#33: Treat my niece to a girls overnight trip to celebrate her 13th birthday

Of all the things I want to do this year, this was tops. I once had a professor who took her grandchildren anywhere in the world they wanted to go for their bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah. It was a tradition I wanted to start with my own nieces - all five of them - though without the "anywhere in the world" part. Granted it would be great if I could swing an Amazonian river cruise or trip to Paris every few years.

Our first niece was just a babe in arms at our wedding twelve and a half years ago and a toddler when we lived near Chicago years ago, when I was in my early twenties and just getting used to big city living. Now she's on the cusp of becoming a teenager.

She lives in Illinois, so I gave her a few options - Chicago, Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Dells. She chose Chicago. All those years that she's been growing up, I've been navigating cities, so it was fun to show her the ropes. Since she was game for whatever, we spent our time the way I typically travel: taking the train, walking way too much, packing it in, shopping just a little, eating on the run, visiting a museum, buying tickets for a play that same day after researching every play in the city weeks before. She didn't get tired one bit. I very much needed a nap before it was dinnertime, but she easily could have kept going all night.





I love that she's in the in-between. She knows it too. Growing up is something she has to do. She kind of wants to and kind of doesn't. My best advice for navigating being a teenager was to stick with your closest small group of friends. With good luck, they could be your friends for a long time, and they'll help you get through all the stuff that isn't so great. And I told her to wear what you want to wear. And as far as make-up goes, I only wear eyeliner on special occasions.

Abundant things


I never mentioned that for 2014, the one little word I choose was "abundance." Or rather, it choose me. Over the holidays I read a book of love letters written between Matt's grandparents while they were courting. It was gifted to us by Matt's aunt and is quite a treasure, since we love them so. When they embarked on a long-distance courtship, they were both engaged in full-time professional ministry - his grandmother doing so as a deaconess in Baltimore before the United Methodist church ordained women and his grandfather as a minister in a very small town in Michigan. In the letters, they discussed their mutual commitment to abundant living. His grandma wrote, 
"I'll have to agree again with you, Mac, about the fact that city young people are harder to work with because it takes so much to satisfy them. Really for me, it takes so little (of the right abundant things) to make me happy, grateful, content! Oh! to help them catch that little bit of what it takes to be content."
Having had the pleasure of knowing Matt's grandma for nearly twenty years now, she may be the most consistently content person I've known. She was on to something.

After I couldn't get it out of my head, I looked up the phrase "abundant living" and it turns out the term was popularized by Oral Roberts in the post-war period when Matt's grandparents were quickly falling in love. The sociologist in me thinks that it makes a lot of sense that a theological discussion around abundance took hold as the country entered its most wealthy, consumer-oriented era to date in the 1950's.

Ultimately, I feel the word abundance choose me is because it actually makes me really uncomfortable. Both because of the religiosity around the term, but also because I think of myself as someone who adheres more to a simple living philosophy than to abundant living. But, when I'm honest and look around, I have a lot of stuff. Seriously, we have four computers for two of us. Some of the excess gets in the way of living the way I want to live. But mainly, I just want to more deeply enjoy and get use out of what I have. It goes hand in hand with what I was already setting out to do this year: make a clearing.

At some point well over a year ago, I made a conscious decision to hold back from sharing here the things I was making. I wanted to take the pressure off so I could experiment a little more and just enjoy the making process. I guess I made a clearing of privacy for awhile. I'm glad I did that, but I'm ready to share here more. Sharing right now seems in line with the idea of living abundantly.

So for starters, above is my version of the Simple Sprinkle scarf which is my go-to cowl this very cold winter. I started it last winter to use up yarn scraps, put it aside, and then finished it up in December. The pattern called for a few more repeats, but I thought the shorter length was cozy so I stopped knitting when I felt like stopping.

So that's my plan - more intentionally pick up what's calling me creatively and set aside what I'm not enjoying. Simple and abundant.

Weekend garment sewing with Rae and April


I've wanted to learn to make dresses for awhile. This Washi dress in particular. This weekend was the weekend.

I grew up with women who quilted and made dolls, but not garments. This probably saved me from having to wear a lot of embarrassing ensembles, but still, I've always been interested in garment sewing. My first sewing project was a purse that I made out of shiny bubble-gum pink spandex in 4th grade. I used it for trick-or-treating and it sagged all the way to the ground by the end of the night. In 7th grade home ec, I decided to sew a purple jersey knit dress (not an easy fabric to start with), while the other kids made pillows. I was pretty proud of myself for taking on an ambitious project, seeing that I come from a long line of women who sew beautifully, but I hit my final growth spurt mid-semester and outgrew the dress before I finished it! It remained almost done, too tight and short to wear, and taunted me for quite awhile.

