Sunday, January 29, 2012

By Necessity Headband

So yesterday I had an unexpectedly open chunk of time and I decided to henna my hair. I have a lot of lot of grey, and I've just ignored it for quite a while. I don't like to color my hair while I'm still nursing, and I only stopped doing that in the fall. I hate chemical smells, to the point where it can be hard to even be in a typical salon, so I was going to Aveda salons, but they seem to put wheat protein in everything, and even though I'm not eating the hair dye (or the shampoo, or the air infuser stuff), the smell is so thick in the air that, well, I don't want to go in there anymore either, just like I wouldn't go into a working bakery and take a nice deep breath, either. There's a good chance anything that thick in the air is going to end up in the mouth somehow, just by breathing. So. I thought I'd try some henna at home.

Sigh. I think I picked the wrong color, and probably left it on too long, and while the rest of my hair--including the white strand that goes down the length on one side--looked really nice, the patch of grey right at the crown came out kind of, well, orange. I felt like a Fraggle. And even though this morning I bought a darker color and overdyed it and it looks much better (although still orangeish in spots, to me, anyway), last night I decided that I'd sew a nice wide headband, which would neatly cover everything at the crown of my head. And it does.

I used some scraps from my son's jammie pants, because hello, robots!! I traced out a shape, fussy cut to get some robots I liked, and sewed it up with some elastic.

So I can have those robots showing, or these...

...because it's essentially reversible. The sewing bits are hidden underneath, with the elastic:

I did this by hand, because it was quicker than getting out the machine, and because I could sit and talk to my husband while I sewed upstairs, instead of listen to my son complain the machine keeps him awake, downstairs. The only thing I'd do different, if I were sewing by machine, is topstitch all around at the end, and next time I have the machine out, I just might. I cut another at the same time, out of a fat quarter of some Michael Miller fabric with dogs on it. (Look, here's a pic! Don't you love the Internet?) I think I might make that one a little thinner, though--just a little.

It's awfully handy to be able to sew, when you muck up your henna-ing.

When I haven't been dyeing, and trying to fix, my hair this weekend, I've been looking at more winter trees

The shadows are so interesting, too.
and playing with watercolors.

Not done with this yet...
What did you get up to this weekend?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Embroidery in Progress: Winter Trees

A couple of weeks ago, I was outside in the morning with my boys, waiting for the bus to arrive, and I was struck by the winter tree branches against the grey sky. I ran in to get my camera and took several photos, including this one.

I've always liked tree branches, especially bare ones. I can get completely lost in that negative space. I thought about whether I wanted to draw the branches, or maybe paint them, and then, since I'd been feeling a tug towards embroidery, not having done any in a bit, I decided to try to render the branches in floss.

This is my progress so far. If you don't embroider, you might not realize...this is hours and hours of stitching.

I've got the main bit of tree completed, and now I'm working on the thinner background branches. I really wasn't sure how to approach this, so I just jumped right in. I began by backstitching the outlines but quickly abandoned that in favor of working the trees of a piece as I went. I've got a mix of stitches, too, depending on what I think I need in the spot, but it's mostly backstitch, stem stitch, and a few chain stitches and French knots here and there. You can't really see it at all in this photo, even when clicking on it, but there's a lighter grey/green here and there within all that grey, and the background branches are different shades of grey as well.

This is Grand Experiment, and I'm figuring it out as I go and learning, too, but overall, I'm pleased. I look at it sometimes while working on it and just get really happy about it. I'm not making it to be anything, like a cushion or something like that; I'm making it to hang on the wall, although I haven't decided quite how I want to arrange that yet. Like everything else with this experiment, I'll figure that out when I get there, I'm sure.

If you want to see more in-progress photos, the Flickr set is here; I'll add to it as I go, probably.

Shared with our creative spaces...follow the link for more creative folk!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Painted: Word Cards

Over the weekend we had some fun "homework" for Stephanie Levy's Creative Courage class--to make some decorated cards with some meaningful text on them. Stephanie suggested quotes or perhaps a word or words for 2012, if we'd chosen any. I don't really collect quotes, and I hadn't chosen a word for 2012, but I decided to go through my wish/dream jar and choose a word (in one case, a two-word phrase) that represented the wishes. I had a pack of watercolor ATCs and a watercolor set that I've had for way too long, finally opening and playing with it earlier this week.* So I began there, experimenting with the paints to create backgrounds. Then I added my words.

