Saturday, May 30, 2015

Running Away

My in-laws are treating us to a week at the beach.  I am a devoted homebody, but this year I am actually looking forward to 'running away.'  An exhausting couple of weeks with a yard sale, a fairly involved and emotionally-draining situation involving neighbors who have disputes with each other (staying neutral, trying to show kindness to everyone and not taking sides takes a great deal of emotional energy),  a few important church-related meetings for my husband and me, a smattering of routine doctor's appointments, and two bouts of chickenpox....and I am looking forward to a week of sunshine, sand, books, pool swimming, salt water, and handsewing. 

I plan to be mostly incommunicado for the week, and hope to come back refreshed and ready for summertime!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Tracing & Cutting Out an Alabama Chanin Tank Dress

These photos were taken at night, on my phone!

I am working with Natalie Chanin's six-gore "tank" dress here, tracing the pattern (I use a pencil and examination-table paper).....I modified it by raising the neckline by two inches.

and then cutting the fabric out of some raspberry cotton jersey to test fit. (I just use coasters to weight the pattern and yes, I do use a Sharpie to trace a pattern onto jersey fabric.  Tailor's chalk never worked for me, and the Sharpie never fails.  It's okay to be a renegade and buck the tailor's chalk!)

I sewed this dress up on the machine and was stunned that it fit me well on the first go!  I usually have to do a lot of alterations because I'm short-waisted with scoliosis. 

This week I have been racing against the clock to get a coordinating cardigan cut out and possibly even stenciled before we go to the beach.  When I think of a long car trip and a whole vacation week without a hand sewing project the panic rises in my I want to be sure I get all my sewing ready for the trip.

And I'll throw a toothbrush and swimsuit in the car at some point too.  Priorities, you see!!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Princess Leia Dress (from a sheet)

On Tuesday Annie decided she needed a Princess Leia doll.  I put her 12" doll's hair in buns and got an old sheet.  I sewed a little dress for the doll and Annie picked out the raspberry hem lace for a sash.  I had to sew the sleeves on by hand; they are so tiny! 

But they are done!!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Baby Bunny Rescue

Look at what the cat dragged in....literally!

This sweet tiny creature was rescued from the jaws of certain death (and, I'm sorry to say, decapitation--our cat's chosen m.o.) late last night.  I assessed the bunny and its lack of ability to jump properly, spent some time researching care online, figured out its age, and it spent a quiet night in triage in our bathroom; today I took it to the wildlife rehabilitation facility in our area. Rabbits are so fragile; I read online that they can literally die of fright!  Finn and Annie were quiet and calm all morning and literally said nothing on the 45- minute drive to the rehab facility.  

They are so sweet. 

Do you know how in the old days the hobos would mark the gates of homes where they could find hot meals, so that other hobos would see the mark and go in to find nourishment?  I am starting to think that there's an X on our house made by injured baby animals. Last year it was baby swallows infested by mites!  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Message from my Mother (Forty-Five Years Later)

A couple of years ago I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life.  We were undergoing a basement renovation, my husband was on crutches and unable to drive due to a pulled Achilles tendon, and I had just suffered a traumatic second-trimester miscarriage with our third child.

One day not long after the miscarriage I was having a terrible day.  I was a mess, the children were a mess, our loss was a fresh wound, and I felt like a failure as a mother--both to my living children and to the child we had lost.  I felt lonely. I missed my mother, who died in 2001.  In the midst of all this, Annie (who was 2) was walking around with a paper that looked like this:

I could not identify what it was or where she'd gotten it, but when I took it from her I realized it was a little drawing my mother had done years ago, when she was in college and writing her parents. Then I opened it up, and found a little card-

And then I opened that little card and found the message that I think I was supposed to receive in my own mother's handwriting.  Way back in the late 1960s, she had written--

I had not seen my mother in twelve and a half years, but she still encouraged me that day.  And this note she sent to her own mother 45 years ago was presented to me by my own daughter. Four generations of women were interconnected by this card, which was given to me on one of my hardest days. 

