Friday, May 30, 2014

The Magical Garden Continues..

I have been so busy watching magical things pop up around the new house. One advantage to an older home is that we inherited a fully established vibrant lawn, mature trees and an amazing landscape. Here are some of the sights from yesterday…

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From front to back: flowering chives, sorrel (it bolted… maybe I should have done something to it to prevent this, or maybe it’s what is supposed to happen?) and some crazy rhubarb (I am told this particular one should be harvested in the late summer).

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Unidentified specimen in the herb garden. Might be a weed. But it sure is pretty!

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Lots of strawberries. It looks promising for enough to make some quantity of jam, but I am not counting my berries until they are picked.

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Honeysuckle! Smells divine… just starting to open by the sunroom doors (the blurry background is the energy meter it is hiding!)…

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Unidentified. Maybe allium.

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Poppies! Not sure when they will bloom… so I check them daily just for fun!

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I don’t know what these little flowers are, but I like them.

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Lovely lovely lilac. Korean lilac, I believe. There is a tree-like white one too that is just finishing.

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Bleeding hearts seem to thrive in the shady front bed. White and pink…

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Allium? Not sure. And I am too lazy to Google. Anne, don’t Google it for me :)

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Peonies everywhere! I love peonies and I cannot wait to find out what colors are here. There must be more than 10 peony plants in various places around the house. I nipped off all the side buds on each stem to hopefully make the main flowers more showy. We will see.

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I don’t know, but I like this type. It has been sprinkled around a bit too, popping up in mixed sun/shade around the house.

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Unknown. This is a little shrub on each side of the driveway by the road. I thought it was just a little evergreen until the flowers popped up. The previous owner doesn’t know what they are either, so I guess I should look into it (to avoid killing it accidentally).

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Columbine. I have found it in beds, but this stuff is popping up like weeks in cracks near the fence. Very happy there. I guess it is prolific :)

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Lilies waiting to pop!

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Bed of day lilies. There are a few clumps of stella de oro  in there, but it’s mostly the invasive type. Looking forward to seeing what color. The lambs ear is starting to pop up and I suppose I should rip it out before it takes over completely (like my last house.. oops). I don’t want to have to move again just to get away from it.

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Hostas everwhere. Lots of kinds!

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And ground cover… mostly varieties of sedum, vinca and some sort of creeping evergreen.

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Irises… all white or blue so far, but there are a lot that have yet to open. There is also the purple smoke plant that we transplanted from my friend’s house. So far, it seems pretty happy here.

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There are ferns around back in the shade, but I have never seen this kind before.

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Red maple (maybe not too healthy, sadly) in front of some ornamental cherry trees, honey locust and Japanese maple trees.

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I even found a prickly pear type cactus… it survived this Michigan snowmageddon winter, so I have to think it likes it there. Odd, but happy making.

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Hens and chicks. They are only in one little spot by the garage door, but I kind of love them. They make this picture look distorted but they are all weirdly oblong like that. Succulents… defying expectations.

There is sooooo much more… no way to capture all of it. There are climbing roses, burning bush, holly (not too happy after this winter), hydrangeas, sedum (a non-ground cover type); hyacinths, tulips and daffodils have all bloomed already; the ornamental pear trees were magnificent 2 weeks ago; and there are so many other plants I haven’t identified and aren’t close to blooming yet. I plan to take pictures every 2 weeks or so all summer to get a real idea of what is here and when it does what it does. I am not sure how else to inventory or catalog all of it! I get the distinct feeling I am not in control…

The previous owners just came over to help us open the pool (wonderful people!), so I got to wander around with the former gardener herself and ask questions. She is a little old lady with great grandchildren, and she has more energy than I do. While dinner was in the oven, she took me for a walk in the nearby trails and showed me where there is a lot of wild black raspberry. Marvelous :) She told me repeatedly that I will never be bored here, and fully believe her. Despite my initial reluctance and the lengthy list of “we’ll get to it someday”s, I am definitely loving the new house and its grounds!! But I had better get my gardening game on…

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Embrace Your Inner Hero

Sometimes life feels so insanely busy and so incredibly unremarkable… all at the same time.

The rush rush rush to just survive the day… to get kids out the door and to school on time, to drop everything and find that thing that someone else needs right now, to make food that has actual nutritional value, and to ensure that all the financial obligations are handled properly and on time. And then there are the daily requests to give more than is comfortable, to step in and be the solution to a problem that doesn’t really affect you, to pull someone else up when they don’t have the strength, to meet the needs of others even when it slows you down, to notice pain or sadness and be able to pray for your family and friends. These things are not at all exciting, but oh so necessary. Crucial. Vital. But even more that that, they can be transformative. Even sanctifying if you give them permission.

