make me happy

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. 

Sweet day


Valentine's Day, like any other holiday that requires the social skill that a comfort in one's own skin affords, was not my favorite childhood holiday. My mother, having paid tuition, and on top of that having to commit a certain amount of time and money to the mandatory fundraising required just to keep the school afloat on an annual basis, was not so keen to spend even more money on non-essentials. So she was ever reluctant to supply me with the standard pre-perforated, generically cartoony valentines, let alone the premium ones that were delivery mechanisms for Life Savers and movie marketing and other commodities that established you as the cool kid. 

There was at least one year when I was sent to the dining table with a stack of scrap paper and a Bic to scribble out my own cards. Mom used to tell me how, as a kid, she and her siblings lofted homemade kites and paraded with hand-crafted lanterns. But those stories always offered more of a when-I-was-your-age-I-had-it-rougher kind of morality than an affirmation of creative living. So, to me, showing up at school with a handful of #10 envelopes bulging with a smattering of bulk Red Hots and an awkwardly-sized chicken-scratched index card as remittance for Valentine's Day was a bit of an embarrassing endeavor. Better to show up with nothing.


This is something I realize: It's a helluva lot easier to rouse the troops to create instead of buy before they're old enough to be embarrassed by their parents' desire to do something a little different. At three and a half years, not yet clued-in to the accepted protocol of these sorts of things, The Boy is still quite excited to hand out his personalized valentines. One day he will be mortified at the idea of handing out something that doesn't advertise the latest in the Spiderman franchise. Today, he can appreciate our homemade valentine for what it is: something he painted, crayoned up and glittered, bearing his own scratched out signature, and housing home-made marshmallows, which, in his allergenic world of hive- and vomit-inducing chocolate kisses and peanut butter cups, are the Holy Grail of treats for him. These valentines are everything he loves, and he's been bubbling around the past couple days, excitedly prattling on about how he'll get to share them with his friends.

So, yeah. I'm enjoying this day. Who knows how many more I'll have like this?


Tags: The Boy, Valentines



I tend to write long. Maybe you've noticed? In one of my all-time favorite movies, The Paper, Michael Keaton, a Metro editor for a gritty little NYC daily, and Randy Quaid, one of his writers, has this nice little exchange: 

McDougal: What's with all the grunt work? I'm a columnist. 
Henry: You're not a columnist. You're a reporter who writes long.

Indeed. Except that when I was an actual columnist I tended to write short. Seems I have much more to say about making things than I did about race. So there you go.

We've all been a little under the weather at the Lovelihood household, all wheezy and coughy and snotty and achy. Boys are absenting themselves from work and school, opting instead to contribute to the general malaise one finds when people who aren't feeling so hot are cooped up together. Crafting time has been relegated to little snippets carved out between tending to cranky children and fighting for couch time under the good throw. So today I thought I'd just show you a few of the itty bitty things I've been up to. And I'll try to keep it short. For once.


Much of my adult life has been spent amassing the the things I coveted as a kid (Easy Bake Oven, anyone?), so finding this loom on clearance was a bit of a coup. It took some convincing to get The Boy to understand that this is a Momma thing, and not a toy for him. A hard sell, seeing as how it IS a children's loom picked up from our favorite toy store. The yarn that came with it is crazy-garish and the lack of fiber information can only mean it's a synthetic. But it sits there on my table, inviting me to pass the shuttle back and forth a few times a day. I have big (read: overly-ambitious) plans to spin up some of this stuff and take it for a ride.


Unseasonably warm (even for Houston) 70° weather recently turned to chilly, drizzly grayness. Good hat weather. Thinking we'd lost The Girlie's knitted hand-me-down, and not having the time and energy to sit down with a set of double pointeds, I decided to transform a couple of rectangles of flannel and felted cable-knit sweater into an elfly bonnet of sorts. Mr. New Media was not sold on it, and we have since unearthed the lost hat from diaper bag depths, so it will be left to be seen whether this one gets any real play.


In between colds and antsy to get out of the house, I slung The Girlie on my hip and escorted The Boy around the neighborhood on his trike. We were stopped halfway down the block, trike high-centered over the sidewalk-defying roots of a big old tree, when I realized the ground was littered with wonderful little acorn tops. Leaving the trike where it was, we scurried back home for a pail to collect our harvest. I still haven't given up on my dream of creating a well-stocked army of little felted acorn minions. For now these little guys are happy enough to nestle up to the jars of notions and fabric scraps on my cabinet, occasionally acquiescing to The Boy's gentle pets.


