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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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.

Updates on the ‘Do

The To-Do List, that is.

The list now looks like this:

  • Robert’s green chambray V8889 – FINISHED
  • Oakley slouch hat (crochet) in “Mermaid Musings” colorway, from A Treehugger’s Wife Yarn – halfway finished
  • Lizard shawl (crochet) – finishing tonight
  • Caterpillar Mitts (knitting)- FINISHED
  • Nessie (crochet) – FINISHED
  • Lost Souls shawl (crochet) – this would have been done long ago, but it is currently in a box in the storeroom, sitting under three other boxes
  • Multiplicity Buttoned scarf (crochet) – finishing tonight
  • pattern weights – I’ve got about twelve of them done, but I have at least fifteen more that need to be filled and sewn up
  • woodblock/Irish chain quilt
  • sawtooth quilt
  • super-secret-almost-finished restoration project
  • alpaca fleece – halfway finished with combing, have started spinning
  • Shetland ram lamb fleece – 1/8 finished with combing
  • Spinning: By the Sea colorway from Avalon Springs Farms
  • several items in the mending bin

That’s three projects done, and two more that will be completed by this evening! That means I can start another one, right?

[Just kidding…I want to knock out a couple more of these items before I start anything new.]

I took a break on Robert’s shirt about two-thirds of the way through, to work on Nessie and the mitts (which sounds like a band name). Not because I was overwhelmed. Honestly, I was just putting off my least favorite parts of the pattern – sewing the flat-felled side/underarm seams.

The first time around, that part took forever, so I figured it would be the same this time, too. It was actually a lot easier and faster, once I got down to it. In fact, I think I finally figured out the best method to sew everything down without a) catching the rest of the fabric under the stitching and 2) having to start and stop and move the needle and adjust everything a million times. I even wrote a note to myself in the pattern, so I won’t forget next time.

Of course, once the sleeves were done, the shirt was all done except for the buttons, holes and a final hem. Again, not a favorite thing to do. I hate sewing buttons and button holes. I mean, hate, hate, hate doing them. I’m pretty sure this stems from my years as a costume mistress in my high school theater days, when one of the actors (totally going to call out Cory Moone, even though I’m pretty sure he doesn’t read this) consistently told me about missing buttons and closures on opening night.

[I’m not exaggerating about this. One time, Cory came to me 20 minutes before curtain to tell me that he didn’t have elastic in his pants. Or a button on his other pants. And that his shirt, for some reason, was missing a buttonhole all together. Another time, he caught me during a costume change and dropped the revelation that his vest – for the scene that was about to start in 2 minutes – didn’t have buttons. That last one? I glared at him and safety pinned his vest shut. When he said “but it doesn’t look right,” I responded “If you had told me earlier today, when I asked if you needed anything, it would have. Deal with it for now.”]

Anyway, the buttonholes went a lot faster this time around than they usually do and – miracle of miracles – I didn’t mess any of them up. I’ve started using an Exact-o knife to split the buttonholes, rather than trying to snip them with tiny scissors. I’ve found I get a nicer finish, and I’m less likely to accidentally cut through the stitching.

Since the buttons on the front of the shirt are hidden by the folded front placket, it’s not as important that they match all of the other buttons on the shirt. That helps, when you’re sifting through jars and bins of assorted buttons. For Robert’s shirt, I used five plain, white pearlescent four-hole buttons. Since you can see the collar button, I opted for a small square button of clear, green plastic. The buttons on the cuffs and sleeve plackets are vintage gray-green plastic box-shank buttons that go so well with the color of the shirt.

I wanted to try a new-to-me technique when it came to the hem, using bias tape to make the curved bottom edge easier to navigate. I have a nice selection of store-bought bias tape, courtesy of three different friends’ great aunts’/grandmothers’ sewing rooms, which would have been the easy route…but I was already sort of on a customization kick and asked Robert if it was okay if I made my own bias tape using a wacky print. He was fine, as long as it didn’t show through to the front.

