DIY Lord of the Rings Costumes

The young hobbit inscribes his sword with elvish runes.
 Our family has never really done much for Halloween, but ever since our church started throwing this great masquerade party every year we've started dressing up for it. This year the kids started planning costumes a month ago and I kept warning that between all the wedding sewing and the fundraiser and the other stuff going on around here I probably wouldn't have time to make anything special.

Well, it turns out that Saturday was free, and that's all it took, and not much sewing either.
 It started with the Boy deciding he was going to be Samwise Gamgee. Well I have a tea stained blouse that Aaron bought me in Thailand before we were married that finally tore this summer. I was trying to decide if I should throw it out or not. Underneath the blue vest that his Beema made for one of his uncles to wear to our wedding 11 years ago it makes a perfect hobbit shirt.

The Jedi pants I made him 2 years ago are now short enough for hobbit pants, and when he got those dirty we found the too short Thai pants hanging on the line would work just as well.

His satchel includes rope, salt, cookware, a blanket and Lembas, also known as rice crispy squares wrapped in foil.

I was going to make him a cape, but it turns out that the Jedi robe I also made him 2 years ago was now short enough to make a convincing hobbit robe as well. Especially with the help of the leaf shaped brooch from great grandma's old jewelry stash that she gave the girls.

Did you know that if you google elvish runes online you will find a rune generator that will translate english words into old hobbit, dwarvish or Elvish.  Good thing that geeks are also into LOTR. :) The sword says brave and faithful on it.

Then the Girl wanted to be Galadriel. She has the right color of hair you see. So we layered one of my old maternity blouses with fancy sleeves underneath one of her long dresses that we turned inside out because the lining is white. I stitch ripped to get the tag off.

We twisted coat hangers around until they looked sort of like Galdriel's crown and braided her hair around it to hold it on.

I did have to sew for her, one cape, of white fabric I had laying around, 3 seams, the easy way. Maybe I should do a cape tutorial I make so many of them? (I finally did make a cape tutorial, here it is. Super fast and easy.)

Little wanted to be Arwen, at the exact moment in the movie when she's on the horse and sees a kid who isn't really there running to Aragorn and then cries. (Her words.) So I did my best with a scrap of blue velvet and a big sister's velvet dress.

The Girl made the clasp for her, out of the broken top of her plastic princess wand and a safety pin. It's pretty authentic looking I think.

Why isn't this chariot going any faster.

We of course has to do something for Bam Bam. So he wore the waistcoat I sewed him for the wedding, and the white shirt, and a ribbon and scrap of fabric turned into a short cape, so he wouldn't trip on it.

I wore a costume too, but I didn't take any photos of myself, again.

So then we were ready to have fun.

Aaron came straight from his flight home to join the fun
a tiger faced elf princess?
hobbit feet
on the borders of Mordor


For When You Feel Powerless

A friend's daughter spent the last several weeks in the hospital because she told her mom she was thinking about how to kill herself. She is a sweet, bright, beautiful girl and that she is able to believe that the world would be better without her in it just kills me. That same weekend another girl at her school did try to kill herself, and succeeded.

Ever since I've been mulling over and over and around and around just what sort of words I could say that would help her.

I still don't know.

But I realized it ties into my series on learning to not be afraid, these thoughts I keep thinking.

So here is what I would say to her if we were sitting down together, just the 2 of us to have a chat.

It's actually quite normal to think about dying you know, I think. Just about everyone does. I have, hundreds of times and in various sorts of ways, just as I imagine what I'll do when/if my loved ones die also.

It's actually a sign of intelligence and imagination to wonder what the world would be like if you weren't in it. After all, you're smart enough to know that on a long enough time line, everyone dies. What's the difference if it happens now, or in a few decades?

I know, the first time you have that thought, the one where you realize just how easily you could severe your tenuous grip on life and leave it all behind forever, it's terrifying. Responsibility is somewhat terrifying, and the first thing we often realize we're responsible for is our own selves.

You're not a child anymore. You understand now that you aren't perfectly safe in this world, that you aren't always protected.

