Category Archives: MCS

The Handcrafted Wardrobe: On Mothering Daughters and Self-Worth

‘As a child, I never heard one woman say to me, “I love my body”. Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. No one woman has ever said, “I am so proud of my body.” So I make sure to say it to Mia, because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.’ ~Kate Winslet

I take this quote very differently from how I did the first time I read it.  I can’t say that I’m at a place where I’m comfortable walking around declaring myself a ravishing beauty, and I’m not sure that I would ever want to be.  But this much I know; I am now a mother of daughters.  They watch me and from watching me they are learning how to move through this world as women.  If I tell them they are beautiful while being harsh with myself, they will instinctively see beauty in their own children, but never in themselves.  If I say that I don’t like my smile or my waist or my hair or my thighs, that there are parts of me I am ashamed of, what will they think when someone innocently tells them how much they look like me?  I am proud of my body.  Against many obstacles, It has grown and nourished five unique and amazing people.  I don’t think I can ask better of it than that.

Long time readers of my blog may remember that in years past, I was virtually unseen.  I am 5′ 0″, maybe 20? 30 lbs? over weight at the moment.  I have thinning hair and more stretch marks than smooth spots.  I have crooked teeth and chronic dark circles under my eyes.  When I’m unwell all of my veins show through the skin on my arms and torso like some kind of freaky 3D diagram of the circulatory system.  I can be ghostly pale and often appear just plain haggard.  Growing up the message that I was given by society is that women like me do not deserve to be seen.  That we have to be altered before we are worthy.  Worthy of what exactly I don’t know.  Everything it seems.

I want to say that there is nothing wrong with me, but that would be an outright lie.  But the things that are “wrong’ with me are the makings of my own private struggles and manifestations of my humanity.  There is nothing about me that makes my image unfit for public consumption.

I knew that with this project I would be opening myself up to judgement.  And I have.  But I feel very blessed to be able to say that in over 10 years of blogging in this space I’ve only received one nasty comment.

I’ve spent pretty much my entire adult life trying to find a comfortable and healthy relationship with the shape of my body.  And it has been a challenge because over the last 17 years of motherhood, that shape has altered time and again.  I have my set backs, but mostly I accept and embrace what is.  In recent years I’ve been caught off guard in finding that I have a hard time seeing myself look sick.  I find it upsetting.  It makes me feel fragile and I find myself avoiding mirrors and cameras.  In part this project is a way of forcing myself to face myself.  I’ve found that I have to desensitize myself to my own image.  And a couple of years ago I started consciously doing just that. To try to be comfortable with sharing a picture even if my hair is a mess or I don’t like the look on my face or the way an outfit fits.  To get used to being me in the world, with all of my flaws and imperfections.  For me to accept who I am without fear or concern about what others will think of me.  Because that is what I want to teach my daughters, in all of their flawed, imperfect, deep, and eternal beauty.  That is the gift I want to give to them.  And I am not fit for this work of going against the world and myself and all I’ve been taught, but I plan to keep on trying all the same.






An Open Letter to Sufferers of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, POTS, Lyme Disease and Chronic Illness in General

Because I am sometimes contrary, in the very post after I stated that I rarely talk about chronic illness in this space, I’m now talking about just that.

I often get asked for advice about living and cooping with chronic illness.  In the most recent round of emails I felt like I was talking to more than just the person I was writing to, so I decided to share some of my thoughts here.

No matter how alone you feel, know that you are not actually alone.  That there are many people who know your pain.  Too many people.

Creative thinking is your best friend.  Think about all of the things that you love to do and the things that you need to do, the most important things, and find ways to make them easier.  Readers of my blog know that for me one of those things is knitting.  Supporting my elbows on a nursing pillow has helped to eliminate a lot of strain on my body.  Perhaps a special mat at the kitchen sink or stove would help to alleviate pressure on your joints?  Maybe you really do need that air conditioner or extra pillows to support yourself during sleep or just a really comfortable place to sit and rest.  Seemingly little things can make a big difference in quality of life for us.

