Make List 2021 Check-in

Checking in on what I’ve made since my last handmade post! I’m about halfway through my de-stash project, and it’s going great. As I write this, I’m looking over at my project stack and my stack of uncut fabric, and both are small. I can see what I’m in the middle of and what I need to tackle next. This inspired me to sort my scrap fabric and whole yardage and let go of the prints I don’t love. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Here’s a quick look at what I’ve made in the last 80ish days, and what I plan to make in the next 80ish days.

Made

Unicorn Flannel Nightgown for Sky

Adventure satchel for Finn

“Little Geranium” dress in Robert Kaufmann Blueberry Hill print for Iris

Mosaic-print Afternoon Dress for myself. (I don’t love this as much as I had hoped! I know it’s partially because I used a quilting-weight cotton. Want to try it again in a lightweight apparel linen)

Adventure Satchel for Sky, in Grl Power by Riley Blake

“Little Geranium” Dress for Caitlin, in Grl Power by Riley Blake

Adventure Awaits wall-hanging for Kaitlin

Race Track Car Roll-ups for Robin and Till

Green linen Forager Vest for Steph

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

To make

Navy blue with lime green flowers Geranium dress for Sky and Iris. This is the original Geranium pattern. Mine only goes up to 5T so we’ll see if it fits Sky this summer; if not, I’ll save it for Iris. There’s also an option for a shirt that might fit Sky. Cut and ready to sew!

Lemon-print romper for Iris. I have a really cute quilting cotton print and my mom recently gave me several patterns for baby summer outfits. I also have some adorable yellow seersucker with white polka dots. It would be fun to make a shirt for Sky and a dress for Iris from the same print! To sew while my mom is in town. To be cut.

Short Nightgown in Fairy Print flannel for Sky. I just purchased simple nightgown pattern on Etsy. To be cut.

Using up Grl power print: I’m thinking of making a little skirt or dress for Kaitlin’s daughter Junie with the extra material left from Sky’s bag.

Using up Riley Blake adventure prints: I’d like to make an adventure satchel for Steph’s son Adam’s birthday, and I may have more left for another wall hanging. I also want to make another car-rollup for Caitlin’s son Quinn. (I love making things for friends and their kiddos!)

Miniature Cat dolls for Sky. I didn’t end up making these in time for Sky’s birthday. They are cut and ready to sew.

Diaper covers for Iris and for Caitlin’s baby. Excited to sew these with my mom, who is coming up for a three-day visit during which we plan to sew together! I have one cut out, and a stack of PUL, snaps, and foldover elastic ready to go. My mom is bringing her snap pliers.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

After De-stash

The point of this project is to get current on what I’m making, only buy fabric I need for the current project, and finish each project before buying new fabric or patterns. I also want to get in the habit of sewing one piece for myself each month. By next September, I’d love to have 12 handmade items I love to wear in my closet.

Cheesemaker’s shirt for Lyle. SUPER excited about this one. I bought a pattern from Folkwear and need to purchase some fabric. Our ten year anniversary is coming up September 9, and I was racking my brain for a gift idea. Finally I just asked him, and he surprised me, both by asking me to sew something for him to wear, and by choosing this sort of old-fashioned style. The man is still a mystery to me.

I also bought a Folkwear pattern for an embroidered shift dress that is the exact same pattern my mom used in the 1970s! I remember the tunic and dress she made and wish I knew what became of them. It”s not nursing friendly so I might not start on this one until after I wean Iris.

Blue or gray linen Forager Vest for me. I love how easy this project was and how great it looks. Excited to make one from a lightweight linen.

Denim, corduroy or chambray Ivy Pinafore dress for me. This is super cute and I can see it being SO functional this year. Nursing friendly and transitional from fall to winter. One of my favorite projects was The Little Brown Dress, one woman’s experiment in wearing the same brown dress for a YEAR. It was an act of resistance against consumerism, and to me it sounded hard but so freeing! I’d love to have a workhorse piece like this in my closet that I could wear several times a week.

Finally, I’d like to find a pattern for some loose drawstring linen pants. I have an olive-green pair I wear all the time, year-round, and I’d love to make another pair or two. I’m learning that I often reach for my linen and cotton pieces. Another favorite is a boxy linen-blend top in navy blue. I’d love to make a second one of these.

Golden Hours

I remember my dad talking about the golden hour when I was a kid. He was the photographer in our family, documenting everything we did with one of an ever-growing collection of cameras and camcorders. We lived a short freeway trip from the beach, and I understood that the golden hour was often at its finest near the water. My dad took pictures, and I wrote poems, so I tried to capture the golden hour in my notebook.

