family life

getting away

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 We felt crazy. As in, wow, who knew we would wake up on a morning like any other and fall asleep that night in a tent by the beach? 

Shaking off the incapacitated-by-small-folk feeling that often overcomes us and whispers in our ears to stay put on a typical weekend, we threw our camping things in the car and headed to the Outer Banks for two nights. Who knew so many good memories could be made in less than forty-eight hours?

Perhaps uncharacteristically, we opted for an all-bells-and-whistles-included KOA campground. It had a zero-entry pool, plenty of play structures, a gigantic bouncer, and mini golf, all next to the beach. Finn and Lachlan were delighted. The only challenge was finding a cool place to take a nap. We opted for a drive, finally finding the only? shade tree on the island and parking ourselves under it. The boys snoozed. We read our books while sipping iced coffee. It was almost like a date.

On the drive home, while looking for a restroom, we serendipitously drove past a refurbished, 1950's-era mini amusement park in Rocky Mount. One dollar train and carousel rides, a water park, and ice cream. With happy hearts, we hopped in the car for the last stretch home, excited to listen to Sparkle Stories

We should do crazy things like that more often.


fun was had

the fun we have

Before I left for Denver, I found myself with a bit of senior-itis when it came to my sewing course. You know, I had to pack, attend to small details, etc., but all I could do when I sat down in front of the computer was search for sensorial play ideas for the boys. 

And oh, my. The 'nets are chock-full of fantastic "activities," as we call them in our house. 

the fun we have

First up is shaving cream and ice paint from Growing a Jeweled Rose. Total hit. 

the fun we have

Lachlan had the idea of covering his hair in shaving cream. Finn and his friend thought this was the greatest idea ever. Somehow, we avoided shaving cream in the eyes, which was fortunate. 

the fun we have

What I like about Growing a Jeweled Rose is that Crystal has so many innovative ideas of her own, but she aslo posts thematic round-ups from around the web, which is very helpful for planning activities for children of different ages and interests. 

the fun we have

She does not shy away from messy play, and has great ideas for containing it in a bath. She calls them sensory baths

This was our first time trying a "special bath," as Finn now calls them. Both boys were awestruck with the glow bath I put together for them. 

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

I'm pretty sure if Lachlan's cardiologist saw this picture, he would be concerned! Black light + camera at work. Speaking of Lachlan's heart, I forgot to mention that, at his last quarterly check-up, he was looking so great that his cardiologist gave him a six-month pass! No hospital for six months! Way to go, Lachlan. His heart function is excellent.

I hope you all have a great weekend, and that you have the time to do something crazy fun. We are heading back to the beach (can't stay away!) for an impromptu, two-night camping trip to celebrate Patrick's birthday. 

Happy weekending, friends!


7 tips for family music time

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This morning, I stopped to ponder the road I’ve traveled to get where I am now – which led me to consider a few of those roads that I didn’t choose. The one that stood out to me was that decision, nine years ago, to pursue graduate studies in Montessori education rather than music therapy - a decision that led to living and teaching in rural Mexico for three years, which ultimately led to an interest in Latin American history on Patrick’s part, which landed us here in the land of Duke, et cetera, et cetera.

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Nine years ago, despite my background in classical music, my confidence in my voice, and my ability to read music and harmonize, there was one thing on the list of qualifications for admittance to the music therapy program that made my heart sink a little. The paragraph said something about fluency in guitar or piano or both. Fluent I was not. I was a putzer. A dabbler. A “learned-the-basics-but-never-had-the-discipline-to-REALLY-master-them,” decidedly amateur musician.

Had I known then what I know now, I would have applied anyway. For what I’ve learned, these past eight years of working with little children, is that they could care less how you play the guitar, or, for that matter, how you carry a tune. What matters is that you enthusiastically demonstrate your love for music, and surround them with it.  If you do that, you’re already an amateur music therapist for your family. No need for a degree. I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned over the years that have helped make our family music time a joyful bonding experience.

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1. Drop everything when there’s an interest

We don’t have a schedule in place for family music time. It happens organically, when one of us, adult or little one, feels thus moved.  This morning, Finn finished his oatmeal, hopped out of his chair, and zoomed over to play the washboard.  With no second thoughts or “we need to clean up after breakfast first” parent-y statements, we left our dirty dishes on the table and joined him. Lachlan had other plans, namely pushing his stroller around, but he eventually joined in, too.

We were recently gifted an old swing set by our neighbors, and have found it to be an unlikely help in the music department. I call it “captive music time,” when the boys are happily swinging and often “singing” along, yet both Patrick and I can bring out a few chairs, sit down with our guitars, and work on some more challenging songs and techniques. I think of it like modeling a love of reading – you aren’t going to curl up with Goodnight, Moon when you have a moment to relax – you’re going to read a good novel.  No need to play children’s songs all of the time – nourish your own love of music, too. The kiddos will notice.

