The Year of the Baby Quilt, Part One

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Let’s be honest … this post could also be called “Quilting: Because I Can Never Have Too Much On My Plate!”
No, really: I have a partial post drafted explaining why I think I threw myself into making baby quilts over the past year. I have completed three (if you count the few inches of binding left on one). There are at least three more in progress, and fabric waiting to be cut for another one or two more.

And why? Well, the short answer is, it was a delightfully fun distraction from finishing my MFA application manuscripts. The longer answer is that I’ve rediscovered a joy for sewing that my mother and grandmother cultivated when I was a child.

That post is coming, but tonight I want to share some exciting (and nervewracking!) news. Tomorrow, my latest creation will go live as part of the annual Sari Bari Quilt Auction. I first heard about this a few years ago; my talented and lovely friend Kandyce has quilted with them for three years (here’s her gorgeous latest Sari Bari quilt; it’s worth browsing for her various quilt projects, too). I remember loving the concept instantly: quilters volunteer to receive upcycled sari fabric and turn it into a finished quilt to be auctioned as a fundraiser for Sari Bari. In short, Sari Bari provides freedom for women in India — primarily freedom from sex trafficking, but I’m learning there’s so much more, too. Education, health resources, etc.: there are many ways to be free, and Sari Bari works to “fan the flame of freedom.”

So, this year I finally signed up. Originally I wanted to do two baby quilts OR HEY MAYBE A QUEEN SIZE (let’s pause and laugh about how I thought I would finish a queen size quilt between December and March with my schedule….not to mention the fact that I have NEVER QUILTED SOMETHING THAT BIG YET!). When the fabric arrived, I saw a cool-tone version and a warmer version of each baby quilt emerging.

I got off to a late start with a shipping mixup for my sari fabric. I drastically underestimated the amount of time it would take me to work with sari fabric (I’m not entirely new to sewing, but still new to quilting and had never worked with such delicate fabric for a quilt before). It took twice as long to simply prepare for sewing: the fabric needed reinforcing before I could even cut the squares.

Because I knew time would be a major constraint for me (because hello job and kids!), I settled on my now-familiar half-square triangles.  The quilters are given a bit of freedom to interpret how the quilt comes together; there’s no rule for how to use the sari fabric, per se, though most of the participants create quilts that are almost entirely constructed from the sari fabric. I knew I wanted to have some solid jewel tones to break up the busy prints and help them sing a little more.

I was making good, if slow, progress, most everything was cut and planned, and I only needed one or two more weekends to rock it out after the kids went to bed to make the March deadline.

But then: life happened. And honestly, this quilt was one of the last things I could get to — and not for want of finishing it. In fact, it was almost always the first thing on my mind, and I even woke up a few times to work on it at 5 a.m., getting a chunk done before work. Truthfully, though, the news at Sweet Briar College became all-consuming, at least for every spare part of me that wasn’t already consumed with the hectic world of Toddlerville.
In the interest of time, I combined the colors into one bright, crazy quilt. Just one. A baby size. Nothing crazy, and even that took forever. You may notice this is the first weekend in May, and that the auction is currently live. Well, folks, in the spirit of true transparency: I tied the final knot in the final stitch of the binding last night.

Yep.

Tomorrow, I’ll overnight it to the lovely ladies who are organizing the auction. I’ve already apologized over and over, and they’ve been so gracious. It felt like I would never finish this tiny, tiny quilt (seriously: some quilters made QUEEN SIZED QUILTS and got them in early!! Clearly, they need to teach me some project and/or time management wizardry).

It’s so not perfect. But honestly, I don’t want to let it go: I love the vibrant blend of colors, and I figure someone else will, too (hey, it would make a great bohemian backdrop for newborn photography….hint hint). At the very least, I’m pretty sure my dad will bid on it. I love how cheerful it turned out!

Here’s the thing: even before learning that I’ll lose my job this summer, it was already incredibly sobering to work on this quilt because I wanted to, in my spare time, with a roof over my head and from a place of such relative freedom and ease. I was not sewing for hours per day in inhumane conditions just to bring home a paltry paycheck. I do not have to sell my body to put food on the table for my children. If sewing a quilt can help provide freedom for another mother, half a world away, it is the least that I can do.

So, without further ado: I present my entry in the 2015 Sari Bari Quilt Auction.

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– Love, Mer

(the auction link goes live tomorrow — I’ll edit the post with the link then)

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Strawberry Season: A Recipe Roundup

Strawberry Recipe Roundup from Meridith Creates

Our family went strawberry picking for Mother’s Day at Seamans’ Orchard, a location we love in part because of the amazing view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a beautiful way to spend an afternoon together; we try to go every season, and we always stop for ice cream on the way home. I love making these memories with my kids, and I look forward to seeing seeing pictures of us there, especially as the kids change so much from year to year.

