On the making of goodness.

It sounds rather grandiose, now that I write it down, but I’ve been trying lately to imagine how it is that we make space for making goodness.

For making good things, for allowing basic goodness to creep into whatever it is we are making anyway.

Specific examples include the lamb-leek-barley soup I made last week and cannot get over; the upcycled wool scarf I made Len for Christmas that both of us quite adore; the hour spent in the kitchen with both boys this morning as we explored  spontaneously the acoustic properties of an old vacuum pipe and a cardboard wrapping-paper tube.  In every case, there was the magic of serendipity (one can never properly estimate the right amount of leek, am I right?); the hard work of preparation (finding the best way to set the tension for the walking foot and cleaning out all the felted wool lint repeatedly); the challenge of setting down expectations and just showing up to what’s present (a two-year-old’s insistence on toting around a long ShopVac tube and helpfully “vacuuming” freshly painted walls while hollering seemed like a good opportunity for redirection).

It strikes me now that this post would do well to include the soup recipe (inspired by this), the scarf tutorial, and the fun description of sound games to play with toddlers…and perhaps it shall.  Another night.  For now, let it be enough for me to share my gratitude for delicious local foods, for friends with a superior grasp of sewing machine workings, for fun and interesting kids who are malleable enough to move with me sometimes.  Let it be enough to remember that making things is often better than not making things; that flailing wildly is really just a natural part of the creative process; that resilience in the face of failure is a whole lot better than being so safe you never get to fail.  And once in a while, you get to feel the good in the product, even, and not just the process.  Those are good days.  And the rest just keep you humble, right?

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Small achievements, small regrets

I’m trying to keep things small these days.  So those ambitious and beautiful patchwork velvet scarves recycled from old clothes — well, those haven’t been happening, except in my head.  The PLANS have been laid for a month now.  But apparently the downside of the otherwise-totally-awesome upcycling process is that you have to first “make” your “fabric.”  Which means cutting into something with many possible uses and which may or may not be replicable.  (I realize this is how you tell the newbies from the old hands in this work — the old hands know there’s always something else awesome out there.  I don’t, yet.)  So I agonize over the cutting and spend lots of time trying to decide whether to rip out seams or cut them out (old velvet: the answer is cut them out, because once the ripping is over, your fabric is likely to rip along the stitch line anyway).  Today, instead of beating myself up for not making the scarves, I decided to just make rectangles.  It took me much of the morning, since I was working with tailored garments, one of which even seemed to be bias-cut AND was heading toward its at-least-third life in my hands.

But now I have gorgeous, sumptuous rectangles that both babies want to get their hands all over.  Thank goodness for scraps.  (Or, according to the scared voice in my head who always promotes the logic of scarcity, I have now ruined the potential of several neat old garments.  Good thing I didn’t yet cut up that sweet little coat I’ve been considering.)

The other big achievement of the morning was finding Malachi in a still moment and snipping off his curly little mullet.  I did this with the relish (and, apparently, thoughtlessness) of someone who has been casually watching for just such a chance.  Once it came, I didn’t really ponder why I was taking it.  But take it I did, and the smallest among us now has more respectably short hair.  As I took the curls and the baby into the kitchen, replete with a strange sense of swollen, senseless grief, Len cheerfully announced: “No more first haircuts!”  and the tears spilled over.  Since then, I’ve also realized that winter in Maine is not necessarily the time to cut off a baby’s neck-warmer.  But I think I’m mostly just a loving mama who is hardwired for regret, and so this seems like a big one that I didn’t properly anticipate.

It’s like the life-management metaphor of juggling various balls: just know which are made of glass and which of rubber.  Cutting up fabric is really only ever cutting up fabric.  And basically, you could say the same thing about your child’s hair.  But when you realize that you just altered a particular way of being when you’d give your soul not to alter it, well, that’s a little painful.  And silly, of course.  I’m working on letting go of my attachment to his hair.  But I will say this: I’m looking forward to it growing back.

On actual crafting (as opposed to planning to craft)

You’ve all seen it: “Stop pinning; start making things.”  It’s good advice.  And many of you probably do handmade holidays like we do.  So there’s a persistent sense of always needing to be making things, and therefore always resisting making things, right up until the holiday is over.  Then it’s time for self-recrimination about the lame little thing you ended up making instead of the bastion of glory you INTENDED to make, and then onward and upward to the stout promises for better work next year.  Somewhere after that, a beautiful thing happens: you relax. And with relaxation comes clear vision, for the first time in months.  You love crafting!  You made some beautiful things!  And you have some nice ideas for a few more that you’re looking forward to making in these cold, dark months.  (If you’re like me, you may have even invested recently in decent lighting and perhaps been inspired to move things around and clear out space for easier access and better child-management during the work.)

So in this spirit of clarity and kindness toward myself, I thought I’d share some of the things I made.  Details are available upon request.

Brooke's hatConnor's tractor hat flower appliqued throw IMG_0020 Julia's red velvet scarf Kim's cowl Parker's hat sweater hats tree ornament

The overwhelmingness of creativity

Every year I start thinking about Christmas gifts in June. Every year I SWEAR that I will start making them in June. And this year I did! I did. I made one small scarf. But summer is just so, well, summery, so perfectly designed for other things, like helping a very naked young man make a river habitat for his wild animals on the edge of the driveway. Crocheting fuzzy things just seems so pointless under those circumstances. And thus we arrive here, in early December, at a state suspended halfway between panic and bliss: the crafting imperative.

And so I spent my Sunday afternoon: felting old wool sweaters; upsizing a hat pattern I like; making experimental fleece hats (one of which my sweet partner has been wearing ever since). I am one of those crafters who takes such pleasure in the planning and anticipation that I spend very little time actually MAKING things. But now it’s all about the making, and that brings a whole new kind of satisfaction. Put differently, it actually brings satisfaction rather than its promise. Pam Houston: “In graduate school you learned that men desire the satisfaction of their desire. Women desire the condition of desiring” (from Cowboys Are My Weakness, probably “How to Talk to a Hunter). I hate to be so gender-conformist, but hell, I’m a stay-at-home mom making Christmas presents. I’ll just own that.

Back to the Making of Things and the Overwhelmingness of Creative Energy: I’ve got plans. They are good plans. The trick now is to get enough done fast enough that it still feels like generous gifting rather than crazed production. It’s a bear trying to live this whole mindful approach. But it has been beautiful to look back at the last few years and realize that most or all of our gifting is now either a) donation (Heifer, Kiva, local home energy assistance, or recipient’s favorite charity); b) handmade; and/or c) purchased from local crafters. That feels good on all levels — an appropriate way to honor a holiday I tend to think of as the birth of hope. And boy do we need it. In these dark months we need all the warmth, fellowship, and generosity we can get.

And hey — if you are interested in details of what I’m making, check out my Pinterest boards or just leave a comment here. I want to use the pages for that kind of info, but I’m not quite there yet. Prompt as needed.