Fun and Fundraising

Hi, Charlotte here again!  Meg is still busy preparing for Quilt Market.  I'm thrilled to be posting again and sharing my thoughts with all of you, her kind and wonderful readers.  Can I let you in on a secret?  Meg's Quilt Market booth is AMAZING.  I got to see it last weekend and WOW!  There's no doubt she is a designer to the core.  I sure hope she posts pictures after the big weekend!  You won't believe it's just a bit of plywood.

Last weekend we visited a lovely farm fundraiser to support Eyes, Ears, Nose and Paws.  We initially went because they had an afternoon of hayrides, games, entertainers and food all included in one $15 adult ticket, and kids were only $5.  This organization trains service animals, but we weren't fully aware of that until our arrival, when we met the lovely dogs.

Our beloved dog Abby has been gone from us for just over a year.  She was amazing; the best dog I've ever seen.  She fetched the paper, she never barked unless it was absolutely called for, and she let kids love on her without complaint even when they were rough.  She was perfectly trained and very mannerly.  She was my baby before my human babies came along and for a long while we couldn't even think of getting a new dog.  But now some time has gone by and we miss having a dog in the mix.  Even my husband, who is not a pet lover, has agreed that a furry friend should join us.  But maybe we won't get a pet.  Maybe it's time for us to consider a puppy with a higher purpose.  Meet EENP.

After learning more about their services, we jumped into the fun!  Free ice cream!  Bubbles!  Face painting!

Have you met Kaylynn yet?  This is my oldest.  She'll be 10 in a week!

And can you believe it?  We won TWO of the door prizes!  

 This hand-painted candle and a nice compact flashlight.  I never win these kinds of things!  Then the kids wanted to get face paint.  I'm not sure why they chose cats at a dog event, but we went with it.

Yes, that's me.  The whole gang's here: Mama, Kenzie, KC, Kristin, Kaylynn. 

Hug your dogs extra hard for me today, ok?  


Art Co-Op

Guest blogger Charlotte, here again!  I'm constantly inspired by Meg's beautiful art ideas for children, so today I thought I'd show you what my kids have been working on with their friends.

This girl isn't mine! It's our friend, Neela.

Two or three times a month, my kids plus three other families get together and do art projects.  There are thirteen children altogether and they begin participating around age 3.  Our oldest is 10.  They are all engaged with the work, though the younger kids skip the more formal lesson portion and join in during the messy parts. This week we did print making while studying the Impressionists, as shown above.  It was also a Gallery Day, where we display their work from the month.

The materials for this week's project weren't cheap, but since there were four families and not any more ink or brayers needed than for just one child, it ended up being fairly reasonable.  We typically trade off teaching and bringing materials, and it all seems to even out in the end.  We are using the Joyce Raimondo series of books, which have great projects that are grouped by type of art, such as Impressionism, Pop Art, and Surrealism.  Each week we do just one artist and two or three projects.  We typically supplement with a few library books about the artist as well, but the planning itself is not difficult.  

Although we use these books in a group setting, they are great for family projects at home too.  Some of them only require paper and crayons or materials from the recycle bin.  

What art books for children do you enjoy most?


this is wool

Hey all! Meg here, popping in to share with you the work of a dear, long-time reader, Mary Jo of Five Green Acres. Shepherdess and fiber afficionada, wonderful mama and all-around cool person, Mary Jo is launching her This is Wool yarn tour today to coincide with the debut of her hand-spun, plant dyed fibers from her backyard flock of sheep. Take a moment to watch this beautiful video she put together documenting the "birth" of her yarn.

This is wool. First Harvest: Backyard from Mary Jo, FiveGreenAcres on Vimeo.

Meg: That video makes me want sheep in baaaad way, Mary Jo! :) Puns aside, what have you found to be the most rewarding and most difficult aspect of shepherding a flock in your own backyard?

