family life

a philosophy of sewing

 

DSC_0082

Or, why I took a break from sewing, and why I'm back at it.

I worked myself raw in the years after Lachlan's birth and first two heart surgeries. I filmed my Craftsy course, came out with a ton of new patterns, and attended my first Quilt Market. Sew Liberated was our primary source of income while Patrick was in grad school, and since we had such high medical bills, it needed to grow. Sewing became work - something that took me away from my little family. But Sew Liberated wasn't cutting it. We made the decision for Patrick to teach himself programming so he could jump off the history PhD ship that was sailing to oblivion. We needed to be able to stay near Duke for Lachlan's cardiology needs, and we needed a more stable income. When he landed a programming job, I became a full-time mom, and no longer had the time to work on Sew Liberated, even if I had wanted to.

We hired Danica to run the show, and I took a deep breath. Lachlan's third open heart surgery was on the horizon, and I did a ton of mental work to prepare myself for that sickening moment when I handed my baby off to scrubbed and masked strangers. I meditated. I did yoga.  I tried to get us out into nature as much as possible. Tried to create a nurturing cocoon of a home. Tried to do anything in my power to equip my little ones with love, attention, and good memories. I birthed a sweet baby girl. I felt my ability to focus on anything other than my family slipping away into a pleasant, homey blur. My family became my creative outlet. Months went by, and I didn't touch my sewing machine. Then a year passed. I didn't miss it. It was work. I didn't want anything to do with it.

Lakishorts

I didn't miss that rushed feeling of trying to sew "just one more seam" before the baby awoke. I didn't miss feeling frustrated when I didn't finish a project in the allotted time frame. I didn't miss the constant stream of project ideas that would hound my thoughts when I could have been enjoying the present moment with my kids. I didn't miss the creative to-do list. I didn't miss the stacks of yet-to-be-used fabric, beckoning me from the shelf. They used to cast a shadow of resentment over my children for their incessant needs that took me away from being a more productive creative person. 

The surgery day dawned. If I hadn't focused on Sew Liberated since before Sadie was born, now I didn't even give it one thought. Facing the tender, fleeting, mortal nature of being human gives you tunnel vision. This little boy of mine had his heart mended and fit by a tailor far more skilled than I. His surgeon's skilled hands touched Lachlan's heart, stitching pieces of previously-used human cloth onto my baby's own fresh tissue. Weaving gortex with muscle, he re-designed a circulatory system that would, for the first time, provide Lachlan with near-normal blood oxygenation levels and the energy of a typical three year-old. Lachlan's heart is re-purposed. Fully functional, yet beautifully flawed, like sashiko mending. 

DSC_0090

Nearly six weeks later, after battling with accumulating fluid on his lungs and the subsequent dehydration of his treatment, Lachlan's little mended heart slowed and stopped. I was at home, nursing a stuffy-nosed baby and five year-old. Patrick was with him as they rushed him to the pediatric cardiac ICU, soon starting chest compressions. When I got the call, I was eating a veggie quesadilla, which I spit out while I screamed and fell to the floor. I thought he was dead. I guess, in a way, he was. Had he been at home, 30 minutes from the hospital, he wouldn't have survived. (Hence our eventual move downtown. Covering bases, you know.) 

Lachlan recovered. But what does it mean to recover? To cover again. To mend. The mending is visible. Like his heart, life for our family would never be quite the same. There is a patch that covers our physical and psychological wounds. There is stitching that holds it together. Sometimes the stitching is pristine, in other places it is knotted with fear and anger. But we are functional. And achingly, imperfectly beautiful. 

We are still mending. A well-rubbed piece of cloth will, eventually, break down. When it does, we take up a needle and thread and piece it together any way we can. In my family, the cloth is often made threadbare by sibling bickering, hidden scary medical memories, and parental stress. But it can always be mended. Re-covered. Made functional. Unique.

