On the Farm

"Remember tomorrow is farm day" this phrase more times than not is met with groans. Farm day means an earlier than usual morning, it means we are up and out with no lazing about. And, right now it means we take Daddy to work adding to our driving time. Don't get me wrong, my kids love the farm, but it is definitely not an easy day, and there are times I have to force myself to get up and go, so I don't hold it against them.

Garlic fields a few weeks ago
 The drive to the farm is quiet as usual. Bobby pouts in the backseat contemplating whether he should've chosen to go to work with Dad instead, he does sometimes. Lena nods off staring out the window, I'm pretty sure her and Kira stayed up late talking again last night. Kira plays with the radio, today Claire's current favorite song, the song we started singing to ourselves as she weeded next to me last week, comes on. I look at her in the review mirror lip syncing, punching her fists into the air and I start singing along changing the words "This is my fight song!" to "This is our weeding song!" She giggles, Lena (she wasn't really sleeping) lifts her head from the window and looks at her sister, a big smile on her face.

Hoop house and flowers
By the time we turn down the drive and pass the large rock, the rock the kids play on, fight over, and rest on when they tire of farm work, the rock they've claimed as their own, by then, everyone is in good spirits. We spy Beth. Cheerful, sweet Beth who makes the farm a wonderfully sunny place even on the rainiest days, a dog always at her heals, a smile for everyone. The kids love her, so do I.

We are given a couple of options, our choices are few today since we got here much later than usual. The days planned work is almost done, but it doesn't take long to come up with more work if we finish these before we're ready to go. There's always work to be done on the farm. We decide to spend some time on an experiment meant to discourage weeds.

Running for cover
We break down boxes and cover the just planted rutabaga, hopefully giving it some time to germinate without the weeds taking over before it will need the sunlight. It's hot today, muggy, and even though we've only been working for about half an hour the kids are loosing steam and feeling miserable, but they keep working, slowly.

As we weigh down the last piece of cardboard it starts to rain. Not a light drizzle, or even a sprinkling, its a downpour. I run for the nearby hoop house to take cover, but the kids laugh, tip their heads back and drink it all in. They're dancing, cheering, immediately soaked to the bone, and re-energized.

Sweet relief
We make our way back to the barn, Joannée, the farmer, the one who runs the show, is there with Beth now. They talk with the kids while I wash up, laughing at their rain dances. We spend the rest of the afternoon planting kale starters that will go in the fields this fall, we check out the tiny sprouted Kale we planted last week, "they're so cute," There are some other volunteers in the greenhouse helping us. We talk about libraries, and growing up, and beer. A young farm employee helps Bobby and Claire with the soil blocker. At some point Claire decides she's done with farm work and wanders off to find something more interesting. She checks in on the chickens, plays in the flower beds, and pops in now and again to help Kira spray out trays.

Making labels
Bobby starts pacing, bored of his job as Beth comes in, we've run out of seeds so she's helping us decide which to plant next and offers a different job for Bobby if he's interested, he declines, she smiles at my frustration with his aloofness and I'm reminded the farm isn't his thing. She comments that he's good when he's not working, and is a big help when he is. She's right, I let him go.  He wanders over to visit the chickens, of course.

I decide to weed the bed Bobby didn't want to while I wait for the Lena and another worker to get the soil blocks ready for seeds. I love pulling weeds.

Happy Hens
Claire comes back asking to leave, she's wet and muddy and has added tomato juice and seeds to the mess on her shirt. the result of a delicious, ripe sungold she found and popped in her mouth moments ago. I check my phone, 2 hours exactly. Like clockwork this kid. She is pretty much done and gets fidgety, asking if it's time to go, at exactly 2 hours. I convince her we should stay a little while longer to finish seeding, then head back to the barn to sign out and tally our hours so far this year. Being able to count the kids hours, adjusted for nonworking time, as well as my own means we've already met our yearly commitment. From here on out we will earn extra farm credits for our extra hours, to be used on all the extra veggies the 6 of us eat. Maybe we'll splurge on some meat from one of the animal farms Stone Coop, our farm, has teamed up with this year.

Beth and Joannée talk to the girls about volunteering for another farm dinner, they've had to cancel a couple due to lack of ticket sales, this one will be a big party/fund raiser for an ex-employee wanting to go through the State college's organic farming program. The girls beam. They loved working the past dinners and appreciate that they're work is valued. Along with me, each of the kids are thanked for their hard work as we leave.