Since then, I've planned a lot of sewing projects but haven't followed through with most of them. Collecting patterns and fabric was actually my hobby. Then, a couple years ago someone in my knitting group said she wanted to learn to sew a dress that could become her uniform for work. That idea really appealed to me, and when I saw the Washi dress, I thought it might be the dress. The designer lived locally so I kept my eye out for a class with her.

This past fall I took a work trip to Seattle. While looking for a place to eat dinner after a long flight, I stumbled on a very lovely fabric shop called Drygoods Design in Ballard. I'm not exaggerating even a little when I say that ending up in Ballard accidentally was like stumbling straight into Pacific Northwest fantasy-land, where everyone drove Suburus and bearded guys in flannel and chooks sold organic beet juice at a farmer's market on a street filled with coffee shops. I even went into a dessert shop devoted to molten chocolate cakes and $8 jelly jars filled with handcrafted sea salt dark chocolate pudding. I was a little more than charmed by the whole scene and lost my better sense, walking away from Drygoods with the Washi paper pattern and enough expensive fabric for two dresses and a shirt!

This time, I was on the hook to actually follow-through. So, I signed up right away when the weekend garment sewing workshop, hosted by Rae Hoekstra of Made by Rae and April Rhodes, was announced on Rae's blog. Both women design easy-to-sew patterns with a modern sensibility. Rae designed the Washi Dress, and it's been a bit of a sensation among young seamstresses. April is from Columbus, Ohio, and is quite accomplished - owning a local fabric shop with her mom and designing very stylish patterns that she sells online. 

For the whole weekend, twelve of us - some who came from as far as away as Montreal and Chicago - got to hang out in Rae's studio in Ann Arbor, getting tips from both designers on how to custom fit patterns to your body and learn other little tricks of the trade. We also got to try on their dress and blouse samples hanging on the rack. So.much.fun. It felt like a very low stakes version of Project Runway. Except the phrase "that's so adorable" was used a lot instead of "make it work." You get the idea.

My sewing is a little rusty and I'm not the best at following directions, so my progress was a little slower than some of the other women. Most were away from kids for the weekend and laser-focused on maximum sewing time. Some stayed until 11pm Saturday night. I was in a slower paced mood and stopped for all the demos and asked a lot of questions so I could learn how to trace a pattern onto Swedish tracing paper, make a muslin, adjust the fit (particularly in the bust, which involves finding your apex!), and get some tips on garment finishing techniques like shirring, hemming, pleating, and making bias tape. I also got a tutorial on using my serger, which has been sitting in my basement since I snagged it last year from a neighbor who moved to San Francisco. 


It was also fun to be a bit of a tourist in the college town next door to where I grew up. Rae's studio was next to the pizza place my parents took me to as a baby. Saturday the weather took a turn for the even-worse, and I had to call up a good friend from high school and bum a sleepover on her couch. On Sunday I wanted to finish my dress, but I decided instead to go along on a little field trip to Pink Castle Fabrics and my favorite place to eat in town these days - Frita Batidos.

I love knitting, I love painting, I love papercrafting, but I think for a little bit here, sewing is going to be my main craft.

I'll be done with my first Washi dress within a week. Hold me to it, friends. Because like always, I have a more than a few other projects in mind.

36 by 36

I'm writing up a post on how it went in 2013 with my 35 by 35 list.

But in the meantime, on this first day of the New Year, here is my 36 by 36 list. This year, like my friend Sarah does with her annual list, I'm going to try for half this time around. I'm getting the hang of this now.

I carried forward #1-23, with some modification. Some are longer term works-in-progress (#2-6, #10, #14).

