I finished them!

img_1244Quite cozy looking aren’t they? The yarn is really beautiful–the photo doesn’t do it justice. The colors remind me of a foggy early morning–dawn pinks and misty blues and grays, and dewy greens. Paul’s mom and dad gave me the yarn for Christmas, and some double-pointed needles. It had been a while since I’d knitted socks, and I’m not an expert knitter by any means so they took a while. Mainly because I kept reading the pattern wrong. Next time I make socks I am going to retype the pattern with only the numbers I need to make socks in my size. Probably other knitters already know to do this, and I am just late to the party, as usual. I am self-taught in just about all of my crafts, and so I just figure stuff out as I go, through trial and error and much perusal of YouTube videos made by people who know what they’re doing.

These are my Lazy Morning at Home socks now, and that’s what I’m having at this moment. Paul is breakfasting at the kitchen table, Edgar is in my lap, Gladys Knight is on the iPod, and I have a little cup of hot espresso and milk made with the moka pot Paul gave me for Christmas. I love that thing. It takes me right back to the little kitchen in the tiny apartment we stayed in when we went to France in October. I remember when we arrived at our Airbnb apartment, exhausted of course, and surprised at how chilly Paris was even though we’d been told, and slightly overwhelmed at the bustle of the city and the jarring sensation of suddenly hearing French everywhere for the first time in many years…and feeling such relief that the key we were promised would be under the doormat was, in fact, actually there, and that we were able to get it to turn and unlock the door (I am not good with keys and door handles, so I worry about these things), how we stumbled in, dropped our luggage, and I saw the moka pot and a little bag of coffee on a shelf, and little tins and boxes of tea, and I was like, “Okay, we made it.” There’s something about the prospect of a hot beverage that just feels like home, even when you’re halfway around the world.

Throughout our time in France I made us coffee or heated water for tea in that little moka pot, and it was such a nice way to wake up or wind down. I kept saying to Paul, every time I was filling it with water, “I want one of these,” having no idea that he was actually paying attention. It’s as if he loves me. Sometimes I say that to him, when he’s done something really thoughtful. “It’s almost like you love me.” “Yes,” he says back, “it’s almost exactly like that.” One of our little refrains.

But I’m still always surprised. Even though I knew there was a good chance of his proposing to me in France, it still surprised me. Even though he’d taken me out a few months before to a jewelry store to look at rings so I could tell him what styles I liked, it still surprised me. But then on our second night in Paris, tucked up in our cozy bed (that futon was one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in, amazingly) with just one lamp on and the sound of Parisian traffic three floors below us, I noticed that Paul was breathing more heavily than he…normally does when winding down for sleep. He was evidently nervous. For one horrible moment I thought, “Is he about to break up with me?” This seemed unlikely though, since we still had the better part of a week stuck together in France. And then I thought, “Is he about to confess something awful?” “Did he lose his passport?” “Did those wannabe pickpockets near Notre Dame today actually get his wallet?” My anxious brain came up with every possible scenario to explain his agitated state except for the totally obvious one.

“Marry me,” said he, without preamble. And I said, after a romantic pause, like I might have to consider this request for a second, but really I was just savoring this moment because I know they don’t come along often in a lifetime, “Yes.” Of course I did.

The one and only regret I have about his proposal is that we probably will never be able to revisit that little apartment. Number 82, Rue du Faubourg du Temple in the 10th arrondissement. The metro stop is Belleville. The address is engraved on my heart. There was a butcher shop on the ground floor, and then three floors up, second door from the right, was our little place, where we got engaged. If he had chosen a more public, touristy…venue for that moment, the moment itself wouldn’t have been so intimate, but we would have been able to go back there one day, on an anniversary trip maybe, and relive the proposal. I am a little sad about that. I’ve even said so to him a few times, that it’s too bad we probably can never go back there. The girl who lives there and rents it out through Airbnb is a student, and when she moves on, whoever takes the apartment after her might not be inclined to rent it out to strangers.

But I feel like I have a small piece of the apartment somehow, in the moka pot Paul gave me for Christmas. It’s not the same one–it’s bigger, and silver instead of red. But it still reminds me of our little Paris apartment. Maybe Paul knew, without my ever telling him, how much I wanted a reminder of that place. He knows things sometimes without my ever telling him. He surprises me that way, often. It’s almost like he loves me.

