homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Kid crafts

While I busy myself with knitting, sewing, cooking, and other tangible creative endeavors, let's not forget that the children have their own artistic outlets. Here are a few of their more recent projects.

C made a treat for us, all on his own.
The inspiration, from one of our many kids' cookbooks.

We don't buy technicolor, sugar-frosted cereal. Ever. I made an exception for this project.
The kids were so awed that they insisted that I photograph the "leftovers"
so they could remember this rare moment. ;)

More of a science experiment than a craft,
but I threw it in here because T did this on his own.
I was only involved in witnessing the results. Yay upcyling, and yay science!
Coloring on fabric, to make flags for their "clubhouse" (tent in living room)
I'll actually revisit this once my fabric-coloring project is complete...
we all had fun with this one!
A paper box, conceived and executed by T.
Paper-bag Pinatas!
Yes, I ran to the store way too late in the evening to get candy.
What can I say, it was a fun idea!!
Ready to hang...
Camera pooped out for the actual hitting...but yay! Candy!
Apparently it's much more fun to eat after it's been through the pinata. ;)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Backyard Wildlife

It was a mixed bag, for a Monday. We did some TV-watching (DVDs of Marty Stouffer's Wild America), the kids worked on their respective "clubhouses" (note to self: must photograph those!), Mom did some chores. It was late in the afternoon when I decided that we needed to Go Outside And Play in the gorgeous low 70s, light-breeze weather. So despite the fact that we were closing in on the Witching Hour (when I attempt to simultaneously prepare dinner and get cleaned/dressed for a short evening shift at work), we jumped into the car and headed to our closest public park. One with a creek. I figured even if we didn't have much time, we could at least maximize our fun with a little exploration.

It didn't take the kids long to find something. T waded into a deeper area, and C followed a few yards behind. We spotted some large-ish minnows (about 4 inches) darting in between the boys' ankles, seeking shelter, and that tickled us plenty. Then T spotted it: a snakeskin.

He got a branch and fished for it. I tried to catch up from the bank, armed with a bit of cautious parental skepticism. After all, this is a public park and I could think of a few unsavory items that might be mistaken as a "snakeskin" by an overly excited young naturalist. But sure enough, he was right.

So we had a little fun speculating, and a little discussion over whether it would be a good souvenir to take home (he eventually decided that I was right; it wouldn't hold up for long). Then C spotted a fish! Yeah, we know...we saw the fish. No, he insisted...look at the big silver fish!

Um...look at what's holding that fish.

We'd found the snake. It was really gorgeous. I don't know enough about local reptiles to have identified it, and perhaps I will soon from these photos, but I figured it would be just as well to post the story with its name still a mystery. It was about 4 feet long, and the fish it had caught was about 6 inches long. Very impressive for this shallow, narrow waterway. It spent some time holding the still-struggling fish above water, but got spooked by our excited shouts and swam around until it found cover.

At which point we noted the time and headed for the car, armed with a really great story to tell Dad over dinner. :)

ETA: I did manage to identify this creature as a Northern Water Snake. Non-venomous. ;)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

When you grow up.

"When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life." ~ John Lennon
I grabbed this quote from the Facebook feed of an unschooling group this morning, and my synapses have been happily firing with "yeah, THAT!" recognition ever since. I'm going to attempt to say something halfway coherent on the subject, although I realize that my voice is just joining a chorus in progress: many others have already addressed some of my thoughts in a very articulate manner.