Mary Jo: Ah, there are so many answers to this question.  Lambing is an obvious answer, as it's easily the most rewarding and by far the most difficult.  This spring left us with an orphan bottle lamb - Munson - and he surely fits the bill, entering our lives while we struggled, unsuccessfully,  to keep from losing his mother.  He's become so deeply bonded to us that he's now more like a pet dog than a sheep.  But this year, I'm inclined to answer this question with regards to the drought that defined our summer.  Our sheep normally spend more than half the year out on pasture, eating the grass and weeds that grow effortlessly, for free.  I strategically move them through the couple of acres, enclosed in a portable electric net fence, to let them chew down the grasses just far enough to stimulate their lush regrowth.  By the time they've made the first pass through the entire pasture, the grasses have cycled back and the loop continues, unless, of course, the grass doesn't grow back, due to a lack of rain.  This was the situation I found myself in this summer.  By the beginning of July, I had to locate some hay to buy (a very expensive alternative to feeding them free grass all summer) and worry about the impending shortage of hay to get them through the winter.  The basic question of how to feed my sheep consumed me all summer, and I took to watching the sky like a farmer, cursing the dry heat as it burned my pasture to a crisp.  The mounting stress and added expense called a lot of this endeavor into question and I found myself wondering more than once what it all was for.  Just as we were down to the last bales of hay we had for July, some friends called with an offer to let our sheep graze their back lot, overgrown and not accessible by mower.  "YES!" I shrieked, "ABSOLUTELY!"   So off they went, and we all heaved a sigh of relief, knowing they'd be fed for a few weeks at least.  But an eerie quiet descended on our Acres with them gone; it felt empty here.  I visited them every two days to move them to new grass, and we were mutually thrilled to see each other.

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A few weeks into this arrangement, I spent the weekend at a Sheep and Wool festival.  That weekend was steeped in all things fiber - I took classes each day, and the booths upon booths of gorgeous wool and fiber were tremendous inspiration.  But I found myself lingering the most near the sheep barns, strolling through each morning to visit the show sheep, whose baa-ing was the first sound I heard upon waking.  It made me tremendously homesick - not for home as it was, but our home with the flock intact, grazing out back.  I meandered without realizing where I was headed and found myself in the festival's lambing barn during each break between classes, and I felt that pang of longing for more lambs the way women feel the calling to have another baby.  It became abundantly clear that weekend that I wasn't interested in living without sheep, drought or not.  Soon after, the flock had finished their contracted work at the friends'  lot, and were blissfully reinstated at home.  Their first night back was euphoric - we enjoyed one of the last picnic suppers of the season with them milling about in our backyard. 

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Meg: How is daily life different for a family raising sheep? What do you do to care for them, and in what ways are your children involved?

Mary Jo: The day-to-day of keeping sheep is simple; I'd contend more so than having dogs.  Moving the fence or tossing a bale of hay,  providing fresh water are about all they need.  I was most surprised to learn that they don't need a barn to keep them comfortable through the winter - their wool is more than adequate - but that barns are more for the convenience of the shepherd.  There's shearing time, usually during the spring, which also includes some grooming, and lambing time, which is quite involved but for a short duration.  We include the kids in small ways wherever we can - Isadora (7 yo) has made it a personal goal to befriend and "train" (whatever that means) each of the sheep personally.  She's begun to understand how they think and move, and has become instrumental in helping us get them corralled when needed.  The firsthand exposure to the life (and death) process of our sheep emerged as a valuable experiential learning opportunity, and a great asset to us as newly-minted homeschoolers. Errol, a scant month older than Finn (3), seems to have a natural affinity for animals; the careful attention and tenderness he displays towards the sheep, in particular, makes my heart smile.

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Meg: Tell us a little more about how you learned to process that amazing fleece - did you learn how to card, spin, and dye before or after you welcomed your sheep?


