WHY I LOVE VALENTINE'S DAY SO DEARLY

 
mother and child by samantha spigos
pink and red playsilks valentines gift for baby by samantha spigos

You know how certain things need defending? Like ice cubes in a glass of milk, Shania Twain, and socks with sandals? For the record, I do and will uphold all of the above. It’s due time to stand in defense of lowly, overlooked Valentine’s Day. It was in middle school that I started wearing pink pants and decorating homemade valentines for friends to mark the occasion, but really it was childhood that fortified my deep love of the day. My mom was working by the time I can remember the holiday, leaving well before any of us were awake. Being a household of seven, a lot of things get lost in translation, such as getting picked up from school (only once or twice did this happen, but I did have to lift my feet so the janitor could vacuum around me, and you don’t forget a thing like that), having lunches packed (we did the packing; I’m sorry, dad, for the time I packed you nothing but a piece of cake), etc.

For the things that occasionally got overlooked (and understandably, I might add), it seems to me that my mom never let Valentine’s Day go uncelebrated. One year when I went downstairs, long after she had gone to work, there they were: boxes of sugary, name brand cereal. One for each sibling, with a note featuring her iconic lipstick kiss next to a heart with the word MAMA. Another year there was a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a treasure to be savored and hidden from all of my fiendish siblings. And every year of elementary school, when kids could still design and bring in their own valentine boxes, she would help me craft something magnificent. No straightforward boxes for the Jacksons. In first grade she made me a butterfly out of a barrel shaped plastic pretzel tub and cardboard wings. Fourth grade? A life-sized vacuum. I pushed it the whole way to my grandma’s house on the walk home from school, and with pride. In fifth grade we made a large house, complete with a front door and a bedroom window featuring the school photo of your’s truly. I come by my love of Valentine’s Day naturally.

And then there’s the pink and red color story. Warm, loving, inviting colors to punctuate a wet, drizzly, cold month. Right in the middle of February we are offered a chance to feel embraced, if by the colors alone. Mark and I love to host a Valentine’s supper for friends or family, because if there’s one thing I know for sure, it is that a day of love needn’t be relegated to romantic love. Love is for everyone, and so is February 14th. Unclear on what to do this year, and suspecting that it might be a normal hamburger and rice sort of evening (we have a one year old, after all), I have taken to celebrating in little ways. Red and pink clothes, handwritten notes and homemade valentines, a cup of rosy black tea each afternoon, a little extra baking, you get it.

Why not write a note to your love? Or bake some cookies with your kids? Or go for a walk and tell the ground you love it, tell the sky you love it, tell your lungs and legs you love them? For the diehards out there who cannot and will not give it a chance, I surely have not convinced you. But if perhaps you love a reason to make an otherwise ordinary day a little extra, I think Valentine’s is for you.

P.S. Pictured above are the two playsilks I picked out from Ginny’s shop to give Rosemary, despite her not being old enough to remember. In the future she’s getting cereal, but only the good stuff.


—S

THIS WEEK IN FLOWERS

 
cotton pods flower vase windowsill image by samantha spigos
dried cotton pods image by samantha spigos

“On this late January afternoon,

the sky is oyster gray, and not a breath of air stirs the bare branches.

I climb partway up a steep hill and sit

to catch my breath and retie my shoes.”

— Julie Zickefoose, The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds

the bluebird effect by julie zickafoose image by samantha spigos

Extinction, to me, is powerlessness, inexorability, rage, and despair. Extinction is the buzzing saw that drowns out even the double rap of a powerful woodpecker. Suddenly, I have to get some air, and I turn out the lights, put on my boots and coat, and walk deep into our woods. On this late January afternoon, the sky is oyster gray, and not a breath of air stirs the bare branches. I climb partway up a steep hill and sit to catch my breath and retie my shoes.”


