August 30, 2012

Sewing Spree!

     Whenever big events are coming up, or big changes are happening in our family life, I feel the need to Make Stuff. It's as if the primal survivalist nurturer in me is asking if I am prepared for whatever's coming and  when my modern Mamma answer is no, it screams, "Well, what are you waiting for? Get out the serger!" Or the cookbooks. Or the embroidery hoops. Or the knitting needles even though I can't knit. I feel like if I can make something then we will be ready. Even if it's just readiness in the sense that my family will know I care.

   Last weekend I went on a making spree, mostly sewing, which has carried over into this week and morphed in to baking and cooking and healthy lunch fixing. Be forewarned: expect a scrumptious waffle recipe and an onslaught of everything Bento in the days to come. Today though, sewing pics to share!

     Typically, I do not buy for my children shirts with a large expanse of stain-luring white covering the chest, but...these were $1 on the clearance rack, so I thought, why not? I'll make something cute to put on them. I asked Riles what he'd like and he requested one alien space ship, and one train with buttons. A little felt applique and an hour or so of sitting on Mamma's lap to 'help' later, and here we are. I love them!

      And for Laurelei...a new dress. Did she really need a new dress? Hmmm...not really. But Mamma really needed to do something with that yard-sale-score vintage apron.

      And doesn't every girl need a good twirling dress? I think so.

    And finally, custom Bento box covers for L's and R's school lunches. They picked the fabrics from my stash, I stitched.

    I love how they turned out!

    What about you, blogland beauties? Do you get the urge to Make Stuff when changes come your way? Share links- I want to see!