I love the idea of little plants. Many of those novelty planting kits in potlets found in the dollar aisle at Target find their way into our home, much to Mr. New Media's dismay. I dutifully soak the peat and bury the little seeds and select a suitably sunny windowsill and even water them for a few days. And then I forget about them, and any little germinations that have managed to scraggle their way to the surface are left to wither and disintegrate back into the dirt. This little guy was supposed to sprout a headful of grassy stuff. It never happened. So I replaced the seed/dirt pouch with one of our hand-felted balls, and he now houses wayward pins and needles. I call him Pinhead, of course.


One more thing. Two of my photos, in one day last week, made their way out into the interwebs (here and here) with the help of the open Creative Commons license I apply to most of my Flickr uploads (images of the kids excluded). This tickles me to no end, mostly because as a designer at skinflint companies who didn't enjoy spending money on working chairs, let alone art, I used to scour Flickr for CC-licensed photography. There's so much great stuff on Flickr, telling compelling personal stories that you just can't find at stock photo sites. Of course, I've spent my share of money at those places, too.

OK. So that wasn't actually any shorter than any other post I've written here. But I tried. Kind of. And there are more pictures. Which actually kind of makes it even longer. So I'm not even going to try any more.

Tags: acorns, creative commons, felt, hat, loom, pinhead, yarn

Odds and ends


After all the gift basket-making and bib-snapping and napkin hemming, I've been jonesing to make a little something for myself. And, after having sat through all the gift basket-making and bib-snapping and napkin hemming, my workhorse office chair was in dire need of repair. Making new cushion covers had been on my list for a while, but after the past few months of supporting my rear, they were little more than worn out pieces of foam draped in the standard Ikea tatters. Tatters embedded with stamp ink and bits of confetti and late-night chocolate and milk spit up while I was trying to squeeze in some work while nursing.  

I picked out a fabric in a nice, cool gray. And because (1) every cushion deserves a cute little trim, and (2) I have a genuine disdain for pre-packaged piping, all stiff and monotone and blah, I whipped up my own piping, using an old stash-bolstering fat quarter and chunky yarn left over from my years-ago first ever knitting project (a hat and scarf who have been retired to the attic until we again reside in a place where such things as woolen scarves and hats are necessary. Today, deep in the throes of January, Houston mercury is scheduled to hit 70°). Bulky as the yarn was to knit with, it makes for a buttery soft and pliable piping, easily turning those corners and yielding to my worn out machine needle.


Mr. New Media declared that the gray fabric was nice, but that the trim was too girly. Nothing wrong with that, I say. I've spent many years hiding under khakis and sweater vests and gender-neutral tees. I'm ready for some girly in my life. And if it's not pink, then I can handle it.


Speaking of girly, I've been wearing more dresses lately. The past year and a half of working from home, then too pregnant and unmotivated to wear anything flattering, I pretty much lived in jeans and ironically adorned tees. Entirely practical and weather-appropriate and rather dull. Now, I'm itching for a little more flair. There's some woman out there on the interwebs whose mission this year is to wear only things she has made herself. A laudable goal, but one entirely out of my skill level. I've never sewn anything I deem wearable. I've made several attempts. Nothing passes muster, and I resign myself to only sewing goods for the home for the next few months until the frustration fades away enough to try again. I've forgotten the angst now, and I'm thinking about digging into this pattern. I'm liking the shirt dress/tunic look, sometimes paired with jeans, sometimes with tights. I also like pockets, which this pattern does not have. I'll definitely need to tuck a couple into the seams. I've decided that all skirts and dresses should sport pockets. We'll see. I'm still mulling this one over, working up the nerve to cut into some fabric. Maybe some Japanese-y linen print.


I've been feeling a bit of guilt this week over not being moved to strong emotion or action over the tragedy in Haiti. Five years ago, hearing of the Indonesian tsunami, and fueled by pregnancy hormones, I remember being moved to tears in the car on the way to work. And even from Seattle, Hurricane Katrina's destruction in New Orleans left me shaken. I think it's that I'm not working in an office these days, not regularly with and around people other than my family, that makes it harder for me to emotionally connect to what's going on in the world. So what did I do? I bought something for myself.

Craft Hope for Haiti Shop Spreading seeds of hope one stitch at a time

The Craft Hope shop on Etsy has lots of lovely things for sale, with all proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders in Haiti. Or you could, you know, just make a direct contribution.

