Thursday, February 26, 2009

Who's Got The Button?

Sew Crafty and Frugal

I am a serial decorator.
I don't think I coined that phrase. Maybe it was Mary Engelbreit. But wherever it originated, it's mine. I am through-and-through a rearranger, color-tweaker, object hunter. My house is a palette and I fuss brush strokes upon it daily.
Usually it's a budget-conscious kind of decorating. I like to use vintage books arranged by color. I like my open shelving in the kitchen to show off my pretty and practical mixing bowls and canisters full of healthy staples.
I love to re-paint and re-cover my dining room chairs to match a whim.
At one time a friend of mine announced she was just "done" with "faux finishing." Well, frankly, the faux finishes of the 1980s were never my favorite either. But my friend wasn't talking about sponge painting. No, she meant she didn't want anything in her home that wouldn't belong on the Ethan Allen showroom floor.
There's nothing wrong with Ethan Allen either. New furniture always makes me happy when I go through a house that's for sale... it looks new and crisp and modern even if the style is "vintage." We even lived for a while with all-new furniture in one of our houses that we flipped. Talk about nerve-wracking. Not only did I have to keep it spotless, I worried about the furniture too.
I just happen to love the lived-in look of an oft-painted hutch and a well-loved quilt. I love real wood and worn fabrics. I was into repurposing and recycling before it was cool, before shabby was chic.
So the economy is in a tizzy? I can still have a new bathroom with a few scraps of oilcloth (that lived former lives as kitchen tablecloths) and a half hour on the sewing machine -- voila! a cheerful new shower curtain for the girls' bathroom.
What do you do to freshen up a room with little to no money? Or do you like your home to be decorated and then stay that way?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Older I Get

As I was driving through the city this morning, I passed a white van pulled in at an odd angle between a barbecue stand and a used car lot. It was a large square white van with flashing lights on the top and big blue letters on the side: Crisis Intervention Team.
I thought about stopping to chat with them, sort of as a drive-up window for life coaching. Wouldn't that be awesome?
Anyway they might've been busy. So I kept driving. But I wonder whether they take appointments.
Right after that I saw a young couple walking down the street. It's a busy city thoroughfare with five lanes. It's raining sideways in a way you only see in Oregon and in the movies when there's a bad scene coming. Umbrellas are useless around here; most Oregonians under the age of 70 eschew them in favor of Columbia jackets.
Both of the young people had their raincoats zipped up past their lips. Their hoods were drawn tight, exposing only noses and eyeglasses. They were holding hands and leaning into the wind.
He had a huge blue loop of Cat5 cable over his shoulder. Ah, modern love. Let's trek over to your apartment and set up a network. Maybe a whole-house system.

Does anyone else see the ghost of Christmas future in that picture? I'm not sure how far to go with this. Grace in her dress-up best, Headlong in his dress shirt and camo. The look on her face. The look on his face. The clinging pose. This, my friends, was Gracie's idea of a red carpet pose at a family Oscar party hosted by good friends.

Mostly the party was just a chance to dress up and eat delicious foods. It wasn't even on the same day as the Academy Awards. Sarah does love a twirly dress.

And I believe she could work a red carpet:
So I attended my first-ever yoga class this morning. Last night my husband observed me reading in my favorite chair. My feet were on the ottoman and completely flexed. This is my default foot position for some unknown reason. It may be the decades of dance that my feet and ankles are trying to counteract. It may be some inner tension pulling my toes artificially tight back toward the ceiling. Who knows. It's weird. It's not flattering. My little battered ballet toes, pudgy and flat-topped as can be, curled back in tension toward the ankle.
Picture it if you will. Or if you want to.
My husband thinks yoga will relax me. As he said, "Maybe yoga will stop that toe thing you're doing."
Hmm. I hope so. But from here, where I sit reflecting as the girls attend archaeology class, it was a not-the-slightest-relaxing hour and a half of torture, people.
Everywhere around me in the woodstove-heated converted barn were otherwise nice, normal women (no men in today's class). One "community supported agriculture" farm owner. One daycare provider. Two horseback riding women. A vineyard owner. A 20-something deeply tanned mom driving from Mexico to Canada with her 2-year-old. All hard bodied and hard breathing, sweating to beat the football team.
And of course me. A mom of four, sometime hip-breaker, one-time ballerina, farm girl wannabe, somewhat dumplingesque and completely new to yoga. Because I'm a tiny bit competitive, and also because the teacher kept acting incredulous that it was my first time (fake it 'til you make it?), I did three minutes of the "frog" something-or-other, which if you know yoga maybe you know is also used to break people in half. If you know ballet, think of a plie' on crack.
Yoga relax me? Maybe my big toe. Maybe as relaxed as a girl who considers stopping to consult a crisis intervention van. Who sees young love flourish in a driving rainstorm. Who sees her daughters growing up too fast. Who needs to stop typing and get back to work (on her breathing) now.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Good Egg

