Category Archives: Family

2013 Retrospective

Hey, it’s navel-gazing time again!

1. What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?

I went through a corn maze. Thanks to Matt’s expert sense of direction, we got through this 12-acre maze in <2 hours without a map.

I also drove a go-kart for the first time. I was a very timid driver and laughed at myself when 12-year-old boys (and their middle-aged fathers) whizzed past me.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?


No new year’s resolutions, as always, but I turned 39 this summer and made a birthday resolution to be in better shape by the time I turned 40. Didn’t act on the resolution 100% until late September, whoops, but I’m doing well now. Who knows what next year will bring?

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?


No babies in my family this year!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

My cousin Sandy died of pancreatic cancer this summer. She leaves behind her husband and teenaged daughter.


California, 2011

5. What countries did you visit?

We stayed in the good old US of A.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

Oh, my gosh, nothing? I feel like all my material needs are pretty much covered. But I sure would love more free time. Well-fitting clothes wouldn’t be too shabby, either.

7. What dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 29. House closing! Almost didn’t happen, as I mentioned before, but everything got signed on time.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?


I looked for and found my iron-clad discipline again. Kidding, sort of.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I suspect it has to do with my parenting again, ha ha. Am I too strict? Too lenient? Not sympathetic enough? Am I spoiling them? Can someone please peer into their crystal ball and let me know if I’m setting the girls on the right path?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

None! Healthy as a horse. Although I think I freakin’ had the flu over Christmas, despite receiving a flu shot.

11. Where did most of your money go?

Not including the house, a lot of our money went to daycare, holy cow, because it costs twice as much in Rochester as it did in Northfield. Guess there’s a lot of cardiologists and neurosurgeons having kids, eh?

We paid off our cars this summer (hooray – and yes, we drive cars for 10 years and/or until the repair bill exceeds the car’s value) and are now focusing on repaying my student loans, loosely following the debt snowball plan. I’ve been out of school since 2003, so it’s high time we finish paying for my education.

We’ve had to replace or repair a lot of appliances this year (washer, dryer, microwave, dishwasher, furnace motor… probably more, I’m forgetting now), which turned into an unexpected money suck, but I love the replacements and use them daily, so it’s all fine.

12. What was the best thing you bought?

The house, the house, the house! (Happy dance.) I look around and just love it. Best thing right now in the dead of winter – radiant heat in the basement. When I lay on the floor to do yoga, it is the coziest thing ever.

13. What did you get really excited about?

The house, the girls’ birthdays, a beach vacation at the end of the summer, dropping weight, and being happy about where I am in life.

14. Compared with this time last year, are you:


– happier or sadder? Happier for sure. The 2012 mess at work got straightened out, mostly, so we had far less work-related stress. The house purchase took a huge weight off my mind. We have some ongoing heath-related issues in the family that we are dealing with, but they seem to be in control for the time being.

– thinner or fatter? Thinner! I hit an all-time high weight in September that scared me, so I prioritized my health and went all type-A on it. I’m logging what I eat (via MyFitnessPal) and regularly doing yoga, stairclimbing (I work on the 10th floor and next to a 20-floor building, so I don’t take the elevator anymore and sometimes climb the stairs next door when I take a break), Stronglifts 5×5 (just started a few weeks ago), and C25K (week 5). I’ve come down about 15 lbs and am now the same weight as I was in college.


These pants were a little tight in August

– richer or poorer? Poorer, probably, with the house, but my life feels richer.

15. What do you wish you’d done more of?


Creative pursuits. Never enough hours in the day!

16. What do you wish you’d done less of?


Laundry. Sheesh.

17. How did you spend Christmas?

At home with Matt and the girls. We had carnage on Christmas morning with small, greedy children, which was partly amusing and partly horrifying. After lunch, in lieu of naps, we went sledding! After dinner, I zonked in bed because of the cold.

18. What were your favorite books of the year?

Do instructional videos count? I really have been digging Craftsy classes this year. I’ve bought more than I’ve watched so far, but I spent a lot of time with Amy Herzog’s Knit to Flatter and hope to have a finished sweater soon. I’ve also watched classes on jewelry and sewing, although I’ve yet to try the techniques.

19. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I went to work and had a nondescript day. I turned 39. Matt and the girls took me out to dinner afterward, they gave me handdrawn cards and earrings. That was lovely.

20. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Damn, this was a pretty satisfying year.

21. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?

Unkempt! I culled most of my clothes and now everything that remains is too big. Rotten year to be on a RTW fast, LOL.

