Archive for April, 2011
First of all, the outpouring of kindness and support that you guys showed to our family yesterday is both humbling and amazing. Thanks for the helpful words of encouragement and for sharing your stories. But enough with the heavy stuff. How about something light and fluffy? Let’s go on a looooong overdue photo tour of our yard (a la Katie B’s), shall we?
You’ve gotten a few select glimpses of what we’re working with in this post about our carport/driveaway, this post about our “alley”, and this one about the magnolia out front. But there’s plenty more to show (that’s your warning that this post will be photo-heavy – so much so that it took me three weeks just to muster the energy to finally edit down the 100+ pics that I snapped a couple of weekends ago and write this beast of a post).
So let’s start somewhere familiar – the front yard (as sort of pictured in our header).
It’s smaller than our last house’s front yard (i.e. the house is closer to the street) which I see as a good thing because there’s less grass to mow. Sah-weet. Actually, there are enough bush-borders, areas of groundcover, and that big dirt circle under the magnolia that ensure there isn’t too much grass at all. Of course we have some long term plans to transform our house’s curb appeal and pretty much every square foot of yard that we have (just like we did slowly and steadily over 4+ years at our last house) but as for specifics, we’re not quite there yet. But it should be fun to see where we end up in a few years.
Our general plans for the front are mainly to make it feel more open and inviting to the front porch. Like our last house, there are lots of borders of bushes (mostly boxwoods and azaleas) that act as a natural fence around the grassy area seen above. But in our opinion, it just means a lot of visual interruption – especially when it comes to feeling welcomed towards the front door. We’ve also always felt that short squat houses like ranches look best with some open area and lower and more varied plantings than walls of large shrubs (so there aren’t a bunch of things in front of the house to dwarf it even more).
No one really uses our front door now (unless they’re selling something). In fact even FedEx uses the side door in our carport to drop things off. We can’t really blame ‘em because the front pathway is so narrow that it doesn’t really say “walk this way.” I actually had to trim some bushes on move-in day just to fit furniture through (it didn’t help that the bushes were also dusted with snow). Since the path is such a nice natural continuation to the sweet paver stones that they used to create the driveway, we’d love for it to at least look like it’s usable someday – even if everyone still goes to the carport.
So we’re thinking that trimming back / removing / transplanting some of these bushes above in favor of some lower profile landscaping will help open up the entrance on both sides of the path. Which will hopefully make it feel more inviting and show off our full-of-potential front porch (which we also have plans to pimp as we go).
But as much as bush-borders are a theme on our property, it doesn’t compare to the sheer volume of liriope (aka “monkey grass”) that you can find around here. Just check out the sloped area on this side of the front yard. Yup, it’s above that stone wall and below it, about 10+ plants deep:
This particular sea of liriope is actually kinda welcome because it makes for a virtually self-sustaining spot of landscaping, though it would be nice to add a bit more color to it at some point. But we’re not über-focused on that area because we’re so distracted / confounded by the area next to it. Yes, this big wild spot of leaves and tall grasses next to that stone wall and brick path is still our property.
This is the area that separates our house from our neighbors to the left (as you face the house). And I must say that we really appreciate the breathing room. Which reminds me – I should point out that this lot is surprisingly similar in size to our last house (almost an acre), BUT this lot is kinda square whereas our last house was a long skinny rectangle – with about half of it being woods in the back.
(Imagine a nice little whole-yard sketch here- I’ll have to whip one up in a future post).
The “pro” of our new squarer lot is that it puts more space between us and the next door neighbors (instead of just including a seemingly endless dense and thick woods in the back of the house). But the “con” is that instead of having a maintenance-free forest hidden in the back, we get “wild” spaces like this one shown above instead… which is visible from the street, btw. We’re not 100% certain, but we’d love to naturalize this area even more so it looks lush and semi-foresty instead of oddly bare but not quite tended to (tall grasses and wildflowers come to mind along with more large trees and shrubs). No rush though, we’ll figure it out someday…
And even though our lot is much less long and skinny than our last one, we still have plenty of raw un-landscaped area in the back. Actually, we have a ton of it. Sidenote: can you believe that’s the back of our house? Thanks to the addition it’s so different from the front (we think the peak is so charming) but someday we hope to bring some peaks into the front of the house and paint the hardboard siding (and possibly the brick) to make it feel more cohesive. But that might be five years down the line or even further. Gotta think long and hard about big changes like that to make sure we don’t do anything hasty that we’ll
regret hate with a passion down the line.
