autumn days

Saturday, December 31, 2011

outdoor winter adventures

Here in the Willamette Valley, some often complain of our eight months of endless rain and gray skies.  I usually bundle up inside and watch the weather from the kitchen.  Reflecting on my parenting and wanting my children to love the great outdoors, I feel an inner pressure to get them out there into it all.  My Waldorf friends and my environmental classes are finally rubbing off on me.  Or it could be our passion for Little House books.  We are now reading The Long Winter and Hannah is eagerly awaiting our first big blizzard of the year.  (She'll have to keep waiting.)  We know kids are healthier outdoors and the weather here has been remarkably mild.  It's just a matter of bundling up and getting our nature deficient kids out there.  I'd like to get outside for a daily walk, perhaps one that includes lunch or a park.  We usually just head out for riding bikes and investigating the bugs and leaves and mud.  Sometimes we are able to stop at a nearby park or head to the beach.  Regardless of the weather, we hear the great outdoors calling to us.  Sometime soon we'll head out the door for another adventure.  But why wait?  Let's go now!

little Liam discovers leaves and a mud puddle after a windstorm

Hannah following her brother's example and plunging into the mud puddle

thinking about climbing to the top

running past Liam's decorated cherry tree

scaling logs on the Oregon beach

trying to bury the little Liam, but his foot is resisting

I love how these two love each other.

chasing his missing shoe out of a great pit

"It's not a snow angel, Papa.  It's a sand angel."

Does that say "Bow down to Washington?"  No, it says Bath Night.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Philip Foster Farm

This month we were thrilled to go on a homeschool field trip at Philip Foster Farm.  Hannah and I are reading Laura Ingall's Wilder's seventh Little House book.  This farm brought Laura's world to life for us.  As we were waiting for our adventures to start, our toes began to freeze.  They stayed that way through the field trip, as there was little heating in any of the buildings.  They were authentically cold. We sang jingle bells while pointing out the one horse open sleigh in the barn.  A blacksmith hardened steel the children had twisted, created a square-headed nail, and showed us around his shop.  The kids hopped onto a 1914 wagon, used a cross-cut saw, read stories upstairs in the cold bedroom, gnawed on hard gingerbread cookies, and looked through tools.  One challenge of the day was the shortage of volunteers and a lack of acknowledging children's wishes to sing Jingle Bells with the old time piano.  And it was so cold, but that added to our experience.  We really enjoyed how Philip Foster Farm brought Laura's adventures to life outside the beloved books.  (After our visit, I checked out all the Little House extension books I could find.  So far my favorite is The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure.)  We look forward to attending an open-to-everyone event at the farm in the near future.

Hannah cross-cutting in my childhood prairie dress and her own Mickey Mouse jacket

1914 wagon and a little covered wagon in the background

sacred Thanksgiving

Each year we gather our families together to celebrate Thanksgiving day.  This occasionally includes my parents, yet this year they were at the coast celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary.  All our guests this year were  from my husband's side of the family: his cousins, a cousin's mother, brother, sister-in-law, nephews, and a niece.  We prepared a 20-pound turkey for our party of 18.  As Hannah gets older, she is more involved and excited by making holidays special.  This year she created the decorations.  My husband and I prepared some edible staples (turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing) and left to the rest to our visitors.  It was a festive comfortable gathering.  I am so thankful to have this one day to assemble everyone under one roof.  It is easy to leave family drama behind with my straight-shooting in-laws.  Or maybe I don't see much drama because I know it isn't mine.

Each year we come together over our Thanksgiving meal in different ways.  Last year we went to my brother-in-law's home with our seven-week old-son.  This year my baby boy is running instead of sleeping.  We have lost a member and welcomed three new baby boys into our family circle.  A cousin's father has sadly passed on after a long battle with cancer.  Our health continues to change as we grow older.

In trying to cherish and preserve this sacred time together, I wish for so many rituals yet to be practiced.  I want us all to gather together, to sit down and eat at one long table, and for us each to give express our gratitude for any part of our lives.  I'd also love to roast a few organic chickens in a variety of ways in place of a general turkey.  I fantasize about getting a tablecloth everyone can sign year and year and embroidering over the signatures to show the history of our group.  Change is inevitable, yet it doesn't always happen quickly when we want it to.  Often times changes happen too quickly.  For now, I shall be content to spend the next year dreaming up activities to help us share our gratitude with one another.  I am thankful to have this family with which to share this sacred day.

