Friday, July 30, 2010

Pamir Kabob House

A friend and former student of mine, Erin, has been recommending Pamir Kabob House to several of us for a couple of years. Once their customer and now a summertime employee of Pamir Kabob House while she finishes her nursing degree, Erin is passionate about good food and knows of what she speaks. She is an amazing baker and chef in her own right, gracing our house with strawberry blueberry jam and fresh bread. All of us who have been lucky enough to eat Erin's food know that she has a discerning palate and appreciates clean and yummy flavors while keeping an eye on presentation and aesthetic.

She was absolutely correct about Pamir Kabob House: it is now my new favorite restaurant in Temecula, Calfornia.

My bestie Rosa came through town today on her way to visit her sister. Rosa is getting to be well-known in the blogosphere as The Catty Critic, the consummate foodie who writes eloquently about her dining experiences and also practices her own recipes on her meat-and-potatoes-loving hubby. Just last night she enjoyed a much-sought-after reservation at one of Chef Ludo Lefebvre's LudoBites. When she had me nearly salivating at her descriptions of his food as we talked at my house, we decided we'd better head to lunch.

I knew Rosa would be the perfect companion to take to Pamir Kabob House. She is a fearless diner with wide experience and an open palate. Sharing a new cuisine with an adventuresome eater is one of life's delights.

She will no doubt write up a much more comprehensive review of our meal, and it was a new experience for me to dine with someone who takes beautiful pictures of our food as it arrives (I've dined with Rosa many times before, but not since she got her new camera---she got some amazing photos today). I really had to restrain myself from digging in, for one thing. We are of the same temperament when it comes to sharing: order a vast selection and taste as much of the menu as possible by sharing all the dishes. This way, we get to know the restaurant quickly.

We began with the appetizer sample platter. It came with sambosa (fried pastry stuffed with ground beef, coriander, and potatoes with yogurt and cilantro sauce), bulaunee (a turnover stuffed with leeks and potatoes), borta (like a baba ganoush---blended eggplant), hummos (hummus), mantu (steamed pasta shells filled with ground beef and topped with peas and yogurt), Nan (an Afghan bread).

A real test of any restaurant for me is how my daughter Katie reacts. This was her first experience with Afghan cuisine, as well, but knowing how she loves strong flavors, I thought she would enjoy it. And she really did. She loved the hummos of course and the nan, and she also devoured her portion of bulaunee. The mantu was to her particular liking as well, and she had some bites of sambosa. Only the borta did she leave relatively untouched.

Then we moved on to a cold cherry blossom tea. Erin recommended this specifically, and now I am craving more. The dominant flavor was cardamom, which I love, so this was definitely a treat. Katie had a few sips of this as well.

For our entrees we ordered: apricot chalow with lamb, served with a sweet and sour basmati rice and a combination platter of beef and chicken tandoori kabobs.

All of the meat was fall-apart tender. I have never been the biggest fan of lamb---until today. My whole relationship to lamb changed forever the moment I put that delicate apricot infused morsel in my mouth. In fact, the apricot chalow with lamb might be one of my new favorite dishes EVER. Katie---who adores meat, our little carnivore---absolutely ravished her chicken and beef pieces and also tried lamb for the first time and liked it. The consistency of the meat was so tender that I had no reservations about giving it to my toddler. Delicious.

Dessert. We had to. We ordered Afghan baghlawa (very similar to baklava---a pastry filled with crushed nuts, primarily pistachios, spices, and honey) and also the ferni (pudding topped with pistachios and spiced generously with cardamom). Rosa seemed to prefer the pudding, and I loved the baghlawa. Katie also tried both, but was feeling too full to eat much. She indicated a stronger liking for the baghlawa, as well.

Our meal was highly satisfactory, and the service was excellent. The owner came to speak with us several times, and our server was attentive and generous with water. They seemed to have a good lunch crowd, and yet we were able to walk right in.

I am absolutely plotting my next return!

Pamir Kabob House
41257 Margarita Road, Suite B101
Temecula, CA 92591

They are right next to Macaroni Grill.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


This has been a weekend of nesting and putting together some last sewing projects before Eric arrives. I know that I am in the phase of pregnancy---especially for me---during which he could come at any time.

With that in mind, I finished a couple of sewing projects this weekend for the kiddos.

Katie really has wanted a red ballet skirt. Since I had experience with sewing the first one (and with more difficult material), her new red tulle skirt went together in no time. It only took about 2.5 hours from start to finish---with lots of attending to Katie in between. Once I cut the fabric, the hardest part was keeping the tulle from catching on itself while pinning it into the skirt shape. Once I had it pinned, the skirt practically sewed itself. I handstitched the little sparkly rosettes on while we finished the latter part of The Princess and the Frog (which Katie really loves right now).

Looking at her new ballet skirt.

Doing one of her stretches.

Excited and getting ready for one of her jumps.

Arms out wide

As pleased as I was with the skirt, however, I was disappointed in my attempt at a new Boppy cover for Eric. A Boppy is a special nursing pillow, and I wanted Eric to have some covers of his own. With only a ballet skirt (I made this before sewing Katie's red skirt today) and a quilt to my name as a seamstress, I think I got a little ahead of myself on this project. I somehow fancied that I could make a Boppy pattern of my own and simply sew it...wrong. I took one of my existing covers and traced it on newspaper to make a pattern, amply enlarging it---or so I thought. And let me not even get into the sordid details of trying to account for, and sew around, the many curves of this pillow.

Looking at the picture below, you will see that by some miracle, the cover actually fits the Boppy and even manages to close; however, upon closer inspection you will see how ill-fitting the "fit" really is. Also, let's just come out with it: I took a picture of its more photogenic side, I admit it. I won't belabor the horrifying details, but some of the seams (especially on the back) look as though an 8-year-old tried to do a home ec project and got turned loose with some fabric and a machine and some scissors. Not my best work and it wouldn't make the criteria to give a duplicate as a gift, but good enough for those 1 AM feedings, perhaps...

