Forest Bathing and Sermon Writing

Last Saturday, Robert and I headed out to Riverbend Park – he to break in his new kayak, and me to check out the bluebells and other assorted wildflowers. While there are a number of aspects to the festival – musicians, food trucks, puppet shows (puppet shows!), and talks on animals, plants, and “Terrific Turtles,” I spent all my time on a self-guided walk along the riverside trail, admiring the many wildflowers in terrific bloom.

[I was, I should note, avoiding working on my sermon for Easter morning. To be fair to myself, though, I had been trying to write the damn thing for a month and a half, so I thought a break was well deserved, and might even be helpful.]

Robert lent me his macro lens for the visit…which I didn’t really know how to use until we had a brief tutorial later that afternoon. I took a few pictures with the new lens, but mostly stayed with the other “zoom” lens Robert has let me borrow. [I’m not a knowledgeable photographer, just someone who fumbles about with her camera, so I can’t give you the same details about camera lenses and focal lengths, etc.]

These shots can not possibly convey how beautiful the flowers were along the trail. It was pretty amazing.

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While I hiked, I mentally drafted a small part of my Easter morning sermon. I won’t bore you with the whole thing, but I will let you know it was about grief:

We grew up with our father taking us to the “out of doors,” as he called it. Pointing out the different kinds of trees, identifying birds, teaching us which plants were safe to eat, which ones were often used for medicine, and which ones would give us rashes or could kill us if eaten. Every time I step foot in the woods, I think of my father. Which makes the woods a very difficult place to be. Because every rock, and flower, and tree and bird reminds me of him. It is harder to be there than anywhere else. And yet, at the same time, it is easier to be there than anywhere else.

[…] I don’t imagine Mary’s grief ever truly went away, despite having seen the risen Christ. I imagine she felt a part of it her whole life. Maybe it wasn’t ever as immediate as that morning, as she walked to the tomb, but it would still be there. Believing that someone is out of pain and “still around,” albeit not physically, doesn’t make their absence any easier, does it? There are still those moments when you stand in a field of bluebells, feeling their presence all around you, even as you are devastated that they aren’t there. The trick of it is, as Mary no doubt learned, to not let your desire to hold on to those people hold you back from the things you are called to do.”

There’s more, obviously. And it ended up being a lot happier and funnier than I originally worried [Seriously, I read it over again early Easter morning – when I still didn’t have an ending for it – and thought “folks are going to think this is a complete buzzkill for Easter morning”]. But that is what I wrote in the woods, and it helped just admitting how hard it is to go to the woods, and yet how much it is needed.

Through the Keyhole

Several weekends ago, the weather finally headed into an extended warm stretch. Saturday morning started off a little more overcast and breezy than I expected, but the clouds started to clear about 1pm, and the breeze, while still present, helped to cool down the warmer parts of the day.

Robert continued on the massive task he has set  himself — digging out the monster root system in a corner of the backyard — while I worked on building a new garden bed in the front of the house.

The gutter on one of the southern corners of the house leaks a little bit. It’s also not angled correctly, to allow for ideal drainage through the downspout. As a result, water tends to pour over the edge of the gutter in that spot, absolutely hammering the ground below. We’ve tried to grow things in that spot for a couple of seasons, but the water always has an adverse affect on whatever we plant. The fact that I couldn’t use perfectly good growing space was annoying, so I decided to try a new gardening technique this weekend.

A few years ago, my friend Matt (then the manager of the National Colonial Farm) revamped the space in the Museum Garden, showcasing different cultural approaches to gardening. He included a section in the middle that utilized a keyhole garden. It’s a form of raised bed gardening that makes use of compost and grey water, and is particularly useful in drought-prone regions of Africa and Texas. The raised beds help

The compost bin from Matt’s garden

with planting/weeding/harvesting, and the compost bin in the center helps to provide nutrients and moisture directly to the soil. I won’t have to water this garden as much as the ones in the back.

I have wanted to try my hand at a keyhole garden ever since Matt built that one back at Accokeek, and I figured this might be an opportunity to play a bit with the gutter problem.

