are about people

Air travel and diversionary tactics


What about that little bit of celebratory travel I mentioned earlier? It has everything to do with our anniversary. Which is the big One-O. Which is a number that seems so big and momentous that I can't quite wrap my head around the fact that it's real and here and requiring immediate attention. It was a decade ago that we planned ourselves a little trip to Vegas and had our nuptials there, a ceremony that was small and simple and broadcast via internet. 

In the intervening ten years we've taken very few vacations. There were a couple of roadtrips the first few years. Then workaholism set in. Then saving up all vacation and personal time with the knowledge that we'd soon be trying for a baby while I was a job that offered no paid maternity leave. Then actually having a baby. Then a new job with no paid vacations. And then another baby. 

So family trips are largely unexplored territory. Save the annual Thanksgiving trip to turkey-gorge with the in-laws, we're really just homebodies. Air travel is a rather iffy proposition for us, having had a middling success rate, half our flights including some kind of child-weary breakdown. But ten is an awfully grand number, and so we've scheduled our first family vacation. To Vegas, the most family-friendly of towns.

As you might imagine, I'm not looking forward to the flight. The Girlie's become a squirmy rugrat, hellbent on mobility. Not an ideal candidate for confined spaces at high altitudes. So, I've resigned myself to a certain amount of pain on that front. But The Boy's reached that wonderful stage where he can be sat down with an iPhone stocked with videos and games, and as long as his sugar intake has been kept to a minimum, he should be a tolerable travel companion. But, so I hear, technology does not equate good parenting. And batteries run out. So I stock his special airplane backpack with little books and activities. Things like lacing cards and a thumbprint drawing book and simple connect the dots (I love you, Dover Books). 


And as part of that digital kick I've been on, I made up some writing practice sheets for The Boy. Just some lined pages for him to practice his alphabet. On the reverse side, I printed out a little diamond-y grid, for some open-ended coloring/patterning goodness. And then I did up some tic tac toe templates, because The Boy is nuts for that game. And I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I did get my behind handed to me in a tic tac toe tourney the other day at lunch. Honest to goodness. He actually beat me repeatedly at a game that was deemed pointless by Ally Sheedy in "War Games" because of its propensity to end in a tie. I like to think this says more about the nearly-4-year-old's intellectual prowess than the lack of the same in myself. 


I sealed up the worksheets in some laminating pouches and tossed them into a pouch with some dry-erase markers and a swatch of wool for erasures. In my extensive research I've found that, for a nearly-4-year-old, there's no artistic allure quite as strong as drawing in marker. And as a parent, nothing quite beats being able to wipe marks off with a dry rag. 

And here's a nifty little tip. When you're standing in the office supply aisle, examining the laminating pouches, and you see that the self-laminating pouches are exponentially more expensive than the heat laminating pouches for which you don't have the corresponding laminating machine, go ahead and pick up the cheaper, heat laminating ones. Just apply a hot iron (and pressing cloth, of course) slowly and evenly over the filled pouch until it seals. The beauty of the simple iron. Not just for burning your fingerprints off anymore.


Wanna whip out your own set of worksheets? Too lazy to work something up yourself with Creative Suite? What? You didn't shell out $1800 for a legal copy of the software? Here's our version of the worksheets, in PDF form. Knock yourself out. And try not to burn yourself on that iron.

A little celebration


Today is Mr. New Media's birthday. But May is a big month at the Lovelihood home. Two birthdays, an anniversary, Mother's Day, some celebratory travel, and toss in some big plans for some big changes. It's a big month. On the midst of all this celebration and movement, you'd think I'd be a crafty little bee buzzing from one project to the next to mark these felicitous times. But it seems that under all this anticipation, I've just been sitting around, twiddling my thumbs, antsy and unwilling to commit to anything that might eat into time spent stressing over these events. 

Angst city.

So I haven't been up to my usual festive craftiness. No pillows in progress. Sewing machine hibernating under its cozy. Gifts, ordered online instead of whipped up, and pretty mediocre at that. All this idleness got me feeling a tad guilty, so last minute plans got under way to bake a cake. A carrot cake, Mr. New Media's preference. Teeny tiny carrot cakes, adult cupcakes baked into the little canning jars (I've been hooked on these since making those sweetbreads at Christmas) we'd been storing The Girlie's homemade baby food in. Is there anything that miniaturization doesn't make better? It's as close to foolproof as any cake baking method can be. I've yet to misfire a batch of jar cakes. Perfect.