I was a quiet, shy kid who daydreamed a lot and filled ragged spiral notebooks with poems, using my special pen, a Bic wrapped in green florist’s tape with an artificial rose at the top. My mom had put a dropper of rose oil into the flower, so my notebook smelled like ink and roses. I smelled the flower and looked around me. What did the golden hour mean? To me it meant the warm-hued light spreading over the world as the sun spilled behind the ocean again. It meant butter color, velvet shadow, ladders of light leading up or down from the clouds. It meant a feeling that got trapped in my chest like a bird, because another day was ending and it was beautiful and sad at the same time.

Raising my own family, I get that bird-in-chest feeling a lot. It’s this sense of crushing gratitude, love, and wonder at my children’s innocence, their unfettered joy, the unfiltered feelings that pour from them without fear, combined with the weight of impermanence: babies don’t keep.

Golden hours in a house of three small children are more like golden minutes, and they’re sprinkled through long days full of many other qualities– frustration, fatigue, anger, worry, boredom. In our house, my husband Lyle is the family photographer. Where he once focused on landscapes, still lifes, and portraits of friends, he now turns his camera toward our family life. The gift of his photos is something I really treasure.

And, I’ve often felt intimidated to try my hand at snapping pictures myself. I’m at home with the kids most of the time, and there are so many moments I want to catch on film that often dissolve before I can grab the camera. I’ve been a stubbornly-analogue person for most of my life, but I recently got a smartphone with a good camera. I’ve been surprised by how quickly I can snap a photo that I actually like. It’s just on my phone, so it takes the pressure off.

Following some good advice from Ashlee Gadd in an Exhale Creativity resource, I started paying attention to where the light is, what time of day it’s most dramatic, and what it looks like in different parts of the house. This simple practice of noticing what the light does has been nothing short of magical. It’s become an exercise in mindfulness that feels playful and, well, light.

I can practice it in a stray moment when the soup is simmering, on my way to do a load of laundry. It draws my attention to the small and beautiful: a halo of unbrushed hair on my daughter’s head, my son’s bright blue bike making patterns with the shadows from the side gate, my husband’s silhouette as he walks the baby around to calm her in that dicey little half hour before her bedtime.

Little golden hours. A camera as a call to attention. A way to settle the wings in my chest, or maybe release them.


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Illuminate”.

Just Write

I haven’t written a post in over a month. I feel like I’ve been wringing every last bit of energy and time out of each day, and the truth is, most days there just hasn’t been much left of either. Each day dawns a little sooner, each night curves down a little later, and it seems like that should equal some spare change in the jar. Instead, we’re out planting ferns and groundcover in the backyard as dusk falls, finishing the second coat of paint in the basement bathroom, wiping the last counter and wondering how it could be 10 already.

Spring has opened all the little envelopes of the flowers. In this part of the world, the letters inside are nothing short of spectacular. One by one, we’re discovering the plants we’ve inherited from the hands who tended these gardens before us. Two daphne bushes in the corner of the drive, little clusters of pink and purple with a scent that stops you in your tracks. A pacific dogwood, taller and more reserved than its showier ornamental cousins: a few pale yellow blossoms here and there, like small clocks. The magnolia’s enormous blooms paper the grass like cartoon hearts, having blossomed before any leaves emerged. There’s a brash, magenta rhododendron out front, and a carpet of trilliums under the ferns out back. The tiny native irises we planted are already flowering, even though they’re only ankle-high.

Our own little Iris turned 4 months old. Already, I’m packing away the newborn clothes that stretch too tight on her busy, chubby legs. It’s going too fast, but I’m resting in the deep joy we’ve taken in her each day. Just about every day since she’s been born, Lyle or I have been teary-eyed with gratitude. I can’t believe we get to do this again, one of us will say. I’m so glad we have her.

Iris is intensely observant of her brother and sister, who have become experts at drawing out her elusive laugh. I love the way she looks at her world with expectation, ready to be delighted. My favorite parts of each day are the moments I get to sing to her before putting her down in her bassinet for her nap. She looks up at me so sweetly and calmly, sometimes babbling her own little song back to me, or just breaking into a quiet, open-mouthed smile. It’s hard to put her down, even though naptimes mean a chance for me to change out a load of laundry, make a snack for the big kids, tackle the pile of dishes or maybe, just maybe, get a little writing done.

There’s this thing I’ve been trying to write since February. It’s done, but it’s not done, and that bothers me. There’s more I want to say, something that’s not quite right, and I’m having trouble being patient. I’m nervous that the energy buzzing around these ideas will fade if I don’t move more quickly. Yet I know I can only do this work within the limitations of my body, the slower pace of our days, the demands of this season of mothering small children.

