Loaves and Fishes and Mothers

This post has sat in my drafts folder for over a year.

A year ago, I had a newborn and a three-year-old and a five-year-old, and no childcare. A year ago, we were a year deep into the pandemic and I was way past the point of an empty tank. In this metaphor, if the car is me, I had long since broken down on the side of the road. I wasn’t even trying to get somewhere anymore.

Most mornings, not every morning, I turned on Daniel Tiger for my kids and opened up Zoom to join a handful of people from my church in morning prayer. I found a brief respite and comfort in praying for the needs of others, and asking for intercession for my own needs: some variation on the theme of more patience, more sleep, more courage, more love.

I found relief– and hope– in the closing prayer: Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

I wanted so much for God to do infinitely more in me.

On every front, in every direction I looked, I was failing. I wanted to be in the streets, protesting, or helping feed and house neighbors in my city, but I couldn’t even manage to create peace or assuage hunger in my own home. Not significant enough. Sleep-deprived and exhausted, I cried in front of my kids just about every day. Not strong enough. I’d manage to choke back my frustration and respond calmly to one or two sibling squabbles, only to lose it after the third or fourth, making little eyes well and chins quiver in spite of my most desperate efforts. Not patient enough.

Locking myself in the bathroom so I could take a few deep breaths, while the baby wailed from the next room, I’d succumb to self-berating thoughts: Not selfless enough. All day, I looked forward to Lyle’s return from work, only to hear harsh and accusing words come out of my mouth the minute he walked through the door. Not loving enough.

Where is God in all of this? I wondered. What does it mean to have God’s power working in me? When does that kick in?

Any time I could get a break for 20 minutes, I started listening to podcasts on the Way of Love from the Episcopal church website. I’d sit in the big recliner downstairs with my earbuds in and close my eyes. One day I heard Bishop Mariann Budde give a reflection on the General Thanksgiving, another of my favorite parts of the morning prayer liturgy. As part of her encouragement to develop a daily habit of reading a small amount of scripture every day, she gave an example of a time when her daily practice of reading the bible really showed her that this is how God wants to speak to us.

Thirty years ago, when she was an associate priest and a new parent–with all the sleep deprivation and constraints on her time and energy that that entails– she had the opportunity to serve on the board of a local food pantry. She wanted more than anything to be able to volunteer more of her time, to visit the food pantry and be part of its day-to-day operations, but in the end, all she was able to do during her one-year term was to show up at the monthly meetings. She drove to the last meeting with a speech of apology prepared, feeling badly for not having been able to do more, and was left speechless when the board chairwoman gave a speech of her own, praising Mariann effusively for all that she had brought to them during her time. Mariann reflected that the chairwoman’s words “didn’t change my internal assessment of my contribution, but I also didn’t get the sense she was lying.”

The next day during her regular time of prayer and reading, she opened her bible to the story of Jesus and the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The disciples are anxious at the prospect of feeding a crowd of thousands, and they go to Jesus with their worry. They ask Jesus to feed the thousands, and instead Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.” We couldn’t possibly, the disciples reply. We don’t have enough. Jesus asks them, “What do you have?” And with their meager offering of a few fish and a small amount of bread, Jesus calls down blessings on the food, turning it over to God and then asking them to distribute it. You know the rest of the story. How there was more than enough the feed the thousands, and baskets of food remaining.

In her armchair 30 years ago, Bishop Budde reflects, she realized she had experienced that miracle in her own life. By God’s grace, what the people on her board experienced from her– what felt like an meager offering– was more than enough. “What Jesus needed from me was to making my offering, however insufficient it seemed to me,” she says. “Every day, in fact, I am still faced with needs I cannot meet and tasks I cannot manage. I don’t understand how the miracle of abundance works, I’ve only experienced that it does.”

This reflection brought me so much peace and reassurance, during a time of complete overwhelm and disappointment in myself. I’d never before thought about the disciples’ participation in the miracle, how Jesus repeatedly invites his followers into the experience of God’s love and abundance. You give them something to eat. Offer what you have, and turn to me, trusting me with the rest.

