in which we all get covered in dirt

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Sunset at the Fairyland lookout at Bryce Canyon National Park.

We arrived in Salt Lake City after a long day of plane travel, having schlepped our ten (ten!) checked bags from the baggage claim to the rental car agency, only to realize that said bags would not fit in the car. Unless we strapped a child to the roof. We shelled out the cash for a minivan and headed to the grocery store to stock up for ten nights of camping. Check. On to REI, where we needed to purchase some propane and sun hats. It was here that all three of our dear little children lost their minds. Us parents made a mental note never to travel with them again, and we made it to the hotel before they fell asleep in two minutes flat, hours after their normal east coast bedtime. 

"Are we making a big mistake?" Patrick said, with eyebrows raised in annoyance and exhaustion. 

"Maybe," I answered. We again discussed plans to postpone all future travel until they turned 8, 11, and 13. "It is a bit easier to camp twenty minutes from home."

Thank goodness we slept well, because there was a four-hour car ride to Bryce Canyon ahead of us the next morning. Dude. What were we thinking? 

Choruses of "are we there yet?" and "I don't want that music!" and "but I want that music!" were heard from the back seats. At least we had rare snack foods on hand. Never underestimate the power of cheddar bunny crackers to assuage the masses. 

Setting up camp in Bryce was filled with more whines.

But then ... then the big cousins arrived. And everything was all better.

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Calf Creek Falls in Utah. A very hot, six-mile hike in full sun, with a very beautiful waterfall destination. Bring lots of water. More than we did (ahem.)

Aside from a few nights of coughing for Lachlan (hello, high elevation!) and sub-par sleep, we started to hit our camping groove. From Bryce, we headed to Zion, then on to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (which is very different from the South Rim, so I hear. Sparsely visited, nestled among pine, aspen, and lupine - our camp site was a quick walk from the edge. Stunning.) 

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I had lots of time to think about some things on this trip. With no internet access, I spent my evenings in quiet contemplation. There were no hobbies to busy my hands (I brought the wrong knitting needles, drat!) I did get out to hike as much as possible. And while that isn't always easy to do with little children, who are more interested in small things and less interested in the grandeur of canyons, I did squeeze in a few hard hikes with a toddler on my back, and a handful of solo explorations. And what I realized was this: challenging my body in Nature is my jam.

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I hear so much about how important it is to set aside time to exercise. How I need to move for so many reasons. Exercise is an obligation if I am to reach my full energy quota, my optimum body function. How many of us view exercise as an obligation, not a joyful experience that we look forward to? Hiking, for me, is pure joy. Pure fulfillment. I could hike to the top of a mountain and not think about how much longer I had to go. I could go on for miles without wondering when I could stop. 

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Finn and I hiked The Narrows at Zion, and this is the only picture I got. Despite being out of focus, I love it!

The first thing I did when I got home was sign up for my local hiking meet-up. If I'm going to invest in personal rejuvenation and health, this is how I'm going to do it. There needs to be a balance in my "me time." Too much time spent hunched over a sewing machine can be good for my mind but bad for the body. Equilibrium can be reached by balancing quiet, crafting time with joyful movement. Starting now, I'm going to explore how to honor that body/mind balance in my free time, looking at both as a pleasurable respite rather than an obligation. 

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And yes, I would take my three kids on another crazy camping adventure. In fact, I recommend it. As long as you add big cousins or friends to the mix! Nature takes the drudgery out of movement for people of all ages.


a philosophy of sewing

 

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Or, why I took a break from sewing, and why I'm back at it.

I worked myself raw in the years after Lachlan's birth and first two heart surgeries. I filmed my Craftsy course, came out with a ton of new patterns, and attended my first Quilt Market. Sew Liberated was our primary source of income while Patrick was in grad school, and since we had such high medical bills, it needed to grow. Sewing became work - something that took me away from my little family. But Sew Liberated wasn't cutting it. We made the decision for Patrick to teach himself programming so he could jump off the history PhD ship that was sailing to oblivion. We needed to be able to stay near Duke for Lachlan's cardiology needs, and we needed a more stable income. When he landed a programming job, I became a full-time mom, and no longer had the time to work on Sew Liberated, even if I had wanted to.

