TRUE COLORS ARE BEAUTIFUL LIKE A RAINBOW

We’d been in quarantine two full week, the days marked by a kind of thickness hanging in the air.  I can speak only for myself, really, but it seemed as if the entire world was in a state of suspended animation, and there were many questions with very few answers.

In the absolute best of circumstances, I have a hard time adjusting to new things.  I’m a creature of habit, extremely comfortable and efficient in my routines.  This was anything but the best of circumstances and the transition was unimaginably difficult for me.  My mind was racing, I couldn’t sleep, yet I was entirely immobilized and unable to accomplish even basic things like getting out of bed.  

People have often compared this time in quarantine to “Groundhog Day”, the film where Bill Murray finds himself repeating the exact same day over and over again.  For me, those first two weeks were the epitome of existing in what felt like a haunted cycle.  It was dark and it was spinning.

To this day, I have no clue what sparked the idea that I should make a quilt.  I’m pretty sure that it is somehow related to the fact that I had spent four full days frantically sorting materials to send home to my students for their distance learning projects because, if it weren’t for that obligation, I doubt I’d have gone anywhere near my supply closet.  I ended up with a few scraps of fabric in colors that must’ve demanded they be pieced together because suddenly, I found myself on the floor with my mat and rotary cutter, (not so) carefully trimming strips into squares.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was keenly aware that something had imperceptibly shifted.  I wasn’t able to name it, but there it was.  Two days later, I started writing in a planner, and the following Monday began knitting a blanket for Emet on the day he was supposed to leave for his three-month international exchange to Italy.  Shortly thereafter, my thoughts found their way to my fingertips and posts gradually began to trickle into this space and then, all of the sudden, I was flowing.

The quilt took a backseat to the many house projects and school assignments and Google Classroom tutorials that began to fill my days.  When I had started sewing the pieces together in early April, I was doing it on the floor, which definitely caused some awkward cramping in my back from being hunched over a sewing machine.  It was that experience that really made me think that I might need a dedicated sewing table, and that is how we came full circle to yesterday – when I decided to finish what I’d started in the first place.

The rest of the top had come together in a single afternoon*, and though it wasn’t actually the first thing I sewed at my new table, in my mind it will be distinctly recognized as the project that christened my cherished workstation.  Up until this point, I hadn’t purchased a thing for this quilt as the entire top had been pieced from scraps and the batting that turned up in my garage as a remnant from a previous project ended up being exactly the right size on three of four edges (a miracle!).  Originally, I had planned to scrap together the back as well, but after seeing how great the top turned out, I decided she needed to be backed with more than just whatever it was I could find.

Pro tip: using a flat sheet is the best way to back a quilt because it is already a large, single piece of fabric and can easily be found in 100% cotton which is essential.  I didn’t have any on hand in the right color, but found one at the Target which turned out to be absolutely perfect.  I took myself to the Joann’s for the first time since this whole thing began – I can’t remember the last time I’ve been away from the Joann’s for this long – and was shocked to find the racks of fabric bolts nearly empty!  All those people making masks have caused a shortage in cotton fabric, and never in my life did I think my beloved craft store would become essential.  Love that.

I do not love, however, the fact that I had nothing to choose from except the packaged quilt binding.  At least I was able to find a color I was pleased with, and headed home somewhat satisfied and thoroughly excited to complete the quite the following day – yesterday.

After sleeping in a little, I sipped my espresso and browsed the internet, and then promptly got to work.  I figured it’d take me until lunch time to finish the quilting and that’d I’d bind it before dinner. It’s probably best I thought that, because if I’d thought it’d take me more than eight hours to wrestle the quilt through my compact machine, I probably wouldn’t have gotten started with such naïve enthusiasm.  I should mention that I don’t have a walking foot, either.  If you know, you know.

Here is where I tell you that what I wanted to do was sew a quilt, and what I ended up doing was learning a whole hell of a lot about who I am and what I want out of this precious life of mine.  And, let me tell you, what I do not want is perfection.  Not even a little bit.

I also don’t want a quilt bound with anything other than cotton and, sadly, the packaged binding I bought has a pretty sizable polyester content.  That’ll never do.  So, I don’t want perfection, but I do have standards.