DSC_0043

At some point, perhaps when that subtle shift occurred and my toddler started to spend long stretches playing with her dollhouse, a few minutes opened up in my days. I wanted to make her clothes as a gift of love. I cut into some soft cloth. She sat on my lap and removed the pins as I sewed. It was slow. But it brought me so much joy. I didn't take pictures of it. I didn't have to market the design. It was just that, a physical manifestation of love. An expression of my creativity and a happy investment of my time. I never want to sew for any other reasons.

Sewing has an important place in my life again, along with writing. But I have a personal manifesto that I now follow.

  1. Begin each project with the intention of expressing love and gratitude for the intended recipient, be it my own body or the vibrant bodies of my children.  
  2. Breathe deeply while cutting. Breathe deeply while sewing. Sewing is slow, and the act of slowing down is a gift of mindfulness. Accept any interruption in the process as a gift to be present. Find joy in the process, and appreciation for the amount of time it takes.
  3. Buy less. Make what you need, but not more.  When clothing wears down, mend it. Bring a mindset of minimalism to the fiber arts.
  4. Sewing is an act of self-care. It is not selfish. It is practice of mindfulness mendfulness. I sew because it helps me on my journey to be a more aware, loving mother and creative person. 

If I returned to my old way of sewing - the resentment, the oppressive to-make list, the feeling of being squeezed for creative time, I would need to stop and reassess. My time with these three little children is too short. With this healthier creative mindset, I hope to mend together my creative nature with parenthood.  

DSC_0097

I made these Rainbow Shorts for Lachlan using the Basic Pocket Pants pattern in my book, using Kaffe Fasset's Exotic Stripe in the Earth colorway.  It took me two weeks to sew them - a seam here, a seam there. He helped me. So did Sadie. He is clothed with love. 


a reintroduction

McElwee-206

 

Hello, friends. It's been a long time. You know the fluttery nerves you feel when meeting face to face with an old high school friend after ten years of mere commenting on each other's Facebook posts? I wonder - will you notice that my stomach looks like a well-lived-in baby house? Will you sense, through my strained wit, that my sleep was disturbed at least four times last night by one or another of my sweet babies? Will you notice the rivulets of years of sorrow and immense joy etched onto the landscape of my forehead and cheeks?

That's how I feel now, writing something more substantial than a short Instagram blurb for the first time in nearly two years. I feel exposed. Raw. Real. Imperfect. Vulnerable. And that feels remarkably good.

 

McElwee-229

For a long time, I was waiting for the perfect moment to return to blogging. I was waiting for my life to align to my values. I was waiting to heal. I was waiting until the sibling squabbles were few and far between, until I'd implemented the most nourishing self-care regimen. Until I started waking up at five in the morning to write in silence, before the baby needed to nurse. No wonder it has been so long since I'd visited this space. The perfect, of course, never arrives.

A beautiful thing is never perfect.

 

McElwee-227

Perfectionism. I have an intimate rapport with it; from my own (often disappointing!) quest to be the perfect parent, to my embarrassingly self-centered drive to have my home looking well put-together when hosting guests. And then there's the obvious run-in with perfection – this whole blogging thing. I feel like I've intuitively avoided this space in the past few years because of it's link to my own perfection problem. The beautiful pictures, the brilliant and flawless kids' activity. The expectation that I have mastered this parenting thing. Let it be on the record: I have most definitely NOT mastered this parenting thing.

Despite my years of Montessori training, despite my experience in the classroom, despite surviving and sometimes thriving during Lachlan's three-month hospital stay a while back, despite practicing mindfulness both formally and informally, despite having learned innumerable “lessons,” I still wake up every morning and face what I used to call “imperfection.” Imperfection in my own will power, imperfection in my circumstances, and imperfection in my kids.

McElwee-020

Here's the difference between then and now – I no longer call it imperfection. I call it Reality. Now I try, to the best of my ability, (which highly depends upon how much uninterrupted sleep I got the night before!) to see the moment and my reaction to it with new eyes – eyes which gaze upon it with compassion and humor, knowing that, when next they blink, the moment will have already changed.

