eloflex makes sewing with knits a breeze

One of my "things" is helping everyone feel capable of sewing with knit fabrics, especially sewists who don't own a serger. There are just so many benefits to sewing with knits - forgiving fit and blissful comfort to name a few. Some kids (my boys included) will often balk at wearing anything else. 

20170925-DSC_6796
20170925-DSC_6796
20170925-DSC_6796

 
I highlight some of my favorite sewing-with-knits tips in my latest pattern, the Stasia Dress. But this time, I have something else up my sleeve. Literally. It's called Eloflex, an elasticated thread from Coats that has really blown my sewing-with-knits mind. This stuff acts like regular thread - you can sew a regular straight stitch with it - and it will STRETCH! As someone who owns a serger, but no coverstitch machine, this means that all of my hems and finishing work no longer have to bear the telltale "homemade" zigzag. 
 
I made this Stasia Dress exclusively with Eloflex (in the bobbin and on the spool), a straight stitch, and a stretch needle. It came together quickly and without a hitch. I just needed to adjust my tension slightly and put my walking foot on the machine to handle the slightly slinky fabric. I used a twin needle with Eloflex to finish my hems, which look like they are coverstitched, but you could opt for a single line of stitching as well, and still have a nice looking finish. Now I have my eyes on a swimwear (without zigzag finishes!), lingerie, and plenty of hems for kids' clothing. 
 
I have a packet of 12 Eloflex spools to give to one of my readers! Just comment below and I'll pick a comment number at random by Friday, September 29. You can also register over at Coats for their Eloflex giveaway, too. And start thinking about all the projects you could make with this stuff. Here's my list: a Sophie Swimsuit, a few Harriet Bras, some workout tights made in a funky Spoonflower print, a handful of Flashback Skinny Tees for my boys, and a few Playtime Dresses (and leggings) for Sadie. 

the secret to never again taping together PDF sewing patterns

20170803-DSC_5549

I mother three little people, which means my leisure time is, well, rather skinny. The LAST thing I want to do with my precious sewing time is assemble and tape together 42 pages of a print-at-home PDF pattern. It makes my knees hurt just thinking about it. Fortunately, I'll never have to do it again, thanks to a new printing option I discovered recently.

While print-at-home patterns have their place, particularly with smaller children's patterns, most independent pattern companies have started including larger-format copy shop files in their digital patterns. The idea behind the copy shop file is lovely - the customer can send their file to a local print shop like FedEx Office or Staples and have them print it off full-size on a sturdy piece of paper. No assembly required. But there's a catch.  Sometimes the copy shop staff doesn't know how to deal with the file and they end up fitting the patterns to the page, drastically throwing off the scale and therefore the fit of the pattern.

If you get your pattern properly printed (make sure to always check the measurements of the test square before paying for your pattern!) you are likely to be surprised by the cost. I've been charged anywhere between $8 and $23 to print off the pattern pieces for one pattern. Lastly, it's too much of a hassle to swing by the shop to pick up your pattern that you eventually forget it's there. (Yep! That's happened to me twice.)

20170803-DSC_5547
Such was the rather deplorable state of digital pattern printing until I learned about PDF Plotting from one of my Stasia Dress testers. (I'm not receiving any sort of compensation for promoting their work - I just feel that their service revolutionizes sewists' experience of digital patterns!)

If you are willing to wait and print three (or more) PDF patterns at once, the price per pattern will be between $1.20 and $3.75, plus $7 per order for shipping. (That's where it becomes a better deal to print of many patterns at once, to offset the shipping cost.) I recently spent $15 to print and ship three patterns to my door. My order arrived 2 business days after I placed it, and the patterns were printed on quality paper and shipped in a roll so there were no creases to iron out. 

Screenshot (4)To place an order, you'll need to first download the digital pattern to your computer. (Don't attempt to download to your tablet or phone - those operating systems don't often handle large files.) Some files, like those from Sew Liberated, are delivered as a zip file, which means that the files are compressed in order to be sent over email. You will need to extract the files (follow the instructions for your computer's operating system by asking Google. It's as simple as pressing the "Extract" button on my system, for example.) Once you have your files extracted and saved to your hard drive, determine the size of the files you need to print. All of Sew Liberated's copy shop files are sized either A0 (33.1" x 46.8") or A1 (33.1" x 23.4"). The file size is stated in the file name - if it's not, just open it in Adobe Reader (available as a free download) and move your cursor to the lower left corner of the file. The dimensions will pop up for you. Head to PDFplotting.com and click on "B&W Prints."

Screenshot (7)
As most copy shop files will be A0 size, you will pick the 36" x 48" option above. In the drop-down menu, select 1 for # of originals and 1 for # of sets.  Click on the "Choose File" button and add your file.

Screenshot (10)

I'm not sure if it's necessary, but I opted to click on the "My file(s) require special sizing instructions" button, and added the above text, just to be sure.

