The Deep End

The best and cruelest reality of life is that it goes on.  It’s hard to muddle through everyday responsibilities when you’ve been brought to the edge of an emotional abyss.  But it is also what saves you.

Caring about getting kids to activities on time and having enough food in the house to make meals to feed everyone feels like the last thing one should be concerned with.  However, it’s the back-to-basics crisis mode-of-operation that leads you back to where you were  before.  Or as close as you’re going to get for a while.

I would describe the first six weeks after Andrew’s incident as emotionally dark.  Weighted.  Heavy.  Gradually, though, as I began to heal, things slowly became lighter.  More free.

When you’ve been cut to your core, you feel things more deeply.  These days, I feel joy more joyfully.  I take so much more pleasure in the small, mundane, even boring things.  Boring is good, as far as I’m concerned.  I am happy.  I still have my wonderful husband and all four of my wonderful children.  Each day, I thank God for letting me be with them for another day.

The times I am sad, I feel a deeper sadness.  I go to that dark place more quickly.  For me, it mainly shows up in the form of anxiety.  I’ve always been the type that when someone is twenty minutes late, I start imagining the car accident that has them lying in a ditch.  Now, I start imagining that when they’re five minutes late.  If I cannot reach them by phone, I have to distract myself to calm down my inner, terrorized self.  So far, any situation I’ve worried about has turned out fine and was no cause for panic.  The emotions I experience until I know that for sure, though, drain me for the remainder of the day.

I have a much harder time being away from my family, even to run errands.  Michael noticed this before I even put a name to the feeling.  My old cell phone was a flip “dumb” phone.  It would shut off randomly while in my purse so I had to keep checking it to make sure no calls or texts had come through.  For Mother’s Day, Michael surprised me with an iPhone.  It is so much more reliable and I can communicate so much more easily.  It has really helped a lot.

Since summer is in full swing, we have been going to the pool regularly.  We have been making it a point to go at least twice a week.  I am not able to read or play a game on my phone or otherwise relax even though I know the lifeguards are on duty.  My eyes are on the kids at all times, constantly counting to four.  It is actually more relaxing for me to be in the water with them.  We float and play and work on swimming and strengthening skills.

All the kids are very protective of each other.  Eleanor went a little farther than normal from the shallow end without a life jacket and Andrew nearly had a conniption fit.  When one child goes to the bathroom, many times another calls out, “Where’s so-and-so?”  They constantly look out for each other.

Everyone is fine in the shallow end where they can touch the bottom.  Josephine is comfortable in the deep end without a life jacket; she can swim across and even jump off the diving board.  Eleanor needs a life jacket or a pool noodle in the deep end but has been testing her skills a few times without either.  Dutch, of course, needs a life jacket on at all times in the deep end.  He has learned to jump off the diving board and swim to the side without help.  I am proud of all of my children for expanding their skills while making safety their first priority.

Andrew arms himself with a life jacket and his face mask (Yes, the same mask from the incident. If I never see that thing again for the rest of my life, it’ll be too soon.) and faces the deep end like he’s preparing for battle.  Instead of being confident of a win, though, he hunkers down as if certain he’ll be captured by the enemy.

And really, can you blame him?  I know I can’t.

Michael has worked with him on holding the edge without a life jacket, letting go, going underwater, and kicking his feet so that he breaks the surface and finds the edge again.  Straight down, straight up.  He likes this game.

We’ve tried getting him to swim a stroke or two out from the side to our waiting arms.  He refuses.  He says he “just doesn’t want to” but we know the real reason is fear.

I had a talk one night last week with Andrew after an evening at the pool.  I told him that there are certain life skills that we want our children to know before they leave our house, things that they need to know in order to take care of themselves and for us to be confident that they will be independent adults.  I told him that while some people talk about raising kids, his father and I talk about raising adults.

I told Andrew that along with cooking and laundry and other essential life skills, we need to know that he can swim.  I told him that my heart still hurts over what happened and that it won’t completely heal until I know for certain that he could handle himself in deep water.  I need to know that he won’t panic again.  Swimming across the deep end is a life skill requirement in our family now.

I told him that he is focusing on the small picture of not wanting to do something that makes him uncomfortable and that his father and I are looking at the big picture of his being safe for his whole life.  Sometimes it takes a giant leap to step back and look at the big picture.

This tough love thing is really tough on everyone.

We put all the kids in two sessions of swimming lessons.  One right away in June, the week after school let out, and they are in another session now in July.  Swimming lessons are meant to increase their water skills and we have been concerned that Andrew would stay on the same level for a very long time since he wasn’t able to move past his fear.

All the lifeguards/swim instructors at our pool have been wonderful.  They are conscious of our situation and take note of Andrew’s progress during our time at the pool as a family.  Andy, the manager, and lifeguards Hailey and Nick have been especially considerate and helpful.

On Day 2 of his second session of lessons since his incident, Hailey was working with Andrew.  Michael texted me from the poolside: “She got him to swim to her in the deep end.”

Tears.  Pure, blissful tears.

Joy.

After Andrew came home and told me about what he had accomplished, he asked, “Does your heart feel better, Mom?”

Yes, my darling boy.  My heart does feel better.

