Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Wrapping

I'm a girl who likes surprises. Even if I have suspicions about some of my presents, I ignore them because I love the unexpected. 
When it comes time for Christmas, I like to impose my desire for surprise on my children and husband too. If their presents are just lying under the tree nearly labeled days in advance, they spoil my surprises with surreptitious squeezing and shaking. 

So, a few years ago, I came up with yet another cunning and ingenious plan: each present is tagged with a clue--a clue about both the contents and the recipient. 

This way, they can squeeze and rustle to their devious little hearts' content...but at least I know they DON'T know whose presents they are guessing about. 

Plus, it forces us all to slow down and enjoy the morning as we try to figure out who each present is intended for. And, to make matters even more exciting, I usually forget what most of my clues mean by Christmas morning. So, it has been interesting sometimes--like when Jonah unwraps a cute little nightgown or when Jared unwraps a beastly long hunting knife. 
But it all gets sorted out in the end, and we have a lovely time laughing together on Christmas morning. I just hope the game brings as much joy to my family as it does to me. 
Of course, I must acknowledge that it is a serious possibility it may also have the unintended side effect off making my children doubt Mother's mental acuity, but what's Christmas without at least one nutty person? Not fun, that's what. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

2014 Calendar

Last year, I made a wall calendar using watercolor and ink. Here are some of my first sketches for this year's calendar. See the theme?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

How to Survive Amputation: A Guide for Parents

Since she was born, I have known in the back of my mind this day was coming, and in a small way, I looked forward to it. I knew it meant she was growing up, moving on, using her gifts. But when it came time to actually load her things into the car and drive her to college, all of those mature thoughts flew out of my mind, and all I could think of was this: My baby girl was moving away, and she was never again going to live in our house as our child.
True, she might come back for a holiday break or for the summer, but it was always (God willing) going to be temporary. (Editorial comment time: Although we would certainly welcome her back at any time either during or after her college experience, the Point of Spending this Money and Heartache is that she will figure out what to do with her life and then do it in a way that brings her gainful employment. So, although my heart is trying to make my head nod an emphatic and perpetual welcome, we would prefer that soon after her college years are through, she will be able to support herself in her own home.)

Right, so I started thinking about all of the following things that were now going to be different:
1. When we go to church, it will only be the four of us. 
2. When we sit down for dinner, we will only set four places at the table.
3. When I wake up the kids up in the morning, I will only be waking the boys.
4. When I kiss them goodnight, I will only be kissing the boys.
5. When I sit down for some quiet reading time, she will not choose that precise moment to begin to play the piano and sing loudly (Hey wait: is that really such a bad thing...?) (Yes! Yes, you selfish mother, it is a bad thing. You will miss it.)
6. And when and when and when and when... 

Friday, we loaded up her things and drove her off to college. It's only 45 minutes away, not that far really, and it's Concordia, the school we both attended (and where we met and fell in love), so it's comforting to know that she is in a familiar place. And even more comforting: the faculty and staff we have met are warm and welcoming. Their love for Christ and their passion for their work gleam in their eyes and their smiles. They speak of helping our baby girl recognize her calling and use her gifts for God's kingdom. We know that she will learn much this year about who she is and what she can become. 

And so, although we will miss her dearly, feeling minute by minute the subtle twinges of this strange sort of amputation we have elected to endure, we know that she will be happy in her new home. She smiled all morning as we met new people and set up her dorm room and attended Matriculation Chapel. And although she looked a little tearful when we left (and so did I, of course), I feel confident her smile reappeared soon after as she looked around herself and realized she could find and make a home for herself here, too.

Monday, August 12, 2013

R2D2 Dress

A few weeks ago, Lauren asked me to make her an R2D2 dress. I'm always up for a challenge, but of course, I had a few sewing projects of my own lined up. I made her a deal: if she paid for the fabric and cut it out, I'd do the sewing. That way, I'd have some time while she puttered around to finish my own project.
We chose a simple pattern, a sheath, which I had made some years before as a dress for myself.

