Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In a Word

For the last couple of years, I've eschewed resolutions and instead have chosen a word to guide my year.  What I really need is something to come back to during the year -- all year.  An idea more than an action. Something simple, but sturdy.  Something to get me out of my tangles -- not create more.  A re-grounding, a re-centering.

So, 2014, you are about Beginnings.

A friend and I were talking about parenting recently, and she said, "Beginnings are hard."  We hadn't been talking about something that I'd even seen the "beginning" in, and it stuck with me.  When something is hard: is there a beginning in there that I have to catch up to?

I started seeing beginnings.  Other kinds of beginnings.  Some are big and profound and observable by everyone.  But, maybe even more importantly, there are lots of little beginnings.  So many are small, subtle, overlooked, invisible.  These beginnings give us the chance to choose -- if we can see them.

A beginning can be as simple as a deep breath or a new sun rising outside our window.  It can also be as complicated as forging a new path through the brambles.  But, what if even these beginnings are just series of the the deep-breath, sun out your window beginnings?

We live old patterns.  We play out old dramas.  We forget to update our files.
We stop seeing what's really in front of us.  We get caught up.  We stumble and trip over the past tangled around our ankles.

If we can remember to see beginnings, to use beginnings, to explore the possibilities, to notice where the old script has been set in motion but no longer applies, we get a fresh start.  We can use all that we really have at our disposal -- today, in this moment.

Beginnings give us more options.  They say, "Start here."

If you have a word for 2014, please consider sharing it in the comments!  I'd love to know about your journey through 2014!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


The Big Dance

To all the mamas & daddies who planned, 
shopped, wrapped, shuffled, baked, made, 
cooked, assisted, fretted, cleaned, and gave up sleep
to put together a special holiday for your family --
you did it!

Wishing you a joyful day & a harmonious 2014!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Poetry Teatime

Good morning!

A good morning, indeed.  We started it with poetry teatime.

Balance is elusive in family life, but some things are constant: 
  :: we must eat, and 
  :: there are many, many books.  
So while some things slip off my radar, our weekly poetry teatime holds firm.

I learned about the idea from friends using Brave Writer's writing programs.  We haven't tried them yet, but I love what she has to say about writing and homeschooling.  

I love the simple beauty (and genius) of this idea.  I imagine every home sees a different version of it in action.  At my house, Sela delights in setting the table -- having the opportunity to use all the dishes, linens, and tchotschke I've collected over the years.  Sometimes she and I both read; sometimes she asks me to do all the reading.  Sometimes I gather the books, sometimes the kids do.  We take turns choosing poems to read.  Sometimes we all write.  Sometimes only one of us is inspired to write.  We have as many variations as weeks we've enjoyed it.  But, one element remains the same -- it does not require pre-planning.  It can be done richly on-the-fly.  And few things make me happier than this!

Our Christmas selections this week were:
It's Christmas by Jack Prelutsky & Marylin Hafner
The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore & Douglas Gorsline
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
You Are My Miracle by Maryann Cusiano Love & Satomi Ichikawa
Over the River and Through the Wood by Lydia Maria Child & Christopher Manson
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Make & Listen Along with Simple Thing Notebook

I've been wanting to join Dawn for Make & Listen Along at Simple Things Notebook for ages.  Yesterday I finally made it happen!  (Christmas miracles, I tell you.  Christmas miracles.)

Three cheers for Dawn, for Christmas, for gingerbread, for creativity, for a cozy house on a cold day, for candles, and for Harry Connick, Jr.'s What A Night!

It's the Little Things...

We made cookies that called for crushed candy canes, and the kids decided how many they thought should be used.  Worked out great for me because the extras are used to sweeten my coffee.  And, they're pretty sweet-looking on my kitchen counter, too!

Next year, this will be done as a matter of course.  "Kitchen helpers!  I have a job for you!  Bring your hammers!"

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ordinary, Everyday {Amazing} Science

I think you know how much I love library book sales.  Last time, I bought seven great books of poetry for children.  Seven.  And, I was barely trying.  