We decorated our Thanksgiving tree with 20 of our favorite little turkeys.

foam+ googly eyes+ a bottle of white glue= one of our favorite turkey day decorations

acrostic poems with our guests' names

an awesome book I found after Thanksgiving

a thankfulness tree we may try out next year

Portland Scrap

Today we ventured out with my mom and friends to Scrap in northeast Portland.  It was our second time there, yet there were so many new treasure to find.  We sifted through bins and boxes of bottle caps, beads, yarn, cards, fabrics, and wooden scraps.  Hannah, my mom, and I bought everything our hearts desired (three bags of goodies) and spent about $15.  I was thrilled to take time to cherish the antique measuring scales, slide projector, and accordion.  My friend's three children usually stay focused together on a task for only 30 minutes, yet they stayed to hunt and craft in the back workroom for two hours.  Her children stayed busy painting, cutting, gluing, coloring, and planning other projects.  Hannah bought some tools to weave on plastic mesh like her great-grandmother.  We found stars of all sizes that we'll paint and decorate at home.  I bought embroidery thread so I can finally darn all my holey socks.  We purchased huge needles so Hannah can begin sewing on her own.  Scrap even has classes and summer camps.  The shop definitely had our creative inspirations flowing!  We are already plotting our return for more creative materials and ideas.

our smallest crafter enjoying a piece from the wood pile

chatting with friends and coloring wooden stars

walls of ideas

a roll of future grocery lists on a real cork board

Our Eight Nights of Hanukkah (kindergarten book club)

Inspired by our cousins and friends who celebrate Hanukkah, we hosted a party to celebrate the Festival of Lights.  With this book in hand, Our Eight Nights of Hanukkah, we gathered together with friends and family for holiday crafts, games, foods, music, and stories.  My Jewish friend who throws the most awesome Hanukkah parties thanked me for helping her child build strong holiday memories.  I hadn't thought of these children's book clubs in that way, but she is so true.  The adventures we share with our children, routine or random, help them build memories for their futures.  We aren't only having a great time, we are also helping our kids them to grow healthy within their childhood community.

sour cream atop latkes, mac'n'cheese, eggnog, and an olive penguin

decorating Star of David cookies

Star of David salt dough magic wands

Cedarwood Waldorf School's Winter Faire

This month we attended a Winter Faire at the Cedarwood Waldorf School.  The crafts and activities were quite impressive.  We entered the enchanted cookie coves, rolled and dipped beeswax candles, felted wool around soaps, took in a variety show, were anointed with fairy dust, made a wooden necklace, talked with students and teachers about the school, made new friends, and felt inspired to do more hands-on crafts at home.  We are so thankful our homeschool friends invited us to this event and we look forward to attending again next year.

Hannah hand-dipping beeswax candles all by herself

Winter Faire candles hanging to dry

showing off the rolled beeswax candles made for Hanukkah

Saturday, December 17, 2011

family stroke of gratitude

My parents called me yesterday as soon as they heard the news.  Last week my mom had a minor stroke which left her with permanent blind spots in her vision.  My independent, retired, loving-her-freedom mother is a few days from her 63rd birthday.  We hope tests will reveal her vision is the extent of the health challenges, but we are waiting.

My parents called me last night.  My father was fairly silent and my mother said she's not sad, everything is just fine, and she gets to ride city buses for free now.  I know she is frightened, yet she's open to new experiences.  This small stroke has made my mom count her blessings.  She is grateful for her family, her friends, her altered freedom.  I am also filled with gratitude.  I am thankful for the time I've had with my parents, that they know knows how much I love them, that my mom has had time and patience to work out kinks in her relationships with her mother, her husband, and myself.  I'm grateful that she adores her two grandchildren just as they adore her.  Grandchildren can do wonders for lightening the hearts of their grandparents.  Each day I am more grateful for the mother she was and the mother she continues to be.

This time sandwiched between aging parents and small children goes so quickly and is a time to be cherished.  We continue to observe and attempt to enjoy these changes together on this roller coaster of life.  None of us knows how much time we have together, and I am so fortunate to have this time with my mother.

Ladybug Girl and her grandma

Monday, December 5, 2011

Berenstain Bears and the Big Spelling Bee

Homeschooling is such an adventure.  We are all learning so much, just by attempting to learn as a family at home.  I am halfway between unschooling and structured sit-down instruction.  This means we go about our days playing with friends, seeing the sights, reading signs, working on mazes and workbooks, writing pen pal letters, and exploring the world around us.  Hannah's papa talks about work and responsibility and how to fix things.  He told me a few weeks ago that I really needed to focus on homeschooling and getting our just-turned-four daughter to read and write.  "Her (three year old) cousin's classmates are reading at a third grade level!  We've got to compete!"  Well, I know my daughter is doing just fine academically.  In my eyes, Hannah's incredible.  When her papa announced one morning she was going to have a spelling test, I did my best to step back and let him do his own thing.  He sat our daughter down for a test without ever teaching her how to spell any of the words.  And afterwards he sat her down and crossed off her words and showed her how to spell them correctly.  Not one to be entirely silent, I told him what I thought of his spelling tests.  "How do you expect her to know how to spell if you don't teach her and you just test her?"  He waited a week to give her a second spelling test.  Thankfully they had first practiced together and all the words ended with the same two letters.  Hot, spot, dot, pot, ....

