The 3 Rs plus a P and an S

Hello 2013. I feel a little apprehensive about this year. There are so many places this year could take me - good and bad - and I want to pack it full of things that make me happy to balance out those possible dark places.

I want to write more. I suppose that means be in this place more, but I also want to jot down all those paragraphs I write in my head during the day. There is one thing in particular I've been writing for a while, and I will write it down today.

I want to read more. I want to reread old favorites and find new ones. I want to read chapter books outloud to my children every night. I want to listen to more books. I want to fill my free minutes with words.

I want to run more. This past year I went from not running since I was a child to running my first 5k race in May and my first 5 mile race in November. I've found it harder to run long distances by myself due to time and motivation, so I'd like to find a running group. I have a goal of running the Women's half marathon in September. I might be able to meet that goal earlier, but I want to take my running habit slow and steady.

I want to photograph more. Specifically, I want to photograph my children more. I want to take a picture of them everyday, and watch how their beautiful faces and personalities grow and change.

Lastly, I want to see friends more. I spent last night with friends, and I will see friends today. Spending time with friends is good for my spirit.

Hello 2013. Here's to balance and joy and whatever else is in store for me.

The Dark Cloud

I wanted to write about recent things first, but I keep coming back to the dark cloud that's followed me for the past month. My Dad has brain cancer.

He was diagnosed almost a month ago. It came out of the blue. He was fine and nothing was any different about him until he woke up one night (the night of my parents 39th anniversary) and couldn't speak properly. My Mom said one sentence would come out of his mouth just fine, but then the next one would be just sounds. She thought he was having a stroke and called the ambulance. When they got to the ER the blob that showed up on the CT scan was too big to be a blood clot, and could only be a tumor.

He was put on steroids and anti-seizure meds to control the brain swelling and its effects. He had an MRI, then a biopsy of the tumor (an intense and scary day). He regained his speech and had no more seizures. A couple of days later on a Friday afternoon, the diagnosis came. Relief. None of us could have made it through that weekend not knowing.

The good news is that it's slow growing and responds to treatment. The bad news is that it cannot be cured. I feel like there are so many unknowns in the future now. I feel like my family should be off the hook with this cancer stuff, as we already went though cancer and treatment with my brother 25 years ago. My Dad is an oncologist even. But that is not how it works.

There is more to say. There have been setbacks. An infection and bleeding in his brain put him back in the hospital for a week, and he lost his ability to remember words again. Now - to rid his brain of the infection and prevent any more bleeding - he's on IV antibiotics round the clock for the next month. It's hard, but every day he is better. It was hard for me to be away, especially this past week, when all the progress he made was gone.

I don't know what the future is going to be like, but I do know we're going to need to remind ourselves that the road can be bumpy - it will be bumpy - and even the bumpy parts can have bumps.

 

Habits

March 30

Lately it seems like I have to completely change my life all the time. Is this the trade off for being in my more emotionally stable thirties? A big project begins, and suddenly I'm putting in a 30+ hour 5 days a week work week. Soccer season starts and I have to figure out how to make and eat dinner and get to my Thursday night knitting group in the 5 minutes I have at home. My children have spring break, but not at the same time, not even for consecutive weeks, so we can't travel anywhere and I can't be at work. I start running and following a running schedule without much leeway before my 5k race, and have to find time to squeeze in a run when I'm home with the children. Then I develop tendinitis in my feet, and have to stop running for over a week which was even harder. This blog, too, has been a difficult habit ever since September when my daughter started her 5 day a week preschool - I no longer have set days off and we're busier with more to prepare each day once we get home, leaving little time in which to write.

April 1

The flip side to all of this change is that I'm happy, really happy. This has been a really good year for my family, and I think being busy and working hard suites us right now. I like being busy at work, and am enjoying the new project. Spending an afternoon hour outside watching my son play soccer and my daughter run as fast as she can down a hill is a joy. I got a lot of hand stitching and knitting done not to mention netflix watching during one spring break, and managed to spend the other spring break at the office with my son in tow. Running makes me feel really good, especially after my forced break. Writing - whatever I can manage - makes me happy, and even if I'm not scrawling or typing words, I'm always writing them in my head.

