Lent has been very lent-y again this year, hasn’t it. But here we are, Easter Monday, and we woke up to snow and daffodils. It’s a good image really. Hope springs eternal, and Spring brings hope, over and again each year. They look a bit sad in this picture, but they were just keeping their heads down, protecting themselves from a harsh night, and when the sun hit them later in the morning, the snow melted and they lifted their heads right up, sunny flowers on a sunny day. I’m feeling like life has been throwing quite a bit of unexpected spring snow, so doing my best to cherish and shine on those sunny days where it all melts – knowing that both of these are phases, that it can’t be sunny all the time, and that I’ll make it through the snow storms, the winter, the bad day, and shine.
It doesn’t feel like a good name for this particular period… until you realise that Ordinary doesn’t mean “Usual” but rather “Counted” – like ordinal numbers. And we’re definitely counting, weeks of lockdown, months since our last date, numbers of cases, deaths, vaccines, counting all the time, trying to get some sort of grip, some sort of rational framework on these very unusual times. So much of the past year has felt “Lenty” we’ve made sacrifices and waited and mourned. But actual Lent is different, it’s a time outside of time, outside of the regular count of days. So maybe for Lent we can give up counting the uncountable, trying to rationalise the unreasonable, not as a way to ignore or trivialise our problems, but rather as a way to step outside of them and into calm reflection instead of frantic counting.
We’ll see if I can follow my own advice… In the meantime, I need to make a giant pile of crêpes. I won’t count them though. Have a lovely delicious Mardi Gras and a blessed Lent.
content warning: toddler has super gross accident, gets better
A year ago today I spent the day in the hospital with Chinook. I had a lovely day of sewing panned and then, while I was getting dressed, a scream. Kyle went down, and he screamed. He never screams. My baby had caught his finger in a fire door and the tip was hanging by a thread. I didn’t vomit. But it was close. Thankfully all the years of First Aid training I did as a lifeguard have stuck and I bandaged it up in place nicely. (The nurses at the hospital complimented me). We struggled to find a taxi, we don’t have a car, couldn’t wait for a bus and our neighbours were out. My phone kept dropping the call, but in the end we got there. By then of course, babies being resilient little things, he was feeling happy and playful, it didn’t look very urgent. We waited for hours before anyone even looked at us. The kindly nurse looked at the happy baby with the bandaged finger and his freaked out looking Mom and started removing the wrappings while making soothing sounds. Blood flooded out, Chinook screamed and screamed, the nurse’s eyes were like saucers. We got rolled to A&E in a desk chair, dripping blood along the floor. The surgeon was young, pretty, competent, but not hopeful. He’ll probably lose the tip. They wrapped it up again, we waited some more, in a private room this time, at least. The x-ray was done, it didn’t look too bad. The plastic surgeon was young, handsome, competent and a bit pushy. He got us into surgery that day. I think Chinook worked his charm – loudly playing with a car and running around, then watching intently as his finger was unwrapped again (it was finally bleeding less now). The bad news was, at this age they didn’t do local anaesthesia, he’d be going under. He was 20 months old. I was scared. We called his siblings and they wished him good luck, then we waited. I’m glad Kyle had remembered to stuff snacks in my bag. Chinook did not want to put on the gas mask, and he did not fall for the distractions. This did not help my state of mind. The surgeon was confident, she smiled – this was before masks all day everyday. I told her I sew and that this was not the kind of sewing I expected today. She laughed. I trusted these people. It would be fine. I am glad the nurse walked me back to our room though, I had no idea how we’d gotten to the operating room. It was probably the longest hour of my life. My brother, who is a nurse, texted back and forth with me for a bit. I was reading Little Women, it helped. I drank water. A nurse came to fetch me, “He’s waiting for you!”. And there he was, my beautiful baby boy, snuggling the beautiful, wonderful nurse. She laughed and said what a darling he was and he was mad when I picked him up. I don’t blame him. We ate some food, he had a nap, the nurses changed shift and our discharge papers got lost somewhere, so we waited some more. Somehow we managed to call a taxi, we got home and I told the driver about our day. He talked about his kids. We got home. We were so tired. Most of our plans for the next month had to be adapted to our convalescing, yet still super high energy toddler. We had several nurses come around to check on him. Kyle found and installed door guards to prevent this happening again. We registered with the GP, which it turns out is much easier than in Canada. He never got his 3 month call back appointment, because by then the pandemic was in full swing, but he’s barely got a scar left.
