Sunday, December 19, 2010

Queen of the Unfinished Projects

That's me, although I know I'm not the only one who wears this moniker.  In my university days, when I worked at a scrapbooking store, the ladies with whom I worked set aside one night a month for "Queen of the Unfinished Projects" night.  We all had a list of our unfinished projects, mostly craft projects, and we would hunker down in the workshop for chatting, food, and attempt to finish projects our list.  I came across my list the other day, and was chagrined to realize that many of those projects are still unfinished.  Unfinished... eight years later.  I also have piles of half-finished books, abandoned when the next book piqued my interest.  I don't know how many times I have started and abandoned Crime and Punishment.  I have half-finished quilts, scrapbooks, crochet and sewing projects stuffed into every space in my closet.
Instead of chastising myself or feeling discouraged about this character trait, I've decided to allow myself the freedom to be okay with being undisciplined with my leisure activities!  There is definitely value in finishing what one has started, but there's something to be said for giving yourself some freedom to be flighty.  There's no shame in never finishing Crime & Punishment, is there?  Would my crafting projects be as therapeutic if I forced myself to finish things that I didn't feel like doing anymore?  I'm running out of space to store these unfinished projects, however, and I don't want to end up on Hoarders someday, so I'd better finish at least some of them.  This is the time of year that I feel the most unfinished project guilt, probably because many of those unfinished projects were intended to be Christmas gifts.  I'm proud to say that I made and delivered or mailed most of my Christmas cards before Christmas this year, and I'm finally done all of my Christmas eggs.  I realize that I went completely overboard on making the eggs.  If you're wondering how I have time to do this, I don't.  I just have a messy house.  But everybody needs diversions now and then, right?
The design part is really the only fun part of the process, and, at the end, I realized that I had almost three dozen eggs to empty, and glue on ornament hangers.  Here are some of the finished products.  And, if you are still reading my blog after seeing the depths of my craft geekdom, may I offer my thanks and congratulations.

I thought I would post a brief tutorial on how these eggs are made in case you are curious.  And because it was a motivator for me to finish doing the boring part of the eggs to plan a little picture tutorial as I went along.
I learned how to make these eggs from my mother-in-law.  They are called pysanky, more commonly known as Ukrainian easter eggs.  The traditional ones look more like this (photo from wikipedia):

Using tools called "kistka," designs are written on the egg with melted beeswax.  The tools have metal funnels with different sized openings for the melted wax to flow through.  You hold the tool with the metal funnel in the flame until it heats up enough.  Then, you push some beeswax into the hot funnel, and hold it over the flame again until the wax is all melted.  You are now ready to draw on the egg with the melted wax.

After you put a design on the egg with the wax, you dunk the egg in a jar of dye, and whatever you have covered up with the wax will remain protected from the dye.  So, for example, if you start with a white egg, you would first draw anything on the egg that you want to remain white.   Then, you dip the egg in the yellow dye, pull it out and dry it off with a paper towel, then draw on any design that you want to stay yellow.  The dyes last a long time if you have a place to store them.  I've kept mine in the garage for four or five years now and only had to replace a couple of colours.

After you have completed your design with all the colours you are going to use, you can begin melting the wax off of the egg to reveal your design.  Some people do this step by placing the egg in an oven at a low temperature until the wax starts to get shiny and you can rub it off with a paper towel.  I've had a couple of eggs crack at this point using that method, so I usually melt the wax off with a candle flame.  You hold the egg beside the flame until the wax starts to shine and you can rub it off with a paper towel. Be careful not to hold the egg near the top of the flame, or you will get black charring on the egg.
Traditionally, the contents of the egg are not emptied out.  Eventually, the inside of the egg evaporates or dries up.  However, if breakage should occur before this drying out occurs, it is a smelly disaster.  Trust me.  A year old-ish egg on breaking on your living room floor is not pleasant.  I now empty the eggs out with this fancy blower.
You only have to poke one hole in the egg, and you don't have to put your mouth on the egg thanks to this little contraption.  Before blowing the egg out, draw a quarter-sized hole around the top of the egg with melted wax where you are going to poke the hole.  That way, any egg that leaks out won't make the dye run.  Like this:
I use a crochet pin to poke a few holes in the top of the egg until the hold is big enough for the blower.  Then you can either rest the eggs back in the carton, hole side up, for a couple of days to let the egg finish drying out.  Then you can melt the top circle of wax off as described before.  If you wish, you can attach a "finding" to the top to allow you to hang the egg as an ornament.  I ran out of findings this time, and they aren't usually stocked in craft stores in the middle of winter, so I tried glueing a bead to the top instead this time, and that works too.  Voila!  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dream a Little Dream

