Thursday, December 26, 2013

The crib is not empty! (Merry Christmas!)

I have to admit that last night around 9 pm, I was really not feeling the Christmas joy.  Of all of the many Amazon orders I placed back in early December, almost all of them arrived much earlier than expected.  All, of course, except for one.  And that one included the baby doll I had ordered to fit in the crib that Justin built for Anna.  (Side note, it also included the envelopes to our Christmas cards, so for those of you on the list, don't be surprised that I'm stretching my normal Christmas card timeline (aligned both intentionally and due to the craziness of things with the 12 day season of Christmas) a bit further than usual).

The image of Anna turning the corner into the living room and seeing her new baby set up in her new crib has been the excitement that has pushed me through a draining week of preparations (having finally beat the super cold that nagged me for most of December, I was left to clean the entire house, bake, decorate, wrap, and finish several sewing projects in the last few days).  So when I realized that Amazon was definitely not going to meet their "by 8 pm on December 24th" delivery estimate, I tearfully declared Christmas to be ruined -  (sleep deprivation makes me both overly emotional and just a bit prone to exaggeration) - because Anna's new beautiful crib would be empty on Christmas morning.

I had a brief pity party, then went up and got ready for Mass, and very shortly after that was singing Joy to the World with the rest of the congregation - heart truly filled with joy for having realized that the wonder of Christmas is that the crib is not empty.  Jesus is there in the creche - and in the tabernacle and in our hearts - no matter the circumstances or whether or not things have gone according to plan.  In fact, He's all the more there for us when things do not go according to our plan; I doubt a stable would have been the perfect location if you asked Mary or Joseph.  In our imperfections, and when the rest of the world leaves us feeling disappointed and empty, we can go filled with awe to see the baby who, in His perfection, has come to save the world.

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and may your hearts be filled with joy and love as you ponder that baby in the crib!!

I will note that despite the MIA status of our package, our Christmas was most definitely not ruined.  It took Anna only a few seconds to oust the stuffed toy I had placed in the crib and make herself comfortable.  She climbed out to open a gift, only to climb back in and read the book she had just unwrapped.  We enjoyed watching her enjoy the magic of Christmas morning.  She's old enough to understand the concept of opening presents, but not so old that she rushes the process.  In fact, I think there's still a package or two still wrapped under the tree.  She'll get to them eventually - probably about the same time that the missing box finally arrives with her new baby!

In one other note, the incredibly generous/thoughtful Justin Claus (who is also a talented carpenter, see above!) brought me a new camera!!  I'm hopeful that I can actually include pictures in upcoming posts without a "sorry I can't take good pictures" qualifier.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Wisdom of Waiting

Hi, friends!  So, first a brief disclaimer about the ridiculous fact that in the last 25 days, I've posted exactly one post (and a pre-written one at that!).  Apparently having the cold that never ends yet also not being satisfied with anything NOT homemade for Christmas (gifts for Anna, gifts for others, new Christmas stockings, Anna's Christmas dress, Christmas cards, etc) is a recipe for getting a bit behind on other things.  Especially when your toddler chooses the same 2 week period to learn how to climb up on 90% of the furniture in the house.

From the sounds of it, you probably think we're all-Christmas, all-the-time over here, but although there's plenty of red and green thread flying through my machine, we have yet to get our tree or decorate...or even listen to Christmas music.

I've written about Advent before.  Incidentally, two years ago I specifically mentioned that I would not advocate for a December void of Christmas music, and now this year I'm skipping ahead on Spotify when Joy to the World starts to play.  This isn't a post to tell you that you're wrong if you're belting out Joy to the World, or to convince you to hold your Glorias until Christmas Day.  It's just a reflection on what I've learned this year by doing just that.

Encouraged by Haley's post and others I've read (as well as dear friends who observe Advent very intentionally), I decided to really foster the anticipation this Advent.

There aren't a ton of Advent songs, but I have found such wisdom in listening to them over and over again.  They're so rich, and I never heard all of the beautiful theology by singing them once through on each of the Sundays of Advent.

I expected by this time in December that I would be really excited for Christmas to come.  I am, of course, but what I have found is that it is significantly overshadowed for my desire for Jesus to come.  I'm looking forward to seeing my sweet little girl in red footie pajamas find the presents under the tree, but it doesn't compare to the deep longing for the love of Christ to sweep over our world and our homes and our hearts.

In the past few weeks, it seems like we've found out about a lot of friends who are facing struggles - sickness, loss, the effects of living in a fallen world.  Seeing people I love hurting makes my heart heavy, and I yearn for all of the pain and suffering to be wiped away.  I've been frustrated by my own struggles to be the person I'm called to be, scared of what the future brings in a year of transitions.  And so I sing along (on repeat):

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the world thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to they glorious throne.

What's the lesson in all of this?  There's wisdom in waiting, and in discipline.  I don't think I would have experienced such a deep desire for Christ's love, for his forgiveness, and his saving power if I had skipped over O Come, O Come Emmanuael for Joy to the World for the last few weeks.  And when I DO sing Joy to the World (for the first of many times) on Tuesday night, there's going to be far more joy than I could have mustered back on December 1.

The constant earlier and earlier creep of Christmas celebrations is the perfect illustration of a world that wants instant gratification.  No one waits for anything anymore.  If something is good, the logic goes, we should have it all the time.  Take one look at our over-sexed culture for a reminder of that.  But, by definition, something special can't be special if we have it all the time.  It's impossible to sustain the excitement of Christmas morning for two months, and hearing Christmas music in the store while you're shopping for your Halloween Party (true story) isn't exciting, it's just annoying.

Just like the Church's teaching on sex and marriage, I'm sure people could hear about the discipline of Advent and think that Catholics aren't supposed to have any fun.  When the world hears "wait," it is misinterpreted as "no."  But what "wait" really means is - there is something so incredibly awesome coming; don't let it get watered down.  And get yourself ready!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

25 facts (a guest post from my younger self)

Well, well, well, remember when I used to write on my blog??  Our Thanksgiving travels were almost a week long (several of those days - refreshingly - without internet), and I'm knee deep in trying to get back into routine, get out our Advent wreath, finish my Christmas shopping, etc, etc.  Somehow I've convinced myself that if I work really hard and get everything done now, I'll be able to relax and have a peaceful, quiet remaining few weeks of Advent in which I really focus on getting my heart ready for Baby Jesus (instead of gifts ready for Christmas).  I'm not sure it was my brightest idea, but it has motivated me to almost finish shopping (poor UPS guy next week!).  Amid all that is going on, I haven't had a chance to write a blog post, so I'll publish this one, which has been sitting in my blog drafts folder for a few months now...