I’ve realized that for a long time, I’ve pushed myself to the max, and it’s tempting to keep doing that on days when I feel well. Coming to terms with the chronic migraine variant I live with has meant prioritizing real self-care: going to bed before 10, getting regular cardiovascular exercise, doing yoga and meditation, getting acupuncture once a week, and making time for prayer and rest and water during the day. Those things take time. So does being present with my kids. I can easily get caught up in clean-up all day long, and I’ve been trying to remember that it’s okay to leave the dishes and just play. Have some Barbie conversations with my oldest daughter. Push a toy car around the carpet with my son. Even watch a movie with them and snuggle on the couch, instead of using that time to frantically check something off the to-do list.

Iris had her 4-month vaccines this week and felt a little uncomfortable for a few days. She couldn’t rest for more than 30 minutes on her own. One day, she fell heavily asleep in my lap on the couch, and I just sat there watching her and looking out the window at the robins and sparrows. It seems like such a small, obvious thing, just slowing down. Just letting the weight of a sleeping child still my own limbs and mind. But it can be hard to slow down in spring, after a long pandemic winter, when it feels like everything and everyone is waking up.

Sometimes when I’m troubled by a writing project that isn’t moving at the pace I want it to, I can start to think I can’t do anything else until it’s done. No blog posts, no newsletter, no sewing project. No just-because poem. No meandering words in my journal. It can feel like any other use of my creative energy is wasteful, or procrastination in disguise.

But I think sometimes this effort at discipline is plain fear, dressed up as diligence. All it creates is rigidity, a stinginess that doesn’t help. It takes the joy out of creating, and blocks the flow of energy that, ironically, would help me get unstuck and finish the thing I’m obsessing over.

There are a some good reasons why writing is hard right now (I can think of three very small, cute ones who live with me). There are some good reasons for not writing, for spending some time in a backyard hammock, or holding a baby chick in the cup of my hand. (It’s true! We didn’t think home felt chaotic enough, so we brought home six baby chicks!) For putting down what’s hard and just writing, sewing a tiny dress, or messing around with the camera on my phone when the light is good, while stirring a pot of soup from an interesting recipe I haven’t tried, even if my kids don’t eat it.

Sometimes the only thing to do when I “can’t” write is to just write.

What about you? How do you get unstuck?

Perfectionism and Redemption: A Lenten Reflection

I’ve been working on this essay, making notes on a waterproof notepad in my coat pocket as I walk around the reclaimed quarry, now a wetlands park, near my house in the morning.

On one of my walks, my friend and priest joined me. I tried to explain what I was writing about, how I’ve been drawn to this metaphor of the reclaimed quarry. As a child I grew up near one such project, but always dismissed it. I used to say that when I grew up, I’d live somewhere wilder, more natural. And here I am, raising my three children near just such a place.

It’s perfection versus redemption, she said kindly, and I was floored.

That’s exactly it.

Lately I’ve been more and more struck by the ways in which perfectionism colors so much of what I do, see, think. From conversations I’ve had with other women, I’ve started to think that this is a symptom of living in the toxic sludge of our industrialized, patriarchal culture. I know I’m not alone.

I also know that perfectionism doesn’t define me. That voice that says I just need to be better cannot define me if I turn to God, and away from the destructive voice that tempts me to think I am only deserving of love if I am perfect.

Today, I went for my morning walk and took a minute to read the day’s devotion in Forward Day by Day. The scripture read: “So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

The devotion writer went on to reflect on the impossibility of those things. No one can do them. Jesus was the only perfect one, and he came to free us from ourselves, simplifying those commandments into these: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

“In our desire to meet these requirements,” the devotion author writes, “God is pleased, even when we fail.” Then he closes with a quote from Frederick Buechner: “The final secret, I think, is this: that the words ‘You shall love the Lord your God’ become in the end less a command than a promise.”

Those last words fell deep this morning as I looked out at the calm water. There was one fisherman on a far bank, the first person I’d seen that day. There were little sparrows zipping in and out of the willows. There was the sound of a leaf blower somewhere, and traffic. There was the tick of my watch, my inner knowing that I had ten minutes before I needed to be home, back into the ongoingness of pandemic parenting, so that Lyle could go to work.

These words calmed me. They unraveled, for just a moment of clarity, the tangled threads of my longings: to hear and know God’s voice, to know God’s will for me, to have a clearer sense of purpose in my writing and mothering, to better serve God in my community and in all my relationships. My longing to know I am serving God well, that I am going to God in prayer not just for myself, but not just for others, either. I came to see how even in my deepest longings, perfectionism keeps me from accepting Grace.

These words today assured me that not only do my efforts please God even when I fail, but that it is God’s promise, it is God’s will that I will love God. Even this God will do for me.

In the space that my longing makes, within its contours, this is where God enters. Maybe I will always feel scattered, tangled, maybe I will always have this sense that if only things were different, or maybe if I tried harder, then I will know God’s will and love God better. But here in that question, Grace appears again. Jesus appears and says, “Even this I will do for you. Even this I have already seen, loved, and covered.”