Screenshot (12)

Add the pattern to your cart, then click on "Continue Shopping." There is a $7.49 cart minimum to place an order, so add those other patterns you've had languishing on your hard drive  (or pick up a few new ones you've had your eyes on!)

If you end up using PDF Plotter, or if you have any other suggestions on how to best print PDF patterns, let everyone know in the comments below!


the stasia dress pattern is here - sew yourself some secret pajamas!

Hikeindress700

A knit dress that feels like wearing secret pajamas. Optional pockets. Multiple sleeve and length options. A close-fitting tee perfect for layering. A pattern-hacker's canvas. Tons of tips for sewing with knits. And a lot of love - wrapped up into one amazing pattern!

Find your PDF pattern here for 20% off with coupon code: STASIALAUNCH.

Friends, this dress is so close to my heart.  Many of you know that I was designing patterns and very active in the sewing blogger community before we learned that my second son, Lachlan, was to be born with a very serious heart defect. I kind of disappeared to the world as we went through three open-heart surgeries, cardiac arrest, and years of physical and emotional recovery. I thought my love of design and fashion was only part of my life "before the diagnosis." I dug in to this intense phase of motherhood, stopped creating regularly, started wearing yoga pants every day, threw my hair into a hat. I just sort of faded into motherhood. 

At the beginning of 2017, I happened upon Stasia Savasuk via Instagram, and I was most intrigued by this lovely woman who, despite having lived through the hell of fearing for the future of her sweet child, DID NOT DISAPPEAR. She did not turn off her artful expression, she did not hunker down in the emotional fog and keep her sparkling face from peeking above the clouds. She was showing up despite it all. And all of a sudden, just like that, I felt my OWN creativity start to dislodge from its corner ... freed to once again follow its flow and pursue its passions. This stuff wasn't superficial or selfish! And, in seeing me enlivened by work that I love, my children are learning about art, persistence, and how to be an entrepreneur. All because I found my creative fire again in Stasia's Style School. My tip for you: let your clothing become your art, and you will feel the creative ripple pulse through the rest of your life, as well. 

With the real Stasia as my muse, I started working on the Stasia Dress pattern. My goal was to create a dress that was easy to sew, infinitely customizable, incredibly comfortable to wear, and that provided the wearer with a feeling of her own POWER, FREEDOM, and BEAUTY. This is my wish for you, and the Stasia Dress is my gift to you.

Get your sewing machine humming, and find let your inner beauty shine through to the outside with the Stasia Dress.


crafting guilt

20170709-DSC_5258

Growing up, it was understood that my dad would spend a certain amount of time in front of the television during football season. My mom supported it (he needed to relax after busy work days). The same football ritual was upheld and supported by countless females in the family. The women tended to household responsibilities and children while the men relaxed.

I'm not writing to pass judgment on sports. As my mom recognized, it is a valid way to wash away the worries of the world and engage in some fun. What I'm wondering is, does society bestow upon me, a mother of young children, the same unquestioned right to relax? Because I've noticed something lately, especially when I pick up my knitting project. It's a feeling of guilt. A “bad mom, bad housekeeper, selfish artist” kind of feeling. And I guarantee that my darling dad never felt that when he sat down to watch a game.

20170703-DSC_4822

This feeling is surprising to me, given that I have a very supportive partner. He willingly provides me time to knit and sew. Sewing time, for me, can be filed under the “getting stuff done for my small business” category. Knitting, though, is pure diversion. All that time I spent knitting my Find Your Fade Shawl? He jokingly said it best himself: “Each of those stitches is made possible by my Dad Skills.” Unquestionably, he has some mad Dad Skills, but I noticed a shift in my own self-consciousness when he said it. Was I overly depending on him for my leisure time? What do my extended family members think about a mother who sits down to knit an unnecessary garment? (Why would she do that when there's Target?) On and on went the grumbling, negative voice in my head.

When my partner read this, he said, “I feel the same guilt when I play the banjo.” Perhaps the gender-specific hobby guilt is shifting with the times, but it still doesn't erase the feeling that we, particularly as parents, should always be doing something else. Something immediately productive.

20170703-DSC_4856

As I've written before, I feel like I have a healthy relationship with my (very short) to-make list. I don't resent my children because they keep me from obsessively making. I find the process of slowly making things to be meditative and fulfilling – when I can get over that feeling that I should be making a grand dinner/doing the laundry/reading to the kids/putting together some sort of amazing science experiment. I recognize this feeling of guilt is a construct of my own mind, helped along by societal expectations. And so, I've started considering the following, in order to access the mindful, relaxed state that I seek when I craft:

  1. Knitting and sewing are my Artist's Way. Just because I am not writing in a journal or painting, it doesn't mean that what I do is not an artistic practice. I should speak of it as such – to my children, to my extended family, and to my friends. Fiber art is a productive and worthy form of artistic expression. It is good for me to show my passion to my children, and for them to see me as a real artist (even though I don't make a penny from my knitting.)

