a glorious mess







Patrick cooks big. Big projects, big mess, big fun. We're talking pasta, bagles, cakes, bread, tortillas - it seems to me that flour is the common ingredient. 

This is oh-so-pleasing to my two year-old, who fancies eating flour. Plain. No sugar needed - he'll just eat the flour by itself. 

The kitchen is humming once again with man-power. (We've always shared the kitchen, although we have different cooking methods and priorities.) I see him laughing, talking calmly, brushing flour off one child's brow while keeping the baby's hands occupied with measuring spoons. And I love him all the more for it.

Update: The pasta making set we have is this one, and the pasta dryer is nothing fancy - just our clothes drying rack

poet's walk









*This is Finn's first photgraph. It was very intentional - he wanted to take a picture of his prized digging stick. I think I'll print it off and frame it for him.*





Although there is frost on the lawn and the wood stove is crackling this morning, most days have been rather warm. Instead of bemoaning the nearly warm breeze (which I hate, being a mountain girl, and Patrick loves, being a Florida boy) the boys and I have taken to the trails, minus the long johns, jackets and hats. 

Wherever we go on our nature walks, we seem to end up at the river - donning rain boots for wading and mud play. This particular day found us at Ayr Mount on the Poet's Walk. We "wrote" poems, smelled the herb garden, and did a lot of digging. 

Hiking with small fries can be honey-dripping-slow, but I notice so much more when I'm with them. 

Happy weekending to you.

the perfect tree

in search of the tree

in search of the tree

in search of the tree

 Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in the mountains. Every year during the holiday season, she looked forward to packing the car with rope, donning her snow boots and gloves, and heading to the Christmas tree farm with her Daddy. 

This year was no exception - as she excitedly ran out the door, her Mommy called after her, "Now don't you get a tree that's too big!" Her mouth was pursed but her eyes were twinkling, and the little girl said to her, "We're going to get the biggest tree we can find!" And she dashed off to the garage after her Dad.

She and her Daddy drove down the curvy roads, twisting and turning. The girl looked at the gray sky with hope - the thought of the big snow storm rolling in tonight made her tummy flutter with butterflies. 

They turned up a dirt road, following the rustic wood signs with red lettering. As the car reached the top of the hill, the girl could see acres and acres of Blue Spruce trees - tall and skinny, among many others. The Blue Spruce was their tree. Mom preferred short and fat trees, but she and her Daddy almost always chose a spruce. The taller, the better.

The old man who owned the farm handed them a saw and they headed down the path, toward the big trees. They passed many a worthy short, fat tree. She remembered her mother's words, playfully cautioning against a big tree. She smiled and walked straight towards a regal, elegant spruce. With perfect proportions it stood, its elegantly spaced limbs poised for dangling ornaments and twinkle lights. This was it. Her Daddy pulled out his measuring tape and saw that it was inches short of their ceiling clearance. He smiled and chuckled, "Your Mom's not going to like this! But we can fit in in the house." The little girl thanked the tree for its beauty and rich, spicy smell, and held its trunk as her Daddy cut it down. 

Up the trail they carried it - it took all of her effort, her being such a small girl and the tree being just the opposite - but together they made it to the car and hoisted it on the roof. Not too many words were said between father and daughter, but good feelings about a task well done filled the cab of the car as they drove back home.

It started snowing, and by the time they got home it was freezing and windy. With much effort, they carried the tree inside and secured it in the tree stand.

An incredulous and smiling mother stood by, saying things like, "Oh, you two!" and "Every year without fail!" She had hot chocolate on the stove, Christmas carols on the stereo, and a fire in the wood stove. The boxes of Christmas decorations were spread across the couch, waiting to be opened. The little girl liked Christmas Tree Day nearly as much as Christmas Day itself. 

I told a similar story to Finn as we went out in search of our tree in the North Carolina Piedmont. It was a special day. The Daddy in that story? My Dad, Finn's Papa. Papa was with us this year as we found our tree. In fact, he likely will be for many, many more Tree Days, now that my parents live nearby. 

I'm still on a quest for the idyllic tree hunt of my youth. Let's just say that real Christmas trees don't really grow where I live. Isn't it funny that these cypress are heavily pruned to make them look like a tree? To me, they still look like bushes. We ended up with an Eastern Red Pine - and my Mom would be proud. It's a rotund tree. But I like it just fine.

No matter how you get your tree, it's always a magical time, at least in the eyes of a child. 



the quiet



I'm sure some of you have been wondering what's going on with my absense from this space. In emails and comments, some of you have made note of it. Of course, my visit with my Gram was precious - worth every moment of my absence here. But it's been more than just the week's visit, hasn't it? I've struggled for the past few months with writing regularly. Why am I quiet? 

Sometimes I ask myself the same question. I just haven't felt able to lose sleep in order to blog, especially since my days are so full with the boys while Patrick has his head buried in academia. This will change come the end of November, when our lives will return to normal. Normal! I can hardly believe it.