The moment has changed. I am no longer just a sewing pattern designer. I am no longer an early childhood expert. I am simply a mother, a woman, on a life-long spiritual journey. I make things - sewn things, mostly - as a form of self-care. I take projects one seam at a time, and am always interrupted. I consider each interruption an invitation to be present with my children. Spurred on by my three beautifully imperfect kids, I am learning the art of mothering myself so I can mother them. I am finding out how to love myself unconditionally so I can pass on that love to them. It's time for a fresh start, so here I am, in a new space, honoring where I am now. If you feel called to journey along with me as friends, fellow mothers, and creative beings, I welcome you with all my heart.  

McElwee-155 (1)


season of joy

Christmas 2013

Remember this? Two years have passed since I took that photo, and, thanks to a small Christmas miracle, the boys were pleased to reenact the scene. Mmmm. Love me some smilin' boys in their Snow Pixie Hats

Our advent season was one of waiting, in a different sense. Waiting for the stomach flu to work its way through all of our systems. Nothing like a family illness to keep the holidays simple! We're mostly better now, and hoping that we are out of the woods for the rest of the cold season.

Christmas 2013

And here they are with their baby sister, who is just waiting patiently for the holiday crazies to mellow out before making her appearance. Right, baby girl? No being-born-business before the guests leave? :) 

I hear little feet upstairs. I've been downstairs, (dark) and early, starting to put away some Christmas decorations. As much as I love the festive season, and would love to honor the twelve days of Christmas, that's just not in the cards this year. Because when your baby is due shortly after Christmas, if you don't put things away, the house will still be decorated come April. So here we are, moving on to the next big thing. We'll let you know when she's here!

Wishing you much peace and relaxation as we usher in the New Year!


an early morning decision

DSC_2140

I woke at 5:30 this morning to the little rumble of his footsteps galloping into my bedroom. He jumped into bed with me and put his little arm right over my cheek. He played with my hair and started making what I can only describe as "boy noises" while I tried to feign sleep for a little while longer - a futile attempt to encourage him back into dreamland, as it turned out.

It was a watershed moment. I could choose to take the (albeit temporary) easier emotional reaction, which would have resulted in lots of huffy "tired mama noises" and an entitled sense of weariness and lack of patience that lasted throughout the day. (I know - oh too well - how the day would unfold, given this choice. I have chosen this path many times before. It's never pretty.)

DSC_2101

DSC_2137

Instead, I chose another path today. One of less resistance. I am still tired. But I chose to enjoy those pre-dawn, warm, jumpy little fingers. I chose to breathe deeply through the sibling squabbles and smile instead of narrow my eyes. I chose to spend most of the day outside, allowing them to pursue their deep passions of climbing trees and shoveling gravel. 

I am still tired. But I chose to grab a frozen, homemade meal (oh, how I love batch cooking!) and thaw it for dinner tonight instead of cooking. Instead, I will work on measuring various items with Finn, who has just taped together three rulers, all the while "tasting" Lachlan's playdough baked goods.

It might end as a movie afternoon. I'm open to that. Anything to keep smiling.

I will, most certainly, fall asleep when they do. A day well lived. 


visiting the pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

The title of this post should really be "Make Your Kids Happy With 40 Tons of Corn Kernels." The pumpkins, as it turns out, were an afterthought. I think you can see why.

We're lucky to have a pick-your-own-pumpkin farm in our community. Ganyard Hill Farm doesn't just stop at the pumpkins, though - with two corn pits, plentiful hay bales for scaling, goats to feed, unlimited hay rides, and a few mazes, I'm happy to say that this yearly visit has become a solid family tradition for us. Check out the photos of my little butter balls in the corn pit two years ago! My, my. How quickly things change in life with young children when you just take a step back to see a larger expanse of time. 