Today was a much better day. It snowed. Nice powdery snow for kicking up in the air and making snow angels and finding rabbit and squirrel tracks in. And apparently, 3 years ago, it was also snowing. So how’s this for a then and now?
Oh, and what I said about looking for signs of Spring last week? It snowed then too… But didn’t stick around.
Is it snowing where you are? Any toddler mischief? All the best in any case…
It’s 5:30 pm, soup is simmering, Sirrocco is making meatballs and singing while the little ones play with homemade playdough. It’s the eve of Candlemas, the feast of St. Brigid, half way between the solstice and the Equinox, and the days actually do seem to be getting longer finally. There’s still a glimmer on the horizon as I sit down to write.
It’s getting very strange to look back on the last year and how different things are now. We haven’t seen any of our extended family since last February. Even with our wandering lifestyle that’s a long time. Lent is just around the corner and I’m already tired from the sacrifices of the last year. January is always a long dark month. This past month was no exception. Lockdown fatigue, the weight of grief, the increasingly hostile environment towards home education in the UK, not to mention deadlines at work for Kyle, have collaborated to form a particularly potent cocktail of exhaustion. And so, what’s there to do? This weekend we counted birds in our garden, reorganised the living room furniture and tended the garden. I ordered some new books and took a long bath.
Tomorrow we will celebrate longer days and hope for the future by looking for shoots and bulbs peeking out, decorating candles and putting some daffodils on the table. We’ll read about the contradiction that is the Holy Child who brings Joy to all, but whose life and suffering will pierce his Mother’s heart. Our calendar image shows an old woman sweeping away the last of last year’s leaves in the pouring rain, I found it an odd image at first, for the first peeking of Spring, but I like it, there’s work to do, dead leaves to sweep, snow to melt, cleansing rains to come before the rising of the sun.
May Brigid bless the house wherein you dwell. Bless every fireside, every wall and door. Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof. Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy. Bless every foot that walks its portals through. May Brigid bless the house that shelters you.
It’s a fun little quirk of Catholic spirituality that I am very attached to – and which gets misrepresented. As women, we are called to be Mothers*. No, not like that. Your worth doesn’t depend on birthing. Don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise. We are called to mother, spiritually.**
So, what does that mean? In many ways, it’s just a beautiful way of thinking of, and honouring, the people who my (many, wonderful) secular humanist friends would describe as “good humans”. It’s acknowledging the divine spark that is alive in people who do for others without expecting a reward or a return. To me it’s a piece of theology that is like a flower, full of beauty, scent and seeds, ephemeral and yet eternal as each one generates so many more.
Who, then, is a “Spiritual Mother”? She is all the women out there, performing works of mercy, be they spiritual or corporal, for people to whom no blood or law is binding them, no law but love for their neighbour. She is a woman who blesses those around her by her presence, her kindness, her generosity. She’s not perfect of course, none of us are, but she is wonderful. She is my sister, a cloistered nun, praying for the world as so many of us are fretting about the state of it. She is my own mother, consoling and counselling my friends and my brother’s friends when they cannot turn to their own mothers. She is my childless friends spending their Saturday afternoon playing Lego and drinking tea with my children so that I can have some time with Kyle. She is my friends with children and busy lives unhesitatingly accepting to care for my children while I birth their siblings. She is the friend, who seeing me on the edge of tears in her kitchen grabs a teapot in one hand, a bottle of wine in the other, and asks which I need first. She is my neighbour, dropping off outgrown clothes at my door, or handing them over a pew after mass. She is a teenage girl, biking across town to make sandwiches and go to the park with my children while I rest. She is an elderly friend, proudly hanging a small girl’s drawing in her window “so that everyone can see how lovely it is”. She is my daughter, dropping off flowers on people’s doorsteps, because she’s “pretty sure they will like that”.
* Right, so this is also true of men, and fatherhood, but lets focus on the women for this one time, mmmk? ** I would love to go on about Maiden-Mother-Crone triads and concepts and all that excellent stuff, but this is not the time, and if you read on, you’ll see the other two pop up.
p.s. Trying something new. Old school blogging. Spewing random thoughts into the ethernet. Let’s see where the journey takes us.
