) but the fabric would always quickly get tired and start falling out of place. There was a very simple solution: sew cushion covers. I FINALLY got around to doing it, and what a huge difference it has made! 


To start, I simply measured the existing cushions to figure out the dimensions needed for the covers. There are 3 bottom and 3 back cushions, but I decided to make two long cases, rather than individual cushion covers. This was in part do to my laziness, but also I think helped with the comfort of the couch since the futon frame is longer than the cusions, the covers help keep the cushions tightly squished together and prevent you from wedging yourself into cushion crevices. 

I didn't have enough pattered canvas to make the entirety of the covers, so I used a plain canvas drop cloth as a back to the covers. As a note: canvas drop cloths are a great tool for cheap, sturdy canvas fabric, but it does fray easily, so give yourself extra seam allowance. I decided to simply overlap the back pieces to allow the cushions to slip into, which in retrospect was the wrong choice. The overlap space was very tight to get the cushions into, and a zippered closure would have been a much better choice (though I wouldn't recommend using the dropcloth canvas with a zipper). 

I have never sewn piping on a project before, but thought it would add a nice accent to the cushions and didn't seem too tough after I looked at a few tutorials for piping. I already had clothesline laying around and easily found extra fabric to use for the piping. According to all the tutorials I referenced, fabric for piping should be cut at a 45 degree angle as to allow for the best stretching around the piping/corners of the cushions. I cut 2" strips along the angle and stritched them together to make a long piece of fabric. I wrapped this around the clothesline as I went and stitched it (using a zipper foot so I could get nice and close to the clothesline) to the top pieces of the covers. In theory, this would have been nice to do to the backside as well, giving the cusions a more polished look, but i didn't have enough clothesline on hand and I was enjoying having this be a one-day project.


Originally I had thought I could sew the piping with a single seam, sandwiched between the top and side pieces, but all the tutorials I looked at for piping suggested sewing the piping first to one layer, and then adding the side pieces on after, with a second seam. Some even suggested sewing the piping first on its own, but that seemed really unnecessary. I did however go ahead and sew the piping to the front pieces before attaching the sides, thinking that perhaps it would be more difficult to sew close to the piping if it were sandwhich between layers.


After adding the side pieces, I added the canvas drop cloth pieces overlapping at the back (again, if I were to do this again, I would use a different technique, like a zipper) then flipped the covers right side out and stuffed them with the cusions. A few throw pillows and blankets startegically placed on the futon for maximum lounging comfort and VOILA  a super comfortable seating option that fits much nicer in our space and provides a comfy place for our friends to crash.

Scrap Paper Wall Map

DIY & ProjectsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

This is a project I've had in the back of my mind for a long time. Like so many other projects, it's taken me a while to sit down and take the time to finish up this (very tedious and time consuming) map project. I have a seemingly endless supply of mostly useless small pieces of scrapbook paper. This was an ideal project for using up some of those tiny hoarded scraps. 

I had an old, cheap world map poster that I decided to sacrific in order to use it as a stencil for this project. I repurposed the back board from a broken poster frame that was the same size as my map poster and wrapped it with brown butcher paper as a background for my map. Cardboard or foam board would have worked just as well for this.


This entire project was done with no other tools beyond a pencil, glue stick, and exacto knife (I find swivel knives to be the best tool for detailed cutting work). I started by cutting out the continents and then using the map as a stencil to trace the placement of the continents onto the brown background. I left islands attached to the map poster, saving them to add last in order to not loose tiny cut out island pieces.


I started the tedious task of cutting out countries individually, tracing the country from the map poster onto a piece of patterened paper, then carefully cutting out the patterened country and gluing it into place on the brown background using a glue stick. In retrospect, it probably would have been a little easier to clump some of the pieces together, such as gluing all countries from a continent onto a separate continenent piece (perhaps using a patterened paper, so very small countries could simply be represented by the background paper peeking through, rather than having to struggle to cut out a tiny shape and place appropriately). The islands were easy to add at the end, once again placing the original cut up wall map on top and using as a stencil. 


I absolutely love the way this project turned out, and while it certainly took a little while of careful cutting work, it was actually extremely easy. Even easier if you have something like a cricuit or other cutting machine!


DIY storage couch

DIY & ProjectsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

Furniture in my house has been a sore point of conversation for awhile. I had a very upsetting, contentious interaction with a former roommate that resulted in much of my furniture no longer belonging to me and some furniture waiting to be taken to the dump offered to me instead. Needless to say, everytime I glanced in the livingroom and saw our ugly, smelly, out of place couch it made me want to scream. Not to mention that it did not fit the space at ALL and forced us to have a pretty awkward, uncomfortable livingroom layout. 

This couch has been a long process, and come together in many stages. The first thing that needed to get done was to trash the old bulky frame and come up with a new frame design that actually worked for the space. 

I was able to entirely construct this frame from scrap wood from previous projects (mostly leftovers from my storage bed). It's a very simple design. I based the size of the frame off the one nice cushion I had saved from salvaging good parts of a small second hand couch. I decided to add some extra leg stretching room, and added storage, by making an ottoman cube that also allows for different layouts of the couch. The top of the ottoman lifts off to reveal a large empty area for storage, and there is just enough space under the main seating section to fit 4 crates (yay crates!). 