This may seem like a tiny step to many people but for us, it is one gigantic leap in the right direction.

Honored, Humbled, and Healing

I’m sitting here looking at my blog statistics and shaking my head in disbelief every time I click “refresh.”  So many people have shared Andrew’s Story.  People all over the world are reading it.

I am honored that so many people are taking time out of their busy lives to read it.

I am humbled that so many people thought my words were worth sharing.

While we were in the hospital with Andrew, my husband wanted to thank the people who had performed CPR.  We had gotten their names from the hotel but didn’t know how to contact them.  After a general internet search brought up nothing, Michael wrote a Facebook status saying that Andrew had been pulled from a pool that morning and that the anonymous strangers that helped would forever have our gratitude.  He just wanted to send it out into the universe and hopefully those wonderful people would know the depths of our thanks.

The outpouring of love from our friends and family after his post was amazing. Comments, calls, messages, and texts came rolling in. It was so comforting. We felt less alone in our grief by being able to share it.  I didn’t sleep very well that night and I re-read the comments whenever I felt overwhelmed.

After we got home on Sunday, we e-mailed the kids’ principle and teachers about what happened.  We wanted them to be aware of the situation in case the kids needed to talk about it.  We didn’t know how the incident would affect them and we wanted as many eyes on them as possible in case a counselor or therapist was needed.  Thankfully, they are resilient kids and no intervention has been necessary.

We shared the full story with our friends we see on a regular basis. One friend brought us dinner on Monday night so that we wouldn’t have to cook.  Another friend cried with me during our daughters’ tap practice.  Another friend offered to watch Josephine, Eleanor and Dutch for an afternoon so we could have some alone time with Andrew.  We set up a time the following Saturday and took Andrew swimming at the YMCA.  Friends are such treasures.

As the days and weeks went on and we returned to a new version of normal, I felt an urge to write his story to share with our friends and family on Facebook who knew about the situation but not the details.  I knew they were probably curious but too polite to ask what had happened that day.

I wrote Andrew’s Story over the course of a couple days, with my husband’s help on the specifics of what happened at the pool.  It was difficult to write; it brought up the raw emotions of that weekend all over again.  I felt compelled to write, though, so I muscled through.  I tried to keep it to what happened to Andrew.  If I had gotten into all the facets of the day and my emotions through it all, it would have been 5,000 words longer.

I finally clicked “Publish” on Friday afternoon and then linked to it on Facebook with this message: “I’ve been feeling the need to share the story of Andrew’s drowning incident. I hope that by sharing this, other tragedies will be prevented. Best wishes for a fun and SAFE summer to you all!”

My greatest hope when I published it was that maybe, just maybe, it would find it’s way to the people who performed CPR on Andrew.

Right away, a friend said she wanted to re-post.  I was pleased because I want people to know how fast drowning can happen and how knowing CPR saves lives.

A few more people shared.  Friends are so wonderful.  I felt supported and comforted all over again.  I went on with my evening and made dinner, then came back and checked the blog statistics.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when it said that over 600 people had read it.  I was in tears and a little shaky.  I thought perhaps half of my Facebook friends and maybe a few of their friends would read it.  I was floored.  By the end of the night, the number had tripled.

I was having trouble processing the number of people who must have shared the story on FB.  It was no longer people I knew.  I knew this was a significant event in our family’s history but I never imagined it would strike a chord in so many people who didn’t even know us.

Throughout the weekend, I kept going back to my blog post and re-reading it.  I read it over and over again.  I was trying to read it from other people’s perspective.  What are they finding in reading this?  What is so fascinating about it?  What is compelling so many people to share Andrew’s story?

I still wasn’t sure.  I did find one thing, though.  Healing.  Reading the bald facts of what went on that day over and over, pounding it into my head, is helping to heal my heart.  Since I wasn’t there, it had felt a bit surreal.  Reading it many times, distancing myself from it, is helping the event to become solid.

Becoming solid is helping with my acceptance phase of grieving.

Using the picture frame metaphor again, my heart now feels like glass in a picture frame that has been struck but the shatter points do not reach the edges.  It’s as if the wound is healing, fusing the glass back together from the outside in.

The world did that.  The world is healing my heart.

Amazing.

More and more people started commenting on the post. Tears rolled down my face and I’m pretty sure I went into an ugly cry when I read one from a woman named Sasha.  Sasha is one of the people who performed CPR on Andrew!

Amazing.

So, even though I have a little bit of stage fright, as Glennon of Momastery says, I’m going to show up here and be brave.  And hope my words prevent someone else’s tragedy.  You never know what you’re preventing. Being aware of potential dangers is key. Being prepared to handle an emergency can be life saving.

I wish Andrew’s drowning incident hadn’t happened at all.  But since it did (see? there’s that acceptance thing), others will be more aware.  Others will be more prepared.

Thank you, world, for sharing Andrew’s story so that others will be safer.

Thank you, world, for healing my heart.

All my love and thanks,

Rachel

Andrew’s Story

My nine-year old son Andrew drowned.

It’s still hard for me to say this out loud, so that is why I put it first. It’s been four weeks and six days since it happened.

My son drowned and was brought back to life by strangers who had CPR training.