Christmas cookies, the sequel

img_1180Remember our Christmas cookie party last month? I made enough cookie dough for roughly 800 cookies, and we went through maybe one-tenth of it. I had visions of everyone decorating and taking home a dozen or maybe even two dozen cookies. And I prepared for it! What actually happened was that people decorated, like, 3 cookies before getting distracted by talking to each other. Then by the time they got back to decorating, they had eaten not just cookies, but also birthday cake, and they had drunk hot chocolate and were just…completely done with sugar.

So fast forward to now, when I still have a freezer stuffed with cookie dough. Paul said, helpfully, a week or so ago, “Uh, what are you gonna do with all this cookie dough?” And I was like, “I don’t know, make cookies I guess.” We have such interesting conversations.

Yesterday I made thumbprints with raspberry jam out of our leftover sugar cookie dough. They don’t look that great–more like gaping wounds than thumbprints. But they are so good with coffee or tea! I am glad I haven’t started wedding-dress-dieting yet. I have been working out, and I’m proud to have stuck with that for two solid weeks now. But the dieting is still not in effect. Actually I have this crazy idea of making small, sensible changes to my diet, over time rather than all at once. Can I do something that reasonable? I came home from work this evening and Paul had bought a bunch of fruit from the store: apples and blueberries. I thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll start snacking on fruit instead of thumbprint cookies.” What a good notion. Yes, I’ll start something like that. Soon.

I’ll also start embroidering again soon, I promise. She said with determination!

Snow! At last!

img_1169That winter storm that pummeled the southeast brought a perfect little snow to Charlottesville…the kind that coats everything in icing sugary powder without taking out power lines or making transportation really impossible for days on end. No, this was that lovely kind of snow that brings whooping glee to all the town’s kids. They spent Saturday sledding down the big hill at Washington Park, just a couple of blocks from our house. We walked by them on our trek downtown, in search of hot beverages and a place to park ourselves for a few hours of drawing and knitting. Paul has been teasing me over my love affair with my new Hunter boots, given to me for Christmas by Mom and Dad. I have hardly taken them off since Christmas Day, it must be admitted. But guess who had the last laugh, with toes that were still toasty and dry by the time we got to Mudhouse?

It was a largely unproductive weekend, which was nice after the frenzy of last weekend’s embroidering and shop opening. We talked wedding plans when Mom and Dad came up for lunch yesterday. I finished reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. What a fun book. I can’t believe I’d never read it before. Not a lot of books make me laugh out loud multiple times, but that one did.

Anyway, today I want to wish my mom a very happy birthday. She’s still killin’ it at 70!

Well I Did It

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I finished the ballerina (Misty Copeland, of course) on December 31st and opened my online shop on January 1st. It was not an easy deadline to meet! But I made it, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far. Fortunately, what I’ve done has only whetted my appetite for more, and I have zillions of ideas for pieces I want to create going forward. Few things make me happier than settling down on the sofa with coffee and a new project to work on.

Even so, in the interest of avoiding burnout, I am taking a little time off from embroidery to indulge myself in…another craft! Makers gotta make, after all. My lovely soon-to-be in-laws gave me some gorgeous sock yarn for Christmas, and I spent much of Sunday afternoon knitting the cuff of a new sock. It was so nice to just follow someone else’s pattern for a change, knowing everything will turn out well if I just mindlessly obey the instructions. Some people hate that, but I love it. One gets tired of having to be in charge all the time, of having to judge every little decision one makes about where to take one’s creation. Says, without a trace of irony, the new business owner.

Anyway, we had a great New Year’s Eve and Day. On the Eve, after I’d spent the entire day feverishly finishing the above pictured piece and setting up the shop’s site, Paul made chili while I made cinnamon roll dough, and we curled up on the sofa with a bottle of wine, a bowl of popcorn and a movie. We went to bed at 12:05 am, like an old married couple in our early thirties. Then in the morning, I baked the cinnamon rolls, and we had them with eggs, bacon, and mimosas. Then, horrified at ourselves, we went jogging. The next day, striving for balance, I made Mimi’s beet salad with creme fraiche. We were going to jog again this morning, but when the alarm went off early and we heard the cold rain drumming on the windowsill, we just rolled over. Oh well. Baby steps.