At this point, the couch was functional and we were in desperate need of seating, so it lived for many months awkwardly unfinished with mis-matched blankets and pillows.

I finally got some time to finish up the couch (really I just wanted to make it cuter). I painted all of the trim a nice blue/gray color, I think it's called "denim blue". I decided to use one of my favorite craft materials: contact paper. I used an adhesive cork, but I decided it was too difficult to peel it smoothly off the backing, so instead of using the adhesiveness I used my own spray adhesive to attach the cork (with the backing still on) directly to the wood. I covered the back piece and head board and the bottom section of the ottoman. As an update: all the cork will soon be stripped down and the surfaces instead spray painted with a faux stone textured paint, since my bunny has decided that anything cork must be chewed to bits.

For the cushions, I decided to use a painters drop cloth as fabric. This is a great option for cheap upholstery fabric. I wanted something sturdier than a cotton fabric because we have pets that can be a bit rough with furniture, but upholstery fabric can get pretty expensive. I made simple pillow cases for all of the cushions. My favorite technique for pillow cases is to simply have the case overlap in the back, leaving a large split across the back to fit the pillow in. It does make the case one-sided, but it's so simple and easy to fit cushions in. 

I added an adorable girl on a bike fabric that I've been saving for the perfect project to the back pillows. It matches the colors better than I could have hoped for. I am thinking that in the future if I need to cover up any stains on the bottom cushions I can stencil on some gears or bike wheels. I may also stain or paint the crates in the future, and I've been thinking about adding small hooks to the back for keys, etc. But for now, this couch continues to do a great job at helping make this space feel cozy.

The Cat Saga Continues

LifestyleMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

I recognize that all too often, "cat people" (for lack of a better term), can get a little too animated and excited about their cats and the daily antics that come with them. So if you are one of those people that rolls your eyes when people start discussing their cats, maybe skip this post. I've recently had another wonderful cat join my life (yes....another). 


Working in an animal shelter comes with lots of perks (like plenty of adorable fluffy snuggles) but also has a bigger list of frustrations than most people realize. There's a long list of things that people working in animal shelters have learned to not even try to discuss with "non-shelter" folk. Not only just the difficult euthanasia decisions we occasionally need to make or the tricky process of getting to know and evaluating a new animal and determining what sort of home will set the animal up for success, but also the vast majority of interactions we have with the public. There are of course some infuriating situations with people surrendering their pets, blantant lies we are told over and over again, but less obviously, some of the most trying interactions are with people looking to adopt pets. Often times, the public is simply uninformed about how a shelter functions and that we are not a pet store but rather a place that cares deeply about every animal there we are caring for and our primary concern is not simply getting the animals into homes, but finding appropriate matches for both the animals and what the adopters are looking for in a pet to ensure that we have done our best to send that animal into what we hope will stay its forever home. Some examples of this are say, a dog with a history of snapping at children or a cat becoming very fearful in loud environments or around quick movemts, we will not send to a home with young kids. For the most part, once this is explained to people, adopters are receptive and understand that our aim is to help find the family what they are looking for in a pet. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, which often leads to people's worst sides and tempers being thrown at us (working in animal shelters is the only job I've ever been at that multiple occasions the cops have needed to be called to assist with unruley and threatening clients). This preface leads me to talk about how this new cat, Mayor McCheese, found his way into my life.

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Mayor McCheese (we obviously named him at the shelter) was brought to us with his 2 sisters when they were about 9 months old. They had been born in someone's basement to a stray or feral cat. When the family discovered them, they simply let the children care for the kittens, but didn't interact with them a whole lot, allowing the 3 cats to grow up in the basement and roaming inside their walls. Once they were no longer adorable kittens and the children lost interest in feeding them, they were brought to the shelter. Sadly, had these cats been brought in as kittens, they would likely have been totally normal, very adoptable sweet kittens. Instead, we were brought 3 full grown adolescent cats who were decently scared of people and were totally overwhelmed in a shelter environment, outside of their basement walls. McCheese was by far the worst of the 3, totally petrified and shut down completely in a cage. After many weeks of working on gaining his trust and building his confidence, we decided to move him into an office space to help him get more comfortable with people, outside of a cage. Once in the office we discovered what an incredibly sweet, affectionate boy he is. He remained pretty skiddish and freaked out if you tried to pick him up, but with some patience and a handful of treats he would happily befriend you. Unfortunately, he was young and very cute at a time of year where there are few to no kittens available at shelters, which made him top choice for every kitten seeking family. When introducing him to a family we would, as always, explain to people our best guess at what he would be like in a home. We knew he liked other cats and felt that he really would do best and thrive in a home with another social cat that he could bond with and pick up on their confidence around people. He ended up being sent home to a family that, unfortunately not surprisingly, did not listen to a word we said about him or how to appropriately introduce a cat like him into a home. He was brought back within a week with the adopter loudly proclaiming as she walked through the door "this cat is EVIL". A word to the general public: announcing something like that to a staff full of people who have loved and cared for a cat that they know much better than you is NOT COOL. 