Julie Zickefoose, The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds


+ Creating a bird-friendly yard.
+ The Great Backyard Bird Count is February 15-18, 2019! Any and all can participate.
+ Cheerup, cheerily, cheerily, and other bird mnemonics.
+ Julie Zickefoose’s (a fellow Ohioan) upcoming talks.

last time in This Week In Flowers: Mother Teresa


—S

A BUNNY OF HER OWN

 
cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

Rosemary turned one on the twenty-first of January. In truth, I love this age the most. I love that she is no longer a tiny newborn, no longer a floppy, squealing six-month old, no longer a freshly crawling nine-month old. The goal of raising children and living our own lives is to keep staying alive, no? Every stage was our favorite stage (well, except the first spell of teething). I feel no sadness that the days have been slow but the year flew by. Mark and I rejoice in our one-year old girl, thanking God for her health and vibrancy and undeniable charm; thanking God she is alive and thriving! Perhaps in twenty years I will lament how quickly it all passed, but for now I feel content to spend each day with our one-year old, our Bubinga, our bunny. Speaking of, I sewed Rosemary a birthday bunny.

handsewn bunny first birthday gift by samantha spigos
handsewn wool cotton bunny first birthday by samantha spigos
first birthday gift handsewn cotton wool bunny by samantha spigos
cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

Long before Rosemary was Rosemary, but rather a floating water baby we referred to as Shim, I purchased the materials to make a stuffed bunny. I really, really love a good stuffed toy. It’s the history of mohair bears, the companionship of fuzzy bedtime friends, and the unexpected reasons children love the ones they do that spurred my desire to sew my own. It’s no secret here that I am deeply devoted to natural fibers, in jest referring to myself as a Wool Evangelist. I know of a handful of special toy makers out there producing heirloom-quality stuffed toys made exclusively of natural fibers (cotton and wool, mostly). I want to buy all of them, but at present can not exactly afford any of them. For Christmas Rosemary received a donkey and a hedgehog from her gurny, and a pocket doll from her grandma — each one made of cotton, wool, and alpaca fibers. Talk about a lucky lady! (Or is it me who really loves them? As Mark’s mom once joked during a gas station pitstop, “You want her to have the beautiful toys, but she’s going to want the Beanie Boos from the gas station.”) Having held onto the slubby cotton fleece and peach wool felt for more than a year, I contemplated not going forward with sewing her any animal at all. Sure, I’d invested in the materials, but could anything I make really compare to the toys she had just been gifted for Christmas?

It turns out that yes, it can.

cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos
wool cotton handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

“Real isn't how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.

“It's a thing that happens to you.

When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with,

but REALLY loves you,

then you become Real.

The Velveteen Rabbit

cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos
cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos
cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

It took roughly a week to sew, and this is from someone who has only sewn three garments total. Much of that week was spent waiting for the wool stuffing to arrive and hand stitching the limbs and head to the body. The day before her birthday I haphazardly freestyle embroidered her initials into the rear, because should not all handmade objects come with a love letter? This was the most enjoyable project I’ve made in a year or more. Something about knowing my child would hold it, possibly even love it, and maybe keep it close by for a very long time truly fueled me with an honest ambition I do not generally feel while making. If you have never made a loved one a stuffed toy but think you might like to, please consider this the gentle nudging you need. Unsurprisingly, I want to knit and sew stuffed toys forever now.

Happy birthday to our Rosemary Isidora, a little funny bunny of a one-year old.

cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

For the inquisitive . . .

+ Materials used*:
Organic cotton fleece (1 yd)
Wool felt in color Peach 69 (1 mm square)
Cotton sewing thread in color 1140
Sashiko embroidery thread in color Orchid Pink
+ Soft Woolen Bunny free pattern.
+ A sunshine dress to bring cheer (from the shop of an amazing heritage toymaker).

*This material list provided enough fabric and thread that I can sew two bunnies.


Or, a few heirloom-quality bunnies ready to be gifted . . .

I’ve compiled the very best stuffed rabbits I know of. They are not inexpensive. If it’s within your means to provide a gift like this to someone you love, I would gently encourage you to trust that your gift will be cherished. Like adults, children truly do have the capacity to appreciate and respect high-quality objects.

+ Baby’s first bunny. This bunny went everywhere Rosemary went for months.
+ A true velveteen rabbit, thread whiskers and all.
+ German-made bunny that is sure to be passed down.
+ Spectacular rabbits to grow through childhood with (from the maker of the sunshine dress).


—S

REFLECTIONS ON A YEAR OF MAKING

 

A colossal year. January came in quietly and exited to the sound of newborn cries and, if there can be a sound attributed to new parent delirium . . . that sound, too. On this, the last day of 2018, we are flooded with gratitude / surprise (that we survived) / calmness for a year that was hardly easy, but so deeply important. It was the year our lives changed forever, whereby now we wear the indelible mark of parenthood. Being lost for words on the subject, we have thusly decided to share the tangible markers of our year: the things we made with our hands. May this final post of the calendar year offer a dash of encouragement, as well. And, let us just say: If you’re reading this, you made it to see another year. Whatever storms you weathered, rainbows you rested under, or multitudes of circumstances you were brave enough to see through, here you are. Well done! Truly. Here’s to another.


