The Love of a Good Cat

Raven, on his first night in a new place

As is very clear on this blog (and probably within about 15 minutes of meeting me…less, if Alvin has bid me farewell that morning by rubbing against my pant leg), I live with cats. Two of them.

I agree…Alvin is pretty darn cute.

Raven, thinking deep thoughts

Alvin is featured quite heavily here, and on Facebook, largely due to the fact that he does so many silly things that require taking a picture to laugh over later (I am creating an entire album of photos of Robert feeding him food), as well as the fact that he is just so photogenic. It’s really hard to take a bad picture of Alvin. His markings are striking, and his white fur glows when he sits in the sun, and his face is just. so. darn. CUTE!

By contrast, I have very few pictures of Raven. As a result, I am sure that someone, somewhere, is bound to assume I like him less than Alvin.

 

And nothing could be further from the truth.

Raven, in his favorite place on the couch…right next to me.

I love Alvin, I really do. He has sat with me when I was in great physical pain, patting my shoulder with his paw when I whimpered, as if to say “There, there.” And he constantly reminds me that it is far past my bedtime and, if I want to get any sleep that night, I had best stop working on my projects and go to bed.

Raven, on the other hand, couldn’t care less that I am still up at 3 in the morning, beyond passing excitement about early morning head scritches. He is picky about his treats, insistent on eating them out of a bowl. He doesn’t require the same kind of structure that Alvin seems to, reinforcing the notion that Alvin is a dog in a cat’s body and Raven is a cat. And he genuinely seems to hate having his picture taken (it doesn’t help that being a black cat makes him more difficult to photograph in the first place).

There is a truth that the pictures and stories won’t tell you, though.

I love Alvin, but Raven is my heart.

Raven loves to hide under the rug in the living room. Sometimes he is less successful than others.

A few months after we said goodbye to Onyx (who I will go on record now as The Best Cat EVER), I decided that the family needed another fuzzy friend running about the house. I knew I wanted another black cat. I stopped by the pet store on my way home one night, to take a peek at the cats they had up for adoption, and that’s when I spotted him. A little ball of worried fluff, curled up in the middle of his litter box, watching the world with wary eyes. I fell in love with him that very moment, and vowed I would be back that weekend, when the store had an adoption event, and he would be coming home with me very soon.

The very first picture we have of Raven, the day we signed the papers to adopt him and Alvin.

That Saturday, my family came to coo over cats and were greatly amused by an adorable-yet-vicious kitten. I, on the other hand, only had eyes for Raven. It took a little searching – they had moved him from his original spot to a cage on the floor, amongst five other black cats – but I found him and knew. Yep. This is the one.

I remember picking him from his cage, and carrying him to the back room, where my family was (which, in hindsight, was amazing, for reasons that will soon become apparent). I’d like to say Raven won them over right away, or maybe even that I put up a great argument about his merits, but it was much simpler than that. I just insisted that he was coming home, as though it was fact instead of desire. A quick search later, and we were introduced to Alvin (who did win everyone’s hearts the minute we met him), and I brought my boys home a few days later…

By the end of the first night, Raven had finally come upstairs.

…only to find that Raven was a LOT more skittish than he had appeared at the adoption event — to the point where you couldn’t even pick him up, never mind hold him, unless you wanted to lose – at best – an eye.

He spent a good portion of that first night downstairs, hiding under my bed (which continues to be his safe spot), finally graduating to sleeping on the bed with us all evening the second or third night they were home.

I worked with him every day, petting him on the cedar chest until he calmed, and then hugging him for a moment, without picking him up. At first, he would tense when I hugged him. I think he was worried he was about to hoisted in the air. But I kept him on the cedar chest.

Finally, the day came to move to the next step.

Raven has definite opinions about the omnipresence of wireless devices.

I would put my arms around him, one around his front, one curling around the back of his tail, with my hands supporting his tummy, and his feet hanging down, but not where they could scrabble and claw in terror. Then, lift and hold for two seconds for a week. Three seconds the next week. Then five. Then ten. Eventually, we got to a place where I didn’t even have to hold him like that. I could pick him up like a normal cat. Even Andrew can pick him up and hold him now.

I think the reason Raven doesn’t complain when we do this is he is secretly a dragon, reveling in his horde.

He went from being a skittish little shadow under the bed, to sitting on the floor as you place all of his toys and a couple of socks on him. He will never be as social as Alvin, but then…Alvin will never really be like Raven.

You see, Alvin is who you want when you want to laugh at silly antics, or need to be reminded about bedtime, or have a piece of toast that needs licking (Robert!).