That Bishop Budde’s experience of abundance happened right in the midst of motherhood made the message all the more immediate to me. In her beautiful essay “Multiply Me,” Samantha Stephenson writes of the freedom that comes from admitting our own insufficiency, as mothers. “Everyone is crying,” she writes. “It’s need after need, and when do I rest?”

Like Mariann and Samantha, I, too, feel overwhelmed by the needs all around me, and frustrated by my inability to meet them. The miracle and mystery of the loaves and fishes is all about God’s sufficiency, Christ’s mercy– and yet it’s about the disciples’ faith, too. It’s about the heart-change involved in turning over more of your life to God. If I want to experience God’s grace and abundance in my life, I need to keep turning to him, in prayer and in reading and in mothering, too.

Lord, multiply me, I pray,” Samantha writes. “I pray wondering when grace will kick in, until I realize it isn’t coming. It’s already here.”

It’s the not-enoughness that is the gift, she writes. It’s in our insufficiency that we are able to experience God’s grace, in the stretching of our bodies and hearts, in our turning and returning to God in word and prayer.

This essay has sat in my drafts folder for a year. It’s a year later, and I am sitting in a coffee shop in eastern Washington, the first plane flight and first trip I’ve made since March 2020. I’ve just spent a nourishing, cup-filling 48 hours in the company of three other mother-writers, people from different corners of the West whose writing I’ve admired from afar for some time. It’s a rare privilege for each of us to do this, to make the drive or book the flight or arrange childcare. None of us takes it for granted, and most of us won’t have an opportunity like this again for a while. We’ve met here to write, and we’re writing now, but we’ve also met here to talk, to swap stories and ideas and share the frustration that mother-writers know so well: not enough time for writing, not enough of a “platform” to meet the publishing world’s standards. How can it possibly be enough, the weekly two-hour window of babysitting time, the irregularly-shaped margins of the baby’s naptimes, the newsletter or the blog post? Are we doing it right? Should we be doing more?

None of us have come away with answers to those questions, but I think (I hope) we’re each returning home with encouragement to keep going. To keep offering what we’ve been given, what we have, as mothers and as writers, and trusting God to multiply it. To somehow turn our not-enough into more-than-enough. In a way, the conversations we’ve had are the more-than-enough, an experience of God’s provision through friendship and love.

In a few hours, I will get back on the plane and return to my family, to Lyle who’s been solo with all three kids while I’ve been gone. The next few weeks are so full, I’ve printed and reprinted a calendar grid several times to keep track of all the obligations I’ve promised to fulfill: Zoom meetings and errands, dance classes and swim lessons, doctor appointments and clinic shifts. Somewhere in there, I plan to study for the acupuncture school module next weekend, and maybe I’ll find a few scraps of time to read and to write.

I’ll offer what I have, and I’ll fall far short of my own and others’ expectations. I won’t be able to meet the needs all around me in the way I want to. But I’ll make time each day to read just a little bit from the bible, because I know that is where God will continue to speak to me, and give me an experience of his abundance.

The General Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.


Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

By Heart

Love is a fire truck, red as a heart, I whisper to my one-year-old in her pajamas. Her hands, perfect dimples and seashell nails, fumble with the pages, eager to turn them before I’m through with the story. She mimics the siren’s woo woo woo just like her brother did when he was smaller, shuts the last page emphatically like her sister used to do. We know this book by heart.

She knows what’s next, too, in the bedtime routine. We turn on ocean sounds from the owl lamp on her dresser, more static than waves after six years of service. We turn off the light, and my baby rests her head on my chest, pops her thumb in her mouth to listen while I sing and rock.

*

What do I know by heart?

Good Night Moon, its lilting rhythm intertwined with the guilt I felt when sleep-training our first-born. Where the Wild Things Are, the vine of its rhyme wrapped around memories of our precocious talker, who would complete the final phrases of each line: His mother called him Wild Thing, and Max said…? “I eee you up!”

Songs from library storytime. The Paw Patrol theme song. Old nursery rhymes: a penny for a spool of thread, a penny for a needle–three objects fast becoming outdated, unknown by my children, though they know Mommy’s going to school to become an acupuncturist, to use what my oldest calls my “soft needles” to help people with pain and sadness and sleeplessness.

