Monday, December 30, 2013

Wishing You a 2014 Filled with Hope!

I finished sewing my last item for 2013 on the 23rd of December in the nick of time for Christmas and went to bed for a long winter's nap. This was the start of my "let down" and "rest up" which has continued through today, interrupted only by Christmas celebration activities.

My oldest daughter loves to cook and bake and wanted full reign in the kitchen, and my arm didn't have to be twisted much.  This freed me to rest, relax and read Ann Voskamp's most recent book, The Greatest Gift.  It is a beautiful book that "unwraps" the true meaning of Christmas.  It is warm and loving and made me better appreciate our many blessings this Christmas season.

With our family gathered, Christmas seemed to push away all of the harsh realities that we had been dealing with since my husband's lay-off from his more than twenty-two years employment at The Orvis Company. This loss was coupled with another no less significant to me: the sudden loss of my lyme-literate doctor right in the middle of an extensive and radical treatment. My course was complicated and switching doctors in the middle of it was no small feat.

We "started over" by replacing our health insurance as best as we could afford and then did an extensive search for a special doctor to take me to the end of my treatment.  My husband's journey in replacing his job was not so short term.  He has had to learn what I had learned when my health prevented me from working as a nurse years ago: that we are more than the sum of our roles in life.  Though jobs provide identity, self-esteem and structure life, without them, life goes on, and self-esteem need not be related to one's earning capacity.

He is learning that his worth is huge to our family, unlike his worth to the large company that laid him off only a couple years after honoring him as one of their best employees. This sort of betrayal has been devastating and recovering from it, not without dangers! Being so close to retirement without a job makes him and others in this situation very vulnerable for victimization by employers  who scam honest and hard-working people in need of work, by promising viable salaries when it is never their intention to make good on their promises.

Christmas came in the nick of time, giving my husband respite from such an employer, and also by reminding him and us too that we are surrounded by Christ's love, along with the love of  family which is enough to renew hope and clarity of vision. He wisely used a bit of his unpaid time off during this holiday week to further pursue other job leads, and may well have found another. We are guardedly optimistic.

On Christmas Eve, I couldn't help but hear the familiar words to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" in a new and more meaningful way. This carol was originally based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem written in 1863.  He wrote of being discouraged by the war surrounding him and, it is reported that in dispair, he bowed his head and wrote:"There is no peace on earth," I said; "For hate is strong And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep:  The wrong shall fail, The Right Prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men." It is still resounding in my heart and with it renewed strength, courage, and hope for 2014!

We at Little House wish you all a very Happy New Year, filled with hope in new possibilities for whatever circumstances you may be facing in 2014!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is here at last and our celebration begins with going to Christmas Eve Mass as a family. Usually a simple supper follows, though this year our daughter who loves to cook fixed some fun hors d'oeuvres. The rest of our Christmas eve is usually filled with last minute wrapping of packages, picking up messes, or last minute food preparation for Christmas breakfast and dinner, visiting and perhaps a TV program before settling in for a long winter's nap. Family gathering and relaxing  is central to the event.

Santa comes while we sleep.  No more middle of the night assembling of toys with directions written in foreign languages we can't decipher or a last minute scramble to find a screw or nut that was missing from a kit. Our eldest has taken over the filling of stockings, though we all contribute small, practical or silly items to fill them. I used to count them all to be sure all were evenly filled. Now if anyone's stocking isn't full enough, a can can be pulled from the pantry.  This is motivation to all to be sure that enough stocking stuffers are gotten so that no one ends up with a can of baked beans in their stocking, which for some of us would be akin to "coal".

Our morning is lazy and all assemble around the Christmas tree in PJs and robes to open packages, and we break for coffee and breakfast, as needed. Our traditional Christmas breakfast is sausage biscuits, orange juice, tea and coffee or hot chocolate, though this year I think we may be having pancakes and bacon. We continue to meander through our day: visiting, cooking Christmas dinner, and enjoying our gifts and each other.  Sometimes friends stop in and sometimes we pull out a jigsaw puzzle or game.