He was brought back to life.

He is alive.

We are so blessed. God had everybody where they needed to be for Andrew’s life to be saved. I can’t tell you how destroyed we would have been if anything had gone differently that day. My heart came so close to being obliterated. Even now, it feels like shattered glass in a picture frame. It’s still there. It’s still whole. But shattered, nonetheless.

I’ve been feeling the need to share Andrew’s story. With summer coming and people spending more time in and on the water I’m feeling nervous and afraid for everyone. I want everyone to know that drowning is not like in the movies with splashing and waving.

It happened so fast and so silently.

Water safety has always been important to my husband and me; therefore our kids have taken swimming lessons for the past several years. We spent half of last summer in a pool. Our kids are familiar with and not afraid of water.

This story begins with a family weekend get-together. Every year, we get together with Michael’s extended family the weekend before Thanksgiving at a place we call “The Lodge.” Between 40 and 50 of us gather and we always have a blast and truly look forward to it every year. My kids usually start asking for a countdown in March and pack for it in July. After this long, cold winter we all decided we missed each other and that we should get together for a weekend this spring.

We decided to go to Sioux Falls, SD to a hotel water park the last weekend in April. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles could sit around and chat while kids are entertained with water and cousins. Friday evening was spent just so, cocktails in hand, catching up on everybody’s news and counting kids as they ran by.

There was a 1 ft deep pool with a really cool pirate ship, a couple hot tubs, a 5 ft pool, and a two-story waterslide that emptied into a 3.5 ft pool. Our older three kids spent the entire evening on the water slide. Dutch hung out mostly at the pirate ship.

WaterParkPool2

On Saturday morning, Michael and I took our four kids (Andrew – 9, Josephine – 8, Eleanor – 6, Dutch – 4) to Walmart to buy a life vest for our youngest. We ended up letting each of the kids pick out a water toy. Andrew decided on a mask and snorkel set because he doesn’t like water in his nose.

Back at the hotel, the kids resumed their play from the night before. This time, Dutch, armed with his life vest, took on the water slide. His siblings took turns helping him over to the side of the pool to get back out and do it again.

Michael’s cousin Joy and her husband Ryan, who live in Sioux Falls had just bought a new house and invited us to go for a tour. We were all excited to see it and about 12 of us decided to carpool over. While Mike stayed behind to watch the kids, I hopped in the car with Joy. Right before I left, I gave Michael some ibuprofen from my purse, because his back molar had been aching and bothering him the last couple of days.

Michael was sitting near the end of the water slide, watching our kids and their cousins go up and down, up and down.

After a while, some of the kids ventured into a nearby pool and started playing a game. Andrew and Josephine joined them. Dutch sat on the edge of the pool with his feet in the water. Since the kids were further away, Michael got up from his chair intending to go to the bar (that was closer to the pool the kids were in) for a glass of water to take the medicine and to find Eleanor.

As he walked past the five foot pool that three-fourths of our kids were playing in,  he paused at the far corner trying to locate Eleanor. She was supposed to be playing in the pirate ship pool. When he could not see her, he looked back at the deep pool trying to see if she had joined her siblings. He saw Josephine swimming across the pool, Dutch sitting on the side, Andrew using his new mask, and 13yo Mitchell and some of the other cousins were playing water games. No Eleanor.

He looked back at the pirate ship, then back at Andrew. He was thinking it was surprising that Andrew was in the deep pool, he hadn’t really liked deep water last summer. This raised his suspicions.

Looking closer at Andrew now, Michael could not recall seeing him come up for air. His goggles had come above the surface of the water but not his mouth. Something seemed off, so Michael walked up the side of the pool to get a closer look at the kids.

By this time, Andrew had shifted from the center of the pool and was closer to the side. He was now face-up as if looking at the ceiling through the water. Even now, Michael still thought Andrew could possibly be playing, but thought it was weird that he  hadn’t seen him come up for air yet.  Had he missed it when he looked away?

Then he saw bubbles and Andrew starting to sink.

Michael was now scared something was really wrong. Since Andrew was within arms reach of Mitchell, Michael had him pull Andrew up from underwater and Michael lifted him out. As soon as Andrew broke the surface he knew something was very, very wrong. He was blue in the face and completely limp.

Michael can still hear Josephine’s terrified scream when she saw her brother coming out of the water.

He wasn’t breathing.  He had no pulse.

He was dead.

Mike gave him a couple breaths but nothing happened. People started running over. Two strangers, who had medical training, took over CPR and revived Andrew. After one round of CPR, Andrew vomited and water started gushing out of his body.

Andrew was brought back to life.

EMTs arrived, although we have no idea who called them.

I hadn’t been gone even ten minutes and never actually made it to Joy’s house; we got a phone call about the situation and started coming back immediately. I was so glad I was with Joy who knew her way around the city. She drove me straight to the hospital where I waited for the ambulance to arrive. What was minutes seemed like hours.

The medical staff assured us we had the best outcome possible. They called him Miracle Boy. Reviving a drowning victim on scene is the best case scenario. We were so lucky. We are so blessed.

