Over the summer and through early autumn, the house still a wreck of half-unpacked boxes and furniture-poor rooms, I'd get the kids geared up on material-gathering expeditions. We'd pick up pine cones and sticks and newly-turned leaves and itty bitty flowers on the way to the playground. Mostly, it was to get The Boy interested in getting out of the house, and our spoils would sit piled up in a heap by the front door. I'd seen some nice yarn-wrapped sticks out there on the internet, though, and it ended up being a pleasantly low-key project, a way for The Boy to indulge his interest in all those balls of surplus yarn I generally don't want little kids tangling up. Now the sticks contribute to the sweet hodgepodge of found and made things on our narrow little mantle.
I have made
It's been pretty quiet here at the Lovelihood. Maybe you've noticed. Likely you've been too caught up in your own seasonal madness to notice that I've been less than forthcoming with my usual wordiness. But somehow, part-time work and full-time parenthood eats into free time and energy considerably. And sometimes (OK, most nights) the appeal of sitting down to reruns of How I Met Your Mother with a mugful of coffee and a crossword puzzle/zombie game is too strong to resist. So, while, mostly during daylight hours, I've made time for holiday cheer and tradition, and the production and consumption of baked goods, I've been less dedicated to the vocation of blog posting. Racking up mileage on the ol' running shoes also tends to tire you out a little. Just saying.
Anyway, to prove that my silence is not indicative of total inactivity around these parts, I offer up some photos, and, well, lots of wordiness. Bear with me. I'm a little out of practice here, and I have a feeling it will translate to even less self-editing than usual...
Last year, the mere thought of two little ones underfoot rattling tree-hung glass ornaments into smithereens rattled me enough to pack them back away in their designated Christmas cartons. This year, as we pulled out the decorational provisions, Bear's gentle hand managed to shatter ornaments in their protective boxes with her gentle smashings and gentle bangings, and I'm thinking the moratorium on glass orbs might just become a permanent ban.
But those little salt dough men had their own kid-appeal, and I'd wrested some from the tight-jawed grip of a slobbery toddler and swept up dismembered pieces of others. So a new batch of ornaments, taking the form of Scandinavian-cute woodland critter shapes, was mixed, rolled, cut and baked. And then painted and checked on every 5 minutes for signs of dry-enough-to-hang-on-the-tree-ness. Other little projects made their way to the tree, as well. Glitter-speckled works retrieved from school, lanterns cut from cardboard tubes, strips of paper salvaged from the recycling bin and placed gingerly across branches by an ornament-greedy 4-year-old and a toddler-sister who has no concept of the difference between decoration and trash.
So that was what we did for the house, to psych ourselves up for the season. More difficult to rouse from dormancy was the motivation necessary to get presents worked on and out the door. So difficult, in fact, that I missed the cutoff for getting the usual liqueurs started and steeped. Those generally beg for a month or two of cool, dark incubation. And I never quite made it out to a liquor store, the ones here being state-run and generally less convenient than the mega-martropolis of our beloved Houston chain. So I went with non-alcoholic as my theme this year, friendlier for the ever-growing share of teetotalers and underagers on our list.
Photographic evidence of the goodies that did get made are scarce, unfortunately. The manic rush to get them packaged and shipped and out of mind, and the general low-light, late-in-the-dayness of my prime production hours just didn't allow for proper photo-shoots. The inventory of goodies was pretty impressive, though, considering that I almost gave up on the idea of getting them out on time at all.
There was grenadine, which boils over into a black-tar crust on the stove the moment you rush upstairs to retrieve newly-risen children. Vanilla was extracted into a base of glycerin instead of any of the fun alcohols your store-bought variety are usually served in. Vanilla sugar, whose manufacture was so simple as to instill in me trembling Catholic-schooled guilt for passing it off as home-made, poured easily into little jars and vials. Cranberry cakes baked themselves into the little canning jars previously used to store the purees of avocado and sweet potato that constituted the then-baby Bear's diet. Cranberry syrup, really just a happy by-product of the fortnight's maceration of the fruits to ready them for jar-baking, also went into the neat little bottles. A trio of s'mores fixins' was tucked into freezer paper pillows. This year's marshmallows (which also served to amaze an office-ful of hipster newspaper personnel), teamed up with our best batch of graham crackers to date and a chocolate concoction I dubbed Texas bark, which I did manage to shoot.