Prince Charming?
The ride home is nothing like the ride in. The kids are cheerful and chatty and tired in the best way. The tomatoes we took as we left are eaten, their flavors compared and discussed. We pull in the drive, back home at last, and the car is empty before my seat belt is undone. Everyone is yelling as they burst through our door and race to the bathroom. Lena wins today, I hadn't even notice she took the house key from the car. Claire cries a little, she'd claimed first shower all the way back at the farm. Lena apologizes from the shower. She'll be fast she promises.

The  rest of our day is relaxed, movies and games and dinner. As I tuck Claire in she tells me the best parts of her day, dancing in the rain makes number 1 of course, but there's also playing in the dirt, finding the toad, and visiting the chickens. Oh and learning not all tomatoes taste the same and she really does like them, just not from the store.

This was my day

I attempted to tweet bits of the day today, but each time I started, something came up and the moment escaped. I was kind of bummed and trying to figure out a way to summarize the silliness of today in 140 characters or less then thought, why not just write a blog post? So, this was my day

I tried to get out of it. I wasn't really in the mood to chase them around the mosquito infested yard with my camera, but Bobby hadn't been able to convince Kira to be photographer and after begging all day yesterday, he'd finally convinced Lena and Claire to take part in his Zombie Apocalypse series. I couldn't let the momentum he'd built fizzle because I was too lazy to help out, so I slipped on my sandals and followed him out the door.

The footage is shaky, the lines in each scene are few, vague, and unrehearsed. Most scenes are ad-libbed and I'm not sure anyone who wasn't there during filming will have any clue what is supposed to be going on, but I could be wrong. What I didn't get on film, and maybe I should have, were the giggles, the discussions about what should happen next, and the critiques of who did what wrong.

When we walked back into the house for the attic shots we were laughing and talking about the next scene, that's all it took to get Kira roped into the fun. She took over filming and directing, I took my cue and stepped back gratefully. They worked out the details for the next few scenes and Claire and Kira turned Bobby into the initial zombie who turns innocent little Claire (yes Claire who only a week or two ago couldn't stand the sight of zombie makeup online) into a monster at the end of episode one. I watched the rest from the kitchen, where I've been trying to turn a sad space into somewhere I'll enjoy spending hours a day, happy to see them working together, laughing, arguing, making. And happy to have some time to organize the pots and pans in peace.

I made lunch, they ate it in bits as they went in and out grabbing this or that to add to the zombie costume. They took pictures and showed me and I cringed, I don't love the zombie theme.

It's been a while since they worked on a film together. I'm not sure why their film making is so special to me. Why I encourage it more than some of their other making. Maybe because it includes much of their other making at some point, make believe, costume creating, makeup, writing, sketching, computer edits and effects. Maybe it's because it's one of the few things that all 4 of them, and anyone else willing, do together. Maybe it's because movies are something that, despite my efforts, have become a favorite past time for all of them and making something you love to consume makes it even more special. Maybe it's just because making movies is cool and fun and I love the idea of having a library of their films to look back through.

They've settled in for their evening routine of watching movies and shows now, Bobby has cleaned up but dark circles of makeup remain around his eyes, and Claire's blue hairspray has spread to cover her face and hands. I hope I can convince her to shower before bed. Leftover bits of a full day of making and fun.

It's not about sewing

When people see or hear about my kids sewing, most think it's pretty great, everyone comments on their creativity and no one says, out right, that it's a waste of time.

L's first dress, designed and sewn herself
They don't point out any obvious flaws and seem genuinely impressed with the finished product. They want to be supportive and encouraging. And, for the most part they are. I love the feedback my kids get and they grow immeasurably in the light that the wonderful people in our lives shine on their hard work. Most of our friends and family, this is what they give, in endless waves, building and encouraging.

 K and her cousin made a playmat for a teacher's first baby
Inevitably, though, there's that one person who, as the kids walk away, or occasionally just before, turns the conversation to the usefulness of such a skill. There is almost always someone who, in essence, says sure it's a neat thing to know how to do, but it's so much more costly to sew your own clothes nowadays. You can buy stuff so cheap and fabric is pricey. Or maybe they imply, there aren't many good jobs in the field of fashion design, seamstresses aren't paid high wages. Oh, but maybe they could work in costume design for movies! In fact, maybe, there have been times when that person was me.

