February 16, 2017

A Practice of Warmth and Joy




I have always valued time to do nothing while I let my gaze and mind wander. I can think of many childhood moments watching rain drops slither across the car window or waking up and staring at a crack in the ceiling or the colored squares on a rug. Maybe you watch the clouds as they slowly morph from one shape to another or follow the patterns of the tiles on the bathroom floor. Our eyes and minds are always trying to find recognizable shapes and patterns, to make some sense of things. It's the patterns that aren’t quite symmetrical, that don’t repeat exactly the same way that really draw me in. Instead of letting my eyes and mind complete the sequence and move on, they keep me searching for connections and trying to understand. I recently checked out a book of quilts from the library full of many scrap quilts that begin with a pattern but veer off as colors and fabric run out. Or they go wild from the start when the quilter makes use of whatever fabric she has on hand or whims she chooses.

Seeing these joyous acts of sewing, of piecing together scraps and ideas, has reassured me that perfection does not have to be the aim of quilt making. When I make quilts, corners don’t always line up and the edges are not usually even. But the process of choosing colors and patterns from the stash of fabric on my shelf is an experience of joy. Quilting is one way to turn scraps into something beautiful and useful, an intersection of creativity and necessity. Saving scraps and repurposing fabric to make quilts was practiced most often by women in the twentieth century as an inexpensive way to keep their families warm. Often they didn’t have the time or fabric supply to be picky about patterns and colors. Instead they used scraps of fabric, pieces of old clothes and cuts of worn out denim to create quilts that were essential to their homes and their creative spirits.



Beyond using scraps for the top, thrifty quilters have used old clothes, tattered quilts and other materials instead of batting when it wasn’t available or affordable. But the need to cover big beds and keep little toes warm was also a chance to take a colorful break from work and chores and spend time creating. It reminds me of the saying that firewood warms you twice, but instead of the way splitting and stacking the wood warms you long before you burn it, the process of making a quilt is a practice of warmth and joy. When I am done playing with colors and patterns, I love the act of quilting as a way of binding things together. On a winter evening, I spread the quilt on my lap and use stitch after stitch to make three layers into one. All the cutting, piecing and stitching are as joyful as tucking under the quilt or giving it away.

Perhaps it is the uncertainty and chaos of world events, perhaps it is the uncertainty and chaos of parenting, but I am so drawn to creating order and chaos with colors and patterns and to stitching it all together by machine and hand. This quilt (with nine month old Eowyn for scale) is for our friends' baby due in the spring. I started by making flying geese triangles and then decided to make squares instead. I have more fabric and ideas waiting and I keep picturing a stack of little quilts, neatly folded and resting in our living room. That would last about a second before Amos would spread them all around and turned into imaginary boats, buses, or trash trucks. We all have our own ways of finding that joy in creating.



January 31, 2017

Letters and Numbers


It’s been a gray month. Many things have not gone as planned, many things have taken my mind far from the here and now and left my heart anxious. Though I wish I didn’t have reason to be marching and demonstrating twice in one week, I am truly heartened by the thousands and millions of people who are demonstrating, calling, organizing, giving, speaking out, reaching out in opposition to the new administration and in hopes that we can still make the world a better place. I am doing my best to settle in for the long haul of political action, creative work, and family life. Somehow, in the midst of the chaos of the first month of 2017, I have found into a semblance of a routine. Most evenings I work on projects for a couple of hours and then read a bit before I can no longer avoid sleep. These projects may never go farther than the computer screen and the rooms of my apartment but I am making gradual progress, which always feels good.

Amos and I have been reading a lot of Winnie-the-Pooh in the past few days. It is the closest we’ve come to reading a chapter book and it is nice to cuddle up together to read about the friends in the hundred acre wood. Amos has been more interested in numbers and letters lately as he continues the process of learning about the world around him. We count body parts and slices of cheese and he is quick to tell us that he will be ready to go in six or thirteen minutes. I recently saw a list of beautiful alphabet posters for kids and it occurred to me that this would be a fun way for him to explore letters. Then I realized that I could make something that would do the trick.



