Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Winter of No Sleeves

This winter (joyfully!) I will have three kids who are all old enough to want to get dressed by themselves but not old enough to actually manage all the details themselves. Details like putting the right arm into the right sleeve, managing to get their hand all the way through the sleeve without getting tangled up, connecting the bottom parts of the zipper - it's all very complicated when you're three or four. Complicated and likely to completely derail a mom's morning.

Hence, I give you ... The Winter of No Sleeves.

This year, the kiddos (so weird to not just say "the boys") are going to have no outerwear that has sleeves and zippers. Usually, I get one light jacket and one heavy coat for each of the them. Sometimes if I'm able to find a really good quality formal coat, I'll get that too, but we don't have a lot of formal occasions to look sleek for, and our church is pretty casual. This year, we're doing cloaks. One fleece, one wool.

I made the fleece versions this week. I wanted to test out the pattern and fleece is a lot cheaper than wool. Also, the wool cloaks will need to be lined, so that's another level of trouble that I don't want to waste if the pattern isn't right.

Buying the fleece was fun. Twinkle instantly landed on his choice. Munchkin took more guidance. His favorite color is pink, so I wanted him to have a pink cloak, but I didn't want it to look like he was wearing a girl's cloak. ("Excuse me, saleslady, can you show me where you're keeping the non-feminine pinks?") We considered several different options and landed on a fabric that mostly reads BRIGHT!!! rather than just pink.



Beautiful as I know Munchkin to be, it's possible he's not a born model.
I made Munchkin's cloak using M6431, view F except that I didn't use the neckline cutout. I didn't really think it through before cutting it out. Not including the hood, Munchkin's cloak has 6 pieces: front, back, 2 side fronts and 2 side backs. With Twinkle's and Mei-Mei's, I streamlined the pattern so that it only has 2 cloak pieces: front and back.


The original pattern had no option that only used 2 pieces. The simplest option (view C) had a zipper up the front, which I didn't want because obviously, zippers complicate life. So I used the back pattern piece for this view and cut it out twice. To make the front piece, I recut the neckline using the front pattern piece as a guide. Clear as mud?


After the fact, I wish that I hadn't used the front cutout, because the cloaks run a smidge big and I didn't need the extra room that the cutout gives. Also, I cut 2" off the bottom of Twinkle's cloak so that it would be the right length and I cut 1.5" off the bottom of Munchkin's hood because it was oddly oversize. But overall, I'm pretty happy with the first Winter of No Sleeves experiment, and I think I'll be able to tweak the pattern satisfactorily later when I do the wool versions.

But what really makes me happy?

I had to make 3 cloaks. Three.



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Randomly on Wednesday

It's been a while since I blogged, so here is a whole lot of random news and observations.

1. We have LOA!! This is a super important step in the adoption process where we specifically commit to adopt a specific child, our little Mei-Mei. It seemed a little redundant, since we've been working towards adopting Mei-Mei specifically for almost a year, but this is the point where the CCCWA (China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption) considers us officially committed. Which means now we can ...

2. ... share pictures!




We think she's just about the cutest thing ever. I particularly love the little nevus spot on her nose.

3. We're working hard on visas right now. Way back when we got approved for a general bring-your-kid-home visa, now we have to get a bring-Mei-Mei-home visa and a take-Mama-and-Daddy-to-China visa. So many visas! It's been an interesting process. For reasons I don't understand, your visa application must be hand delivered to a Chinese consulate (rather than mailed), but it doesn't have to be your hand that delivers it. Fortunately there are courier services set up for such things.

4. I made a Morse code quilt! It was very simple and looked pretty cool, so I'm thinking of writing a tutorial. Pictures coming soon ...

5. I've collected and assembled all the pieces for Mei-Mei's Blessing quilt. This is a Chinese tradition where you make your baby a quilt using pieces from your friends and relatives. It makes me tear up, thinking of Mei-Mei wrapped up in the love of all these people. She is coming home to such a wonderful extended family and church family.



