Five things to make at home

Brown Thumb Mama recently posted on the five things she thinks folks should make at home rather than buy. Completely inspired by her list, I thought I’d add my two cents and list five things I find easy and worth making.

Granola. So many store bought granolas are full of too much stuff and expensive. Granola is a simple dish and open to all sorts of interpretation. Oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, coconut, maple syrup, honey. I could go on. When you make granola yourself, you know exactly what you’re making and what  you’re putting into your body. My current favorite–that I make a couple of times a month–takes all of 1/2 an hour to make.

Salad dressing. Another refrigerator staple for many of us. Like granola, it’s pricey and often made with unnecessary ingredients. All you need is a jar with a lid (mason/canning jars work great for this), some olive oil, balsamic or red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic. You could also add mustard, herbs, flavored vinegars, lemon juice. Like the granola, totally adjustable to your tastes.

Scratch pads. I don’t do this all the time but it’s super simple and I really should do it more often. My kids love notebooks, scratch pads, journals, and the like. And they use them, which makes buying them really add up. When we have an empty cereal box, I cut it up, saving the two main sections of the box. These become the outside for two new scratch pads.  I fold the cardboard in two and cut some recycled or computer paper to size, inserting it into the folded cardboard. Once the paper is in place, sew down the middle of the book and paper. I have a sewing machine and generally use it, but a needle and thread would work just as well. And voila, a new notebook.

Play-dough. Easy to make and a fun thing to do with your kid, especially if you’re adding some food coloring. One of my favorite reasons for making play-dough, however, is that it doesn’t require me to buy the little plastic containers that commercial play-dough comes in.  There are lots of  recipes out there, but this is one of my favorites.

Toilet bowl cleaner. Baking soda and vinegar. Seriously. You don’t even need to pre-mix it. I generally pore some baking soda in the toilet and then enough vinegar to make the toilet fizz. Let it sit for a few minutes and then scrub away. Cheap. Easy. And no plastic bottle to throw away or recycle when a bottle of commercial brand has been emptied.

I do realize–believe me–that easy doesn’t always mean less time. A lot of time, doing things the old-fashioned way is the more time consuming way (hence the modern and convenient options). But…if you’re trying to save a little money (which was the initial impetus for my decision to start making most of these things), find joy in making things yourself, or are trying to find ways to reduce waste in your house, starting from scratch is a good way to go.

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Summer, part II

One of the things I didn’t mention in my post about summer last week, was that I’d be single parenting it much of the time. Margie’s job requires her to travel a great deal during the summer months. Much of that travel had to be delayed because of California’s oddly cold and wet spring. With hot, dry weather finally here, delayed work trips and current ones can finally begin.

Part of the need for my summer schedule is born out of trying to stay sane during these weeks and months. Of course all of this is happening despite my new resolve to carve out more creative time for myself. But duty calls. And my job—while Margie is doing her’s—is to be with the kids.

Working with these conditions—solo parenting and the need for creative time—I’ve identified some ways to try to keep myself fulfilled over the coming months:

  • Ask for help. Mama-friends, you’ve been warned.
  • Create throughout the day. I already try to do this. It will be imperative that I actually do it now. The kids are generally good at keeping themselves occupied when I sit down to knit or sew. I need to take advantage of this.
  • Eat well. I’ve largely kicked my sugar habit. In an attempt to maintain this, chocolate generally won’t be invited in.
  • Sleep.
  • Wake early and well before the kids wake-up. I already do this, as well. Unfortunately, I tend to stay up later when Margie is out of town which makes getting up early harder. If I heed the bullet point above, however, I should be able to maintain my early mornings.
  • Drink little. Alcohol that is. I’m not a huge drinker, but with summer comes pool parties and more social engagements. Drinking makes me cranky and groggy and not a very happy person.  And well, I’ll be driving children around. Enough said.
  • Time to myself on the weekends. It’s time to implement this. In fact, we started last weekend. Margie took the kids for the morning. I got time—at home—to myself.
  • Mandatory quiet or nap times. Again, something we already do. But with Bennett home again during the nap/quiet time and Adelaide fazing her nap out, we’ll be re-assessing and finding the right type of quiet time for the summer months.
  • Lots of yoga. Lots and lots of yoga. I plan to re-connect with my home practice.
  • Daily meditation.
  • Flexibility. My kids are young. Things come up. Moods changes. Flexibility is key.