Raven is who you want when you just need to be loved for who you are. The only judgement he has tends to be reserved for when you stop petting him, when you try to offer the spoon for the wet food to him, or when he jumps up on the bed, only to find Robert sitting in “his” place.

When I’ve been gone for a while, whether traveling for work or down in DC for a few days while I work a summit, both cats seem relieved to see me come in the door. But Raven is the one who sits by my side on a regular Tuesday, his paw touching me as if to reassure both of us. He likes to sit on the couch arm or the back couch cushion, right next to me. He’ll allow cuddles from just about everyone, as long as they understand that he is to be petted and adored and that they can never stop, but this shouldn’t fool you into thinking he doesn’t have favorites.

Raven is the one who finds me when I feel un-tethered and sits down to soothe me. He’ll dance back and forth, so I alternate between petting his head and his rump, until he finally settles down next to me. He did that last night. I’ve been feeling off for several days now, coming away from a negative encounter with heightened stress and a disturbing inability to fall asleep at night, despite how tired I’ve been. But last night, Raven followed me downstairs, jumped up on the bed and curled up beside me, grabbing my hand with his paws, his head propped on my arm. He twisted a little and shot me that look that seems to say “I have never been so happy as in this moment, and it’s because of you.”

I know I’m projecting, but tell me you wouldn’t think the same thing when you see this face looking up at you.

It’s always been clear that Raven has some anxiety, most likely related to when he was a stray. (He still freaks out when someone knocks on the front door, though I can’t figure out why) But it’s also clear that he has made great progress in overcoming it. He lets people pick him up and hold him. He even lets my youngest nephew pet him, occasionally. And he earned a bunch of hearts and stars on his chart at the vet the

other day, when he went for his dental cleaning. The dental tech couldn’t believe how sweet he was, even while she was scraping his teeth.

It gives me hope, because I remember where Raven was when we first brought him home, and it is miles away from where he is now. And if this ball of fluff could learn to love and trust, it gives me hope for the rest of my life.

As I started to drift off to sleep last night, Raven shifted around so that his tail fell across my face, patting my cheek as if to say “There, there.”

**Alvin and Raven both came to us from Fancy Cats Rescue Team. If you are looking for a feline friend, please remember: Adopt, don’t shop!

A Balancing (Plaid) Act

My friend David recently bought a house (yay!) in a lovely community out near Occoquan. The community puts on a July 4th fireworks display over one of the lakes and he is allowed two guests, which Robert and I readily agreed to being! We planned to make a full day of it: a cookout at David’s, some swimming/floating in the lake, and finishing up with the community fireworks display. I thought it might be a nice opportunity to make a new dress for the day’s festivities. I wanted to try out the Lenox shirtdress pattern (I’ve always liked the idea of a shirt dress, but had yet to find a ready-to-wear version that I thought looked good on me). While perusing the available shirting choices at Fabric Store Basement, my eyes fell on this one.

Now, normally I’m not one for donning a red-white-and-blue ensemble for Independence Day. [Don’t try reading things into that statement. It’s just not a thing I normally do.] However, I thought the shirting was a nice mix of the colors, and the red was just small enough that I could get away with wearing the dress on other occasions without it screaming ‘MURICA, F*CK YEAH! So I picked up a couple of yards, and set to work.

I actually went ahead and did a step I almost always leave out: washing my fabric. I know, I know. We’re supposed to wash our fabric first, and then work on stuff. Obviously, I don’t always follow the rules. I did this time, though…and my dryer promptly stopped actually drying my laundry. It does this from time to time, and I have a sneaking suspicion that all it needs is a good vacuuming of the channel where the lint screen goes, and it will be good as new.

Pattern matching became a wee bit tricky when I realized that the plaid was both uneven and unbalanced. Doh! That’s what I get for not taking a closer look at things when I’m in the actual store!

[cue screeching brake sound]

Note how folding it along a dominant line does not result in a mirror image

“What is an uneven and unbalanced plaid?” I hear you say. The short answer is…this. This is an uneven and unbalanced plaid.

For a little more detail:

A balanced plaid is a plaid that is mirror-imaged when you fold it along a dominant line in the pattern. A plaid can be balanced vertically, horizontally, or both.

Still not a balanced plaid. I know it looks that way at first, but take note of the red lines.

An even plaid is a plaid that is mirror-imaged when you fold it along the diagonal.

Nope. Not even.

