I have been spending some time setting up my creative space due to our recent move, which has put me in an organizing mood in general. We are experiencing a loss of closets and storage in our new house, which is always challenging. Add maternity supplies, and a pile of breastfeeding-friendly clothing, a second young child and a tight budget to the household mix, and the result is me digging deep and getting back to basics when it comes to managing our stuff. I'm fighting to keep the household balanced between the clean lines of open spaces, and the fun of making acessible our hobby supplies and toys. As I've been working through it all, I have realized that I typically follow some basic guiding principles any time I do this, and I have more opportunities than I care to think about in the last decade to verify that they work.
Changes in the day-to-day operation of our family have turned me into a true stay-at-home mom. The kind where I was the big pregnant mama dragging my toddler around everywhere this summer, and the kind where now the new baby is by my side for every hour of the day. I find the intensity of non-stop kid quite challenging, as I'm sure most caregivers do. I also learn a lot, which may sound odd, but since our family has grown, and the amount of day care that I use has shrunk, I am, more often than I was in the past, struck by the minutiae of the young lives for which I am responsible.
Spending significant quantities of time with children who have only limited communication capacity also leaves you alone inside your head a lot, so that's where I've been. The notion of 'caregiving' came into my mind during one particularly rough recent day...a day when I had to take a deep breath and really dig deep for some patience.
It never occurred to me that you can do other things while holding a baby until my mom came to help me after the birth of our first son. I watched her shushing him while she baked cookies and sewed nursery curtains, and even tried to paint my dining room table with her remaining free hand. I put my foot down about the table, but I admired her spirit and have never forgotten the example she set.
I was not very brave with that baby. I was terrified much of the time, having never spent time with babies, and also with a husband working overseas for months at a time. As a result, I clung religiously to our routine and to the sleep training process, so that I could count on predictable breaks in those long days. We did not venture out much.
We've known for a while that we might be moving this year. We had been hoping to delay it until Spring, mostly because it seemed like a nightmare to move during winter and but also because we knew that we would have a newborn during late fall this year, greatly exacerbating the complexity of the move. However, we concluded just after the birth of our son that it was actually critical for us to move sooner than later, so I was suddenly faced with what I considered a worst-case relocation scenario: selling the house during holiday season, with a new baby, moving in the dead of winter, all on a super tight budget. Yuck.
I have been trying, and failing, to write this post for an entire month.
We are selling our house and I'm pretty sad. It's a house that we moved into with our older baby, and where I have been nursing our new baby. It was the first place I have lived in my almost forty years that I thought I could stay in forever. It's not a perfect house by any means, but it is a lovely and happy house and it has good energy, if you're into that kind of thing. It is old and new, big enough but cozy enough. It has a wonderful kitchen in which I have been happy cooking for my little family.
The newest member of our family is already five weeks old, and there is no doubt that despite my efforts to stay relaxed about everything, I am itching to get stuff done, and to get out and about more than I did when we had our first son.
As a result, when the baby refuses to sleep in the crib, which is common for most of his designated naps, I'm instead walking around with him slung over one arm, seeking tasks that can be accomplished while using the other available hand. I'm learning fast and sometimes take pleasure in this most supreme multi-tasking challenge.
Several years ago, I wrote a post about some feelings I was having after my first son was born. He came into the world suddenly, significantly early and largely without warning. It struck me how we feel one way on a certain day, and then suddenly something major happens, and everything is topsy-turvy, never to be exactly the same as it was. I was intrigued by looking backwards at the feelings and details of life just prior to the event, fascinated by of the blissfully-unaware-of-what's-coming feeling, and by how the curve ball comes and rearranges life forever.
Today is a new version of that feeling, because I already know that today is another one of those days before. I am already tuned in to the fact that tomorrow morning, somewhere around 7:30 a.m., my life will be forever changed. This is what it is to have a scheduled delivery of your baby. Not a method in favor by the doulas and midwives so in vogue right now, but the method that is the best for me in this particular pregnancy.
Since I never pictured myself as a mother until I was actually pregnant the first time, I also never took notice prior to that moment of some of the daily tricks of motherhood. Getting dressed is one of those tricks, which might sound a little silly. But think of it this way: you're you, and then you're you feeling like crap every day for several months (at least), and then you're you with an extra forty extra pounds (give or take), but all the while still taking care of things at home and going to work and maybe exercising and probably experiencing change of seasons. During this part, you are probably still at least occasionally (or for some, often) physically uncomfortable. Also your breasts have changed size, maybe more than once, and even your feet have maybe changed size, either permanently, or just temporarily. Every day you're trying to get dressed for all of that, probably without an unlimited budget and probably without a lot of extra free time to figure it out.