And there’s my game plan. Things to remember to keep me somewhat happy, somewhat connected to my children (and my spouse), and somewhat sane.

Renewal

I recently spent four glorious days in New Hampshire. Without my family. With a bunch of women (and a sprinkling of men) that I had never met. It was glorious. Did I mention that? This was an art retreat called Squam—at Squam Lake. It was filled with fiber-inspired classes, lots of time for knitting, hiking, chatting, imagining, and soul-filling goodness. And it was exactly what I needed. Little did I know when I signed up for this workshop—clear across the country and an indulgence indeed—that it would be happening when I needed it most.

It was illuminating. It was inspiring. It was reinforcing.

The retreat of was filled with so many talented people, but it was the creativity that struck me. And the courage that all of these people have to be creative. To live creative lives. Everyone is creative, but creativity is so quickly misplaced as we grow older.  It’s taken me a long time to embrace being creative. Especially, when I question the worth and quality of what I create and compare it to others’ work. But none of that matters.  If my soul is telling me to create something—anything—I need to do it. It’s what I tell my kids and it’s what I’m increasingly telling myself.

So often, it’s the shoulds that rule my life. I should be home with the kids. I should clean the bathroom. I should mow the lawn. I should go for a run. Yes, these things are all important, but what if the needs ruled my life a bit more often. I need to walk today instead of run. I need to take a nap right now instead of pay the bills. I need to make popcorn for dinner instead of steak. I need to knit a few rows instead of cleaning up the kitchen. I need to photograph this flower. I need to create instead of produce. I need to listen to my soul. My spirit. And follow this path right now.

I’m finding that living a creative life is integral to my happiness.  I had been trying to carve out time to get creative, but failing miserably. Sure, I was doing a bit here and there, but it wasn’t enough and I knew it. Squam reminded me just how important it is to make the time. To embrace these urges and not look back.

I turned 36 a few weeks ago. Leading up to my birthday, I felt compelled to write a list of things to consider during this next year of my life. In no particular order:

–          No more self-doubt

–          Only honesty with myself

–          More self-care

–          Less guilt

–          More joy

–          Welcome spontaneity again

–          Embrace change and challenge

–          Move with purpose even when I don’t know or understand the purpose

–          Reach out more

–          Reclaim friendships

–          Smile more often

–          Love and trust with abandon

These things are important. Creating is a necessity. Living a passionate life is without question. Taking the time to remember these things is mandatory.

Just as I am

I recently finished reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes.  Using a couple of dozen case studies, Hayes argues for a return to a more traditional home life that doesn’t depend on two incomes, over-scheduling, and consumerism. Instead, she encourages a re-thinking of needs—financial and material—that—as a result—honors the environment, increases self-reliance, and better fosters a sustainable economy.

I love the idea but struggle with it on a day-to-day basis. As a society, Americans have become far too disconnected from the food chain, buy more than they need simply to spend money (myself included), and equate stuff with happiness. As a family, we try to eat in a sustainable matter, purchasing roughly 90 percent of our food locally. We use the library in lieu of buying every book we need. We garden, bake our own bread and make our yogurt, limit our children’s television viewing, and strongly limit the types and number of toys our children have in our home. We develop a budget at the beginning of every year and again at the beginning of every month, and we track our spending almost daily.

I’m not writing all this to make myself sound good—or feel good—but to try to understand the right balance given the society in which we live. I’m also writing this to try to start understanding how to reconcile this type of lifestyle with the one I always thought I’d have.

I never thought much about having kids—until I had them. I never thought much about home ownership—until I owned one. I never thought much about domestic arts (despite being exposed to many of them while growing up)—until I started doing out of necessity and interest.

I thought about traveling, a lot. I thought about buying all the clothes and shoe that I wanted and liked. I thought about having an interesting career with business lunches and work travel.