6. Someone needs to design language courses for adoptive parents. I've been learning Chinese using the Pimsleur course, which I like, but so far it's been strictly tourist stuff:

Are you Chinese? Nǐ shì zhōngguó rén ma?
I am not Chinese. Wǒ bùshì zhōngguó rén. (I'm really, really sure that I won't have to point this out.)

The course seems fairly keen on consent:

I would not like to go to your place to drink beer. xiǎng qù nǐ nǎr hē píjiǔ. (Thanks for looking out for me, Pimsleur. I'll be sure to party responsibly.)

There are a few phrases seem helpful:

Would you like to eat something? Nǐ xiǎng chī yīdiǎnr dōngxī ma?
What would you like to do?  xiǎng zuò shénme? 

But nowhere (so far) is that very necessary phrase for entering a shopping center with a toddler: Hold my hand. What about It's time to sleep or Wait a minute, food is coming?

7. I have discovered Poshmark, which is a pretty great way to buy clothes for someone who doesn't actually like shopping for clothes, who wants to buy quality but also who can't always pay for quality. People buy clothes, wear them a few times, decide they aren't as crazy about them as they thought but they've lost the receipts, so they put them up for sale on Poshmark. The highest prices I saw were about 2/3 of the original prices, but I also saw some rock-bottom prices, too. I got a Eddie Bauer waffle weave shirt for just $5 plus shipping. It came in the mail today and like the previous owner said, it's just like new. You can buy stuff on the spot or you can negotiate with the seller. It's set up well and you can search by brand, size and type of garment.

And best of all: you can shop in your PJ's after the kids are asleep. I'm a fan.

8. Last Saturday Munchkin and I went to an English tea room. I politely refused the waitress's offer of a child size cup, and he drank 3 full cups of tea, no sugar, no cream. (In fact, after the 3rd cup, I offered him a cup of tea with cream and he hated it.) Other than refusing to eat Digestive biscuits (can't blame you there, kid) or short bread cookies (that was a mistake, buddy), it was a very pleasant outing. We discussed Thomas and Friends nearly the whole time.

The key, for future tea outings: when you are ordering your tea, also order a dish of ice so you can cool your child's piping hot tea down to a temperature that won't scald them if they gulp it. Because, they will gulp it.

9. I'm knitting a scarf made from a mixture of wool, silk and Australian possum. It is delightfully soft and cushy and the mistake rib stitch that I'm using makes it even more so.


I am 98% over the fact that there is possum in it. Australian possums are only slightly less gross than American ones.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Letter to Munchkin

Dear Munchkin,

You are an irresistible bundle of sweet thoughtfulness, cheerful observations and big brown eyes, with just a pinch (ok, we'll call it a dash) of intractable stubbornness thrown in to keep it real. However, these days, according to the blog and Facebook, you're being underrepresented. Twinkle is definitely showing up in the lion's share of anecdotes, quotes and cute pictures.

As an oldest child myself, I know someday you're going to catalogue all my media outlets and then accuse me of partiality and dual standards and imply that you got the short end of the parenting stick.

This is simply untrue.

I adore you to bits, but all the motherly adoration in the world is not going to make up for the fact that you are notoriously camera shy








































and your brother is a giant ham.



also the fact that your brother clearly loves nothing more than to have the camera lens turned on him



and you would much prefer to wield the camera yourself, producing such masterpieces as:



and this*:







































*Actually, these ARE the masterpieces of your photography collection being both A: of a subject and B: more or less in focus.

And while I don't have any awesome quotes to share from you right now (your conversation swinging between taciturn silence and a monologue on the unique characteristics of all the trains on Thomas and Friends and their pertinent plot points) I do want to record for posterity that right now, instead of saying "Clarabelle," the name of one of Thomas's coaches, you call both of the coaches / kleəbelz/ and it is the cutest thing ever. My knowledge of IPA is insufficient to render the gentle lisp that you give the word and your concern over the Clarabelles' fate is equally gentle and sweet.

Hugs and kisses,
Mama




Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ice Dyeing

Quite a while ago, I had a sewing intensive week and make a number of clothes for myself. I used linen for all of them

(Ah, linen. How do I love thee? Thou art easy to sew and a good weight for clothing, allowing projects to look and feel professional. Thou art casual and comfortable when unironed and tossed into dryer for a quick fluff. Thou art classical beauty and simplicity itself. Also, dearest linen, thou wast on sale.)

and I used quite a bit of plain, unbleached linen, some of which I made into a tunic and a dress and some of which I ice-dyed.