You are the only one who stops yourself from harming yourself now. You are responsible for you, and it's quite the weight. I would want to curl up in a ball and make it all disappear too. I know this because I did spend a lot of time curled up in a ball at one point. You'd be surprised. I either curled up in a ball, got so busy I couldn't breathe, or read fiction voraciously, all to keep myself from thinking about such things.

Eventually you get comfortable with your own mortality. You learn to accept that thought of how easy it would be to die today without being afraid of it, or needing to act on it. It is after all, a fact. It would be so easy to die.

What is a lot harder, and requires a lot more courage is to live. You are going to need a really good reason.

Or not. I tend to think that life itself is it's own reason.

Maybe what you just need is the habit of living. 

(We used to joke about my great granny that living was such a habit for her that she couldn't figure out how to die. She just kept on going, way past what anyone expected. One of the things she always did though was to take genuine pleasure in the little things, a visit, a cup of tea, and good breakfast. She was the most joyful person I knew.)

Decide, just for today, to live, and then figure out how you would like to live. What sort of life do you want? What do you hope to do with what you have been given? Start making choices based on how you will do that or get there. Soon enough you won't find yourself facing the choice of what to do with the kitchen knife on the table anymore, because you already made that choice and you like the life that you are building.

But more than that I want you to try and remember to say thank-you. I know, it sounds so... so, trite. "Just cheer up and be thankful for what you've got." It may even sound like a guilt trip, "How could you not be thankful for the life you've got and all the people who love you and etc, etc, blah, blah blah."

But that' not what I'm saying.

Thankfulness is something you have to practice to get good at it. Noticing the good is a habit that requires cultivation. So when you are with a friend, notice what you like about them. Pay attention to the details. When you eat something tasty, remember to notice it. When you are somewhere beautiful, take a moment to remember that it is a gift and to say thank-you for it. That's all. It's really very simple, though challenging enough at first. But practicing gratitude changes you.

It doesn't make your problems go away, not by a long shot. You still notice all the stuff that sucks and hurts and makes you feel bad. But you know what it does do?

Being thankful gives you power over it. When you choose gratitude, to find the one thing in a sea of dark and to give thanks for it in spite of the rest, you take control of your life. You choose your response to the things you can't control and that gives you power over them in a very profound way.

I know you feel powerless right now. There's a lot coming at you and a lot that is out of your control. That life or death choice, the ability to end it, that feels like power, a way to exert control over everything, to opt out of what you can't change.

That's not your only option though. You need to know this. Sure there is stuff you can't control, we all have stuff we can't control, big scary, unhappy grownup types of things that we wish we could change. Often we can't change it. But if you look closely at the people who are joyful and compare them to the people who are not you will realize that the joyful people are choosing how they respond to the circumstances they find themselves in. They are choosing, not reacting, and that is very important because they have power over themselves, and their reactions, and so they have power over their life.

They choose to trust, even when despair seems to be more logical. They choose to rejoice in everything that is good and praiseworthy and true. They choose to value life and every little gift they receive from it. They are the people who are making something good with the life that they have. Choosing gratitude makes them strong enough to weather the storms that come their way.

Will you give joy a chance?  Just for today to begin with, will you choose your life and how you respond to it? It gets to be addictive you know, being alive. There is so much good in the world if you train yourself to notice it. I hope, for your sake, that you will give it a try.



All morning, whenever I sit still for her, Little is making me a princess. She inserts hair pins at random, and brushes and pulls. Bangles and bracelets pile up on my wrists, necklaces stack up under my chin."You look so beautiful mommy", she says. "You have to keep your princess things on all day, even when you go to the store and the bank."

I'm a princess stirring porridge. The bangles clink as I lift the baby.

It feels odd to realize that she thinks I'm beautiful, and then to understand that she notices only details, not the whole picture. My long hair makes me a princess, even in a stained t-shirt. Blue jeans don't matter if I have on enough bling. But I see the ratty and tattered parts of myself. I know I am not worthy of this adoration. I'm familiar with my ugliness. She notices only beauty.

