Sometimes I’m inspiring

I know, I find it a little shocking myself, but occasionally people tell me this. And to you people I say, “Thank you.” Specifically this time to my blogger friend, Elle of Erratic Project Junkie, who nominated me for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Not only did she nominate me, but she did it in the midst of my blogging slothdom. I hardly felt inspiring at that moment, but it was a good catalyst for getting back in the game. So I owe you two thank yous, Elle — one for the award and one for the kick in the pants. If you like my blog, there’s a pretty high likelihood that you’ll like hers as well. She is also eclectic in her craftiness, plus, she and her stepson are voracious readers and post some entertaining book reviews. Go check her out!

And now on to the award stuff. Here’s how it goes:

Rules

  1. Thank and link the amazing person who nominated you.
  2. List the rules and display the award.
  3. Share seven facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
  5. Optional: Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Alrighty, so let’s see what we’ve got here. Thanked and linked, check. Rules listed, check. Award displayed:

The internet said it, so it must be true

The internet said it, so it must be true

Now is the part of the program where you get to learn seven (7) facts about me. I asked Mr. Gren for help in choosing these fascinating tidbits (this is hard!). These are listed in no particular order in terms of importance or interest.

  1. Without ever having studied Italian, I once walked into the train station at Venice, looked at a couple travel posters on the wall, then walked up to the counter and held a conversation in Italian and ordered two tickets to Florence. Mr. Gren continues to be impressed at this, ten years hence.
  2. Also filed under “Self-taught skills”: When I went to college in Tennessee, I didn’t get to watch my beloved Seattle Mariners (baseball team). The Commons at the dorm got a copy of USA Today, though, so I taught myself to read the box scores so that I could mentally recreate the game. That’s why Mr. Gren married me.
  3. I have an elaborate protocol for spider disposal all hinged on my completely rational philosophy on spiders, their habits and evil powers. Mr. Gren didn’t laugh at me when I explained it all to him. That’s why I married him.
  4. There is an extra bone in my left arm just above the elbow. It’s not really that special. It doesn’t do party tricks. Most of the time I forget it’s there until I bang my arm on something. But when I was a kid, my dad said it was magic and rubbed it for good luck.
  5. Although I have traveled all over Europe, I have never been to Canada. It’s a 3 hour drive from my house. Someday when I do go (dream big, Jennifer), I will be sure to wear my red shirt with the white maple leaf that says, “Eh?” It’s da best. canada_large
  6. I don’t use a cell phone. I have one because Mr. Gren forces me to carry it. And I do. Grudgingly. On the extremely rare occasion that I even turn it on (maybe once a month), 99.98% of the time, it’s to call Mr. Gren. My dad learned the hard way that texting me is an exercise in futility.
  7. Last summer, I sat next to Zachary Quinto in the Pittsburgh airport. Ok, not right next to him. Since the waiting area was mostly empty, it would have been way creepers to just plunk down next to him. So I chose a seat four chairs away. I would have taken a picture with my cell phone as proof, but I don’t know how to use it.

zachary quinto

 

Alright, facts have been shared, so it is my great honor and pleasure to nominate more bloggers as inspiring. Here is where I am lame: I don’t even read 15 blogs regularly. And THEN, as I was going through the list of blogs in my blogroll over there on the right, I discovered that a few of them are defunct and/or “taking a hiatus” like somebody else we know. Hmph. So this will be a short list. Let’s see how many I can get. Drumroll, please…