But now, here I am. A 35-year-old stay-at-home-mom (SAHM).  I knit. I sew. I bake. My family and I are living a quasi-radical homemaker lifestyle. With two kids and a spouse that works outside the home full-time—and travels for work—I can’t imagine a different lifestyle. As I’ve posted before, my rhythm and my family’s rhythm wouldn’t work so well if both my wife and I were working. Despite that, this SAHM, radical homemaker rhythm doesn’t put me completely at ease either.

It’s hard to forget about the excitement found in planning and going on a trip somewhere. Or the joy from finding a fabulous pair of shoes, the perfect skirt, or an intriguing novel that must be read immediately.

It takes constant reality checks and reminders of how good I have it to keep the balance. Perhaps these sound like the musings of a former spoiled child just now learning to live within her means. There is some truth to that (although not spoiled while growing up, I wanted for nothing).

Although I’m proud that we live within our means and are debt –free (other than our mortgage), it’s still hard not to be disappointed every once in a while that I don’t know when I’ll next leave the continental United States and that I have to consult my budget to determine when and if I’ll be able to buy a new dress for an upcoming fundraiser.

I read a couple of things recently that helped me put some of this in perspective. From Pema Chodron, “Practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you and me or whoever we are right now, just as we are.”

And from Cyndi Lee, “When we recognize that the fight we are engaged in is only a fight with ourselves then we understand we can take responsibility for creating our own happiness.”

For ease of mind and feeling like I belong somewhere, I’ll keep trying to accept where I am right now—quasi-radical homemaker or not. I’ll keep trying to simply be where I am right now. To stop thinking about what I else I could be doing. To create my happiness here and now.

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Upon completing this post and re-reading it a few times, I realized how incredibly whiney and spoiled I sound. I’ll accept that and post this anyway. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way from time to time.

Autumn equinox

I’m so glad it’s autumn. I love summer, but there’s something about fall that the introvert in me absolutely adores.  It feels like a time to withdraw a bit, cover up, enjoy a more even number of daylight and moonlight hours, and appreciate a new season of food.

To help welcome the new  season, the kids are doing a few autumn-related crafts. We’re making a fall banner using fabric paints, and autumnal colors and an acorn wreath for the front door. I’ve also been making chicken broth using a chicken carcass we’d stored in the freezer for just such a use, and roasting a new chicken for dinner tonight. Red quinoa-walnut cookies are baking (from here). Yes, the house smells very good right now.

We’ve been enjoying pears from my mom’s orchard for the past few weeks and we’re looking forward to a trip to Apple Hill and the Winterport Farm pumpkin patch.

Fall-inspired books are being checked out from the library and added to our rotation (more on this, soon).

Our corn is done producing. The stalks are waiting to be picked and set aside to dry. We hope to use them to decorate our front porch as we get closer to Halloween.

And the fall garden. Summer vegetable plants are slowly being removed and the ground prepared for chard, peas, carrots, lettuce, and a few other cold weather plants.

What are you doing to welcome fall?

Wrapping it up

A number of years ago I bought some reuseable sandwich wraps. While they’re all the rage these days, at that time they were quite novel. Margie and I used them for a few years until they finally had too many holes to protect the contents. At some point while using them, I went for a hike with a friend who had two young children. She loved the wraps and commented that she felt she could make them fairly easily. I don’t recall how I responded or if I did respond but I do recall thinking why make them if I could buy them.

Yes, well, things change. Two kids of my own later and fully ensconced in DIY-ness, I’m making my own sandwich/snack wraps. They’ve become rather pricey to buy and with a fabric stash large enough to supply many projects, making new wraps became the solution to our reuseable bag needs.

I made the pattern myself, using the dimensions from some wraps I found online (there are a few tutorials out there as well).

Two sizes.

For this project I simply needed some lightweight fabric and some type of waterproof fabric. My stash currently contains a couple of yards of oilcloth which is quite waterproof. Add some velcro, thread, and heavy duty sewing machine needles, and I had everything I needed for this project.

No matchy-matchy here.