The bark was basically chocolate, melted and drizzled over corn chips and pretzels, which makes it a treat about as classy as the deep fried whatevers we indulged in at our annual pilgrimages to the Houston Rodeo. We went, perhaps, a little heavy on the chocolate. But, really, when it's Fritos and chocolate, there's no wrong proportion. The Boy, whose eschewal of both corn chips and chocolate is a curious character flaw, was nonetheless a most eager assistant. The work of drizzling clearly fits well within the skillset and attention span of a pre-schooler, alongside cookie cutter operation and vanilla bean sniffing.
And then there were the inedibles. Like last year, I Gocco'ed up our greeting cards on the backs of cereal boxes and tucked within them giftlets of photos and sheep. I'd had bigger plans for the screen printing this year, hoping to Gocco up the calendar/bookmarks. I burned through several screens before coming to terms with the reality that they wouldn't hold up with the tiny text and the ink that had become inconsistent during the summertime move. I sent them through our trusty little inkjet instead, and I'm happy enough with the result, but they would have been so much sweeter with honest to goodness ink pressed into them. To console myself, I decided to screen this year's holiday logo onto some striped jersey, cut into scarf-sized strips, mostly to serve as extra padding for the glass-heavy shipments. Too impatient to properly swatch-test and see the result dried and set, and it being too much past the kids' bedtime to head out in search of proper fabric inks, I threw caution to the wind and just stamped the damned scarves with the iffy ink in my provisions. The initial presses looked good, bright and rich. It was as they dried and soaked into the tight cotton knitting that they started to muddy, ending up mostly just looking like dirty scraps of fabric. Too late in the season to dwell on it, or make more earnest attempts, I sent a few out anyway, at any rate still needing to pad the packages with something. And, not dwelling on the half-assedness of my screen printing, I sport the scarf, myself, with a certain regularity that must have my co-workers muttering under their breaths about that girl who always wears that dingy scarf. Oh, and, of course, more of the burlap buckets were made, lined with the red wool left over from Bear's Halloween costume. It wasn't until after I'd assembly-line cut out all the wool swatches needed for the buckets that I remembered that I'd purchased the extra yardage to make a nice coat for Bear. Oh well. We all make sacrifices.
Ok. Enough for now. I'll try to be back later this week. In the meantime, enjoy the pics.
First off, some business. That littlest of persons, the one heretofore known as "The Girlie," shall from this point forward be known as "Bear". Not so feminine, I know, but certainly more befitting of a girl whose favorite utterance is a snarly arrrgh, and who wrestles up the furniture with pure mammalian gusto. The Boy shall keep his moniker, as he is quintessentially as his name suggests, having reached the critical stage where he weaponizes everything and waves, proudly, the pirate flag we purchased at our much-missed favorite dispensary for knick-knackery . That is all. Now, on to the other stuff I write about...
Halloween, as you may recall, was a pretty big damned deal in our Houston days. Like high school basketball gym big. Plan and provision-stock year-round big. More anticipation-building than Christmas big. Of course, we left true trick-or-treat insanity when we drove off that street for the last time in July. And even then we knew that what we'd miss most about living there, even more than that extra half-bath, was that exhilarating spectacle of thousands of candy-hoarders beating down our front porch.
And, of course, we were well aware that the holiday in Seattle would be conspicuously unspectacled. For every time that The Boy jitterrily counted down the days advent-calendar-style to his favorite day of the year, we had to calmly bring him down, brace him for the disappointment that Halloween will never be as fun as it was when we lived in Texas. It's a cold-hard truth.
But, while we may have left the revelry behind, we did take with us a deep appreciation for the holiday. Mr. New Media and I had never been ones for fantasy and dressing up and, in general, anything that might call attention to ourselves. We were both the sort of kids that were content to sit in the middling rows, dressed in nice, but inconspicuous attire, even when given the free-license that a day like Halloween could provide. We each came to our own brands of anti-socialness through our own peculiar set of circumstances, but we both got there nonetheless. And much of our parental careers have been spent trying to raise children who are not at all like us in that respect.