I’ve become more interested in letters lately, too. It started with the banner I made for the women’s march (or, rally as it was at the Maine state capital). Sewing fabric letters is time consuming and not as practical or interesting as calligraphy or type face, but it is most often the medium I choose for whatever I have to say. I am drawn to words, especially words of wisdom from others. When I was in high school I had a little notebook where I would jot down quotes that I liked. Words remind me of what I want to believe, know, or understand and I make things to deepen this understanding and to interact with the world in a meaningful way. Sewing words doesn’t come close to bringing them alive, but it is a way of bringing them to my attention, of giving them greater importance. I turn fabric into words and then, slowly work at turning this words again into actions



December 16, 2016

Of Tiny and Big Things


This is the season of tiny and big things. Each morning Amos pulls a card from the advent calendar and I read him the activity that we will do (note to self: include a picture next year so he can figure it out). Making a citrus garland, cutting out snowflakes, going to see the lights on the trees in the park. We are fortunate to have the time and space and resources to make these little activities happen. As the month goes on, we will try some activities that remind us that giving, to strangers and loved ones, is important, too (collecting warm clothes and food to donate, making gifts, doing kind things).






I’ve long thought that the best way that I can make a difference in the world is in small daily actions and choosing to live in a way that, ideally, does more good than harm. But the election has prodded me to see that there is so much more that needs to be done. I think more than ever about how to encourage my children to be people who care about others, understand and appreciate the things that make us so different and so much the same. I don’t have a solid plan for any of this. I’m trying to find that spot where I can stay informed and active and not be paralyzed by fear. It is truly a privilege to be able to even consider this balance and not be forced to fight every single day. So far, I am calling my senators and congresswoman as often as I can.


Our tree is up and the ornaments move around the from day to day with Amos' whims. The needles sprinkle on to the wood floor beneath the tree and clamor to get onto the rug. I am resisting the urge to redistribute the ornaments and adjust the lights which are bunched in some areas, leaving other spots bare. I tell myself to let that go and enjoy the amazing pine-y smell and the warmth of the twinkling lights.



I had some photos printed last week and I updated the wall where I stick (literally, with masking tape) some of the photos that I love. Photos never capture the whole picture, the before or after, the mess in the background or the long journey to that quick moment. But when I look at this assortment of photos from the last several years I can see beyond the ups and downs of life with a three and a half year old, the disturbing news of the world, and the challenges of every day. These smiles, hugs, moments of sweetness really do happen every day and when I look at them I see how lucky we are that all our moments, good and hard, are held together, not by masking tape but by lots and lots of love.

October 20, 2016

Here and Now

After months of simply imagining it could happen, we seem to have settled into a daily rhythm. We’re in a tiny sweet spot when things run smoothly, as smoothly as the rattling emotional roller coaster that is life with a three year old and five month old.

Amos is learning and reaching so many new things. He is fast and steady on his balance bike but also capable of loud and dramatic melt downs. He refuses to help just as often as he eagerly pulls his chair up to the counter so he can mix, chop, or wash. When he is at his best: engaged, excited, curious, competent he often asks, “Can I give you a hug?” I try to stop what I am doing immediately at this request. I don’t respond to everything so patiently or generously. But here we are, still learning, still trying to figure it all out, but appreciating what is here and now.  



These days, rest time is actually happening, thanks to Sparkle Stories which keeps Amos in his room for about an hour after lunch. After rest time, we do a project. I loosely participated in Tinker Lab’s Art Start Challenge which gave me some new ideas for process based art. After a couple of days Amos ended rest time by asking for a project. It has helped to give our days a stronger more consistent rhythm and makes a nice transition from rest time to play time. Although I hope he will soon be more self motivated in his creativity, we usually do the project together, which is fun for me, too. Some of his favorites are watercolor crayons, painting with balls, and mono prints. 


Eowyn thinks Amos is the best and funniest thing in existence. I ask her where he is and she looks around until she sees him. Often she starts giggling at the sight of him and whatever silly or annoying thing he does. Thankfully, Amos is now finding greater delight in playing with his sister than he does in hitting her. I am appreciating this lull before she is mobile and we have new levels of sharing and playing together to negotiate. 