April 2

One thing that has been hard is my daily picture taking habit. That big work project? Yeah it involves me taking hundreds of photos everyday, and by quitting time the last thing I want to do is pick up my camera and take photographs for myself. I've managed to only miss 1 or 2 days of this year's 365 project, but I've used my camera phone for many many pictures, which I swore to myself I would not do again this year. I also haven't posted anything from the last 2 months on flickr. Oh well. Someday I will find time to catch up.

April 6

The newest and best change for me is that I'm posting on habit. I was thrilled when Emily and Molly invited me to be a participant for April, and was glad to have a really good excuse to pick up my camera and document my day for myself. I'll tell you it hasn't been easy, and some days I reject everything I shoot or can't come up with anything to write, and decide to post nothing. But I'm there at least 3 days a week for the rest of this month, and really habit isn't about creating something spectacular, it's just about creating something. Often what seems ordinary, when viewed alongside all those other moments in the lives of all those other women, becomes extraordinary.

April 8

Running

I'm not a runner. I've always said that for as long as I can remember. In elementary school P.E., we ran laps around the huge field behind the school. Four laps equaled one mile, and I never could do it without stopping and walking. A mile seemed like such a huge distance back then and going around four times took forever. Of course now when I see the field, I'm shocked at how small it looks. Ah, perspective. My Dad used to be a runner. I remember going to races, and watching for him to cross the finish line. His knees eventually gave out and he quit running for good. It's hilly around here, and all the downhills were too much for him. When my Dad moved on to cycling for good as his sport of choice, I mentally X'd myself out of the running category. My Dad also has some structural issues with his knees, structural issues I've inherited, structural issues I exacerbated when I hiked 18 miles in one day on horse trails while on a backpacking trip in Montana. What I learned from that trip: Never ever hike on horse trails. Horses move their feet in a straight line, humans do not. You will eventually recover from the trauma, but your knees never will.

So like I was saying, I'm not a runner. Yet, I've started running. Last Spring my bookclub read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. I wasn't all that interested in a book about running, but I love a good non-fiction book and am game for anything. I was kind of shocked by how much I enjoyed it. It's not the best writing, nor the best story, but there were interesting parts all throughout the book. Suddenly I wanted to run. Me run? But, I'm not a runner. The thing about the book though, is that it makes you think you can be a runner and more importantly it makes you want to be a runner. Anyone can be a runner. Suddenly your whole mindset has shifted, and all it took was reading a book you weren't all that interested in to begin with.

Only one other book has made me think about myself in an entirely different way, and want to do something I never thought was possible - Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. Originally I read this book because Naomi Wolf mentioned in Misconceptions that Ina May knew all sorts of cures for morning sickness. My mother had nine months of morning sickness in both her pregnancies, and I feared that would be my lot as well when the time came. There wasn't much in Spiritual Midwifery about these cures, but I did find a book full of amazing stories of women giving birth without pain medication, enjoying it, and being transformed by it. I was blown away. None of these stories matched anything I had heard about childbirth, and suddenly I knew I wanted to be one of these women, that I was going to be one of these women. The more I read, the more I realized any woman could be like these women. Three years, then six years later, it happened. It was like as soon as I made that decision, that was who I was, and I made sure in every possible way I could control that I was one of these women. It was like there wasn't an alternative in my brain anymore, and somehow it got that way in an instant simply by storytelling.

Running might be harder than childbirth (those damn knees!), but I'm doing it. I'm going slow and gradually progressing over the next two month from not running period to running 3 miles. On May 5th, I'm running in a 5k race in Austin with my girlfriends and I'm looking forward to it almost more than anything else I've done in my life. After that who knows, but I do know I'm a runner and there will be more running.