I will treasure this note forever. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On Interruptions

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life -- the life God is sending one day by day.” 

-C.S. Lewis, The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis

Yes.  Last night I was cutting my husband's hair on our deck at twilight and found myself saying, as we discussed difficult interpersonal situations with neighbors, a work situation he faces, a hard church issue, that our difficulties are also our means of sanctification.  Embracing this as "real life" and the life that God is sending us each day shifts the paradigm completely and makes me see problems as opportunities to show God's love to the world (and to grow in holiness).  

We are all works in progress--me most of all! 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Brighter Bathroom

Our bathroom project is progressing along nicely! (Here is a 'before'.)   Last weekend we had a man come hook up the plumbing for the sink and toilet.  I love the cloche light and our faucet! This means we are 2/3 of the way there, with only work in the shower left to do.

This is a photo I took with my phone, so it isn't the greatest at capturing the light. This room is very bright and cheerful and it is such a luxury to be able to wash my hands, brush my teeth, put on my makeup in my *own* bathroom.  An orchid will soon live here, too!  

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Peonies in Bloom

Annie and I are under quarantine, but that's okay because the peonies are blooming. I forgot to photograph that first peony of the season this year (an annual celebration!), but let it be known that the first peony, a white one, bloomed on May 10!  Six days later we have scads of white blooms and the pink ones are also bursting out.   Here are two photos from Years Past! 

 I am so busy!  We are in the midst of a pre-vacation marathon over the next couple of weeks--six doctor's appointments (all of the 'checkup' variety), a haircut, three art classes-doubling up to prepare for vacation, a neighborhood yard sale--that I will feel I have earned the surf and sand once we get there! 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Spring Organizing

Today I finished spring organizing and cleaning in Finn's room, after having done our room last week, a couple of closets in the interim, part of the garage last weekend and Annie's room earlier this week. I finally took the 4' Christmas tree out of Finn's room. Yes.  In mid-May.  Mea culpa!

Sometimes organizing feels like shuffling the mess from one space to another, but there's an end in sight--all I have left to do is the basement (schoolroom, sewing area), my bathroom closet and the rest of the garage. Then the mess goes away, out of the house, forever!  I am addicted to the feelings of levity and satisfaction that come with a good clear-out.

Everyone has different methods for organizing, but my general modus operandi is to take everything out of a closet/dresser, spread it out, examine, sort, purge, and then neatly put back into the space (after vacuuming said space out, of course).  I love doing this.  I love doing it at my house, your house...anywhere.

I paused mid-week to enjoy a visit from my cousin, who was in town for a night, and I may be slowed a bit this weekend because Annie came down with the chicken pox today (!), but I do hope to plug along and be back to our regularly scheduled life next week!

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Cost of Perfectionism

Today I was thinking of shame and perfectionism, two sides of what I think are the same coin of pride, the reliance on self at all costs, and sometimes the idolization of the self. 

I was thinking of the woman who had just gotten back from a trip late the night before, had to be at a gathering all morning the next day with her children, and when the children were hungry for lunch she had nothing to offer them except crackers and some peanut butter, which she told them in low tones was because their pantry was empty and she'd not yet been to the store.  I felt that she said this with a bit of shame in her voice, as though no one else suffers from 'late-night-empty-pantry' syndrome. 

I feel very good when I am on top of my domestic duties and the pantry is stocked, the children are in perfect clothes, the beds are made, the checklist has lots of checks, dinner is all planned, and I just blow-dried my hair. 

Can I feel as good when circumstances are not as pretty?  What about when we need groceries and are eating 'creative' meals until I can find the time to get to the store?  What about when the children dress themselves in creative ensembles? What about when one child forgets to make a bed and the other wets their bed?  What about when the checklist is just reflecting back my failures, dinner overwhelms me (this happens sometimes--with a gluten free eater and a vegan comprising 50% of our household this can be challenging!), and my hair looks bad even in a ponytail? 