My life, like that of many I know, feels like a yo-yo of calm and storm. A beautiful day outside doing yardwork with my 3 year old happily riding his bike in the driveway followed by an exhausting day full of commitments and frustration. While I obviously find the former to be much more personally enjoyable, I think it is the latter sort that is slowly, slowly changing my heart. As a teenager, I had some capacity for compassion and sacrifice. But over time that has grown beyond anything I could have imagined. I think becoming a parent has helped… the middle-of-the-night demands are always particularly hard to ignore… but so has spending my adult life around other people who demonstrate superhuman sacrifice on a daily basis.

Consider these examples, some of which might feel familiar to you:

A friend of mine has a “more than average” number of kids. She has also had quite a few miscarriages and complicated pregnancies. But she accepts her fertility with faith, trust, and a hope much stronger than the pain of losing babies or the fear of what might happen in the future. She mentors young moms with similar situations and encourages others by writing openly about her experiences and insight.

Another  friend is asked almost daily to step in and help with various situations of need that do not affect her. Whether it is watching a dog while a family is on vacation, mothering another’s children while their mom is delivering a new baby, caring for grandparents with health issues, helping with others’ exhausting moving days or home improvement efforts, or volunteering with a variety of church ministries… she DOES. Without complaining. And often goes above and beyond to be helpful even when it complicates her own busy life.

My mother-in-law volunteers as a wedding coordinator at our church. She works hard to ensure that oblivious young couples (and oblivious older couples) have a smooth wedding day. Sometimes she has to reschedule her life to meet when they are available. Many times the bridal party are not very communicative, wait for the last minute, have unusual requests that need to be accommodated, and they don’t even remember to say thank you. But she still does her best for them. Every. Single. Time.

Quite a few of my friends have children with severe and/or complicated food allergies. They have had to, for the health of their children, become experts in making palatable meals without most of the ingredients the rest of us rely on. They research and find brands that are gluten-free, corn-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and exclude whole sections of the produce department. Often they themselves give up the foods their kids are allergic to so that the house doesn’t have dangerous food in it.

My parents brought my dying grandmother to live with them for her final few months. My mom cared for her every day, fed her, cleaned up after her, took her to the bathroom, bathed her, accompanied her to doctor appointments, handled her insurance and financial affairs, and arranged hospice care. She had to drop the bulk of her own commitments to do this for an indefinite period of time, but she did so willingly and without hesitation.

I am confident that these people would not consider themselves to be heroic in everyday life, but they are! From wikipedia:

A hero (masculine) or heroine (feminine) (Ancient Greek: ἥρως, hḗrōs) refers to characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self-sacrifice—that is, heroism—for some greater good of all humanity.

By definition, they ARE heroes. Unquestionably. They take these things that might weight them down and let their faith turn them into wings. I hope they are able to remember that, especially when they feel discouraged amidst the sacrifices. I am fortunate to be around so many amazing people… their example encourages me to do better, be stronger, try harder, and go further than I ever would be able to without them. Even though I live a life of plebeian obscurity, I aspire to be that example to others in my turn, and be a real life hero even when it means wiping splattered yogurt off the cabinets, taking kids to orthodontic appointments, doing taxes, potty training a reluctant toddler, calling lonely friends, or raking someone else’s yard. We don’t need a cape to be a hero… we just need an open heart.

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Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is true worship. - Romans 12:1

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sewing Class: Birthday Dress - Vogue 1353 Review

I did finish my birthday dress in time to wear it out for a group birthday dinner a week ago! Hooray for finished projects!

As I mentioned before, I used pattern V1353 for this dress. I decided to use a print fabric (from my stash!) to perfect the fit before I jumped to the yellow fabric I had earmarked for this. I figured the blue and white abstract floral print would better suit my current complexion, and hopefully by the end of May I would have a more yellow-dress-friendly tan to sport the second version of this dress to a cousin’s wedding. So here is the first finished dress. I have only barely started on the yellow one, but now that the pattern is tailored to my shape, it should be pretty quick. This fabric is not as soft as I might have preferred, but it was available and pretty.

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I love the neckline pleats. The shape of this dress is such that you have to keep good posture (shoulders back!) for the front not to gape a little, but I found that to be a good thing. Others have noted that the shoulders are wide. That worked for me, but if you have narrow shoulders you may need to alter to compensate. They sat just right on me. The armhole fit was great, though some might find it too close fitting. Might be easily solved by making the top a larger size.

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I found transferring all the markings to the fabric to be tedious, but they yielded a great result. Instead of using chalk or disappearing ink, I did thread marking. I am not sure where I read about that, but I am guessing it all comes down to Susan Khalje. Regardless, it was a simple and effective way to transfer markings to both sides of the fabric in an easy-to-remove way. But tedious.

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The instructions called for a saddle stitch with embroidery floss at the deep hem line, but I just did a machined triple stitch over the basting line. It worked for me, and gave the hem some subtle distinction. I would consider doing something else when I make the yellow dress, but I haven’t decided.

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I made some small belt loops of embroidery floss for the “purchased belt” detail (belt was purchased from a thrift store). I love them together.

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I fully lined the dress with some comfy white rayon challis (also from my stash!). I added lingerie snaps to keep bra straps in line with this wide shouldered dress. I like both the practicality and luxe.