 

The Dress

In a couple of weeks, it will have been a year since I drove myself to Northwestern Alabama and spent a magical weekend at the Alabama Chanin factory. With this approaching anniversary, I suppose it's finally time to talk about the dress. The dress has been finished for a while now - 5 months to be exact - but for some reason it has taken me this long to photograph it. It's actually a very difficult piece to photograph, and the fabric never seems to be the right color no matter how many different light situations or Lightroom adjustments I try. The dress is really best seen in person. After the weekend workshop, I sewed on the dress a lot (when I wasn't pouring over the Alabama Chanin website trying to keep every moment of the workshop alive). I completed 3 of the 8 panels before I had to put it down for a little while. When I chose my workshop project, I picked the dress I loved the most (the 8 panel corset dress), the fabric that caught my eye (peacock, a dark teal color), the stencil (Anna's garden) and applique (negative reverse) that made my heart ache, and the paint (gray) and thread color (black) that worked best with the fabric. All of these ingredients were exactly what I wanted, but they were not the easiest with which to work. The gray paint is almost the same shade as the peacock fabric, making it hard to see the shapes at night, when most of my stitching time happens. The negative reverse applique requires more attention, as you are stitching on an invisible line an 1/8 of an inch inside the shape. Finally when every shape on the panel is stitched, you still have to cut away most of the top layer fabric, a 3-4 hour process during which I was always terrified of accidentally cutting a hole in the bottom layer. So, it wasn't that surprising I needed a break from this dress despite my love for it.

At some point in the late Spring, I started to think about an October wedding in LA, and what I was going to wear to that wedding. A local outpost of my favorite department store had finally opened after years and years of planning and I knew I could find a dress there, but then I saw the obvious - the dress I should wear was the one I was making completely by hand. So Operation Finish-the-Dress began, and I spent every free moment during the Summer sitting down and stitching the remaining 5 panels, the brightest lamps set up next to the sofa to illuminate the fabric at night.

I didn't keep track of how many hours went into this dress. The larger back panels took about 20 hours apiece from start to finish, and the smaller front panels took about 15. Then I had to sew everything together, fell the seams, and bind the neck and armholes (Oh Cretan stitch how much do I love thee? Let me count the ways). If I had to guess, this dress took 140 hours. Maybe more. I even managed a completed dress with a couple weeks to spare, giving me time to go to my favorite department store and find the perfect shoes and undergarments. It was at this point while in the dressing room, I realized the straps were too long. I didn't want to rip out the binding I had just spent hours on, so with the flight to California quickly approaching, I decided to fold some of the strap over itself at the shoulder and stitch it down. I figured this could be a temporary fix to get me through the wedding, and I could do a better job later on. No matter what I told myself, fixing the straps this way seemed wrong and I felt like I was letting my dress down.

In my life, I have been a perfectionist about many things. I've also learned to let go, knowing good enough is often the better choice over the unattainable perfection. Being a mother and having children has led me over and over again to the good enough path whether I wanted to be there or not. Yet every time I make an Alabama Chanin garment, I want perfection. They are just so beautiful, it seems a shame for them to be anything less than perfect. Yet they are made completely by hand and, of course, can never be perfect. Some stitches will be longer or shorter than others, a painted area of the stencil will have a smudged line instead of a crisp line, one panel will be cut a little skinnier or wider than its twin, and  - my worst fear come true- an accidental hole will be made in the fabric with scissors. Often when I'm engaged in something that takes a lot of time, I think about Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers. Most people know about one of the basic premises of the book, that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. Gladwell uses The Beatles and Bill Gates as two of the supporting case studies in his 10,000 hours theory. If I wanted to become an expert at stitching Alabama Chanin style, I would have to make somewhere between 70-100 garments, a number that will not happen in my lifetime no matter how much I love making and wearing them. I am never going to achieve perfection with these pieces and that is okay. In fact, it's more than okay, and often what is most beautiful to me is the part that is flawed. The temporary fix to the straps is going to be the permanent fix, as the dress is done and I want to move on.

Today I'm waiting for UPS to deliver the newest Alabama Chanin book (which to my sorrow now seems will arrive tomorrow), and dreaming about my next project. I have two weddings to go to later this year, and I don't want to end my tradition of wearing Alabama Chanin. After these weddings, I may be a little closer to my 10,000 hours, but sewing by hand isn't about becoming an expert. It's about stitching and making and learning about myself in the process. The finished garment is really just a bonus.

