2014

I’ve spent a few minutes scrolling through my blog posts from the past year, and it honestly does not feel like those things happened.  I mean, two and a half weeks ago I flew home from Australia.  We lived in Australia for five months, but now we’re back in our home and it feels like it was a movie I watched…there’s no way something like that actually took place.  I never thought I’d live somewhere like that, and now I can say that I have.  It’s surreal.

2014 was…busy, challenging, and overwhelming.  After 2013’s back injury, I threw myself into 2014 with passion, only to feel like I couldn’t quite get ahead, ever.  Michael traveled a lot, and it was very difficult to homeschool, keep the house in order, or move ahead on anything while he was away.

I let the girls sign up for sports, which took up a lot of time.  It’s insane to shuttle the kids around for that stuff, but at year’s end I’m so glad we did it.  Penguin loved soccer and gymnastics and is eagerly awaiting getting back into both, and Bluebird went out for fastpitch, which I was really nervous about, given that she’s wary of new things and hadn’t shown any inclination towards the sport ever before, but she blossomed over the course of the season.  I was so proud of her.  I hope she plays again this year.

I helped throw a baby shower for my dear friend, Rachel, and it was a smashing success.  That was one of my favorite things of this past year.  I love to throw a party, I loved the reason we were celebrating, and it was just so much fun to do something so elegant.  I love my kids’ birthday parties, but grown-up stuff is just so much more appealing to a grown-up, you know?  That was a lot of fun.  I felt like I was able to expand into a lot of my potential with that event.  I always want to do nice things, but I’m limited most of the time, so it was nice to do an “all-out” thing that turned out so well.

I also made a work of art in 2014, the Storybook Hexagon Quilt.  I’m still fairly new to the quilting scene, so it was scary to give myself over to my heart’s desire to create something I was sure would be incredibly beyond my fledgling abilities, but that quilt turned out spectacularly.  I don’t think I mentioned it on the blog, but I made the quilt for Rachel’s baby girl, who arrived in June.

When I found out that Rachel was pregnant, I was overjoyed for her, but also knew I needed to respect her personal space and not be all like, “LET’S TALK ABOUT THE BAY-BEEEEEE!” all the time.  I was going to channel my enthusiasm into a simple little quilt that would allow me to flex my FMQ skills, but I happened to see those ridiculously cute fairy tale prints, and they just seemed so perfect for a child of Rachel’s because Rachel likes Japanese things and she practically has a Master’s in Literature…and that’s when the vision happened.

It was such a huge undertaking for me, but I had to do it.  HAD TO.  Any time I felt like making up an excuse to knock on her door and harass her, I’d spend some time with the Storybook Hexagon Quilt first.  (I think my actions helped preserve our friendship, because, oh boy, did I want to stalk her and her growing belly.  I was just so stinkin’ happy for her!)

Rachel was absolutely shocked when I gave her the quilt because I had led her to believe I was making it for one of my own girls.  While I was in Australia, she wrote me letters and included pictures of her growing baby girl, always laying atop the quilt.  Such a feel good project, even many months afterwards.

The girls and I were cast in our stake’s musical, which was very exciting.  But then we learned that we would be moving to Australia, and that our departure date was smack-dab in the middle of the musical’s run, so we had to resign.  (It later turned out that we left an entire month later than our original plans, but I’m so glad we weren’t in the musical during that time with all the preparations we had to make!)

And then it was all about Australia.  Oh, the packing.  The securing of services to keep our home functioning and our pets alive during our absence.  The stress of visas, passports, and plane tickets.  We did manage some time at Disneyland, which was a great day.

And then we did it–we moved to Australia.


And it was harder than I ever believed it could possibly be.  I mean, it’s a first-world country and they spoke English, how hard could it be?  It was beautiful, there were lots of neat things to see and experience, we had great neighbors and a great ward…but it was hard.  Things were just different, all the time, and I had to constantly remain conscious of everything so that I could remember all the different things and not make mistakes.  It was exhausting, despite the general awesomeness of the things we were able to see.

Which led to the decision to put the girls into school while we were there.  I was just maxed-out with everything, and had to make some cuts.  It was a great decision, and we enjoyed our time with their adorable little school.  I wish I could find a school like that here where we live in the States.