In fact, I've already discussed part of the feelings aroused by this quote in an earlier post. We are accustomed to the idea that one's life goal should be attaining, and defining oneself by, a career. What's more, it's one's obligation to pursue and attain the highest-paying, most widely-approved-of career of which one is capable. If that's where your priorities lie, well...congratulations; you're a successfully-conditioned product of 20th-century society. But it bothers me to think that that's really the bar we're content to set for ourselves. Yes, I have the aptitude necessary to have succeeded in medical school (for a sterotypical example); so does my life-choice of stay-at-home mother mean that I've fallen short of my potential (and am therefore wasting my life)? Should I apologize at class reunions when I admit what I do, and accept the implications of what I don't (egads, perhaps can't? or won't?) do? No thank you; I hold my head high (figuratively, as I have little desire to actually attend class reunions) and embrace what I have chosen and the reasons for which I made my choices. (And I hope that I never lose sight of, or take for granted, the fact that my option to choose this path--this occupation--is a gift.) To fall back on my chosen catchphrase, I would rather my children be the world's most content ditch-diggers than the world's most miserable executives. Not because I value one profession over the other but precisely because I value their peace, happiness, and well-being (and, let's be honest, define them) separately from how they earn a paycheck.

This segues nicely into my next two points, which I will introduce with an anecdote. My 5-year old has a very impressive sense of spatial relations which has prompted a lifelong fascination with and interest in construction. He builds with Legos, Duplos, Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, Erector sets, and a number of other specialized toys whose trademarked names escape me at the moment. He repurposes items, creates pieces from scratch, draws up plans (not yet technically blueprints, but it's only a matter of time), and many of his creations are machines with moving parts that work. He told me once that he wants to be an inventor when he grows up. My response?

"Honey, you already ARE an inventor. You just don't get paid for it yet."

He loved this answer, and now happily defines himself by his passion. Not by some dream of a "someday" job, but by what he loves to do right now. And why not? I'm a knitter. I'm a seamstress. I'm a chef and a gardener and a childcare provider and a home educator and none of that will ever be declared on a tax return, but if defining oneself by what one does is a valid point of reference, it's far more accurate and telling than my saying, "I am a part-time receptionist." He is an inventor. And a scientist. And a singer. And a comedian. And a philosopher. And more.

The second important point is recognizing the "already" part of my statement to him. We have this ingrained tendency as a species, I think (it really does transcend culture and society and changes over time and geography) to see childhood as a transitional phase...a preparing for "Real" life, which is the role (primarily economic, sigh) filled by an adult. True, children are intially helpless to care for their own physical needs. They're certainly less experienced in navigating difficult social obstacles, they have by virtue of their youth attained less knowledge and fewer practical skills, and they're sexually and emotionally immature. But they ARE people. Not some featureless little lumps of clay waiting to become, or grow, or be made into people at some distant future time. They are people right To attempt to define a child by asking him what career he might pursue a decade or more into the future disrespects the person he is today. A much better--and far more respectful--ice-breaker with a child would be, "What do you enjoy doing?"

But we don't often think to ask adults that, do we? We are far more likely to go for the job description. "Oh, where do you work?", "What does your husband do?" It's no wonder that when faced with a non-working, non-adult, people are often stymied for how to relate to them. My question is: does knowing that information about your adult companions really help you relate to them on any meaningful level? Sure, it might help to establish common ground, but so might questions about hobbies or birthplaces, both of which I'm convinced open up far more enjoyable conversations.

All of this makes for interesting musing, but as with all things, I believe in balance. Don't take away from this the message that I do not value preparing my children with the skills which will enable them to function in their future workplaces. Yes, I want them to be economically self-sufficient and free from worry about their immediate physical needs. I don't want them to be reliant upon others to survive, if they are capable of taking care of themselves. I'm not advocating that they follow their bliss if what makes them happiest is exploiting others, or causing harm to anyone. If you know me, you know how I dislike the restrictions of black-and-white thinking. Yes, of course I want them to do well for themselves as members of a wage-earning society.

But all that aside, I value the things that I tried to express here. I think that their interests matter today. I think that postponing any personal respect until they're wage-earners is absurd. And I think that "happy" is about the best goal that one can pursue.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Spoiling the surprise

There are countless decisions in parenting about which people have a tendency to get very judgmental and/or defensive, and I'm about to discuss one of them. Please understand up front that I believe that everyone is entitled to their choices as long as they "do no harm". This wasn't written as a soapbox or a diss or any other blanket statement about what you and yours do. It's just about me.