Were all the backgrounds perfect? Nope. But I was playing around, so that's just fine. Perfection isn't necessary. I had some fun with bubble wrap, vegetable netting, and a wine cork, too, to add some different patterns. I think these words do a good job of representing what I'm hoping for. I think they will make appearances on this blog, too, as I work on one or the other. One word didn't come from the jar, though.

Focus. That's where I'm starting this year. I'm not making myself focus on one thing for the whole year or one big huge plan or anything like that, but I am trying to focus on one bigger project or idea at a time. I do have a tendency to start and stop and set things down and not get back to them...I don't think I'm an easily distractable person. I don't tend to have a large number of unfinished projects on hand; it's more that I try on different ideas. So I'm trying to focus a bit more and see what happens.

I punched a hole in the corner of each card, tied them together with ribbon, and hung them on the bulletin board in the kitchen--wishes, out of the jar and visible.

* I finally broke out the new paints to create my contribution to the Squam Love Banner, but I completely forgot about taking a picture of it before mailing it off. I'm blaming this on the lingering Lyme fatigue; I'm really not 100% in the afternoons, when the tiredness is at its worst. I'll try to remember to take a photo of it in June, hanging with all the other bits of love!

**update!** You can see a picture of my love banner contribution over at the squam blog today! Thank you, Elizabeth, for photographing it for me!

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Knitting Space

I've been busy in the evenings working on the embroidery project I flashed here, but I'm not ready to show it yet. Instead, I'll show the oft-photographed cuff of sock.

My daughter did something new, this week, for her--she had an activity that didn't involve me. Up until now we've been doing things together--Music Together, play group together, story time together. This week, since she is three and not in diapers (oh dear universe, thank you for giving me the girl last, like a karmic potty training reward), she could begin a preschool gym class without me. (Under three, or over three but in diapers, and it's a mommy-and-me deal.) In she went, onto the other side of the plate glass window, just her and a half dozen other girls and the instructors. She looked small, and a bit timid, but she followed along and reported afterwards that it was fun.

Meanwhile, I peeked through the window at the start, and a bit in the middle, but other than that, I left the other moms and one grandma standing by the window and went to find a seat. I ended up in the poorly lit hallway near the window, sitting on the floor, which is why this picture was taken back at home. I nearly blinded myself casting on a sock for my girl in that light, but it has been years since I was the sitting-and-waiting mom, not joining in the activity or amusing a younger sibling or two while waiting--and I think that only lasted a few months at that. There was absolutely no reason for me not to sit and knit for 45 minutes, and really, my daughter was probably better off without me peering in the window anyway.

So, for the next five weeks, on one day per week I have 45 minutes of guaranteed knitting time during the day. It almost makes me giddy.

Shared with our creative spaces--I wonder if I'm the only one whose creative space, this week, is in a poorly lit hallway outside the preschool gym? Go see!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Three Quick Things

One: A Felt Snowflake Banner

When I took our Advent Calendar down, our window looked so bare. We'd had the calendar up for the month of December, and before that, our Thankful Banner. I decided we needed something wintry to hold us over until February, when I'll make a Valentine's banner, and snowflakes seemed just the thing. (Note the lack of snow outside; I'm fine with that. If you average this January with last January, when we got 30" of snow, I think it's all working out.) I hadn't quite decided how to approach it when I saw the January Stitchalong at Feeling Stitchy would be couching. I haven't tried couching before, so I figured I would.

These snowflakes are far from perfect, but they're still kind of cute hanging in our window. I used felt from my shockingly large stash of the stuff (although this is a blend, not pure wool) and some silver craft cord. I drew the six main lines on with chalk, using a guide so I got the angles correct, and then I just winged it from there. I folded over the top edge of each square and whipstitched it down so I could string it along some cord for hanging. We all (that's me and the kids) think the third one looks like a six-armed sea star. Oh, well. I had to do three different snowflakes because no two are alike! At any rate, I really like having a seasonal banner hanging in the window. I'm going to try to keep up with it.