1.     See a movie at the Ford Drive-In
2.     Blog 50 photos I took on the Polaroid, Yashica, or Rolleiflex cameras
3.     Shoot and print a roll of double exposures with Matt
4.     Shoot and print a roll of underwater photos
5.     Fill an art journal with collages and drawings
6.     Hike #100trailmiles
7.     Kayak in Port Austin, Michigan
8.     Take our bikes over to Ontario for a ride
9.     Complete an encaustic collage series with vintage women in the outdoors photos
10. Finish 6 craft projects I planned
o    Michigan postcards collage
o    Vintage type set drawer piece
o    Washi dress #1
o    Washi dress #2
o    Ruby top
o    Market bags
11. Learn to use my (not so new) serger
12. Buy something at John King Books
13. Finally go to the Detroit Soup
14. Finish decorating the bedroom
15. Hang our art and prints
16. Own a KitchenAid mixer
17. Practice yoga or meditation every day for a month
18. Tour the Rouge factory
19. Buy a last minute weekend flight and travel to a random city
20. Leave or find some art for Free Art Fridays
21. Scan my grandpa’s photos with my mom
22. Volunteer 20 hours at the Earthworks garden and/or Sierra Club Inner City Outings
23. Get into a Project Life habit
24. Take long exposure photos of the stars at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park
25. Ice skate on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa
26. Attend a weekend art workshop or retreat
27. Own cross-country skis
28. Try geocaching
29. Submit one (or more) of my dissertation papers for publication
30. Go camping...anywhere!
31. Learn to play a duet on the guitar with Matt
32. Go paddle boarding
33. Treat my niece to a girls overnight trip to celebrate her 13th birthday
34. Swim in the Barton Springs Pool in Austin
35. List and sell something on Etsy

36. Fly a kite

2014 – ready, set, go!

Making a clearing

Now is an in-between season for me. I decided a couple months ago, thanks to this prompting, to slowly go through every closet. Every nook of my living space - both physical and spiritual - and to work on a gentler approach to my life. Less of the things I don't need and more of what is essential.

A couple days after I turned in my dissertation in mid-August, Matt and I were in San Francisco and we were exhausted. At breakfast, we met a man - a chatty British expat with black and green hair who flew in from western Australia where he lived to spend a week creating sculptures in a warehouse in Oakland before going to Burning Man. He told us the dust in the desert is corrosive so you have to wear goggles all week to keep your eyes from burning. He went every year.

Without a doubt, he was the kind of person who struck up conversations with anyone his path. I am the kind of person who listens to every person who strikes up a conversation with me. Luckily, he was a good conversationalist so over coffee and toast, we talked about art, travel, culture, and politics.

The second day at breakfast, our new friend was having a conversation with another couple who was headed home that afternoon. The five of us conversed, and we came to learn that the husband had a PhD in engineering. I told him I'd just turned in my paper before arriving in San Francisco for a vacation. He told me confidently that it would take me a full year to "spin down" from six years of graduate school. He'd taught PhD students for many years and he said he'd seen it again and again. It will take a full year.

He also mentioned that he and his wife had adopted children, and after some thought, I gently brought up our stretch of infertility. I guessed that they might have lived that stress too, and they had. I recognized immediately the grace of crossing paths with someone at exactly the right moment who got how tired I was and who told me: it will take time.

And to cross paths with a wild man who built giant works of art in a foreign country and then burned shit in the desert just for fun. There was a lesson in that chance meeting too.

After this past weekend of Thanksgiving, Matt and I took our dog on a walk in a small bit of woods over the border in Canada. After we got back, the word 'retreat' kept popping up for me throughout the week.
When I finished college and before I got married, I had the incredible fortune to spend time at a Quaker retreat center for four months. I was desperate for time away from home since I never studied abroad or interned in D.C. during college like I felt I should have. A professor was encouraging me to get a PhD then, yet after college, all I wanted was a break to learn how to not work for awhile. Though I had some chores at the retreat center, like mopping floors after dinner and preparing egg salad for weekenders, I spent many nights in the art studio at the potter's wheel. I made so many bowls and plates I couldn't pay the studio back for the clay at the end of my time there. Some of those pieces have broken. Others we still have.

On the cusp of adulthood, I somehow figured out that I needed to learn how to slay back the overachieving forces within me. They are strong. Having new letters behind my name now comes with new pressures, and after six years of too much work and a couple bitter doses of heartbreak, I find myself wrestling against ambition again.

I am fully rooted in adult life though. That's the difference between then and now. Hitting the pause button and retreating for months...well, it's not going to happen.

What I can do is make a clearing. With that open space, I can weave retreat back into my daily life. I can find more moments for leaves to crunch underfoot, for my hands to be full of clay or paint or clothe, and for time to just be. Time to take photos again and to find words to write in this space.

Thirteen years after that long retreat, I still have a sense memory, though distant, of what it feels like to slow down.

I am giving myself a year to relearn how to spin down.