It sometimes feels like some grand nature vs. nurture experiment, like Trading Places without the unfortunate foray into blackface. And at many times, we feel about as successful as alchemists attempting to forge gold out of the most timid kid in the room. Because, even after all the planning and constructing and excitement-building, The Boy, who clamored down from his nap every day for a week eager to see the progress I'd made on his wolf costume, nagging at me to finish the crown that would transform him from mere ordinary wolf to a Where the Wild Things Are fantasy, was afraid to show up at school in costume the Friday preceding Halloween. But — and I know it was a little mean of us to do — we made him do it. Because we knew that at the end of the day he would have enjoyed himself. And the true beauty of Halloween-on-a-Sunday is that you have all weekend to really get comfortable with your wolf-self, or Daphne-from-Scooby-Doo-self, or sexy watermelon, or whatever. And, yes, all it took was that day at school, and he eagerly wore the hell out of that costume for the rest of the weekend.
But, I digress. Imagine that. This is a space about making things, and I had started out this post with the intention of discussing the minutiae of costume-building. Like how the wolf top was constructed using the same pattern used for last year's Peter Rabbit jacket. Or how Bear's Little Red Riding Hood cape, woolen with a rich cotton sateen lining and way more luxurious than the out-of-a-package acetate Little Red Riding Hoods we scrambled past on our trick-or-treating ventures, was mostly a make-it-up-as-I-went affair that turned out to be just about the cleanest, most tailored item ever sewn by my humble machine. My delighted score of a picnic basket at the thrift store. How I had to take in the tail I had originally sewn into the wolf-pants because The Boy refused to wear it at that length. But I'm running out of steam here, what with all that talk about feelings and anti-social tendencies. So I'll just highlight three moments of this year's costume preparations.
1) I've come to the conclusion that the my sewing machine's handy One-step buttonhole procedure is a poorly documented piece of crap. Doesn't work. Pisses me off every time I try to make it work. Four buttons needed installation for the Wolf and one for 'Lil Red. I tossed out the buttonhole attachment that came with the machine and I did what I imagine every Pioneer woman with a 7-year-old entry-level, Target-purchased, never-serviced Singer would have done to install a damned button hole. I just stitched in a crazy tight zigzag on either side of the hole and gouged it open with a seam ripper. By the way, have there been any technological improvements on that particular device? I keep thinking I need a better one, and I go to the accessory aisle hoping to be wowed with a top-of-the-line whizzbang of a seam ripper, and am faced, disappointedly, with an array of devices whose one-upmanship seem solely based on their ergonomic prowess (read: larger handles).
2) The Boy's crown was the final element to create, and the one item for which I couldn't just fake it with something from my stash. A last-minute trip to the fabric store found us a gold-latex-painted fabric type thing, which stood on end next to a red-latex-painted fabric type thing. The Boy, taken with what can only be described as sex on a bolt, insisted that, one, his favorite color was glossy latex red, and that, two, its inclusion in the crown was not up for debate. Compromise: made gold crown, with a red lining. Didn't hear any complaints.
3) Bear loved her cape. Until we tried putting the hood up over her head. At which point she'd tug and pull and squirm and grunt and eventually scream. So mostly she was a little girl in a red cape whose parents had to constantly explain her getup. The last time we had to explain a child's costume was The Boy's first Halloween when we pinned a handful of toy snakes to his shirt and called him "Snakes on a Baby" (this was 2006, mind you). I suppose when they're old enough to decide for themselves what they'll dress up as, they get to make the explanations. And I'll be there to make them do it.