Two: A Dream/Wish Jar

This fulfills the weekend assignment for the Creative Courage e-course. I will admit this is not usually my thing. It's not that I don't have wishes or goals or ideas and so on, I just generally keep them tucked in, not on display. I'm struggling with the course, to be honest, because I was hoping to clarify what my goals might be, and I feel like I perhaps should have started already knowing. And also, things like meditation and visualization and wish/dream jars are not quite my style. But I'm trying. I threw a whole bunch of stuff in there. I'm sure they won't all happen. I think I'd be overwhelmed if they did, actually. And really, I was trying to focus, not spread a wide net. I probably did this all wrong. But the circles are pretty, aren't they?

Three: The Next Embroidery

 Now that I'm done with making holiday gifts and whipping out blankets in record time, I really want to embroider. This is just a peek because I need to actually begin embroidering it before I show it in full. At this point I've tea-dyed a piece of white linen and used an iron-on transfer pen to transfer a drawing to the fabric. I must have done it correctly this time; it's much darker than the last time I tried. Actually, really dark. I hope I manage to cover up the lines. I'm trying a different type of image for me, and I'm excited about it in the way you can only be excited about something that will either be really amazing or a huge fail.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

On the Double: Baby Blankets

About a week and a half before Christmas, my husband (inadvertently, in his defense) presented me with a knitterly dilemma. Through his work, he knows people the world over, and since he's been in his industry for nearly fifteen years, he's become close to many people that he may see only once or twice per year. That is why we can be surprised to hear that someone is pregnant with twins and due in eight weeks. That didn't give me much time to knit for two, especially given that twins come early an awful lot. Adding to the logic problem: the mother is currently in Germany, where her parents live, on bed rest, and the babies will be there for a couple months. But then they'll be in India, where the parents-to-be usually reside. That's a totally different climate. And twins could be small--or not. What size to knit for? What climate? Argh!!

I decided it had to be blankets--a one-size-fits-all gift. But given the climate differences, I didn't want to go heavier than sport/DK, so the blanket wouldn't be too heavy. And I wanted a luxury fiber. This woman, although I've never met her, is kind and generous and the type of person who sent my firstborn, when he was a toddler, a Ralph Lauren Polo button-down shirt and dress pants. (Yes, he wore them. Why not? What else to do with them? They certainly swanked up his typical Old Navy wardrobe.) She lives a sort of lifestyle I can't even imagine. I really felt I had to knit with as much luxury as I could swing, which is why I ended up ordering four skeins of Madelinetosh Pashmina, which is superwash merino, cashmere, and silk. Did I mention she's not saying if the babies are girls or boys or one of each? I tried to pick a buttery yellow, although it's a bit more gold, and a not-mint green. Actually, I love the green. It's "thyme." I covet it.

And finally, I chose a pattern, the Garter Rib Baby Blanket. I figured the yarn was so lovely, I could use a simple stitch pattern and let the yarn do most of the work. This was a smart choice, especially considering how badly the doxycycline prescribed for Lyme affected my ability to think. I've never felt so routinely stupid in my life, so it's a good thing this pattern was so simple. I'd have never gotten these done as quickly otherwise. I only changed the pattern slightly, casting on an extra six stitches to add to the width. I used a US size 7 needle, which helped in blocking--these each blocked out to about 24" by 36", and they are not at all heavy.

They are, in fact, gorgeous, if I do say so myself. And amazingly soft. The two skeins of thyme matched perfectly, but the winter wheat did not, and I knit that one first. I didn't alternate skeins at the join, and I wish I had. My husband swears it's not as noticeable as I think it is. I alternated skeins at the join for the green one, and of course it ended up not being necessary at all. Just can't win. Can't not mention it either, though. I think it's good, in the long run, that these blankets are flying to Germany soon, or the yellow one would plague me forever.

