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?

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.

#100dayproject + Sewing

Sewing is something I’ve been drawn to since I was little, when my mom often sewed clothing and Halloween costumes for my sister and me, and even for our dolls. I was always in awe (and still am) of her patience, creativity, and polish as a seamstress, and in hindsight I wish I had been able to learn more from her when I was younger. We have been making up for lost time each time she visits. In September we finished a shift dress in an ice cream cone fabric (called Social from Ruby Star) for my daughter that I’d been working on for months. As you can see, I felt pretty triumphant.

Though I enjoy sewing and have always had dreams of sewing for my own kids,  I’ve struggled to make time to do it. Mothering, writing, and studying have combined to make for a full life, and that hasn’t changed during the pandemic. If anything, my days feel even fuller, with both kids home with me full-time, instead of at preschool or with a babysitter a few days a week.

So when I heard about the 100 Day Project, I decided to join in. It felt good to think about doing a little bit of sewing each day, as a way to practice being present and feeling joyful during an anxious time. It gave me the energy I needed to go through my stack of projects, clean up my sewing table, and think about what small steps I could take each day to make progress. It’s been a lot of fun so far, and I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve been able to make in just two weeks.

Since I’m no longer on Instagram, I thought I’d share a little of what I work on here. Here’s my first project.

Baby Bonnet Project + Extra Steps

I found this simple baby bonnet pattern on Pinterest and wanted to make one for my friend’s sister, Amy, who is expecting her third baby girl any day now. I chose a lavender Robert Kaufmann “Blueberry Park” cotton with coordinating white lining from Cool Cottons, my favorite small fabric store in Portland. (They are offering online ordering and porch pickup, and also ship within the U.S.)

I loved the simplicity of the pattern and tutorial. As a sewing beginner, though, I also felt that many steps were left out. So I decided to take pictures of those steps as I went along, crossing my fingers the bonnet would turn out.

Visit the original tutorial over at Simple Simon and Co., and if you feel confused (like I did) I hope these additional steps will help:

Pin two of the ribbons to the lower two corners, then scoot them out of the way before pinning the lining piece to the outside fabric. You’re just trying to catch the two ribbons at the corners when you sew around the two pieces. These two ribbons will become the ties that go under baby’s chin (a little hard to see in the tutorial photos.)

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When you turn the bonnet inside out, it should look like this. The lower part is left open, and there is a straight seam around the other three sides. I also clipped the corners before turning it out to help it lay flat.

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Next the tutorial says to turn the open side toward the lining and stitch across the edges (looks like they use a Serger, but you could use a zig zag stitch on a regular sewing machine) to form a casing for the ribbon. This is going to form the back of the bonnet, when you insert ribbon and cinch it into a half circle. Though you’re not going to see the hem when baby is wearing the bonnet, I thought the raw edge looked sloppy and worried about unraveling. So, I took out about 1/2″ of the side seams at the opening, turned under each edge 1/4″ and pressed before turning both edges to the lining side. I then used a straight stitch to form the casing. I just thought it looked a bit more polished and only took a few extra minutes.

Finally, the tutorial says to insert your ribbon into the casing with a safety pin, and cinch to create the back of the bonnet (so cute!). I ended up cutting a much longer piece for this third ribbon, at about 32″ rather than 18″. I used 7/8″ white grosgrain ribbon, and found that after threading the 18″ ribbon through, the safety pin made noticeable holes in the ribbon. I also didn’t have enough ribbon on either side to form a cute bow. At 32″ I had enough extra to cut off the safety-pin-holes and tie a sweet bow. I also elected to use a bit of Stop Fraying glue at all four raw edges of ribbon.

Here’s the final project! I love it and I hope Amy does, too.

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Creative Lives: In Conversation with Julie L. Moore at Ruminate Magazine

clem-onojeghuo-205193-unsplashLast fall, I received the enormous gift of an extended conversation with poet Julie L. Moore, facilitated by Ruminate Magazine.

Here is Part 1 of the series “Creative Lives,” a slightly edited version of our email exchange in which we discuss the highs and lows of pursuing a life in poetry.

In Part 2, we discuss writing community and the poets and writers who have shaped us. And in Parts 3 and 4, we talk about the process of building a collection of poems, and how we respond as poets to the aching, changing world around us.

I hope you enjoy this conversation on poetry and the creative process.

Photo via Unsplash

Writing in the Margins

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Here’s a short essay on how I write poems, a contribution to the “25th Hour” column at Mothers Always Write, on process and mothering.

As mothers who write, we often stretch and steal and bend time in order to make new work. The writers in this column compose poems in their minds as they rock babies, prepare lunches, or wait in the school pickup line. They carry notebooks in their purses, and write on the back of junk mail envelopes at the post office. These mothers always write, even when we’re not writing.

“In the Margins”speaks to the way I’ve stretched time throughout my life, writing poems since I was young, always at the edge of things.

How do you make time to write? Do you write in the margins of life, too?

Read my essay at Mothers Always Write, then click over to my poem “Sunflowers.”

Take a Creative Leap & Receive a Gift

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Take a risk or leap with your creativity and tell me about it in the comments below. If your story grabs me, I’ll give you a one-year subscription to my favorite magazine.

Yesterday I received Issue 40 of Ruminate Magazine, in which my poem “Yellow” appears, winner of the Janet B. McCabe poetry contest. Entering the contest felt like a leap, after a hiatus from writing and submissions following my daughter’s birth.

It felt like recommitting to my dreams, and receiving the prize has been affirming and supportive. It’s helping me pay for childcare to work on my book. I’m grateful for a magazine that pays its contributors and runs contests like this one, because they’re committed to fostering and supporting a dynamic community of writers, artists, and readers.

To celebrate, I’d like to give the gift of a one-year subscription to a new reader.

Interested?

Comment below with a few words about your creative leap by October 4th, 2016. I’ll pick my favorite story and give a one-year gift subscription to this beautiful journal of art and faith.

Be bold. Submit your writing to a journal on your reach list. Apply for a grant or a fellowship. Undertake a new project. Reach out to a fellow artist and ask them to collaborate with you. Paint a big canvas when you usually work small, or a small canvas when you usually go big. Whatever feels like a risk or a long shot, try it.

I can’t wait to hear about it.

Photo via Unsplash.

***10/5/2016 UPDATE: Congratulations to Janaya Martin and D. Allen, who will both receive one-year subscriptions to Ruminate Magazine. I loved both of your stories and am excited to share this journal with you. Thanks to everyone who responded via email and social media, as well. Congratulations on all of your creative leaping. Keep it up.***