Friday, March 30, 2007

The Uniform of Motherhood

Do you ever feel like between homeschooling and housework and trying to meet everyone's needs that you lose sight of your own needs or dreams or passions?

This past weekend I took some time off from all things motherly, housewifey, wifey, and teacherly to nurture myself. It wasn't a planned diversion from the day-to-day around here. First I had to reach my limit, feel overwhelmed and under-appreciated, and pitch a fit. Then, surprisingly, I got some time off. A mental health day, if you will.

First up I did some art journaling ala Visual Chronicles. Just one piece that totally summed up my emotional moment enough that the whole family actually understood. They got the picture way more than my beat-a-dead-horse thousand-word diatribe. I'll have to remember that for next time.

Next I surfed the web, ate chocolate and spent a couple of hours pushing fabric through my sewing machine. It was better than great! I fought the urge to do anything for anyone else. It's so easy to fall back into that sinkhole, made even harder by the fact that I have this huge pile of children's mending and good intentions sitting on my desk. Instead, I concentrated on me. Me. ME! And my needs.

Oh, the irony! I made myself an apron.

I've never owned an apron before. I don't even come from apron folk. But I picked through the mess of fabric in my closet and came out clutching an old bathroom curtain to my chest, completely re-smitten with its feminine flowers and sheer eyelety goodness.

At first glance this apron seems like a big joke. Einstein thought so, too. It's sheer, white fabric. Completely useless for wiping your hands on the edges with wild abandon or catching spills or doing the real work of life. Not exactly a workhorse. But look again, I say. I've been doing that work for years without any barrier whatsoever. Just me and the sludge of life ensconced together in this domesticated dance. Just me and the sludge.

Let's face it. As a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom with three kids, there's not much time for my needs. On good days I get my hair brushed and my clothes remain unscathed by the various body fluids emitted by small children. I'm not particularly resentful of the snot or its liquidy cousins, it's just something I've become accustomed to as an accesory to motherhood. I wear it. Or it wears me. At the end of the day I can't tell. The uniform of motherhood. Be one with the snot.

This apron, by contrast, is not a sludge-catcher. Oh no! It's counter to how I feel on a day-to-day basis. It's the Anti-snot. I tie it on and my whole mood changes. It wraps its little flowers around my aura and softens my edges. And when my edges are soft... well, that transfers to the entire household, you know?

Now I'm singing, "I feel pretty," while I sling mash and wipe butts. Who's the workhorse now?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mama said there'd be days like this

© Schooling from the Heart

Friday, March 23, 2007

Treasure in the woods

Earlier this week, homeschooling took us on a whirlwind tour of a local park nature trail where we followed clues and found our very first letterbox! Go us!

We carved up our own stamps that morning, threw some books together and bound them with crochet cotton, and hit the trail. It was FABULOUS! I'm totally smitten with the idea of mixing artistry, cognition, nature, and mystery. Not only is it good for the brain, it's good for the soul.

I had Sunburst read the clue outloud, and she and Moonshine worked hard at sleuthing it out. We made wrong turns and back-tracked and read the clues again and again.

Sunburst: "You will come to a T intersection... Oh, look! This is sort of like a 'T.'"
Mom: "Here's a huge, fallen tree, but is it the right one?"
Moonshine: "I don't see a footbridge."
Sunburst: "The clue says, 'Don't blink or you'll miss it.'"
Moonshine: "I think we must have blinked."

We finally found the treasure, a small plastic container, hidden in the wet leaves under a footbridge. We had to really dig around for it, but there it was, as promised. We carried the box over to a fallen tree and sat there admiring the logbook entries and hand-carved stamp. We stamped the logbook, added a message, stamped our own books, and carefully sealed the box back up and placed it back into hiding. It felt grand and lovely and extremely satisfying, and the woods smelled so good.

Einstein caught up with us on our way back to the car, and to not leave him out of the fun, we turned around and did it all again, only letting him sleuth out the clues. The girls were very cute about it-- helping him make the same wrong turns we did. It was fun for the whole family! And we got outside, in the thick of nature, which doesn't happen as much as I'd like.

On the way home we started plotting to place our own letterboxes. There are only four in our county. Only four! In the spirit of the game, we've got to do our part. Einstein and I have been out scouting around for the perfect places and staying up late designing stamps. We crack ourselves up.

A huge part of the draw is the artistry of hand-carved stamps-- that personal touch. Leaving a hand-crafted treasure out in the woods speaks to me of trust, faith, and human connection. Someone made this, and in sharing the stamp, they are sharing a bit of themselves. With complete strangers. With all the crazy things that go on in our world, how cool is that? And how important! It speaks volumes. Not just to me, but to our children as well. It's a message I want them to hear loud and clear.