  1. A Dress A Day It’s a little funny nominating Erin for this award because she’s all blog-famous and has written books and a dictionary and stuff. But she really was an inspiration to me when I started reading her years upon years ago. Thanks to Erin, I realized that vintage sewing patterns were a thing, so I can credit her with that addiction. Stemming from that, she inspired me to start sewing for myself in earnest.
  2. LLADYBIRD Lauren is just flat-out awesome. She’s a salty little Southern sailor (ye have been warned), but her sense of humor and style make her blog worth checking out. She has a bit of the same sewing/crafting philosophy as I do — she’s not afraid of trying anything. She taught herself how to knit, you guys, and her very first project was gorgeous little cardigan that was most definitely not a beginner’s project. Mad props, woman. Thanks to her, I was inspired to teach my own self to knit. I’ve still got a ways to go to catch up.
  3. Down to Earth Rhonda has had a major influence on my life, without her even knowing it. She writes of simple living from her home in Australia. I’ve learned so much about gardening, raising chickens, and home arts from her. She has such a gentle, soothing manner of writing, too. Every time I stop by her blog I feel inspired.
  4. YarnChick40 I’ve mentioned Lisa on here before, so naturally she should get a nom. Why? Well, I feel like she and I make each other better. Better crocheters, better bloggers. Not in a competitive kind of way, just totally encouraging and… inspiring.
  5. Did You Make That? Karen has only been sewing for about 4 years, but you would never know it by looking at her blog! She started it as a documentation of her learning process. She has thrown herself into learning everything she possibly can to make herself a better seamstress (sewist).
  6. Mister G Kids Mr. G is a substitute elementary school teacher who hand-draws a little comic based on the funny things he hears kids say in the course of a day. Always a pick-me-up!
  7. Dan Frugalberg features nature photography accompanied by heartfelt poetry, often delving into his faith in Jesus Christ.
  8. Another faith-based blog is my friend Rebekah’s Three Bees in a Blue Bonnet which she uses to examine the motives of her heart as she journeys through life and invites us to do the same.
  9. Now, this next blog I’m about to list is definitely not a fun blog, but I feel like it is an important and necessary one. Clara shares her heartbreaking story in Finding a Healing Place where she urges us to keep our eyes open for the sake of our children so that no more have to suffer the horror of molestation. (Clara has already played an important role in my life by creating the website Silent Grief which helped me through the loss of our first child).
  10. Pfft. I’m petering out here, folks. I think that’s about what I’ve got!

So there you go! I hope you’ll check out some of the above blogs and I hope I can continue to be inspiring in some way. Thanks, Elle!

I heart craigslist, part 1

How do I love thee, craigslist? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when I find a deal that’s just right

For the woeful grammar and hilarious typos.

(With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.)

When my family moved into the log cabin in the Fall of 2011, there was already a table in it, so we put our little kitchen table into storage, along with 75% of our stuff.

When we moved into the cabin in the Fall of 2011, Konik was not quite yet 2 years old and was still in a high chair.

When we were preparing to leave the cabin last fall, we realized that our seats-4 table was going to have to accommodate 5 and, soon enough, a 6th person. No way, no how. Craigslist to the rescue!

Mr. Gren found a solid wood table with double turned legs and three leaves for $30. Caveat: it was in rough shape and desperately needed refinishing. But not enough to scare us off! When we moved into the house, Mr. Gren put the table back together and we ate at it for months, albeit with a tablecloth to hide the ugliness and protect little arms from rough spots. Finally, in May, I was feeling well enough and the weather was dry enough that we felt like we could tackle this project.

Before:

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As you can see, the finish was gone, the veneer on the side was chipped up beyond repair, and some of the “medallions” on the legs had fallen off (although the woman who sold us the table did have a few in a baggy that she gave us). First things first: removing the remaining veneer with a putty knife and a chisel file. Correct tools for the job? Not really. Eventually, we did get every last scrap of veneer scraped off, but not without a few banged-up knuckles.

Little helper

Little helper

Once that was done, we had to sand any remaining varnish off before painting time. Then, Mr. Gren had to reattach the middle pair of legs. Even though they were original to the table, they were too tall and made a hump in the middle of the table. He sawed off and sanded the feet until they were the right height. We also had to match up and glue on the missing leg medallions. So hard to wait through all that when I just wanted to paint! All necessary evils to get to the good stuff. The dry, dark wood took three coats of white paint for a good, bright finish.

The sun was going down, but you get the idea.

The sun was going down, but you get the idea.

All three leaves in

All three leaves in

Do you see that thing? I didn’t measure it exactly, but the table stretches to about 8 feet. Banquet at my house!

After the white paint, things got fiddly again as Mr. Gren meticulously measured and taped out 12″ diamonds from one end of the table to the other which we would paint in a pale blue. In order to keep the measurements correct when we painted, he could only tape out the two outside rows at first, leaving the center blank. Once the paint dried inside those diamonds, he could finish taping out the diamonds down the center. It was tedious work and I love him for it. I love him for other things, too, like washing the dishes, changing light bulbs and killing spiders.

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You may be able to tell that the skirt of the table is also the same pale blue as the diamonds. We wanted it to be a very subtle shade — enough to give the table visual interest, but not a bold slap in the face. When all the blue was dry, I gave it three coats of clear polyurethane for protection and to make clean-up easy. I have four kids; I know it’s not going to look pristine forever, but I can at least give it a head start.

