Sewing & Style Book Reviews

Last week I renewed my library card.  It had expired 2 years ago, and I just hadn’t gotten around to getting it renewed.  And now that I did, I’m thinking to myself, “you knucklehead, why didn’t you do this a lot sooner?”  Yes, I missed my library.

So I checked out some books on sewing and fashion.  There is one missing from this stack, I realized after I’d edited the photo.  It’s a book on wearing scarves.  I often wear them and happened to see a book about them on the library shelf.  Well that book will make it into a different review.  For now, let me deal with the ones in this stack, from bottom to top.

Singer Sewing Specialty Fabrics.  This one is from the wonderful Singer sewing series.  I have about half that series in hardback – a bonanza find at a thrift store.  They are like gold to me.  If I ever have a sewing technique question, one of these books will address it.  Maybe not as thoroughly as I’d like, but I’d get at least a decent overview.  This volume on specialty fabrics gives you some really good hints and tips to work with silkies, knits, and heavyweights.  I would definitely go out of my way to add this one to my collection.  The techniques are taught in a step-by-step method with accompanying step-out pictures.  My only caveat:  the garments shown in some of the volumes in this set are rather dated; but you aren’t reading this book for fashion advice, so it’s easy to ignore.  I’ll be giving this one back to the library grudgingly.

Fabric Savvy.  I was surprised by both what this book did include, and what it didn’t.  I doubt I’ll be using African Mud Cloth in any of the garments I sew for myself.  However, that section was pretty interesting.  Yes, there IS mud on the cloth, apparently.  I liked that this book dealt with pre-washing advice as well as pressing advice; not something that is often dealt with and certainly not in pattern packages!  It also gives needle recommendations, stitch width and length, etc.  A handy reference if you don’t mind how limited in scope the book is.  I had hoped for more advice on now-common fabrics, like Rayon blends and stretch blends.    That being said, there’s an updated version of this book, and I’ve requested it by inter-library loan.  The description says it gives newer advice for newer fabrics.  This particular volume goes back to the library without a backward glance.

Perfect Plus.  This is a cute book, let me say that first and foremost.  Some things I like about it:  the author takes detailed photos of herself in the outfits she proposes that you sew.  And to help you along, she has included all the pattern pieces!  She gives you a little questionnaire to help you decide how many of the four garments (pants, top, skirt, jacket) you will need to fit your lifestyle.  She gives fabric recommendations, talks about color coordination, and if you still don’t get it, she shows pages and pages of actual outfits in color-coordinated sets.  Now, how freaking cool is that?  I was falling in love with the book until I read one little statement:  yes, the patterns go from sizes 14 to 24;  but they are proportioned for a 5′ 2″ woman.  Uh-oh; I’m 6 inches taller than that!  I was actually pretty saddened because I wanted to make the outfits in this book.  However – she gives me good advice on basic coordinated outfits, and because the lines are simple and clean, I already have patterns that would be similar to hers.  So this book gets renewed and I’m not going to probably look for it on Amazon.  My daughter and daughter-in-law are both under 5’5″, so I will probably show it to them, but the clothes are aimed more at women in their 30’s and up who want a simple, non-flashy, non-trendy, classic wardrobe.  They might not want it now, but when their kids start coming along, they will want clothes that can be spit up on by babies, thrown in the washer and dryer, forgotten about for a week, and come out with no wrinkles to iron.  (Good Lord… okay, that’s the kind of wardrobe I want for myself !!)

The New Secrets of Style.  I am going to be a little bit harsh about this book.  It is filled with pictures of actresses, tv personalities, movie stars, prominent figures, and the like.  Filled.  Literally.  Page after page.  It’s more like a having a coffee table book of collected InStyle Magazines.  Okay, so why all the harangue?  I admit to looking for magazines like InStyle when I have to sit and wait at the doctor’s office.  But my motivation is purely voyeuristic; I don’t actually want to relate to the human beings depicted in it’s pages, let alone dress like them.  I couldn’t care less what the Red Carpet Crowd wears.  It’s totally impractical for my life.  So why did I pick up this book?  Well, two reasons:  first, I did not look through it when I took it off the shelf.  That was my mistake, because it would never have come home with me if I had.  But also, I really thought the title, “Secrets Of Style”, was on creating your own personal sense of style.  Admittedly it does touch on the principles of finding your own style and creating a wardrobe around it, but the advice is so shallow and weak it barely gives a nod in that direction.  Alright, enough diatribe.  This book goes back to the library post-haste.