I pawed through the scraps I had in my odds and ends bin, pulling out the pieces that were big enough that I could cut a few strips on the bias. Then, I sorted those choices by color, tossing back the ones that *REALLY* didn’t work, as well as the ones that fit the general color scheme but that I wasn’t in love with. That brought me down to five choices, which I narrowed further by taking out the ones where the print was too big to work with the narrow binding. That brought me to two choices, which I ran past Robert.

20170201_191639I didn’t tell him I was leaning toward the dinosaur print, letting him make his own choice. Guess which one he went with?

20170201_205338I cut several 1″-wide bias strips from the fat quarter and stitched them together. Then I folded one long edge down a quarter of an inch and hit it with the iron. You stitch the binding to the shirt edge with the right sides of the fabric together, iron the seam and flip the bias strip to the back. I used my new wonderclips to hold the binding in place (instead of pins), and stitched everything down.

And the shirt is done!

[Of course, then I tripped up the stairs whilst carrying it and it went straight into the litter box at the top of the stairs, which meant it then went straight into the washing machine. At least it was a recently scooped litter box.]20170201_205816

What to do, what to do?

Obligatory adorable kitty picture - from a random day when Raven and Alvin were getting along

Obligatory adorable kitty picture – from a random day when Raven and Alvin were getting along

With the recent addition of my new (albeit fledgling) skills in knitting, I have encountered a problem. Well, to be fair, the problem was there before. Throwing knitting into the mix just exacerbated the problem.

What problem is that, you ask? Backlog.

WIP/UFO backlog, to be exact. (“Work in Progress” and “Unfinished Objects” for those of us joining without a background in these terms). Between knitting, crochet, spinning, and sewing (which can be broken down further into quilting, clothes, embroidery, and assorted crafts), plus the odd costume fabrication…I may have a bit of a problem. Add in, of course, a handful of around-the-house renovation/repair tasks and the soon-to-be-here springtime gardening, and my to-do list is looking a bit full.

I actually really like things to be fairly orderly (despite what my mother might think), so the state of my workspace and to-do list is making me anxious. To justify adding knitting to my list of skills, I needed to start whittling down my list of WIPs.

First up was a shirt that had been in my pile for much longer than it should have been. I had purchased a lovely light green chambray from Stitch last Fall, with the intention of making Robert another dress shirt. I’d had delightful luck with Vogue 8889 – so much that I traced out a copy of the shirt pattern in Robert’s sizing on parchment paper, so I don’t have to fiddle with the multi-size pieces. I decided, since it went together so well the first time, I would see if I could repeat my success. I cut everything out…and then the project stalled.

In all fairness to myself, I initially stopped working on it because I threw my back out pretty seriously (I think that bending over the table had actually contributed to the problem, but getting a new mattress and making more frequent visits to my chiropractor improved things). I’ve been feeling better for a bit now, but the pieces were still just hanging out in a corner of my shelving, taking up space. Until Sunday night, that is.

Sawtooth quilt that will, one day, be finished

Sawtooth quilt that will, one day, be finished

After a brief search through the pattern bins to find the instructions – I forgot I had put the envelope into the folder with Robert’s pattern pieces – I sat down and finished transferring the sewing marks onto the fabric in chalk. I searched through my assorted thread bins for the right kind of thread, finally opting for a cream thread for the seams and an olive-y green for the top stitching. Both of the spools came from the “donated to Meg” collection that I have inherited from the sewing rooms of friends’ family members.

Alvin's to-do list mostly includes staring at birds and begging for food, with the occasional item of mischief.

Alvin’s to-do list mostly includes staring at birds and begging for food, with the occasional item of mischief.

I feel like most of this project went together a lot faster than the original shirt – probably because I had already made one, and didn’t have to refer back to the written instructions as much…though I don’t know if the sleeve plackets will ever get easier. And don’t get me started on sewing a flat-felled seam in a narrow men’s sleeve. ::heavy sigh::

Soon, it will be time to sew on the buttons, and then I can move on to the next couple things on my to-do list:

