Copper · Marriage · Parenting · Relationships · Self Improvement · Simple Living · Sound of Music · Wool

Restoration

I avoid making too many resolutions for each new year because it is unlikely I will follow any one particular regimen for more than a few months. The breakup is rarely painful but the consequences tend to far outlast my seasons of limited success. Hence, the assortment of sizes in my closet, the juicer in my basement, and two dozen underappreciated, free-from-everything hair products initially purchased to replace my toxic hairspray (damn you, 1980s). Instead, I try to institute small, cost effective changes which promise to improve my overall quality and fulfillment of life.  Since January, I’ve committed to restorative daily walks during which I check-out from daily chaos and check-in with my contemplative self. On occasions when others have asked where I’m headed (as I’m slipping into sneakers or slipping out of the office), I have shared my intentions and now find amusement in their regurgitated versions of ‘restorative’ as they lightheartedly mimic my seemingly deluded, if not noble mission. Upon further reflection, I acknowledge that restoration, or the repair of something in need, is a concept that should come easily to me, a natural born fixer of situations (and per my delusion, people). Easily it may come-until my possessions (or I) are the primary and oft impractical subjects of reconstruction.
If I am forced to suggest what, if anything, might set this year apart from all of the others, I would attribute the likelihood of my future success to several things including aging, middling wisdom, health concerns, financial woes, GMOs, current events, and perhaps even the weather (worth noting: I omitted hair loss because it’s self inflicted. Refer to first paragraph).
Essentially, shit just got real.
And when that happens, I turn to (as I assume most of us do) what is familiar and comfortable, if not always in prime shape or working order. It calls to mind a never ending debate I have with Paul over old things versus new things. Like many, I am a frequent buyer of replacement items which, until now, I have attributed to a personal failure to prioritize quality over quantity. My penchant for purchasing more items than I need, each at a veritable steal, is what Paul considers the sinking of our ship caused by influential albeit tiny holes. And while I’m careful to refrain from reducing my shortcomings to events or practices related to my childhood, I’ll admit to having limited knowledge of, or experience with purchasing the best of anything. I hail from regular folk who afforded me the necessities of life, if not the name brand bling I thought I needed. Paul’s upbringing was much the same, save for a pricier neighborhood and a proclivity for well-researched purchases on far fewer occasions. My Christmas mornings were vastly different from his, but not in the way you might imagine. My parents had the magical ability to turn limited holiday resources into towers of wrapped treasures (many of which were handmade) for each of their five children. Conversely, Paul and his sister received far fewer gifts,  but each with a more significant retail value and long term purpose.  And still today, he begrudgingly succumbs to a bevy of festively wrapped gifts (purchased at a veritable steal) placed under the tree after midnight for our two (grown ass) children (what? talk to Santa, it’s all him).
Do not be fooled however, into believing that Paul has assumed the role of discerning and prudent shopper. On many occasions, his typical response to the discovery that something we own is faulty or in disrepair (“everything I own is shit“) is consistent with his unwillingness (a little bit cheap) and financial inability (pretty much broke) to buy the better, more trustworthy replacement of said object. The result of our imperfections often finds us in a bit of an it’s-not-worth-fixing-but-we’re-not-buying-a-better-one conundrum.  Whether we’re debating the replacement of one toaster or seventeen windows, the toll taken by such exhaustive dialogue occasionally finds us in the gardening aisle of Lowe’s or the gourmet aisle of Home Goods where reduced price perennials or past-its-prime pasta will serve as temporary panaceas.
And though I’ve been diligent in my more recent attempts toward self improvement, I’ve been careful not to impose expectations on others to follow suit. Much to my surprise and delight, Paul has recently (and somewhat inexplicably) discovered an aptitude for home improvement and repair. Summer of 2016 is referred to in our home as the summer of the deck, and I’m certain Paul wishes the replacement of it took less time, less money, easier trials, and fewer errors. Nonetheless the new and improved version stands unscathed by winter 2017 and serves as proof not only in the intrinsic value of restoration, but also confirms that now- at least one thing we own isn’t shit.
In fairness, I should mention that in the first two decades of our (almost three decades long) marriage, we were exclusively a hand-me-down furniture kind of household. To date, very few items we own were actually purchased by us and of those, only a few came from proper furniture stores. We were recyclers by necessity, not by trend. So you see, the opportunities for preservation were limited. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to an insatiable longing for a real and complete bedroom set. New is not important to me and I quite fancy the idea of owning a piece of someone else’s boudoir history. For now however, our clothing rests securely in steel drawer units similar to those you might find in a doctor’s office. The downside for some might be their industrial heft and color (think muddy putty- which I kind of like), but the upside is the reliable ease with which they open and close, not to mention the (locking) safety of their contents (because one can never be too cautious about the integrity of  undergarments in an earthquake). If and when I hit the Powerball jackpot, I know just where to keep the windfall.

