With Open Arms, Welcome September

It never fails… ever.

August rolls around, the cicadas start to sing, the grass is burnt to a fragrant, golden, late-summer crisp, the shops pull out all the stops for their back to school displays, and my creativity starts to trickle back to life, slowly building into a steady stream that come September is a full-on flood. I welcome its return. Often, I find this time of year more rejuvenating, more full of promise and excitement than the turn of the new year in January. Surely I’m not the only one?

Travel Prep

This summer was so very, very full for us all. There were :: broken bones, or I suppose, just one bone; lengthy stays with the grandparents back in Pennsylvania, European travel to Greece, France, and Germany; ten year wedding anniversaries to celebrate (hence the reason for the grandparents and travel!), garden created just for flowers, a visit to a yarn facility run by family, birthdays galore, visits from new friends just to devote some time to making, creating, lobster bakes, time for socks and sandals (socks and sandals? my goodness who let that happen?)… oh I could go on!

Thems the Breaks

Socks and Sandals

Already there are ambitious plans shaping up for this Fall as well :: a cookbook club, some long-planned and much-needed home improvements, a new photo project or two, more knitting to finish up and even more to start, some amazing fiber to spin, a few rooms to revamp and/or finish up, a much neglected blog to return to, maybe a weensy bit more travel, Christmas projects to begin (I’m determined to get a jump start this year!)… oh I could go on!

I’m really looking forward to diving into all these projects that are floating around my head. Do you have any exciting plans?

Of Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

Start Where You Are

Start where you are.
Use what have.
Do what you can.
—Arthur Ashe

It has been a long, drawn out, tumultuous sort of year for us, full of surprises—welcome and not so much—where most energy has been sunk into getting through the days with as little drama as possible.

Slowly, though, the tide is shifting, and the art of surviving is taking less of my focus and the daydreaming and wishful thinking displacing the strain is making me hopeful that time for creating won’t be too far behind.

Making Progress on the Pantry

Otherwise entitled :: It Might Get Worse Before It Gets Better…

OK, the pantry has been done for a few weeks now, but hey! Let’s pretend this is in real-time, shall we?

Some of my favorite people in the whole world came to visit for two quick days in January to help me out. It was such a short visit that I felt bad in possibly wasting our time cleaning out the pantry when we could be doing much more interesting things like watching Downton Abbey while sitting on the couch, but I gotta tell you, Ms. Heather is an organizing machine. Do you have a friend like that in your life, someone who thinks organizing is fun? If not, I suggest you find yourself one, because they are so much more than awesome!!

A few weeks (possibly months, but who is counting) I sent Heather a few images of the mess in the pantry and asked her for some advice. Here’s what she wrote back in ten minutes or less ::

Quick fix that will hopefully give you a “there’s hope” moment and tide you over till we can do more.
 
Read this suggestion and before doing anything consider two things:
 
1. Will the items in their new home be too high up? Will it make retrieving them a pain in the ass. I think you will be okay because you’re tall, but just in case…
2. Is there enough room (left to right) on the suggested shelf for all items to fit and not be squished so that it looks bad and is not actually practical. If this is the case let me know. I have a back up plan.
 
Suggestion:
 
1. Clear off the top shelf on the left side of the pantry where you have pencils and paper towels and cook books and baskets. 
2. Anything that has a cord (mixer, panini press, ice cream maker, coffee pot, slow cooker, cuisinart) should be lined up on this shelf left to right. Things that you use more often should be on the left closer to the door. And things that you use less should be further down. I’m not sure if you have chafing dishes, but if you do leave them out for now. Those are things that should go high high up. 
3. All the stuff that you took off from that shelf shove into the now empty spaces. 🙂 It’s a process. Sometimes you have to “shove” and “stick” stuff in temporary homes.
 
Take a pic if you do this and let me know what you think!
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So, ask me now, did I do anything she suggested? No. Not one doggone thing. The suggestions were brilliant, and the questions she asked totally helped frame some of the problems I was having, but somehow I couldn’t get started. I waited until she got here and this is what she did ::

Enter the Madness

Make a Plan

Who knew thinking up a plan could be so adorable and stylish? Maybe I should get out of my yoga pants and throw on some make-up when it’s time to clean up…

But seriously, where I was paralyzed with inactivity and feeling overwhelmed with all the decisions that would have to be made, she dove right in. We started moving things around, putting them in “temporary” locations, so we could start with a “fresh slate”.

