June 16, 2015

Birthday Backpack

I had been thinking for a while that I would make Amos a backpack for his second birthday. It's one thing to envision something but often quite another to sew it together. I found just the right fabric but first I cut and sewed a quick mock up out of scrap fabric. It is a very simple design that came together quite easily. I knew I wanted to applique something on the exterior pocket but I really couldn't think of what it would be. Once I decided to use the alligator fabric on the inside I realized I should put an "Ah-Gee-Go" on the outside, too.

We traveled to Minnesota last week so Amos packed some toys and books in his backpack for the plane ride. He didn't actually wear it very much, but I hope he will be able to use it a lot more in the future.

I had so much fun making this, I'd really like to make some more if time permits. Who wants one?

June 4, 2015


I love traveling by bicycle. Whether it is pedaling across the bridge into Portland or touring the greenways of the Twin Cities, I love being able to use my own strength and energy to propel my bike forward. You arrive perhaps more tired than when you left but you travel at a human pace, knowing exactly how you got there. When pedaling along, you can observe your surroundings in detail and stop whenever you want, wherever you want at a moment's notice. You feel the air, the sun, the rain, you smell the sweetness of late spring. Sometimes, of course, you are fighting against the wind, and you can't avoid the occasional smell of festering roadkill. But whether gliding easily down a hill or working your tired legs to get back up, you feel alive and connected to the world as you pass through it. The bumps in the road, the sounds of birds and trucks, the deer crashing through the wooded roadside, you get to hear and feel and see so much more than if you are just passing through in a car.

Last weekend we embarked on our first bike tour with Amos. It may have been our first bike tour since we rode across the United States seven years ago! I have been wanting to explore the Eastern Trail and this section crosses the street less than a quarter mile from our house. In Southern Maine, the route goes from South Portland to the border of New Hampshire. It is part of the East Coast Greenway that goes all the way from Key West, Florida to Calais, Maine along roads and trails.

We had near perfect weather on our two day trip. The sun was warm but the route was shaded with sweet smelling piney woods. From South Portland to Kennebunk, most of the route is on trails which used to be part of a railroad and is now occupied by a natural gas pipeline and shared with bicyclists, walkers, and runners. Most of the trails are packed dirt, which, except for a few soft spots, was fine for the tires of my touring bike. Bridges take you over many of the major roads, though there is some navigating through the streets of Saco and Biddeford and few other areas. Signs for the east coast greenway marked almost every turn which made it easy to follow the route. We brought a trail map but barely used it, so, of course we missed the one turn that wasn't marked. After going a little off the route we were able to find the trail again without too much trouble.

Amos seems to enjoy traveling in our bike trailer, pulled behind Ray's bicycle, much more than sitting in a car seat on a long drive. We stopped a few times each day for snacks, lunch, and to stretch, rest and play. It was easy to stop along the trails but on the roads it was trickier to find places to stop since most people probably don't want strangers picnicking on their lawn. For several miles, while we searched for a place we could take a break, I imagined that more people should build benches on the edge of their lawns or put up signs, "Feel free to take a break here." But most people don't travel for miles without a car looking for a source of water and a flat shady spot to rest.

Our bike touring doesn't take us to very remote areas, but when you are a few hours or more from home with most everything you need in your panniers and trailer, you feel lighter, your only responsibility is to pedal, take care of your body, and enjoy your surroundings. When traveling by bicycle I feel a greater sense of trust that everything will work out because sometimes you have no other choice. Our relatively smooth travel was derailed, literally, when Ray's chain got stuck in his crank. We weren't sure if we would be able to go on so Amos and I had ate peanut butter and jam sandwiches next to someone's mail box while Ray tried to pull the chain unstuck. On this short tour close to home Ray didn't pack tools or a repair kit. We could have called someone to come pick us up but luckily our trip didn't have to end there. Our unexpected rescuer pulled into his driveway, next to our picnic spot. He had a set of allen wrenches in his trunk, as if he helped stranded cyclists all the time, and Ray was able to fix his chain.

Other than the trouble Amos had falling asleep in the tent (10 pm, toddler running around, pulling hair, climbing over sleeping bags) the rest of the trip went very smoothly. We biked from South Portland to Berwick and back, about 50 miles each way. I hope that we have many more family bike tours ahead of us. There are so many places to pedal and roads to see.

May 28, 2015

It has been almost two years since Amos became the primary focus of my time and energy and I am constantly scaling back my expectations of what I can accomplish aside from the time that I spend with him. I am often discouraged because I feel like my creative work, especially writing and sewing, is moving so slowly. But I have come to realize that there is no need to give up just because I feel like I'm not getting anywhere. I will continue to move forward as slowly and steadily as I can for as long as I can keep creating.

Usually when I feel discouraged I just have to look around at all of the making I am doing every day and I remember how lucky I am. This week I have been trying to finish several projects that couldn't wait any longer. I managed to get several things done in just a few days. These were things I had to do, but really I was lucky to get to make a few new pairs of shorts for Amos, stitch up a baby quilt for a friend's new little one, pot up lots of herbs for our front porch, plant vegetables at my dad's house, and make rhubarb crostatas to bake for brunch on Sunday. When I am trying to squeeze it all in and set aside other projects that should have priority, I wonder why I do all of this. Then I remember that this is the stuff of the life I want to live.