On film


This year for Christmas, what I really wanted was a new camera. One of those chunky jet black numbers with a manual as daunting as Moby Dick and a lens you can pop off to replace with something bigger, more obscene. Something that can take pictures like the ones that come pre-installed in the picture frames we buy. 

What I make do with is a basic point and shooter that issues an artificial clicky sound to indicate that a photo has been shot, and equipped with settings like "children & animals" and "creative light effect," and a flash I don't dare use because if I wanted everything to look like I lived under fluorescent lighting, then I would have had fluorescent lighting installed. But I get by with it just fine, I suppose, though no great feats of art are produced or even attempted.

So a new camera tops my list of Things I Would Like a Really Good Excuse to Buy, also known as, Things I Would Be More Inclined to Push For if We Had the Second Income I No Longer Bring In. 


Then again, I do have this other one, my last birthday present before having kids. It doesn't have auto-focus. Or auto-anything. The viewfinder is foggy. I have to reckon light levels and subject distance. And fidget with knurled rings and dials for shutter speeds and f/stops and focus ranges, forgetting and hazily guessing at what each does for the clarity of a picture. The shutter release button is temperamental, prone to random jamming and curse-causing. No point in attempting any photos in the evening hours. And then there's the matter of film development. Turnaround at Target, according the person responsible for shipping them off-site for developing, is ten days. The last roll I turned in took three weeks of nagging and pestering to get back to me.


But this mid-century Kodak, with its quaint bellows and anachronistically non-plastic heft, has yielded my favorite family photos, portraits of my children the way I'd like to remember them, scenes from my environs that feel wonderfully mundane. There's a haziness that lends these photos sentimentality where there's lack of photographic skill. And there's a lot of skill I lack. Any shot with anything in focus, I consider a success. And, partly because many are shot in less than optimal lighting conditions which wash them in yellows and greens, they're instantly elevated to heirloom status.


I have been accused, with the digital camera, of taking too many photos of a single subject in a single setting, resulting in a phenomenon we call Baby vs Hard drive. In this never-ending battle, we are forced to either callously delete dozens of near duplicates of our children not crawling, or to periodically increase computing potential. That's not an issue with this camera. First, because I can't just fire one shot after another in rapid succession, aimed at a baby who will learn to walk away before I get the perfect shot. Second, because film is not an abundant resource. And what little I have is precious commodity, to be reserved for the right conditions.

The result is, of course, far fewer photos, but a higher percentage of keepers. They're all a bit crappy because, well, I'm crap at the details of photography. I'm not good at gauging light or distance, or finding vantages that aren't visual cliche. But in each of these prints, I can remember being behind the camera, what I was thinking (because there's a lot of thinking involved in producing a shot), and I'm emotionally hooked.

Tags: film, Retina

Comfort and joy


The daytime temperature this Christmas weekend was way down in the low- to mid-50s, and around these parts that means it's time to break out the snowflake sweaters, earflappy-hats and chunky knit scarves. I may be a knitter, but for whatever reason, I've never made anything in any of these categories that I deemed wearable. So, with the exception of my pride-and-joy fair isle gloves hastily finished the winter I was heavy with The Boy so that I could commence with the baby projects, my winter go-tos are all store-bought. 

Except, now, for this scarf. I've long claimed 55° to be my ideal temperature (it's actually more like the low 60s, but saying 55° makes me feel heartier), so bundling up in winter woolens now would be an admittance of weakness. Like how, after all those years in Seattle spent snickering at bumbershoot-toting tourists, the mere existence of an umbrella in our home brings me hot, red-faced shame. And yet, I like the look of winter, of people dressed in defense against cold weather, armed with snuggly textiles in bright hues. And there have been times in the past when I donned a scarf in centrally-heated conditions, nuzzling my nose in the cowled loops of a light scarf just for the sheer comfort of it. So seeing all these people in cool weather gear has sent me searching for solace in fabric odds and ends. 

(This post, believe it or not, is actually about our favorite Christmas gifts this year. So how it is that I've already spent this much web-space on a scarf I made for myself, and how I still haven't gotten to the actual creation of the thing, is really beyond me. You know that little bit of categorization on the side there, where it says "things that… I ramble about"… Yeah, I'm going to have to get rid of that soon, because, yeah, I know, this whole site is things that I ramble about. But, of course, I digress.)

