saturday (intention)

**Quick note. I’ve missed writing here, and so I’ve pledged to myself to back off the all or nothing thinking, and to establish a reasonable schedule of regular writing practice for myself. This year I’ll post something each Saturday that I’ve been thinking about in that past week, starting today.**

I’ve noticed a trend in recent years – and I like it – to select or name a word for the coming year. I’ve written before about preferring the idea of stating intentions rather than creating a list of resolutions each January, and the selection of a word feels like an intentional statement. And I’m telling you the truth as I start typing this post, I don’t have a word selected yet. I’m hoping that by the time that I finish this I will. I like to think out loud as I write.

The first word that comes to mind is ‘yes’. It popped into my head a few times over the long holiday break. I felt like I said ‘no’ to a lot of things in November / December as I did my best to balance an extraordinary workload and my (often extraordinary) expectations for myself and others. And then I found myself defaulting to that ‘no’ mode, even beyond the push. So I checked myself, took a deep breath, and started saying ‘yes’ again.

I can tend towards being a homebody if I don’t watch myself. It takes effort for me to extract myself from thinking that home = tasks = productivity = good. If I’m running around too much, I start to think (worry) about what I’m not getting done at home, and once I start to worry about those other things, I’m not enjoying where I am in that moment.

Because we had to shift some of our holiday traditions around a bit this year to accommodate the travel plans of family members, we found ourselves with a very rare stretch of time off to spend just at home, with no agenda. We were already speaking of this time reverently in early November, repeating it like a mantra as we scrambled from task to task. Knowing that time was coming is what got me through December – that, plus a near-constant practice of productivity and positivity – as silly as that sounds. I knew it would be a challenge, but I treated it like it was the most fun challenge I’ve ever faced, and it wasn’t really that bad. I stayed organized, (mostly) sane, delegated without debate, and practiced being satisfied with each day’s efforts.

It felt really good to be productive and busy, and also really good to relax afterwards. To be honest, the relaxing part takes more work for me than the productivity. I took a few naps, finished a book, took some daytime tub soaks, and went to bed without setting an alarm clock for an entire week. I rarely even do that on vacation. But the rest of the time I stayed busy with year end and year beginning stuff. It was tempting to just stay in my pajamas all day and Get Stuff Done.

But that’s not necessarily the intention I’d like to carry into this new year. I’ve accepted that I’m always going to be running full speed ahead, even in those moments that I intentionally pause. But I’d like to channel more of that energy outwards, and to lean towards ‘yes’ more than the default ‘let me think about it’ (what will I have to give up? how much will I have to stretch or risk?). Maybe this is about bigger things – ownership opportunities, new positions, bigger reaches – but I’m mostly thinking about the smaller things. Those moments that pop up in the middle of homebody tasks – let’s drop what we’re doing and spend the day hiking and exploring – that I’d like to default ‘yes’ to. Moving beyond saying that I’d like to see this or do this, and actually scheduling it in that moment and then following through on it. Continuing to hone my decisiveness, and trusting my gut. I’ve been working on that for awhile now, and I like where it’s taken me.

For several years now, I’ve attended a Saturday morning power yoga class. I’ve come to love the instructor and all the regulars in the class. The room fills up quickly, and when I look around the space before class begins it fills me with such joy and energy. This morning it felt even stronger, as we all engaged in our first class of the new year. At the end of class, during shavasana, our instructor quietly placed small green cards at the foot of each mat. As we left, she invited us to turn them over and read them. Each card had a different word that might represent an intention for the coming year.

Mine said ‘sanctuary – my heart is my home’. I immediately thought of the holiday cards I had just finished, and the way I talked about home in my last post. I thought about how complicated home can be, how it holds all the joys and frustrations in such an intimate way, and can easily slide from a sanctuary to an escape, particularly when I’m nervous about stepping into something new. Maybe the word for me this year is ‘willing’ – being more open to ideas that aren’t mine or that challenge my comfort levels or knowledge or security. I like that word, and it feels as much active verb as passive descriptor. Willing.

But I’m here at the end of these words, and I still like ‘yes’. So ‘yes’ it is. It’s a simple response I can practice in my own head until it becomes muscle memory.

Yes.

holiday card 2018

It’s been a pretty epic “baking” season around here this season!

I’ve had this card idea for a long time – in fact, I think it might be the first card idea that I started mulling over while I was working on another card. You might remember that last year’s card was mostly black and white, save for a pale yellow moon. I loved that card, but when I was in the thick of it I remember craving color. I knew that this year’s card needed to be bright and cheerful.

