Thursday, June 28, 2007

I really do sew.

I know that I profess to sew and then very rarely produce evidence to support that claim. So here are a few recent projects.


This is a quilt that I cut out last night. It'll be small and very simple, and it'll probably end up in Elise's room, given the girly floweriness of the fabrics.


This is my scary project box. When Andy and I rearranged the basement, I threw all abandoned postponed projects into this bin. It contains chair cushions to be repaired, clothing to be repaired, pillowcases to be turned into these bags, cross stitch projects, a tablerunner to be embroidered, and two unfinished quilts.


This is my first attempt at sewing clothes. (Except for once when I was twelve and my mom tried to teach me to sew a dress for myself. I picked out a pattern and fabric, and I think I may have put on a few buttons. Mom ended up doing the rest. It turned out well!) This is a dress for Elise, although it's a little too big around the middle, so I guess I should add a sash. I caught too much fabric when sewing the bodice to the skirt, so I'll need to redo that. I'm really diggin' the 5/8" seam allowance...much more forgiving than the strict 1/4" used in quilting.

And here are some pretty things that have found their way into our home recently:

This sweet little embroidery is on a pillowcase that I picked up for $.50 at a thrift store. It's not vintage, but I thought it was really sweet. I'm so glad I have a little girl and thus can bring home pink pillowcases with embroidered kittens on them, without getting funny looks from my husband. Okay, so I still get funny looks, but at least now I can say, "It's for Elise!" - unlike when we were just married and I bought a Strawberry Shortcake twin sheet at an antique store (really, should things from the 80s be in antique stores already?). I might be a tad nostalgic.


I also brought home another $.50 pillowcase, this one truly vintage. The fabric is so soft, the way good linens get after years and years of use. It, too, is embroidered, with pink dogwood flowers. I love dogwoods. I was thrilled to find that our neighbor has a big dogwood tree that hangs over our fenceline. (I wasn't quite as thrilled when the blooms fell and I had to rake up all the dead pits.) When I was growing up, we had two dogwood trees (plus a few saplings here and there, but two that left an impression). They were both wild. One grew at the edge of the shaded lane that wrapped around one side of our property, and it looked so pretty with its white flowers against the backdrop of big oak and maple and hickory trees. The other was magnificent. It was hidden in our woods, in the "second clearing". Our woods were pretty thick, but my dad and brother cut a path through them. I didn't think much of it at the time, but looking back I realize that that must have been a huge job! My brother and his friend even built log bridges over the little streams so we could ride our bikes through the woods. Ah, memories. Anyway, so you'd walk through the woods until you hit the first clearing, which was just a small meadow in the middle of the woods. Then you'd walk some more, go over the little stream, and then hit the second clearing...another small meadow. This one was beautiful. It had a giant cedar tree on one side, and a huge, amazing wild dogwood tree on the other. We didn't go back there very often, as it was pretty deep into the woods (deep for a child), but I remember whenever we first saw the dogwood in bloom each spring, we'd run back to the house to tell everyone else about it. It was a beautiful tree. I liked that it was hidden. I liked that we had to go through the woods to see it. It was like our own little secret garden. I still like "hidden" beauty, details in my home that only my family and I would ever see. I should cultivate those details more.


Some friends of ours recently gave us a big box of assorted Franciscan dishes. They are moving and are cleaning out their attic and garage, and decided not to take these with them. I've always liked this set. I like that they are simple and pretty and practical. They also go very well with the dogwood pillowcase, don't you think? Unfortunately, there is not much call for matching one's bed linens with one's dishes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

July 4th Giveaway

5 Minutes for Mom is hosting another big giveaway. Check it out!

I thought it was too quiet...

This is what happens when you give a toddler rigatoni and a cup with a straw.



Woman to Woman

I've followed the Woman to Woman posts before, but have never participated. The assignment is "Share an important quote and what it means to you". Well...that's a tough one for me. I like quotations. I keep a small notebook where I write down quotes that are especially meaningful to me, usually ones that are too long for me to easily commit to memory. C.S. Lewis, Mother Teresa, Tolstoy, Philip Yancey, and passages of Scripture are written there. I usually flip through that book when I am dusting the shelf on which it lives, and I always find encouragement and inspiration, no matter what mood I am in. So the difficulty does not lie in a shortage of quotes. This assignment is difficult for me because I am an indecisive person. There are too many choices!

Okay, seriously, the quote I have chosen for today is not exactly Tolstoy material. It is a simple phrase that I am borrowing from the BSA, one that has helped me to overcome mountains of laundry and herds of dust bunnies.

"Be prepared."

That's it. Nothing too profound.