We hired Danica to run the show, and I took a deep breath. Lachlan's third open heart surgery was on the horizon, and I did a ton of mental work to prepare myself for that sickening moment when I handed my baby off to scrubbed and masked strangers. I meditated. I did yoga.  I tried to get us out into nature as much as possible. Tried to create a nurturing cocoon of a home. Tried to do anything in my power to equip my little ones with love, attention, and good memories. I birthed a sweet baby girl. I felt my ability to focus on anything other than my family slipping away into a pleasant, homey blur. My family became my creative outlet. Months went by, and I didn't touch my sewing machine. Then a year passed. I didn't miss it. It was work. I didn't want anything to do with it.

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I didn't miss that rushed feeling of trying to sew "just one more seam" before the baby awoke. I didn't miss feeling frustrated when I didn't finish a project in the allotted time frame. I didn't miss the constant stream of project ideas that would hound my thoughts when I could have been enjoying the present moment with my kids. I didn't miss the creative to-do list. I didn't miss the stacks of yet-to-be-used fabric, beckoning me from the shelf. They used to cast a shadow of resentment over my children for their incessant needs that took me away from being a more productive creative person. 

The surgery day dawned. If I hadn't focused on Sew Liberated since before Sadie was born, now I didn't even give it one thought. Facing the tender, fleeting, mortal nature of being human gives you tunnel vision. This little boy of mine had his heart mended and fit by a tailor far more skilled than I. His surgeon's skilled hands touched Lachlan's heart, stitching pieces of previously-used human cloth onto my baby's own fresh tissue. Weaving gortex with muscle, he re-designed a circulatory system that would, for the first time, provide Lachlan with near-normal blood oxygenation levels and the energy of a typical three year-old. Lachlan's heart is re-purposed. Fully functional, yet beautifully flawed, like sashiko mending. 

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Nearly six weeks later, after battling with accumulating fluid on his lungs and the subsequent dehydration of his treatment, Lachlan's little mended heart slowed and stopped. I was at home, nursing a stuffy-nosed baby and five year-old. Patrick was with him as they rushed him to the pediatric cardiac ICU, soon starting chest compressions. When I got the call, I was eating a veggie quesadilla, which I spit out while I screamed and fell to the floor. I thought he was dead. I guess, in a way, he was. Had he been at home, 30 minutes from the hospital, he wouldn't have survived. (Hence our eventual move downtown. Covering bases, you know.) 

Lachlan recovered. But what does it mean to recover? To cover again. To mend. The mending is visible. Like his heart, life for our family would never be quite the same. There is a patch that covers our physical and psychological wounds. There is stitching that holds it together. Sometimes the stitching is pristine, in other places it is knotted with fear and anger. But we are functional. And achingly, imperfectly beautiful. 

We are still mending. A well-rubbed piece of cloth will, eventually, break down. When it does, we take up a needle and thread and piece it together any way we can. In my family, the cloth is often made threadbare by sibling bickering, hidden scary medical memories, and parental stress. But it can always be mended. Re-covered. Made functional. Unique.

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At some point, perhaps when that subtle shift occurred and my toddler started to spend long stretches playing with her dollhouse, a few minutes opened up in my days. I wanted to make her clothes as a gift of love. I cut into some soft cloth. She sat on my lap and removed the pins as I sewed. It was slow. But it brought me so much joy. I didn't take pictures of it. I didn't have to market the design. It was just that, a physical manifestation of love. An expression of my creativity and a happy investment of my time. I never want to sew for any other reasons.

Sewing has an important place in my life again, along with writing. But I have a personal manifesto that I now follow.

  1. Begin each project with the intention of expressing love and gratitude for the intended recipient, be it my own body or the vibrant bodies of my children.  
  2. Breathe deeply while cutting. Breathe deeply while sewing. Sewing is slow, and the act of slowing down is a gift of mindfulness. Accept any interruption in the process as a gift to be present. Find joy in the process, and appreciation for the amount of time it takes.
  3. Buy less. Make what you need, but not more.  When clothing wears down, mend it. Bring a mindset of minimalism to the fiber arts.
  4. Sewing is an act of self-care. It is not selfish. It is practice of mindfulness mendfulness. I sew because it helps me on my journey to be a more aware, loving mother and creative person. 