We picked up 2 yards (just to be safe) of a nice white bottom weight fabric with a little bit of stretch. Lauren cut out the pieces for the dress and then studied a picture of R2D2 carefully to decide what size and shape to cut her pieces of colored fabric to make his signature markings. She used cotton in black, red, and blue for these pieces, and I attached those to the piece for the dress front using a simple narrow zigzag stitch before assembling the dress.
Sewing the dress was simple; it's just basically a front and back, with facings around the neck and armhole edges. Attaching the facings was somewhat problematic, as I believe someone (ahem...the One Who Cut the Pieces) may have measured and cut the pattern pieces incorrectly, but after a brief visit with Madame Seam-Ripper and another inch or so added to some newly-cut-out facings, the dress was done.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

I first heard about Quiet on NPR, and as soon as I heard the byline ("The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking"), I knew this was a book I needed to read. I don't want to make this into a sob story or anything, but I remember feeling like there was something wrong with me as a teen and young adult because when it came to meeting new people or going to a big party, I would rather stay home...with a book. Even today, I'll take a book over most social gatherings.
Then, when I took the Myers-Briggs personality test in college, I realized this was because I'm an introvert.
Still, I don't think I ever really felt comfortable in my introversion. The world seems to be an extrovert's place, where you need to speak quickly and loudly to be heard, and where those who put themselves forward most audibly get furthest. And I knew that wasn't me.
So, when I heard about this book that explored how introverts' brains work, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how they can and should contribute their ideas to society...well, I had to read it.

At the beginning, Susan Cain clearly defines the difference between introversion and extroversion (which should be viewed as a continuum, I learned). At the most basic level, it boils down to the level of stimulation they prefer: most extroverts prefer the greater stimulation that comes with interacting with new people and tackling great obstacles or adventures; most introverts prefer the smaller stimulation that comes with quiet conversation with a close friend or listening to music or pursuing a hobby (like reading a book!). 
Susan Cain uses a wealth of statistics, psychological research, historical and current data, and information about our past and current economic and political figures to prove her point: that America does value extroverts as the ideal type, but that introverts, while quiet, have an important place. Indeed, she posits that if introverts continue to undervalue themselves, they will rob the world today and in the future of their ideas. For while it is the extroverts who often sell great ideas and make sure they are available to the public, Cain persuades the reader that it is introverts who often come up with these ideas in the first place. She proves her point with name upon name upon name of figures in ancient and recent history, as well as modern times. (Guess which of these were introverts: Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, W.B. Yeats, Chopin, J.M. Barrie, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schultz, J.K. Rowling, Steven Spielberg) (all of them!)
It is not just the world of ideas that Cain covers in this book, though. She also discusses the nature of introversion, the role of temperament and family, and how to live and work with both extroverts and introverts.
It was an affirming read and an engaging one. It made me think hard about who I am and what I should do with my gifts and talents, and it affirmed that there is nothing wrong with preferring to spend an evening reading quietly with my family than at a loud party.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


For Father's Day this year, Clint said he wanted to visit the local bird sanctuary. He built me a window feeder for Mother's Day, and we've all enjoyed watching birds and noting their greatly varied personalities. It was a muggy day, but the skies were clear, and we headed out after church and lunch.

Jared came prepared. I don't think he knew exactly what a bird sanctuary was because when we got out of the car, he asked, "Where are all the other people with THEIR birds?" Good question.

We did find several spots like this, where turtles (maybe snapping turtles?) had either hatched or...er...become someone's lunch.

Jonah's eagle eyes spotted this placid leopard frog.

The trails were well maintained, but infested with mosquitoes. In fact, we saw (or felt) many, many more of these winged folk than we did birds. However, we took a scenic route out to visit my parents and saw lots of birds along the way, which the boys cheerfully pointed out from the comfort of the air-conditioned, mosquito-free back seat.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Graduation Tea Party

Lauren has always loved simple things, beautiful things, and when she mentioned wanting a tea party for her graduation open house, I jumped at the idea. We set out to design a comfortable, low-key open house that would allow us time to mingle with our guests and not feel like we had to constantly rush around refilling bowls and platters. We wanted simple food and simple decorations. These are some pictures from the day. The weather was perfect--sunny and not too warm--and we had a lovely time.

We set up the food in stations. So, there was a savory table with finger sandwiches, a selection of cheeses, and pickles and olives.

Lauren and her grandma, and of course, Jared had to jump in...

We hung balloons from the tree in front of the house and set out blankets on the lawn for seating. I thought about renting tables and chairs, but I decided to do this instead. Jared placed card games and photo albums on each blanket.

We wanted to use fresh, whole fruit instead of cutting it all up into a fruit salad. There wasn't much left! This table was a big hit.

We had three drinks: iced black tea with berries, water with slices of lemons and limes, and Clint's homemade sweetened mint tea from mint grown on our property. His tea is so refreshing and yummy! We ran out of that!

This is the sweets table before anyone arrived. The long, thin wafer cookies were a huge hit. Everything else was homemade: pizelles, molasses cookies, shortbread cookies flavored with lime, miniature chocolate chip cookies, and pecan balls.