You know what else is perfect? Having a couple dozen perfectly portioned cakes, shelf stable up to a year, lunch-packable and utterly palatable. Either these babies will satisfy a couple weeks' worth of sweet-cravings. Or we'll polish them off by week's end and feel pretty bad about ourselves. We won't let ourselves think about that.


Teeny tiny carrot cakes, of course, deserve a teeny bit of cream cheese frosting. In our house, that means soy cream cheese frosting. And I've got to say, it turned out rather well. Double perfect. Little cake frosting is a job for little boys, even if they don't quite get the logistics of piping from a pastry bag. And there was, perhaps, a game of tic tac toe played in icing. Whatever.

Tags: birthday, cake, jar

In Bloom(ers)


A million years ago, pregnant with The Boy and not really having had much association with kids since the time when I was one, I conferred with all the checklists and newborn preparedness lessons and movies featuring seemingly-happy babes and came to the conclusion that we would need onesies. Lots and lots of onesies.

And for the first two or three months, that's all he wore. Oneseis and the iconic footed jammies. Then, personality started kicking in, revealing him to be stubborn and proud and prone to maniacal fits of the giggles. And, excited at the little man he was becoming, we started dressing him like one, which, in our interpretation, looked (and still looks) a lot like a frat boy. We've given him over to the layered look, stocking his dresser with t-shirts from our favorite establishments and indie radio stations, to be worn over a small collection of thermal shirts and lightweight hoodies, even when this Texan spring might suggest that a plain old tank top might be more fitting. For bottoms, he sports denims generally way cooler than anything his dad or I have ever worn. With pockets in absurd arrays and numbers. In short, he's a cool little dude.


So, when compiling the wardrobe for the not-yet-born-Girlie, we played it cautious, wary not to give in to too many items that might contradict her personality later on. There were, of course, the hand-me-downs and some irresistible little shifts in pink concentric circles. And the sewing machine made its own contributions of booties and bloomers and a couple of entirely-too-cute-for-everyday-wear dresses. And sure enough, nine months into her baby-life, that stuff has mostly given way to miniature versions of the clothes our tween-aged neighbor girls wear.

So, with good reason, I had thought that the bloomer-making days were past. And yet that's what I've been spending the last week's worth of sewing time doing. Maybe it's that it just prolongs her babyness, a period that seems to be flying by entirely too quickly this time around. It seems to be a daily occurrence that The Girlie makes some face or pulls herself up in some new way or gurgles out some new consonant that compels me to remark to Mr. New Media that I can't believe how big she's getting. Yes. It appears I've reached THAT stage of parenthood. But bloomers. Bloomers will keep her a baby longer. 

And the best part about these bloomers (from this book), aside from their youth-preserving qualities? As with anything else you can sew for a baby, the amount of material necessary is small enough that it can be extracted from just about anything. Like beloved t-shirts, too ratty to function any longer as adult attire.


There are people out there, very talented sewists and purveyors of tutorials, who make the baseless assertion that jersey is deceptively easy to work with. Emphasis on the deception. I've used the elastic stitch function on my machine and varying iterations of the zig zag stitch, and combinations of the two, each time hoping something will click that will make that statement true. I'm not sure what it is, exactly, that the elastic stitch function does. So far as I can tell, its M.O. involves increasing the slowness and decibel level of the machine operation. But I've come to the conclusion that those jersey advocates out there are all either secretly working on sergers or are seriously delusional. Or perhaps both.


But, the draw of the t-shirt is strong. And, as I've come to learn, there is no sewing imperfection so heinous as to be un-concealable by judicious applications of elastic. Elastic being The Great Equalizer. Made from an old t-shirt that had seen heavy rotation through my high school years, and then banished to the sleepwear drawer once the holes started developing, these bloomers have become a favorite once again with a few short lengths of elastic. And they'll keep the prom dresses and dress slacks at bay for just a while longer.