I happened upon this on Facebook the other day, written by me in 2009.  At that time, I was living at home in Harrisburg and working for Deloitte Consulting.  Justin and I weren't yet engaged.  You may or may not find this as interesting as I did to revisit now.

So, it's all the rage (or not the rage, according to Time) to post 25 random facts about yourself. Secretly, I've enjoyed reading the lists people have written, and I even intended to write my own prior to being tagged. I was now tagged at least 5 times, and I have been sick with mono for at least 5 days that should be reason enough for 25 facts. So, without further ado:

1) I'll start with my standard Deloitte fun fact: I didn't ever fly until I started working for Deloitte. I got acquainted with airports fast with 11 flights in 3 weeks.

This was always really impressive to my jet-setting colleagues.

2) Now that I'm not afraid to fly, I have plans to visit all four corners of the US this year. I was already in Arizona, and have tickets to fly to Florida this March. I'm hoping to go to Washington in May, and a wedding in New England this summer.

Never made it to Washington.

3) My worst injury ever was a broken arm from a game of musical placemats (the family didn't have enough chairs for the entire birthday party; I slid in arm first, and another (bigger) girl slid in seat first).

Thankfully, still haven't topped that.

4) I didn't get my drivers license until after I graduated from high school. 

I rarely remember this anymore, but MAN that was a huge deal then.  Now that Anna's here, I'm feeling my 18 was a little young to get a license (just like Justin says she won't date until 30!)

5) My only real regret in life is that I quit track after only a week in junior high.

I just thought about this the other day, actually.  Still my #1 regret (and I don't have a concrete #2 on the list).

6) My favorite song of all time is "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" by Billy Joel. 


7) My "bucket list" includes making a quilt (check), buying and restoring an old house, standing on the Four Corners, seeing Mt. Rushmore, learning ballroom dancing, and snorkeling in the tropics. Also, most importantly, making a difference in someone's life.

Check on the buying and restoring the house :)  I'm getting closer to convincing Justin that ballroom dancing lessons are a good idea.

8) The most infamous family story regarding my childhood is from the time our new paint in the basement set off the fire alarm in the middle of the night. I thought back to my recent school lessons on fire safety and literally "stopped, dropped, and rolled" down the hallway. (Run a few steps, stop, drop, roll, stand up, run a few steps, stop, ... repeat). All the while, my then two-year-old brother stood on the foot of his bed yelling "Save me! Save me!" New paint is dangerous stuff.

I thought of this every time we painted here.  No repeat performances have been logged to date.

9) I tend to find something I like and run with it. I applied to only one college, one internship, and one job. Thankfully I was accepted to all three.

And I'm married to the first guy I kissed.  This theme does not hold true for buying houses - we lost bids on two before we ended up here.

10) If at all possible, wherever I live, I would like to have a piano, a sewing machine, and an aquarium.

I'm at 1 1/2.  (The goldfish is in a bowl).

11) Although I make jokes about it all the time, I secretly love my 1990 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight. I'm going to be sad when it dies and I have to buy a more age-appropriate vehicle.

Now that I have my Honda I do not miss the Eighty-Eight.

12) Many people from high school don't recognize me, despite the fact that graduation was less than 5 years ago. Sometimes this makes me proud (I was a really, really nerdy highschooler) but sometimes it makes me sad.

I'm much more comfortable in my skin now, so I feel and look different, and that's OK by me.

13) Hearing a child's laugh (even if it's just on TV) will completely make my day.

Anna.  Everyday.

14) I think that Dress for Success is one of the coolest non-profits out there, and I think that my dream job is somehow embodied in what they do.

I learned that working on the front-lines in a non-profit was not as dreamy as I thought.  New dream job = non-profit consultant.  (I liked the consulting work and the non-profit mission).  I've done a bit of this as a volunteer in the last few months, and it's been great.

15) My other dream job is to be a stay-at-home mom. But not yet.

Check.  (Although not without its own challenges)

16) I firmly believe that every single human being was put on this earth for a reason, and that they have something important to offer. I find it really sad when people don't recognize this in themselves or in others.

Still makes me sad.

17) I am fascinated by languages, and wish that I spoke more than simply English.

I speak Baby now.  Does that count?

18) Although I can't speak any other languages per se, I learned to play the piano before I went to kindergarten, and in that sense reading music is as natural as reading words.

True dat.  Although I'm getting rusty!  (See #10)

19) After the most stressful and tiring days at work, I get out my coloring book and crayons. 

I can't wait until Anna is past the tasting crayons stage!

20) I'm incredibly blessed to have my mom's cooking everyday, but ironically there are a few things from Bucknell Dining Services that I miss.

Either would be nice these days :)

21) Sometimes I think I am better suited for the 1950s. Except that I prefer Mass in English.

If anyone comes across a time machine, let me know.

22) I love to spend a sunny day outside, get tired and dirty, then take a shower and get dressed up to go out for dinner. This is one of the few reasons I enjoy the beach.


23) I love to hear stories about how couples met. For the record, I came back from class freshman year to find Justin sitting on my beanbag in my dorm room. He was studying Chemical Engineering with my roommate. 

The comments section is over if you want to tell me your stories...

24) The only subject I truly disliked in school was Astronomy.

When I asked my mom in high school how I would ever use that subject, she said perhaps on a future  romantic date I would want to be able to point out the constellations.  Justin knows enough Astronomy to get us by.  I still don't really care.

25) I'm the first college graduate in my family who does not have a degree from Penn State. (My grandfather earned his doctorate from PSU and was a professor there, and both my parents and their collective 7 siblings are graduates)

My brother graduated from Johns Hopkins, but now he's at Penn State Hershey for Medical school.  I'm still the odd-ball!

It was really fun for me to revisit these facts.  It's cliche', I'm sure, to comment on how I feel I've grown in the last 4 years, although at the core the most important things to me are still the same!  Finding this list was another reminder of why I like to blog - having the record of thoughts and feelings down the line is so worthwhile :)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What I Wore Sunday, and why it matters

What I Wore Sunday linkup

There's a popular link-up in the Catholic blog world called "What I Wore Sunday."  I participated once before, when I showed the Easter dresses that I made for Anna and myself this year.  

