Monday, June 28, 2010

Seven habits of the (in)effective quilter, or, "It only took thirteen years!"

Why am I so happy? I finally finished a quilt!

I started this one back in 1997. Yeah, you read that right. Thirteen years ago. The year I graduated from college. (No, it does not take thirteen years to make a quilt. It does require a lot of procrastination. And you may have to box it up and move it eight times in that interim, along with needles, a quilting hoop, various threads, and the meticulously cut but not-yet-applied binding. It is a testament to my hoarding that I kept that binding fabric for all of those years.)

The color scheme and fabric choice for this quilt were inspired by my grandmother Wendy Joy, known as "Nanny" to her grandchildren and many others. She loved American folk art like only a woman born and raised in England could! She was a London girl who became a World War II G.I. bride. She came to the U.S. as a young woman. She was an accomplished needlewoman, and could have made this quilt in two days, and done a much better job than I did! She loved traditional quilt designs, blue willow pottery, and red barns. She always called me her "Bicentennial Baby," because I was born in 1976. I was able to show her this quilt right before she died, about thirteen years ago now, when I had just started hand-quilting it. She assured me that I would get the hang of hand-quilting with a little practice, and she was right. Thirteen years later, my hand-quilting stitches look pretty good!

This quilt has gathered dust for years at a time, but I always knew I would finish it. One day.

Well, apparently I just needed a little motivation - a new baby in the family! This is going to my neice, baby Helen Elizabeth. I even stitched her initials into the corner.

But first, I had to try it out, of course. Joe and Crouton give it their stamp of approval as well.


And now, without further ado:

Seven Habits of the (In)Effective Quilter*
  1. Always plan large quilts. The (in)effective quilter is not interested in wall hangings, doll quilts, or small baby blankets.
  2. Select a difficult patchwork pattern, preferably one with small triangular pieces. Then become overwhelmed at the sight of piles of rotary-cut triangles all over your house.
  3. Adopt two rowdy, badly behaved dogs. They will make basting your giant, complex quilt damn-near impossible because every time you try to lay it out on the floor, they will decide to have a wrestling match on top of it.
  4. Hand-quilt everything, because you love that old-timey look. The (in)effective quilter looks down her nose at machine quilting and scoffs at "tying off."
  5. Decide to hand-quilt your large, complex quilt with dense, closely-spaced stitches.
  6. Frequently give up in despair, fold up your quilt, and let it collect dust for a year or more.
  7. Rather than working on your half-finished quilt, plan a new quilt.
* (Thanks to Anne's mom for this idea!)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Not-Quite-Weekly Update.

This week:
  1. I made "Honey Oatmeal Bread," (from Secrets of a Jewish Baker, of course) which is a sweet white bread with cooked oatmeal included for moisture and a little flavor. But this time, I got brave and substituted some white whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour. Result: Light, slightly nutty, sandwich-bread goodness. Yum!
  2. I hung several loads of wash on the line! Frugal, and so nice to look at!
  3. I brought my lunch to work three days this week, and even resisted buying afternoon coffee and cookies. More frugality! Yay!
  4. Then, I blew everything I saved and (quite a bit) more on a new power cord for my Macbook. Boo.
  5. Joseph has learned to take off his shoes and hand them directly to Crouton, who, as you may recall, finds shoes to be irresistibly delectable. Crouton appreciates the hand-delivery of  tasty bite-sized chew-toys, but I do not. Crouton has chewed two pairs of Joe's shoes already and would be happy to add more of these small morsels to his collection.
  6. I have visited the nibling, a.k.a. "Helly-Belly," several times now. She even opened her eyes once! My sister is doing wonderfully with breastfeeding and adjusting to new motherhood. She's a natural. Of course.
  7. I am listening to an audio version of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and it is simultaneously beautiful and possibly, one of the most boring novels I have ever read. It's a good thing it's really short.
  8. Before I blew my shoe budget on a new power cord for my laptop and new shoes for Joe, I was drooling over these beauties. But Joe would probably just give them to Crouton anyway.
  9. I worked, worked, and worked some more this week. Things have been very busy at my day-job! But I prefer things to be very busy to very slow, generally, because when I'm busy, there is never any doubt about what I need to do next. (There, I said it. Braces self for enormous flood of new assignments.)
  10. Once again, I donned a suit to discuss marijuana. I love my job.
  11. Nonetheless, I might actually finish a quilt this weekend! Now, that would be something to report! Note: I seem to enjoy starting quilts, but not finishing them.
  12. Other possibly over-ambitious plans for this weekend: Clean out back "bedroom," which is teeny-weeny (too small for a bed, in fact), and also known as the "den o' crap." Make more bread. Visit nibling. Go on second (!) date night with Steve ever since Joe was born!
Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Adventures in Preston, California.