You might be wondering where I’m going with all of this and why I have chosen to air my laundry for all who visit the blogosphere. Each day I struggle a little bit less to ascertain the answer. Today, it is for the same reason that I revisited an old favorite pastime of mine- turning outdated wool garments into new and functional mittens- because Dear Readers, the true value of something only becomes evident when we are willing to look beneath its surface. In doing so, I am painfully reminded of a younger me who railed against hand-me-down fashions from older siblings (oh, what I wouldn’t give now for those hand-embroidered denims!).
If much of this seems rather obvious to you, perhaps my stubbornness is what prevents me from quickly learning what many of you already know. What is not lost on me however, is the clever timing of these little revelations in my own life that seem to whisper of Divine intervention. I didn’t wear glasses until mid-life and much like the early resolutions I made, the first glasses I chose were poor in both quality and effectiveness, but aesthetically they offered the bling I thought I needed (sound familiar?).  I expect it was by design that around the same time I reluctantly surrendered to a need for progressive lenses, I was also suddenly and remarkably able to see with clarity a number of opportunities in the once seemingly hopeless challenges for which I prayed and sought resolution.
When I reflect upon my more recent shift toward embracing what is already mine and familiar, I am forced to consider what may have prevented me from doing so in the past, and here is what I know:
At around the same time my first attempts toward self improvement began, Paul and I were suffering the harsh, unspoken realities of empty nesting. We missed our kids tremendously (though differently) and welcomed independent distractions. The unfortunate result of separately dealing (or not) with the vacancies they left was, for both of us, a seemingly irreversible preference for solitude. I’m convinced that a great many of the feelings we couldn’t admit to having are still buried today under backyard perennials and between the stitched layers of indoor projects.
Recently and perhaps coincidentally, Paul started cleaning out the basement. In doing so, he unearthed a few items inherited from his beloved family members. Idly they sat, collecting dust for a decade or two, awaiting our readiness to use or lose them. We seem to have a penchant for misplacing the ones we intended to use (has anyone seen our ginormous framed and mounted oxen yoke?), and a proclivity for harboring coffee pots, lots of them. Among the items that now sit in neatly organized sections of storage, I spied an old copper tea kettle that appealed to me. It, like the copper cookware he inherited, reminds me of old bedtime rituals and one particular song my children requested I sing repeatedly (with little regard for what exactly, music should sound like). Thankfully, they were my only audience and cared more about the lyrics than the accuracy of its delivery
(Julie Andrews: what exactly do you call that key you’re singing in?   Me: nailed it.).
Much to my delight, Paul took it upon himself to spend the better part of a recent Saturday to give new life to the kettle. Arduously he scraped, polished, and buffed it until it bore no resemblance to its old dysfunctional self. He did the same for an old bugle he recovered among Christmas lights and coffee pots and it now sits proudly atop our new and handcrafted mantel (the handiwork of the same crafty imposter now posing as my husband). Unfortunately, many of the restored old copper pieces are no longer safe to use for modern cookware. Nonetheless, I find them charming in their duplicity and they make for great conversation pieces (because I need help starting one, said no one ever).


Today’s walk left me with some unanswered questions about the state of our home and our hearts, and I accept that I might never know precisely what kindled our more immediate needs to recover, renew, and restore some of the neglected remnants of our past. Perhaps the real and somewhat terrifying truths of middle life afforded both of us the clarity to recognize the extraordinary value in the ordinary and the familiar. But the momentum is palpable and I hope we might continue to bring new life and new meaning to the mundane.
At this moment in time, of this I am certain Dear Readers;
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens are indeed
a few of my favorite things.

