A Quieter Day, Filled With Plans

And now come the quieter and steadier posts after the fun and flurry of “publishing” two patterns on Ravelry. It’s not really something I thought I’d ever do, and I know that I’ll eventually get better. I’m much more of a do it and don’t talk too much about how it happens kind of girl. But I’ll improve.

I have this golden blanket for little baby still to work on. It’s been almost two months since I picked it up and forgot what stitch I was working on completely. Fortunately, I managed to find it in my phone documents. In case you’re interested, it’s the Caron Crochet Textured Lap Blanket, although I’ve altered the dimensions a bit and will probably alter the edging as well. It’s fairly easy, once you remember that you are not—in fact–doing a “wheat stitch” as you googled frantically for half an hour.

After I finish that blanket, I think I’m going to get started on some knit sweaters (or jumpers if you’re European) for the kids for next Christmas…because I have five kids to somehow make presents for. Last year, I managed to snag matching jammies and cardigans on a clearance website after Christmas, where each garment ended up only being $3. This year, I’m trying to focus a little more on ethical fashion purchasing (mostly making my own or mending/reworking what we’ve got.) Kids’ clothes are very expensive here in Europe, and I’ve yet to find some good secondhand shops.

For baby’s Christmas sweater, I found a Norwegian pattern that I have just the perfect amount of Malabrigo Arroyo for. I’ve got it in two different colors from several years ago. I think I purchased it off of Etsy at the time, so who knows how old it is? In any case, all of my current boys outgrew the amount I had at a rapid pace, so I intend to get this sweater done first—probably while I’m in the hospital, and knowing how tall my babies tend to be, I’ll do an 18-month size for when he’ll be 11 months old.

I may decide to work on a flower bunting my little girl has requested, although I think I need to space it out and work on some other projects first. She’s had a blanket and a doll blanket lately, and the boys–despite having some new scarves–are starting to get a little jealous.

I also have some sewing I need to accomplish. I’ve got a bunch of lovely vintage sheets that I intend to turn into cloth napkins, as all of our cloth napkins somehow disappeared in our international move. I’m going to double that as a sewing lesson for one of the boys who seems more interested in sewing than other handicrafts.

Three of the kids drew tulips as part of their art instruction this week, so I’ve got them hanging up to remind me of Spring.

Meanwhile, it is starting to feel like Minnesotan spring. I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to the seasons here. I’m used to such extremes, and these mild sunny/rainy/not really genuinely cold enough for winter coats days are confusing to my mind. I imagine my neighbors think we’re all odd, as we’re often outside without our coats on or running around barefoot when it’s 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 degrees Celcius, for those of you who are fully enmeshed in Celsius living.) But what they don’t understand is that 40 is beautiful. 40 is when you throw the windows open and feel the fresh air after months of below zero temperatures that stifle you.

I organized all of my crochet hooks and knitting needles and found that I need to replace a lot of my circular knitting needles, as they were damaged during our move.

I’ve also been finalizing plans for our gardens because we need to start our plants at the end of next month. So far, the only seeds I’m missing are celery and some sweet potato starters. Probably some more bee-attracting flowers, because I’d like a highly successful garden. Wish me luck!

Little Things and Sacred Places

Lately, I’ve just had to push myself to find goodness, find beauty, find any amount of energy. Parenting and homeschooling are hard work. Living in another country can be hard work. (It can also be a fun adventure.) Being eight months pregnant and iron-depleted is also hard work.

I manage to feed and educate the children and do the fun Christmas traditions they’re used to, but I’ve really had to force myself to do much more than that. I’ve been working on double-stranded scarves for the last week or two. I’ve made eight so far for the teens/young adults we work with, and I have theoretically 13 to go. Michael initially had a count of 15 boys that he works with, and then it ended up being 21 total, so I may have to order yet more yarn to get them all done. (They may end up being New Year’s scarves, depending on children/health/yarn supply/shipping.)

BUT:

Michael handed out one wrapped scarf to a young asylum seeker that he mentors, and the young man was so shocked to have been given a present. His eyes started to tear up, and his face was filled with joy. He didn’t expect anything, and he didn’t know what Christmas gifts were.

This.

This is why.

I have photos, but I can’t share them in order to protect the privacy of this young man. But they make me cry every time I look at them.

To know that a couple of hours of time, a few balls of yarn and approximately 3500 stitches could tell a boy that he was cared for and valued and that people see him as a person and not as a helpless case. It’s immensely humbling that my hands could be used that way, and it fills me with awe and a sense of sober purpose when I sit down to work. It reminds me that little hobby of mine can be holy work. Just like faithfulness in doing laundry, cooking supper, and scrubbing toilets is holy work.