— Apparently I forgot to hit publish on this one. But bread. And while I’m less anxious and sleeping better, it’s still weird times and difficult times and bread is a big part of it. I’m thankful for that and for the fact that I can get flour much easier now than in March/April. There’s a nice rye and seed bread rising in my kitchen as I write these words. —
April 2nd 2020
I have so many thoughts right now. Many of them thankful, many of them anxious, my sleep has been troubled by teething toddlers and distressing dreams, I’m suffering from craft paralysis and delighting at the birds we see on our one daily walk. This is by all definitions, a weird time. That said, it’s all I will say about it, because talking about bread is more interesting and infinitely less stressful.
BREAD! My goodness I love bread. And with a week to Holy Thursday it seems fitting to talk about bread. Now, I realize that several hashtags have cropped up in the last few weeks #coronabaking #quarantinebaking #pandemicbakes etc. and that countless people have been trying their hand (and patience) at making sourdough. But I am here to tell you that like a proper indie kid (yup, that’s what hipsters were before they were cool) that I started my sourdough before going into lockdown, mmmk?* Having had the privilege to wander about a good little chunk of Europe in my time** I would like to extol the virtues of a few of my favourite breads, ever.
Chapter 1 – Deutschland German bread is the first bread that made me stop in my tracks and wonder how on earth I had survived without it. I’d had rye bread before, but not like this. Every kind was unique, magical and completely surprising. Dense, serious bread. Amazing for sandwiches if you cut it thin, but so good mostly I just wanted it thickly sliced with loads of butter. Bread so full of seeds you couldn’t tell how it stayed together. Bread with mysterious crazylongcompositenames and among them, a humble loaf stood out: roggenweizenbrot, cracked at the top, dusted in toasted flour, moist, hearty, but not over the top. Also, this one time in Munich, I found the most beautiful bread in the entire world.
Chapter 2 – England Yeah, I know. But seriously, thick white toast with butter and strawberry jam (or marmalade) in good company, with strong tea has a special charm. And I’m not sure what it is exactly but the white bread here seems to lack the strange chemical aftertaste of it’s North American counterparts.
Chapter 3 – Nederland No comment.***
Chapter 4 – France Now, of course everyone knows about baguette and how the French are obsessed with bread, etc. And so, I don’t know why I didn’t think that it could be completely mind blowing. I guess Germany had my heart and so I figured that was that? Boy, was I wrong. France is wonderful and charming and ridiculously amusing to me in ways that it can perhaps only be to a non-French francophone, I’m not sure I could live there… but I want to imagine doing so. From the baguettes (which come in varying defined degrees of doneness) and the ficelles (as sandwiches or “au chocolat”) all the way to the incredible, amazing presumably 3kg or so giant loaves of fig and hazelnut “pain de campagne” baked until the crust is just on the edge of burning to a crisp and sold by the weight of the chunk that the baker saws off with aggressive skill… c’est tout bon. But the absolute delight of our foray into the Boulangerie (because the patisserie is a whole other story) is a seasonal delight – pain de poires. Bread dough, not brioche, presumably mixed pretty wet and wrapped around half a sliced pear, baked until it’s one beautiful carb and caramel compound that is really the only thing I want to eat – other than a nice piece of cheese.
*Let’s face it, I’m an INFP and probably an Enneagram 4 too. This stuff is really important to me. I am annoyed at other people doing things I like, even without the increased difficulty in sourcing flour.
** You know, like, pre-March2020.
***Fries Suikerbrood doesn’t count as real bread. But it is pretty magical.
Sometimes when you find something you like, you want that one thing and then you have it and you’re done and you’re happy. I feel this way about my slowcooker, my one volume edition of The Lord of the Rings, my husband… you get the point. But some things, some special things, are more like children than husbands and you just feel like maybe one more would be even better! Biscuits, shoes, books by Randall Munroe or Bill Bryson all fall in this latter category. This pattern though, might transcend that. It’s not “maybe one more” I just want one in every fabric. And judging by how fast Chinook gets his clothes dirty, that might be necessary.
First these, in a lovely French Terry, with the bodice lining from the last bits of a thrifted men’s t-shirt that I used this summer, to make some matching tees for the boys.