I always ask for books and sampling a bit of each is a delight. Nothing is nicer than going back to bed with a good book in the afternoon and napping as the smells of turkey or ham warm the house. Some prefer to gather around the TV with a movie. Differences are permitted for happiness is whatever one prefers.

Christmas is the finale of every year, and we are finding that no matter our circumstances, just as morning follows night, so Christmas comes to finish off the year, no matter how challenging. Ornaments from generations decorate our tree, the family manger made by my husband as a boy and the creche figurines purchased at the Five and Ten Store with his mother along with the tiny old cardboard village houses, figures and bottle brush trees now tops the old upright piano that has been with me since childhood.  But most importantly, Christmas comes with family gathered to love and share this season together.

Nothing is perfect.  Our family, like others is a group that is unmatched.  There are tensions, and conflicts and often over little things that seem inconsequential in the big scheme of things. Love of family prevails and with it our faith in a loving and giving God that continues to bless us in all circumstances!

May God's peace be with you all this Christmas and holiday season!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Cobbler's Children

You know what they say about the cobbler's children wearing no shoes?  I have at last filled my orders and posted them and it is now time to attend to our own Christmas.  We will be working at posting more wares here soon and continue sewing, but I will take a pause to sew a bit for my own kids.  I foolishly offered to stitch for them as I have in years past.  It is a way of stretching dollars, as all sewers know and I reflect on the many projects that I had to finish while hiding out and sewing into the wee hours of the morning.  Why should life change now, just because I am older?

There was the colorful little clown rag doll I made for my first daughter for her first Christmas followed up by a life-sized teddy bear for my second daughter, made from a special stretchy fabric that I didn't realize I was over-stuffing until I poked a hole in his neck and then had to attach his head to his shoulders  with a banded neck. A scarf around his neck covered the error made the day before Christmas! Fortunately he was a rather odd looking bear to begin with. There were bed pockets  for my oldest daughter that turned out to be more work than I ever imagined and are still waiting to be used after she cleans her room (never?).

We have also done the parent scramble looking for the toys that were sold out months before, like the Big Bird that had a tape player in his back and moved its beak as the story tapes played. We found the last one in Denver that year! My second daughter was about the same size and was mesmerized by this life-like toy that sat and told her stories.

Perhaps with age these memories take on more significance, like my favorite Christmas with the trunk full of doll clothes that were so richly detailed and made by hand by my own mother.  I don't remember that these home-made gifts were favorites with my children at the time?  Yet, they didn't pass up the opportunity to have me make something for them this year. With only days to go and nothing started for our own Christmas, the race is on. I am realizing that once again, I am without what else is new.  Take what I have and change it to make what they want.  It is an old trick.They are older and wiser now, and have grown more particular. Can I pull this off?  The worst case is that they may never ask me for another home-made gift again, and with that thought I am positive that this will be a win-win situation regardless how their gifts turn out, I am set to sew!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tis the Season continued...

Who would have thought that a funeral could bring such warmth and love.  It was the nicest one I had ever been to.  Perhaps I have been sequestered too long and yet winter is just starting here in Vermont, where snow keeps many locked in and "cabin fever" is a very real phenomena.  It was a big town event, and there wasn't a dry eye. Everyone showed up to pay their respects and to comfort the family hit so hard by this untimely death.

The minister was a great uncle of the young man now gone from our midst and he didn't miss anything in his eulogy. He talked openly about all the issues that plagued this young man.  How wise he was for the same issues plague many of his friends, no doubt and they were there in great number!  There was no shame or blame, but only compassion and open expression of the tragic loss of potential and talent with the loss of this dear young man. It was clear that this boy had touched so many in his few years.  I was struck that it was his humanness that spoke louder than any perfection could have.