If I returned to my old way of sewing - the resentment, the oppressive to-make list, the feeling of being squeezed for creative time, I would need to stop and reassess. My time with these three little children is too short. With this healthier creative mindset, I hope to mend together my creative nature with parenthood.  

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I made these Rainbow Shorts for Lachlan using the Basic Pocket Pants pattern in my book, using Kaffe Fasset's Exotic Stripe in the Earth colorway.  It took me two weeks to sew them - a seam here, a seam there. He helped me. So did Sadie. He is clothed with love. 


poetry and the class picnic blouse

 

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Sadie took me for a walk the other day.  Fortunately, we didn't have a disagreement about the destination - a newly-opened donut shop. Before we left, we picked out poetry books for our weekly Poetry Tea Donut Time and packed them in the stroller. I must have a good excuse to head to a donut shop. This one was mildly homeschoolish. The smaller crew gathered up all of the Shel Silverstein they could find, while I brought my favorite

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I didn't need to provide directions. Sadie and her brothers knew just how to get there. They have hound's noses for donuts, my kids. Which is good, because it freed me up to take pictures of this dang cute blouse. 

It's the Class Picnic Blouse from Oliver and S that I made for Sadie about six months ago. I loved this one so much that I cut out three more. I should know myself better. Whenever I cut out several garments at once, the first one is a delight to sew. The subsequent projects start to feel like an obligation, which drains the joy out of sewing for me. I granted myself permission to relegate the un-sewn pieces to the scrap collection, a decision helped along by a growing toddler, who was quickly sizing out of the original cuts.  Ahhhh. Creative freedom! 

You've seen the fabric before, both on the Clara Dress pattern front, me, and - if you have visited my home - on a handful of curtains. I purchased an entire bolt of this Nani Iro double gauze a handful of years ago. (The crazy things you get to do when you're a sewing pattern designer!)

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Sadie is pushing along her galimoto. The galimoto is imbued with a kind of magic that can make a toddler walk for miles without complaint.  Twelve dollars well-spent, plus it's lasted through all three of my kids. 

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Destination reached. Poetry was read, and pages were made sticky with donut detritus. Bodies were moved, urban wildlife was noticed, and real-life math discussions were had. I'd call that a successful day of homeschooling.

Below is what happens when you ask her to smile! Spunky, this one. Super spunky. 

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a reintroduction

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Hello, friends. It's been a long time. You know the fluttery nerves you feel when meeting face to face with an old high school friend after ten years of mere commenting on each other's Facebook posts? I wonder - will you notice that my stomach looks like a well-lived-in baby house? Will you sense, through my strained wit, that my sleep was disturbed at least four times last night by one or another of my sweet babies? Will you notice the rivulets of years of sorrow and immense joy etched onto the landscape of my forehead and cheeks?

That's how I feel now, writing something more substantial than a short Instagram blurb for the first time in nearly two years. I feel exposed. Raw. Real. Imperfect. Vulnerable. And that feels remarkably good.

 

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For a long time, I was waiting for the perfect moment to return to blogging. I was waiting for my life to align to my values. I was waiting to heal. I was waiting until the sibling squabbles were few and far between, until I'd implemented the most nourishing self-care regimen. Until I started waking up at five in the morning to write in silence, before the baby needed to nurse. No wonder it has been so long since I'd visited this space. The perfect, of course, never arrives.

A beautiful thing is never perfect.

 

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Perfectionism. I have an intimate rapport with it; from my own (often disappointing!) quest to be the perfect parent, to my embarrassingly self-centered drive to have my home looking well put-together when hosting guests. And then there's the obvious run-in with perfection – this whole blogging thing. I feel like I've intuitively avoided this space in the past few years because of it's link to my own perfection problem. The beautiful pictures, the brilliant and flawless kids' activity. The expectation that I have mastered this parenting thing. Let it be on the record: I have most definitely NOT mastered this parenting thing.

Despite my years of Montessori training, despite my experience in the classroom, despite surviving and sometimes thriving during Lachlan's three-month hospital stay a while back, despite practicing mindfulness both formally and informally, despite having learned innumerable “lessons,” I still wake up every morning and face what I used to call “imperfection.” Imperfection in my own will power, imperfection in my circumstances, and imperfection in my kids.