Warm Woolen Mittens

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Christian Writing · Cold Process Soap Making · Gardening · Memoir · Self Improvement · Simple Living

Hail to the Marys

I was raised to be a Catholic Christian Woman (I could be more of all three, but that’s fodder for another post) and inherently, prayerfulness is simply part of who I am. In fact, I’m certain prayers were being delivered to me in utero by the same great women who helped guide my faith, even before I knew what faith was. For many, discussing religion might garner a similar reaction to what I expect many of you thought upon observing the title of this post and specifically, the spelling of “Marys” above. I’m guessing you thought something just doesn’t seem right about that, and I get it But, one’s dedication to spelling and/or religion is significantly shaped by what we’ve learned and how much effort we’re willing to spend on education and growth. I confess that I’ve foolishly spent too much time learning about one and not the other and thus, despite its strange appearance, I can assure you that ‘Marys‘ is spelled correctly. But, I digress.

My to-do list of self-improvement tasks is longer than winter 2017 in New York (and almost as long as this post –Reader, beware) and however counterintuitive it may seem, I am both daunted and motivated in equal measure. Challenging myself to be better at something always offers greater motivation when the end result stands to benefit a recipient other than myself -simply because failure seems less of an option. Such was/is the case with my latest foray into making soap at home. I have a long history with soap- fifteen years in the making (or not making as was the case), but the making part didn’t occur until I finally succumbed to the formidable and mysterious lye. For those of you with science brains and nerves of steel, I envy you. For those of you, like me, who shy away from the possibility of maiming the first recipients of your efforts, I suggest you reconsider and employ the help of a fearless husband or friend, and invest in a reliable set of goggles and face mask (if you own a Bible, you might want to keep that handy).
Lye, also known as sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is a metal hydroxide (derived from leaching ashes) and it’s required in the making of solid (cold process) soap. When mixed with water (also required), it creates a caustic solution that eventually, when mixed properly with base oils/butters -according to a carefully calculated recipe, will survive a gradual chemical reaction and (hopefully) result in a more neutral, solid, luxurious bar of homemade soap. As you can see, there is a great margin for error and unlike my failed culinary experiments, soap making has the potential to burn and blind innocent bathers (and sadly, you probably won’t want to eat the mistakes). For the soap making hopeful, he/she is exposed to a host of liabilities, not the least of which include a potentially failed marriage/friendship and the occasional death by lye ingestion. So, it shouldn’t surprise you when I tell you that my very first soap making book (twice read) sat on a shelf for fifteen years. It wasn’t until an unforgiving skin ailment on my mother’s arm prompted me to dip my toe in the wild (and now web-based) pool of artisanal soap making. Mid life has a funny way of quelling old fears ,perhaps because the closer we are to death, the less we worry about things like permanent injuries and lawsuits, and so my reawakened interest (thank you, Pinterest) drove me to revisit the calling. The gracious and talented soap makers of the twenty-first century share many of their soap making recipes and instructions online for free.  One of the very first sites I visited (soap-made-easy.com) had this to offer:

“Fear of lye is the biggest reason that people avoid making lye soap. It’s understandable – lye is a dangerous, corrosive chemical. It can burn your skin, blind you, and kill you if ingested. But, it’s necessary to make soap, and easy to manage if you are careful.”

Subsequently, prayer also found its way into my soap making endeavors.