The pastor encouraged any who wished to get up and speak about how he touched their life and many did. They spoke about him being silly and fun, though sadly he couldn't share his needs as well as he could address the needs of others.  I was glad that my chair was right next to a table with a box of tissues and I sat there pulling them them out and passing them as well as attending my own tears and nose. It wasn't just loss but life in this big gathering, with standing room only. It was community, heart and soul, all gathered here.

I was reminded that we all need encouragement to carry on in the midst of losses. The minister was there to comfort and remind us that God is all loving, forgiving and accepting and is sufficient for our needs and healing as we carry on with the life missions that each of us have.

It was not just a funeral message, but an an advent message as well. How easy it is to get bogged down with the holiday season, overwhelming us beyond what is already sometimes overwhelming in the day to day of our ordinary lives. We need to be reminded how precious life is, and to take time to appreciate its gift. We need to reach out and pray and give to those around us. It is love that not only makes our pains and losses bearable but enriches our lives. It is this love that is the real Christmas message that brings hope, peace and joy to our lives.

Again may you rest in peace JP.  Your life was a gift to so many!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tis the Season...

It was a sobering day today.  I was awakened by someone at the door.  I often ignore such intrusions on my sleep, but thought perhaps it was the postman delivering a package and so I got up, threw on my fleece vest and ran for the door.  There was my youngest daughter’s best friend.

I was eager to see her. She has been on my prayer list as she is separating from her husband and there is a custody battle going on over her child.  It has been anything but easy for her, for though there was no proof of neglect or abuse, her mother-in-law took the child to care for him and then never gave him back. She alleged her an unfit mother, and my daughter’s friend had the choice of their child going to state custody or letting the mother-in-law keep their young child until this issue was resolved. She made the difficult choice that only a good mother could make.  She chose to have her child stay with his grandmother rather than to go to a stranger.

That is not why she was at the door today however.  She came to inform us of what would be any parent’s worst nightmare come true. Her brother had committed suicide and she had come to tell us.  I immediately woke my youngest daughter who had come to stay with us as she does each week, to work a couple of days in our area and then returns to her apartment about one and a half hours away.  I was glad that she was here to see her friend.

We could not believe the horribleness of it all!  I used to be a psych nurse and manned a suicide prevention line years ago and know the subject well.  He was mentally ill and took the “permanent solution” to solve his “temporary problem”.  Clearly he was not thinking straight, and was suffering and did the unthinkable.There are always signs before such an event, but often go unnoticed by even the most trained of eyes.  It happened with a close friend of mine when I was a young woman, though I knew what to look for. Hindsight is 20/20, but life is not lived with hindsight.

We hugged her and cried with her and offered our sympathy and support.  I hurt for her and her parents. His life had been fraught with difficulties, but no one ever thought that this would be a choice he would make.  I assured her that no parent, friend or sibling can prevent this from happening and no one is to blame.  It was his bad choice, and sadly nothing can be done about it now. Much grief will ensue, especially after the shock starts to wear off. She did not stay long as she needed to return home and start making the endless phone calls to friends and relatives to let them know.  She had another friend who was to be by her side throughout the days ahead, thank God.
We thought about her all day long.  It is the holiday season, but for a person who is depressed, lonely or mentally ill, that can be a season that is anything but joyous.  We painfully considered that this beautiful season will be scarred by the anniversary of his death every year for this family and we ached for the hearts that were broken by this tragic event. If only he knew just how devastating this is for all those that love him, especially his family, I am sure that he would never have chosen to inflict this pain on them.

In tribute to the loss of this young man, I thought I would share his story. It is one that speaks loudly to all of us. This is the sort of event that dwarfs all other problems and puts everything in perspective. The everyday crises and upsets are so inconsequential!

It is a reminder to us just how precious each day is and made us appreciate what we, too often, take for granted! Though this young man chose to end his mental pain permanently,  none of us ever knows what events may befall us in the future and treasuring the present is really the most that we can do.  This is the season of love. Let us not forget to reach out to those around us to make everyone feel cared for and loved this Christmas and holiday season.

May you rest in peace JP! You will be sadly missed!