Some soft things & one antlered


Here's an embarrassing fact about Mr. New Media: In his dream home he will have carved out a sizable nook just for pillows. A pit, if you will. This space would be floofy and cushy and, I imagine, I Dream of Jeannie-like. He imagines possibly falling back into it, perhaps from a second floor landing. Maybe he lazes in it, sipping red wine. Maybe he browses the internet, enveloped in velvets and damasks and silk brocades. Maybe he takes in a football game on his appropriately man-sized flatscreen. I don't know. I do not share this dream. But nothing gratifies quite as instantly as a simple pillow project. And really, when your completed product is as soft and yielding as something to populate a pit of pillows, there's also very little that's as forgiving. 


For a good stretch there I followed the self-instigated tradition of crafting up a pillow as part of every gifting event for Mr. New Media. Birthdays, anniversaries, father's day, etc. Most were sewn, some with a simple envelope closure, others outfitted with zippers. At least one was knitted in an atrocious display of color theory. Some required new fabric, chosen off bolts or salvaged from the remnant bin, or worked from a napkin picked up on clearance. There's the one cut from a favorite t-shirt and fringed in bobbly orange. There's the one that sits as homage to Mondrian. One was made from velvety scraps left over from our re-creation of a favorite book. Two are giant felt carrots. One is just plain giant.


We have yet to find that dream home, the one with the pillow-lounging corner. Hell, we're not even in our dream-state. Home ownership and serious commitment to decorating will have to wait. Right now, it's really just a pillow hole, spilling out of the tent my mom made The Boy for his second birthday. Still, I'm about to stitch the first seems of a dress, a huge, daunting project, and am in serious need of some quick-return craftyness to build up my energy and self-steem. 

So, pillows. In starting the dress project, I had cut out pieces to construct a muslin, a most unthinkable act. My bright idea was to use the scraplets from to piece them together in a jagged, strippy fashion to make a pillow front, and then back it with flannel left over from the throw I made at Christmas. Easy enough, but the resulting panel evoked mummies and wrapped bandages. And, as Mr. New Media pointed out, we're a family prone to laying down stains wherever we sit, with sticky chocolate and ripe-strawberry remains grinding into everything. The fine art of napkin usage, despite constant gentle reminders, has not quite stuck with the three-year-old. And the muslin panel, as it was, was just too blank a canvas. A little embellishment was in order, so a second unthinkable act was initiated. I did some appliqué work. In the shape of Texas. Which really accounts for a third unthinkable act. But as they say… When in Rome, adorn your home goods with the likeness of your nation-state. I set a zipper in and called it good.


I've been in a state of mind the past few weeks where I've been very down on this state. There are, of course, many stereotypes about Texans. You know, the whole gun-totin', hickish, loud-mouthedly conservative bit. Lately, it feels like certain citizens of this state have gone out of their way to validate these stereotypes. But there was something rather therapeutic about making this pillow. Maybe it was all the pinning and needling the shape took, like a Texas voodoo doll exorcising its likeness' demons. Maybe it's just that it's fun and cuddly.

In the background, there, is the first piece we took in to commemorate our then-new Texas-ness. Our own deer bust in cardboard and decorative paper. I tasked Mr. New Media with this project once we were settled in this house. He predictably objected to the paper I had picked out. Too girly, of course. But what could be a better antithesis to your archetypical taxidermized trophy than patterns you might decorate a girl's baby shower with? Another Texas corner funned and cuddlied up.


Snaps shot


Three years ago, while trimming the nails of a very uncooperative baby boy, I handed him the nearest shiny object in an attempt to acquiesce him into acceptance of the clippers. This camera, whose commercials claimed it to be the "official camera of the internet," eliciting a snortle every time I heard it, was swiftly clunked to the ground. It's lens, bent at an unholy angle and refusing to retract, was waiting apologetically for Mr. New Media to judge when he got out of the shower. It was deemed unfixable. So we replaced it. With the one we currently use. The one The Girlie now manhandles.

Babies, I suppose, are all alike in this regard — they have no respect for personal electronics. The Girlie, like The Boy who blazed the trail before her, has a bad habit of sweeping the camera to the floor. One swift movement of a roly-poly arm, and a pocket-sized camera can be sent clear across the room. One could see how I could be to blame. Mr. New Media has suggested that I've been purposefully careless with the camera to necessitate the purchase of a new, much more expensive one. To which I just shrug sheepishly. 