Does This Make Me Look Fat?  I think Leah Feldon should rewrite this book so that angels sing whenever the cover is opened.  Little Disney butterflies should flutter out.  Birds should come out of it and help you get dressed every morning.  Yeah, it’s that good.  The biggest reason this book is going to become a permanent part of my collection is because the author takes the time to tell you WHY.  Why certain clothing works for you and why it doesn’t.  The title should be, “WHY Does This Make Me Look Fat?”  As I read this book, it was like the heavens opened up and I finally understood why some of my outfits looked great on me, and others not so good, even though they were in my colors.  This book is painstakingly written, and there are NO photographs.  The best you’re gonna get is black and white line drawings.  There are no color-coordinated swatches, no examples of some cutie-pie modeling what the author is talking about.  What you will get is down and dirty, make-me-look-slimmer advice.  Pages and pages of advice, for everything from clothes to accessories to hair.  I do have a couple of minor caveats, and they are very minor:  first, the author is very opinionated, stating her advice as “rules”.  She does say that you can feel free to break them, but you should do so knowing exactly WHY you are breaking them.  She also believes that the Classic Style is the best style.  I tend to disagree with that, because there are certainly people who will look better in a Sporty Style or a Romantic Style.  However, most women work, and the working world usually dictates that the Classic Style is the style recommended at work, enforced more or less depending where you work.  So I can ignore her little soapbox on the Classic approach, because in general terms she does have a point.  The second caveat I have is that the author LOVES black.  Black, black, black, black, black.  “Hell, I’m an Autumn!” I say in dismay.  “I can’t wear black!”  Alas, that is simply NOT true.  I have this one knee-length jacket that is black with a dark purple collar and cuffs.  That thing makes me look HOT.  Seriously hot!  It’s my favorite power piece and I love how I feel when I’m wearing it.  So if I’m an Autumn and black is not okay on me, why does this jacket work?  It’s got two reasons:  one, the color closest to my face is a grape purple color, which does look good on me.  If the collar were black, it would drain my face of color.  But since the collar is purple, it works.  And two, the cut of the jacket fits me like a glove, skimming over my curves without being snug.  So for those reasons I can wear black, with very careful moderation and attention paid to HOW the black is worn and where it is worn.  The author’s focus on black is really a focus on monochromatic dressing.  Black just happens to be her favorite monochrome.  Now I can’t just go out there and start sewing all black tops and pants and jackets.  I’d look like I was constantly in mourning and it would age me ten years.  But I can do a dark cocoa brown, or olive green, or deep dusty plum.  Put me in a monochromatic top and pants that were one of those colors, and I’d rock ’em.   It would look like I’d lost ten pounds.  And that would have Leah nodding her head in agreement.  Careful accessorizing makes the monochrome pop (scarves, pins, belts, jewelry, etc.) so you don’t get bored wearing just one color from collar to hem.  So as I know you can guess, this book is getting renewed.  I’m going to read through it a second time, a bit more slowly, and I guess the librarian is going to have to pry it out of my fingers to get it back.

  Trinny and Susannah are a hoot.  What You Wear Can Change Your Life is another book I do like.  They have a very no-nonsense approach that is presented in a humorous way, softening the blow when they give you the do’s and don’ts of their version of style.  I like their photos, using themselves openly and candidly as models.  My favorite section of the book is where they talk about Shapewear.  More on that in another post!  These two do tend to have a more trendy outlook on the outfits they chose, and so their books will have to be updated every now and again as those trends change.  But overall, their book is pretty good.  They do skim the surface of the WHY question and their before/after photo comparisons are well worth the look.  Will I buy it?  Actually – no.  It’s a cute book and I love the humor in it.  I did get something out of it.  But they really didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know, besides the section on Shapewear.  I had read their book from cover to cover in one sitting, devouring it and reading hilarious sections to my husband (to his dismay, since he was also trying to read.  But hey, he was a captive audience).  If you have this one available in your library, I would recommend reading it.  And for you, it might be that sky-opening revelation complete with Disney characters.  It just wasn’t for me.  I’m debating whether or not to renew it and re-read it;  I’m leaning toward giving it a second chance.  But I don’t think I’ll cry when I have to turn it back in.