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Here's the difference between then and now – I no longer call it imperfection. I call it Reality. Now I try, to the best of my ability, (which highly depends upon how much uninterrupted sleep I got the night before!) to see the moment and my reaction to it with new eyes – eyes which gaze upon it with compassion and humor, knowing that, when next they blink, the moment will have already changed.

The moment has changed. I am no longer just a sewing pattern designer. I am no longer an early childhood expert. I am simply a mother, a woman, on a life-long spiritual journey. I make things - sewn things, mostly - as a form of self-care. I take projects one seam at a time, and am always interrupted. I consider each interruption an invitation to be present with my children. Spurred on by my three beautifully imperfect kids, I am learning the art of mothering myself so I can mother them. I am finding out how to love myself unconditionally so I can pass on that love to them. It's time for a fresh start, so here I am, in a new space, honoring where I am now. If you feel called to journey along with me as friends, fellow mothers, and creative beings, I welcome you with all my heart.  

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season of joy

Christmas 2013

Remember this? Two years have passed since I took that photo, and, thanks to a small Christmas miracle, the boys were pleased to reenact the scene. Mmmm. Love me some smilin' boys in their Snow Pixie Hats

Our advent season was one of waiting, in a different sense. Waiting for the stomach flu to work its way through all of our systems. Nothing like a family illness to keep the holidays simple! We're mostly better now, and hoping that we are out of the woods for the rest of the cold season.

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And here they are with their baby sister, who is just waiting patiently for the holiday crazies to mellow out before making her appearance. Right, baby girl? No being-born-business before the guests leave? :) 

I hear little feet upstairs. I've been downstairs, (dark) and early, starting to put away some Christmas decorations. As much as I love the festive season, and would love to honor the twelve days of Christmas, that's just not in the cards this year. Because when your baby is due shortly after Christmas, if you don't put things away, the house will still be decorated come April. So here we are, moving on to the next big thing. We'll let you know when she's here!

Wishing you much peace and relaxation as we usher in the New Year!


expecting

knits for baby girl - korrigan and retro baby smock

 Knits for baby girl - Korrigan on the left and the Retro Baby Smock on the right. The newborn-sized Korrigan was knit with unlabeled yarn from my stash, and the Retro Baby Smock is an unabashed copy of Alicia Paulson's darling version - info here 

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It was such a huge leap to decide to have another baby. Back and forth we went, between not wanting to upset the (currently) calm waters of parenting two, to thinking about what it might be like as our children grow into adults and Lachlan's half a heart begins to grow weary. What will our family look like in twenty years? Thirty? How could we possibly have a baby while Lachlan is in the hospital for his third surgery this coming summer? Folly, for sure. And what if … what if we had another baby with a heart defect?

And yet. We wanted another baby, as much for ourselves as for our boys. We knew we had a short window. We couldn't have a newborn, and we couldn't have a mobile baby. But we could have a four to six month-old baby, right? The baby could accompany us in the wrap while we sat with our big boy, in that oddly plastic-like blue recliner that they so generously (ha!) provide for weary parents of heart babies, while we held our big boy's hand, sang to him, and read to him while he recovered from surgery.

I find “expecting” to be such an odd way of describing pregnancy. These past two pregnancies have been nothing like my first. With my first, I knew nothing of the process of pregnancy or birth (or parenthood), but I did fully “expect” for things to go well. I was bull-headed in my expectations, I'd say. Natural birth? Check. Breastfeeding? Check. I just went down that list checking things off.

With my second pregnancy, the shit hit the fan at the halfway point. I went from “expecting” normal to not knowing if my baby would survive. It was a heart-wrenching, soul-searching, balls-out emotional journey, that pregnancy. I'm still not sure if I can find the words to describe to you what that was like. Think tsunami crashing into the home you once knew, pulling you out to sea and depositing you on an island where you had to rebuild your emotional home from scratch.