On Sunday, Rebecca, Joseph Roscoe, and I journeyed up to North Sonoma County to attend a Sacred Harp singing in the historic town of Preston, California, near Cloverdale. After driving ninety miles on Highway 101 (is it just me, or has CalTrans been doing road construction on 101 through San Rafael and Santa Rosa since the dawn of time?), we finally pulled off the freeway into a lonely area near the Russian River and drove up a steep rocky driveway in low gear to a beautiful rundown wooden church surrounded by fruit trees and grape vines in the middle of oak woodlands.

The town of Preston was founded by faith healer and charismatic leader Emily Preston around 1875. Madame Emily Preston sounds like quite a character! She could supposedly see through people with her "X-ray" eyes. She also specialized in patent medicines with high alcohol content (that's my kind of "faith healing"!). (More here.)

She does have a "piercing" gaze, doesn't she?

Madame Preston's faith community, which incorporated beliefs from several religions, gathered to worship at the "Church of Heaven on Probation." (ETA: I don't understand whether it was the church or heaven that is on probation.) The community of Preston is a reminder that the connection between California and fringy "New Age" beliefs is an old one! My favorite part of her creed: "We believe in inspiration and that it lets us read out of the book of life that is printed in the air everywhere." Um, okaaaaay. ( I sure hope the book of life is better-written than this creed.)

Here's a photo I found of the church taken around 1886:

And here is the church today (thanks to Chris Thorman for taking this photograph). The inside of the church has been lovingly restored by local residents, but the church retains its pleasantly decaying facade (however, that clock tower is fully functioning!):

It was a scorching hot day, more than ninety degrees in the shade. Inside the dark but nonetheless very warm church, we fanned ourselves to keep cool, and sang (wonderfully grammatical) hymns, keeping the tempo brisk and lively! Here is Rebecca leading a song:

Joseph is going through some rough separation anxiety these days, and can often be found clinging desperately to my person, no matter how hot and sweaty the weather. When I lead my first song, he sat at my feet, arms wrapped around my legs (which made turning to lead in the parts a little awkward), staring suspiciously at the front bench tenors, with an expression that said "Don't you dare try to smile at me!"

After an hour or so, he became more confident, and began to explore the church. He quickly located one of his favorite objects, a broom! (What can I say? Joe is a Taurus with a Virgo moon and Virgo rising - of course he loves to clean! I wonder if Madame Preston put any stock in astrology?)

We ate an amazing potluck meal under huge spreading Valley Oaks. Joe reverted to shy Joe, and sat in my lap and whined when I tried to peel his sticky sweaty body off my person for just long enough to eat my meal. I will admit, this separation-anxiety phase is making me feel a little claustrophobic! Here's his worried face:

But by the end of the day, he had morphed from static-cling baby to his more usual boldly destructive persona. Typical Joe! He spent the rest of the afternoon playing in the sprinklers, trying to grab the recording equipment, stealing everyone's water bottles (and banging them around), climbing on pews, and sneaking snacks from the snack table. Once he had warmed up to the crowd, Joe enjoyed riding on Hal's shoulders and riding James' flip-flop like a skateboard. He even sang along a couple of times!