I have tried to analyze what makes me anxious and upset and it is often tied to messes and disorder.  This is because on a tangible level I love tidiness and order, and on a meta-level, I love control.  I want to control many things--my environment, my home, my appearance, my feelings, my organizational systems, my children, my checklist, what people think of me. 

This last thing is the deadliest.  The fear of people and what they will think if I do or say something, or if I fail to do something, is toxic.  Because as a person of faith my audience is really just the One who tells me to live a radically different life than the life the world offers me.  And sometimes when I choose the best things, I forgo the good things.  I love to visit spotless homes, for instance, but sometimes I wonder at what cost they are spotless. I know in my own home with young children that when *everything* is perfect all at the same time, someone has paid the price.  My mental and physical energy might be zapped (with nothing left for my creative life! or rest!) or I have ignored my children all day.  (When I had my oldest child, my grandmother--an immaculate housekeeper--told me "if you have young children and a spotless house, you are not doing your job!"  She was right.  Yet the world tells us we must "do it all" and keep up that charade day after day.....)

Years ago in college a friend of mine asked "can you imagine waking up every morning and putting on a mask, hiding who you really are all day long?"  When we are motivated by shame, perfectionism, fear of man, we trade our authentic selves for masks.  Our souls suffer.  The world suffers because we are not offering what is real.  The spiritual gifts we are uniquely given as humans become consumed by maintaining a cultural ideal. The energy that it takes to maintain the 'image' is energy that could help change the world.  

I write this because sometimes the internet only shows the best (or, in the news headlines, the worst!). I was thinking of this today and felt a little alarmed that perhaps my blog is too 'edited.'  I love domesticity but I am desperate for truth.  If anyone reads this blog I want her yoke to be lighter, not heavier.  

When people come to my house to have tea I know they leave refreshed and happier (they tell me so!) and it is not because they are presented with a daunting ideal of perfection. I like pretty tea cups, cut fresh flowers, and real conversation.....I think people like my house because they can take off their masks!  Let us all reject perfectionism in favor of authenticity. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day Luncheon and A Gluten-Free Brownie Recipe

Today after Sunday School and church we hosted my mother-in-law (and father-in-law, and brother-in-law!) for lunch.  I basically copied the menu from my last luncheon because it was so easy for the vegan person, gluten-free child, and carnivorous guests.  I baked brownies for dessert today, though, and topped them with mint-chocolate chip ice cream because my mother-in-law likes mint!  

Many mothers were represented today: 

the tablecloth was a gift from my stepmother
the linen napkins were passed down from my paternal great-grandmother
the plates were from my mother-in-law's mother
the flatware is from my father-in-law's mother
the peonies are from my garden, but my aunt gave the plants to me a few years ago
....and we had lunch in the house my mother built! 

I did not do any of this intentionally--it's just that a sentimental sort like myself finds these connections easily.  

*            *            *

As an added bonus: Gluten Free Brownies a la The Joyful House

*Melt 2 sticks of butter (or equivalent dairy-free version like Earth Balance) on stovetop
*While it's melting, combine 1/2 c. oat flour and 1/2 c. sorghum flour with 3/4 c. (preferably Dutch-process) cocoa powder, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a small bowl
*Remove butter from heat and let cool slightly 
*In a large bowl, beat four eggs with 1.5 cups of sucanat (or sugar)
*Add butter to egg-sugar mixture and mix well
*Add dry ingredients to butter-egg-sugar and mix until well-combined
*Bake at 350 in 9x13 until done (about 15 minutes in my oven!)

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Pause that Refreshes

Last night we went into the city so that my husband could be fitted for a new suit.  Navy blue is going to look great with his grey-blue eyes!   We dined al fresco after that and watched a lizard run on the little patio wall.  I had smoked salmon and capers and a rare (for me!) glass of chardonnay.  The children were lovely, the restaurant was elegant, the weather was perfect.  