Slowly, I’m memorizing the Shu Transport points, and the five systems of the Balance Method, flipping through flashcards kept in my jacket pocket, in line at Winco. Little by little, I work this ancient medicine into my heart. Halfway through acupuncture school, half of me is always studying. On the walk to school, tracing the edges of little hands to find Large Intestine 5 in the dip beneath the thumb bone, Heart 9 at the top of a tiny pinky finger.

*

There are some things we can only know by heart. There’s no other way to account for it.

It’s just before sunset and I’m at Fossil Beach with this guy I know. We are 20 and 21 years old and we’ve spent the fall hanging out in each other’s tiny kitchens between classes, cooking each other oatmeal, or sharing jam jars of wine and talking late about Robinson Jeffers and planets and our families. Then today, he asked me to spend the afternoon at the beach, and we packed a paper bag picnic and I climbed, heart pounding, into the passenger seat of his red truck. I was sure he could hear my heart then, and I’m sure he can hear it now, sitting side by side on this driftwood log, staring at a peach sky.

When he asks if he can kiss me, I know — I know. My heart is in my mouth and I’m so sure of the rightness of us, it scares me. Years later, I’ll still struggle to describe what I feel in this moment, how my heart seemed to know who this was. I’ll wonder if I’ve overlaid the moment with every moment since then– 18 years of loving him.

*

Maybe it’s both. A flash of recognition, the heart understanding something you can’t speak aloud. And also speaking words aloud, until they sink deep into your heart. You learn something by heart, by accident or on purpose, through repetition. Until it becomes dull and meaningless (a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush), or until it shines with the gleam of purposeful reuse.

Like the sturdiness of recited prayer: old words gripped tight as a banister, steadying feet for the climb. I started with the Lord’s Prayer as a child, copied it onto paper in Sunday school, then clung to it through childhood nights when I braved the dark alone, whispering the words over and over to myself.

Decades later, I am praying one decade of Hail Marys at a time, learning the Anglican rosary. Running my fingers over plastic beads, I find small spaces of peace between naptimes. I speak the words aloud and feel connected to the millions of people who have said them before me, are saying them now. It becomes both my prayer, and not mine. My words, and not mine. I am a mother with very human worries in my heart, and I am somehow connected to the Holy Mother in the space created by these prayers. The worries still and settle like the beads, sliding into place.

“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved,” Paul wrote to the first believers two thousand years ago (Romans 10:10).

Belief and knowing happen deep within us, where there are no words. But belief can be sparked by words, by testimony and prayers, poetry and letters. And when we believe– when we fall in love with God– we have to speak it. Like the circle of beads, belief and words are interconnected. A mystery.

Even Paul, encouraging those early believers from a distance, was sending them older words they would have recognized, from the Torah: “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so you may obey it.” (Deut 30:14)

I want the word of God near me like this. In fact, I’m realizing anew how much I need the word of God every day, all day long. Otherwise, I forget. I fall asleep, again and again, just like the disciples. I say I want to hear God’s voice and know God’s purpose for me, but really I have been refusing the simple (not easy) truth that God’s purpose for me is the same as for everyone who tries to follow Jesus: to point others to God, to be used by God.

To hear God’s voice, I need to bring not just prayer but the bible into the rhythm of my days, in whatever way I can manage it. Reading a Psalm and a chapter of a book from the New Testament before I clear the lunch dishes. Listening to a hymn in the car on my way to preschool pickup. Tucking a verse into my stack of flashcards. I want to have more of God’s word in my heart so I can better hear what God has to say to me each day. So I can have the word in my mouth and in my heart.

*

Rocking my baby in the dark, I’m doing what I do every time I put her down for a nap or for the night: focusing every part of my attention on her, taking all of it in, as if I’m studying for a test. I’m learning her by heart, because each day feels like a train that carries us further from babyhood, closer to the future.

Outside the door, I hear my husband ask our son for the nineteenth time if he’s sure he’s done with dinner. Doesn’t he want some of the yummy green beans? We both know all he’s had to eat is the bun around the hot dog, a swipe of ketchup. And still there’s patience in my husband’s voice. Kindness, and weariness too.

After this comes the long trudge across the desert toward the oasis of bedtime– all three kids asleep, and maybe some time for talking again, just the two of us. These days it’s mugs of tea and not wine, but there’s still talk about poetry and planets and our family.