22. What kept you sane?

Thinking “This too shall pass.” Eating really good instant ramen. Climbing 40 flights of stairs and realizing I’ve caught my breath back in only a couple minutes. Cleaning lady who does the floors and bathrooms twice a month.

23. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.


Love, forgive, teach, listen. Try to be kind, always.

Thanks for coming by this year! I wish you the best in 2014.

FO: Daybreak shawl

This past spring, I cast on a new knit-whilst-reading project. (What, you don’t have one of those? You should!) As before, my only criteria are that it has 1) miles upon miles of stockinette; 2) minimal shaping.

This time, I chose the Daybreak shawl by Stephen West. He’s a relatively new designer (ravelry suggests his first pattern was published in 2009), but I can see why he is so popular. This shawl has a very clean look to it, modern and unfussy.

I bought no new yarn for this one; from my stash, I unearthed 2×50-g skeins of Schoeller Esslinger sock yarn in grey and 1×100-g skein of Colinette Jitterbug in variegated dark purple. I seem to have a lot of lavender-purple-grey-charcoal clothes in my work wardrobe, so I vaguely thought it would mesh well with existing outfits.

The pattern is straightforward and hard to goof up. My only surprise occurred during the bind off. I like to block shawls hard, so I used this classic stretchy bind off. I began binding off, but midway through, I realized I would run out of yarn. I tinked back the bind off and the entire prior row (this is the long purple edge – many hundreds of stitches) and bound off again. This time, I made it through nearly the whole bind off, but when I got to about 3 inches from the end, I realized I wouldn’t have enough yarn. (How much yarn does this bind off eat? For heaven’s sake!) Groaning, I tinked back the bind off and then tinked another row, took a deep breath, and bound off a third time. I spent >5 hours tinking and binding this sucker off.

But done is done, and it looks great. :)

It was blocked using wires, and I tried really hard to make the neckline symmetric in its roundness. Didn’t quite make it, but it is close enough. It reminds me of an eclipse, with the open circle moving in to cover the grey circle.


Meredith saw this and exclaimed, “A spider web!”

The tail ends curve generously toward the front, and it turns out that I like this feature very much. (I’ve only made rectangular and triangular shawls previously.) It sits well on the shoulders, tied or untied, although I tend to keep it tied.

In other news, I had my first mammograms ~2 weeks ago. I’m fine, everything is OK, but I just wanted to remind you to take a few minutes to check yourself (or tell your loved ones to go check).

I was taking a shower on the Friday before Thanksgiving when I noticed a distinct lump in my breast. I thought, hm, this seems… not normal. Matt agreed, and I got in to see a primary care doc later that morning.

Doc also agreed that it seemed unusual and asked me when I first noticed it. Uh, a few hours ago? She asked me how often I checked. Every few months, I said, and I’d had a physical in June that included a breast exam with normal findings. I asked if it might be cycle related, and she said no, the lump was a little too large for that. She ordered some tests for the following Monday.

I tell you, it was very strange to kick around the idea over the weekend that I might get bad news. Monday afternoon, I had 2 mammograms and an ultrasound. Every person who examined me (3 techs, 2 docs) asked me how often I checked and when did I first notice it. I’m assuming this is because the lump was so damn large (4.3 cm in its largest dimension) that they couldn’t believe I’d discovered it only a few days earlier.

Turns out they think I have an “unusual presentation” of a common, benign condition (fibrocystic changes) because the lumpy area is kind of concentrated in one spot instead of being diffusely spread. Even though they want me back for another scan in a half year, I’m feeling quite relieved and lucky. But ladies, do check yourselves… maybe more often than every couple of months.

Halloween

I don’t sew Halloween costumes. Some people know I sew and knit, and every year, I get asked about whether I made the girls’ outfits. I went to Costco this time and my clone army picked out Disney Princess costumes. Whenever I explain this, I mimic taking a hanger off of a rod 3 times while saying, “Done. Done. And done!”

Everyone laughs, and this year, other moms (and 1 dad!) praised my good sense. The girls are happier in these clothes than in anything I would ever sew for them, so we all win.

Milestone

Guess what happened yesterday?

People always lament about how quickly children grow, but I’m pleased to see Meredith step into her new role. We are looking forward to this new stage in our lives.

Fun things are afoot

When you buy a ball of yarn that has this picture on the label:

Don’t you sort of expect that the actual sock will look something like the one in the image?

Um… wow, it didn’t look anything even remotely like that zigzag pattern!