They were concerned about pulmonary edema so Andrew needed to stay in the hospital overnight. Mike’s parents and sister took care of our other three children so that we could both be with him. He was put on hi-flow oxygen to help dry out his lungs. He was alert and talking but still didn’t seem to be himself yet.

DSC_0010

When we could talk to him about what happened, we got the story from his perspective. He said that he got into the pool and pushed off from the side, got to the middle and put his feet down, expecting to touch bottom. The pool was deeper than he had realized and his body panicked. It was as simple and gut-wrenching as that.

He had gotten in at the 5ft end of the pool, not the 3.5ft depth that he’d been in the whole time we were there. His head went underwater and he never resurfaced.

He had touched the bottom of the pool with his foot but couldn’t get back up to the surface. He tried reaching out for a cousin but couldn’t make his body move.

He was in a pool with half a dozen kids who know and love him and no one knew what was going on. It happened so fast and so quietly.

Andrew’s night in the hospital went smoothly and by morning he was back to his usual self. It was such a relief to see him, the real him, again.

We are so lucky and so very, very blessed. And yet there’s a grief that has its grip on my heart. Grief for what did happen and grief for what so very nearly happened. I have my son. Our family is still complete. I am grateful beyond words.

I know I can get through anything, even this strange grateful-grief, as long as I have them.

I consider Michael, Mitchell and those who performed CPR on Andrew to be earthly angels. They are heroes to me.  Michael won’t hear that, will not believe that of himself. He’s too filled with dread for how closely things were timed. What if he had gotten to the side of the pool even 30 seconds later?

I have many more stories and many more things to say about the incident. The phone call we got in the car and the anxiety I feel every time the phone rings now. How family members took the younger cousins back in the pool, one-on-one, later that day so they wouldn’t be scared of water. Dutch’s warning when we took Andrew swimming the next week, “Don’t go underwater and die!” The tears and pain in my husband’s eyes when he whispered, “If we had lost him, how could you ever have forgiven me?” Would not only our son, but our marriage have been lost, too?

Those are stories for another day. But for now what I really want to say is this: Please, please, please keep an eye on your kids in the water.  Take a CPR class.  You can’t prevent every bad thing from happening but you certainly can be prepared on how to deal with it.

Conservatorium

The greenhouse is finished!  It took My Love two weeks and a la-ha-ot of work but it is finished and he’s ready for spring planting.

This will be My Love’s fourth year gardening.  The first year was a total experiment but he took to it right away and we have enjoyed the fresh produce more than I can say.  Last year he decided to build a greenhouse but with yet another busy fall, he didn’t get to it before snow was a-flying.  I’m actually really glad he didn’t get it done last year because we changed our minds on where it should be located in the yard.

I’ll explain further for my own amusement, feel free to skip ahead if you wish.  We have a spot right behind the garage that is fenced in.  We call it the “enclosure” for lack of a better term.  In it, we store bikes with a tarp over them in the winter, a random pile of bricks, and other yard paraphernalia that doesn’t have a home.  We planned on replacing the fence with re-purposed windows and building a roof to enclose the greenhouse.

Once this very early, very lovely spring hit, we went outside to plan it out.  The windows and the existing fence posts didn’t work together very well so we discussed options.  This area is also right next to the playset and I was concerned about kids playing near so many glass windows.  We thought of a few options to deal with that but it was starting to sound all cobbled together and hodgepodge.

Hodgepodge was not the look we were going for.  The greenhouse was to be built using re-purposed materials but we still wanted it to look nice.  My Love scoured Pinterest and the internet and found some really great looks that he wanted to replicate.

One of us asked if there was anywhere else in the yard it could be built so we started looking around.  There is another corner of our yard that isn’t used for much.  We kind of had it labelled as the fire pit area.  It’s the back corner, where our side, picket fence meets our back, tall fence.  This is why I’m glad we waited until spring had sprung to figure this out.  In the spring when he’ll be growing the seeds, this corner of the yard actually gets a lot of sun because the nearby trees don’t have leaves yet.  Come summer and fall, it’s quite shaded.  We would have immediately discounted this spot as being too shady had we not seen it in the correct season.

So, site chosen and materials ready, My Love set to work.  He started it the weekend my parents were in town so my dad helped him out a bit.  As did Little Love #4.

And Little Love #2.

My Love worked on it steadily over the next two weeks.  He came home from work and worked on the greenhouse until dark.  He had to rip down quite a few boards to use materials he already had and that took some time.  The greenhouse was built out of 24 windows that needed trim pieces cut to size on all four sides, both inside and out.  That means that My Love had to individually measure, cut, and nail 192 pieces of wood to secure the windows in place.  He also used caulk and foam insulation to close up little gaps.

And the painting!  He primed and painted the structure before the windows went in, then we taped off all the windows (106 panes of glass) on the inside and the outside, and he primed and painted once more.

While I was taping the inside panes, Eleanor came up, tapped on the glass, and said, “Moooommmmyyyy, you missed a spot!”

Turkey.

All in all, he thinks he put about 80 hours into it.  It was a lot more work than expected.

Isn’t that everything in life that’s worth while?  Much more work than expected but, oh, so much more perfect and satisfying than we ever could have imagined at the beginning.

Perfect.