One of the traditions in our house is to pack our holiday themed books away with our decorations, and so those books get rediscovered every year when we pull out the ornaments and lights. The first book that F always requests to “read” is The Gingerbread Architect – which is really a cookbook that my parents gave me years ago. We’ve studied the pages and directions for years and years, and every year F asks if we could PLEASE make one this year. It’s one of those tasks that feels so daunting to me – not the ease of a house kit you can pick up at the grocery store, but rolling and cutting and baking building components… and then the assembly! So I always defer it to another year, and then another. Reading the book seems so much simpler! But the idea of creating a gingerbread house card stuck with me, and then earlier this fall my sister-in-law texted us a picture of the candy ornaments she had purchased for my niece’s memorial tree.

The sparkly sweet treats sealed the deal for me. I knew that this was the right card idea for the year, and I started sketching out ideas and lists right away.

I started over Thanksgiving, and moved my little cutting mat around with me to wherever the people were. By now they are used to me slicing away while we hang out. I made a quick mock-up, and assessed the numbers required.

There are 110 green Life Savers “dipped” in three toned green sprinkles. I thought I could literally dip them by adding glue and pressing them into a pile of paper sprinkles. I hated the way it looked, so I glued 30-40 individual sprinkles on each wreath. It was the first of many road blocks! There are also 110 extra plain green Life Savers on the card. (Fun fact: it’s hard to get the little hole perfectly centered in the middle – if it’s a little off it doesn’t look like a Life Saver. So the rejects became the wreaths, and that’s why I ended up with extra candy on the side. Basically I was 50% accurate with the middle punch!) Baking twine bows – so tiny! – added the perfect finishing touch. 

Next I moved onto the Twizzler cornices. I ate a lot of Twizzlers as research. I settled on this textured red paper, and then freehand cut wavy strips that I glued on top to create the ridges. Once I got it right, this felt like my finest achievement. There were some really bad prototypes along the way.

But the most epic component is the sparkly candy mansard roof. This came directly from the Second Empire (Victorian Era) house in The Gingerbread Architect. In that example they use candied sour strips – almost like a gum, but with two tones of blue stripes, that they hand cut and overlapped to look like the slate shingles. It’s our favorite thing in the whole book. I thought about scalloped rows of paper, but cutting intricate curves like that wrecks a lot of blades, and seemed time prohibitive and frustrating. So the idea of punching dots out seemed like a good one!

Another fun fact: there are 8,470 dots on these cards – 7 rows of 11 dots times 110 cards. Lots of punching, and a whole lot of gluing, one row at a time. I worked on this every night for over a week. It was soothing and relaxing and really kind of fun. But by the last night I was ready to move on.

I do love how they turned out.

Next, I made 110 cookie sheets by gluing turned edges to two ends. I liked the idea of the cookie sheet because it gave me a base for the card, and it added a little more sparkle.

The most excited I got was when I thought about using actual parchment paper on the cookie sheets under the houses. I really tried to come up with a way to treat the windows of the house to make them look like translucent candy, but never liked any of the results. But the parchment paper made the holes in the house look a little more polished, and I thought the curled up edges would be cool.

Guess what? Parchment paper is designed not to stick to anything! Who knew? So after gluing over 1/3 of them and sandwiching them between cookbooks to dry, I discovered they just slid back off. So I ended up cutting three holes in each one to “sandwich” the parchment between the cookie and the sheet – and filled each hole with a lot of glue and possibly a few prayers. I then promptly forgot that non-stick issue when I glued the gingerbread snowflakes on, so you probably have a loose snowflake floating in your envelope somewhere! Just tack it back on with a dot of glue!

My least favorite part was the gingerbread cornice, but I knew I needed some depth for some snow and icicles. I think it’s one of the best parts of the finished product.

Not the gumdrop buttons!! (Just a favorite family movie reference there!) Gumdrop bushes seemed like a good idea in front of the house, icing snow covered, of course.

Final details were SO MUCH FUN. I used several kind of white pens, plus puffy paint for the dimensional icing snow. I briefly panicked thinking about how I knew they would stick a bit to the envelopes, even after fulling curing. But I think they’ll be fine. Once I send them out they aren’t in my control anymore. There’s a lot of love and care and attention on the inside, and I hope that the recipients know it and feel it when they open them, imperfections and all. I tucked a quick baking tag in, and liked the alliteration of our street name and our house style.