August 27, 2012

To School

     To school. For us, this time of year is not back to school time, because our children have never attended school a day in their lives. We have homeschooled for...well, eight years, since the day our oldest was born. We didn't think of ourselves as being homeschoolers at that point, but we always considered our parenting style to be present and attentive...never pacifying our children but identifying their needs and interests and helping them to learn from the world around them at every moment of every day. And that became our homeschool philosophy: Life is learning, learning is life. It was, and still is, our family's way. We didn't really call it homeschooling until about three years ago, but our children flourished. Learning to read naturally and at their own pace; discovering math in every room of our house, in every store, in every daily task. They found science in the backyard, the kitchen, the forest, and the night sky. And it is our hope and aim as parents to make sure they continue on this path of wonder and discovery. This fall, however, it will be, for the first time, To School.
   After much thought and prayer, days and weeks and months of quietly observing our children and trying to objectively determine what is best, at this point in their lives, for them, Brian and I have decided not to homeschool this year, but to send Laurelei and Riley to the public school most of their friends attend. Laurelei will be entering the third grade, and Riley-going only on a trial basis- will be a kindergartner.
   My feelings are mixed. I am comforted knowing that we can, at any point, change our minds. And knowing the confident individuals we've raised our children to be. I am comforted knowing that public school and homeschool are only two of the many educational options we see in our family's future; that life will always be learning and learning, life. Travel, private schools, cultural immersion...these are all on the wish list. But for this year, my wish--my prayer is this: that Laurelei and Riley learn a little more about who they are, and that they can do it under the guidance of exceptional teachers. Teachers who know the difference between thinking and following instructions, important, logical rules and unnecessary ones, creativity and cut-and-paste.
       My thoughts have turned lately--and I feel the need to put them into words--to the teachers who most shaped and influenced me in my formal education years. Three stand out; one more than all the rest. I'm sure there were others who tried, who meant well...but these three reached me, changed me in some way.
     In junior high, there was Ms. Johnston, life science. I like science, but it wasn't her class that I was her classroom. A place that, on lunch breaks and in free periods and after school became a safe haven for the under-confident, identity-seeking misfits like me. And it was that way because she was that way: a safe haven. She was one of the most sincere, accepting people I have ever known. I confided in her and she, always to an appropriate level, confided in me. Ms. Johnston taught me to look for friendship and goodness in unexpected places; to disbelieve stereotypes, and to believe a little more in me.
     In high school, I took an advanced literature and composition class because, in a sea of mediocre educators and even more mediocre curricular choices, it was one of the very few things that interested me. I'd been given the English-nerd label early in life, but I had never, before that class, before Mrs. Black, considered myself a writer. In my mind, an understanding of grammar, an aptitude for clarity, and an ear for the rhythms and complexities of language were just...what everyone should have if they bothered to try. Mrs. Black was strict. She had high expectations. She was stoic and distant and our student-teacher relationship remained impersonal. But she always, always called on me (me!) to read my work out loud. If the assignment was a short story, she'd push me to develop it more on my own time. If my work was weak or sloppy, she'd demand a rewrite because she knew I had more in me and she wouldn't let me settle for second-best. From Mrs. Black I learned that I am a writer. And, no, that's not something everyone has in them. A few people yes, but through Mrs. Black I discovered it's something that's mine.
      The third teacher, also from the high school years, is a name and a face and a person and a friend I will never forget.
     I don't remember being quite so angst-y about it, but my dad tells me I came home from my first day of school as a sophomore despondent and distraught because the art class I'd registered for was full and I'd been stuck in Drama 1 instead. I lamented my fate in tears and begged him to use his influence (he was also a teacher, well-known and liked in the district) to get me what I wanted. I thought--and here's an example of the strong negative influence a poor teacher can have--I thought that I hated drama. I had hated it in junior high. (So it must be the subject, right? Couldn't possibly have been the embittered, unenthusiastic instructor...) Dad, probably inwardly laughing at my first-world teenage problems, encouraged me to give the class two weeks. If I still hated it then, he'd see what he could do.
      That's how I met Kay. Mr. Jenkins, officially, but mostly he was Kay. Tall and thin as a bean pole, quiet when he wanted to be and boisterously loud among people he liked, his passion for story is what, I think, drew me in. I had that too. Was that drama? Theater? I didn't know. And he didn't know how prepared I was--in my timid, still under-confident way--to hate him and everything he taught. But I couldn't. He was just so excited, sometimes boyishly excited about sharing what he knew. More than that, and despite his frequent dramatic mutterings about juvenile delinquents, I think Kay saw beyond the system labels kids sometimes can't shake. I think he saw his students as human beings who could, if they chose, become someone better. Someone no one had pegged them to be. Kay taught by demonstrating, raising curiosity and inspiring. The stark opposite of so many teachers whose classes I slept through daily, he was accessible and funny, knowledgeable and real. Plays transformed from scripted words to enactments of humanity, with history and humor and sadness and deep, ardent love. And the best part was that I--that everyone--could be someone else.
     I never took a single art class in high school.
     In Kay's classroom, and in my subsequent active participation in all things drama (yes, Dad, you were right), I learned to shed the label "shy." Kay was my favorite teacher, my after-school coach and mentor, my  example. I learned to be a leader, to make decisions, and to be accountable for the choices I made--disappointment was an expression I learned to recognize in his eyes. But more often, I saw in them a light that burned through me: a fiery, father-like pride. Kay was the only adult, outside of my parents, I ever felt comfortable enough to argue with. He laughed with me, but never at me. He taught me in his imperfect way to use power tools, build sets, and handle deadlines and stress. And I learned in his stage makeup class the techniques I still use to apply my makeup today (sorry Mom).
     At my high school graduation ceremony, Kay stood on stage reading the names as the graduates walked. I'd like to think, and maybe it's true, that his voice broke a little, and that big Adam's apple had to swallow hard when he came to mine. For my part, I know I smiled back at him through my tears and said my silent, grateful goodbyes to the teacher who had taught me, more than anything, to be me.  
     These are the people on my mind as I prepare to send my children, for the first time, to be under someone else's influence, taught someone else's thoughts and answers and views on life. I think about these three teachers who cared so I won't worry so much about the ones who really don't. And while they came into my life later in my school years, I can't help hoping a Ms. Johnston, or a Mrs. Black, or, especially, a Mr. Jenkins will, at some point, come into my children's lives. Sooner would be better, but it's never too late.
     What teachers shaped your life? Do you remember them still? Share in the comments.

p.s. The quote graphic at the top of this post is a free printable. Just right click and it's yours. A little school inspiration to you from me.

August 25, 2012

Camping Glacier

     I love camping for so many reasons.

(Me with three reasons right here.)