After the last big tumble, this old thing's developed some focusing and lighting issues that can't be rectified. And when telescoping open, it issues a Clickety Clackety that, while not altogether displeasing, isn't really a healthy camera kind of noise. And three years in digital goods time pretty much constitutes an eternity. So we're in serious camera-shopping mode around here. And yes, we're looking at DSLRs this time. Mr. New Media's got his eye on some specific cameras whose specs elude me. I really don't know a damn about cameras so I'm leaving it to him to decide. Just direct me to the macro button, thank you very much. These fancier cameras have macro buttons, right? Jeez, it better come with a printed manual. I'm looking forward to some good ol' documentation-reading already.


In the meantime, I'm still using Clickety Clackety, because there are shots to be taken, moments to be digitized. And while I can never quite get the shot I want anymore, what with entire quadrants of blur taking over the frame, there is a bit of a lomographic quality, an analog-ness, that makes it downright charming, if quasi-artistic. Thank god for blurry photo flickr pools. 


I know I'm not the world's greatest photographer. But I try. And I think I've pulled off some pretty good shots with our little point and shooter. Even Mr. New Media, who had harbored aspirations to photojournalism before being drawn to the dark arts of the eponymous New Media, concedes that I take the better photos these days. But having a camera with obvious defects takes a good deal of the pressure off. It's ok if my photos aren't in focus. Or evenly lit. Or look like they were shot in this decade. They're flawed. To which I just shrug sheepishly.

Tags: camera, photography

Gardening, contained


A new friend asked the other day if I do any gardening. The short answer is no. Between being in a rented house whose owners seem to have a specific horticultural vision, and having a bit of a short attention span when it comes to looking after the well-being of plantlife, I've got solid excuses not to dabble in the green arts. But I'm going to be completely honest with you here. It's the bugs that really keep me from spending time in the garden. I am deeply squeamish even at the mere thought of bugs. It's an embarrassing fact, one that exposes me for the scream-and-scamper GIRL archetype that I am. 

I've been thinking for a while now that I just need to get the hell over it. Because if I ever hope to rely on the kids for bug removal, I'd better not let on to them that bugs are creepy crawly little nightmares that, at all costs, should never be touched or looked at. And I really believe that one of the greatest activities for kids at home is watching and tending to a growing plant. Hell, even I love watching a seed germinate. Well into adulthood I've been known to pop a bean or avocado pit or pre-seeded peat disk into water and watch that little sprout unfurl its tender green head. Magic. So, the hell over it, I'm trying to get.

It's late February now, practically March, and from what I hear it's been unseasonably cold. I hadn't noticed. While the rest of the country was suffering through an actual freeze, the latest cold front ushered in daytime temps in the 50s. We only had one day this month in the 70s. That madness seems to be passing now, the sun glimmering friendly and warm. I threw sweaters on the kids one cool morning last week and we headed out, on foot, the few blocks to our favorite nursery, crossing paths with thin-skinned natives bundled in their fleeciest coats and scarves and hats. We exchanged hellos and I snickered inwardly.


Some people can rattle off genera like their own phone numbers, pinpointing a plant's taxonomic hierarchy with hairline precision. They know what to plant, where to plant it at the right time of year, have pre-tested the soil balance and treated it for optimum growing conditions. Me, I glance at the little tags staked into the pots at the nursery. And then I throw all caution to the wind and just plop my new acquisitions into a freshly dug hole, or in our case, one of the pots I have sitting around waiting for this occasion. This day, I let the Boy make most of the plant selections, steering him towards herbs and small flowering things. We picked out enough to fill the basket under The Girlie's stroller, laid out a Girlie sized bag of organic potting soil at her feet, and tossed in a couple of seed packets to round out the mix.


Playing with dirt is nothing The Boy needs to be talked into. He was more than happy to shovel it into the pots and nestle it around the transferred mounds of dirt and root. He carefully laid the plant markers into the pots, lest we forget the difference between rosemary and thyme, and liberally sprinkled all the containers with his watering can. Then he piled the soil into our recycling bin-salvaged egg carton and, ever gently, massaged sunflower and wildflower seeds into the dirt. His daily responsibilities now include watering his plants ("They belong to all of us, Momma") and checking for any new growth. No new developments, yet, but not having to go out and buy a sprig of sage for tonight's dinner gets me plenty excited. I could get used to this kind of gardening. 

