Tuesday, June 28, 2011

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.


Six years ago, my husband and I embarked on a month-long trip to Europe. Confident that I had matured quite a bit since my last trip to a non-English speaking country, we nevertheless played it safe and chose Spain as our destination. (Both being fluent in Spanish couldn't hurt in case I hadn't.)

We did venture into France for two days (couldn't understand a thing, but I loved it anyway) and then Portugal for an afternoon where it sounded like everyone was mispronouncing Spanish. I made quite an effort initially to understand what was being said, but eventually gave up and looked at my feet instead. Or rather what I was walking on. Up and down the sidewalks were squares with tiny pieces of tile arranged into mosaics. I was smitten. Sidewalks had been transformed into works of art. I was determined to similarly transform ordinary objects in my life upon returning home.

I bought an old lamp and vase from Goodwill, visions of mosaic tributes to famous paintings playing through my head. I went to Lowe's and picked through their free box of broken tiles. I bought myself some tile nippers. I even happened upon an amazing mosaic supply store in San Francisco a few years later, salivated over the gorgeous tiles and smalti, and added 20 pounds in tiles and colored grout to our return-trip suitcases. But I never, ever even started a mosaic.

I consider myself fairly competent at a wide range of art-related hobbies, but every time I attempt something in which I have no experience, it is an almost insurmountable task. Am I afraid to waste my time trying something new and not succeeding? If so, I think I spend a lot more time daydreaming about doing it than I would if I simply plunged right in and failed a few times before getting it right.

Fortunately for me, my mom has the utmost confidence in my abilities in all things artistic. Last year, knowing of my theoretical obsession with mosaics, she asked if I would do one on the walls behind their wood stove. I'd love to, I said. So she bought all the supplies I would need and then waited expectantly. Accountable to someone else besides myself, I couldn't put this project off indefinitely. And so I began.
 It came together so quickly, especially since I was working against the deadline of my return-trip home. It was like magic, placing tiles on the wall and seeing them morph into a picture. Once again, I was smitten by mosaics.

Monday, June 27, 2011


I've been in a reversible phase for awhile and have noticed something. In almost every case one side tends to gets a lot more wear than the other. In fact, in most cases, one side gets all the wear, especially when the kid for whom it was made is in control of picking sides. I'm starting to wonder if it's worth double-siding stuff after all.

What do you think about reversible clothes? Two for the price of one? Or just a waste of the second layer?

Friday, June 24, 2011

unwaterproofing diapers - achieving the impossible

When my oldest daughter was a baby, I sewed diapers straight for a month. I sewed when she napped and after she was in bed, sometimes late into the night. I later found out that my 40 year old, second-hand sewing machine could be heard quite clearly in our downstairs neighbors' apartment, and that, not infrequently, they would comment to one another, "There's Jennie, sewing again." I made 100 pocket diapers - an ingenious design that wicks moisture away from your baby's bottom. Half of these went to my sister. Just saying that now - 100 diapers - gives me the shivers. Oh, the horrible monotony! I never wanted to see a cloth diaper again.

Cloth diapers are incredibly nifty these days - a far cry from the accidental safety pin puncture wounds that were just part of being a baby in our family growing up. Not to mention the sickening feel of squeezing cold, poo-ridden water out of a diaper you've just rinsed off in the commode. But the ease and safety of pocket diaper covers with velcro fasteners comes at a price. One or two times of a dryer sheet accidentally making it's way into your load of diapers, and you may have just waterproofed your diapers. Not waterproofed in the good sense of them keeping pee from coming OUT of the diaper, but in the bad sense of not letting pee soak through the layer of suede cloth or fleece that often composes the inner layer of pocket diapers. When this layer gets waterproofed, it's as if you've diapered your child in a cotton pre-fold sandwiched between 2 layers of plastic - the urine simply runs out the legs of the diapers and onto their clothing (and your lap). Using too much detergent, the wrong kind of detergent, or putting diaper rash cream on your child's bottom can also waterproof diapers. And once waterproofed, I have found it to be nearly impossible to restore them to a useful condition.

The diapers I sewed for my sister were the first to get waterproofed. After hours of searching for solutions on the internet and many more hours of scrubbing the suede cloth layer with oxyclean, vinegar, baking soda or anything else that was said to successfully strip the waterproofing from diapers, she gave up and began using them as diaper covers - just laying the cotton pre-fold on top of the suede cloth layer instead of inside. But when mine were the next to go, even though I used Charlie's Soap, a recommended mild detergent for diapers, I was horrified. I was not willing to admit that the time-consuming process of sewing the pocket enclosure in each diaper had been a complete waste. And so I went through the same tedious process of unsuccessfully trying to salvage my pocket diapers as well.