Things will never be perfect, including my perfectionism, and God says, I want you to live and love anyway. In doing this, you serve me.

Amen.

Written on February 26, 2021

Handmade in 2020/ Make List for 2021

Now that Iris is going to bed and staying asleep for longer stretches, I have started sewing again at night and on Sundays. Lyle put in a tile floor and baseboard in the downstairs office, and it’s now a pleasant place to work, with a baby gate in the doorway to keep tiny hands from getting into sharp or spillable things. It feels good to pick up projects I’d put down in late pregnancy. I’m feeling the pull of spring’s energy and wanting to make a fresh start, so I’m taking stock of the fabric I have and the projects I had planned. I want to finish the projects I like, decide which ones to let go of, and offer the extra fabric in our neighborhood Buy Nothing group. I realized recently that I feel less motivated to sew when I have too many projects in the queue, or unused fabric sitting around with no plan for it. So I’m setting a goal of September 1st to either use it or lose it. For fun and accountability, here’s what I made in 2020 and what I’d like to make in 2021.

Tiny mice in a cigar box house! I absolutely loved making these for my friend’s son Henrik. This pattern is superb. I nested them in a little cigar box with a quilt and pillows made from scrap fabric. They sleep in their little box under his bed. This just delights me.


Cloth napkins in beige calico quilting cotton. I just whipped these up last weekend to add to our basket. We use these every night at dinner and the kids like setting the table.

Flannel cloth wipes. There is something so satisfying about making a stack of these multi-purpose squares! I just cut two squares about 4×4, sew right sides together leaving a gap to turn them back out, then stitch again around all four edges to catch that gap and provide some durability. We keep a basket next to the kids’ sink for drying hands, and a basket on the changing table along with a thermos of warm water for wipes. They go into a lidded 5 gallon bucket in the hallway, and a few times a week I wash them with kitchen rags, on hot with bleach and an extra rinse.


Pink fleece poncho for Sky.
I used this Simplicity 8428 pattern but it didn’t turn out quite how I’d hoped. I originally sewed it as a cover up for before/after ballet class (it even has little ballerina buttons at the collar!) but she only got to wear it a few times before classes were canceled due to Covid. It turned out to be a fun layer for spring weather. (I’m not sure why Robin is so sad in this picture!)

Mermaid dress for Sky. I measured and remeasured and it still came out too large for her! Hoping it fits this summer. This was a pattern we picked out because she wanted to wear a sleeveless dress. We compromised with a “cold shoulder” design.

Rocker Trapper Hats for the family. I thought these were awesome but so far only me and Robin wear them! Sky and Lyle think they are a little too goofy for regular use. I love mine! First time sewing a hat.

Pencil rolls for Sky and her cousin Ella. I loved this tutorial– so easy! Used scraps from the mermaid dress project.

Circle skirts for Sky, Juniper, and Ella. I used this basic pattern and this tutorial to get the sizing right, then this tutorial to learn how to make a round hem using bias tape. Sky loves her two skirts! I made them in a blue print with fairies, and a light blue with popsicles. They used a ton of fabric but since she gets so much wear from them, I don’t mind.


Lots and lots of masks! I used this video tutorial. Originally I intended to make batches of 25 for Sew to Save, but each time I got started on a batch I ended up giving most of them away to friends and neighbors. This design with adjustable ties isn’t for everyone. I’ll admit I usually reach for an easy to wear one with elastic myself, but it was a great option when there was a run on 1/4 inch elastic at the beginning of the pandemic.

Bookmarks. I made monogrammed bookmarks to go with books as gifts for Christmas. I had fun using up my linen scraps and trying out the embroidery stitches on my sewing machine.

Made by Rae Ruby Tunic in linen. I love this so much! I got a lot of wear from this in the summer before my belly got too big. Unfortunately it’s not nursing-friendly, so it will likely sit in my closet this summer. I just love this print.

Projects Planned

  • Butterick/ See & Sew Long nightgown in sparkly unicorn flannel (for Sky). This needs to get done ASAP because it’ll be too hot to wear otherwise. I planned to finish this for Christmas, and almost have the bodice done, but got stuck on the part where I need to attach the shoulders to the bodice.
  • Two Afternoon Dresses by Jennifer Lauren Handmade in quilting cotton prints (for me). I have two pretty prints I bought to make shift dresses last summer, at 2 yds each. I settled on this pattern because it looks relatively simple, and nursing friendly. BUT it calls for more than 2 yards. I’m hoping I can piece the remaining fabric together with some contrasting cottons. If not, it has an option to shorten into blouses. I’d love to finish these by July.
  • Miniature cats and cigar box house using fabric scraps (for Sky). I’d love to get this done in time for her birthday June 3rd! I meant to make them for her in September when I made Henrik’s mice, and then got busy with homeschool and horrible pregnancy nausea.
  • Matchbox car play-and-carry roll using fabric scraps (for Robin). Hoping to finish this by Sky’s birthday, too.
  • Short nightgown in fairy print flannel (for Sky). I’m looking for a super simple (and free!) tutorial or pattern for this print. This could happen later.
  • Diaper covers in blue floral PUL (for Iris). I’m using an out-of-print Babyville pattern. Putting this low on the list, but hoping to get done before end of summer, so I can return the button pliers to my neighbor! I have had them for way too long.
  • Flannel storyboard figures for two stories. I had such lofty ambitions of making a bunch of figures for our little preschool co-op. I checked out a wonderful book from the library with patterns, songs, and stories, but between pregnancy and newborn days, it never happened. It almost hurts to look at the big box of felt I ordered. Setting the bar low will hopefully get me to just make something already.