Then this lovely pair, reversible, because I figured it would be best to make the garment usable beyond the festive season, and those stripes are just lush. Candy canes from The Sweet Mercerie and Stripes from Caboodles Textiles.
After that, I was on a bit of a roll, so these happened. (Non-reversible as I didn’t have very much of that light blue.)
And, well, after THAT, I decided that the cute but elaborate Ottobre overalls I had been planning for his Christmas gift just wouldn’t get done in time, and besides, why mess with perfection… so I made one more reversible pair.* With a matching tiny pointy hat, because nothing is cuter than a baby in a tiny pointy hat… (And Christmas was lovely and full of mom-made clothes, and Lego, thank you for asking.)
At this point, the boy really has as many overalls as he needs… and more will just mean more laundry. So… you’d think I would stop, yes?
No. There’s a doll pattern. We have dolls. Mistral and Lilli-Lou are very pleased with their matching outfits.
And of course, there’s a little niece to sew for. I changed up the buttons a tiny bit here and added extra long cuffs, because Little Miss Cousin is a tall thin one and I wanted these to be adjustable. (These are the size 1 but can extend to the same height as the size 2 pairs I’ve been making for Chinook.)
Ok, but now. NOW, you’re done, right?
Naaaaah. Mistral has called dibs on a piece of pink textured Ponte and requested a pair of her own. With pockets, please and thank you. Should we take bets on whether Sirocco decides to jump on the bandwagon after that? I wouldn’t put it past him…
* The other side is bright blue to match the cuffs, and apparently I don’t have better pictures, so I might update this when I remember to take those… or not?
Happy New Year everyone! December has been a nice full month and the start of January full of illness, so here we are back again with something non sewing related! I feel like I tried to make this into a sewing blog and have a really clear “brand identity” whatever that means and it’s ended up just making me more hesitant to write at all. I’ve decided that’s kind of stupid and pointless, since the entire idea of this blog at its outset was to just get writing again and get some of that mild existential rage out (not that I’m exactly angry all the time, but you know… I’m not not angry either? it’s like the choleric’s equivalent to artsy melancholy I guess.)
SO! With that bit of introspection out of the way, here’s something I wrote in April 2018 and never published – The Art of Simple had asked for essay submissions and I sent this in, but I figure since it’s been almost 2 years and they didn’t get back to me it’s probably time to get it out to the world on my own platform. We never did manage to get that sort of little community going in Groningen, sadly – though we did meet some lovely people and had good times. Maybe different places and different stages call for different kinds of hospitality? Maybe this new move and the fact that we have a garden and a larger kitchen means we can get back to feeding people soup? Maybe we’ll get a BBQ? Only time will tell.
Here’s to everyone who’s had soup at my table, and there’s a lot of you, thank you – and I hope we can get together again sometime… Around a bowl of soup.
It’s Monday lunchtime in the staff room of the elementary school. Everyone’s chatting about the week ahead. Report card time is coming and some people are planning on staying late tonight – after all a burden shared is split in half, right? Will I be joining them? – I snap out of my daydream. Tonight? No, tonight won’t work. Tonight there’ll be a horde of hungry physics undergrads at my table when I get home – trying to unravel the complexities of quantum mechanics over a sturdy round piece of solid oak. I’ll get home and start cooking onions and beans. Filling the air with earthy, homey smells while they fill it with questions and the sound of pencils scratching. “What did you get in part a? Could you have a sign error? Wait, what’s that constant again? Right.” And then the soup will be ready, textbooks pushed aside, stomachs filling to match full brains. The daydream at lunch was productive. Fried sage leaves are the perfect bean soup topping.
We’re not exactly sure how it happened, but sometime that semester our dining room table got dragged into the living room, the couch pushed against the sliding door to the balcony and every other Monday, from after class to after dark, our tiny apartment played host to “homework and soup” parties. We were 21 years old, in love, newly married and he was still an undergrad. I had a job with a way-too-long commute and colleagues my parents’ age. I loved to cook and needed community. They needed to get homework done and to eat good food. We’d make this work. After a while, people started bringing beer and desserts and bread to share. It was scruffy, it was cheap and it was very good.