This scarf was a scrap trimmed off from a throw, itself comprised of fabric scraps, I made for Mr. New Media for our new couch, whose color is incongruous with the rest of the room, but whose shape and style and price made it something we decided to live with. The blanket is bits of gray t-shirts and some flannel on one side, the reverse a patchwork of fabric reclaimed from promotional tote bags and napkins and tamale packaging with some muslin to fill it out. To get the two sides to size up, I had to trim off some of the t-shirt side, and what came off seemed perfectly suited to assuage my scarf-envy.


The throw was, admittedly, one of those things I really made for myself under the guise that it was a Christmas gift for my husband. I know this, he knows this. It's all good, because he got some other gifts, notably the Gocco prints I purchased in support of his Radiolab fanboy-ness, that were actually about his interests. 

For his part, the husband gifted me with some interesting crafty gear that has left me with a resolve to do more with ink and film. But, so far, what I've been enjoying most the past few evenings is this stampset Mr. New Media picked off my wish list (good boy) and, I kid you not, some empty cardboard boxes left on our porch alongside some linzer cookies and cranberry relish while we lazed in our post-unwrapping stupor. 


Oh, how happy I've been, imagining up little stories to accompany the days of the people who inhabit these little blocks. The boy received a barn playset equipped with all the usual farm animals, and another little playset with horses and ponies. But I suddenly realized that our play room notably lacks little people to pose and create lives for. Sure, there are the few Lego people in the mix, but they came prefabbed, complete with equestrian regalia and farmer coveralls. Their stories have already been painted on. I'm I thinking I need to find or make some fresh little people who wouldn't feel so out of place making their lives and livelihoods in these little buildings.

Things in jars


When I was nine, my mom took me to a holiday fair at the church by my grandmother's house. It had all your basic carnival stuff — games and crafty bits and doilies for sale. What I remember, though, is sitting down at a table where some guy was walking a bunch of kids through the steps to make an origami crane. I was no newcomer to paper-folding, but I was impatient. And being antsy and getting ahead of myself, I probably fouled up a couple of crucial steps. And I probably ended up with something other than the crisp, lily-white masterpiece that could be hung from a tree. And I definitely remember being scolded by the guy, and how he reported back to my mother at the end of my time there that I was very bad at following directions. Evidently, all it takes to steamroll the patience of some well-meaning churchy type is a kid who can't fold on cue. 

I'm still quite bitter.

But he was kind of right. Oh sure, I can read directions and understand them and even see the validity in them. I'd just like to think that I can simply intuit the proper course of action. I get ahead of myself and I just want to do what feels right. Alas, my instincts, like my sense of direction, often prove faulty, and before I know it I'm written off as that kid who can't get her act together enough to fold a freakin' bird. 

And so here we come to bread in a jar. I've always wanted to try this. I mean, come on. It's the marriage of the two great loves of my life — sweets and containers. I HAD to try this. But when the recipe warned explicitly NOT to fill the jars more than stated, I looked at the amount of batter remaining and I snorted. How much could it rise? The answer, of course, is high enough to prevent closure of the jars. So, lesson learned. But what a mighty delicious lesson it was. 


In past years, after the liqueur making, I drained the cranberries from the liquid and toss it out with the yard waste. This year, continuing the trend of reducing and reusing, I decided to put it to good use. That's damn good fruit there, all candy-sweet from its time spent in sugar and alcohol, nature's preservative. And, my, are they perfect in these breads. We're dutifully working our way through that first directionally-challenged, but still rather palatable, batch, and have found that a half-pint worth of sticky-sweet cranberry bread is quite suitable for any snacking environment. In the meantime, I whipped up another batch with the last of the cranberries and, filling the jars just so, achieved the little ping of the canning lids, indicating that the breads were properly sealed away, and that my latent direction-following skills haven't atrophied.


The other fruity by-product of the liqueurs this year was the dried apricot mash that I'd, for a few months, been salivating over, figuring out some good application for it. When we finally strained that liqueur and got our first taste of the macerated apricots, we decided two things: (1) it was too good not to share, and (2) there was nothing we could do with it that would showcase its awesomeness other than just putting it in a jar and sending it out. So that's what we did. I attached little spoons (they'd been gifted to me a year ago and had been sitting untested in a drawer ever since) to the jars. Because a cute little jar just begs for a cute little spoon.


I'd love to bake some of this up in a round of brie. Or serve it cold on a water cracker with prosciutto. Or spoon it directly into my mouth from the jar. Or spread it on a bagel with some salami and Muenster. Now, that's a good way to start the day.