But first there’s teeth-brushing, pajama-wrangling, small-naked-person-chasing down the hallway. No, I don’t know where your bear slippers are. Yes, I will fill up your water-bottle. It’s time for a story. It’s time for lights out. Okay, go to the bathroom then come right back. Yes, I will sing you a song. No, you just went to the bathroom. Good night. It’s time for bed. It’s time for bed.

Most nights, I am so desperate for them to be in bed, I try to speed things up. But some nights, I remember to weave prayer into their bedtime routine. I want them to have this habit. There’s one we’ve been trying out lately that they like, from a little book, Praying with My Fingers. Each finger represents a different group of people to pray for: friends and family, teachers, leaders, the sick, and yourself. I count with my fingers, and learn how to pray.

In a way, children already know how to pray, I think. They have their ears resting on God’s chest, listening to the heartbeat there, like my baby does. I think this is what Jesus means by having a childlike faith. Children know they are small and need help. They know they are loved, and that someone knows what they need, and cares about their hurts and their worries. I am teaching my kids, in my imperfect way, about God, hoping they’ll love Jesus. But they’re also teaching me, about trusting God and resting in his unconditional love.

I think of the routine my son and I stumbled into, through the creativity of desperation, at his first preschool drop-off last year. Let’s tie strings to our hearts! I whispered, getting down to look into tear-filled eyes over his mask. He whimpered, but watched as I pantomimed unspooling a long thread, whipping it in the air like a lasso. He giggled as I coiled it around my heart, then very carefully tied the other end around his. Remember if you miss me today, you can pull on your heart-string, and I’ll feel it. Sometimes now, he runs into his classroom without looking back. And sometimes he gets out his invisible string, and he lassos my heart.


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 the series “Love Looks Like”.

On Finish Lines and 39

In the picture, I am 18, running in a crowd across a giant finish line, one sneaker striking the first “L” in Honolulu Marathon. I look both jubilant and exhausted, like I belong in a crowd of runners and like I might be a spectator, stealing onto the road for a photo op. I’m wearing cutoff yoga pants and a pair of yellow submarine socks, my race number pinned over my Team in Training jersey.

What you can’t see in the photo is that my skin is chafed in places I didn’t even know it was possible to chafe, having been running for over six hours through Hawaiian humidity and the gentle spray of garden hoses offered by cheering neighbors along the route. What you don’t see is the community of runners and walkers I’ve been training with for the past six months, some with multiple marathons and PRs under their belts and some, like me, who’ve never run a race before in their life.

Truthfully, though, I remember very little of this moment, this grand conclusion of a goal I’d been working toward for half a year. Instead, I remember a row of roadside spider webs strung with beads of dew, on the run when I first felt what they call a “runner’s high.” I remember watching the spire of the tiny white church dip and rise as I rounded the UCSC track far above town, putting in my five miles after class each day. I remember Amy picking me up at dawn on Saturdays for long runs all over the Bay area, both of us warming our cold hands on the dashboard heaters, and how we’d both be so sleepy on the drive down, so energized on the drive back.

The girl in the photo is just beginning to discover who she is, and how that differs from the girl she’s been. She wants to be a writer, and she thinks that means she can’t be a mother, something she can’t yet admit she also wants. I’m a little in awe of her, this 18-year-old-me. She is running with arms open toward the next chapter of her life, even though she has no clue what it holds.

Today is my 39th birthday, and I’m beginning it the way I begin most weekdays: with a two-mile run around the athletic track near our house, greeting the dawn that stays dim with rain-soaked clouds long after the sun is, technically, up. I’m working toward running a 5k in March with my three closest friends, all mothers and writers, like me.

It’s the first day of the last year of my thirties, and culture would have me look at my looming 40th birthday as a finish line of sorts: the end of young adulthood, the beginning of middle age. There are so many things we’re told we must do by 40. Where did 18-year-old me imagine I’d be?

I thought it would be cool to run another marathon at 36 (I didn’t). I wanted to have published a few books (I have, though they’re smaller projects than I’d pictured at 18). I’d never have guessed that I’d be halfway through a program to become a community acupuncturist, or that I’d have three children and sometimes wish for more. I hoped to fall in love (check) and live somewhere beautiful, with enough land for a garden and chickens, like the home I’d grown up in.