Heartbroken about his return and knowing that this experience certainly did not help him, I started to think realistically about how he might fit into my life. (As a side note: our other cat, Leeroy Jenkins, went through a very similar experience with a quick return from adopters who disreguarded all the information we gave them about his fiesty behavior). Mayor McCheese needed a quiet, cat-savvy adult only home, ideally with a cat companion. We had all of that. I talked to my partner and we decided that Leeroy really could use a playmate (especially as I was unhappy about how rough he played with my cat, Sausage) and I felt like Mayor McCheese was likely to be a great match for Leeroy's energy level and play style. We decided to bring him home for a bit to see if they would bond (yes, a perk of working at a shelter). It was quickly obvious to us that he was a keeper. It took him a little while to become totally comfortable with us, at first frequently needing to be bribed out from under the bed with treats and only allowing fleeting pets, but he and Leeroy were instant buddies. He is now officially part of the family and has been an incredible addition. Leeroy loves him and it has brought peace to Sausage and Leeroy's friendship as now there is another young cat for Leeroy to chase and play with and McCheese continues to get more and more comfortable with us, now even frequently settling next to or on top of us and demanding attention and snuggles. We've even been able to start scooping him up and giving him kisses without him freaking out (he still kinda hates being picked up though...). He is sweet and appropriate with my rabbit too, another prerequisit to joining the family.  


So I hope you took heed of my cat-talk warning, as I know this post could cause lots of eye rolling from non-cat folk, but a lot of my life is cats, so I thought I'd give an update about my evolving cat clan.


DIY Holiday Decorations

DIY & ProjectsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment
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I have never had much of an attachment to holidays. I grew up doing half-hearted celebrations for an eclectic mix of holidays, mostly all as an excuse to enjoy an excellent meal with friends and family. In fact, I generally really dislike Christmas time and the air of capitalism it always seems to bring with it along with lots of uncomfortable social obligations. This year however, I lucked out in avoiding most of the negatives around the holidays and decided to try and do a little embracing of holiday cheer to try and brighten what has been an otherwise very dark, bitterly cold last month or so.


I picked up a small indoor Christmas tree, a Norfolk Island Pine, at home depot and some cheap lights and ornaments. I've always liked to decorate Christmas trees sticking with a blue and white theme, as a nod to my Jewish heritage. To add a little more to the house besides my tiny tree, I decided to use some of my scrap paper to make a variety of paper stars to hang from the ceiling. 

I chose to make 3 different varieties, more or less following some decent tutorials I found. I made a bunch of 3D spiral star/snowflakes based off a great post over at Wonderful DIY, I added some cute button accents to finish off oragami stars I made utilising the tutorial I found at Homemade Gifts Made Easy, and I made a handful of 3D stars I found on a craft blog Gathering Beauty, though ultimately found them to look less polished than the others for the amount of effort (and adhesive) required. 

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We have also had a small taped christmas tree outline on the wall that has stayed there now for multiple christmases, so I thouhgt I'd use some of the remaining scrap paper to string up some simple 2D star cut outs, just to bring a bit of the festive cheer into the kitchen.

Having extremely low ceilings made tacking up stars a simple task. I had some decorative string lights hanging around unused in a big tangled mess, so pulled those out to string up around the house and bring in a little holiday mood lighting. The tree ended up getting tied down to a crate to prevent our curious kitties from constantly pulling it over and I wrapped a handful of gifts to coordinate with the stars (yes, most of the gifts are for the fur kids). 



Overall, I still think holiday decorating is pretty silly, but I did have fun pulling it all together, and I'm sure the decor will stay up for long enough to help keep a little cozy cheer in the house while we are forced into hibernation with the New England snow for the forseeable future.

Podcasts To Listen To

Scribbler's SuggestionsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

I'm just going to jump right back in with a few more podcast suggestions that I think might make your ears happy. If you haven't already, be sure to check out my first and second lists!


If you've heard of podcasts, you've likely heard of Serial. Yes, it's great and yes, it is one of the firsts to do that sort of formatted episodic podcast season, but it's not necessarily going to be your thing. Personally i much preferred season one, which is true crime in podcast form. Season 2 was great as well, but the story did not grab my interest quite as much. Definitely see if it pulls you in, and be prepared to be frustrated when you get to the end of the season and want more.


This is a podcast with one of the authors of the Freakonomics book, Stephen J. Dubner. while technically the themes discuss "economic" issues, don't let that disinterest you. It's an awesome podcast that is well produced and talks to interesting people and interesting things. Scroll through the archives to get a sense of some of the many cool things they talk about.


This is a podcast with Roman Mars, and honestly, I'm surprised I like it. It's about design and architecture, but pretty loosely. It's great to listen to - very well produced, and i'm surprised by how many of the topics I find really interesting. It did take me a little while to get into this, and certainly not every episode is a winner for me, but there is a huge range of interesting topics in the archived episodes.

DIY Randomized Quilt

DIY & ProjectsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

This quilt has been a project I've had on my "to-make" list for a very long time. I've been collecting (NOT hoarding) bits of fabric for a while, and finally had a collection that gave me excessive options for a quilt. I love randomness and asymetery in patterns, so got to work sketching out a design for a queen size quilt. Because I had so many beautiful patterened fabrics, I wanted to have several large areas of the design to allow the fabric to really be showcased.


Once I had a design I was happy with, I went through my fabric and assigned different patterns to different quilt patches, using solid patches to break up some of the patterns. All of my patterned fabrics are a nice soft cotton, and I love having a little bit of texture variety on quilts, so my solids are all flannel or jersey material. It was at this planning stage that I measured all my fabric, making sure i had enough for the design, and making adjustments as needed. Once all my measurements were done, I went through and cut out all my rectangular patches, using my design template as a reference. 