The season of pletiful celebrations is upon us. We're looking forward to doing some projects from our copy of The Artful Year: Autumn, as well as making our Halloween costumes. Finn has already made Patrick's - he's to be a single cell. (I mentioned he was into evolution in my last post. One of his favorite books is currently Life Story, by Virginia Lee Burton. This book, among others, is the inspiration for our costumes.) Finn's just trying to figure out how to best hang the cardboard cell around Daddy's neck. Homespun Halloween, little boy style. I really love it. 


sky top orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

Baskets. Panoramic views. Running, almost tumbling down grassy hills. A hayride (with requests for many more). A normally cautious child exploring his newfound tree climbing passion. Warm apple cider on a cloud-filled, crisp morning. Apple donuts before lunch, because that's how we roll on apple picking day.

If you happen to be in the Asheville area during apple picking season, do take the time to visit Sky Top Orchard. This was our second year visiting, and it really is an amazing place. A beginning-of-autumn tradition has been solidified for our family. Patrick and I found ourselves recalling what was going on in our lives at this time last year when we went apple picking - he had just started his full-time job as a computer programmer, and I had just stepped more deeply into my role as a full-time stay-at-home mama. And here we are now, my belly round with our baby girl. That is something we surely didn't expect! Next year, we'll attend as a family of five. What else will have changed between now and then? Oh, the possibilities held within a year.

Now I have 23 pounds of apples to process, and I can't find my beloved book, Canning for a New Generation. Must have loaned it out. Can anyone recommend a good applesauce recipe without sugar? Or a pie filling recipe without weird ingredients? We're itching to start peeling and coring some apples.


welcoming autumn

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

It's been a particularly festive and colorful week. An autumn party to attend, apple crisp to be baked and shared, summer clothes to be put away and pants and long-sleeved shirts to be brought out of storage. Tomorrow, we leave for our second annual camping trip to the Appalachian mountains for some apple picking and cool weather hiking. 

Not many words today, just some pretty pictures. Wish me luck packing for the trip with two very tired boys in tow! 


the evolution of a space

trying it on

our new studio

Here's our studio, as we call it, just after we moved in. It was one of the first spaces that I put together, knowing that Finn needed a space for independent play amidst the chaos of moving boxes and complete disaster in the rest of the house.

our new studio

DSC_9873_1761

It's an odd room, this studio of ours, as it also serves as our primary entry/exit door. The room is essentially cut in two by an invisible hallway leading from our exterior door to the kitchen, the area with the bookshelves having a tile floor and the rest of the room being painted plywood (until we can afford the hardwood floor.)

DSC_9880_1768

It has always housed books and art supplies (both the boys and mine), as well as the occasional basket of blocks and random stuff that seems to settle in this room we use so much.

DSC_2329_4364

writing letters

writing center times two

This little table that I originally brought in to house my own art supplies was quickly comandeered by Finn, and I made it into his letter writing station.

DSC_7190

DSC_7226

We've tried our cozy reading spot in various locations - looking for the best light, the best use of space.

DSC_9337

DSC_9330

And here it is today. I moved in the big table from my sewing room to better serve my two artists (as well as myself.) Added the shelves, which house many art supplies that are now freely accessible to Finn. These include acrylic paints, scissors, oil pastels, various crayons, sequins, beads, saved bottle caps and juice tops, googly eyes, glitter glue, watercolor, papers of various sizes, paint brushes and containers, a low-heat hot glue gun, as well as a bunch of recycled materials that I keep in the wire basket under the table. All of his letter writing materials are accessible, too. Lachlan can access the paper, crayons and some washable markers - the rest are (intentionally) too high for him to reach just yet.

Yes, we do have a computer in the space - Finn, at almost four, does 30 minutes of Reading Eggs a day, does the occasional yoga video, and occasionally watches Mathtacular or a science video. If you're conflicted about screen time, I found this post written by Jaime Martin of Steady Mom very helpful in providing me the necessary prospective. Allowing Finn a bit of time on the computer during the weekdays allows me to spend some precious moments focused on Lachlan exclusively - something that's so rare! 