       Sleeping outdoors, even in our own backyard, can be an amazingly refreshing experience, but I've found when I can sleep outdoors in the wilderness, where no lights outshine the stars, no human-made sounds overpower nature's own nocturnal soundtrack, no machines change the temperature of the night air, I am more than refreshed. I am inspired. Cooking and eating outdoors always makes food taste better. And, for me, organizing a space for my family to live in, a space to meet our needs, is like playing Little House in The Woods. I get giddy with nesting, homesteading excitement when we find the campsite that, for a few days, becomes ours.

(Our little campground home.)

     We all get dirty, letting soap-free lake or river swimming serve as our only baths, but despite the dirt, camping always makes me feel beautiful, natural and clean.
     I love to see the effect of wilderness on my children and my husband, and to feel it in me; to know, when we are stripped of our phones and computers and toys and comforts, who we become. Laurelei and Riley never fail to inspire me with the things they find to do; the play things and places they make in forests and on riverbanks and lake shores. Brian and I work together without effort to plan and cook and tend, laughing, seeming suddenly to have energy and patience we have only on the best days at home. Is that the distance from worries? The lack of deadlines and schedules? The not knowing what time it is and having that be okay? And sleeping on the hard ground (let's face it, camping pads and air mattresses don't really do all that much) is okay. Even that squirrel who throws pine cones at our tent every morning before dawn is more than okay.
     Whatever it is about camping that does this to me, I crave it. And we, as a family camp at least once a summer; more often if we can. This last weekend we spent four days camping in one of the most beautiful places God ever put in man's fumbling care: Glacier National Park.

     The last time the kids and I were in the GNP, it was two years ago with Nanna and B couldn't be there. I fell in love with the park, and, even though I don't think L and R have very clear memories of that trip, the vague impression of familiar beauty and wonder was still upon them as we explored this time around.

(This is my favorite shot from that long-ago trip. Look how little they were!)
   I've wanted to take B there ever since. He's a loyal Yellowstone groupie who vowed his affections would not be swayed, but by the end of our four days, I think a soft spot for Glacier had made its way into his bison-and-geyser-loving heart. And me? My heart was full. 

    How could it not be?
    We came home with sunburns (Mamma remembered sunblock on three out of four hikes--no one's perfect), tired legs and feet, sleeping bags to be aired, coolers to be scrubbed, and roughly eight loads of dirty laundry I almost didn't want to wash. I didn't want to lose the smoky, piney, forest smell. But as B and I unloaded our little car and cleaned up the remains of a trip not to be forgotten, all I could think was: When can we go again?

   What places and family trips have filled your heart this summer?


August 14, 2012

Childhood Fair

     As an adult (okay, a sort-of adult), August has always been my least favorite month of the year; the heat, the smoky forest fires, the longing for fall...but growing up, late August and early September meant one thing only. It was time for the pinnacle social event of the year in our rural farming community: The omnipresent Eastern Idaho State Fair.

 courtesy my hubs:
     Some of my most sensory-rich childhood memories come from this time of year. Eating a hot, flaky Tiger's Ear scone drenched in honey butter, sitting in the shade of the spruced-up shabby grandstands, smelling the Best in Show animals (who couldn't care less if their ribbon-bearing stalls were soiled) and the bone-dry, end-of-summer dust. Feet sweating in my sneakers, licking butter, licking dirt, licking I-don't-want-to-know-what from fingers trembling in excitement. Fingers itching to spend the few, scraped-up dollars in my pocket. Fingers that, on one lucky year, were attached to a stamped hand that hung from a wrist strapped with the neon orange ultimate symbol of cool: The All-Day Unlimited Rides Wristband. It was an expensive, unreasonable indulgence. A want, not a need. But I still remember the glow on my mother's face when she gave one to me, one to my older sister, and announced, mischievously, that, just this once, we would be allowed to cut school. I still don't know what she did, which bills she juggled, whose shifts she volunteered to take to get them for us, but I know she knew how much it meant in our tiny preteen world.
     I'm not a Mamma in small-town Eastern Idaho like my mom was. Here, in bigger Missoula, the much smaller Western Montana Fair seems a passing note in the lives of most of the residents; more important to those who live on the outskirts or in the surrounding ranch and farm towns. Those are the kids who wear their best boots, their new hats, their ironed jeans. I love to watch them and remember the place where I lived and the MOMENT the fair used to be. But more than that, I love to go to the fair with my husband and watch our own kids trudge through the dust, and up-and-down the barns, touching every single sheep and lamb; honking to the geese and snorting to the pigs. I love seeing them count their carefully saved coins and their wrinkled dollar bills onto a sticky counter for a cotton candy or caramel apple. I loved the moment that came for the first time this year, standing outside the Fun House, hand-in-hand with Brian, waiting for kids who are finally tall enough to go on their own to make their way out and tell us all about it, shouting with unconstrained glee.