For now, she’s quilted and cornered and patiently waiting for a binding that is worthy of her exquisite, rustic simplicity.  There’s a secret love note to my family tucked in between the layers, and all my best intentions woven into every single detail – a humble and accidental heirloom that began as just a little something to keep my hands busy and my mind focused.

Well, my hands were busy (they still are) and my mind was focused (still is) and my heart can hardly contain all the gratitude I have for finding my way here, to this place.  I am happy, I am healthy, I am lucky in love and laughter.  I will think of the literal and figurative work I put in every time I pull out the quilt for a picnic, a trip to the beach, a movie night, a fort, and remember that I can always decide exactly how I want something to be, and do my best to make it that way.

* I also “restarted” my sourdough starter, the same day I finished the quilt top.  So the circle has come full, in more ways than one.

 

AND I’VE BEEN WAITING SUCH A LONG TIME

Now that my paper files are sorted and my email inbox is under control, I’ve set my sights on archiving and organizing my digital photos.  This is proving to be a bigger challenge than I’d anticipated.  My computer doesn’t really recognize my phone as a device, and yesterday, after discovering Google Photo and getting most of my photos to sync there, I can’t for the life of me figure out how to get them from Google Photo to my hard drive.  It is times like these where I really regret not taking any computer classes, or properly learning how to code, or how to navigate any software (like, for instance, Photoshop) for that matter.  I was on the phone with my dad the other day and I told him the only piece of advice he offered that I truly regret not heeding was to take photography as an elective in high school.

Anyway, there are thousands of photos living somewhere between my phone and my Google Photos, and thousands more living….on a cloud, somewhere?  Or dropped in a box in some unknown corner of the internet?  I can’t really say.  In a perfect world, I’d summon them all with a single key stroke and, boom, they’d be neatly categorized in an easy-to-find folder on my desktop.  I’m not sure that program has been written yet, so for now I’m back to google searching how to get my pictures on my computer, please and thank you.

I have big aspirations of being able to enhance some of what I write here with images, the way some great books contain carefully selected illustrations or – my favorite – wood block prints.  Also, my family has been encouraging me for the longest time to share more of the things I make, which was the original inspiration behind revamping this space at the beginning of this year.

Oh, this year.  Not really anything has gone according to plan, my tiny venture as a virtual shopkeep chief among the projects of mine that have been challenged by unforeseen circumstances.  And, of course, school being closed has complicated, well, everything.  As this month draws to a close, leaving fewer than forty days between now and the mid-point of ,the solar calendar, I find myself thinking long and hard about the backend of 2020 and what I’d like to accomplish.

Some of these are lofty goals, some of them are basic, and some of them just need to happen – like getting a handle on my photos.  That seemed like one of the easiest items to tackle, and yet here I am, two days in and nary an image file to conjure.

I did, however, come upon some quilt binding which means there’s a good chance our family movie night is about to get a little cozier.

THESE HAPPY DAYS ARE YOURS AND MINE

Every night this week, after the kids are in bed, I have transformed my bedroom into soundstage in the name of virtual education.  I haul in the bright studio light, prop open the tripod, and film myself “teaching” handwork lessons.  

Never in a million years did I think this would be something I’d find myself doing on a regular basis, and yet, I’m kinda getting the hang of it – after, let’s be clear, a very steep learning curve.  It’s not exactly my favorite pastime, shooting videos of myself, but it has gotten easier and I might be starting to enjoy it?  Which is a long way from dreading and therefore avoiding it, as had previously been the case.

It’s a win, and I’ll take it.  I don’t expect to be receiving any awards for cinematography or anything, but my audience is appreciative and I’ve gotten more than one sweet note that the content has been helpful.  Mission accomplished.

All told, it’s been a really great week.  I’m feeling on top of my responsibilities both at work and at home, which means I’m ready to dive back into for-fun projects like learning how to use my serger and seeing which fruits I can try to ferment into soda.  Not a bad way to start the weekend, if you ask me.  Rumor has it that a few restaurants around town will be opening for dine-in service and, I can assure you, we will not be amongst those first patrons.  Content at home, are we.  