Make your home and life accommodate you in as many ways as possible, not just in what you surround yourself with, but how you approach tasks.  For example being in the garden might be easier during certain hours.  For me that’s before the sun breaks the treeline or after it sinks below it or on cooler, overcast days.  Instead of bending or kneeling to work try sitting with all of your tools in reach, maybe on an old folded up blanket for a cushion.  Weed or plant as far as you can reach and then slide over to the next spot.  Find ways to keep doing what you love.

Nature is the great healer.  Seek solace in the great outdoors.  I say this full well knowing how complicated that statement is for those with Lyme.  A stunted half-life confined indoors with fear is often harder.

If your children are affected, forgive yourself for not knowing sooner, for not understanding what it would be like.  Guilt can not help them now, only love and commitment can.  Forgive your own parents for not having or seeking the answers.  In most cases, they just didn’t know.

A hot bath can take the edge off of many kinds of pain (just be careful not to pass out getting out of the tub!).

Diet makes a huge difference for myself and my family.  My husband could eat a brick and his body wouldn’t notice, while the rest of us have to turn away many healthy foods because we can’t handle them, never mind the junk!  It’s hard.  Very hard.  But it keeps us going.

Try to find ways to manage your pain.  You won’t always be able to tough it out.  Hurting people tend to be angry people and angry people tend alienate the ones they love.

Sometimes all you can do is hope that tomorrow is a better day.  That’s ok.  It might be and it might not be, but never lose hope.  Never lose hope in the future.  Never stop trying to find ways to improve your quality of life, but (!) do not wait until that miraculous “someday” when things are “better” to start living your life.  This is the one body you get.  The one life you get.  Use them both to their fullest.

Try to take the time to find beauty in life and be grateful for something everyday.  Some days this will be hard.  Some days it will be impossible because you won’t be awake for long enough or lucid enough or able to tolerate your pain.  Keep trying.  The first day that you can is, in and of itself, something to be thankful for.

Resist the temptation to define yourself by your illness.  It is an aspect of your life, perhaps even a very large aspect, but it is not who you are.  Chronic illness takes so much from a person, do not let it take your identity as well.












Week in the Life, Friday

Friday 1

~Today Galen was a cow that needed milking in the morning and a queen in the afternoon.


~We were supposed to have friends over, but they had to cancel and we were kind of at a loss as to what to do with ourselves.

~Early in the morning a road crew started repaving a section of road about a block away.  We’re still sensitive enough to chemicals that this was scary and the children and I ran around the house closing and locking windows and digging out the air purifier.

~It was a dark, grey, blah sort of day, with everyone a bit cranky and antsy at being trapped inside.


~We cooked and ate, did some dishes and laundry (I’m forever doing laundry).  Eljiah broke a plate, Màiri fell in the toilet, Iain and Galen crashed into each other.  It was that kind of morning.  I rocked Màiri and sang to her.  The kids read a lot. I played the piano with little cars rolling over the keys an octave down, unclogged the adored laundry chute, and was called upon, yet again to explain why I don’t think our landlord would appreciate us keeping a horse in the shed.


~Around 1:30 the workmen packed up.  We went out.  The wind was blowing strongly in the opposite direction.  What a relief!  I weeded.  The little ones caught a grasshopper, the bigger ones played catch.

~storms started rolling in, canceling our tentative plans to cook supper over an open fire.

~It was decided that a change of scenery was most definitely needed.  When Steve came home we would head to town.

~Iain offered to get Màiri Rose ready to go out.  He tried to bribed her with a nickel to wear a dress, she held out to the tune of twenty-five cents, but looked adorable in her red gingham….and one of Elijah’s hats.

getting ready

(my hair is still wet in this picture.  why is my hair always wet in the pictures I post?)

~I decided to put on a dress and make-up (a couple of months ago I started wearing make-up occasionally for the first time in 12 years or so) and to pretend like I was going on a date with my husband, instead of the six of us being driven out of the house by roadwork and unfavorable weather.  It was very funny and somewhat sad that the lady at the fabric store that I now know quite well, didn’t recognize me.  “Oh my gosh, it’s you!  I just figured it out from your voice!”

