July 29, 2014

How To Fix a Shoe Buckle!

So let's say you have a favorite pair of shoes. Like, hands down, the shoes you wear every day because they are super comfortable to walk in, and you can ride your bike in them, and they look pretty good too. And then, let's say, one day one of the buckles on a shoe strap just snaps in half. Out of nowhere, just breaks into pieces.

You probably say to yourself, "Well, I'm sure a cobbler could fix this," and you go to your local shoe repair place. But then, let's say, the cobbler shows you buckles that are both the wrong size and color (the only ones he has!) and also expects $30 for the privilege of uglifying your favorite shoes. Do you give up? No, of course you don't give up. Instead, in what you think is a brilliant move, you call the shoe manufacturer... but to no avail, because they don't stock replacement hardware. This is probably the moment that you decide to take matters into your own hands.

After a careful Etsy search, you find someone who makes almost identical buckles to the ones on your shoes. "Hooray for independent small business craftspeople!" you probably exclaim to yourself, as you ready your tools: the new buckle, some waxed thread, a seam ripper, and a curved needle.

Your first job is to pick apart just the bit of the seam that holds closed the loop of leather that would usually attach to the center of the buckle. In this picture, it's the darker leather piece (you can see the hole that the buckle's prong goes through).

Once that's done, you thread the new buckle onto the now open loop, making sure to put it facing the right way.

Now it's time for the finicky part - stitching the loop closed again. The advice for leather is just to reuse the old stitch holes. After tying a knot at the end of your waxed thread, you start a little bit before the first seam-ripped stitch, going over old still-in-place stitches to secure them. You try your best to sandwich the knot between the layers of leather.

Slowly, slowly, you keep going from hole to hole and then double back over again. If your thread happens not to match perfectly because apparently your laptop's screen colors are not true to life, and you bought your thread online - well, it's no big deal because the new stitches will be hidden once the buckle is buckled anyway.

After the last stitch is in place, you tie a small knot on the side and then slip your curved needle through the layers of leather to the other side. This will both pull your knot in between the layers of leather so it's not poking your toes, and will make it more stable.

And, just like that, you have defeated the forces of evil shoe destruction and have emerged triumphant with your favorite shoes intact! Winner, winner - chicken dinner.

(The fixed shoe is on the left.)

July 17, 2014

My Grandfather's Eye

My mother's dad, Boris, was an avid amateur photographer. Family lore is rife with stories of him checking the light meter and slowly adjusting the focus on the giant lens attached to his equally giant camera as we, posed and poised, started shuffling impatiently. I loved the cozy and alien feel of the tiny red-lit darkroom that he had set up in a closet in my grandparents' apartment, with its semi-mysterious trays of developing solution, floating upside-down images, and drying black and white photographs hanging from a clothesline. I never wanted to do it myself, but I loved watching him.

Many of his shots were turned into slides. Actually, the division was straightforward: black and white film became photographs and color film was developed into slides. It may have something to do with the availability of the necessary equipment in Russia in the 80's? In any case, I have recently started the long project of digitizing the slides. As expected, there are many fantastic pictures of our family. But a surprising delight has been seeing the more artistic photos that Borechka would sneak in here and there - landscapes, street photography, bits of nature that caught his eye. Here are a few of my favorites:

And what did I look like 30 years ago? Check out those 4 inch diameter braids, people. Those ponytail holders look industrial strength!

July 13, 2014

One more peek of summer

Lara caught a little friend!

Summer, Summer, Everywhere

Another summer, another amazing summer vacation! That's right, folks - the tradition of the annual family road trip continues! And continues to be an unquestionable success. What did we do this year? I believe the question you should be asking is actually what didn't we do!