Deluxe is one of the first books that I read that linked clothing to sustainability issues for me. Sustainability isn't a specific topic in the book, which is unsurprising given the year of publication (2007) but the connection is present, particularly in hindsight. Deluxe is also a book that offers an explanation for why it feels like we (the common, non-fancy consumers) were suddenly surrounded by everything fancy, seemingly overnight.
The author, experienced journalist Dana Thomas, walks the reader through the origins of luxury, from when clothing and luggage were made to order, crafted from beginning to end by one person, rather than manufactured on an assembly line. At that time, rich artisanal materials and careful, personal process were what categorized a product as a luxury item. Then gradually the great luxury houses such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Dior were bought, sold, absorbed and reconfigured by the desires of the shareholders and the mass market. Over time they became brands, focusing more on profit, production costs, and retail stores, than on the hand-crafted, personalized goods which had been their hallmark.
I organized the nursery much earlier this time. I thought my preparation schedule last time was appropriate, but I was wrong. We ended up in the hospital for an emergency delivery on the day that the crib was scheduled to be delivered and we were (translation: my mom was) sewing curtains while I nursed and pumped madly. Babies have their own schedules.
The truth is that I didn't want to be a mom until later in my life. Somewhere around thirty-three or so is when I got curious, and it wasn't until thirty-five that I felt confident in wanting to go for it, or at least in opening the door to it. Kids were, in the opinion of the members of my marriage, messy, expensive, and not suitable for travel. No fun, and not worth the trouble, we had concluded. I'm still not sure exactly, but I think what happened next is that biology took control of my brain.
For my first son's nursery, it was a blue wire decorative shelf, in the shape of a rowboat, that finally sparked my enthusiasm. Suddenly I could picture shades of Minnesota lake life coloring his little room in Texas, and then it started to feel more fun.
For the new guy, I have been feeling birch. I'm not normally much of a plant person, but lately I'm drawn to birch trees as a lovely and happy aspect of life up north. I love their bright white trunks and the leaves that flash a little bit silver when they flutter.
The flea market near our lake cabin has long been a major source of inspiration to me. I have always felt intrigued by the old objects on offer, as well as the people willing to travel the region (or country), gathering and selling these tidbits. This particular flea market happens every Sunday morning during the summer.
It used to be solely populated by collected items and a few homemade tidbits. Now new products are offered alongside the old, in an Anthropologie-style new-but-looks-old way, but luckily the old treasures still abound. While in high school, I found a vintage flapper dress there which later became a prom dress. My mom has furnished many a room with re-fashioned pieces from there, and it was also there almost twenty years later, where I finally felt the spark of inspiration for the nursery for my first son.
I approach parenting the same way that I approach most topics: with thorough, research-y methodology, and much reading of non-fiction. The nerd in me leads the way, always. So when this book appeared, I was happy to see it, and eager to read it. It is meant to be read as a survey of how parents are doing in modern times; it is descriptive, not prescriptive. It was a great read; I finished it in less than a week. It tugged on my heartstrings, while also satisfying my need for data. I was especially tickled that much of it was located in two parts of the country with which I am intimately familiar: Houston and Minneapolis.
I completed my final alterations project, so that is a relief, because there are plenty of other tasks that need attention now. For the project, I re-crafted an old sundress that I still loved too much to get rid of, even though I hadn't worn it in two years.
I have been creative in only one way during recent months. Finally, after much effort and much waiting, I am pregnant with our second child. We tried hard for this one and we weren't sure that it would work out. I thought that all of that trying would make it less annoying to be pregnant, and I swore that I would make healthier choices this time. I was largely, but not entirely, wrong.
I remain grateful, excited and committed, but being pregnant still sucks, just like it did last time. Let me take a moment to say that while I am reasonably healthy during regular life, pregnancy did not seem to bring out that side of me last time. I am also not one of those Earth-mama types who can casually ingest kale and hemp seeds. I have to work at my healthy choices, and I will never stop loving gluten. Nausea and extreme fatigue, which is most of the first trimester, just brings out my love of Ramen and Saltines. Last time around, it even ignited a long-dormant candy habit.
I am not French, nor is my husband. As a result, our child is also not French. My husband and I do, however, have significant experience with French culture. In spite of that, when I was living there in college, I failed to realize how much calmer, healthier, and more standardized their national approach to food was than ours.
I noticed the lack of snacking, the late dinners, the lack of eating on the run, and the noticeable difference in eating habits between French students and North Americans. I saw college kids cook meals together in the dorm kitchen and sit down together at a card table in the hallway. I felt crusty looks from severe baristas at cafes, if I asked to have my coffee in a go cup. Not only did they not have paper cups to offer, but they were disgusted by the idea of it. In France, delicious food and beverages are meant to be savored, shared and enjoyed. While seated. To the French, eating while traveling, walking or alone is unpleasant, messy and sad.