On one side, My Love built a bench with a slatted top and a shelf for holding the plants while they grow.  On the other side are supply shelves and a sink for potting.  He’s working on getting a water barrel, too.

All the kids helped at one point or another but these two were fairly constant companions.

They all love helping My Love in the garden so they’re pretty excited about the greenhouse, too.

My Love comes from a long line of people who make things with their hands.  My Love’s grandfather made many things out of metal and tin.  He made the little white windmill in these photos.  He also made his grandchildren brightly colored tin signs with their last names spelled out in rivets.

Is this sign special to us?  Yes!  It makes me smile and think of the kind grandfather who called on each and every birthday and anniversary to say he was thinking of us, just as he did with all of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  So sweet.

Is the sign anything I would normally hang . . . anywhere? As much as I hate admit it, no.  The signs had become a running joke among the cousins.  We all loved the signs because Grandpa made them.  Everyone kept them.

But they kept them . . hidden.

It hasn’t been quite a year since Grandpa’s death.  We remember him fondly and I think often of the treasured picture we have of him, my father-in-law, My Love, and Little Love #1 when he was 3 months old.  Generational pictures never cease to make me tear up.

My Love and I were in the greenhouse, looking around and admiring his handiwork when he looked up and pointed out the 2×10 up above the front windows.

“You know what would look great there?  Grandpa’s sign.”

And he’s right.

It’s perfect.

Elvis in the House! – The Final Appearance

Well, hello there!  I am back with the final post about our beloved Elvis Halloween.  I was planning on just focusing on accessories but I’m going to try to squeeze everything in to this one last Elvis post.  Here we go!

During the last two weeks of October we downloaded Elvis music and watched Elvis movies as a family.  We created an Elvis playlist that we listened to while making dinners.  It was fun when the kids started recognizing his songs when they heard them in a movie or walking in the mall.  We talked about him and his life.  Little Love #2 was nearly distraught to learn Elvis is no longer alive.  We talked about how his music lives on and still makes people happy so we should be happy that he did live and used his God-given talents to make people smile.

We ordered Elvis wigs from eBay; 3 child-sized ones and 1 baby-sized one.  The child-sized ones were better quality but it looked too large on Dutch’s toddler-sized head.  Oh, well.  Watcha gonna do?  We didn’t want it slipping down over his eyes.  And really, we didn’t expect him to keep it on very long.  Maybe, if we were lucky, we figured we’d get a few pictures out of the deal.

Shoes.  I’ve noticed that shoes really make or break a costume.  For Andrew’s Jailhouse Rock costume, judging from photos and the YouTube videos, he could either wear Converse-type shoes or black dress shoes.  I chose dress shoes because Andrew already had recently grown out of his last pair.  (Again, yay for double purpose!)

Here is what I did for the other three Little Loves:

I took shoes that were either nearly too small or very worn out and spray painted them to match their costumes.  I stuffed them full of paper and went to town spray painting them.

I’m over 30 years old and still can’t use markers without getting them all over my fingers so I was careful with the spray, making sure none got on my jeans during the two coats I put on these bad boys.  The shoes turned out great.  Or at least passable.  I should have watched out for my shirt, though, not just my pants.  Apparently as I shook the gold spray paint with my right hand, some drips flew off and landed on the right shoulder of my favorite shirt.  I washed it multiple times but the paint wouldn’t come out.  I couldn’t bear to let it go.  I’ll never let it go.  I named it Jack and hung it in my closet.  I still wear it around the house.

Anyway. . .

White Jumpsuit Elvis needed a red scarf for around the neck and to tuck into the front of the outfit.  So on Halloween Day (yes, the big day had finally arrived!) I ran to the fabric store and got a small amount of red organza.  I folded it into thirds and sewed it down the middle all bunchy like so it would drape nicely.

We planned our All Hallows Eve get-the-kids-ready-rush carefully.  While Dutch was taking his afternoon nap, we got the other three kids ready and took pictures of them.

Little Love #1 as Jailhouse Rock Elvis:

Little Love #2 as White Jumpsuit Elvis:

Once she discovered this pose, there was hardly any photos of the front of her costume!  Also, notice the green ring from the game Pretty Pretty Princess.  I’m certain Elvis himself would have approved.

And Little Love #3 as Gold Suit Elvis:

This was just the beginning of a great night.

Then, once the boy had slept as long as he could, we got him up and changed him into his costume right away while he was still too sleepy to argue.  We put his wig on him and crossed our fingers.

At long last, after two years of waiting and two months of costuming, we had all four of our little Elvises together:

My Love and I also dressed up for the occasion.  We dressed up Rockabilly-style and called ourselves Elvis’ fans.  My Love was so committed, he even shaved most of his beard.

We headed out trick-or-treating and had a blast.  Everyone we saw loved the costumes and the kids were ecstatic to find out that other people really did know and love Elvis.  (I think they kind of thought we were kidding.)  And, miracle of miracles, Little Love #4 kept his wig on the entire night.

When we got home, there was candy to be sorted.  And in other miracle news, it was then that our camera lens broke.  I don’t know what happened to it, we were just taking pictures of the loot, and the camera wouldn’t take anymore photos.  Something looked off with the lens.  I couldn’t even be upset about it because I was just so thankful that it hadn’t happened even two hours earlier.