If this is the beginning of middle age, then I like being in the middle of things– half-finished projects I’m excited to pick up, a baby underfoot and learning to walk, a three-year-old who wants to read and a six-year-old with loose teeth and so many good questions. A partner who geeks out on the same things I do but still surprises me daily, a book to write, and so much more to learn about meridian theory, healing, and the body.

I’m grateful I’m still running, and in no hurry to get anywhere.


This post is part of a blog hop with other runner-mother-creatives. Click here to view the next post in this series on running, mothering, and making.

The Baby is Almost One

Iris at ten months

In two weeks and four days our baby– third baby, last baby– will be one. One: the lilypad from babyhood to something more. Not quite toddler, but getting too big to nurse, outgrowing booties, grabbing the spoon from my hand.

Not always, but plenty of times, I have held her in dark rooms rocking her to the shushing of white noise and willing my body to memorize hers. To know her weight at each age, knowing how my memory changed so quickly as my older children grew, my brain somehow erasing the previous stage to replace it with the child-shape in my arms. I have held her wanting to hold onto the moment, to her, or at least to know I was fully there, taking in as much as I could.

Not always, but a lot, I felt pure happiness just holding her, not wanting to lower her into her crib.

I haven’t planned her first birthday party, haven’t called it a party, even. It will be her, and me and her daddy and her siblings, and Nana and Poppy. A round little cake, a balloon, a candle, her crinkly-eyed smile. The crinkle of paper and her pudgy hands, clapping. It will be four days after Christmas, in that bridge of time between the biggest parties of the year, and I want it to be quiet. I don’t want anything to distract me from that one small flame. I’m so grateful for her, and for my motherhood, for her brother and her sister. The magical thinking of: if I can just love each moment enough it will make up for all the times I held my babies and wasn’t present, was angry or tired or hopeless, and didn’t love the moment enough. I didn’t know how fast it would go and that it would eventually be over, each babyhood year.

What does it mean that she is our last baby? Didn’t I think each baby was our last? I never bought a tiny cake pan to make their first birthday cakes. Each time I borrowed one, thinking, Oh, why buy something I’ll use so rarely, but also, I couldn’t possibly be this lucky again. Maybe that is the mark miscarriage leaves. Surely this was just a fluke. Or the strange insatiability: will I always want another baby, the way a child always wants another ice cream cone? Maybe it’s a type of hungry math– if I add and add and add, it will cancel out the heartbreak of those zeroes. Love doesn’t work that way, but hunger doesn’t understand that.

with Robin at 9 months

A mother of four, Maya Rudolph described herself in an interview as “addicted to babies,” and sometimes I feel that way. Not fixated, not obsessed, but habituated. To what? To the possibility? A mother of four. I’m exhausted with caring for three, and the road to Iris’s kindergarten year looks long, and still I find myself folding and storing away a few pairs of threadbare maternity leggings, a stack of my favorite onesies. Not in the keepsake boxes I’ve started for each child, but in an unmarked, mostly empty box in the basement. As if, like the unplanned first birthday, if I don’t think about it too directly I don’t have to face its meaning.

The keepsake boxes are labeled, layered. At the bottom there is the pink sweater Sky wore at four months, and on top are the pair of ballet shoes she just outgrew– too beloved to toss, too worn to save for her sister. There are the brown fuzzy booties that warmed Robin’s feet from January to May of his first year, turning him daily into bear cub, and there’s the orange astronaut jammies he loved so much, wore so often I can’t imagine them on Iris. And somehow there’s a box, too, for Iris: her going-home outfit that now looks improbably tiny, her first bathing suit that won’t fit next summer. I wonder how it could be over so soon. I wonder how to explain to myself that having another baby doesn’t bring the other babies back– not Iris as a newborn, not Sky at six months, not 9-month-old Robin, not the babies that faded away before they could be born.