Mary Jo: Oh, the fiber/sheep learning curve seems steep at times!  There is SO. MUCH. to learn, and so many filters to process the information through - i.e. distinguishing "conventional" practices from holistic.  The grace of keeping sheep, however, is that the information need not be all in place before getting them.  We brought home our four starter ewe lambs and while they contentedly mowed down the grass and casually grew their wool, I steeped myself in books, classes, and local connections to other sheep people.  Even after this First Harvest shearing, I took my time deciding what to do with it and how.  There's no rush - wool keeps indefinitely if stored properly.  It's all been quite experimental, and will continue to be, but this level of learning would not be possible without having the sheep physically here.  Fiber festivals like the one I mentioned abound and were the best way for me to learn how to spin and card.  There are also many local guilds for spinning and knitting.  Ravelry has several boards on keeping sheep as well as in processing the fleece, but many folks utilize small mills to do a lot of the processing, which is also a great option.

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Whatever the mode of instruction, from class to guild to youtube tutorial, I have found "fiber people" to be, without exception, exceedingly generous in sharing their knowledge and genuinely devoted to perpetuating their craft.  They are among the nicest people I have ever met!

Thank you for sharing your passion and your craft with us, Mary Jo!


Passion

I appreciate all of the kind comments on my first guest post earlier this week.  It is a joy to share my thoughts and photos here with you, and I admit that it makes me want to fire up my own blog again!

I'd like to introduce you to my daughter, Kristin.  She's almost 8, and she loves to swim.  And by love, I mean crack-of-dawn, happily-sets-the-alarm sort of dedication.  Four days a week or more, she swims thousands of yards for the sheer joy of it.  

She has big goals, this daughter of mine.  Of course the Olympics are her far-off dream, but she has some shorter term goals too, like qualifying in all four strokes during the summer meets and winning her age group.  We support her, cheer her on, and hope for her success by driving to all of those practices, shelling out cash for coaching and team fees, and helping her to set realistic intermediate goals.  And now for the confession.  I never imagined us as a sports-oriented family.  Not in a million years.  Science?  Sure.  Art?  Maybe.  But competitive sports!??  Other than being vaguely aware of the Olympics, we don't watch sports as a family.  I thought we used sports as a fun way to get some exercise and practice coordination and teamwork skills.  We only tried swim team in the first place because the lessons were so much cheaper than the traditional weekly offerings!

We are homeschoolers, and at the start of summer I write a one page overview of what we hope to accomplish in the coming school year.  There are specific goals like "polish handwriting" but most of the list contains more philosophical ideas.  Number two on the list is "Nurture individual interests with both time and resources as far as they want to go."  And that, my friends, is why we find ourselves at the pool most days, watching our little frog swim up and down and back again, grinning as she climbs out and asking for more.

(This picture cracks me up.  Because she's 4 feet?  And dives in constantly?  In the deeper end, of course, but still.  Bad joke, I know.  That's another thing to know about me, my bad sense of ironic humor!)

I hope my kids live their passions.  Just as Sew Liberated began with a woman who loved to sew and wanted to share her gifts with the wider world, so too can my own children find their gifts and turn them into their livliehood.  We can hope for a million dollar Wheaties box endorsement, but more realistically, swim coach, sports reporter, pool owner and even teenage lifeguard are all options for a girl who can't resist the water.

Explore.  Find your passion.  Then live it.  The work is light when your heart is in it.

 


Friendship

Hi, I'm Charlotte and I'm guest blogging in this space for Meg while she prepares for Quilt Market this month.  I feel honored to be writing here on this very page where our special friendship began.  I started reading Meg's blog before Finn was even born and sometime during his early months I realized that Meg and I lived in the same town, with boys just a few months apart.  So I wrote to her, and it felt something like writing to Punky Brewster when I was seven years old, only instead of a junky fan club postcard and Punky headshot, I got a playdate with Meg, the crafting and parenting rockstar. (Guess what?  Despite being starstruck in the beginning, she's just like you and me!) We found some common ground.  We got to know one another.  Then we got pregnant at the same time again, this time with Lachlan and my little girl, Kenzie.  We rode that rollercoaster together, and our bond strengthened.