Creating A Pants Sloper

Pants sloper, pants sloper… try saying that five times fast!

LOL – but in all seriousness, what exactly is a pants sloper?  Well basically, it’s a permanent pants sewing pattern that is created from your body’s measurements.  It’s called a sloper because it conforms to those specific measurements, ‘sloping’ around your body.

Sewing pants is a pain in the…   Well, you get the picture.  It is the most difficult of all the garments to sew, because a large amount of the fit is dependent on the center seam that runs from front to back, through the middle of the body.

Any woman who shops for ready-made pants will tell you that shopping for pants is a pain in the… same place.  It’s difficult to find a brand that fits us well in every area – waist, hips, inseam, length.  So often, we sacrifice one or more of those areas in favor of the pants, either because we like the design or because they fit our pocketbook.  But then we have to wear a belt or they slip down our hips; or we are constantly pulling them down at the thighs when we stand up because they ride up at the inseam.  All too often, we are spending way too much money for a barely passable fit.

Well, I personally am in absolute rebellion to that idea.  I refuse to buy one more pair of ready-made pants.  I don’t care what it takes, I am going to have pants that fit me right, in all those areas!

I had started sewing recently again, and all because I’d found a pair of almost-finished, wide-leg, sailor-style pants that I’d begun a year ago at my daughter’s apartment.  In the process of finishing those, I found things about them that I liked, and things I didn’t.  Since this summer, I’ve made 3 pairs of pants, including that first pair.  And, just like the commercial ready-made pants, there were things I liked about fit, and things I didn’t.  They weren’t the ‘perfect pants’ I thought they’d be.

In reading one of the books I’d recently bought at the Book Nook, I’ve had a series of ‘aha moments’.  This book, Shortcuts to a Perfect Sewing Pattern by Rusty Bensussen, should have the words, “awesome” and “wow” in the title.  Such an incredibly good sewing book should have a really eye-catching title.  The purpose of the book is to teach an absolute sewing newbie how to create their own slopers, for shirts, skirts, and pants.  I just can’t say enough how eye-opening this book is.  I’ve been taking it to bed with me to read at night.  It’s my little buddy.

The book does something really amazing:  it shows you how to take exact (and I do mean, exact) measurements of your body, front and back.  Usually the measurements I’d been instructed to do for patterns were more of the measure-the-girth-of-x kind of thing.  On the back of a pattern package, you should be comparing your girth measurements to the pattern measurements, and sewing accordingly, rather than going by the size of ready-made clothes you wear.  Now I’m familiar with that, but this book takes measuring yourself into a whole new league.  I’d read a number of sewing books over the years, but I hadn’t ever seen measuring the seated distance from waist to chair so that your pants don’t ride up -or down- in the back when you sit.  Wow.

So, Bensussen is talking in the book about this all-important crotch seam, and how where that seam meets the inner leg seam  is crucial to how the pants fit; not only in that area, but whether they hang straight, and whether the waistband fits right.  I get that, because other books have talked about it, and I’ve had my own battles with both ready-made and sewn pants over it.  I’m all set to get this measurement done, and as I read on, she tells me to hang a plumb line from a string that runs between my legs and attaches to the waist on either side.  Say what??? But she goes on to explain that by doing this, you find the center of the body.  And that makes a difference in how the pants fit.  Ohhhhh...

You need a friend to help you in doing these measurements, and it must be someone you really, really trust, because let me tell you, it’s gonna get awkward.  Now, for Allen and I, was much fun in this process; if you are married, I recommend it for a prelude to intimacy, if nothing else.  We had a goofy time taking these measurements, and there were a lot of aha moments about it.  Looking in the mirror doesn’t ever prepare you for what the measuring tape says.  My hips don’t lie.

So armed with your measuring-tape-ambush and this book, you head to a sewing pattern that you’re going to turn into the base pattern for your sloper.  (This isn’t the sloper yet – it’s just the pattern for it.  The sloper will later be made out of an inexpensive woven fabric, like broadcloth or muslin.)  Now, this tissue pattern should be a very simple slacks pattern for a woven fabric, with no decorative elements — no pockets or pleats.  It can have a center-seam zipper (back zippered pants are more flattering than front zippered ones, did you know that?) but aside from that, and darts, it should be very straightforward.  You begin by comparing the measurements of the center inseam to your own, and make adjustments on the paper pattern.  The inseam, then waist, tummy, hips, and thighs all get remarked on the paper, making sure to keep length and width lines straight.