But that’s OK. I use the same sock recipe as before (this pattern, this cast on, this bind off), and I love the finished socks no matter what.

In other news, we are thisclose to making settlement on a house. We’re still about 2 weeks away from the big day, but I guess I’m not worried about jinxing the deal by talking about it here. We’ve been eyeing the Rochester real estate market ever since Matt accepted his job at Mayo 2.5 years ago, and house hunting began in earnest around May or June of last year, when we had finalized a purchase agreement to sell our Northfield home. We’d made a few offers and had come pretty close to buying late last summer, but they never went through for one reason or another (other wealthier bidders, inspection-identified issues, etc). Finally, it’s our turn.

I am thrilled about this place, and I don’t say that lightly (uh, as fussy as I am, it takes a lot to thrill me). Our house-to-be is big enough for all the girls to have some privacy as they get older, enough bathrooms and a water heater sufficient for a family with 4 girl-women (poor Matt!), a sweet kitchen with a ton of storage and prep space (really designed for someone who COOKS, as opposed to someone who mostly heats up food), a finished walkout basement. It’s in a great school district and is <10 minutes' drive from the Mayo campus. Not a ton of yard to mow, but it's enough to maybe put up a small garden and compost bin. Judging from the number of snowmen I'm seeing in the neighboring yards, there are younger children in the area.
Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

We don’t have a lot of furniture (I mean, why buy a bedroom set when you can buy an artisan spinning wheel instead, ha), and I’ve never really tried to decorate a home before, so there’s a lot to think about and learn. Maybe I will blog about some of that. But we’re in no hurry. I can’t wait to move, though!

Ruffled blankets

I made blankets! When this project idea was born, I thought I’d just serge 2 pieces of cotton jersey together and be done. (We have receiving blankets that are just like this, and the girls love ’em.)

But we all know I can’t leave a simple project alone. This turned into an interesting undertaking (x3) because I learned a lot of stuff. But before we go into that, here’s the fabric, a cotton-lycra blend (purchased at GirlCharlee; NAYY).

I washed and dried the yardage several times and cut 3 blankets that were 38″x58-ish” (smidge over 1 yard x full width), following recommendations that I’d seen online that toddler quilts be about 36×50 inches.

Ruffles – I learned how to make a rolled edge on my serger following this tutorial. I decided to make it a lettuce edge and set my serger’s differential feed to maximal stretch and also yanked the heck out of the edge to make it super-duper wavy.

I tried the gathering foot on my sewing machine but couldn’t get it to perform consistently well. You can see that on the same strip, sometimes it would make terrific ruffles (bottom part) and then have a “dead zone” of mostly flat fabric (top part).

So I used a ruffler foot and followed this tutorial to determine my desired ruffle settings. (Excellent tutorial, btw. I intend to go back and make all the samples suggested so that I have a standard chart to refer to the next time I need to make a gazillion miles of ruffles.)

One thing that I don’t think was addressed in the tutorial was that stitching speed can affect the degree of ruffling. I tend to sew very slowly at first and then speed up as I gain confidence, except – oops.


Not a camera trick

If I’m remembering right, stitching faster made the ruffles deeper and the strip shorter.

Attaching the ruffle was simple – just draw a border on the main fabric and attach the ruffle with straight stitches. I decided to curve the corners (slap a dinner plate down and draw around the curve) because I didn’t want to deal with trying to fit the ruffle around a sharp corner. When 1 ruffle strip ended and the other began, I just curved one piece down and overlapped it with another piece curving up.

Applique – I had little pieces of quilting cotton with the girls’ drawings on them that I thought to use as appliques. (I got them via a school fundraiser, the kids draw stuff, it’s digitized and printed onto mugs, t-shirts, pillowcases, etc, and I chose to get quilt squares.)


Here’s one that didn’t make it onto the blankets

Having never appliqued anything before, let alone a stiff woven onto a stretchy knit, I wanted a tutorial. I followed this one and also the instructions on the package of Steam-A-Seam Lite (SASL; like a fusible double-sided sticky sheet).

Basically, peel off 1 cover of the SASL and stick it on the back of the applique, cut the applique and SASL together, then peel off the other cover, position, fuse onto the blanket fabric, and zig-zag stitch around the edge. Before fusing the first one, I stabilized the knit on the wrong side with iron-on/tear-away paper, but it turned out that the applique fabric was so freaking stiff from the digitized image printing, further stabilization wasn’t necessary.

