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.

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?

Meal plan and what my kids actually ate this week

vegan-liftz-jYcwa3ntpJg-unsplash

These are long days for parents. Some are harder than others. Even on our best days, my husband and I both look forward to those precious few hours after the kids are in bed when we can catch up, unwind and enjoy a little quiet before going to bed, only to do it all over again the next day. We’ve been trying out different things to smooth over the predictably chaotic transitions we all find challenging each day: waking up, getting dinner on the table, and going to bed.

We are experimenting with simple “morning invitations” to keep the kids occupied during our pre-breakfast/ pre-coffee stumble. It doesn’t happen every morning and the activities are very simple. We’re just focusing on getting in a habit of setting something up the night before, as a gift to our next-morning selves. When Lyle gets home in the afternoon, he takes the kids outside to play or does a math/science activity with our kindergartener, while I take a walk alone. At 5, the kids get to watch a show while one of us makes dinner. Since I’m slowing down here at 29 weeks, it’s often Lyle who cooks while I lie down or do some stretching. So my contribution lately has been recommitting to a meal plan, making a list, and shopping for all the ingredients once a week.

I will be honest. I do not love meal-planning. I often find it overwhelming and repetitive, and it can be frustrating to spend time planning and preparing meals only to throw much of it in the compost when our kids eat around the vegetables and just eat the starchy, cheesy bits. The title for this post could easily be a McSweeney’s prompt, as the chasm between the plan and the reality is so very wide sometimes.

To reframe it as a sustainable practice for our family, I’m trying to embrace meal-planning as something we do in the service of bigger goals and values: cultivating a calm home and connecting together, however briefly, at the dinner table as a family. It’d be nice if the kids ate up all of what we served them, but that’s not the most important thing– though I wince at their uneaten food when so many go hungry.

After reading Ellyn Satter’s book a few years back, I’ve tried to remind myself that I’m in charge of putting healthy, balanced meals on the table for my kids, and they’re in charge of deciding how much of it to put in their bodies. That is a tall order some days. It’s really tough to resist cajoling them into one more bite, or taking it personally when they don’t like something I’ve worked hard on. But I don’t want the dinner table to be a battle field, and I want my kids to grow up knowing what feels good in their own bodies. I want to respect that knowing. Taking a page from Satter’s book, we don’t prepare separate or substitute meals for the kids, but we almost always serve bread or toast on the side, so even if they refuse to eat the main meal, I know they won’t go to bed hungry.

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Robin helping to chop veggies with a Zulay kids’ knife

I thought I would share my progress here on the blog occasionally. This way I can make some notes on the kinds of things my kids like to eat, and get them into our weekly rotation more often. And maybe it can serve as a shortcut for another weary mom or dad out there, scouring the internet for ideas. I will list this week’s meals and link to some recipes below.

So far, I’ve observed a few things about what works for our family:

  • Meals need to be simple and low-prep, no more than an hour from cutting board to table, unless they involve some fairly hands-off time in the oven.
  • In this season of budgeting, small children, and third-trimester heartburn, light meals focused on vegetables and grains work best.
  • When I feel stuck or uninspired, there are two family magazines with unfussy recipes that usually do the trick: Parents and Good Housekeeping.
  • One-pot and sheet-pan meals often end up being crowd-pleasers.
  • Not all time-saving appliances actually save *us* time. A basic rice cooker? Yes. An instant pot? “Good for her, not for me.”

Meals for October 11-17

SundayRoasted vegetables and rice. Kids ate: most. Notes: This was a non-recipe meal using up the veggies in the fridge before grocery day. Sweet potato, carrot, beets, potatoes, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes, chopped small and roasted with olive oil and herbs at 425 for about 25 min. Served with brown rice from the rice cooker.

MondayPumpkin Rice Casserole with Roasted Vegetables. Kids ate: most. Notes: This was a meal I just made up based on what I had left in the fridge. I was pleasantly surprised the kids liked this, and the leftovers made for good lunches the next day.

Tuesday*Potato kale soup. Kids ate: less than half. Notes: Served with par-baked french bread from the supermarket and a green salad from our garden. I was disappointed the kids didn’t seem to like this very much, but kale does have a strong flavor. This was a hearty, blended soup that we doubled to help feed a friend going through a hard time. So even though my kids didn’t eat much of it, I celebrated it as a win for meal-planning: it helped me give a little extra during a time when I often feel like I don’t have enough time, energy, or kindness to share. *grocery day.