If the colors and lines match along the diagonal, vertical and horizontal lines…congratulations! You have an even, balanced plaid! You can now proceed to cut out your pieces in either direction.

If, however, you are like me…you wind up with a piece that both unbalanced and uneven. This is called a two-way, one-directional plaid. Which might seem like an Old West curse and, I would maintain, is entirely warranted. This is considered the most difficult plaid to cut and sew, because of course it is. If you’re going to give yourself a challenge, might as well commit to it!

[On a hunch, I took a moment last night and pulled all the plaids** I have in my stash, and wouldn’t you know it…the majority of what I have purchased are uneven plaids. Half of those are also unbalanced. I wonder what it says about a person who is drawn primarily to uneven, unbalanced plaid. Maybe I’m reading too much into this…]

So, knowing this now about my fabric, I set about carefully cutting everything out, doing my best to match the stripes and keep the nap of the fabric (in this case, not a textural nap, but a visual one) the same for all of the pieces. For the most part, I think I did pretty well, although I was not happy with how the side seams met up. That’s entirely my fault, though, as I wasn’t paying as close attention while cutting the lower back pattern pieces as I should have been, and then didn’t consider that when moving on to cut the front. Oh well, You win some, you lose some.

I thought of using some of my vintage bias tape along the seam lines, to break up the visual, but when I pinned it on as a test, I didn’t like the strong lines. I decided to just embrace the slightly wonky lack-of-matching.

In the end, the plaid actually did a pretty good job of matching up and keeping in line, from the bodice down to the skirt…which is amazing, considering they are not one piece, and are broken up with a waistband.

Because I knew trying to match up the lines of the bodice and skirt to those on the waistband and front button placket would, ultimately, be the thing that killed me, I decided to cut both of those pieces out with the grain going the opposite way it was suggested. I wasn’t sure whether it would work out, but I’m pretty happy with the way it looks, all finished.

The lining for the button placket and waistband is from a remnant from a previous pattern test. The cotton weave is a lot lighter weight than it probably should be, but I liked the idea of having additional stripes running through the dress — albeit, on the inside where you won’t see them. Plus, the metallic thread reminded me of fireworks.

The pattern calls for 13 buttons, which went nicely with the whole July 4th theme. 13 buttons for 13 original colonies! Because I knew I didn’t have 13 of a single color button (except maybe some random purple ones that really don’t go with the dress), I opted to pull from my stash of random buttons. I pulled out all of the red, white, and blue buttons I could find, and began sorting through the pile, pulling out the ones that were one-of-a-kind. Since they were going to be different colors and, in some cases, slightly different shapes, I wasn’t as concerned about them all being the same size.

I sewed everything on, but was a little concerned that the top button wasn’t actually designed to be at the top of the button placket. I’m not sure if this is a design feature, or if I just did something wrong while making the dress, but I wasn’t comfortable leaving it open. Of course, I also didn’t want to add another actual button (because that would throw off the whole 13 buttons=13 colonies thing I had going in my brain). I dug through an old jewelry box I bought a couple years back and pulled out one of the tie tacks that my father had given me, way back when (Law enforcement guys love their tie tacks…at least in Indian Country). I went with this Secret Service pin. I think it added a nice touch to the ensemble.

The dress was perfect for the day – especially because the pattern includes functional pockets! YAAAAAAY! (When will designers learn that women value functional pockets in their clothing?!) I was able to throw my keys and my phone in the pocket and head out to see fireworks, without having to worry about lugging my purse along, too.

The only problem I had with the dress — the sleeves were too tight, and the waist could have used a smidgen of extra room — were likely the result of me cutting out a size smaller than I have been cutting for the Cashmerette patterns. In my defense, the finished garment measurements looked like they were perfect, and the other woven patterns that I’ve made so far have been a little big (I am going to go down a size or two in those, when I make the next versions), so I thought it would be safe to start with the smaller size for this dress. I didn’t, however, take into account that this pattern is a much more fitted look. I plan to make a couple more versions of this dress, and the next will see me going up one size, and determining if any more adjustments need to be made. This go around, I solved the sleeve problem by simply removing the sleeves and binding the armholes with bias binding. I might make a little button band adjuster for the waist button. We’ll see. For now, it’s still wearable.

Those little fitting problems aside, how do I feel about this pattern?

I LOOOOOOOVE IT!

Like I said, I’ve been looking for a shirt dress pattern that worked for me, and I believe I have found it! I think the greatest reason for this success is the fact that, in addition to coming in a range of sizes, the patterns can be cut for a range of cup sizes. I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to have a pattern allow for your boobs, right off the bat, instead of having to revert to hacking it all up to make it work.