I try to remind myself of this simple principle as I go about my day. For me, being prepared means staying on top of things. It means that on days like today, when I do not have any commitments outside of my home, I need to take care of the laundry and the cleaning and other household responsibilities, for two reasons. First, so that on the days when I do have outside commitments, I can focus wholeheartedly on them without being distracted by thoughts of what needs to be done at home. Second, so that I can freely accept opportunities as they arise. Andy and I try very hard to be available to good opportunities. I do not mean ladder of success opportunities, but rather opportunities to build and strengthen friendships, to help others, to enjoy each other, to learn. And we are constantly amazed by how frequently those opportunities present themselves. Of course there are times when we need to be intentional about them. We need to seek out a friend whom we haven't seen in a while, or choose a study with our small group that will challenge us, or arrange for a babysitter so we can spend time alone together. But more often than not, life presents unsolicited opportunities, and we do our best to remain flexible enough to accept the ones that fit us.

I guess another way of looking at it, for me, (can you tell I'm just thinking this through as I write?) is keeping my home and personal life in order. That is not to say I am always successful at this. I procrastinate, I dawdle, I get distracted, sometimes I'm just plain lazy. But at those times when things are in order, I inevitably appreciate it. When we have unexpected company, I am always grateful for the time spent cleaning the house earlier in the week. When Elise gets sick, I appreciate that the towels and sheets are all clean. When there is an emergency, I'm so glad the gas tank is full. And when a friend brings their baby home from the hospital (there are so many babies in our circle of friends right now...), I am thankful for an organized kitchen (always Andy's doing) with all the necessary ingredients to make an extra meal or two. And I hope I'm not giving the impression that this happens all the time. We are not always ready for these curve balls. There are times when we have unexpected company and I quickly throw piles of clutter into our bedroom and close the door. More than one of our new-parent-friends have been given dinners of pre-packaged pasta or soup, lovingly prepared by the kind chefs at Costco. I had to stop for gas on the way to a friend's house when she was in labor. (Did I ever tell you that, Beth?) These things happen.

So the moral of my way-too-long story is that "Be prepared" is a simple phrase that propels me through the laundry, the vacuuming, the errands, the phone calls. Nothing fancy. Just a reminder to keep going when the meaningfulness of my daily work escapes me.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Life

When I was a kid, I thought it must be so great to be an adult. Adults could go to bed when they wanted to. No one told them what to eat (or, more importantly, what not to eat). Adults got to choose what they watched on television. They did not have to follow anyone else's rules. I thought that adults answered to no one, which in my mind was the greatest freedom imaginable.

Now I am an adult, and I can smile at that childish way of thinking. It's true that the liberties are nice. I'm glad there is no one telling me what to eat or when to go to bed. But being a "grown up" is so much more complex than I could have imagined as a child.

Yesterday our pastor announced his resignation. He is not leaving out of any sense of animosity or hostility. He has not been offered a job elsewhere. He and his wife simply believe that God is calling them to leave. This came as a great shock to our congregation. Our pastor started our church thirteen years ago. He was an associate pastor at another congregation in our area, and he and his wife were called to minister in a neighboring town. They and some other families from their old church started meeting in a school, I believe, in the town to which our pastor was called to serve. They grew and moved into a renovated office space in a business park. The space was a cookie factory before the church moved in. They were in that space for a number of years - I want to say nine or ten - and that is where they were when Andy and I started to attend. We were newly engaged and looking for a church that we could attend together. We had visited many different churches - everything from a very traditional Lutheran church to a tiny, struggling Bible church where we were told, in no uncertain terms, that Democrats are among the damned (we were so told by the pastor's wife, who did not bother to ask about our political views first) to a rock 'n' rollin', 15-full-time-pastors, you-need-opera-glasses-to-see-the-speaker megachurch. The process of finding a church home is tiring. After months of looking, a distant relative invited us to attend their church, a family-like congregation that met in an old cookie factory. It was a bit of a drive - Andy and I both lived in the city at the time, and the church was about 20 miles away - but it was worth it. I may be misremembering, but I think we did not visit another church after that.

The church was not perfectly suited to our desires. We found very few people our age there. The music, while superbly executed by a professional conductor (they didn't intentionally hire a conductor; he happened to be a congregant and offered his services), was definitely more to the liking of, ahem, older generations. There were many physical constraints due to the building structure, and when I taught the kindergarten Sunday School class, I found those constraints to be very frustrating. But those things were cosmetic. We found the congregation to be worshipful, prayerful, and hospitable. And we found the pastor to be completely above reproach.

Shortly after we started attending the church, we joined a small group at the pastor's house. We were the youngest by far - 22 and 21 - and we were welcomed by all. They all took great interest in our wedding plans, prayed with us through difficult family times, and encouraged us as Andy searched for a job. (He had been working at an aerotech company and, like so many others, was laid off after September 11.) It was a great group.