OH I SEE MYSELF IN A BRAND NEW WAY

We are fortunate enough to live walking distance to a grocery store that hardly ever has a long line at the entrance, and which sells the kind of obscure specialty foods that our family regularly consumes.  More often than not, we have been able to get exactly what we need and with relatively little hassle.

I am well aware of what a blessing this is.

Pre-quarantine, I was a daily marketer.  I made the rounds between the Trader Joe’s, the Whole Foods, the Sprouts, the Vons with phenomenal frequency and it was a huge adjustment learning to shop in this new world.  Which, for our family, has meant twice monthly trips to the Costco and the occasional trip to our local market for what we aren’t able to purchase in bulk.

Turns out, the Costco is basically the best store ever.  The selection of organic produce, grass-fed dairy, alternative pantry staples, and household goods at great prices is unparalleled.  Because of these new shopping habits, for the first time in my adult life I proudly have a storage pantry.  I feel just like my great-grandma every time I head to the garage to retrieve a canned good or to fill up the flour jar from the fifty pound bag I bought early on when that was all I could find in the store: prepared and proud of it.

Even in my head, it sounds silly to say, but my life has been changed by this imposed homestay.  For me, it has not been isolating, it has been incubating, an intensely rapid season of personal growth and transformation.  I know I am not the same as I was the first day of quarantine, and I’m glad.  Quite frankly, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Ten years ago, I was carless, bound by the limits of what I could accomplish by bicycle or public transportation, which automatically caused my life to slow way down.  Emet and Jade were little, we lived in West LA, and I look back on those as some of the best days of my life.  I loved the pace of things, the way a trip to the grocery store was an all-day event, or the careful way we’d orchestrate our errands so we’d never backtrack or have too much to carry early on.  It took planning, and an acceptance that we could only do so much.

There are plenty more similarities between that time and this, which to me illustrates the cyclical natures of pretty much everything.  But my point is that I learned some of my most valuable skills during the years I spent living without an automobile, and this time I’m spending without access to the outside world is proving to be every bit as essential to refining those skills and cultivating new ones.

Eventually, this will end.  When and how and what it will all look like are unknown variables, but a day will come when orders will be lifted.  I plan to be ready with all I have learned to step into the world in a more mindful way than before.

For now, though, I’m content in my cozy home with the ones I love, and enormously grateful for good food, curious hands, and the laughter that underscores the majority of our days.

PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW

I don’t really like admitting defeat, so having to throw out my first-ever attempt at starting seeds was slightly disappointing.  I refilled the egg carton we’re repurposing as a greenhouse and replanted using a slightly different method than before.  Fingers crossed we get at least a sprout or two instead of close to a dozen duds like last time.

When Roux and I set out to plant this container garden, we really didn’t have any ambitions other than it was spring and it felt like a good “school” activity to do since it’s most definitely something that would’ve happened were he in class.  But now, I’m fully committed and determined to eat at least one porch tomato this summer, if not an entire bowl of salsa.

One thing that did survive the last round are the little illustrations Roux made for each of the seeds we planted.  I had them laminated at my local office shop and we glued a popsicle stick to the back of each.  Once the seeds take and it’s time to transplant the starts to the vessels patiently awaiting their tender roots, we’ll use these as garden markers.

I’d hardly call it a DIY, but it is a simple handcrafted touch that makes an otherwise ordinary item rather special.  Assuming they hold up well enough to use over multiple planting seasons, they will be sweet momentos of the kind of pictures Huckleberry drew with his six year old hands.  I’m looking foward to adding these little treasures to my bountiful collection of rocks painted by my children over the years.

When we first moved to this apartment, I had no intention whatsoever of cultivating a garden and now I’m practically tripping over myself with plans to transform our cement porch into a miniature urban homestead.

You know, assuming I can get the seeds to grow.

 

RISE LIKE THE DAY

I’m a little more than halfway through the Whole30 and I have some thoughts.

First, I gave up on keeping a daily food journal when I realized that what I eat is mostly the same thing every day, and writing it down got pretty boring.  I started the journal as a way for me to keep track, and also to see if I had any great tips or what not.  But mostly I’ve found that I keep myself busy to avoid mindless snacking which is what the Whole30 really comes down to – eating intentionally for nourishment, and that’s it.