I've been going back and forth about whether or not I wanted to participate today, mostly because (despite having recently shown my two favorite day-to-day outfits), this is definitely not a fashion blog (nor am I necessarily even fashionable!)  Of course, this raises the question - what kind of blog IS this?  It of course started as a home-improvement blog, growing generally to a home-blog (and home-maker blog), and now embracing its title in the fullest sense - finding former glory.  And in that way, yes, what I wore Sunday does fit.  Allow me to explain.

I'm of the opinion that there's a lot of things that used to be better.  Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of things - advancements in medicine and technology come to mind - that have seen remarkable improvements (and continue to do so).  But there are lots of other things where something good has been tossed aside in the pursuit of progress - sometimes intentionally ignored, sometimes slowly forgotten.  Just like the care of our house was neglected for many years and we had to work (long and hard) to restore its former beauty, our society and the average family lifestyle has lost some of its "former glory" and Justin and I trying to be very intentional about finding those good traditions, practices, and norms from former generations and making them a part of our family life.  We try to live out some of the Norman Rockwell nostalgia: family time, dinners together, simple joys.  

One of the best examples I can think of in terms of this "cultural" former glory is Sundays.  Our modern society barely blinks an eye as the week goes by - this is simply another of the 7 days in which we collectively run around with our collective heads cut off.  But think of the restorative peace and joy that came from a day set apart.  Think of a Sunday dinner that doesn't get cut short by running off to a meeting or practice.  Think of a lazy afternoon playing games together.  Think of a day that is noticeably different, one that indicates to each member of the family that there is indeed something special about Sunday.  And in being renewed in all the simple goodness in our lives, we can more clearly appreciate Him who is the source of this goodness and give thanks.

Since we've started being more intentional about Sundays, Justin and I have both felt a tangible peace in our house on Sundays.  We sit more, we talk more, we play with Anna more.  On a practical level, we generally don't do work, and so we have the time to enjoy simple joys.  It's one of the only times in the week that I get to sew in a fully-awake state (surprisingly, things turn out better at 1 pm than at 10 pm!)  I've been trying to figure out how to simultaneously not do work and yet provide a nice Sunday dinner - the crockpot has been my best solution, and it has been so nice to quickly put things together after church and then leisurely (and with limited dishes!) enjoy a warm meal together in the evening.

And, of course, the pinnacle of our Sunday is attending Mass, to come together as the body of Christ, to give praise and thanks, to hear His word.  And we receive Him in the Eucharist, the source and summit of our lives.  It is here that we can truly celebrate Sunday - a day of joy for Jesus' triumph.

And in recognition of the amazing gift we have been given - and continue to receive - we get dressed up.  I'm very much aware that focusing too much on outward appearances is definitely the wrong thing - we are to prepare our hearts.  But I think that our outward appearances indicate the importance of what we are doing, and this can in turn serve as a reminder for us.  As Anna grows, I think (hope!) that she will come to recognize that she wears her best dresses on Sunday because what she does on Sunday is the most important of the week.

And that brings me to my outfit from today.  We don't own a full-length mirror, so this is the first/best look I got at the whole outfit.  I bought the skirt at the thrift store last weekend and it was definitely one of those purchases that could go either way: stylish or totally frumpy!  Hopefully it went the stylish route ;)  (but someone please tell me nicely if it didn't!)

So, there you have it.  Finding the former glory of Sundays (and one neglected thrift-store skirt!)  Check out others in their Sunday best at Fine Linen and Purple, and tell me: how do you make Sundays special??

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

5 Favorites: Miscellaneous Happiness

Unlike my previous more "deep" 5 Favorites posts, linking up with Hallie today for a 5 Favorites as (I think) she designed it - simply a list of 5 things that I'm loving right now!


My newest mom uniform addition:

Remember my gray Old Navy tunic?  Well, it's a super favorite (I would wear it every day if I didn't have to wash it).  Justin and I were watching some recent family videos, and I was wearing it in  This hints at two facts: one, I wear it a lot; two, I apparently don't wear anything else that I'm willing to have memorialized on film.

So, I started the search for another equally comfortable yet somewhat pulled together dress.  This one gets bonus points because it's nursing friendly and it has POCKETS!  Definite mom-uniform perks.


I finally followed Rosie's advice and checked out Twice, which is an online consignment shop (buying/selling gently used clothes).  Here's a mini-5 favorites list about why I love it (and you will too):

a) They have the measurements for every item listed (so you can actually tell if it's going to fit)
b) Free returns (in case you misjudged, despite letter a)
c) Free shipping over $50 (and with free returns, it makes sense to try more stuff anyway!)
d) Designer brands (I'm starting to see the wisdom of having a few nice pieces rather than a closet full of not-well-made items)
e) Super reasonable prices (despite letter d, I still can't bring myself to pay even half price of designer prices - but now I don't have to!)

Bonus: if you shop (or sell) by using my link, we'll both get $10 in credit!  I'm thinking of several fashionista friends right now who will love it!!  (I'd have told you about it anyway, but the fact that referrals help to fund my mom-uniform expansion is icing on the cake.)


This brussels sprouts recipe.  Brussels sprouts used to be on my I-wouldn't-eat-it-to-save-my-life list (along with bananas and lima beans), but I've been coming around to them, and now that I found this recipe I want to eat them every day.  Make this for Thanksgiving, and you will be your family's hero.  Or just make it tomorrow because Thanksgiving is still over a week away, and you won't want to wait that long.

I made them tonight and meant to take a picture, but...well, there's better pictures on the original site anyway.  Go - look and start cooking!


It completely makes my day to see men buying flowers at the grocery store.  Today, I saw a guy with 2 dozen red roses.  It just makes me so happy to know that he is going to delight some lucky lady (because I know how delighted I am when Justin gives me flowers.  And no, hon, I swear this is not a ploy).  Today in addition to seeing the man-with-roses, I talked to an 80+ year old man (he told me a story about his childhood ("that was more than 80 years ago, you know!") after I helped him get the orange juice which he couldn't reach from the wheelchaired shopping cart).  He had a bright pink "to my wife - the love of my life" card in his basket too.  So, so sweet.

Handsome man, beautiful flowers (he arranged to have them waiting in the hotel on our 1st anniversary trip) (!)

I was looking online for some Christmas ideas for Anna and discovered Hape toys.  I've always loved classic, wooden toys, and theirs are SO so cute - I'm trying to resist buying her one of each!