Meg is one of my best friends, and when I thought of what I could say during my time in this space, I kept coming back to Meg herself.  I hope to share the things I love about Meg with you, and give you a more intimate look at the woman behind the blog.

This week we headed to our favorite river spot together, me with my four kids and Meg with her two. We hope to make this a weekly adventure through the seasons and this week's visit didn't disappoint, with clouds and rain and sun all in the same visit!  The rain didn't dampen our spirits and even made the views more beautiful.

I suppose to an untrained eye, nothing remarkable was happening.  Kids played.  Kids got wet.  Boots got muddy.  Insects and snails were captured.  There were smiles (a lot) and tears (a few) and lots and lots of snacks for our busy adventurers.

It is easy to get caught up in the daily grind.  We could spend that extra half hour cleaning house or doing one more work task or simply  choose to stay inside on a slightly damp day to avoid the mess and fuss.  But we wouldn't want that, now would we, Lachlan?

No.  Because the outdoors has lessons to teach us.  My own over-active brain slows down and breathes deeply.  Questions bubble forth from my older ones with regularity - do trees have DNA?  How do the leaves in the river affect the ecosystem?  Did the rocks erode from rain or from the river when it was higher?  They relax and open themselves fully to the experience, with creativity and problem solving blending into one seamless experience.  And Kenzie?  Well, she's been hesitant around steps lately.  My house has six sets of steps inside (yes, six!  they vary from 1-3 steps all the way to a full flight) and she was refusing to go up or down them, protesting to be helped each time, even transitioning from room to room.  But outside?

Despite their size and irregularity, she conquered that fear.  Thank you, nature!  And thank you, Meg, for bringing this city-girl out into the wild every week and reminding me that we have so much to learn just by being present.


rah-rah storytelling

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Show Me a Story, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways ... did you recognize the stones in my calendar? Just a small tribute to what I believe to be an absolutely magnificent new book.

As a blogger, I receive the occasional catalogue of soon-to-be-published titles, and this one immediately caught my eye and I requested a review copy. That was six months ago or so, and I've been eager to have it in my hands the whole time.

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We love a good story. From the time Finn was a wee one, we would tell him stories about his day - mundane stories that he would listen to with as much rapt attention as an eighteen month-old could muster. Lachlan, though prone to more movement than his brother was at that age, now requests a Sparkle Story when we're in the car.

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Patrick is a self-made storyteller, having a wide array of humorous, real-life tales that he conjures up in social situations - from living with two elderly, Irish uncles who wandered his suburban neighborhood looking for a pint to sleeping on the edge of a cliff in an indigenous community in rural Mexico.

My storytelling is self-conscious. Hesitant. But for my boys? For my boys I can tell a story. And that's what I love about Show Me a Story . Like a puppet show, it adds a visual dimension to storytelling that takes the focus off of the teller and gives hesitant tale-crafters - either a parents or young children - something visually concrete - a hook, of sorts - on which to hang their stories.

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The book is filled with craft ideas to inspire and expand a child's (or family's) storytelling passion. The story rocks are just the beginning, and most of the projects require little by way of specific crafting skills (i.e. sewing or knitting - although some of the ideas do involve fabric and simple sewing.) I found many of the projects to be appropriate for Finn to use, if not make. Each project does have a suggested age range for use as well as an age range for making the material.

I think storytelling as an art is woefully overlooked in most curricula. The ability to "hold" an audience, to think on one's feet, to craft a compelling narrative - fiction or non-fiction - often gets lost. It gets lost in our emphasis on being consumers of stories rather than makers of stories. Of course, reading and writing skills - from listening comprehension to communicating via the written word - are key skills that play a huge role in the potential formation of the person as "storyteller," and certainly enrich our lives in their own right. But we often stop there and never explore our full potential as storytellers. For many of us, (myself included) we're just beginning to tap into storytelling as creative expression now that we have a doting and forgiving audience in our young children.