Quilting – When I finally put the 2 layers together, I thought the blanket felt wimpy-thin and belatedly remembered that the receiving blankets that I’d first modeled this project on always seem kind of off-grain and rumpled… so I decided to add a quilt batting. The Warm and Natural cotton batting (available at Joann’s, wait for a sale or coupon) had good reviews. I used June Tailor washable spray adhesive (OMG, stinky) to stick 1 side of the blanket to the batting. I then sewed the 2 halves right sides together, left a hole for turning, turned and closed the hole, and topstitched around the edge

I couldn’t imagine machine quilting (I have no idea how to do it, especially on unstable cotton-lycra jersey), nor could I imaging fudging my way through machine quilting 3 blankets, so I decided to sew these really crooked eyelets to pseudo-tie the quilt together.

I had to fake-hoop the fabric in my hands to make the eyelets. Essentially, I squooshed extra fabric in the general vicinity of the feed dogs so that nothing was under tension from the rest of the blanket pulling downward off the table. This theoretically allowed the feed dogs to move the heavy blanket around in the circle, but as you can see, it didn’t always work. Mmm, crookedness is part of the charm, OK?

They were washed and dried and presented to the children. They were a hit! My heart sings when I see how much they love their blankets.


Jordan, Casey, Meredith

Play dress and leggings

Meredith’s favorite clothes are still the play dress and leggings. I made an outfit for her last year and thought I’d try my hand at a different pattern this winter. These are both “wearable muslins” made with fabric that I’d originally bought with the intention of sewing cloth diapers. Now that I know the patterns work (and how I’d like to tweak the top a little), I’m ready to use up some of the more expensive fabrics that I’ve been purchasing for the girls.


Striking her pose (click here for a back view)

The dress is the Hopscotch top by oliver+s. The pattern also includes a skirt, which I did not make this time. It is very similar to a t-shirt but with an extra style boost via the crossover neckline. There’s a little bit of gathering at the front center, too. To make the dress from the top, the pattern is simply extended (A-line) to dress length, with no changes to the bodice.

Sorry about the picture quality, I have no daylight hours for photography, and the wall color is a pretty awful background for a mostly-white dress. You might be able to see the crossover detail a little better in the photo below.

The pattern directions were nicely written and well illustrated, so the construction was pretty straightforward. The pattern was drafted well, all the pieces came together and seams matched up. I used Lastin (clear swimsuit elastic) instead of the recommended interfacing or twill tape to stabilize the shoulders and front seam. I added elastic to the sleeve cuffs at the last minute, but it was probably unnecessary. I deepened the hem to 1 inch because I dislike how narrow jersey hems curl and flip upward after a few washes, and I am not about to pull out an iron every time I wash a kid’s play dress. I constructed it using a sewing machine, serger, and coverstitch machine. (Hey, if I have the machines, I want to use them!)

Meredith prefers her tops and dresses to be very loose fitting, with the sleeves extra long (covering her wrists). Even though her measurements indicated she should be a size 5, I cut a size 7 to give her the extra ease. What’s a bit weird is that the neck opening is still somewhat tight and we have to force a little to pop her head through it every time (crowning, ha ha). I did double-check to make sure I had traced the right size. She may have her mama’s giant noggin. Next time I sew this, I will lengthen the upper bodice piece to give her more head room.

All in all, I’m not sure that I really like this as a dress – the crossover is very near the top, and the rest of the dress just hangs from that seam (sort of boring and reminds me of a nightgown). I guess that’s why the pattern is pictured as a shirt and separate skirt with an interesting pocket detail and a row of buttons!

The leggings are made using Jalie 2920. This is a very simple pattern – 1 piece. No side seams, just the inseam and center seam, and a foldover waistband. I had a sizing problem with this pattern, too. By her measurements, Meredith should be a size I, and that’s the size I dutifully traced out. It seemed short, but that was consistent with this review, so I just lengthened the legs substantially. I sewed the 2 seams and had her try it on. Uh oh, it was skin-tight (no pictures, it was positively indecent).

Attempt #2, I measured some of her favorite Hanna Andersson leggings at the high thigh (just under the crotch seam) and the inseam, and I picked a corresponding pattern size (now size M). I made the new pair with no changes, and these leggings were comfortable and the proper length. Go figure.

I do like this simple pattern, and given that it has a range that that goes from toddler to plus-size adults, I can see myself in a pair of these leggings someday, too. Just have to remember to measure the pattern and compare it against something that fits (not just blindly follow the size chart).