How do I explain this to my heart? Not the organ, but very much the organ, too– its terrible, incredible pumping. The heart is the first thing I knew of each of my children, as a little feathery beating on a grainy screen. The heart is the part of me that has physically ached, each time I crossed the threshold of birth, with the weight of a love no one could have explained to me. And my heart is also something that isn’t flesh and doesn’t understand flesh’s finality. My heart wants to go back and forth through time, or suspend it, and linger in the nursery rocking each baby again.

This part of me isn’t rational. She’s very persuasive. I won’t give her the keys, but I also trust her to show me where to pay attention.

The baby is almost one and I haven’t planned a thing. Already she is pulling on my hands, pulling herself up to stand, laughing and wobbling into her next year.

with Sky

Joy in Four Parts

1

The baby is both things incarnate: the embodiment of joy, and unexpected. Even now, almost a year later, I still look at her in astonishment. Is she really ours? I take a beat before I recognize our reflection as a family of five. Who is that family with three children, outnumbered? Spilling noisily out of a grocery aisle, or strolling loose and easy to the park like, it’s no big deal, what’s one more? She is our big deal. She is our more, and her whole face shows it. She opens her mouth as she takes her first wobbly steps, holding my hands. Ha! Ha! she shouts, looking at me, eyes wide. Did you know this, mama? Did you know the world contained this miracle, this walking? I have doubts about my own purposes here, but I know our baby’s. She came here to be joy.

2

He is so small, so heavy with tears each day, and so much lighter– like a bird– than his constant motion makes him seem. Every day I wonder: Who are you? Who will you be? Our birthdays are five days apart, with 35 years between us, and when he was born I thought, Here is a child who will be like me. We will understand each other, like January people do. In some things, that’s true. Today, working on the solar system puzzle together, slowly, on the kitchen table. Making a nest of blankets on the couch for us to read books in. How he never wants to NOT be wearing pajamas. But then, the abandon with which he sends his trucks into the block towers, whooping at their destruction. The shock of his delight. The shock that it doesn’t take sameness, that I don’t need to share his tastes to share the blaze of his happiness.

3

My first light, my bright girl, she laughs loud. She’s so silly, so ever in the mood for a game it’s easy to miss how soft she is, how easily, deeply wounded. Her quick hug around my waist at the stove where I’m cooking, seeing me frustrated with her brother, stepping around the baby. The many all-caps drawings in pen she makes for us. LOVE SKY FOR MAMA DADA ILOVEYOU SO MUTH. I had bought all the books, last year, to teach her to read. I was going to follow all the steps and now it’s like she’s taken flight. I’m watching her learn it on her own, among her friends at school, trying out different spellings at the kitchen table, or picking up on letters in the wild when we’re out driving, her whole face lighting up in the rearview.

4

The grass in the meadow had curved low on the ground in a pattern like clouds, and the kids were running in it, in the breathless, expectant way of children. They don’t know what comes next or where they’re going, they just know they have to be there, be in it. We called them back from the edge where the grass darkened into bog, picked them up to take a picture with us, in the spot where we were married ten years before. I remembered looking at the stand of pines in the near distance, thinking to myself– Could there ever be joy as deep as this? With him, with us, together, could life ever really be that hard? Yes, I thought, holding our children close in the meadow. And yes.

Destash Recap

At the end of August, I finished my fabric and project destash, just in time for my self-imposed September 1 deadline. The purpose was to give myself some momentum to build a regular sewing practice into my routine, by refreshing the stagnant energy that (for me at least) builds up around projects I don’t finish or don’t begin. Going forward, I’d like to make it a habit to finish any projects in progress before purchasing material for a new project.

I learned a lot in the process. Aside from picking up a lot of new sewing skills as I went (french seams! plackets! sewing with a ballpoint needle!), I found out what I do and don’t like to sew, and what makes a good pattern. I learned that I really enjoy sewing for others, and that’s okay. I went into this with the nagging sense that I needed to sew more for myself, that somehow that would be more relaxing or enjoyable. But I found that I truly get a lot of stress-relief and enjoyment from planning, creating, and giving sewing projects to people I love.

What I sewed

Two Peasant nightgowns from Whimsy Couture in flannel fairy print, for Sky and her cousin Ella. Sky found a pattern for an eye mask in her Sewing School book, and we made two using scraps from the nightgowns, one for her and one for Ella.