I think (shhh, don't tell her) I'll get her this turtle, although the pound bench/xylophone is a close second.  I love that both of those are essentially 2-in-1 toys (shape sorter/pull-along, and ball pound/xylophone) - despite the temptation to buy one of everything on their website, I actually have a minimalist streak in me (both for the sake of toys not overrunning our house, but also for the sake of Anna not being totally overwhelmed by stuff!)

If you have kids on your Christmas list, definitely check out their stuff!  It looks like they sell primarily through small/local toy stores, although I found a lot on Amazon, too.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Quick Takes: Edition 12

Challenging myself to be super short - can these be the quickest of all the quick takes?

-1- Crazy week: in all, 11 people and 1 dog visited since last Friday.

-2- Also organized the inaugural playgroup at our parish on Wednesday.

-3- Still caught myself wondering all day why I was so tired.

-4- Justin getting ready for several big upcoming presentations. Feel like I've barely seen him.

-5- Both donated blood today; usually tag-team watching Anna but a volunteer held her so we could get done faster.  20 minutes lying on gurneys next to each other ended up being a really refreshing break.

-6- Maybe we should plan a real date sometime?

-7- Bedtime now.  See 1 through 6.

Bonus note: The long-awaited sewing post part three is now partly written!

Bonus note part 2: I forgot until I finished writing this that one of Jen's quick takes lauds powerful & concise statements.  I've at least mastered concise!  Visit her link-up to find others who handled the powerful :)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Working Alone

You know what I did today?  I ran away from home.  (Don't worry, I took Anna with me, and we both came safely back in time to make dinner).  

It was just one of those moments that I've described before where the frustrations of the inability to get any housework done with a toddler underfoot made me - rather than staying at home and doing the tidying and cleaning and putting away of laundry that I had planned - leaving the work behind and heading off for errands.  There were errands to be run, so it thankfully wasn't just a mindless trip to Target, but I couldn't help but notice in myself that desire to just get out that I had identified previously.

I took this picture right at the climax of feeling that everything I do is immediately undone.
Seeing the picture hours later (and after a game of 51-card pick-up [one is elusive]), it seems far less overwhelming, but of course the still shot doesn't capture the constant motion (one frame before she was all the way back by the three cards, still carrying the saucepan) or the open pots & pans drawer, or the open pantry (with unloaded bottom shelf) on the other side of the room, or the fact that she LICKED most of the pots and pans and so I needed to not just pick them up but wash them, too.  Or, of course, the lunch dishes on the counter, the cleaning-up-of-which was punctuated by countless stops to redirect a certain someone's attention.  Or the fact that every room we entered had a similar path of toddler-destruction.

All in all, it was nothing TOO terrible (the new routine plus a revolving door of company this week has kept me more or less on my toes), but it sure felt overwhelming.

One of the things I've been thinking about recently is the similarities and differences between my own life and that of my female ancestors, especially my maternal great-grandmother, who by all accounts was an amazing homemaker.  It seems like she (and others of her generation) were able to keep on top of things better than us moms of today - and with more kids, to boot.  There's a lot of things that I could unpack here (and may in the future), so today's observation is certainly not the whole picture but I think it's a piece of the puzzle.

Remember how I said that not having coworkers was one of the biggest challenges of being a stay-at-home mom?  I realized that it's not just in not having literal coworkers in the house - but also not having coworkers on my block or really anywhere nearby.  When my great-grandmother and grandmothers were home with their kids, so were all of the other moms on their block.  It was the same way in my neighborhood growing up.  Now, my closest stay-at-home-mom friend is in the next town over.

I thought about calling her today when I was so frustrated, but I realized (as much fun as it would be to get together and chat) it wouldn't solve the messy house problem (not that the errands did, either, but that felt more "productive" - a potentially dangerous baseline, I know, but still the way my brain operates).  But if she wasn't 20 minutes away, and I could pop outside and talk to her over the fence for 10 minutes before we went inside and cleaned our kitchens in parallel, well that would probably have been pretty refreshing.

Justin and a grad-student friend were talking recently about how nice it is to study or do work near someone else who is also working.  I liken it to little kids and their "parallel play" - they don't really interact, but they like to be near the other kids while they're playing independently with their toys.  Just knowing that someone is nearby in the same boat is comforting.  And it's also motivating.  You don't want to be the one person in the sea of cubicles that isn't working intently.

As an adult, I can look back and imagine the enjoyment that my mom and our neighbors had in an evening chat in the driveway as a herd of kids rode circles on bikes.  They had made it through their days, knowing that around them were women who were working in parallel - at times catching glimpses as they each hung out laundry - comforted by the knowledge that a friend was across the street in the case of needing an extra cup of sugar or a ready playmate for the tornado toddler.  

To make matters worse, a lot of the activities that were assumed to be shared tasks ("shared" used here again to mean occurring in each house up and down the block) are no longer in the collective norm.  I may be the only person on our block (stay-at-home-mom or not) who irons clothes.  On a given night (our amazing Italian-immigrant neighbor excluded) there might not be many home-cooked dinners.  I'm not judging their choices not to iron or to cook, but just noting the sense of lack of comradery in the frustrations, challenges, and little joys in the types of things that fill my day.

I guess I can imagine the women across the country who are doing the same things (and the online community is certainly helpful in that regard), but it's definitely not as easy as if everyone were right next door.  Jennifer Fulwiler wrote an excellent piece a while ago titled "What Google Street View Reveals About Why Women Don't Want to Stay Home," and I would add that it's not just the I'm-the-only-person-around isolation that can get to you, but the frustration of feeling that not only is no one working with you, the only person who's there is working against you.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Quick Takes: Edition 11

1. I feel like I start every Friday Quick Takes post with "wow, it's Friday again!"  Our November schedule is jam-packed (primarily with good things!) so I feel like time is going to fly even quicker.  We just were watching some baby Anna videos this evening, which is such a good reminder to cherish the moments that are going by so quickly!

2. You'll (those of you interested in learning to sew, at least!) be pleased to know that I finished taking pictures for the third learn-to-sew post.  In addition to my standard procrastination techniques, this took so long because I had to get out my other sewing machine.  Remember how I told you that the first item you should have is a machine in good working order?  Weelllll, I've been using a machine for two years now that doesn't do back-tack (you'll learn in the upcoming post that it's a fairly essential stitch).

Tired old's (finally) headed into the shop, I think.

I figured it important for the tutorials to have correct-looking stitches, so I dug the other machine out from the back of my craft closet.  And then, once I got it out and realized how much fun it is to sew on a completely working machine (and a newer one that does fancy embellishing stitches at that!) I got carried away and did 3 or 4 other projects before taking the pictures for the post.  So, I'll say it one more's coming...soon?