What a fun adventure!

More information about Sacred Harp, photos of singing, and photos of Joe's exploits in Preston can be found here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Care package for the new nursing mom.

I was born into an American Sikh ashram where women routinely waited on new mothers for a period of 40 days after the birth, a duty they referred to as sevadar. After my mother gave birth to my sister and I, she was assisted by the other women in her community, and she in turned performed this duty for new mothers in her ashram. My mother believes (and this idea is shared by Ina May Gaskin and others who have lived in communal arrangements) that this strong social support greatly reduced the incidence of postpartum depression in the ashram.

When Joseph was born, my mother flew out the next day, and fell right into this "postpartum doula" role for me. She cooked and cleaned, made sure I always had a full glass of water or iced fennel tea at my side, ran interference with the endless stream of visitors, cooed over little Joseph, and generally just did whatever needed to be done while I recuperated from the birth and adjusted to my new role as mama. What I found most helpful was not that my mother "helped" with Joseph - it was that she took care of me, so that I could care for and bond with my baby. Words can't describe how much I appreciated her help during those days!

My Mom is coming down again to visit baby Helen, but unfortunately her visit is not scheduled for ten days yet, so she will not be my sister's postpartum doula in the very first week as she was for me (instead, she will be around to help during the traditionally fussy period that usually begins around two weeks, which I'm sure will also be very helpful!).

So basically, I better step up to the plate! When I get off work today, I plan to visit my sister and her brand new baby. Taking a page from my mother's book, I hope to provide a little gentle, quiet, background help with cooking, cleaning, and attending to my sister, rather than simply add another "visitor" to the steady stream of visitors that always accompanies the arrival of a new baby! This is the kind of support that a new mom needs most. Like my mother, I don't believe that new moms need help with their babies - rather, I believe that they need help with their day-to-day tasks, so that they can take care of the baby.

With this in mind, here are some items for a care package for the new nursing mother:
  1. Breastfeeding ergonomics. Before Helen was born, I gave my sister some basic breastfeeding supplies that I found helpful for comfortable nursing. Specifically, I gave her a My Brest Friend nursing pillow, that was handed down to me by my friend Janet, and the Medela Nursing Stool. I offered our glider, but my sister worried that she didn't have enough space. None of these items is strictly necessary - you can use a regular chair and bed pillow for nursing, and put your feet up on whatever is handy. However, considering that new mothers can expect to spend the first month of their baby's life nursing for 45 minute long stretches every two to three hours, day and night, I strongly believe that it's worth spending a little money for some items that will make that more comfortable and less of a strain on your neck and back! I have a feeling that my sister will "make room" for the glider, too.
  2. Nipple treatments. I also gave my sister a baggy with a selection of nipple treatments for her hospital bag (it's unlikely she will need any of these during her hospital stay, but they don't take up much room): Some Lansinoh pure lanolin ointment for general conditioning, some poly-sporin ointment for sore or cracked nipples, and clotraminazole in case of thrush (heaven forbid!). Finally, I gave her a package of Medela Hydrogel Pads. These are simply heaven for sore nipples, which are unfortunately, especially common in fair-skinned Irish lasses like ourselves! Of course, olive-skinned and darker-skinned mothers often have no problems in this regard, and don't need any treatments - lucky ladies!
  3. Mama's Milky Tea. I know that when I first started nursing, I was insanely thirsty, all the time. I would get especially parched right after Joe latched on and my milk let down, which is an exceedingly inconvenient time to get up and get yourself a glass of water (although I have gotten pretty good at walking around with a baby attached to my breast, this is an acquired skill). One of the most useful services you can do for a new nursing mother is to make sure that they have a full glass of water at their elbow at all times. My mother recommends drinking fennel seed tea when you are starting out breastfeeding, to ensure a good milk supply and reduce gassiness and colic in your baby. Fennel tea is made by boiling one heaping tablespoon of fennel seeds per quart of water, for 20 minutes or so on the stove. If milk supply is an issue, you can add a pinch of fenugreek seeds to the fennel. Drink by the quart. Fennel tea can be served warm or iced, with milk and honey as desired, and I'll be making up a GIANT batch of it for my sister tonight.
  4. Moby Wrap or Sling. Joseph loved snoozing in the Moby as a newborn. It was so snug, I almost felt like I was pregnant again! A wrap or sling can help a new mother get up and putter around the house a bit while satisfying her newborn baby's insatiable desire for close contact. Lifesaver.
  5. Foods for milk production. Breastfeeding mothers need lots of calories! Whole grains and starchy foods are especially good for establishing a strong milk supply. When my mother was staying with us after Joe was born, she made me: Whole wheat bread (from scratch, duh), sweet and creamy tapioca pudding, potato soup, lots of hot seven-grain cereal, oven-roasted chicken thighs, lentils, and mung beans and rice. And that is just what I remember - there was a steady stream of delicious food coming from my kitchen. I don't know if tapioca pudding really increases milk supply as my mother claims, but (a) I will never refuse tapioca pudding; and (b) I actually suffered from oversupply with Joseph, so it's possible it worked all too well!
  6. And last but not least, BEER! The occasional beer is good for your milk supply (and sanity)! I ask (quoting Hank from King of the Hill): Is there anything beer can't do? A hoppy beer or a pint of Guinness is traditional.
Of course, this is just a start. Any other suggestions for supporting new nursing mothers?