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The back diamonds look discolored, but that was just the light in the dining room. It was really hard to get a picture where the blue showed up!

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As long as my children stop using those horizontal pieces as footrests, we’ll be alright.

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I kinda like blue in the dining room.

I am in love with this table now. Forget odes to craigslist; I need to write an ode to my beautiful table! Every meal feels classier now. Except… notice the mishmash of ugly chairs? Stay tuned for part 2…

Banner Day

Back in the spring, the girls were in a musical production at church. When I found out that some help was needed with props, I volunteered and was assigned the task of creating banners. Other than general dimensions and being told that there needed to be a lion on one of them and “something else” on the other, I had a lot of leeway. Because these banners were to represent two different armies, I turned to heraldry for inspiration. I asked the girls to explain the scene to me on the way to school one morning and they said that the lion was for the good guys, so we needed something appropriately sinister for the bad guys.

“A dragon!” Rana suggested. “With ten heads!”
“No, just three heads, “Granota countered. “We don’t want to make it too hard on Maman.”
I’m glad she was looking out for me.

After dropping them off at school, the boys and I headed to the fabric store. Costume satin just happened to be on sale that week! The lion should look regal and what’s more royal than purple? Especially set on a bright white field. Well, it goes without saying that the bad guys needed a black banner. After much debate, I ended up choosing green for the dragon, not, as might be assumed, because dragons are green, but because it just happened to look the best of the available options.

Next step, choosing the design! With vague ideas in my mind of what I wanted, I did a search on lions in heraldry and found a handful of suitable lions. I let Konik choose which lion would go on the banner. Then, to appease the girls, I did a search on three-headed dragons and found a really cool image of a dragon with three long, writhing necks. Then I saw the same image printed on a t-shirt. And there it was again and again, and why does that guy have it tattooed on his arm? A little investigation and…

Oh. “Game of Thrones.” Guess I’d better not use that dragon.

I settled for a regular ol’ one-headed dragon, but he looks sufficiently ferocious in my eyes. Using the pictures I had found online as a guide, I drew my lion and dragon silhouettes on tissue paper. Before cutting them out of the satin, however, I fused some lightweight interfacing to the back of the purple and green to keep the shapes from fraying once they were cut out. That was a bit of genius if I do say so myself.

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To cut the banners themselves, I used my brand new (ok, Christmas new, but inaugural use) rotary cutter and self-healing mat (Thanks, Mom!). That was kinda fun. I need more stuff to cut all zippy like that…

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The sewing was, y’know, sewing. Basic applique kind of stuff, then seaming the edges of the banner, turn right-side out, yada yada. To construct the standards, I had two sizes of dowels, the sizes of which I have forgotten now. Aren’t I helpful? Ah, but look! I just found my Lowe’s receipt. It says: two 3/4″ oak dowels — those were the poles; and one 7/16″ dowel that we cut in half to put the banners on, like a curtain rod (I say “we” because Mr. Gren cut the dowels down to the right sizes). On the ends of each of the skinny dowels, we screwed a little wooden button to keep the banner from sliding off. On the tops of the thicker poles, Mr. Gren screwed in an eyelet. Then I used a length of cord tied to each end of the skinny dowels and wound twice through the eyelet to hold the whole thing together.

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Result was some pretty nice looking banners. Konik and Granota demonstrate how well they turned out. They looked great in the kids’ play, too, but it was too dark for my little camera to get any good pictures during the performance. And apparently, I didn’t take any photos of just the dragon banner, which is a bummer. But hey, at this point, we’re all just glad I’m writing again, right?

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I’m back, from outer space

So, I’ve been gone a little while. You may have noticed. Rather than get into all the how and why, suffice it to say, it’s been a doozy of a summer with plenty of ups and downs.

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A little sampling of the past few months.

But I think the hiatus (as abrupt as it was) has been good for me. Rana and Granota started school today; I’ve got lots of things to write about; I’ve got an Inspiring Blogger award (thanks, Elle!) to take care of; Sprinkaan doesn’t need to be held 24/7… I have a good feeling about this fall.

Also: New look! Am I sold on it? Not necessarily, but fiddling around with it occasionally kept me connected. Tell me what you think!

Thanks for sticking with me!