Piecing together an abstract quilt design is not simple, and does require some intermediate sewing skills in order to carefully line up seams and avoid gaps in between sections. Really, the rectangles can be pieced together in any order. I chose to try and make slightly larger rectangles first, chosing some of the longer straight seams to tackle first and then piecing things together from the center out, hoping that any slight misalignment would be easier to hide at the end if at the edges, rather than oddly bunching at the center. 

Once the top of my quilt was all assembled, I had to decide on how to turn it into a finished piece. I decided I was most in need of a light-medium weight quilt for my bedroom. I found a queen size cotton blanket to use as my backing and chose to add a little extra warmth to it with a layer of cotton batting in between. I'm always experimenting with how best to finish off the edges of quilts. This time, I chose to utilise the folded over hem of the cotton blanket backing. I simply cut the inner cotton batting to fit snuggly within the frame of the hemmed blanket, wrapped the edge of the quilt top over the batting, and used a decortive zigzag top stitch to attach the layers to the backing. 

This quilt came together so much more smoothly than I was expecting. It definately encouraged me to tackle more sewing projects soon. I've been using the quilt on my bed for a while now, and love having it as a focal point in my room. 

Pulling it back together

LifestyleMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

So yes, it has been a long absence from the blog. Life has thrown a few big changes at me which has meant lots of travel and restructuring of my time to include everything I want to be doing.  

Primarily, I've been busy with work at an animal shelter as well as a decent amount of pet sitting work I do for families. 

As anyone who knows me is well aware, my pets are the main priority in my life. Because of this, I've been primarily concerned with integrating some new very important pets in my life: my rabbit, Garbanzo Bean, and my partner's recently adopted (and very fiesty) cat, Leeroy Jenkins. In addition to figuring out how to provide the happiest environment for all the fur babies in my life, we've also been swamped in the season of kittens at the shelter, and have been frequently hosting temporary fosters at home. 

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While my life has been predominantly busy with my fur family, there have been lots of other things fitting into my life, including a recent birthday party we threw, complete with a bounce house!

So stay tuned, there have been lots of projects still happening that I'm beginning to find time to share here!

Podcasts To Listen To (Part 2)

Scribbler's SuggestionsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

If you're like me, holiday seasons come with added things on the to-do list: more cleaning, cooking, projects, driving, etc. It seems for many around this time that the default nostalgic soundtrack is Christmas music. I hate Christmas music. Sure there are a handful of good songs (I rarely object to Trans Siberian Orchestra this time of year), but I don't have the nostalgic attachment I think you have to have to appreciate the Christmas classics. 

I've been using this as a good time to make my own "holiday ambiance" and catch up on my growing list of podcasts. I've recently been really enjoying a few newer podcasts that are definitely worth checking out if you feel like taking a break from "Frosty the Snowman".


I was very surprised to end up enjoying this podcast as much as I do. It was recommended to me by a friend, who generally has pretty different interests than I, but I think this podcast is diverse enough to be appealing to a wide range. I was hesitant at first from the podcast description: essays from the New York Times column, read by notable personalities with updates after from the essayist. Having never read the column in the Times, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of topicsand am familiar with and enjoy a surprising number of the readers. It's one of my go-to storytelling podcast now, especially that most episodes are a very convenient length, right around 20 minutes.


This is one of those podcasts I fell into because it was recommended on several other NPR programs I listen to. It features interviews with entrepreneurs. My personal favorites so far include the episodes with creators of Spanx, Airbnb, and Southwest Airlines. Each episode is a nice length: right around 30 minutes. 


I haven't quite decided how I feel about this podcast yet. It's an odd premise - people revisiting old memories, mostly ones they feel regretful/unfavorably towards and revisiting old relationships etc. Often the storytelling falls a little flat, but there are not very many episodes, so it's worth giving a try if you enjoy interview based story telling. The first episode, Buzz, and fourth, Tony are probably my favorites and recommend starting with those.

DIY Paper Crane Curtain

DIY & ProjectsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

In every house I've ever lived, I've always had a running list of projects I want to do. I finally had a chance to complete a project that's been on my checklist since I moved in: some sort of window treatment for the back door. I wanted something that provided privacy while still letting plenty of light in and would add some much needed  beauty in the kitchen. I settled on making a hanging curtain of paper cranes.

This was a great project to do - very mindless, methodical and easy to multitask while binge watching a favorite show. After selecting an assortment of scrapbook paper from my seemingly endless supply I cut squares of varying sizes (ranging from about 6x6 -2x2). If this is the first time you've folded cranes, stick to the larger sizes.

With a stack of paper squares in front of me, I recruited my roommate's help to watch movies and overflow a box with a mountain of folded cranes (I'm not sure on the exact number I ended up using - this depends on how large your window is and how densely you want to hang the cranes).




I measured the window and then lay out my cranes. I found it was easier to place them/visualize their spacing if I left their wings folded. In order to hang the cranes, I used small command hooks (they may actually be designed for hanging mugs) and a small dowel over the window. I used different color thread and a needle to string up the cranes, knotting a small bead at the bottom of each to prevent them from sliding down the thread. 



I'm really happy with how this project turned out. I love doing origami, so I'm always super excited when I have an excuse to do it. I love every morning as I make coffee looking out into the yard through what appears to be a flock of flying cranes.