So. I'm expecting a baby. Between some math calculations, the modern miracle of ultrasound technology, and the unfortunate situation of requiring an undesired but necessary surgical delivery, I not only know roughly when, but specifically when this little one will be emerging into the world. I'm already well-armed with a lot more knowledge than the guesswork afforded my foremothers.

I do not, however, know whether my child has indoor plumbing. An innie or an outie. An X or a Y in that second position. Nor do I want to.

This is my third pregnancy and I have chosen to keep the gender a secret from myself (and therefore everyone) with each one. I'm amused (and sometimes annoyed, as certain people's incredulity can come across as accusatory...why is that?) when people ask why. "Because I like the surprise" doesn't seem to appease some folks. After all, we have the technology to gain this information, so why wouldn't I? It would make planning easier, etc...

With all due respect and a nice pre-emptive "thank you" to those who wonder if they should spend their time making (or their money purchasing) a lovely ruffled dress or an adorable rugged set of mini overalls for my child, it's my choice. Not yours. And it's not my duty or obligation to make decisions based on whether it will please the general public. (Oh yeah, and we will still love gifts after Birth Day, I promise.)

We're so impatient in this society; we want instant gratification at every turn. Between DVRs and microwavable everything and the ubiquitous presence of cellphones (each individual is expected to be reachable at any time--heavens, when we go play outside, or exercise our family rule of not answering phones during dinner, we have gotten some serious backlash from folks who *blame us for worrying them* by not picking up), we seem to be increasingly losing the ability to just WAIT. You'll find out the baby's gender. Just not today. And guess what? The world won't end because there's something that you want that you can't have yet.

Also, I'm pretty sure I won't be color-coding my child. I would have purchased white Onesies and yellow sleepers regardless. And I chose a lovely pale green for the blanket I'm knitting because I like green.

The whole clip is classic; the punchline which applies to this post occurs at 3:55.
And knowing ahead of time really won't affect our decorating (with four children in two rooms already, it's not like there's a nursery to our babies cosleep anyway) or our name choices (despite a "short list", our older children were named well after birth, as many selections that we'd loved in theory just didn't seem to fit that child).

So really, for us, knowing would just be...knowing. And no, there's nothing at all wrong with that. If you want to know the gender of your unborn child, I'm cool with that. And still a little geeked out that it's possible. But not knowing is okay, too.

Let me paint a metaphor for you...if only to amuse myself. I seem to process things best by relating them to other things. I'm not sure what that says about me as a person, but I kick ass at picking apart the symbolism in classic literature (har).

Think of this baby as a Christmas present. I know I'm getting a gift. I can see the wrapping, touch the package, and I know when this gift will be officially presented for me to open and enjoy. So the question is, do I just make guesses about what I think might be inside? Or do I peel back the wrapping and find out?

Although one might naturally presume that the excitement lies in "what you got", I am convinced that what makes the experience so special isn't only the matter of what's inside the package, but the joy which is magnified by delight at the moment of revelation. I had a recent conversation with my sisters-in-law in which two of us admitted to having peeked at hidden Christmas gifts as kids...and both of us had the same reaction. We'd felt terrible. It's not that we disliked the toys or were disappointed, or even that we feared discovery and punishment. It was the fact that when we opened them in front of the family, our surprise was feigned and our delight was diminished. We already knew we were getting the Barbie/bike/ there was no mystery, no moment of fresh surprise to make it even better.

That's kind of how I feel about the baby thing. Yes, I will be super excited to meet this person even if I know more details about what to expect. However, there's something magical about the announcement of "It's a..." that seems to me so much more awe-inspiring and celebratory than simply, "S/he's here".

Interestingly, like the woman in the clip above, I have had to ask for confirmation in each previous delivery, and expect to again. I suspect that doctors are so accustomed to the knowledge being, well, common knowledge, that they don't think to announce the gender at birth anymore.