The Boppy cover.

So with those projects completed, I will now return my machine to my upstairs sewing table (it has been on our kitchen table in the nook) where it will await the next phase of life in which I feel wakeful enough to dally with patterns and projects. I want to make Katie a dress this fall, but that might need to wait until Eric sleeps more.

The summer of sewing has come to a pause, and now I will turn my attention toward slower days with Katie and making sure everything is truly ready for Eric's arrival.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Almost Time to Meet Eric

If Eric follows his big sister's timing, then he will be born fairly soon---possibly within the first few days of August. I am all a-flutter and hubbubbing about in anticipation of this and with the nesting instinct. People say that women's nesting tendencies seem to increase right before labor, but I've been in a nesting mood for about a who knows? I don't think I have had that final burst of energy yet. With Katie, though I didn't know it at the time, that energy was poured into writing 40 recommendation letters for my seniors, into fashioning my Halloween costume, and into playing Guitar Hero for several hours. Ha...if only some of that had been poured into packing for the hospital, cleaning, and feathering my actual nest. I have learned the second time around. ;-)

Still, I knew when Katie dropped before Dr. Elfelt told me she had, and I don't think Eric has dropped even though he is head down and oriented. I knew right at the miraculous moment when he implanted originally and felt him start life, so I think I will/should know when he actually engages. Katie dropped, and then she was born a week later. I really am excited to meet Eric and another few weeks seems so long to wait; on the other hand, I very much want him to stay in my womb longer than Katie did and really finish all the growing he is meant to do.

Even so, this weekend's tasks are to clean and straighten the house, to pack my bag, and to speak with Katie more about our specific plans for her care during my stay with Eric. On Monday I am going on one last Babies R Us foray to pick up some last items: Dreft, a double stroller, pacifiers, Lansinoh, etc. I want to finish the intense nesting at the start of this week.

I am also relieved that I have finally, finally settled upon the first song that I will sing to him once he is born. Serendipity was on my side when I first received Katie back from the nursery that first night, and my heart inuitively landed upon "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. I have always been so thankful that that was our first special song together. It became the theme for her first birthday party, and it so much encapsulates my philosophy about life: looking for goodness even when life seems darker.

The question with Eric, of course, became: Do I use the same first song, or do I have a unique special song with each child? Fairly early on I decided to give them different songs (though I have questioned that a couple of times since) so that I have something uniquely special with each of them. Yet I also wanted the songs to connect in some way, whether thematically, via genre, or by virtue of being from the same score. I have been thinking about it for months and have entertained all kinds of ideas, from old standard lullabies, to The Beatles, to songs from other musicals, etc .

A few days ago, however, my heart just finally knew. His song is going to be "Sound of Music" from The Sound of Music:

The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand years
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears

My heart wants to beat like the wings of a bird
That rise from the lake to the trees
My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies
From a church on a breeze
To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls
Over stones on its way
To sing through the night
Like a lark who is learning to pray

I go to the hills when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I've heard before
My heart will be blessed
With the sound of music
And I'll sing once more

There are many reasons why this is the right song for my son Eric and me to share. It is inherently connected to Katie's song, for starters; its themes are a part of who I am as his mother and are the same themes I hope to surround him with during his life; and his namesake loved The Sound of Music and shared time in Austria with my mom and extended family. I know it is the one that is meant to be...

In all other respects, I am feeling really good. Since women are designed to be pregnant, we are capable of handling it well---and I am thankful that my side effects have been transitory for the most part and not something on which to dwell. I am so grateful that the rather incessant pelvic pressure that was a factor in my life for a couple of months has now subsided. I tried not to mention it much to Bill or to my mom (primarily because I don't believe in making any aspect of pregnancy negative), but toward the last couple of weeks of it I actually had had enough of it and let a few comments slip out about it. Right at the moment when I was really, really hoping to feel alleviation from that constant achiness, the pressure was lifted. We are not given more than we can bear. My feet are tender at times, mainly because I have a real personality issue (affectionately called in our family "The Matics Way") with sitting down for very long---there's just so much else to do!!! Bill always rubs them for me, though. As I enter the last stretch, I am feeling some tiredness return, but I fight it as much as I can. Yet I have been trying to remind myself that resting might actually be more responsible in the long run, especially this month. I just have to clean my house first and pack and do a couple more things and projects with Katie and then I will rest on the couch more... maybe.

Yesterday I was fortunate indeed to have a beautiful and thoughtful family shower hosted by my cousin Hannah Lambert. She thought of every detail, from red velvet cupcakes (my favorite) with Eric's name iced on them, to baby boy linens and onesies decorating the patio, to a baby shower keepsake booklet, to a million other details. Mostly, though, I just loved being with my family and to feel the love and celebration for my Eric. We also poured joy onto Katie for ascending to the Big Sister role. I could not ask for more than an extended loving family who is excited to see itself grow and realizes that each child who becomes ours is part of its whole legacy and continuance. I never expected a second shower in a million years, not having been raised on them, and so I didn't register or anything like that. Yet still my family blessed me with several items I needed---and thought of Katie, too. Just a luncheon truly would have been more than enough. I am so grateful that I have this memory to share with Eric now.

Katie greets Skya at the shower. Her t-shirt says, "I'm the Big Sister."

We used my Great-Grandmother Sarah Matics' (the original!) china with some china supplemented from my Grandma Joan McGee's collection. That was a special touch. Hannah even thought of herbal teas so that I could enjoy without over-caffeinating Eric.