I read and researched soap tutorials and recipes and after careful consideration, I chose the method known as cold process soap making which, if you ask me, can be misleading. The reaction when lye meets water is a hot and bothered one, requiring the soap maker to wear head to toe protection from  hot splatters, wayward lye crystals, and caustic fumes. Sounds like good clean fun, doesn’t it?
I reached out to the online community of soap makers for referrals to suppliers and finally placed my first large order for pure, organic soap making ingredients. If there was any part of this process about which I was completely confident, it was in my uncanny ability to seek out the most expensive materials  because my soap making fund was quite literally, drained after just one order. Alas, I could not justify cutting corners when this soap’s intended recipient was none other than Mary Ann, the woman who birthed me (and the same woman who, for more than a decade, threatened to wash my mouth out with a bar of soap- even greater motivation for me to make a bar so pure, technically, one could eat it). Creating a usable bar of soap was only one of many hurdles to come; I was hopeful to avoid creating a soap that exacerbated her condition, and I fully anticipated resistance by my mother to try any type of beauty product made by my own hands, and not because she didn’t trust my ambition or creativity. After all, she was- and still remains- the inspiration behind many of my crafting endeavors. She introduced me to sewing at a very young age and taught me that anything was possible with fabric and thread (with perhaps one exception- home sewn darts in a dress bodice will never ever ever allow the wearer to have anything other than bullet-point boobs- insert awkward photo here). Where beauty products are concerned, my mother unlike me, has an intolerance for anything scented of any kind. Even the most benign products like commercial baby washes and shampoos are too heavily scented for her and trigger allergy symptoms and brain fog (a state I am intimately familiar with, but one likely unrelated to my perfume. If my mother reads this post, it is precisely at this juncture she will say ‘bullshit on that’). Willingly and knowingly, I walked into what might have become an impossible task (since even the purest ingredients bestowed upon us by Mother Nature herself often carry some detectable scent). Nonetheless, I was determined to gift her with skin soothing soap and I was hopeful to learn a few things in the process. I researched (obsessively) herbs commonly and effectively used to treat surface skin conditions and discovered that Calendula earns high praise for its ability to combat eczema, some psoriasis, cradle cap, and a host of other skin ailments (not to mention a list of cures unrelated to skin). As an added bonus, I found a connection between Calendula and another favorite Mary of mine (the one to whom I pray regularly for much more than solid soap making). It turns out Calendula was given the nickname “Mary’s Gold” and thus, the more recognizable marigold. A number of resources offer a similar history to this one from mercola.com:
The common name “marigold” refers to the Virgin Mary, with whom it has been associated since the 14th century, when it was included as an ingredient in an English recipe for fighting plague. Apart from also being used to honor Mary during Catholic events, marigold was also considered by ancient Egyptians to have rejuvenating properties. Hindus used the flowers to adorn statues of gods in their temples, as well as to color their food, fabrics and cosmetics. Pot marigold or C. officinalis is the most commonly cultivated and used species, and is the source of the herbal oil.
“Calendula” comes from the Latin word “calendae,” meaning “little calendar,” because the flower blooms on the calends or the first of most months
.
It seems worth mentioning that my mother is a daily churchgoer, so reasonably, one might  consider that she is in the same ballpark with both Godliness and cleanliness.
Calendula, as both a soap ingredient and a motivating factor for my mother to try the soap was seemingly, a home run for me, or-if you don’t object to mixing sports idioms (although, I was hoping to keep things in the same ballpark) a slam dunk might be more appropriate (and by dunk, I mean more bathtub than net- since we are talking about soap here).
In soap making as in life, cure can mean many things; in this case, it applies to both remedy for a skin ailment, as well as the very very very very long time it takes for soap to set up and actually become hard, usable soap (yes, even longer than this blog post). Thankfully, the cleanliness of my faithful mother (to whom I’ve been known to refer as  Father Mother– not kidding, feel free to ask her because you know she won’t lie) afforded me plenty of time to create an herbaceous, flaxen loaf of soap I appropriately named  “Mary’s Gold.”
