Monday, June 29, 2015

No Really ...

The other day I mentioned to a friend of mine that I keep a spreadsheet of the boys’ clothes, and she looked at me like I was some strange, hyper-organized, control-freak supermom instead of the mostly ordinary, fairly messy mother of two she knows me to be.

“No really,” I told her, “it makes life so much easier and it’s so much simpler than you’re probably thinking.” 

Here’s the thing. Having too much stuff stresses me out. (Except obviously books. Bring on the books, I say!) Particularly having too much clothing stresses me out. But if you are going to have less, you need to be more organized about it than if you have a lot. Which is counter-intuitive, I know. But it’s not organizing the stuff itself that is important (although that’s always nice), it’s being organized about what you have in the first place. If you have a huge pile of clothes, the odds are pretty good that somewhere in the pile, there is a shirt that will go with those shorts, even if you didn’t buy the shirt with the shorts in mind. But when you only have a handful of things, you need to keep track of what you have so that you know if there are any holes in the wardrobe, so to speak, that you need to fill before the next season.

For instance, at the beginning of the spring, all I had on hand for Munchkin’s summer wardrobe was two pairs of army fatigue pants, one pair of fatigue shorts and three polo shirts. Now two bottoms and three tops would seem to make three outfits, but the polo shirts clashed pretty terribly with the fatigues, so I know that somewhere between February and warm weather, we’d need to come up with some more neutral tops and some denim or khaki shorts. Since I had it all written down in my spreadsheet, it was easy to know what to shop for at the spring consignment sale.

Twinkle wears Munchkin’s hand-me-downs, so when I’m putting Munchkin’s clothes away at the end of a season, I enter all the items that are still in good shape in this spreadsheet in Twinkle’s column in the next year’s spreadsheet. This makes it very simple when grandparents ask what they need for Christmas, or when I feel like sewing or knitting them some things for next season but haven’t decided yet what to make. Instead of dragging down a bin full of clothes and digging through it, all I have to do is check the spreadsheet.

Here’s how I organize it.

(Before going any farther, I should say that the way I use excel drives ‘Stache absolutely nuts. I am not nearly as computer savvy as he is, and I tend to use excel in a rather messy, intuitive sort of way. I am not necessarily recommending that you make your sheet exactly like mine. I am sure there are better ways or programs to do this. However, this sheet works very nicely for me.)

This is the basic format, without any clothes entered:

The “total items” number I enter in by hand. The “projected items” is the sum of all the numbers you see. As I enter in clothing items, I change the numbers to reflect how many items are now needed. The “estimated cost” is the number of items (either total or estimated) times $6.66, which is what I expect to spend on each item. (We buy almost all the kids’ clothes from JBF, a high-quality, high-volume consignment sale that happens each spring and fall. After going several times, I’ve found that I typically spend about $6 + tax on each item if I’m not there on a special sale day.)

Here is the spreadsheet with some of the items entered.

Notice that the projected items and projected costs are now much lower. I could make the cells bigger to show the whole list of “already have” clothing items, but then my spreadsheet would be more unwieldy. I prefer to just click on the cell to see the full list. If I am planning to make something for the boys but haven’t yet, then I type it in bold as a reminder to myself that although I do plan to make it, it’s not a done deal yet.

Some more notes on my numbers of items. I made this list based on how often I do laundry, which is once a week. We go to a church where anything from casual to dressy is considered appropriate, so only one specifically nice outfit is plenty for us. The summers when we’ve had family weddings on the horizon “wedding outfit” was also entered into the spreadsheet. During the summer we often put them to bed in a t-shirt, or even just a diaper, so they don’t need as many pajamas as in winter. The boys don’t go to preschool  or daycare, so if we run out of clean clothes and they spend a day in their diapers, there’s no harm done. The boys don’t wear socks in the summer, because I snatch at any excuse to not have to keep up with tiny socks. I buy nice leather sandals for them to wear to church and crocs or sandals for the rest of the week.

