poetry and the class picnic blouse

 

DSC_0125

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

DSC_0016 (2)

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!)

DSC_0072 (1)

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. 

DSC_0152

DSC_0184

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. 

DSC_0172


a reintroduction

McElwee-206

 

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.

 

McElwee-229

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.

 

McElwee-227

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.

McElwee-020

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.  

McElwee-155 (1)


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.

Christmas 2013

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 

korrigan

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

DSC_2140

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.)

DSC_2101

DSC_2137

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

DSC_1132

DSC_1100

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.

DSC_1114

DSC_1124

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. 

DSC_1149

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. 


gratitude diary

early autumn in my backyard

Early autumn in our backyard

What I'm thankful for this Monday

- The way Finn reaches up to touch my chin when he's on the brink of falling into a deep sleep, to check if it's Mama or Daddy who is ushering him along his nighttime journey.

- Winnie-the-Pooh (the chicken), who spent nearly a year on this earth, enjoying our kitchen scraps, ridding the garden of Japanese beetles, and providing us with milky-green eggs. We lost her this weekend to a predator - we think a fox or a raccoon. But her passing provided a gentle introduction to death and mourning for the boys, an inevitable and hauntingly beautiful part of life, too.

- That Lachlan thinks it's mighty hilarious to yell out, "Ready ... set ... POOP!" Over and over again, of course. Because a joke isn't funny just once when you are 2 and a half.

- The tragic comedy that turned Patrick into a Shakespearian grave digger par excellence when we discovered a dead deer in our backyard. What luck that this happened on a Saturday and not a Monday! He accomplished the deed in good spirits after a glass of wine, but has decided that hole digging is not the most balanced of workouts. Yoga for Recovering Hole Diggers isn't offered at our local YMCA. 

- Cloudy, drizzly days. No better way to get in the proper mood for autumn, cup of tea in hand - when hands aren't busy knitting.

What are you grateful for as you start another week?

P.S. I've updated our booklists in the side bar, if you're interested in Finn and Lachlan's current favorites.


holiday sewing sale

DSC_1590

Unrelated picture, but I love it, so there you go. Photo by Finn, who is definitely getting his very own camera in his stocking this year!

We're having little sale over at the pattern shop - 30% off all patterns. This should give you plenty of time to sew up some handmade gifts for the holidays! The Gathering Apron, Clara Dress, Esme Top and Skinny Jeans are among the discounted designs.

Hopefully, with your help (wink, wink) we'll get rid of some of our inventory so we can have a more manageable warehouse once our three new patterns go up for sale in about a month. 

Also, now seems like a great time to mention that I will be permanently stepping back from the day-to-day operations at Sew Liberated, as my wonderfully talented intern, Danica, has stepping into our first full-time position! Danica will be working on the business side of things, coming up with new designs as well as shipping your orders with care and attention. If you have a question regarding your order, it's likely that you'll be talking with Danica. If you have a sewing-related question, you'll be hearing from Kim, who has worked with us for years now, writing copy for pattern instructions and answering all of your queries about sewing up our patterns. I'm so grateful to have such a wonderful team to work with, and am grateful that their help makes it possible for me to focus on having babies and lounging around the house ... because that's what all mamas of little ones do, right? ;) Hehe. 

The sale will last for one week, until 9 p.m. EST on Tuesday, October 8. Enjoy your handmade holiday shopping!