Sunday, February 28, 2010

I might have mentioned a quilt block?

All 12, in fact, are now finished. Each block, and I'm not saying I counted or anything, has approximately (see, it's an estimate, and I'm stretching but still "counting" some of this as homeschool math) three bajillion tiny infuriating pieces.

Add to the mind bogglingly small triangles, squares, rectangles and trapezoids my terminal indecision about color and my fascination with every ELSE's color choices (like restaurant ordering envy, but much, much worse), not to mention my general, non-pregnancy-related aversion to the little quilter's helper called the iron, and you will have one hormonal (YES I'm blaming this on the baby; wouldn't YOU?) mess of a piece.

Oh! Oh! Oh! I musn't forget that throughout the quilting retreat I spent a lot of time with my camera. Not the usual method of finishing a quilt top in two days, you say? Well. This year's weekend was particularly poignant as there were several grandmother-granddaughter and mother-daughter pairs stitching side by side in a multigenerational display of loveliness and timeless pursuit of household beauty. I couldn't help myself with the camera.

So try not to look too closely at those points (be they fabric or philosophical), if you don't mind. It's hard to sew over 5.5 months of baby bump. For me. All righty then.

In other news:

My wonderful husband bought me a much-desired (drool might have been involved) book yesterday. Shocking, I know. Its title? Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross. The irony isn't lost on me either. Just let me have a moment with it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Little people go out to play, or: The sun breaks through for a minute

When the sun breaks through the seemingly ever-present Oregon clouds, the little people (and their Little People) go out to play.

The ground may be too wet to set up a proper town but the front porch dries quickly and, unlike Rome, this city can go up in minutes. Perfect for in between sideways showers.

I love how everyone loves the Little People. When my brother and I were small, in the 1970s, my brother used to pack his peep-ul in his pockets everywhere we went. I was his unofficial back-up caregiver, I suppose. I'd help him search out a missing mommy or a wayward redhead boy. Today my 11- and 9-year-old girls are happy to "help" the 2- and 5-year-old girls play with their Fisher Price sets.

Next week we are visiting a new specialist at a Portland children's hospital for Sarah's continuing pain management and - breathe - a possible new diagnosis to add to her list. So I am glad the sun came out, if only for a moment, because I was looking for that rainbow promise.

Sometimes it seems as though the burden is too heavy. Sometimes over the past year and a half I've been socked in by weather, unable to navigate by sight and certainly without adequate instrumentation. I have found my Pollyanna inner self challenged into something more akin to Nellie Oleson ("it's not fair!"), my metaphors stretched beyond what words should try to do.

Financially, like too many of our neighbors in cyber and real life, we have been stretched. And that's putting it mildly. I have always been a frugal person, long before cheap was chic. But this! Owning an engineering and surveying business in this economy is juggling firesticks, folks, as client after client declares bankruptcy. As development and even public improvement spending dwindle in the face of uncertain or unattainable financing, so does our ability to employ people and pay the insurance and electricity bills. This causes some stress on either end: work that's ordered but won't be paid for, work that's anticipated and for which employees are retained but then never comes through.

And did I mention I used to be a real estate agent? Never mind that it was so far out of my comfort zone as to cause physical illness: it was an income. Emphasis on the "was." (And therein lies one of the small blessings of this economy.)

But at least we have our health. That particular phrase burns like hydrogen peroxide on an open wound. Sarah's brave march against a dozen-syllable rare disease may just be, as one acquaintance said in an attempt at comfort, Sarah's particular cross to bear, but it's horrific as parents to feel as helpless as we do. It was wonderful to be told that she doesn't have one of the lurking demons of childhood illness that we all know and fear: leukemia. But a half-dozen wonderful specialists aren't there when she can't sleep for the pain at night or when she cries silently and asks quietly whether she'll ever again be able to run with the other kids.