You think you're alone in your sorrow, but then you look around and see other islands close by. You step into the water and wade across the shallow, sandy-bottomed channel separating your island from the next. Then you see her. Another mother, walking your way. Another mother, her own hands rough and blistered from rebuilding her own emotional home after the storm of parental sorrow. Perhaps she miscarried. Perhaps she had a difficult birthing experience. Perhaps breastfeeding didn't work out. Perhaps she couldn't soothe her colicky baby. Perhaps she bore a child with health challenges. Perhaps she was gradually worn down by the daily rain and wind of parenting a child whose behavior is not in-line with societal expectations. No matter the reason. We are never alone. The very act of becoming a mother is an opening of our lives to the ebb and flow of sorrow and joy. The respite is found in coming to a place of peace in our hearts, knowing that this ebb and flow is a natural and communal experience.

So here I am. Joyfully expecting my third – most likely our last – baby. Once again I've opened my heart to the ebb and flow of sorrow and joy. It would be untruthful for me to not mention that I truly desire a natural, peaceful birth and an easy transition to a family of five. I need to be honest and disclose that it (often) irks me that our baby girl has to be monitored by a pediatric cardiologist just because her brother has a heart defect. Sometimes, I desperately want to scream at the allopathic medical institution to just leave us the hell alone. But that is not our reality. After all, that very institution gifted my child with life - an amazingly rich one at that. The medical and the “natural” are contradictions that are surprisingly intertwined in our family's life.

All that to say that I don't really know what to “expect” anymore, but not in an exasperated, hopeless way. Quite the opposite. I do know that there are certain, small things that I can control, and many more larger things that I can't. I do know that, no matter what happens, there is a certain peace that comes with knowing that there will be both hard times and wonderful times, and that this experience is one that I share with all mothers, past and present. I do expect the opportunity to grow as a person, knowing that peace is not an external state, but rather my inner serenity. I know that hard times are natural, and will circle back once again to shining delight.


an early morning decision

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I woke at 5:30 this morning to the little rumble of his footsteps galloping into my bedroom. He jumped into bed with me and put his little arm right over my cheek. He played with my hair and started making what I can only describe as "boy noises" while I tried to feign sleep for a little while longer - a futile attempt to encourage him back into dreamland, as it turned out.

It was a watershed moment. I could choose to take the (albeit temporary) easier emotional reaction, which would have resulted in lots of huffy "tired mama noises" and an entitled sense of weariness and lack of patience that lasted throughout the day. (I know - oh too well - how the day would unfold, given this choice. I have chosen this path many times before. It's never pretty.)

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Instead, I chose another path today. One of less resistance. I am still tired. But I chose to enjoy those pre-dawn, warm, jumpy little fingers. I chose to breathe deeply through the sibling squabbles and smile instead of narrow my eyes. I chose to spend most of the day outside, allowing them to pursue their deep passions of climbing trees and shoveling gravel. 

I am still tired. But I chose to grab a frozen, homemade meal (oh, how I love batch cooking!) and thaw it for dinner tonight instead of cooking. Instead, I will work on measuring various items with Finn, who has just taped together three rulers, all the while "tasting" Lachlan's playdough baked goods.

It might end as a movie afternoon. I'm open to that. Anything to keep smiling.

I will, most certainly, fall asleep when they do. A day well lived. 


visiting the pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

ganyard hill farm pumpkin patch

The title of this post should really be "Make Your Kids Happy With 40 Tons of Corn Kernels." The pumpkins, as it turns out, were an afterthought. I think you can see why.

We're lucky to have a pick-your-own-pumpkin farm in our community. Ganyard Hill Farm doesn't just stop at the pumpkins, though - with two corn pits, plentiful hay bales for scaling, goats to feed, unlimited hay rides, and a few mazes, I'm happy to say that this yearly visit has become a solid family tradition for us. Check out the photos of my little butter balls in the corn pit two years ago! My, my. How quickly things change in life with young children when you just take a step back to see a larger expanse of time. 

The season of pletiful celebrations is upon us. We're looking forward to doing some projects from our copy of The Artful Year: Autumn, as well as making our Halloween costumes. Finn has already made Patrick's - he's to be a single cell. (I mentioned he was into evolution in my last post. One of his favorite books is currently Life Story, by Virginia Lee Burton. This book, among others, is the inspiration for our costumes.) Finn's just trying to figure out how to best hang the cardboard cell around Daddy's neck. Homespun Halloween, little boy style. I really love it. 


project-based homeschooling: the choice

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The seasons have changed. Not due to a tilting of our continent away from the Sun, but due to more travels around it. It seems like just three weeks ago that I was pondering how to put together the best treasure baskets for baby Finny. Now, closing in on four-and-a-half rotations around the Sun, he's way beyond the treasure basket. Heck, the whole world is his treasure basket. 