3. I would actually work on writing it now, but the camera cord is downstairs and the camera is in my bedroom.  Under normal circumstances this wouldn't create such a problem, but we've got a house-full of company - with people currently sleeping in each of those locations!  I love having a houseful of guests (right now we have 4 generations under one roof, isn't that cool?!) but the room layout of our house isn't ideal for people of varying bedtimes.  Justin and I are both typing (as quietly as possible) in Anna's dark bedroom where we're camping for the weekend :)  As sad as I will be to move from this house (probably this summer...), there are certain things that make me look forward to a new place.  Like - a guest room!

4. My sister emailed me these pictures a few days ago, and I wanted to give her a shout-out because I was so impressed by the creativity she and her roommate had in their Halloween costumes.  She tells me that they found the cute sandals first and were brainstorming what costumes they could create to justify purchasing the shoes!

Cotton candy!  So clever.  My sister is the pink one.  (The pink one who apparently got all of the good hair genes in our family.)

5. Seeing the fun they had with their costumes reminded me...(do I sound like "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" yet?)  Here's a throw-back picture from college - my dear friend and I were "roommates with two rooms."  We were both RAs so we had single rooms, but we were practically attached at the hip.  Thus - salt and pepper!

(Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY (yesterday), friend!!  A better gift than this shout-out will make it your way...eventually!)

6. Tomorrow morning I will wake up and remember 10 things that I meant to include in this post, but right now I'm stalling out at 5 quick takes.  I should follow suit with some of the other bloggers who (intelligently) collect snippets throughout the week instead of relying on memory to write them all Friday.

7.  Oh - this is noteworthy - we finally have a Hobby Lobby in Ithaca.  Scratch that.  WE HAVE A HOBBY LOBBY!  I'm excited enough for all caps :)  I've showed impressive restraint in not going yet in the week it's been open, but I'm not sure how long that will hold out....I've finished a decent number of projects recently (and have a post in the works - inspired by a friend - about finishing the large number of unfinished projects that seem to accumulate when you're a crafter), so maybe we'll call that justification for a little shopping trip :)

Linking up with Jen.  Talk to you all soon.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

On Community (a note to self)

Note to self:

When you're having "one of those days" and you see another mom at the playground and think she must be the type who never has "those days," remind yourself you're wrong and say hello.

When you see another young family at church and you wish you could meet them, but figure they probably have plenty of friends and don't want to hang out with little old you, remind yourself you're wrong and introduce yourself.

When you hear that someone is having a baby and want to offer to make them a meal, but are worried that they'll think you're too forward, remind yourself you're wrong and make the offer.

The list could go on and on of the various situations in which insecurities prevent us from forming friendships or creating community.

I  have been there in each of these situations, thinking the other people certainly didn't want to be my friends.  But the crazy part is, in many cases they now are my friends - and I can joke with them now about the insecurities that prevented us from getting to know each other sooner.  One time, on "one of those days," (actually, the day I wrote my stay-at-home-mom challenges post), I was at the playground with Anna and, assuming she had it all together, didn't say anything to the mom pushing her daughter a few swings down - that is, until a mutual friend showed up and introduced us, and the other mom told me she was having "one of those days" and had talked herself out of saying hi to me earlier.  Perhaps we can blame it on my being solidly in the "not cool" camp in high school, but I tend to assume that everyone else is far cooler than me, and that they're too busy with all of their cool friends to talk to me.  I'm learning the lesson (several times over because I seem to be a slow learner in this case) that most people feel the same way.  So we risk just going on in our isolated worlds, wishing for the connections that are right in front of us.  I know it's not just me because my friends have all said it, and fellow bloggers have said it.    We're communal creatures - often without coworkers as stay-at-home moms - and the desire for connections is mutual.

So here's my take-away advice which is as much for myself as for anyone else who's reading:

When you think that you're the only one who is longing for community or friendship or that you're the only one who has these silly insecurities, remind yourself you're wrong and create the community.

I have never regretted someone's introduction or their offer to make a meal or their friendly hello.  With that in mind, I am trying to be the person to make the introduction and the offer and the hello.

I've decided I don't like posts without pictures, so I went through my files to find one that I could marginally connect to the topic.  I figured Anna looked welcoming in her little house (which she LOVED) at the apple orchard!

P.S. Incidentally, I am fighting the urge to just delete this post...(insecurity!)...but I feel like there might be someone out there who needs to hear this.  Or just that it's something that I'll need to read and re-read (especially when we move and I need to do this whole friend/community thing all over again).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Quick Takes: Edition 10

Since I've already joined one link-up a day late this week, I figured I might as well keep with the trend and link up with Jen for a Saturday version of Friday Quick Takes.  And given my new penchant for a schedule, I can't miss my end-of-the-week blogging ritual!  We can subtitle this post: the pictures I've been meaning to show you for a while.


I finally switched from patriotic to fall decorations (a few weeks ago; I've meant to include these pictures in quick takes for at least 3 weeks.)


I shouldn't even share this, but that candle+beans in a vase decoration?  You don't even want to know what went into that.  (It will make more sense when I have the pictures soon)...I pinned it a few years ago and thought that it would be a super simple and very charming fall decoration.  I remembered to grab a candle and some beans at Target.  Then I came home (and - first mistake - without looking at the inspiration picture) put everything in the hurricane vase.  Then I decided that I didn't like it and (second mistake) tried to gently take out some of the beans to rearrange them.  Then it looked even worse.  So then (the mistakes keep racking up) I thought I would just re-do it.  And so I spent an embarrassing amount of time separating out the beans by color while feeling guilty about the fact that there are people in the world without beans to eat let alone waste time sorting them for a decoration.  So I finally got them (roughly) sorted and put them all back and (looking at the inspiration this time) carefully put them back in the vase.  I was 99% happy with the look, and just thought I'd pull the candle up a little bit.  Which obviously (to everyone but me) made the beans fall down in the previously empty space at the bottom of the vase.  I just had to step away from the decoration.  I put some other stuff in front of it (after I took the above pictures, apparently) so that I'm not constantly taunted by my simple craft failures.

Lesson learned:  I can do a lot of crafty things.  I can sew.  I cannot do basic pouring.


Telling that story reminds me...I am severely lacking in the microwave cooking department.  I've got the stovetop, oven, and crockpot down - but that microwave gets me every time.  I do not exaggerate in saying that I have created inedible disasters at one time or another while attempting Campbell's soup, microwave popcorn, and Ramen noodles.   In college, I always joked that my perfect man was tall, Catholic, and could cook in a microwave.  Thankfully Justin's got the bases covered.