In fact, no one is there at those times but our family and our God. It feels a little lonely. I'm pretty sure I hit a low spot recently when one of Sarah's wonderful specialists, a mom, physician and all-around fantastic human being, hinted at me through telling her own story that there might be an element of coddling contributing to the cycle. Or maybe she was just sharing her experience with her son. But I took it personally and then where did I take it? To my family and my God. Briefly to my obstetrician, who instructed me with wisdom beyond what he could have known from my admittedly pregnant-hormone breakdown to rejoin my yoga group and my community. But did I take these issues to a friend? Not really. I wouldn't want to burden anyone. I wouldn't want to appear less than grateful for the abundant blessings my family receives. I wouldn't want to pour salt on anyone else's wounds.

I have felt alone, and lonely, in facing the trials of the past couple of years. This defies logic, as feelings for me so often do. I'm not alone at all. I have a wonderful, large family and friends to call when I feel like chatting or even whining. I have people dropping by ad nauseum to my house-that-was-a-church-and-never-stopped. And I don't fear being alone; I relish it. But sharing my burdens, my particular crosses to bear? Not so much.

Last weekend I attended a women's retreat. I must say, those two words put together would ordinarily cause me to quick-like-a-bunny make a solo reservation at the Sylvia Beach so I could have a previous obligation (to myself and solitude, I guess) at the ready when invited to spend a weekend in the company of dozens of women. It's just never sounded restful, or conducive to learning or growth, to me. In fact the last women's retreat I was roped into attended I stayed for a couple of miserable hours and then left in a hurry for a trip to Powell's bookstore and my favorite phone- and tv-free book hotel. I sent a text message to my husband about my defection. He, knowing me all too well, texted back, "Good 4 you. See you Monday."
But this last weekend was different because... because... because I have been begging God for a friend (or, not to be greedy, a few). I have been heartbroken over the losses in our tiny village. First our favorite friends moved 12 miles away and ended the daily coffee breaks and walks. Then our favorite pastoral family moved away and started their plans for international missions and ended the play dates and moments with tea. The final blow was when the economy forced a third favorite family from our road and our hearts to move across the country.
I was alone and lonely. And then I went on a women's retreat and regained my sense of community, my sense of belonging to a group that carries one another's burdens. At a remote mountaintop former ranger station about three hours from home, I made friends. I went quilt-shop hopping. I took naps. I read. I had the best latte of my life. And the sun broke through for just long enough to set up a little village of my own.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I'm waiting for spring.

It can be hard to do.

While I wait, I keep myself busy, mostly indoors (because it's pouring down rain as though El Nino is a little bit of a liar, that's why). I spend my spare time on a little sewing (that cute gathered knit top with fabric button flower), a little seed starting (peas and spinach, anyone?), a little bit of virtual shopping on craigslist (so far of the window variety only although I did find a tempting LOG CABIN for $2,995, "you move it"), a little bit of dreaming of sunnier days when this baby will be born at just about the same time as the summer garden goes in (if it goes in).

Also I spend a little (lot of) time on parenthetical type thoughts. Clearly.

Is it still snowing where you are? Or, like me, are you teased by the first daffodils but thwarted from outdoor fun by the fact that it's not. yet. spring?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fun with flatbread

Hmm... mine looks a little pasty compared to the loaf on the cover of the book.

I've been baking with my fantastic birthday gift book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I still make sandwich bread the "old fashioned" way, but it's fun to make focaccia and French bread too.

That photo is my first-ever loaf of focaccia. It was pretty flat. And underdone. The book recommended against using the boule' the first day... did I listen? But I'm learning. And that's fun. The authors, Hertzberg and Francois, have just published a new book featuring more whole-grain recipes. (Too bad my next birthday is so far away.) But the latest issue of Mother Earth News includes a few of them! Hurray for frugal and fun!

And healthy. A-hem.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My $1.38 bathroom makeover

Y'all remember, I'm sure, when I turned some oilcloth tablecloths into a shower curtain for a free-to-fab bathroom makeover in the girls' bathroom?

