The garden is literally exploding right now. The wide and open dill flowers, the cabbage that curls into itself more each day, the sungolds turning, well, gold, and the peppers that appear from out of nowhere. The morning glories are almost reaching across the arch we made in the sunflower circle, where the sunflowers tower over Annabel's head (but not yet Harper's). We can see the ears of corn on the stalks forming, and a new flower blooms each day. It feels like fireworks in the garden each time I look, though far grander and simpler than any of those I've seen in the sky this month.
Last night, on my way to check on the potato bugs (I think they're winning this year for the first time, I just can't keep up with them), Annabel came running from playing with the goats and told me she needed a snack of peas. She sat down on the edge of the raised bed and began to pick. Just before dinner at the end of a long day full of adventure and sun, I could see she was exhausted and that sitting still for a moment might just be what she needed (before she crumbled). I diverted from the potatoes (see? the bugs win) and asked if she'd help me pick a basketful of peas instead. "Can I sit right here?" she asked, confirming the exhaustion. A few minutes later we found ourselves both all the way inside that raised bed pulling the last of the peas and readying a pile of stalks for the chickens to pick at. We talked of all things, side by side, and we worked in silence too. Of course, she ate more peas than she put in the basket, but that's okay. That's how these things roll. She impressed me with her knowledge of how the plant grew, what we'd do with the garden waste (it would go to the chickens or pigs, then to the compost to become soil that would then go back to the garden), and asked what we'd plant next in that spot now that the peas were done. My heart swelled, a little bit, in pride at this little five-year-old who has grown up no other way than harvesting peas in the garden, barefoot, with her Mama. And it was just about then that she declared (once again - this is a frequent Ani statement): "You know, I really don't like salads." And I said once again (as this is our schtick), "You can't not like salads, Ani. That's not a food, that's just how we describe a mix of foods." She gave me a scowl far too old for a five-year-old (older siblings, I tell you, that'll age a baby!), and said, "Mom....you know what I mean. All the green thingys you put in salads. Like the lettuce."
"And the spinach?" I asked.
Nope! Not interested!
"Kale?" I tried.
Yuck, yuck, yuck!
"But what about the almost white buttery sweet lettuce, you like that one right?"
Mom! You know....
So my little girl doesn't like salads....or anything 'green' for that matter (excepting peas). And as I was laughing to myself about that last night, I got to thinking about my kids in the garden over the years and that very typical moment that Ani and I shared. They've all had different levels of interest in the garden and that's changed from year to year. Maybe one of them will decide to manage one particular crop for the season...and more or less follow through with that. Or maybe they'll want a space of their own. Or maybe they're great at hauling barrels full of compost or mulch from here to there (in hopes of then asking for a ride somewhere). Or maybe they'll just stop by for a chat and find themselves weeding beside me without really knowing it. Different involvement, different kids, different ages. But I suppose the thing that stays the same is just that it's a constant in their life. That they can be sure to find me here, and that they always know they're welcome. And I for one, can count some of our simple moments together in the garden as some of my most treasured.
It's been unseasonably warm here in Maine this month, and even more so - unseasonably dry. Gardening is tricky in this weather, since we're not usually set up for needing to water this late into the season. But we're making it work, slowly and by hand (or by rain barrel or with a hose that travels a very long way from the house and therefore trickles by the time it hits the plants). The heat has us jumping in the lake (or ocean) as much as is physically possible in a day, but not really lingering by the shore. Too warm, it is declared (I know...listen to the Mainer's struggle with low 90s weather).
Our house, thanks to the smart ones who built it two-hundred years ago, faces in just the right direction and stays cool all day long downstairs. It's comfortable, and precisely where we all find ourselves retreating to on such hot days. This weekend found us all in more than out as a result. Games, music, art....and canning, of course. Because when it's so warm, why NOT turn the oven on and get just a little bit warmer? (More of a case is being made by the day for a summer kitchen! Someday, perhaps!). I had a few marathon sessions of canning and freezing this weekend, and the shelves of preserves are filling up quickly as a result. This is without a doubt our best raspberry year yet (year four of the plants), which is delightful. Some thinning of the carrots made for a big batch of carrot pesto for the freezer. I harvested some of our fennel for a relish. And the beets just keep coming in, begging to be stored for January. While I'm still water bath canning for some things and pressure canning for others, I added a steam canner to the mix this year. I was hesitant to add another 'gadget' to the kitchen, both for the storage challenge and the unnecessary complication factor, but I'm won over. The process is just so much easier, uses less water and takes less time (heating up that big pot in the hot water bath canner always takes a while). I'm only using it with high-acid foods and thus far, have only used the recipes that came with the canner itself. Steam canners, if you didn't know, are a bit controversial. I've been following the guidelines by the Utah State University Extension for doing so.
The weekend built up like that - a lot of time in the kitchen working on this or that that was being preserved, breaks for running and jumping in the lake, a game of dominoes here and there....and waiting, waiting, waiting for the break in the air that only the rain can bring. It came, finally, just after dinner on Sunday night. Heavy, cool, comforting rains that sent us all out to be poured on, and as quickly as it came, the sun returned. This time, a bit easier to handle, thanks to the rain.
With everyone else occupied during the day on their own adventures, I've found my days this week full of the fun and play of (just!) a five year old and a seven year old. It's reminiscent for me of earlier parenting days when the boys were little and it was just the three of us adventuring in the daytime hours while Papa working. This week, just like in those days, there have been lots of trips to the beach and impromptu visits with friends and all those flexible things that are just a little bit more doable with a smaller crew, and the interests of a much smaller age range to please. I may not be getting a lot of work done, but we sure are having a lot of fun. And if sitting at the beach for hours, wading in the water, exploring in the tide pools and ending it all with ice cream weren't enough to bring all that nostalgia my way, I have to add a little bit of wool. Because nothing says summer beach like a little bit of knitting with wool. No? Well, call me crazy, but it's the best. I've made a few rounds of handwarmers (Camp Out Fingerless Mitts) this week - something small and easy to toss in a bag, something that doesn't require a pattern, but still is fun to knit (mostly thanks to the changing colors of the Noro I'm using for yarn). And while they may not be suitable for wearing on a beach day (Oh, Ani...silly ham), I'm certain that around the corner is a season in which they'll be most appreciated.
This morning, the faint smell of barbeque food still lingers alongside the smoke from the fire pit. And as Annabel woke from her bed, and came into ours to snuggle beside me (many hours past when that usually happens, sleepyheads), I noticed that despite the necessary bath before bed last night, her hair was still stuck together in one spot with marshmallow, then covered in dirt on top of that. Yup. 'Tis the season!
Oh, summer weekends! What a lovely and long one we just had too. With just-right weather, and all the ingredients for a classic summer weekend - gatherings with friends, guitars around the firepit, a lot of baseball, sprinklers, s'mores, popsicles, swimming, and awesome food. So much food. I'll take it all quite happily. And hopefully, weekends like that will happen many more times before this season passes by.