Too often we separate things that are “sacred” and things that are “ordinary.” It brings to mind the snatch of Wendell Berry that I often quote.

There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   

Wendell Berry

But even though I quote it so often to myself, I still forget that everyday work is a chance to breathe and worship in a sacred place. It’s a chance to practice gratitude. It’s a chance to bend my knee. And more importantly, it’s easy to forget that if I don’t make it into a sacred place, it might become a desecrated place.

I don’t share this story to toot my own horn. I share it as a bit of a journal to remind myself that this work that I have the privilege to do can indeed make the world a more beautiful place. And to remind you, too, that wherever you are found today….it can be a sacred place.

I’ll close with a quote from Brother Lawrence, who some call the Kitchen Saint because in the monastery he served in, he had the oh-so-glamorous-job of washing dishes. But he found that he was able to experience a vivid and powerful relationship with God because he was able to spend time doing little things while acknowledging the presence of God.

We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.

Brother Lawrence

With Great Love: Work That Honors

One of Mother Teresa’s favorite mottos was “Do small things with great love.” There are about three or four iterations of this particular motto, but all with that refrain of doing small things with great love.

Isn’t that what making the world more beautiful is about? We can’t just swipe a huge oil pastel brush over the ugliness in the world to paint a sunrise or a sunset in its place, or a “happy little cloud” like Bob Ross. That’s not how it works. Because the world is cursed with sin and sadness, it will always remain present. But in our own small acts of redemptive defiance, we can resist the darkness. We can’t erase it, but we can plant a garden. Or we can make a pie. Or we can fold laundry. And in doing those little things with great love, we redeem and cultivate.

A few nights ago, I was up in the middle of the night. I’m a bit of an insomniac, to begin with, but pregnancy emphasizes that. And I was worried about a few different things. So I began reading poetry. At 3 a.m. (Please tell me that someone else, somewhere in the world, does this?)

I turned to Wendell Berry because his poetry has been so soothing to me in the last few years and in particular, his book This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems.

Teach me work that honors thy work,
the true economies of goods and words,
to make my arts compatible
with the songs of the local birds.


Teach me patience beyond work –
and, beyond patience, the blest
Sabbath of thy unresting love
which lights all things and gives rest.

Wendell Berry

And this became a prayer for me. Work that honors God’s work. Small things done with great love. They’re both so interwoven that it’s difficult to see where one leaves off and the other picks up.

This past month has been one huge march, placing one foot in front of another. November is always our family’s most busy and haphazard month, with birthdays and Thanksgiving and trying to intentionally get things done so that December can be a restful season of Advent. But each of the kids has demanded attention in different ways.

I often notice that when some of my children want attention, they’ll pick up a handicraft and ask me to help work with them on it. It’s usually not well-timed or convenient. But it is a ministry. It is heart work. And it is teaching my kids that love is available and that love becomes available when needed. I’m teaching my kids about prayer and how the Father always is ready to listen to them. It’s nothing earth-shattering. It’s saying yes in a moment when my flesh and to-do list long to say no.

It’s also teaching the kids to fight for beauty in their own way. It’s teaching them that they have the agency to choose colors and designs in their own projects. They have creative license. But at the same time, their handicrafts are bound by the rules/laws of that particular craft, material, and gravity. It’s teaching them to take pride in their work and the joy of making for others. It’s giving them a way to do little things with great love.

One step at a time. One stitch at a time. One moment at a time.

Little things.

Two Finished Scarves

Finished this scarf today. I intentionally made it shorter for this kiddo, because he stretches out his scarves to previously unheard of lengths. I’ve learned a thing or two over the years of parenting.

I also finished this scarf, made from a magic yarn ball I threw together a few nights ago. I have enough left in this magic yarn ball to make at least one, if not two, more scarves. I think I’ll switch up the patterning, though, because I like variety.

Unfortunately, the lighting is such in northern France right now that I can rarely get a “good photo.” Having to be content with poor lighting, and that means that my photo colorations are wonky. Ah well.

I began another scarf in bright oranges, reds, and yellows, because there’s a kiddo in my life that shares my affinity for bright colors. It’s such a joy to knit multi-colored things after a few solid items. This one will be very simple in just a seed stitch. But it will work up really quickly for my little pal.

My Symphony: Dirty Dishes and Copious Amounts of Scarves

To live content with small means.
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
    and refinement rather than fashion.
To be worthy not respectable,
    and wealthy not rich.
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently,
    act frankly, to listen to stars, birds, babes,
    and sages with open heart, to bear all cheerfully,
    do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual,
    unbidden and unconscious,
    grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.