It's nearly a year ago now, but that bathroom's raspberry-red and pink theme is going strong against the taupe background of travertine tile, cherry countertops and fir floors.
About this time of late winter I get a specific itch to paint and sew and make something new out of something old.
So I went fishing around in my husband's shop and found that white cabinet that lived a long-ago life in our 1924 Portland bungalow's teal and butter bathroom. Storage in the girls' bathroom is about like it is in the rest of our 1890s house: nil. So this pop of color and extra storage is just perfect:

I chose a sunny day, or it chose me, and the priming did begin.
But first a trip to the hardware store in a small town near me. A fortuitous find: the can of "oops" paint in raspberry red for $1. Some hardware to hang it (or for my husband to hang it; that glass-and-wood thing is heavy) for another 38 cents.
It gives me something to look at while I consider that I did not finish my quilt top last weekend. Nosiree. In fact I finished just one block of twelve that weekend before coming home to celebrate Valentine's Day with my family. The baby didn't like the sitting required for marathon sewing. Not so much.
Since then I have finished all the blocks in a leisurely manner and ironed them and visited the fabric store for a decidedly less-frugal trip to find border and backing material.
Pictures to follow. Do you have springtime fever projects going? I'd love to hear about them!

Friday, February 12, 2010

It stacks up

So this weekend I'm gone to a quilting retreat.

Last year I spent a good deal of my preparation time, um, er, freaking out about all the talented quilters and designers and whether I'd stick out like a sore thumb.

This year I was invited back! But the retreat weekend snuck up on me a little. That was good because it condensed the panic time.

My fabrics are chosen and cut; even my back-up complementary fabric is cut in case of last-minute change of mind. Not that that ever happens to me. My sewing machine, cutting mat, rulers and overnight bag are at the ready.

But wait.

Last year the retreat was on a remote mountaintop in the middle of public forest land, enhancing its exclusive mystique and my sense of removal from home and hearth. This year, by sheer coincidence, the venue is moved across the road from me. I may sleep at home in between hours of frantic, I mean earnest, stitching and creativity and fellowship with the neat women and artists I was privileged to meet last year.

And I hope to share pictures of my completed quilt top when I return. From across the road. (Why did the chicken...?)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dog days: Help wanted

We got the dog at 11 months old. He was so weak: dehydrated, malnourished, defeated.

Despite having been a papered purebred with a price tag higher than that of my first car, he had been neglected and abused, tied up for probably two August weeks with a short length of speaker wire and no access to water under a leafless tree in the middle of a fenced yard in a very, very upscale neighborhood.

An acquaintance (our Realtor at the time) snatched him from the yard of her former clients and brought him to dogless me. I took one look at him, lifted him into my minivan first and called my husband for permission second.

Even though he was a puppy, he was too weak to climb down from the van at the vet's office. My two daughters were shocked at this procession. Madeleine was 3 and Sarah not quite 2. Neither one of them, obviously, had any concept of what he could bring to our family. Their paradigm for dogs included Grandpa's enormous German Shepherd pair who knock toddlers down and never look back. And weeks before the Golden rescue we'd kept for honeymooning friends an energetic Rhodesian Ridgeback mix who'd knocked over Sarah's oak high chair and broken her baby nose, ending the dog-sitting stint and our dog-owning thoughts in one fell swoop.

(This is how Jake has been since Day 2 of joining our family. A snugglebug to the furthest extreme. Our little friend Hannah and her sister were scared of dogs. But he's not just any dog.)

Regardless of my mixed-up feelings for dogs at the point of loading him into my van, the emaciated one in front of me clearly needed rescue. Our vet suggested we leave him there for hydration, further evaluation and a flea bath, so even though the girls by this time were crying at the thought of leaving "our" dog behind, we did leave for frozen yogurt.

By the time we picked up a cleaner albeit weak puppy, having called Daddy for permission/forgiveness, the dog was ours. I was prepared to move should his former owners seek his return. Picture me running out of country like a bad custody dispute movie on the Lifetime movie network.