All I can say is... that poor hen.

Grace outgrew her favorite jeans. We got a little flirty and added a ruffle.

Turning compost. Check out the rubber boots.

Scratching around for something good to eat.

Seven eggs a day!

What more can I say about that?

The couch didn't see much of us this past weekend.
We partied with friends in a pre-Oscar extravaganza. We worked outside. We cleaned inside. We returned to the week ready to rest up from the weekend.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tiptoe Through Tulips

For crying out loud.

This morning I tried the 6 a.m. sneak again: slide from under the covers stealthily; slipper step on creaky minefield of 120-year-old floorboards past girls' rooms; perform gymnastic feat of descending staircase without a sound. Allow sigh of relief upon reaching the kitchen. Fill teakettle. Praises be, the auto feature is working on gas burners. Arrange teabag just so.
Get ready to congratulate oneself and read some blogs for an hour before anyone's up wanting soft-boiled eggs. Yuck.

Carry teacup and toast through dining room into closet-called-office.

It's almost time for the big prize: the mommy hour.

Nearly drop cup and plate, stifle scream because... two small girls are sitting on the living room couch with a puzzle and a pile of books, staring silently at my supposedly sneaky self.

How were they sneakier than me?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let's Talk Real Estate

For most of a decade I've been a licensed Realtor. I became a Realtor when mommy mush claimed my bookworm brain and lured me away from my writing and editing career. I thought selling land would be flexible, time-wise, and I thought it would be a new kind of challenge for my socially shy self.

And I've been a pretty good Realtor, despite the fact that the NAR's insistence on capitalizing the word drives the editor in me a bit bonkers. By "good" I mean principled and successful, usually in that order. I ranked among the top-producing brokers in the state for years and yet never gave in to the all-pervasive dark side of the profession. (You know, the side where Realtors rank below used car salesmen and attorneys in the latest barroom joke.) I managed to be successful because I worked my butt off. Is it any wonder that a marked decrease in real estate work over the past two years coincides with an increase in the size of my derriere? Nah. There couldn't be any corrolation there.

The past nine years in the world of real estate have been unprecedented in history for growth and sales. Most North Americans built their wealth and retirements around their home ownership. Home equity equals peace of mind. Home ownership equals prosperity. These were the mantras of the late 90s and the first half of this century to date.

If you didn't buy a home, why the heck not? This was the incredulous question of most Realtors and lenders in my circle of stellar acquaintances. What's not to love about one hundred percent financing? Incredibly low introductory rates? In fact it seemed the only hurdle to buying a home for any person with the hint of a job was the fact that they might have to make more than one offer and learn to "compete" with multiple buyers.

Our parents and grandparents purchased real estate when they had twenty percent or more saved for a down payment. They divided family properties and built homes next to one another, sharing the work of the land and the payment (if any).

They waited. They saved. They lived at home a little longer and started a little smaller. Most paid off their mortgages in 15 years. "Buying up" was not in the vernacular. Their house payments were generally twenty-five percent of their gross income.

Today's mortgages have many folks in payments that exceed fifty percent of their gross income.

Wait. Let's think about that for a moment. If it's half of your gross at the time of application and approval, it's significantly more than half of your "take-home," or net. And if your job is currently on the chopping block, or on the cutting room floor, that half of your former take-home is likely to be a lot more than your unemployment benefits will pay.