Bam Bam is restless today, cranky, pulling on things climbing on and off my lap, impossible to satisfy. He snatches at the necklaces, screams as I pry them from his grasping little hands. One by one, I take them off and put them away. The bracelets tinkle and make hard surfaces that press in between in get in the way when I try to nurse. They make me hard and pointy instead of soft and comforting like I should be.

"I can't be a princess anymore," I explain to Little. "I need to take these off so I can do things today. I have work to do and they are getting in the way."

"Ok mama," she agrees, "But you can still keep your princess hair in."

I keep the dozens of pins in my hair all day until bedtime.

This princess business doesn't go very well with this job of being a mommy. No high heels and fancy dresses for me. Hanging laundry is too much work dressed like that. This sort of externally applied beauty gets in the way of my real life, my true identity, the work I have to do.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth

But I must grow some beauty in me somewhere under this weary skin that is so often too thin and easily irritated. I need beauty that doesn't come with sharp edges and pointy jagged hardness in me. For one day she will start to notice more than bling and when she looks for true beauty I need for her to be able to find it in me. I need to learn it so that she will be able to learn it from me. I need to become an arrow that points for her to the the ultimate source of beauty and good, only I'm helpless to do it on my own.

I need to connect with the source of all beauty more myself, in order to truly possess it. I must be a princess who lives life on her knees, or not a princess at all.


10 years old

It was your auntie Ana who pointed it out to me. "You have your first double digit child."

I hadn't really thought about it. One whole decade I have been a mama.

By the end of the next you will be an adult. It's really brief this childrearing thing, only so much time to figure it out before you're gone, on your own, and living the rest of your life.

I still feel like I'm faking it, trying to get it all right so you have a good childhood. One day you will figure out that no one really knows what they are doing in life. We're all just making it up as we go along and there is no magical age where you just suddenly become wise and have all your stuff together. You either choose to do it, or you don't. Each day is what you make it. That's really all you've got.

I like what you are doing with your life so far.

I love your generous heart and the way you take joy in being able to help someone.

When I asked what you wanted for your birthday you said, "I think I would like everyone to give money to help The Charis Project. There's not a lot right now that I really need."

Later on you added, "They could just get me a little something or a small present if they wanted and give the rest to The Charis Project. Just a little something, if they like."

People tell me all the time how surprised they are by the way you talk. At your best you will give a polite, "I'm fine thank-you, doing well. How about you?"

Other times you argue semantics. Just like your daddy, you either answer the question they actually asked, rather than the question they meant to ask like most people do, or you point out that it's a stupid question.

The other day, someone told me that they asked you what your favorite snack is. Your answer? "How could I know that? I haven't tried everything yet. I can't possibly know what my favorite is already."

You are taking piano seriously this year, probably because you are finally at a level where the songs you play sound like real music. You are playing with a flourish, at every opportunity, showing off your newfound prowess. It makes me happy to listen to you.

That's not to say that you aren't a times a regular, loud, irritating, noise making, sounds effects piercing my eardrums and right into the place where I am trying to concentrate sort of boy. And you still process every single thought out loud. If I could listen all day long to the things you say I think you would actually talk all day long, stopping only to pee and drink more water.

Also you do accents. I love how completely without self consciousness you still are. If you decide you want to try a British accent when you are talking to someone you just do it. I don't think I've ever seen you embarrassed.

At your uncle Mason's wedding this weekend you decided to break dance. I did't even know you could break dance until there was a circle of cheering adults round you as you busted a move, several, you went all night. Apparently that's what you do when you are on the trampoline at Beema's house. I didn't know.

I still have a hard time believing you are ten. In my head it's like I'm 2 years behind and you are still the 8 year old I've finally gotten used to. Have I mentioned yet that I'm not so good at dealing with transitions? it will probably drive you crazy as a teenager that I'm like that. My apologies in advance.

Ten years ago when you were born your uncle Wayland, then 14 years old, gave me a sealed envelope with the words, "For the Boy's eyes only. Do not open until you are 10 years old."

It seemed like such a far off thing, you being 10. The years stretched out ahead of us and you were a tiny baby in my arms with the biggest blue eyes and long lashes, golden curls, and little old ladies would stop me to say how beautiful my baby girl was. I couldn't begin to imagine you as a 10 year old.

