Thursday, October 27, 2011


I was working on the dishes late last night when the snow started to fall. The radio announcer had predicted snow, but I never trust the radio announcer. These flakes took me by surprise. Outside the trees were still heavy with leaves; snow was beating all the scouring wind we get on the edge of the plains. The leaves were the downfall, providing too much surface area for the snow to settle. October snow is heavy, so much white-walled water coming down thick, with no deep freeze to fluff it up. All over town the curbs and yards and medians are choked with limbs.

The snow also beat my best intentions for cleaning out the garden. A measly fifty square feet, and all I'd managed to do was bring in the last tomatoes and unhook the hose. When it warms back up (it always warms back up at least once, right?), I'll clean out the beds and coil the soaker hose. For today I let the snow accumulate undisturbed.

So much good-packing snow is irresistible; the girls were begging for boots before they even rolled entirely out of bed this morning. By noon the five year-old got tired of waiting while I searched for the winter boxes and headed out in jeans and tennis shoes. I finally found them in the garage. See that shelf? No, no, the shelf way over there in the back. I had to pull out the ladder, climb onto the first overhanging ledge, crawl over the frame moulding, and then shimmy (literally, in full snake fashion) all the way to the back to retrieve three buckets of boots, snow pants, and heavy jackets. Four hours later my family room is littered with the soaking remains.

All morning I harbored grand illusions of a snow day spent knitting on the couch or sewing at my desk. I never quite managed to do either. But the five year-old pulled it off. She made "a hanging thing with a scrunched ball on top." Hand sewing, it turns out, is just her thing: "I never knew I was so good at this mom. I should make a sweater."

If it's still snowy tomorrow, maybe we'll both make a sweater.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

venus de milo

Have I mentioned my incredibly crafty friend who can do everything? Two days before we packed up our moving van I spent the afternoon at her house getting wrapped in duct tape.

Months previously, she had promised me that she would help me make a dress form. I didn't quite make it back to my pre-pregnancy body, but it was close enough. She methodically wrapped me in two rolls of duct tape, cut a slit up the back, and sent me home with a dress form in need of stuffing. As our move was imminent, I decided to wait on finishing it.

Those who helped us unload our moving van were a group of people we had never met but who would comprise our new church congregation. I'll never forget the look on a 10-year-old's face when he dragged in the sunken, unfinished bodice and asked me where I wanted him to put it.

I finally got around to stuffing the dress form the other night and taping it closed. Can I tell you how excited I am? I'm counting on this being the key to remedying the dearth in clothes I've made for myself.


The wee hours of Tuesday morning were scheduled to host the first frost of the year, so Monday night I stripped the plants.

It took all of about 7 minutes.

I know I was the one who planted late, who left the "garden" for a week with only moderate substitute care, who designed painfully shallow boxes. But still I had hoped for more. Sometimes my tendency toward optimism is a real handicap.

So I'll call this first year the practice round. The first year back in arid landscape, the first year with new soil, the first year trying to pack an acre of food production into a 6x10 yard.

Next year is going to knock our culinary socks off.

But for this year, farewell. Farewell to the beans that did not climb,

To the parsley that was press-ganged into a nest for plastic horses,

To the lone strawberry that survived the birds,

And to the hail-flattened lettuce.

But most of all a fond farewell to these fingers and this face plastered endearingly, anxiously, against the door every second I spent outside. On the days I left him waiting for me in the house (entirely, emphatically against his will), he yelled and pounded and tried to climb right through the glass. Now and then I brought him out with me and the destruction was instantaneous -- stripped stems and snapped supports and mouthful after mouthful of dirt. Oh, and the hose. How he loves the hose. Just a few months and we'll rebuild some boxes and spread some fertilizer and try again. Just a few short months and the hose will be all yours again, my boy. I promise.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

repurposing: more shredded knees

After nearly forty years on this hurtling planet, I am finally coming to accept that there are holes-in-knees that can be salvaged, and holes-in-knees that cannot. Sometimes it's hard for me to let go; sometimes I just keep wearing my gaping pants for years, assuring myself that no one is noticing the pasty knees sticking out. But I'm am trying to learn to move on, to fix what can be fixed, and turn everything else into . . . something else.

I've been turning the kids' ripped pants into shorts for years, and am heartily grateful that their school dress code includes that option. In the fall we have new pants, over the winter we have thinned out pants with a pair of tights underneath (which also have holes in knees, more often than not), and in the spring the pants go to shorts.

The circle of sartorial life, rotating with the seasons.

For a few years I chopped off those lower legs and tossed them. Then one day my all-time favorite pants for the girls, those dark green cords with a gazillion pockets and ties, hit the end of their long-legged road. I pulled them out of circulation, cut off the legs at the rips, and turned to toss the extra ends into the trash, when suddenly I realized that the extra ends were actually cooler than the shorts. A big zippered pocket, an already hemmed opening -- can you get a better set-up for a quick purse/satchel/explorer's pouch? Two seams and an attached ribbon later, the new bag was hanging on my girl who was sporting the matching shorts, as she headed outside at a gallop.

So for today, shorts and a pair of purses.

I generally cut the legs off just above the hole in the knee. That way I can make the shorts as long or short as needed, with as deep a cuff as I'd like.

1. With wrong-side out, fold and press the raw edge of the leg 3/4 inch (or as desired), then fold over again and press 1 inch.

2. Stitch along the top of the fold.

3. And there you have it -- shorts.

Not too painful, right?