In my delightful stack was a little book called Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman.  We didn't get to this one right away.  (Between you and me, I'm really not a bug-lover.  I fake it.  If my kids like them, great.  I can appreciate bugs in theory.  I love the beautiful photos that people take of them, the magnifications.  But, in real life, I'm okay with us each going our own separate ways.  You know?)  So, poetry book on bugs.  Probably great.  Probably really great for the kids to read and enjoy.  I was willing to come along for the ride.  But, seems I picked up the other new books first.

While later scanning the audiobook titles in the library proper I came across Joyful Noise again -- seemed like I really should try it.  We have a lot of car time.
It's... FANTASTIC.  I know that you're getting great book recommendations from lots of informed, well-read, interesting people out there.  I don't mean to add to your list.  But really -- I recommend this one so highly.  The poems are interesting and expressive.  They are beautifully recited.  It's informative!  (And John McDonough -- enough said.  Hearing him as Mr. Putter and Misty of Chincoteague's Grandpa Beebe makes this an especially easy sell.)

This same week, we mailed our collection for a nature exchange hosted by Mud Puddles to Meteors.  What a way to get into nature!  Again, I hate to be bossy (okay, I don't really), but do check out this site.  Find a way to participate that works for your family -- there are a lot of options.  And catch the next exchange when it happens.

 Aaaaand, we spent as many days of fall that we could at our favorite farm.  Open just one month every year, we go as many times as we possibly can.  We get to see baby animals of all kinds from almost the day they're born. We get to hold them and watch them grow and change.  We watch the chicks learn to fly, the puppies open their eyes.

So, where have I been lately?  Doing science with my two favorite lab partners.

(Did I happen to mention the fall tomatoes in our backyard?!  Yeah, science can be a tasty business, too!)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sometimes you need a little something...

Looking for a simple, cute & functional craft activity?
How about these wreath napkin rings?  They make cute package toppers and tree decorations, too.
Sometimes we need something for a mixed group -- kids who love crafts, kids who don't always but are in for something simple, big kids, little kids, adults.  Easy to make a few or a bunch.  Great for a gathering.

Here's what you need:
pipe cleaners
green tri beads
red round beads

Cut pipe cleaner to size, slide beads on, twist ends to form a circle, tie on bow!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Putting Something Back Together Again

Our picnic blanket is a quilt that I gave my grandmother for Christmas a long time ago.  Thirteen years ago, it came back to me.  It had been a department store purchase, nothing extra special on the shelf.  Just something sweet I thought she might enjoy.  But it did become very special.

Not made particularly well, it had started coming apart at the seams.  A small gap here, a small gap there.  And those grew.  And more holes appeared.  By the time I brought it from the car to the house to do "something" with it (no idea what that would end up being), it was in terrible shape.

On a warm summer night, while everyone slept, I sat down with this old quilt.  And I just started mending.  No plan.  Just a needle, thread, scissors, and pins.  I started with one small, easy hole.  And then I sewed the other open seams on that star.  I touched the fabric and noticed the colors and prints.  I found the next easiest star.  And I sewed it back together, one seam at a time.  I got to know the construction of the blanket.  I sewed until I felt tired, and I went to bed.

And over time, this blanket started to come back together.  

By the end, I was left with two stars right in the center that were in shreds.  And I thought, "There is no way I can mend something like this."  But, I started anyway.  What did I really have to lose?  I sewed up one seam.  And then one more.  And then one more.  And I stopped thinking about what I couldn't mend.  I just thought about the stitch I was making.

This blanket is whole again.  And, to my mind, it is more beautiful than it was before.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Project-Based Homeschooling

I did something really cool this summer.
It was, in fact,  so cool that I still haven't figured out how to write about it in one measly post.
So -- I give up.  (And I'm okay with that.  I believe there's strength in knowing when to say when!)
I'll just start with this.