Geranium top, bubble romper, and simple boys’ shorts in lemon print. This was a highlight! I loved making all three kids a matching set of outfits. I cut out another bubble romper in yellow with white polka dots, but I’m not sure I’ll finish it before Iris outgrows it or the weather turns cold for good.

Geranium dress in navy blue with lime green flowers and lime green snaps in back, for Sky. I love this pattern and Sky really loves this dress. There’s an extension pack for making a long sleeve version that I might look into for the fall.

Geranium top in Riley Blake Grl Power, for June. This one was so fun to make! I had to get creative with the scraps and I love how the border print looks just above the waistline, like the people are peeking out over the top of a crowd.

Baby pinafore in white with red pin dots and baby bloomers in solid red. This was a really fun pattern! It’s not the most ideal outfit for a baby learning to crawl, but the pattern has larger sizes I can make once she’s walking.

Adventure satchel in Riley Blake print, for Adam. My last bag, this time for my friend’s son’s 4th birthday.

Car roll-up, for Quinn. This was my third one, this time for my friend’s son who just became a big brother. I handed it to him when I dropped off some snacks for the nursing mama, and he disappeared into the house to start playing with it immediately, which made me so happy.

Things I did not get to

Diaper covers. Epiphany! These are not fun to make. My final opinion is that it’s not worth the labor, for me, since the process isn’t enjoyable (and that’s kind of the whole reason I sew). I put together a sewing kit with the remaining fabric, elastic, and pattern and I’m currently trying to sell it on Facebook.

Miniature cats. Just didn’t get to this. Maybe I’ll bump it forward to Christmas for Sky, after I sew the other clothes on my new make list.

Natural dyeing with blackberries
Natural dyeing with marigolds and avocado pits

What’s next

Cheesemaker’s smock and Old Mexico embroidered tunic for me and Lyle. We had a great time hand-dyeing some unbleached broadcloth a few weekends ago. We dyed 2 yards with blackberries and an iron mordant for Lyle, resulting in a moody plum gray. I cut it into pieces for the Cheesemaker’s smock he requested and began sewing. We dyed another 2 yards with yellow and orange marigolds, avocado pits, and avocado skins, and it turned the most beautiful buttery yellow! I plan to cut that out for the Old Mexico tunic, and figure out how to trace the embroidery pattern onto some water-soluble stabilizer so I can embroider the yoke before sewing. A time-consuming project but one that I hope brings me some calm. The dye process was really fun. It was raining the weekend we did it and our set-up was faarrrr from picturesque, but I might write another post about it.

Forager vest in gray linen for me. I bought the linen a few weeks ago and will likely cut it out once I finish sewing the smock and tunic.

Ivy pinafore in dark denim or brown curduroy for me. I haven’t bought fabric for this yet and plan to wait until I finish the above projects.

Lightweight pajama set in blue quilting cotton for Sky. She runs hot at night and has asked me for a lightweight pants-and-shirt set. I plan to use a pattern I have, Butterick B6402, for the pants, and a shortened version of the Whimsy Couture nightgown for the top, since it was so easy to put together.

Red cape for Iris?? I’ve been eyeing this adorable little red-riding hood cape from Oliver and S for a while. I’d love to make Iris a cape in a solid red cotton with this Riley Blake red-riding-hood print as a lining (how cute is that?!) for Halloween, but I might wait until next year so she can wear it longer.

Some Imperfect Thoughts on an Imperfect Faith

I pray for others daily, even though I don’t know how prayer works. Does it “move the hand of God,” as a former pastor used to say, prompting me to visualize an arcade game, a claw crane grasping at tiny rubber ducks? Is it more about the person praying, an engagement with the Holy Spirit that changes our own internal state, so that we become God’s hands and feet in the world? Is prayer an act of connecting to an energetic force, something already at work, and allowing ourselves to feel our participation in something huge and real, something that definitely impacts our hearts and others’ lives? All of these feel true to me on some level, and I don’t need to know definitively to believe in prayer, or to pray.

*

My prayers are flimsy sometimes. Little half-sentences tossed up to God as I drive the car, brush my teeth, chop carrots. Other times they are long conversations that blend into that middle zone of consciousness, between alertness and sleep. Sometimes writing feels like prayer. Sometimes looking at a sunset or into a baby’s eyes, feeling music fall deeply into my chest, putting my hands into dirt feels like prayer. Maybe prayer is a bridge, something that can take many shapes, that leads us from one place to another, even if at first it’s just one step.