Jump On In

And it’s here that I’ll mention two things : One, it’s embarrassing to have your dearly beloveds come to your house and dig you out of the messes you’ve gotten yourself into… while Heather worked on the pantry, Ashley worked in the playroom; and two, they were the very epitome of grace while doing it, and managed to put me and my neurosis at ease and make the process as fun as it could be. They are good peeps, those two.

Make a Bigger Mess

So here’s the thing; with this type of project, as with most on this scale, it all gets worse before it gets better. It reminds me of the mess the movers made a few years go when we first moved up to the Boston area. If the gals weren’t here, I would’ve probably stopped right here and started to cry. Then waited a month of two to get started again.

Any Shelter In a Storm

I wasn’t the only one feeling a titch overwhelmed. Some of the youngin’s felt they need protective gear to get through!

Wear Protective Gear

Try Not To Look

See Past It

Seriously, this is the moment that I realized how important it was to have someone helping me through the process that isn’t emotionally attached to the stuff. Heather is able to see the end goal; she envisioned where things were going to go and what needed to be moved around and in what order. I saw growing piles of unfulfilled dreams, an encapsulation of all the things I wanted to do but haven’t made time for. Piles and piles and piles of teeny tiny little failures. It’s no wonder I couldn’t jump in and organize it on my own.

Hallways Are Awesome

Heather doesn’t see the unmade gourmet meals I had planned to create to nourish my family. She doesn’t see unbaked cookies, an unconstructed lasagna, loaves of bread that were never kneaded into life, a fear of being without, of not having enough. She sees the clutter for what it is, and she has the personal distance from my symbolic mental contortions that it’s much easier for her to stay focused.

WHITE SPACE

And focus she did, with a laser-like clarity. Looky at this image above… actual WHITE SPACE! It was such an amazing thing to see only a few hours into this task. One shelf almost entirely organized, and glorious, beautiful, fabulous white space, space that has nothing but air and clarity and fulfillment and promise.

I didn’t think that organizing the pantry would be quite so cathartic, but I will tell you, it was one hell of a therapy session! And it only cost me dinner!!

Surviving a Blizzard It’s Two AM Style

First, pitch a tent, assuming (quite correctly I might add) that you’ll lose power in the 75 miles per hour gusts and the living room and its gas fireplace will be the only warm place in the house.

Pitch a Tent

The Tent

Make sure there are plenty of sleeping bags, flashlights, and extra blankets.

Tent and Sleeping Bags

Be thankful you didn’t take all those extra blankets to Goodwill as you wanted every single time you saw the box in the basement.

Blankets All Over

Blanket the Doorways

Find some puzzles.

Puzzles

And find your knitting. Hope the kids will actually give you some time to knit during the daylight hours. Hints for those who guessed incorrectly :: They didn’t.

LOTS of Knitting

Read books. Eat cookies.

Read Books

Wear warm slippers and stay in your house coats all day (and maybe even at night!).

Wear Slippers

Take a nap.

Take Naps

Take LOTS of naps.

Take LOTS of Naps

Eat some cake you pulled out of the oven one hour before the power went out.

Eat Cake

Get outside in all your wind and water proof gear.

Play Outside

Drag yourself out to get some pictures, since it’s the first real snow you’ve seen all year. Great White North my a$$.

Snow Blown

Drifted In

Front Porch

Side Porch

These hips don’t lie folks. That’s a drift that goes above my waist if I would’ve let myself sink all the way down.

Hips Don't Lie

Enjoy it while it’s there, because it won’t last long.

Backyard Trees

The Backyard

Enjoy taking off your boots and getting back into your warm cozy slippers sitting beside the fire.

Snowy Snow Boots

Really enjoy having a mud room that can handle all you can give it.

Mud Room Mess

Once the gales die down, watch the storm out at sea.

Stormed Out at Sea

Watch your poor sea-bound lighthouse get battered.

23 Surfside Neighbors

Poor lighthouse. Poor seaside neighbors…

Poor Lighthouse

Play the game :: Will He Get Stuck or Won’t He? (Answer :: Only stuck for a half hour in our driveway, three hours in our neighbor’s.)

Will He Make It

Enjoy your new perspective.

Inside Perspective

Outside Persepctive

Marvel at the fact that you managed to finish your hat, despite the kids’ best efforts.