Apparently this expanse used to be more heavily wooded, but somewhere along the line it was cleared and now it just sits as a leaf depository. Total bummer because we loved the private wooded feeling beyond the grassy part of our first house’s backyard.
The old John & Sherry would just thrown down some grass seed to make the entire area look more finished, but we’ve sort of outgrown our “let’s grow grass everywhere” phase (thanks in part to reading the Organic Lawn Care Manual last year). So our current plan is to keep this portion of the backyard “wild” so it’s one less area that we need to maintain/mow/water/weed/otherwise tend to. We plan to slowly plant fast growing evergreens that will create some nice privacy and bring back that wooded feeling that we love. Because there’s already enough landscaped backyard to maintain for our tastes. Behold…
Overall, we think the backyard is super charming. Which is a bit surprising considering how much we didn’t enjoy having pathways-lined-by-bushes everywhere in our last house’s yard. I think the key difference is that these pathways are brick, not pea gravel (which was a weeding NIGHTMARE). Though they obviously could use a quick pass with the leaf blower. But see those round planting beds on either side of the path the branches from left to right in the photo above? Those are goners. Sherry thinks that planting grass there to create more of an unobstructed area for pooch running and kid playing (especially when the offspring is older and excited to play tag or have races or play running bases) it’ll be nice to phase out a few of those small areas that break up that lush green grass. So we’re thinking that the brick paths can stay but the round beds will go.
And even though the low-profile liriope border along the path is an improvement over the big obstructive boxwoods in our last backyard, we’re not crazy about it – especially the fact that it’s 3 or 4 plants deep in many places. It just makes the paths feel narrower and more closed in. And since we’ve always preferred more organic transitions (vs. heavy distinct borders) we’ll probably dig up a lot of the monkey grass eventually (or we’ll post one of those you-dig-it-and-it’s-yours ads on craigslist) and just grow grass right up the edges of the brick paths for a more flush and clean look.
Liriope isn’t the only border going on back here, though. We’ve got more stone borders than you can shake a stick at (which would probably break your stick, btw).
Sherry’s not a fan of them visually (too interruptive for her tastes) and I’m not a fan of having to break out the weed-whacker to trim the grass against them. I could learn to live with them in some places (like where they make a distinct break between the grassy yard and the wild leafy abyss behind). But other places – like this little tree in the middle of the grass – are a bit too disruptive (Sherry wants to transplant that guy into the woodsy back part of the yard anyway to de-clutter the grassy area a bit more anyway).
One thing is for sure- all of those stone borders are a pain in my arse when I’m mowing.
(Yes, I’m using my gas-powered mower and not my push mower for the back, since it only really works well on long, straight yards – which the back sadly isn’t).
Now that we’ve covered the front, side, and back yards – let’s move around the house to one last spot that we recently mentioned in this post (you can see how much older the pics are in this post by clicking over to that one for more lush leaves and stuff). It sits behind our carport, just off our sunroom and gets called everything from “Liriope Heaven” to “Burger’s Bathroom.” Here’s the view of it from the carport:
For Burger, it’s perfect. It’s fenced on all sides, completely visible from the house and has plenty of curious spots to sniff / mark… and even a little zen lawn ornament.
As we’ve mentioned a few times, we’d love to continue our liriope-removal party over here (can you tell I’m trying to psyche myself up by calling it a “party?” – maybe putting it all up on craigslist is the way to go) and then we’ll be DIYing a stone patio (all by ourselves if all goes well) so we’ve got more usable outdoor living space. I’m sure Burger would argue that he’s getting plenty of use out of it now, but he got out-voted at the family meeting. Poor guy. But he loved lounging on our back patio at the old house so methinks he’ll be down with the plan in the end.