Our neighbors had a fireworks show on the lake that we watched. I worry about a few things when that happens (because...it's fire!...and though I can be a bit of a worrier, I think I'm justified when it comes to fire), but Greta always tops the list of my worry with all that startling unexpected noise. She was fine this year, not stressed at all. At least not about the fireworks. However, Sparkle, our new scarecrow (named by Ani - could you tell?), sure is giving Greta some grief. Being that it's her job to protect all the animals at night, she has not been okay with this stranger in the pasture. We made Sparkle this weekend, in an attempt to ward off the crows that are stealing all of duck and chicken eggs - so boldly that they harass the nesting birds to get off the eggs! Not okay! We think we've got Greta straightened out now, and hopefully her early belief that it was real is a good indication that the crows will do the same. We'll see.
I know most of the world started your week yesterday, but for those of us still lingering in long weekends, I wish you a gentle re-entry today! And I will remind you that there's another summer weekend just four days away!
Well, excuse my silence here this week! It turns out there's been a little too much silence in my world, so much so that I hardly know what to do or say. Way back in February when I planned these few summer weeks - the first time all five of my kiddos have been otherwise occupied for most of the day - I had grand plans of productivity. I was eagerly anticipating work hours spent totally uninterrupted. I thought I might paint the floors upstairs. Or maybe I'd garden in silence for a day. Or build a greenhouse in a week! Sew a whole lot of things. Get ahead in my magazine work. I'd definitely at least give the house a deep, deep clean. The kitchen needs new paint.... Oh, the plans.
The reality has been less impressive. I've spent more time aimlessly wandering than I care to admit. Not happily wandering, but wandering in a bit of a bewildered way. What should I do first? What task is possibly worthy enough of this rare and precious time? I've puttered, I've 'wasted' time, and I've never quite settled into a project of any kind - at least not until right before it's time to get in the car to go pick everyone up from their adventures. Nope, nothing amazing. Mostly, I suppose, I've been doing a lot of thinking about all of that. Because I think I've confirmed the thought I've had in the back of my mind for years - and that is that I actually am far more efficient and productive the busier we are. Or maybe that's not accurate, maybe it's just that after all these years of living and working and learning and playing together as a family, we've found some kind of a rhythm that works well for us all. That maybe I do my best work when that work fits into the pockets of time in our days - in and around everything else, with our full life always creeping in just a little bit. I really do like it that way.
So here we are, just four days into this short-lived rhythm and today I decided to cut myself some slack. I got this blog post up - even if it's 10:30 am. I'll get my Taproot work done. I'll prep a really yummy dinner. I'll let go of the idea of doing anything amazing. And I'll ditch the guilt that may appear when it's time to go pick everyone up and I haven't quite done what I thought I might. Instead, I'll trust that moving slowly and doing 'nothing' might just be the very thing I need to do most of all this week. That intention started this morning with a walk around the house. Not because the animals needed to be fed (Steve had done it hours before), or because the kids were leading me (instead they led me to their exciting days!), or because anything at all really required my attention. But just because...and just by myself. Quietly.
It's a good start.
A rather dramatic and intense reading choice, don't you think? Especially for a girl who is SO excited to be away from home. Hmn. But one who also loves a bit of theatrics and really digs a good true story so yes, perhaps this IS a good summer camp reading choice. (We LOVE the Dear America series!)
And this is what is packed up and ready for tomorrow's mail, to my girl. I hope I'm making friends (and not making myself a hassle) with the counselors by sending all these temporary tattoos (Tattly is just too fun). Also, having so much fun with my Taproot Crafty Pack! It'll be coming in hand for the coming weeks of camp letters and packages I"ll be putting together.
We are here! All the days on the calendars have been crossed off (big kids) and the paper chains are complete (little kids). Real Summer! Last week we took a trip to the ER for stitches (Harper, poor buddy, but just a few and he's being a very good sport about it all), which certainly marked the beginning of summer season for the Soules (and apparently lots of others - the ER was full of broken bones and stitches! Oh, summer adventures!). But this week, everyone is scattered about in a million different directions (okay, four), to camps - overnights and day camp and all the way in between. I have some seriously, um, happy campers who have been waiting for this week for a very long while now. Or since February. Which seems like a whole other world ago.
I've done some stitching, in between my moments of time spent labeling five bottles of sunscreen and bug spray, and sorting out the most efficient way to pack as many lunches as I need to in the mornings (not something we're very used to, this homeschooling crowd. Nor the early mornings. Yawn!). At the last minute before Adelaide left town for a bit, she got a quick and easy skirt to wear - it's the Gathered Skirt for All Ages in Heather Ross' Mendocino mermaid fabric with some of Anna Maria Horner's feather fabric for the pockets. (Annabel and Harper got some new duds too, but they move too quickly for me to capture them. Or I move too slowly early in the day to catch them.) When I got Adelaide settled into her chosen bunk, we both looked down and saw her brother's name signed from a few years back. (Just like last year, though in another cabin and with her other brother's name.) It made me smile though, and I have to believe there's some good sibling energy there, kind of looking out for each other in an energetic way that I talk about (and they laugh about). It's all good. And so are summer adventures!!
I find myself speechless today, which isn't a new feeling after reading the news, as I do now each morning before beginning my work for the day. I know we all come to our own place about how to live in the present and in the physical place and community we are in, while also being aware and informed and maybe even involved and active in the larger world happening around us. I definitely feel that challenge - particularly as we balance parenting these young beings coming of age with their tender hearts and caring spirits and deep hope for change. Goodness, the last thing I want to do here is open up any sort of trivial political debate in the comments or conversation to follow. But can I just state for the record my deep belief that we share far more in common than we do things that divides us? I really believe that. And I also tell my kids, and try to live with the belief that only more love is the answer. Most especially in cases where love feels the most far away feeling to find and hold onto. Love, love, love. Oversimplifying, perhaps yes, but I have been known to say a time or two that keeping it simple is good. I'm a proud oversimplifier in this case. So. Love, love and more love today - wishing it to you and yours and everyone around us.
May you find peace and beauty in the day that lies ahead of you! I will try to do - and spread - the same.
Quite a while ago, the kids received a gift from their grandparents of this butterfly kit and a voucher for ordering the caterpillars. We read the included book about butterflies many times and we had the netting around for a while as the kids captured what they found around and about, but it was only a few weeks ago that we finally ordered the live caterpillars. When they arrived (this is the company we used), they were immediately set upon a high shelf for watching. Over the course of a few weeks, we watched the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly (Painted Lady), and I must confess that it was far more engaging of a process than I anticipated it to be. Especially the younger three, but also the older crew I noticed, stopped each day to note the changes. The caterpillars are growing! They're in their chrysalis! And then the excitement as each one emerged as a butterfly. My hesitation, I must confess, was that we'd somehow mess up the project and accidentally forget to do something that was needed in the flurry of a busy season of our days. That was a silly concern though, as not only did the kids make sure we did everything we were supposed to do and just on time, but that there really is so little to do with this kit. Order the caterpillars, watch the caterpillars, insert chrysalis into the netting, watch chrysalis, feed them when they emerge, let them go. Easy peasy.
Last week they were ready to be released and the weather was just perfect for doing so. to be the day to release them. So we set a blanket outside near the old perennial garden bed in front of the house and opened the butterfly net. Each one slowly made their way out of the net and onto our hands or shoulders for a few moments before heading into the garden and then up over the trees or over the house. It was a beautiful process, and so much fun for the kids as each one set off. The kids had named each of the nine butterflies (I had two kits) and were sure they could tell who was whom once in the air. "Oh, there goes Sweetie Love!" (I kid you not, one was named Sweetie Love!) "Good luck to you! Fly safe!" Annabel shouted after them.