~Also a little sad, the only nice dress that I could find in my closet is one that I bought when I was 16.

fabric store

~bobbins, a yard of something nice off the remnant table and the fabric to make Little Rosebud an autumn outfit, were all procured while the rest of the family returned library books up the street.

on the way

~we all took a little stop in at the used bookstore.  Both of these stores are just the kind I like; quiet, a little dim, somewhat cluttered, with so many interesting things to look at on over-flowing old wooden shelves.  They both stock the kinds of gems that you just won’t find anywhere else.


~a couple of select things that made their way home with us.  I was hoping to find the entire Anne of Green Gables set, the boys are reading them now and our library doesn’t carry them all, but only one volume was to be found.


~also “The New England Cook Book: The Latest and the Best Methods for Economy and Luxury at Home” , a reprint of the 1905 classic and “The Field and Forest Handy Book” both of which will be thoroughly enjoyed in this house.

~Steve was kind enough to sneak back and secretly purchase a vintage storybook with charming pictures (Jesse Wilcox Smith makes me so happy), that has now been tucked away for Christmas.

~ran into some friends on stood on the sidewalk, in a bit of rain, chatting

at dinner


~and then dinner out.  Such a treat!  We love this little Mexican restaurant.  It’s one of those rare and delightful places that uses fresh and local ingredients and offers big servings for a moderate price.  It’s one of Galen’s very favorite places and I was highly amused by watching him very carefully packing up his leftovers to take home.


~Mist covered the mountains on our way home.


Leggings and a Pinafore

this one side

A couple of weeks back Little Rosebud was in need of clothes, so I bought a bunch of used woolens on-line.  I asked all of my usual questions about what they had been washed in and everything seemed to check out.  Only then they came, and it turns out that they were made from re-purposed sweaters that absolutely reeked, and I do mean reeked, of perfume.

*insert big, deep, sigh here*

I’ve tried everything I can think of to no avail.  Which means I’m out $80 and my baby is still cold.  Which leaves me feeling rather disgruntled, not necessarily at the lady who sold me the clothes, I know people don’t tend to think of these things, but just at the way the world works in general.

this one eating

Necessity being the mother of invention and all that business, plus me being in a somewhat surly, it’s-just-easier-to-do-everything-myself kind of mood (said on-line purchase was meant to save me from feeling like I had to do it all.  so much for that), I pulled out an old sweater of mine that I had been contemplating cutting up for a bit now.  It’s fairly felted, so nice and thick.  Just the ticket.

Plus, I had been sick.  Just a little cold mind you.  But I have this weird quirk of wanting to sew when I’m coming off an illness.  Oh, but it absolutely must be something quick and easy, a one sitting type of sewing project.  Something that’s not the least bit fussy, for a bit of instant gratification to get me back on my feet.

this one flower

So, I cut up the sweater and whipped this set up, just on a whim.  Then I got a bit buttonish with it.  A certain husband of mine, who shall remain nameless, was heard to ask, “What’s with the clump of buttons?”  Shesh.  I mean it’s clearly a flower….right?  (right?!?)  To be fair, I hadn’t embroidered the stem yet when he asked…but still.  harumph.

kitchen one

I’m heading into the depths of Steve’s closet this weekend to see if I can drum up some more supplies.  I know somewhere in there he’s got stacks of sweaters that he never wears and I’m thinking it’s high time that I relieve him of that burden.  Old sweaters that don’t smell of mothballs or perfume are so hard to come by, don’t you think?  Ah, well.  You’ll be happy to know that if nothing else, the site of this little cutie pie in her new woolies put me in a much better mood.


Clean, Naturally…

This was one of my favorite Christmas gifts this year (and yes, the combination of birthday and holiday posts is going to take me right on through to February I suspect).  A friend of mine made gift packs of her home made cleaning products, along with a recipe book of sorts for various cleaners and a guide to getting out different sorts of stains.  Her husband works at a book bindery, so it was all done up very nicely.


I’ve been making my own cleaning products for many years now, though I will admit that the making of my own laundry detergent suddenly became a very low priority after moving into the Little House.  This was enough of a spark to get me back on track.  I think I like her laundry detergent recipe better then the one that I used way back when and now that I have it right at hand, I’m all set.  The ingredients are so much safer then those of any commercially available alternatives, it works just as well and costs a whole lot less.