And then she was 4

There is so much to say about the past year in this little girl's life, but the biggest and most obvious thing is that her hair finally grew! I can hardly believe how long it is now, especially when it is wet and straight. Most days she wants a ponytail, but today she didn't ask for one - a little gift for me since I like it best down. Birthdays always get me thinking about my children and their births, but I today I've thought more about how I have grown up kids now. While Agnes's last two years were a little rough mostly due to her big personality, lately I haven't seen a lot of those toddler years in her. As much as I miss having little babies and mourn the fact I won't have any more, I kind of like life with grown up kids better.

I guess the kids aren't the only ones who change around here.

*Mama made birthday outfit details: Oliver + S hopscotch skirt in Liberty of London tana lawn with matching applique shirt

 

Today was a good day.

Actually, it's been a really good week. Once Christmas is over, I can finally relax and have fun and it's the best feeling ever. Not that the week before wasn't fun, but it was busy with stuff that had to get done. The week after is all about the stuff you want to do. I knit a lot, and cooked. New Year's Day began with our favorite French toast - New Orleans style pain perdu - and ended with Hoppin' John (black eyed peas and rice). I never ate black eyed peas on the first day of the year before I met Will, but when you are from the South and your family for generations and generations is from the South, you eat black eyed peas on January 1 to make sure you have good luck and wealth during the year. Now that I've cooked black eyed peas for a decade, it feels like my tradition just as much as his, but that might be because I've finally found the absolute best Hoppin' John recipe after many ho hum versions. I definitely will make it again soon; extra good fortune and wealth isn't a bad thing. New Year's Eve was all about cheese fondue - which we haven't done in several years - hard cider, and Prosecco cocktails. A couple of weeks ago, Will and I killed 15 minutes before a dinner reservation by going to a wine store we never go to on the other side of town. We picked up a few things that caught our eye, including this hard cider made from honeycrisp apples. It took us a couple of weeks to open it, as we had to remember to buy some ice (our ice maker has stopped working) to drink it on the rocks, but I'm glad we waited as it was the most perfect beverage to have on the last night of the year. We both wished we had bought two bottles. It reminded me of this cider on tap I got at a tiny bar in Madrid we went to on our honeymoon when we had to kill some time before a dinner reservation (I'm sensing a pattern here). I'm not sure the flavors of the two ciders were alike, but I've never had a cider as wonderful as that one in Spain until New Year's Eve. I must get back to the West side of town again soon. So, today. The last day of Winter break. First thing in the morning, we went to the household hazardous waste disposal, and got rid of the old paint we cleared out of the new organized laundry room, and used compact fluorescent light bulbs (which I have a hate hate relationship with). I made it to Zumba and we were able to exchange a pair of ballet slippers for Agnes with no problem. In the afternoon we skipped nap/rest time, and went ice skating with my mom. It was Agnes's first time on skates. I about died from cuteness when the tiny pair of rental skates were placed on the counter for her. Watching her skate holding my hand was so much fun, and somehow we didn't fall once. At first, I wasn't so sure about myself. The last time I skated was 17 or 18 years ago, and it didn't come back to me immediately. After a few runs around the rink on my own, I felt like I got my ice feet back. Ely even skated with me holding my hand for about 5 minutes before he took off to weave in and out of the crowd and practice his hockey skating moves. Maybe ice skating will be a new family tradition, though it will probably take a bottle or two of cider to convince Will to get out on the ice.

Tomorrow it's back to our normal life of school, work, and activities, and I'm happy we ended our break on such a good note. Life as a family just keeps getting better and better around here.

35 of 35

Happy Thanksgiving! It's also happy birthday to me. Inspired by this lady, I've been taking 35 photos throughout today in honor of my 35th birthday. I took the first one while lying in bed willing myself to get up, and the others have followed every 27 minutes thereafter. It's been a great, full - grateful - day. There are still 6 untaken images, and I'm looking forward to seeing the whole series completed.