Still plugging away

I’m not going to finish the rainbow afghan this month. There, I said it. Things conspired, as they do. We went away for a couple of days, then there was the week leading up to Easter… I got behind on a few things, granny squares included. I have 78 more squares to go and, even though I tend to be overly ambitious and get myself in over my head, even I can admit that I am not going to finish all those squares in two days. Not to mention weave in ends and then sew all the stupid things together (why did I start this project again?). So this UFO is going to have to bleed over into May.

50 squares

50 squares accomplished thus far

Easter 2014: A Dress Odyssey

It is a well-known fact that there is exactly one week between Palm Sunday and Easter. It happens every year. Palm Sunday. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Easter. I know this in my head. The crafty portion of my brain is, however, disconnected from logic and basic chronological concepts (maybe this is why I couldn’t tell time until junior high? Even now, my grasp is tenuous at best). Last week — Palm Sunday — I thought, “I should make the girls Easter dresses! I’ll choose a simple pattern; it won’t be too hard. I can sew two dresses in a week.”

What a week it was.

Monday: After dropping the girls at school, the boys and I hit the fabric store. Sprinkaan slept, and Konik was engaged up until I changed my mind about the two bolts of fabric I had been carting around with us. Then I split my time between choosing new fabric that I liked better and playing hide-and-seek with the boy who had had his fill of fabric. “I wish you would have just left me in the car!”

Monday is my laundry day, so I got the fabric washed and dried while I traced off the pattern pieces for Granota and cut out the larger size for Rana. All in all, a pretty productive day.

The pattern I chose

The pattern I chose

Tuesday: This was to be my big sewing day after taking the girls to school. Right out of the gate, Tuesday did not go as planned. I had all the kids ready to go, piling out the back door as I pushed the garage door opener. When I came out, I found the kids standing in front of the open garage door with confused and helpless expressions.

 

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Houston, we have a problem

It was jammed and I couldn’t get it open more than about a foot and a half. Looks like we’re walking to school today, kids! Except that, I had allotted enough time for driving to school, not walking, so we were definitely going to be late. Also, Granota had a field trip first thing that morning. I ran inside to call the school and was surprised to be greeted so enthusiastically by the school secretary until, as I regaled her with the trials and tribulations that had beset us, she paused and then informed me that I had called the girls’ old school. We laughed and I assured her that we would not be walking the 20 miles to that school. I called the current school, told my story again and this secretary told me that the buses for the field trip would leave at 9:00, could we make it? “I think so!”

Before we could leave, I had to get the stroller which… was in the car which was stuck in the garage. So I performed a little Indiana Jones homage, belly crawling under the garage door to get it out. Then four kids and I hustled our hind ends to that school! We arrived just as the kindergartners were lining up outside for their field trip. Whew! I gave Konik a piggyback part of the way home while I pushed the stroller (and later perched him on the handlebar). By the time we got home, we were both beat and sewing was the last thing on my mind. Whether it was from that unplanned jog to school or what, Konik got sick later that afternoon, throwing up everywhere. No sewing that day.

Wednesday: I still didn’t trust Konik’s belly, so I was keeping a close eye on him; Rana woke up with a fever, so I decided to keep her home from school. But when I went to take Granota, once again, the garage door got stuck despite Mr. Gren having fixed it the night before. I told her that she would just have to stay home, too, that day. The difference between Tuesday and Wednesday: Tuesday was warm and sunny; Wednesday was rainy with two sick kids. The two sick kids perked up by lunchtime, but it was still raining, so they were all stuck inside. No sewing that day, either.

Thursday: We got smart and parked the car outside the night before so there would be no issues getting children to school. I got about a third of the way through Granota’s dress. It occurred to me that I haven’t really sewn anything in months. I felt rusty and slow.

Friday: Panic was beginning to set in. I had to get these dresses done. I finished Granota’s and, miraculously, things were moving a bit faster with Rana’s. When Mr. Gren left for work that night, he asked me how late I was going to stay up sewing. “Until I start making mistakes,” I replied. One thing that I figured was pretty mistake-proof was putting in the gathering stitches, so I took every piece that needed gathering and did that. By the time I went to bed, all the individual pieces were ready to be put together.

Saturday: Whether it was having made the pattern once already or just another Easter miracle, I was able to finish up Rana’s dress in just two more hours. I sewed the buttons on both dresses right before I went to bed. Down to the wire! I still excel under pressure, Mom.

Easter Sunday:

In the tradition of family Easter photos the world over, Rana hams it up, Granota looks stiff and unnatural and Konik wonders what's going on.

In the tradition of family Easter photos the world over, Rana hams it up, Granota looks stiff and unnatural and Konik wonders what’s going on.