Ice-dyed?

Yes. It's lovely. Let me tell you about it.



First, I collected about a grocery bag's worth of ice. Being stingy, I took 2 days to make it in our ice trays instead of paying $2.50 for a bag of ice. Then I wet the fabric, squeezed out the excess, and then scrunched it into a rectangle. For this technique, it's better to scrunch (think of the fabric going up and down, hills and valleys) than layer or fold. Since I didn't know exactly how it would look, I dyed more fabric than I needed for the shirt so that I would have enough that I could pick and choose which parts I wanted. I used one package of Dylon fabric dye, in navy blue.


Then I poured the ice on top. You want enough ice to cover your fabric. Scrunch your fabric into a smaller area if necessary. (Twinkle was a very enthusiastic helper.)


Then I sprinkled the powdered dye on top of the ice. 


Twinkle got a little blue on his hands, but it could have been much, much worse.


Due to poor planning, we did this project just as the sun was going down. You're supposed to wait for the ice to melt, but it wasn't melting very fast. (Which tells you how long ago these pictures were taken, as it is now warm enough to melt a brass monkey at 10 o'clock at night.) We experimented some with a hair dryer, which Twinkle was very keen on, but it didn't seem to speed the process up much.


See? Still not melted. If I had thought of pouring hot water over the ice, that might have done some good.


Eventually we gave up and rinsed the fabric off in a bucket. After rinsing a lot of times, I ran it through the washer and dryer.


See how pretty?



I love how random the splotches are, which is pretty necessary for this project because - control? You have none. Which is a bit liberating, once you get used to it.


 I made a large, drapey shirt with turned back cuffs and a wide V-neck. I was mostly copying this picture, but I didn't use the measurements listed. (Also notice: that website is in Russian.) The effect isn't quite as dramatically drapey as I wanted, but for a first try, I'm very happy with it.


I sewed this top and my other linen projects with triple seams, which is where you take a French seam, iron it to one side and then topstitch it. French seams are necessary because linen frays like anything when you wash it in the machine, and the topstitching makes the seam lie flat, which looks nicer. 


This gives your project a very professional look and feel and I think it is well worth the extra time. Also it makes your garment last longer because the seams are stronger.


Another detail I like is the loops I put in to keep my bra straps hidden. These loops are sewn to the shirt on one side and snapped on the other, so they're easy to flip under my bra strap and fasten. I sewed the snaps to the neckline facing, so none of the stitches show on the outside. I like wide necklines, but since I have little boys who have only a tenuous grasp on the concept of personal space or appropriate behavior (and since I don't spend my days artfully reclining against a tree) the loops help a lot to keep my neckline where I want it. 

This was a really really simple dyeing project and such a fun technique. I love using the navy dye because it looks like traditional Japanese shibori, but it also looks really pretty when you use green, or pink, or even when you mix colors. This would be a lovely way to personalize a tablecloth or dish towels, if you're not inclined to sew. 

Much fun! 


A small amount of grass was killed in the making of this garment.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Still Not Tired of Half-Square Triangles

Today, when not hacking up a lung or wiping Twinkle's perpetually runny nose, I finished a project. 

If you make a Flying Geese block using a certain method*, you get two little Half-Square Triangle blocks as a side benefit. If you make about 388 Flying Geese blocks, like I did six months ago, you get about 775 little HST blocks. Which is enough to make 5 bags. (The first bag I made before Christmas and is packed with our Christmas stuff and was thus unavailable for photographing.) Each of the HST blocks is about 1.5" square, finished. 



 Something I love about HST blocks is that there are so many ways to arrange them:

The drawstring, lining and casing (that red and white strip) on this bag is a piece from my great-grandmother's stash. 



I'm pretty crazy about them. not gonna lie. Which is a good thing because as many hours as these took to piece, assemble and finish (Not to speak of the original Flying Geese/HST piecing!), I definitely wouldn't be able to sell them for a reasonable price! All of them have a different arrangement of HST blocks, and each one has a different color lining and matching drawstring.