What I will remember

My son plays the violin. We started - and I say we because we are doing Suzuki violin where the parent attends every individual and group lesson and participates in every home practice - a little more than a year and a half ago. Ely was interested in playing violin when he was 3, so I looked into lessons. It seemed expensive and there was a long waiting list. I didn't think participating in this Suzuki violin program was going to work out, but that was okay. There are so many options for sports, instruments, and extracurriculars that I knew Ely would find something else he wanted to do. But then a year later, we got the call. "There is a space for you if you want it. Please observe 3 lessons to make sure you want to be a part of this program, then let me know your decision." So Ely and I observed the 3 lessons, and decided we wanted to start. The money thing worked out, mostly because we ended up sending Ely to our zoned public elementary school allowing things like violin lessons to be a possibility for our family. Some violin days are hard. We're tired, there is homework to do, it's late, and we don't want to practice. Some lessons are hard - we have to leave our comfort zone and do things that feel unnatural, like playing with piano accompaniment or keeping our eyes on the bow instead of watching our fingers make the different notes on the strings. Some days the fussy younger sister who loves to act up during violin lessons has to come along. Sometimes there are tears, broken strings, and cracked bridges.

Some violin days are perfect, like today. On Monday, Ely's teacher put out a call for students to perform for the class on Friday. He came home and told me he was going to play his violin. I was a little shocked he was that enthusiastic, but said okay immediately. We practiced him tightening the hair on his bow, which is still a little difficult for 6 year old fingers to manage. We practiced Ely putting is neck rest on his violin, which has been tricky ever since he upgraded to a fourth size violin from an eighth size a couple of months ago. We practiced him walking out in front of his class, bowing before starting his piece, moving his feet to playing position, setting his fingers on his bow in the correct grip, moving his violin to his shoulder, playing his piece Lightly Row (with eyes on the bow!), then taking a final bow once it was over. I was a nervous wreck about sending the violin on the bus, but I had to trust Ely would take care of his instrument. I wanted to be there, but my car broke down the day before and wasn't fixed yet. I realized it was good for him to do this on his own, and that I didn't need to observe every little step like I usually do in the Suzuki method.

The main reason Ely was able to play for his class today is that he has played in front of others and on stage from the beginning. Besides the monthly play-ins, there are two recitals a year, and his first ever recital took place mere weeks after he started his lessons. Ely knew no notes and did not yet know how to bow, but he did walk out on stage, take a bow, put his violin into the proper position under his chin, and show how he could hold it in place with the strength of his neck and shoulders for 30 seconds. The other parents, students, and teachers clapped as loudly for him as they did for the older and more accomplished students who played in his same recital group. Today just wasn't a big deal for him at all, and I will never forget that.

Even if Ely decides next year that he hates violin and wants to quit, our years playing will not have been a waste. I've seen my son grow and change, try new things, and become more confident. I don't think he could have traveled along this path without Suzuki violin. I hope he keeps playing though. Violin is something we do together - just the two of us - and I know as he gets older there will be fewer and fewer special things we do together. I don't want to give those moments up for a long time.

Habit: July 7, 2010

The best thing about violin is time alone together. Just mother and son.

Meh About Photography

November 2

I'm not sure what is going on with me, but I can't seem to get excited about my photographs lately. I'm still taking a photograph every day for my ongoing 365 project, though some days it is easier, not to mention more fun, to take an instagram photo with my phone. I still love my new camera and new lens, but I haven't updated flickr in over a month which includes all my California photos. I feel mired in my routine.

Luckily, Emily and Molly reopened the Habit pool for the month of November to anyone who wants to participate. I had so much fun participating in July of 2010. Deciding on a photo and writing accompanying text (no more than 30 words!) quickly became my favorite part of the day back then. I hope working on new habit photos will jump start my photography love again.

