Last year, my big girl wanted an apron for Christmas. I wanted to make her one. I knew I was capable of making her one. But I was exhausted by December—the end of year stuff and the birthday holiday stuff and the grief stuff. So I let it go to make space.
This year on our fall walks, my big girl started talking about a collecting bag to put leaves and acorns and fancy rocks in on our walks. This year on our fall walks, I started to envision making a messenger bag. I pictured it slung across her body, easy to open, slowly filling with pine cones and bits of bark.
Last year, I needed to let go. This year following through on my plan brought joy.
I found the fabric. My sister talked me through the cutting and orientation of the pieces over the phone. Then I moved the hissing hot iron over the fabric, smoothing it before measuring, marking, and cutting.
I maneuvered the thread through all the ups and downs and turns needed to thread my machine as though it hasn’t been months and months since I used it last. I checked and rechecked that I’d pieced the fabric together correctly. Then I made fast, confident seams, my foot light on the pedal, my fingers moving the fabric through.
Even as the clock ticked late and I knew I needed bed, I kept working, coming each night to a clear stopping point. I don’t have a place to leave my machine set up, though sometimes I wish I did. This was a quick project, but I put off doing it because I had to clear a spot to set up. I worked late because I could only work on it once the girls were asleep, the light from the domed overhead lamp spilling down on my fabric spread across the kitchen table.
I’m impressed I didn’t get the owls on the bag upside down or that the pocket didn’t end up in accessible between the lining and the out fabric. But more than that I’m pleased by the process. There is something satisfying about creating something palpable, something you can hold in your hands.
Throughout this month, we’ve been reading stories about homemade gifts—the button string Mary and Laura make for baby Carrie; the train and doll and bracelets Erkki makes for his brothers and sisters in The Best Christmas—stories about the pleasure of making and giving.
This time of year gets so busy, so emotionally full. It’s easy to let go of the making. On Cyber Monday, I was tempted by an explorer’s kit from Cricket Media that had a messenger style bag, a water bottle, a compass, binoculars, string and knot tying instructions all in a cute little suitcase. And it was 70% off! One night at 11:30 when I was trying to find a piece of lining fabric that would go with the owl print I had picked and wondering if I’d finish the bag in time, I wished briefly that kit were being shipped to me.
But I’m so glad I passed. We didn’t need the rest of the pieces, and I needed to make this bag. I enjoyed the process of figuring out how to make it work, the measuring and cutting, the pinning and stitching, the turning and snipping. I loved the focus. I loved creating something with love.
And when my big girl opened it up and put it on and declared she wanted to go for a walk RIGHT NOW so she could use it, I smiled.
“You know I made that for you,” I told her.
“Really,” she asked wide eyed. She looked down at the bag, “I didn’t know. It looks so REAL!”
We did take a walk in the misty, late afternoon fog. It was the kind of day we probably wouldn’t have been inclined to go out, but the bag drew us on.
Barely steps from the car, the girls found a side path they had never noticed, a fairy house, a fort, as if the bag open us to adventure on the familiar walk.
The dog loped and zoomed back and forth ahead of us. My big girl put bits of birch bark, a couple of leaves, a cat tail exploding into a mess of fluff into her bag. It was just what I envisioned back in the fall when she couldn’t hold all the pretty leaves she found. I smiled and breathed in deep the damp air.
In December I let go of a lot to make space, but sometimes I choose to hold on and craft joy.
My girls and I put up the Christmas tree the other day, and I love to sit in its gentle glow. Ever since I was a kid, I loved decorating the tree, finding favorite ornaments, telling the stories behind them.
Our tree has some ornaments that came from my childhood home—felt animals sewed in a childish hand, the delicate glass snowman and balloon a teacher gave me, a simple red ball with my name and the year of my birth.
Our tree has ornaments I’ve given to my husband or our family over the years—a geologic survey marker for Mount Washington, a wheelbarrow for all the gardening we do together, a green canoe and a toboggan from the years we bought those items to enjoy.
There are ornaments I’ve made for my girls, like the ladybugs from when they turned four and two with corresponding spots and the felt hearts with their names.
If you look, you will find a lot of cardinals. Glass balls with painted red birds, plump birds sewn from felt, a felt heart with a cardinal cut out of birch bark overlay. And the red birds from other babyloss mamas: the needle felted ball from Jenni, the paper circle from Amy, the cookie cutter tree with a reddish feather from a bird nicknamed “the desert cardinal.” It’s not surprising to find cardinals at Christmas, but mine are for Henry.
When Henry was in the hospital, somebody gave us a stuffed cardinal, the kind you squeeze to hear its call. My dad still talks about how it got Henry’s attention, whether the news or the bright color. The cardinal link started there, but it was seeing a cardinal, all red, streak across the bleak landscape that solidified it for me. That sudden brightness reminded me of Henry’s smile, the way it lit everything up, the way it made me smile.
People tell me about their cardinal sightings and let me know they’re thinking of Henry. That makes me smile too. Some days, just when I need it, I catch a glimpse of that flash of red. so bright on a dark day.