We Oregonians are several months behind the mortgage crisis. In my limited understanding I think it has something to do with how much an area's values had gone skyrocketing up. Anyhow we didn't experience triple-digit property value increases, but we did have our little run at it. So our property values are flattened more than plummeting. And the majority of homeowners who are in trouble here are facing that trouble not because they overborrowed, necessarily, but because they are now out of work or underemployed due to the crushing economic crisis that hit Oregon as hard or harder than some of our neighboring states.
Over the past few weeks I've been working with a half-dozen former clients who are all in different stages of wanting to sell and/or wanting to buy in order to take advantage of the prices that seem reasonable to them. Loans are still available (or are available again after a short hiatus) for those with down payments and good credit. Property for sale is plentiful. Sellers are motivated.
It's that "take advantage" part I'm having a hard time with. Oh, and some other nebulous concepts I'm sure to be miscommunicating here.
I truly believe that the American Dream (intentionally causing that proper noun) is married to home ownership. I've read all the news reports blaming unscrupulous lenders (no, really?!) and greedy investors and even all the news reports dissecting homeowners' levels of culpability in the mess.
Today's news was that President Obama has proposed a financial bailout for homeowners. I believe it's monetarily less than one-tenth of the financial market bailouts. I'm no policy genius, but I'm taking a couple of calls a day from former clients who are in huge trouble. I was giving them the 1-800 numbers for assistance, but have had many reports that help is difficult to find and mortgage giants' promises are hard to secure even with a government "hope" advocate on your side. The tangle of investors is spaghetti -- everyone wants a bite -- with no hope of a sauce-covered Disney kiss at the end.
I'm one formerly successful Realtor who likes to sit in the corner and read. I'm just a one-time editor who has a handful of real estate clients in trouble due to job loss and rate adjustments and a relatively minor amount of lost equity. I have no answers. I hope the government does -- but even as I type that it seems incongruous, unfair, to expect the help to come from Washington, D.C.
I just want to stay home and plant peas. In my mortgaged piece of dirt.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Long Walks on Beach, Reading by Firelight, Late-Night Phone Calls

Sixteen and a half years of marriage, people.

Sixteen and a half.

The other day my dear husband, who is through-and-through an engineer (Eng-Gun-Eer for sweets), told me he thought we have the Perfect Marriage.

Now I have always been a mush, but this just about reduced me to less-than-mush. Would that be gruel? No. That's not it. (The lovey-doveyness of it all clearly reduced my vocabulary anyway.)

We had a nice Valentine's Day. The girls went all out and made homemade truffles. My EGE went all out and bought me a new apron from Etsy. It's red and sunshine yellow and flirty and just exactly right. I bought the EGE a trailer for his lawn tractor. It's red and utilitarian and just exactly right.

How was your Valentine's Day?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Blog That Launched A Thousand Ships


Accuracy first: The blog that launched a bunch of other blogs. (Because it's free to start a blog. And I have opinions, people. And, then, when I share my opinions, some manufacturers said they'd SHARE THEIR STUFF. FREE STUFF. With us. You and me. So click over there.)


In case you wanted to know what I think of the new Swiffer, hop on over to my new review blog. It'll be fun. FUN doing the floors. Whodathunk.

Friday, February 13, 2009

My Funny Valentine To You

My father-in-law's barn, as viewed in the winter light through my mother-in-law's kitchen window.

My favorite lighthouse in winter haze just before sunset.
You'll just have to imagine the doilies, ribbon and lace on your funny Valentine from me. The chocolate is virtual. The flowers too.
Happy Valentine's Day, friends. May you experience the hugs of loved ones and the smiles of many, so many that you can't help smiling all day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

www dot off my rocker dot com

It's time for statewide writing assessments. This is the point at which my laid-back self says, "Oh, okay, let's see where the girls are in their writing progress." Then the magnificently relaxed me calmly finds a certified tester, explains to the girls the differences between expository and narrative essays, and gets the girls a smoothie to share on the way.

The laid-back part of me is a really, really small part of me.