As it gets closer to Christmas, I can't live without my do-lists.  I am hopelessly behind.  My annual Christmas letter is in draft form only. Did I buy cards last year on sale? I cannot remember, and have only a clue in which heap to look to see if I did.  I am sewing orders, and then more fleece socks for the last sale at the Holiday Inn in Rutland, Vermont on the 16th.  The Christmas tree is up in the living room and to be decorated tomorrow, in the nick of time for The Brycer to come and do his monthly dusting, vacuuming and scrubbing. I am still shuffing baskets and bins to the basement to get stuff out of his way, leaving only my current projects in my upstairs dining room studio.

I prepare for the pile up on the dining room table to clear the floor for him to vacuum and I begin the tedious task of unburying my desk, dresser tops, and counter tops and work to put everything where it belongs.  It looks like we had a wild party of scavengers come through the house, turning everything upside down!  I can hear my mother say, "This isn't the way you were raised!"  My mother would be appalled, or would she? She knew me better than anyone and tore her hair out like I do with my own kids!  Some training just doesn't "take", though she did manage to train us kids make our beds every day and hang up our clothes when we took them off and put our toys away? I have since learned from my children that that is what chairs and floors are for and save time and leave my bed covers turned back for a quick return day or night!

As a young adult, I used to prepare for Christmas before I returned to my job as an educational consultant every fall.  My Christmas cards would be signed and addressed, and packages would be wrapped, hidden in black plastic bags and stuffed into closets, and my children were programmed to want what was on sale and affordable (though in truth, that only lasted for a year or two, before they smartened up, and marched off to tell Santa a couple weeks before Christmas what NOT to bring in addition to what to bring).  Nothing is perfect but at least Christmas Vacation was ALMOST always a vacation, as packages would be mailed on time along with my Christmas letter, and I would "settle in for a long winter's nap"...

I was in such control that I even initiated more traditions, not knowing how hard they would be to keep in the years ahead.  Yes, we had a special Advent Elf, that brought a package to each child each day during Advent. At the time, I started this I only had one child and it grew exponentially with our second!  We soon found The Advent Elf forgetful, and so another tradition was established: he took to hiding his packages and so the kids would hunt for them in the morning as we scrambled to get them out!  What was I thinking?

Whatever happened to the Laura-Ingalls-Wilder-sorts-of-Christmases where a stick of peppermint candy and a pair of pretty red mittens would satiate our wanton children's appetites for surprise gifts. Surprises we learned weren't fun if they were the wrong color, and too practical! Fortunately, we did invest in a few Christmas music boxes, and lovely creches and ornaments and so little by little it has become less about the packages and more about the decorating and celebrating. A few years ago, I informed our now adult children that The Advent Elf had died, unless they wanted to keep it going by bringing their worn out parents little gifts each day! It is interesting that that idea has never caught on, though it does seem that our oldest child has taken on the role of Santa, and works to see that our stockings are full.  I had taken to filling them with items from our pantry and I am sure that she still lives in fear of getting a can of baked beans in hers! She likes molasses but in beans it is not a treat!

It is the Advent Season, and we prepare for our traditional family gathering with Christmas Eve Mass, a Christmas breakfast and opening of packages in the morning and a Christmas dinner in the late afternoon. We have also taken to doing a jigsaw puzzle or some other family activity while we are still gathered.

We bustle about to prepare. I foolishly suggested that I make a handmade gift for each my daughters and though I tried to eat my words as soon as they fell out of my mouth, this is another tradition that they love. They remember dolls, teddy bears, aprons, and whatever else I could make to stretch our dollars. It is reminisce of my most favorite Christmas as a child when my mother made me a trunk full of doll clothes, complete with tiny pockets capable of holding a kernel of popcorn. Traditions are traditions and don't change!