Since then, of course she's sure she's seen Sweetie Love in particular, in the flowers or in the sky. It very well could be.
A few days ago, I was in front of the house gathering lilacs. I've been doing it each day - sometimes twice - because lilac season, you know, it's just so short and it's just so special. I want to smell them in every corner of the house. With one bundle of it tucked under one arm, and my pruners in the other hand, I wasn't looking up but rather at the violets on the ground when I literally ran into Adelaide. And she ran into me because she was walking just the same - looking down at something or other with an armload of lilacs, a handful of lily of the valley, a pocketful of forget-me-nots, and scissors in her hands (time to get that girl her own pruners, I think). We both laughed and then set to making a plan, "well, I was going to do the bedrooms" she said. "And I was going to do the kitchen and the front hallway" I said. Not missing a beat she replied "These lily of the valley need to go in the green teapot, don't you think? Not your grandmother's green teapot with the missing lid, but the tiny green teapot, the one Papa got for you for Mother's Day one year. Oh, and the ones in the vase in Gram's room really need to be freshened up. I'll do that."
Yes, my girl. Yes, yes. Perhaps, I thought, she's been watching me. But I can't rightfully claim all the credit. She spends a whole lot of time with this flower goddess and has certainly picked up a thing or two there (without a doubt her creative arranging did not come from me, but from Stacy!). But more than all of that influence from the women in her life, this girl of mine just pays attention. She knows when those Lily of the Valley are about to open and announces on the morning that they do. She remembers that they were my grandmother's favorite flower and Steve's grandmother's favorite flower too. And she remembers that they were here, growing in between the front steps, on the day her little sister was born, the very first spring we lived here.
I think about Mary Oliver's often-quoted (understandably so) line "Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it."
Pay attention. At the age of ten, she's got that dialed. At the age of almost forty, I'm trying every day. Having so many teachers certainly makes the effort more delightful.
I hope this note finds you all enjoying a lovely Monday morning (and perhaps the ending of a wonderful long weekend?). I recently had a conversation with Meg Devine on Mothering.com, and the interview is live now. You can find that here. As maybe it was for you too, Mothering Magazine held a very special role in my early parenting days, and I've been honored to be featured there over the years. It was a pleasure this time to focus a bit on aging - aging children, aging blogs, and aging parents (that's me!). I hope you enjoy the conversation. (Thank you, Meg, for the opportunity to pause for a moment and ponder your great questions!)
There was fighting all day long. So much more than usual. So much so that consequences were doled out, and a family meeting was planned. This Mama was fried and more than a little frustrated. But then, at the end of the day, just as suddenly as the bickering came on, it all lifted and there was this. Laughter, fun, and togetherness for hours. I heard each of their giggles and witnessed secrets shared, illuminated by flashlights and the moon, until we finally called them all in for bed.
Oh, sibling love. It is a complicated and beautiful thing!
I've come to almost love the call to help, from somewhere in the house, for all to hear. Sheep are out! Goats out! Pigs! Whatever it may be, all come running. And perhaps my favorite part of all is that those who are least inclined to give a hoot about those animals, come running just as fast as those who do. And it's aways a family moment and it's always a laugh. And always....everyone ends up on the 'right' side of the fence eventually.
You know I totally just jinxed myself by saying all of that and I should therefore resign myself to an epic day of playing 'which side of the fence are you on?' with all of our livestock today? (Bring it.)
It's recital season! For you too? This weekend was an end of session circus performance here. That's Adelaide on the bottom of the purple silk, who just started circus a few months ago but has fallen in love. It sure makes a Mama heart happy when her little one falls in love with something, and is loved in returned by the sport she's chosen. Hooray for circus arts!
Next weekend brings fiddle and piano recitals. Which means that we have been and will continue to be enjoying Oh Susannah and The Happy Hoedown each fifteen times a day for another week. (Oh my.)
Did that seriously happen? Is she really five? Unbelievable. But here she is, marking her height against the wall, which means it's official you know. "I just can't believe I'm five now!" she exclaims each morning. I can't either!
After that flurry of crafting last week for Annabel (including the wonderful Smocked Sundress from Heather Ross' Weekend Sewing - it's been so long since I've made one of those sweet dresses!), I haven't picked up a single knitting needle, rug hook, embroidery hoop or anything else of the sort since! But, just this morning I spied Nancy's Vest on Ravelry and I might have just found my next knitting project (apparently I'm into vests these days?).
There's a serious treehouse in progress out back. Situated in between the garden and the zipline, just back a few trees from the end of the half pipe. It's a happening place back there, I tell you!
My youngest three set out to spend the night outside this weekend. If you think that's early in Maine for a camp out - without a tent - then you're exactly right. But brave souls they are with cool temperatures and so many bugs we thought they'd get carried away. They had so much fun....until we brought their sleepy selves in at 11pm, with rain expected soon. More sleep outs are planned for the coming week - they've got grand plans for essentially moving outside for the summer (though Mama would really like some walls on that treehouse before they venture to sleep up in the trees!).
The garden! Oh, the garden is coming along and getting so much of our attention right now. I haven't given a proper update here yet, but I will soon. And I have a fun little idea about the blog and gardening this summer, so stay tuned for that. I hope you'll like it as much as I do!
I have a garden sin to confess. I bought 100 new strawberry crowns to plant this spring from my beloved FEDCO. I got them them and then, sadly, totally improperly stored them. Truth be told, I actually forgot all about them. When I went to plant them this weekend, they were nothing but a heartbroken moldy mess. I had moment of sadness, and feeling like a gardening failure, and generally feeling sorry for myself until my love said, "just order more. That's easy, right?" Right. So ordering more, I am. And this time I'll give them all the care they deserve. (Where does one quickly get 100 live organic strawberry plants now that Johnny's is sold out and FEDCO is closed for the year? Hmn...).
I wish you and yours a most wonderful start to the week!
my oldest and his girlfriend :: my middle and her bestie :: my baby and her cousin
The photos on my camera and the events of the weekend have me feeling sentimental, proud and excited about all of the growing up that's happening around me all the time, from all of them each day. Who they are becoming is so much more amplified when taken out of the context of home and family....and instead put out there in the world in relation to others. Of course, I love watching them at home and with each other and nurturing those sibling relationships that will be with them for a lifetime, through all the challenges and joys of the present and the future. But there's something so illuminating about seeing their personalities through the lens of their other - wider - worldly relationships. I get to see a whole new side of them, and it's always such a joy, and often a surprise, to feel my vision of who they are stretching wider all the while. Overhearing my fifteen-year-old be so sweet to his girlfriend. Watching my ten-year-old and her friend since babyhood as they both teeter somewhat precariously on that edge of childhood and adolescence - but do so together and slowly all the while. And seeing my nearly five-year-old far away from my side in the pasture with her cousin sharing a story, laughter, and secrets that I'll never know. And those two boys who evaded my camera this weekend, but never my thoughts or attention. A thirteen-year-old who is helping more than one friend right now through a challenging transition in their own lives, with advice I wouldn't have come up with on my own, but that he delivers with compassion. And a seven-year-old who is so shy with people outside of our family, but whom I watch open his heart freely to a boy who is fast becoming his dearest friend, a relationship just blossoming but that I have a feeling will become a beautiful long thread.