The obsessive part of me says, "Let's spend the next 20 to 90 minutes on the department of education site, finding out what 'real' teachers do to prepare the kids." The site gives me a little info, but polling the two certified teacher friends gives me more data. Then the freaked-out me realizes that 'real' teachers are actually giving their students weeks of practice and (although they're not supposed to) allowing kids to pre-write their assessment sample essays. Unfair! Unethical! Unavoidable! The freakishly obsessive and remarkably competitive part of me leans toward doing as they do, frantically cramming new writing tricks into my kids' brains in spite of the fact that they are very good writers. This same me will spring for a protein drink and coach my girls on the way like they're heading into a wrestling meet: Make sure you take your position from the start! Three supporting points and you've got it DOWN for the count! Make sure the words are pinned before you walk away! Now hit the mat and give me three diagrammed sentences! Go!

We must enter the real world to do these tests. I'm not sure which part of me should drive.

Monday, February 9, 2009

While I Was Sewing

Cute block, huh?

A few more hints here.

That was the view distracting me at my quilting retreat.

And that was the sassy and sweet welcome home I received!
I had a marvelous weekend of stitchery and fun. I only missed my girls every other minute, but I know they had so much fun. My husband took them to the Grange for a potluck and a showing of Princess Bride. He also took them to a basketball game to even out the foof factor. The girls don't show any ill effects of my absence, so I might have to do it all again soon.
Our hostess at the retreat definitely gets my vote for homesteading woman of the year. Together with her four children and her husband (who has a full-time job outside the home) she quilts, makes yogurt and cheese including cheddar and parmesan, sells dozens of eggs and 80 gallons a month of raw milk, works their garden and woodlot, runs regularly, and in general makes me feel inspired to do more and do better.
She is a lovely woman I am so glad to have met. And, hurray! She lives just three miles from me and yet I'd never met her. I finished my quilt top; it's lovely and I shall update you with photos as I continue work on the pieced fussy-cut borders. I finished a truly beautiful quilt top and I made some new friends. But more importantly I returned home refreshed and ready for the day-to-day of it all.
I think seeing the beauty in that dailiness is the window of opportunity we're all so fervently seeking. For some reason I remember a momentary encounter of eight and a half years ago. I was driving through Kentucky Fried Chicken (such a flattering part of the memory, I know), having snuck out of bedrest with tiny Madeleine in her carseat in my beat-up Volvo station wagon.
My hugely pregnant self was wedged in so my never-long legs could reach the pedals while still allowing the steering wheel clearance to turn. My craving for a biscuit I can still feel intensely. I can even still hear the untintelligible voice from the drive-through speaker on that hot July day. I remember the difficulty I had rolling the window back up with a hand crank only to have to roll it down again when I reached the biscuit delivery moment.
On that day, along with my biscuit I received some advice that I have frankly not thought about between then and now.
"It's none of it work," said the grandmotherly woman who took my dollars and handed me my food. She looked meaningfully at my sleeping toddler (and probably at my pregancy-weary expression) before repeating herself. "It's none of it work."
"You just enjoy these years like they're never coming back. You hear?"

Friday, February 6, 2009

From a Secret Location

Surrounded by fabric and wilderness, I listen to the whir of nine sewing machines and imagine it's my own Walden Pond.

Wait, that's not quite right.

So my husband has charge of our four girls, three horses, three cats, one dog, five chickens. Oh, and one more little girl who's visiting. I have charge of myself. Myself.

That's not quite right either, is it?

I wonder whether he'll make them wear the hair bows I set out for each outfit. I wonder whether the baby will wear clothes at all. Ooh. Maybe they'll do that early potty training thing that was so popular a few years ago. You know: Watch your newborn's face intently 18 hours of the day. Learn the "look" for bathroom necessity. Run the bare-bottomed infant to the toilet. Save the Earth.

I'm not knocking it. I'm just sayin'.

I wonder whether they'll be free range children for the weekend. You know: Watch your kids not at all because they're not gonna get snatched anyway and we're hovering too much as a nation of parents, instilling fear where they should have freedom. Or some such thing. Let them run around unattended and they'll learn independent thinking and self-reliance. Or some such thing. But this is directly contradictory with the hawkish intensity of watching for the bathroom face. I'm so confused. Also I'm thinking it sounds more like the latchkey kids syndrome, only deliberate and in-your-face instead of furtive and born of financial necessity.

I'm not knocking it. Well, okay, I am.