Fast forward a few years and we’re living in a new town, with a new baby, a new job and once again needing community. We’re moving in different circles – grad students for him, mommy groups for me. There’s a bit more money to go around now, but they don’t really let you take babies to the bar – and besides – those places are loud and what I need most is adult conversation… The old Monday nights come to mind and we know we’ve struck gold. We’d buy a few extra chairs and each invite a friend or two (with any attached partner and children if applicable) distribute the wine, salad and bread duties among the guests, make soup and dessert and let the people roll in as soon as they were off work, every other Friday. Once again, it was scruffy, it was cheap and it was very good.
There were some great conversations around that table (a different one – a big, square, bar height thing) there was some great food. Some people came once, a few became regulars, a very few had us over in return, and after a season, like the Mondays before them our Fridays faded out. The weather got better, that kid got a sibling, and most importantly – we’d found our people. Soup people. Backyard BBQ people. Beach picnic people.
Today we’re in yet another town, with another job, another new baby on the way. We’re finding our feet now after a few months here and we’ve found a new table too (a rectangle this time, with handy drawers for napkins and coasters built in). I think it might be time to find it a few more chairs and bowls and start simmering a new pot of soup.
Claire Oman is married to a brilliant young astronomer and mother to a small brood of children. She defines their family as Academic Nomads. When she’s not busy feeding people, she can be found reading, sewing, or blogging at belligerenceandchocolate.com.
Last but not least, baby girl. Mistral was so very excited to be a flower girl – she doesn’t really remember that she has done this before…. (and I made that dress too, though I guess I never blogged about it.) But yes, here’s the 2 year old hairless wonder girl in her frothy white frock. (I did NOT make any of tiny Sirocco’s clothes. Good job too as they were mostly destroyed later that evening in the bouncy castle…)
So, now that we have that bit of nostalgia out of the way. Pinterest inspo! Though I think we both agreed that the belt was a bit much, especially if she was going to carry a bouquet. (And seriously what is up with those shoes?)
I had some really wonderful double sided loose woven linen in ecru and pink in my stash for over a year that I just could not decide what to make with so when I heard the bride wanted a pinkish dress I knew just what to use. The clean lines on the inspiration photo made the pattern easy to choose too. Clearly this was a Made by Rae Geranium! That left the tutu skirt situation. My initial thought was just to add a couple of layers of tulle on top of the main fabric and sew it up as normal, but I was concerned about the bulk that would create, and how the loose woven linen would hold up. A detachable overskirt also has some practical advantages – while the complete look is quite formal, a simple light pink linen dress can definitely be worn more than once (and if I’m going to make these clothes, they are going to wear them!) So once more, we had Oliver+S come to the rescue. After several months of searching, I managed to secure a copy of the out of print Little Things to Sew book (serendipitous timing, as it was very shortly before taking on this project) which includes a really lovely tutu pattern – apron style, so no fussing with attaching tulle to elastics, and comes with a nice built in tie, extra long in this case, for making a beautiful “papillon” ( nœud papillon is French for a bow tie, literally a “butterfly bow” but “papillon” is also Mistral-speak for anything ever that is tied in any kind of bow).
The construction was a bit long, but definitely the most time consuming and nerve wracking bit was getting the layering order right to create the exact shade of pink I wanted… There are actually five colours of tulle in there which gives it a lovely depth especially when it’s moving around. I ended up basting by hand, because I felt more confident that way and it was a lovely quiet thing to do. Honestly hand basting is pretty fast and gives you so much more control over the end result, I highly recommend it.
Having already made the Geranium for Mistral, I was not worried about that so made the tutu first and then tried it on her with the old dress. The one in electric blue with polka dots and florals and things that I made from an old duvet colour, which she loves, but is really, clearly, NOT the one I was planning to put her in for the wedding. Right?
Classiest. Lady. But apparently something got lost in texting when I sent my poor future SIL this picture and she thought that this was the final look. The truth is, I had at this point decided that my life was clearly too easy, and that since I was going to be on holiday in Munich for a few weeks away from my sewing machine, I should bring some handwork. What better plan than to sneakily decide to do some beading on the bodice of the dress?! And obviously, I would keep it a surprise, so I couldn’t send any more dress updates… oops. Well, we all had a good laugh when she DID see the dress, and realized the mistake, though I was horribly embarrassed. Talk about a Pinterest fail!
With the water soluble stabilizer attached, and copiously scribbled
Gone. Like. Magic.