This year has been such an avalanche of stress. It started out with deciding where to treat Lachlan, as we vacillated between temporarily relocating to Philadelphia and staying at home. Then he was born. Whisked away after twenty minutes. Hooked up to monitors and given an IV. Two days later we kissed his perfect chest and, tears pouring down our faces, watched as they wheeled his bassinet to the operating room. A month in the hospital, we arrived home, worked ourselves to exhaustion, trying our best to make up for lost time, coming out with three new patterns, and hoping that the business would take care of itself when we went back to the hospital with our little one twelve short weeks later. Another open-heart surgery. Three weeks in the hospital. Our lease was up. We bought a house and started moving the weekend after Lachlan came home from the hospital. We could only afford a fixer-upper, and that's what we've been doing. Painting, living with subflooring and no handles on any cabinets. Loving it. Trying to spend time in the beautiful outdoors. Helping Finn to heal, helping him work through his anxiety. Worrying about a baby who didn't eat, and rejoicing when he decided he would. Fretting over Patrick's insane work schedule, which would allow him to make up for nearly a year of lost time in a mere three months. When Lachlan's g-tube came out, we hoped the hole would close on its own. Hour after hour, I change his tummy dressing, which is often soaked with milk. So are his clothes, which get changed many times a day. It didn't close.

Which brings us to now. Lachlan has a minor surgery scheduled for November 28th to close the hole in his stomach. He should be in in the morning and out by the afternoon, but you never know with those hospitals. They have a way of keeping you there for longer than you want to be. 

When we bring him home, life will actually be normal. Patrick will be done with his preliminaries. We can return to our pre-Lachlan work schedule, where we share caring for the boys and getting work things done. Lachlan won't be facing another surgery for several years. We are settling in our home. We might even have enough leisure time to put up a fence and start preparations for our garden. Sigh.

There has just been too much going on in my life to be here consistently. Life has been raw this past year. Beautiful moments? Of course. But it has been hard. And it's been hard for me, during the most difficult times, to be a contributing member of this community of inspiration, mindfulness, and beauty, when I feel my own life has been anything but. 

But then again, this community is also about support, about sharing, about kindred spirits. It would have been wrong of me to assume that you all didn't go through similar seasons of difficulty and change in your lives. When I did write here during those hard times, I felt surrounded by all that was good and human - knowing that suffering is universal, natural, and - most importantly - able to be overcome.

I just wanted to take the time today to say thank you again for reading my words - both sunshiny and serious - and for understanding (as I know you do) that this season of my life demanded a more quiet presence on my blog. I have needed the silence in order to grieve, heal, and just get through the days. 

I'll be here soon. I need to do some blog house-cleaning (lots of broken links, I hear) and I'll be experimenting with a new layout. I feel like brushing the dust from my shoulders and starting this December with a new look (and a new outlook.) 

Back to my quiet life for a bit longer. Another small surgery and a few more papers (for Patrick) and this race will be done.


a room of one's own

a room of one's own

a room of one's own

a room of one's own

a room of one's own

a room of one's own

a room of one's own

We have a semi-permanent fort set up in the studio. Sometimes it's a house, sometimes it's a grocery store. Sometimes it's a place to go to take a few deep breaths. Sometimes it's full of people. Nearly all the time there's a cat in there (unless, of course, a small boy enters. That's when Amelie exits stage left. My son is not a cat whisperer at this time in his life!)

Ah, to be tucked away in one's own world, giddy with excitement. 

I'll probably be spending most of the week away from my computer, as my Gram is coming to visit from California. I want to relish every moment with her; she'll be meeting Lachlan for the first time.

Be well, my friends.

on the way out the door

on the way out the door

on the way out the door

on the way out the door

on the way out the door

on the way out the door

on the way out the door

on the way out the door

Our entryway. This is a space of transition - from inside to outside, from outside to inside, from home to the big world, from the big world back home. In our home, it is a door on the side of the house, closest to the driveway. The front door "entryway" is for those who haven't visited before - beckoned by the formality of the front porch. Inside that door, they'll find half-painted walls and no place to put shoes. The side door is where it happens. It happens to be located in our studio.

It's often a place of chaos, a place of excitement, a place of passage. Its very existence fortells change, a shift. It is, most certainly, a practical spot. One that often gets overlooked, despite its centrality in the movement of the family.

I've tried to fine-tune its organization, making it a place of more peace than chaos. I've switched things around, adding baskets and hooks, but nothing was quite right until I happened upon these child's desks at a local thrift store. For $30! My ninety-two year-old neighbor claims that she sat in desk just like this when she was in school. 

When I found the eesks, they were attached by wooden rails on the bottom, one in front of the other. I just took a saw to those rails and separated the chairs.

A few specifics:

- "HOME" animal prints are from Martha Stewart, found at Michael's several years back. They are attached with washi tape.

-  Clipboards hold thrifted pages from a 1942 Mother Goose book.

- Wire baskets are from World Market, as well as the mini chalkboards.

- The milk crate (which holds the big people's shoes) is thrifted.