When I stopped at the post office this morning, a woman I didn't know was walking from her minivan to the door. Her jeans-sweatshirt-sneakers ensemble was appropriate for the 50-degree rainy day. Her baby (2 years old at the oldest) was in short sleeves, capris and bare feet. Walking on the gravel parking lot.

I hung my head, actually dropped it in a hurry, and then smacked it on the steering wheel.

What's wrong with my sense of live-and-let-live? I thought of pinworms (or whatever kind of creepy crawlies kids get from walking barefoot in unclean places). I thought how cold that gravel would feel on baby feet, picking their way through as mom's hands pulled you along. I thought of selfishness (hers and mine) and shame (the lack of it, the presence of it that wouldn't let me speak). I thought of getting out of the Suburban to scoop that baby up.

I thought of the way I was leaving my children for two days to do something all for myself. I thought of how blessed I am to have a "village" of family and friends and people who love me enough to love my children. I thought of how blessed I am to have a tribe of children who love me, whom I love, 20 or more little smudgy faced babies who tromp my farmyard and crowd my house with laughter and tracked-in dirt.

What if that woman in the parking lot doesn't have anyone to tell her about her baby's feet? Oh, and I'm not under any illusion that she shouldn't have known better. I'm trying to say that as friends we tell each other the hard stuff. Don't let your babies be cold and bruise their toes on the parking lot in February. It's mean, or thoughtless at best.

We shouldn't ever have charge of just ourselves, should we? I'm glad for the getaway and grateful. I miss my children just enough and I know I'll be a better, more attentive mom/neighbor/wife/village member when I go home.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Big Bad Booger

Alright, it's a bad picture. I was driving past at 55 miles per hour. But go ahead and click on it if you'd like to get a clearer view of the utter horror and humiliation in that horse's eye. None of the other guys have to wear their hoods, Mom. I'll look like such a dork.

Super Sarah saves the day.

Sometimes she's Sleuthing Sarah, the mostly invisible and incredibly stealthy sister of Super Sarah.

And now, for this post's sponsoring moment, brought to you by Grace Hannah, who has a certain way with words. And play dough.
First you should know that we're not that big on the booger talk around here. I swear. But we've had a few outbreaks --outbursts?-- of the snotty variety lately.
The first sign of booger danger happened over the holidays. Grace became inexplicably bonded with a set of crayons that came free with the kiddie menu at a diner. She named them Bonnie Blue, Racing Red and Snot Green. Yes, I'm aware she dropped the alliteration. But she's 4. So enamored was she of the three free crayons that she clutched them across state lines and throughout several family get-togethers. She talked to them. She introduced them to her finger friends. (You know you want to click. And BONUS, I just did, only to realize there's ANOTHER booger-related Gracism. You gotta click.) And of course she wailed inconsolably when she lost Snot Green in the gutter during an ill-fated bathroom stop.
You've not lived until you've heard my husband promising, to the amazement of random passers-by, to buy her another Snot Green just the minute we get home. But Daddy! They only have Snot Green at Denny's! In Calee-forneea! And Snot was SPECIAL.
Our second brush with the tissue issue was a little stranger. And by that I mean a mite more odd, not a small person whom we've never met. (Don't talk to that short snot! she exclaimed. Not really. I might be overtired. Don't mind me.) This second foray into the realm of snot fascination occurred when I was chauferring a client just last week. I happened to have Grace and Laura in the Suburban at the time and my client was remarking how well-behaved my preschooler and baby were. (Why thank you so much.) Directly after her compliments Grace shouted out that Laura, whose carseat was still rear-facing, had mastered a great new skill. "Mom! Mommy! Laura can pick her own nose now!" (Mmm.Hmm. Incredibly well-behaved. Just not bribed-slash-threatened thoroughly enough before entertaining clients.)
And finally, finally, we come to today's most embarrassing moment.
You know, I used to say that my children were placed on this Earth to mortify me. I wonder why ever I stopped saying this. Also, at what point did I start laughing uncontrollably instead of feeling the blush? Does this mean I've "lost it" or "found it?" Anyone?
Oh, yeah. Today.
Today Grace and I were listening to a little vintage Wynonna Judd in the Suburban while the big girls were in computer class. I usually borrow the homeschool co-op's WiFi to catch up on email (and the odd tv show -- don't tell anyone) while the baby naps and Grace works on her numbers or plays Legos. But today we were rocking out and eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches on homemade wheat bread. Yum. The song was playing loud, the sun was shining, life was ... snotty.
Because Grace was still belting out the swing-style "Big Bang Boogie" as we walked in to the schoolroom. In perfect tune, with the wrong lyrics: "Big Ba-aad Booger... A Big Ba-aad Booger."
I just looked at the other homeschool parents and shrugged. Whataya gonna do?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Panic Sets In

We spent a quiet weekend on the hobby farm.