Here's something telling about us. In our new home, by leaps and bounds my favorite of the roofs under which we've gathered our family and myriad of useless tchotchkes and less useless pets and supplies for happiness and craftiness, the room Mr. New Media and I allotted ourselves for sleep is the smallest. A grand Master Bedroom, with areas for dressing and lounging and letter-writing, 5-piece baths with nooks for floral arrangements, headless busts and cavernous shoe and purse receptacles… not in the cards for us, my friends. And truth be told, my shoes make up a pretty modest quartet. One for busing to work and walks to the library and longer walks down to the really good park . One for days when I'm wearing more brown than black. One for running. And one for when it's rainy. None sport zebra stripes. None require the masochistic determination of a Cinderella stepsister (I'm talking Grimm stepsister, here) to don.
So when, on the eve of our shipping container's arrival, we came upon the conclusion that the little room in back that could fit little more than our queen sized mattress would, in fact, be our bedroom, it was the quintessential a-ha moment. Our first happy decision in this place (after, of course, our decision to actually move into it), was to take the largest room in the house, the one designated Master Bedroom (though without an attached bath its claim to masterliness is dubious at best), and craft a work space out of it. That's the large airy room we spend a good deal of our non-sleep hours in. It's the one whose french doors we cavalierly throw open on sunny days to entertain a bit of breeze and fresh air while plugging away at computer code and ripped seams, allowing the cat to wander in and out, curmudgeonly snarling at the birds who heckle her from the trees. It's the one whose previous owners saw fit to build in two additional closets spanning the entirety of the north wall, flanking a bank of drawers that The Boy will one day discover can be pulled out in a gradient to fashion a sort of staircase to the ceiling. The room fits desks to hold our adult computers, a small table to support the much larger, toe-crushingly heavy, kid-designated computer, my beloved orange table covered in thread snippets and deciduous leaves and coniferous offshoots gathered from our latest playground-excursion, cabinets and chests to secret away fabric purchased surreptitiously on my days off from work, a pile of blankets and pillows not put away after recent overnight guests, now suitable for the rumblings and tumblings of a four-year-old and his sister.
And it's got walls. A simple thing, really, but, while our last home-office space, the one in our rented Houston house, was loaded with custom built-ins, walls of windows gazing out onto our Stepfordian street, and a murphy bed to handily collapse back into its frame when not in use, it had no wall space. None. No space to pin a simple photo to the wall, let alone an entire board for writing on and drawing inspiration from. Not, that I've got such a board, mind you. And the starkness of one of those ginormous expanses of cork don't quite appeal to me. But those fussy, tufted numbers with diamond grids of silk ribbon and glassy buttons eyes aren't quite my thing, either. Something middling that continuum, perhaps.
I started with an assortment of frames picked up at our local emporium for all things second-hand. Not requiring the glass to be intact nicely opened up my options here, but where the frames did come complete with glass, I just put those panes aside for another day (I don't think I need to mention here that those ample closets have quickly filled up). I happened to have one can of spraypaint in black laying around, so that's what was used to get all the frames started on the page. Then, the fun part. Taking those cork tiles you can get at office supply stores, I cut panels out to fit the frames and attached swatches of fabric to the cork with some Heat n Bond. Would've used a simple spray mount, but didn't have any of that sitting in a drawer. The iron-on adhesive worked nicely, though, creating a nice, tight seal, and still pierce-able by your typical pushpin. Hung the frames up on the wall, and called it good. Give me a couple months of unchecked snippet-hanging. Undoubtedly, I'll need more pin-able space. But this is a good start, one I can always augment with more frames.
Mr. New Media's got a serious thing for white boards. And while he's still making his case for a be-hammocked man-cave lined with white board walls, there's little I find less inspiring than that slick white surface grimed up with foul smelling markers. Sorry, Babe. Sorry that you had to hear it here, but I hate whiteboards. Chalk boards, on the other hand, I can do. Chalkboark paint, which sits in permanent residence among my crafty supplies (in that drawer designated for painterly pursuits), I can always rely on to transform something simple, say a standard-issue clipboard, into something more multi-taskworthy. Hung those in a grid, and called that good, as well. And I'm already thinking more of these are in order. I've been using them to anchor down wayward thoughts and to give unfinished projects a forum from which to nag at me and to keep of-the-moment swatches at inspiration's reach. And off the floor. Which is important, because that's where the children are happily wrestling.