The area where I wanted to build the keyhole garden already had part of a rock wall around it, from the original garden bed I built a few years ago. The original wall stretched a lot further across the front of the house. Knowing I wanted to build the walls up, rather than out, I relocated the rocks from further down the original bed, and used them to create a sort of oval shape, with a segment out of it to form the keyhole.

[Most keyhole gardens are circular…mine is less so, because of the area I am working with.]

I used an old tomato cage to mark out where I wanted to place the compost bin, and wrapped old straw mats (which have been in the basement for years without a defined purpose) around it. I used some hemp cord I had in my stash to lace the mats together, and held the structure in place with a few strategically placed sticks.

I debated whether to put landscape cloth down, and ultimately  decided against it. I

Here it just looks like a jumble of rocks. (and you can just barely see the corner Robert has been working on, in the back, past the other beds)

might come to regret that, as there are a few tenacious weeds and shrubs which have a tendency to come back, no matter how many times I try to dig them up, but I am using another method and hoping for the best.

After I built the walls up, I tossed down a layer of sticks from the brush pile, and

Looking down into the start of my compost bin

covered that layer with torn pieces of cardboard. You’ll want to make sure you remove any tape or glue, as it won’t break down in the dirt. I also threw some cardboard bits in the compost bin, to start the ball rolling there.

The new bed got four and a half bags of soil and a bag of mulch on Sunday, but I think I want to put  a little more on it. I’d really like to angle the dirt a little more than it is at the moment. Once the final load of dirt goes in, I’ll start planting. I plan to have a few flowers throughout the bed, but most of it will be a mix of radishes, carrots, cabbages, and the borage.

I did get a few things into the dirt over the weekend: a salad mix bed with red and green oak leaf lettuce, butterhead lettuce, and an heirloom Romaine known as Flashy Trout Back (let’s be honest…with a name like that, is it a surprise I picked it up?). I also got a few more strawberry plants, a rhubarb — which I’ve never grown before but am interested in attempting — a type of tomato known as Indigo Rose, and a large bell pepper variety known as Big Bertha. On the flower/succulent side, I picked up some more lobelia, and a new hen and chick to go in the top of the strawberry pot.

Robert drew up some plans last night for two more raised beds for the back of the house, like the ones he built last year. Last year’s beds worked out really well, and I think they add a lot to the house (plus, it’s one more thing that will help keep down the weeds that take over the back yard). One will be square, and the other will be the same size and shape as the other two beds. I’m thinking green beans will go in the long box, along with some kale, turnips, and more carrots. I want to try cucumbers and potatoes in the square bed.

And, in case you’re wondering what we’re going to do with that back corner, once Robert is finished tearing all the old roots out…I have plans.

Sometimes, You Fail

cutting out the lining

I’ve had Butterick 5951 in my “Ooo! I want this!” pattern pile for a little while now. Last weekend, I finally pulled it out of the envelope, pulled some fabric out of my stash, and got to work. I cut the bodice of View A and the skirt of View C and have been sewing on it over the past couple of days – a little bit here, a little bit there. Usually, I want to get through a project SO FAST! because I’m anxious to try it on and see how it fits. While I admit I still wanted to know how this pattern would look, I really wanted to take my time, enjoying the process, spending a little more time getting to know my sewing machine, etc.

I love a clean finish to the lining

I was also really enjoying little things like delicately slip-stitching the lining along the zipper tape, and fixing a slight mistake that occurred while I was cutting out the pieces. Sometimes, it’s nice to take your time and not hurriedly rush through a project, with a deadline hanging over your head.

When I cut out the front bodice pieces, I realized that the fabric was uneven along the bottom side, which meant one side of the bodice needed a little patch.

Last night, I wrapped up all the finishing except the final hem. I went to my room to slip it on and check the fit…

…and I hated it.

It was just wrong, wrong, wrong. The wrong style, the wrong fabric…everything was just wrong.

the patched bodice corner, from the wrong side.

And, while there are often things you can do to tweak a pattern and make it work, I honestly don’t think I could tweak the whole thing enough to make me happy with it. It’s just not-right-for-me overall.