          The Missoula fair came last week, in the summer, the mark of an urbanized community where there is no need to wait for the harvest to come in, so I will probably not ever have the opportunity to give my kids permission to cut school and go ride the rides. But I hope I will always have the memories of my most exciting early September days (oh! to be on the fairway after dark!) and I hope I will add to those memories, over the next few years, watching my own little ones experience their own childhood fair.
Now go have a cherry lime-aid and a corndog or two :-)

August 8, 2012

One Pink, Two Blue

     For a time that seemed so long to me we thought we'd never have another child. I remember buying my kids something one day, a couple of years ago- I think it was a lemonade at an outdoor market- and pulling two straws from the jar. One pink, one blue. My hand froze in midair as I realized those straws symbolized my Mammahood. One pink, my Laurelei; one blue, my Riley boy. And there was nothing wrong about that. There were, actually, so many things right. His made-up songs and jokes, her mind-blowing vocabulary and wise-beyond-her-years ways. And the bond of friendship between them that, even now, I know will last their whole lives. But still, we took our lemonades and went home and I stood in the closet in front of a box of baby clothes and cried.

     It wasn't the thought of not having a third baby that broke me, it was the not knowing, and mostly, the not knowing why.

     We kept trying. Eventually, I told myself and everyone around me I would be okay either way. And then, eventually, I accepted that it was not going to happen after all. We had a yard sale and got rid of the strollers, the bassinet, the bike trailer, the hiking back pack...and two weeks later I woke up one morning and puked.

     My first thought was that I'd eaten something bad. But in the shower, my breasts leaked. And ached. Still, I didn't want to think I might be pregnant...I'd been wrong so very many times before. I waited. I looked at the calendar and thought maybe...I'll give it X amount of days before taking a test. I didn't make it that long. When you want something so much, even when you thought you'd stopped wanting, and you've waited so long, the unconfirmed possibility is worse than the heartache that might come.

     This is not an announcement. If you know me, if you've ever read this blog before, you know the end to this story. Two lines on the pee stick; a miracle of modem science. But today, the day this little one has not stopped leaping in my womb for even one minute, my Mammahood color pallete was finally redefined. One pink, two blue. The growing person Laurelei and Riley have been affectionately calling Little Sprout is now our son. Jasper.

I love you, Jasper, my second, happy blue. And I can't wait to hold you in my joyfully overflowing arms.

August 7, 2012

The Summer Before

     For our family, this is the summer before everything changes.

     In the spring, I had a plan. I wanted the summer for my own--time to finish the final draft of my novel, long, lovely days spent stitching fall wardrobes for my little ones, afternoon naps with my growing baby belly. The children would play in the backyard, wild and free. No plans. Just play for them and my own time for me before...And then I remembered. Fall will come, and something will happen in our homeschooling family that has never happened: Laurelei and Riley will go to public school. And this Mamma bird will have no children in her nest or under her wing for a good chunk of each day. And then, more changes: the baby we've hoped and prayed would come for the last three and a half years will arrive. These are good changes for us. They are right for our family at this time. But when I really stopped to think about how precious these summer days with my little ones are, my plans went out the window. 

    That novel? It's been in the works for four years. It can hang on until fall. The stitching? We'll do it together. Naps? Those stay, but in mountain meadows on blankets with storybooks scattered around us and a little one on each shoulder, whispering to the baby (whom they call Little Sprout). We've been riding bikes and exploring forests, packing picnics and cooking over campfires, snatching up cabin weekends and diving into everything in Missoula's summer scene. 

      We've been doing, doing,, living, loving... and making memories that, sometime, I will start to write about more often again. 

    I sleep a little more these days, and clean house a little less. And I'm trying to spend as few hours of my precious summer as possible on the computer, but I still have stories to tell. They'll come. And so will fall. But for now, I'm cherishing every moment of us as we've always been; Mamma and little ones, Daddy when he gets home, loving nothing in this world so much as being together.