October 5, 2016

The Value is in Making


I am finally wearing the barn sweater which I cast on last October. I am not a fast knitter and sometimes I stall when I have to learn or figure out a new technique. I finally blocked, seamed and added buttons to it in September. Now that the days are cool and and an extra layer is welcome, I get to cover myself with a cozy, very imperfect hug that I know I will wear all the time. With something that has taken so much time and effort, it is tempting to keep it precious and protected but despite the slow work and many stitches, I want to use it, wear it, care for it, when needed, repair it.

I’m finding more time in the evenings to create, which feels so good. Last night while sewing, I listened to an episode of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons Podcast. Nearly every episode reveals something invaluable to me about the creative process and creative living and I kept pausing to jot down thoughts from episode 204. She talks with a poet about the value of participating in something ancient, like writing poetry as people have done for thousands of years. Clothing ourselves must be as ancient as humanity and I often think of the generations of women who spent hours weaving, stitching, gathering scraps, repurposing, remaking and patching. Crisscrossing the line between necessity and art form, they had an intimate connection to the seams that covered them in comfort, durability and beauty. It is easy to romanticize the hard work of making clothing before machinery and mass production and hard to forget the slavery and oppression that is also part of the history (and present) of garment production. I am lucky that I can choose to make clothes for myself and be part of every seam.

In the same episode, Liz Gilbert talks to the poet Mark Nepo and one of the things he says that has stayed with me is, “The vitality of life is staying a verb.” It doesn’t mean anything to be a writer or maker, the value is in writing and making. For me, the value in knitting or sewing things to wear is as much in the creative process as the final wearable garment. Fashion isn’t really something that I think about much but this month is Slow Fashion October and I have been, again, pondering why I revel in slow processes and in making everyday things. It is a practice and connection that I engage in wholeheartedly without any concern for perfection. I still have a lot to learn about knitting and this cozy gray cardigan is riddled with mistakes, but it fits well enough and looks good enough for me. We scrutinize ourselves and our creations far more closely and critically than any outside observer while we each need to find and make what brings us joy, perfect or not.


September 8, 2016

They Shape You Instead


I was recently talking to a friend who is expecting her first baby in a few months. She mentioned that she didn’t want everything to be about the baby, which is totally understandable. Pregnancy is unique and special and yet totally mundane, an ordinary occurrence of biology and a small miracle that I hope she will celebrate a little bit. We all have our own experiences but there must be few parents who think, I hope everything changes. Maybe none. The rest of us keep telling ourselves that everything doesn’t have to.

Somewhere in the midst of the changes, the mourning of the life you had before the baby came, attempting or succeeding at keeping up with the things that are important to you in addition to parenting, you find your new normal. At least, I think you do, but I am still finding mine. While you are busy settling in and accepting that things have changed or trying not to admit that things have changed, the change happens. I still do a lot of cooking, most of the time with my three year old side kick standing on a chair pulled up the counter. No more than two inches away from me, sometimes pulling on my skirt, he is always eager to help stir and would like to taste everything. Often we are serenaded by the baby, bouncing in her seat on the floor. It won’t be long before she wants to be at the counter, too.


The kitchen is still my primary creative outlet. Yesterday, over several hours, we made sourdough bread, pesto, granola bars, buttermilk dressing, and blueberry cake. But most of our meals are simpler than when I used to cook without interruption. I still occasionally take on a post dinner and bedtime kitchen project, but I’m not planning to do any canning this year. I know I’ll do more in the future, but I do feel that sense of let down that I’m not living up to my pre-babies life. I am officially a master food preserver but I really hadn’t thought about doing any food preservation this summer. Our garden, however, had a different idea. Two weeks ago we picked close to twenty pounds of tomatoes and I’ve made nearly every zucchini recipe that looks good. Before the plants slowed way down, I managed to tuck some of the abundance in the freezer.

So much of life is realizing that you are not in control. You can a years supply of salsa and then, pregnant, you are repulsed by anything with tomatoes. The garden does better than you could imagine one year, the next many of the crops could fail. You do your best to be a good parent, hoping to shape your children and your life but they shape you instead: pushing a bit there, softening here, rubbing the hard spots raw, pinching, stretching.