My husband woke up late Saturday morning after working nearly 'round the clock all week on a big project. I woke up early Saturday morning after holding down the fort nearly single-handledly all week.

I tiptoed past the girls' rooms like a teenager sneaking out of the house at night, avoiding the creaky floorboards and barely breathing. The baby could sense me passing. I froze in place and waited for the quiet rustle of turning over in her crib.

I just wanted to putter in my kitchen, walk around the frosted farmyard with a steaming cup of coffee as the sun came up, check on my seedlings, and get my sewing machine warmed up. I had a little Valentine dress in store for Gracie and Laura, not to mention the quilting retreat of next weekend.

The puttering went fine. I reorganized my baking center. I bleached out the sinks. I dug through the bread box and gave the chickens a Saturday feast of crumbs and bread heels.

The frosty sunrise walk was as though I'd pushed a re-set button on my weekend. The garden is mostly still blanketed in mulch. My cold frame with garlic and salad seedlings is cute as can be. The horses followed me along the fenceline between garden and paddock, nickering for breakfast and pawing at the frozen ground for emphasis. I was sure the house was ready for breakfast as well but it was hard to go back inside.

I just knew there'd be something wrong with my sewing machine.

I've been quilting for almost 20 years. I started machine-piecing blocks in college as a way to avoid studying for finals. I moved on through strip quilting (hah hah hah... sounds like I was wild in college... anyway, for non-quilters: this means quilting with strips of fabric, not removing one's clothing to quilt) and hand applique. I flirted around with machine quilting for a while but wasn't really pleased with the results.

Almost every aspect of quilting is relaxing to me. I love the fabrics. I love the repetitive steps of piecing a block. I love arranging the blocks differently to see the quilt's potential finished beauty. I love the magic of a finished top emerging from the machine, shaken out and left on the back of the couch to admire before the work of making a quilt sandwich for backing and batting and binding.

So when a friend invited me to a hush-hush, exclusive quilters' retreat for this coming weekend, I knew something would go wrong.

First I was worried that I'd get uninvited after I lost my friend's 4-year-old child (however briefly).

Then I started losing sleep in earnest when I received the six pages of instructions. It's a mystery quilt, an original design by the famous quilter who hosts the retreat. I am instructed to buy certain yardages of certain color values in three separate color groupings and cut them into specific widths. I am instructed to burn the instructions after reading (just kidding).

The retreat is next weekend. I am sworn to secrecy, which of course means I'm gonna try to sneak my camera in and beg for blogging permission. I can tell you this: All quilters will arrive Friday with their sewing machines, rotary mats, fabric. All quilters will leave Saturday night with a finished quilt top.

Crikey. That doesn't sound remotely relaxing.

The brochure (book) even has scheduled time for walks in the woods and meals and snacks and chatting. Are they KIDDING?

I'm going to arrive with no clue of the quilt's design and LEAVE WITH IT FINISHED?

Panic sets in. The meditative walk at dawn, the quiet kitchen organization, was all for naught. When it got time to get the sewing machine out, I just knew. something. would. go. wrong.

There's no truth to that self-fulfilling prophecy idea, is there? For a full hour on Saturday I was sure my feed dogs (sewing machine part that feeds the fabric through at prescribed speed) wouldn't go back up. I flipped the switch. I consulted the manual. I unplugged the machine. I cried. I even wielded a screwdriver in my frantic state. No sewing machine, no retreat. My husband actually asked me to leave the room, such was my anxiety level.

Um. Did you know that feed dogs go up and down in a rotating motion as they feed the material? So they might actually be "up" and ready to work, even if they appear to be "down" ....

Well, friends, bear with me in my starstruck crafty freakouts. I'll try to sneak you some pictures.