We started with a few days in and around DC, where besides the always welcome delights of my mom's pool,

we checked out a re-enactment of one of the battles of the War of 1812 (you remember - that's the super opportunistic war a very young America decided to fight against England while most of England's resources were dealing with the small matter of Napoleon conquering half of Europe). And by checked out, I of course mean that the kids got a crash course in how to man a 19th century 3 pound cannon. Here's Lara being a rammer (the one who rams the power and ball in) and Jake on ventsman duty (the one who sits with his thumb on the vent hole preventing fire from catching until the ball is ready to be shot):

From there it was on to Shenandoah National Forest, with its amazing mountain views:

We hiked;

we camped next to a grove of bushes that was home to a doe and her fawn (the deer there have no fear at all of humans. They're basically overgrown pets at this point, really);

the kids got to explore nature trails as Junior Park Rangers (which is a fantastic program that everyone who goes to a National Park should totally sign up for. It's amazing - for $5/day, you get to borrow binoculars, activity books, maps, guides to flora and fauna, and a cool backpack to tote it all around in);

and we drove over to Luray Caverns to check out this utterly otherworldly and unbelievable cavern and its uncountable myriads of stalactites and stalagmites. By the way, in this picture? There are no stalagmites - the bottom is actually a completely mirror-like reflection of the top in the world's clearest underground lake:

Whoever designed the lighting in this place needs some kind of award, by the way:

Later, after a few failed attempts, we built a satisfyingly big fire and then watched it burn late into the night. Do you have that same primordial fascination with fire? I could stare at it for hours... and did.

On the way out? We saw a bear. A BEAR!!! We were in our car, but still: BEAR!

From Shenandoah to Asheville, NC, to the gorgeous house and lovely company of Misha's aunt Jane.

You guys, Asheville - or at least the way we lived it via Jane's amazing hosting abilities - is idyllic.

We swam in and boated on this beautiful, clear lake. By the way, have you noticed the sky in every picture? We had ideal weather during our whole trip. Amazing.

In the city itself, we ate delicious tacos at the White Duck Taco Shop (definitely worth a stop) and yummy Nutella and berry crepes in the serene garden of the Creperie Bouchon.

And then this crazy thing happened: Lara's splash pad joy got her onto the front page of the Asheville Citizen-Times! The onrush of fame and fortune may then have slightly gone to her head...

The next day, we had some fun at the huge and generally awesome North Carolina Arboretum:

Jake got to be an entomologist for the day (there is a great kids program there which lets you borrow one of several types of naturalist kits)... but maybe not the world's best one quite yet, since he would mostly run away from any bugs he saw rather than catching them in his net and looking at them under the magnifying glass:

Lara made a more successful ornithologist, what with her already abiding interest in all things bird. Honestly, I have spent 36 years of my life not paying the slightest attention to birds, but she has somehow made them totally fascinating for me with her explanations of their behavior - and her ability to identify them!

And finally, for the last bit of the trip: the beach! No summer vacation would be complete without it. We spent a wonderful day in the very warm water in Virginia Beach, which I have to report was delightfully - and surprisingly - not at all Ocean-City-like. Just very soft sand, lots of relaxed families, and an ocean that no one wanted to leave.

Good bye, summer vacation! We'll miss you!

June 10, 2014


When's the last time you went camping? Before last weekend, I hadn't been since about the 7th grade. I mostly remember waking up in a soaking wet sleeping bag and having to deal with a lot of cold misery in the company of similarly cold and miserable fellow girl scouts. So... last weekend went way better. Our tent was awesome, the weather rocked, and the mountain lake that we camped next to was a beautiful and peaceful place.

Oh, and did I mention the food? Because the chicken I marinated overnight was freakin' phenomenal cooked over a wood fire. (My tip? Marinate and bring in ziplock bag, then dump onto heavy-duty aluminum foil. Mmmm.)

Fire, stars, the sound of tiny pieces of tree debris hitting the tent - just perfect.

And of course, there were the requisite bugs that no trip into nature would be without. Not sure what the kids are fascinated by here. Giant caterpillar? Weird round egg sack? Shed snake skin? We saw all those at one point or another!

The lake was idyllic, if slightly too chilly to swim in. Wish we had a boat!

Then, after packing up, we stumbled on idyllic lake #2! Doesn't this look like a screensaver that came with Windows 8?

Nothing beats throwing rocks into water. It just never gets old somehow. Jake was also a fan of watching the little fish scatter as he flung the pebbles near them.

And finally, because we are trying to commit to always checking out whatever tiny museums we see advertised on the road, we ended up in a coal mining museum, touring a mine that opened in the 1850s and closed in the 1930s. Totally fascinating, and instructive! See kids, isn't it nice that you don't have to work in a pitch black coal mine for 10 hours a day?