I know, so full of pride, those statements, but I'm sorry, I just can't help it this morning. As we start another week - full of the flurry of lessons and classes, school and the farm, work and play, squabbling and bickering, negotiating the schedule, and all the rest of the normal family love and life....I want to pause for just a tiny moment and a big deep breath. I am proud of these five people, I really am. And as we walk through this coming week together - looking sometimes from afar as we do when they stretch their wings - I want to remember to notice how wonderful it is to be walking alongside them on this journey. For that indeed, is such a blessing.
The morning commute to Calvin's school doubles in length this month as they start their day at another campus, something that happens on and off throughout the school year. It makes what is usually a relatively quick drive quite a bit less so, and as I load into the car each day to do it again, feeling tempted once in a while to be bitter about it, I try to stay focused on the blessing in it. For one, it means more time in the car with him, which really is one of my favorite times that we share together these days. Not that we don't have plenty of fun and lovely moments otherwise, but there's something quite nice about driving together, isn't there? Once we're past the age of "are we there yet" and "I have to go to the bathroom!", that is. The attention we can give one another is undivided in such a setting, each strapped into the seat next to one another with a determined length of time ahead of us with nothing on the list but to drive. The conversation wanders from music to skateboarding to politics, from school and dating and his future plans, then back again. Silence happens too, and that's nice, in the sleepy morning as we wind the country back roads and notice the changes in the season that happen from week to week and month to month. "Put your phone away. Be here." I only sometimes have to remind him, and though he won't admit it, I swear there's a bit of relief in that. He never complains about it, anyway.
Sometimes, I have all the other kids with me too, and that's an opportunity for a good podcast or an audio book - we've been making our way through Encounters with Richard Nelson lately, each taking turns choosing the animal episode we listen to next (they never forget whose turn it is). Or there is music, or we tell a story. Or sometimes, stop somewhere fun to play for a minute. There is less silence on those drives.
And then, there are times when I end up alone for that drive. And oh, that's a dreamy thing too. A little bit of peace and quiet before diving into the work and flurry of the day that inevitably follows. This morning was almost like that - on the way home, Annabel was quite happy to be looking at the books in her bag and surprisingly not chatty (so rare for her that I fear she's coming down with something. Fingers crossed it was just a really captivating book she found). And in that silence I got to thinking of the rain that began last night and appears to be happening in drizzles throughout the week ahead. Though I know it is wonderful for the garden and a true gift for the earth, I will admit that selfishly I feel a little bit sad sometimes about the rain during times like this. There is nothing stronger this time of year than the pull to the garden, and from talking to friends I know I am not alone in this strong physical desire. It's the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about before closing my eyes at night. My body craves it this time of year, and I do my best - amidst all the other demands on our days - to heed the call. Because I want to, because I love it. And it feels so good - stretching out like that after what is always a bit of a long winter (despite how little snow we had).
I was feeling a bit of that angst this morning as I drove home, wondering how now we would spend this day, as the garden work I really wanted to do was surely out of the question. And somewhere on one of those windy country roads, maybe as I passed another pasture full of someone else's sheep happily grazing in the misty grey morning, and I had many moments of complete thought all to myself to think the thoughts through....I decided to let that urge for the garden go, and to give into the blessing of the rain. For with it, there is no question or choice in how the day will be spent and that's certainly a gift, isn't it? It is, or it can be, a relief. That today, without feeling pulled out of doors, we will give into and dive fully upon the work and play that must be done indoors. And in letting that go - I need no longer worry about being out there, but instead be fully in here. It's just a shift, a little mental one, the feeling of a choice made rather than having been decided for me.....but sometimes, that little shift makes all the difference. In the big picture of life, most definitely, and sometimes in the small day-to-day as well. The blessing in the drive. And in the rain. It's always there.
It snowed all day yesterday. Not enough to amount to anything of significance, nor to cancel anything. But just enough to be annoying, I mean, very pretty! Mostly the trouble was with just how cold it was (is). After a good stretch in days prior of what was beginning to feel like spring, the snow and the cold was a harsh reminder that it's still only April. That sudden switch back in temperatures makes for challenging days inside when we have otherwise begun to shift out of doors in our play and work. And so we found ourselves yesterday searching this corner and that for something to do. I'm not sure who the leader was, but we were all definitely meandering and grasping for something new, fresh and exciting about the inside play we were facing for another day.
After we did some springtime still-life drawing by the fire (each of us selecting something that we found through the house, and Annabel a few things more), and everyone tired of crayons and colored pencils, we started to look toward other tools and toys, so to speak. The apothecary was what we all landed on, with quick and easy beeswax (plus coconut oil) candles up first. Since that took all of ten minutes (maybe twenty), we moved onto lotion making. Something about that double boiler makes me so happy - I feel like we're cooking up potions and we are, really. The kids love it too, and some of them are beginning to understand what it is we're actually doing "Ani, it's the beeswax that holds the oil and the water together!" Adelaide declared, while Harper was giddy with excitement at using one of his favorite tools, the "submersion blender." We made a simple shea butter, beeswax, and sweet almond oil lotion, with everyone choosing their own essential oil to add - lavender, clary sage, and peppermint it was. (There's a very simple and similar recipe for lotion found here.) And after that because there was still so much more of the day in front of us, we moved onto lip balm, using this recipe (minus the lipstick). And with the lip balm cooling, they had the brilliant idea to play one of their favorite games (mine too!), called "Spa" in Adelaide's room. Massage, guided meditation, yoga, and hair and nail care all offered at a very low cost. And with that, I don't think I saw any of them until dinner time...
Keeping those apothecary shelves stocked has become somewhat of a rhythm just like keeping the art supplies fresh, and I'm always glad for that on a day like this when running out to get shea butter, for example, is nearly impossible and definitely inconvenient. And should it be helfpul to you....some of our favorite body care potion-making books are: Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes, Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair, Organic Body Care Recipes, and Homemade Beauty. And the supplies that I can't get at our local coop, I purchase from Mountain Rose Herbs.
How we got from still life drawing to beeswax candles, I'll never know. But I do so love when a day allows us to follow those little tangents and trails of creativity. Certainly that's one gift of a snow day. Even if it has to come in April.
Because Harper loves math and he needed something to do yesterday as we prepared for a party for Ezra and Harper was spiraling towards trouble, he counted how many birthdays we've celebrated as a family. Including Mama and Papa, and starting at Calvin's first, that makes for 79 days. When he came to me with the number I thought, of course! That's why this feels so second nature, this rhythm that we have, these rituals that we repeat. So simple and small, but they are the things that our family has come to know as how we do birthdays. Year in and year out - gifts in the morning before breakfast, but not until everyone is awake (and you can't yell at your sibling when they wake you up early on their birthday); the birthday banner hung from the same spot, so that the thumbtack holes are permanent; favorite meals prepared and desserts chosen (five out of seven Soules prefer pie); a birthday crown reached for often in the day, out of excitement from the littles and humoring Mama from the older ones (though they do it happily); the photos with two pieces of rolled scotch tape covering the kitchen windows. Oh, the photos! For the 79th time (well, fifteen less than that because I don't do my own), with a million things running around in my head for a pre-celebration to-do list - a house to clean for guests or a pie in the oven that needs washing or a child that needs my attention - I opened the closet door to search for the photos, feeling as though it were just one more thing on my list. And just like I've done dozens of times before on these birthdays, I paused for a moment in guilt at the state of my photo system (I'm a bit behind). Then, like I've always done before, I sighed, moved on, and brought out Ezra's box to fish around for photos in, mindful of the clock and the desire to tick this task off my to-do list. And then, just like the dozens of times before, the clock stopped. I sat down at the kitchen table, flipping through the box of photographs and began crying, then laughing. Then calling to this person or that in the house to look at what I found. I texted a few to my sisters and mother to say, "remember this?" and of course, they did. And that clock, well I forgot all about that clock and decided that I really didn't need to vacuum upstairs after all and everything else on the to-do list could wait, couldn't it?