I took the Project-Based Homeschooling Master Class.
It was fantastic.
I can't recommend it highly enough.
The class was superb -- the material, the format, the facilitation and the support.
Really -- you should do it.
It's easy to say to ourselves, "Not right now. I'm just too busy."
But this -- this -- gave me focus where I had been wanting it.
Support where I *needed* it.
And, the support is ongoing.
It's sort of a no-brainer, actually.

It isn't just for homeschooling families.
It isn't even just for "kids."

Check out the blog.  Participate in the forum.  Buy the book.  Jump in -- you'll be so happy you did!

sewing, women in history
a clay charm business
nurturing a home that can nurture us

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Creative Placement of Creativity

I have a little basket near the table --
just a little basket with a needlebook, embroidery floss, scissors and a project.
How my kids eat meals: giggle, giggle, take a bite, giggle, tell a story, 
     (fall out of a chair), giggle, take a bite, ...
So, I eat.  And then stitch and giggle and relax.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Give & Take

Today Linus and I made our first superhero.  He picked Batman.  He's a little disappointed it isn't made out of plastic, but I told him I do not want to have a factory in order to make a plastic one; we will use what we have.  He said it's "mostly great."  I will take that.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Good Morning, Fall

When the house has that lovely fall chill in the morning, cook a pumpkin & plan some baking.

(Cut in half, scoop out seeds & fibers, brush the cut surface with butter or oil, 375 oven for about 30 minutes or until it looks wrinkled and soft.)

Drink your morning cuppa, pad around in slippers.

Read, draw, play trains.  Savor.

Friday, October 4, 2013

(Grandpa's Barn is Open!)

  Market Square

    I had a penny,
    A bright new penny,
    I took my penny  
         To the market square.
    I wanted a rabbit, 
    A little brown rabbit,
    And I looked for a rabbit
        'Most everywhere.

For I went to the stall where they sold sweet lavender
("Only a penny for a bunch of lavender!").
"Have you got a rabbit, 'cos I don't want lavender?"
     But they hadn't got a rabbit, not anywhere there.

    I had a penny,
    And I had another penny,
    I took my pennies 
        To the market square.
    I did want a rabbit,
    A little baby rabbit,
    And I looked for rabbits
         'Most everywhere.

And I went to the stall where they sold fresh mackerel
("Now then!  Tuppence for a fresh-caught mackerel!")
"Have you got a rabbit, 'cos I don't like mackerel?"
     But they hadn't got a rabbit, not anywhere there.

    I found a sixpence,
    A little white sixpence.
    I took it in my hand
        To the market square.
    I was buying my rabbit
    (I do like rabbits),
    And I looked for my rabbit
         'Most everywhere.

So I went to the stall where they sold fine saucepans
("Walk up, walk up, sixpence for a saucepan!").
"Could I have a rabbit, 'cos we've got two saucepans?"
     But they hadn't got a rabbit, not anywhere there.

    I had nuffin',
    No, I hadn't got nuffin',
    So I didn't go down 
         To the market square;
    But I walked on the common,
    he old-gold common...
    And I saw little rabbits
        'most everywhere!

So I'm sorry for the people who sell fine saucepans,
I'm sorry for the people who sell fresh mackerel,
I'm sorry for the people who sell sweet lavender,
     'Cos they haven't a rabbit, not anywhere there!

from When We Were Very Young, A.A. Milne

Sunday, September 22, 2013


We've had this section of fence that's been falling down for years.  (I really wish I was kidding about that.  But I'm not.)  So, I fixed it.

Fences make such rich metaphors, and we use them in all sorts of ways.   

My body and mind worked together on this metaphor of fence building -- as in: strong fences make good neighbors.  You know, boundaries.

I deconstructed the old fence and removed the wide variety of screws, nails, and various fasteners used over the years to try to hold it up. 

I assessed what I had to work with and moved forward.

I got out my shovel and made level ground on which to put my fence.

I used what I had available.  I didn't have any work gloves, so I used my gardening gloves to keep out the splinters.

The boards were weathered, but still sturdy. I replaced the supports.

I took it bit by bit, letting each step guide me to the next, based on intuition and common sense. What would make sense here?  What is needed?  What can I do today?