Lat night your 24 year old uncle Wayland, now a marine corp officer and Berkeley graduate hugged you goodbye because he won't be seeing you for a quite a while now. I don't know exactly what he's doing but I know I heard the word Afghanistan as part of where he's going this year.  This morning you remembered and opened his letter to you, written so long ago, and yet, just yesterday. By the time Bam Bam is your age that could be you, tall and straight in a uniform, off to places without me, even dangerous ones.

But right now your dreams are still boyish, and I love them.

You might build boats and have a shop with a wooden sign that hangs outside and call it "Boat Shop" with your name on the sign above. You will sell kayaks that you made yourself, the greenland kayak, because that's a good versatile one for all sorts of weather.

You are going to build a small house at Beema's place that's got room for all the kids to play in.

You have grand plans and ambitions, though you haven't really yet learned how to turn that plan into action. Something I suppose I'll have to teach you when I have a minute.

We went to the zoo for your birthday.

I love that you give me a kiss on the forehead every night when I hug you. I like to think that when I am old and bent and grey and you are tall and straight and young still, though less so, that you will still kiss my head like that, and I will still kiss your cheeks. I think I can start to see the kind of man you are becoming as we enter the decade where boyhood starts to slip away from you, little bit at a time, a little more each day. I think you will be a man I am proud to know.

I know I am proud of you now.

I love you my son. Forever.

Your Mama


Pretty Happy Real

Pretty - Flower girl dress with the sash I sewed.

Funny - Bam Bam decided to eat his little friend's shoe last week at church. I believe he's trying to demonstrate his slavish devotion to her in exchange for her cereal snacks.

Happy - This is everyone about a minute after Aaron walked in the door after being gone for a month.

Real - She fell off a scooter and right into our wrought iron fence. I bought cover up in case it doesn't heal in time for the wedding.

round button chicken


An Embarrassment of Riches

They are all very loud, standing on the outside edge of the window sill, just behind this couch I sit in. There are bird sounds and many characters acting out voices and I wonder if today is another failure.

Should I be letting them just run wild now, at 2:42pm with the school day so incomplete. (Why does it feel that way even as I remind myself that 2 out of 3 actually finished workbooks that were supposed to last until Christmas today?)

The living room is tidy, finally. Well almost. It's an improvement a least, even though the vintage NordicTrack with it's wood and it's leather still sits awkwardly, juxtaposed against the brick and white molding on the fireplace. I loved it, but we really don't have the room for it and so it must go. Maybe if I post it on Craigslist someone will come and take it away for free.

How did this house get so full of of so much stuff? I'm overwhelmed by it all and that was before I stood on a chair and took down the bins full of fabric for making gifts and costumes. I could probably just give away all the clothes in the overflowing laundry basket that I still have yet to fold. We haven't missed anything in it for the past month. I don't even remember what's there. Probably a sign that we have too much and it's time to give it away.

He comes home in 2 days and I'm embarrassed by the excess, so much stuff that I can't figure out how to put it away.

A year ago this place felt big,  roomy even. We filled it up pretty fast. Now my office feels too small and cramped, and why do I still have 2 computers in here? Do I need them both? Will I really have volunteers and kids working on school at the same time here every morning. Is this my new normal?

We could get rid of more books.

That just makes me sad to think of it. They are good books.

Just the other day the Boy pulled Bullfinch's Illustrated Mythologies off of the shelf and the children have been glued to them. Now he has pictures to put to the life of Theseus he's been struggling through in Plutarch for the past year.

What about art supplies?

The girl's sketch of a koala bear as Little stares over her shoulder and says, "That's really beautiful", tell me no. Those are useful too.

The game carries on behind me. The rocking chair with the flowers Beema painted on it for the girl sits at the little table with a striped tablecloth. The toys are having a feast, according to my 4 year old. No, the books must stay.

I would happily get rid of more toys and the stuff they keep making and needing a place to display... well, some of it.

Aaron called on Skype this morning from Sean's house in Chiang Mai. The kids at the orphanage have toys too. They caught cicadas and pulled the wings off so they could play with them. He left them an extra $500 to top up the emergency fund. The director has been saving the tiny bit of money we are sending to pay his living expenses and using it to buy kids shoes and take them to the doctor.