But really, skein join notwithstanding, I think they are fabulous blankets, a very fine solution to my knitterly dilemma.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Monday's Energy

That's right! I'm going.
A January Monday in New England has a lot stacked against it, as far as good, positive energy goes. Monday. January. Bleah. But yesterday I began the day by bringing my Squam registration to my local post office--it's the closest, even though it's not the one in my town, because once you go over the river you're in a tiny little jut from the neighboring town, until you cross the river again--that's what was explained to me when I tried to puzzle out why I was in a different zip code. It's a small place in an old building near the river and the Amtrak tracks, and it's just about always the same woman working when I go in. There is never a line, and she always gives me her full attention and answers my questions about things like international shipping and the best way to track an envelope as it travels 30 miles north. She wasn't there when I mailed off a (late, obviously) package between Christmas and New Year's, so yesterday I asked if she'd enjoyed her time off, and she had, except for the very end, when an expected but still sad event finally occurred. It's her story, not mine, so I'll leave it at that, except to say that she clearly wanted to talk about it, and I'm glad I couldn't wait to mail my envelope and so went early instead of fitting the post office in on the way to my doctor's appointment, because that meant I had time to stand, and listen, and talk, about the sad thing and other things as well. A nice break in her day, she said, and I like that I know the person who mails my important things, and I hope being able to talk to someone removed from the sad but willing to listen helped.

And then I went to the doctor's for a follow-up on my Lyme, and he said that since I'd taken almost all the 30 days of doxycycline and it was making me feel so, so awful, I could stop. O happy day.

And then throughout the day I received lovely supportive comment after comment on my post about Squam (and I have tried to get back to everyone I can or visit blogs if I can and if I haven't managed to, please know that I was happy to read each one and touched, too), and was amazed to see the post linked to from the Squam blog, and I hadn't realized I was feeling and writing what so many others have felt, in one way or another. And throughout the day I'd check into the Ravelry Squam group and participate in the excitement there, and boy, there's no antidote for New England January like registering for an amazing event in June. Spring will come, that's for sure.

And when I picked my boys up from school I told them I'd mailed off registration for a creative summer camp for adults, and I was so excited, and my 7yo said, You won't even come home at night? And my 10yo said, Whose car are you taking? (Because he loves when all three kids get driven around in his dad's car, because he gets to ride in the front seat) and Will you show us what you make when you get home? My 3yo had already assumed she got to go, too, but we'll work on that. The kids were happy for me, is the point, and periodically throughout the day I'd think about that envelope in the mail and say, I'm just so happy, and my 3yo would say, Good, Mama. Good.

And if that all wasn't enough, I also began Stephanie Levy's Creative Courage e-course yesterday, in hopes of gaining some clarification on what (if any) creative goals I may have. Maybe I'm destined to always be a dabbler and a putterer. Or maybe not. Maybe this will help me figure that out.

And finally, I finished a quick-deadline gift knit last night, so now I can finally make something else. The second one (yes, it was in two parts!) is blocking, and I will post it (here) and then post it (through my friendly local-but-not-in-my-town post office) on its way, soon.

Oh, I hope your Monday was a good one, too.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


For ten years now, I've been staying home with one, then two, then three children while my husband traveled for work. Some years were very, very heavy with travel. I've single-handedly dealt with flooding basements, snowed-in driveways, sick kids, my own illness, broken appliances--you name it, and over and over. Some trips were uneventful, of course, but I still managed the house and the schedules and the children, with no other adult walking through the door for a week or 10 days or even two weeks, sometimes, to share the load. And while many trips were routine, my husband has traveled to numerous countries in three continents. He has seen the Pearl Harbor Memorial, the remnants of the Berlin Wall, and the Panama Canal. He has toured Pompeii and snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef. I have stayed home and nursed babies. Make no mistake, we have our roles clearly defined, and I wouldn't have wanted to leave the kids as often as he's had to, but you have to admit that touring Pompeii and scraping a child's vomit off the carpet while shivering with your own fever are not...equitable.

Along the line I began saying that when I was able to--when the kids were older, when the youngest was weaned--I was going away, somewhere. Somewhere I'd sleep through the night without interruption and somebody else would cut the fruit. See, so much of the job of young children involves doing things for others with no benefit to yourself, such as cutting fruit you never even eat. Years ago my sister had the opportunity to attend SOAR, and when she returned, she told me, almost wonderingly, "I didn't cut fruit the entire time. Somebody else cut the fruit for me." So it's become a shorthand of sorts.