This card celebrates so many things that are on my mind during this season. It incorporates favorite traditions and has so many little nods to family and friends and past projects and future projects that I haven’t even detailed here. It was a busy season in so many ways for our family, but once again I found the time to be creative and connect with others in a way that fills me up for another year. I hope it says that we love you and miss you and think of you often. That home is intricate and complicated and layered, but mostly sweet. This card is best viewed next to twinkly lights, it’s delicious with coffee (let’s grab some together!), and it looks particularly great lined up in rows and rows like a neighborhood / city / region – the community that I know and appreciate and love and desire to work with and strengthen and make better.

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes in 2019 from our family to yours. I really hope it’s a sweet one. xo, Kristin

things that yell EVACUATE in the night

Here are some lovely garden photos from a few weeks ago. I’m including them with this story because they are calming and zen-like and quiet – unlike our night last night.

We have eight hardwired, interconnected smoke alarms installed in our house as required by code. One per floor (including the basement) and one in each bedroom. You might recall that our basement is still only accessed from our backyard, and it’s also where we store our ladders. Each smoke detector has batteries, but they are also wired together, so if one is triggered by smoke or heat, the rest of them go off as well. Important information for the following story.

We had another busy week, and by Friday night we were all pretty tired. We attended a Friday late afternoon soccer game in the heat and blazing sun for E’s high school homecoming (her school doesn’t have a football team). After roasting on the bleachers for a few hours, we ran a few other homecoming errands together – first, new shoes – and then we finally went to dinner around eight. We were really hungry at that point, and really wiped out.

After dinner we stopped by Target for a couple more essentials, ran into Trader Joe’s for milk, and headed home. It was nearly eleven by the time we all collapsed into bed. M and I were both getting up around 6:30 on Saturday – and so that 7.5 hours of sleep ahead of us was a welcome thing. I think we all fell asleep within seconds of hitting our pillows.

A few hours later (2:20am to be exact), all hell broke loose in our house. It started with a single siren sound, but within a few seconds all eight detectors were blaring. It’s hard to describe just how loud these things are – they emit a piercing welping sound that bores into your brain within seconds. Layered over that sound is a digital voice screaming EVACUATE EVACUATE EVACUATE over and over and over and over again. Approximately thirty times per minute.

But it’s not just that all eight detectors are going off at once – they are also going off just SLIGHTLY out of sync. So it sounds like eight devices welping and EVACUATE-yelling in some sort of twisted echo chamber. Within seconds of it starting you have to clutch your ears tightly and your head starts to pulse with pain. It terrifies the girls. They don’t actually run downstairs to evacuate. They huddle into useless blobs in their bedrooms. There is nowhere to hide from the noise.

Our first response was to wave pillows underneath each one to see if maybe something has triggered them – dust? heat? a ghost? who knows? we were all dead asleep and we couldn’t even think straight. M grabs a chair to start pressing buttons and to open the battery slots, but even at 6.5 feet tall on a chair, he’s no match for our tall ceilings.

So he heads outside and down to the basement, grabbing the ladder and a huge pack of new batteries on the off chance that one detector has failing batteries that have somehow triggered this response that can be heard way beyond the confines of our home in the wee hours of the morning.

At each location he removes the current batteries and replaces them with new ones. Nothing is working. He moves through the house, and our ears are ringing. EVACUATE EVACUATE EVACUATE.

I’m not sure what all he tries, but he’s up and down the stairs with the ladder several times, and back down to the basement again. We get a few moments of quiet before they rebel again. F has curled into a ball in E’s bed, and both have their heads buried under pillows.

I think at some point I started to just zone out. It was so loud and my head was pounding, and I was too short to be any help at all. We’d have some quiet, and then it would start again, which was honestly worse than just listening to it non-stop. Somehow he finally got them to stop, and it didn’t involve a baseball bat. I’m convinced that anyone other than M would have wielded a bat by that point.

I saw 4:30 am on the clock before we finally had permanent quiet. I’m not sure how we didn’t end up with the police at our door. Or an angry mob. I’m also not sure how we can all still hear each other today. We’re all grumpy and exhausted, and M’s working on figuring out what the issue was, and we’re trying not to burn down the house in the meantime.

EVACUATE EVACUATE EVACUATE

EVACUATE EVACUATE EVACUATE

EVACUATE EVACUATE EVACUATE

I’m off to take a nap now, at least for a few minutes. Just typing this story makes my head hurt and the welping return. More than once this week I uttered to myself “just burn the whole thing down” – obviously I wasn’t referring to the house, but to the rest of this mess we’ve created and maintained by centering power and privilege with a select few. Maybe these machines could sense the simmering heat of the moment and it built up to a level that could no longer be ignored, and last night they rebelled. Maybe a baseball bat isn’t such a bad idea.