I even look forward to the little irritations and clashes of personalities that inevitably arise during our decorating: I want to get it done and over with and to sip a cup of hot cocoa in front of the beautiful tree. An "unnamed other" hangs similar ornaments all in a row and another is too fast to be careful enough for "The Ornament Nazi" who needs to see it perfectly done, down to the last red bow on the tree. I smile and am glad to have turned that task over to another who has been well-trained by me.  Some tasks are best delegated to be sure!

Well, back to my do-lists.  There is still much to be done! I do look forward to ending this overly-challenging year by preparing to celebrate again the most wonderful gift of the season: the spirit of Christmas renewing our hearts with God's love made manifest right here in our own family. We are delighted that our grown kids remain young at heart and  wouldn't miss our traditional Christmas!

P.S. Perhaps it was not such a good idea to read my blog to my husband and oldest child right before the tree decorating event. There was a huge "blow up" and so I rescind my "looking forward to the little irritations and clashes of personalities that inevitably arise during our decorating".  We did survive another year and I am thinking of creating new traditions.  Perhaps at least two trees in two different rooms for our decorating party next year to avoid the clashes of personalities that seem to grow bigger every year!?? Or perhaps we start with sipping a cup of hot cocoa laced with a bit of Vandermint liquor to remind everyone to "lighten up" on creating the perfect tree.  It is up and decorated now and I am enjoying a cup of cocoa now!!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Winner of The Tomato Pincushion is....

Pamela A has won the drawing for the extra large tomato pincushion! If you didn't win this time, please know that our Common Thread Give-Away is held every month and so stay connected and we will be informing you weeks from now as to who the next Give-Away Artist will be.  We appreciate your interest in our work and want to show our appreciation to you by having give-a-ways each month! Congratulations to Pam!

Thank you all for leaving your comments and stories. I enjoyed hearing about your early sewing days and had to smile at the one about getting her grandmother to do her stitching for her.  I am certain that my mother felt the same way about trying to teach me to knit...picking up my dropped stitches wasn't so very fun!

Please know that in the middle of our drawing we experienced some technical difficulties and didn't want to work on our website until the drawing was over, so we posted my email  address for you to send your comments. We hope that everyone got a chance that wanted one. We will work on our site to assure that this doesn't occur again! Thank you for your participation and feedback that you left us! I would love to give you all a pincushion if I could.  I hope you will visit my ETSY shop and come back and visit my website again!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thank You!

Hannah here, hijacking the blog for a moment. I just wanted to thank everyone who stopped in at the Poultney High School show over the weekend!  It is always a treat to visit with customers past and present!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Free Give-Away Pincushion--A Perfect Gift

I am December's Common Thread Give-Away Artist.  I will be giving away one of my over-sized red wool tomato pincushions. It is likely no mistake that I came to be a creator of pincushions, though I hadn't realized how this happened until I sat down to write about the pincushions I have received as gifts. This writing made me realize how near and dear these pincushion gifts were, along with the friendships that they represent. These relationships literally transformed my life.

When I was young, I had an inexpensive pincushion from the dime store.  Didn't we all...the small red tomato sorts with the little strawberry emery attached to sharpen our needles. It was added to my personal sewing notions that I needed in order to take the required basic Home Economics Sewing Class 101. This was the class where everyone had to make a gathered skirt with a zipper on the side, a waist band at the top and a hand-stitched hem on the bottom. Though we all had at least one of these skirts, it was never my favorite and I avoided wearing it until it was the only item left  in my closet clean to wear. I can still see the material and even have a piece of it in my crazy quilt.  My mother made a cummerbund to wear with it, likely knowing that I needed an incentive to wear it.  I laugh to think of the style.  It was a good thing that I was a bit too young to have hips, as this would have been a skirt to turn them into holster hips to be sure!

I was fortunate that my next project got to be whatever I wanted to make.  I just had to go with my mom and purchase a pattern and material of my choice.  I still have the pattern and the material was a red pillow ticking material. A picture is worth a thousand words and will date me. It is hard to believe that girls didn't wear pants to school and on cold days we wore jeans under our dresses? I hope you are laughing now to be sure...but it is all true!!