Some of the ladies at the party. Katie loved Rosie, the new little puppy sitting on KD's lap.

Sitting together! I wore the same skirt I wore to Katie's shower a few years ago. The only difference is really my blouse: I wore pink in this style for Katie and blue for Eric.

The pretty cupcakes!
I had so much fun organizing his linens and clothing and bathing materials last night. He officially has a "side" in the children's bathroom. My mom finished a lush and beautiful quilt and I draped it over the glider. I need to pack some blankies for Eric and of course his coming-home outfit. I bought some newborn diapers, ointment, lotion, and powder the other day and arranged them in the basket on the edge of his changing table/dresser. I am ready for him to be here, and I am also continually working on reminding myself to enjoy even the tiredest of moments that will happen when he is a newborn. With Katie my mood really was all over the place right after her birth, and I have been quite worried about that happening again---to the extent that I am actively working through meditation and other behavioral means to establish some mental processes now that will help me navigate through that postpartum time more easily. I was so completely shocked and awed by how much a newborn completely changes one's life when I had Katie (people told me but you don't really know until you are totally responsible for one). Even though those changes were all good, I was not truly prepared on the deepest levels and it took me a long time to catch up to my new life patterns and rhythms of being. Basically, I had to understand how little room there is in motherhood for my previous selfishness and all my other flaws. I think and hope I will naturally be more adaptable with my second child.
Eric is still quite active and loves to move, though some of his movements register a little more subtle now---probably since he is bigger and has less room to really move. I still get some big kicks now and then, though. I have my next OB appointment this week!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Good Things

For the first time in weeks, I am vegging in front of some very shallow TV, surfing around online and ready to skim some pregnancy magazines and a Bon Appetit. I had some vague notions about working on another project, but I am doing exactly what I need to do right now while Katie is snoozing in her bed.

This morning we booked our Disneyland Hotel rooms for Katie's birthday month trip. Amie and Boppa will have an attached room, and I am so excited. Making the reservations, I loved including Eric in our list of guests---he will be a solid two months old by then. We're staying for a couple of nights and have plans to enjoy the pool, a character dinner, and early admission to Disneyland. So much fun! We figured we should take advantage of the kiddos both being under age three as long as we can: they are free until age three! We want to do something extra special for Katie, too, since she will be adjusting to her new brother by then. I have no idea how I will do Disneyland on little sleep and nursing, but you know what? It's all going to work out. It will be time to have fun and have a can-do spirit.

I also finished my pre-registration at my labor and delivery hospital this afternoon. I know Eric will be here in just a few weeks!

Eric and I also had our OB appointment this afternoon. I am going to be starting my once-a-weeks now! Whoa! Eric's heartbeat is strong, I had my GBS test, and he is facing downward... thank goodness! He is ready to go. I am so excited about labor! I still have little twinges of poignancy when I think about how I will balance my time still with Katie---I don't want her to feel alone or to feel like I have turned my attention away from her. I am anxious about making sure both children feel equally loved and cared for. I know I will give my all to both of them...but for example, I think of how much I want to hold Eric all night in the hospital for the first time, but then I think about how much I will miss holding Katie and cuddling her before bed while I am in the hospital! I want one arm around each of them...forever.

Other Goodnesses:

* I woke up really early again this morning for awhile (4AM) and enjoyed my warm-milk-nutmeg and Jane Eyre combination again.

* Loose maternity jeans and rings that still fit (by this time with Katie's pregnancy, I had to take my rings off---I am actually doing well on my weight gain and I am keeping salt low)

* Jamba Juice with Katie after our appointment---she was so happy, and she cuddled against my neck while we watched it blended. She gave me kisses all over my face.

* Teaching Katie various hand-clapping games and watching her laugh

* Costco's fiesta salad mix (and falafel, too)

* Telling the story of Romeo and Juliet to Katie (and hearing her sing Taylor Swift's Love Story). She is also really liking the story of Tristan and Isolde.

* A fun week ahead (installation of Toastmaster officers, my family baby shower)!

Hope everyone had a great Monday!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Monet Lesson Plan

"I am following Nature without being able to grasp her...I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers."

- Claude Monet

Katie and I have recently been studying the art of Monet. Earlier this spring we covered Mary Cassatt (Lesson Plan 1) and Van Gogh (Lesson Plan 2), though it has been awhile since we've done a project. I am happy that my three-step method of reading about the author, looking at several examples of his or her work, and finishing the unit with a hands-on project appears to be working well and that Katie is truly learning. About a week ago, we were in the craft store to have a mat cut for my cross stitch and to purchase a frame. Katie was looking at some posters nearby, and suddenly she called out, "Van Gogh!" Indeed, she was pointing to "Starry Night."

I never tire of planning lessons for my own child. I love to teach, and I love to create experiences of learning. I've been pondering the best way to do a Monet project for quite some time. I have seen some other lesson plans, but nothing had all the elements I really wanted, and some were too complex for Katie's age. A few days ago I finally figured out how to form the project, and today's culmination activity was born.


I chose to focus on water lilies with Katie, since Monet is known for his water lilies. He spent something like twenty years painting water lilies, and his paintings of them epitomize his style.


1 large piece of blue construction paper
1 large piece of green construction paper
watercolors and brushes
tissue paper in any color (we used white and pink)
glue stick
white glue

Before beginning the project, if you have a younger child, prepare the lily pads and leaves by cutting out those shapes (you can free-form it) from the green paper.


1. We have been reading about Monet for awhile and looking at examples. Start the project by reviewing what your child knows about both Monet and the elements of his art.

2. Have your child glue the water lily pads and the leaves onto the blue construction paper with the glue stick.
3. Let your child place the shapes wherever she wants. It's her project, after all!