C's first time solo at the machine, a gift for a cousin's birthday
 But, here's the thing...It's not about the sewing. Sure, if my kids choose a job in the fashion, sewing, fabric, or textile fields (of which I am quite sure there are opportunities) they may have a leg up being exposed so young, but maybe not and, really now, they're kids, we're not planning career paths just yet.

B's first sewing project a tree decoration we still use every winter solstice.

No it's not about the sewing. They sew because I sew and it's accessible.

What it's really about is taking that thing in their mind and making it real. It's about seeing an idea, turning it over, looking at it from every angle and figuring out how to share it with the world.

They do this in other ways too. They do it with their drawings, their stories, their Minecraft worlds, the small businesses they start, the skits they perform for us, the movies they write, direct, film and edit, the dances they choreograph for family get togethers, and the video game designs and animations they dabble in.

K designed and sewed herself a medieval costume
So while I'd be proud if any of them chose to pursue a career that put the sewing skills to good use, it's not about the sewing. Instead, lets talk about the research, the trial and error the figuring out when to ask for help and when to plow through. Or about setting deadlines and falling short, all the times it goes wrong . The tears and tantrums and try it agains.

Lets talk about that feeling you get when you add that small detail or find the perfect ribbon that makes all the hard work so worth it because the finished product is even better than you ever could have imagined it would be.

L attaching her first zipper, an invisible zipper. A squeal worthy accomplishment.
Yes, I'd much rather, after we build my kids up, filling their buckets with our beautiful comments, if we could then talk about learning how to learn, learning we are capable, learning we'll mess up and it'll still be fine because that right there, the process, that's what it's really about.

The Pirate Quilt

Ah the pirate quilt. Took me about 9 years from dreaming it up to finished. It's taken me over a year to blog about it. It's like my ultimate procrastination triumph. Never give up! 
I started this quilt with a fair amount of confidence, 3 years sewing experience in my pocket, but not a whole lot of real skill beyond the basics. This quilt was all about pushing my limits. Every piece I dreamed up required techniques I hadn't mastered.

I do this a lot with sewing, rarely using a pattern or changing it drastically when I do, adding details I have no idea how to work with. I think we all need these things in our lives. Something to show us that when we push our skills we grow. Something that maybe we don't have to take too seriously, that gives us the courage to test our limits.

Goodness, this pirate quilt is so loaded for me. There are many different directions I can go with its story. This is my 3rd attempt in a week and if I hadn't given myself this deadline, done today or move on, I'd still be working on it. 

We can talk about the growth in my sewing skills, the late nights after finally putting babies to bed working a little here and there while trying to stay awake long enough to make it through a movie with my husband. 

Or, how much I learned about fabric. When you spend that much time with a piece of fabric, you get to know it intimately. Bottom line, don't skimp on the big projects and PJs are perfect trial runs for anything.

I could tell you how each piece reminds me of the growing boy who waited so patiently for his quilt, piping in with ideas of his own. How while I was working on the palm tree, one of my most favorite, skill stretching pieces, my boy had fallen in love with Franz Ferdinand and would request his song then bop along to the fun beat while I maneuvered each leaf through the machine, sketching with my needle

I could go on about work spaces. The kitchen table set up I had, with a wall plug just a hair too far away, which caused an innocent hop over a stretched out cord to send my machine crashing to the floor bending metal bits in impossible places at impossible angles, and how that led to a basement studio near to the playroom that sounded like a good idea but, out of sight out of mind, my sewing frequency slowed. 

We can share frustrations, the times it was put aside and sat until the guilt of not working on it for ages became unbearable, or a burst of excited inspiration caused it to be picked back up. And how the stories that fill those moments in between, when it was set aside, they are here too. Little reminders in each stitch of all the life happening along the way.

We could talk about how much I learned about learning and how infrequently I applied that knowledge when we first started homeschooling, even though I really wanted to and knew it was the best way, for me and my kids. 

Or, how about the nuts and bolts of it all? How I did the appliques, each piece has it's own method. And the hand quilting I opted for. Having burned through two sewing machines by then, I was left with only my daughter's, too small to handle a twin size quilt, Hello Kitty Janome. which is actually much nicer than either of my other machines ever were. I loved laying the quilt down on the carpeted living room floor, a book under the spot I planned to quilt next, to sketch the swirls in the water, the ropes of the ship, the fish hidden throughout. Then sitting with needle and thread on winter evenings, cozy under it, many times my boy snuggled next to me his patience wearing as the finishing seemed so close. It was already getting regular use even before it was done.