A Moment To Breathe

LifestyleMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

For those few have begun reading here, sorry for the short hiatus. Unfortunately, I recently suffered the very unexpected, sudden death of my best ferret friend, Xylophone. It was something that I did not think would happen anytime in my near future and I had imagined my life in a very different place when I would have to adjust to life without him lovingly under my feet. It's left me in more than a little shock and far from having any creative energy. 

xylo belly.JPG

Over the weeks, the sense of his loss has not lessened any, but life has begun to roll along yet again. I'm starting to feel like I can pretend to be a mildly productive member of society and will hopefully soon have some more fun projects and the like to be posted up here.

To help with my personal reboot, I was able to have a great birthday celebration with my close friends (I had my golden birthday this year - 30 on the 30th, yikes!). My friends pulled off a killer party, complete with plenty of dinosaur decorations, temporary tattoos, personal cup decorating, and a massive crock pot full of hot spiced whiskey cider. It was far from a rave, but sitting around with all my local friends playing hilarious rounds of Cards Against Humanity is exactly what I wanted and I had a wonderful time. Plus, my friends came through with incredible birthday gifts including some delicious drinks, books of clever crafts and tricks to do with household objects, a dinosaur onesie, and a promised trip to go tubing this winter!

So even though these weeks have been difficult to trudge through, there have been some nice breaks with friends and watching the season start to change once again is encouraging me to gear up for some fun indoor projects to do to distract me from the soon coming winter gloom. So stay tuned, I'm back and will have more fun things to read soon!!

A Word About The Cursed Child

Lifestyle, Scribbler's SuggestionsMichela Mastellone-Schottman1 Comment

Yes, I'm an adult and yes, I want to take a moment to briefly reflect on the newest Harry Potter book. I'm a true Harry Potter fan. While I've never dressed up for a book release and I have little interest in the world of Harry Potter fandom, I was 11 years old when the first book came out: the perfect age to get hooked. Since then, I have read the entire series multiple times (as well as listened to the audiobooks all through more than once), and within the last few years have had a full Harry Potter movie marathon with a friend. 

I don't want to get too much into my feelings about Harry Potter in general as I know that people have some very strong feelings related to the books vs the movies. All I will say is that regardless of how you feel about Harry Potter, the book series provided something very important to a huge number of children and young adults. While I was always a big reader and had a few series I loved and related to, I don't know how common that is for all kids and I think it is really valuable to learn how to read a book with such intensity that you are absorbed in the world and can extrapolate personality traits of the characters and can easily imagine yourself transported into their world. The Harry Potter series provided that to a generation in need of something a little more updated than the Redwall series. I imagine too that there must be a benefit to a child being able to conquer reading a 700 page book on their own.  I hoped that Harry Potter would continue to be that door into the literary world for kids, but unfortunately I'm not sure how true that is. More and more I hear of people younger than I that have never actually read a Harry Potter book and have only seen the movies. I enjoy the movies, sure, but they are not particularly great as stand alone movies - they are much better in my opinion to be viewed as supplements to the book series. A movie is a great option when you need a fix of that magical world without the time commitment of reading a book, but it is certainly no substitute.

And so here is where my opinion on the most recent book comes in (or should I say script?). For those who are unfamiliar, the newest book: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is actually a script for a play (yes, a play not a movie, which I will get to...). It is in the same Harry Potter world, but it picks up where the final book leaves off: 19 years later with adult versions of Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione along with their now Hogwarts aged children. 

A major concern for me and other Harry Potter fans I've talked with was how the newest book would fit into the already well established magical world of the series. Well, it certainly fit in, but I will argue that it is simply because nothing new was created. I feel like the story fell back on magic we had already been introduced to as a way of not only avoiding thinking of an equally incredible NEW magical phenomenon but also as a way of not needing to actually explain anything. The script largely focuses on past events we are familiar with from the series (the Triwizard Tournament for example) and chooses to make a time-turner the magical focus, something all Harry Potter fans became very familiar with during the third book. In this way, much of the Cursed Child felt like it was just pulling bits and pieces from different books and somehow poorly summarizing the entire series into this one odd stage show. 

So about this stage show....I don't really get it. The script is written for the stage. In fact, there are even credits listed in the back of the book for what I assume is the cast and crew of the London play. I briefly looked at the play's website and it's even stranger than I thought - it is actually split into 2 plays intended to be seen on the same day or consecutive evenings. I had originally thought that perhaps a Harry Potter play would start to become a staple in elementary schools, but there is no way that this play was ever intended to actually be accessible for people to preform. They must have an extraordinary budget to be able to follow the absurd stage directions in the script. There is an entire scene which consists of nothing but stage directions of multiple moving staircases, and many times magic is written into the stage directions, such as a green beam shooting out of a wand and someone flying backwards.

Not only is it an impractical play, but while reading the script, all I could think about was how it did not read like a play at all, but rather a movie. The more I thought about it, the more I noticed how many of the scenes mimicked scenes from the Harry Potter movies. At first this annoyed me as I felt like I was reading scenes I had already seen in the movies, but then I started to think of that as a benefit of the book. Maybe this is the bridge that kids need between the movies that they love and the magical book series. While I dislike that the script format doesn't allow for too much elaborate description, I imagine that many people have never read a script. Perhaps reading this script, which pulls so much on visual discriptives we all have from the movie series, will prompt kids to try out the book series next and let their imaginations do a little more work. 