Which is frustrating, when I’ve spent so much time on it, and was excited to see how it turned out. But that’s, unfortunately, part and parcel of any great sewing adventure. Sometimes, you fail. Sometimes, you do everything right and it still doesn’t work. Even after 20+ years of sewing, it still happens to me. And probably on a more regular basis than I would like.

Not to worry, though. I plan to take the pieces back apart and use the different components in other projects. The skirt gives me the most material to work with, and I already have an idea about how I’m going to use it.

[I should note…the lining for this dress was already salvaged from a different failed pattern experiment. Sometimes, you fail repeatedly.]

And they call the wind Bernina

That reference doesn’t really make much sense at all, but I needed a title for this post, and sometimes they just don’t come, and you end up with a stinker like that. Oh well.

A while back (much more than a year ::wince::), I helped my friend David move all of his grandmother’s things out of her old house. She had a lovely sewing collection – jars of vintage buttons, bins of vintage thread, a giant Tupperware full of binding and hem tape – and he was kind enough to pass on a number of those things to me. And, believe me, they have been getting a lot of use. I haven’t had to buy buttons for a project in some time, and I made a bunch of baby bibs last summer that each had a different color of binding.

One of the things that David included in that oh-so-kind giveaway was this little beauty.

That right there is a Bernina 1260.

Now, for those who might not know, Bernina is a really good sewing machine. I have heard it referred to as the Cadillac of sewing machines. Growing up, I always worked with Singer machines, which are not bad, but are a lot easier to find and get your hands on. For one, most of them don’t require financing, the way most Berninas do.

The Singer that Mom had purchased for me was humming along just fine at the time, so I wasn’t necessarily looking for a new machine. David was originally planning to take the Bernina home, himself, but at the end of the day, as we were packing up the last few things, he looked at the box and said “You know what? You sew a lot more than I do, and would probably get more use out of this than I would. Why don’t you take it?”

I asked him several times if he was absolutely sure. Like I said, Bernina is a good company. Even though the 1260 is an older machine (made in the 90s, I think, and believe me…it hurts to call anything from the 90s “older”), it is still a great, dependable machine. Plus, it’s made of metal, unlike pretty much everything made nowadays. It feels like a more permanent, steady, reliable machine because it’s not made out of plastic.

The machine and the accompanying sewing cabinet sat at the church for a little while, until I could finally clean out the basement area and set up space for it. Finally, I was able to move it in, set it up, plug it in, and hit the power button…only to have the light briefly flash and then die.

I figured it was probably a fuse, which was inconvenient. You can change those yourself, but it’s difficult to get in there and change everything out, and I wasn’t comfortable taking everything apart myself. So the machine sat on the table for a lot longer than I really want to admit, waiting for when I had the free time to pack everything up and cart it over to the shop.

Back in January, my office was closed for the Inauguration (one of the perks of being located in the DC metro area), and I knew the Quilt Patch was going to be open. I called ahead to make an appointment to drop off the Bernina, and was told the turn around was around two weeks.

Saturday morning, a little more than two weeks later, I headed back to the Quilt Patch. The machine is back, and everything is fixed. It turns out it wasn’t the fuse after all. The power supply had to be replaced. Since the machine is older, you can’t get a new part, but the repairman happened to have a rebuilt motherboard on hand. He then proceeded to tell me it was a real nice machine, with a smooth satin stitch, and that it was worth it to replace the broken part instead of getting a new machine.

Always something I like to hear.

The gummy bear council has deemed the machine worthy of use.

I switched my machines out (don’t worry, I still expect to get some use out of my old machine – especially since she’s much easier to cart around than the Bernina. The sewing table that David gave me is designed specifically for my “new” machine, with a nifty clear drop in that makes the sewing plate even with the rest of the surface, instead of the fabric having to shift up and over and back down the Singer’s plate.

Knowing I needed to jump into a project in order to know Bernadette (as I shall now call her) a little better, I busted out a pattern I had picked up a few months earlier, but hadn’t yet gotten around to.

I had been impressed by the design and instructions for the Comox trunks, by Thread Theory, so I picked up a few more of their patterns, to add to Robert’s handmade wardrobe. Since I’ve now made him two shirts, I thought I would try my hand at a pair of pants. The Jutland Pants were the obvious-to-me choice, as they are similar to the pants Robert already wears.