Rewards for finishing above projects:

Forager Vest by Sew Liberated. Big pockets! I wear my parka with roomy pockets evrey day, and have so many useful things in them like chapstick, tissues, a notebook and pencil, my pocket devotional, masks, etc. I need something similarly utilitarian for the warmer months.

North Country dress from Taproot.

Fabric to use or give away before purchasing any more:

  • Cream sherpa (1.75 yds). I bought this to line the Trapper hats, but had to buy more than I needed to reach minimum purchase.
  • Lemons on blue background (2 yds) quilter’s cotton. I LOVE this Geranium Dress pattern from Made by Rae and haven’t tried it yet.
  • Odds and ends of yellow and white polka dot seersucker. I can’t really tell how much I have here so will try to piece it out with a pattern for a summer tank, or a shift dress in this New Look pattern I’ve sewn before for Sky.
  • White background with red pin dots (1.5 yds) and white background with blue pin dots (2 yds). I have an apron-style dress pattern from Butterick that can also be made into a top and bottom set. The size only goes up to 5T, so it may be something for Iris or for a friend.
  • Blue and pink calico print (2.5 yds). It’s too busy for clothing, so I’ll probably use it to make more cloth napkins for gifts. This is an easy project I can do while listening to a podcast.
  • Navy blue linen blend (1 yd @ 52″ width). Not sure what I could do with this.
  • Botanical linen (1 yd) left from tunic project. I might make an apron.

Going to the Library, Then and Now

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

“I’m going to the library, who wants to come?” I call into the yard, jingling the car keys.

“I do! I do!” my big kids yell, racing to climb into their carseats. 

“I want to get my noodle book!” Sky says excitedly, thinking of the next Noodlehead graphic novel waiting for her on the holds shelf.

“I want anudder race car book,” Robin adds.

I smile at my children’s excitement, even though it makes me a little sad, too. Pre-pandemic, a trip to the library was much more than a quick ten-minute drive to the curbside pickup. We used to spend hours at our local branch a few times a week, chatting with friends at story time and adding books to our bag until it overflowed. Sky loved to choose a few I Can Read books and sit on a stool in the corner by the window, looking at the pictures while I chased Robin through the stacks and retrieved my holds. 

Now they don’t even get out of the car when I park in front of the library. I pull my mask on over my eyes, turning around in my seat to ask if I’ve got it on right. They laugh but tell me to hurry and get their books. At the library window, I try to say my name as clearly as I can through the fabric, and the librarian returns with our stack– the noodle book, the race car book, some books on ballet, an Eye Spy book, and Upstream and Coming Full Circle for me. I try to smile with my eyes as I thank the librarian and say goodbye.

My kids want to hold their books on the drive home, and when we get there they both hurry inside, sit on the couch, and start reading. Like so many other times in this past year of closures and absences, I find a small win to celebrate. 

Sky , age 4, in her happy spot at our local library.

They are still delighted by books. They still love the library enough to want to be in close proximity to it, even if they can’t go inside. We’ve lost the wonderful experience of wandering through the aisles and choosing whatever looks interesting that day, but we’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the books we carefully choose, place on hold, and then wait for. We check out fewer books, but we keep them longer and savor them more. It makes me happy to see that books seem to matter to my kids as much as they’ve mattered to me since I was their age.

I remember my mom taking my sister and me to the library before we could read. I remember the way it smelled– a mix of the big eucalyptus trees outside, the ocean air, and that unmistakable book smell all libraries have. There was the crinkling sound of the books in their library jackets, the light pouring through the huge windows in the fiction room where my mom browsed, and the freedom she gave us to wander wherever we wanted as she chose books for herself. I loved gathering my own stack of books for the week.

Reading has always been tied up with the thingness of books, and the place where books are, but during the long stretch of time when there was no hold service, I bought an e-reader so I could check out e-books from the library or buy them from our local booksellers. It’s made it possible for me to read more during these early months with a newborn. It’s small and light enough to hold while nursing Iris or wearing her in the sling as she naps. I can even read in the bathtub. It’s also making it easier for me to take notes as I read, because I can add digital highlights and then transfer them to a word document later. 