Because when a girl wants popcorn...

ain't nobody got time for that.


Back to more photos of things that turned out as planned.  After linking to the tutorial for the simple skirt in my learn to sew post, I got pretty excited about making some for Anna.  I took a stack of her sweaters that didn't have anything to match them to the fabric store and found cute fabric.  I really wish that it was acceptable for me to do the same for myself.  


I was especially jealous of her candy corn skirt. 


We had our 3rd annual Halloween costume party this evening.  It's always fun to have a house full of people (and 13 adults and 11 kids (10 of whom are 5 and under) makes for a lively environment, for sure.  I have a few pictures from this evening (and similar ones from other parties we've hosted) where everyone is laughing, there's a bunch of kids sitting on various peoples' laps (often not even their own parents) and you can just see tangible enjoyment on people's faces.  I love those pictures because they show that we're using our home.  All the renovations, the routine cooking and cleaning - it's all for making a place to share with others, a place to be comfortable and happy.

This probably doesn't make sense without the pictures (I don't know that everyone in the pictures is necessarily cool with me posting them online) or perhaps without reading Keeping House (which articulates that lesson about making a place that can be shared) - but hopefully some of you reading know what I mean.


Costume pictures, of course!

My little monkey (very aptly dressed, given the number of times I took her to sit on (rather than stand/climb/swing from) her little chairs today!

In case you can't tell from the picture, Justin was a banana tree.  My favorite quote of the evening, as friends were leaving...Justin put his arms out and said, "Hug a tree!!"

This costume theme has been in the works since before Anna's arrival when Justin's mom found the monkey costume! (Thanks, GiGi!)  Check out last year's costumes here and the previous year here.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

5 favorites: Discipline edition

The irony is not lost on me that I'm writing a post about self-discipline for a link-up that occurred yesterday in a state of exhaustion from having stayed up WAY past my bedtime for two nights running.

But - just because I haven't completely figured out how to implement all of the self-discipline into my life, that doesn't negate the many "a-ha" moments I've had recently about how discipline - in all areas - really is the key to growing in happiness and holiness.


Vintage Household Chores Kitchen Towel Set
Image source

Daily chore assignments (and sweet vintage embroidery patterns).  I've had a theoretical schedule for the last year or more, but it has typically fallen apart around starting the laundry on Monday, and most other things have gotten back-burnered until some company was coming.  For the past three weeks, I've been sticking (more closely) to my schedule, and it's both freeing and motivating.  I wake up in the morning knowing what actually needs to be done, I don't feel overwhelmed by everything all at once (den is really dusty?  that's OK, I'll get to it Thursday), and - because there's a set list of things to accomplish each day - I can, at least theoretically, finish working for the day and transition into more relaxing activities in the evening without feeling guilty.  I'm starting to see why those vintage day-of-the-week embroidery patterns were so popular!  I want to work on the set above because I think they're pretty charming.


Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred work-out video.  I've seen a lot of people mention that they've done Jillian's videos (usually with oh-my-gosh-I-can't-move-today disclaimers), so I decided to try one (with some trepidation about my next day's mobility) - and I really liked it!  I've done a moderate amount of running over the summer (plus repetitive lifting of a squirming 23-pounder), but I needed something to fill the gap as the weather gets colder, as well as a little cross-training action.  I appreciate that it is very efficient - strength, cardio, and abs (and warm-up and cool-down), all in only 30 minutes of precious nap time!  Also, I appreciate that you don't have to do any one exercise for more than maybe 90 seconds.  (Does that sound weird coming from someone whose exercise has been exclusively running for the last several months??)  


Image source

Daily prayer.  My mom gave me a copy of the October edition of Magnificat, and I have enjoyed it enough that I purchased a subscription.  I've attempted to do the daily readings in the past, but (this is shameful) having to flip around between one book and then to different pages in the Bible ended up being a barrier to doing it as regularly as I wanted to or should have.  The Magnificat has morning prayer, the daily Mass parts and readings, evening prayer, a daily reflection, and saint-of-the-day biographies.  And I can read it all in one little book without any flipping, which has translated into me doing it much more often, and (naturally) more prayer time is always a good thing.


This will come as a surprise to everyone who knows me, but MORNINGS!  Obviously this doesn't apply to days like the past few when I've stayed up way too late, but I've started to get up much earlier, and I've been loving it.  Anna often wants to eat around 5:30 or 6:00 and then go back to sleep for a few hours, so that's been a good alarm clock for me to stay up.  My whole life, I've thought that I was a night owl, but it turns out I'm just a morning person with poor self-control and who doesn't want to miss anything (thus staying up far later).  But I have discovered that I'm significantly more productive, optimistic, and less grumpy in the morning, and not only then but throughout the whole day when I get up early.  Of course the challenge is to then also go to bed on time so that I can keep the cycle going.  It's a work in progress.


Inspiring reading.  Has it ever happened to you where you learn a new word, and then suddenly you read & hear it 3 times in the next day?  I feel like that is happening to me now that I've realized discipline is such an important concept for me to focus on right now.  I'm sure that's why it was my key take-away from the Light of Love movie.  

At any one time, I have six or eight books on my nightstand that I am reading - not necessarily from front to back.  I sort of flip through and read snippets each night before bed.  Here's two that stuck out recently as I flipped around:

From Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home:  

Routine doesn't deserve its bad reputation.  It's true that novelty and challenge bring happiness, and that people who break their routines, try new things, and go to new places are happier, but routine can also bring happiness  The pleasure of doing the same thing, in the same way, every day, shouldn't be overlooked.  The things I do every day take on a certain beauty and provide a kind of invisible architecture to my life.  Andy Warhol wrote, "Either once only, or every day.  If you do something once it's exciting, and if you do it every days it's exciting.  But if you do it, say, twice or just almost every day, it's not good any more."

This resonated with me in relation to the routine-setting I've been doing.  In addition to the weekly repetitions, I've been trying to instill more daily routine, as well, like sweeping the entranceway rug each night after tidying the toys, and it's been surprisingly satisfying - both in that there's less outside dirt being perpetually tracked into the rest of the house, but also in a comforting "this is how we close-up shop" night-time routine sense - exciting, as the quote says.  I'm still at a-few-times-a-week, not every-single-night, but it's still been a positive improvement!