Make A Hat

And then begin the arduous process of cleaning it all up, and hope like hell it’s done before the week is out. (Hint :: It isn’t)

Clean Up

Endings and Beginnings

Yesterday was the first of the new year. I have mixed feelings about New Year’s day. I’m not one to make resolutions, but I appreciate the “clean slate” feeling that often accompanies January first. There is a hopefulness for what might come, an excitement for plan-making, a brightness to the dreams that take shape as we think about how to get things just right in these next twelve months. But I’m always sad when the hubbub of the holidays close and it’s time to put away the decorations and sweep up the needles from the tree one last time. I love the waning daylight of Autumn and Winter, and the solstice always seems to arrive so much more quickly every year we travel around the sun. Often we don’t get snow until after Christmas, and that’s when I really want to listen to all those classic carols, wrapped up in my blanket on the window seat sipping hot cocoa and watching the lights glow under a blanket of the fresh white stuff. I wish I could leave the Christmas lights up until after March—without feeling like a lazy neighbor—so I can get my glowing snow fix. And I might be in the gross minority, but I am sad when it’s time for the kids to go back to school.

Last year’s New Year’s Day was, shall we say, overly eventful, with two separate trips to the hospital for two different children, one who had to stay overnight. Overall, that day was a pretty good indicator of how the year would proceed. This year all I asked is not that we avoid all trips to the ER (we do, after all, have four children, so that would be a bit unreasonable, no?) but that they be spread out a bit further apart, be a bit less frightening, and that none might require the assistance of an ambulance. I am happy to say that even with the sick little kidlets, we were able to avoid any trip to the hospital, which I will call a success.

There was one single, and rather large snag in our new year request and plans, however, and that happened because our beloved Barclay, who is getting older and crankier, bit one of the kids.

Barclay Dog 2013

As I wrote about before, we knew that he was sick, wasn’t likely to get better, and as good and amazing as a companion as he has been, was on his last chance watch. So when he bit our son in another unprovoked incident, it was clear that he could no longer be trusted around the kids and that a very hard decision had to be made. After taking our son to the pediatrician to make sure his wound was cared for (no stitches for dog bites but he is on a course of antibiotics), and taking Barclay to the vet to look for obvious/acute illness (there was none to be identified), we had a heartbreaking discussion for several days while Barclay rested up in our room, away from the littles. Thankfully, so very thankfully, our in-laws took Barclay in to care for him in a home he is familiar with and people that he knows and loves. Our son’s wound is not so serious, but the lack of predictability in Barclay’s behavior in a house full of small, boisterous children is more so and too risky to continue. There is no better solution that I could imagine for him, even as sad as we are that he is no longer here in our home.

So, this is how our 2013 began, with a not-as-bad-as-last year’s day at home, ending with a difficult farewell as Barclay was driven off to his new home.

Endings and beginnings, sweet and bitter, two sides of the same coin, and an appropriate reminder that this coming year, as every year is, will be a mixed bag and what we take away from it will be determined by our decisions and reactions to the situations handed us. It may not be all shiny and sparkly and catch-phrase-y, but it’s appropriate… and somehow reassuring.

Happy Travels to you and yours in this new year 2013.

She lightly skipped toward our car today, wondering if we might stop for cupcakes on the way home, hoping that the count would be in for the school competition the next day, realizing with a touch of sadness that tomorrow would be Saturday with no school for two more days. My son—breathing, warm, whole—is already home from his short day in Kindergarden.

As I grasped her hand in mine, she pranced along oblivious to the chatter—mundane and significant alike—between small groups of parents waiting for their beloveds to walk out the door. She is seven, and not equipped to deal with the harsher realities of our life in these times. I am thirty seven and still lack the facilites to process the enormity of it all. I felt gravity pulling me toward silent contemplation while her steps both defied and accepted the limitations of our existence, her staccato rhythm cycling unencumbered by the what-ifs and hows and whys. She continued forward, pulling me along, unaware of all these questions with answers that will never come.

I have been ungrateful and impatient at times for the privilege that is our life’s banality; the schedules, chores, repetitive and thankless tasks, the hardships and even tender moments, the sense of grounding weight in an embrace. If I would be lucky enough to continue on with only this, to have a life most ordinary, I will have been blessed beyond measure.

Tonight in the darkness I will grieve as a parent with a finer sense of mortality, who understands more everyday there is a penalty worse than death; to survive when your child does not.

Come the morning, I will welcome the light.

Batten Down the Hatches

What are hatches? Why do we need to batten them? Enquiring mind want to know.