And so I waited. And waited. And waited (longer than you).
About six weeks later, my inaugural loaf was finally ready for cutting. Since that time, I’ve honed my skills and even tried out a few original recipes. Many of the bars were gifted to family and a few just left the curing rack. I’m happy to share that my mom loved her soap and reports a great improvement in her skin condition (and no associated brain fog). The ‘Mary’s Gold’ soap can be clearly identified by the wisps of calendula petals embedded in the bars. The photo below also includes a ginger citrus soap (square-ish bars) and a rice milk and rosewater soap (heart shaped). The latter was no small feat because milk based soaps are prone to scorching (and worth noting for the sake of impressing you further -when milk and lye mix, it smells really, really bad). So determined to use Jasmine rice milk  because Japanese women have been using rice milk in their beauty regimens for years with great success  (and who doesn’t want skin like a Geisha?), I actually made my own. Yes, you read that correctly, I made my own organic rice milk. You’re welcome, skin.
Soap for the Marys And, as with any moment of glory, there is always risk to the celebrant that something can, and likely will go wrong. I failed to mention a niggling concern that befalls even the most seasoned soap makers- a little thing called pH testing. Soap must be tested to ensure its usability and safety, and there are several ways to complete the task. One popular, though somewhat unreliable method (endured across the globe by unsuspecting husbands whose wives simply say “lick this” while handing them a freshly cured bar of soap–and…they do! Suckkaahhhh!) is referred to as the “tongue test.” Not unlike the Neanderthal method of battery testing, the ‘licker’ will get tongue zapped if the pH is too high- or in soap lingo- harsh or lye-heavy.  Instead, I opted for the less abusive chemical called phenolphthalein (try saying that with a bar of soap in your mouth) which, when dropped (carefully) on a slice of cured soap, will indicate whether or not the pH level is in the normal range for safe soaping. I won’t bore you with technicalities (since I’m keeping this post brief) but let’s just say the kimono was not yet ready to come out of the closet.
It occurred to me that a similarity exists between soap and spirit; most of us aspire to have both rank (when tested) among those that are clean and gentle. Careful monitoring is one way to improve one’s chances for success.  Fallibility, a pitfall common to both, affords great opportunity for growth- if and when the Creator facilitates the removal of those variables contributing to harshness and/or a heavy lye (ya feel me?).
To say that I was frustrated is an understatement, but the facts gleaned from my mishap will not likely be forgotten. I allowed the soap to cure for several more weeks and much to my delight, the soap (which I now recognize as having too high a percentage of moisturizing oils) finally tested in the normal range (but by industry standards, is soft). And perhaps the failures we soap makers endure are poetic justice for the zapped tongues of unsuspecting husbands. If there is one thing a soap maker understands, it is the importance of balance. Any good soap recipe (or person) worth its (his/her) salt, must counteract harshness (lye) with the addition of more gentle ingredients and thus, allow for the cleansing of one’s body (mind/spirit).
And as I wax poetic, I’d like to share with you a bit of poetry written by Marie, a dear friend and colleague. Months ago, Marie received a bar of Mary’s Gold from me and her kind and positive feedback encouraged me to continue my efforts. She shared with me her frustration with dry (NY) winter skin and affirmed the soap’s exfoliating and moisturizing benefits. Last week, to my surprise and delight, Marie gifted me with her clever poem about my soap, and I am happy to share it with you.
I can’t help but replay the event in my mind because it is no less significant today than the day she gave it to me. The simple act of one human humbly offering another something borne of kindness and creativity is what, Dear Readers, sets us apart from wild things. And perhaps it is by no coincidence that all of the Marys with whom I am connected and acquainted, have individually taught me the importance of nurturing and sharing my creative spirit; they are gracious women indeed.