And third miracle, Josephine didn’t feel well the day before.  Some sort of tummy bug had gone through her little body but she seemed fine for the holiday.  Halloween night, though, starting around 11:00pm, one by one the other members of my family dropped like flies.  Andrew, Dutch, Eleanor, and My Love were all . . . I won’t gross you out, just know that it was a wicked 24-hour bug.  A bug that, somehow, left us alone for a few hours so that we could have a special day together.

Onward, as they say.  When it was time to work on our Christmas cards to send out, I couldn’t not have our awesome Halloween represented.  So I went mullet style.  I designed a two-sided card.  The first side had the standard group shot and an individual photo of each of their sweet little faces and said, “Merry Christmas, Baby!”  An idea for the second side had taken root in my brain while researching and making costumes.

Wanna see it?

 

Are you sure?

 

It took a lot of freaking work to be honest.  I’m not great at cutting individuals out of photos and pasting them onto another.

 

And the background was all done in my Photoshop Elements program.  That part wasn’t too bad, just a little time.

 

It’s not like I do anything else, right.

 

Ha.

 

Ha ha.

 

Okay, I’ll get to it.  I leave you with this, my fine fellows.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my Elvis journey and now that it’s totally cataloged I promise to post more often.

About things that don’t require four posts to explain.

 

See you soon, my Lovelies!

Best,

Rachel

Elvis In The House! -Part 3

October was Elvis Mania in our house, hence this being the the third of approximately five Elvis posts.

The previous post left off with me being stressed out two weeks before Halloween and still needing to finish two costumes.

Next up was the Gold Suit for Eleanor.  Here’s the Real Deal:

The only Elvis the fabric store had was the Jumpsuit With Cape costume.  Not that I blame them.  I mean, really, who needs more than one option for an Elvis costume?

Oh, yeah.  Demented people such as myself.

So, I would need to adapt other patterns to work for the next costumes.  For the Gold Suit, I found this one:

The martial arts pattern looked like it would fit the bill.  The pants are super easy, with just an elastic waist.  My thought process was to modify the top so the gold fabric meets in front instead of overlapping and then add the band all the way around the front edges in silver, like the real suit.  Then the banding would overlap and I could put a button on for closure.

There is a key word in the paragraph above that needs some special attention.

Can you guess it?

“Modify.”

Me, modifying.  I don’t modify.  I follow directions.

I can’t cook by throwing stuff together and hoping it works out.  I just can’t.  I follow the recipe and it’s either a good recipe or it isn’t.  The most wild I get is adding more garlic because I LOVE garlic.  My Love teases me because I don’t taste what I’m cooking along the way.  I wait for the finished product.  He’s trying to teach me to taste and adjust.  I’m trying but it’s hard to learn a new way to cook.

Anyway . . .

Me?  Modify a pattern?  This is unheard of.  Modifying patterns is only for people who know what they’re doing and know HOW to modify.

But I must be brave and do it.  That’s the only way I was going to get a Gold Suit.

Luckily, the wonderful people at McCall’s must have known that I would someday have this very dilemma.  See, they had a line down the front of the pattern piece that said “Midline.”

{Cue angels singing}

The midline is the line that shows the center front of the garment.  All I had to do was cut the fabric on the the midline instead of around the full pattern piece.

Yay for not needing to think!  Yay for someone else doing my work for me!

I did, however, need to modify the band that goes around the edge.  Since I’d changed the length and the angles, the pattern band would no longer work.  I traced the edge of the jacket on tissue paper and then measured out from there the same width as the pattern band to create a new one.

You know what I mean, Vern?

(Ten points if you get the movie reference.)

Now for the visuals.  They’re showing up a little blurry here but if you click on them to enlarge, they are much more clear.  Go figure.  Anyway:

I added the decorative pocket tops (but not actual pockets), cuffs, and the silver stripes down the sides of the pants.  I chose not to turn the band as it goes up and around the neck to create lapels.  I used buckram to keep the silver sequin fabric band standing at attention, otherwise it would have been very drapey and fall-ey.  Turning the band made the costume look messier so I left well enough alone and I felt that the silver fabric still got the point across.

I made the pants flat in the front by pulling all the extra fabric to the back and tacking the elastic at the sides of the waist.  I thought they would hang more nicely that way, considering the sheen of the fabric.

Speaking of fabric, I chose gold satin instead of gold lame because I couldn’t imagine my 3yo would like the feel of an entire outfit made from lame.  I bought some silver lame for the shirt but I’ll talk about that in a minute.

The tie: I sewed some lengths of leftover fabric into a tube, turned it, sewed the ends, and ironed it flat.  Then I used the glitter paint from Josephine’s costume and made glitter glob studs on the tie.

The shirt.  This is were I ran into problems on this costume.  I had found a classic button-down shirt at Old Navy on clearance for $1.98.  I figured that I would be able to sew silver lame onto the front of it and add a few ruffles to replicate the look of the Real Deal without the work of making a whole shirt from scratch.

Scratch.  I was ready to scratch my eyeballs out working with that Horrible Lame fabric.