  • Oakley slouch hat (crochet) in “Mermaid Musings” colorway, from A Treehugger’s Wife Yarn – halfway finished
  • Lizard shawl (crochet) – need about three more repeats and blocking
  • Caterpillar Mitts (knitting) – about 75% finished
  • Nessie (crochet) – this one is sad…it only needs the legs sewn on and it’s done!
  • Lost Souls shawl (crochet) – this would have been done long ago, but it is currently in a box in the storeroom, sitting under three other boxes
  • Multiplicity Buttoned scarf (crochet) – only needs blocking and the buttons, which I have pulled from stash, but I can’t find the daggone left-over yarn to sew them on!
  • pattern weights – I’ve got about twelve of them done, but I have at least fifteen more that need to be filled and sewn up
  • woodblock/Irish chain quilt
  • sawtooth quilt
  • super-secret-almost-finished restoration project
  • alpaca fleece – halfway finished with combing, have started spinning
  • Shetland ram lamb fleece – 1/8 finished with combing
  • Spinning: By the Sea colorway from Avalon Springs Farms
  • several items in the mending bin

I’m not allowed to start any new projects until I have worked on at least six of these, and finished two.

Update: Since first drafting this, I have, in fact, finished sewing the legs on Nessie.20170124_224948

The Thought That Counts

boba-fett-on-deskShortly before Christmas break hit, I arrived at the office to be greeted by this little fella on my desk. I chuckled and grinned, and took a snack from his head (it’s not as gross as it sounds…there was candy inside). I then proceeded to try to figure out who could have left him on my desk.

You see, I was the very last person in the office the night before (besides the cleaning lady, and I doubt she left it), and I got in earlier than most of the folks I figured might have done it. I did ask around, doing my best to base my guess on likely culprits, but no one copped to it.

It drove me a bit nuts, because I wanted to let them know how much it was appreciated (also, to be honest, I’m used to being the one who does that kind of thing, and it surprised me that someone thought to do it).

I never did figure out who left it – either I was way off in my guesses of who-done-it, or the person was really good at pretending it wasn’t them. At any rate, it is a delightful addition to my Star Wars collection, and I have plans to drink out of Fett’s head when the candy supply has dwindled.

Of course, the whole thing got me thinking about the people who have helped to shape this year into a better run than 2015 had been. I know that the process of watching someone grieve is uncomfortable for a lot of people – believe me, nothing is as uncomfortable as actually going through it. The person I was will never truly return, because my father will always be dead. I will always miss him. The person I am now will always have at least a little bit of that sadness, lingering somewhere close, but I still delight in the absurd, and I still generally try to look on the bright side of things.

I’ve been making new friends here at work, but I’m not as close to any of these people as I might be in a few years. And yet, someone knew that this season might be difficult for me, that this might brighten my day, and that this little sign of support would be appreciated – even if I don’t know where it came from. I don’t think it’s solely because this is a Native place, but I think that probably has a good deal to do with it. None of these folks knew my father, and they don’t yet know Mom and the close bond of the Nicholas clan, but they know the power of family – both the ones you are born into and the ones you make – and that has helped a great deal this past year.

Those little gestures that so many people think don’t make a lot of difference in the grand scheme of things? They really do. The thought does count.

“And yet their wills did not yield, and they struggled on.”

The 2016 Presidential Election took place yesterday. I drifted off to a fitful sleep, out of pure exhaustion, and woke up around 6am this morning to learn the news of who had won. The day since has been filled with anxiety…no matter who you may have voted for, you can not deny that the months leading up to the election highlighted the deep divides that still exist in this country, and that division is not likely to disappear just because one side has won the election.

In the midst of times and situations like this, I miss my father most of all. I miss his ability to look at a mess of people who didn’t appear to have anything in common and find a way to push through the resistance each side had built up and, at the very least, get them to sit down together and talk. I miss his ability to laugh, even in the midst of chaos, and not at the expense of other people.

But most of all, I miss how, despite the maelstrom of hate and prejudice that might howl outside our doors, he always stood as a bulwark against the storm. Dad always tried to find a way to show respect to everyone — whether he agreed with what they believed or not, he recognized that their behavior didn’t exempt him from acting like a decent human being. His integrity set an example that I will always strive to follow.