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The invisible zip went in like a charm, though the middle back where the bodice and skirt meet with a pleat meet was a challenge. Meh. It ended up fine so I won’t complain. I like the look, and it wasn’t as poofy as I feared after a brief bit of wear. I thought it was cute, flattering on my pear-shaped self, and easy to make. I look forward to getting a bit more sewing done this week and hopeful progress on the yellow dress, though we have some weekend plans that might halt progress. And so it goes…

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Friday, May 2, 2014

Friday Musings

I just browsed my stash of photos for a topic to share today, but there are so many mostly finished projects but nothing that is really ready to blog about. Lots of house progress, but we’re not into the pretty phase of it yet. Lots of cooking, but mostly my standby recipes and most of those are already up here :) So I guess I will share the things that are swirling around my brain, in no particular order. A couple of these are more superficial than generally occupy my thoughts, but I will forgive myself if you will after this Michigan winter of horrors, and my own personal neglect-of-self that was necessary to survive the Big Move. Delayed maintenance. Not just for houses anymore.

luscious locks

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I am trying to grow my hair out. I have liked it both longer and shorter than it is now, and don’t much care for my current stage in the process (I have good days and bad days). I am looking into exactly what sort of hair care helps it to grow fastest and healthiest. I have never given this topic much thought before. Turns out biotin, in addition to a good multivitamin, is a healthy skin/nails/hair supplement. I am trying to eat better as well to tame the pounds I put on over the past several highly stressful months (hello again, Weight Watchers!), and a healthy balanced diet and exercise (to improve general circulation) are other big factors. One other musing (and I don’t know where I land on this issue yet) is the debate amongst conventional shampoo, sulfate-free shampoo, and no shampoo at all in favor of a baking soda/vinegar regimen. Apparently conventional shampoos are full of sodium laureth sulfate (almost universally the second ingredient by weight), a type of chemical salt that produces the lather we enjoy, but strips the hair of all its natural oils. This is purported to cause follicle damage, oil over-production, and increased breakage… leading to slower growth, more hair fallout and frizz. The sulfate-free shampoos have other dubious substances in them to replace the SLS, lather less, and are considerably more expensive with the jury still out on better performance and acceptable results. The no shampoo (“no poo”) lifestyle has its own potential drawbacks (itchy scalp, greasy/dry hair, undesirable transition period from conventional shampoo) and may also damage hair due to intense pH fluctuation, though it would be hard to find a cheaper hair care solution. I dunno. Boggling.

new house garden and landscape planning

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Our new house has many more flower gardens and true landscaping that our last house. I am excited about this, but also trying to be smart about it. The way it is now, there are BOATLOADS of bulbs and perennials, small and large shrubs, ornamental trees and grasses, and ground cover galore. I have not fully figured out “the plan”, if there is one, to the style we have going on out there. The previous queen of this castle was a wonderful gardener and composter, and she obviously took very good care of her plants. The pool area has some areas clearly used for vegetables. This makes sense since there are many deer in the vicinity and the veggies would be well protected inside the fence. I think I may add some deer-safe plants in new veggie garden yet to be made outside the fence, but that is truly a project for another year.

Other than a few small rectangular areas, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of symmetry. And apparently I like symmetry. There is just so much to work with here that I need to sort out how to keep track of what is here and where it is over the course of this first year of observation, and formulate a plan to gradually move things to places that work for my sensibilities. I want to plant things with a purpose and an eye towards manageable maintenance, so that as the gardens mature and we need to replace the fence or other fixtures, we have something we are working towards to guide our decisions. I would love for the pool space to (one day) be more private with a higher fence or more plant screening, with a couple vine-covered arbor gates for access. I may opt for more shapeable fast growing flowering shrubs like forsythia and lilac to replace some ailing pines that offer a modicum of privacy on one end of the enclosure. A friend just offered me a purple smoke plant that has piqued my interest, so I need to get cracking so I can find it a new home. Nothing has been decided yet, but as Spring is springing, I can’t help but dream.

selfish sewing

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I want to sew a dress for myself. Sort of a birthday present, though I doubt I will manage to finish it before the actual day. But I have a dinner out for my husband’s birthday coming up, and a wedding to attend at the end of May and would love a new frock for that, at the very least. We have been keeping the budget ratcheted waaay down during the whole new-house-home-improvement-aggressive-mortgage transition, but it is becoming increasingly clear that I need some wardrobe updates. I had been reluctant to even thrift for updates until recently (when the ugly reality set in) since I have so many grand plans for sewing. But I found 4 yards of lovely yellow matte satin at one of my favorite local thrift establishments (AA PTO Thrift, for you locals) and have long been fantasizing about Kay Unger’s Vogue 1353. I just picked up the last ingredients and will hopefully make a bodice muslin today. I hope anyway :) I could see myself choosing a different skirt with this bodice (to further minimize attention to the hips, ahem), but I am not sure yet (especially after seeing this finished dress). I will certainly lengthen it, if necessary, to be knee-length on me. I’ll keep you updated…