After all this dry talk of spreadsheets, why don’t we have some pictures of the boys in their summer clothes? 

The boys in their "water glasses"

I should plan more than one hat for Munchkin: he's a big fan.
Why do I even bother planning clothes for Twinkle? This is his preferred outfit from May to September.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Toddler pants are the bomb.

They are my hands-down favorite thing in the whole world to sew, and one of the few clothing items that is immediately, objectively “worth it” to make yourself instead of buying. Because you can buy new clothing so cheaply, often it is only “worth it” to make clothing from scratch if you are looking at it from the emotional side (“I made you this with my own hands! It is a labor of love!”) or the ethical side (“Instead of supporting sweatshops in another country, I’m going to have a sweatshop of my very own right here! Instead of paying a worker a dismal wage, I’m going to work myself for a similarly dismal wage!) or occasionally the aesthetic side (“This is the perfect shade of blue to match Junior’s eyes! I’ve never been able to find a shirt this color; now I’m going to make him one!”) or if you’re really talented, the quality side (“Beautifully tailored clothing costs a fortune, so I’m going to do it myself!”).

But it really is economically worth it to make toddler pants.

Toddler pants still have elastic waistbands, which make the pattern super easy. None of this complicated “fit” business. If they are large enough for the child to get into them and short enough that the child doesn’t trip, they fit. Basically. More or less. Maybe take that last with a grain of salt. But they are supposed to be on the roomy/baggy side because they have to fit over diapers and chubby little toddler legs.

So what I do is, I make pajama pants out of non-pajama fabric. And it’s awesome. Awesome, fast, and cheap. The trifecta of home sewing. Sometimes if I’m feeling fancy I’ll add patch pockets or topstitching to mimic a fly. Sometimes I’m out of elastic and I do a drawstring instead. But the basic pajama pant pattern is 1 pattern piece. Cut out two pieces, sew the hems. Sew the pieces together down the front and back. Sew the leg seam. Fold the top down to make the waistband and sew. Insert elastic or drawstring. Bam! A piece of real clothing. It takes me up to an hour to make a pair of toddler pants, including cutting out. (I am not a particularly fast seamstress.) When I am organized enough to cut out several pairs at a time and make them assembly line-style it’s even faster.

If you pay about $8 for fabric and it takes you an hour to make them, that’s a reasonable “wage” for your time compared to buying a new pair of toddler jeans for $18-$24. And if you reuse handmedown or thrift store adult size jeans, your wage gets even better. You just take a pair of scissors (don’t bother with a seam ripper) and rip the jeans going up and down the inside seam. Spread the jeans flat, lining up the outside seam if there is one, lay down your pattern, more or less centered over the outside seam, and cut them out. If the hems of the jeans are still in good condition, you save even more time. Line up the hems carefully, lay down your pattern so that it extends 1 ¼”-1 ½” beyond the hem, and cut out your pants.  With some men’s pants, you can even get a pair of pants and a pair of shorts out of the same pair. 

I made these pants out of hand-me-down scrubs. The brown and purple pants used to be tops, so I reused the hems, and the green and khaki pants used to be adult size pants, so I reused the waistbands.
Because scrubs are so thin, and I wanted the boys to be able to wear these in winter, I lined them. There was no real need for these to be fancy, so I just laid my lining on top of my scrubs material and treated them as one piece of cloth. Result: sturdy, double layered pants. The brown ones are lined with a large soft scrap I happened to have, and the purple ones are lined with an old dress shirt of 'Stache's that had worn out down the front edges. 
Now, let’s be honest. These are not the be-all and end-all, last word in toddler fashion. But guess what? I’m fine with that. These are basic clothes, designed for non-discriminating little people who have mastered neither the finer points of self-feeding nor the basic tenants of the use of a toilet, and who have only recently started to dress themselves. High fashion is not what I’m looking for. Simple, sturdy, slightly baggy jeans will do just fine.