Christmas vacation

img_1108Isn’t this view of the Chester River pretty? On Christmas Day, in Chestertown, Maryland, a small party of Hostetlers and I took a leisurely stroll down to the water to get some fresh air and move around after far too much sitting around and snacking. The familiar holiday sloth had definitely settled in, and taking a walk was so refreshing. The bracingly chilly wind off the water, the crisp blueness of the sky, the sense of light and space after so much time cooped up in the car on the way, and in the house after we got there, the quiet of the town and the river after so much noise and chatter indoors…it was exactly what I needed.

My favorite Christmas carols all seem to invoke space and silence and tranquility. The midnight clear. The silent night. The holy night, in which the stars are brightly shining. Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow. I like the lullabies more than the jubilant songs of joy to the world. What I think I look for most of all in Christmas is peace–which is admittedly hard to find–and if not peace, at least a pause in the whirling rush of the season, and the sometimes too-quick turning of the year. I look for a little space, a little quiet, a little time to catch my breath and say, “Ah yes, this life I’m living, it’s good. These years that are passing, the people who keep me company, the role I’m playing in my small corner of the world, the little things I occupy my time with, the small ways I influence the other beings who’ve been placed in my tiny sphere…it is all, in general, good.” I have to wonder sometimes. Some days, the harder days, I just don’t know. At Christmas, I like to find some quiet and some space to say to myself, “No really, it’s all good.”

I’m going to try to find more moments like this in the new year, because I think I need more of them. I don’t know if I have it in me to make a resolution to, say, start meditating regularly. I am the type of person who will break my resolutions within a week and beat up on myself about it and mentally throw my hands up in the air and say, “What hope is there for a person with such a pitiful lack of self-discipline?” This is hardly constructive, so I don’t bother anymore.

And yet…I’d like to live in such a way that 2017 has plenty of moments that feel like that walk. I’d like more patches of quiet and calm and light and space and reflection and breathing deeply and not trying to get anywhere in particular…just enjoying the walk itself.

That’s my resolution for 2017: enjoy the walk itself. Hopefully my embroidery ambitions will fit in with that goal. Right now I’m a little anxious about finishing my piece and getting the site ready for launch on January 1. But I’d like to let you know that for the first week that Satin & Stem is open for business, the 1st through the 7th, 10% of all proceeds from sales in my shop (crossing my fingers that there are no technical snafus) will be donated to the International Rescue Committee, to support relief efforts for evacuees from Aleppo. I’d like to start this new year on a kind and generous note, and I hope you will too.

Happy New Year! xoxo,

Cameron

When the lights come up

img_1084When Paul and I went down to Richmond for a visit with my parents last weekend, we spent some time on Saturday evening driving around town looking at lights. I haven’t done a Christmas light tour in Richmond probably since I was in college, and it brought back so many memories, all of them tinged with that glow that only childhood Christmases have.

We went downtown to the James Center to see the reindeer woodland, definitely a highlight of my little girl days. Basically two big plazas in front of tall office buildings are jam-packed with lighted reindeer posed in various positions. As if this herd of flying light-deer have touched down briefly to munch grass in the middle of a random city en route to the North Pole. One of them even has a red nose, and the children squeal with delight when they find him.

I do love Christmas in a real city. Charlottesville, while lovely, is not big enough to really pull it off. Richmond lights up its whole skyline, with the skyscrapers’ edges crisply outlined with white lights. One December evening I would like to walk out to Belle Isle, or at least to the middle of the footbridge, and see the city glittering from a distance. We kept on driving around town, and suburb, and saw lights both tacky and tasteful, the style of the lights generally being in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. There was colorful and kitschy exuberance in the Fan, and serene and sedate candlelit windows in the West End, just as you would expect. And everywhere we went, I would look for the Christmas trees twinkling through windows.

Christmas (and Hanukkah) (and the solstice) are all about light appearing, and even miraculously growing, in times of darkness. The lights everywhere this time of year are, to me, a reminder that the light is all around. Everywhere, strangers are conjuring it. Even at night. Sometimes especially at night. The lights wouldn’t have the same warmth or beauty if they weren’t shining in the midst of darkness.