We are all hunkered down—safe, dry, cozy, and warm—while Ms. Sandy blows her hardest. Although my husband and my two middles experienced Irene in all of her six-days-without-power glory, this is my first full-blown hurricane here on the coast. I had vacation plans for later in the week, but it’s not clear how that’s going to shake out.

I had run out to take pictures of our shore and flooded salt marshes, but while out fighting the elements for a few perfect shots, I somehow failed to notice there was no card in my camera. It was a wee bit too scary to go back out.

the canon raincoat

All levity aside, it was truly frightening to see waves come in and cover and the entire row of homes that sits between us and the sea. I surely hope those folks evacuated safely and that their homes managed to avoid any damage.

Kids Clothes Week Challenge

Remember this particular sewing disaster in the not-so-distant past? Well, I’m trying to move beyond it.  So, here goes… I’m going to join the blogging mini-revolution and hop on Elsie Marley’s Kids Clothes Week Challenge wagon. And I’ve invited one more lovely blogging lady to join in on the fun. Alex of the newly redesigned and uberly fabulous North Story blog has agreed to come along for the seven day sew-for-one-hour-a-day challenge. She’s as scared as I am (her sewing machine is still in the box) so we should have a great week of at least one or two disastrous, err, I mean entertaining stories. Alex, no backing out now… I’ve publicly called you out, so you hafta do it! Anyone else want to come along for the ride?

All you need to do is click on the above link and leave a comment on Elsie’s post saying you’re in (although, really, if you don’t want to do that, no one’s going to knock you) and commit to sewing for one hour per day. One hour per day. I can do that! You know why I know that I can do that? Because I know it only take 30 seconds to sew a seam with too tight a gauge that will need at least one hour to remove all the stitches. You wanna know how I know that? Because I finally finished a pair of pants for one of the young-ins. Looky here ::

Holy Pants Batman

Pants! I made PANTS! Pants that fit!! I can’t believe I did it!! And it only took me a week… seven days of sewing for at least one hour a day. At least. Turns out the sewing is the least difficult and the least time-consuming part of sewing. It takes a while to read or draft a pattern, pick the fabric, wash it, iron it, then do crazy things like draw on it with a marker, stick pins in it, and cut it. Also, it could take longer to cut it than you originally thought because you cut four of the same pattern side, hypothetically of course, instead of two each of the two sides (front and back, in case you were wondering). And then after all the correct pieces were cut, you might sew the first seam together and realize that you should really try to align the pattern, which causes you to cut yet another pair of front and backs, after one hour of trying to align and pin the pattern as precisely as possible. Also, once it’s cut and sewn, you might realize you sewed the wrong pieces together, take an hour to remove all the stitches, and sew the exact same incorrect seam again. I could go on, well, if I remembered how many steps I completely botched, but really, you get the picture. So here’s another ::

The Back of the PANTS

And another ::

Another Back of the PANTS

I made pants!! And they’re even lined!

The Pants Are LINED

So here’s a few things I’m realizing about this challenge ::
• One hour a day can equal less than one seam
• It doesn’t matter if you think you’ve cut all the threads everywhere, when you go to take photos, you’ll find a few more
• Sewing takes very little time; the prep is where the money’s at
• Little kids love it when you make them things. They’ll even wear it multiple times before it gets to the wash by grabbing it out of the dirty laundry basket
• All that stuff you do wrong, all the time you spend looking at fabric, turning the iron off and on, heck looking for the iron, that all counts toward your one hour per day
• Sewing is much more forgiving that knitting; it take less time to notice and correct your mistake, even if you’re a complete and total noob and have no idea what you’re doing
• Sewing is way easier than baking
• Putting the box out in the sunlight and staring at it for 59 minutes counts! (Hi Alex!)
• It doesn’t matter if you have man-thumbs… no one will see it when they’re looking at your fabulous pants

So… or should it be… Sew… Why don’t you join in on the fun? I mean, what’s the worst that could possibly happen?

Oh, I should also note that I made these pants from this tutorial on the lovely Made by Dana. You’ll notice the fabric is exactly the same. It wasn’t intentional, but those pants must’ve made quite an impression, because one year after looking up that tutorial, that’s the fabric I came home with. Whaddaya gonna do? Give the lady her props, of course! She’s fab, I love her style, and I’m going with the adage imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Pants. Kids Clothes Week Challenge. Fun time. LET’S DO THIS!