Mama and Hannah at Seamans' Orchard. Can't wait to see how she grows in this photo over the years!
Mama and Hannah at Seamans’ Orchard. Can’t wait to see how she grows in this photo over the years!
Daddy and Hannah at Seamans' Orchard. Apparently this is her strawberry picking outfit; I dressed her in the same thing, head to toe, for our outing today!
Daddy and Hannah at Seamans’ Orchard. Apparently this is her strawberry picking outfit; I dressed her in the same thing, head to toe, for our outing today!

When I heard that The Motherhood Collective, one of my favorite organizations for local mamas, was going strawberry picking at Yoders’ Farm today, I was really excited (even if we hadn’t quite finished our haul from the last trip).

Because of work, I tend to miss most of the Motherhood Collective’s Monday morning meetings, and I’ve made a priority to go to their new working mama groups on Saturdays as well as any other Monday groups when I have a day off. I really love taking part in the group; while we come from all walks of life, together we’re a beautiful community of mothers who support each other. And I’m slowly but surely developing some friends in the group, even if we don’t see much of each other outside of the “official” meetings between parenting and work schedules.

And the outing couldn’t have gone better — I’m not exaggerating when I say it was absolutely perfect! We filled our baskets with juicy strawberries under the hot morning sun, then gathered in the welcome shade for a picnic lunch. My kids loved the goats, chickens and cows that were our lunchtime neighbors, and I had a great time getting to know some new mamas.

Let’s be honest: I’m loving the fact that we have more plump strawberries to snack on. Plus, I get to enjoy some of my favorite recipes again! I thought I’d do a quick roundup of some of them, with a few notes about my adaptations.

Strawberry Recipe Roundup

The classics: I occasionally do strawberry shortcake. If I have time, I also have done hand pies, but I find that a regular-sized strawberry pie will do the trick if I’m craving a good pastry crust and juicy strawberry filling (a favorite recipe is below), and frankly goes a bit faster. There’s always freezer jam, but we don’t eat a lot of jam in our house so I usually go for other uses.

Over the past few years, most of the following recipes have made it into regular rotation (I’m including one I haven’t actually made yet, but you’ll see why!).

Strawberry pie with orange zest, from Saveur. This is simple and delicious. If you don’t have vanilla beans, substitute a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I’ve also swapped the orange zest for lime zest for a more summery pie. Omit the orange juice and/or zest all together if you like,  but it’s a really nice touch. I’ve got dough chilling in the fridge for tomorrow night, and will likely assemble this pie.

Smitten Kitchen’s strawberry summer cake. Many of Deb’s recipes get tested at Casa Khan within a couple of days of its original post…they’re so.very.good! This one is no exception, and I don’t usually make any substitutions here. This is what I made today for dinner at a friend’s house. If you’re able to bake it so it comes out of the oven just before dinner, I highly recommend it. It’s divine warm, and be forewarned: this begs for a dollop of homemade whipped cream (it becomes a sort of jumbled shortcake that way).

No link here, but a simple favorite of mine when I’m hosting a dinner party: strawberry and fresh mint dessert topping. Slice about a quart of strawberries. Take about 10 fresh mint leaves and muddle them with a tablespoon of sugar, either with a mortar and pestle if you have one, or use the back of a spoon in a wide, sturdy bowl (if you do it this way, it will be helpful to chop the mint to help release the oils). Stir the strawberries and mint sugar together. That’s it! This topping is really delicious served over a scoop of vanilla ice cream over a warm brownie.

Last but not least, Strawberries Romanoff, another simple but delicious use for fresh strawberries. I tried a variation of this treat recently at Cao during the Pastiche at Main girls night out. It was scrumptious, and if you prefer not to use alcohol, you could easily substitute a tiny bit of orange zest or flavoring, or forgo flavoring altogether. At Cao, they served this with dark chocolate shavings. Yum!

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Tonight’s rendition of Smitten Kitchen’s strawberry summer cake, the perfect end to our cookout.

 

 

Note: I have not been paid to endorse or link to any of the above sites, just sharing the love for some favorite local folks and of course linking to my favorite recipes!

 

Writing the next step…

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Last week, I woke up ridiculously early, slipped on a Hope College Alumni sweatshirt, and started writing my personal essay for my low-residency MFA creative writing application. It’s currently in an embarrassing, jumbly state, but it’s a beginning. Next step: finish editing the manuscript essays — I need a range of 20-30 pages, depending on the program. I am close to that page count with two or three essays, but each needs a lot of slice-and-dicing.

All of that to say: ten years ago, I decided against graduate school because I wanted to live a little first. I was burnt out from words and workshops, and not even sure of myself as A Writer. But my writing has slowly started begging for this next step, and it’s about damn time. That morning, I was tired, but writing felt so good.