From Matthew Kelly's Rediscover Catholicism:

The philosophy of Christ is based on discipline, and it is discipline that our modern culture abhors and has rejected with all its strength.


Discipline is the faithful friend who will introduce you to your true self.  Discipline is the worthy protector who will defend you from your lesser self.  And discipline is the extraordinary mentor who will challenge you to become the-best-version-of-yourself and all God created you to be.

If that's not a call to action to keep on keeping-on with the things I've listed above, I don't know what is!

I hope that in reading this, you realize how much of a work-in-progress I still am.  I've learned these things intellectually - but as we all know "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."  (Matthew 26:40).  I put them out there on the blog, though, because of the incredible encouragement I've received from reading other people's writings on all sorts of subjects.  I always hope that someone reading my posts will have a little "me too" moment and somehow find it useful.

Linking up (a day late and a dollar short) with Jenny for this week's 5 Favorites.  Oh, and as a bonus, read her post HERE.  Her blog is new-to-me, and when I read through her most recent posts, I thought this one was just fabulous.  A good reminder that it's not just about self-discipline...sacrifice is necessary!

P.S. Don't worry, part three of the sewing series is coming...(and parts 4, 5, etc, if the collective you has things you want to know.  Leave me comments with sewing questions and I'll answer them if I can).

Monday, October 28, 2013

Lessons in joy

Over the weekend, Justin and I watched Light of Love:

It was so absolutely beautiful, and the sisters are just so absolutely beautiful.

When you watch it (which you absolutely should), there's something inside that (Catholic or not, woman or not) makes you say "I WANT THAT!"  Not, necessarily, the life of poverty and celibacy, but the overwhelming peace, joy, and love that these women exude.

I was thinking about it again this afternoon, and I got to thinking that we should want that - and not in a lofty, oh-that-would-be-nice way, but in a I'm-going-to-fight-for-it-because-I'm-made-for-it way.  God didn't say, "OK, you few that I designed to be really joyful and peaceful, you all go to the convent - and, well, the rest of you, just muddle through in the real world, alright?"  I don't want to belittle the differences in the various vocations - single, married, religious life - but I want to address the idea that true peace and joy is exclusive to just one.  There are obvious differences in the lifestyles (I wryly thought "the sisters don't have this problem" when I got up with Anna for the third time in the middle of the night after watching the film - but then I also got to sleep through their 5 AM prayers) that mean there are unique challenges and unique blessings for each.  I don't know that it's necessarily easier for the sisters to be joyful (they've given up so many of the things that - at least theoretically - bring the rest of us happiness) - but they have (sweeping generalization here) found it more consistently than the rest of us.

So why is that?  And how can we get some of the joy?

Here are some of the aspects of their lifestyle that I think can be adopted to any vocation (without denying the unique beauty of each vocation and general enough to be applied within each varied context).  I know they're all things I hope to foster in myself and in our home with a renewed vigor after seeing the film.

1) Discipline.  There's the big, obvious examples of self-control and discipline (e.g., vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience), but I was struck even more by the discipline of schedule.  They wake with regularity, pray with regularity, and eat and work with regularity.  Granted, they don't have toddlers - but I've found that routine and schedule are anecdote to some of the stay-at-home-mom malaise.  Constantly worrying about what has to be done or when you can possibly do it (or being stressed that it wasn't done) can steal your joy - but just doing it when it's time to be done ends a lot of turmoil, both internally and externally.

2) Prayer.  The sisters spend more time in prayer - partly because they have more time to spend, but also because they make more time to spend (see above point: discipline!).  I catch myself and others blaming lack of time on the demands of life with little kids without giving the fair share of the blame to the Internet.  By design, parents will never have as much time for prayer as the sisters - but I bet almost all of us have more time than the amount we're currently devoting.

3) Full presence in the moment.  Whatever the sisters were doing, they seemed to be doing with their full heart and full mind; not forgetting, of course, the constant lifeline of prayer that underscores every moment.  This points back, I think, to the discipline - they don't worry about washing dishes or making dinner while they're in chapel or working in their ministry because they washed the dishes and made dinner when it was time to do each of these things.  Note in particular the scene of the sisters playing games and working on crafts - they are free to wholeheartedly enjoy this moment.  I crave that carefree fun for our family, especially on Sunday afternoons (presumably when that scene occurred in the film, too).  I find that typical lifestyle now is more about simultaneously doing six things (of varying importance and productivity - ahem, checking Facebook) than it is about working when its time to work and playing when its time to play.

4) Service.  Everything the sisters do is in service - to God and to His people.  For many of them, their daily work is as messy and mundane and back-breaking - or perhaps more so - as being a homemaker, but they view it in the proper light.  They see the people they serve and God's mercy they help share, not the work of the task at hand.  Changing diapers, cleaning bathrooms, cooking dinner, doing laundry all feel awfully mundane and don't provide much joy - until they're viewed as acts of love.

I'm not making the case that family life can - or should - adhere to a schedule as neat as a convent, or that we should try to remove the unique aspects of each vocation and meld them into a one-size-fits-all lifestyle.  There are different vocations specifically because there are different people - and each of us grows in holiness and is called to serve in very different ways.  However, we are ALL called to have joy in loving God and knowing His love.  The four things above aren't the source of that joy, but the tools we can use to find it - tools demonstrated so beautifully by the joy-filled sisters.

Update, 5/30/2015, I've updated this post slightly and linked it to the Blessed Is She "Joy" link-up.

If you're interested in some of my more recent writings about finding joy through simplicity and discipline, go here and here.

Also, perks of living in Steubenville: we met one of the sisters in this film after Mass one day :)  It was a sort of full-circle moment for us, as we watched this initially a few days before Justin's interview, and we kept wondering if we'd soon recognize some of the places shown in the movie (we do!)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Quick Takes: Edition 9

Quicker than quick takes because I already wrote a long post tonight and it's past my bedtime (and yet feel the need to collect my thoughts once a week in this format!)

1) Writing my how-to sewing posts has been a lot of fun - I think the most fun I've had writing on the blog.  Apparently I enjoy telling people what to do.  (No surprise to my siblings!)

2) Rosie was the one who requested I write the series - but then she went and learned to sew without me.  Check out the awesome skirt she made!

3) The giveaway for my (new favorite, I-think-it-changed-my-life book) Keeping House by Margaret Kim Peterson ended last night - congratulations to Ellen!