Lately, I've found myself wondering how best to support this curious fellow as he opens his mind to the world-at-large in a more conscious, thoughtful way. Right now, we've decided that it's best for him not to follow a specific homeschooling curriculum, or to be in a public, Waldorf or Montessori school. (Best for us, too, because it really has to be a "what is best for the family" kind of decision.)

Public schooling can be a wonderful option for some families. So can private school. We do not take for granted how fortunate we are to have the choice between homeschooling and traditional schooling, as we can live off of one income. For the past few years, he has been attending a beautiful Waldorf-based home nursery a few mornings a week. I love it. They play outside. A lot. They care for animals. They bake. They celebrate many seasonal festivals. But the truth is that our days go much more smoothly, and the boys settle into their own projects and interests more easily, if we don't have to be out the door first thing in the morning. So, although we already informally homeschool the boys, we have made the decision to begin in earnest this winter, after baby girl is born.

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We have a long history, as a couple, with homeschooling. Patrick was homeschooled for a while. I grew up playing with my homeschooled neighbors. In some ways, it is comfortable territory. In some ways, as I began to look at the possibility of starting imminently down the homeschooling path, it seemed daunting and completely overwhelming.

We have a strong, all-inclusive (secular and religious) homeschooling community in the Durham/Chapel Hill area. I'm already plugged in, as one of my dearest friends is a seasoned homeschooling mom. My friend is extroverted and excels at orchestrating amazing lessons for her own kids as well as others (Engineering classes? Current events gatherings? Geography co-op? She's quite amazing.) Me? I'm a homebody and an introvert, and my strength isn't putting together lesson plans. Plus, I'm pretty laid-back when it comes to learning. I believe that it will happen naturally. However, I'm uncomfortable with zero structure, so full-bore unschooling isn't for us, either. I began to wonder where we fit on the homeschooling spectrum. Is there a place for me? For a family like ours?

I used to think that I needed to become comfortable with following a familiar learning philosophy (Montessori or Waldorf). To ease my load of lesson planning from scratch, I sought out curricula of different kinds, thinking that I needed to have something set for math, reading, history, science, etc. The search for curricula to guide us down the homeschooling path started to become a case of too-much-information (and, when faced with paying for said curricula year after year, it started to look less economical.)

Then Finn developed a very deep and wide passion for geology, evolution and dinosaur fossils. And, eureka! I slapped my forehead, dusted off my Montessori training and followed the needs and interests of my own child, learning through a good deal of trial and error how to best mentor him as I guide him on his path of becoming a life-long learner.  As an enthusiastic autodidact who happens to be married to another one (who is currently spending his evening leisure time studying number theory and cryptography) this path makes so much sense for our family. We love our projects. We consider learning to be fun. Yes, even math. Especially math.

So it's not surprising that we've been drawn to project-based homeschooling. It fits us well. Patrick and I are currently enrolled in a PBH Master Class with Lori Pickert of Camp Creek Blog. I could go into a whole bunch of educational and spiritual philosophy as to why I love this learning path, for children and adults alike. But that's another post. For now, I feel excited to begin. I'm very much a novice who will be learning as much as my own kids, no doubt. 

What will our days look like? They will likely start out with some kind of circle - some singing or movement thanks to Lavender's Blue, followed by an entire morning of project time. We'll see how it all evolves. 

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A few inspirational project-based homeschooling resources:

The Simple Mom Podcast "Reasons to Homeschool" in which Tsh and Jamie share their different approaches to homeschooling. Tsh's family is into classical education a la "The Well-Trained Mind," while Jamie's family espouses a more project-based approach. 

David Albert - It's always good to search out well-seasoned homeschooling mentors, not just others with children the age of your own or perhaps a few years ahead of yours. 

The book "Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners". Obviously.

Project-Based Homeschooling, the blog. A wealth of information, motivation, and practical advice.