So overall, the book is nothing special. There is a mildly interesting Harry Potter type adventure that pulls the story together, but it is far less exciting or developed than the missions I've come to expect from Harry Potter. While this is technically being referred to as the 8th book in the series, I think true Harry Potter fans might be better off thinking of this book fitting in more with the other books related to the series, such as The Tales of Beedle the Bard and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Certainly Harry Potter and The Cursed Child is worth reading as it won't take you much more than a lazy afternoon to get through it. While I was definitely a little disappointed with the story itself, I still have high hopes that it might help bring a little love back to the original book series.

DIY Pallet Planter Fence

DIY & ProjectsMichela Mastellone-Schottman1 Comment

A backyard was a must for me when most recently looking for a home. We lucked out in finding a place with a sizable yard, but unfortunately a few projects needed to get done to make it actually feel like home. While we have a fence between our yard and the adjoining yard of our shared duplex and decent coverage between the yards of our neighbors behind us, our next door neighbors and our yard have no barrier whatsoever, having a few yards run together. I really wanted to have at least some sort of visual barrier between the yards, but was also working with the challenge of being on a rental property, so there were limited options as far as fence installation goes. Luckily, I had a stack of 3 pallets just waiting to be converted into something awesome.

Because of the openness of the yards, I also wanted to be conscious of the fact that the barrier needed to be aesthetically pleasing from our neighbors side view as well. I took a trip to home depot and found a large sheet of plastic trellis. There are LOTS of trellis-type options that can be used for this project. I chose the trellis that I did primarily because of it's affordability, but it was also extremely easy to work with - easy to cut to size with my jigsaw and screw on to the pallet. Out of the one sheet of trellis, I was able to cover the entire back of two vertical pallets, and then decided to use the remainder decoratively with my third pallet. 

After coming up with a game plan, I began dismantling the pallets. I was able to accomplish this with a crowbar and hammer, which didn't leave me too many intact pieces of pallet wood, but it was easy and fun. Some people may prefer using something like a jigsaw to dismantle pallets. I decided to make the planter portion of the pallet 3 slats high, leaving the more open side of the pallet towards our yard so we could see the decorative planter, but also provided a more finished side facing our neighbors. After pulling off any unnecessary pieces, I used my jigsaw to cut down the middle support to the height of the planter, leaving the two side pieces as supports for the trellis back. 

The next step was by far the trickiest: the chicken wire. I got 1/2" wire to insert into the pallet and form the structure of the planter. You could use a different type of wire, but be conscious of what size stones you use then to fill in the bottom of the planter. Alternatively, if you cringe at the idea of having to wrestle sharp metal into a small space, you could skip this step completely and use garden cloth or burlap for the whole interior and forgo the aesthetic of seeing the rocks. If you choose to tackle the wire, I would suggest gloves for sure. I did not do this and still see evidence of that decision.... I used my staple gun to attach the wire, and it was far from graceful - the way my staple gun fit allowed me to primarily attach the wire to the inside of the side pieces and then to awkwardly hammer down misfired staples. I'm sure there are much better, safer, more effective ways to do this. But it worked out for me just fine.

For the third pallet, I decided to make it more decorative rather than a functional planter, so I cut it down horizontally to form a small fence barrier, leaving two longer side pieces on the back to attach the remaining trellis to as a decorative back (in the future I may add wire to the inside of this and fill with decorative rocks). Once all three pallets were modified, I lined them up close to the border of our yard and secured them in place with wooden stakes. For the vertical planters I simply drove stakes into the inside corners of the pallet so the entire thing sits on top of them, securely wedged in and upright. Once the planters are filled they are securely weighed down. I used longer stakes for the horizontal planter and secured the stakes to the back of the pallet with screws. Because we wanted to be able to enclose our yard for convenience with the pets, I spaced the pallets out at distances that allowed me to use panels of a small animal pen to attach between pallets. 

Now the fun part - filling the planter! I decided that rocks were the best option because they helped weigh down the planters and make them sturdy, but also acted as drainage for my plants. Rocks are great- you can buy them cheap in giant bags at home depot, or if you're lucky like me and live on the coast....take a couple trips down the street to the shore and pick your own! I used plain rocks to start filling in the planters, up until I reached the top of the first piece of wood, where you started to be able to see the rocks.

I decided I needed the rocks to be a little prettier, so I washed a bunch, spread them out on a tarp, and got out the spray paint. I added a layer of mixed colored rocks to the planter, up to where I felt left enough room to fill with dirt and plants. I draped burlap into the top half of the planters and filled with potting soil and planted myself a nice little garden including tomatos, basil, parsely, french sorrell, and rosemary! To add something a little visually nicer to my third, horizontal pallet, I used the same spray paint as the stones to make small flower planters out of coffee cans .


I re purposed part of a cat tree to place at another spot in the yard and act as an anchor for the pet fence. We are able to completely enclose the yard when we are outside, but then can easily fold up part of it. My plants are all growing really well, though in retrospect I would have made the planters double wide to give them a little extra growing room. So that's on my project for next year!

As the summer has gone on, my plants have thrived. We've been able to enjoy handfuls of delicious cherry tomatoes and I'm constantly grazing on the herbs. I've already started brainstorming ideas for moving my herb garden indoors in the fall!