I tend to make my cleaners in a haphazard manner.  I keep certain key elements on hand; baking soda, borax, white vinegar, a “natural” dish detergent and castile soap.  I use table salt from time to time and occasionally herbs or essential oils to scent or fortify my blends.  From there I mostly make things on an as needed basis.  If I’m cleaning the stove top I’m likely to dump on some baking soda, maybe add a squirt of soap, sprinkle a bit of water on top and get to scrubbing.  I’m finding that having her soft scrub on hand is a nice change of pace, it’s somehow more official and makes the job just a wee bit more pleasant.  I think I might go back to preparing things in advance as I have in the past.

Do you have a favorite natural cleaning product recipe??  Feel free to share it in the comments!  For me, I always keep on hand a spray bottle of 3 parts water, 1 part vinegar, with a squirt of dish soap and a few drops of tea tree oil.  It’s the perfect disinfecting all-purpose cleaner.  Happy (and healthy) cleaning!


Burning the midnight oil…

Another in a string of late nights, surrounded by boxes just beginning to be packed, trying to track down Christmas presents (and still debating where to have them sent), setting some time aside each night to knit away on Iain’s sweater, and then fill in the blank with whatever else needs to be done to get us through the following day/week/month. I have a feeling that there will be many more nights like this before all is said and done.

Tonight I’ll be working on the sewing project that I started last night and need finished for tomorrow. But today, today, is Fair Day. Every one’s looking forward to it. I’ve just set the crock pot with a stew since we’ll be gone all day….late veggies from the farm, some local grass fed beef, kombu, some beef broth I made earlier in the week, a bit of red wine. The house will smell so good when we get back and it will be such a relief not to have to worry about dinner. Now I’m working on filling up a bag with food to eat out….green crispies, toasted almonds, frozen blueberries, leftover chicken, a bit of squash, bananas with carob dip, and whatever else I can think of between now and the time we leave. It was really a lot easier to go places back when we could eat out!

I think this season is going to be a practice in moderation for me. I’m going to have a lot of letting go to do to ensure that Crazy Mommy doesn’t rear her ugly head. As it is, Steve’s had to talk me down a couple of times already (and I haven’t even mentioned that notion floating around in the back of my mind of making an entire quilt for Iain before his birthday).

I got called away from this post this morning, and now I’m coming back to it at the end of the day (or, well, technically, very early the next morning). The Fair was nice. It’s seemed somehow smaller and less impressive this year. I did a bit of holiday shopping, somewhat at Steve’s urging, as he’s all but convinced me that I really can’t make all of the children’s gifts this year (I’ll admit defeat in not making them all, but I’m still holding out on at least making some).

I got Galen a beautiful little wooden cutting board. I’m so excited to think about how much easier it will be for him to help me in the kitchen once we move into the next house! I got some lovely plant dyed wool for his birthday crown as well. And a duck! Oh, I couldn’t resist the life-sized stuffed duck. He’s still all about the domesticated fowl. Funny, funny boy. Sadly, I smuggled it home, only to discover that the repurposed sweater that it’s made out of still smells like perfume! Bah humbug. It’s on the porch at the moment. I left Steve (who is a very early riser), a note asking him to bring it in and hide it in the morning. Maybe if we keep up with the nightly airings it will be ok in time for Christmas??

Darn. And I thought I was doing so well.



Just back from looking at another house. Another long drive. Another wretched house, full of scented candles to boot, and I walked away feeling ill and discouraged. To get home we had to drive through one of the larger towns in our area. We don’t get out that way all that often (except for the express purpose of looking at houses, that is). I had this wild, mad urge to go shopping. To buy anything really. Anything that would be pleasant and make life prettier and nicer then it felt just then; anything that would feel home-like, warm and comforting. This town is home to my favorite yarn store, that lovely little Waldorf toy shop and the old fashioned office supply store where I was hoping to get some of our school supplies this year. I almost turned to Steve and told him to head to any one of these destinations. But I caught myself in time.