- I keep each boy's outside gear in their respective baskets. Big people keep their gear in the basket to the right of the bench. Baby carriers are in there, too.

sponsor giveaway :: backwoods mama sewing camp


Welcome back to Kathy of Backwoods Mama Sewing Camps! Please read on to learn more and leave a comment to be entered to win a spot in the Indian Summer Sew Camp. 

Kathy Stowell is a home schooling mama of two who wishes to inspire others to embrace handmade and simple living. She is passionate about slowing down childhood by crafting a peaceful, bliss-filled home allowing time and room for children to unfold into their authentic, happy and quirky selves.


Meg: How does where you live influence your style and creativity? Explain to us a little more about the "backwoods" in the title of your e-course.

Kathy: My family and I made the move from the big city to a small rural mountain town six years ago. Thus my style is part country bumpkin, part downtown, part Gaia Rainbow Tree Hugger but always handmade or second hand. My mother teases me that from a distance I look like Paris Hilton out in the garden but I think that's due to my love of many colorful layers. And lap dogs in handbags.

The 'Backwoods' in Backwoods Mama is a nod to the desire in many of us to embrace a simpler time when most household items were made from scratch. So even without the immediate need to be self-sufficient the feeling of being able to tap into this instinct and create a tangible outcome such as a piece of clothing is empowering and a wonderful example to our children of the thoughtfulness and warm intentions behind handmade. Not to mention a fun challenge too! 

Meg: What hand sewn item of clothing do you wear the most, and why?

In terms of hours per wear I definitely wear my leggings most. From September 1st to May 31st if I'm without a layer hugging my legs I feel like I'm pretty much standing outside naked! And in terms of putting in on, then taking it off, then putting it back on several times a day, I wear my utility smock the most. I have three of these in rotation; one for spinning, one for sewing and one for milking. They are all decorated in their own unique flavor of backwoods-style debris.

Meg: Tell us about your Sew Camp! What can folks expect when they sign up?

Sew Camp is an opportunity to tackle quick, easy to whip up layering essentials for the backwoods frame of mind mama. These camps  offer perfect layering pieces to play in the garden in or to make a quick run into town for building supplies. There are currently two camps to choose from: Spring or Indian Summer. These e-courses are intended for the advanced beginner sewer (one who is familiar with how to make her sewing machine go and stop) with the need for practical yet stylish staples that will have you waving your made from scratch flag all the live long day.

With purchase of the course, you will receive the patterns in a pdf downloadable format, a password and link to a private blog where instructions, complete with photos and videos, to piece your Green Acres staples together. There is  also a flickr page to share your finished pieces with other backwoods mamas. As well, you are invited to contact me via email at any time with any questions if you get stumped. My backwoods door is always open to you!

Kathy is giving away three spots in the Indian Summer Sew Camp. Winners will be drawn at random and announced on Tuesday, November 1st. Good luck, and thank you, Kathy!

The winners have been drawn; congratulations to Milena, Dana and Sandy!

things we do after nap :: smorgasbord

things we do after nap

Playing with ice.

things we do after nap

Mixing colors (with eye droppers and pouring) on the light panel.

things we do after nap

Making warm softdough. We also made flubber the other week. I would love to find a natural source of clay for further "sculpting" play.

things we do after nap

things we do after nap

Stained glass with contact paper and tissue paper.

things we do after nap

Doll play.

things we do after nap

Sensorial table with insta-snow, styrofoam balls, and other containers for mixing and pouring. 

I really enjoyed taking the time to document and share some of the fun things we do around here in the afternoons, and I'm grateful that, as a community, we've created a library of ideas via the Things We Do After Nap flickr gallery. I'll continue to add photos to the pool, and I hope you do too.

Warm wishes for a festive weekend!

things we do after nap :: watercolor leaves

watercolor leaves

fun activity afternoons

fun activity afternoons

On one of my more recent finds at Discount School Supply was this pack of watercolor leaves. They aren't watercolor paper. I'd say that they are made of the same stuff as coffee filters. I've done something similar with the coffee filters and they work great. 

I pulled out some spray bottles, small dishes with brushes, and the bingo bottles, along with red, yellow, and green liquid watercolors. The plastic sensory bin and a laminated cotton fabric "splat mat" helped contain any wayward spray. Finn is usually amenable to keeping his mess in the designated area, although many children would experience more freedom of play (read: spraying colored water everywhere!) if this activity was done outside. 

Then we started spraying, brushing, and dabbing ... watching the paints creep together and the colors mix. We dried the leaves on newsprint on another table, then hung them behind our dining room table. 

Some of you have asked where I get my ideas for these projects. While some of them (painting the sky) just came out of my head, most days I rely on the huge wealth of ideas online to put together a project. Here are some of my favorite places to look:

Play At Home Mom - Reggio-inspired play exploration.

Teacher Tom - Lots of tinkering and child-led activities.

Filth Wizardry - So many ideas, I don't know where to begin.

The Artful Parent - Inspirational art projects, many ideas for babies on up.

The Crafty Crow - Compiles crafty goodness from around the web.

Childhood 101 Playopedia - Another list of good ideas sorted by age and type of activity.

There are so many more, so please share your favorite placed to find ideas in the comments!