When I finally threw my hands up in defeat, my husband suggested I cut some slits in the suede cloth layer to allow the urine a passageway into the cotton pre-folds. At first I was shocked. Cut holes in my beautiful diapers?? That idea never would have even occurred to me. But since I had exhausted all other possible solutions, I wincingly took a pair of scissors and cut a grid of holes in one of the diapers. And do you know what? It WORKED!!

And so my brilliant husband (who had not lived in front of the sewing machine for a month) unlocked the key to unwaterproofing the unwaterproofable. These diapers, although they aren't the pristine, hole-free diapers I planned to diaper my children in, keep their bottoms (and my lap) dry. And that's good enough for me.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Minding the Unruly: Panic Attack Variation

My cousin Lynne over at Sugar City Journal has been talking about Minding the Unruly lately (I love your titles by the way Lynne -- is it really possible to get the unruly to mind? much less get me to mind them?), and looking for photo preservation ideas. I think she's been having the same panic attack I've been having -- what happens to nearly ten years of photos stashed on this one little hard drive when the baby takes a swipe at the keys (again) and the whole thing goes flying? I've taken to backing up on an alternate hard drive, printing photos one year at a time (although what to do with the boxes of those is beyond me at the moment), and uploading to flickr or picasa. But my favorite alternative so far is the Blurb book I made a few years ago for Christmas.

I am a lousy journal keeper -- we'll just get that right out in the open. Lousy, as in maybe five entries a year since the day I got married. Lousy, as in one entry per infanthood per child. I'm not proud of it; every new baby brings new resolve to dig in and chronicle their fascinating and beautiful lives. But the resolve somehow immediately dissolves in the face of sleep deprivation on my part and the need to be deeply snuggled on theirs. I'm so caught up in living this mothering life that I neglect to imprint it onto some page somewhere.

But the Funny Book I have kept religiously.

I'm not sure what it says about me that the only thing I can't help but keep track of are all the goofy and quirky things my kids say. But keep them I do -- we're now on Volume Two. The Funny Book is bedtime book of choice around here (or in the car book or over lunch book or bored kids book), which made it the obvious dialogue to accompany our photo collection. The Blurb book I made was of the year 2006 -- every spread (or two or three) a collection of photos from a different month with all the accompanying sayings. And I have to say that it cracks me up and makes me cry every time I look through it.

So thanks for the reminder Lynne, to get a move on and put together books for the other years that are jamming my iphoto and enlarging the Funny Book. What with gems like these on hand, it should be a cinch:

“Lulu,” I said, whispering in her ear, “Can you say ‘Daddy, you’re so handsome’?”
“Daddy,” she said, turning and grinning, “You have PANTS ON!”

I called for Isaac to come play a game of Mille Bourne with me, but he yelled back that he couldn’t. “Lucie is snuggling with me,” he yelled. “It’s just too big of an opportunity.”

Lucie, putting on her fancy dress and a donkey costume hat.
“Real princesses have manes, don’t they mom?”

George: “At school we had to draw a picture of what we wanted to study and I said I wanted to study blood, so I drew a picture of me holding a jar full of blood, and then a calculator thing.”

“Oh no Lucie,” I said, cutting up her pancake. “It’s all gooey inside."
“That’s ok,” she replied. “I like goo. It matches my nose – the goo in my nose – and I like that.”

George, grabbing baby Lucie by the pajama sack: “She looks quite like a little raft.”

Catherine to Isaac.
“You’re taking all my stuff and it’s BLASTING ME OFF!”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Travel-weary, we arrived home late on Saturday night after a day of airports and waiting in line. The four-year-old was met the next morning by quite a sight outside. It had rained flowers while we were gone. Or so it would seem. Our car, unused for the past week and a half, was covered in pink blossoms.
 "Can we do this again tomorrow?" she asked, flowers tumbling up the windshield as we drove away. "Some things just can't be planned," we explained. But one can always hope for another such fortuitous moment.

Monday, June 20, 2011

kids and cameras

The 7 year-old had the camera at the zoo this week. I love seeing the world from an entirely different level (even if it tends to include a lot of snakes).