November 3

Tova Muslin

In the past year, I've tried to add to my wardrobe, but I always get discouraged shopping. Everything at the stores is so cheaply made or way too expensive, and I don't have a lot of kid-free time to browse consignment and thrift stores. In my dream life, most of my wardrobe is from Alabama Chanin. While I am making my own organic cotton Alabama Chanin clothes, hand sewing a garment is slow going. I realized I should spend more money and time on machine sewn patterns and fabrics, or else my wardrobe is always going to be in a sad state. It's gotten cold here quickly (there was a freeze warning yesterday and another one today though we were in shorts on Tuesday), and my cold weather clothes are probably the most pathetic part of my wardrobe. Since I was at home this week with my son who is on Fall break, I pulled out the Wiksten Tova shirt/dress pattern I bought a few weeks ago, and started on my muslin. As I've learned more about garment sewing and sewn a few items for myself, I've realized I always need to make a muslin first. Even when I choose the right size, there is always an adjustment or two I wish I had made once the garment is done and doesn't fit as well as it could. Plus the anal sewer in me likes to have a practice piece for troubleshooting the tricky parts before making the real thing. For my Tova top, I bought a really nice cotton shirting fabric my local fabric store labeled Steven Allen. I wasn't sure if they meant Steven Alan, but Google yielded nothing about this fabric nor the proper spelling of the designer's name. I didn't have any throw-away fabric similar to the shirting, so I made my muslin out of one of the 10 bolts of quilter's cotton I bought at auction a few years ago. I knew the quilter's cotton wouldn't be quite right and I wasn't that fond of the floral print, but if the muslin came out okay I figured I might wear the shirt sometimes.

The sewing of the pattern went well, and I felt the muslin came out better than okay (though I was right quilter's cotton isn't the best choice as it's too stiff, and a fabric with similar right and wrong sides is better for this pattern). The size I chose was perfect, and the only adjustments I will make will be to take in the sides slightly and to hem the top shorter. Jenny did a great job with the instructions, drawings, and photographs (though a few are a little hard to understand due to the photos being in black and white), and I learned a couple of new sewing tricks from her too. Despite always liking this top/dress pattern in the myriad of fabrics Jenny and others have used, I was a little reluctant to buy it as the cost was more than I wanted to spend on a single pattern. But I kicked myself for not buying it the first 2 times, thus couldn't click the buy button fast enough the 3rd time. I have a feeling I'm going to make several of these tops and maybe even a dress, so I should probably invest in a roll of oak tag. I know my improved wardrobe will appreciate it.

So I went to LA...

and it was amazing. Five days filled with the best architecture, art, design, food, weather, hot tub, friends, and wedding. The only cloudy spot was the traffic. It was bad.

Luckily, I get to go back next year as we also celebrated the engagement of our friends.

I haven't been here much these past couple of months. I've been in the midst of one transition after another, and finding it hard to get all my thoughts out of my head. I wish there was an app for that. I can be a tightwad sometimes, but I would pay good money to easily record all my thoughts. Besides working and thinking, I've also spent almost every free moment in the last couple of months on the sofa handsewing. That wedding I mentioned above that brought us to LA? Well, I decided I was going to wear the dress to the wedding, so that meant I had to finish sewing the dress. I did finish it, I wore it (with 4inch heels!), and it was amazing. More on the dress once I get Will to take some photos.

Coming home reminds me how good it is to get away, and how I am recharged by the trips that take me away from my life. We are finally to the point where we can go away more, and nothing falls apart in our absence. I hope the coming year is full of more opportunities to get away, both small and large.

Blueberry Picking and Summer Rhythms

I've had trouble finding my Summer rhythm this year. June was taken up with finishing school, our trip to South Dakota, a big project on antique silver, meetings, and music lessons. On July 4th I thought, "how have we not started our Summer yet?" and got kind of sad about it. Everything has been so busy and planned out. Finally yesterday, we got to do something just for ourselves that wasn't written on the calendar. After our bumper strawberry crop, I wanted more berries to play around with and blueberries were at the top of the list. Since I'm very particular about my berries and other thin skinned fruit being organic, I was worried about finding a local U-pick place that doesn't use pesticides or herbicides. Luckily, I found a great farm about an hour away that fit my criteria perfectly.

We arrived early in the morning, though it was already hot and muggy. An on and off breeze cooled our necks.

We learned how to spot the ripest berries, and how to properly pick them.

There were plenty of blueberries everywhere, and we sampled all the different varieties at the farm. We ate a lot of blueberries.