We spent a lot of money yesterday. A lot. There were lots of necessary things; food, a freezer for the half a cow we will be picking up soon, Iain’s glasses. We got some supplies for making Halloween costumes and a birthday gift for a little friend, and on a whim I picked up a couple of shirts for myself. I don’t feel badly for that at all. I very rarely buy any clothing for myself. I’ve been needing shirts for 9 months or so now. I was standing outside a store, baby sleeping on my back, waiting for Steve to come back from taking the boys to the bathroom. They were having a big sale and I was thinking how many of the things in there I liked. I had a now or never kind of feeling. Like there will never come a time when I manage a shopping trip with the sole purpose of buying clothing for me. I only made it about half way through the store. By the time everyone made it back I had a handful of shirts in my arm, in my best guess at a size that would fit. I handed them to Steve, asked him to pay, took over with the kids and we were on our way.

That was ok. That was self care and nourishing in it’s way. The feeling of today was different, it was the desire to escape, to distract myself. And that is not ok. The feeling is ok of course, but the acting on it is not.

A quick assessment of my life right now leaves me feeling alarmingly off keel. My home is full to bursting with stuff to be sorted, things to be finished, belongings in need of places to *be*. It feels scattered, frantic, desperate. I do not need to add to that at this point. I do not need to compound the chaos.

The funny thing is, we don’t even own a lot of stuff. But we also live in a house, in a place in between. A house that we are living in, but trying not to be. A house that we are in a frequently thwarted process of leaving. It’s an uncomfortable sort of place to be in. Add to that the practical facts of life for us these last several years…the lack of running water, the limited electricity, the single broken dresser for a family of 6, the complete and utter lack of cabinets or closets or anywhere designed to put anything, even the unfinished walls feel cluttered and unkempt and well, it’s over-whelming. When we were in a position of working to *improve* things, it was bearable. Things were always getting better, little, by slow and painful little, but there was a goal and there was progress to be seen. But now…since making the conscious decision to stop putting time and energy into the house, there is no forward momentum, there is no movement and the feeling in the house is stagnant. There is just this pitiful, difficult, messy existence.

I don’t ever want my home to feel like that. Ever. No matter what else is happening in life. My feelings of desperation in the car today were a panicked need for some sort of shift in my reality. I had a choice to make then and I have a choice to make now. I didn’t go shopping and try to fill the void with treats and distractions to smooth over my anxiety. I came home and took some time to regain my composure. And now I’m going to get up and start addressing one small area, one small project at a time. I know there are limits to what I can do, but I can try. And I feel like the trying right now is almost more important then the outcome. Just the intention of wanting to improve our quality life, closely followed by positive action, is bound to snowball and settle the uneasy feeling inside of me. And from there the feeling will spread to the rest of the family. And I feel certain that life will be just a little bit better for it.


Thinking about dyeing

~A day’s worth of dyeing. The yarns on the end are from left to right: madder root, turmeric and beets~

All the pictures in this post are from 2005 and 2006. That was before I had a blog and before I was in the habit of taking pictures of my crafts. They are all of relatively poor quality, so sorry about that. I went through a phase back then of doing A LOT of dyeing. These are just some of the things I managed to find pictures of. There are so many more that aren’t pictured.

~Play silks for wrapping Christmas gifts in~

In the years that these were taken, we were still really sick. I was past the crisis stage by then, up and about, but still ill much of the time and exhausted all of the time. Exposure to a trigger still sent me to bed with my oxygen tank and we were very limited in what we could and could not handle, but I was well enough to go about most of the normal work of life, a fair bit of the time.

~The Boys tie-dyed these as a project for Iain’s 6th birthday~

It was during this time that we found out we were expecting Galen, which was, admittedly a bit of a surprise. We had wanted more children, but I had been so ill and we still didn’t have safe housing. I think I met that pregnancy with equal parts joy and over-whelming fear. It was a really scary and dark time for me and I became deeply depressed. No one could tell me if he was going to be alright or not. There were many times when I would be so sick that I would start to feel myself loose consciousness. Steve would get my oxygen mask on me and things would improve. But I knew that if I was experiencing the effects of oxygen deprivation then he had been experiencing it for longer. Every day brought a new risk to him.

~So many different dyes here! I know that the bright yellow is turmeric and the main color on the sweater is madder root. As for the other colors, I think there is some beet in there, some coriander, maybe some coffee.~

We are so lucky and have been so, so blessed with his general good health. He has residual problems with allergies and yeast, but beyond that no other permanent damage seems to have been done. The joy of his existence, of his wellness, brought me through some really difficult times.