The really incredible thing is, after 775 squares ... I'm still not tired of them.



*I intended to include a link to this method, but Google is failing me. I shall have to do a tutorial of my own sometime soon!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Too Much to Tackle?

My Works in Progress are getting out of control.

That slight echo you just heard was 'Stache shouting "Amen!" He's been a great sport, but ... given the opportunity to heave a beleaguered sigh - he will heave a beleaguered sigh.

Things on the radar:
(Note: My storage cubes are stuffed with projects that have fallen off said radar. I have a very good track record for finishing projects ... eventually. The stuff in storage will probably get done, but it might take a few years.)

1. Linen quilt.

Last week I ran a nicely appointed little sweatshop making my summer clothes, which are all about LINEN. I can't wait to show you, but Munchkin hasn't quite mastered the camera and I'm always knee deep in supper preparations when 'Stache comes home. But anyway, I took the scraps that were leftover and made a cute little modern quilt.
Prospects: Dim. This one's actually teetering on the edge of the radar. I don't have a baby in mind for it, so my motivation is struggling. (If anyone wants to buy this one, though, I'm pretty sure the motivation would perk right back up!)

2. Mei-Mei's Liberty toboggan. 

My sister gave me Liberty yarn for my birthday, and I knit a little vest for Mei-Mei and made this toboggan from the leftovers. This is how you wake up one morning with a huge stash: You get yarn for a vest, and you have a nice bit left over, so you make a toboggan (aka ski cap, aka touke, aka beanie), but even though you had gobs, way too much to toss, you don't have enough, so you need to buy more, but then you have leftovers from that ...
Prospects: I love love love this yarn, because it's soft and wonderful and wool (down with acrylics!) and because it's New Mexico colors, which always remind me of 'Stache, which is a little funny because he isn't from New Mexico; his grandmother was. So to see this project is to be inspired to finish it, but I will have to go buy yarn to do it. And I feel guilty buying yarn when I have so many many things to finish.

3. Justin's sweater. 
This is my brother-in-law's Christmas sweater. Clearly still in the planning phase. I've done my swatch and I've gotten the measurements from my sister, so I need to sit down and do the math to design the sweater.
Prospects: Reasonably sunny. Definitely going to be done by Christmas. (Knock on wood.) The plan is to take it to the beach, where I will actually see my brother-in-law, which should be fairly motivating.

4. Cushion for boys' room.

I have a beautiful vision for the boy's room which involves making a window seat out of a metal trunk, so I want to sew a cushion for the top of it. Clearly I have some work to do.
Prospects: I really want to finish the boy's room, so I'm very motivated, but I still need foam and I'm hesitant to make the cushion cover without the stuffing and Joann's trips are a little arduous with the boys, so it might be a bit before I manage to buy the foam.

5. Slipcover for boys' room. 
The other major part still lacking from the vision for the boy's room is a slipcover for a chair we're moving in there. This chair has been through the wars: we got it several years ago off of the sidewalk when our neighbors moved, and it is definitely due for a slipcover. I have found fabric I'm crazy about but haven't bought it yet.
Prospects: Again, very motivated, but you need lots and lots of fabric for a slipcover and upholstery fabric isn't cheap, so this might need to wait until next month's paycheck hits. However, I should do the math and check if Memorial Day sales make it doable. Also: making a slipcover = lotsa work. Might be a long project even once I have the fabric.

6. Molly's quilt. 
Once upon a time, my sweet sister got married (to Justin, of Christmas sweater fame) and I made her a quilt top using heirloom quilt squares that belonged to our grandmother. I promised I would hand quilt it and ... I have not. And now, with two kids, soon to be three, I think I've resigned myself to the fact that it just isn't going to happen. I think I need to unpick the handquilting I've done and machine quilt it.
Prospects: Still going to be hard to manage. I don't have a space to lay the quilt out to rebaste the backing, so I have to find a space somewhere else I can commandeer. Also, I'm nervous because this is a really special quilt, and I'm something of a machine quilting newbie.