Watch it Wednesday: 3 Documentaries to Watch this Week (Part 3)

Scribbler's SuggestionsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

My list of documentaries to recommend keeps growing, so I'm just going to keep this list going. Check out parts 1 and 2 of the Watch it Wednesday series for more suggestions!

Children of the Trains

This is a great documentary about the widespread issue of childhood homelessness, focusing on children near Bangkok. The responsibility for these children fall to the local law enforcement, and I must say that it is encouraging to see the police behaving morally and doing their best to help feed, clothe, and educate the children. One of the most interesting ways they have approached the problem is through the creation of a "library train" where children are free to seek refuge and have access to educational material. Unfortunately this is not a long term solution as it's run through volunteering police and there are far too many children in need with not many resources, but it is heartwarming to see the local steps being made to at least try and improve the lives of an overwhelming number of homeless children.

The Final Member

So let me start off by saying that this is maybe one of the strangest documentaries I've ever seen. Be forewarned, there are some graphic scenes, so this is likely not the best family movie night choice. It profiles a man in Iceland with the only penis museum in the world and his "hunt" for a human penis to complete his collection. The weird thing is that he has not one, but two offers. The first comes from an elderly Icelandic man, a well known womanizer, who agrees to donate after death, but begins to have second thoughts as his time approaches. And the second offer comes from a shockingly odd American who wishes to be the FIRST in the museum, even if it means cutting his specimen off before death. He actually seems excited about the idea of seeing his own penis gain fame independent of him. Although I think its notable that even the guy who owns a PENIS MUSEUM thinks this dude is a "funny guy". I won't say that this is a good documentary, but worth watching if you enjoy things like reality shows that have no plot other than the following of eccentric people. These people are certainly eccentric and watching them is hilarious, awe-inspiring, and slightly nauseating. 


I know I have much more interest in science based documentaries than most, but I really enjoyed this one. It provides a good examination of why our overuse of antibiotics is such a detriment to the medical field. It gives a nice history of penicillin (given to sex workers to protect soldiers) which resulted in a penicillin resistant strain of gonorrhea. I was also pleased with information discussed about the use of antibiotics in agriculture. There's a mix of interviews with experts in a variety of fields and profiles individuals affected by antibiotic resistance (such as a woman who lost an infant to a mysterious contraction of antibiotic resistant mersa staff). I was glad that there was also a discussion about some of the regulations (or lack there of) on antibiotic use. If you're not a science nerd who enjoys learning more about the many ways our system is failing, this one may not be for you.

DIY Stenciled T-Shirts

DIY & ProjectsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

I love making t-shirts. They are an easy to customize gift that almost everyone can utilize. If you haven't already, you might like to check out my post on some of the t-shirts I made last year for a wedding. Several important people in my life have summertime birthdays, including my best friend and her step-daughter who have birthdays 1 day apart. I decided on making some quick shirts as gifts, as I had several cute designs in mind.

There are LOTS of ways to decorate a shirt. I decided for these gifts to fall back on one of my favorite techniques: freezer paper stenciling. To begin, I spent an afternoon doodling and editing on my computer to come up with the graphics I wanted on the shirts. For my best friend I drew a very cute "love robot" (an bit of an inside joke between us) which I then scanned into my computer in order to print on freezer paper. I could have just as easily drawn directly on the freezer paper, but I like that this extra step gives me some more room for error. My friend's 12 year old loves spending time with my cat and ferret, so I wanted to make sure that they had some input on her gift. I settled with 2 designs, one cat and one ferret themed. I had seen several cute products available on Etsy and other sources with the phrase "you've cat to be kitten me right meow". It made me laugh out loud, and she's a hilarious kid with a great sense of humor, so I knew she'd love it. I've also seen several cute designs on the market with animal or object outlines integrated into a heart beat. While I have seen a ferret design of these, I was unimpressed by the ferret silhouette used, so instead I just made my own. 

After editing the designs, I printed them to size on freezer paper, carefully cut out, and then used a dry iron on low heat to lightly press the stencils into place on the shirts, wax side of the freezer paper down. I had a variety of left over fabric paints from other projects that I was able to mix up to get a few different colors that I wanted to use. I like to use sponge brushes for applying paint to stencils. 

I let the shirts dry for a full 24 hours before removing the stencils. Everything turned out great! The only minor issue I ran into was that because I chose to make the robot lines so thin, and put the paint on so thick as to make sure the outline really popped, in a few spots the thin, thick painted lines got lifted away from the shirt along with the stencil. This is something that I could have fixed by taking a paint brush or paint pen to the few areas that needed touch-ups, but I actually sort of like the more sketched look of the robot and knew my friend would love it either way, so I decided to leave it as is and will touch it up for her in the future if needed. It's also a good idea to check the instructions on whatever fabric paint you are using. Many paints will recommend after the paint dries, quickly running an iron over the backside to help set the paint. In my experience, this is an unnecessary step, but may ultimately make your design more permanent.

I absolutely love how all these shirts came out and intend to make myself and another friend copies of the ferret heartbeat shirt. Freezer paper stenciling is absolutely still my go-to for quick, easy and GREAT results. If you have a blank shirt laying around, grab some freezer paper at the grocery store and give it a try!