The directions are easy to follow, and I even learned a new technique that I have heard of, but never tried (the burrito technique for sewing a lined yoke).

I was SO comfortable wearing this all day, and it was nice that I could also sort of wear it as a robe, of sort, when I got out of the water that evening. Despite the headache that the pattern matching gave me, the shirting was the perfect material for this dress. It felt light enough to be comfortable in the humid summer that Virginia is so known for, and still crisp enough to make me feel “put together.”

I already have plans for some more shirt dresses, using a cute print that has been sitting in my stash for a while (and maybe another plaid one, but that might have to wait until I can think about matching lines without screaming internally)

 

**real plaids. I’m not talking about ginghams, checks, tattersall, and houndstooth (which I would never consider in the same category but apparently a lot of other people do

 

 

It’s too hot to think of witty titles

The heat has been ridiculous this summer. Which seems unfair, because the weather was remarkably cool and mild for far longer than it usually is. Case in point: Temps in May were often in the 50s and 60s, and we even had a string of 60° (F) days in June when we’re usually solidly in “sweaty, stinky DC armpit” temps.

This week, by contrast, the temperatures have been in the high 90s, and it’s supposed to get to 105° F over the weekend.

That’s not with the heat index. That’s what the actual temperature is supposed to be. Then, add in all the humidity that the DC area is known for during summer months, and you’ve got the makings of a VERY uncomfortable time.

I park my car in a garage at least a half mile from the office, which means a short walk uphill in the morning, and back down in the afternoon. You would think that my 9am walk to the office would be cooler.

You would be wrong.

I’ve been turning to dresses and skirts more often than I used to. That’s really how you know it’s hot out…I was renowned for wearing jeans at the height of summer when I was growing up. The only time I didn’t was for the string of years when I regularly suffered excruciating heat rash (mostly on the back of my neck, though not always just there).

While the heat rash tendencies subsided for a good while, I think it’s starting to come back — perhaps I’ll chalk that up to getting older.

Hence, the afore-mentioned attempt to battle the heat with wearing dresses and skirts. It’s just too hot for pants. And, while the dress code at my office is fairly lax, I don’t generally feel “right” wearing shorts to work. (Plus, I only have two pairs that could really be considered “nice” shorts. The rest are the ones I wear when working out in the yard, or hiking)

Luckily, I discovered the magic that is Cashmerette patterns this summer. The designs have been out for a while, and I’ve seen a number of other bloggers I follow touting their thoughtful design, but I hadn’t gotten around to making up any of the patterns.

Then I made a Concord tee, using a very lightweight sweater knit (I don’t even think you can consider it a sweater knit, it’s so lightweight, but I’m going to say it anyway), and I haven’t looked back.

I’ve got a couple of pattern review posts lined up, focused on the other Cashmerette patterns I’ve made so far. Since it’s so hot, I’ve been spending a lot of time in my sewing area, which is in the oh-so-cool basement (though, honestly, some days even the basement feels hot!). I guess I could look on the oppressive heat as a bonus in that way. So far, I’ve finished two Concord tees, a Springfield top, two Webster tops, a Turner dress, and a Lenox shirt dress, with another three patterns cut out and awaiting construction).

A Weekend of Selfish Sewing

Somehow, I managed to have a mostly free weekend.

I don’t know how I did that, which is slightly annoying, as I’d like a repeat. Oh well.

At any rate, I found myself with a Friday workday that ended a bit earlier than usual, and no immediate plans for the evening and the following Saturday. I’ve been reading back through one of my favorite book series (Patricia Briggs’ Mercedes Thompson series), and originally thought I might spend a few hours lost in a book. However, as I came down through my workshop after work (I have to pass through it to get to my room), I decided a wee bit of tidying was in order.

First, I hunted down my niddy-noddy and skeined three different bobbins of yarn. The cleared bobbins went back into the bin, and the bin went back to the top of one of the shelving units. Then,  I put the random buttons back in their respective places, sorted through the thread spools (I have a couple of spools that are almost out of thread, so I think some of my projects coming up are going to have random colors used on the seams).

Pattern crates went back on the shelf, pre-cut fabric was bundled by project and moved to an empty storage bin, my table-side trash bin was emptied, and the cutting table was cleared.

That left plenty of space to cut out some more patterns — my least favorite thing to do, but something that helps when I get the urge to make something quickly.