4. Use watercolors to give an "impressionistic" feel to the art project. We've talked about some of the ideas behind Impressionism already, before this project.

5. To direct her to the next step of the project, I asked Katie: Do you like to tear things? I showed her how to tear and then crumple up a piece of tissue paper in her hand.

6. Katie glues on her lily flowers. I helped her dip a bigger paint brush into some white glue, and she would put a little dab of glue wherever she wanted a flower.

6. Katie's water lily project!

This lesson plan was really easy and hardly required any prep (both my Van Gogh lesson and my Mary Cassatt lesson required much more). The whole lesson took about an hour, and I hardly had to help her at all. I just sat by her and gave her vocal direction and praise and doled out the materials she needed at the right times. She really loved the painting portion, as I knew she would, and she was also quite enthusiastic about the tearing and crumpling of the tissue paper.
In a few days, I will follow up again with questions about Monet and what we learned---to make sure the knowledge has really formed.
We had all kinds of other fun today, too! Katie helped to make lemonade and loved putting the lemons on the juicer. We made chocolate chip cookies (we make fractions of batches so that we only have a few in the house at a time---besides, it is the making of them that is the best part). We also held our own "music class" this morning and reviewed many of our songs from Miss Kara's class and also danced. We also read several books and poems. We have needed a day like today to work on our usual things. Katie told me in the middle of it, "This is such a happy day!"
With my exam and then all of the holidays and family get-togethers going on lately, we haven't had much time to work on our workbooks or projects as much. Katie always seems to be happiest when her mind is busy and when we are engaged in learning together. She calls some of her projects her "homework"---interestingly, a term I have not really used with her. She must have picked it up from Bill's discussions of his students. Anyway, she says things like, "I love doing homework!" We will be successful as parents if we can maintain this love for learning that is already inside of her.
I started my day at 4:30 AM, though not by design. Katie woke up thirsty, and I was wakeful after helping her. I have been getting up near 5:30 everyday anyway (my body is on its own timing lately). Most days I work on my hobbies and stay awake all day, but today I started re-reading Jane Eyre just for fun and sipped some warm milk with freshly grated nutmeg---and then found the desire to return to bed. I crawled into bed with the cuddly Katie and went back to sleep for about an hour and half. It is so cozy to fall back asleep after reading (a luxury I used to have every weekend of life before children and which I rarely do now), and it is especially cozy to wake up with my daughter's head nuzzled into my neck. So our day began well.

One last picture: Katie is enjoying one of our cookies outside. She loves the little Katie-sized chair Boppa found for her! We played outside for quite awhile this afternoon, pretending to make pies and soups for the dwarves.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hooded Towel Project

Some weeks before my real estate license exam, I happened across the idea of making hooded bath towels for my kiddos. I found a couple of sites here and here that more or less explained the process. I promised myself that this project would be one of my treats to myself after passing my exam.

Although each of my sources had slightly different instructions with respect to how to make the towel, the concept is easy enough to visualize without too many directions. I needed only one hand towel and two full towels (one hand towel can make two hoods). As far as the actual aesthetic and the issue of pleating, I ended up doing my own mash-up of the directions and took what I liked from both sites. I did my pleating a bit differently, although it isn't really required at all. I also added some different embellishments. I love ric-rac, which I put around the hoods and the bottom of the towels. I also used some grosgrain ribbon to make a trim where the hood meets the rest of the towel and to make Eric and Katie's first intitials on the backs of their towels.

Although I would make a couple of adjustments in the future (such as sewing the hood just a bit higher up on the towel), I was fairly happy with how these turned out:

I love that they have brother-and-sister towels hanging side by side in their bathroom now!

Katie wraps up in her towel after her bath tonight.

In terms of time, this project was quick. I started and did most of it this morning before Katie woke up. I worked on it a couple more times during the day, but we had plenty of time to make blueberry muffins together, have a leisurely family breakfast, work puzzles together, and play with her action figures, so by no means did the project take all day. I would have been done really quickly had it not been for the initials. If I make them more towels someday, there are some really cute iron-on appliques I found at Joann's. However, I really wanted to put their initials on the first set of towels.

I want to note also that a hooded bath towel at Pottery Barn Kids costs anywhere from $20 to $30 depending upon the style and presence of monogramming. I bought all of my towels at Costco (and could probably have gotten them even more cheaply at Walmart or Kohls), and even with the trimming and thread for sewing, I was able to make BOTH towels for less than the cost of the hooded towels at PBK. Not too bad!

Movie Night in the Park

A few weeks ago, my mom was paying attention to Temecula's calendar of events and noticed that the recreation department of the city is hosting its Friday night movies in the park series again this year. The events are free, and when my mom discovered that last night's movie was Hotel for Dogs (featuring Katie's very favorite animal), she suggested we go. Before the movie, the city invited Disc Dogs of California to come out and put on a live dog-and-frisbee show. We also had time to play on the play structure and enjoy some snacks before and during the film. Katie did not want to go home when the movie was over! Tonight she was asking if we could go again after our bathtime...

Katie and Amie watch the frisbee show.
Katie watches the border collies jump and catch.

Petting a new friend. After the frisbee show, the owners came around with their dogs and let the children pet them. Katie LOVED this part.

Very excited!

Katie and Amie share a snack. You can see that there was quite a turn out!

There are many reasons why I love living in Temecula, and the city recreation department is one of those reasons. Katie and I have had such an amazing year with their programs. Although our classes do cost a substantial enrollment fee, the classes are often contracted for less per session than going directly through the business providing the lessons. Yet, most events---especially family events, such as our Hullabaloo concert and others---are only a few dollars per person or even free. We had a fun night last night creating more memories!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Finishing My Quilt

“Welcome every morning with a smile. Look on the new day as another special gift...another golden opportunity to complete what you were unable to finish yesterday....Today will never happen again. Don't waste it with a false start or no start at all. You were not born to fail.”