It was a relaxing entrĂ© into a busy weekend!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Spring is Here: Morel Mushrooms and Garlic over Pasta (with Parsley and Chives)

One perk of marrying the man I married is that each spring I get morel mushrooms.  Let's just say my in-laws know how to hunt.

  Last night I sauteed the morels with garlic in butter.  Cooked pasta, mixed some lemon juice into it (just a dab), topped with the morels and a bit of chives and Italian flat-leaf parsley, then finished it all off with freshly ground pepper.  I enjoyed it with a glass of fresh lemon-twisted-Pellegrino, which was perfect, but a glass of chardonnay would be even better, and champagne would be the best!

Transcendent. Morels have a unique, pungent flavor, both earthy and unearthly.  They are richly evocative. Spring, glorious spring!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Scrap Dress on a Sick Day

I was dreadfully ill over the weekend and my husband took the children out for the day so I could rest.  I stayed in bed for three hours and mostly dreamed up sewing ideas (sleep eludes me during the daytime), so I finally puttered downstairs to go through my cedar chest and ponder fabrics.  The large scrap of white linen and smaller scrap of blue-and-white seersucker presented themselves to me and asked to be made into a ruffly summer dress for Annie. 

So far I have the bodice constructed, the ruffles cut out, and the skirt gathered and ready to be attached to the bodice.  Then comes the fun part: gathering and sewing the ruffles and making bias tape to finish the bodice.

I hope to finish Annie's dress by the weekend so that she can flounce around in it on Mother's Day and make me happy!  

Monday, May 4, 2015

Crabapples and Cows

The dwarf crabapple tree's brief but lush explosion of blooms has since faded....but they are so nice while they last.

This tree also bears beautiful, tiny berry-like fruit in fall and puts forth an admirable blaze of red. It is right next to the swingset.  And in the winter it looks beautiful wrapped in dainty Christmas lights.....

The perfect backyard tree. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Installing Unfinished Pine Floors--*Ourselves*!

Back when our son Finn was 3 and our daughter Annie was not yet born, my husband and I decided to pull up *all* the flooring in our house, which was primarily white carpet--which was no longer white because it was so old! We installed unfinished pine boards....ourselves.  Which my husband hand-sanded on his hands and knees with an orbital sander because a drum sander on soft pine frightened him. And then I came along and stained the wood board-by-board on my hands and knees while 6+ months pregnant (I wore a NIOSH-approved mask).  And then I got to do the fun part, which was finishing it all with Bona Traffic (a product I dearly love now). 

It was a lot of work. 

I chose pine because it is inexpensive, I loved how knotty it is, and I knew that with a large dog and young children it *would* be scratched, so I did not want to choose a beautiful floor that would show every scratch. If it's going to get scratched I thought I should just embrace that this is my life.  Five years later I am still loving my floors.

White carpet in a bedroom:

We did all the work ourselves, so we had to live for a few months in a state of flux.  Here's the "plywood subfloor" stage! Wood was stacked all over the place, acclimating to its new environment.

Raw wood, installed.



The guy at the flooring store implored me not to use this soft white pine on floors.  He insisted that it was meant for planking walls, making bookshelves...anything but flooring! I ignored him. 

I did take a protective measure by putting a large rug under our dining table so the chairs would not make too many divots as they were scooted when my husband and I stood up from the table. 

Here is a photo from a few months ago--the pine looks so pretty to me, still.  And don't fret: my house is not usually this tidy. There are usually stacks of books on the coffee table, for starters! And toys, stray socks, and other signs of life that show that people live and love here (we do try to pick up each night). It was super-tidy on this particular day because I had been fall-cleaning.

This is one of many, many DIY projects my husband and I have undertaken over the years.  I love thinking about how much money we have saved!  And I also love thinking about never doing it again!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Every Time You Make a Choice

“[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.”

                        --C.S. Lewis

My sister shared this with me recently.  So powerful and a wonderful reminder of the power of choices.