And just like it has likely done for me many times over, this little ritual that we do 'for the kids' became the very ritual that helped me settle on into what's important, and find my pace for the rest of the day. A day to think about nothing but celebrating this amazing person we are so blessed to watch grow, to share our days with. Thirteen year old Ezra - magical, musical, theatrical, funny, thoughtful and loving- just like he has been for all those days since he was born. Only bigger now - taller than his Mama, and with a much deeper voice. And as I look at all those photographs on the windows, I am newly inspired and reminded to treasure all the moments like it, the ones we are so lucky to share each and every day we are all together. It matters most of all.
"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"
~ Kurt Vonnegut
These were the photos on my camera at the end of the day yesterday.These, for whatever reason, were the things that caught my eye well enough when my camera was in reach that I took a photograph. A day. Our life. SO MUCH within and around that. I'm guessing that I'm not the only one who sometimes wakes up in the morning as my brain starts running through the list of the day and the tasks ahead and the places we need to be and the logistics (oh, the logistics!) of just how to make it all work....and thinks that evening is a long-away and distant goal. Or, who, at the end of that day, looks back and says, Really? Really we fit all of that into a day?? In our best of moments, that's when we laugh together, Steve and I. Because it's crazy, really, just how much we fit in a day (all of us - me, you...). Here in our world, right now, there's a lot going on. I suppose this has been a slow realization this academic school year for us - as Calvin started school, Papa went back to work, and the littles are not so little and their list of activities equally not so little. And it isn't even that any one of us is overdoing it, really. Singly, it all feels good and balanced - a few special things that we love. Work we love. A school we love. Activities we love. Not too much for any one person....but collective, put together in a family of seven (plus Gram, with her own adventures!), it sure is a lot going on. And it's all a shift, of course, a really big shift from the days when we lingered at home and didn't pay attention to the clock except the one in our hearts or heads that told us it was time to nap, or time to snack with the little beings around us. We are, as a family, in a different season of life than that one, to be sure. And I know I've talked about this here before, so forgive me for being on that same train, but well, I'm still really on that train right now (and I'm guessing some of you are too). And I often need to remind myself - or I want to remind myself - that my work in this season is to be the peacekeeper. Not in the way of keeping fighting siblings off each other (although there's plenty of that too), or taming temper tantrums, but in the way of keeping the spirit of home alive and healthy. In noticing when each of us needs to slow down and take a break, and helping to make sure we're able to do that. In making sure that there are moments of quiet - both individually and as a family - in our full and busy days. And in being able to - and help my kids be able to - slow down the rush of the world around us and be still. And challenging though that task may be (so tempting it is to catch the tail of the flurry around us and anxiously follow it into chaos!), I do think it might just be the most important work I do as a Mama.
Friends, as we all begin the weekend ahead, I hope for tiny, but important moments of peace and stillness for you as well. Amidst all the fullness of our days!
One of my very favorite things in all the world are handmade hand-me-downs. How can they not be? The memory of the joy in making it. The memories of the child (or children) wearing them before. And the excitement of seeing someone new embrace them - someone with entirely their own personality and quirks and ideas about the world. Annabel has recently discovered and fallen in love with the Jane Austen dress that I made her older sister eight years ago. Eight! I can't even believe that. Adelaide wore it a bit, but not a whole lot. Ani, on the other hand, has been reaching for it often, and I'm so glad to see it so frequently. I gave it a little bit of a revamp - repairing the stitching of the knitting onto the linen, and shortening the hem just a bit to make it more wearable (judging from the previous hem, I hadn't yet discovered my love for the blind hem - the foot on my sewing machine that I couldn't live without, I love it so).
The wearing of hand me downs also, of course, marks the passing of time and serves as a reminder to enjoy what's happening right now, for how quickly it passes. And on that note, while lingering on Ravelry looking for the next pattern recently, it occurred to me with a start, that I've never knit a cape for one of my littles! I've sewn plenty, but never knit. And given that my littlest is going to be five this spring, I'd say the clock is ticking on that opportunity. And so, a little red riding hood cape it is, before she's just too grown up for such a thing. How I have come to possess so much of that red yarn in my relatively small stash is another story for another day, but for now, I'm about to choose just the right 'little red riding hood' red, and get to work. While she's still little.
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We celebrated the equinox in proper New England style with a snowstorm that kept everyone home from school and activities, knocked the power out, and covered everything out there in a pretty layer of white.
Inside, we dyed eggs (using red cabbage, onion skins, beets, turmeric and some blue food dye for good measure), stayed cozy by the fire, played many games of chess, did some knitting, and otherwise enjoyed the unexpected 'day off' for all.
And with the passing of the spring equinox, now we know for certain that no matter if it snows, or not, the days will continue to get longer. And that spring snow, oh, it melts so quickly, acting as water for the growing plants and flowers of spring.
There's something in the air, don't you think? Maybe it's the turning of the calendar page to March (happily leaving February behind), or the tapping of the trees, the arrival of our garden seeds, and all the other signs of a coming season that are adding excitement to the days right now. I know, I know....I must be careful, for Winter is not done with us, surely. And it's been such a mild one that I hardly feel like complaining about the winter. But still...there's something in the air and it's lovely. A few entirely random but very good things I am incredibly excited about this Friday morning:
I got the call from our fiber mill that my fiber is almost ready for pick up. That is most certainly exciting, and motivating me to keep on spinning to clear out some of the last round of fiber I still have in my studio. I finished spinning the yarn for the sweater I needed, and am back to prepared roving and enjoying that ease so much. This is Scarlett, almost black, and I can't wait to see it as yarn. And as a finished knit! For now though, I'm enjoying the spinning and feeling good about what I'm seeing on that bobbin. I spent some time this week watching the Craftsy course with Amy King. It was so helpful to me in essentially starting from the beginning and understanding what it is I'm doing, not to mention all the tips for improving it. I highly recommend it if you're in the same position.
I have a very special date this weekend, with my two older boys to a masquerade ball fundraiser. Besides enjoying their company, I'm pretty excited to play dress up with them, kind of sort of just like the old days when they were little, though only with the help of heels will I stand a chance of being taller than one of them. Oh, time!
I picked this book up this week, grabbing it off the shelf in the bookstore as I didn't even have time to look inside the pages. Knowing it was Alice Waters, I was sure it would be amazing. But I am loving it even more than I anticipated. I have so many pages marked to try that I'm thinking I might as well just start at the beginning and try making everything. That could be fun. As she says in the introduction, "A familiar pantry is like being surrounded by friends who won't let you down, within instant reach." Yes!