I asked for help finding the right hardware even though I didn't know what things were called.  Whether I looked foolish could not be considered.

I put it all together with a sturdy tool I borrowed from a friend.

Is it perfect?  Nope.
Could someone else have done a better job?  Maybe.
Could someone else have done it faster?  Probably.
Is it sturdy?  Yes.

It's what was needed, and I did it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tiny Toys to Make & Use

Fairy gardens (and trucks, and doll houses, and race cars, and dinosaurs) need people.  We made these three summers ago from acrylic paints and wooden pegs we bought at Michael's.  I'm happy to see that they've resurfaced -- they're lots of fun!  

The guy on the left was lovingly named Oliver by one-year-old Linus.  Come to think of it, everything was named Oliver that year!

 The trick is to use a toothpick to paint thin lines and small hearts & flowers.

What else have we transformed for dollhouses and gardens with a little paint?  Drawer pulls have become toadstools.  Wooden plugs (screw hole buttons) have become tiny cupcakes and tiny toadstools.

It's getting to be that time of year when we spend more time indoors.  These are the bitty treasures that show up in lots of our fall and winter activities.  Fun for play, but also for storytelling, drawing, math.  And they're great in a "take along pouch" -- where I toss in a handful of surprises to play with while waiting.  Because there is always some waiting.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Need to Get Away?

Made by friends, this beautiful origami ornament inspired us to share it with our book club.  We fancied it looked like a whimsical hot air balloon, transporting us over oceans and continents, just as it did Professor William Waterman Sherman and his fellow Krakatoans in The Twenty-One Balloons.

 Follow the simple directions for a waterbomb base.
Then complete your balloon.
(This site has clear and easy directions for so many kid friendly projects.)

 Thread your needle with embroidery floss.  
Be sure the eye of the needle will pass through the beads you'll be using.
Tie a bell onto the end of the floss (where you would normally knot it).

 String beads.

   Add your balloon by inserting the needle through the blowing hole 
and pushing it through to the other side.

  String more beads.

Tie it off by creating a loop, for hanging.

Bon Voyage!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Leaping Game Spotlight!

Happy to have on our shelf a game with a name that says it all: Leaping Frogs.  No need to sit still!  Funny frog bean bags to bounce off a lily pad trampoline - perfect for us all.  

(Feeling mathy?  Make up your own rules about what to do with the numbers.  Feeling crafty?  Make your own frogs.  And lily pads.  What would you build as a trampoline?)

We must have frogs on our minds.  We're listening to The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker and yesterday Book! Book! Book! by Bruss & Beeke was excavated from our book stacks.

Wonder what else will pop up?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

She asks you in a Captain-ish sort of way:

Have you gotten out your Winnie the Pooh books yet?
Well, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Family Intrigue

Stumbling across something the kids have been doing on their own is one of my very favorite things about family life.  I found this on the couch.

I was fascinated by this book as a child and delighted to find it for a dollar at the library book sale.

These are great books about secret codes:
Lu & Clancy's Secret Codes by Mason & Cupples
Mysterious Messages: A History of Codes and Ciphers by Blackwood
The Usborne Book of Secret Codes by O'Brien & Riddell
Let's Investigate Codes and Sequences by Smoothey & Baum

Monday, July 22, 2013

In Which We Finally Find our Summer Rhythm

I structure our homeschooling life so that we can find a new rhythm in the summer months.  A slower rhythm.  More time to putter. Time to let days unfold.  To read leisurely -- together and separately, for as long as we'd all like.  To play all day.  Let inspiration strike us.  To loll or to dig in.  To really get to choose.
And I've been waiting all summer -- waiting waiting -- for this to kick in.  Doing what I could to nudge it at times -- sometimes with patience, sometimes not.  (Because summers do end.)
I thought starting our summer read-alouds would move it along. But even that didn't do it.