Three quilts


Come every September, as the weight of summer heat, something I'm just not cut out for, makes way for that first chill, that slightest sliver of an inclination to slide my toes and children under a cozy blanket and settle in for the cooler months ahead, I start thinking quilts. I pull up images pilfered from websites and books and magazines, and sort through my stash, and browse all the pretty cottons online and wound in bolts at the store. And I plan and plan and plan. And then, nerve worked up to finally cut through some fabric, I realize that I need to put the whole thing aside to get to more pressing, seasonal matters.


And so it's gone the past few years. First it was The Boy's quilt. It was my first, a pattern from Denyse Schmidt's book, the one that allowed me to believe I could actually pull off such a thing. He was a baby, then. I'd been poring over the book for a few months, not ready to take the plunge into actual making, until I found him one December morning, foot leveraged against the rail to his crib, ready to launch himself out of bed. That night, we converted the crib, with a few turns of an allen wrench, to a toddler bed. And I decided that a toddler with a new (sort of) bed deserved new toddler bedding. I attended to the quilt in the evenings, after work and dinner and Boy putting-down. Worked in one-hour increments, that impossibly small crib quilt took three months. It, with Elvis Presleyan accents and blue-green floral notes, still accompanies his sleep, though it's entirely too small, now, for both his full-sized bed and his sleep-squirmy body.


The materials for quilt #2, a large one for our queen-sized bed, were freshly purchased when I found out I was pregnant. I, atingle with nervous excitement at this new development, stashed the bags of fabrics into a closet until such a time as my unstable nerves were steadied enough to wield something so sharp as a rotary cutter. In the meantime, I kneaded biscotti dough and hand-rolled truffles and brewed up liqueurs I wouldn't be able to drink (I may have taken a couple of sips here or there — you know, for testing purposes), and bundled them up for their holiday recipients. Once past all the gift-making, I took a moment to consider the direction of my next projects, whether they should be baby-related or not. I opted to spend the next few months working on a fairly simple quilt for us, because The Boy looked so content under his, and I wanted my own, dammit. I went without a pattern on this one, going with a simple staggered brick construction in solids of blues with columns of blue/green/brown prints thrown in for interest. I happened across the Democrat print next to a similarly spent bolt of Republican fabric at the store and knew it would have a happy home on my bed. If there had been a crazy-Liberal fabric, I would have stitched that in instead. The back, with its center stripe of orangey flowers dividing two cephalopodic panels, is an effective marker, like that tug-of-war flag, in our nightly battles for bedding supremacy.


The Girlie was born in July, with a full Houston summer's worth of bone-melting heat and humidity to survive before any kind of blanketing could even be considered. In a third-trimester scramble, I had made up a stack of light receiving cloths and even lighter provisions for the double-swaddling that would enable us all some sleep. These were no more complex than a layer of stretchy cloth edged with bias binding. A quilt would have to wait until such a time that being buried under a crib-sized hill of cloth and batting would not send me into sweat-gland overload. I emerged from a summertime spent cordoned in air-conditioned spaces in relative un-craftiness (there was a newborn to attend to, after all), consumed by two urges. The first, a strong desire to throw myself into a wordy, webby self-indulgence. The second, an absolute need to piece together this quilt. Mine (well, The Girlie's) is not so faithful to the whole polka dotty theme as its author's. But I knew we had something good going when The Girlie gave me her first chortles while eying the unfinished quilt-top hanging across the room.

This quilt is a product of flannels from The Boy's old receiving blankets and cotton prints from my stash, left over from the previous two quilts and other little projects for our little family. Things like baby booties and Easter baskets and blankets and little kimonos and pillows. The backing is a heart-y kaleidoscope, printed up at Spoonflower, swatched and color-corrected until it repeated and read just right. Hand quilting has a permanent residence on my ever-increasing list of things that I'm slow at, somewhere in the midst of running and writing and mentally reckoning for daylight savings. But after a happy month spent with legs cozied up under the quilt, thumb thimbled and rocking away, I was then faced with the task of binding. And, quite possibly, there is nothing I'm slower at than that, measuring my progress in tedious little inches. But it's finally done, all colorful and cheerful and full of bits and pieces of our family. And, yes, warm.