William Henry Channing

I’ve been going through all of my social media sites lately and culling quite a bit. You see, I have the unfortunate habit of clicking “save for later” or whatever the equivalent is on each site. So I’ve amassed an insurmountable heap of digital content that I will never get through, nor would I ever want to try. Things that may have interested me five years ago hold less sheen and shimmer now.

But what I do enjoy is that I’m a word hoarder. I have journals filled completely with little scraps of beauty that I find in books or quotes from songs or sermons or what have you. In the culling process for all of these digital articles, I’m finding a treasure trove of words that I’ve collected on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest as well. (Like the poem above.) So I’m working on gathering them all together in one place, so I can read them on days when I need a good word.

Life has been less beauty-filled and more grin and bear it around here. We’ve had plumbing difficulties which lead to a lot of laundry from the sopping up of plumbing messes. And dishes piling up because everything is slow to get a fix for here in France. And I haven’t washed dishes in three days except for a couple of desperation rounds washed in the bathtub. So my cooking is all off-kilter as well because I’m trying to create as little dish disaster as possible.

It’s a hot mess. But it’s real life.

Also, we’ve been trying to evaluate one of our kids for a learning disorder. It appears that he may not have this particular learning disorder but that he struggles immensely and needs extra help in a certain area.

And some of the kids have had just genuinely angry days. My husband worked a Long Week last week; he’s working a shorter week this week. But the kids have not adjusted to the spontaneity of their Daddy’s schedule after years of predictability and availability. And sometimes that comes out in anger.

So I’ve been lax on my projects. But today I managed to pick some up for a few hours while listening to kids reading to each other or watching kids do some independent portions of their homeschool.

I’m nearly finished with this hurdler stitch scarf. I still have the mustard/gold baby blanket on a crochet hook, but as he’s not due till February, I need to prioritize winter and Christmas gifts first.

So I began this linen stitch scarf for one of twenty-odd scarves I’m going to attempt to make in the next two months. (I have ambitions that are overly high sometimes… I’m aware of this.) We work with 13 to 15 teenage boys who have completely heartbreaking stories, and I’d like to make them each a scarf for Christmas if I can. At the very least, the kids are going to be making them a Christmas cookie/goodie care package, but I’d love to include scarves, as many of them are frequently cold due to not being from this climate.

So yes, you’ll be seeing a lot of scarves here. Hopefully some fun color combinations. There are also a few odd family Christmas gifts that I need to make up as well. I don’t think I’m going to get to my own kids’ slippers that I have good intentions about. But as I’ve just made several of them scarves and made large blankets for all of them, I think we’re good for a teensy while. They’ll be getting cardigans for Christmas anyway. (Sadly, not handmade, but at least it’s something.) What’s that old joke about the cobbler’s children never having any shoes?

Making Tomorrow a More Beautiful Place

This morning found me waking up in a funk. I mean, nearly every morning does. I am genuinely Not a Morning Person. But when I’m pregnant and the baby inside of me hates me from the hours of 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., I’m even more Not a Morning Person.

So the kids had peanut butter and jelly on baguettes for breakfast this morning. Just saying.

After a cup of tea and two hours of sheer survival, I started to feel guilty for just gritting my teeth to get through the day. I wanted to make the day more beautiful. So I began. I washed several loads of laundry, changed several sheets and washed them because it was windy and the sheets would actually dry outside today.

As I was cleaning up the aftermath of the peanut butter and jelly breakfast, I thought to myself “Well, this is nice. Laundry is done. Dishes are washing. But how can I fix tomorrow morning? How can I make tomorrow a more beautiful place to be before it’s even begun?”

Several of the kids were wanting to help, so I decided to do a bit of a deep clean of the kitchen. They organized my storage containers and glass jars, and I began a few pots of veggie broth for soup this week. We found our gratitude journal (embarrassed grimace at having lost it for a while under a sack of leeks) and began writing things we were grateful for.

I sat down and realized that deep cleaning the kitchen, while useful, didn’t really solve my problem of tomorrow morning. So I decided to make up breakfasts for the next three days for Michael and the kids. I made up four batches of raspberry pancakes. (In my defense, I thought the bag of berries in the freezer was a multi-berry mix from our smoothies. But it wasn’t. So raspberry pancakes it is. )

(and pizza sauce for our supper tonight…)

I also made a batch of blueberry muffins. These two items should cover breakfast for the next three days for Michael and the kids. If all-day-sickness allows, I’ll usually eat a few scrambled eggs for breakfast, but that’s typically all I can handle. So these breakfasts, while scrumptious looking, will not be for me.