While writing that morning, Farhan woke up and said it was “still sleeping time.” And then asked me to build a Lego airplane from three pieces in his hands. I did, and he zoomed it around the attic studio. This is what an MFA program will look like for me: waking up before dawn, writing until the kids wake up, then breakfast before we rush out the door to school and work. Rinse, repeat.

I’m ready.

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Lunch workshop with my friend Nell earlier this spring.

 

One of my favorite poems, “How These Words Happened,” by William Stafford, has helped nudge me out of bed (ok, so it only took three years of being taped to my office wall).

Each time I sit down to write, it’s part of a litmus test I’m giving myself: can I discipline myself to write while the kids are sleeping (well, quiet time usually doesn’t involve sleep for Sofia and Farhan, but I can still hope!)? Can I pay attention for any particular essay long enough to not only write the first draft, but edit and revise, too? Some days it’s simply, can I put away my iPhone (games, Instagram, whatever) or ignore the laundry long enough to get a few lines done? If I can do these things enough times to produce an MFA application, it helps give me confidence that I might actually be able to sustain work during the actual program, too.

There is also a whole lot of “what the heck do I think I’m doing!??” in there. Some of this is the usual self-doubt, but there’s also the reality of my busy life with three small kids and a full-time job. But I finally realized that I can’t keep putting this off — there will always be a reason to delay, and I’m not getting any younger. So, I’m doing this madness. I’m taking my own advice to students at Sweet Briar: that cumulative effort adds up, to do a little bit each day toward a larger goal.

Here goes…

On being a working mom, and the end of maternity leave…

This will need to be quick. The baby’s asleep, but just. The toddlers are still stirring, “reading” as dusk falls in their room. There’s a hush, but I know it’s only momentary.

For a few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how to blog. Part of why I haven’t kept it up in recent years is because I wanted to settle on a theme. But would it be writing? Photography? Motherhood? Cooking? I realized, finally, that it’s all of those things, because this is is my life. I’m a creative woman who works full time, and I often still feel like I’m adjusting to motherhood (even three kids down the line…).

But for tonight, I’m prompted to write because lately another topic has been on my mind, after lots of conversations with friends here in town. I think a large part of what and why I’ll write is the topic of being a working mom. Because, for now, I work full time, and it sometimes feels so very lonely. The local motherhood group is fabulous, but it mostly meets on Monday mornings, so I’ve only ever gone while I’m on maternity leave or the rare day off.

There are nights that I’ve cried to my husband about how isolated I feel, because work means I’m racing home to pick up my kids, put dinner on the table, and cuddle as much as possible before sending them to bed and doing it all over again. So friendships are forced into pockets of weekends or rushed lunches. One of the things I’ve realized while on maternity leave is how many playdates I’ve tried to set up before going back to work–and how one of them was actually, technically the very first we’d ever had at our house, and you guys,  my daughter is already four years old. We’ve met up with friends with kids for dinner parties before, sure, and she’s got friends at daycare–a playdate at our house,  something so simple, was four years in the making.

There are plus sides to working. I get lots and lots of interaction with adults, and in my particular job I’m in a creative and intellectual environment, and absolutely love it. And every time I think about the possibility of staying at home with my kids (something that is just not in the works for us right now), I worry that I’d miss my job while I struggled to fill the days with the right balance of playdates, finger paint and pb&j.

There’s a lot more I want to write here, about adjusting to pumping, or balancing sick days with hubby, or post a few updates about creative projects I’ve got coming up. Or the curry chicken salad recipe that I get requests for a lot.

But tonight, I want to talk about one more thing, quickly (baby’s stirring! I knew this was going to be short!). In a week and a half, I return to work. And it’s just as hard as the first time. On my first day back to work with my firstborn, a kind colleague sat down in my office and asked how it was going being back–and I said it was ok, so long as I didn’t have to think about being apart from my daughter. The same will be true this time. I’ll drop her off, go to work, put my pump in the drawer, and then try to forget her sweet smiles for just a little while. It never gets easier, you just get used to it.

A few months after I returned to work that first time, I watched another new mother, an acquaintance here in town, drop off her son for his first day of daycare at our facility. And it was one of those moments that all the kids were crying, or noses were running, or there just weren’t enough arms to hug all the babies. And I saw it in her face. She left that morning, with her baby, and quit her teaching job and has stayed home with him ever since.

And you know what? I get it. And I felt guilty being the one who said goodbye that morning. Because every day, every single day, I want to turn right back around to go home with my babies.

For now, I’m going to sign off and go cuddle my sweet girl who’s waking up and who, at ten and a half weeks, will give me the biggest grin you’ve ever seen. And we’ll cuddle as much as we can for these next few days. And, let’s face it, I’ll probably cry.