    Thursday, June 10, 2010


    * That's what my friend Melissa calls nieces and nephews. You know, niece/nephew + sibling = nibling. Ha.

    Meet Helen Elizabeth! Ain't she beautiful? I love her!!

    My sister and the nibling are doing wonderfully. I'm so proud!


    Here is my sister, two days ago, trying to hold a squirming Joe over her giant belly.

    Joe's reaction: "This woman doesn't have any hips for me to sit on!! (But her breasts are nice.)" 

    I just heard that my sister is in labor!

    Joe is about to meet his cousin outside the womb!

    We're pulling for you, kiddo! (By which I mean my sister, but hey, the lil' kiddo too!)

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    Portraits of Joe, by Katie.

    A couple of weeks ago, my dad and lovely stepmother Katie Cooney came up to visit us from San Jose. Joe had been under the weather for a couple of days, battling high fevers that we thought must be roseola, but the characteristic rash never appeared.

    Steve was out of town, and I had been taking care of a sick baby all by myself for almost 48 hours before they arrived. Which is to say, Dad and Katie arrived to a very frazzled mama, and a fussy baby boy.

    But Katie is a professional photographer. And hot diggety, she is good. She took a whole CD of gorgeous photos of my baby boy Joe. You would never guess from these photos that Joe was feverish and fussy. Instead, she made him seem like a pensive, shy, thoughtful baby! (Note: In real life, not so much!):

    And this:

    Gramps and Joe!:

    And then Steve came home. My boys:

    And my personal favorite:

     Omie and I look pretty good too! (Omie, get your snout out of that ashy chiminea! Ooh, I just noticed Crouton's little snout in the bottom right corner. Counting mine, there are three snouts in this photo!)

    And then she got all fancy - Joe in black and white, with soft focus! (Katie, could we do one of me like this? I want to look like an old Hollywood movie star!)

     I could look at these all day. If this is Joe in a bad mood, just imagine what Katie could do with a baby in a good mood!

    Thanks Katie!

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    Big day! Joe meets Miles, and discovers a leaky faucet.