 

 

Marie’s Poem:
Marie's poem

 

Gardening · Memoir · Nature · Self Improvement · Sewing · Simple Living · Soap Making

Wild Things

Oftentimes, just prior to jotting down a thought, I’ll ask myself is this worth sharing? I suppose by being a habitual writer, I’ve likely replied yes to that same question more often than was necessary or true. And though I can’t speak for others, I’m pretty certain that I overestimate the number of people in my life who actually read for pleasure and entertainment. I can’t imagine a life without books (and by books, I mean books– ink and paper goodness surrounded by a stalwart team of covers and spine). But my taste in books might not be your taste in books and thus, I’m never quite sure what you’ll think of the drivel I offer for your amusement. Blogging, the seemingly noncommittal cousin to writing, requires less of a commitment by the reader, and a broader understanding of readership by the author.  I recognize that time is precious and I’m hopeful not to waste any of yours. This story however, is one I believe worth sharing and should you find yourself bored or uninterested, I would recommend only that you take a long and restorative walk in the woods.

Prosser tall pines Not long ago, Paul and I set out on a short weekend hike to one of my favorite places called Prosser Pines; it was recommended by a friend years ago and still, we return again and again. By hikers standards, the area is small and the variety of flora and fauna, limited. But, I am called to this place for its sheltering pines stretching overhead, and its forgiving carpet of needles underfoot. It seems we visit only in winter and each time we do, I promise myself a return trip in early spring for a barefoot romp through soft and spent needles. Our last visit was a hurried one as we were racing daylight (and visitors with large untethered dogs- solely my issue). We have always appreciated the natural surroundings, devoid of modern creation or interference, so imagine our surprise when we happened upon a teepee type structure carefully fashioned from felled limbs. A few fellow hikers were milling about, likely as perplexed as we by its presence. One couple headed into the opening of the structure and Paul encouraged me to do the same. Though curious, I felt oddly like an uninvited guest and considered the possibility that it served as temporary shelter for some  unfortunate soul. Understandably, there wasn’t an ant to be seen due to the frigid temps and the fact that my husband’s pants were full of them; he circled and stalked the structure until the couple emerged and promptly went inside to have a look.
Log Structure at Prosser Pines
Disappointedly, he called to me from inside and remarked that there wasn’t much to see, save for an overturned pail and a pile of tree bark shavings. Just prior to exiting the teepee however, he noticed what might otherwise have been mistaken for a cigarette, if not for a bright crimson tie. He emerged from the structure clutching the small, tightly rolled object and immediately,  I encouraged (demanded) he replace it. Still, and inexplicably, in the midst of public parkland, I felt we were trespassing. As we debated whether or not to peek inside the small scroll, I considered it might be part of the geocaching trend about which I had read, but still knew very little. I did recall however that most ‘caches’ include some type of container filled with the found goods; a small paper scroll seemed hardly appropriate for the game. After some lively banter (arguing), we agreed that the scroll, once read, would be returned unaltered to its location of origin (precisely the same pile of leaf matter from which it emerged). I removed the ribbon, unfurled the damp white paper, and  proceeded to read its contents aloud -one of my favorite (annoying) pastimes (habits). I’m not sure what Paul expected but I was guessing the unfurled scroll, about the size of a postcard, might offer a cryptic message pointing to the whereabouts of a coveted cache. Instead, with no greeting or title, this is what I found and read aloud:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I need not explain why after reading that, we both stood in complete silence. I read it again silently to myself and my eyes stuck fast to “in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be.” That line, the one buried first among pine bark and leaf matter, and now into my consciousness, was at once as haunting to me as it was familiar. And not because I read it twice, but because the uncertainty of which that line speaks is universal.  I can’t recall who spoke first (me), but as promised we secured the scroll with its red ribbon and hastily returned it to its place. Darkness chased us to the parking field, and as we shook the soil from our shoes, I tried desperately to recall key words from the neat and tiny penmanship, but my mind fought me. On the ride home, the magic of those pines miraculously cast its spell on lapsing mid-life memory, because we were able to piece together enough words between us to research the origin of the written verse from my cell phone (thank you Google). It is, as some of you might recognize, a poem by Wendell Berry called The Peace of Wild Things, and though in stature it pales in comparison to those majestic pines at Prosser, the depth and magnitude of its existence can be measured equally.
Admittedly, I am still haunted by the thought of a fellow human seeking shelter under such permeable matter, and I still wonder for whom that scroll was intended and by whom it was penned. But these niggling thoughts have been overshadowed by an awakened appreciation for our good earth and a newfound respect for poetry.
What Wendell Berry accomplishes in just a few carefully composed lines is what we amateur writers dream about; having the innate ability to write and share prose that connects us on a most basic and human level is one of God’s great gifts. How grateful I am to have found my footing among pines and (unexpectedly) poetry on an otherwise ordinary January afternoon. If the experience has taught me anything, it has instilled a belief in me that if we wish to connect with the good that lives within us, we must religiously and mindfully connect with what naturally exists outside. For a time, I shied away from my calling to write. Not having ‘proper’ credentials, or any real mission or purpose  seemed to be sufficient reasons to close that chapter of my creative life. It has been a difficult calling to ignore because good, bad, or otherwise, history calls me a writer.
As a young child I fancied a good limerick (Remember Nipsey Russell of Hollywood Squares fame? You should know I had a mad crush on him and his skills for rhyme- let this be our secret). While classmates clapped along to ditties like “Miss Mary Mack” I was mentally rewording them.  In grade school I dabbled in amateur poetry, much to the delight of my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Dean. She reserved a closet wall for my musings, above which she tacked a placard that read “Marvelous Michelle.” My love and respect for the magic of words was, and remains instilled in me. As life got more complicated, I continued to write in spurts and solely for my own sanity, until (ironically) my early college years as an English major. Sadly, I caved to conformity and one professor in particular scared out of me whatever remnants of poet were left; soon after, I abandoned the major, the college, and writing for a time. Adulthood finds me closeting the haikus I tend to compose when I’m half asleep, and until our discovery at Prosser Pines, I believed poetry, like physics, was for greater minds than mine. As an amateur and untrained writer, I’ve never know what, if anything, I’m actually meant to write. Taming the writer’s mind, can be much like taming a wild beast, and much like Max in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, I have led you, dear readers, along with me.  You have so graciously and patiently followed~ for this, and so many other things, I am grateful.  This is just the beginning and so, I hope you’ll visit often.
Let the wild rumpus begin!
Now hurry back…
Dinner is waiting for you.