I found that looking ahead to helping tomorrow helped me to gain more energy and task momentum throughout the day. Instead of staring at the pancakes, waiting, I would try to find little tasks like washing a window or hanging three pieces of laundry or straightening the bathroom sink that could be done in the 1-minute before I’d have to flip the pancakes. It became a game. I’d ask myself “What is one thing that I can do this moment to make the world more beautiful?”

And sometimes that meant stopping a sibling bicker-fest. Keeping it real here.

After we put the kids to bed tonight, I rearranged the master bedroom with my husband’s help. We don’t have any furniture for when the baby comes, but at least I can get our bed positioned on the correct wall. That way, we’ll be able to fit a chair, changing table, and pack n’ play for the baby to sleep in.

I’m loving this piece of art by Van Gogh and can’t decide if I’m going to hang a print of it in my room near where I’ll have my nursing chair or in my daughter’s room near her dollies.

I can’t claim that any of these tasks will make me more cheerful tomorrow morning. Because it will–in fact–be another morning. But at least I’ve done my best to make tomorrow a more beautiful place.

New Knitting And The Declaration That I’m Not a Cat Person

In my very first post on this blog, I wrote that goodness and civility and beauty are worth the extra effort.

I was muddling over this idea of extra effort today as I was teaching myself a new knit stitch for another scarf for another son. I began with the Herringbone stitch, and I was so chuffed at the effort I was putting in. But it ended up being *too* much effort. I never realized what a yarn hog the herringbone stitch is. And now I have a greater appreciation for the effort. But I have switched to the much easier Hurdler stitch.

I don’t feel entirely bad about not putting in excessive amounts of effort. The point of creating a knit scarf is to show love to my kids. My son learns that he is valued and worthy of something that took time. It’s also to give my hands something to do so that I’m producing something during times of passive watchfulness.

On the home front, we’ve managed to figure out our washing machine. We prepped and washed all of the newborn diapers. My daughter helped me strip them. We soaked them in hot water and laundry soap in our bathtub and swished them around with a wooden spoon occasionally for four hours. (Something recommended on a European diaper washing instructional website….We’re going to give the European instructions for washing a try…) It made me feel like a renaissance washerwoman. We get our kicks where we can.

Here’s the beginning of a baby blanket I’m making for Boy #4 (who we sometimes affectionately refer to as Poky, because in the children’s book, The Poky Little Puppy is the slowest out of the 5.) It’s the arrow stitch and is wondrously easy to crochet. But it’s a yarn hog as well. What is it with me choosing really yarn-heavy stitches lately? I take comfort knowing that our little one will stay extra warm under this in the winter when he arrives.

We have some holly growing close to our front door. It’s a massive bush/shrub, about 8 feet tall. I want to figure out how I can use our natural resources in decorating and gifting for Christmas this year, and all I can say is that holly is a whole lot spikier than it looks on Christmas postcards. I am uncertain about how to use this for decor, but I believe my hands will be poked many a time.

Tonight, I spent time on Pinterest contemplating art for a while. I find a lot of artists, especially modern ones, of whom I was previously unaware on Pinterest. But it’s also a frustrating source because I liked one picture that HAPPENED to have a cat in the painting, and now Pinterest thinks I’m a crazy cat person. I don’t like cats. But the algorithm has spoken. There will be cats in my Pinterest existence from now until kingdom come.

I’m not entirely satisfied with my art contemplations tonight, aside from the cat issue, as several of the paintings have left me a little melancholy. Many of the paintings I viewed were winter scenes or scenes that contrast the darkness with light shining out of windows. But I think it worthwhile to contemplate beauty. And that’s where I’m ending tonight.

Six Months In France and A Beastly Blanket

I’m feeling a little ridiculous posting now, beginning this again, and I almost feel the need to reintroduce myself. However, I’m going to just press into this post. We’ve managed to find beauty in all sorts of places in the nearly six months since we moved overseas. Beauty in discomfort. Beauty in sadness. Beauty in nature. Beauty in flavors. Beauty in a feeling of home.

It took us a few months more than we thought to find a place to call home, but we’re here now, finally settling in. And we have internet! While we still are very limited in our furnishings, it is so nice to just spread ourselves out and begin routines.

I finally finished up a blanket for our daughter. It was a tough one because I was using up scraps of old purples and pinks, her favorite colors. (Not MY favorites…) I reworked the blanket three times for various reasons. It just is what it is now.

My husband chose the edging, and I don’t think it’s half bad, but I will never voluntarily make a blanket in colors I despise again. (Remind me of this in a few months, right?) I don’t have glamour shots, because my daughter wanted it the instant I was done, and her room is…spartan right now. (Missionary life.) I’d really love to make her room a little more beautiful than it is. Currently, it’s just a bed in a very large room. Not pretty for staging. Ah well.

horrible night lighting. Hopefully someday, I’ll get a photo to show you the colours in a less garish light.