WednesdayRotisserie chicken with orzo, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes. Kids ate: most. Notes: Served with a green salad from our garden. This was really good, and relatively easy to prepare with pre-cooked chicken. I used to avoid prepared foods to save money but recently have been experimenting with buying a rotisserie chicken every so often. It has surprised me by being more budget-friendly than I might have thought. Served with bread and a veggie or salad, it can make for a complete meal during busy times when we might otherwise order expensive take-out. In this case, we had plenty left to use in another recipe later in the week, and by simmering the carcass overnight we also made a quart of nutritious bone broth.

ThursdaySheet pan grilled cheese with apples. Kids ate: less than half. Notes: Served with cups of leftover soup and a green salad. This was a new technique for us, kind of a DIY panini press in the oven, and we ended up cooking them a little too long. A good way to cook grilled cheese for a crowd, this helps you spend less time over the stove, but you really have to watch so they don’t burn. The kids may have eaten more if they weren’t so well-done. 😉

FridayQuinoa-stuffed acorn squash. Kids ate: Less than half. Notes: Served with toast and a green salad. I didn’t have high hopes that they’d eat this. For some reason, stuffed veggies aren’t a big hit with my two, but I keep exposing them to these dishes because they are affordable, nutritious, and some of my favorite things to eat during the cold months. We made carmelized cashews for the salad with sliced bosc pear, and that was a big hit at least.

Saturday Chicken and butternut squash enchiladas. Kids ate: most. Notes: I used this recipe as a template in order to make a double batch. I needed to make one dairy and gluten free to freeze and deliver to my friend next week, and one with regular cheese for our kids, and both without beans because they tend to make me sick. I also made my own enchilada sauce because onions and garlic gross me out during pregnancy. So, lots of adaptations. You could definitely make this dish more quickly and affordably with store-bought shortcuts. A good weekend meal since it’s more involved to prepare.

What are your favorite meal-planning tricks, habits, or discoveries?

Photo by Vegan Liftz on Unsplash

Pumpkin Rice Casserole with Roasted Vegetables

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

This recipe could also be titled Day Before Grocery Run Casserole, or What’s in the Fridge Surprise. It was Monday at 4:30, after a long day of homeschooling and potty-training, and in the fridge we had some pureed roasted pumpkin from making bread, cooked rice and roasted veggies from the night before, and not a whole lot else. After searching online for “pumpkin rice cheesy casserole” and not finding anything, I decided to improvise, and share the results with some future Googler of odd casseroles. I’m not going to wax poetic about it, as most food blogs do, because this is not in fact a food blog. This is the blog of a writer and mother with all-day morning sickness, who needed to get something palatable in the oven for her family so she could take a walk, alone.

This follows a basic casserole formula I remember from growing up: starch+ veggie + binder (egg) + cheese and breadcrumbs (a great time to use up the heels of sandwich bread your kids won’t eat.) It’s mild, comforting, and satisfying– great for hungry, picky eaters on a cold day. Feel free to experiment with those components, and adjust the seasonings to give it your own spin. I used rosemary, thyme, and parsley to give it fall flavor, but you could change up the spices depending on what leftover vegetables you’re working with.

Then get it in the oven, set the timer, and let your partner watch the kids and the dinner while you take a walk.

Pumpkin Rice Casserole with Roasted Veggies

Serves: 8
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 30 min

Ingredients
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree (or any cooked winter squash)
1 egg
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp salt
3 tsps herbs of choice
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 cups cooked rice
2 cups roasted vegetables
2 slices bread, cubed
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
1 tbsp butter, plus more for greasing pan

Preheat oven to 350. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 glass casserole dish. In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, egg, cheddar, salt, herbs, and chicken broth. Whisk well. Fold in rice and vegetables. Press into greased casserole dish and pat smooth. Sprinkle bread crumbs evenly over top, and dot with butter. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, until breadcrumbs are golden brown and casserole edges are crisp.

Serve with a green salad. We did mixed greens and a dijon vinaigrette with sliced bosc pear, shredded carrots, and toasted cashews. Bon appetit.

For Now

Maybe all the Frozen 2 has gotten to me. Our nearly-five-year-old is as Elsa-obsessed as the next little kid, and we’ve had both soundtracks on repeat since December, with accelerated listening as the pandemic has grown. Even our 2-year-old, who is barely speaking in sentences, can confidently bust out with “Let it go! Let it gooooo….”