Uncategorized

Three Sheets and the Wind

Like so many others, I pin more to my Pinterest boards than one lifetime can accommodate. Admittedly, I seem to be more adept at purchasing  craft materials than I am at actually completing any given project. I thought I would head out to one of my favorite thrift stores yesterday but the plummeting temperature and howling winds forced me to consider I might just have enough of my own stash to get something done (enough supplies? Imagine!). If this blog is a safe place for confessions, I’ll start by admitting that I have an unhealthy obsession with vintage sheets. I’ve picked up a few here and there and though I haven’t yet taken the plunge into vintage frock construction (if you have time, check out a site called “Dottie Angel” and swoon along with me), I have for some time intended to make a few pillowcases from my stash of sheets. I can sooner justify sleeping on the cool and cozy percale than I can justify my obsessive fondling of it (I wish I were joking). Additionally, Paul (hubby) and I are on a mission to use what we have whenever possible and the linens we have should, by now, be condemned.  And so, I went to my stash and chose three of my favorites, and then to my trusty Pinterest board efficiently labeled “Patterns and Tutorials” and set out to make two of the “Fifteen Minute Pillowcases with French Seams.” You should know that nothing at all about this project took fifteen minutes, except for the part where I was required to iron the fabric; when it comes to ironing anything at all, my patience is nil so, score one for me! For those of you who skeeve  someone else’s sheets (while skeeve might not be an actual word, it applies here), consider that a wash cycle or two with vinegar and mild detergent renders those sheets cleaner than most items you’ll see fit to try on in a dressing room. Anywhoo, here’s the finished pair…vintage pillowcasesI knew the true test of craftsmanship would be determined by how well they survived laundering; I’m happy to report that this photo is post-wash cycle and they look and smell like new (well…vintage-new, if that’s a thing). You’ll note that the quilt under the pillows took some mad skills to complete and while I’d like to take credit, I did not make the quilt. Yet again, I scored big at a favorite thrift store and that beauty cost me less than two frappuccinos. The wreaths are made from hand worked ribbon embroidery and I imagine the quilt’s original owner got tired of the frequent pulls and unraveling that is common to worn and battered needlework. I solved the issue by throwing caution to the wind (purposefully referencing wind whenever I can here), and sticking it in the wash, not once, but twice, and then drying it on a full warm cycle. My mission was twofold; the quilt started out as a king size and is primarily cotton, and it was a bit grimy looking. It was too big for our bed and since my investment was minimal, I took a chance. The result was/is a cleaner, tightly puckered quilt with more compact ribbon stitches. It won’t win any awards, but we love the charm it adds to our (in need of major renovations) bedroom.

And since this blog is a we endeavor, you’re probably wondering what my better half was doing while I was tied to the sewing machine (for considerably more than fifteen minutes). I’m happy to report that despite the wind (third time’s a charm!), Paul managed to pay a visit to our very cold hens and hen boss, Gladys, defied all odds and ventured out to meet him for a few pesky pecks at an overripe pear. Typically, chickens will avoid wet feet at all costs, but Gladys seems to think Paul is all hers and she ventures out whenever she hears his voice. Paul is rather familiar with henpecking and thus, finds no reprieve
outside or in.
A Pear for Gladys

It’s worth mentioning that Paul has a few crafty tricks up his own sleeve, not the least of which is making me think he has met one of my home renovation whims with complete and utter agreement and dedication, when in reality, he has cleverly convinced me of an easier, more affordable version of my original whim. Such was the case when I pleaded with him to rip out an entire section of our (outdated oak) kitchen cabinetry because Pinterest demands I (we) install floating shelves. He was speechless the first time I suggested it. By the second conversation he was warming to the idea but had many questions (if you ask why more than three times, it qualifies as ‘many questions’). Finally, we compromised and I agreed to a trial period of his modified version. In what seemed like fifteen minutes (pillowcase time), Paul had ripped the doors off three existing cabinets, painted the inside, and built newer, thicker shelves to accommodate my herbal apothecary jars (fodder for another post) and the dinnerware I imagine I own. I’ve decided I will add a fabric back-board to the cabinets but haven’t yet committed to any of the (many, many, many) yards of fabric in my stash because I’m developing some sort of kitchen theme that hasn’t yet materialized (see what I did there?). And, let’s face it, in home décor, as in politics, choosing a cabinet is tricky business (that’s about as political as this blog will ever get- you have my word). Here’s a quick peek at the early progress…cabinet makeover