The idea to write Mrs. Rose Glasses grew out of terrible homesickness that I was experiencing while we were living in Calgary, Alberta, in 2010, although the seeds were planted during some colorful adventures had while we were living in Louisiana. But Calgary was where I really needed to put on my big-girl pants and work it out, so I started writing Mrs. Rose Glasses then as an exercise in facilitating attitude change.
Writing Mrs. Rose Glasses proved an effective vehicle for painting an accurate picture of the positive, and also provided a place me to reflect on what was so terribly amplifying the negative. Writing about my experiences of finding or creating home in unlikely, non-home places helped me get happier right where I was. As it turned out, it also became a way for me to poke gentle fun, both myself and at the location in question (originally Louisiana, then Calgary, and ultimately Houston).
Confession: my relationship with apparel sustainability tends toward cyclical. Sometimes an outside force causes me to pull back and examine my clothing habits. Sometimes I read a new book and I feel old questions and concerns renewed. I wish I could say that I steadfastly shun all of the tempting apparel out there, but I do still fall prey to over-priced pretty things that probably contain questionable products and which also probably did not earn their maker very much money. Why is that? The question bedevils me.
I signed up for an alterations class this semester for a few reasons. I felt that I needed to do some skill-building, I knew the professor (and he's good), and also it felt like unfinished business...it is a class that I had had to drop several years ago but that I had wished I had completed.
My husband and I have been trying to find our happy place with regard to the holiday season, and it has been a bit of a struggle.
His family seems to under-celebrate, while my family shifts into over-the-top mode. I've seen him look physically pained during the chaos of my family's present-unwrapping free-for-all, while I have been nearly apoplectic at the idea that there is no Christmas Eve champagne-and-appetizer tradition on his side of the aisle.
I agree with him that financial hardship is no way to start the new year, and I am bad at moderation, so I vowed this year I would try harder. Instead of too many expensive presents, and fancy holiday cards, I tried to focus on the helpful and handmade. I did have a little bit of success, in the form of homemade cookies to share, and special but inexpensive gifts for my parents, but even so, the holiday sparkle I sought remained elusive.
It is troubling that when we aim for change, we sometimes falter because the change seems to lack sufficient magnitude to justify the effort. For example, it is startling to hear people say that alternative energy is a pointless pursuit because it only supplies a minuscule amount of that which is necessary to meet our needs. This line of thinking leaves me cold because everything starts small. There were horses, and now there are cars. There were leeches, and now there is medicine and surgery. People wore animal skins, and now there is fine cloth knit on intricate machines. It is productive instead to view the process of cleaning up our world as an intricate web, and one where every small victory is another crucial thread untangled.
Future Fashion White Papers leads me to think about this phenomenon because when I first read it, five or so years ago, finding information about where and how my clothing was made felt impossible, and locating designers and makers working on sustainable, or even local, production was an uphill battle. But now, only five years later, it feels that much progress has been made.
At the time that I read Cradle to Cradle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, I was looking for information about sustainability...looking for ways to enjoy food, travel, and especially clothing without the consumption guilt that had been gradually creeping in.
I'm not sure what I expected, but this book was not exactly it. It was better. It is concise and positive, not dry and gloomy. I expected to learn that in order to avoid drowning in a toxic soup of our own making, certain things would simply have to be off-limits, and that we will all will need to just wear hemp sacks going forward. Instead I found optimism, examples of innovation, and notions of abundance.
The flat-pattern method of designing clothes (and perhaps for other methods out there?) necessitates starting with a set of basic pattern shapes called slopers. If you draft these, and then cut and sew them, you have what looks like a shell (a bodice), a sleeve, and a skirt. Typically, these are sewn in plain, undyed muslin and lack fasteners and finished seams.
Slopers serve as templates of your best fit; future designs of specific garments start here; crucial aspects of armholes, waist circumference, torso length, or other aspects of fit are established by the slopers, and altered using flat-pattern methodology. Thus, your new bias-cut gown, flow-tunic, or two-piece swimsuit still fit you, in spite of greatly varying proportions or creative design lines.
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment that I connected the dots between shopping for pleasure and the waste represented by piles of unwanted clothing culled from a closet. I recall a gradual awakening to it, and I recall that the awareness ran parallel to the ever-deepening inquiry we make into the provenance of food.
Like many people around that time, which for me was approximately 2005, I was beginning to recognize that food shouldn't have to travel from China to make it to my fork, nor should it be coated in pesticide or pumped full of antibiotics. Much attention was being paid to the matter of food, but at that time it was uncommon to hear questions about who was making our clothes. It then clicked in my mind that if it matters what we put in our bodies, then it must also matter what we put on our bodies. Fabric, in the form of pants or bed sheets, rubbing on our skin for hours at a time could, and in fact probably did, come coated in dyes, bleaches and various treatments. Our skin is an organ every bit as much as our digestive system, and I started to question all that touched my skin. Not because I wanted too, but because I couldn't stop thinking about it after the seed had been planted.