I showed him the pattern, and he was intrigued…but he had a request. He likes cargo pockets, but he prefers ones that are inset, much like a welt pocket, rather than the ones that have a flap on them. Could I make a pair like that? I think I probably can, but for the first run at the pattern, I’m going to move forward, just following the pattern as written. If the fit works, then I will attempt what he has requested with the second pair.

Finding suitable fabric to make a (hopefully) wearable muslin was a challenge of its own, largely owing to the fact that I was tired that day and really didn’t want to trudge out to the regular fabric store. Instead, I headed to Walmart, where I figured they would have some twill fabric. I did find a lovely, brushed twill in beige, but there was barely a yard on the bolt. I settled for some chocolate brown cotton canvas, and another, lighter tan twill that has a slightly slick feel (it’s supposed to cut down on wrinkles, and repel a little bit of water).

Knowing I only needed about half a yard of fabric for the waistband facing, pocket, and lining the cargo pocket flap, I dug around in my stash boxes at home. I pulled out a box of fabric that came from my grandmother’s house – some of them reclaimed from old dresses or shirts, and some of them, miraculously, several yards of uncut cotton prints. I opted for a dark green/black/ever-so-slightly-visible-pink plaid. i can’t remember exactly what it used to be, but I know I reclaimed it from a previous garment. I can still see some of the old stitch holes, and there were obviously darts in the original piece. I had just enough for all of the pieces I needed, with enough scraps left over that they can be used for quilt squares or other small projects.

[I love it when a new sewing project can have little bit of history in it, like this pair of pants.]

I had picked up some metal zippers when I was at Walmart, but I didn’t have any jeans buttons, and the zippers weren’t quite right, so I ended up swinging by Stitch later, during one of my lunch breaks. So convenient to have that shop around the corner from work!

Most of the construction for the pants breezed along pretty easily. The directions are incredibly detailed, with little blurbs about terminology for those who might be new to sewing. I thought that was a great touch, as many other patterns assume you are familiar with all sewing terms. That’s not generally the case, starting out. [I’ve been sewing for at least 25 years, and I’m still learning things.] The only section I had trouble with was the section focused on the zipper fly front. I read, re-read, re-re-read those instructions so many times! I’m still unsure whether I put the zipper shield on correctly, but the pants seem to work fine.

I loved the plaid lining for the flap….but the placement of the pockets didn’t work out and I ended up removing them all together

Mid-way through the construction, I had Robert try on one of the legs. I was worried about the fit at that time, as it looked like they might end up being too tight when everything was finished. Turns out, I shouldn’t have worried about that part. Robert had mentioned that his usual, store-bought 30s were starting to not fit right, so I cut the 32 size. It’s a little roomier than I think Robert really wants, so I think I will aim for a midway point between the two sizes when I cut out the next one. The knee patches need to be moved up about 4 inches, and the cargo pockets on the side were also situated too low. This should be solved by making a length adjustment to the pattern before cutting out the next pieces. I’m going to remove the pockets from the first wearable muslin, so they won’t look weird, but I’ve made some notes for the next version. Robert also requested I reinforce the corner of the right-hand front pocket, to allow for where his knife clips to his pocket.

The first stab at sewing up the Jutland pants took about 12 hours, spread over four days. [Keep in mind that I only had a few hours here and there to work on them.] That includes cutting out the pattern, the actual construction, and the final fitting/hems. I feel pretty confident that I could get that time cut down a fair bit, as I become more familiar with the pattern. Of course, working with welt pockets will probably slow me down considerably. I dislike sewing welt pockets, even if they end up looking nice.

Bernadette came through for me on this project. There were a couple of hiccups here

Robert’s initials, stitched onto the back pocket

and there – mostly when lint build-up affected the thread tension, or when I had to experiment to figure out how to position the needle to sew with the zipper foot, but the machine did all of the things I needed it to do. I was even able to add a little personalized touch to one of the back pockets. I think, with some extra practice, I’ll be able to do some great things with this machine.