Boy, talk about some major ‘aha moments’ happening in the process of doing this.  I found out why those teal pants that I made from this pattern were so baggy; I have a short front inseam, and the pants front is 3 inches too wide for my hips!  Now armed with this information, I redrew nearly every line on the front panel of these pants.  I narrowed the legs, shortened the inseam, but added some tissue for my middle-age tummy.  I think the only thing that stayed the same was the dart… and I’m not so sure that’s going to stay there, once I make the broadcloth sloper.  Minor adjustments will be made from the broadcloth, which will be sewn with basting stitches, that get pulled out and changed every time an alteration to it is made.

By now, you’re thinking this is an awful lot of trouble to be going through, just to get a pair of pants!  On the one hand, yes you’re perfectly right.  It is a whole lot of trouble;  it took me a couple of hours, between the measuring and the adjustments to the paper pattern.  And this was only the front of the pants – I still have the back yet to do.  But I only have to do this once.  In the long run, any pants pattern I buy will be able to be quickly adjusted to my exact measurements by using the broadcloth sloper, and therefore the pants will always fit me perfectly, regardless of the design.  For that, I’m willing to invest any number of hours now, to save myself hours of frustration later.  Not to mention the hours of shopping and trying on different pairs of pants, and going to different stores, and complaining about how much money the pants cost me, and how I have to deal with the parts that don’t fit right.

Sewing Book Bo-Nan-Za!

new sewing books

Oooh.  Looky, looky! Allen and I were running errands this past weekend, and he wanted to stop at one of our favorite (and most dangerous!) places:  The Book Nook.  It’s the best used book store in the tri-county area.  It’s sortof a distant child, in a way… we’ve fondly watched it grow from a tiny store squished between a consignment shop and a Jazzercise, to it’s current location a few buildings down the road, which is the size of a Blockbuster Video.  Hmmm.  In fact, I think that building used to be a Blockbuster Video.

When we entered the store, we both headed different directions:  he to the science fiction section, and me to the craft section.  I had $50 burning a hole in my pocket, and it started jumping up and down as soon as it realized where we were.  It wanted to get spent for a worthy cause, and what worthier cause than used books?  (Okay, yes, I know there are much worthier causes out there.  Don’t hate my money because it’s a bibliophile.)

I had picked 8 books, but could only afford 5… sad face.  So I sat on the floor and carefully went through each book.  The litmus test of them had to do with sewing pants.  If they didn’t talk about sewing pants, they were going to get ruthlessly placed back on the shelf and I would ignore their piteous pleas.  These five in the picture made the cut.  I’m reading the one in front.  I’m not a particularly avid fan of Nancy, but her book is a compilation of hints and tips mostly from her viewers.  Sweeeeet.

Coming up: My next post is going to be about whatever happens tonight.  Remember I talked about sewing with my daughter and oldest daughter-in-law in my post, Sewing Projects?   Well we’ve been talking to some of the girls in our Sunday night small group.  I think we’ll be having four or five of them join us for sewing and beading adventures tonight.  It should be fun!  I’m going to have to go out and buy some more tissue paper for tracing patterns, sometime today.  I’ve got a bunch of patterns that range in size from 8 to 24, and if they want to use one, I have them trace their own patterns so that they don’t cut the other sizes off of the multi-pattern sheets.  Plus, that way we can mark their alterations when we pin fit the pattern, and they can keep it to use again for another garment.

Color Me Beautiful

color-me-beautifulAn “Aha” Moment. Back in the early 1990’s, I found the first Color Me Beautiful book at a garage sale.   At the time, I’d never heard of Color Analysis.  The principle behind it is that the tones of your skin, eyes, and hair determine which colors of clothing will look better on you, and which ones make your skin look sallow, tired, or washed out.  The color schemes are collected into warm and cool undertones, to complement the undertones of a person’s skin.  Those undertones are further divided into “seasons”:  spring and autumn colors usually have a gold undertone and are warm;  while winter and summer colors usually have a blue undertone and are cool.   Examining eye, skin, and hair colors, along with draping fabric colors close to the face, helps one determine which shades of color look best on them.  There are consultants who can help people do this, but really just taking a friend and this book for a day trip to the mall can tell a person what they need to know.