May 15, 2015

Capturing the Sea

We walk to the beach almost every day. Some mornings the clock doesn't yet read 6 am and Amos is already asking to go, but it is usually mid-morning before I start pushing the stroller down the driveway. This morning we arrived after dog beach hours and before any other parents and young kids showed up to climb on the playground and dig in the sand. For a while we were the only people on the beach. There was hardly a breeze which made 60 degrees feel comfortably warm. The tide was just beginning to slink out as we walked all the way to where the stretch of sand is cut off by rocks.

Although I have seen the lighthouse, the islands, the water, and the cute toddler in the sand so many times, I can rarely resist snapping a few pictures. Each day is different and places change, subtly, from moment to moment. The tide goes out, expands the size of the beach, and reveals thousands of pebbles and shells and clumps of seaweed. A windy day stirs up the water giving it texture and energy. It can be freeing to just be and observe without needing to take a picture but I think the urge to take a photograph is, in a way, an acknowledgement of the beauty and wonder of a place. Spring brings color and blossoms to every patch of grass and tree branch and being able to spend time at the beach without layers of coats and wind whipped faces is wondrous in itself. Amos and I spend most of our days in areas that we can walk to and sometimes I feel unmotivated to repeat the same routes and views over and over. Once we are on our way, though, there is always something new to observe and I am delighted that we can so easily reach such special places.

May 8, 2015

Not Essential

I've been trying to stay focused this week, to work on some writing projects and other must-dos but spring has been very distracting. Amos and I have been spending most of the day outside, at the beach, the playground, on walks and bike rides. When I am inside I have been diving into some fun but not totally essential sewing projects.

I have come to really love making things that I can wear. It's the same satisfaction of cooking from scratch, when you make something in your own home with your own hands that you thought had to be bought from the store. The nice thing about sewing is that the results last longer than one meal. Inspired by Me Made May, I have been wearing something handmade almost every day. I found this fabric a few weeks ago and knew that I had to make myself a skirt. I wanted to get out of my A-line skirt rut so I was excited to find this gathered skirt pattern. The pocket panels completely stumped me for a while but once I figured it out it was not a difficult project.

It has been a long time since I made something for Amos. Now that we have had some warm weather I thought he might like to wear shorts. I made a pair that is reversible (orange on the other side) and I plan to make a few more pairs as soon as I can.

I am grateful that I can find the time and ambition to make these things and although they are not essential I love being able to make things that are beautiful, useful, and fun.

April 23, 2015

Tint Project #4: Make Envelopes

On one of those elusive spring days when the air has no chill, I started thinking about sunscreen, popsicles, and sand toys. We've been walking to the beach most days to watch dogs run with joyful intensity, to play on the playground and dig in the sand. Tools and toys for digging certainly are not a requirement but I realized that the beat up sieve, big red spoon, and empty ice cube tray that Amos often uses in the kitchen would also be perfect for the beach. We found a stainless steel bucket at Goodwill, just right for a two year old to collect water and make sand cakes. I love being able to come up with creative ideas for reusing what we already have and making better use of things that might go to waste.

When we're not at the beach (or the playground, or the library) we sometimes paint. Amos mostly likes dipping the brush in water and brushing the water onto the paper. I like to saturate the brush in a bright color to and swirl it into random abstract designs. Since we go through paper fairly quickly, I wanted to find a way to use it again. Cutting and gluing the paper into envelopes is a way to give another life to a piece of paper that might not have much use otherwise. Sending it to someone with an in depth letter or a quick note tucked inside gives it a third chance to be useful and meaningful.

I have made envelopes from all kinds of paper including paper bags, magazine or catalog pages, and art work. I have used tape and a variety of glues to stick them together. This time I wanted to put them together with something non-toxic that could biodegrade along with the paper when the envelope was no longer necessary. Instructions for the envelopes and glue are below.

I used large sheets of paper and cut each in half. One half became the envelope, the other half I cut and folded into two cards. I cut the envelope paper into the shape shown above. You can make an equally simple envelope without cutting the paper but I like this basic shape which leaves plenty of room inside.

 After cutting, I folded the side flaps in, the bottom up, and the top down.

Brush some glue on the side flaps and fold up the bottom. Press the bottom to the side flaps to make sure the glue has sealed. You can use glue to seal the envelope once you have tucked your letter inside.

Envelope Glue
This glue seems to work really well and it uses ingredients you probably have in your pantry. I wish I had thought to cut the recipe in half because I have way too much glue now but it is easy and cheap. I store it in the fridge. Just shake it before using if it has been sitting for a while, it may separate. Recipe adapted from this one.

1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon vinegar

Combine the flour and sugar in a saucepan. Add about half of the water and whisk until smooth. Add the rest of the water and the vinegar. Bring to a simmer and whisk until it has thickened slightly. Use when cooled. Store in an airtight container.

April 13, 2015

We Make Messes

We make messes around here. Lots of them.

Our messes often start in the kitchen where flour flies or gets mixed into clumps with water that spatters and sticks. Many of our messes turn into the meals that we enjoy together. Many turn into sticky hands, wet floors, or seeds stirred, sprinkled and spilled.

Some messes start small, a few crumbs on the table, a drop of soup on the tiled floor. The smudges on chairs, counters, and faucets slowly grow as they are touched by little hands covered with exuberant eating.

I love freshly vacuumed floors, counters wiped clean, blankets folded for later use or spread evenly across the bed. I feel calm and refreshed when our home is clean. Without a mess, the clean wouldn't feel so clean.

Messes are alive and we make them when we are creating, sharing, enjoying, playing. It's not a mess it is part of the process, a way of learning, so much of life itself.