We filled up 2 gallon buckets. My Mom and I could have picked longer, but the children were hot, tired and ready for something else. There were also dark clouds gathering in the sky, and we heard the rumblings of thunder.

Before leaving, we fed huge albino catfish at one of the fish ponds.

Right as we paid for our berries and before we walked back to our car, it started raining. The best kind of blessing for all those wonderful blueberry bushes, and for the owners who treated us so kindly.

Now my berries are sitting in the refrigerator, and I'm on the search for blueberry pie and jam recipes. I'm not sure I want to use my berries for jam though. We go through jam way too fast in this house, and I want to turn these berries into something precious like pie or cobbler. Something precious just like our morning.

From the Land Where the Buffalo Roam

I just got back from a 12 day, 3500 mile cross country trip over 6 states, with a week spent in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Black Hills have to be one of the most amazing places ever - I completely fell in love and dreamed of moving into a cabin there, but was woken up by the reality of 9 months of Winter with possible snowfall during any of the 3 months of Summer. We came across a billboard in the area stating Best Vacation Spot "Ever" which sent us into fits of laughter, though we wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment minus the quotes. I'm currently knee deep in vacation recovery mode looking through 700 photos, tackling just about the same number of dirty loads of laundry, and trying to get over a stomach bug, but I wanted to say hi and tell you where I've been. Driving across a small section our country with my husband and children, sleeping on the ground in tents in various state parks, visiting so many wonderful natural and man made places, and seeing the sites of current and past tragedies was both humbling and inspiring. If I learned one thing on this trip, is it the importance of showing my children the country we live in while also showing it to myself. I can't wait to decide where to go next year.

Plant Strawberries. Plant Strawberries. Plant Strawberries.

If you have any interest in growing your own food and have a sunny spot in your yard, then you need to grow strawberries. I promise it will be worth it.

Last year, I dug a bed for strawberries and bought 6 small plants. I was given another 3 plants almost 2 months after I planted the first ones, so those went into the bed too. I figured they would give us a few berries, and they did. We carefully divided the delicious red fruit, so we could equally enjoy every taste. Eating home grown strawberries makes you realize - like with any produce really - how much better everything tastes when it is grown nearby (and without pesticides!), picked as soon as it is ripe, and eaten immediately.

I did some things right with the strawberry plants, like making sure they had good drainage, mulching around them, and not over watering. Of course, I also learned many things about them after the fact. They don't like to be planted in areas where the grass is newly removed. Oops. You are supposed to pull off the flowers the first year to keep them from producing fruit in order to get a larger yield the second year. Oops. Strawberries need to be cut back and mulched in the Fall to prepare them for the Winter; I knew this and planned to do it, but was just too worn out by Fall to make it happen. Oops. Gardening is a lot like parenting and business ownership - you are bound to make mistakes along the way no matter how much you know.

So this year I was extremely curious about the strawberries. Did they survive the Winter? Are they mad at me because I didn't suffocate all the weeds and grass below them? Were they only going to produce a few berries because I greedily wanted fruit the first year?

I shouldn't have worried. They did beautifully.

The 9 plants and their runners completely spread over my 7'x4' plot, and when they flowered there were thousands of small, delicate, white blossoms. If all the flowers became berries, I knew we were going to have a lot of strawberries, but I was afraid the birds and squirrels were going to get them first. They stayed away though. I never rigged up netting over bamboo poles, because the animals didn't have much interest in them. I started to wonder if the 13 year cicadas were responsible for the birds leaving my berries alone, because the birds have plenty of easy to catch protein right now. Maybe. The netting might be a necessity next year.

We filled a huge mixing bowl full of berries, then did the same two days later. I can't even begin to guess at how many pounds of berries we've picked over the past 2 weeks...maybe 15 pounds? We had a lot of rain and chilly temps in May which the strawberries don't like, but still after tossing the very soft and rotting berries we got tons of perfect ones. I had to figure out how to make and can jam, because I needed to process a lot of berries quickly and am trying to save my freezer space for what is going to come later in the Summer.