Unhealthy patterns surrounding food were modeled for me throughout my childhood in different ways, and it has taken me years of my life to develop what I think is a positive relationship to my body.  I have learned that the way I care for myself on the inside dramatically affects the way I feel about myself on the outside, that when I am being considerate of the choices I make, I am far less likely to maintain a critical conversation in my head.

That isn’t to say that I’m not prone to slipping into bad habits, I am and I do.  The beginning of quarantine was a perfect example of how I immediately turned to comforting myself with sweet treats – I baked my way through pounds of flour and several blocks of cream cheese in a matter of days – and sometimes, it takes something like Whole30 to give my system a little reset.  I always feel better within the first week, a swift reminder of how quickly the body responds.

All that being said, though.  I am counting the days until I can eat a thick slice of homemade sourdough bread slathered with salty butter.  The sourdough starter I attempted to develop a few weeks back did not cultivate the way it was meant to, and I’ve since purchased a gorgeous book on the topic to help me through the learning process.  I figure the remaining days of this challenge will pass just in time for me to get a handle on my leaven and that is yet another example of the benefit of forethought.

 

SIXTY-FOUR

Did you know that NASA suggests keeping one houseplant per each 100 square feet of your indoor living space?  Challenge accepted!

I picked up the sweetest little blooming succulent from the farmer’s market over the weekend.  It was our first time at the Mercado since it reopened, and while there I realized it was actually our first time there as a family since moving back to this neighborhood last fall.  We’d gone there with empty bellies, hoping to fill them with prepared vendor foods but, alas, that does not seem to be happening post-quarantine.  Instead, we ate almost an entire bag of sun drenched cherries, their sweet juices reflecting the warmth of midday.  The kids nibbled on a baguette dipped in fresh hummus, and the mister and I treated ourselves to iced coffees from our favorite local shop.

Yes, a relaxing weekend was precisely what I needed to charge into this week at full speed.  I’ve got a fair amount of work ahead of me, a decent chunk of just-for-fun projects I’d like to spend some time developing, and at least three runs I plan on taking.  I’ll admit that I wasn’t able to wait two full days before diving into Inbox Bootcamp, and yesterday I emptied out both my inboxes while waiting for the laundry to dry.  The next challenge in my quest for ultimate organization is archiving both my printed and digital photos.  I’ve uncovered some spectacular vintage images from my childhood, and from when my big kids were my little kids.  I’d love to get them into some sort of album or digital scrapbook, instead of piled (neatly!) in boxes on a garage shelf.

The flock of wild parrots that lives outside our window is performing their morning chorus, which usually means its time for me to get the little boy out the door for a stretch of the legs and a dose of fresh air.  He’s quietly drawing at the moment, though, so I might steal a few minutes to knit before he inevitably announces it’s time for us to “go already, mama.”

I’ve got a good feeling about you, Week 10.  Show me what you got.

DAISIES IN GREEN PASTURES

It’s after 11 and I’m still in my pajamas, having just finished my second shot of espresso.  I’m sure a third is not too far off.  Jade is tinkering in the garage, the brothers are piled in a single bed reading together, my love is exercising in his office, and I’m sitting here listening to the sounds of a quiet family Sunday.

I can’t quite remember the last time a morning unfolded as slowly as this, and it’s wonderful.  In a little while, I’ll extract myself from my favorite spot and prepare a simple lunch.  Afterward, we’ll set the timer and race about tending to our chores in synchronized fashion, followed by an afternoon of nothing

In the book I finished yesterday, the author encourages folks to claim nothing for the something it is.  Nothing, she says, is the white space where ideas are often born.  I practically shouted in agreement as I read this.  Pockets of unscheduled time are a precious resource, and are absolutely essential to my own process.  I need time to think, to recuperate, to enjoy the space I have worked so hard to create.  For me, nothing is one of my favorite things to do.