I cut out a favorite skirt pattern (It has pockets!) from some fun teal fabric I bought on sale the last time I was at the Quilter’s Studio. Even though the fabric originally has the “stripes” going horizontally, I opted to have them fall vertically. Even though this is the third time I’ve made this pattern, I always have a difficult time remembering how to do the side zip. It’s particularly fiddly, because it falls right at the pocket.

[Also, it calls for a 7″ zipper, which is about 1″ too short of the space you actually need to cover, leaving a little bit of a gap between the top of the zipper and the waistband.]

I finished the skirt with a bias tape hem, using a burnt orange color that I normally wouldn’t have chosen, but which coordinated well with the pattern and color on the skirt. Hooray for bins of sewing supplies gifted from friends’ grandmothers/great aunts! In one evening, I had a brand summer wardrobe item.

[The pockets came in handy mid-Saturday, when I stepped out to the garden to pick some rosemary for dinner, and ended up also picked some lemon thyme, chamomile, a bell pepper, and three pints of sugar snap peas.]

Saturday, I went ahead and cut out two new-to-me patterns from the indie designer Cashmerette. The patterns are designed specifically for curvy women, which is a big difference from most designers, indie or Big 4. Even better, in addition to providing a nice range of sizes, the patterns also allow for further size customization, depending on your cup size.

Now, that might not seem huge to some folks, but when you are used to having to do math and geometry for a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA in sewing lingo), having a pattern that takes this into account for you is a HUGE time saver. If you’re still having a problem understanding what this means: Using the contents of one pattern envelope, I can cut a shirt for three different size 18s: one with a C cup, one who wears an F cup, and one who wears a G or an H.

Her pattern sizes allow for an H cup, y’all. Hallelujah!

I’ve got three Cashmerette patterns in my stash at the moment: the Appleton dress, the Concord t-shirt, and the Turner dress. Since I don’t generally purchase many knit fabrics on a whim, I only had enough on hand to make two of the three. The Turner dress uses less fabric than the Appleton, so I opted to cut out the Turner and the Concord.

First up was the Concord. I used an extremely lightweight sweater knit mystery material that I bought way back when I still had a G Street Fabrics nearby in Seven Corners. [let us pause for a moment, in memory of the wonders of G Street Fabrics] The fabric is rather “floaty” for a sweater knit. Yes, that’s a technical term. Okay, the technical term would probably be “unstable.” It stretches pretty easily when it’s cut, which made for a bit of a challenge when pinning and sewing.

Within an hour of cutting everything out, though, I had a brand new shirt! Which I then proceeded to wear to bed, and then to church in the morning, and out bowling on Sunday afternoon. Yes, I went to bed in my clothes and woke up and went about my day without changing out completely. What of it? Well, actually, I did technically change out of it briefly, to put a camisole on underneath before heading out in public. Like I said, the fabric is extremely lightweight, and you can kind of see through it. But it’s also ridiculously soft and comfortable, and the shirt held up well during church, lunch, and five games of bowling in a sweltering bowling alley whose AC broke earlier in the week. I didn’t have to tug the shirt down ONCE during all five games! I’d call that a success.

The Turner dress didn’t take long to cut out and make, either. In fact, it would have taken even less time if the fabric I had been using wasn’t misbehaving during the cutting portion of the project. For whatever reason, the cotton jersey I was using had really weird, jagged edges. I don’t know how, but the area that was supposed to be a selvedge edge was all ragged and choppy.

With everything cut out, the whole thing went together rather quickly. Zip, zip, ZIP! I hurried to my room to try it on (at 1am), and almost cried when it fit near perfect, right out of the envelope. This never happens, folks. I always have to make adjustments to patterns, whether to allow for my boobs, or my butt. Especially when I’m making a skirt pattern! I always have to either add length to the back piece, or subtract it from the front, in order for the hem to be even all the way around. Not the case with the Turner dress.

I ended up wearing the dress on Sunday, too. After we got home from bowling, I was extremely, grossly sweaty [note of advice: if you go bowling at the neighborhood lanes, and it feels like the AC isn’t working, it probably isn’t and you probably shouldn’t be wearing jeans], so I changed out of the Concord tee and into the Turner dress. It’s perfect for when I’m lounging on the couch, since it’s much more comfortable when you don’t have to sit like a “lady” and can just flop onto the cushions. The length is perfect.