I also knit up a scarf for one of the older boys with some leftover rust-colored yarn. He calls it his “jaunty scarf.”

I did order some grey-blue wool yarn and some ochre wool-blend yarn for a few more projects, because we have another little boy joining us in February. I plan to knit some leg warmers and a hat and to crochet a blanket for baby boy.

I do want to work more on my knitting skills because I’m honestly still a little scared of cable work. I hope to make myself a cardigan or pullover sometime in the next year, but we’ll see. It is nowhere near as cold here as it was in Minnesota, but it’s a consistent damp feeling, so I find myself reaching for sweaters even when it’s only 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius).

We’re learning to be much more economical than we were even in the States. It’s a constant stretching of creativity in terms of where we can skimp and where we need to add flavor (or quality). One of my goals in our lives as a mom and a missionary has been to not really allow our kids to feel a sense of financial sacrifice. It’s been challenging and has stretched my creativity.

Of note: homemade nacho sauce with French cheese and without access to jalapenos is just NOT a good idea.

Now that I’ve finished that beast of a blanket, I do hope to write here more often. Maybe I’ll throw in some non-craft-related posts, just to remember our first year in France. We’ll see.

In New Places, Finding Beauty

We now live in a different country. We’re not in a permanent place, by far, but we’re striving to find beauty and joy in some unlikely spots.

I feel a bit out of the water, because we don’t have our earthly trappings, and I don’t have any yarn to comfort me. But I’ve been able to make my minute world more beautiful in small ways. I think that’s one of the wonderful things about being a Christian. By believing in a Creative God, we can find hope, even during times of uncertainty or grief. And by seeking and reveling in the beauty around us, we are reminded of His grander purpose and the overarching story of creation. The same God who created rhubarb and bees, thought the world needed one of me. And one of you.

Moving away from family has not been a pain-free experience, and our family feels the ache of grief. We’re still working with the kids daily on handling expectations and emotions well. Most days I fail. And I pray that God’s grace will overshadow my failures.

As we don’t yet have an address or a vehicle, I’ve not been able to procure any yarn to work with during this time. Because of that, I’ve been more diligent in seeking color and beauty around me as I go to language school or in my walks to get groceries. There is a yarn store a couple miles away, and I intend to walk there in the next week or so just to pick up a skein or two.

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry on the metro on the way to French school. In the mornings, I teach the children; in the afternoons I speak in French. It creates a very muddled brain, and I’ve been finding I have been making a lot of spelling and grammatical errors already. Please forgive me over the next few weeks as I will likely stumble and bumble my way around this space. The fog will eventually clear, and my grammatical comprehension will return, or so I’ve heard.

A Lovely Gray Celtic Afghan (Ta-DAH!)

On my birthday, I drank my favorite coffee, got to hold a baby, my husband took me out to a creamery, and I picked out some tulips to celebrate. It was delightful.

I also finished this blanket.

celtic afghan, celtic blanket, crocheted cablework,

This particular one was begun out of necessity, rather than plan. We’re in the process of moving overseas, and our initial visa application was denied. What’s a girl to do when her entire life is inaccessible because it’s packed away in boxes?

I try to live by the old Shaker phrase “Hands to Work, Hearts To God.” So instead of sitting around googling visa application horror stories or sure fixes, I chose to make this Celtic afghan instead.

Details About The Celtic Afghan

Pattern details: free on Ravelry.  Lion Brand® Vanna’s Choice® Celtic Afghan, Pattern Number: L20303

Yarn details: Big Twist Rainbow Classic Yarn – Gray.

The time it took to make: 21 days. I don’t know how many hours, but there were quite a few days that I didn’t work on it at all.

This lovely blanket is so comforting. It’s also quite heavy for a blanket, weighing at around 5 pounds. It’s the perfect blanket for curling up in our cold Northern winters.

celtic afghan, celtic blanket, crocheted cablework,

The first day or three, I struggled to learn cablework. I crocheted and then “frogged” about 20 or so times. It became a joke with my husband because he thought it was so unusual to see me struggling with something related to crochet. But soon, since it’s only a four-row repeat, I was able to proceed pretty quickly. It’s a pretty bulky yarn, so things worked up really fast.

Future Projects To Look For

I enjoyed it so much that I’m foraying into other cable work and plan to design my own little cabled blanket in a smaller baby blanket size. Look for a work in progress update and maybe a free pattern here on this website! I also have a design in the works for a really fun vintage quilt-inspired pattern.