Right now our only outdoor entertaining space is this patio off of the sunroom and living room that isn’t even big enough for our grill (fyi, that patio furniture was left by the previous owners and yes, Sherry’s broken ceramic dog still sits sadly by the door).
The sunroom used to be some sort of outdoor space before it was enclosed, actually. You can even still see the original brick staircase that used to lead up to it. Funny, right? Well, funny to you and me – so annoying to the wife. She just doesn’t understand how someone completely enclosed the sunroom and heated and cooled it and added a million outlets and a fan but didn’t take the time to remove those odd stairs. I suggested putting some potted plants on them but she thinks it’ll be too busy and cluttered looking so we’ll have to come up with some other plan. Someday.
All-in-all, we’re smitten with the outdoor spaces that we got with this house. None of them are perfectly “us” yet, but that’s probably why we’re so excited about them – there’s so much possibility and potential. Even if some of it is buried more deeply (under rows and rows of liriope for example).
We’re falling in love with our surroundings more everyday as things start to bloom and green up. Like our new Most Favorite Tree In The Universe – this maple that’s grafted so it has two different colored leaves. Yeah, that’s one tree. Nature rocks my socks.
Maybe we love it so much because it provides this awesome shot of color through the window of our guest room (which we catch a glimpse of every time we walk down the hall away from Clara’s room). This picture does not do it justice.
It’s actually a bummer I didn’t wait longer to take these pictures (three weeks from camera to post is inexcusable) because just yesterday our azaleas started to get some color on them. So rather than delay this post any longer by retaking and resizing all of these images (which might be another three inexcusable weeks), Sherry snapped a few flower shots for me to throw in here at the end. Ooooh…. ahhhh…..
Phew! Now that you’ve seen all of these “before” pictures of the yard – and now that the weather is starting to be consistently nice – we can start tackling some of those outdoor projects. Well, as soon as Sherry’s allergies calm down a bit (our car was so green with pollen last week that it looked painted). But she’s working that Netti Pot like a fiend. You’re welcome for that visual.
Update: Apparently this post was confusing (even to Sherry) so this updated post (complete with a sketch and a video) should help.
It’s nearly a year late (I can’t believe I’m going to be the mother of a one year old in three short weeks). And the reason for the delay is simple. Thinking / typing / talking about the day that Clara was born still scares the pants off of me. Even 11+ months later. This little lady made quite the dramatic entrance.
Yup, the day that Clara came into the world was the most amazing life-changing day of my existence, but it was easily also the single most terrifying one. I’ve mentioned some details a few times in comments on other Clara-related posts (many readers wanted to know all about the bean’s birth right away) but I think now that she’s almost a year old I’ve processed that day enough to really share it fully with the interweb. By no means am I over it (don’t really know if I ever will be), but I can talk about it now without crying. So that’s a start, right? A few friends of mine have actually recommend that I write this post as part of the whole healing process (a lot of the posts that we write are actually for our own benefit since this is just an online diary to document our lives for our own selfish purposes, haha). So I thought it made sense. I know that how Clara came into the world will affect future pregnancies and how nervous/anxious/wary/afraid I’ll be if any of the same complications pop up again, so perhaps talking about it after processing it for almost a year might help me come to terms with it a bit more. So here it goes (deep breaths, deep breaths).
I had an amazing low risk fabulous pregnancy. No high blood pressure. No weird pains. Over 100 days of morning sickness (yes I counted) but that’s to be expected. Or at least tolerated in the name of baking a human. Other than that (and once that ended) it was amazeballs as my girl Bethenny Frankel would say. I felt great. I loved feeling my little bean kicking around in there. I basked in the glory of being prego. I told John I could do it ten more times. Life was good.