So, pattern review for two of my three Cashmerette patterns: ROUSING SUCCESS! The only thing I think I might change is to lower the armsythe on the Turner the tiniest little bit. Other than that, I didn’t need to change a thing! I went with the curved hem for the Concord t-shirt, which meant spending a little more time on the curved hem facing, but I loved the length, and I loved the fit. I also opted for scoop neck and the 3/4 length sleeves, but without the option of the sleeve tab. (I’m not generally a fan of sleeve tabs)

The instructions were also incredibly easy to follow, though the construction for both pieces was also pretty straight-forward. I’m excited to see how the instructions and patterns hold up for the other styles…so excited, in fact, that I’m running up to Stitch on my lunch break to pick up a couple more Cashmerette patterns and some more knit fabrics.

That, in itself, should tell you how pleased I am with this designer.

Strike Up the Band (Collar)

I started working on a new shirt pattern a few weeks ago…V8759. It’s similar to the dress shirts I’ve been making for Robert, using V8889, only it’s got a regular front placket, instead of the covered placket (also called a fly front) that V8889 calls for.

[Side note: anytime Robert wears the green chambray version of V8889 to work, his co-workers remark about him being dressed up…despite chambray not really being something one things of as “dressy.” Also, for more information than you probably want on shirt plackets, check out this brief overview on Proper Cloth.]

Since it’s getting warmer — in theory, despite the 50-degree temps we’re still experiencing with regularity — I thought it would be a good idea to make a short-sleeved version. That, and I only purchased 2 yards of fabric with this shirt in mind. I probably could have moved things around to get everything cut out of what I had, but…I didn’t want to.

The main fabric is a beautiful yarn-dyed cotton in cobalt blue that I picked up from Stitch Sew Shop the other day. I had so much fun working with it that I’m pretty sure I’m going to swing back over there on a lunch break and pick up some more in different colors.

I had worked through the front pieces and stitched together the center and side back sections, and was just about to grab the back yoke when I realized…I had only cut one of that piece. This turned out to be a fortuitous oversight. I had enough of the blue cotton to cut out the missing piece, but I decided I wanted to do something a little different for the inside of the yoke.

I had purchased a constellation print fat quarter from Modern Domestic during one of my Portland trips last year. I didn’t have a specific plan for it when I picked it up. I just knew I liked it. Which, to be honest, defines more than half of what is in my stash. I had enough to cut the yoke, and still have enough fabric to cut a couple of strips on the bias, for binding.

The directions for this pattern call for using French seams, as opposed to the flat-felled seams of the dressier V8889. It’s been a while since I’ve used French seams, though I used to use them for everything (It’s just such an easy-ish way to finish seams when you don’t have a serger and don’t want to just zigzag the edges). I still think I might like the flat-felled seams for this pattern. Especially since the short sleeve will make it easier to stitch the flat-felled seam without the fear of catching the fabric, like when I sew the long-sleeved dress shirts.

I used the bias binding hem trick for this shirt, like I did on the green chambray shirt — you might remember that one had little velociraptors on it. I also cut two thinner bias strips, folded them in half lengthwise, and used them for an added little design pop on the sleeve hems. Sort of like piping, only not quite.

Robert requested a shirt with a band collar on it, which made constructing this shirt even easier. You don’t have to bother cutting out a different pattern piece…you just leave the top of the collar off and just use the collar band. Thus, getting a band collar. Simplicity!

A little peek of stars

I searched through my bins of vintage and random buttons and managed to find enough coordinating blue ones for the front of the shirt, and VOILA!

A new shirt.

I have to say, I really like the coordinating yoke lining and bias binding on the hem, and have already decided to make that a recurring design feature of Robert’s other shirts.

I’m also really pleased with the way the Vogue menswear patterns are

I told him he was allowed to smile for these.

working out so far. The directions for both V8889 and V8759 have been clear (with the exception of a wee bit of confusion on my part regarding the tower plackets for the long-sleeves on V8889), and I haven’t needed to do any adjustments to make the patterns work for Robert’s size. This is, honestly, a wonder to me, as the difference between Robert’s shoulder and waist measurements are pretty significant. If a ready-to-made shirt fits his shoulders, the rest of him is generally swimming in it. Not so with the Vogue patterns. They have fit perfectly, with no adjustments needed.That’s a nice plus.

I’ve already gone ahead and cut out two more of the same pattern, using similar yarn-dyed cotton in two different colors. I haven’t yet found a coordinating “fun” fat quarter for the inner yoke of the fourth shirt (which is a teal/white plaid), so that one is on hold at the moment, in terms of cutting.

By now, I’ve finished the second shirt (in a colorway called “Peacock”), and I am halfway finished with the third one. As you can see, Alvin decided to help.

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.