What’s the big deal? In other words, why is this so important to me?  There are two reasons:  the first, is that I hate, hate, hate shopping for clothes and trying on 50 tops to find one that looks good on me.  It seems like a collossal waste of time.  Not that I don’t like shopping; I do.  But I don’t like the frustration of a whole store full of shirts and not one that looks right.  Of course the size and cut make a difference;  but the biggest difference is color.  If I could just go straight to colors I know look good on me, then it’s only a matter of getting the right size.  I’d spend literally half my time trying things on.  The second reason has to do with how I feel about myself.  If I know I look good, I’m more productive.  I’ve learned from experience that when I’m dressed well, makeup on, hair styled — I get twice as much done as when I wear sweats and a t-shirt (unless I’m cleaning the garage or painting a room).

So I made adjustments to my wardrobe after reading the book.  I discovered that autumn tones look best on me.  I bought my first orange shirt.  Orange?  Yeah, orange.  Pumpkin orange, to be exact.  I was skeptical at first, but when I tried that color on, it looked really good.  Needless to say, when I cleared my closet out of clothes that I never wore because they looked just…. wrong, I had lots of room leftover.  I would take my book to the thrift store and began filling my wardrobe back up.  (There’s an excellent wardrobe planning worksheet at the back of the book, and I highly recommend using it.)  Pretty soon, people were asking me if I’d lost weight.  They were telling me I looked really nice.  And the compliments became a regular thing.  It really does work, whaddya know.

After a few years I fell out of the habit of being conscious about the clothes I wore.  I’d changed part-time jobs, and was doing less in the ‘public’.  I got sloppy, basically.  Because my workplace was now in my home, I could stay in pajamas half the day and nobody would care.  But that slippage did work it’s way into my self-image.  I stopped getting my hair trimmed, or styling it;  I stopped wearing makeup; I didn’t really care what clothes I wore as long as they didn’t clash horribly.  It wasn’t that I was slovenly;  it was just that I was making minimal effort to look nice. I look back at family pictures, and I can see evidence that I believed “it doesn’t matter; who cares, anyway?”

But there are times it DOES matter.  Like meeting your husband’s new boss.  You want your appearance to reflect positively on him, right?  So the t-shirt and sweats isn’t a good choice for that kind of meeting.  And there I was, back at the store, trying on 50 tops and getting frustrated!  I was reminded of how it had been when I was using the colors from my autumn palette.  It made the shopping easier, and I got compliments.  Right.  Back to the CMB book I go.  I dug it out of my stack of books and reviewed it.  And once I looked in my closet, with that list of colors in hand…. egads.  This is wrong, and that is wrong, and no wonder I don’t get compliments on my appearance anymore!

CMB, as a company, has gone through a series of evolutions. They are no longer run by Carole Jackson, and they have become a MaryKay-style company, selling makeup through consultants.  While I think that’s fine, I also think it shortens the vision the company had in previous years, especially during it’s first decade.  After the huge success of the first book, Always In Style was written by Doris Pooser.  A couple of years later, Carole wrote the CMB Make Up Book.    Then came my personal favorite, CMB’s Looking Your Best.  This book is definitive, and I’ll explain why in a minute.  The newest book, by JoAnne Richmond was written in 2008, entitled, Reinvent Yourself with Color Me Beautiful.

CMB 1985

CMB 1987

CMB 1995

CMB 2008

While I think all of the books have something to contribute, I would have to say that the first Color Me Beautiful book and the Looking Your Best book are the two most worth having.  The first book gets your feet wet in learning about color, style, makeup, hair, etc.  It’s a primer, both where it comes to the seasonal palettes and where it comes to learning how to assess your appearance.  The other book takes those basics and expands them, turning the four original seasonal palettes into 12, making it much easier to pinpoint those colors that really pop on you. Let me illustrate:  Yellow is a color that works for me, but only in certain shades of yellow.  I’m a Warm Autumn, and I can’t wear a bright yellow; it drains my face of color.  But a soft Autumn, whose colors are closer to those of spring, can wear a buttermilk yellow and pull it off.  For me, if the yellow is muted, like a mustard yellow, or a golden yellow… wow.  Looks great (especially when paired with a muted purple, like I’m wearing today).