We picked up The House at Pooh Corner (narrated by Peter Dennis) at the library.  We have listened to it no less than twenty times through -- which sounds like it could be torturous.  But, it isn't.  It is lovely and sweet and funny and wise and gentle.  And predictable now.  Pooh and Piglet and Owl and Rabbit and the whole gang are old friends to us.  Listening along has been... meditative.  It's changed the rhythm of our summer.  It's brought us back.  Back to center.  Back to something predictable and gently-moving.

We've gathered our Pooh books from all corners of the house -- these are a few.  More turned up, with flaps to lift, even, and honeypots to scratch.  Each one is perfect.  We've cooked from the cookbook.  I'm dreaming of making stuffies from the craft book.

No one is ever too old for A.A. Milne.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Do Try This at Home, Kids

A few years ago my friend, Steph, taught me to make jam.  She gave me her no-nonsense instructions and a beautiful old-timey pot & directed me on which handy tools to buy (which is part of the fun of having a new hobby, now isn't it?).  I must've eaten at least a jar's worth of apricot jam while cooking that first batch.  Wow.  So good.

And... then my littlest one starting toddling around my legs in the kitchen.  Bubbling preserves (apricot! plum! strawberry! raspberry! what a summer!) started feeling a little dicey.  But, having homemade jam in the house at all times wasn't something we could give up without a fight.

So we started making freezer jam.  What a delicious and easy alternative.  In fact, this batch here -- the only thing I actually did -- was to pour it into jars (because one of my handy gadgets is, eh-hem, misplaced).  Otherwise, the kids could have done this part, too! 

Invest in some basic canning jars if you don't already have 6 miscellaneous boxes in your garage.  For $10 you'll have freezer jam containers, storage for leftovers, a bouquet delivery system, homemade cookie gift packaging, button jars, ...
On the right: what we had in our
pantry.  On the left: what I just
bought.  The key is
"instant" or "no cook."
Here's the low-down:
Stir together sugar & freezer jam pectin (from our local Ace Hardware store) according to package directions.
Mash fruit (fresh, or 3 bags of frozen raspberries -- our year-round, non-heatstroking standby).
Pour into jars (I buy freezer jar lids at Ace, too.  $5)
Freeze until you're ready to use.
Eat.  On everything.  Share.  Gift.  Take pictures of jammy smiles.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Story Lights

I love the rhythm of summer -- the predictability of the weather and of little that must be done.  And of easing into summer nights.  Play falls into dinnertime.  And then children spill back into more play -- but changed with full tummies, family chatter, and the setting sun.  The glow of candles in the house meets the setting of the sun outside.  Dinosaurs and trucks find a place to rest, book stacks materialize, and "pioneer children" ("farm children," "kids riding on a train across the country to see their aunt") gradually settle.

Because of this natural evening ritual, we have a lot of homemade candle holders.  We made these with large applesauce jars, Mod Podge, and tissue paper. (Thanks, Mama Scout, for the inspiration!)  Sela wrote a short story, typed it up, and printed it out.  Linus dictated his story to me and went to the desk for the "fancy" scissors to cut it out.  To change it up a bit, I stuffed an errant strand of Christmas tree lights into the jars.

'Night all.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

What I Can Do

For the last three years, we've wrapped up our year with a spring ballet show.  Like the music and movement of the ballet itself, it adds a rhythm to our days and weeks, as well as our ears and eyes.  It's a big commitment for everyone involved (especially Linus).  "Is it worth it?" some ask.

I found Sela's rehearsal schedule on the table this morning.  She had used the paper cutter to trim it so that it could be carefully glued together as a single sheet, and she marked her rehearsal times with neat stars.  Her bag's already packed for her next rehearsal.

So, yeah.  It's worth it.

To see her joy at the opportunity to be involved in a project that could only be experienced as a group -- is worth it.  It's one thing to have a good ballet "class."  It's an entirely different experience of childhood and of growing up to have the chance to be part of a "production."  It's a massive undertaking by her ballet teacher (and many others).  I can't replicate this experience for her.  But I can lend support to her, to the production, (and to little Linus) because: they are worth it.