As a child and later as a teen and young adult, I read for hours. As a mother, I probably spend more time reading to my children, but I try to make sure they see me reading my own books, too. “Are you reading in your mind, Mama?” Sky asks me. She’s not quite reading on her own yet, and I’m excited for the day when she discovers the pleasure of reading to herself. 

Reading connects me to the world outside the borders of home and children, and the person I am in addition to “Mom.” It keeps me grounded and makes me more receptive to ideas for poems and essays. I read before I could write, and I think it’s part of what made me a writer. I know it’s made me who I am today, and I can’t wait to see what role reading plays in my children’s lives as they grow.

The Wind from the Wings of the Mother

I wrote the essay below over a year ago, at the lowest point in my struggle with undiagnosed Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, a rare disorder that affects both children and adults. It is thought to be a migraine variant, as many children with CVS later develop migraine headaches; there’s often a family history of migraines in people who develop CVS at any age. Migraines don’t run in my family, and my episodes started at about age 30, for no reason I’ve been able to understand. Much like migraines, however, my episodes have been triggered by certain foods, stress, and lack of sleep.

There is no cure for CVS, but there are ways to manage symptoms. Some people with childhood-onset CVS “grow out” of the disorder. Some people find relief from migraine medications, some from hormonal birth control, and some (like me) from a tricyclic antidepressant. I had been having symptoms for about seven years before diagnosis, and during the fall before I wrote this, they had increased in both intensity and frequency, maybe due to the stress of juggling school and parenting two young children. Just a few weeks after I wrote this, I found a doctor who diagnosed me with CVS and prescribed a preventative low-dose of amitriptyline, which finally made the episodes go away.

Today is CVS Awareness Day. CVSA, the national advocacy and research body, funds research initiatives and provides resources for people who suffer from CVS. Knowing I am not alone, and finally having a name and a treatment for this awful disorder, has made such a difference in my life. Go here to make a donation to join CVSA in the fight for a cure.

I wrote the following essay during a Literary Kitchen workshop. When I couldn’t yet see a way out, writing helped me imagine one.

I hang the hummingbird feeder outside the living room window. My children climb the sofa to watch, all soft round cheeks and tangled hair. Like the tiny birds we hope will visit the feeder, my children are usually a blur of vibrant, lively energy. But focused on the feeder, if just for a moment, they are still.

Hummingbird nectar grows mold easily in our damp climate, and this can make hummingbirds sick. Every few days, I boil fresh water and sugar. I wash the feeder parts with hot water, scrub out the false flower centers with a tiny brush, fill it and hang it again. In winter, I bring the feeder indoors at night and out again in the morning. On the coldest days, the nectar freezes solid again within an hour, and I bring it inside to warm up again.

A hummingbird nest, built by the mother, is a tiny cup woven from plants, spider webs, and sometimes feathers. In it, she will lay one or two eggs per season, each the size of a pea or a bean.

I can’t eat peas or beans. Or any kind of legume. Or any kind of grain, or dairy. I mostly eat chicken and vegetables. So many eggs I grow bored of them. Some mornings I’m so tired of food, so tired of being scared that something I eat will make me sick, that I don’t eat anything, even though I’m hungry.

The episodes started about seven years ago, every month at first. It is always the same. I wake up at the same time, around 3 a.m., completely nauseated. Violently, my body empties itself of everything, until I am dry heaving over the toilet as the sun comes up.

In the first months, I bought pregnancy tests, always negative. I saw specialist after specialist. It was definitely hormonal, and then it wasn’t. It was definitely Celiac, and then it wasn’t. Gluten intolerance, dairy intolerance, legume intolerance, caffeine intolerance. Hiatal hernia. SIBO. Crohn’s. Cancer. All the tests and procedures came back negative, and still I had symptoms.

Even more than other nestlings, baby hummingbirds are dependent on their mothers for the first three weeks of life. They are born featherless and blind, unable to regulate their own body heat. The mother hummingbird must sit on the nest to warm them, leaving only to gather food.

We watch the hummingbirds sip from the feeder, hovering as if by magic, their wings a blur around brilliant, toy-like bodies. My son tucks himself into my side, slips his tiny hands under my shirt, for comfort. At two, he no longer nurses, but he’s hungry for contact, for closeness. In the kitchen, where I am making the third snack of the morning, he cries and pulls on my pant leg– desperate, whenever I’m in sight, to be as close to me as possible. Even then, held in one arm while I spread peanut butter with the other, it’s not enough. I am not enough. He grieves me while I’m still here, cries into a sadness, ancient, about separateness. Aloneness.