- Og Mandino

In February of 2007, I began a small wall quilt. At the time I was questing to heal from a very bitter winter by learning some new skill and trying to embrace a new art form. The winter of 2006-2007 was one of little light: a miscarriage, followed by a brief respite, followed by my Uncle Eric's untimely death. My mind and heart needed new outlets to heal themselves. I turned to music, Gone with the Wind, quilting, and gardening. I put on my happiest face during my hours in my classroom and tried to compartmentalize the sadness I was feeling, but it was I who became the student that winter: a student of the tragic side of living and what must be done in order to pull oneself out of darker places.

I had no quilting skills whatsoever going into the project. I immersed myself in it completely and used my sewing machine for the first time.

Here are a few pictures of the start of the project in 2007:

Sewing some of the squares together. (This picture was taken at our old home, and I am struck by several things, including the Wizard of Oz figures on my bookshelf that Katie would come to love and the mythology textbook from school propping up the bottom of my machine).

Cutting out the fabric and laying out some of the pattern.

Finishing the top of the quilt.

It wasn't long in 2007 before I had the quilt assembled and began to quilt it by hand. I worked on it steadily.

Then I began to grow disenchanted with myself and with the project. I began to notice every imperfection and see only those: inconsistent stitches, places where the fabric puckered, etc. I put it aside for awhile.

I got pregnant with Katie.

My quilt beckoned from the corner of our room, but it sometimes happens that when we put projects off to the side, we're afraid to look at them again and to have to grapple with what we might find.

It is easier to ignore our imperfections, yes?

I gave birth to Katie in October of 2007. I never dreamed of taking on another project, though now I realize that there were plenty of moments when she was asleep and my hands were idle. In the past few months I have given up most television, and I am amazed at the projects I am able to complete. Yet adjusting to motherhood, I let my quilt sit...and sit... At some point, when I realized it had been years since I picked it up, I wondered how I would ever bring myself to complete something started so long ago.

Recently, my mom convinced me to finish it. Since finishing my cross stitch earlier this month, I have spent almost every morning quilting while my husband and daughter sleep. I have had to let go of the worry about imperfection...and finish what I started.

I have also spent the hours of hand quilting reckoning with this quilt, a symbol from another era in my life. Can something that was started in pain become a item that I want to see everyday? It turns out that it can. I reflected on the hours I spent sewing it while listening to Uncle Eric's music. I thought about how I began it with hopes that I would one day have children, but unsure that it would ever happen. Working on the quilt---and finishing it---has bridged two eras of my life. It is also relevant that I have finished it while pregnant with my own Eric. It has been a project that has completed a cycle.

Many times in the past weeks I have thought about how I was so ready to give up on the quilt's imperfections, and yet we should never give up on our personal imperfections or flaws. Finishing the quilt was somewhat symbolic of my own journey: we cannot just quit when our flaws are difficult for us to deal with. Should I put myself in a corner, unfinished, or do I need to see myself through until the end?

I finished quilting it yesterday. Today I attached the loops and found a rod and displayed it on the landing of the stairs. It is a small quilt. It is a first quilt. It has flaws, but it is finished. And in finishing, my stitches did get better. It is the symbol of two stages of my life. It takes some courage even to hang it or put it up on this blog, knowing that people could look at it and judge.

But then, it also takes courage to display and be who we really are, too, does it not?

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The finished quilt on the staircase landing.

A side view, coming down the stairs.

For me, this quilt will always be more of a symbol than it will be a decorative item. Everytime I pass it, I will remember the importance of embracing my life's journey, for better or for worse, and in all times.

Beach Day and Thunderstorms

With the weather topping 100 degrees here in Temecula, Wednesday was the perfect day for a trip to the Oceanside beach. Katie was delighted, and she kept wondering about whether or not Uncle David would join us, since he came with us last time. She talked about how they built a sandcastle together. We spent most of our time in the water together, splashing around and jumping the waves. The riptides were strong, so we stayed close to the shore. Katie is definitely our water girl; even though the sea was fairly cold, she absolutely loved it. We ate lunch on our towels, built a sandcastle together, and then returned to the water.

Exploring our beach spot.

Happiness.Lunch and looking out at the water.

When we got home, we took a long and refreshing afternoon nap together. There is almost nothing so wonderful as a shower and a nap after a long morning in the sand and sun. I slept better and more peacefully than I have in weeks.

Yesterday we stayed in Temecula, venturing out in the height of the heat only to Costco. It has been too long since I have done a Costco run, and we were low on some supplies. I was lucky that several items I needed happened to have corresponding coupons in the Costco coupon book this time! I also found in Costco's clothes section Hannah Andersson brother-and-sister striped pajamas for the kiddos. Eric's pajama suit is white with royal blue stripes, and Katie's pajama suit is white with bright pink stripes. I cannot wait to see the two of them in their jammies!! I think it was meant to be, because Eric's was the last boy suit left (that I could see) and it was just the right size to correspond to the months when Katie would most be wearing hers!

Home again, my mom and dad came over for a visit while I put away out Costco items and finished handstitching my quilt. When the lightning and thunder began, my mom, dad, Katie, and I hastened outside and pulled up some chairs to sit and watch the lightning in the distance. We clapped everytime we saw the lightning flash, and we watched the storm cycle through big rain droplets and wind. We all agreed it was much better than anything on TV, which I so rarely watch anymore and which tends to be too caught up in silly drama for my taste. Nature is so much grander and more pure and much more fascinating. Katie said the lightning reminded her of the fireworks she saw on July 4th. It was kind of magical...