Four years ago, the nebulous somewhere of  my dreams was given an identity: the Squam Art Workshops. The first one appeared, almost like magic, in 2008. It's so close--I can drive there in under four hours--but for so long it's been so far. In 2008 I was pregnant, delightedly pregnant with a long-yearned-for third child, determined that this last pregnancy would go full term. I wasn't in a place, physically or financially, to go to Squam. I watched. I read. In 2009, I was nursing that baby. In 2010, too. A year ago, I looked at the class and registration information and thought that even September 2011 would be cutting it close (I was right). But, my husband and I decided, 2012 was the year. We set aside the money. 2012. That's the year. (And that's motherhood, isn't it? You defer.)

2012 is this year. I signed up for email notification; I downloaded the registration form; but up until just a few days ago I wasn't even certain I'd send it in. And in my head I had September, but when I really looked at the class offerings, I realized June was calling me more. June is soon. June is this school year. It's within spitting distance. Whoa.

I have a million and one reasons I shouldn't go, you know. I can talk myself out of anything. It's not that I'll be going by myself, although the number of Ravelers and bloggers who are making plans to meet up with all their Squam friends did give me pause there. I took myself to Europe for a month at 21, because nobody else I knew had time, money, or inclination at the same time. That's no reason not to do something. No, I have other anxieties:

* I've never been away from my youngest overnight. I've only been away from her brothers when I was in the hospital after having babies. I know my husband is eminently capable of managing as well as I do when he's away. I don't have the added anxiety of whether they'll be well cared for while I'm gone. They'll probably have a blast. Just...I've never done it. (For the record, my husband says things like No matter what's going on here, I think you need to do this and, more simply, Go.)

* It feels a bit selfish to spend all this money; suppose I don't make the most of it? What would making the most of it entail? I'm not even sure.

* Suppose I get up there all by myself with no kids, not carrying around a bag that contains crackers and a change of clothes and a little portable toilet seat because public toilets are so big and wet wipes just in case (ok, maybe crackers; I get hungry too), and I realize I've become a dull person devoid of original creative thought? I'm almost never by myself anymore. I can't even go to the bathroom by myself; if I manage to sneak in and shut the door, invariably the youngest is waiting outside the door, chatting, when I'm done. I can't even string two thoughts together without interruption unless I'm awake at 3 am. Suppose I've forgotten how to be alone? (I used to love to be alone.)

* I'm worried about the food. You can check "gluten free" on the registration form, but is it celiac-level gluten free or just no gluten ingredients gluten free, for the folks who feel better without gluten but won't initiate an auto-immune cascade if they eat carrots that were chopped on a cutting board that once held bread? It's on a buffet line, too. Buffets are notorious for cross-contamination. Suppose I can't eat anything safely and have to spend five days eating the yogurt and apples I bring with me? Everyone says how wonderful the food is at Squam, too...

* And there is the nagging feeling that I'm just not cool/creative/artistic/something enough to hang out at Squam with all those amazing people.

* And finally, I'm worried that after waiting for so long, all the spots will be filled and I won't actually, really, truly get to go.

But still, there's the form, all ready to be mailed tomorrow, the first day it can be postmarked. I could drive it to Providence myself in 45 minutes, but I'll resist my obsessive tendencies and mail it from my local post office. It was a long time ago, but I'm pretty sure the idea of flying to Europe by myself was intimidating, too. Somewhere buried within the organized, capable Mother is still the girl who would leave her apartment with nothing but some cash, lip balm, and a blank book; who landed in Paris without knowing a soul there; who was happy to spend hours just sitting and people watching with a notebook. Who felt that anything was possible and adventures definitely were for her. I want to take that girl to the woods of New Hampshire in June. I want to let her loose.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Featured: Create With Me

Create With Me, Winter 2012
With my kids in the studio hat on, I was interviewed by Amber Demien, the editor of Stampington's newish magazine Create With Me, about our family's summer trip to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum (which I described on my other blog here). The piece is featured in the Winter 2012 issue, now in stores. It's really exciting (for the kids, too!) to see our trip written up and displayed so beautifully. The opportunity to be a part of the magazine was unexpected but quite welcome--so flattering!