  2. A regular knitting/creating routine is in order. Just like Monday night football, I think it would be helpful for me and my family to know what to expect in my artistic practice. Perhaps I should sit down with my coffee and yarn for a predictable 30 minutes each morning? Maybe a weekend morning sewing session? I am also going to try putting on an audio book that we all enjoy while I work with my hands. I suspect that my eight year-old will also pick up his own knitting project while we listen and knit.

  3. Communicate that handwork is also a spiritual practice. Taking time to breathe, clear my thoughts, and enter the present moment with my craft ultimately helps me be a more present mother. A mother who is comfortable with slowing down, ripping out stitches, starting over again, and being at peace with the process. Because truly, that's the heart of the problem. Our society prioritizes “doing” over “being.” I have no problem “doing.” Most people don't. I can always use more practice just “being,” and my fiber art can help with that.

20170720-DSC_5411

“Feelings about the past and the future pass through our knitting consistently. Thoughts can be neatly filed away into the fabric, enabling the present to be less cluttered and free for more mindful knitting. Let your processed thoughts flow with the yarn into the knitting. As your rows build up, let your stories of the past and future leave the present, and find a suitable place to rest within the knitting. As the stories are knitted away, notice the sentiment behind them and, with a clear head, continue to form useful, beautiful fabric. Woes will start to evaporate into your knitting rather than reside in your body. As you knit more rows, continue to use this simple filing system, until you feel you have fully entered your peaceful, sacred knitting space, and are free of any niggling fears.”

Rachael Matthews - The Mindfulness in Knitting - Meditations on Craft and Calm

Pattern info:

Rainbow shawl - Find Your Fade Shawl, knitted with fingering-weight yarn from my stash

Cropped sweater - Tegna Sweater, knitted with yarn from Welthase in Antique Rose colorway

White, two-tiered dress under Tegna Sweater - upcoming reversible Metamorphic Dress pattern from Yours Truly. ;)


coffee + thread blog tour: sadie's unicorn eleena dress

33843537592_59486e610d_z

Sadie's "unicorn dress," made with Coffee and Thread's Eleena Dress pattern, has fast become a new favorite. She asked to sleep in it as soon as it was done, right before bedtime, and refused to wear anything else for two days. (Which, as you know, is the highest compliment a three year-old can pay a sewing mother.) I loved sewing it - the instructions are concise, the design is flawless, and it produces an sturdy and lovely finished product. 
 
I'm honored to be part of the Coffee and Thread blog tour, featuring a panoply of design inspiration from all around the sewing blogosphere, using Olga's patterns as a jumping-off point. See below for a links to everyone else's beautiful garments, and enter the giveaway at Coffee and Thread's blog. As an extra perk, Olga is offering everyone 20% any pattern in her collection during the tour. Just enter code coffeeandthreadtour at the Coffee and Thread shop. (But hurry - the tour is over on April 14, 2017!)


33843537592_59486e610d_z
33843537592_59486e610d_z
33843537592_59486e610d_z
33843537592_59486e610d_z

For Sadie's dress, I felt fortunate to have placed this incredible, green unicorn double gauze fabric somewhat near the dobby dot in my stash. I'm sure this happy pair wouldn't have happened had I not! But, having recently left behind the pink-only phase, I felt emboldened to choose this new-to-her color combo. (And really, who could say no to unicorns and toadstools?)
 
Fabric: 
The Hit Parade Double Gauze by Lizzy House - from several years back, so you might have trouble finding it!
 
Robert Kaufman Double Gauze Chambray Dobby. This fabric is reversible - I used the white background with gray dots.
 
Sadie is petite, and I opted to make the 3T, even though she measures a 2T, in order to get more wear out of the dress. I brought in the side seams, which I can let out as she grows. The only other change I made to the pattern was to omit the (admittedly cute) collar, which I thought would be too much visually, paired with my fabric choice.


33843537592_59486e610d_z

It was pretty cold the day we took these pictures, and Sadie wanted to go all-out-fairytale with her purple velvet with a faux-fur lined hood. (Pattern in my book, Growing Up Sew Liberated.)


33843537592_59486e610d_z

And lest you think that all photoshoots go without a hitch, I present you with this gem:
 
33843537592_59486e610d_z
 
After all, dressing up a three-year old doesn't actually cover up a three year-old's three-ness. (I had forgotten my wallet and she was disappointed that we wouldn't be able to pick up a fresh loaf of bread from the bakery in the background! Poor girl! #mamafail)

33843537592_59486e610d_z

Check out the other sweet outfits from these talented sewing mama bloggers:

April 3
Enjoyful Makes ||Idle Sunshine || ZowieZo Handmade || Angie Burgett

April 4
Handmade Frenzy || Replicate Then Deviate || Fairies, Bubbles & Co || Coral + Co

April 5
Made By Sara || Naeh-Connection || The Bag of Unexpected || Circle Meets Line

April 6
Skirt Fixation || Sewing Like Mad || Hello Holli || Buzzmills ||

April 7
Little Cumquat || Thread Bear Garments || Pearl Berry Lane || Plus 2 is 5 || Sew Chibi 