I know I'm getting a gift. I know on which day it will be "opened". I don't need to know what's inside it. I'm going to save that discovery as a gift to myself. ;)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Love Shirt!

This one was a long time in coming. Other projects were quicker, and less emotionally taxing. This one? This one I had high hopes for. I didn't want another obviously homemade item...I wanted this thing to surprise the hell out of people when I said that I made it. I wanted a real live grownup button-down blouse with precise details. The challenge scared me a little.

Since I've had such a roller coaster time in the past using commercial patterns, I did make a muslin of this first. There was NO way I was going to waste my beautiful polished-cotton fabric (charity sale: woot!) only to end up with something that fit too poorly to ever wear. I made my muslin from a threadbare, paint-stained old bedsheet and whaddya know? It *fit*! I had been preparing myself for a long process of alterations and frankly, all this required was a little extra ease in the upper arms (again, Heredity? You can suck it) and a readjustment of the sash tie position. (Seriously, why would anyone position ties at the natural waistline...for a maternity garment? Do you think I *want* the buttons to gape and expose my used-to-be-a-bellybutton?) I was pretty psyched. And I actually have a muslin I can and will wear...although only for dirty around-the-yard jobs. If our raspberry patch manages to produce this year (we're doubtful--it rained a LOT and the cherries and pears all turned black and fell, sigh), it will be my berry-picking shirt. Hey, it's not like I have a lot of long-sleeved items that fit at the moment. ;)

Okay, enough buildup...check this out!

Oh snap. Hire a 5-year-old photographer, expect focusing issues.
Sigh, at least he got me into the frame...

5-year-old photographer says,
"You get what you pay for!"
Ahem. Okay...let's see if anything survived intact from that session. Ah we go!

Yes I know my pants are too tight. I can't keep up.
They were $4 at the thrift store and I only have 80-some days left; I'm wearing them!
I love this shirt. LOVE it. Even though the photos show a bunch of not-perfect stuff, I don't care. I'm too happy. Look how happy I am!

Yeah, my wedding band doesn't fit either. It's all temporary. ;)
Now for the recap:

What I love:

The color! The fabric! How awesome it looks when it's been properly ironed! My topstitching! The crisp, pointy cuffs! And the matching buttons. Which aren't quite perfect (I seem to lack that little plastic doohickey to hold them stable while wrapping them)

but I. Don't. Care. I freaking love them anyway. Same goes for the collar, which I realize isn't supposed to lie that wide...but when I starched it to stand up it looked and felt weird. So? I have a wide collar. Do I care? No. No, I do not.

What I'm not nuts about:

I swear the bust fit when I made my muslin. Now, not so much. Again, I refer back to the extreme difficulty of making (or hell, buying) maternity clothes that fit. Either they fit on the day you acquire them, or you go too big in anticipation and wear a tent for a while. Sigh.

Also, although I did some crazy precise hand-stitching to attach the collar (seriously, I'm so proud), I kind of crashed and burned when I got to the edge, and you see this.

And finally, there are a few tiny puckers where my sleeve easing was less than perfect. But if you've noticed a trend here, it's that I don't care. Seriously. I could stress over it or I could remember that I'd chosen a different easing method than I'm used to doing because I was concerned about messing up the gorgeous fabric. So, learning curve.

What I've learned:

Hm. Not really too much in the way of new skills, per se...other than the collar attachment and the button facing. This is the first self-faced garment I've done and while it was a little tricky and I had to be very careful about all of my pressing and stitching, it really wasn't all that difficult to learn. And OMG it looks so much better than the faced things I've done. And actually, it's less work now that I think about it, because there's no need for finishing an extra raw edge, or understitching.

Okay, so...Love Hat, Love Booties, Love Shirt. It's small victories that keep me wanting to further improve my skills. Hell no, I'm not perfect. Yet. But I'm getting better, and that feels great.

 ETA: In the haze of pregnancy-brain, I neglected to identify the pattern! It's Simplicity 4704, now out of print.