7. Mosaic table. 

This project, for which I saved broken plates for 7 and a half years, is one I'm pretty excited about.
Prospects: Good. It's standing on our porch, impeding traffic, which is fairly motivating. Breaking plates with the tile nippers is simple, though hard on the hands. I hope to have it done soon.

8. Twinkle's hat 

I'm making this from a really cool Noro yarn that is like a very thin roving. Think knitting with raw wool instead of spun yarn.The knitted fabric is very fluffy and warm. I'd like to make Twinkle a new toboggan and mittens for Christmas.
Prospects: Right now I'm on fire for finishing, but I've only just started. Also, the weight of the whole list is making me wonder if I should work on something else just to get something off the list.

9. 4 (count them, FOUR) Christmas gift bags. 

I'm making reusable gift bags out of the leftovers of another quilting project. I love these bags and reusable gift bags are great when you have inquisitive toddlers who can unwrap a present in a New York minute but can't manage knots yet.
Prospects: I've done all the piecing, which is the biggest part, but I still have to iron on interfacing, make linings, make drawstring cords and assemble the bags. Right now the bags are still on the radar but we're taking a break.

10.  Hedgehog mittens.
I am making Munchkin hedgehog mittens for Christmas. I love love love the way these are going to look (pattern coming soon!) and I love everything hedgehog-related, but I am seriously running out of steam doing the prickles. They take an AGE.
Prospects: Eh. Definitely done by Christmas, but motivation is pretty low right now. Also, they appear to be missing.

11. 100 Wishes Quilt.

In northern China, which is where Mei-Mei is from, they have a lovely tradition where when a couple is expecting a baby, they collect pieces of fabric from 100 of their family and friends and make a quilt. Then when they wrap their baby in the quilt, it's as if they are wrapping their baby in the well wishes of all their family and friends.
Prospects: We're still collecting and I hope to have all the pieces by the end of June.

So, if you know us and love us and want to participate in this wonderful project, send us a piece of fabric or clothing that at least 9"x9". Any kind, any color. Comment or message me if you need our address. We will think about you every time we see it! 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Things to Love

Today I was talking to a friend, who has no children, about children. She said something that made a deep impact on me. She said (and I paraphrase because I had not enough coffee in me at the time to engrave her exact words on my memory):

When you get married, you get a lot of comments from non-Christians, whether they're married or not, that bash marriage. Jokes about funerals, the "old ball-and-chain," stuff like that. Christians are usually really good about being positive when they're talking about marriage. But there's no difference when they're talking about having kids. Christian or not, parents almost always bash having kids. 

Gulp.

Yes. That we do. When my kids are misbehaving, I want sympathy. I need support. A place to vent. And so I'll post something witty on Facebook to let off a little steam. I'm an external processor, so my closest friends hear a lot about our parenting struggles.

Because it is a struggle. Parenting is not really designed to be easy at any time, and some phases of life are naturally more challenging than others. (Hello, having two toddler boys at once!) But if you took all of my comments about the boys to people other than 'Stache and the boys, would your conclusion be, "Libby thinks her boys are wonderful and that children in general are a blessing?" Um. Maybe not. Complaining comes more naturally than praising. The boys themselves hear more "You're Mama's favorite Twinkle in the whole world!" than "TWINKLE! You are making Mama so UPSET RIGHT NOW!" (Although the last one isn't exactly an unknown phrase in our household.) But remembering to talk positively about them to a third party? That's harder for me. I have other things that seem more urgent to talk about.

But I want to do that. I have two amazing, lovable boys, and I want to tell you about them.

These are a scattering of things I love about my boys.



***

Munchkin has the warmest brownest smiley eyes I have ever seen. Sometimes, when he is very pleased, he won't smile with his mouth, but his eyes will just beam. My grandfather died recently, and during his funeral, I realized that Munchkin has his way of holding back his smile until it wells up in his eyes. My grandfather used to do that when he was telling stories. He enjoyed telling jokes so much, and he'd tell it to you with a straight face, except for his smiling eyes giving him away.

Twinkle's hair is the color of wheat in the sun, soft and smooth. When he was younger, he had these two curls on either side of his ears, and he always reminded me of a duckling, or a baby owl, or something equally precious. He looked exactly like a Raphael cherub. 