My tiny 4’11″ mom had two natural (and very fast) child births, so I had high hopes of a normal (if not very quickly progressing) delivery. Maybe without drugs, and maybe with them. I wasn’t going into it with any strong feelings either way, but I had taken some classes on pain management and learned about The Bradley Method so I was actually feeling very bring-it-on by the end. Either way I kept telling myself “in the end the baby will be out and I’ll get to meet her, so no fear is allowed – it’s going to be a happy day – with drugs or without them. No pressure. Just try to go with the flow and relax.” I had orders to “run, don’t walk” to the hospital if I had any signs of labor (my mother had me in four hours and my brother within two) so that had me a little on edge, but the only thing I worried about was having the baby at home or in the car since I feared it would all happen really fast because that runs in the family.
John was working downtown at the time and I was at home without a car (we’re a one car family, so he’d take the car during the day and after he came home we’d run any errands I needed to do). So admittedly the whole being at home without the car thing was kind of scary but I knew about fifty neighbors who volunteered to drive me to the hospital if things got crazy and John couldn’t make it home to get me in time. The funny thing is that he answered his cell phone on the first half-a-ring for the last two weeks of my pregnancy, so I knew he was on high alert and was confident that he’d hightail it home in time (it was only a 15 minute drive).
I never felt a single contraction (not even Braxton Hicks) until the day I went into labor, but I knew I was dilated to a 3.5 at 39 weeks (yes I walked around at a 3.5 without going into labor with my first child, which I hear is really uncommon). Clara must have been holding onto the walls in there. So although I was still about a week “early,” my doc said I was going to have the baby any second. Hence John being on high alert. Oh yeah and my belly looked like this. I was officially ready to pop.
I noticed on the morning of May 14th (it was a Friday) that I was having some pretty intense contractions. My first contractions ever (well that I felt). At first they were oddly irregular so I thought it was just prelabor (didn’t even tell John because I didn’t want him to get all crazy and come running home for a false alarm). But slowly they started to establish a pattern and by the time I started timing them they were just four minutes apart. And they were an 11 on the pain scale. I felt like my insides were ripping apart and my back was killing me. I called John who was out to lunch with all of his coworkers to celebrate his very last day at the office (he was resigning to come on full time as a dad/blogger) and told him to get the eff home. He laughed about how good my timing was because he was just finishing his burrito. I groan-cried in the middle of a contraction and he knew I meant business. So home he
By the time we got to the hospital my contractions were already two minutes apart. I remember having a hard time even walking from the car to the door because they were just coming nonstop and they were bring-you-to-your-knees painful. I thought I might have a baby right there in the parking lot. They sent me straight into labor and delivery. As we waited for the doctor to arrive and check my progress my water broke in the hospital bed- but instead of being clear it was red. So much blood. Very scary. I didn’t even see most of it (thanks to my giant belly and the sheet over my lower half) but John did along with my OB who happened to be in the room. John’s face went white and the OB snapped into hyperdrive.
Immediately the room filled with frenzied nurses and doctors and they explained that I was having a placental abruption, which happens when the placenta has inexplicably detached from the uterine wall. This is very bad news before the baby is born. And it explains the feels-like-my-body-is-ripping-apart pain I’d been experiencing. It’s an extremely dangerous complication for the baby (since they get their nourishment from the placenta and can go into shock and die) and the mother can hemorrhage (and can also die in cases of extreme bleeding). So it was a pretty dire situation all around (although nobody stopped to explain it, the look on the doctor and nurse’s faces kind of said it all).
Within about a minute they had me in the OR and within three minutes they had sweet baby Clara out thanks to an amazingly fast emergency c-section. They saved her life by acting so fast.
It was a blur. All I remember was them running my gurney into the walls while turning corners in the hallway trying to get me into an ER as fast as possible. They looked panicked. And it scared the heck out of me. I didn’t care about me or my body – just the baby. I remember screaming inside of my head “just cut her out of me, cut and I don’t care if I feel pain or if I get hurt or if I have scars all over, just save her. Do it right here in the hallway if you have to.” Of course my lips weren’t moving. It was one of those out-of-body mind screams that nobody else can hear.