And then it’s all a blur.  The girls caught the bus at 6:45am and got home at 4:30pm.  I worked hard to keep our rental from getting dingy, ran errands with Monkeyboy, spent a ridiculous amount of time line-drying clothing, and did a lot of cooking because Australian take-out did not agree with us.

I managed to make some fair progress on two big projects, the Peacock Feathers Stole and the Star Spangled Diamonds Quilt, and knit up a pair of socks as well.

We had the missionaries over for Thanksgiving, and it did my heart good.  My goodness, it was a lot of work to make that meal, what with continually converting my American recipes into metric and Celsius, and trying to figure out substitutes for ingredients I could not find in Australia.  In the end, I figured it out, and we had a lovely meal with four very happy guys.  It was a great experience.

We visited the Australia Zoo.

We were able to observe a wild sea turtle lay her eggs.

And then it was time to go home.

Since we’ve been back, it’s been a whirlwind of cleaning, unpacking, Christmas, and throwing a New Year’s Day brunch.

A whole year in 1,136 words.  It seems like it should take more words than that, especially with the events that happened.

Regardless of what has happened over the course of a year, I think the most important question to ask myself at the end of it is, “Am I a better person now than I was at the beginning of the year?”  Because, really, that’s all that matters in the end.  Did I progress?  Did I do anything to make this world better?

Yes.

I’m happier now.  Not because I can say that I lived in a foreign country, or because I’ve fed a kangaroo, or because I went to Disneyland.  I’m happier now because living in Australia opened my eyes to how unnecessarily busy I was with things that didn’t even make me happy, and it also made me see how much my homemaking matters in regards to my family’s happiness.  I’ve gone through experiences that will help me be kinder to others in difficult situations.  I’ve experienced what it feels like to really let myself go and do the best job I can do with something, and how great that feels afterwards, despite how much extra work it might have required.  I experienced the fun of working with a group and the end result actually turning out nicely.  I re-learned how much I love my home.  I re-learned how good my life is on a regular, ordinary day.

Big things happened in 2014.  2014 was busy.  2014 asked a lot of me–I had to sacrifice some things, and I had to learn to trust in my abilities a little more than I have for a very long time.  But each of those experiences ended positively, which makes me think that I’ve been hiding and protecting myself a little too much.  I’m looking forward to putting these realizations into play a little more in 2015.

Thank you for your kind words, whether you chose to send them through comments or emails.  I love hearing from each and every one of you, and it means a lot to me when you take time out of your busy lives to write a few words to me, whether you know me in real life or whether we’ve never had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face.  I wish you and your families a beautiful new year in 2015, and look forward to sharing more of my family and my experiences as the year unfolds.  Blessings to you all.

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Appreciating the Teachers

The girls’ last day of school happens today, so I put together some gifts for their teachers and a couple of other staff members at their school.  I trolled Pinterest for inexpensive gift ideas that were easy to assemble because I don’t have access to my gift wrap vault, which is a little sad-making.

Undaunted, I pressed forward and decided upon dressing up regular ol’ paper bags with some paper Christmas doilies, which was ridiculously easy.  The girls were so excited to take “their” gifts to school–there was a little bit of bickering about who would carry the box containing all the bags as they headed out to catch the bus.

I kept it simple, gift-wise.  I baked up some soft ginger cookies and then piped a simple snowflake on top of each one and added some foodie pearls at the various snowflake junctions:

I don’t even know if ginger cookies are something Australians even like, but it was from the heart.  (FYI, Peanut Butter and Jelly isn’t a thing here.  My neighbor asked me what PB&J actually was…”Just peanut butter and jam?  On bread?  Do you toast it first?”)  I’ve questioned a lot of my food assumptions in the past months, especially after having the missionaries over for Thanksgiving.  I’m constantly amazed by how different two first-world, English-speaking countries that stem from the same mother country can be.

I put two cookies in each bag, along with a gift card to a popular chain of stores around these parts.  Simple, looks and smells good, done.

Michael and I were talking about the irony that this is the first time our kids have given teacher appreciation gifts, and how it really was too bad I never received any teacher appreciation gifts while homeschooling.  And then, at the same time, we both laughed aloud and said, “Yarn stash!”

Now that I think of it, a lot of my yarn was purchased at the end of trying school days…

Merry Christmas, Educators!