April 10
Stahlarbeit || Knee Socks and Goldilocks || Bonnie and Lottie || Sew Sophielynn 

April 11
Mouse House Creations || While She was Sleeping || Mix it Make it || By Dagbjort 

April 12
Gaafmachine || Beletoile || LBG Studio || My Cozy Co  || As It Seams

April 13
Moineau & Petit Pois || Just Add Fabric || Sweeter Than Cupcakes || Frances Suzanne || Sew Liberated 

April 14
Stitched Together || S is for Sewing || Boevenbende || Lafolie Sewing Booth || Sew Pony ||
With Love By Eva 


finn's sidewalk fabric rowan hoodie

32921180845_87a4d47ebe_z

Somehow I have a boy who is a few months short of eight! No longer can I make him cute little bubble pants to cover his ample diaper. Nowadays, he mostly wants to dress like a ninja, which has understandably put a kink in my sewing mojo. ;)But we were both super excited when the inimitable Rae Hoekstra (of Made By Rae) asked us to participate in her Sidewalk Fabric blog tour.

You see, when Finn isn't climbing a tree, you're likely to find him drawing, which is why he picked this super cheery Art Class print. Now, I told him, he can maintain his ninja stealth while surrounded by art materials! Here he is with his favorite piece of art.  (And if you haven't checked out Art For Kids Hub yet, you should. I must mention them in every other blog post!)


32921180845_87a4d47ebe_z
32921180845_87a4d47ebe_z

We settled on the Rowan Hoodie in size 8. The Sidewalk Fabrics pair well with interlock, as they are lush and hefty enough for sweats, yet would be totally suitable for a t-shirt, as well. The Rowan pattern comes with over 140 possible variations, from short sleeves to pockets to shoulder and arm accent bands. I had a hunch the Art Class print would shine as arm band accents, and it turns out that the little colored pencils are the perfect size for the role. (I did have to break some rules regarding which direction the most stretch should go in order to get the pencils to "stack" on the arm bands, but the fabric has such a stable hand that it didn't affect my ability to easily sew. 

I would highly recommend Cloud9 knits if you are just starting off with sewing knit fabrics.  You can always check out my Craftsy class on sewing with knits if you feel overwhelmed.  Natalie, who is also participating in the Sidewalk Fabric tour, did a great review on my Craftsy class a while back, if you're on the fence. (Thanks, Natalie!)

32078134984_e5159e5455_z
32078134984_e5159e5455_z

Finn super-loves his new hoodie, and I really enjoyed sewing it up. It was my first time working with a Titchy Threads pattern, and it was a very pleasurable and frustration-free experience. All steps are very clearly illustrated with full-color photos, a copy shop file is provided so I didn't have to waste time taping pages together, and advanced sewists will appreciate the "cheat sheet," bare-bones summary of instructions. I'm feeling the itch to sew up some Small Fry Skinny Jeans and Twisted Trousers for Lachlan's upcoming birthday - the Titchy Threads pattern was that good! (Commence crazy birthday-making frenzy!)


32078134984_e5159e5455_z

Something about Finn's look here reminded me of this little guy below. Sigh. That's what he looked like in 2012, wearing his mama-mades. Feeling grateful that he still appreciates my wearable expressions of love!

6154045379_3793b63ea9_z
Three year-old Finn is wearing a Rough Edged Raglan from the book Sewing for Boys in a Spoonflower glasses print, and the Basic Pocket Pants pattern from my book Growing Up Sew Liberated in soft denim.


how unschooling, or "flow" learning, brings joy to our life with kids

32161701310_59b2f44eb2_z

Certain things change when you have a child with a serious heart defect. I immediately saw through the veneer of certain societal norms : time spent staring at a screen to escape reality, time spent doing something that doesn't bring joy for the sake of getting ahead, time spent away from my kids in order to make more money. It suddenly all became just that: Time Spent. Spent and gone. That precious, precious Time. If there was any doubt in my mind that I would homeschool my kids before Lachlan's diagnosis, it was completely erased post-diagnosis. There would be no wasting of any time in school.  For kids with HLHS, childhood is often a Golden Time - their heart function often declines as they enter their later teen years and early adulthood. Why waste my son's precious life with time spent waiting in line and taking tests? I didn't know then that I would come to believe that schooling at home isn't worth our time as a family, either.

My little boy with half a heart is old enough to be in kindergarten, away from me five days a week. Instead, he is home with all of us. He wakes up in the morning and starts working on the ramps he builds for things with wheels, or he asks someone to read him a story. He helps with breakfast, and buils a boat out of cardboard. He fixes himself a snack of apples and almond butter when he's hungry. He might choose to go outside to swing, woo a neighbor cat from under the shed, or ride his bike down the neighbor's driveway. He plays with the neighbor kids in the afternoons, or enjoys a board game with me if the weather is crummy. He has become “quite the hiker,” to use his own words, and is amazingly helpful with outside chores and gardening tasks. In the moments in between, he is either playing the piano (figuring out melodies in different keys is his jam) or on the couch with a book in his lap.