After watching the thunderstorm, I made dinner for the troops and we settled in a little earlier than usual for the night. With some left over fabric and ribbon from Katie's ballet skirt, I made a rosette for her to wear in her hair. I just used basting stitches to gather and then sewed the ends closed and then sewed the ribbon rosette on top of the fabric rosette. A little hot glue later, and the rosette was attached to a plain metal barrette.

I just took a break from writing this to go cuddle Katie. She was stirring in her bed and called out, "Mama, Mama." I love how she calls me Mama. I was "Mommy" for the longest time, but after we started reading The Berenstain Bears, she changed my name to reflect Mama Bear. I love it. Anyway, cuddling her just now, I was marvelling yet again how good she smells and how soft her face is when I give her kisses. She fell back asleep with her one of her hands in the exact position I first saw it in my gender ultrasound with her. I love her so much....

Before falling asleep last night, she wanted me to tell her again the story of Romeo and Juliet. Of course I have to leave the ending very vague (I just kind of tell her that, although they try to run away from Verona, they don't end up together and it is very sad). But she loves the part where they meet at the Capulet masquerade (I embellish a little with descriptions that Shakespeare doesn't actually give us), and she also loves hearing the sonnets from the balcony scene. We talk about how Romeo compares Juliet to the sun and how the moon is jealous of her beauty. More and more Katie loves to cuddle in the dark and hear me tell stories (Rapunzel, The Princess and the Pea, Romeo and Juliet) as an alternative to reading. Of course, many nights we read quite a bit, too, sometimes exclusively. Other nights we start with reading and then I will tell her a story as she falls asleep. Last night, she said she just wanted to turn off the light and to hear Romeo and Juliet---I think she was fairly tired.

Her very favorite book right now is the collection of poems from Shel Silverstein in A Light in the Attic. For the past month or so, she has wanted to read at bedtime almost only from that collection. I asked her what she likes about it (she knows it is classified as poetry), and she explained that "Poems sound better." She likes the rhythm and the rhyme I think---which I have read are natural to children's ears.

Today we are going to Joann's (a craft store) to stock up on some supplies: my quilt is finished but I need some items with which to hang it, and I also need trimming for my next project---hooded bath towels for the kiddos. I am really in the crafting and sewing mood lately!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summer Days

"To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie -
True Poems flee."
~Emily Dickinson

"There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart." ~Celia Thaxter

"Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language." ~Henry James

My summertime baby is almost here: although Eric needs to stay safe inside of me for a couple more weeks at least, I know that we are now in the period during which he could come at any time. He will be my Summer Boy; I often call Katie my "Pumpkin Girl" or "Pumpkin Baby" since she was born in the cozy fall and so near to Halloween.

This summer is whooshing by, and I have tried to make it as memorable and magical as I can for both myself and my daughter. This is the last time I will have with her on our own, and it has been the two of us for so long that that realization is not without poignancy. I so much want to nurture our memories together and to take this last handful of days to make more, so that she has a firm basis in knowing how loved she is (and has been) as she enters the period of having to share her parents with her brother.

I have loved this summer. For the past month, I usually start every day working with my hands and centering my mind and heart in meditation. I finished my cross stitch in the early morning light, and lately I have been working on finishing my small quilt (which I will do after I write this entry and which has, at most, an hour's worth of work left). I love waking early; in fact, I've been having a little issue with staying in bed long enough. Life has so much to offer that sometimes it is tiresome to sleep. In another month or two, I know I will be begging for sleep though!

This has also been the summer of swimming and sunshine. After Toastmasters yesterday, I took Katie for a swim at our clubhouse pool (we've finished now with our lessons). The water was a perfect temperature, the sun felt good on our neck and faces, and we spent an hour practicing our kicks in the big pool and then pretending to be mermaids in the toddler pool. It was a perfect summer moment.

When we got home, we finished planting our vegetable, fruit, and herb garden. My dad made a big garden box for us a week or so ago. I hope our garden thrives as much as his does. We planted tomatoes, corn, a pepper, oregano, basil, rosemary, sage, strawberries, a watermelon, and some flowers Katie chose. After a swim, the dirt and sun and sweat felt equally good. It's funny: I planted a garden at our previous home when I was pregnant with Katie, too, now that I think about it.

It has also been the summer of blueberries. I am more sad that their season has officially ended this year than I have been any other year. My mom first discovered the farm that first summer after Katie's birth, and so I attach the growth of my daughter to our yearly visits. She was still such a baby when we first went picking.

And now she is playing on the farm's red tractor!

A couple of days ago, Katie and Boppa and I went to a local park (Harveston) to take pictures for the press release of the new slate Toastmasters officers (I am the VP of Public Relations). It was a beautiful afternoon and Katie played on the lawn nearby.

My dad and I continue to enjoy our father-daughter time every Tuesday at Toastmasters. My dad led the meeting yesterday, with the theme of "caring for and nurturing freedom." He came well-prepared and kept the meeting moving along---he did a great job! This time with him has been special, and we have been members now for almost a year together.

Last Thursday, I attended a mini-reunion with some of my CSUSM teaching credential cohort classmates. It has been SEVEN years since we took our teaching courses! What? Back then, only a couple of us had children, and now our families are thriving. We didn't have nearly everyone from the program, but I have always loved this core group of people who came. Sanam was such a welcoming hostess. We had a delicious dinner as all the kids played and ran around. Bill came along and helped watch Katie so I could visit. This group has always had such positive, good energy---as I guess we would expect teachers might. Seeing them again reminded me why my year in that program was one of the best in my life, and it also reminded me why there are moments when I miss being in the classroom. They are such good people and just as humorous as they always were. I will never get tired of laughing with them!