Bonus link:  Doilies to dress up plain ol’ chocolate bars!  Squee!

Because I "Have Time" Now for Mending

My school-aged kids attend school now, in case you missed the update.  That being said, I have a lot more time for things that I’ve been somewhat content to ignore for many years.

Case in point:  Mending.

Of course, the moment I spent a bucket of cash on school uniforms, all the girls started literally ripping through their other clothes.  I am determined to not buy clothes while we’re here in Australia, mostly because I’m trying to save money to buy massive amounts of winter clothing when we land back in the States in the middle of winter, and also because most of the clothes that are wearing out are old, and on their last recipient (Junebug).

However, I have a thing about throwing away fabric.  I can’t do it.  If we were home, I’d launch all these into the fabric stash pile, to be used in some fashion in a future sewing project.  But we’re not home, and I’m not going to transport ripped clothing halfway around the world, so I decided, since I “have time” now, to see if I could fix the offending articles.

Armed with a few Pinterest images, and some handy how-to from The Beating Hearth, I mended this pair of Junebug’s pants, backing the hole with her “favorite” fabric that I’m using in her Star Spangled Diamonds quilt.  I extended the darning out quite a bit, as the fabric of her pants is very thin throughout the entire lower leg.

Pleased with my progress, I tackled a pair of Bluebird’s pants, which still have to last through two more girls:

That one didn’t turn out as well; I should have cut away the loose threads.  Ah, well.  I’m amused by the “Utah-shaped” darning.

Inside shot:

I’m still learning, but I’ve managed to save two pairs of pants with my mediocre skill!  That’s a skill in which to invest!  I’m unsure about the weaving part when you’re done with the lines of stitching…it seems unnecessary.

Of course, mending takes time, which meant I wasn’t able to work on my other creative projects as much as usual, so progress on those was small this last week.  But I saved two pairs of pants, which is totally worth a little delay on extra-curriculars.  (At least, it’s worth it to me.)  Also, it’s surprisingly satisfying to mend clothing.  Maybe I’ll try to unearth some articles out of the stash pile when we return home?

Two of a Kind

Oh, my knitter heart is very happy.  Not only do I now possess a new pair of handknit socks, but they’re made from yarn sent by my wonderful best friend, AND the self-striping matched up perfectly!  Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

I busted out an old pattern for these–the first sock pattern that I ever knit, actually:  Diane Soucy’s “Easy Lightweight Beginner’s Socks” pattern.  I made my first socks with it, three years ago.  Sadly, that pair of socks wore out earlier this year, after many, many times of wear.  These replace those.

The yarn is ONline’s “Supersocke 4-fach” in the “Neptun” colorway.  The thing I’ve enjoyed with people sending me sock yarn is that they choose the colors, and the colors are different than what I would choose.  It was fun to knit these up in a colorway that I probably wouldn’t have chosen myself simply because I tend to choose other things.  I really liked this colorway, especially how the turquoise-y part ended up on the heels.  Mmm, turquoise heels.  It made me smile both times it happened while I was knitting them.

Of course, I won’t be wearing these in any regular fashion until we return home, because it’s wicked hot here in Queensland.  (Summer has a way of being hot, doesn’t it?)  However, I couldn’t resist the urge to take a quick photo of my newly-finished socks against the palm tree backdrop of our backyard, even though it’s kind of ridiculous to wear wool socks for any amount of time when it’s 93 degrees (F) outside.  This finish is far more suited for my permanent residence, which saw its first snowfall this past week.

Whatever.  It’s 90-something degrees in November, I have palm trees in my back yard, and a fresh new pair of handknit socks.  Life is good.

(He keeps stealing them because they make “great dancing socks.”)

Half of a Field of Stars

Last month, I set the goal to finish piecing up the rest of the stars that made up the second quarter of this quilt, AND attach them to the first completed quarter.  I knew it was a lofty goal, but the idea of being “halfway done” with such a time-consuming project meant a lot to me.  I needed to be able to say it was halfway done…I’ve been working on this since May, which means I’ve been staring at it for five months, which is a very long time to work on something and not be at least halfway done.

