I’m slowly emerging from one of the craziest months of my business. I had this idea that I would finish up my big project and relax this week. But . . . that didn’t happen.

But I did make time Thursday night to watch Project Runway! Thursday was also Max’s birthday, so I snuck about an hour on Wednesday to make this little pillow for him, so he could wake up with it Thursday morning
He’s had this not-very-cuddly brown pillow I made a long time ago in his bed for the past few months. It’s got icky glue patches (where the embellishments fell off) and doesn’t exactly say sweet slumber. I asked him if maybe I could make him a special soft pillow instead, and he was all about it.

So I rooted through my stash and found a scrap of some ultra soft green stretch veloury stuff. My pillow form was 16 inches, so I cut two pieces, front and back, 17-inches by 17-inches. I used a scrap left from the Clifford quilt to make the letters of his name. To prevent the velour stuff from stretching when I appliqued, I applied some lightweight fusible interfacing on the back. Then, I did a simple machine applique (a blanket stitch) around the letters. Not my best work ever, but a good last minute gift for a 3-year-old.
I decided to do a zipper close (following the method I talk about here), stitched up the sides, inserted the pillow form, and the Max pillow was done! I put the pillow onto his bed after he was already asleep Wed night so that he could wake up with it the morning of his birthday. He loved the pillow, although the wooden train cars, Busytown cards, and set of kid-size tools were probably the bigger hit. He also loved the toybox that my father-in-law made (which matches the table that my husband built that I blogged about last week).
Next up on the list is a new backpack, since he starts preschool in September. I’m going to use the penguin backpack pattern from Oliver & S’s Little Things to Sew. Have you seen this book? It’s unbelievably adorable!

And eventually, I’ll get around to sewing some girly wonderfulness for Georgia. Her first birthday is coming up in about a month. I mean, seriously, look at this face!
In other news, I should have some exciting news to share about Sew Retro soon (I need to make sure all the details are confirmed first). And, on the copywriting side of my business, my new web site is just about to launch (it will be the same domain as my original site, judiketteler.com, and I’m getting rid of jkcopywriting.com). I’m way excited about the design and some of the new aspects of my writing business.

More on that later . . .
The wife is always the last the know. Isn’t that the way it usually goes? Sure, there are signs. Receipts. Strange behaviors you can’t explain. Faraway glances. That’s right. My husband has been hiding something from me. For six years, he kept the secret so well-hidden. But now it’s out.

That’s right, my husband has mad woodworking skills! And he never told me!

I mean, yes, there was the occasional home repair project he seemed just a little too proficient at. And he’s a master at putting together Ikea furniture. But I never suspected this. .

Can you believe he up and made this completely adorable table for the kids? (Not the chairs; they are from the neighbor and have been collecting dust in our basement for two years) And he painted it, and the chairs to match! (My suggestion on the colors—they coordinate with the toy box that my father-in-law made and painted for Max, which he’ll get on his 3rd birthday in a few weeks).

Anyway, here is how it started:

Allen: I think maybe I want to build something.

Me: Okay, do you know how to build things?

Allen: I’ll figure it out. What should I build?

Me: How about building a little art/activity table for the kids, since we’ve been looking for them at flea markets and haven’t found what we want?

Allen: Okay. I’ll build that.

A few conversations with his dad, some borrowing of tools, and three days later, I come home from a day-long meeting, and the table is done.

But wait, there is more! After he built the table, he wanted another project. He decided to build a giant shelf to organize the awful, messy, cluttered, downright scary part of the unfinished side or the basement. He decided that on like Wednesday and by Friday, it was done.
It’s a monster. I really couldn’t even get a good picture of it. Please do not look at the total mess that is the unfinished side of our basement. This is why we need a giant shelf to organize it. Apparently, he has a vision for the basement of everything in perfect order, with its own place. Sounds beautiful to me!

This morning, he said: “I need another project.” Is there a sweeter sound in the world?

I think it’s time for me to get out the secret list I’ve been keeping in the event that my husband turns out to have crazy woodworking skills that I knew nothing about!