*

A perennial worry: That I’m not doing enough to nurture my children’s faith. That my own faith is still forming, still blurred around the edges, so what is it I’m imparting?

*

As a family, we pray sporadically before dinner– short, simple prayers of gratitude for our home, a hot meal, our health, and each other. Sometimes my daughter asks specifically to pray, and surprises me with things I didn’t know she was thinking about. Please help the people who don’t have homes. Please make the virus go away.

*

My husband isn’t Christian, but he’s come along with me to different churches over the past decade or more, as I’ve returned to the faith of my childhood after long absence. He’s sat beside me during sermons, in small groups in people’s homes. He’s helped move couches and tables and loads of compost for parishioners, taken our kids to church events, watched me get baptized for the second time. He’s made me beautiful crosses– a small wooden one for prayer, a metal one I’ve hung near my bed, a tiny silver one on a chain. Sometimes I think he is more of a Christian than I am, in the way he loves. Sometimes I think Christianity is a kind of remedial course for stubborn souls like mine, the ones that keep cycling through lifetimes without shedding the sticky sap of pride, jealousy, arrogance.

*

I believe in angels, and have a strange fear of them. It’s getting better. I mean I feel like I’m closer to entertaining the thought of connecting with them. A friend tells me our angels are waiting for us to ask them for help. They can’t help us unless we ask. I love thinking of this. I used to think of angels like the heavenly version of busy state representatives. I have no idea what they do, and it’s better to just thank them and stay out of their way, lest I disturb their work. But what if they’re actually bored, waiting to hear from us?

*

A related fear: That angels are for people in the bible, not regular people like me, with static cling and a habit of spending just-earned money on tarot cards. That angels, like tarot cards, are a type of spiritually-suspect accessory it’s best not to mention to your Real Christian friends.

*

My daughter draws pictures of angels in long gowns with fairy wings. They always look joyful, and breathless from dancing. One of my favorite memories with my husband is of dancing like fools to 70s funk, at a wedding where we knew only the bride and groom. How much freer you can move in a space like that, where there’s neither a past nor a future, just a feast. That’s how I imagine the hereafter feels. I hope there’s still a specificity to us. I want to dance with Lyle there, and know I’m dancing with him.

*

Last night I dreamt about the industrial areas in our city and the people trying to survive there. Concrete, shadow, graffiti, tarps, tents. Places where the housed and the privileged, like me, don’t go, or where we drive past in sealed, air-conditioned cars. In the dream I could see the beauty possible there, resistance like a hand brake, making a space even for a short time where people are fed, listened to, their wounds cleaned, their clothing washed. I’m afraid to do those things. I’m afraid not to. In the dream they were connected, the places and people abandoned, and the things and images pursued instead. Then the city became my soul, the abandoned places became the parts of me that I choose to neglect and ignore. This is the location of the work I think Jesus does in us, and where God calls us to seek Them. That’s about as close as I get to defining my faith.

*

It’s only partially true that I’ve returned to the faith of my childhood. It’s more like I’ve returned to the address, but the house that was there is gone. Maybe I am rebuilding, or maybe I’m sitting on the bruised foundations, wishing I could remember to seek God with the simplicity of the child I was.

*

Theology overwhelms me, like Costco. So many options, each item massive, containing much more than I feel is necessary, but at the same time not containing all I need. The closest I get to a theological home is Liberation Theology, but even there I hover, unsure if I’m welcome. Does a white, middle class, cisgender woman, living on the unceded lands of the Clackamas, Cowlitz and Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, belong there? Could I ever be anything more than a hypocrite? Is that sort of a given within Christianity anyway?

*

Still at the center of all my questioning, there is someone. A presence, a pulse, a ground. I get annoyed with myself, my whining, my disappointing way of repeating mistakes, but this is what I know to be true: God still calls me Beloved. Has always called me– called all of us, incredibly– Beloved. And that’s reason enough for me to press on, to keep trying to know God and do the work God has for me today.


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 the series “True”.

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?