John suddenly wasn’t with me. They just left him behind and ran with me down the hall calling up to get emergency doctors and nurses on hand since the main OR was already in use for a scheduled c-section. I remember people popping out of doorways saying “I’ll help” and joining the frenzied mob and going over all of my stats (blood type, number of weeks prego, etc) while saying things like “baby in distress” and “profuse bleeding.” I couldn’t have created a scarier nightmare scenario in my head if I tried. Lots of people swarmed into the OR in the next thirty seconds. But no John. I could barely breathe at the thought of something going so wrong without him by my side. Once they had me fully prepped for surgery (which happened within less than a minute, they were so amazing) someone must have run off to get him.
I wish I could say it was thanks to me calling out for him but I was in shock so I couldn’t talk or even move. I was frozen. It almost felt like I wasn’t even there and I was watching it all happen to someone else on TV. John says he remembers standing in the hallway as everyone ran off with me. So freaked out and completely alone. Just waiting. That always makes me cry when I think about it. I didn’t know it at the time because of the chaos, but someone had tossed scrubs at him when I was being wheeled out (he would need them since it had to be a sterile environment for the c-section) so he was just standing there in the hallway wearing his scrubs and waiting. And going crazy. Finally someone came out to retrieve him and he was allowed to come hold my hand right as they started to cut. I just stared at him. I was frozen. I didn’t cry. I didn’t talk. I was just in shock at how quickly everything was happening.
Once they opened me up they saw that not only was Clara in distress from the placental abruption, but the umbilical cord had somehow been pinched (which is called “cord prolapse”) so she was without oxygen while fighting to make it through the abruption. I heard them toss out the word “cord prolapse” (they didn’t have time to explain what was going on, so I learned the details later) but in my odd state of panic and shock I thought they were talking about someone else. I was the one with a placental abruption. The scariest page of my birth book at home. The one I didn’t even read because it wouldn’t happen to me because I didn’t have high blood pressure or any of the other risk factors. My baby couldn’t also be dealing with cord prolapse. How could that be? Who could be that unlucky? Then they said “she’s not going to cry ok – don’t wait for her to cry just try to stay calm and breathe slowly.” That was when my heart broke and I started to cry. I guess I was crying for her.
I couldn’t see anything thanks to the screen they threw up before cutting into me, but they were right. She didn’t cry when they yanked her out with all of their might. All I remember was extreme pressure but no pain. Well, no physical pain. Emotional pain = off the charts. They had NICU specialists standing by, and when I heard them say “NICU” out loud that it was the first time I actually thought “what if this doesn’t end the way I thought it always would? What if all those pep talks I gave myself about it being a happy day because “drugs or no drugs I would get to meet my sweet baby girl” weren’t going to be true?
John later admitted that thought had hit him a lot earlier than it had hit me. He said he knew something was very wrong when he saw all the blood before they whisked me away. And when he was standing alone in the hallway after I got wheeled off to the OR he wondered if things were about to end badly. See why that visual of him in the hall makes me cry? It was just so surreal and terrifying. John later confessed that once he was allowed into the OR to hold my hand that he couldn’t really watch as they pulled her out of me, even though he was much taller than the screen they had set up to block my view. Not because he was afraid of the blood or passing out, but because he didn’t want to see our baby “not make it.”
But after about one felt-like-eternity minute they got her to moan. Kind of like a kitty meowing. It was so soft and weak and just heart breaking. I remember thinking “I want her to cry so she’s ok, but I don’t want to hear her if she’s not going to be ok because I’m falling in love already. I can’t hear her moan and then fall silent- she has to start wailing. Right now!” But no dice. I remember thinking that all the silence felt so loud. Like it was almost deafening to listen so desperately for some sign of a cry. Clara got a 4 on her initial Apgar test, which we later heard is usually the lowest score you can get before permanent brain damage if things don’t improve by the five minute Apgar retest. They didn’t announce the time of birth or her weight very loudly or say anything like in the movies, you know like “it’s a girl!” or “happy birthday!” or “what’s her name?” and she didn’t come lay on my chest. I still couldn’t even see her thanks to the screen they had put up to block the surgery. They were all just working on this baby that I couldn’t even see. My baby. And I just stared at John in a silent freeze, tears in my eyes but nothing coming out of my mouth. At some point after closing me up the doctor said “she’s bleeding – she reopened, get over here” and half of the team ran back to work on me. My incision which had been sewn and stapled shut had reopened and I could hear from the doctors tone that it wasn’t an ideal situation. But I still wasn’t scared for me. In any other scenario it would have been intensely alarming, but I had a one track mind: the baby. I want to hear the baby cry.