Without the ability to see, baby hummingbirds sense their mother’s presence by feeling the wind from her wings in flight. They lift their heads up and open their mouths to receive food.

I am a mother and a student with a wide network of loving friends. I am not supposed to feel alone in this, but I do. I feel abandoned by God, and pitied by those who love me but can do little but shake their heads, perplexed. I don’t know anyone else who experiences this mysterious, unpredictable sickness.

During my pregnancies and early postpartum months, I had a break from episodes. I experienced only normal morning sickness, normal nausea– nausea with purpose, connecting me to the ordinary mystery of carrying another life within me. I felt only what any other pregnant person would feel, and so I felt less alone. With my unknown child in my belly, I was doubled, in company, all hours of the day.

Once my son turned one, the episodes started again. Few and far between at first, random enough that I felt hopeful, and then with increasing frequency. More specialists. It was definitely chocolate, fish sauce, or coconut, and then it wasn’t. Now it’s definitely anxiety. Or a parasite, even though the tests– the expensive kind– are negative.

Negative. To negate an experience. Don’t be so negative. Negative space, the space around the thing and not the thing itself, the constant questioning of everything outside and around my body. Negative capability– to be comfortable in not knowing, as in faith, as in prayer. I try, but I cannot feel the wind from the wings of the Mother, the Father, my God. I can only open my mouth to ask for help, for answers.

Because hummingbirds are so tiny when they are born, they grow rapidly, doubling in size within just a few days. Their beaks begin to darken, and they grow their first pinfeathers.

When I’m away from my kids all day, they seem suddenly bigger at night. My son has new words– “Christmas lights,” Kiss-Muss-Yites— and my daughter has made a family picture in which our heads, arms, and bodies are shockingly recognizable. I find her studying herself in the mirror, placing barrettes this way and that, like a teenager. No more changelings, they slip into fully human bodies, move around in fully human lives.

But they still run to me, at the end of separation. They push and shout at each other, jostling for more of me, for the most real estate on the limited land of my lap and chest. How can I admit how wonderful it feels, being away from them, having my body to myself during the days when I’m at school? How can that be when this– these tiny hands so simultaneously gigantic– also feels fleeting? With their bodies climbing mine, I feel irritation, and parallel to it, the desperation of an hourglass. They are the sand slipping through me.

At nine days old, the hummingbirds are large enough that the mother cannot fit in the nest with them anymore, but she must still feed them around the clock. Once fully grown, they will consume half their body weight in bugs and nectar every day, and will need to eat every 10-15 minutes.

I’ve decided not to eat today. What’s the point? Everything makes me sick, or nothing does. There’s no pattern to when or why my body will roust me from sleep, compel me to the bathroom, and void itself of everything. No logic to why afterward I want to sleep for hours in the middle of the day. I put on Elmo or Mr. Rogers and nestle them around me in a nest of blankets, half dozing while the music of the alphabet slips in and out, my body a sea of nausea and apathy.

At two weeks, true feathers begin to appear on a baby hummingbird’s body. Deep green with a red cap and neck, if it’s an Anna’s hummingbird. Brilliant copper if it’s a Rufous, like a winged penny.

I fill the feeder again, a sippy cup with diluted apple juice, a dish with puffs. I settle my son with his trucks, his snack, his Sesame Street. In the mirror I am inspecting the patch of hair at the back of my head. Sharp, dark hair grows in tufts. At my chest, a bright swath of green, shimmering in the light. Between my shoulder blades, two sharp protrusions. I feel light, nimbler somehow. My heart has begun to race in my chest.

At three weeks, the baby hummingbirds are full-size, ready to leave the nest. My babies, sweet tethers, watch the feeder. For the past few days, a flurry of birds. Sometimes, a tiny battle outside the pane– green and red breasts flashing, beaks wielded as swords. My children laugh and clap their hands.

For a few days after the fledglings leave the nest, the mother still feeds them, teaching them where to catch bugs and find nectar. If the weather is poor, she’ll extend the nesting period by a few days. Then she sends them off toward their independence.

This time, what wakes me at 3 a.m is my new body– green, white, a flecking of red at the breast. My perfect wings rise out from the covers. I leave my husband sleeping. No sounds of retching to wake him, just a quiet hum as I lift out of the room. I fly down the hallway, out into the backyard, pungent with night. My body is quick, precise. My thoughts become color and sound, scent of nectar, shape of the feeder tilting in streetlight. The nectar is clear and bright, and I drink it in like air.

Live Poem-Writing with Ruminate Magazine this Saturday

There’s something magical about a live performance. It’s in the anticipation, the not-knowing what will take shape in the meeting space between performer and viewer. It’s in the expectant hush in a crowd just before the lights go up, and the electricity you can still feel as you leave the venue, noticing all that the performance stirred up inside you. In these endless pandemic days, it feels like another lifetime when Lyle and I would go see live shows regularly. Even with small children at home, we used to make an effort to hire a babysitter, get out of the house, and take in a concert, play, or reading, at least a few times a year. I love being in the audience, participating in the excitement of creative exchange.