The big, braided rug (an ebay find) really improved the space - now they have a large area for play. I gathered baskets for housing dress up clothes, blocks, car tracks, and puppets. Those small bolga baskets that are hanging from tree branch hooks are homes for our legos, story stones, finger puppets, and felt animal masks. Smaller baskets on the shelf include various toob animals (these are great if you can't afford the more expensive wooden animals - they inspire play just as much!) and a basket for small cars. We also have a bigger basket on the floor for larger cars, as well as a piece of wood that they use to race the smaller cars.

DSC_9340

Finally, our snuggly reading nook is just where it needs to be - right by the bookshelves and the cozy bird watching window seat. 

This room is how I keep my two boys, now 2 and nearly 4, busily playing, both independently and together. I'm sure it won't stay this way forever, but it feels like a very sustainable set-up, able to accommodate children of various ages and interests. Right now it feels perfect for us.

I hope you enjoyed the tour!


a good bit of winter, just in the nick of time

Appalachian winter vacation

Appalachian winter vacation

Appalachian winter vacation

Appalachian winter vacation

Appalachian winter vacation

Appalachian winter vacation

Just returned from a week in the mountains in a cabin without an internet connection. It was just what we needed - a taste of real winter. Being snowed in takes on a whole new level of excitement with little ones around. There was much sledding (Finn says sledding is the most wonderful thing in his WHOLE LIFE.) There was game after game after game. There was plentiful "galimoto-ing," as the boys call it. 

Appalachian winter vacation

Being away from home without all of the independent activities I have set up at the house was intense yet enjoyable, especially with my dear husband at my side. I did have a tad bit of leisure time while there, and it was blissfully spent learning how to carve stamps. More on that tomorrow!

It's good to be back. It's full-blown springtime back at our house!


and he's (almost) two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

My dear little Lachlan,

Tomorrow, February 27, it will have been two years since I first gazed into your calm eyes. Two years since you had your one and only nursing session. Two years since the bright room full of specialist onlookers waited for you to pink up, then take you away while I lay there, dizzy with oxytocin and yearning for you. Daddy was with you as much as he could be. I didn't sleep but for little spurts in the blue lounge chair in the pediatric cardiology ICU. Your brow was swollen and blue, your nose a bit bruised, too. I'm not sure any other heart baby in that ICU was near your whopping nine pounds.

Two days later, we kissed your unscarred chest and they wheeled your bassinet to the operating room. We held it together until we couldn't see you anymore, then we collapsed and wailed in a dark family waiting room. Other people ate breakfast while you were under. I just thought that was weird, but life does go on, somewhere, doesn't it?

And life went on for you, in the most amazing of ways. You emerged from surgery, had some ups and downs, but mostly ups, in your recovery, then we were home (only after having been told by a geneticist that you were missing a miniscule piece of one of your chromosomes, which could make you prone to autism.) I carried that worry with me. The fear of your second surgery. The fear of your genome print-out. 

Yet you smiled. You cooed. You were oh-so-easy (except for the nursing/feeding thing.) But look at you now! Two years later, you have a husky little voice, speak in eloquent sentences, memorize entire songs, run along behind your brother, and eat phenomenally well, I must say. No one on the street would guess that you still have half a heart, and that your blood oxygenation is at 80% of normal.

What you are is a wonder. A medical wonder, a human wonder. You are hilarious, spunky, cheerful, and wise.

At two, you like reading books, singing, playing with cars, "washing" the dishes, and being with your Mima and Papa. You occasionally like your brother, who will occasionally play cars with you. You are starting to engage in imaginative play with puppets and cars, and start off many conversations with "You be this one, and I'll be this one. Hi! My name is car! What's your name?"  

At two, you don't like sharing Mama, and you don't like it when I can't play cars with you right now. You give the funniest looks, and you like to practice saying "no." But mostly, you're a carefree fellow. And we can't imagine life without you.

Happy birthday, love.