It felt like five years went by (in reality it was less than five minutes) but slowly the people working on me thinned out and the people working on Clara seemed to start moving more casually and slower. As if it wasn’t such an emergency anymore. I remember thinking “this is either a very good or a very bad sign.” Thankfully, by her five minute Apgar test she pinked up, cried a glorious and spirited cry, and got a 9 (we later learned that the five minute Apgar retest is the most important and revealing one). They said that a 9 was as close to perfect as it gets and that even super healthy children rarely get 10s. And they told us that it was so great that she rebounded so well and was looking fantastic. She was a fighter for sure. They even let John go over and see her (I was still strapped down so I had to wait).
She wasn’t out of the woods yet, but we didn’t know that at the time, so we started to rejoice and John even took some video on the iPhone to bring back over to show to me since I hadn’t even laid eyes on her yet (we were so lucky that the iPhone happened to be in John’s pocket before all hell broke lose, otherwise we wouldn’t have any documentation of Clara’s birth at all). We later learned they were somehow testing her cord blood to see if she was without oxygen for so long that she sustained permanent brain damage. Only when the test came back all-clear (indicating that there were no worries of that) did the nurses and doctors really seem to relax.
Apparently infants who live after a placental abruption have a 40-50% chance of complications, which range from mild to severe (and sometimes mothers who survive end up with a hysterectomy to control the hemorrhaging). Only then did it start to sink in how lucky we really had been. And what a miracle our baby girl really is.
Finally, after what literally felt like days, they wrapped her up and brought her over to me. My arms were strapped down from the surgery, so John held her right near my head and I just stared at her in disbelief. I was still in shock, and bloated with fluids from the IV along with fear and disbelief and unconditional love.
What did I do to deserve such a happy ending? How would I have survived coming home empty handed to a beautiful nursery that I shared with the world while being so confident that I was guaranteed a cute little baby to put in that crib? Basically it was the scariest day of our lives, and I still ask why. Why me (in that annoying “poor me” way) and why me (in the “why-was-I-so-lucky-she-was-spared” way). But the main thing I feel is full. Of relief. Of gratitude. Of love for my little fighter. My little miracle. I’m SO THANKFUL that the doctors and nurses worked so quickly to come to her (and my) rescue. I’ll never know for sure, but if another team had been on duty I don’t know that I would have had the same outcome. They were just so on it. So invested and so amazing. And I can’t even begin to think about what could have happened if I wasn’t in the hospital when I started bleeding.
Other nurses and doctors in the hospital dropped in to see us for days just to tell us how lucky we were (news of our complications were apparently the talk of the hospital). We even had a friend on another floor (coincidentally she was there on the same day that I went into labor for a pre-term labor scare) who had overheard nurses and doctors talking about “that woman who had both a cord prolapse and a placental abruption at the same time but the baby actually survived.” Only later did she find out that it was me they were talking about. I still get chills when I think about that. How lucky we were. How scary it was. And how gorgeous and amazing that little girl in my arms was. And still is.
So that’s the story of the scariest/best day of our lives. Whew. No wonder we’re obsessed with the girl.