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Friends, I wish you a most wonderful weekend ahead, full of your own good things!
The taps are in! Maple syrup season has begun. It's such an exciting time with all the hope that this activity brings. At the beginning there is snow on the ground, but after a few weeks of tapping and hauling sap, boiling it down and celebrating out of doors, and before we know it, spring is upon us. Though, if neighbor Bruce knows anything (and that he does), he's warning us all that "winter isn't done with us yet!". So we shall see, and be prepared for whatever March brings. Still, I do love the way tapping trees brings us out - at a time when usually the prime sledding/skiing season has passed, and things are starting to turn to mush and the beginnings of mud season (a real and true season of its own) are everywhere. It's too early for getting much work done out there, and a lot of the elements needed for winter play is moving on out. But tapping the trees, and all that goes with it, it draws us out many times a day. And I love it for that. (The syrup is a great reward too).
This year, we are tapping considerably fewer trees than in the past. Certainly, we can use all the syrup we can gather, and it never stretches as far as we wish that it would. But this decision was one based on our days, and being mindful of how they flow (ha!). There were years in which we were fully able to dedicate the hours needed to as full of a syrup operation as we could have here....and this year just doesn't seem to be one of those. We have, we realized, entered a new season of our family life in this past year or so. One which finds our kids, especially the older three, doing exciting things out of the house. Every so often, I find myself longingly thinking about the years when we didn't have this kind of a schedule - when days upon days were spent at home, not paying attention to the clock or sometimes even the calendar. But I'm always snapped out of that nostalgia with the awesomeness of the present - the great opportunities they're offered, the amazing growth I see in them, the involved and engaged people they are becoming in their various communities. It's all wonderful, and I've even come to love the driving (truly). Ah, but it always means looking closely at our days, and asking once in while, is this (or the other thing)working for our family right now? and what does this (or that) do to our days? The biggest challenge of all, of course, being that we still have some very littles, for whom I want to give the same experiences and childhood that their older siblings had. And those older siblings? They're not so old that the activity and tradition of our family rhythms don't matter. In fact, I think they matter just as much. And so, like other adjustments we make in our days together....we keep tapping trees, just maybe fewer. A little less time hauling buckets of sap from the woods, and a little more time for making the schedule of our day a bit less cramped and (over)full.
Tapping fewer trees, of course, is a relatively small and minor decision. We didn't exactly belabor over it, and I'm sure the kids don't even notice the difference between 50 taps or 15. But I've been thinking a lot about all those little decisions we make and how they add up to such importance as our family shifts and changes, stretches and grows. I thought about that a lot this weekend too, which was so incredible. Incredible in all the games of checkers, the late-night all-sibling hockey game by lantern on the pond, the side-by-side sibling math fun, the meals with no rushing, the amount of spinning I was able to do. All because we were all home, home, home for the entirety of it. Previously a common occurrence, and now quite rare, it feels like such a treasure when it does happen. I was reminded over and over again this weekend of how wonderful and important that time is though, and how necessary it is to work hard to make sure we keep that, when we can. Always examining our days, reconfiguring our plans. Letting go of this, and bringing on that. I think that balance-keeper is the role Steve and I play most often in this season of our family life. It isn't always an easy one, but oh, the rewards - for all - are so very sweet.
Well, if that smiling face is any indication, it appears as though we've got another skier in the family! That makes for everyone now, excluding Mama (more on that later). As has become our family tradition, Annabel will join the crew on their regular trips to the mountain when she's five - next winter. But she gave it a go yesterday, just to see what she thought of it all. I wasn't certain how she'd do. She's certainly brave, but not a daredevil. But there, between her big sister's legs (bless her), she was comfortable, safe and enjoying herself immensely. "Again, again, again!" And she quickly went from the training hill to bunny run and asked for more.
How did my baby grow so fast? I don't know. But I do know that once up on a time, very long ago, when all I had was babies, a much younger, much more foolish version of myself vowed that when the last of the little kids joined the big kids at the mountain, I would go too. I'm not certain what I was thinking - could it have been that I thought the baby years would never end and I'd never have to follow through on that? Or maybe I thought that everyone would forget? Well, she really is the last of the babes, and no one has forgotten my words. It isn't that I don't want to join them in outdoor fun, it's just that getting a ride to the top of a mountain and then throwing myself down it has never seemed like something all that enticing. Or even sane, really. I did give snowboarding a try many, many moons ago, and lasted for all of 45 minutes before declaring it 'most definitely not for me, but thanks!' and then happily spent the rest of the group's ski day sitting by the fire and swimming in the (indoor) pool. I do love cross-country skiing, so long as it's, well, flat. My backyard does just fine for that.
And so, with Annabel's happy ski face on my mind, I've got about eight months to sort out my strategy. Maybe there's a way to convince them they'd have more fun without me, and that really I should stay home all alone and knit by the fire all day. Or maybe I could tell them that I could happily keep their gear warm and their food prepped in the lodge - while knitting by the fire? Or, perhaps I could talk them into upgrading to a mountain that has cross country trails - for the Mama who likes flat skiing. Or. Maybe I'll decided that in my fortieth year, I might just as well get to the top of that mountain and ski on down. (And maybe we only get more foolish with age.)
There's talk of spring around here, which disorients me each time I hear it. I'm still waiting for winter to start. It's been such a strange one this year - temperatures all over the gauge and of great extremes for the season, and with hardly any snow at all. The usual thick blanket of white that covers the left-behind mess of the inevitable incomplete autumn cleanup just has not arrived to do its beautiful blanketing (and covering up) thing it usually does. I think it might be a long mud season. Nobody's favorite.
Regardless, I've been hearing Steve talk to the neighbors about tapping the trees. (As you might imagine, all that talk and speculation about tapping the trees is just as important and takes just as much time (quite usually, more time) as actually tapping those trees and making the syrup itself.) The temperatures look just right for sugaring in the forecast ahead - warm in the days, cool at night, so the sap can do its thing. Perhaps we'll get some taps out there today. And I'll look at the calendar and block off the Sundays ahead as we know now that they will be spent boiling, standing under the woodshed (someday we'll get fancy and make a sugar shack. Maybe.), boots thick with mud, steam coming off the evaporator and a healthy mix of warm sun and cool wind in the air. I do love long boiling days. It's nothing that requires a lot of work, not manual work anyway. But we are outside all day. It feels like an acclimation of sorts - a slow start to what is to come. Because soon enough, we hit the ground running. Sheep will need shearing, hoofs trimmed, bulbs planted, seeds started, garden readied, chicks ordered, baby goats (might) arrive, and on and on.
But it isn't just the wacky weather that's leading me to believe spring really is around the corner. It's also the calendar and the slight shift I feel in our family days. Last week heralded the end of Calvin's first nordic ski season, with the crew bringing home the state championship title. (A slightly weak and shortened season though it was, for it turns out that snow is a pretty big part of that whole nordic skiing thing. Who knew?). Ezra just wrapped up a long and wonderful run as Linus in a production of the Charlie Brown Musical. And though there is always the hope for spring skiing, this week marks the end of our regular trip to the mountain (and the last Tuesday dress of the year as well!).