Initially, I thought this stamp carving business sounded crazy hard. But it's not. Hand-carved stamps are not hard to make. We're no experts, but here's what we did:

At the craft store I bought a small block of Mastercarve and an X-acto knife. I made a pencil image on paper and pressed the Mastercarve onto it to transfer the image. Then I carefully, gingerly cut out the white areas, about 1/16 - 1/8 inch deep with the X-acto knife. My depth wasn't precise or even, I just tried to mimic what most stamps look like. My first attempt was crude and fell into pieces after a few stampings. But I used the same drawing and more carefully tried again. This time it was better.

Originally, I read online that kids can make stamps with Artgum erasers and table knives. This did NOT work out for us. It was way too crumbly. Instead, they drew images and I cut them out from the Mastercarve. The more simple the images, the easier it is to cut them. And I love how they all have a different feel to them.

If it helps, Atlas-Quest has a simple stamp-carving tutorial.

Rather than purchase them, we made small logbooks for the trail with leftover cardstock scraps and acid-free copy paper. Our books measured 4 1/4" x 5 1/2". I used a tiny hole punch to make four holes along one side, about 1/4" from the edges. Then I had the girls sew them up using the Japanese stab binding technique. Again, here's another great tutorial.

For more information on letterboxing, be sure to check out:
The Letterboxer's Companion by Randy Hall

M is for Michigan

M is for mango.
And Michigan, apparently.

Carschooling... who knew?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hit the road, Jack!

With the maple season over, I was itching to get as far away from my house and trees as humanly possible. So last week our family hit the road for a couple of days and headed where else but the land of great enchantment: Missouri.

Bear with me... you'll see why.

The whole thing was very 'lax.' We left home at Kitty Bill's naptime, and by dark we found ourselves where the Mississippi River meets the stunning display of architecture known as the Gateway Arch.

We gaped and drove around it a few times before heading off to a hotel with an indoor pool. There's nothing like a before bed swim for kids who have been trapped in the car for hours. Worth every penny!

Next morning we piled back in the car and headed south. By lunchtime we had arrived.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. Sunburst was beside herself. We've been living and breathing Laura Ingalls for the past five years, ever since Sunburst picked out a few Little House picture books at the library. When we moved to Texas the following year, the girls and I volunteered as costumed interpreters for one season at a living pioneer history museum. To enrich our experience I began reading Sunburst the Little House series. Since then she's read the books at least three more times, and although we've moved on to other Little House character books (Martha, Charlotte, Caroline...) Sunburst still totes one or another of the original books around with her. I regularly find them wedged in the couch cushions, on the bathroom counter, and splayed in the backseat of the car. The covers are all coming off and some of the pages are even missing. They're that good.

When she's not reading, Sunburst regularly dons a sunbonnet and apron and pretends to be a Little House character. In the beginning she was always Mary. Even after she understood Mary's blindness, she continued pretending to be Mary-- trying her hand at rag rugs, stumbling around the house, and even knitting with a blindfold on. For years she would pretend our vegan dinners were bear meat and call us Pa and Ma at the table. Moonshine was Laura, on account of the dark hair. And when Kitty Bill came along they were delighted to finally have someone to play the role of "Baby Carrie." (He'll probably resent that someday, you think?)

So Missouri. Now you know. We spent about two hours in the museum checking out old artifacts from the books like Mary's first patchwork quilt, Pa's fiddle, and Laura's little porcelain tea cup jewelry box. We read old postcards and letters exchanged between Laura and Ma, and Grace's letter informing Laura that Mary had a stroke and the end was near. We saw pictures, and drafts from the books and old handwork and so many, many things. And then we toured the Rose Wilder Lane section of the museum...

They kicked us out at that point so we could join the tour of the house. We walked through the house at Rocky Ridge-- Laura's house with Almanzo. It was small and quaint and, as we were told, left exactly as Laura kept it before she died. Later on we drove down the street and toured the Rock House, a house comissioned by Rose for her parents. It was modern and lovely, but not as cozy and warm as the farmhouse. We could understand why they gave it up after a few years and moved back to the original home.

The kids all ran down the hill from the Rock House and played in the field before we loaded back up and headed towards the cemetary to see the gravesites.

The next day we were startled by a surprise snowstorm. Who predicted this weather?

Despite the flurries, we pulled back into St. Louis at lunchtime and were greeted by the same miraculous spectacle. At the first sight of the Arch, Sunburst was unrelenting. She begged and pleaded until we agreed to go up. All the way. To the top.