Also this week, my mom finished Eric's valance! I didn't really get a close enough picture of is blue with a trim of green and white checked fabric. It makes the window feel more cozy!

And finally, here is a picture of Eric and me taken yesterday. I just love being pregnant so much. Part of me doesn't want it to end because I know this is our last one. What a good phase of life this has been.
I hope everyone is finding and creating joy this summer. I know this particular post has been a little hodge-podgey, but we've been doing many things that didn't quite fit into any other post I've written lately. I am continually thankful that life is so full, and so full of light and beauty.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Learning to Sew: Ballet Skirt Project

"Hem your blessings with thankfulness so they don't unravel." (Anonymous)

A month or so ago, Katie was helping me pick out crafting supplies for Eric's room when she spied some sparkly purple and sparkly blue material that she really, really loved. In a moment of daring I thought, "Hey, why not make a ballet skirt?" And thus my recent project was born.

I am not a seamstress by most measures; my clothes sewing skills are woefully rudimentary, despite making a couple of pieces in high school under my mom's guidance. I have had it in my mind, however, to learn to sew clothes for my children for some time. Although I have sewn pillows and even a quilt (which I am currently finishing---more to come on that later), I grew up surrounded by the comfort of having a mom who knows how to sew practically anything. When I think of time spent watching her cut patterns or playing in her sewing box or hearing the hum of her sewing machine, I feel all cozy inside. Every year she made amazing Halloween costumes. There is something so comforting about a mother who can do that. She has made all of the window treatments in our home (valances and drapes). For Christmas two years ago, my mom made my brother and I super cozy quilts. She made my favorite childhood blankie before I was born, the one I carried everywhere. I've never sewn a blankie for either of my children, and one of my goals is to do so---to wrap them up in a mother's love. I want to be able to do that for my children.

A ballet skirt for Katie seemed like a good place to start. I've been so focused on doing projects for Eric's room that I really felt it would be good to make something for her so that she could feel special. As any mother of two or more probably already realizes, and as I am realizing more everyday, one of the biggest responsibilities of a mother is to make siblings feel equal and equally loved and attended to.

My mom helped me pick out an easier ballet skirt pattern, McCall's M5680. This was good, since the project took me about three times as long as it would take an experienced seamstress. The instructions called for only one narrow hem along a seam, but with the material I selected, it became necessary to hem all six layers of material along the bottom edges due to fraying. Next time, I think I might just choose a standard tulle. Additionally, I had to add a seam because I chose two different material colors instead of one color in one length: this affected the cutting of the pattern. It is hard to explain without seeing it, but anyway, a second seam was necessary. To accommodate this, I have the opening of the skirt now on the side instead of in the back so that the second seam can also be a side seam and not run down the front. The skirt stays on through the use of a ribbon, so no other closures (buttons, etc) were necessary this time. Although that in itself made the project easier, I did need to troubleshoot the attachment of the ribbon a bit when things grew a bit persnickety. Also, my machine seems to do a tighter baste than I could handle, and my basting threads kept breaking when I was gathering the skirt at 9:30 last night. I had to problem-solve that as well and just hand baste. So although it was an easy pattern, just enough challenges appeared such that I really felt I had to problem-solve on my own and learn something. I love to learn by having to figure things out: when we are forced to use our minds to figure something out on our own, the knowledge stays with us forever.

All told, the project took three days spread out: I cut the material for a couple of hours one day; yesterday I did the seams and hems and gathers; today I did a fitting with Katie, attached the ribbon (which needed, in the end, to be handstitched), did the finishing work, and handstitched blue flowers on the front.

Katie has already put in a request for a red one next. :-)

It was an adventure to say the least, and one I am hungry to repeat so that I can improve. I often compare my work to my mom's work---and really, there is no comparison. Her work is so precise and finished... She is totally supportive of my efforts and always makes me feel like my various projects are successful; it is my own perfectionism that has held me back from taking the plunge into this realm, which is outside of my comfort zone. Yet now at age 30 I have more confidence to let my work be its own and to try not to compare it right now to the work of people who are really proficient. If I keep working at it, I know I can improve. I have a couple of other sewing projects I am longing to do, but in terms of clothes, I think I want to make Katie a simple dress next.

I forgot to take many pictures of the process, but here are a couple, plus the finished result:

The material is cut and ready to be sewn.

Ths skirt is gathered and ready for a fitting on Katie's waist this morning.

Katie tries on the finished product---and stands on tip toes!

Smiling Katie! She loved her skirt, which was motivation enough to keep going and to try more.

Katie told me she was "doing the splits" here. You can almost see the two fabric colors more in this picture. The three layers of purple are on the bottom; the three layers of blue are on the top.

A front view: it is difficult to see the attached blue flowers, but they are there, I promise.

Butterfly stretch in her new tutu!
I definitely had fun stretching myself on this project!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pre-birth Goals: Goal #3

"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream."

- C. S. Lewis

This has been a year of letting myself be inspired, not only by the beautiful natural world in which almost all things seem possible, but also by the achievements and enthusiasm of others. In Toastmasters we practice public speaking, and yet the members of that club have inspired me in ways beyond elocution. Over the year, two members gave memorable speeches about goals and goal-setting. Laura Bruno talked last fall about the importance of writing down our goals, and VP of Education Bob Freel on at least two occasions talked about the goal-setting he has done with his own grand-daughter and also about his personal mantra, "If it's to be, it's up to me." I think when we are open to the messages of people around us, our lives can become deeper and richer in tone. The optimism and achievements of my fellow Toastmasters rekindled in me the desire to set some tangible and more challenging goals for myself this year, and I first wrote them down when I discovered I was pregnant with Eric.

The first two goals were to 1) take three real estate courses, study for, and pass my license exam; and 2) complete ten speeches to earn my Competent Communicator award in Toastmasters. I completed both of those goals in June.