I loved my Home Economic's teacher.  Her name was Mrs. New.  I even called her "Mom" on many occasions,  a Freudian slip of the tongue. She was my "mom" at school.  Soon I was getting out of study hall to get extra sewing time in her class.  She talked of love and home values and was the comfort zone that I needed at school.  Her favorite saying was, "This above all to thine own self be true and it must follow as the night the day, though then can'st be false to any man" (Wm Shakespeare). She was sewing my character as I sewed the seams of my red pillow ticking dress. Though to be sure, I did a lot of seam ripping in those days to correct the errors of my ways...and I am still doing lots of "virtual seam ripping" to correct my character flaws today!

But back to the subject of pincushions.... I have been gifted eight pincushions in my life, including my first tomato pincushion.  I didn't value the first one, as it was replaced with personal ones made specially for me. I am a soft touch for hand made gifts that required patience and love to create.

This is the precious pincushion that Bertha made for me.
The portrait that Bertha drew of me along with her special note.

Above, living quarters for a migrant family.  Below, Bertha.
Bertha, and her siblings.
My second pincushion was made and given to me by a young migrant girl, Bertha Hernandez. I even saved the letter and her hand drawn picture of me.  I loved this young girl, her brother and her family, along with other migrant  babies we had in our migrant nursery the summer break of my third year at college. My job was to set up and run a day nursery for migrant children in southern Colorado. Bertha and her friend would come into our nursery class at the end of the day and join us as we rocked the babies and sang to them while we waited, for the school bus to come to take them to their temporary homes. We had them bathed and fed and snuggled, and perhaps Bertha felt like I felt in Mrs. New's sewing class. My classroom nursery was a home away from home for her, the migrant babies and me.

A very special personal pincushion from Suzanne Clark.

Just a tiny gift from a friend. Stuffed with pine needles and smells of pine.

This beauty was made for me by Pam and Dennis Conrad.

Twin appliqued basket pincushions by Pam Conrad for my mom and me.
Later, special pincushions were made by my best friend, Pam Clark (now Conrad) and her sister, Suzanne. Both were very creative and each pincushion was different and special in their own ways.  I have always had room to keep them! I cannot look or use them but what I think of all the good times that we shared together during and after college. I hadn't a clue then that they would be the heart and inspiration behind my Little House Home Arts business and that I would become known locally as The Pincushion Lady.

Gift for myself from a quilt show.  The bag for threads is invaluable!
My latest pincushions were gifts to myself. It is important that you gift yourself just as you gift others. My scrap bag pincushion is one of my favorites and sits by my chair as I sew, catching all my little bits of threads. And my last pincushion is one that I made and loved so much that I had to keep it.It was designed after a hat-pin pincushion I found in an antique store. It has soda cans it it to form a foundation. I love crazy quilting and the hours put into this made it such that it would have been like selling my soul to have sold it afterwards.

A very special crazy quilt hat-pin pincushion made by me.  I couldn't sell it.

Each pincushion I make is made with the love that was sewn into those that were made for me.  It is funny how our lives are shaped and it isn't until we look back and see the patterns that we come to understand just how transforming and important these little personal gifts of love are to us.

Pincushions now represent to me the love of home, family and friends. Stitched with love, they represent the way our friendships are made....with bits of time carefully sewn to create a bond of friendship that gives and receives, helping  us to grow into the people we are to become, with character, and love that overflows to pass on to others.

To win my special wool tomato pincushion, simply leave a comment, Monday, December 2nd, through Wednesday, December 4th.  A drawing will be held and the winner announced on Thursday.  If you don't win this pincushion, please know that there are many for sale in my Etsy Shop. If you prefer something other than a pincushion, you will find many other sweet gifts to share with your friends and family!
EDIT: If anyone is struggling to post a comment, please feel free to email me at with your comment to be entered.  To anyone who has commented but whose comment isn't showing up, It has been emailed to me but isn't appearing on my page - you TOO are entered!