When I was living in Mexico, I had the pleasure of getting to know a wandering Italian puppeteer, a lanky fellow who sewed his own felt vests and made bread from a culture he carried around with him in the pocket of his baggy pants. His Spanish was more Italian than not, but the children loved his stories. Not all of us are destined to be nomadic story minstrels, but anyone can be a storyteller, in any profession. Patrick is one. I think his ability to tell a good story has helped him both professionally and personally. If you're interested in exploring your own inner storyteller, or if you'd love to encourage your children tap into their storytelling spirit, please grab a copy of Show Me a Story . You'll love it, I know.

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How can you not love a book that ends like this?


hanging in there

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Hello dear friends ....

I'm so glad you loved our little calendar. Ironically, it's been tough to keep to these past two weeks. First the boys got sick, then the parents got sick. I've been thinking a lot about establishing a "normal" routine in our home, but we're not there yet! 

I've really missed being in this space. But, of course, I can't do it all, and since I my parents are on vacation and Quilt Market is fast approaching, something has to give. Shoulder shrug.

I'll be here when I can, but I've lined up some guest posts from now until the end of October, when my parents are back and Quilt Market in Houston is crossed of my list. My dear friend, Charlotte, whose children you've seen many times before playing with Finn and Lachlan, will be taking the reins for me starting next week. You'll love her as much as I do, I'm sure of it.

Until the time is right ... :)


what's today?

Here's my answer to Finn's question:

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Turns out, our days are pretty simple. Simple enough to be described by one or two main activities a day, in three year-old terms. In my terms, it's more like "wakeupprocessphotosbloggoforarunshowerpacklunchremembertoscrubthepoopoffofthatdiaperetc ..."

You know.

But isn't it nice to look at it like this instead? I think so, too.

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I've edited out the name of Finn's Waldorf nursery as well as a friend's name, but here's the low-down:

- Everything I used here was found either in my scrap fabric pile or in my art closet, except for the metal clasps - I think they're called findings? - which I found at Michael's and hot-glued to the activity squares.

What you'll need:

-smooth stones, one for each child

-mat board. I found mine a while back at the Scrap Exchange, a creative reuse center

-fabric and paper scraps

-one larger piece of fabric (brown linen in my case)

-thin cardboard - cereal box thin (this is for the brown labels)

-hot glue gun

-metal findings, both rings and clasps

-Mod Podge

-acrylic paints or other paints if you wish

-Micron pen for little details

-random stuff around the house

-felted wool sweater for the "day" pockets for the stones

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Go at it! I can't really give you any specific instructions other than I used collage, got crazy with the Mod Podge and hot glue, and had a lot of fun doing it!

Happy weekending, y'all.


our art porch

Thank you, thank you. For the little break from this space that I needed, for your words of wisdom, for your notes of solidarity and encouragement. I have come through the awkward transition phase, which found me working double time on both my business and my home environment to get all the eggs in line, so to speak. Now? Now I am living right now. Up at 5:30 a.m. in order to get a shower and a blog post in before the three boys amble in with sleepy eyes. A small and gracious to-do list written out last night. A few art projects in my head, a plan to have the boys explore with magnets after Lachlan's nap, the brown rice to put on the stove this afternoon, a reminder to get the black beans out of the freezer after lunch. Just hanging out in the now-ness of it all. 

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Yesterday afternoon, Lachlan and I found ourselves together, just the two of us, as Finn took a rare nap upstairs. As is his tendency, Lachlan found his way to the front porch, a few books in hand. We read for a good, long time, then we decided it would be fun to take you on a tour of our "Art Porch."DSC_7034

Hop along, will you? Lachlan wants to start by showing you all of the things with wheels. He also implores you to help him "ride tike" (ride the trike - too big for him just yet!)