My third goal was to finish my cross stitch sampler and through it, to make my home cozier and more filled with meaning. I started my sampler late last summer, and it is all too easy for me to let projects like that stretch on for awhile. Yet with children now, I am especially interested in creating little heirlooms for them to have someday.

A sampler is a cross stitch consisting of the alphabet and numbers. Some of the oldest surviving samplers are from the 15th and 16th centuries. My understanding is that many young women were taught the art of sampler making from a young age and that samplers were viewed as a sign of industry and a virtuous heart.

Of course samplers were a craft of the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish, and that is a big part of my heritage with which I largely identify. I love the meditative feeling of working with my hands to create something for my home, of centering my heart on what is important. Although I did work parts of this cross stitch with background noise as accompaniment, for the past few weeks I have worked it almost exclusively in the early mornings before Katie and Bill awoke. Sometimes I would sit in Katie's room and watch her sleep, and sometimes I would sit in my room and watch my husband slumber. I'd listen to the birds outside waking up, see the dawn fill the sky, and sip decaffeinated coffee with milk and cinnamon. I discovered how much I loved to work surrounded mostly by silence and soft breathing and birds. It was a time to think about life, my family, and purpose without distraction.

This morning I finished my sampler, which means I also completed my third and final formal pre-birth goal. Yay!

I will always think of this sampler as belonging to Katie as well as to me. She helped with several stitches, though the bulk of the work has been done while she slept. I therefore stitched both of our initials in the corner, as well as the date.

My mom is actually the artist of this sampler. She came up with and drew this pattern out years and years ago and stitched for her own home when my brother and I were small children. So one of the traits I love best about this particular sampler is that only my mom and I have ever made this one (albeit in floss colors to match our own home decor). It is unique to Katie's maternal line. I am saving the pattern for her so that she can make one someday if she wants to. It is not a particularly difficult pattern to stitch, but I love its emphasis on "Home Sweet Home," the farm animals, and the hearts: home, earthiness, and love.

Katie holds the sampler.

I will always love that her little hands took stitches with me this year.

Since Michael's is having a sale on frames right now, I plan to mat and frame it this weekend and hang it in the family room.

So, my formal pre-birth goals are officially done. I am left wondering what to do next. Finishing goals is exciting, but then one also misses them. I do have a couple of projects I am working on and intend to finish before Eric's birth...but his due date is so close that I hesitate to write the goals down to make them formal. I have discovered the power of the written goal, and I only want to write down those goals which I know for sure I will be able to complete.

I am in a nesting and crafting frame of mind these days, though, and I know my hands will not want for industry. There is no such thing as boredom in my world. Boredom is a concept I have never understood, and I often feel profoundly sorry for people who say they are bored. Life is so rich and there is always something to think about, create, and do. This is life's truest promise to all of us. For that promise I am very thankful.

Now...what next?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eric's Room

We hope everyone had a beautiful and family-filled 4th of July! We sure did: on Saturday we enjoyed an early-holiday barbecue with my dad's side of the family, and on Sunday we worked more on Eric's nursery and took Katie to see fireworks. She stayed awake for the first time, and from our clear view from the Vintage Hills clubhouse park, she could see them lighting the sky. Several times she said things like, "This is super duper fun!" We loved the sparklies and the pretties.

My mom has been my hard-working helper as Eric's room progressed. She really listened to my description of my vision for his room, and she helped to hunt and gather color swatches, was my sounding board as I sent her online links of wallpaper samples and crib bumpers, and made suggestions as to how to incorporate my love for red into the room. We work really well together, and it is so helpful to have someone with whom to brainstorm and refine. She also helped me paint the walls, the bookcase, the letters, and the shelf, and she wallpapered single-handedly. She hung up everything on the walls, and she has fielded calls made from the middle of aisles in Joann's as I debated with myself about various decorative elements. So many kudos to my mom!

Of course we involved Katie as much as possible. I have asked her for her opinion countless times, and we had her help paint.

I am so excited about his room and even more excited to bring him home to it. There are some finishing touches to be added: my mom is working on a valance, a quilt, and two cross stitches. Yet for the most part, we have now arrived at a point at which his room feels mostly complete.

Pictures follow:

Amie and Katie work on painting some of the walls green.

Katie helps to paint Eric's name letters, shelf, and bookcase red.
The entrance to Eric's room, as we walk through the door.

A view of Eric's room from the door. I wanted to choose bold colors for Eric and yet also to have his room reflect peacefulness and lightness...a balance of warm and cool colors.

Eric and I stand by his bookcase. The bookcase was one of our old brown ones, which we painted red. I love how it turned out, and it was very much cheaper than buying a new one. Eric owns only two books of his own so far: a book I bought for him the other day and a book I am passing down to him from my Uncle Eric (which Uncle Eric gave to me one Christmas). I tried to put some of Katie's baby books on the shelves, but she took them right back to her room as soon as she noticed them. :-)

A view from the mirror. We can see his hamper in this picture, as well as his tall light. I trimmed the shade in red ric-rac to give the red accents in this room more presence.

Katie and I in Eric's room.

A view of our glider/cozy chair corner. I trimmed the lamp in the same ribbon that we used to hang Eric's name letters. Katie picked out the blanket on the chair herself. My mom helped me assemble the glider and the changing table (what can't my mom do?? I don't know what I would have done without her on this project)! She is making two cross stitches for the walls by the glider and a valance for the window. Those will probably merit their own pictures later.

A view of Eric's changing table and his name letters. To the right of the changing table is the door again, so this picture takes us full circle.

So again, a big thank you to my mom for all of her physical and intellectual help on this project! Now it is time to start filling the changing table with diapers and ointment and to enact the finishing touches!