Anywhere a needle poked through the fabric it would pull threads 3 inches around it.  To say it looked awful is an understatement.  And I didn’t even get very far.  It was pitiful.  I took a break to regroup.

I needed a ruffled shirt.  Well, ruffles are in fashion right now.  Maybe I could buy a ruffled shirt instead of making one.

I looked online at places that have brick-and-mortar stores in our area.  On Children’s Place I found a ruffled shirt in their holiday line that came in either a shiny white or shiny black.  Hmmm.  Maybe that would work.

I loaded kids into the car and took a little drive to the mall, bringing along the gold jacket.  Luckily, the store had both shirts and I was able to put the jacket over them and see which looked better.  I ended up going with the white and I’m very glad I did.  It looked so much better than anything I could have made with that Horrible Lame.

Plus, Josephine had a cute plaid skirt that I wanted her to wear for Christmas.  This shirt would look great with it.  I bought it a size too big so it would fit Josephine but no one would notice the size on Eleanor under the jacket.

I love it when costume pieces can be used in their regular wardrobe later.

Eleanor’s costume is completed.  Whew!  Three down, one to go.

As I was waiting in line to pay for the ruffly shirt, I spied with my little eye something .  . .

Black.

And leather.

I went in for a closer look.

It was a Black. Leather. Jacket.

I had put off thinking about the Black Leather Elvis costume until I had the other three completed.  I was a bit intimidated by working with leather.

This cute, cropped jacket at Children’s Place was just what I needed.  So what if it was technically a girl’s jacket?  Dutch isn’t even two yet.  He’s not going to care.

I picked out the size 4, the smallest they had.  I tried it on him.  It fit amazingly well.  The sleeves were a little long but that would be easy to take care of.

I looked and the price, holding my breath.

It had been $34.50 but was marked down to $24.99.  Not bad.  By the time I bought nice looking leather-ish fabric and the notions and spent time making the jacket, I felt like $25 bucks was a steal.  It saved me time and stress and I’d be that much closer to being done.

I got back in line with my gold jacket, ruffled shirt, and good-as-gold black leather jacket.  And here’s where it gets really good: the jacket rang up as . . .

Are you ready for it?

Are you sure?

This fabulous black leather jacket, that would save me money and time and stress and was yet another piece of clothing that one of the kids could wear later, rang up for $4.99.

{Cue angels singing}

Five bucks.  A leather jacket for five dollars.  I was so excited about the jacket that I hadn’t seen that it was hanging on a clearance rack.

I floated on a cloud through the mall to Target where I had to pick up a couple household things.  I wandered through the girls clothes, lured by a 30% off sign.  I spotted some leggings on a table.  We don’t often put our girls in leggings but a pair jumped into my arms.  When I looked at what my hands were holding, I saw a pair of shiny. black. leggings.

Leather-ish black leggings?  That are only $6?  Could I really be this lucky?  You mean I don’t have to sew anything for Dutch’s costume?

Thank you, Universe.

I really felt like I was in the right place at the right time to find these items.  I hadn’t even been looking for them.  I’m so glad it all came together, though.  It relieved my stress ten-fold.

The fact that Dutch’s costume wasn’t homemade did bother me a little bit.  But it was a put-together costume, even if it wasn’t handmade.  And being realistic about the price, stress, and quality of the finished product helped me get over it.

Before you think I’ve gone totally un-perfectionist, the wrinkles in the jacket did bother me.  I hung it in our bathroom for a week, hoping that the steam from our showers would smooth it out.

No such luck.

I didn’t know if leather would iron well.  My guess was that it would not.  My Love, once again the voice of reason, convinced me that the wrinkles wouldn’t be noticeable once it was on Dutch.

Now . . .

I couldn’t help giggling that . . .

I had just bought a girl’s size 4 jacket and girl’s size 4 leggings for my son to dress up like Elvis.

And even better?

I bought him a girl’s size 4 leotard to wear, too.

I spent a few days looking for a plain, black onsie for him to wear to bridge the gap between his jacket and leggings.  The closest thing I found was a $12 Batman one and it would be slightly small on him so he’d never wear it again.  Ah, no.

I racked my brains as I walked the children’s clothing at Walmart, trying to find something, anything that would work.

On my third pass by the dance stuff I realized that a leotard is very similar to a onsie.  And it was lower cut in the front so it would work better to have his jacket unzipped a little.

‘Cuz you know Elvis liked to show a little skin.

Leotards start small and stretch so, again, the size didn’t matter.  I just didn’t try it on him before dressing him up on Halloween so it would stay as small as possible for as long as possible.

Now it’s a week before Halloween and besides gluing more jewels on Josephine’s costume, I have the major parts decided on, assembled, and under control.

Next up . . . accessories.

Elvis In The House! -Part 2

October began with setting a costume-making timeline.  I figured nothing would be more difficult than Josephine’s so I should be able to make a costume each week and be finished one week before Halloween.

We decided Eleanor should be Gold Suit Elvis.  It’s a bright, shiny costume for our bright, shiny girl.  Black Leather Elvis and Hawaiian Elvis were the other two we were planning on, and needed to decide which boy should be which Elvis.

But then My Love had another brilliant idea.  Instead of the slightly lame Hawaiian Elvis, what about . . . Jailhouse Rock Elvis?