But actually getting up on a stage and performing? That’s a tall order for an introvert (albeit a very social one) like me. I am uncomfortable being the center of attention. Growing up, I played small roles in community theater (a fuzzy lamb in Charlotte’s Web, an orphan extra in Annie), and sang soprano in choir. I loved being part of the electric spark of live performances– but only when I could disappear into a crowd.

Fast-forward several decades to college, when I hosted author events at an indie bookstore. I would carefully prepare an introduction, practicing all week before getting behind the mic to tell the audience about the writer and writing they were about to hear. It was a tiny bookstore, a tiny crowd, yet no matter how much I rehearsed or how many pep talks I gave myself, my hands always shook holding my notes as I read. I felt embarrassed by this visible evidence of my nervousness, but also determined to keep putting myself in front of a crowd in the service of something I loved.

And I really love the power of the written word.

This Saturday, I’m participating for the third time in Ruminate Magazine‘s Happenings: a week-long fundraising event in which Ruminate contributors go live on the Internet to create art on-demand for ticket-holders. (Get yours here.)

The first year, I felt simultaneously intimidated and honored by the email invitation then-Poetry Editor Kristin George Bagdanov sent, asking me to show up and offer some “spontaneous ruminations.” I loved and respected her work as a poet and editor, and felt humbled that she would invite me. I thought about all the ways I’d felt supported and inspired by Ruminate in the five years I’d been writing for them, from the personalized way their editors engaged with my work and communicated with me, to the intentional ways they invited me into a deeper conversation with other writers and readers.

And I thought about how good it would be to push myself outside my comfort zone and invite viewers to share in the creative process. I was genuinely curious: what would it be like to write for others, in front of an audience?

Terrifying! said a tiny voice inside. This is a terrible idea!

But a stronger voice said, This is an amazing growth opportunity! DO IT.

I sat with the terrified voice for about 30 seconds before responding, “YES.”

The truth is, as I’ve grown in my craft, it has become less and less important that I feel a little scared about making a fool of myself, when I’m sharing my love for the creative spirit– that thing that makes your hair stand on end when you see a painting, hear a song, or read a poem and feel this sense of, “That’s me. I’m connected to this. I’m part of something bigger.”

I’ve learned that even though I almost always feel anxious before getting up in front of a crowd, whether or not I can see individual faces, as soon as I begin reading a poem, all of that dissolves away. In connecting to the power of poetry, to the compelling magic I’ve been drawn to since childhood, I disconnect from my attachment to this tiny version of myself. And it’s such a relief.

Maybe that sounds grandiose or strange. I’m not even sure I’m very “good” at performance. It doesn’t really matter. What matters to me, and why I’ve continued saying, “YES”– to Ruminate‘s invitation each year, and to other opportunities to grow as a writer– is that there’s always more to discover about the creative spirit, when I choose to use my gifts in the service of something I love.

I still feel scared. I’ve never used Instagram Live, the platform Ruminate has chosen for this year’s Happenings. I now have three children, including an 8-week old, and it’s going to be hard to carve out even one hour away from them this Saturday. As much as I know I’ll enjoy myself during that hour of creating, I’m also really looking forward to 11 am, when it’ll all be behind me, at least for another year.

And, I’m also excited to see what happens this time. To have the experience of showing up in front of a blank page, tapping into poetry-mind, and being surprised by what I find out as I write. Though I don’t know yet what I’ll write, I know the creative spirit will meet me, as it always meets us when we take a risk and just show up.

I hope to see you there!

Home: A Love Story

Once there was a child grown
on the edge of fields where she fell
in love with the smell of chaparral and sage,
gravel-pilfered crater of an old volcano,
lake calming the blight
of quarry, alluvial clay and silt
hardened into trails, in grasses
left unmowed, where the dog
rummaged for rabbits. The houses
came closer, coyote tracks patterned
the yards, remnants of night’s
near howling, and once, a memory:
leaving the sensible
streetlamps, the child went
with flashlight and family
to lake’s edge, searching the beam
for a clutch of mallard ducklings
they’d released that day,
after days of keeping the dog indoors,
watching for mother duck
who never showed, ushering soft
peeping into a fruit crate, mistake,
or was it, sending them out un-
mothered, unwild? Still
now, decades on, the child-not-child
feels the lake settling, rising
in the midst of that dwindling
open space, the stars hemming the place
where streets ended, the clicking of bats
overhead, the crickets
sewing themselves to sleep, the dark
lake-not-lake holding them
somehow at home. To carry that
back in the empty box, thumping
the sides of her mind, its subdivisions
still developing.


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “280 Words.”