There is nothing like the sense of adventure of an 8-year-old. Personally, I'm a tad bit afraid of heights. When we first moved to Salt Lake City they had an old, dilapidated library. It was servicable and fine-- just give me books and I'm happy. But somewhere around the winter Olympics and the new electric city tram they also built a new library. When I say new, I mean more than just state-of-the-art. I mean crazy new. Fancy, fantastical, open and airy, hanging sculptures, shops, fountains, caves in the wall, billowing fabric, walls of glass, eye candy kind of place. If you've been there then you know what I'm talking about. The whole place freaks me out. The stairs? I can't walk on those stairs. They jut out over several floors of open space with glass railings. But don't take my word for it. Go look for yourself! Here's another. It's a stunning library, don't get me wrong. But in the old one I didn't lose my lunch.

The Gateway Arch, by contrast, is just like a really high stairwell that reaches into the clouds. Well, not quite. The sign from the top reads "630 feet." I think my understanding of height isn't so great because it seems so much higher than that when you're up there.

Yes, I did go up. Luckily for me and my bum foot you don't have to climb the 1,076 steps to the top. They have a tram that teeters up the inside railing in a mere four minutes, and you can't see out as you climb. Well, you can see the stairwell and a handful of the 105 landings, but you can't see outside, outside. Otherwise, our little tram car would have been a freakshow.

The tram car itself was endearing. Each car is a little pod and made me feel a bit like I was on set in a 1960's Sci Fi movie. I almost expected to be handed a Barbarella suit, though admittedly, I'm no Jane Fonda. It was great though. It was exactly like sitting inside a dryer. Small, hot, round, and a little tilty as it climbed and corrected itself. Ridiculously fun.

I don't know who these people are. Sorry people, but I needed to capture the moment and you were easy and friendly targets.

Once up at the top it wasn't bad. The minimal sway did funny things to our stomachs, but overall the view was spectacular. The windows were small. Very small, and it felt surprisingly safe to be up there suspended over nothing. The kids were all jumping up and down. Not just mine. It seemed to be the theme. Woo hoo! We're really high up!

On the way out of town we stopped in at Eternity and gorged ourselves on outrageously tasty vegetarian soul food. A perfect ending to a sweet trip!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Play on words

"I'm the boss.
I boss people around--
In a circle."

--Moonshine, almost 5 yrs

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Geography Fair

Last week we nearly drowned in sap. During the height of our overflow the girls put together and gave a little presentation on Ghana for our local homeschooling geography fair. Sunburst did the left two panels of the board, while Moonshine did the far right (including the writing there, because she wanted to.)

As you can see, Moonshine was able to touch upon all her current interests: fancy clothing, hairdos, and jewelry. She threw the priestess on her side because she was beautiful, and that counts as an interest. Sunburst included the more general information like food, climate, and folklore, but she was pleased as punch to be able to include some wild animal photos and share her dad's "You need to buy a live chicken if you want to see the crocodiles" story with the crowd.

They chose Ghana not only because their dad, Einstein, lived there when he was in the Peace Corps, but because that darned spider Anansi comes from there. We read all of the Anansi stories we could get our hands on this year, and Sunburst was quite taken with them. Especially "Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock," which we read over and over and over again, and it was even funnier still when Moxy Jane read it out loud when she came to see us. This is Sunburst's rendition of the book cover:

To round out the show the girls brought some food to share. As Sunburst told them, "We were going to make giant forest snail stew with fufu, but we couldn't find any giant forest snails and (boxed) fufu tastes like bellybuttons smell, so we just brought African cookies instead."

Thursday, March 01, 2007


The trees are going crazy! The last few days we were getting only 3 gallons of sap per day. Today we had to change out the collection jugs twice. Our sap production tripled. NINE gallons of sap!

If it takes five hours to boil down 3 gallons of sap... well, you do the math. We have WAY more sap than we can manage today.

I'm not complaining. No. I'm still excited about the whole endeavor. So what if I'm tied to the house at the mercy of my propane cooker. What's better than spending time out in the moonlight basking in the sweet vapors of maple broth?

As the flow has increased, so has our syrup production and our astonishment of nature's bounty. We've been singing our own mapley version of the song "Johnny Appleseed":

Oh, God is good to us.
And so we thank our God.
For giving us the things we need:
The sun, and the rain, and the maple seed;
Oh, God is good to us.

And every seed we sow
Will grow into a tree.
And there will be syrup there
For everyone in the world to share.
Oh, God is good to us.

Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, maple syrup, Amen!

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