Woooooo-hooooooooo!  Now there’s an exciting costume.

Andrew would be Jailhouse Rock Elvis since he’d be able to rock the moves.  Which meant Dutch would be Black Leather Elvis and I couldn’t think of anything cuter than my little man in leather.

I told Andrew the plan and then showed him a video on YouTube of Jailhouse Rock.  He immediately recognized it because Grandma Diane, who is a huge Elvis fan, has a Dancing Elvis Telephone similar to the one below that sings and swivels his hips whenever anyone calls.

The lesson I learned that day:  Recognition counts.  Since Andrew had previous knowledge, he was very excited to dress up and imitate Elvis.

We bought a collection of Elvis movies and had the kids watch some of them.  They were made back in the day so there wasn’t a lot of risqué stuff that we wouldn’t want them to see.  They’re kind of like the Simpson’s in that most of the inappropriate material is done in a way that people old enough to understand recognize, but younger people don’t see it.

At least I hope.

Viva Las Vegas was first because it has race cars in it.  And what 6 year old boy doesn’t like race cars?  They found the movie hilarious.  Eleanor liked the songs especially.

Jailhouse Rock costume seemed fairly straight-forward.

http://www.elvis-songs.com/jailhouse-rock.html

 

Jacket, pants, and a striped shirt.  Not so bad.  I decided to buy dark jeans instead of making them because, hey, let’s be honest, they’ll look better.  And instead of spending money on fabric that will only be worn a handful of times, Andrew can wear them after I take the white stitches out until he grows out of them.  Or until there are massive holes in the knees.  And let’s be honest again, that’ll happen in about two months.

Shirt.  The shirt in the picture looks like a knit button-down with a polo shirt-type collar.  I have never seen a shirt like that.  And the white stripes are slightly wider than the black stripes.  The chances of me finding fabric where the stripes are a different width were slim to none.  My sister noticed that the stripes only went to the side seams, too.  Brilliant costumers, that’s for sure.  As he’s moving and dancing, if the jacket flies, there won’t be distracting lines; it’ll all just be shadows.

Andrew had a black polo that was getting a little small on him.  Perfect.  I took some white fabric paint and painter’s tape and went to work.  It’s not perfect but it got the job done.

The painter’s tape I used was 1 inch wide.  I made the white stripes 1.5 inches so they’d be a little bigger, just like in the photo.  However, once I was finished I thought it would have looked better if I’d done 1.25 inches.  My Love needed to remind me once again that I was nit-picking and that the stripes would still get the point across.  Sigh.  He was right.

Next up, the jacket.  Once I found the plainest, darkest wash jeans I could find at Target, I took them to the fabric store and matched a denim to them.  I found a pattern for a zip up jacket and figured I’d just leave the zipper out and put buttons and buttonholes on it.

I didn’t notice until I had all the pieces cut out and had the front and back sewn together that it was one of those jackets that is longer in the front and back than it is at the hips.  Crud.  Elvis’ jacket is cut straight across the bottom.  I fixed it by laying out my leftover fabric and placing the jacket so that the bottom lined up with the edge of the fabric.  Then I pinned and sewed and turned up the now straight across bottom edge to hem as normal.  I didn’t worry about the fuzzy cut edge of fabric.  I figured it would blend in and if anyone noticed, I’d give them a piece of candy, an “atta girl,” and send them on their way.

See?  I can learn to relax and let things go.  Sometimes.

To customize the jacket to look more like Elvis’, I turned down the edges of the collar and turned in the lower part of the jacket edges.

I sewed buttonholes and corresponding buttons, not bothering to open the buttonholes.  The edges of the jacket only meet, they do not overlap.  Plus, I think that’s how Elvis’ was done, too.

Next comes the stitching.  Three strands of white embroidery thread and more time in front of the television.  I did a simple running stitch, trying to replicate the look from the pictures I could find online.  I did the back of the jacket some but not as much as I could have.  I didn’t bother with the back of the jeans, except for continuing the stitches around the waistband.

Lastly, but this is actually my favorite part, the stenciled numbers.

Ack!  Couldn’t you just die?  I love those things.  I thought about using different numbers than Elvis, thinking maybe Andrew’s birthday numbers would be cool or his age and . . . I don’t know.  Something.  But I ended up using the original numbers and I’m very happy I did.  I makes it more authentic to me.

I used a font in my Photoshop Elements program called, you guessed it, Stencil, typed the numbers, fidgeted with the size, printed them out on freezer paper, cut out the numbers, and then used the freezer paper stencil method to paint them on.  There are many tutorials online so I won’t go into details here; just know that freezer paper stenciling ROCKS.

The final product:

Two costumes down, two to go!  My costume-a-week plan didn’t really go as planned.  By this time, it was getting close to two weeks before Halloween with still two costumes to make.  I was starting to feel the pressure, that’s for sure.  So many details to finish up.  My brain was on overload.  More to come . . . soon.

Love,

Rachel

P.S.  I must apologize for the not fabulous pictures today.  I’m still learning where the good light is in my house at the different times of day.  There are better photos to come when Andrew is actually wearing the costume. xoxo