Flax for Sam

[The title brings to mind the short story “Flowers for Algernon,” which just made me sad, and I’m kind of wishing I chose a different title, but nothing else popped into mind so I’ll just have to deal with it.]

Finished sweater, pre-blocking

I have finished my first sweater! Huzzah!

[Pattern: Flax, from Tin Can Knits. Yarn: Ice Road Trucker from Fiber ‘n Ice]

I sort of feel like I did everything possible to keep from finishing this dang thing. I made a mistake on the shoulders, but soldiered forward. I realized I needed to make the body longer, after I had already finished that and moved on to the sleeves, so I had to frog the original bottom band and re-knit. Then, I took out the original collar, because the white yarn was acrylic and felt a lot scratchier than the superwash wool I used for the main sweater.

[That last was the most nerve-wracking, as the rest of the sweater was perfectly fine, but could have all been undone if I messed up when picking up the stitches from the body and then taking out the old collar — resulting in at least a month of work down the drain.]


It’s all finished! I’ve woven in the loose ends, closed up the small holes that form at the underarm of the raglan sleeves (that’s part of the actual pattern), and the sweater is currently blocking on one of my foam pads.

I’ll have a short reprieve before I start Joey’s sweater, simply because I have to wait until I find yarn at the end of April/beginning of May. Although my hands are happy to have a little break, my brain is super excited about getting to work on Joe’s sweater (and actually doing things right from start to finish).

[I also managed to set a whole bunch of skeins yesterday, as I was working from home. As you can see, I had a lot of things piling up on my to-be-set table. The small skeins are, largely, samples from the recent Fiber Farmer Market. So many pretties! I’m almost through spinning up all the samples — in between working on a big spin of alpaca and roving from Avalon Springs Farm.

Plus, here’s a picture of Alvin in his cat burrito. I had to take  him to the vet for a teeth cleaning, hence the teleworking. He did so well, the dental tech put stars and hearts on his file under the description for “how did the cat do?”]

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Sweaters for Penguins

No, I’m not really knitting a sweater for a penguin. Unless you count my youngest nephew as one and, honestly, he’s about the size of some of them.

When I was up in Alaska, I picked up some yarn (Fiber ‘n Ice, colorway: Ice Road Trucker) with the extremely optimistic goal of knitting a sweater for little Sam. Keep in mind…I only learned how to knit in January. Attempting a sweater with only four finished items under my belt? (those items are incredibly simple) Like I said – extremely optimistic.

However, I had pulled up the Flax sweater pattern from Tin Can Knits, which purported to be a simple sweater that even a beginner can knit. I printed out a copy and searched around for some tutorials online (I find it helps seeing what other people have done, and learning from their mistakes, as I fumble through a new skill). Tools in hand, I set about making my first sweater.

I am surprised at how quickly I am progressing through the pattern. Of course, this being me, I did make a mistake fairly early on and didn’t notice it until it was time for me to start dividing for the sleeves. It’s okay, though. It doesn’t affect the physical construction of the sweater, just the end look.

[The caps of the raglan sleeves are currently all in garter stitch, instead of there being a thinner panel starting up at the neck, like there is supposed to be. Once I realized what I had done, I made an adjustment to my pattern, so I’m back on track for the rest of the sleeves looking the way they’re supposed to.]

The Flax sweater pattern is, as it claims, remarkably simple. There were a few times here and there where I needed to look up how to do something (more to clarify that I was doing it correctly), but the pattern moved along pretty quickly. If you’re a beginner knitter like me and you’re looking for something that will push you a little more, I recommend trying the pattern out.

Halfway through making the sweater, I decided that Sam’s older brother, Joe, needed a matching, hand-knit sweater as well. And, because I never do anything halfway, I’m thinking this may become an annual tradition. Sure! I’ll just hand-knit sweaters for my nephews each Christmas, like Molly Weasley! They’ll get a new pattern each year!

Sam’s sweater is almost done – I started on the sleeves about a week and a half ago. It’s my first stab at using double-pointed needles (DPNs), which meant a slow start to actually knitting the sleeves. I’m really starting to get the hang of them now (I’ve finished one sleeve so far), but I’m also looking forward to being able to use the circular needles when I make Joey’s sweater.

