Friday, February 12, 2010


This week Dora and I made Valentine's for her classmates. When I heard they were having a Valentine's Day party in her room this week, I started thinking about what to make. Growing up, I had this great book called "Making Things", full of projects and ideas, ranging from giant paper mache sculptures to fingerprint creatures. I used to love reading through that book, thinking about what it would be like to make the projects and dreaming of doing them. Now, years later, I STILL love reading through any kind of instructional material for creative projects - sewing projects, knitting patterns, cookbooks - and I do the same thing, imagine what it would be like to make the skirt or knit the sweater or bake the bread. That love for reading each step and thinking it through is really what drew me to cooking, knitting, sewing, etc. in the first place. There's something about being told to start here and end here, and being shown what the results will be, which is very comforting to me.

I remember making a lot of potato print projects with my parents as a kid. Printing was something that happened a lot in my house. My father inherited an elaborate collection of letterpress materials from his father and uncle, and for as long as I can remember dabbled around in his basement printshop creating cards and broadsides and stationery. One of my mother's art mediums was woodcutting - she created a series of intricate animal prints from solid wood blocks that she carved early in her career as an artist. The unicorn, the cat, the elephant, the rabbit - a menagerie of tiny stripes and circles and fine lines in a multitude of colors marched through our house. I think we probably got into potato prints more due to their economy than as a simple derivative of my mom's more detailed carvings or my dad's printshop, but either way making potato prints reminds me of childhood.

So, I picked up a potato at the grocery store on my lunch hour, and that evening, after dinner, I carved several different heart shapes out of the potato. We used red finger paint and white card stock and stamped away, making a few ugly, globby messes before getting our technique down. Dora didn't want to stop when it was time to put our stuff away - begging for more paper and paint. Last night, I cut the card stock into quarters, writing a quick message on each one for Dora's little classmates, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and her great-grandma Brause.
Brian said Dora proudly carried her little envelope of Valentine's into school, and tonight we sorted through all the Valentine's in the construction paper heart folder her teachers made for her. Little Asher drew a picture of his and Dora's house, Evan sent along a yummy heart-shaped rice crispy treat, Brooklyn sent a set of princess stickers. Dora's sweet teachers sent home some Valentine's for her, too, and I instantly regretted not making Valentine's for them. How could I forget those sweet ladies, who have loved my baby girl from infancy, feeding and comforting and watching over her with as much love and attention as they afford their own children? We pay a pretty penny for their love, but the way they love Dora, and the way she loves them back, is true and honest and worth every cent.

I was supposed to babysit for a friend tonight, but the plans fell through - in part because of snow, but mostly because Brian is sick, and I feel like I might be getting sick. I so want to repay this friend, who has helped me out so much lately, but it was not to be today. Our plans for tomorrow have been cancelled, too. It seems like nearly every time I plan something - a dinner party or a date or a babysitting gig - someone gets sick, it snows, something interferes and I have to cancel. I can't even remember to make Valentine's cards for the sweetest ladies on earth who take care of my little girl while I slug away under the fluorescent lights.

All of this makes me feel like such an unreliable person - the person who no one can count on because something always gets in the way, the person who cancels at the last minute, who forgets or falls short or just doesn't get it right. I love being creative - love coming up with designs and projects and using my vision or my words to create something new - but sometimes I wish there were step-by-step instructions for everything. I want to be the person who does things right - who follows the directions and gets good results every time - but I'm not. Nobody is - not even Martha Stewart or Oprah or Thomas Keller or Anne Lammott.

The snow is falling again outside, and all around us is a blanket of white. I've got a family to take care of - a husband who doesn't feel good, a baby who's sleeping, a kitty with a bad tooth. I've got a knitting project to finish and a craving for popcorn. Maybe the person I really need to make the Valentine for is myself. My friend Emily was writing about this very thing the other day, and as she so deftly pointed out, loving ourselves is often the hardest thing to do, the lowest on the priority list, the Valentine we really forget to make. There aren't instructions for this one - the only thing we have is the starting point.

Start here.


  1. Carrie, amazing as always. You have such a gift for this. And please know that the teachers know you appreciate them! If it helps, this was the first year (out of 5, mind you) that I remembered to give to the teachers. We can't be all things at once. And man I hear you about the instructions!

  2. First of all, thanks for the shout-out. Secondly, you are so creative. Thirdly, and I just shared this story in a humourous way with my students: One Valentine's Day in college when I had no Valentine, I decided to cook myself a romantic, high-quality, candle-lit dinner and celebrate myself. It was great! The crazy thing is that the next morning, on our doorstep, were two elaborate bouquets of flowers. I thought they were for my roommate who had a steady boyfriend. No. They were for me. From male friends who truly loved me. I realized then that if we treat ourselves the way that we want to be treated then we invite others to also treat us that way as well. Sorry for the long comment. But, I love your little potato Valentine's. I just wrote about how much I end up neglecting my little boy. You are a real inspiration!

  3. It's never to late to thank the sweet ladies! And Carrie, I have always thought of you as reliable and very with it. I especially have admired your creativity and sentimentality. You are a very thoughtful, caring, and conscientious person. I love the potato stamp idea and will use it with Amelia one day. I can't believe how big Dora has gotten in these pics! Wow! Hope you and Brian and Dora all get well soon (or at least I hope the two of you don't catch what Brian has).
    I wanted to see pics of your Mom's wooden stamps!!! Who has them now?