    This past Sunday, Joe and I traveled down to East San Jose to visit with my friends Melissa and Robin, and their baby Miles. I met Melissa and Robin many years ago, through our mutual good friend E., and for a couple of years, we all lived in Los Angeles and enjoyed afternoon pints together with some frequency. Now Melissa and Robin live in Brooklyn, with their seven month old baby Miles, but Melissa is one of my best friends and email buddies. We exchange emails daily about life, babies, and work. Melissa and Robin blog about their experiences with Miles at their blog, Miles and Moms. Check it out, but be warned: this blog contains dangerously high levels of EXTREME CUTENESS (and good writing!).

    Since we are in such frequent contact, it's hard to believe that we had never met each other's babies in the flesh! Sunday's get-together, at Melissa's aunt and uncle's place, finally fixed that. Let it be said: Miles is even cuter in real life than in photos!! He is a smiling, sweet, outgoing baby, with deep blue peepers! He also has the most extraordinarily chubby feet. They are more like spheres of chub than feet, with little spherical chubby toes attached. I really had to try not to eat them. Yum.

    Me and Miles (how nice to hold a cute lil' munchkin again! Joe is so huge I can barely do this with him anymore!):

    Joe was a little clingy and needy, especially for the first couple of hours, while he got used to being around so many new people. He's going through some separation anxiety these days, plus, he cut two teeth (molars!) on Monday, so that might have been a factor as well. But after he relaxed a little, he had a blast exploring Aunt Debbie and Uncle Barry's back yard, which is a veritable Joe playground, featuring cool river rocks to throw, Duke the giant husky, pet turtles, a sprinkler, and, his favorite discovery: a leaky faucet!

    (Dangnabbit, that child is beautiful.)

    Exhausted by all of this fun, Joe nursed and took an (exceedingly rare) public nap, right on the picnic blanket, with people chatting and milling about all around him. He hasn't done this since he was a wee pup. Now Melissa will never believe me when I whine about how hard it is to get this kid to nap!

    It was a beautiful day! I'm sad that Melissa, Robin, and Miles are back in Brooklyn now, but I'm plotting a NYC trip for our family this fall ... watch out M., M., and R.! Here we come! (Also, watch out, Nami!)

    Aside: Melissa's Aunt Debbie has the biggest, most beautiful tomato plants in her front yard! They are something to behold! I am inspired by her public veggie gardening, and also, envious of her East San Jose sunshine!

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    Why I don't usually blog about style and body-image ...

    Because body-image, feminism, and fashion can be really tricky subjects to discuss!* But I totally love reading other people's blogs about these subjects, and do so regularly. Sally McGraw's blog Already Pretty is one of my favorites - I love Sally's style and sass - and I read it regularly.  Earlier this week, I commented on her post about figure flattery. The way she and other commenters discussed "minimizing" or "de-emphasizing" certain body parts as part of their approach to flattery just made me feel a little sad - I love good style, and I love to see women in clothes that fit them and accentuate their best features, but I wish women didn't feel the need to constantly "minimize" or "de-emphasize" certain areas of their body in order to make them better conform to some kind of societal ideal (the tall and thin yet busty woman, or something like that).

    Well, okay, my comment wasn't quite that articulate (it said something like, "um ... I dunno, but ..."), but that was the gist. Sally responded, and I responded back.

    Sally thought my comment was interesting and wanted to open up further discussion on the topic, which can be found here.

    Sally has some great insights, and points out that honestly assessing your body type can help you pick clothes that make you feel great about yourself. I totally agree! I also stick to my original point, which is that we need to be nice to ourselves and our bodies - in doing that, it's good to speak nicely to and of our bodies. Our bodies are lovely and serviceable and deserving of gratitude, even if they don't always fit the societal ideal. (Which, by the way, is a completely insane ideal, but that's a subject for another post!) I love it when a woman really "owns" her shape and revels in her body, especially when her body doesn't fit society's (totally arbitrary) ideal. That's awesome. Confidence is hot.

    And now, back to our regularly scheduled program of gardening, cooking, bread-baking, and parenting, with occasional brief references to feminism and fashion!

    *Also, I wear the same things all the time! I don't have the energy for a personal style blog, although I think they are super fun to read.