Michael’s been gone for two of the weeks in October, with one little week back home in between.  Free time has not been easy to find this month, especially with the extra tasks that accompanied getting the girls’ uniforms, shoes, and other necessary items they needed to begin attending school.  And then you’d think I’d have buckets of free time once they were off learning elsewhere; but, no, I turned my attentions to cleaning the house…because it really needed some love and attention!

Nevertheless, I made time each evening to work on the quilt after the kids went to bed, and behold:

HALFWAY DONE.

But not really, because I’ve realized it needs another column of stars to be symmetrically pleasing.  Ugh.  Oh well, it’s not difficult to fix.  Just more time.

I hesitate to make any goals for November simply because I’m a little burnt out on this.  I’m also a little burnt out on the Peacock Stole, which hit its own halfway mark a few days ago as well.  Long-term projects…oi.  I really want to make something Christmas-ey, but I have no sewing machine or any real idea of what I’d make anyway.  (Oddly enough, I DO have Christmas fabric.)

I think I’ll focus my efforts on my Soothing Socks for the next while, and once I get to feel the high of having a finished project again, I’ll sit down and set a goal for this in the time remaining in November.  Off the top of my head, I’d like to finish at least half of the next quadrant, so…six stars.  That’s what I’ll shoot for, six stars in November.  Then I can attach it and actually see how long the quilt is going to be!  Yes, that will do nicely.  Enough work to keep the interest alive, but also take a bit of a much-desired breather.

Junebug is very happy that it’s HALFWAY DONE, and could not wait to model her favorite stuffed animal on the quilt.  Cute girl.  Cute quilt.

Peacock Pride

It’s already been a month since I last showed you some Peacock progress!  What?!  I’m quite certain it was only two weeks ago, but the blog doesn’t lie.  Time is flying.

So here it is, after three months of consistent attention.  I am finished with all but the last chart, and when that’s done I’ll pick it up and start all over again for the second half.  I’m pretty pleased with myself right now.  Slow and steady, slow and steady.  I don’t think people tend to use those words to describe my crafting, but they have to now, mwa ha ha ha.  Expectations, shattered.  Lookee me, I’m, like, responsible and stuff.

Isn’t Penguin so cute?  She was super happy to help “model” the stole for its photo shoot.  Her missing teeth on the sides of her two front teeth crack me up.  Growing girl.

I’ve reached the point where I am getting kind of tired of this project, so there’s no magical progress moments where I feel like knitting any extra beyond my daily amount scheduled.  However, I’m ridiculously pleased with the fact that this thing is growing, so I just keep knitting my pittance of rows five days a week and then rejoice over the stole’s progress.  Isn’t it funny how you can be absolutely psyched about something, but really not look forward to the work you have to do to make the cool thing happen?  I guess that’s what we call laziness, and it explains a lot of the problems we have in the world from time to time.

This section is brought to you courtesy of the month of October.

I’ve scheduled some time off from this in November, after I finish the first half.  When I put that break in the schedule, I wondered if it was wise, but now that I’m approaching the midway point, I’m so glad that I gave myself some time off guilt-free.  Just a week or two, but it will be needed.

Yay for slow and steady!

Soothe

I messed up, big time, with my crafterly expectations for my time in Australia.  While my goals of moving ahead on two behemoth projects were very well-intentioned, I made the foolish mistake of expecting myself to stay entirely faithful to said behemoths.

Reality check:  I am not that kind of creative soul.

You see, crafting fits into my life as an anti-stressor, alongside the things I’m already doing.  It sets my teeth on edge to sit and not do something with my hands.  You’ll notice it right away if you talk to me–I gesticulate like a drunk schizophrenic.  Talking is an aerobic activity for me.  And while I view my spirited conversational quirks as endearing and entertaining, I don’t much relish the idea of what I would look like doing the same whilst watching the television.  Enter the crafting to fill my hands with something useful and keep the windmilling down to a sane level while doing sedentary activities like media viewing, waiting for water to boil, and teaching.  The Star Spangled Diamonds Quilt (SSDQ) manages to fit into this “crafting alongside another activity” domain rather well.