Last year at this time, I was struggling with homeschooling. I didn't feel like family life was joyful. I felt pressure to help my eldest learn to read. I felt pressure to come up with a family rhythm that worked for all of us. I felt pressure to find time to get in all the “educational stuff” every day, to make sure our days were nourishing, calm, and enriching. In my head, it went like this: first, math play with Daddy. Then, violin practice, followed by family music time. Next, we would move on to read-aloud and a planned art project, followed by reading and writing practice, outside play, and quiet time. Oh my. I met with resistance from one or another of my kids at every step of the way. Even though I was trying my best to maximize our moments of enrichment, it just started to feel like Time Spent. Precious Time - wasted because I was still holding onto the belief that, if I didn't expose my children to most subjects most days, I was an unsuccessful homeschooling parent. I was doing a disservice to my kids.

Thank goodness I got over that. Because my goal is not to have children who can recite math facts at incredible speed, or whose handwriting is beyond lovely and whose spelling is pristine at age seven. My goal, quite simply, is to live joyfully with my kids. I do not homeschool in order that they may get into an Ivy League university. I homeschool so that their minds can flourish in an environment of respect, so that they can practice listening themselves and empathizing with fellow humans, so that they can explore and have time to hone their own gifts and passions. I homeschool so we can enjoy living and learning together as a family. Which is why we shifted to radical unschooling.

31697158664_5e281dc87b_z

I'm not writing this to convince you that unschooling is the “right” way to homeschool. There are so many different kinds of personalities, and a school-at-home method might be perfect for certain kids and families. I'm writing this for anyone who feels like I did at this time last year – that homeschooling is a slog. This is for the homeschooling parent who feels stressed out by the pressure of fitting in all of those different subjects, who might be meeting with resistance from highly self-motivated kids. That was me. Turns out, my kids can smell a “teachy mom” with an agenda from miles away. They don't want a teachy mom. They want me: a mom who listens, who empathizes, who marvels with them, who supports them, who demonstrates passion, kindness and work ethic through her way of living rather than her words and rules, and who gets out of the way when they are concentrating.

The day I accepted that my own passions and interests wax and wane, and that I learn best when given the time to focus on one thing at a time, really getting into the flow of concentration, the sky opened up and a chorus of angels started singing. Of course my kids were constantly annoyed that they didn't have enough time to work on what was important to them. (I get annoyed when told that I need to stop doing what I'm focusing on in order to work on something else, too!) Obviously, just because I don't write every day, that doesn't mean that I am not a writer. Just because I put aside my sewing design work for months at a time, that doesn't mean I won't come back to it later when the moment is right. Just because I lose interest in cooking fancy meals in order to make time for a burst of interest in painting doesn't mean I'll never cook again. The idea that learning must happen at a constant, plodding pace is just plain wrong. When I liberated myself from the idea that I had to be all things all the time, I passed along that grace to my children as well. (Notice that I don't commit to write a weekly blog post, or come out with a new sewing pattern every season. I'll do those things when I'm inspired to do them – that way, they fill me with energy rather than depleting me.) Just because my kids don't practice math daily doesn't mean they won't obsess over rubik's cube theory for two days straight. Just because they write a story one day doesn't mean that I need to worry if they put aside that work for a while after a burst of concentration and interest.

We cleared our morning schedule and allowed to allow the kids to get into interests and projects. And man, it feels SO right. We are all so happy. And learning, even the kind that can be measured by a test, has blossomed. No wonder – neurobiology has finally caught up with educational luminaries such as Jean Piaget and John Holt. It turns out that simply living joyfully, respectfully, and responsively with children provides the necessary environment for all sorts of learning to happen:

 

It is literally neurobiologically impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts, or make meaningful decisions without emotion. And after all, this makes sense: the brain is highly metabolically expensive tissue, and evolution would not support wasting energy and oxygen thinking about things that don’t matter to us. Put succinctly, we only think about things we care about. - Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang

31728886403_dfd3b12cf0_z

It was only when I stopped trying to teach Finn to read that he started to read on his own. When I stopped asking him to read aloud and stopped trying to institute a predetermined silent reading time, he took a mini reading vacation. He loved listening to read-alouds or audio books, but didn't pick up anything on his own. A few months into his vacation, I started displaying books that I thought might capture his interest. I put them, cover out, on the couch, which is where he first plops himself when he comes downstairs upon waking. He picked one up and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. From that point forward, he has been reading for several hours a day, nearly every day, of his own accord. All I do is “strew” books he will love in his path, and he gets lost in them.