And if toddler pants are the bomb, toddler pajama pants are truly the motherload of awesome. All those fabulous things I said above about pants, only these are made out of flannel*!!! Soft, so easy to work with, easy to hem, great pattern options … I’m a fan. Also, if you’re going for the drawstring option on the waistband, you can just make it right out of the flannel for the pants! (If you think a moment, you will realize that this is not really an option with jeans. Denim drawstrings tend to be a non-starter. You’re much better off using a wide shoelace.)

Last Christmas I went a bit nuts and made 9 pairs of kids’ pajama pants in one go. This sounds crazy. It was crazy. It makes me sound a bit obsessive (fair assessment) and maybe even neglectful of my kids. What was I doing, churning out all these pajamas? But no, flannel pajama pants are so awesome and so fast that even 9 pairs didn’t upset the applecart of family life too badly.

Toddler pants. They’re the bomb.

(I feel like I might have mentioned that before.)

Munchkin in his purple pants and his fish vest that my mother knit him. He would wear this every day of the week if I let him. The pants are a little long, but I'm sure they'll be the right length by fall.

Ooo, pockets.

Who needs pants when you're this cute?

*For winter pajamas, I like to use 100% cotton flannel, which has not been pre-treated to make it acceptable by the powers that be for children’s sleepwear. All of the children’s sleepwear that you buy in a store must, by law, be soaked in flame-retardant chemicals. Most of the children’s sleepwear that you buy in a store is also made of polyester, aka plastic, which when not treated by the above mentioned chemicals, melts in the presence of flame. This would cause horrible burns if it melted onto someone’s skin, above and beyond the damage caused by the flames themselves. As cotton does not melt when set on fire, I feel like the benefits of soaking cotton flannel in a flame retardant bath are outweighed by the potential hazards of the chemicals themselves, right next to my children’s skin for 8 to 12 hours a night. These are just my reasonings, however! This is a question that you should weigh for yourself and decide what you think is best for your family. My opinion means nothing. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

For T----

Dear T-----,

You are just a picture.

You are not mine yet.

I am scared to love you.

I am scared because one word from a social worker a half a world away could mean I never get to see you, ever. Those two pages of biography, those four darling pictures might be all I ever know. I am hesitant and cowardly, afraid of pouring my heart into someone I might never hear of again. But at the same time there is the tension of “You could be mine.” You could be mine forever. Mine to cuddle and comfort. Mine to answer a thousand Why’s and to clean up a million spilled glasses of – milk? Juice? I don’t even know if you can drink dairy, or if we’re heading into a lifetime of rice milk with cereal instead.

I think about you all the time. I pray for you nearly every night, smiling to myself, imagining you starting your day just as I am finishing mine. I wonder what you had for breakfast, and what you’re doing today.

My heart hurts so bad when I read your story. I pray that that there are people in your life who love you, who are cherishing you. I pray that someone is shining the Gospel-light into your life.

I’m so proud of how you’re overcoming your physical challenges. Several times in your biography the social workers talked about what a great attitude you have, how persistent you are, how you work to conquer the limitations you have. I want to cheer you on, tell you how well you’re doing, how proud I am of you, until you get embarrassed and roll your eyes and say “Moooooooom!” while secretly soaking in the praise. I think you’re awesome, and you’re only 3. (Almost 4!)

 It’s really hard for me to trust God right now. It’s hard for me to accept that his best plan for you might not be in our family. I want to bargain with God. I want to show God – let’s be honest, I do show God all my spiritual growth and spiritual “wins” and sacrifices and say “Look! Look at how much I’ve grown! Doesn’t that mean I get T----? You wouldn’t put me through all this and then not let me have him, right?”

But it doesn’t work that way. (Thank goodness.) I can’t be good enough to “deserve” you. You are a wonderful, beautiful child, made in the image of God, and that God doesn’t do bargains. He bestows gifts. And you are such a gift!

I love you, T----, even though I’m scared. I really hope I get to be your mommy.