\I've been pondering dreams often as of late, probably because I've been having the most lucid and bizarre dreams during this pregnancy.  Most of them could probably be classified as nightmares, if I needed to slot them into a category.  They seem to centre on trying to protect my son or the baby, or being chased by wild animals.  I've heard that this is a pretty common phenomenon during pregnancy, and I remember having strange dreams during all my other pregnancies.  I've also been thinking about dreams as I think about the Christmas story.  Joseph has two important dreams in the biblical Christmas story.  The first of Joseph's dreams takes place after Mary was found to be pregnant.  If you aren't familiar with the story, Mary's pregnancy was scandalous in the public eye because she was not married.  Joseph, her betrothed (picking up the story in Matthew 1) "had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.”  In Matthew 2, Joseph's second dream is recorded: " an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
What is remarkable to me is that Joseph understands these dreams as truth.  I say this not to suggest that he shouldn't have believed them.  It just seems that we, for the most part, are so far removed from the state of mind where we would believe anything in our dreams as imparting truth in our lives.  Why is that?  Isn't it possible that dreams have meaning for us today too?
I don't think I know the answer to my own question for certain.  I think it has to be at least possible.  I wouldn't say (or want to believe) that all dreams have a deeper meaning.  Last night I dreamed about a pink and white elephant giving birth while running down a street close to my parents' house.  I certainly hope that has no implications for my life!  But some dreams are too meaningful to simply dismiss, aren't they?  
Earlier this year, I miscarried another baby.  I was in a very broken place, knowing that my baby had passed, but I was still carrying him or her.  On the night before I had the D&C, I had a dream that I was waiting on a stretcher in the hospital hallway, waiting for my surgery.  Right before I was wheeled in, I noticed that one of the "surgeons" was actually my late grandfather, whom I adored, dressed up like a doctor.  He winked at me, and I knew he was there, pretending to be a doctor, to bring my baby back up to heaven.  That dream still gets me choked up every time I think about it.  Do you think God sends us dreams like that to give us comfort?  

Monday, December 13, 2010

Birth Reading

I'm about halfway through reading In Her Own Voice: Childbirth Stories from Mennonite Women.  I'm not Mennonite by culture myself, but my husband's family is, and I've attended Mennonite churches for most of the last half of my life.  It's interesting to learn about my husband's heritage, as it is so different in many ways from my own.  All the branches of my family tree have been in Canada for centuries, I think some of my father's ancestors even immigrated here in the 1600's.  They are mostly of English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry.  I've heard whisperings of Greek and Spanish blood too, but we've never found any evidence.  I think it might be just an attempt to have some more exotic sounding lineage.  It is kind of neat to find stories about my ancestors in local history books, and small town museums around here.  However, I do sometimes feel a bit awkward about it as well, knowing that those ancestors were likely knowingly or unknowingly part of the wave of European immigrants who pushed First Nations people off their land, and treated them horribly.  The Mennonite's story in Canada, at least in my husband's family's case, is much newer.  On his father's side, my husband is first generation Canadian; on his mother's, second generation.

This book is a fascinating read so far, and I just discovered that you can read several chapters of the book online at google books here.  I'm attempting to better educate myself about childbirth before I go through the experience again.  Videos are a bit too much of a sensory experience for me at this point; I think reading is a better option for me.  I used to enjoy watching TLC's A Baby Story, that is, I used to enjoy it before I actually had my own baby story.  The first time that I watched it after giving birth to my son, I had flashbacks and broke out into a cold sweat.  It probably didn't help that I was watching it from the dentist chair, waiting for a long overdue root canal.  I don't know why they say that you forget childbirth; the memories are still quite vivid in my mind.  I am, however, hopeful that the next experience will be a better one.  At moments, I am even confident of this.  I recently shared my son's birth story with a friend who is in the field of emergency medicine, and is also a doula.  After hearing my story, she described it as the "perfect storm", in which so many factors bizarrely combined to create a ... remarkable experience.  I know that I don't have the worst birth story out there; by far there are tragic and more horrible stories.  In the end, I have a beautiful, healthy little boy.  The experience was just so much different than what I expected.  I'm hoping that by preparing myself better this time, I will be ready for anything!

One thing that struck me as I was reading these stories was that women usually tried to keep their pregnancy a secret for as long as possible.  Even from their other children.  There are several stories in which the older children had absolutely no idea that their mother was expecting another baby.  We do things so differently in that regard nowadays; it would seem so strange not to tell our children that a sibling is on the way.  I've been reading "My New Baby" with my little boy lately, trying to get him used to the idea of having a little brother or sister.  It's a fantastic book; there are no words, which kind of frees you up to talk about anything that you see in the pictures.  It's the only kid's book that I've ever seen that actually depicts a mother nursing her baby instead of bottle feeding.  It also shows the Dad changing diapers, and wearing a baby carrier.