I am embarrassed by our abundance. I must finish sorting the closets until we only have as many clothes as actually fit in there. Then I will start on the office and the pile that needs folding.

We will fit into this house again, somehow. I've been dreaming of bigger. I've been looking at real estate listings thinking of the Boy who is so big and getting bigger. He'll need a room of is own one day, I'll still need an office. But right now we need to fit.

How do they fit 15 boys into one single room?

It's an embarrassment, all of this. A house full of stuff and they are out front playing in the grass with some toys they bought at the dollar store.


the story of moonscape

A couple of years ago, when Aaron and I were first starting The Charis Project Melissa, the daughter of one of our board members, came to us and said, "I'd really like to help you guys out. I don't have a lot of money but here are a few things I could do."

She was in her last semester of design school and she took us on a her final project for her class on creating a branding package. She designed our logo for us and then expanded it into everything else, letter head, business cards, newsletter layout, and even web graphics. She's the reason we look so good.

She says that having the work she did for us in her portfolio helped her to land her first job out of school. They liked that she had already done something real.

To this day, whenever I have something I want to try I can shoot her an email and she get's back to me right away with something awesome. She even designed my business cards for blogher, which were super pretty.

At that time I remember her saying she was thinking of opening an etsy shop to sell stuff that she made and then donating half the proceeds. But for some reason for a long, long time I didn't realize she had actually done it. I'm not sure where I thought she was getting the money she kept donating every month, but I didn't realize that she had in fact started a very cool shop called moonscape handmade and was donating 50% of the proceeds to The Charis Project for the past few years until a couple of months ago. Yeah, I'm quick like that.

Anyway, you should check out moonfruit because her stuff is beautiful and you can get pretty, pretty things and help out orphans at the same time. Total win, win.

Yes, I promised you a series and then failed to deliver. I'm sorry. I've been.... sewing. Yes, that's right, sewing. Aaron's brother is getting married this Saturday, all 4 kids are in the wedding, and in lieu of actually having cash to spend on such things, not to mention the 3 birthday presents we needed for this past weekend, I've been making stuff instead.

2 sashes
1 waistcoat
1 bow tie
three capes
2 pennants and I had to alter the pants for both the Boy and Bam Bam.

My machine died so I've been borrowing my MIL's which for some reasons misses stitches at random and then the thread tears and breaks and you have to go quite slowly to keep it from happening and it's been a very tedious process.I didn't even get pictures of the capes, before giving them away. Bad blogger, bad.

And I've been single parenting for almost a full month. Aaron gets home Thursday.

But I intend to finish the rest of the sewing this evening so maybe I'll get that series past the several versions of the same thing that I've typed and rejected that now languish in my drafts folder. Of course, starting in 2 days I'm making a wedding cake so... no promises.


The Horrible Weight of Freedom

photo by aparejador- Used under CC licence

Sometimes when I'm hurtling down the freeway at 70 miles an hour, all 4 children tucked into seats in the back and the road curves slightly and I feel the tug of inertia against the change in direction I wonder at the fact that we are given so much power. It only takes a slip, a small lapse in judgement, and all that steel and flesh becomes a mangled mess on the asphalt.

Why should I be trusted with that? What if I make a mistake?

What if someone else makes a mistake?

Are humans really supposed to go this fast? How did speeds like this go from something only daredevils attempted to something housewives do every day, while mediating arguments in the back seat and doling out snacks to keep the short people from screaming?

On the freeway there are no guarantees. I know how frail I am. I fell asleep at the wheel once. I woke up screaming.

Sure we have to take a test, demonstrate we know the rules, that we can see far enough to navigate the terrain. We get on that road every day trusting that the drivers nearby also know how to control their vehicle and will follow the rules. But that doesn't stop the person who had too many to drink at a party from getting in their car anyway. It doesn't stop someone who isn't even in the DMV system and can't read the signs in English from getting in their car everyday and driving somewhere too. It doesn't stop someone from making a slight misjudgement in a moment of fatigue that ends in disaster.