I actually began this project months ago. (I’m really good at starting projects, but slow to finish them.) I picked this project up again today, cutting, placing, and sewing the velcro on the already cut-out pieces.

I really hope to finish this project this week. With 100 degree weather upon us, we’re having picnics poolside a few days a week and wraps are needed. I also hope to take many snacks on our travels in August (2 weeks in the midwest…more on this later). Besides, I have many other sewing projects to begin…

What I love :: summer travel

Yay for summer! And the beginning of the summer travel season.

This is just a quick post about the first of two trips my family is taking this summer. We’re spending this week in Ashland, Oregon. I went to college in Ashland many years ago and have been returning regularly since. For the past few years, Margie’s job has brought her close to Ashland many times. This trip marks the third June in a row that the kids and I have joined her during one of her work trips. Fortunately for us, some very good friends of ours own a second home in Ashland and graciously let us stay here during our trips.

This week we’re enjoying spending time with Grammie (my mom, who joined us again this year), long walks in Lithia Park, playgrounds and spray parks, story time at the local library, concerts in the park, great shopping (seriously…good shoe stores, a fantastic fabric store, and an uber-helpful yarn store) and local, seasonal food which is just a little bit different from Sacramento’s current crops.

During our first trip here, two years ago, Adelaide was only 6 weeks old. She was completely portable, allowing me and Bennett to ramble all over Ashland while she dozed. Last year she had just turned one and had just begun to walk. This year she’s in full-blown toddlerhood and very frustrated to be in the stroller while her brother walks. All this is to say that instead of reminiscing about college while here, I find myself reminiscing about the last couple of years and how much changes during the first years of life.

All of this reflection is good and so appropriate with the change of the season. Summer has always been one of my favorite seasons. An entire blog could be dedicated to the travels my family and I took while I was growing up. While I love to remember and reflect on these adventures, I’m very excited about having new summer experiences with Margie and my kids.

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Sadly, still no photos. The camera is still in the shop.

As the needle sews…

Much sewing going on here these days. With the new season (it’s not raining anymore!), comes the need for warm weather clothing. In the last couple of days I’ve made the kids new pajama bottoms. Camisoles and tank tops were purchased at Target for pajama tops. Adelaide’s bottoms look like little boxer shorts. I traced a pair of her current pajama bottoms to make a pattern (thanks to a tutorial from Made By Rae demonstrating the mechanics).

Bennett’s bottoms are a shortened version of the pajama bottoms found in Heather Ross’ Weekend Sewing. I made him a couple of pairs last summer as well. Thankfully, they still fit and he only needs one additional set of pajamas this summer.

I’ve made myself a skirt, a tank top, a dress, and have plans for another dress. Like Adelaide’s pajama bottoms, I traced one of my existing skirts to make a pattern and used some knit jersey. Super comfy. I did the same with the tank top, but need to continue working on the tank top pattern if I decide to make anymore. It’s fine for around the house, but really shouldn’t be seen by anyone other than family. Ahem…

The dress I made is the Anna Tunic by Amy Butler. I’m not a very perfect seamstress, but I really did a good job on this. I love the fabric (Anna Maria Horner) and–as I mentioned–it turned out really well. I tend to forget, however, that I don’t really like clothing that’s too close to my neck. I will gladly wear this dress, but I don’t love it.

The dress I still plan to make is the Empire Dress from Anna Maria Horner. I can’t recall the name of the fabric, but it’s a non-denim, medium-denim colored cotton fabric that I purchased from my favorite local quilting store–Bearpaws and Hollyhocks.

Margie has also been sewing. She’s making a new skirt using a Favorite Things pattern. She’s working on a quilt for Adelaide’s big girl bed, as well. We have yet to purchase Adelaide’s bed, however, so she still has some time to work on this.

This is the perfect post for lots of pictures. As I mentioned in my last post, however, the camera is out of commission for a few weeks.  So…just imagine all of us in our lovely new summer clothes!

Mama’s got a new bag

I really like shoes. I also really like bags. I can’t make shoes, but I can make bags. So, I do. And I mean bags. Not purses. Bags that can hold stuff. Diapers–because we’re still in that stage–small knitting projects, a planner, phone, children’s sweaters, etc.