Warm Autumn

Purse Palette, side A

Purse Palette, side B

...I admit it, I cut pages out of one of the books.  (Meh; the book cost me all of $4.00, including shipping, from Amazon.  If I need to, I can buy another copy with the pages intact.)  The pages I cut out were trimmed to just the color blocks, and then slipped into a regular size sheet protector, that I then trimmed down to fit the height of the color blocks.  This gets folded in half and I carry it in my purse.  So anytime I stop at a thrift store, garage sale, boutique– I have the colors handy with me (and I didn’t spend $49.95 for the swatches that the CMB website sells!)

I’m going to be talking about this subject more in coming posts, but I thought you might like to see how I look today.  I have on a golden yellow turtleneck, a muted purple sweater, and a scarf that has both colors. (Never, ever underestimate the power of a scarf!)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on color analysis.  Won’t you drop a comment?  Just scroll back up to the top of this post and there’s a link for making comments there.

About Books

Last night I hit that roadblock of which you may be familiar:  I had nothing to read.  In my house, having nothing to read (and I mean reading for pleasure, not reading the stock reports) is a sad state of affairs, indeed.  We are voracious readers, and we share interest particularly in fantasy and science fiction.  We discuss plots and characters at the dinner table.  After which, we might hear one child wailing at the top of their lungs that another child has since stolen their book and won’t give it back.  Or worse, that one of the parents has stolen the book and hidden it to read later.  At some point during our parenting years, we both got so fed up with the constant fights over books that we had to instill the “You checked it out at the library, so you get to read it before anyone else” rule.

We are religious patrons of our local libraries.  In our 26 years of marriage, I’m sure that the late fees on our family’s collection of library cards have accumulated enough funds to put one or two people through college.

And since my husband and I both share this unquenchable obsession, over that same course of time we’ve accumulated a pretty decent stock of personally-owned reading material, in a wide range of genres.  There have been bookshelves in bedrooms, living rooms, and family rooms all through our house.

During one of our experiences of moving from one state to another (because of a promotion with my husband’s job), we had the pleasure of a moving service.  Two burly men came to our house and packed up all our things for us, and lickety-split, we were on our way to our new home.  These men then unpacked the truck and put all the boxes where I told them to, the little darlings.  Imagine my delight as I’m unpacking a box, and on the side of the box, written in fat sharpie pen, were the words, “Another damn box of books!!”  In defense of the poor guy who wrote this, there were indeed 30 boxes full of books, so I appreciated his sense of frustration.  After packing books all day, I might have written the same thing.

So here is a tragedy:  because we decided to move my studio to the basement of the house where there was more room, two ceiling-to-floor, wall-to-wall bookshelves had to be emptied of their contents because I needed the space.  The books were placed in boxes, because we had nowhere to put them at the time.  My beloved paperbacks are in banker’s boxes, amidst a stack of other bankers’ boxes, three stacks deep.  It was 9:30pm, and the library (as well as Barnes & Noble) were closed.

I sighed heavily to my husband and he asked me what was wrong.  I said I had nothing to read.  He commiserated, and told me to go raid my son’s bedroom.  This is the same son whom we’d just dropped off at the Army, and whom couldn’t complain, since what he didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt him.

“Yeah!” I replied, and happily wove my way around the clothes, stereo speakers, mattresses, display swords, drawing materials, foam armor, and musical instruments which littered the floor like a 12th level dungeon filled with traps.  Voila!  I circumvented the critical failures with no loss of health points, and reached the treasure trove:  lots of stuff I haven’t read yet.

There were a lot of things that grabbed my interest, but a slim volume caught my attention:  “Fatherhood” by Bill Cosby.  My husband’s family have been fans of his comedy since his Fat Albert days.  I personally had never heard his jokes though, until I met my husband.

One day, while snuggling on the sofa of my husband’s tiny apartment, he started telling me a joke about Noah and the ark.  As he’s telling this joke, he’s making faces and noises, and I’m laughing my head off, thinking I’m dating the funniest man on earth.  Of course, my delight just encouraged his ego, and he proceeded to tell me more jokes.