Excuse the poor lighting, apparently I could only remember to take pictures after dark… but here’s what the beading looks like! I had a mid-sized bead as well as the large and small ones here, but neglected to check if they would fit on my needle, and sadly they did not, and I was away from home and didn’t want to try and find the right needle, so the effect is a bit more clunky than I had hoped, but not bad for a first attempt.
After that it was an easy but satisfying sew, no changes to the pattern other than using the extended bodice from the expansion and hand sewing the lining with a simple whipstitch rather than topstitching for a cleaner look. I think these photos from the first fitting in the whole outfit (albeit over her pjs) could be a visual definition of “delighted”.
And that was that! Leaving only the flower crown to do on the morning of the wedding. Mistral had fallen absolutely in love with this crown she saw on Pinterest and decided that she must have one for the wedding. This honestly made my life easy, because that would mean just washing her hair, letting it curl and tucking her half grown out bangs under the crown. We went with white florist tape and flowers all the way around, but otherwise just followed this tutorial. Mistral helped by plucking small bits of the flowers and I did the taping. Fun girly wedding morning craft time!
I think the effect was rather charming, don’t you?
(and one last glamour shot of that tutu for the road)
Guys, I made a waistcoat. Pinterest inspiration was this photo, but in darker colours to match the wedding party. I think we pretty much nailed it honestly. But man, am I glad I didn’t do four of these…
The main parts were made in a wool/poly suiting in navy with a light blue pinstripe. The same as for the baby overalls. It was super pretty and didn’t wrinkle, which was wonderful, but didn’t really hold a press either, which was a pain… if anyone has good tips for solving this do let me know in the comments! Because I am a slightly ridiculous person, and because I like to tease my little brother, and because the wedding was in rural Alberta (Canada) the he facings are made in a very bright tractor print poplin. Because my father-in-law was visiting and decided I needed pictures of me crafting, you get to enjoy the fabric in all it’s freshly ironed glory!
There were all kinds of notions needed here… but I eventually managed to source the correct size of slider for the back of the waistcoat, and matching buttons in two sizes! I find selecting buttons is always a painful part of the process. Because the shorts and waistcoat both needed them, but it would look silly to have them all the same size and sillier to have them not match. The struggles of an artist, I tell you. Anyhow, the buttons are baby blue dyed corozo nut (called steennoot in Dutch which translates to “stone nut”, these are durable!)
And now, patterns. For the shorts, I considered a few options – but decided to go for a tried and true. The Sailboat Pants by Oliver + S (which I talk about here!) simply cropped to be knee length. I had made one pair earlier in the summer (which got some prime time on the O+S instagram because of epic stripe matching) but here’s also a full shot.
Yes, it’s the same fabric as Chinook’s test run for the romper, a fun piece I picked up from the local charity shop and just barely large enough to fit these two patterns on. Thrifty mom win!
For the waistcoat, I considered another Oliver+S pattern – the Art Gallery (which incidentally is one of Sirrocco’s favourite places to visit, so it would be fitting). But I was leafing through some Ottobre magazines that my Mom had kindly given me for Christmas and found just the thing I was looking for in issue 6/2017.
I like the Ottobre patterns because they seem to fit my tall boy quite well and so I felt confident (and tight on time) and went ahead without a muslin. (Though I DID practice before putting in those THREE tiny welt pockets!) Oh, and I think I did it more or less correctly but I guess we will never know since this copy was in Dutch and while I can sort of read Dutch, it’s still a bit iffy and the instructions are a bit sparse so I winged a few bits – further Ottobre magazines will be purchased in French or English. I love that back tie, it just takes the whole thing to a nice professional place.
This project was definitely a challenge, and honestly, what with the schedule, it was only possible because my father-in-law was visiting and, when he wasn’t playing paparazzi in the sewing room, he and Kyle spent a few days making sure I could work undisturbed for several hours at a time, emerging occasionally to make coffee and excitedly wave completed welt pockets in their faces. It’s nice to feel loved.
And here’s the handsome boy himself, all dressed up with nowhere to go. (And apparently before the buttons were added, which I forgot until seeing this picture again.)
p.s. It seems I made a mistake in my queuing and this was briefly published as a blank post. Hopefully this updated version is a bit more interesting!