Anyway, the kids love the table. Max has already built elaborate cities on it with his blocks. And seriously, is there anything cuter than the way kids’ feet dangle off chairs?
I can’t wait to post about whatever his next project is (since I seem to have no time to do my own projects—my crazy deadline is almost over though!)
It’s always that damn office chair.

It's become the place where I get bad news, which usually comes from my sister, Laura.

It’s the chair where I was sitting a year-and-a-half ago when she called to tell me that our brother, Paul, died. And it’s the chair I was sitting in last Tuesday when she called to tell me that our Uncle Red (a.k.a George Meinhardt—nicknamed “Red” for his hair) had died suddenly. At 72, he died of a massive heart attack. One minute he was here, vibrant, probably cracking a joke. And the next minute, almost literally, he was gone. No warning. No preparation. No logic.

His obituary talks about his professional accomplishments (which were many) and his devotion to his family (which I witnessed firsthand for years).

But I want to add my own tribute, and the best way I can do that is to write something about how he affected my life. I hope it provides comfort to his family and friends (when you lose a loved one, you never get tired of hearing the ways in which they affected other people). But even if you didn’t know him, stick with me here, because it will all come back around to you.

So, a few facts . . . My Aunt Mary (my dad’s younger sister) and Uncle Red married young, and had children quickly. They lived with my grandmother for the first few years of their marriage.

Now, we’d say those are bad odds.

50+ years of happy marriage would seem to suggest they kicked the odds to the curb.
My parents were growing their family at the same time as the Meinhardts were growing theirs. In fact, the Kettelers and the Meinhardts each have seven children, with kids that roughly line up, age-wise. I’m the youngest Ketteler, and I’ve been friends with their youngest—my cousin Molly—since I was old enough to know what a friend was. Our families parallel each other in many ways, like a huge oak, with limbs that twist and intertwine. We’ve each had marriages and divorces, heaps of grandchildren, and terrible sadness. The Meinhardts lost a brother (Danny) and we lost a brother (Paul), though under much different circumstances. My brother, Paul, lost his baby girl, Jessica, just before delivery; my cousin, Mark, lost his baby girl, Sophie, at 18 mos. old. We’re losing our dad slowly to Alzheimer’s, which breaks our hearts a little every day. And now, they’ve lost their dad in one sweeping, heartbreaking moment.

As a kid, Aunt Mary and Uncle Red were the most chic people I knew. I spent a lot of summer weekends at their house when I was little, visiting with Molly. These weekends usually culminated in Molly and me performing some sort of “show,” which our parents were forced to sit through (most definitely with beer in hand). I loved everything about the energy of the Meinhardts’ house. It was big and beautiful, but it had soul, too. I’d sit on their patio, listening to all of them talk. Uncle Red told stories like no one else I knew. He had the kind of wit that’s warm and funny, and he never talked down to me. Growing up, I saw that he was a brilliant people person. He knew how to talk to people and connect to them. It’s no surprise that he built a successful real estate business out of practically nothing. Truthfully, his story of hard-earned success never stopped being an inspiring example for me, especially as I started to build my writing business.

In fact, Uncle Red was one of my biggest champions. He loved that I was a writer, and that I was following my bliss. I got the chance to work on a project for him once, and I saw how much the people he managed loved and respected him. At every family gathering, he would tell me his latest "brilliant" book or article idea. We’d laugh about it, but honestly, in the back of my mind, I thought maybe we would collaborate on something someday.

I've had many great conversations with Uncle Red through the years, but the memory of him I cherish the most is a recent one. The November day in 2009 when my sisters and I ran our marathon in memory of Paul, he and my Aunt Mary showed up at mile 19. He was holding this silly sign he made from the back of a box and a stick. It was such a simple thing: showing up. But on that day, it meant everything
Check out the sign!
Almost exactly one year later, an essay I’d written about Paul and the marathon was published in Whole Living.  Upon reading it, Uncle Red sent me a heartfelt, soul-searching email that I could tell he struggled to write. My essay touched him, he said, because it said much of what he had such a hard time expressing, even to his own family. He’d lost his father at a young age, and always regretted that his father didn’t get to meet his grandkids. He’d also lost a sister, who struggled with depression and died much too young. And, of course, he’d lost Danny and Sophie, a crushing double-whammy. “Everyone has been given different talents and challenges,” he wrote. “Some enjoy long wonderful lives and others are cut very short.” Why were some people so self-destructive (like my brother, Paul—something that broke my uncle’s heart to witness), and why couldn’t we reach them? Why did some people have to lose so much? Why was suffering so unevenly distributed? And after having buried a son and a granddaughter, why was he still around and healthy, he wondered?