The same has been true of Lachlan, who learned his letters in the hospital while recovering from his third surgery. Other than that, he was spared my well-meaning attempts at formal reading instruction other than following along with my finger during read-alouds, answering his direct questions, and playing some sound games. I put out books that I think might tickle his funny bone, and he happily plops himself down with them and reads book after book after book. I'm sure he isn't able to read every word in the Amulet series, but he gets most of them, and, like his older brother, he views reading as a diversion rather than a chore. Sadie is following suit, and she spends a good hour a day “reading” out loud all of the picture books she can get her hands on. Our living room floor is always covered with books.

Would I feel the same ease with unschooling if my kids hadn't embraced reading so readily? Sometimes I wonder, but the fact remains that they only started doing this once we had been curriculum- and rhythm-free for a good while. I attribute much of their rampant reading, natural interest in mathematical theory, and focused problem-solving capabilities to my graduate degree in Montessori education. Because of all of my immersion in Montessori, I understood the importance of preparing the environment to assist the child in entering into depth of flow, or concentrated effort. (For more on this theory, check out this talk TED talk by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Flow: The Secret of Happiness.)

32499831536_c8998142de_z

I've written before about our toys (and where we keep them) in a previous post. The gist is this: our few, open-ended toys are kept upstairs in a small play room. We spend most of our time downstairs, where they have access to myriad books, all of our musical instruments, the kitchen, and our art/tinkering space. During our “lazy” mornings, we all enjoy these activities (with some homemaking tasks thrown in for me and the occasional child.) All of these activities are set up to be welcoming and accessible for each child. We have cozy bean bags for reading, age-appropriate art materials available within reach (tempera paints aren't accessible for the 3 year-old, but markers, scissors, paper, etc. are.) We have headphones available to a child who wants to play the (electronic) piano while another is reading, so as not to disturb the reader. All of the baking supplies, as well as their cookbooks, are available to the five and seven year-olds in case they feel thus inspired. The snack drawer is nearly always stocked with a panoply of healthy options; even the toddler can serve herself whenever she is hungry.  Any Montessori teacher would feel at home in our house - the only thing missing is the expensive and space-consuming Montessori materials. Our home is designed so the kids can act safely and independently at a place where their interests are perfectly matched with just the right amount of challenge. They almost always enter this state of creative "Flow" given enough unstructured time.

31582509062_bb09d4bf4d_z

The one thing that we do differently from many radically unschooling families is screen time. Like most unschoolers, we don't restrict their time on screens and we don't waste our time or energy on arguing the value of video game vs. a good book. We just naturally don't have screen time. We don't own a television. (Since moving out of our respective homes at 18, Patrick and I have never owned a TV. It has never been our preferred way to relax.) We don't own a video game consul. Our kids don't have their own tablets or computers. Patrick is a computer programmer, and I have an online business and write on my computer, but it's clear to the kids that we don't look at screens if we aren't working. We'd rather be playing an instrument, drawing, hiking, or playing a board game. Screens just seem to suck away our precious time with each other, so we treat them as an occasional tool rather than an inevitable fixture. We are not Luddites; we use YouTube to learn a skill and watch documentaries together. We watch Spanish language kids' music videos. The boys really enjoy programming music in Sonic Pi with their dad. Finn spent a few weeks last spring putting together elaborate stop-motion videos, which required learning to use my camera and lighting equipment and gaining proficiency with the stop motion software. They watch the occasional cartoon at their grandparents' house. But they don't have their own screens and they don't do school work online.

Rather than making it a self-regulating screenapalooza or a stress-filled, parent-regulated, much-sought-after commodity, we just naturally don't have screens readily available in our house. It's a perfect fit for our family. I'm not arguing the merits or disadvantages to unrestricted screen time, but I wanted to add this screen-light option to the radically unschooled dialog. Perhaps knowing that a naturally screen-light home environment is an option will help some screen-wary families open to the possibility of unschooling. It's certainly been a positive shift for our family. Goodbye curricula, hello Flow, hello healthy connection between parents and children.


7 ways to strengthen your relationship with your child despite sibling rivalry

31832737022_5f274306b8_z

There are always good moments. Moments when they are cuddled up together reading a book, times when they are helping and encouraging each other, coming up with some funny game, or giggling about an inside joke.

Then there are the other times.


31690195286_e5a8d22387_z

You know, sibling jealousy stuff. Little behavioral outcries for connection. Totally understandable, right? I mean, could you imagine having to share your partner, your one-and-only, with two other people who are angling for his/her affection? And can I just bemoan, for a bit, the lamentable fact that there are only TWO SIDES of my body while sitting on a couch reading a book, and TWO HANDS available while out on a hike? I know. I wish that, with the birth of my third child, I also acquired a third arm. Octopus appendages preferable.

When I consider the long view of parenting, what seems to be the most important factor (and ultimately, the only one I can control) is my individual relationship with each of my three children. As adults, they may end up good friends, they may end up living far from each other and seeing each other only occasionally, or they may be so different that they don't find much common ground. Of course, I hope that I'm building a strong sibling connection through homeschooling, family adventures, and traditions, but in the end, their relationships with each other are theirs alone. But my relationship with each of them is totally in my hands, and I strive to connect deeply with each of them.