When talking with a friend about spelling, she said she remembered learning to spell certain words as a child.  And I also recall learning new words.  At age 10, I practiced spelling as I sat on the curb in front of my house, waiting for my grandma to visit from Utah.  My spelling word was "neighbor."  My mom told me our old neighbor spelled this word "nerber," so spelling was indeed important to learn the skill of spelling.  I continue to learn spelling through helpful friends and spell check.  And my daughter is learning spelling in a variety of ways as well.

One of her favorite books right now is Berenstain Bears and the Big Spelling Bee.  It reminded me of my spouse's enthusiasm when he started that first spelling test for his own daughter.  In this book, Sister Bear learns spelling through reading many books.  After winning a spelling bee, Sister's papa strongly encourages her to cram for an upcoming spelling bee.  When Sister correctly spells vicarious to win the bee, Papa realizes he has been vicarious in "taking undo pleasure from the achievements of others."  And he steps back, as we all do from time to time when helping our children learn and grow.  Learning to write, like parenting, is a fine balance.  There are so many ways to learn to write.  As our children grow, we will discover new ways of balancing one another and of incorporating language into our world of home learning.

writing in her work portfolio

The Easter Egg Artists

Two years ago, Hannah and I read and loved The Easter Egg Artists book.  And we continue to come back to it for inspiration.  A few days ago I said, "When I grow up, I want to be a doctor and go to other countries to help people through the Doctors Without Borders program."  Hannah, now age four, responded with this.  "When I grow up, I want to travel all over the world and go shopping and be an artist and paint buildings like Easter Abbott."  (His real name is Orson.)  I can imagine Hannah in another land painting stripes and polka dots and flowers upon a bridge or airplane or skyscraper.  She will most certainly enjoy painting the world with beautiful colors.  And all inspired by another awesome book we found at our local library.

my two babes painting the world a glittering purple
upcycling old crayons and discovering vibrant colors

a rainbow of colors

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Clothing Cycle Continues

What is the life cycle of your clothing?  From where does it come and where does it go when it has expired?  My friends and I have been putting some thought and energy into using and sharing our clothing.  We continue to keep our children's clothing circulating between family and friends.  It is nice to see our boxes of clothes in constant circulation.  As an adult who doesn't enjoy shopping, I am very blessed to be able to make room for my friends' unloved clothing in my own closet.  Last week several female friends collected their unwanted clothing, threw it into a pile on my floor, and dove in to find new threads.  Size didn't seem to matter, as we had clothing too large and too small for all of us.  Sorting through the pile, I found a sweater that started in my closet, spent a year with a friend, and now is happy at home with me once more.  I now have new-to-me colorful clothing, many new shoes, a green military flight suit, cotton fabrics for my rug-making friend, a bejeweled belt and sassy dress for a night of 80s dancing at the Crystal Ballroom, and a smaller pile for the thrift store.  (Never mind that pile of mending in the corner that I am sure to get to eventually.)  Someone even left with a nice rug found at the bottom of the pile.  We were all thrilled about the new threads that came to us with laughter and friendship instead of cold hard cash.  And with any new learning, this has me thinking about... a toy swap!  Who could ask for more than a fun evening swapping trash for treasure with friends?  Not me.

Dearest Hannah: Spirituality

Dearest Hannah,

I've put a lot of thought into how to share religious views with you.  I was raised Christian and my parents were raised Mormon and Baptist.  You have an Atheist uncle and a Jewish aunt, yet the rest of your papa's family is Buddhist.  There are views of dying and going to heaven, evolving from furry creatures, or of reincarnating.

Lately I've been feeling a spiritual clarity from listening to my own heart.  We read "All the Mamas" about a long line of women and religion has always been on my mind.  My new clarity has me seeing that these religious views are all right and may be combined.  The god out there may really be inside of all of us.  There is incredible power and knowledge within each of us.  We all sense the right choices for ourselves and those around us, even if that is not the path we choose.  People are attempting to learn and evolve.  And we carry our family's stories within our very cells.  I am of my mother, her mother, her mother, and you are of all of us.  As your mother, my job is to guide you safely through childhood so you can learn to listen to your own inner guide, your own incredible knowledge and power.