At home in our two-story house, we tucked him in the first night in a makeshift bed at the bottom of the stairs. But lo and behold sometime in the night he had decided he could manage the stairs, retrieving stacks of folded laundry from the family room coffee table no less. He delivered all the (now slobbery) baby clothes and socks to the stair landing and spent the rest of the night at the foot of our bed. (On the floor. I'd decided to love a dog, not lost my mind.)

We re-named him Jake because (1) when my husband and I were first married we used to foster a dog named Jake whom we had considered snatching and (2) his registered name is biblical and official-sounding. I generally think people names ought to be for people and dogs should have names like "Bullet" or "King." My silly opinion has proven to have its points as one of the girls' best friends in our country neighborhood is named Jacob and he tends to come running when I call the dog.
(That's our sweet neighbor Jacob. (Even more eager to please than the Golden Retriever who bears his name.) Try not to think about the way he looks at Madeleine, wouldja?)

For a decade Jake has been such an integral part of our family that I barely noticed his aging. Sure, I had a few moments of breakthrough panic when I realized he probably wouldn't still be with us when Madeleine and Sarah leave for college. And, yes, when a friend's dog locked into him with savage teeth for no apparent reason I cried over Jake's newly scarred face and continued trusting demeanor.

A little over a year ago, when President Obama was new to his office and seeking the presidential family canine, Sarah took it upon herself to sit down at our favorite cafe and write a letter:

It says:
Dear President Obama,
Congratulations on being President! I think you should get a Golden Retriever like our dog. His name is Jake. I also have a friend named Jake. I have three sisters too. I have lots of friends.
I live in Oregon. A small town. I have three horse and three cats. One dog, one fish, snail, frog.

And we used to have a bunny but he died a couple weeks ago.
Your friend,
age 8
Please write back.

I know I should but I'm not sure I can forgive the President for failing to write back. At least have an aide send a postcard for crying out loud.
Despite his failing to inspire the White House, I know we lucked out, rescuing Jake.
I had a firm talk with him about the laundry that second day and he has ignored that instruction ever since. (The dog loves to pack around socks and underwear, and clean or dirty, deliver them to their rightful owners. Ew.) However, he has never (knock wood) broken my other cardinal dog rules: dug up a plant, chased our cats, growled or even looked sideways at a child. He has perfect manners in the jumping-up department and my husband has taught him never to lick, beg or sniff inappropriately. Jake makes sure to find a way to make even the most dog-resistant love him. He likes to listen to new readers. He waits his turn to go through doorways. He politely asks for treats at the bank and coffee drive-through. Sometimes more politely than my children. Who could ask for a better four-legged companion?

Don't get me wrong. He's still a dog, with all the disgusting dogginess that goes with it. Think trash gourmand. Chicken manure aficionado. And the fur. We could build a new dog each month with all the dog hair we sweep up.

Anyway. Jake is nearly 11 years old now. He's a little gray around the temples. I'm worried. We'll never find another dog like Jake. I'm not sure whether we should consider a puppy (yikes) to help keep Jake young and to ease the blow that's likely coming in the next three or four years.
Any thoughts on this? Is it a good idea to bring another dog into our family when we're expecting baby number 5? Or will we (I) just be disappointed by the reality of doggyness in comparison to the Golden one?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Be mine

Last weekend we were the lucky visitees of Sarah's great friend Meagan. We crammed a lot into a few short hours. The girls got busy with glue and stickers and paint and tissue to make Valentine boxes. You can see Sarah above with her ginormous box fit for a very popular Valentine recipient. And Madeleine and Meagan below decorating petite boxes suitable for a truffle or two. (You know how it always comes back to chocolate with me.)