A Golden 28th

DIY & Projects, LifestyleMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

I didn't grow up knowing the term "golden birthday" referring to the year in which turn the age of your birthdate. I heard about this excuse for a celebration through a friend in college, luckily in plenty of time for me to help her celebrate her 23rd on the 23rd. I just recently helped my roommate celebrate her 28th on the 28th, and I absolutely expect these friends to reciprocate the fun for me this year when I have my 30th on the 30th. 

It's obvious to most at this point I think that I love any and all opportunities to come up with an excuse to create something - birthdays fall high on that list. I had been mulling over ideas for my roommate's golden birthday for a while. When I pulled together a 23rd golden birthday, I had fun finding 23 different gifts each with 23 items (I believe there were 23 bags each with 23 pieces of candy or paper clips etc). 28 presented a slightly new challenge however. I had a few small gifts I wanted to give my roommate that I knew she needed, but I did not have the budget to buy 28 small gifts. Solution? A SCAVENGER HUNT OF COURSE!

I love scavenger hunts. SO MUCH. So I decided to make 28 item tags, all of which were either tagging small gifts or were coupons for redeemable [free] gifts.

I totally nailed the planning process of the golden birthday party. It did not take me long at all to do all the prep work, and then I was SUPER lucky to have my best friend (a mutual friend of my roommate's and helped me a lot with all of the party planning) able to join me for most of the day to pull everything together. My friend brought along her stepdaughter, so between the 3 of us, we were able to quickly buy balloons and decorations and rush back to the house where we made delicious golden cupcakes and golden sangria and I delegated decorating item tags to a creative child.

Our timing worked out perfectly - we had everything wrapped in golden tissue paper and golden ribbon and tucked away in my bedroom when she got home. Later in the day, at the start of the party, we had everything prepared enough that we simply had my roommate socialize with other guests in her room for 28 minutes while we quickly got all the gifts and tags hidden throughout the house (which is not easy in a small space) complete with  a wall of 28 balloons outside her bedroom door with a "28 Balloons!" tag hanging at eye level to kick off the scavenger hunt. 

Well to say the least, it went well. I knew my roommate would be excited to hunt out all the tags and to discover all of her gifts. And, as expected, a few of the prime gift coupons were promptly redeemed, so we had a 28 minute dance party along with a fun 28-photo photo shoot. I'm so happy with how it all turned out. It was a great gift and party with very little time and money needed - just some creativity!

DIY Ladder Plant Stand

DIY & ProjectsMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

I've made a lot of fun additions to our backyard recently. The most impressive is by far the fence I constructed out of pallet planters, but that post is soon to come! Right now I just thought I'd take a second to show off a very simple ladder plant stand to display some flowers. 

I jumped at the opportunity to grab an old wood ladder when I saw it at the dump, as I have a long list of projects in which I could use a ladder. I'm sure in the future I will repurpose it, but for now I threw together bits and pieces I had laying around to make this ladder plant stand! It turns out that on this ladder there are not parallel slats on each side, so I had to cut a piece of scrap wood and wedge it in to support the middle shelf. 

I re-purposed some containers, and rather than drilling drainage holes I opted for layering the bottom with pebbles. In retrospect, I think the plants may have been happier if I drilled a few holes in the bottoms of the planters. Since constructing this, I have removed the middle shelf and relocated that plant. The shelf wasn't as sturdy as I wanted, and while I could have easily screwed in the added support slat rather than just wedging it in, I also felt like the plant wasn't getting an ideal amount of light where it was. I'm thinking I may replace the middle shelf with a more narrow shelf and add some non-flowering decorations. Either way, my cat fully approves of his new favorite sun bathing spot.


Songs Of My Adolescence

LifestyleMichela Mastellone-SchottmanComment

Erik Peterson just died recently. I doubt he's known to many who may read this, but he was a great musician, most well known for Mischief Brew, and died earlier this month at age 38. I very rarely feel any personal loss with the knowledge of a performers death, but Erik Peterson and his music played such a role in my teen years, that as I've been non-stop listening to Mischief Brew for the past week, I'm reminded of how important it was to me at that time.

I'm not sure if I've ever related to music as much as I did as a teenager - maybe that's true for everyone? I used to listen to what can be loosely described as the folk-punk genre (a lot of Mischief Brew). But once I started working and cohabitation with people with different music preferences and started primarily using mainstream streaming programs for music, I realized that I never listen to what I used to love so much. Sure, I still blast World Inferno Friendship Society into my ears as I run and can't help but smile when an Against Me! song pops it's way into a shuffled lineup, but those aren't the tunes that I'm listening to regularly, they're saved for nostalgic purposes.

Since hearing the news of Erik Peterson's death I haven't been able to stop listening to those old lyrics that still so often seem to read my mind. I'm instantly brought back to a summer night in Boston, in a local folk-activist musician's backyard. Surrounded by people holding hands and smiling, we watched Erik Peterson play his guitar and sing, sitting on an old picnic table. I remember sitting on the ground playing with his pugs as a tin went around collecting what money we could offer him to help get him back to Philadelphia.

I can't say for sure if I would relate to this style of music so strongly if I hadn't connected with it at such a formative time in my life, but it is nice to go back to it now and still get the same sense of comfort in knowing that I am not alone in a lot of my frustration. It's a nice reminder of why every once in a while I come across a silk-screened "folk the system" patch that I just can't get myself to part with.