30886134764_d4fbb27a69_z

Going through a phase where my kids are bickering more often that usual means that I need step back and observe if  there are any needs that aren't being adequately met - unmet needs which might correlate with the uptick of feelings of jealousy.

For us, that generally means that there has been a dearth of time alone with me. Time when I can focus on each child without distractions. Totally impractical, yet totally necessary for my kids' emotional health. Some days I struggle to get food made, shuttle kids to a lesson here, write a blog post there ... let alone make time for my own self-care. But here are some ways to connect with each child individually that have worked for me in the past. Starting today, I'm going to take my own advice and implement as many of the following strategies as possible. I should note that, for my kids, stealthy "special time" is better for sibling harmony than announcing to everyone that "Mama is going to spend 15 minutes playing with Lachlan. You other two do your thing, then it will be your turn!" That only rubs vinegar in their wounds.

Here are some ways that I can sneak in moments of connectedness with each child even amidst a full day:

1.) Steal little moments: Out of eyeshot of siblings, whisper sweet words of love and appreciation into each child's ear. Look at that child with a twinkle in your eyes. If you find it helpful, keep a little tally sheet for your own use, showing the number of whispered love messages/hugs each child has received that day.

2.) Take advantage of quiet moments to have a big, juicy conversation: When the other kids are engaged in their own activities/play, sit beside the free child and start a conversation about what he/she is doing. Follow conversational tangents, be curious about what that child is thinking. Express sincere interest in his/her interest(s).

3.)Little love notes: A simple note of appreciation or something that you noticed about the child's experience that day, left under a pillow, in a lunch box, or in a book that you pick to read together.

4.) Whisper to a child who needs some extra lovin' that you'd like to share some special time with her, and ask if it's ok if you invite her siblings to listen to an audiobook together while you play/chat together. I find having a multi-headphone splitter a great tool for this. The kids are able to hear more clearly, and thus focus more easily, on their story. Each of my kids has a different version of these animal headphones.

5.) Schedule dates with each child: We are lucky in my family - we have three children, one set of grandparents who live in town, and two parents. This means that we have the freedom to set aside a morning or afternoon where each child receives some special attention - one with me, one with Patrick, and one with my parents. Ideally, we do this every few weeks, rotating kids.

6.) Focus on the positive interactions: Write down the good moments. Do a little mental tally of those moments of kindness and mention your gratitude for such moments to your child before he or she falls asleep.

7.) Every week, have a meeting with each child: Ask what their priorities are for the week - what do they want to play? Who do they want to see? What are they curious to learn? Write them down, and discuss how you might be able to fit their interests into the family calendar.

30918037883_6e7f4b7f9c_z

And don't forget to take lots of pictures and videos of them having fun together. My husband thought that he and his siblings constantly fought, but was surprised to see some long-lost family videos that indicated that his memory was slightly skewed. They were all being so darling and sweet to each other! For your kids' sake, make sure they remember the positive interactions that they shared. Tell stories about those funny and kind sibling moments, watch the fun videos, and pull out the photo books often.

*This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting my writing and our family! 

 


Encourage Your Kids to Hike and Give Them a Lifelong Gift of Joyful Movement

  30968091114_516e75f06f_z

In the past year, we've slowly emerged from a period of time during which I couldn't take my three kids out to hike by myself. When Sadie was born, Lachlan still very much needed to be carried after a short period of walking. He can tire easily (he only has half a heart!), but sometimes he just didn't feel like walking – something he shares with most kids of preschool age, I imagine. And when a preschooler doesn't feel like walking, well … you shift your ideal to accommodate your reality.

 

My ideal is being able to enjoy multi-day backpacking trips with my kids. I grew up next to the Tahoe National Forest, and my dad and I would often head to the trail for the weekend. My dad is not an effusive guy, but during those hikes, camped beside isolated Sierra Nevada lakes, we connected. We didn't talk each other's ears off, but we did hard things together, and shared many funny moments. I want to experience that same distraction-free connection with my kids. Also, my dad's implicit confidence in my resilience as a backpacker framed so much of my self-conception as a woman today – no less capable of doing hard, adventurous, physically and mentally demanding things than my three older brothers. This is an image he cultivated in me from the time I was four, when he and I summited Mt. Lassen. Throughout my life, he told that story proudly. How the rest of the our friends' kids grumbled their way up the trail, and I kept on truckin' and singing, all the way to the top. He and I did a goofy dance in the summer snow patch at the summit. It is one of my most cherished childhood memories.

  30999438333_7a6036c3b0_z

My little guy with a congenital heart defect would not have been able to summit Mt. Lassen at age four . Instead, I adjusted my ideal and we picked hike-free natural places to explore while he grew in physical and mental resilience. We would (and still do) bring a picnic, art supplies, nets, magnifying glasses, field guides and set about exploring and simply enjoying the nature right around us. Sometimes we would go for very short hikes, but we tended to stick nearby. I wanted to cultivate positive vibes about nature. Check.