There was beer brewed.

Nine of them, to be exact. It was a year about harping on familiar styles, while tweaking the ingredients so that the same beer was never brewed twice. There were four pale ales—each of which were dry-hopped with a novel combination of hop varieties; two saisons—one brewed with dandelions, and the other with cranberries; and two farmhouse ales—one a “base beer” for future experimentation, manifest in a second iteration featuring rhubarb from our neighbor’s garden. And then there was the proverbial black sheep, a lager made with hops from the experimental hop yard at work, which (tragically) became my first batch to be dumped after becoming contaminated with wild yeast. All in all, roughly 50 gallons of beer made its way out of the fermenter and into our bellies over the course of the year—not bad at all.

rhubarb farmhouse ale homebrewing beer by samantha spigos
homebrewing pale ale beer by samantha spigos
pale ale homebrewing by samantha spigos
homebrewing beer farmhouse ale by samantha spigos
homebrewing cranberry saison by samantha spigos

There were garments and woolens made and mended.

This was the year knitting took on real importance. I knitted fewer things, but each one served a purpose and filled a gap. At the beginning of 2018 I vowed to not buy any new yarn, instead focusing on making do with what I had. (Which, by the way, was in no way a measly stash. My coffers are blessed with wool.) This was in an effort to curb my own consumerism and truly contribute to my family’s needs in a cost effective way. I ended up purchasing three skeins of wool to make two hats with, and I bartered for a reduced cost of the yarn for Rosemary’s Christmas stocking. You can peek the whole of my knitting pursuits over on Ravelry. Upon realizing Mark and I were wearing through all of our best (and expensive!) socks, I took up darning. For a week in the summer I did nothing but darn socks in my spare time, managing to teach my sister along the way. One summer afternoon, we darned socks at the library for a few hours. A real small town, simple pleasure sort of day if there ever was one. Our pile of to-be-darned socks continues to grow, but I know I will get to them, slowly. Mending and making do. Finally, I sewed two dresses for my daughter: Easter and Christmas. This is a tradition I hope to continue throughout her young life.

+ Learn how to darn a sock — it’s easy!
+ A big book devoted to mending.

knitting fringe field bag camel wool by samantha spigos
wool diaper cover soaker yarn scraps by samantha spigos
wool baby blanket knitting handmade by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe peppermint geranium dress by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe knitting hand knits by samantha spigos

There were fermentation experiments, vegetables grown, and sourdough loaves.

Mark’s farm job meant our kitchen table was always graced with tomatoes in the summer. We canned dozens and dozens of pounds of tomatoes, which we are delighting in now. One day he came home with thirty pounds of carrots. It seemed… a lot of carrots. We promptly put the lot of them into our three gallon crock under brine. Fermented carrots were easily my favorite experiment this year, though it turns out thirty pounds was not enough! To borrow one of my dad’s favorite turns of phrase, by autumn’s end they were “all et up.” Together with my sister and her kids, we managed to ferment around fifty pounds of cabbage into sauerkraut — just in time for New Year’s day. The lacto-fermentation projects were great, but 2018 was the year of sourdough. Baking weekly loaves of bread to slice and to share was the best practice I took up this year. Grounding, familiar, good.

+ Fermenting crocks to get you thinking of putting food by next season.
+ Sourdough wisdom shared here.

sourdough country aurora bread loaves by samantha spigos
tomatoes organic sourdough bread loaves by samantha spigos
fermented carrots fermentation by samantha spigos
buttered bread tomato sandwich by samantha spigos
rye challah loaf baking bread handmade by samantha spigos

There was a laundry line built.

I wrote about laundry and air drying on the line back in July, but it bears repeating. We love our basic pulley line, and if you fancy yourself interested in line drying, that summer post is merely one among many that can help get you started. I have not taken the plunge into winter air drying outdoors. I tried it once and the clothes never did dry, but all of our Amish neighbors do it, so there must be a way! (If anyone has helpful information to share, please do!)

clothesline laundry air drying by samantha spigos

And that’s sort of, we suppose, a wrap! Our hats off to you, 2018.


—M+S (and Rosemary, underfoot during the writing of this post)