But!  In order for me to really appreciate having nothing on my agenda, I have to feel like I have earned it.  I’m terrible at sitting still if there is something on my mind, and it’s easy for me to distract myself with busywork or fabricated obligations.  Which makes today even sweeter as there is, quite literally, nothing for me to use an excuse to keep from relaxing.

After nine weeks in quarantine, who could ask for anything more?

I’M GONNA CLEAN UP MY EARTH A BUILD A HEAVEN ON THE GROUND

I once read in a design magazine that it is best to wait six months after moving into a new place before making any big changes.  In this way, you’re able to get a better sense of the way the light streams (or doesn’t), the way the traffic flows in the space, how rooms are actually used, that sort of thing.  This was ages before I had ever lived in a place of my own – pretty sure I was still in high school when I read this tip – so it was all abstract advice at the time.

When we first moved into this place, it was on a short-term lease which is what I wanted at the time.  As the terms were drawing to a close, I requested and was granted a lengthy extension.  Knowing we were going to be here for the next little while was an important conduit to settling as we have, and I credit the rapidity with which things fell into place with having lived here for just over six months and having a pretty clear idea of how we needed the space to work for us.

And work for us, it does.  I’ve quickly become the kind of lady who vacuums the entire house as part of the nightly bedtime ritual, collecting the day’s dust and giving thanks for how perfectly functional and attractive our tiny apartment palace has turned out to be.

All in all, we acquired very little by way of this renovation.  Mostly, it was a purging of what we didn’t need and a shuffling of what we already had with the addition of three extremely significant elements – the bookshelf and dresser in the kids’ room, and the workstation in mine.  We replaced the rug we had under the bunkbeds with something that works much better and is so much prettier to look at, we hung a few strands of inexpensive lights, and we mounted a generic piece of peg board in the kitchen.  Beyond that, most of what we spent went toward shelving in the garage which has paid for itself in spades if you ask me.  I haven’t crunched the exact numbers, and frankly it doesn’t interest me, because all that really matters is that we had a shoestring budget to work with, we did not overspend, and even if we’d spent a million dollars I don’t think it could have turned out any better than it did.  I’m over the moon, and can’t wait for the big kids – who’ve been with their dad for the past week – to finally get to see the end result.

On April 21, I started a project breakdown which I called “our tiny apartment reno” and I gave myself the end date of 6/30.  Today, we are halfway through May and the things remaining on that list are either minor details (find a non-hideous kitchen mat), are things I’m not interested in purchasing online (frames), or tasks that require additional help.  Basically, we’ve finished all we can and about six week ahead of schedule.  Add to that the fact that the garage – which wasn’t originally factored into this project and had a separate deadline of it’s own, my birthday – is also done, more than two months prior to when I’d thought it’d be finished.  Good stuff.  Addicting stuff.  I can totally see why flipping houses is a thing people do.  It’s a little bit magic, and I look forward to doing it again.

Even more, though, I look forward to living into this space we’ve created, watching it transform with the seasons.  I said to my husband last night that I’d spent the last several years thinking our time living on Eagle Street was going to be our good old days, but it turns out they are just getting started.

TO SEE YOUR SHOES AND YOUR SPIRITS RISE

For the second consecutive week, I haven’t necessarily gotten to everything I set out to do each day, but come Friday, my entire to-do list has been tackled even if not precisely on schedule.  I’ve casually slipped into a season of high productivity, and I plan to ride the wave as long as it lets me.

Next week, it will be one month since I switched over to using the Get To Work Book as my primary paper planner.  I am hooked, and there’s no going back.  I’m not sure I’ll entirely divorce the system I use when it comes to planning for school, but as for my personal agenda, I couldn’t be more pleased with how this has helped me focus and, well, get to work.  I mentioned yesterday that I plan to tackle my overcrowded inbox and it is through the help of this course, which is designed by the same gal who produces the product line that is anchored by my new planner.  I have a feeling it’s going to be an excellent investment in amplifying and streamlining my digital communication skills (including organization), and I can’t wait to get started.

But first, the weekend!  It’s a special one because, after three weeks of madness, there is actual space to relax.  As eager as I am to move onto the next thing, I know how good it will be for me to allow that next thing to be enjoying a few days of downtime with my family.

Thank goodness it’s Friday.