Quite literally, actually. The Boy is at that sometimes aggravatingly curious stage in which it is not enough to merely know the words for things… He's now demands the meaning, the greater significance, the syntactical nuance of the inhabitants of his world. Also, he picks at every little thing we say. We attempt a demeanor of patience, and encourage his new role as inquisitor, and explain that "Let's roll, family" is not a literal request to tumble into the car, that "cool" has seemingly infinite usages, that the zombies aren't being mean, exactly, when they eat your brains — it's just who they are (zombies come up in conversation a lot around here).
But the other day The Boy, mulling over a Life is Good t-shirt, inquired as to the full explanation of that word. And I was no more prepared to offer even the broadest definition of "life" than to explain what the hell irony is, or where babies come from, or whether or not I've ever inhaled. But those, I actually have answers for. The truth is a pretty convenient thing. Mostly because I already know it. There's no need to formulate an answer if one already exists in a truth-cloud, ready for me to pluck at a 4-year-old's behest. All that's left is to craftfully supply it in a way that doesn't do lasting harm.
But, seriously, Life? I still don't know how to answer that one, either to a pre-schooler, or to an anonymous crowd of blog-readers. And in light of my prolonged absence from this space, the length of which can no longer be explained away with a We're-still-settling-in copout, I'll just offer up some scrappy bits of our life around here since we picked up and left Texas nearly two months ago. Life-filling may not be so insightful as life-relevance, but it's what I know how to explain. Deal.
So, it may not have shown up on your radar, but National S'mores Day was a couple weeks ago. And we didn't actually have much chance to revel in it, either. Because I was working. That's right. Part-time employment has been procured, putting me at a computer screen two or three days a week for pay. At my preferred venue for employment, a newspaper . And while, after taxes and child-care, my net pay actually comes in at a net loss, it's nice to actually be working in my industry again. And with Mr. New Media having landed a job of his own in his industry, things are working themselves into a nice rhythm around here. But coming off of a 12+ hour workday, I decided that we needed to make up our own s'mores to belatedly celebrate that most holy of holidays. So graham crackers were rolled out and docked and tossed into the oven, marshmallow makings set to warp speed in the mixer then poured into a pan to set, an appropriate dairy-less chocolate bar retrieved from the semi-corporate hippie grocer across the street from our neighborhood playground.
We do not, as of yet, have the implements necessary for the roasting of marshmallows for the traditional ooey-gooey s'mores. One day, maybe I'll splurge on one of those culinary flash-bangs to micro-produce a perfectly scorched s'more to order. But I suspect that would take much of the fun out of the whole thing, particularly after The Boy has an epic meltdown at our refusal to let him handle the torch. Such are battles for another day. On this one, we simply settled in with mellowly sun-warmed stacks of sugar and pastry and enjoyed them with a discussion of how much we hope to never leave our new home. The boy takes his with a deconstructionist's careful methodology, eating first the marshmallow (he takes a bite, then pulls the marshmallow back to examine the moist marshmallowy insides), then munching at the graham cracker, then taking the teensiest of nibbles at the chocolate before handing it over to someone who actually enjoys such things. I just gobble mine up, taking care to ensure each bite contains each of the three s'more-ful components, but gobbling it up all the same. And then I contemplate the fairness of sneaking another after the kids are sent to bed.
Ok, so I was going offer up some other vignettes of life as it's been the past couple months, because there's been plenty of doing and making and, yes, settling-in happening around here, and even some photographs shot here and there to document it. But I'm issuing an executive order to pace myself. S'mores are enough for now. Life-meaning can wait another day.
So. We're deep in some throes here. Death throes? Throes of passion? A period of extreme turmoil and stress? Yes, yes and yes. Ok. So maybe not so much with the death part. But housing plans have been imperilled, employment proven to be a fickle partner, humidity and heat smothering any headway I'd made on my regimen of running and complaining that it's too hot to run. Yes, there's been running, slow and not so steady, likely quite painful to witness. And, let me tell you, I make much better time when I'm mentally arranging my new home than when I'm stressing about salvaging the whole operation.