Purse/Satchel/Pouch/Bag: (names are very important to the girls around here -- "Mom, you don't take a 'bag' to the mall, you know.")

1. Right sides together, stitch the raw edge of the leg 1/4 inch.

2. Turn inside-out and press the seamed edge. Stitch 1/2 inch -3/4 inch from the edge (making sure to enclose the entire raw edge on the inside of your seam).

3. On what used to be the cuff of the pant leg, attach a strap (or a ribbon, or bias tape --whatever you would like). For this one I used leftover bias tape from another project. Turn the raw edge of the ribbon or tape under and stitch over the top. This will both secure the strap and give it a finished edge.

4. And, well, there you have it. At this point, you're welcome to spice up as desired. My girls like a little applique -- the five year-old prefers felt flowers, the ten year-old wants her initials. And for today's birthday girl? always a horse.

Happy birthday my girl. Eight is just so grown-up.

Friday, October 14, 2011

painting art

A few years back while in Bordeaux, France, I snapped a photo of a pigeon sitting atop the head of a statue. Though I felt almost sacrilegious doing so (the statue was part of a cathedral's exterior) it made a striking subject for a watercolor: the absurd combination of a bird unabashedly resting upon such a solemn scene.
And those folds of cloth. Irresistible.

As an art student I initially was required to draw others' art. Translating a 3-dimensional piece of art onto a piece of paper was an interesting exercise.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I'm a ten

My five-year-old pulled her worksheet out of her backpack. "I am... a mom lover; a dreamer; a girl." Loving me being a defining characteristic for her? Wow! Perhaps I'm better at this whole motherhood thing than I thought. Then the uncanny resemblance to the lyrics of Rainbow Connection (a betimes requested song at bedtime) dawned on me: "...the lovers, the dreamers, and me."

Thank you, Universe. Bubble successfully burst.

Her worksheet reminded me of a funny little unit ages ago in my 5th grade class. Perhaps meant as a self-esteem builder, it was quite the opposite. Picture this: Twenty-five 5th graders are asked to come up with ten positive words to describe themselves. This isn't, however, just a list for the writer. On the contrary, they are then instructed to write these ten words on a bright red t-shirt, then finish it off with an enthusiastic "I'm a Ten!" scrawled underneath. As if this wasn't enough for awkward ten-year-olds on the verge of puberty, each is then required to stand on a table with a microphone in hand and rap their list in front of their classmates.

Yes, that is what I said: rap their list of ten words they hesitantly placed on a seemingly benign list.

When asked to pump ten descriptive words out under duress, you are bound to end up with one or two odd ones. My (and my husband's) favorite? Alert. What did I even mean by that? Whatever I may have meant then, I am anything but alert these days thanks to my baby and two-year-old. To borrow another line from Rainbow Connection:

Have you been half asleep?
And have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name.

Despite the trauma associated with creating this shirt, I have kept it, intending to eventually make it into some sort of self-aware, wearable statement for myself. I couldn't get it to fit me right, though, so I decided to tweak it (yoga shirt-style) and bequeath it on my daughter. When I handed her the finished product, she was pretty excited.

"Are these all things that I am, Mom?"
I should say so, my dear.

Monday, October 10, 2011

making it up as they go

I ran across the most superb quote from Abigail Adams the other day, she who was wife to John Adams, erstwhile second president of these United States. "All children should know how to suffer want," she said, to which I add a hearty Amen. That is the new go-to response when my 10 year-old asks why she can't have a cell phone and my 15 year-old wants a box of Poptarts. Suffering, my children, is the name of this lifelong game.

In truth, I am partially in jest about the beauty of want. There are many people suffering real want around the world that is not beautiful at all, and there are many opportunities and experiences and even stuff I would love to give these kids that are on hold at present. But there is also an aspect of invention and gratitude that surface necessity (and deferral and desire) are prone to ignite, and for that I'll weather the whining that sporadically comes along for the waiting ride.

A girl scraping aspens to make sunscreen and a beach party on the front porch; a rainy day picnic on the floor (complete with ants) and a pig roast on the stairs; for all the invention our lack of beachfront sun and backyard livestock inspire, I give my own thanks.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

visual obsessions: silhouettes

A couple of years ago I mentioned to my mother-in-law that I had managed to put together Christmas cards (an every-other-year achievement at best these days), and had even included a picture.

"That's fantastic," she said. "And can we actually see your faces in the picture?"


Until that point I was well aware of my personal aversion to family photos of a forward-facing and stationary fashion. Maybe because we don't stage all that well, given our current head count and energy levels, and maybe because I'm just plain impatient, but I gave up on trying to get everyone looking (and heaven forbid, looking pleasantly) in the same direction a long time ago. And truth be told, I really love the effect. The pictures feel alive to me, as if a taste of the daily motion of our lives is captured right along with the people.

But I was not entirely aware that I have a tendency to skip faces altogether. I don't really have a good explanation for this one. I certainly like the faces of the people I photograph -- in fact I am almighty prejudiced when it comes to the exceptional beauty of my girls and the rugged handsomeness of my boys. But flipping through the photo logs, there is no doubt that I tend to go after motion that avoids direct eye contact.

One result of this tendency has been a slew of silhouette pictures. There is just so much going on where there seems to be so little going on; what these pictures leave unseen is even more potent to me than what they show. And maybe in the end that is the draw of the silhouettes, of the away turned faces, the mystery and possibility of all that is left unseen.

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.