And just this weekend, everyone decided on their summer camps and adventures - deposits mailed off and calendar filling up. As the talk of summer camps heated up and final decisions were made, this little one piped in with her request. Not one to allow for her own exclusion, and never one to be called or considered a "baby" (the horrors!), she was quite certain that a few weeks away at sleepaway camp would be just right for her this summer. And while we didn't indulge that request exactly, we did find a nice and just-right day camp for a week that she's beyond thrilled with. Never has a four year old of ours done such a thing or wanted such a thing. (I'm tickled to be surprised by them. Over and over again. And I wonder, how can five children from the same family be so completely different? But they are, and I love it so.)
Though this winter was an exceptional one, I do feel that they're all just going a bit faster than I remember them ever to have done before. The seasons are flying, and with them, the years. Cliche, and yet it's just oh so true. Spring comes faster each year, I'm sure of it. But each time, there is something new, something a little bit different than the one before, something that makes this season - quick though it may be flying by - all its own. And those little things, those tiny details, they make right now pretty fabulous, don't they? I think so. Whatever the season.
Just barely in, and now I'm headed back out. Eek! With Taproot, I'll be at the Winter Conference for NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) in Burlington, Vermont for a stretch of days. No, that isn't exactly what an introvert home-loving Mama is naturally inclined to do. But sometimes, the schedule just falls this way and soon enough - I tell myself - I'll have long stretches of February days at home where surely I'll be longing for something to do. Ah. Soon enough.
On this brief touchdown into home, I've tried my best to not worry about unpacking (or packing!), work of any kind, or diving into anything more than play. I think I've done a successful job of it - following my children around begging them to play with me. Let's read a book! Let's build a huge tower with some magnatiles! Can I come do your chores with you? Name your favorite pizza topping and I'll make it! I think, quite honestly, they're all thinking I'm ridiculous and will be just as happy when I get out the door again, so they can get back to their play and work without Mama hovering in a strange way. But I have a few moments before I have to really get out the door and I'm sure I can squeeze in one more round of checkers. And I might have time to make some rice pudding. Surely they can't refuse that love!
(Are you attending NOFA-VT this weekend? Come say hi! I'll be at the Taproot booth in the Exhibitor's Hall.)
Calvin turned fifteen this weekend. FIFTEEN! I have hardly any words, except, wow. He's a pretty cool kid that I'm so fully enjoying watch turn into a man. I wouldn't mind if it all slowed down a bit, but then I get just as excited about what is around the next corner for him too. And so I keep hanging on, soaking up our moments together when I can. I drove a small gaggle of his old buddies to the mountain for a day of skiing - all homeschoolers who are now off on their various high school adventures and see each other a lot less now than they did for the ten years prior. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Teenagers aren't scary. I love these kids, and it is an absolute delight to watch them growing, picking up their childhood silliness right where they left off, slipping into maturity and dipping their toes into adulthood. So much has changed - and yet not at all. After a day of playing hard on the mountain, they all fell asleep in the back of the van on the ride home. Sleeping, the energetic, gangly, deep-voiced men they are becoming slipped away and I saw them just as I remember after a day of play in the park years ago - tucked in and tuckered out in their car seats. Oh, time. Brownies and ice cream at home with the family woke him up for round two of the day. It was a good one.
I spent the next day in New Hampshire, getting ready for our Into the Woods Gathering, coming up next week. We cleaned, unpacked, and began to make space - both literal and figurative - for the adventure that is to come there. I'm noticing how very much February has changed for me in years past. It used to challenge me so, but I seem to have sorted out some ways of making that not so much the case anymore. Adventures planned, creative ventures pursued. And the ever-present and always growing list of places to go and things to do that the kids request and require. A growing and changing family, I suppose, will do just that. Each with more on their plates, exciting opportunities that just can't be refused, and the driver who is required for everything (but not forever! Driver's Ed starts this month, heaven help me!). But with the growth in desires also comes the growth in ability and possibility - no longer do we need to worry about the dreaded 3pm accidental "nap" in the car (and the corresponding midnight bedtime), and no longer am I the one remembering to pack hats for seven or reminding everyone to use the bathroom before we go anywhere! Growing up, they are. And with that shift, more space is made for different kinds of days. It's all so bittersweet. But mostly sweet.
These are the things I was thinking about last night, as I sat down for the first time in front of the fire at the end of another busy and full weekend. A tiny gin and tonic, and a just-dried, newly-dyed skein of my yarn in lap, not having enough energy left do anything with it other than sit, hold it, and think about what it might be come. Oh, these pauses amidst the busy days. The celebrations that mark each passing year. And the ritual and rhythm of family life - ever changing but always present and guiding us along. How grateful I am for those moments.
Adelaide has been creating a flurry of needle felted projects lately. Well, she's been doing that for years, really, but in the past few months a renewed and energized passion has emerged and her technique is getting more refined and the finished objects more solid. She's decided, after much discussion, to take part in a kids art show/sale later this year. The discussion coming mostly from us, as she articulately and perfectly defended her hope and wishes to be in an art fair. We were worried about all the things that parents of ten year old artists worry about, I suppose. What will it feel like if your things don't sell? What about making art for the sake of making art and not worrying - at the sweet age of just ten - about putting a price on what you make? Each question she answered with such maturity and insight. She'll be fine, we have no doubt now. She's ready. (Though her preference, honestly, is to give everything she makes away....and something close to that might just be what she does! I'm excited to see how this all evolves.)
She has plenty of ideas and things she's made in the past that she thinks will be just right for such a craft sale, and hot on the heels of quite a few Waldorf school fairs and handmade holiday sales, a lot of new things she wants to try too. The baskets are filling and piling up around her in her bedroom/studio (the floor of which most certainly resembles a fiber studio these days!) - bundles of felted fruits and vegetables, rattles, ornaments, dryer balls, felt art, and so much more. She doesn't stop. And she claims that everything she's made so far is just practice - she wants to keep tweaking it all.
One big part of the exploration for her lately has been the abundance of roving in our home. I think for the first two years of our fleece coming in, we were a little bit protective of it all! Wanting to save it for just the right thing, or making sure that it was put to good, honorable use. But something shifted last year, and both she and I started to give ourselves more permission for play and experimentation with it all. That freedom really was a bit of weight lifted, and an acknowledgment that experimentation is just as precious - maybe more so - than perfect. And, well, it's fun.
We are blessed with a wide variety of color in the sheep in our pasture. Oh, those sweet Shetlands and their colors! But most of all, there is lots and lots of white. White which can be any color we decide it to be! How fun is that? We've done some natural dyeing here and there - more in the summertime - but she was requesting some serious pops of color for her projects."Mom, I cannot make a felted banana the color of red onion skin dyed wool." Right. I ordered some Jacquard acid-dye (though I got a little bit of this for the next round to try out) and we got to work this weekend, taking up the better part of a day playing with roving and dye and needles. We followed, generally, the instructions here for the dye we used, and were so happy with the results, though there were a few surprises (like the "olive" that ended up coming out the very same brown that we have from our brown sheep!).
As we worked, we had the company of Harper and Annabel at the kitchen table with us - each happily immersed in their own needle felting projects. It looks like Adelaide might just have some happy felting elves she can put to work.