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2. Provide a handful of real, yet child-accessible instruments

It’s been really wonderful to see the boys hopping from one instrument to the next, rarely squabbling over who gets to play what. In our music corner, you’ll find a ukulele, several harmonicas, a washboard and some soup spoons, a small pair of drums with drumsticks, maracas, shakers, and jingle bells. A popular item with both boys is the small basket of guitar accessories that only comes out during music time – a guitar tuner, regular picks and a set of finger picks, a slide, and some capos.

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3. Make a list of your family’s favorite songs

Do you find yourself singing the same three songs over and over because you just can’t recall any others in the heat of the musical moment? We did. Oh my, we did. Queue internal parenting dialogue: “Oh cr**. If we sing the Itsy Bitsy Spider one more time, I’m going to wish for the rain to wash me out, and I’m going to wish for many, many rainy days so I don’t have to climb up that spout AGAIN.”  Here’s the thing – I don’t think it’s just us adults that get stuck in a rut with a certain set of songs. Kids forget, and wish they could remember, other songs just like we do. Having a set of favorites that you can call on during family music time really helps.

The list doesn’t need to be fancy. It doesn’t need to be too long. I would suggest starting with at least twenty songs. Start with songs you know your child already loves. When other songs come to you – from your childhood, from a book, on Pandora, etc., write them down. Any song you enjoy singing as a family, or a song you’d like to teach your children, should go on the list. We keep ours on the side of our piano – out of the way but always there.

Not sure where to look for children's songs? We love All Together Singing in the Kitchen, Rise Up Singing, The Singing Day, Elizabeth Mitchell, Raffi, and listening to the Indie Children's music station on Pandora.

4. Learn, or make up your own hand motions and movements for songs

As tempting as it can be to hide behind your guitar and strum “D – D –A –D” over and over again, don’t. What really gets kids excited about music is movement – the hand motions, the spinning, the clapping, the stomping, the pretending.  Make sure to add several movement-heavy songs to your family music time.

We all know the Itsy Bitsy Spider – what about Pick a Bale O’ Cotton? Look to the words to come up with your own motions.  Have your kids pretend to be an animal while singing Old MacDonald – they’ll love it when you have to guess what they’re acting out!

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5. Sing the same song in different ways

Nothing gets a three year-old going more than singing the same song fast, then slow, then loud, then soft, then operatic, then just plain goofy.  Sing the song like a dog. Like a cat. Like a cow.  Enough said.

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6. Introduce new songs with stories

When I was teaching 3-6 year-olds in Mexico, before kids, I had a lot of time on my hands outside the classroom. I had time to knit socks, to knit sweaters – I spent a lot of time knitting. And talking to my cats. My cats spent a lot of time grabbing my balls of yarn and running around the house with them, much to my chagrin.  This happened so frequently that I wrote a little ditty about my cats and their yarn addiction, which I shared with my students. “Una gatita,” (a little cat), was a hit because it had a story behind it. My own boys now love it as much as my students did.

When introducing a new song, try to come up with a way to personalize it, to make it come alive for your audience. Be it a true story from your childhood or a made-up story of the going-ons in the natural world, a little context goes a long way.

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7. Turn on the speakers and jam

No need to be purist and only make your own music! I’ve found our Pandora jam sessions to be a great variation on family music time. It’s also a great way to expose kids to different genres. This morning, for example, we ended our time together with a few blues songs. We tried to name the instruments we heard and we worked on imitating the beat.  Don’t hesitate to come up with dances for the various genres while you’re at it. Just make sure to have a video camera hidden in your hand to capture the cuteness.

May your music-making be merry!


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Above, you see Finn's very best "lullaby harmonica." He also does "happy harmonica," in which he plays very fast while jumping up and down, and "sad harmonica," which is so mournful that he even made himself tear up once while playing.

These past weeks, as his harmonica playing has really taken off, I've become convinced that it is the perfect first instrument for little people. The hand-eye-ear coordination required is minimal, it always sounds good, and it immediately allows him to feel like a contributing member during family music time. You should hear Patrick and Finn play Billy Joel's Piano Man together - it's one of those situations that causes a mother to get a big, goofy grin on her face.

Finn is angling for a harmonica holder so he can play his green guitar (which is actually a ukelele) while keeping his harmonica humming.

Move over, Bob Dylan. 


solstice camping

This week's "Just One Day" will be up tomorrow. Happy Solstice, everyone!

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This past weekend, the boys and I went camping with our friends to celebrate the longest day of the year. The lingering sunlight didn't keep them from falling asleep after a long day of play in the great outdoors, as you can see.

It was our first camping trip away from our backyard, and we did it without Daddy, who was at home getting some uninterupted work time. (Yes, I was slightly nervous, and nope, I didn't get much sleep.) But it went really well, all things considered.