Thursday, June 16, 2011


My relationship with the kids' toys has ebbed and flowed over the years. They were so fun and exciting the first time around -- even the flashing and squealing toys had a certain whimsical appeal before Baby #1 actually arrived. Of course, that may have been because they were silent and flashless. And clean. But once they were put into action, the mooing and sirens quickly became some of the most painful aspects of my mothering life. By the time the second baby came along, it seemed that the toys were not only increasingly annoying but also multiplying at an astonishing rate. I swear that we didn't buy more toys, and yet every week their numbers doubled.

Something fishy was going on in the playroom at night behind closed doors.

Shortly before the third baby was born we moved, and in moving we purged (don't you love that part of moving? -- a pain, yes, but so cathartic), and the toys seemed to stay somewhat contained for a year or so. But that new little girl eventually wanted something a little more doll-like than trucks and swords, so the accumulation began again. One doll arrived for Christmas, and suddenly there were three in the playroom. One purse for a birthday, and suddenly the girl had so many sacks over her shoulder and around her neck and dangling off the stroller that we took to calling her The Bag Lady.

Clearly another child, er, move, was in order.

So with Baby #4 on the way we moved again (do you see a pattern developing? five moves coinciding with six babies -- I should be sainted) and dumped most of the toys before heading to the midwest. Once there, however, I was introduced to the magical world of wooden toys and the accumulation began trickling in again.

A fifth baby and a moderate toy purge, a sixth baby and an intensive boxing and hand-off of just about everything we could find in the toybox.

Which brings us here, back home in the arid west, with fewer toys, an enormous load of kids, and the whole wide world to play with.

All of which is to say that I love it when my kids play with rocks and sticks and mud. They spent three hours at the beach the other day making and selling "sculptures" (prices varied depending on how cool the offered sticks and rocks), skipping rocks, working on tracking and trail marking skills, and tripping over a rope they finally decided to reel in.

"Hey mom!" the twelve year-old shouted. "Someone's caught a couple of lobsters!"

"No," I said. "This is a freshwater reservoir -- those are not lobsters."

But on closer inspection, they were indeed lobsters, caged with a whole bunch of cut up meat. Someone was growing freshwater lobsters for dinner right there on our little (public, heavily used) beach.

Now this is the kind of playtime that can really teach a person something.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

Monday, June 13, 2011

regarding socks and toilet paper

Here's the thing.

Contrary to all possible reasoning, I decided to knit some socks this past year. I know, I know (and I mean that in both directions -- I know this is not as hard as I think it will be, and I know this is much harder than I think it will be). Socks are very useful things, and wool socks are absolutely unbeatable in the cold. But socks take a long time to knit, you see, and one always runs the danger of burn-out after finishing the first. One sock -- where in the world does that leave you? Hopping around on one well-heeled (uhum) foot, or even worse, sporting a handknit sock on one foot and a stray polypropylene from the clearance bin on the other. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

Even if one does manage to finish off two socks, there is the inescapable stage wherein the socks are then worn on the feet. Around our house "on the feet" only rarely means "in conjunction with shoes," which very quickly leads to the inevitable "socks with holes." It seems silly, really, to spend so much effort on something that is going to take much longer to make than it will to destroy.

But then again, I lead a domino life, right? In which case, knitting socks makes perfectly reasonable sense.

So after years of avoidance, this winter socks went on the needles.

Consistent with my general approach to knitting, I went for small in the first trial run, and even better I went for Two At a Time. And since the five year-old wanted pink and purple, I of course pulled out orange yarn and went to work.

That was six months ago.

I got as far as turning the heels and then the baby went mobile. His favorite place in the whole world is the bathroom (of course), and his second favorite place is standing up next to me trying to undo whatever I'm doing. The good news is that I've got two socks at the same point; the bad news is that they may end up being over-the-heel leg warmers.

Either way, I really need to finish these socks off. My mother-in-law picked up some more merino for me this spring and I've got all of this waiting in the wings for when that baby decides that whatever I'm doing is much too boring for a busy boy. I'm thinking a sweater or two for the winter (or the next winter) (or the next). Maybe something to match the socks . . . hmmmm, orange and green. How would your kids feel about a pumpkin-themed sweater?

Friday, June 10, 2011

wednesday's (friday) ode

To beautiful surroundings.

And to more summer Roadtripping Window views.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

botanical paintings

Thank you gifts for Juniper and Olive's teachers.