I dare say that these five might have been the only ones around here who were happy with this weekend's rain, rain, and more rain. We watched as the pond quickly transformed from ice skating rink back to a swimming pool for ducks, or at least a few inches of a pool on top of the ice skating pond. (Oh, but all that rain and then a quick hard freeze will make for the best skating of all for the rest of the year - fingers crossed!).
And while these five would have preferred skiing, sledding, skating or anything of that sort, I'd say that we handed it quite well, inside as we were. It's such a sharp contrast, after the epic accumulation and length of last winter, to be here in January with a bare and mushy ground, wishing for a good old fashioned Nor'Easter. That will come, no doubt. And soon I'll be tripping over the snow gear at the door, putting those ice skates on and off once again, as we search for the lost mitten.
For now, I'm pleased with cozy weekends, inside and dry, by the fire. And of course, we're all quite happy for those ducks.
(Without too much thinking about it, I grabbed the first image from each month that spoke to me. I love what emerged!) Oh what a year that was! At the beginning of last year, I made a toast to, and set an intention for adventure. And adventure I got in 2015! Bali (Bali! Did I really go to Bali?), my first trip to the West Coast, my first trip alone with Steve in fifteen years, the beginnings of a high school adventure for our family, a new job for Papa, many solo overnight trips with each kiddo, and oh my goodness, so many other things along the way. It was a full year, to say the least, and frankly, at the end of it - feeling under the weather still to boot - I'm exhausted from all that this year held for us! We celebrated New Year's Eve in a very different fashion than usual for us this year - quietly at home, just the eight of us. I missed the big crew and the lively festivities that usually happen here with all those we love, and we'll get back to that soon enough. But last night, for this moment in time, and into this new year, I'm intending and toasting to quiet intimacy for our little crew. With each other, here at home. Because surely there are many more exciting life adventures in store for us in 2016, many of which we can't even begin to imagine yet. But I hope and intend to be certain we always have a healthy balance of home, peace, and our connection to each other. That's just how we'll kick off this year.
Cheers to 2016! And Cheers to you, friends, for your thoughtful connection to this space I treasure so dearly!
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, our holiday making this year wasn't focused on a singular project, but rather a whole lot of different little things. It worked best for this year - for where everyone is at at the moment, for the time we had, and for the interests we all have. Not to mention, the varied gift list. The two weeks leading up to Christmas giving were busy days for making, with a factory in nearly every room, and - thank goodness - at least three (sometimes five) busy bees happily working on their tasks. Truly, I was amazed at how the energy flowed in those tasks amongst the kidst. Sibling peace and harmony in a family with five children is not something that's always present, to state the obvious. But united in the task of making something for someone, with a deadline to boot, these kids of mine rallied big time, and it was a delight to be a part of.
I tried to remember to stop when I could to take a photo here and there, but failed in many regards. My hands were often too busy or full or just plain messy to pick up that camera. But when I did, as you'll see below, there was no time for clearing a table to take a pretty picture. I kind of love the snippets of our busy days that are creeping into all four corners of each photo. They tell the story of this year's making!
And so...onto some of the gifts we made to share with friends and family....
Inspired greatly by our friend Lupine (and using her recipe), we decided to make play dough for all of the cousins. Given the quantity of the dough we were making (42 jars!), the knowledge that all the recipients were old enough to know not to eat the dough, and with a desire for lots of color, we skipped the natural dye and went straight for the treat of a large set of Chefmaster food dye gel. I wish I had taken a better photograph of the jars - and the colors - as each was labeled with the name the kids gave it. Cotton Candy was pink with geranium essential oil, Oh Christmas Tree had sage oil, and Sweet Dreams was lavender with lavender oil, and on and on. My favorite perhaps being Harper's Blood & Guts (when he got a little carried away with the red food coloring). We also purchased a few of these softdough sets, added some extra rolling pins, and divided all of that up to put in the bags as well. I loved this project most of all because it really was entirely child-driven. They needed my help with ordering materials, of course, and with printing the labels. But the rest was all them, and they did it beautifully.
Meanwhile, in my studio, for the very same cousins, I was busy making Moon Pants. A whole LOT of moon pants. I think I made a few of these in my sleep, though I'm not certain. Pulling quite a bit from my stash, it was fun dreaming up which print belonged with which child. And though these were a ton of fun to make and simple enough too, I wouldn't mind if I don't make another pair for a very long time. Yawn.
The same might be said for big needles and cowls in particular. I will be quite alright if my hands do not hold a size 15 needle for many months to come (maybe this is the moment I embrace sock knitting?). That said, I really did enjoy knitting each and every one of these, with great help from a few good audio books and some decent TV watching on my laptop (The Time In Between - a Spanish drama - for one, and also how did I miss that there was a Season 4 of Call the Midwives? Yeah. Three full seasons of those consumed while knitting these cowls! Indulgence!). Oh, and the cowls, themselves. They are the Drop Stitch Cowl and a few Spiral Cowls thrown in for good measure, both by SpiderWomanKnits. I knit them mostly in Malagrigo Rios, but there is also some Cascade Magnum and Brown Sheep Burly Spun in there. The Rios is my favorite, though it makes for a shorter (and more expensive, eek!) cowl. All lovely, though, and I think well received. Who doesn't need one more squishy cowl? Exactly.
And there was some more knitting. Hats for those nieces and nephews deemed too old for Moon Pants. These were made without a pattern, just whipped up in bulky and super bulky yarn. And I think I got the best prize of the year in handmade giving with that blue one up there. I was hesitant to add a pom-pom for my nephew - an eight year old boy, new to the family no less. But I had a hunch that he was a pom pom kinda guy. And his delight at opening that with its silly pom pom, and then wearing it all day long without taking his hands off the top of the hat? That's all a knitting gift maker needs, really. Just that one thing all season, and how lucky that I got it from that little guy! (Thank you, Keagan! Hats for you always, kid!)
There were some dryer ball sets sent out into the world this holiday season too! With a few decorated balls (thanks, Adelaide) and a few plain, directions on using them, and a tiny jar of lavender essential oil all bundled in a muslin bag. To my delight, the recipients actually knew what they were and were thrilled! Hooray!
Phew! I'm getting tired now. Are you? We're almost done here, hang in there. I had hopes of many rope baskets being made, but in the end, it was just one person who received them. My Mama, who has been not so subtly hinting about them since I first made them last spring. I'm glad she waited though, because I think she ended up getting the one I love most of all. Something about this shape is so pleasing to me, and I loved incorporating little pieces of fabric into it for the first time. There will be plenty more of that to come (and now I'm getting really excited about teaching how to make these at our Into The Woods retreat next month!).
And last but not least, the work of Papa and Harper. Sets of birch bark candle holders, bundled up with twine and greens and a golden acorn (because gold spray paint is just too much fun). I managed to squirrel a few more of these away for myself and I'm so glad I did. They're sweet and bright and I love them so.
And that, my friends, was some of the making we've been up to these past few weeks. I hope there is some inspiration for your future gift giving in there, or perhaps some ideas for snowy winter January days. Ah! Snowy, quiet January days - they're here! Whatever will we make next......
Greetings! I'm Amanda Blake Soule - mother of five, author of three books on family creativity, and editor-in-chief of Taproot Magazine. I live with my family in an old farmhouse in Western Maine where we raise animals, grow vegetables and make lots of things. I write about it all here on the blog. Thank you for visiting!