Munchkin insists on wearing pants at all times. If one is not in the bath or in bed, one's lower limbs are to be clothed.

Twinkle, on the other hand, is blithely unaware of any reason under the sun why pants, or even underwear, should be necessary, regardless of the company, temperature, or time of day.

When one of Munchkin's friends is unhappy, Munchkin always goes to them and strokes their arm or holds their hand. If it is a much younger, preverbal child who is crying, he will confer with me on what his friend needs: “Mama maybe he needs my blanket. Mama where's his pacie? Mama maybe he needs his mama.” He will then fetch items of comfort until the child stops crying.

When Twinkle is successful in the bathroom, he immediately runs to Munchkin and says “You needa say Good job Twinkle!” because if Munchkin does that, then he will get a treat, too, and Twinkle is always eager for Munchkin to join him in having a treat.

When 'Stache comes home, both of the boys spring up in the air, shriek for joy and then dash in the direction of the front door. When I return after being gone for the whole day, they run outside to meet me and then stop short on the porch or in the yard, milling about and trying to look diffident and unconcerned.

Munchkin's favorite thing to eat at Sonic is the chicken strip sandwich, which he describes as, “I wanna chicken, and a salad [lettuce] and a top [bun].”

Twinkle is always up for a snuggle, although he has the attention span of a guppy. Think of it as a “power snuggle.” Intense, joyful, and a little sticky-sweet around the corners.

Munchkin is very careful when he eats and although he does not have amazing table manners, he is usually a very clean eater. As a consequence he never believes me when I tell him he has chocolate (/yogurt/soup/strawberry/peanut butter/...) on his face and resents my attempts to clean what he believes to be an already clean face.

Twinkle is the world's messiest eater and has cheerfully resigned himself to face scrubbings as the cost of eating lunch.

Munchkin and Twinkle are both eager for “Jesus stories” at naptime. I have to stand in a certain spot, because that is the story-telling spot, and I must begin all the stories with “Once, Jesus was with his friends ...”

Munchkin holds his chin when he's considering something, because he's seen me do it. He also likes to begin his deliberations with “Hmmmmm;” another clear imitation.

Twinkle enjoys getting cozy under the covers and sometimes at bedtime will pull the covers up to his chin and ostentatiously close his eyes and assume his “sleeping” expression, which says, “What a good boy am I!”

Munchkin and Twinkle's favorite movie is Prince of Egypt. It is one of three movies that they have watched all the way through. They have watched Aristocats 2 times, King of Dreams 5 times, and Prince of Egypt about 50 times. They reenact it a few times a week, racing through the house on hobby horses and shrieking “We will break the chain of the dynasty!”

Munchkin likes spicy foods and believes that this is because he is older than Twinkle, and that it is part of the natural process of growing up.

Twinkle is enormously proud of his ability to heave himself up and over the back seat of our van and shows off at every opportunity.

Munchkin is so tender and loving with our cats. He likes to lie down beside them and gaze into their eyes. He hugs them nearly every day. 

Twinkle's favorite thing is for me to hold him in my arms and rock him back and forth singing "Rockabye Baby." If I was willing to do this 10 times in a row, he would be up for it, and would probably ask for an 11th time. 

Munchkin has never met the cheese he didn't like, and has a particular fondness for goat cheese. So far, cheeses Munchkin has tried and enjoyed include chevre, several degrees of cheddar, habanero cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, Colby, pepperjack, Provolone, Gouda, Edam, Havarti.

Once I found Twinkle drinking straight espresso left over from breakfast, right from the pot. He loved it and asked for more.

Munchkin is much better than I am at remembering to water the tomatoes, and eagerly drags the hose from the front yard to the back, after first extracting my promise that I will not turn on the water while he isn't looking.


Twinkle has more mischief and glee in his little finger than Shakespeare's Puck. His smile is ear-to-ear, so wide his eyes almost squeeze shut. His shoulders hunch up and quiver with excitement.  

***



Having children is like watching magic. It is like watching a miracle that gets a little more miraculous every day. You should have one, get one, or borrow one. They're the best.