This new spiritual journey still leads me towards what I've always known to be true in my heart.  The basics.  I believe in perseverance, integrity, intention, appreciation, peace, joy, laughter, hope, generosity, and all the love we can muster for ourselves and one another.  I share this personal insight with you now because I know you are on your own journey of faith and dedication.  Your path will be your own, your choices different, and I look forward to watching you find your own comfort, strengths, and joy on your travels.  I love you with all my heart, my cherished daughter.

Much love,
Your mama
sharing your love with a pen pal through a photo postcard

climbing to new heights

Dearest Liam (mothering a son)

Little Liam discovering the world around him
Dearest Liam,

You are now one year old.  You are so happy, full of giggles, smiles, sweetness, cuddles, and lots of love for others.  I love having you as my little boy to feed and tickle and cuddle.  After having Hannah, I thought it would be easier to have another girl: the same clothes, a similar psychology.  As a nanny, all the children in my care were girls.  When you arrived, I was and still am so delighted you are my little boy.  I have a plan with Hannah for trying to raise her to be a strong, independent woman.  For you, I know you're only one year old right now, yet I don't have any sort of a plan.  I don't know who you'll grow to be or what tools you'll need along the way to be a loving, thoughtful, strong young man.  I am unsure of these things and I hope you will gently show me the way to being the best mother for you that I can be.  My heart and mind are totally in the role of being your mommy and I look forward to learning so much from you on our journey together.  I have so much to learn from you, my little man, and you are already actively showing me your way.  I love you with all my heart.

With love,
your mama
my curious little climber showing me the way up
raw ambition with a pinch of persistence

Dearest Grandma Elaine

Dearest Grandma Elaine,

I am writing to you with the black pen you sent so you can read my writing easier.  I really enjoyed talking with you on the telephone and hope to call you again soon.  It was nice to hear you had such fun with your children when they were young.  That helps me keep my time with my children in perspective.  It's a lot of work to have small children attached to my body day and night, yet it goes so quickly and I will surely miss this.  This time will provide me with memories to carry me through harder days, days when my children aren't so cuddly or cooperative.  These days with my young children are the good ol' days.

I've been thinking a lot lately about mothers.  I have a kitchen tile from your mother's kitchen that says "Alice's Kitchen."  It sits on my counter and reminds me of the strong line of women from which I've grown.  We've all learned so much from our mothers.  I've learned how to be a woman and a mother from my mother, who learned it from you.  You learned these things from your mother Alice, who learned it from her mother.  We've learned from our mothers details such as mannerisms, love, perseverance, joy, crafts, baking, relationships with others, and many things that cannot be named.  These are the things I want to share with my daughter.

When you get a chance, I wondered if you'd be able to record some of your stories of your mother and grandmother onto these cassettes.  I know your eyes and hands don't work as well as they once did, so hopefully it will  be easier to record these stories with your beautiful voice.  If recording on cassettes doesn't work for you, we'll find a way around it.  I would love to hear whatever stories need to be told and to be able to share them with my daughter, who will in turn share them with her daughter and granddaughter.  Thank you so much for taking the time to share these valuable stories.

I am so thankful that you are my grandmother, my mom's mom, and that you are still here to share your love and your stories.  Before long I'll be the older lady with great-grandchildren.  Time surely does fly by so quickly.  Thankfully, the older I get, the more I value and understand my parents, grandparents, those before them, and see how we are all so connected with one another.

I'm trying to talk M into letting me visit you with the kids sometime soon.  None of us knows how much time we have together and I'd love for you to meet your great-grandchildren Hannah and Liam.

I hope you are able to read my handwriting.  My hands are used to typing and not writing with a pen.  Hand written letters are a dying art, like manners, but I hear from friends that I am keeping the post office in business with my letters.  Letter writing is a skill my mother learned from you and shared with me.  And surely I am sharing the love of writing with your great-granddaughter Hannah.

Inspired by your handmade holiday gifts for us this year, we've packed mostly homemade gifts for you also: lip balm, melted crayons, jam, a scarf, and other goodies.  I have boxes of a friend's baby food jars here and would like to make candles and jam for them.  Eventually.  I have corn husks here we can use for corn husk dolls when Hannah is older.  We'll include a little turkey we made for Thanksgiving this year.

I've had a cold for a while and my head and eyes are still foggy, yet I have finally found enough energy to call you and now to write you this long letter.  I have the time to write now also, as we have a few hours of babysitting time.  I love you dearly and I send you all my love.  I hope this finds you having a lovely sunny day out of the cold.

Much love, your grateful granddaughter,