Why aren't we all terrified to drive?

Come to think of it, why aren't we all terrified to live?

Think of the power we have with these lives of ours. Think of how our words and our actions can leave such an imprint in the lives of the people we travel alongside. Think how a moment, a single choice, can change everything. Whose idea was it to trust us with so much power, with so much freedom to do with it as we will?

Why is there no test before we can raise children like there is to be able to strap them into a steel and rubber contraption and go at what were unimaginable speeds a century ago?

There are people who like to read their Bible to say that God micromanages every tiny detail. That just makes no sense to me. But I think they want to believe it because it's less terrifying than the alternative.

If God micromanages the universe then I can fall asleep at the wheel. I don't have to figure out what to do with the incredible, terrifying, beautiful life that I have been given.

I don't have to take responsibility for my actions because it was God's will.

I think it's a cop out, and lazy theology.

That said, how do we get up and live everyday without being terrified of the outcome?

What do we trust in God for, if it's not to take the wheel, and with it all responsibility?

I'm working out how to tell you my story over the next little while. Because I do believe that we don't have to be afraid.



I don't know how clear it is from the photo but that guava tree is bent more than double under the weight of all it's fruit.

Ever one to get the kids to do something I would rather not, I told them they should pick it all and sell it to the neighbors for a dollar a bag.

Their first 11 bags sold in about an hour. Given how many guava remain, we have 3 trees in our yard, if they keep it up at this rate they will be very flush this fall.


A Day Out

Rosie from http://ourmothersdaughters.blogspot.com invited us to join her at the botanical gardens yesterday.

It is a very interesting place, and smelled divine.

It sprinkled on us just a little, which was exciting for my California children.

We'll go back. Thanks Rosie for inviting us.

(I have no idea how this will look. I'm posting from my phone for the very first time. Replacement modem is still not here, so I have no other internet.)

-- Sent from my HP Veer
Carrien Blue


Flitting from one thing to the next

I'm missing Aaron really badly this week. I haven't talked to anyone older than 9 in...more than 24 hours. Hurried phone conversations about money transfers don't count. (I am a total wuss. I have a friend who gave birth to her 3rd child while her husband was in the middle of a 13 month deployment to Iraq. He's been on 2 year long deployments! I have nothing to complain about, really.)

I can feel the unraveling going on, the struggle to remember what I need to do next. There are so many next steps I can't decide on which of them to begin, so I stare. Aaron is really good for me in that respect, he helps me sift the details I find overwhelming until I can find a beginning place, a simple place, and can go from there. I am in full on hovering mode, flitting from one thing to the next, totally aimless, distracted from all of it.

The irony is that I know I just need to begin, but I find that part the most difficult and there was the part that got swallowed by the phone and internet being down. I have to wait at least 2 days for the new modem to ship and I lost hours talking to tech service guys while the kids tug at me asking question after question that I don't have the space in my brain to form answers too.

If I saw you at church yesterday and talked your ear off I apologize, it's been a while for me, and I still have just under 3 weeks to go. I'm typing madly trying to get a post up while the unprotected internet from a neighbor is still working, the sprinklers make their nightly dance and before the children wake up for their endless game of keeping mommy from ever completing a full sleep cycle.

Little just half woke, yelling incoherently sitting on the edge of the bed. she needed to pee very badly and when I tried to change the underwear she'd not quite pulled down in time she started screaming. Then she tried to wander the bathroom in sleepy circles until she slammed her forehead into the shower wall and I picked her up and carried her to bed. She cried loudly the whole time until she fell asleep again.

Miraculously, Bam Bam slept through that.

Last night I forgot to check to see if she needed to pee when I lay down next to her to get her back to sleep. Which means of course that just after I awoke, hand elbow and neck stiff and sore from the awkward angles and carefully climbed into my own bed, slowly, so as not to wake the baby, she woke again yelling.

She wakes over and over again until I finally am too tired to object or, often, to hear when she climbs into bed next to me, slowly, so as not to wake me or the baby, and I wake with her feet in my back.

Tomorrow we go for an outing with a friend. I shall probably talk her ear off. If I can stay awake long enough that is.
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