As for if those complications are more likely to occur with any subsequent pregnancies, cord prolapse is totally random and can happen to anyone, so it doesn’t become more likely if you’ve experienced it before (but it’s rare, so if you’re prego and reading this story know that my combination of complications were about as likely as winning the lottery). However, placental abruption is more likely to reoccur (around one in four women experience it again) and it can happen as early as around twenty weeks (when the baby isn’t viable yet, which means the baby wouldn’t make it). So it can be devastating and scary. I have strict orders to wait at least two full years between pregnancies to let everything heal up nice and strong, which probably means over three years between Clara and her younger brother or sister, assuming all goes well. I’m fine with the wait since I’m happy to just enjoy Clara for a while and take that time to continue to process the whole birth experience and build up my courage. But I’m sure when I’m pregnant again I’ll be much less happy go lucky about it.
Which is really sad. John keeps begging me to let it be the same joyful and unabashedly exciting time as it was before. But I know myself. And I’ll be on high alert. Searching for any signs or symptoms that something’s wrong. And scared even if there aren’t any signs of trouble (because there weren’t any before I started feeling contractions with Clara- it just all came out of nowhere). I’m scared that I might even be afraid to get a nursery ready. You know, so as not to jinx things. So my plan is to know myself, and accept that I’m going to be scared. But to do my best to enjoy it as much as I can and remind myself that I now know what an abruption feels like (so I should instantly be able to identify it) and that I have more information than I had with Clara (plus the doctors also know about my history now that I’ve had it happen). So I’ll hopefully have just as good of an outcome should it reoccur, as long as it doesn’t happen before the baby is developed enough to be delivered.
But I’m not gonna lie. I’m going to be petrified.
I also might be a “high risk” pregnancy next time without any chance of natural labor (if signs of another abruption occur they’ll rush me to a c-section if the baby is old enough to live outside the womb). I’m ok with that. Anything for a healthy baby. Now not only am I open when it comes to drugs or no drugs, I’m totally down with a c-section too. Slice and dice, baby. Whatever it takes.
I try not to curse. Really I do. But sewing is just not in my genetic makeup. I mean I can do a little button fix by hand and even stitch the last side of a pillow closed manually, but the other three sides that you’re supposed to do with a sewing machine? Yeah, I’m I disaster. Growing up my aunt and mom sewed all the time (they made all my Halloween costumes and my aunt even sewed my mom’s wedding dress) but whenever I tried to learn on my mom’s machine I broke it. Not just jammed it or temporarily messed it up, I legitimately ruined it (at least six episodes ended with my mom carting it off to the shop and paying lots o’ money to get it repaired). And then I wasn’t encouraged to use it quite as much if you catch my drift. I don’t blame my mom at all. I was clearly cursed.
So in an insane what-is-she-smoking turn of events, I recently purchased a nice affordable beginners sewing machine of my own with high hopes of DIYing a quilt and a fabric flag banner for Clara’s first birthday (using all of the fabrics that we picked up for her weekly photo project to create them). I figured it would come in handy for things like pillow and curtain making as well.
And I specifically picked something with great ratings (4.5 stars and over 150 customer reviews) on amazon.com (a Brother XL2600I) because I wanted something good for a beginner devoid of any “natural ability” whatsoever. Of course it didn’t hurt that it was around $100-200 cheaper than most fancy machines (on sale for just $89 – down from $149 – with free shipping). You know just in case I irreparably maimed it within a week of use. Which would not have surprised me. Hence the I’m-not-going-to-splurge-for-anything-great-just-yet approach.
So it arrived a few weeks ago. It has been testing me. Oh my goodness has it been testing me. Like, walk-calmly-into-the-bedroom-and-scream-into-a-pillow testing me.
I even had a hilariously miserable and desperate text message exchange with Katie B where I basically asked her to come over and peel me off the floor and wipe away my tears and spank my disobedient machine. Yeah, she didn’t come. But she did make me laugh by comparing me to Martha. I suggested that perhaps I was Martha’s uncoordinated lesser known sister (who I dubbed Bertha) and by the end of the little iPhone fest Katie had me smiling. Gotta hand it to that girl for providing some much needed comic relief when you’re dealing with this sort of ugliness:
The actual issue was that I was having all sorts of tension problems (broken needles, loopy tangled underside stitches, etc) and then after two nights of despair and at least five solid hours of sheer misery I realized that I was using an unsanctioned bobbin. Seriously. After five hundred attempts at rethreading the needle and rereading the manual and googling around for ideas and texting my poor friends (who all had better things to do than listen to me whine I’m sure) it was my stupid one tenth of an inch too tall bobbin that was sabotaging me. But at least I got the root of the issue, which ended up being hilariously easy to fix (hilarious in that you-laugh-but-kind-of-cry-at-the-same-time-because-it’s-so-pathetic-and-embarrassing way).