4) If you did not win the giveaway, get thee to a library or a bookstore or Amazon and make sure you read it ASAP.  You won't regret it, especially if you have found yourself overwhelmed by the monotony of cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

5) We missed story hour today because Justin & I (and apparently most of Ithaca) were getting flu shots beforehand and we thought we'd be done in time.  It turned out to be a good thing we missed it because my sweet girl woke up from her nap quite feverish, and we ended up taking her in for her first sick visit.  Thankfully, she perked up after a dose of ibuprofen, and it's just a virus (compounded by her incoming upper molars).  Seeing her sick made me incredibly grateful for her great health so far!

6) You'll have to wait until next week for the photos of the new skirt I made Anna (using one of the tutorials I recommend in the learn-to-sew post).  I made it last night in hopes of wearing it to the library today (after the whale dress, I've remained inclined to dress her up for story hour), but the story-hour runway debut will have to be next week.  You know, because all the little girls go to the library just to see what Anna's wearing.

7) I'm losing steam...bed time.  Goodnight!  Check out my learn-to-sew posts for more coherent thoughts (or other bloggers at Cari's today for the link-up!)

So, you want to sew...Beginner Lessons Part 2 (Choosing a Project)

Today's lesson: choosing a project.  If you missed the previous tutorial, check out part 1, gathering supplies.  Part 3, basic stitches, can be found HERE.

I think there's a decent number of people out there who have tried sewing before, but finding themselves with a jumbled mess of fabric, knotted threads - and nothing near the Pinterest picture they were attempting - have sworn off sewing forever.  Now there may be some people who are less naturally inclined to crafty type things, but it is not an impossible task, and I wouldn't buy a "I can't sew" line.  You can't sew, yet.  And the past projects?  I highly suspect that it was the projects, not you.

This time of year is notorious for people to want to learn to sew.  People are scared off by the price tags at those Halloween stores, and think "how hard could it possibly be to make this?"  Unless the costume is a ghost, it's probably not a beginner sewing project.  And here's another hint - by the time you buy the satin and the tulle and the thread and the trim and everything else to make a Tinkerbell costume, you'll have spent far more than whatever Party City - and gotten a free helping of frustration to boot.  Buy the costume, this year.  Start with a small project now, and you'll be ready to outfit an entire Disney cast next Halloween (although that won't make it any less expensive!)

When you choose your first project, keep the following in mind:


1) Save high-stakes projects for down the road. (e.g., living room curtains from expensive fabric, a dress for your sister's wedding, clothes for your upcoming family photos, a zipper repair for your favorite skirt).  If there's too much emotional investment in the outcome, any snafus while you're learning will be amplified, and you'll be more likely to swear off ever sewing again.

2) Don't pick something that is designed to fit well.  Chances are, as long as you choose the right size pattern for pajama pants, you'll be able to wear (and enjoy!) your finished project no matter what.  This will not be the case if you go for a skirt or a jacket or something else fitted.  Just like everything in a store won't necessarily fit your body type, every pattern won't necessarily fit you, either.  It's annoying to have spent the time making something only to learn that you can't wear it (and don't know how to alter it!)  Note that kid's clothes are more forgiving (think elastic) in the fit category than adult, so something for your kids could be a good first project.  Loose-fitting garments, given that they're less structured, are also more simple to make, making them better for beginners.

3) Straight seams only!!  In other words, start simple.  Nothing with ruffles, curved seams (like setting sleeves), and definitely no zippers.

4) COTTON, COTTON, COTTON.  I should have listed this first, because I think it's the number one key to having a successful first sewing experience.  Currently (with many years of sewing experience), I will start a project involving certain types of fabric (silky, stretchy, or furry, for example) only very reluctantly because it can be so frustrating to handle.  Cotton fabrics do not slide around when you're cutting the pattern, they crease neatly with the iron when you are hemming, and they're unlikely to make your machine jam.  Also - added bonus - they come in so many beautiful patterns that you're bound to find a fun print that you love AND the style of fabric is conducive to the types of projects that are appropriate for a beginner.

Most fabric stores have a "wall" of cotton (typically arranged by color) - it may be called "quilter's cotton" or "calicos."  I suspect you'll know it when you see it.  Flannel would also be an appropriate first fabric, depending on your project (it's 100% cotton as well, just a bit thicker) - you may have to look around a bit, but chances are there's a lot of patterns - often baby prints - to chose from in that section as well.

So many great fabrics, how will you ever choose?
Fabric is sold by the yard (that's 36 inches if your English conversions are rusty).  After you choose your fabric, you'll take it to a cutting counter (often at the center of the store) to have your selected amount cut before proceeding to the check-out register.  Some stores will let you buy in any fraction - .028 of a yard (1 inch) for example - but you can typically just stick to normal fractions.  1 yard.  1/2 yard.  1/4 yard.  Maybe 1/3 yard, and your pattern or tutorial should tell you how much you need.  The other dimension is standard, based on the bolt size.  Most cottons are on 45 inch bolts (which are realistically more like 42", so confusing), and then most "apparel" fabric is on 60 inch (again, 56", 58", it depends) bolts.

You may also see the little folded squares of fabric near the patterned cotton.  They're pre-cut and very tempting to add to your cart (typically $1 or $2).  They're called "fat quarters."  A typically quarter-yard cut would be 9 inches (1/4 of 36) by 45 inches (standard bolt width).  That's a long and skinny strip.  Imagine if you took that strip and cut it in half (2 pieces, 9" by 22"), and then put the pieces on top of each other - instead of a long strip, now it's more of a rectangle (18" by 22") that's a lot more useful than the strip.  Buying one or two of these would be great for the practice stitches & seams I'm going to have in part 3 of my tutorials.

But back to your project.  Here are a few suggestions of projects that meet my criteria for beginners, as well as links to some tutorials that I've found.  Note that I haven't tried all of the tutorials I'm linking to, so I can't guarantee anything, but they look good on my quick read-through.


- A pillow case.

- Drawstring bags.  (My mom made a ton of these when we were little to corral our various sets of toys.  I'm due to make Anna several soon!)

- Pajama pants.

Here's one you can download online, although it's probably easier to buy a simple pattern at the fabric store if you want to go this route.

- An elastic waist skirt for a little girl.
(I have made these for Anna - as well as other tutorials from this site, they're great!

- A simple apron.

- A tote bag.

- A table runner.

Note - if you want to see these projects, I created a Pinterest board "Beginner Sewing Project Suggestions" and pinned all of the listed tutorials there.  Check it out HERE.

Stay tuned for part three of the series - practicing basic stitches, and let me know if you have questions in the meantime!  UPDATE: Part 3 is now posted HERE