  31808711045_93d6ff2aba_z

And yet … I didn't want our experience of nature to remain sedentary. I am very aware of the benefits of moderate physical exercise for heart kids. Lachlan's heart function depends on a lifestyle of movement. His little heart is a muscle, and the more regularly he works it out, the better and longer it will serve him. He won't be able to play competitive soccer, basketball, or any organized sport like that. But as a family, we can provide him the knowledge of a physical activity that he can continue to enjoy well past the time that most adults stop participating in organized sports and start sitting in front of a computer screen for work. Hiking. Outdoor adventuring in general. A joyful gift of lifelong movement and health.

Here are the things that I'm currently doing to pass along a love of movement in nature, with a goal of going on our first family backpacking trip within the year.

31771442786_f8f8b76fb7_z

Scavenger hunt hikes

Sometimes the excitement of a scavenger hunt will get them out of the house in a jiffy. These can be “collecting” scavenger hunts, where they look for bits of nature to bring home for the nature table, but sensory scavenger hunts are my favorite. They have a list of things to see, smell, touch, or hear. Check out Pinterest for inspiration.

 

Snack bags

Have snack, will walk. It's really amazing to me how far my youngest two can go when they have bags of crackers or popcorn to dip into. While I try to keep cracker-face-stuffing to a minimum at home, on the trail they are a much-anticipated treat.

 

Gear Up the Kids 

Sometimes the gift of a special hiking backpack, hydration system, hiking boots, or trekking poles will inspire them to make some forward momentum on the trail. Lachlan is a big fan of “gear”. (Finn would go naked and barefoot into the woods, and Sadie of course prefers wearing her Halloween-princess-costume-turned-hiking-dress, but Lachlan is motivated by his backpack!)

30998937213_220c373da0_z

 

Gear Up the Mama

Two items have changed my ability to hike solo with my little family: my backpack with a comfortable hip belt and my ultra light-weight Boba Air baby carrier, which folds itself into a tiny zip bag when not in use. I'll start with the Boba carrier – I always stow it in my backpack. In case Lachlan or Sadie get tired, I can pop them in the carrier. In case both of them get tired at the same time, I can (as a last resort) put one in the carrier and the other on my shoulders and view it as an excellent work out! (I always anticipate this, and consider it a gift of a great work out rather than a situation to be feared and avoided at all costs.)

 

My backpack is filled with crackers, extra clothes, and water, mostly. It also provides me with the ability to facilitate a sweet little rest time, if needed. I love to pack a nature-themed story book like The Burgess Bird Book for Children, as well as some simple nature journal supplies (The boys tend to carry their own sketch books and water in their trail packs now, but I started out carrying everyone's supplies so as not to weight them down before they were ready.)

 

Sometimes a Curriculum is Helpful

I have loved some of the suggestions in Exploring Nature with Children, a Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool curriculum. While we are radical unschoolers and don't follow curricula, I use this as a learning resource for myself, so I can be informed about seasonal details in nature. The book's suggestions are great, as are the themed nature walks. There are even some crafting ideas thrown in there! Highly recommended.

 

We've also participated in and enjoyed the Wild Explorers Club. The kids get weekly “assignments,” which vary from week to week. Some of our favorites have been making your own special walking stick and creating a map of a hike or natural area. When they complete a level (about 4 assignments), you can order them a special badge. We put our membership on hold this fall, but the boys have been asking to start up again. I should get on that.

 

Find a Hiking Community

It's no surprise that kids move more quickly, and with more gusto, when they are doing it with friends. So much more running happens on the trail when we hike with other kids! We are fortunate to have outdoor-loving friends. If you're still searching for your tribe, see if Hike It Baby or Adventure Mamas has an active community in your area.

  31661174862_2b671a3e4f_z

 

Go Slowly, Go Quickly

Be prepared to stop and play in water. Be prepared to marvel at small things. Be prepared to notice the feeling on dirt as it sifts from one hand to the other. Children move slowly, and we should follow their lead. Conversely, be prepared to play a game of tag. Be prepared to race to a tree. Be prepared to be playful. Children can move quickly, and we should follow that cue, as well. Nurturing a balance between fast and slow will keep everyone in balance as you hike.

31808682835_dfd9e2f36e_z

 

Talk it Up, Build Their Identities as Hikers

31661183602_85bf16564e_z

Just like my dad did for me, talk about what amazing hikers your kids have become. Be in awe of their small triumphs, their resilience, their ability to do hard things. After a hike, talk up all of the neat things you saw, all of the fun you had. Plan hikes together - start a Pinterest board together of nearby trails you'd like to get to know. Teach them navigation skills, give them a camera to help document your nature discoveries. Let little ones take turns leading, and thank them for their help afterwards. Tell bedtime stories about them as explorers. Brag about their hiking to their grandparents in the same way you would mention how well they are learning to read.  Essentially, communicate that joyful movement in nature is an esteemed family value. In time, your children will come to self-identify as capable outdoor adventurers.