family life

in which we all get covered in dirt

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Sunset at the Fairyland lookout at Bryce Canyon National Park.

We arrived in Salt Lake City after a long day of plane travel, having schlepped our ten (ten!) checked bags from the baggage claim to the rental car agency, only to realize that said bags would not fit in the car. Unless we strapped a child to the roof. We shelled out the cash for a minivan and headed to the grocery store to stock up for ten nights of camping. Check. On to REI, where we needed to purchase some propane and sun hats. It was here that all three of our dear little children lost their minds. Us parents made a mental note never to travel with them again, and we made it to the hotel before they fell asleep in two minutes flat, hours after their normal east coast bedtime. 

"Are we making a big mistake?" Patrick said, with eyebrows raised in annoyance and exhaustion. 

"Maybe," I answered. We again discussed plans to postpone all future travel until they turned 8, 11, and 13. "It is a bit easier to camp twenty minutes from home."

Thank goodness we slept well, because there was a four-hour car ride to Bryce Canyon ahead of us the next morning. Dude. What were we thinking? 

Choruses of "are we there yet?" and "I don't want that music!" and "but I want that music!" were heard from the back seats. At least we had rare snack foods on hand. Never underestimate the power of cheddar bunny crackers to assuage the masses. 

Setting up camp in Bryce was filled with more whines.

But then ... then the big cousins arrived. And everything was all better.

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Calf Creek Falls in Utah. A very hot, six-mile hike in full sun, with a very beautiful waterfall destination. Bring lots of water. More than we did (ahem.)

Aside from a few nights of coughing for Lachlan (hello, high elevation!) and sub-par sleep, we started to hit our camping groove. From Bryce, we headed to Zion, then on to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (which is very different from the South Rim, so I hear. Sparsely visited, nestled among pine, aspen, and lupine - our camp site was a quick walk from the edge. Stunning.) 

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I had lots of time to think about some things on this trip. With no internet access, I spent my evenings in quiet contemplation. There were no hobbies to busy my hands (I brought the wrong knitting needles, drat!) I did get out to hike as much as possible. And while that isn't always easy to do with little children, who are more interested in small things and less interested in the grandeur of canyons, I did squeeze in a few hard hikes with a toddler on my back, and a handful of solo explorations. And what I realized was this: challenging my body in Nature is my jam.

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I hear so much about how important it is to set aside time to exercise. How I need to move for so many reasons. Exercise is an obligation if I am to reach my full energy quota, my optimum body function. How many of us view exercise as an obligation, not a joyful experience that we look forward to? Hiking, for me, is pure joy. Pure fulfillment. I could hike to the top of a mountain and not think about how much longer I had to go. I could go on for miles without wondering when I could stop. 

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Finn and I hiked The Narrows at Zion, and this is the only picture I got. Despite being out of focus, I love it!

The first thing I did when I got home was sign up for my local hiking meet-up. If I'm going to invest in personal rejuvenation and health, this is how I'm going to do it. There needs to be a balance in my "me time." Too much time spent hunched over a sewing machine can be good for my mind but bad for the body. Equilibrium can be reached by balancing quiet, crafting time with joyful movement. Starting now, I'm going to explore how to honor that body/mind balance in my free time, looking at both as a pleasurable respite rather than an obligation. 

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And yes, I would take my three kids on another crazy camping adventure. In fact, I recommend it. As long as you add big cousins or friends to the mix! Nature takes the drudgery out of movement for people of all ages.


a philosophy of sewing

 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.  

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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

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.  

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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

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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.)

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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

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!