It felt great to give jars of strawberry mint jam (Alabama Chanin style) as our teacher gifts this week.

Who wouldn't be delighted with one of these?

The T-shirt Would Say I Survived the Bike Parade Party

I told a parent at the end of the party, "It was fun chaos." Ely said it was his best birthday ever. Will called it a success, because no one got hurt and the cake was good.

Ely's actual birthday isn't until Tuesday, but we had his party today, our only free Saturday until the end of June. We wanted to do something outside and something fun, and the idea came to us to do something with bikes. I remember a friend talking about having a bike parade party, and that seemed like the perfect activity for us as we love to ride our bikes down to the end of the street and back.

Each child came to the party with their bike or scooter and helmet (a must for being in the parade). First we decorated our bikes. We made nameplates on cardstock using foam letters, markers, and crayons and attached them with ribbon and pipe cleaners. Streamers were threaded through spokes and tied onto seats. More pipe cleaners and streamers adorned helmets, resulting in a look I'd call teletubby maypole.  A pre-parade started in our driveway and yard, while we waited for several children to finish adorning their bikes. Finally we got to start the real parade. We lined up and went down to the end of the street and back (the line completely dissolved of course), then repeat, repeat, repeat. I loved watching the streamers fly behind the children as they rode past me.

By the 3rd trip, everyone was hot and thirsty, so we decided it was water, juice, and cake time. I made a simple sheet cake with chocolate icing, and decorated it with M&Ms in the shape of a bike. I though the cake turned out very cute, and was super easy as well, always a plus in my book.

After cake time, the kids were ready to go out again so we had a second parade. The party ended with present opening, tree climbing, bubble blowing, and sidewalk chalk drawing. Everyone had a blast.

Like I said earlier - fun chaos.

It's raining today...

but it doesn't matter because the raincoat is finished!

Kids Clothing Week Challenge was the perfect excuse for me to stop procrastinating on hand sewing the raincoat lining to the exterior and just get it done. Of course once I started, it didn't take me that long at all - maybe two hours - and I wondered why I had put it off for months. Don't I say this about nearly every project I do?

When the Oliver + S school days jacket pattern came out 1.5 years ago, I fell in love with the raincoat versions made out of the new coated cotton laminates starting to enter the market. I had never thought about sewing a coat much less a raincoat, but once I saw the example raincoats I had to make one for Agnes. Unfortunately, the Anna Maria Horner laminates (which Liesl used in both the floral example raincoats) sold out almost as soon as they were stocked, then never went back into production. Luckily Anna Maria's next line Little Folks also included some laminate options, and I bought enough yardage for Agnes's raincoat immediately just in case the new fabrics went out of production as quickly as the old ones (which they didn't - so many fabric stores still carry them).

The jacket pattern has a more difficult rating than the other Oliver + S patterns, but I found it really wasn't hard at all. There are a lot of pieces (more than twice as many as most of the other patterns) and a lot of steps, but the sewing of the jacket isn't complex. The laminate was a little tricky, as you have to be careful with keeping your pins within the seam allowance and you must use a walking foot on your machine, but the only part that was truly hard was sewing the hood onto the jacket without bunching up the lining or the exterior. In my case, third time was the charm as I used twice as many pins as before. Several girls in my sewing group can attest to the difficulty (and swears coming out of my mouth) with this step.

Of all the garments I've sewed, I'm probably in awe of this one the most. Sewing a raincoat sounds impressive, and the resulting coat looks impressive (I am trying to be modest here). I love how cute and colorful it is, and all the details like the pockets, the toggles with the leather cord loops, and the hood make it stand out from anything you could buy. I purposely made the raincoat in a larger size when I began it in the Fall, as I didn't know how long it would take me to sew. Agnes is now a very tall 3 year old, and the 3T size is still a little big on her. I'm glad she'll be able to wear it for at least the next year and maybe longer if I'm lucky.

I shot all these photos last night before it started raining. Agnes loved wearing the coat so much, she didn't want to take it off for dinner. I hope today's rain will help get the raincoat wearing out of her system, or else I'm going to have to come up with some good reasons why you can't wear a raincoat to bed.