I remember when I was expecting my first son, my grandmother told me a story about how she had dinner guests the week before she delivered my  mother, and they had no idea she was pregnant.  She saw them the following week, and they were so surprised that she had just had another baby.  My Grandma say that women in her time were "so embarrassed" about being pregnant, and practically went into seclusion for their pregnancies.  She couldn't quite articulate what was so embarrassing about being pregnant, being that she was married and all.  Even at the time when my mother was expecting me, attitudes seem to have been quite different about pregnancy than they are now.  I can only think of one or two photographs that I have seen of my mother when she was pregnant with me, and she is dressed in loose, flowing tops.  Now, maternity photo shoots are quite the popular thing, and maternity clothing is designed to show off that baby bump.  I wonder how they actually managed to keep pregnancy a secret. I don't think there is any possibility that I would have been able to keep my gargantuan pregnant proportions from suspecting eyes even if I had wanted to when I was pregnant.  I suppose not everybody carries babies the way that I do: massively.  Seriously.  Sometimes I look at pictures of myself near the end of my son's pregnancy, and wonder how I managed to stay upright.

The other aspect of these stories that caught my attention is how women used to learn about childbirth mostly from their female relatives.  Their births were attended by sisters, mothers, and other female relatives for the most part.  Some women had means enough to pay a midwife.  Stories of hospital births, or even doctor-attended homebirths start to appear in later stories.  There doesn't seem to be the same level of involvement in birthing education or attendance in childbirth between women in our day.  I know very few women who have chosen to have family members other than their husband present at the birth of their children.  I don't think it is better or worse one way or the other, it's simply interesting to note the shift in this regard.

Although it is not a focus of the interviews in this book, I was intrigued to note the different methods of pain relief in childbirth mentioned in the different interviews.  I remember reading in Birth Day by Mark Sloan, M.D. (no, not the fictional doctor of the same name from Grey's Anatomy!) a more detailed history of pain relief measures in childbirth through the ages.  Apparently, Queen Victoria was one of the first public figures to advocate for pain relief in childbirth.  It seems that it was perceived as the duty of women to bear the pain of childbirth without any relief or complaint as punishment for original sin.  I've always had a bit of a soft spot for stuffy old Vicki since I read that.  It seems that the pendulum of pain relief in childbirth swung wildly in the opposite direction at some point though.  Many of the women interviewed in the first book I mentioned had to fight to be awake during the delivery of their babies.  After pain relief became the norm, it seems like it was just expected that women would want to be completely unconscious during delivery.  This is the same generation of women who also had their arms and sometimes even legs tied to the hospital bed during labour and delivery.  Now, that is awful.

In my own baby news, I had my detailed ultrasound last Wednesday, and all went well!  There is no sign of the sub-chorionic bleeding anymore, which is a huge answer to prayer.  I'm 19 weeks and three days, and it seems to be a completely normal pregnancy now.  I decided not to find out the gender.  But I'm still waffling, so if I need another ultrasound, I reserve the right to change my mind!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Stitch in Time

Remember this post?  I have a new oldest thing in my house, if that makes any sense.  It's a cross-stitch sampler done by my great, great, great-grandmother.  My mother's mother's mother's mother's mother!  Her name, Margaret French, and, presumabely, her age, 11 years old, are stitched onto the piece.  According to her birthdate of 1830, this would put the year of completion around 1841.  She was still living in Scotland when she made this as a child, and it must have meant enough to her to save and bring along when she emigrated to North America as an adult in the 1880's with her husband and family.  Somewhere in the sampler's history, somebody had it professionally mounted and framed.  And somehow I was fortunate enough to end up receiving this little gem of history.  I feel a little bit like I won the genealogical lottery when I look at and see that the descendants of my great-great-great-grandmother number in the hundreds, perhaps even a thousand or more, taking into account that not everybody is listed on there.  The framed sampler now hangs on the wall in my dining room.  Sometimes I find myself looking over at it in the middle of dinner, or while sitting at the table with my laptop, paying bills or some other such mundane activity, and wonder about the woman who stitched that little scrap of cloth 170 years ago, and the line of daughters and granddaughters after her.  I wonder if they took joy and found reasons to worry in the same things I do.  Did they marvel at their toddlers' milestones, and wonder how if they were teaching them what they need to know?  Did they struggle with potty training, and look forward to chatting with their husband at the end of the day?  Did they pray for wisdom that often seems so elusive, and wrestle with unanswered questions?  I wonder.
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