So I have been moved to stitch a piece full of bright colors standing out on a dark background. The subject matter, too, is in keeping with the theme–a performer on stage, lights shining on her as she twirls, dazzling the audience sitting in the darkened theater. Let’s just say I’ve been listening to a lot of The Nutcracker lately, and this piece is my own version of the dance of the sugar plum fairy. As she slowly comes into view, stitch by stitch, it feels like the lights are coming up.

Waiting for Santa

img_1039This is pretty much the attitude of the Crowder-Hostetler House right now. Presents are bought (though not yet wrapped), parties have been hosted or attended, and now, we wait. Waiting is so annoying usually, but at this time of year, the waiting itself is a pleasure. Advent…the season of happy expectancy.

Embroidery (and all sorts of needlework) is, for me, a way of cultivating that spirit year ’round. You have an idea for something, a vision of sugarplums or whatever dancing in your head. You run to the fabric or yarn store to buy what you need before settling in on the sofa to realize your vision. If you could buy it at a store and save yourself the trouble of making it yourself…you wouldn’t, because the pleasure of making it is part of the value of the thing. If you sat down and finished the thing in ten minutes, you would feel yourself cheated of…something.

In our society that expects lightning-fast everything, there is a deep, ancient, visceral pleasure in being made to wait while something develops, slowly but steadily, into something more than the raw materials it was made from–be it a sock on your knitting needles, a stew simmering slowly in the crockpot, a tomato growing on a vine, wine aging in a barrel, a spark of attraction turning into real romance, or of course, a fetus, miraculous or otherwise, becoming a person. As prosaic as stitching is, I think it has that same magic, the enchantment of waiting, about it. Your hand keeps moving along, repeating the same essential motions over and over and over, for hours and days, and then you look down and are amazed at what to your wondering eyes has appeared.

Happy Advent, everyone. As I wait for the launch of my web shop, I wish you and yours a season full of whatever brings you peace, joy, and a touch of magic.

Wishing for snow

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It doesn’t get much better than a snow day. We haven’t had one yet, but there’s the potential for snow here tonight and nothing would make Paul’s birthday tomorrow better than for me to have the day off and nothing to do but tromp through the snow and drink cocoa. The idea is so inspiring to me that I’ve been stitching a little snow scene of a girl walking her pup in a wintry landscape. This has been so fun to make so far, to watch the little details bring the picture to life. I’m especially fond of that scarf. The snowy background is kind of slow going, but I’m really eager for the final touch of the piece, which is going to be a liberal sprinkling of white French knots over the whole scene, so that it will look like snow’s falling.

But there won’t be much time for stitching today, as Paul and I are throwing a little party to celebrate both the holidays and his turning 30 tomorrow. I have made enough cookie dough for roughly a gajillion cookies, both sugar and gingerbread, and have also made the cake for a Boston cream pie. Still to do: royal icing for cookies, pastry cream and ganache for Boston cream pie. Oh, and we have to throw lights and ornaments on our little tree, which was about three times the hassle we thought it would be to set up last night. I brought it home from the lot on Thursday evening, and since it wouldn’t fit in the stand we already had, we put it in a bucket of water overnight and then Paul bought a new stand for it yesterday. Then it turned out that it hadn’t been trimmed enough to fit in that stand, so Paul took a hacksaw to it last night, out in the yard in 20-degree weather, and trimmed it till it fit in the stand. But then we didn’t line up the screws with the trunk the right way and the thing toppled over as we were bringing it back inside and we had to try again with the stand. Later, after having swept up Douglas fir needles from all over the downstairs, we recovered our faculties with cocoa that was heavily laced with Kahlua, and at 9 p.m. I finally got around to making cake. But it’s not the holidays if you’re not slightly frazzled and irritable some of the time, right?

Now, all is calm, all is bright. The cat’s purring in my lap for a few more minutes before I kick him off and get dressed to take the birthday guy out to Spudnuts for breakfast. He deserves a blueberry doughnut, for sure.

A cup of stitches

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After years of enjoying embroidery as a pastime, I am starting a blog and a microbusiness in my spare time and hoping to spread the love for this beautiful and relaxing art form. I’m not quite ready to open a shop yet–need to design more pieces and patterns first–but I’ll be posting updates here as things move along, so check back soon if you’re interested. I’m hoping to offer original pieces, patterns, tutorials, and eventually kits, but as with all things embroidered, the process is fun but slow going. Thank you for stopping by!