As I mentioned before, Mom and I went to the Fiber Farmer’s Market on Saturday. I had hoped to pick up the yarn for Joey’s sweater (Sam’s should be done soon), but there were fewer vendors selling the weight and colors I was looking for. Most of the vendors on Saturday had roving — not a bad thing, but not what I was looking for, for Joe’s sweater.

Not to worry, though. The Powhatan Festival of Fiber, and Maryland Sheep and Wool are coming up at the end of April/beginning of May, and my goal is to find a lovely worsted or Aran superwash wool yarn for Joey’s version of the sweater. His favorite color is purple, but I haven’t decided yet whether I want to get yarn in a single shade of purple, in variegated shades of purple, or another color all together with accents of purple.

I’m really like this color that I found on Etsy (and got to see in person at the Fiber Farmer Market) but I think that’s more along the lines of what I would wear. For Joe,  I’m thinking it will probably be more along the line of “Purple Haze,” “Ziggy Stardust” or “Severus Snape” from Dancing Leaf Farm.

I’m also really tempted by “Bed of Iris,” from Kim Dyes Yarn, which she had at the farmer market.

Of course, it’s just as likely that something else will jump out at me when I’m at one of the upcoming festivals, but I’m really leaning towards that Bed of Iris.

I might have to contact her for a specific weight.

A Little Bit of Healing

I have been sick for about two months now – mostly coughing (which is putting it mildly), with some congestion and a little bit of soreness in my throat from time to time. Most folks automatically assume it is allergies or asthma…despite my insistence that it is not. This is not allergies. While I admit allergies can develop later in life, I also know my body pretty well, and this was something different.

It has taken two months, two steroid inhalers, an albuterol inhaler, acid reflux medication, allergy medication, regular Mucinex DM, a round of heavy-duty antibiotics, and a final round of oral steroids, but I am starting to see vast improvement, at long last.

Of course, some of the improvement could have happened sooner, had we known at the onset what I learned halfway through the treatment cycle — apparently, my body does not handle inhaled steroids OR albuterol well. Lessons learned, and all that.

When I don’t feel well, I let a lot of things slide, and often don’t notice how those little things add up and contribute to my wellness (or lack thereof). I had a bit of a reminder this weekend.

I am of the belief that taking time for hobbies and personal care are a big factor in keeping one’s body and mind in good health. It’s called “self care” for a reason, after all. And, while I was trying to do some self care things these past two months – working on some knitting and sewing – I didn’t keep up with some of the other things that I know make me feel better but often fall by the wayside.

Like laundry. And tidying up. And spending some time with my mother. And seeing friends. And engaging in creative ministry.

This weekend, I got to do a little bit of each of those things. Mom and I went to a Fiber Farmer Market on Saturday morning, Robert and I had a lovely picnic dinner date, I planned a Sunday service that involved prism glasses and silly videos, my friend David came over and we grilled out, and Robert, David and I tried our hands at an edible craft that has been saved on one of my Pinterest boards for some time.

[Robert deemed the craft “Pinterest Plausible,” which is a level we reserve for something that wasn’t as rousing a success as the original Pinterest post, but also does not fall into the category of a fail, either.]

All those things (plus the third day of a course of steroids, I’m sure) contributed to a growing sense of well-being, but there was one additional thing that helped to make the weekend one of healing.

Robert tidied up my basement.

I’ve had a blanket fort set up for some time and had been meaning to break it down (while it makes for a cozy retreat, it also makes the main room downstairs a little cluttered and dark). While I put away groceries and cleaned the dining room table, Robert took it down, put away the tent poles (I take my blanket forts very seriously), and folded all of the sheets.

He also vacuumed much of the basement, put the downstairs living room back in order, cleaned the cat box, and washed and folded several loads of laundry.

So, when I came downstairs after what I already felt was a relaxing and fulfilling weekend, I was greeted with a tiny bit of order in my hectic basement living space, and a part of me that I didn’t realize was out of alignment slide back into place — like tapping a Jenga brick back into its original spot, to rebuild the original tower.

Tonight, I’m thinking of tackling my work table and one of my shelves.