Grace and Laura did a little decorating too but I have been recently informed that the balance of pictures, youngest-to-oldest, is, well, out of balance. Sarah said to me, "Why do you never have pictures of the big girls [meaning herself and Madeleine] on your blog?"
And I said to her, "It would help if you held still long enough to have your picture taken." But I thought, "It would help if you stopped yelping and ducking as soon as you see the camera."
This pre-teen business can be tricky to navigate. And I want you to know I don't think much of the "tween" stereotypes -- I usually discount it all as a Hallmark Holidayesque developmental stage (you know, created by someone purely to make money off of a book or greeting card).
I know, I know it's our job as parents to prepare these baby birds of ours for their eventual flight. Their increasing independence is to be lauded. But oh how I miss the days when they consistently said "cheese" for the lens instead of blushing and turning away. I miss the days when they chattered nonstop (did I really just say that?) about nonsense.
I love their pre-teen selves so much and I am so proud of them. I just feel nostalgic is all. The least they can do for their sentimental mommy is to let me take their pictures a lot.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Thank the El Nino for yesterday's fun

I have an embarrassingly slight understanding of weather patterns and may, come gardening time, rue the day of my great joy over our sunny, warm and dry February. El Nino, La Nina, La Pinata, whatever it's called, I love that sunshine!

Yesterday we had finished school when I threw aside all manner of goals and said, "let's go outside!" The girls fought tooth and nail to stay upstairs sorting Laura and Grace's outgrown clothing into "keep," "toss" and "pass on" boxes. (Not really. They beat me to the back door by a mile.)
Madeleine administered the ceremonial hanging of the swings and then seat belts were on but all bets were off.

I sat in an Adirondack chair soaking up sun like the lazy, I mean pregnant, mom that I am.

As for the school part, we started a new Friday routine (called "Funbrain Friday" because I love alliteration and nonsense words). It's likely copyrighted by someone and if so, I'm sorry. On Fridays we practice music and have messy art time and play math and word games. Scrabble and Sodoku for school? That's my kind of Friday!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Do as I say, not as I do

Don't cut your own hair when you're (1) pregnant, (2) in the middle of a unit on Alexander the Great, (3) potty training the fastest 2-year-old on the planet and (4) feeling a little out of sorts in general. Don't ask how I know.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Did I mention it's a roller coaster?

That, my bloggy friends, is an actual unretouched (not that I ever "retouch" any of my pictures; I simply don't know how) photo of a January sunset in our little corner of Oregon.

As I recall, I was driving like a maniac (my favorite way to drive, evidently) to get home in time from the grocery store when I rounded the country corner to the see this. I would love to say it re-centered me and caused me to stop and marvel at the glory of God's creation, but the truth is, I debated whether to pull over to take the picture at all.

Then, later, when I saw it on the screen I was amazed at the way an everyday beauty such as that could become so everyday.

Just yesterday I was at my ob's office, crying over the sale of my horse and committing to find a way to go to the exercise class I gave up last summer due to babysitting difficulties. Can you imagine how, um, interesting it must be to be my obstetrician? One minute I'm waxing rhapsodic about the joys of expecting this baby and the next I've jumped into the subject of feeling not just rural and remote but a little stir-crazy and practically housebound hermitic. (Is that a word?)

This morning Laura had approximately seventeen potty training accidents, two of which involved her sitting on top of the closed potty and "going" while fully clothed. I received about eleven thousand phone calls and for some reason didn't turn off the phone. I cried on a friend's (telephone) shoulder about feeling isolated. I spoke with a former client about his real estate goals and told him I'm expecting my fifth baby and not such a good decision maker at this point, on his behalf or anyone's. Great. On call number three thousand and twelve I spoke with a mom of twins who invited us for a walk and I just about melted down over the thought of scheduling such an event. Then in a separate call I learned about a local family's tragedy that shamed me from feeling sorry for myself. And then my mother offered to watch the girls so I can rejoin the yoga class.

It's a roller coaster. But just for a minute, at the top end, we should try to reflect on a beautiful sunset or other everyday miraculous event. Right?