I’m not really sure why I’m talking about all of this right now. Seems like a rather odd lead in to a post about dyeing yarn, doesn’t it? But I assure you, they are connected.

~A close-up. I remember being so pleased with this yarn as I was painting it. Then I tried to steam it and all the colors blended and mixed and lost a lot of their vibrancy. That little soaker is so tiny! I think I was around 24 weeks pregnant when I knitted it and I remember thinking that the baby would have to be born right then for it to fit! But it fit him perfectly for the first couple of weeks, when nothing else did. Màiri on the other hand was too big for it on the day she was born!~

Aside from the obvious, one of the major problems that we were having during that time was finding safe clothing for the children. I had boxes and boxes full of hand-me-downs that I couldn’t go near and they couldn’t possibly wear. Even our own things that should have been passed from child to child were useless. We had all started reacting to the detergent that we had used years before (Mrs. Myers in case you are wondering). So, here I was, with two kids that only had a couple of things to wear and one on the way with nothing at all.

~A couple of baby things; both natural and dyed with black walnut hulls. I always found it interesting how different fibers picked up the colors differently. Those wool booties are from the same dye pot as all the brown cotton above.~

So, hand-me-downs were out, as were thrift stores. Regular new clothing presented a problem as well; needing to be soaked for several days and then washed many times over before it could be worn (and making me sick all the while and leaving me feeling ill at ease about what I might be exposing my little ones to). Organics were great and what I wanted to be dressing them in anyway, but the cost was prohibitive and the selection extremely slim for the older children. I think there are more options these days, though it’s still expensive and limited, but back then it was even worse.

~Toddler sweater knitted from yarns dyed with fustic (the rust color) and madder root (the red)~

What I did have access to were several co-ops that were around at the time (they’re no anymore, so don’t bother asking) that did buys for organic fabric and yarn. I crunched some numbers and figured out that I could make most things for about a quarter of what I could buy them for. And so I took on the task of making most of Iain and Elijah’s clothes and all of Galen’s. I had all but stopped sleeping anyway, out of fear and worry, so I stayed up every night, dyeing and knitting and sewing until I was so exhausted that I would drift off, usually with knitting needles still in hand.

~My Dad holding Sweet Baby Galen, who is wearing a pair of shorties, knitted with yarn that had been tie-dyed using chlorophyll~

I was really excited to find some gorgeous color-grown materials and I worked with then extensively for a while. There got to be a point when I started getting really bored with always working in shades of cream, brown and green. I remember Iain coming to me one day (I think I had just given him a new shirt) and sighing wistfully saying, “Can’t we ever have anything blue? I mean I like green and cream and brown, but…” and then he sighed again.

~Longies from the same yarn, as you can see, I also did some solid to use for trim.~

I started experimenting with natural dyes, the irony being that most natural dyes produce lovely shades of colors like green and brown.

I didn’t want to risk the toxicity of traditional mordants, so I resorted to vinegar and salt, depending on the dye I was using.

I did a lot of experimenting and more often then not, I had no idea what kind of color I was going to end up with. Which is probably how Galen ended up with such a wide selection of pink things! I never did manage to create a good blue, though I did use indigo to dye the snowsuit I made him and turned a pretty pale grey/bluish-green.

~Cotton jacket dyed with madder root~

The sad thing about dyeing this way is that it simple doesn’t last. The madder and the fustic actually held up pretty well. The indigo developed strange rust like stains while in storage. Everything else just faded until it just ended up looking drab and dirty (even when it wasn’t).

~Galen on his first Halloween wearing a black walnut hull dyed bunny suit. The underside of the ears are madder root pink like the jacket above.~

I’ve been really itching to do some more dyeing again. This week I experimented a bit with Kool-Aid dyeing, now that I’m well enough to do so. I’ll share some of those projects with you here tomorrow. It was enjoyable, but by the end I wasn’t feeling real great. I don’t think I’ll attempt it again without running the air purifier near by. I’m also not sure how I’ll be with knitting it, but I thought it was worth a try!