Year of Thoughtful Living, Part VI: On Taking Stock and Window Quilts Revisited

It’s been a busy few months since I wrote last, andphoto_7 I have some useful things to share; but before I start, let me say a sincere thanks to those folks who took the time to email me personally, asking when I’d be back on the Lehman’s newsletter. Your kind words and enthusiasm are more encouraging than I can express, and I can report that while silent, I have not been idle.

At right around January 4th (the 6-month mark of this journey) I took stock of how I was doing with my food, supplies and expenses. So far, I’m doing very well with canned goods, not quite as well but still pretty good with frozen things, passable in the personal care and household cleaners, but nearly back to the dreaded “S” word (shopping) for paper goods. I think I mentioned back in late summer that I surmised this might be the case, but I still feel pretty good about where that puts me with a target of going a year without many major shopping trips. One of the things I’ve done to increase my accountability will probably strike some as borderline OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, for those who still believe that folks like me “just have their quirks”). I’ve begun labeling the date I open almost everything so as to keep track of how long it takes me to go through it.

Laundry detergent bottles and boxes of color safe bleach get marked with a felt-tip pen that lives in the laundry room; the thick outside plastic wrapper of twelve and twenty-pack paper products get the same treatment; and a clipboard hanging from the steel shelves that serve as a temporary pantry cabinet shows hash marks for canned and boxed food I use, as a record and a basis for planning ahead. If it’s true that you are what you eat, then I am an almost total vegetarian who loves anything made with tomato sauce, consumes enough leafy greens to be a poster child for Organic Gardening, and blows through an almost frightening amount of olive oil, capers and roasted red peppers. <shrug> Who knew? …mental note – plant enough peppers this year to roast and preserve my own. I should say here that in my zeal to use-date everything, I did stop myself just short of marking a date on the end of a new spool of thread….

In any case, among the things I’ve been occupying myself with these winter evenings and weekends are my window quilts! If you recall the original article I wrote back in October of ’07, I waxed nostalgic about how nice it would be to make them of warm, homey fabrics. Every time I went through a local Mennonite-run country store nearby, I invariably ended up in the linens section, admiring the quilted placemats and matching dishtowels, and decided to start a Sewing & Hobbies sock fund. photo_2At a maddeningly slow pace of a few dollars out of each paycheck, I finally saved enough to hit both a sale and coupon opportunity at the local fabric store this past December, and my wonderful old Swiss sewing machine, given to me when I was expecting my son years ago, has had a place of honor at my kitchen table ever since.

One of the few downsides to the original quilts was that when fully extended, they completely darkened the room and obstructed the view. That’s fine for nighttime or an unpleasant view; but I missed having natural light coming in and being able to see the deer and birds during the day on the weekends. Working with the basic premise that chilled air will sink, I decided to try making half-length quilts, leaving the top part of the window uncovered, creating a sort of cold air pocket. I reasoned that if I wanted to make tie-backs for the top and just close them at night, they could be either tucked in behind the bottom rod or (this is my favorite idea yet, I think) they could have a “loose” liner attached only at the top so that when the tie-backs are released, the liner guides the cold air down into the pocket and the pretty part of the curtain is in front of the bottom rod, cafe style. The pictures here show photo_5one of the first bottom-half pieces going together.

I constructed the bottom quilted part exactly as with the original version, spreading out fabric and a layer of slightly smaller batting (in this case, thick white terrycloth that was on clearance). I had ironed the edges of the plaid fabric over about 1/4″ so that when it was folded again over the edge of the batting, it would produce a nice, finished edge that will not fray. I should caution here, especially for inexperience sewers, that any new fabric should be washed and dried before you begin working with it. You don’t want your batting or liner to shrink a different amount from the finish fabric the first time you put your window quilt through the wash, making something that will no longer fit your window and wasting all your work. For this particular project, I washed the terrycloth separately and was rewarded with enough fluffy white lint in the filter to supply as many birds as wish to make nests on my property.

The turn-back seams down the sides and across the bottom of the quilt are about 1/2″ and the top, a good 1 1/2″ to 2″ to accommodate the rod. As an experiment, I tried leaving this particular quilt, which is for a Northwest-facing photo_6window in my laundry room, just the finish layer and terrycloth batting. I may decide to go ahead and sew a cotton broadcloth third layer on the window-facing side; but after the first night that was down in the teens, when I paused while feeding the cats and stuck my hand down behind the quilt, I would swear it felt as though I had plunged my hand into the crisper drawer of my refrigerator. I’m definitely going to do the loose-lining tie-backs for the top, and I’ve started on a similar arrangement for the big windows, also Northwest-facing, over the kitchen sink and table. And yes, everything’s in homey shades of greens, dark reds, browns….

Energy savings aside, I’ve been enjoying spending nights with my sewing. The garage cum wood shop is too cold to work in this year (a heater-and-dust-collection fund has its own sock – maybe next year) so it feels good to spend at least an hour or two practicing long-neglected sewing skills, knowing that one by one, my house will eventually have color and warmth at each window. This brings me to the last thought I want to leave you with — gratitude. Do you remember the article I wrote called The Notebook? It has taken on a new dimension.

I was sitting down to pay bills and work out this month’s budget recently, doing my best to fight back the gnawing fears that the media blitz about the economy has done its best to drown us in. I had done a first pass at my taxes and was astounded to find that after refinancing the house and all that that took during ’08, my income literally fell below the poverty level. But it didn’t feel that way. It felt blessed and imbued with a quiet fullness. I looked around me and decided to approach my list of places that my salary would need to go in a different way.

Instead of a list down the left side of the page with a corresponding dollar amount at the far right, I decided to write what each of those things represented to me.

Mortgage – My haven, my home, a stout structure of my own design — the land around me resplendent with every kind of animal and plant, of which I am entrusted with sacred stewardship. Thank you.

Taxes & Insurance – Security – knowing I can weather the storms – supporting the education of children who may someday run this country, libraries, roadways, help for the helpless. Thank you.

Propane – Blessed warmth on the coldest nights; the luxury of hot water to bathe with and keep my home clean. Thank you.

On and on I went, writing faster and faster with each category until I had to stop because my eyes were overflowing and I could no longer see the paper under my pen.

The power of that exercise made it possible for me to go to work shortly afterward and approach my boss – a man charged with an enormous amount of responsibility amid sliding morale. I asked him what he’d think of making an entire wall in one hallway of our building a Gratitude Wall. To my delight and surprise, he threw his support behind it; and as I write, the first dozen messages have already reached a sort of “in-box” on my cubicle wall and my email box. Some are personal. Some professional. All are genuine.

“I’m so relieved my father-in-law is feeling better.”

“Thanks, Gail, for your help and support.”

“I’m grateful to be working with such a wonderful group of people….”

As I gather each few messages, I format them, give each a different typeface and border, and put them up on a newly mounted collection of cork bulletin boards purchased specifically for the Gratitude Wall. There has been no bit of resentment at money being spent for the sake of uplifting the spirits of both those who express their positive sentiments and those who pause to take in those precious good wishes.

To paraphrase a well-worn commercial, “…good feelings shared – priceless.”

In keeping with the theme of these last paragraphs, my gratitude goes out to Sarah and Greg, and to the Lehman’s community for your originality, sense of humor, courage, and faith in yourselves, the Creator, and each other.

Be well,

Sherry

About SherryEllesson

Sherry Ellesson is a freelance writer and part-time homebuilder who lives and works in central Delaware. Originally from New England, she credits having been raised by hearty, self-sufficient people for her willingness to stay the course on the journey back to homesteading.