But at least at that lowest ever point in my sewing career I figured it could only get better from there. So I kept on keeping on. Slowly but surely I’m getting to know “Oh Brother” (my sarcastically pessimistic nickname for the sewing machine slash bane of my existence) and I’ve actually made some decent progress in the world of novice sewing. For example, I made this little fabric flag banner for the bean’s big one year birthday par-tay using small triangles that I cut out of various weekly fabrics.
I’m not going to say that it was easy. It was harder and more annoying than The Situation’s abs. In fact, I refer to the debacle that was me attempting to sew that fabric banner as “The Real Situation.”
It took me waaaaaay too long and I probably legitimately cried ten times (we’re not talking whiny fake crying, we’re talking actual frustrated hot tears that you swipe away before anyone looks at you like you’re crazy for sew-crying). Give me a sledgehammer or a paint brush and I have no fear. But give me a robot with a motorized needle and I will show you the definition of misery. It’s just not something I can even remotely pretend to be good at. Oh well, I’ll learn. Or I won’t and I’ll get another hobby. Haha.
As for exactly how long it took, I’d guess that cutting each of the flags out took me about forty minutes in front of the TV (I used a cardstock template and placed it over the prewashed – so it was preshrunk – fabric). Then I hemmed each of the three sides of the triangle with Oh Brother, which took me well over five hours.
Yes, you read that right. Let’s just say there were a lot of do-overs and seam ripping and more tension issues but in the end I was left with around a dozen perfect enough triangles that I wouldn’t die from embarrassment if a teenage Clara looked closely at her beloved birthday banner (I hope the banner becomes a tradition for every b-day until the bean is too old to indulge me, so I don’t just want it to look not-terrible I want it to last for a while and look halfway decent). So although you see about 27 flags on the table above, so many of them were just garbage when you got any closer, so I picked my favorite dozen and tossed the rest unceremoniously into my rag pile.
Then in a stroke of desperation (or genius, you decide) I actually broke out some iron on hem tape to complete the project in about another half hour (for a total of 5.5+ hours spent).
It helped to lay out the remaining not-terrible flags on the floor to play around with order until I liked what I saw. Then it was just about firing up the iron and using my trusty hem tape to attach them to the blue ribbon that I already had laying around.
I’m pretty sure it would have easily been 10+ hours if I sewed each flag to the blue ribbon that I used for the top. But heck, I’m starting slow. I’m just glad I was able to sew those flags and not chuck Oh Brother out the slider in the sunroom (the problem with ranches is that you don’t get to dramatically drop things that you hate out of second story windows so you have to improvise). And iron-on hem tape is washable so it’s all good. And look at my little helpers. How cute were they to hang out in the kitchen while I tested my not-cursing-or-throwing-anything limits? They were some much needed sweetness for a pretty darn annoying personal challenge.
The banner looks fun and festive and it’ll be washable and hopefully will last for at least a decade or two, and best of all it was free except for the expense of Oh Brother (thanks to already having purchased each of the fabrics on clearance throughout the year for Clara’s weekly pics and using iron-on hem tape and blue ribbon that I already had).
But I’m still hoping that the sewing machine purchase will end up being worth it as I attempt more projects like a very very very simplified quilt for the bean and other house-related things (a few throw pillows, maybe some curtains, etc). I’m definitely going to start slow.
So there it is. The truth. I’m no Martha Stewart. I’m terrible at sewing and it makes me curse, sob, and scream into my pillow. But who knows, this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship with that terrifying mechanical needle. Stranger things have happened…