Last night, after stories, we turned off the light and sat in front of the fire looking at the tree. I sang my girls their songs, my chin resting on a blond head, my cheek against a nearly five-year-old cheek.
I thought the dark was going to rise up: the missing, the would-be eight year old not here. But instead what bubbled up was love, stretching me tight, expanding me. For a moment, it wasn’t dark and light, here and not, life and death, all those forces that pull me in two directions through this month. I thought it would be, but instead I expanded with just fullness, just love.
Just when you feel you are going to break,
when the light-dark of this month
and all that you do to embrace the light:
the birthday party planning
figuring out when you will go see the trains and the Christmas lights
and is there time to make cookies?
starts to feel like too many to dos,
when you wonder what else you can peel off,
you get a reminder to go for a run.
You get a reminder to slow down.
You take a walk, feel the bright sun, and notice the silver-white frost still furring the shade.
Just when you don’t know what to do next,
your neighbor says, “Pulled pork for dinner—with stuffed jalapenos and beer?”
Just when you are cursing this month and wishing again that you could jump ahead to January,
you get a message from a friend. “It’s December. How are you?”
Just when the darkness is settling,
the lights on the tree you did put up, joyfully, thoughtfully
with the stories of each ornament,
glimmer and set the room aglow.
Sometimes, just when, you need help, a hand, a smile, it comes.
I’m tired of snow and ice and school delays.
I love reminders that spring is coming, but when they come in the form of pictures of rhubarb unfurling and peach blossoms and pretty much anything green, I get a little jealous too.
My friend Sarah posted a picture of the pool. Outside. Where she was going swimming. Her friend commented on the smell of freshly mowed grass.
And I remembered a March when I went to California to visit my friend Heather and meet her new baby. I went for a long walk, pushing the baby in a stroller, so that Heather could mow the lawn. What I remember isn’t the smell of cut grass, but rosemary, big hedges of it warm in the sun. I remember flowers and green and sun on my face, but mostly the rosemary.
For years, rosemary was the smell of jealousy for me. My rosemary plants are small. They fit easily in a pot, and they never last the winter. Even if I get them through the cold months, they suddenly shrivel and wither right about this time of year. Come March, I remember those fragrant shrubs and want that—the green, the resiny smell, the warmth bringing it out.
I cut rosemary from my plant tonight (it’s still hanging in there for now). I chopped the rosemary and rolled a pork tenderloin dotted with garlic in it. I poured a mustard-apple juice glaze over it all and roasted it. The smell of rosemary filled the house.
I can still smell it on my hands, and I’m dreaming of sunshine and short sleeves.
We’re not there yet. It was warm enough to go out without a coat today, so there’s that, and while I don’t have anything in my garden, I’ve got these inside:
It’ll get me through, but I’m still a little jealous.
What are you jealous of these days?
It’s the time of year when temps in the 30s feel gentle and you walk out in just a fleece
and smile at the sun and your neighbors.
It’s the time of year when the dripdripdrip of icicles in the sun is a joyful song
when the seeds and cups of dirt on the table at preschool look like hope.
It’s the time of year when my garden looks like this:
And I dream of this:
and start saving milk jugs for this:
It’s the time of year when I reread The Long Winter
and get grateful for piles of wood and deliveries of oil to keep us warm instead of twisted hay to keep us from freezing to death
and for a well stocked fridge and freezer instead of rationed potatoes and hand-ground wheat.
It’s the time of year when even my kids are sick of snow
but they’ll still shriek and whoop their way down the sledding hill.
It’s the time of year when I look forward to eating lots of pancakes
and hope the sap will be running so that moist, sweet steam will fill the air while we eat.
It’s the time of year when everything seems barren,
but you hear the birds singing, loud and clear through the cold air.
It’s the time of year when you are almost in despair,
but you look out the window just before supper and notice that it’s still light.
It’s the time of year when the light and melting
the maple syrup and the seeds
and the dreams of green
get you through
as you wait for more sunshine,
Write with Me:
I’ve used this prompt last summer. I’m not recycling because I’m lazy, but because I’ve been thinking about this time of year, because I’m ready for change and it looks so far off.
Whether you tried this one before or not, grab a pen and finish this sentence:
It’s the time of year when . . .
What are the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of this time of year? What’s happening in this season, in your life right now?
In the comments, tell me about about this time of year where you are or add a link to your blog where you write about this time of year.
Right now I’m loving:
- This gift from my neighbor and its reminder that spring will come eventually
- Gaiters and long johns (since spring is no where near here yet)
- My wonderful neighbors—and their snowblowers
- These cookies (equally good made with coconut oil instead of butter)
- Seed catalogs (more spring dreams)
- Anne Lamott’s Small Victories
- My moka pot
- Our latest batch of chili (in a bowl with rice, as a dip for blue corn chips, or on homemade pizza)
- Seeing people joining me for Write What You Love
There’s still time time to join us. We start tomorrow! Sign up here.
What are you loving right now?