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While you're at it, he's wondering if you could give him a push, please?

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An appropriate Nikki McClure print and an even more important Lachlan masterpiece are on the walls next to an old coat rack that I shortened to kid-size. It holds our rain gear.

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We had fun making our melted wax bunting together.

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On one end, we have a hammock chair and on the other end (of our rather long porch) we have this child-sized picnic bench that was handmade by a friend of Finn's Waldorf nursery teacher. It's our art table.

The paper lantern was painted by the boys several months back, then covered in a protective layer of Mod Podge. It's survived several afternoon storms thus far without getting soaked and moldy. We'll see how long that lasts - it's a bit of an experiment.

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There are a few blocks in one of Maya's buckets (you can find the pattern plus many more mouth-watering ideas in her book, Reinvention.) 

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A bit more about our crayon wax bunting - I found it via the Artful Parent. What an easy and beautiful piece of functional children's art! I wish I had another porch to decorate. I'm sure this won't be the end of our crayon shaving art projects, though.

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Thanks for stopping by! 

And so my day begins, with an urgent statement: Mama. Diaper. Pee pee. Got it, little man. I'm on it.


where we're going

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We never know where we will end up when we start along a path, do we?

Things evolve organically. Our family is changing, and we're taking a turn in a different direction. 

Patrick took a leave of absence from his PhD program in history to take a computer programing job. He would like to finish his dissertation one day, if he can do so while working full-time as a programmer. (A high five for my brilliant and hard-working husband who is both a humanities guy and a mathy, programming guy. How often do those two talents get put into one (darn cute) package? :) 

He will start work soon. We will get a regular paycheck, which is a huge stress relief for us. We were working way too hard to get Sew Liberated to make up for Patrick's grad school stipend which was about to run dry, and it just wasn't happening. It's a good source of supplemental income. It's not enough for a family of four with hefty medical bills. We're tired of money stress. We needed to do something about it.

You know, part of me cringes at the mention of money. I have - as many of you have, too - embraced a movement toward simpler living. Less stuff, less technology. Focusing on time instead of income, living slowly instead of doing everything. Perhaps part of me wishes that I could fully jump on board and simplify our lives to the point where Patrick didn't need to work outside the home. Many families are able to do this, and I am grateful for their ingenuity and gentle influence. I'm moving toward a self-acceptance that we are not one of those families. But thankfully, I know now that we will be ok. We have health insurance. We will have enough money to replace our roof (which is a "green roof" by the happenstance of thirty years rather than ecological standards.) We will be able to buy plane tickets to visit my grandfather who can't travel anymore. We've had many sighs of relief around here.

Of course, Patrick's job precipitates a huge shift for both of us. Since Finn's birth, we have been co-parenting full-time - he worked half the day, and I worked half the day, and we each took the boys when the other was working. Patrick will be leaving around 8:15 AM, and will return around 5:30 PM. I will be with the boys all day, with the exception of three mornings a week when Finn is at his nature school and Lachlan is cared for by my parents. During those three mornings, I will work on the blog and Sew Liberated. It will be an exercise in letting go of the unnecessary, streamlining my productivity, and learning how to delegate. My parents will be gone for four weeks right before Quilt Market in Houston this October, which I am attending this year. I have four new patterns in the pipeline. It will be an interesting Autumn.

What I am both very excited about and very nervous about is orchestrating each day solo, from breakfast to dinner, with Finn and Lachlan. Right now I'm trying to get myself organized, so I know what kinds of fun activities we can do together while at home. I know many can fly by the seat of their pants, but I need to have a flexible plan. I also need to figure out how to recharge. As a borderline introvert, I need head space to myself. I'm contemplating daily quiet time for my non-napper, and looking into a yoga class on Sunday mornings. 

This is where I am - getting everything in line for the next turn in life. I'm full of optimism that with it will come new lessons, less stress, and a soon-to-be-found groove.