We really got to know our pastor and his wife in that group. We found them to be kind, virtuous, and intelligent. They were obviously devoted to prayer and to God's Word. They were completely submitted to the lordship of Jesus. Andy and I asked the pastor if he would lead us in premarital counseling, even though we had already asked Andy's childhood pastor to perform our wedding ceremony. Our pastor agreed and refused to take payment for his services.

A few years into attendance, we had a major disagreement with the way our church leadership dealt with a conflict within the congregation. Some friends of ours - the subjects of the disagreement - left the church on very negative terms, and Andy and I felt bruised by the experience. We, too, considered leaving, but after much prayer and discussion, we decided that we would not let a tiff separate us from the church. We do not want to "church hop". So we stayed, and we have never regretted it.

Three years ago our pastoral staff changed somewhat. Our beloved associate pastor, a wise teacher, moved to be close to his grandchildren and to answer God's call to him to minister to pastors and their families. He is still missed. Our church hired two people to "replace" him - one associate pastor to share in the teaching responsibilities, and one part time associate pastor to take on the role of business administrator. Godly men both. A year after they were hired, our congregation moved into their own building, which we had spent several years planning and building. Two years after that - that would be just a few months ago - the new full time associate pastor announced that he was leaving, also to be near his grandchildren and to fill a different ministry role to which he felt called. (I'm seeing a trend.) So, as you can see, the last 3 years have been full of change for our congregation. We are now in our own, rather large, building. We have grown to such numbers that it is impossible to recognize everyone. We've taken to implementing the policies that large churches must have these days, such as security procedures in the nursery to ensure that only custodial parents pick up their children. Sad but necessary measures. The musical style has adapted to the growing congregation, not without growing pains and heated discussions. There are now many people our age in the church, and some of them have become close friends of ours. And through it all, our pastor has remained a steady and calm leader, trusting and obeying God in everything, and teaching us to do the same.

And now he is leaving. Andy and I, and our entire congregation, are filled with sadness. Ironically, we just became members of the church last night, during the same meeting at which our pastor announced his resignation. I can honestly say that this man is the most humble person I have ever met. There is not a shadow of a hint of pride in him. I think it must be easy for a pastor to submit to pride, especially one who has led a congregation through such growth, but in six years I have never once glimpsed any pride whatsoever in him.

Sorry does not begin to describe our feelings about his departure. Of course the announcement is new, so no one knows what is to come. We don't know where our pastor's family is going (they don't even know), and we don't know who will come to replace them. We trust in God's sovereignty and grace. We are thankful that this parting has come out of our pastor and his wife's obedience to God, not out of dissension or animosity. But we are very sad.

Being an adult isn't as easy as I thought it would be.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

If I May Be So Sappy...

Warning: Sap alert.

I'm reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. It's okay. One of my very literarily inclined friends described it as a "book club book", and so it is. It's interesting and well-written, but probably not one I'll read again. I think it is fairly culturally accurate, but the author took great liberties with the biblical account (it is a fictional retelling of the story of Dinah, Jacob's daughter). Her liberties are very creative and intriguing, but she takes them too far at times.

Well, anyway, this wasn't supposed to be a book review. Last night I read a passage in the book that described the birth of Dinah's son. Giving birth and being a new mother were the most intense experiences of my life, and I think Diamant did a good job of describing some of the emotions that go along with those experiences.

"Why had no one told me that my body would become a battlefield, a sacrifice, a test? Why did I not know that birth is the pinnacle where women discover the courage to become mothers? But of course, there is no way to tell this or to hear it."

And then later, as Dinah describes her first moments with her son...

"Just as there is no warning for childbirth, there is no preparation for the sight of a first child....There should be a song for women to sing at this moment, or a prayer to recite. But perhaps there is none because there are no words strong enough to name that moment. Like every mother since the first mother, I was overcome and bereft, exalted and ravaged. I had crossed over from girlhood. I beheld myself as an infant in my mother's arms, and caught a glimpse of my own death. I wept without knowing whether I rejoiced or mourned. My mothers and their mothers were with me as I held my baby."

I told you it would be sappy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

One down,...

Boy, I've really been dragging my feet on this blog lately, haven't I? A week or two will go by between posts, and yet somehow I trick myself into thinking that I'm posting every couple of days. Must be summer.

I've spent the better part of today cleaning my daughter's room. It was long overdue. We "borrowed" a curtain rod from her room in December. In Elise's room, it holds a wall hanging made by my mother-in-law when Elise was born. In December we were given a Christmas wall hanging and wanted to display it in our living room. Thus the borrowing of the curtain rod. How long ago was December? Oh, that's right. Six months ago. Half a year. More than 25% of Elise's life.* And it's not that we needed the rod in the living room this whole time. We stored the living room wall hanging away with the other Christmas decorations just after the new year. I threw a couple of themed quilts over it for Valentine's Day and Easter, but other than that, it has been empty. So today I finally moved it back to Elise's room and returned the lovely little girl wall hanging to its rightful place.

I won't bore you with more details of how I cleaned her room - cleaning is cleaning, yes? - but I will say that I'm very happy with it. It's refreshing to have a really clean room. But I finished just in time to put Elise down for her nap, so now she is in there enjoying the cleanliness (okay, so I'm sure she doesn't notice the difference, but it makes me feel better to imagine that she appreciates my efforts), and I am in the living room, which is decidedly not clean. It's not filthy or anything. It's just not neat. Maybe I'll sneak into Elise's room and just sit there for a while.

*Edit: This is not to say that I have not cleaned Elise's room since December. That's just how long we kept her curtain rod in the living room.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Household Help

Have you ever heard the argument that the Proverbs 31 woman - that intimidating heroine of Christian women - was able to do all that she did because she had servants? It's usually said as a joke. "Well, sure, I could buy fields and clothe my family in luxurious garments, too, if I had servants." That sort of thing.

Over the last few years, I've also heard the case for the modern Proverbs 31 woman. The argument is that we do have servants. Washing machine, anyone? I've thought it was a cute comparison and I've smiled at it. But the other day I got to thinking...

I have a lot of "servants". A lot. My household roster is quite long.

First, the full-time help. I have three full-time servants. Dishwasher, Washing Machine, Dryer. These three work in my home every day. Now I have lived without the services of Dishwasher. It's do-able, but not all that fun. Someday I hope to acquire a clothesline, thus demoting Dryer to a part-time position.

Next, the part-timers. There are a lot of part-time servants. Vacuum Cleaner puts in the most hours, and may very well be promoted to full-time one of these days. Other part-time servants include Toaster Oven, Microwave Oven, Food Processor, Coffee Maker, Coffee Grinder, Mixer, and Sewing Machine. It is amazing how quickly these servants work. They are very skilled. Without their services, it would take me at least twice as long to complete the tasks that they accomplish so efficiently.

We also have some seasonal help. Furnace, the Fan Family, Lawn Mower, Weed Eater, and Hose. No getting up before dawn to stoke a fire. It's really great.

I do not have to refill the oil or clean my lamps before bed. I do not have to empty old water from basins and jugs, nor do I have to walk to the nearest stream or well to obtain fresh water. I do not have to make my own soap, ink, or fabric. I do not have to raise my own meat or grow my own produce. I do not have to sew my own clothes. I do not have to wait for days or weeks or months to share news with a long distance friend. I do not have to gather wood or coal to fuel my oven and furnace, and I do not have to clean up ashes. All of these things are essentially done for me.

So....why am I so busy?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Books

A week or so ago, I was having a hard time finding something to read. Silly, I know. There are countless numbers of books that I would like to read and haven't, so why should I have a hard time finding one to read? And yet, that is the problem I had. I tried a few different books on for size, and none of them fit. Fine books all, but they didn't suit my mood. I started reading A Year in Provence. It was a no go. Then I tried Jeeves and The Tie That Binds. A fun book, especially if you imagine Wooster as Hugh Grant. If ever the Jeeves books are turned into movies, Hugh Grant should definitely play Wooster. But, regardless of its cleverness, the book did not hold my interest. It just wasn't what I was looking for.

So now I have those two books to add to my growing collection of half-read books. I want to finish them all. I have half-read A Severed Wasp, The Brothers K, The Brothers Karamazov, Louisa, John Adams, and now A Year in Provence and Jeeves and The Tie That Binds. Pathetically flaky of me, wouldn't you say?

Now I am reading George Muller, a biography of that great man. The writing style is rather dry, but the story is inspiring enough to keep me reading. It doesn't hurt that the book is only 150 pages long. And now I have no shortage of books to read. Andy and I hit a thrift store sale on Monday, and I came home with three books that are shamelessly tempting me. A book that I had on hold at the library has also come in. But I will not be distracted! I will finish my current book. I will. I will. Truly. Here I go to finish the book. Okay.

Childproof vs. Proof of Children

This past week, we visited a couple of different friends in their respective homes. I was struck by the contrast between the two homes.

While making arrangements for the first visit, our hostess said, "Our house is child-proofed, so there's nothing within reach that Elise can break." Hm. Well, that was good to know.

At the second home, Elise walked in and immediately began running for a back bedroom, where she knew there were some good toys hiding. (She has visited this home many times.) Our friend immediately reassured us, "There's nothing back there that can hurt her."

See the difference? Now I'm not qualified to say whether these comments reflect our friends' subconscious attitudes towards children, but the contrast was stark enough to pique my curiosity. One home was childproof. The other home was child-friendly.

It was just one of those things that made me go, "Hmm...."