The fabric for Rana’s dress was called “rose sorbet” and Granota’s was “spring medley.” Cheery, no? It’s hard to see, but there are little rick-rack-bordered patch pockets on the dresses. (I did not make Konik’s suit — it’s on loan from my dear friend, V. Thanks!)

More Easter ham

More Easter ham

Yoke detail with rick-rack and ball buttons.

Yoke detail with rick-rack and ball buttons.

All four chilluns

All four chilluns

I did make the suit that Sprinkaan is wearing; Konik wore it for his first Easter! It’s a little blue and white seersucker overall and jacket.

Sprinkaan in his big brother's Easter suit. Making it look good!

Sprinkaan in his big brother’s Easter suit. Making it look good!

And a close-up of the baby, because he’s adorable and photogenic and actually smiles for his pictures.

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What I learned last week is that I can, in fact, sew two little Easter dresses in six days, however, it’s not really enjoyable and I could benefit from a little planning ahead. Easter 2015 is April 5th (you’re welcome), so I ought to start March 5th, to accommodate sick children, garage door mishaps and whatever else might come my way. I might even have time to sew something new for myself! (Hush, Jennifer, that’s just crazy talk)

UFO #2: Peasant blouse

Oh youse guys.

This is bad. Like, really bad.

This peasant blouse was supposed to have been a transitional maternity top for me last spring/summer. And in that respect, I made an excellent choice in pattern (Butterick 5217 for anyone who really cares).

Guys, I can't see my toes.

Guys, I can’t see my toes.

When I put it away last spring, or, more accurately, when it just sat in a lump on my table for months on end, I had already sewn the yoke together, constructed the sleeves, and had sewn the front and back together. I even put French seams in this bad boy! All I had to do was put the above-mentioned pieces together and it would have been done! But…

I decided that beige linen was boring. It needed something to spruce it up, give it a little visual interest. I found some kind of whirly fiddly little design that I wanted to embroider on the yoke. For Christmas, Mr. Gren had given me one of those fading ink fabric pens. I drew on the fiddly little design and set to work. When I was 80% done with it, I left on my trip back East. That was the last time I touched it. The ink had faded by the time I returned and, for some reason, despite my growing belly, I had no interest or inclination in finishing this particular project.

I got the embroidery 95% completed this time before I decided I didn't care anymore.

I got the embroidery 95% completed this time before I decided I didn’t care anymore.

And let’s face it, peeps, my embroidery skillz ain’t so hot. But the whole project was hung up on me finishing the embroidery before attaching the yoke and bodice, otherwise I’d embroider through the yoke facing and I needed all the ugly side to be sandwiched between the two layers of fabric where it would be protected from unraveling. So I got to this point and went, “Eh, less is more” and sewed the yoke and bodice together.

Then I thought it would be fun to try it on.

i haz a sad.

i haz a sad.

You’ve heard the phrase “sad sack”? Now you have a visual reference. This is a sad sack. No, I take that back. This sack is downright depressed.

Plenty of room to grow! Except... baby was born 4 months ago.

Plenty of room to grow! Except… baby was born 4 months ago.

The plan was that this could serve me through pregnancy yet also be something that wasn’t overtly maternity and even have an extended life as a cute top postpartum and beyond. Obviously that’s not gonna happen.

“What about belting it?” you ask. I asked myself the same question and tried it out with a belt. They’re all worse. Laughably worse.

There's no helping this atrocity.

There’s no helping this atrocity.

Baby Sprinkaan was asleep in my room at the time of the photo, so I couldn’t get to my belt, but you get the general idea. Cinching in the waist does strange and unflattering things to the bust region. The heck is up with those pleats?? There really isn’t any point in attaching the sleeves now. In fact, this UFO is destined for the scrap basket. I think there is enough fabric in the bodice that I could make something for one of the kids; I just haven’t hit on that something yet.

Next up on Disasters in Linen…

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I unpacked it recently to find a large, yellow stain on the front. It looked like mustard, but surely I would have noticed that when I packed it away? I ran it through the washing machine. Heh. Not only did the stain not come out, this happened:

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It’s unsalvageable. There are two more rips like this on the skirt. The peasant blouse makes me laugh. This one actually does make me sad. So, I’ll be clipping all the buttons off and throwing this one in the scrap heap, too. {sigh}

Enough of that. Next up in the quest to conquer my UFOs:

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I’d better get a move on.

 

 

 

 

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