But it’s the quiet song in the next film, “The Next Right Thing,” that I keep returning to, every day in this limbo world of the pandemic. (Is it stuck in your head now, too? Sorry/not sorry.) I’m not on social media, I check the news once in the morning and once in the evening, and I delete most of the daily deluge of “how we’re responding to COVID” emails.

Maybe it sounds cheesy but right now the most I can do is the next right thing. All I can control is how I respond right now, using my best understanding of the information that’s available in this moment.

What good will it do me to wonder what if, what’s next, how long? I’m trying to figure out how to get through the next hour without fear clamping its tight, sweaty hands around my throat. With a chronic illness I’ve just barely gotten a handle on that is triggered by stress and anxiety, it’s a matter of survival, for me, to learn how to choose not to dwell on things I can’t control.

I get that not everyone has that luxury, and I am grateful to the trained professionals who make “What if” and “How long” their daily work. As a whole, at the level of city, state, and national leadership, we do need to ask those questions in order to end the pandemic.

But as an individual, as a student and the mother of two young children, my main job is to stay healthy and sane enough to keep going, and help my family stay healthy and sane. I’ll even be as bold as to hope we might still thrive in spite of the dramatic changes to our daily lives. If “What if” has a role in my life right now, it needs to be one that serves my little family, and supports those goals.

What if we feel our fear and our sadness alongside joy at the beauty of the spring day outside, alongside our pleasure at seeing the familiar faces of preschool friends on the laptop screen? What if we notice when we’re getting grumpy and say it out loud, stomp our feet together until we’re laughing, and ask for an extra hug? What if we make it a habit to do something little and nice for someone every day, and see how it makes us feel? What if we don’t feel like getting out of bed, but we get up and get dressed anyway?

Today we begin week two of… what do we call it? Self-quarantine, sheltering in place, social-distancing? Oregon just made it official this morning, but my family’s been sheltering in place for a week now. I’m working and going to school remotely, while home with the kids, and my husband goes to work in his shop. (He runs a small manufacturing business that can thankfully still practice under the new guidelines.) Occasionally we have shouted conversations with the neighbor across the street. We take giant steps to the side when we pass people on the path at the park up the street. And we make daily Facetime, Hangouts, and Zoom dates with friends and family across the city and around the country. It’s working okay for now, but I definitely have moments of overwhelm, every day. It’s challenging sometimes to stay in touch when we mostly, of course, talk about what’s happening related to the pandemic.

Today is week two, but it’s also noon. So my kids and I check the daily schedule we taped to the wall, to give us something to anchor to, stay grounded when the bottom has dropped out from under us. It’s just a colorful piece of computer paper, with drawings my kids can “read,” and a paperclip on the side that my daughter can slide down to the next activity on the list. This morning we’ve had free play, some movement (yoga), and outdoor play (backyard sandbox digging and a walk around the block.) At noon, it’s time to clean up toys, wash hands again, and help make lunch. Then we’ll rest and do some coloring or painting, and head outside again to pull weeds or work on the snap pea trellis up in the garden.

Although this age range has its own challenges, I’m mostly grateful that my kids are young, and we’re not worried about keeping the on track academically. I am trying to keep them from asking me 10,009 times a day if it’s time to eat a snack or watch a show. I’m trying to keep myself from losing it.

There are so many ways to move through the impossible. This is what’s helping us, for now. It has been a helpful reminder when we don’t know what to do. All we can do is the next right thing.

Little Idea Bank

Art Activities, Week 1, from The Artful Parent, by Jean Van’t Hul
Monday: Paint a Song; Q-Tip pointillism
Tuesday: Draw cars and houses, mail to friends, ask them to draw people and mail back
Wednesday: Fingerpaint and cut out a banner
Thursday: Bake teddy bear bread for dinner
Friday: Make and play with homemade playdough

Movement
Ride bikes and scooters
Jazzercise on demand
Yoga Together! by Elizabeth Jouane
Good Morning yoga flow on YouTube

Stories and Reading
Fairytales on Storynory
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Audible or Libby versions)
Red House, Tree House, Itty Bitty Brown Mouse, by Jane Godwin

Free Play
Hape Quadrilla Marble run
Alphabet foam mat