Exception:  Riding in the car.  In order to have the car during the week, I must drive Michael into work.  This is a good twenty minutes of sitting time that requires me not to wave my hands about (driver safety!), hence the need for a calming craft project.  I assumed that the SSDQ would work in this scenario; but, alas, the roads here are not terribly smooth, which makes sticking a teeny little applique needle through two threads of fabric ONLY kind of hard to do.  I stabbed myself in the fingers, I dropped my needle repeatedly, my work was sloppy and uneven, Michael flinched every time I pulled the needle out of the fabric and maybe just a little too close towards his face…sewing in the car was a no.  And the Peacock Stole requires silence and concentration; and, most notably, non-movement of my body while knitting.

“That’s OK,” I thought to myself, “I’ll use the time to really talk with Michael, and really take in my surroundings.  I’ll probably grow as a person as a result of this so-called ‘inconvenience.'”

Wrong again.

I’m married to MICHAEL.  I know, kinda obvious, but all my years of crafting in the car while driving along suitably-smooth American roads had made me forget that MICHAEL likes to drive fast.  Not dangerously fast, but fast enough that I feel like I’m on the brink of an anxiety attack because he does. not. brake. when I think he should start braking.  It sets me on edge, I scare him with my gasping at our impending, bloody deaths, and no one feels like they’ve grown in any positive manner at the end of the journey.  He sees nothing wrong with how he drives, so that’s not going to change simply because my middle name is “Caution.”  (Oh, the irony of being the one with the speeding ticket in this particular situation…)

I needed a mindless, non-intricate project.  Bad.  The internet problem still wouldn’t allow for some yarn browsing, and the one-two punch of international shipping restrictions (i.e. no knitting needles for you if we know you’re trying to ship them) and credit card technical difficulties made the entire venture pointless.

Enter the Best Friend.

Oh, sweet, sweet, best friend of mine, how I love you.  If this were a long, long time ago, I would pay people to sing prayers on your behalf when you died.  Which is a gruesome thought, since it involves your death, but the sentiment is nice.  (I’m a historian, and that’s what people did to show gratitude and respect for a long time, OK?)

Denise watched my online neurotic unraveling, and decided to do something about it before I became certifiably insane.  She drove on down to her local textile shop in Washington, USA, talked to some yarnies about my spiral of descent, and walked out with yarnie-approved sock yarn and correctly-sized needles, which she then mailed to me on the other side of the world.  The woman is pure gold.

Not gonna lie, I actually cried when I opened that package.  Not full-out ugly crying, but some definite “Dude, why’s your nose running?” kind of crying.  And then I ripped into that skein of yarn like a reformed vegetarian tears into their first filet mignon.

Oh, sweet, soothing, self-striping stockinette stitch.  I can feel my body relaxing whenever I pick these up and start working.  Oh, balm to my soul.  The thrill of the mindless caressing of yarn that turns into plain vanilla socks.  I love it.  I love it, I love it, I love it.  Deep, from-the-bones, sigh of relief LOVE IT.

Which is more than I can say for my son, who prefers playing Plants Vs. Zombies for his personal relaxation:

Thirty seconds later he was in a heap on the ground, sobbing because he can’t beat whatever level he’s on at the moment.  I do not understand the lure of video games.

Now I have a mindless project to keep my hands happy as I sit in the car and consciously avoid imagining our fiery demise.  It’s also nice to take out upon the deck and put in a few rounds while decompressing after a long day of homeschooling.

So beautiful, so delightful.

So soothing.

My Youngest Daughter

Junebug, this is how I want to remember you in your grammar school years–missing those two front teeth, face covered in chocolate, and over-the-top excited over this quilt that I am making for you.

You were talking to me two days ago about something and you mentioned this simple fact:  “I’m your youngest daughter.”  I wanted to cry because you ARE my youngest daughter and you’re in the first grade and losing your teeth and doing things on your own…this quilt makes me think about you and how fast you’re growing up while I’m stitching it together.  You’ve always been little, and the past few months have been a big ol’ exercise in realizing that you’re not so little anymore.

I started a quilt for you during your early months of life.  It’s still unfinished.  Due partly to the disappointment I’ve always felt over that unfinished blanket, I agreed to make you any sort of quilt you desired when I decided to undertake this lofty “handmade quilt for every bed” goal earlier this year.