If you have an abundance of fresh summer produce and a shortage of time, freezing is an ideal way to store it. It's not as romantic as canning but it is much easier. Here are a few tips to help keep your frozen produce fresher and tastier.

Get your freezer ready Food stored at 0 degrees F will keep for a year but the warmer your freezer is, the faster the quality of the frozen food will deteriorate. At 10 degrees F it will only keep for three months. Make sure your freezer is set to 0, you can check the temperature with a simple instant read thermometer. A full freezer is more efficient than an empty one. Add a gallon jug full of water to the freezer to help keep it cold in case you lose power. You can safely freeze about 2-3 pounds of food per cubic foot of freezer space within 24 hours.

Get your food ready Some foods freeze better than others. Freezing changes the texture of fruits and vegetables so they won’t be the same as fresh. Most berries and fruits can be frozen as is. They will be softer when you take them out, but flavor will not be compromised. Most vegetables need to be blanched before freezing to ensure that they will be completely mushy when you want to eat them. Some things, like lettuce, are not meant to be frozen. Freeze only what you know you will use, otherwise you are wasting time, energy, and freezer space.

Get the right containers I often freeze produce in quart mason jars, just make sure to leave a little head space because things expand as they freeze. I also use plastic freezer bags but you can use anything that is airtight, moisture and vapor resistant, and easy to mark with the contents and the date you froze them.


Know what’s inside
In addition to labeling containers of frozen produce, I try to keep an updated list of what is in my freezer. It is helpful to know what you have in there so you can make the best use of it and use it up within a year.

A few other ideas You can freeze raw tomatoes whole in an airtight container. After frozen, you can run them under water to remove the skins. They can be used for soups, sauces or any other way you would cook tomatoes. Freeze grated raw zucchini for use in soups or sauces or, as I do, for enchilada filling. I freeze my pesto in jars so I can use one at a time but you can also spread a thin sheet in a freezer bag which takes up minimal space and allows you break off just the amount you need. When I buy fresh summer corn, I always buy a dozen ears, cook them all, and cut the corn off the uneaten ears to freeze.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource for specific freezing instructions. 

What do you put in your freezer?


August 24, 2016

August


August evening. Amos is making trains and mailboxes with his tegu blocks. He constructs something that he is using to pretend to cut grass on the rug. He asks me for a bucket, a pretend bucket. Here it is, I say, placing a pretend bucket near where he is working. Is it a tall one or a small one? He asks. Tall. I’m chimping the grass, he says. He likes to make up words and I am amused that his make-believe revolves around yard work.

Eowyn is in her bouncy chair, singing with all the might of her little lungs. We stop and look at her and she makes a sound like laughter, her first, although she seems to be laughing at nothing and we can’t get her to do it again. Outside the golden hour is approaching, so much earlier than it was a few weeks ago. Crickets chirp their steady background music.



Some days I am parched and thirsting for that elusive five minute of peace. Other times, Amos is outside cutting the grass with scissors or playing with beans on the kitchen counter (handily contained by a large plastic bin) and I can feel my whole being relax a bit with this break from answering questions or responding to pleas for help. Its not all bad, I do what I can to really appreciate the moments that are good. These moments are mixed into ever changing and ever lingering challenges swirled with never ending doubt (am I doing this right? I may never know).

I am happy to have a kitchen table full of food that we have grown. By grown, I mean we stuck some seeds and seedlings in the ground and let the heat of the summer and an occasional squirt with the hose do the work. But we have braids of onions hanging by the windows and I may even end up canning some of the tomatoes that are so abundant this year. We scattered a second planting of lettuce seeds and I hope we’ll be eating it in salads soon. I’ve come to realize that I feel happiest and most alive when surrounded by things I’ve made myself. I’ll be sad when the fall and the frost leaves us with nothing more in our garden plot.



I lose track of the days and hope summer will last at least another month until I see the calendar and it finally sinks in that September is next week. A new page of days doesn’t mean summer is over, no one in our house is going back to school, but I’m not ready to let go of this season. Time really does go by so much faster every year, summer seems just a blink between months of winter.

Until then there are more perfect breezes and blue skies to be enjoyed.