And so, as we struggle to make sense of how this country can begin to work together (because, make no mistake, we are going to have to work together), I leave you with the closing words from Dad’s last sermon:

As you go about being what you want to be, and doing what you want to do, you must remember that your decisions have consequences. Therefore, you have a responsibility to make intelligent, informed decisions, weighing the consequences of those decisions on those around you as well as yourself.

As you go about your life, remember to see the world through God’s eyes. Where you see despair, offer hope. Where you see hatred, show love. Where you see turmoil, bring peace. Where you see inequality, seek justice.

If you do this, you will bring joy to those around you, but, more importantly, you will bring joy to God.

My Kingdom for a Good Night’s Sleep

Last month, I started having some pretty serious back pain – to the point where I actually worked from home for a good portion of one week (before getting so stir-crazy that I dragged myself into the office just to have human interaction). Things had started looking up for a little bit – I was able to get some good sleep for about a week and wasn’t in too much pain – but I’ve been hurting for the past week and half or so. Discussions with my chiropractor (who continues to give me book recommendations, by the way) steered me towards the possibility that I might be up for a new mattress.

I got my current one about 15 years ago, so…yeah, probably.

(It makes me sad, though, as it was my first piece of new, just-for-me furniture, and I really love the mattress pad Robert got for me two years ago.)

Last Saturday I began my first foray into the jungle that is mattress research. That first leg of the journey took us to Macy’s, Sleep Number, and JC Penney’s. Monday night, we also hit up a Mattress Warehouse down the street from Robert’s work.

First of all, I want to take a moment to mention that mattress shopping seems to have come a long way in the years since I last went out to find one. Before, you just went to the store and bounced around on a lot of different beds until you found one that felt good (to be honest, this is still a large part of the process, which is a good thing because it’s fun). Added to the mix nowadays is technology! which asks you questions about sleep habits and then requires you to lay down on a weird mattress which then scans you and determines the best types of mattress for you using specific metrics.

That’s right, folks…this is a science and tech field trip now. With the added bonus of jumping on beds!

According to the measurement systems at both Sleep Number and Mattress Warehouse (Macy’s and JC Penney’s didn’t have the swanky bed-measuring tech), Robert requires a mattress on the softer side, and I require firmer support (while still requiring some softness on the top, to allow for my decidedly curvier frame – aka I have a butt).

Now, we both know a little about the different kinds of mattresses out there…in as far as we know about memory foam, and pocketed coils, and adjustable air bladders…

Let me tell you, though…there is a LOT we didn’t know about what is out there, and how different aspects of a mattress work, and how you should be picking a mattress, etc. It’s been rather fun to talk to the specialized salespeople at Sleep Number and Mattress Warehouse about the science of sleep and choosing a mattress.

At Sleep Number, we got specific numbers for our sides of the beds. Those numbers can (and do) change throughout your life, depending on a number of different variables. While the customization of the Sleep Number beds is nice, the downside is that there is a bar between the two sides of the bed, so I can’t sleep comfortably in the middle of the bed.

At Mattress Warehouse, the Bed Match metric system calculates the best options for each individual sleeper and, if you share a bed, comes up with a short list of recommendations for mattresses that will work best for both people.

That, for me, was pretty awesome. It meant that we could be more focused in what we tried out, instead of randomly bouncing from mattress to mattress.

Also, I have to take a moment to say that I LOVE the pillows that Andy-the-mattress-salesman picked out for us. They were absolutely perfect – though Robert continually wondered why mine had to be so heavy.

We tried out about six different mattresses there – from the quite luxurious Kingsdown, to a more commom Sealy Posturepedic. Finally, we were able to narrow our top picks down to two or three mattresses, and it was time to take what we had learned about mattresses, and our opinions about the ones we had seen, and determine which one to get. After about a week of careful consideration, I believe I have finally picked…

cheswick-manor-wellingtonThe Wellington, by Cheswick Manor

(I’ll be honest, the name was enough to get me to try out the mattress. When I lay down on it…I’m pretty sure every muscle and joint in my body relaxed.)

With any luck, we can get the floor finished and the bed frame reassembled by Monday, so I can order the mattress and get it delivered some time next week. And then, dear friends….

sandman-1I will sleep.