And there you have it. Two weekend warriors who hardly made it out of their pajamas in the last forty-eight hours.
In the northeast we are at the mercy of a bitter March wind (#4!) and some unexpected (though we should have been expecting it because we didn’t just move here) snow. The weather is often unpredictable but then again, so is life. I’m looking up at the photo above this paragraph and I recognize that at the time our house was built, none would have anticipated that phone jacks would become obsolete (hence, the one precariously set in between the tiles of the backsplash). We’ve considered ways to hide it and Paul once suggested we retile the whole backsplash (not happening). Lately, I waver in my dedication to all things home improvement because much of my self reflection recognizes a greater urgency in the need for self improvement (not to mention, we don’t have the money to support my home décor board on Pinterest). And perhaps that phone jack, now devoid of all connections, is a reminder of a time when life (a tethered, wires-showing kind of life) was simpler- a time when friends chatted over fence lines and under covered porches. And though social media offers a modern day connection to others, I favor and welcome the opportunity to open my home (and cabinets) to those who care little about the messiness of life and home, and more about time well spent with friends and loved ones. And so I invite you in (electronically or otherwise), to grab a cuppa, pull up a chair, and let’s shoot the breeze (breeze = wind= #5!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Beginning

So, here we are.
It’s a frigid day in Mid-March on Long Island and, after chatting with the folks at GoDaddy (understanding about ten percent of the information they shared), it seems my domain is ‘mapped’ and we’re good to go. Writing this blog has been a mission of mine for more than a year. Technical glitches (read: there is no geek in my genes) have prevented me from doing so, and if you asked me a week ago about the blog’s progress, I would have told you I gave up and moved on. Today however, after bitching (loudly) about the auto-renewal setting and discovering I was charged for another blissful yet unproductive year of needleandthorn.com, I decided Divine intervention and/or karma and/or good omen and/or serendipity really, really, wanted me to forge ahead with the idea of building and sharing a blog.
So, again, here we are.
But why? And why ‘Needle and Thorn?’
As evidenced by my prickly little subtitle above, the daily challenges that befall me (and my loved ones) seem worth sharing. About a year ago, I encouraged my husband of nearly three decades (the ‘thorn’ part of Needle and Thorn), that we needed to find common ground (pun partially intended) to rekindle what might have been misplaced during our child-rearing years. We started out as young (appropriately~ green) parents and seemingly, we blinked and our two (spectacular) kids were out of diapers, out of braces, out of teen angst, and out of the house. The blissful state of empty-nesting was lost somewhere between the states of neglected home and neglected marriage. I considered calling the blog ‘Life Interrupted’ because in so many ways, that title applies to how we’ve (foolishly) lived for the past few decades. Instead however, we arrived at Needle and Thorn because the title speaks to my love of, and passion for the needle arts (quilting, sewing, wool-felt embroidery…) and my husband’s love of, and passion for all things green and growing. Together, our hope is to share snippets of our daily, sometimes prickly/thorny  struggles/celebrations/insights and to cultivate a stronger, more colorful foundation that will support us as we navigate the future together.
I don’t suppose I’m off to a great start, since I can’t figure out simple things like where to put my photos and how to add simple italics to a post. But this is real life, and neither we, nor this blog will be perfect. I’ll call upon my Amish friends here and remind you, dear readers, that they believe only God is perfect, and thus, much of their handiwork includes some small, intentional imperfection to serve as a reminder that we (collectively) are here by His design. And whether intentional or not, mistakes will happen (as evidenced by this blog, and our daily lives).
So this, our very first blog post, may be pedestrian at best. But, it’s a start, and it’s ours. Consider that we are planting a seed, or basting a row of stitches, to prepare ourselves for something bigger and stronger to come. We hope to share some of our creative endeavors with you and we encourage you to join/start a conversation (once I figure out how to manage the comments section, I’ll provide more info).
Until the next post, I (we) wish you early spring blooms and straight seams.
mishpaul car pic (3)

cropped-american-holly
American Holly @ Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge