A list of half-finished things

Posted on July 27, 2017

A sewing pattern and fabric cut and waiting.

A pot of soaked yarn to be dyed at some point.

A wooden card holder in need of finish.

Another sweater in the works.

A tiny house.

It's such a process. A messy, beautiful, ongoing process in the bits and pieces of free time we share. A few stitches here, a few boards there. Some frustration, a lot of enjoyment. And really, that list of half-finished things should include me and Seth, and the baby too. In Addie's case, her learning is exponential. Eating! Crawling (well, trying)! But Seth and I are pricking our ears forward as well, like the dog on the scent of something particularly good. Before I mix metaphors, I'll just say we've got a lot going on in our work basket. And if all my to do lists included pretty pictures, I would be a happy camper.


Rainy day at home

Posted on July 24, 2017

It's raining again today, another wet day in a wet summer. Addie and I were at the farm earlier, walking through the chill damp to get the babies to sleep, and although we were well wrapped I was still wet from the knees down at the end of the morning.

The unseasonable rain throws it into relief; I am grateful for this good roof over our heads. The roof was one of the last bits of work Seth and I built together last year before I fell pregnant and we curtailed my workload. But I am still in awe of this shelter we created. How much I used to take for granted! I never thought about what goes into a roof until we built one and it was watertight.

We met up with an architect recently. a friend of a friend (hi Richard!), who wanted to chat tiny houses. He assuaged some of my concerns about our roof. Because although it doesn't leak, we do have condensation on hot days that drips occasionally from our strong ties. We talked about insulation and whether or not to fill the roof joist cavities or to leave an air gap (we filled ours completely). My research points in either direction, and he laughed and said the same, that it's a contentious issue with some architects. He thinks our bathroom fan will probably alleviate the problem once it's installed. That is indeed some good news.

This was in my head today as I was thinking about the roof that doesn't leak. Drips but not leaks. Addie and I watched the rain come down through the window and we let the dog out and then in. We have some more work to do on the house, I guess. There will always be work as part of home-ownership. But in the meantime, there is the sweet sound of droplets marching as they meet our metal roof, reminding me of where we started and how far we've come.

Baby baby baby

Posted on July 20, 2017

Sewing baby things is satisfying. I can go from fabric pile to finished dress in about two hours, including time for ripping out mistakes (twice! Ok, it was three times).  I whipped up this little dress this morning out of a roll of fabric I found at a rummage sale, clearly left over from the 80s. It looks like toweling, but it’s a nice, sheer weave that feels like a poly/cotton. 

I used the same basic pattern as the last dress: four rectangles sewn together into a gathered skirt, folded bodice, and straps. For this one I added cloth tape, in part to increase the size of the bodice, in part to provide reinforcement to the front snaps. I didn’t bother ironing it before I popped it on the baby. Because it’s hot! And wearing homemades shouldn’t have to wait. 

This one is too big, so we’ll get plenty of wear out of it this summer. And now I think I’m ready for another dress pattern with more variety. I have an Oliver + S pattern that I’ve been wanting to try out, I just haven’t had the energy or the space to trace the pattern (so I can make it in different sizes) and cut it out. So this dress will suffice for now. 

A new baby changing mat appeared too while I had the sewing machine out, this one from a Joann’s Fabric remnant with an old towel doubled up for stuffing. Looks like my tastes run to bright colors.  I can’t say I mind, it just leaves me a little concerned for the future of our tiny house, where I’m sure there will be rainbows every which way we look. Color everywhere! 

CSA pickup

Posted on July 13, 2017

The last few weeks have been quieter than usual, with migraines keeping me in bed a bit more than normal. Then the migraine-free days come, and when they coincide with comfortable weather it makes for one happy family.

Like today. It was a CSA share pickup day at one of Seth’s farms. We like to make an outing of it, so even though Seth could have gotten the share himself after work, Addie and I stopped in for lunch with him and some time on the farm. 

Blueberries are in season now, which we picked together in the cool mist. Green beans too, although the first tomatoes are still just around the corner. There are lots of greens thanks to all this rain of course. I like to play with these fresh vegetables. With so many coming in from our different farms, we have a lot of options, and Seth and I tell each other at night over a big salad or crisp zucchini or tangy fridge pickles, “good ingredients make for good food.” Simple meals, cooked and eaten with minimal fanfare and happy bellies. Yes please. 

We are a salve-y house

Posted on July 10, 2017

There’s herbalism in every corner of this house of ours. We are running low on jars but high on homemade salves and essences and all the things that make this mama feel just a wee bit more connected. And that is a very good thing. 

I’ve been using The Nerdy Farm Wife’s calendula salve recipe as my leaping off point for years. Calendula is a gateway herb, I tell ya. And now with my big garden and my newly-tamed food sensitivities, I’ll be expanding out to infused vinegars and more internal medicines this year. More herbs! Where will we store them? 

Growing medicine

Posted on July 6, 2017

It feels like the universe, in all its goodness, has given me a garden this year wrapped with a ribbon and bow. How else could I explain that our friends Brittany and Kevin just happened to have a spare corner of land on their farm? And that it included a hundred medicinal plant seedlings, gifted from one of their friends from her own medicinal herb farm after she finished her spring planting?

Generous. That’s what the universe is, working through friends and friends of friends. 

As Seth and I wrote out our goals and plans earlier this year, with the snow knee high and a baby sleeping in my arms, I placed gardening high on my list of priorities. It may have been a bit of cabin fever. I didn’t get to work in a garden last year with the morning sickness and drought. The necessary, long recuperation from giving birth this winter made me wild for getting my hands in the dirt.  My schemes weren’t too grand; I thought I’d be ok with a few calendula plants and some herbs and wildflowers. 

But now I have about 200 square feet studded with all manner of plants, most that I’ve never grown and a couple I can’t identify. It’s slow growing.  I got the plants in the ground halfway through June instead of halfway through May. The frequent rainy days have delayed things a bit too. But oh, to be growing again!

I’ve been chewing on this blog post for a while, trying to think of how to introduce this unexpected garden, and even now I pause a minute. But the truth is that I’m growing again: medicine, yes, but also myself. Learning how to care for new plants, expanding the medicines I’ve been making. Squeezing in work between looking after not one but two babies. Oh goodness. These are things I never thought I’d be doing. 

The list of plants is extensive. Vervain, marshmallow, motherwort, oregano, valerian, St. John’s wort, bittersweet nightshade, echinacea, milky oats, borage, thyme, rosemary, calendula, yarrow, lemon balm, California poppy, catnip, anise hyssop, common and clary sages. Enough plants to heal your skin and help you sleep, soothe your muscles and lift your spirits. And a few things that I don’t know yet. What are these two plants? Time will tell (but I wouldn’t say no to a little friendly internet help either). 

Meantime, I’ll be out there hoeing and trying not to hoe my seedlings that look like weeds. The flea beetles have gotten to my bittersweet nightshades but we’re not down for the count yet. I planted the marshmallow and valerian on opposite ends of the garden so I wouldn’t get them confused (their leaves look alike at this size). And I got the last of my very favorite calendula seeds to sprout. Small steps in the right direction, as always. 

You can’t go wrong 

Posted on July 3, 2017

My dear Memere passed away eight years ago this January. She was a lovely soul, stubborn and pragmatic and with a sense of humor that I never expected but would catch in the twinkle of her eyes when she gave me a sidelong look. She taught me to knit and to use a sewing machine (although garment construction was beyond me and I had to wait until college to figure it out). We had many adventures together, traveling down to Virginia each summer to stay with her youngest daughter Danielle for weeks at a time. 

Once per summer, Memere, Tante Danielle, and I would head to the mall for a day of unabashed retail therapy. Memere loved to dote on her family — presents, cooking, cleaning — any way she could be of service. And practical lady that she was, she did all this as economically as possible. She and Danielle would pick out clothes for me to model, most just for the fun of seeing pretty things, but if the clothing was on sale, the bargaining would begin. “Don’t you like this?” Memere would ask me, rubbing the fabric between her arthritic fingers, “It’s pretty, and only $6. You can’t go wrong! Want me to buy this for you?” It wasn’t just me; she did this with Tante Danielle too, and I learned a few lessons about making family happy watching Memere coax Danielle into letting her buy a few dresses, and Danielle negotiating Memere down but still letting her mom spoil her a little.

You can’t go wrong. It was like a refrain weaving through my childhood, punctuating back-to-school shopping, Christmas buying season, grocery runs. It lives on in Memere’s other daughter, my mom (hi Mom!). And now Seth and I have picked up the habit. Seth, though, uses it differently than I do. He says it most often in the thrift store when I come up to him with my hands full of yards of some beautiful fabric or a hand-knit wool sweater that is now being sold for a song. “Would you look at this? Shetland wool! And only $5!” I’ll say, frenzied with excitement. 

“You can’t go wrong,” he’ll reply gravely, like a call and response. Despite the serious tone he has a twinkle in his eye similar to Memere’s, and I know he’s teasing me.

I guess I do love a good deal. I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary until recently when I told Seth about an antique baby dress that I didn’t buy at a rummage sale earlier in the day. I had second-guessed myself because I was hungry and wasn’t sure it was worth the price, and so I came home empty-handed. 

“You’re so cheap,” Seth said, holding the baby after a long day working in the fields during that heat wave. 

“Excuse me?!” I was indignant. 

Seth thought a moment. “Not like that,” he amended, and smiled at me and the baby both. “You like quality. You just don’t like paying full price for it.”

Truth! I like to think of it as a genetic thing. It runs in my blood. 

This conversation flashed before my eyes recently when I was at the thrift store again  trying to avoid a hot little house with my hot little baby. We were about to leave when I spied a few skeins of yarn in the craft section. Now, the yarn that people donate to the thrift store is typically scratchy acrylic. But this had the look of wool, and what’s more, it had the rustic appearance of small-scale processing. A little investigating revealed skeins from Maine and New England, and I could feel that wild expression creeping onto my face as I snapped up the yarn and scurried to the cash register. 

A little embarrassed at myself, I showed Seth the yarn when he got home that evening. He smiled when I told him the price and I knew what he was thinking. What we were both thinking. And it called to mind all the rest, the memories of those summers, the cool air-conditioning in the quiet mall with Tante Danielle gently laughing, the train rides down to Virginia, and Memere with her pink shorts and curled hair teaching me to knit, knit, knit one stitch at a time. 

A few bags

Posted on June 29, 2017

The baby’s dress was not the end of the sewing spree. I had a few minutes before we scooted out the door for fathers day and I whipped up a couple of bags for myself. Selfish sewing! Amen. 

First up: a new wallet to replace the one whose zipper broke a few weeks ago and has been scattering coins about like breadcrumbs for geese. I used scraps of Seth’s first pair of farming Carhartts for the outside because at the last minute I realized I didn’t have any canvas in my stash. But the inside — it’s the universe in there. It makes me smile whenever I see it. 

I used the same universe fabric to make a knitting project bag. For my projects on the go I’ve been using an old Halloween candy sack my mom made years and years ago. It’s essentially a pillowcase, and I love it. So versatile! And easy to make whenever I need another. Mine (and my mom’s) has french seams on the inside and a simple twice-folded hem. It’s big enough to fit a sweater but will also hold socks without being too bulky when folded over and tossed in the diaper bag. Some people like drawstrings but you’ll never convert me! Now that I have the means to show off  large swatches of fabrics that I love, I’m dreaming of the possibilities. Of course, the bag spends most of its time crumpled up in the car, hidden beneath some yarn or another. But I would argue that it’s at its most beautiful when in use. I think most objects want to be used and loved and worn out instead of sitting safe on a shelf somewhere, collecting dust. I’d feel the same way. 

Making room

Posted on June 26, 2017

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this — maybe once or twice — but we live in a tiny house. Two hundred square feet. And as we navigate growing and preserving season on three farms, Mamacraft, and build projects, the house has a tendency to feel a wee bit full. So I ask you, what business do I have bringing home all these books? 

But oh, I cannot resist the delicious pages of flower and bird illustrations, or the promise of these knitted garments, or even the thought of working with those Scandinavian patterns at some undetermined, unknown point in the future. Just look at them! I can’t help it.

I’ve taken up rummage sale-ing for the assorted sundries we need like farm clothes and baby things (no sense in buying these new as we run through them with lightning speed). But for some reason, I never fail to leave without visiting the book tables. Even as I remind myself that our current book storage consists of half of a stair tread and two 6″ cubbies, I pile books into the bottom of the baby’s stroller, glancing around to make sure I don’t see anyone I know who will question where exactly I’m going to put my new books. And after crossing that threshold, it somehow feels ok to go out of my way to buy books. Online! And at library book sales! And this coming from a woman who once tried to downsize us out of a kitchen table. As Seth lovingly teases, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”

There’s always space for reference books, I tell myself. Good basic knitting motif books. Bird and garden books. And Addie will definitely need imagination inspiring books as she gets older (I say with a gulp, thinking of the two boxes of kids books already waiting in storage). And then there are all of the Elizabeth Zimmermann books to collect so I can rely on her knitting recipes and common sense and wit in my quest to keep us in sweaters. 

Maybe we would do better with a “one in, one out” policy. Sure, that seems reasonable, now when I’m not confronted with bookshelves of potential new friends waiting to be brought home for a mere $5 per grocery bag’s worth. But then how would I decide which books to get rid of? Can you see my conundrum? I’m a lost case, I think. I’ll be buried alive in books. But oh, what a way to go. 

Summer fashion

Posted on June 22, 2017

Well she certainly doesn’t need more clothing, but that didn’t stop me from making the sweetest baby dress this week. I picked up this swiss dot cotton lawn from the local craft store and dove in. Now, baby plus part time work plus gardening plus cooking doesn’t leave a ton of time for sewing. But this fabric! I had to make something. And so in ten and fifteen minute intervals, sometimes with an impatient baby at the table with me, I sewed a dress. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve sewn clothing from scratch, and like I do with cooking, I looked at a pattern and decided, Hmm, I can make that. And then changed the whole thing around.  To be sure, this usually results in clothing that doesn’t quite fit. But baby clothes are more forgiving than adult clothes, thanks to that round baby belly and roly baby arms, I think. And everything looks good with chubby baby cheeks smiling above. 

The dress is not perfect for sure. The straps are a mite short so it rides up under her arms, which I will have to fix before she wears it again. Also, I forgot to calculate any ease in the bodice, so the dress will fit for maybe the next two weeks and then we’re in danger of busting a seam. The bodice fabric is inside out because I got my french seaming confused. Let’s pretend that was on purpose, shall we? But shortcomings and all, I love this wee dress. I may as well be making doll clothes here.