But there are still those boxes huddled in the back corner of the kitchen waiting to be transferred to the shipping container that has taken over our sideyard. And there are dozens (hundreds?) more that will be packed before the end of the month. Because, regardless of whether we have a solid destination, we've resolved to leave this state before the end of this calendar half-year. "Foolhardy" comes to mind. "Desperate to leave this state" is also a pretty good descriptor.
Here's where this gets a bit personal, where I venture into TMI-land. Just skip the next paragraph if you don't want to hear it. I won't mind…
Before there was The Boy, there was a miscarriage. And those were truly dark days. Further darkened by the fact that I'd already mentally checked out of my job, shoved off from all those sales reps and advertisers with their grating requests for something "better." The idea that I'd now be working with all this indefinitely, without the family I'd been brewing in my belly, was enough to set me weeping at my desk in the early morning hours before my coworkers reported in. This, despite the fact that I'd previously worked happily in the same situation for years. This is what expectation does to you.
Reflecting back on those times during these, I've settled on two things: 1) we've weathered much worse, and 2) it's more Pollyanna than I'm comfortable expressing regularly, but weathering any storm is fairly manageable from the warm comfort of our family home, wherever that may be. You always hear it, and it's absolutely true. These are my people, as a friend phrased it, and they have a way of making me feel pretty ok. But I'm just guessing that I'll feel even more ok once we're back in Seattle.
So spirits around here are actually pretty high. And, after a day of cursing our misfortune, I took The Boy aside and declared that we'd be making a batch of graham crackers. But first, we needed to darken a small amount of light brown sugar, because going out to purchase a big bag of dark brown sugar on the eve of our out-of-state-relocation… that would be a reckless move. And somehow I'd gone this far not knowing that brown sugar is nothing but your regular granulated sugar laced with molasses. Who knew? Luckily, there was that near-full bottle in the back of the cupboard, purchased last winter at the grocery store down the street, where the woman who checked us out drawled at us, "Brer Rabbit, hmmm? That's what my Pappy used to get." Now that's as close to a perfect Southern vignette as there ever was.
So, dark brown sugar and rice flour and some dairy-alternatives were battered and baked and snapped into somewhat neat little graham cracker squares. There's some room for improvements that will work themselves out in later batches. But for now, it was just nice to settle back into the occupation of making things. And doubly nice to share it with that dear Boy, who is just old enough to recognize and participate in the general foul mood of that previous day.
Now, before I get back to the occupation of packing, I'll mention that, while postings here will be sporadic for a while as we pack and move and unpack and settle into (we hope) some sort of permanence, I'll be using that Twitter thing to bring you such nuggets as "Still haven't found the box containing the yarn I need to work on that blanket," and "Found this kick-ass recipe for homemade deodorant." These are two actual sentiments I anticipate thumbing into my phone while the computer is buried under a mound of packing paper somewhere. While I was at the whole Twitter thing I went ahead and got myself one of those Facebook pages to do pretty much (ok, exactly) the same thing. It's all one big self-contaminating communications mess, probably poor use of each of the tools, but whatev. I'll leave it to Mr. New Media to fume over my ineffectual use of social media. It is, after all, his job.
"The Girlie," while being a fairly accurate descriptor, is not what is listed on all her legal documents. Her real name, the one we sometimes refer to her as, is one she she shares with our old college town. And when your name is also a location on a map, well, the crafty possibilities are endless.
Here, belatedly, is the card we made up for the grandmothers for Mother's Day. I snipped out appropriate sections from old maps and road atlases, Mod Podged the hell out of them, and glued them onto pendant backings. That little loopy thing at the top, where you're supposed to run your chain through, is called a "bail," and not, surprisingly, "that little loopy thing." The things you learn.
The Boy, outfitted with my hole puncher, really a heavy, blunt awl of a device, banged out a couple of holes for threading the pendant through with my go-to scrap yarn. Then for some paint-smeared-all-over-the-hands prints on the card fronts, which I'd printed 2-up onto a letter-sized cutting from a cereal box.
And, of course, The Boy took a careful dictation and scrawled his message on the inside. And I just have to ask: What is up with very-nearly-4-year-olds and the backward letters? Perfect penmanship can shove it. I'll take an inverted "S" any day.