Growing up, I went camping frequently, and as I got older, my dad and I would spend many weekends backpacking in the Lakes Basin area near my home. 

When Patrick and I got married, we registered at REI, not Macy's! Good thing, because dishes wouldn't have held up well in our cross-continent, cross-border move to the Mexican Sierra. We did a good deal of backcountry exploring while living in Mexico.

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Our "first home" was this tent, and our linens were our sleeping bags. Here it is on the precipice of a mesa in the middle of nowhere in the indigenous Tarahumara community of Rowerachi. That's me, wearing the traditional dress during Semana Santa. (Next dress pattern anyone? Hehehe!)

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Our hope is that we can do more and more backpacking once the boys get older. We started off in the backyard, then a campground with water and parking, but my preference is definitely to get out there and fall asleep to the sounds of nature rather than the sounds of neighboring campers chatting. 

Outsideways has been a great resource for kickstarting the backpacking bug as a family with small children. The blog is the joint venture of Renee of FIMBY (great homeschooling and healthy eating resource!) and her husband, Damien. Outsideways chronicles how they got to where they are now - a family of five that makes backpacking and outdoor adventures a priority.

We ended up investing in a Hogback Tarptent (it's super lightweight!) that will be able to transition from car camping to backpacking. We anticipate having to carry the boys' sleeping bags and pads, as well as the tent and our food, for a while. We'll slowly transition them to carrying their own gear, but you can see why a lightweight tent was a must. I think we can do a short hike "in" with the boys now, maybe a mile, and manage carrying all their stuff and (the occasional) boy. That's the key. We can only go as far as they can walk. I'll report back when we actually try this. :)

Finn has a Big Agnes Little Red Sleeping bag which has a slot in the back so you can stuff his sleeping pad directly into the bag. There's no worries about the bag slipping off the pad in the middle of the night - my only gripe is that I can't manage to keep HIM in the sleeping bag. It's hot, so it's unzipped, and his whirling dervish legs propel him all over the floor of the tent. He slept great - I just had to readjust him quite a lot. 

Lachlan just sleeps on an extra foam pad with a blanket. Maybe next year he'll be ready for his own sleeping bag.

Little by little, we'll become a backpacking family. In the meantime, we'll save a lot of money on vacations and road trips by being able to camp instead of stay in a hotel.  I'll keep you updated as our adventurous daydreams become reality!


secret garden

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I'm not going to lie. It's a jungle in our backyard! While it is so funny to think that we had the notion that we could come close to keeping all of these weeds at bay, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Because, tucked in amongst all those (sometimes quite pretty!) weeds are hidden vegetables and fruits that the deer can't find (and sometimes, to be honest, we have a hard time distinguishing our lettuce patch from the weeds, too!)

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Little boys, as it turns out, have no trouble finding such treasures. Like these four blueberry bushes so lovingly planted a few months back with the help of his Papa.

"I need a bucket! I need a bucket!" I hear as a blonde-headed torpedo flies past me, heading in the direction of our Secret Garden. He sat there for an hour, picking. And eating. And talking about Blueberries for Sal. I am reminded that we did not buy this land to tame it. We bought it to take care of it. To protect it and the little boys, birds, and animals who live here from herbicides and pesticides. We bought it - a human-life lease on a place that was here long before we were, and will be here long after we pass on - to live here. To weed when we can, to grow some things that will nourish our family.

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A carefully cultivated landscape and garden are, perhaps, down our path in the future. But for now, I am choosing to weed less and lie down on a clover patch, blonde headed boy in the crook of my outstretched arm, searching for animals in the clouds.


the beach boys

at the outer banks

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Lachlan's first, Finn's third, and Patrick's thousandth trip to the beach. Each boy is loving it, and feeding off each other's excitement and enthusiasm! Tomorrow we celebrate Finn's birthday. Off to do some behind-the-scenes birthday prep!

Glad you loved the Paloma! Be sure to post photos of your tops to Sew Liberated's facebook page or to Craftsy. Also, if you purchase the downloadable pattern via Craftsy, I'd love it if you leave feedback and let us know how you liked the instructions and the printable format! 


oh brother

oh brother

We're being far too serious here, Finn.

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What we should do is get our crazy on, like this:

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AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!

oh brother

Screaming at the top of our lungs while covered in mud sure is fun, isn't it?

Some of you have asked about my secret method for cleaning off my boys. Truth be told, my boys are often covered in something - mud, weeds, oatmeal, peanut butter - I am not one to fuss over their appearance. 

But being dirty is the sign of a day well spent! To keep them from leaving a trail of mud in their wake as they move through the house, I just hose them off, dump their messy clothes in the washer, and dump them in the tub before dinner. 

Then it's my tub that's dirty. It never ends. The soil everywhere is a sign that we made the right decision by moving out here to some land - they're country boys, these two. Nothing is better than being outside. I'll take the ever-present dirt packed underneath fingernails.