It wasn’t until we’d been married almost a year that I found a bunch of record albums he’d had packed away in a box.  They were Bill Cosby records.  I put one of them on the record player, and behold, the man had stolen my husband’s jokes!  When my husband came home from work, I promptly slapped him on the arm and said, “You lied to me!  You made me think those jokes were yours all along!”  He grinned, and in his lawyer-esque voice, made me madder by pointing out the technicality which got him off the hook:  “I never said they were mine.  I just told you the jokes.  You assumed they were mine, and I never dissuaded you of that assumption.”

Years later, I got over being mad about it, and actually decided to indoctrinate our children in the blessedness of The Cos.  On yet another move (or it might have been that same cross-country move with the two men who wrote nasty things on the sides of my book boxes), I had secretly gathered a horde of Bill Cosby routines on cassette tape.  With four days of driving ahead of us, I popped a tape into the tape player in my 9-passenger station wagon, in hopes that my children would stop tearing the foam out of the ceiling and padding out of the seats.  Cosby wove his magic, the stuff floating from the ceiling stopped looking like a snowfall, and my children sat mesmerized.  Little did I know that I had started something.  Over the course of years, my children wore out those cassettes, and can quote Cosby jokes verbatim just like their father.  I pity the women they’ve married, who will think they are so clever, particularly with one of my boys, who grew up to covet not only my husband’s records, but to comb garage sales in search of other Cosby LP’s.  He now owns a full collection (including the ones he brazenly stole from us.  But it doesn’t matter… my husband has all the routines memorized anyway).

So it was with a happy heart I picked “Fatherhood” out of the line of books on my son’s top shelf.  Now if you’re a Cosby fan, you will find this book filled with the same jokes he’s been telling about his children for 20 years.  They are good jokes, so you won’t be disappointed, even if you can quote them verbatim.  There are other things he’s said, which aren’t old material, and which made me laugh and stop my husband from reading his own book so I could read them to him.

Intermixed in with the jokes are pieces of just good common sense about what it means to be a dad.  I happen to agree with him, because he happens to agree with my husband on the basic philosophy of dadhood:  work hard, love your wife, and help around the house.

I remember laying in bed at 2 am, listening to an infant crying from the other room.  Our own version of a Cosby routine was being played out between my husband and I:  “It’s your turn,” I said.  “No, I changed him just before putting him to bed.  It’s your turn,” he replied.  “Yeah, but I nursed him an hour ago.  So it’s your turn,” I countered.  “Yeah but you smelled it first.”  His attempt at using logic on me was wasted effort, and I resorted to pushing, shoving, and tickling.  Unfair, yes; but it worked, and he got up and changed the baby.  But only because he knew I’d start spouting Cosby at him if he didn’t.

The Quintessential Christie

“I’m reading again,” I said.

“Oh dear.  I know who it is.”

“You do?” I feigned surprise.  We both knew that she knew, but we played our little game.

“Yes, you’ve got that Agatha What’s-her-name out, haven’t you.”

I chuckled.  Tempted to lie, I almost denied it.  But it was no use.  She knew I was rather fond of the woman, and I could tell by the twinkle in her eye that she didn’t mind in the least, in spite of her mild implication to the contrary.

“You must admit, Agatha Christie does have a way with words.  A tilt of the head can mean so much.  And it is all so genteel, even though she had the audacity to call you “Nemesis”.”   It was a pointed reminder to Aunt Jane.  She had been rather feisty in the Caribbean.

“Oh, pish-posh.  I just happened to meet someone that reminded me of someone else back in St. Mary Mead.”

“And who happened to commit murder.”

The knitting needles in her hands never skipped a beat as they click-clacked against one another with the precision of a metronome.  “Well of course, dear.  People are people, after all.”

I’m re-reading “Agatha Christie:  Five Miss Marple Novels” for the second time.  Jane Marple knits and flutters her way through these stories, having a keen eye for observation and a sharp mind for solving murder.  Her technique is an unusual one, consisting in part of connecting people involved in the investigation to those she has known before, in the small English town of St. Mary Mead, where she has lived her whole life.

Geraldine McEwan brings Jane Marple to life on the silver screen.  In “Agatha Christie’s Marple, Series 2 & 3“, McEwan twitters her way through the lives of those who would commit the most heinous of crimes, seemingly mild as a lamb, but in reality the most cunning of adversaries.

To my delight, we can watch Geraldine McEwan in Agatha Christie’s “Nemesis” on YouTube, in ten parts.  Now that I’ve found it there, I’m going to watch it now, while I make Memorial Beads.

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