These questions haunted me this weekend as I watched my Aunt Mary and my Meinhardt cousins bury my uncle. I know that religious faith helps many people figure out answers, and I'm grateful that it provides comfort to people. But I don’t have the faith, and I definitely don't have the answers. I do, however, know that if I live long enough, I have a lot of loss ahead of me. I need something, so here is what I think:

I think that when a person dies, everything that was good about them—all of the positive energy and love they generated—gets recycled back into the world. We can access it by thinking about the person. We can add to it by channeling them.

So I’m channeling you, Uncle Red, and the things that I think you stood for: family first, love what you do, love who you are, be kind, make success happen, be a leader, find ways to give back, and maybe more than anything . . .  just show up when you need to show up.

Peace out, Uncle Red. You’ll never be forgotten.
My essay, "Should Little Boys Play with Kitchens?" is up on Shelterpop this morning. It's about how domestic play is so often geared toward little girls, and how that is short-changing all of us in the end. This is a topic near and dear to my heart since (1) I have a boy, (2) I have a girl, and (3) I have a husband who is a stay-at-home-dad and does all of the cooking, and much of the housework. Our society, our expectations, and our notion of what men do and what women do has been changing for quite some time--mainstream toy manufacturers need to start taking notice! Would love to hear what other parents think!
 This morning, a lovely woman emailed me to tell me that she was moved by my essay about running a marathon with my sisters after the sudden death of my brother last November. I held my breath for a minute when I got her email, not realizing the piece was out just yet (it’s in the November issue of Whole Living magazine and online here). I knew it was coming out, and I had approved the final PDF, but still, the thought of seeing it in print sort of scares the bejesus out of me. It is, undoubtedly, the most personal thing I’ve ever written because it involves not just me, but my whole family. Writing it was one matter, but seeing it on a magazine page is quite another.  

I pondered this during my run this morning. I thought back to one year ago, when I was in the home stretch of training for the Philadelphia Marathon—a marathon I would never get to do. But I didn’t know that then, as I pounded out an 18-mile-run one October morning, feeling so confident and so ready. I didn’t know that in a few weeks, I’d get a terrible, confused call from my sister, Laura, telling me that our brother, Paul, was dead. I didn’t know that five days before the marathon, my family would be dealt this strange—though not exactly surprising—blow. I won’t rehash the whole essay here because I already wrote it as well as I could for the magazine (you can read a PDF of it here), but the story ends with my sisters and I doing our own homemade marathon on the Sunday morning we were supposed to do Philadelphia—the day after Paul’s funeral.
Sisters & me at mile 8
At my wedding (ponytail is Paul)
With our collages
 As my (very jiggly) postpartum body trudged along the pavement this morning, I also thought about what a year it’s been since he died. How my siblings and I have drawn closer together, and how I’ve stopped kidding myself with the idea that people live forever. I thought about how we were all together at my wedding a few years ago, and how--even then--I wondered how many more times we would all be lucky enough to be together to celebrate something happy.

I thought about how a few months after he died, my sisters and I made these collages to remember the day of the marathon. I thought about how therapeutic crafting actually is, and I know that's one of the main reasons I spend so much time doing it.

I thought about how last year at this time, I had just one baby, and now I have two (I got pregnant with Georgia about two weeks after our marathon). I thought about how much I need my family and how much I need running and how lucky I am to know what I need, and to get it. And I thought about Paul, and how it all should have been different, but wasn’t.  

That’s what’s on my mind today. Thanks for listening.