The fabric for the dress is a medium-weight cotton jersey without much stretch (which might explain why the neck seems small). The leggings are a thinner cotton-lycra jersey. Both are from Fresh Produce (but purchased via Girl Charlee). If you’re interested in technical details, the review of the dress is here and the review of the leggings is here.

Drill

My family moved to Illinois in the mid 70s. Illinois is tornado country, as is much of the Midwest. I remember practicing tornado drills in my elementary school. The intercom would buzz, we’d hear the announcement from the principal, and class would be suspended for a few minutes. We’d file out in single lines, follow the teachers to an inner corridor without windows, face our lockers, and drop to the floor. We were instructed to “curl up like turtles,” crouch on the floor with our heads touching our knees, hands protecting our heads from imaginary flying debris. We’d stay in this position for 10 or so minutes, occasionally stealing glances upward at our teachers, who solemnly paced the hallways and reminded us to stay silent.

We did have a few severe storms that I can remember, but they always were predicted days in advance and never seemed as bad as the dire forecasts. (But boy, once you see the “pea soup” sky, you never forget it!) In any case, I think my grade-school friends and I felt pretty confident that as long as we were indoors, in a basement, and away from windows when a bad storm hit, we’d be OK. Maybe the roof would be ripped up or something, but we’d be fine, our families would be fine.

The new reality is that children these days practice lockdowns. Last year, a West Coast mommyblogger that I follow talked about her 6-year-old’s drill, during which the teacher turned off lights and locked the door, covered the door window with black paper, and had the children hide silently by their cubbies while the principal walked through the hallways, rattling the doorknobs. I was naively shocked to read about it – and sorry as hell that as a society, we have stooped to the point where these drills must be practiced.

What kind of life are we living, that young children nationwide routinely are being prepared to face a surprise attack by a lunatic with an assault rifle and hundreds of bullets? Is teaching my children how to play dead going to be part of my Mommy-skillz arsenal? And how am I supposed to tell them that there may be no warning for these attacks and no reassurance that if you do what you practiced during the drill, you’ll be OK?

I’ve cried with the news. I’ve hugged my children. I’ve written to my local government representatives (you can, too). I don’t know what else to do in the meantime, so it’s just back to working, making dinner, doing laundry, wiping runny noses. And being sadly grateful for the mundaneness of it all.

Meredith’s “Wedding” Dress

I managed to complete only 1 major project this summer, what with the house selling and not-buying, moving, etc. It was a dress for Meredith, actually finished toward the end of July, just in time for the wedding of a dear friend. Speaking of wedding, here’s the happy couple – I’ve known the groom since my first year of college.


Ben and Sudipta

Meredith and I traveled to Seattle together for the wedding. We took a long weekend, leaving Matt at home with the youngers. My core group of college “besties” were all there for the wedding – one had just started a new job and had moved his family to Seattle only weeks before, the others are related by blood or by marriage to the groom (so convenient when your friends marry each other, LOL), and so we all crammed together into a single house with all our kids and had a crazy awesome time. (Adult conversation!) There is nothing quite like chillaxin’ with friends you’ve known for 20 years, who know how weird and antisocial you are and don’t judge, still think you’re OK.

Anyway, here’s the dress in all its glory. Pattern is Little Vicki, by a company called Izzy and Ivy. The pattern and fabric were purchased at a quilting shop in a neighboring town. They had a sample made up, which was totally adorable and sold me on the dress.


Forgive the odd picture, but this is the only one in which the pleated front shows well.

Altogether, the project probably cost me about $40 in supplies, which was actually a lot to spend on a single dress for a kid, but I like supporting independent shops and designers, and this came out really special. (OK, run-on sentence much?)

I am super-pleased with it, and so is Meredith. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever sew for her again after an incident last winter. In the midst of a tantrum-fit (oh c’mon, your kid never does this?), she’d hurled another dress that I’d sewn, hurled it at my face while screeching, MAMA, I HATE THIS DRESS!!! I mean, I know, 3 years old at the time, but ouch. It took a few months, but I got over myself, sewed her this one, and she totally, totally loves it. Does my hurt heart a lot of good, I confess.

It’s roomy and has plenty of ease for running, jumping, and dancing. She does wear bike shorts underneath for modesty. She calls it her “wedding dress” and tells everyone (day care teachers, random strangers at Sam’s Club, etc) that her mommy made the dress and if they like it, they should ask their mommies to make them one, too.

What else can I say? It’s the only creative thing I got done this summer, but it’s a winner!

If you’re technically inclined, details about the construction are on PatternReview (here).