In the past 18 months or so, I’ve made four bags. Yes, it’s a bit excessive, but they’re all used for different purposes and on a regular basis. Two are big, wide-mouthed, tote type bags. They’re used for picnics, swim lessons, and other activities that require lots of bulky things. I used a pattern from Heather RossWeekend Sewing for these. The third bag is technically a diaper bag, but I use it as a messenger bag when riding my bike. It doesn’t have a diaper bag look to it, but it’s nice and deep with a large strap. This bag was made using an Amy Butler pattern.

And now the fourth bag. I made it last week and absolutely love it. I would make a few changes if I were to make it again, but I love the overall design of the bag, the size, and the fabric I used. This bag pattern is in Amy Karol’s Bend-the-Rules-Sewing. I can’t remember the name of either of the fabrics I used, but I did buy them at Bolt in Portland while visiting last month.

I’m rather backed up on sewing projects at the moment. This bag was not a priority (I have three other perfectly good backs, you know), but it felt really good to sew it and even better when it was finished. A little birthday present to myself!

Homemaking

Some women are born mothers. They know from an early age that they want children. That they want to care for children. That they want children to want them, love them, rely on them, and be the center of their universe. They understand—from some place deep inside—the uniqueness of each child and the joy that comes from holding a little hand in their own.

I’m not one of those women. I didn’t seriously think about having children until I was 27or 28. When my partner and I decided to start trying we were both of the mindset that if it happened, it happened. If it didn’t, it didn’t. (Thankfully we had no trouble conceiving and didn’t have to put this attitude to the test). My reasons behind having children were not necessarily admirable. In fact, they were downright selfish. There were three: 1) I wanted someone to take care of me when I was old; 2) I thought that having children would make me a better person; and 3) I didn’t want to regret not having them. With those goals in mind, I had two children. The first at 30 and the second at 34.

Once I became a parent, I faced a huge internal culture shock, especially after the birth of my second child and my decision to become astay-at-home mom (SAHM). I fought my inner urge to fully embrace motherhood. As much as I espoused gratitude and admiration for SAHMs and verbally pronounced it the most important job in the world, I didn’t really believe it. I was always told I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up. But I never seriously thought that I would be a SAHM. That’s what other women did. I had a great career in the conservation movement. I did things that benefitted all of womankind.

Then something shifted. It wasn’t so much that I felt I had to be there for them as a SAHM, but that I needed to be there for myself. The rhythm of our family didn’t work with two working parents. My rhythm didn’t work with two working parents. These feelings coupled with the high price of two kids in day care; the desire not to repeat the cycle of daycare caused sickness that we’d experienced with our first child; and a strong desire to live a sustainable, well-nourished life made becoming a SAHM the only real option.

Throughout this process, I’ve known internally that I wasn’t the only woman facing these questions and insecurities. It has often, however, felt like it. In the past few weeks I’ve finally come across some writing that addresses these concerns. It’s so refreshing. The most recent is an article published in the New York Times Magazine, entitled, “The Femivore’s Dilemma.” (Found via The Artful Parent.) The article discusses the resurgence in traditional, back-to-basics homemaking. Most women need something in their lives besides raising kids. And a number of women are foregoing a career outside of the home for a more agrarian lifestyle and are finding it just as satisfying.

After making my decision to stay home, I faced months—a good year, in fact—of self doubt. I didn’t respect myself. I was ashamed to admit that I was a SAHM. I knew I needed something else in my life. Yoga teacher training helped. Writing is starting to help. And gosh darn it, making bread from scratch, cultivating our backyard garden, sewing clothes, and looking at chicken coop plans is helping a bit, too.

Being a mom is not my life purpose. Being a happy, caring, member of society that responds appropriately to the changes that are the only sure thing in life—is my life purpose. I chose to have kids. I chose to marry someone who will always make more money that I will (if I were to work outside of the home). I love to knit and sew and cook and garden and other things domestic. It is my purpose to take what I have and find peace with it. To grow from it and with it.