If you're unfamiliar with the magazine, it's filled with ideas for adult-child artistic collaboration. I'm fairly passionate about providing my kids with opportunities for process-oriented art, so it's pretty exciting to flip through an entire magazine of ideas. The other night I was looking at it before bed and was actually surprised for a second when I flipped to the pages pictured above, even though, of course, I knew they were there. Oh! That's us. How cool!

And if you are anywhere near Lincoln, Massachusetts, take a day to visit the deCordova. It's a really great place for families.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Super G Cape

My first made thing of 2012:

When she saw her cousin's superhero cape, my daughter naturally asked for one. And really, I've been remiss in not making her one sooner, since she's been wearing one or the other of her brothers' initials on her back for a while now. First she said blue, but when it came right down to it, she wanted a red one, too. So one day last week while her brothers were at a movie with dad, she and I went to buy some more red fabric. She picked out the fat quarters for the shield and her initial, too. Monday afternoon, I sewed. It was all done but the Velcro at the neck closure, which I sewed on by hand Monday night while she was in bed. When it was done, I hung it on her doorknob. She came into my room Tuesday morning holding it.

"My cape! Thank you for hanging it on my door handle." Then she asked me to put it on her.

Of course, when a super hero is wearing a cape, she needs to run.

And run.

Although if you ask nicely, she will stop for a second.

It might look like a cape, but what I really make is smiles. :)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Looking Ahead

About a month ago, my oldest child turned ten, which means that I've been a mother for a decade (although if you add up the ages of my kids, I have more than 20 contact-years, and I'm pretty sure some of those years count at least double). Here I am about ten years ago, holding my rather new firstborn and looking way younger (but very tired).

At some point in 2001 after I got pregnant, I had the thought, The next ten years are all about the babies. And I was very, very right, although I don't think I had any idea at the time how right I'd be. I've spent most of the past ten years pregnant, nursing, or, for about five silly months in 2003-2004, both. I nursed all my children into toddler-hood, I was too lazy to bother with pumping and bottles, and I ignored the baby books and let my kids nurse to sleep. When the first one wouldn't nap alone, I lay next to him, reading a book. When the third wouldn't, I strapped her on (because I had two older kids to take care of). I had no "nap time" to call my own; I had very little time at all to call my own. Whenever somebody suggested I let that baby cry himself to sleep or Shouldn't you get out more? or Do you ever put that baby down? I reminded myself that I didn't expect to be on my deathbed saying, Gee, I wish I'd held my babies less. And also, that it wouldn't always be like this. I'm not advocating this way--or any way, for that matter--as the best way to approach babies and motherhood. I made the choices that felt right to me and good for the babies, but I've no doubt I most often made the choice that resulted in things being as hard as possible on me.

Not, mind you, that I'm out of the motherhood trenches. My youngest is only three. But there is an opening, more space, more time, more creative energy to spend on myself. Periodically someone will ask me if I'll be going back to work when my youngest goes to kindergarten (which is still three years away! what long thinkers!). My first reaction is always, Who will do the job I do now? And my second is, Who on earth would hire me, and for what? I was working from home as a copy editor for a medical website when my oldest was born; it was a great job. I was laid off when he was about nine months old, and while I often can't help but edit, even when unasked, I was happy to be able to focus all my attention in one place instead of trying to split myself. But really, what am I going to be hired to do, at this point, anyway?

And...what would I want to do?

That's the question. Because if this past decade was all about the babies, this next one will have more space, I think. It's not that my kids will need me less as they get older, but they need me in different ways. I'm not actively seeking any one goal right now--my life hasn't shifted enough yet to start something big, or even something medium, to be honest. But I think this year is about figuring out what the goals might be, of trying to bring more into focus. If I get a chance to choose, what do I choose?

So that's not really a resolution for 2012. It's more like a...mission statement, maybe? This is the year I work on figuring out what comes next...being open to hearing it and seeing it. Oh, that sounds pretty mystical for practical Virgo me. But there you go.

Happy 2012. What do you hope it has in store for you?