See loaded. I've already rambled on and on and I've just scratched the surface of all I see and feel when I look at this quilt, at these nine years of my life, at the time I've had with my boy who is quickly becoming a young man. (he has assured me he will cherish it forever, will never be too old for its childish appliques and embroidery, and plans to pass it on to his own children one day)

I could go on for days. I haven't started another quilt since finishing this one, but my youngest and I have started planning hers. Actually we started planning long before the pirate quilt was done, and she and her brother still shared a room, and so Mermaids and sea creatures it is. We've started buying the fabric. She's much older than her brother was when I started his quilt, but I'm faster and have learned to dedicate more time to my sewing so I'm confident we'll have it finished up before she's 9...maybe...we can dream. And even if it takes another nine years to finish it, we will have another nine years of learning and growing and memories wrapped up in the finished quilt. I think I can handle that.

A Farewell to Steve (our paper--mâché friend)

I feel like this is a strange post to come back here with after such a long absence, but the kids insisted that Steve get the farewell he deserves.

For those who never met Steve, he was an accident, he was never supposed to be. But a goofed attempt at a piñata led to the creation of Steve, and a brother and cousin refusing to take part in the girls' big movie brought Steve to life in his first role as "the groom" in their inaugural film.

After that he became a part of our everyday lives. Steve helped us out in a moment of need, playing the part of scarecrow when a crazed bird was relentlessly bashing itself into our window trying to get to the trees reflected in it. He loved playing the creepy silhouette on the porch to scare tick-or-treaters on Halloween. But, most of the time he could be found modeling the gowns and capes L or I designed and sewed. He wore them well, and always with a little extra flare.

Yesterday Steve was unceremoniously laid to rest. Too many late nights spent in a damp basement led to a soggy noggin and after holding on for the past month or so with a misshapen, flattened form he finally began to fall apart. We started finding a piece of stiff paper here, a pile of floury dust there. When he lost an eye we finally accepted his fate and said our good-byes with a promise to never forget our Steve and the wonderful acting, haunting, and general support he showed for all of our projects.

There are plans in the works for attempting a reincarnation, alas we all know the second Steve can never be the same as the first, but his legacy will live on in the paper-mâché heads of tomorrow. Steve you were loved, you will be missed, you will live on in our hearts and projects evermore.

The Bigness

A few weeks ago I sat comforting and hugging this sweet little 6 year old as she mourned the fact that all the other kids in this house have been turned into boring, playless, big kids. "It's the biggness" she sobbed as one after another told her they didn't want to go outside and play her games.

I'm sure some of this intense emotion is related to her best friend and cousin being at the hospital every time the rest of her cousins come to visit. It's been an emotional few months for all of us. We do our best to make sure they have time together when Abby is home and healthy. And her siblings really do play with her quite a bit, if not always on her terms.

I haven't done a very good job of sticking with my promise to go outside and take wintery pictures every day. I can blame it on the fact that I left my camera at my brother's...again. (Though this time was to visit a sweet new niece) Or, on the fact that, even if we love the snow, it's been really, really, cold. But, I won't. I could still make it happen and I'm a little bummed that I haven't.

So, on this particular day last week. A day when the temperatures rose just a hair. A day that a brother and sisters, suffering a bad case of the bigness, absorbed in their video games and books and projects, each replied no to the pleadings of a little sister. On this sunny, beautifully blue and white day, I said yes. And what a grand adventure we had.

We traveled the globe in our own backyard, played with the animals in her imagination and even built a home, a place to lay our heads, before our journey ended just as the sun dipped below the treeline. It was beautiful and magical and just the thing I needed to shrink my own bigness, embrace the day and the season, and fall in love, once again, with this beautiful life.

Finding Comfort

I actually wrote this a few months ago, while my niece was having her surgery. It felt too real to share at the time, but I want to remember these feeling, this moment in time. I don't want it to be lost in a list of drafted, never published posts, so here it is.

My heart is so tired lately. All the worry, sadness, and truly amazing things happening around me everyday are exhausting.

I am finding some comfort in meditative stitching, working on a quilt that has been in the making for 9 years now, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And in appreciating how truly blessed I am by spending more time really watching and listening to my kids during the times I have them all to myself.

And in the fun and engaging distractions my Adobe Generation Pro courses give me when I need to quiet my mind.

And, in the kindness and generosity of friends who send meals for my sister's family, while they travel an impossibly rough road.