Of course, you picked out a beast of a design, and it took a bit of self-restraint to not talk you out of the idea.  In my mind, since you never had a baby blanket from me, I’ve “owed” it to you (and myself) to make you something truly beautiful.  This quilt will be beautiful, and it lies near the edge of the spectrum of my quilt-making abilities.  I might sigh over the time-investment of this project sometimes, but at the bottom of it all, I’m really excited about this project and so glad you asked it of me.  I’d never have chosen to make something like this for myself, simply because my creative abilities are needed for such a wide variety of projects.  Thank you, thank you for this experience.

My goals for September were to sew up ten new star units, and to piece the first quadrant of the quilt.  I did piece the first quadrant:

Penguin and you are not on the best terms today, so she wasn’t too happy
about being roped into quilt-showing with you.  You’re too excited to care.

And I completed NINE star units, with the tenth ending the month as officially being “in-progress:”

There are eighteen star units in each quadrant of the quilt, so I think I’ll set a rather large goal for October:  Finish the needed star units for the second quadrant of the quilt, and also piece that second quadrant.  It’d be nice if I could attach the second quadrant to the first quadrant, but I’m not going to make that an official goal…just something to shoot for if I have the time.

This thing could be HALFWAY pieced by the end of next month!  Wouldn’t that be awesome?!?!  If I keep to the insane schedule, all the star units could be pieced and attached by the end of February.  Then there’s some little “filler” units to straighten out the sides, and then it’s attaching a straight border, then quilting and binding the thing.  (And no, I don’t know what I’m going to do quilting-wise, yet.)

Hurray for nearly attaining last month’s goals!  I burned out a little on this in the last two weeks–I only started that tenth star unit on Friday, after nearly a week’s break.  Whatever, it’s for fun.

Here’s to more crazy pictures of my Junebug next month, holding HALF of  her quilt instead of one quarter!

Another Peek at the Peacock

 It’s been three weeks since you last saw the proud little Peacock Stole-in-progress, and I’m happy to report that what you’re looking at is what this looks like at THE END OF CHART #6.

It turns out that Chart #6, despite being a whole lot of rows, was pretty much just a eight row repeat that was easily memorized, so I took to knitting up eight rows a day for the last two weeks, instead of the formerly-planned-on fours row a day.  As a result, I’ve finished up this chart two weeks early.  Today I will venture into Chart #7, which has some stitch symbols waiting for me to learn.

The stole is at Row #204, and there’s 304 rows per side, so we’re getting close to being done with the first half!  (Yep, once I reach “the end,” I get to pick up all those live stitches waiting on the lime-green yarn and literally knit all of this AGAIN.)

I love, love, love the peacock feathers part of this pattern.  The beginning charts with the diamonds were hard for me and I despised them, but once those are out of the way, this is such an enjoyable knit.  I really like the double yarn-over rows!  The peacock feathers are surprisingly simple and I still smile triumphantly each time another row of completed feathers emerge.  Pretty, pretty!

I talked to my granny (the $500 phone call that actually cost $17) after the last Peacock post went live, and she is beyond excited that this is finally happening.  She’s never bothered me about it not happening, and I’ve apologized profusely over the years about it not happening, but both of us were eager to see for it to happen, so we’re both just a little ridiculously excited that it is finally happening and not kicking my butt.  Yippee all around!

I’ve decided that I will not add beads to this project.  The idea has been swimming in my head for a long time, but I’ve decided that beads would just be a little too much.  Given also that it’s a long rectangle, adding beads on the ends will add weight to the ends and I think it will stretch and distort the lace pattern.  The pattern is fabulous without any extras added to it, so we’re going to stay the course and knit it as written.  Goodness, do I love the color.

Chart #7 is the beginning of a bigger pattern of peacock feathers, so next month I’ll be able to show you something new.  Yippee!

Penguin’s a Paper Piecer!

Penguin adores paper-pieced hexagons, so much that she’s taken on the goal of making her own needle case out of the shapes.  She came across a little packet of pre-cut hexagons and hexagon templates at the local quilt shop a few weeks back, and set off determined:
I think she’s doing some pretty good work, especially when you consider her age.  When she assembled this full hexie “flower,” she was over-the-moon proud of herself.  (Her “pleased” smile is so adorable!)  She could barely contain her excitement as I carefully tied off her thread, and then she asked if I’d take her picture and post it on the blog so family could see her work.
So there you go, family and friends, Penguin is officially an EPP-er!