On the invitations, we invited guests to dress up, and several of them did! It was fun to see who took the extra effort...and it made for lovely pictures.

About two hours after the last guests left, we had cleaned up and the guys found a comfy spot for a nap. It was a lovely day for a very lovely girl.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Tutorial: Embroidered Pendant

I started playing around with embroidery this winter after falling in love with this book. After some practice, I stumbled across a shop on Etsy that sells embroidered initial pendants. They were expensive, though, and I thought I could probably make one of my own. I ordered three pendant blanks here at this shop, and then I began sketching some designs.

After considering my sketches, I settled on the little badger with a flower. Who doesn't love sweet badgers, especially when they're wearing aprons? 

The next step was deciding on a color scheme. Now, I know badgers are supposed to be black and grey, but I didn't have any black DMC thread at the time, and I couldn't take the time to run to the store. I wanted to get started right away! So, this little badger was going to be brown with a honey colored stripe down her nose. I was pretty sure she wouldn't mind.

Then I traced my design to the fabric and began to stitch. I used white Kona cotton, a very soft, densely woven fabric, for this project.

After I had finished embroidering my design, I traced the shape of the pendant backing on my fabric, cut the shape, allowing an extra 1/4" all the way around to fold the edges under, and ran a long basting stitch around the design, following the marks I had traced for the shape of the pendant.         

Then, I gathered positioned a small piece of white flannel directly behind my embroidered design, placed the backing piece on top of that, and then drew up my basting stitches. After that, I placed the entire piece inside the pendant frame, put the back piece in place, and bent the metal edges down to hold it in place in the back.

This is the finished pendant. It turned out pretty well, but I do think I'd like her better if she were black. And maybe if her nose weren't so bulbous. Still, it was a good first attempt. I like the pendants I ordered well enough, but I do wonder if the embroidered initial pendants I first fell in love with on Etsy use pendant blanks that are of a better quality. These are good, but not great. They were only three dollars, though, and if I consider the cost of my other materials--very minimal--it was a pretty inexpensive project. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Super Brother

When I left home to go to college, my youngest brother--Billy--was only eight. I remember how happy he was as a baby, how he rarely cried and always smiled. How willing he was to do what he was asked, how innocent and peaceful he was.
I remember him as a young boy, silly and fearless. Always ready to dive in the pool first or climb the tallest tree. And then he turned eight and I graduated from high school and moved away and began a life of my own.
I missed a lot of his adolescent years, I think, and then suddenly he was in high school and then graduated himself. And then he joined the Air National Guard and served two tours of duty in Iraq.
And then he got married and joined the Army and was deployed to Germany for a year or so.
And now he has two children and selflessly fathers them and loves his wife and serves his country. He is not a superhero; he is a real one. And I'm so proud of the man he has become.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Sweet Birthday Card for a Sweet Man

This year my grandpa turns 89. I remember spending lazy days lying next to him on his living room floor, stretched out in the sun, slowly falling asleep. I remember sitting at the kitchen table drinking chocolate milk and watching for birds to fly up to the bird feeder in his rambling cherry tree. He could identify each species, maybe even each bird. I remember slowly rubbing my fingers against the soft white hair on his head as I sat on his lap and sucked my thumb. I remember leaning close to his stubbled cheek and breathing in the tangy scent of garlic powder, which he sprinkled on nearly everything he ate.
I remember helping him in his garden, where the raspberry canes were taller than I was, and I think he used to keep bees out there in his backyard, too. That's why I painted this birthday card for him: a little boy named Billy reaching for a sweet treat from a brimming beehive. Even if he didn't keep bees, I know he loves honey--and of course, he's a sweet man. So it works on many levels.

Now, he sits most days in his wheelchair near that window where we used to nap together. He looks out at the cars and pedestrians and waves. Many of them wave back. He had a stroke about twelve years ago, and his right side never really recovered. But he still beams when he sees me, and he still watches his birds, and he still rides downtown every day on his motorized scooter to get the mail, and everyone in his little village greets him by name. Because he is a wonderful man. And I am so blessed to know him.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I'm BaaaaAAAAck!


It's been a long time since I posted here. I've been busy with school work and house work, making cards and sewing clothes and learning some new techniques. I've read a few books along the way (no surprise there) and put a few puzzles together with Jared.
I've missed writing, though, and I have made a promise to myself not to let life get in the way...at least not for awhile.
So, check back soon.
I'll have a new post up as soon as the weather cooperates for some pictures of what I've been up to.