Just Knitting

It’s November in New England and all I want to do is knit.

pile of knitting

To that end, I have added three pairs of Evangeline mitts (modified to my liking) and a Saroyan scarf to the gift closet stash. I keep thinking I should be drawing or painting or coming up with another stamp or linocut design…. but all I really want to do is knit, so I’m going with it. (I also want to sew, a little bit. I have fabric for dresses for my 6yo, but the first pattern I bought was awful so now I’m modifying something else and, oh, it’s a long story. I haven’t gotten up the courage to cut the material yet.) I’m just going to trust the process, indulge what I feel pulled to do, and let my brain work on stuff in the background. Usually a period of relative restfulness (knitting is very restful, especially when it’s old familiar patterns) ends with a creative burst.

But, speaking of those old familiar patterns….I’ve modified those Evangeline mitts so much that almost all that’s left is the cable pattern. So, I thought, why not fool around a bit with a basic mitten pattern and a stitch dictionary and see if I can come up with something completely unique? Occasionally I get asked if I sell the mitts and I always say no, because strictly speaking, it’s not my pattern. It would be nice to have the option, I suppose.

cabled mitt in progress

So I guess I’m not being totally dormant on the creative front.

In other news, I’m vacuuming every other day, we’ve only had one showing so far, and I’ll be burying St. Joseph upside down any day now. I have thought about Christmas exactly Not At All. Our six-year-old is sounding out words and beginning to read and losing teeth. Our oldest will be thirteen in less than two weeks and that’s going well some days. And on Saturday I’ll be getting on a train to New Haven to meet someone in person that I’ve only spoken to online. (Aside to my kids: Don’t do that.) So in general, you know, despite the real estate uncertainty, things are pretty good here.

Jon Scieszka-Inspired Writing Workshop

Don't Forget to WriteNot too long ago, I saw the book Don’t Forget To Write in the poets.org email newsletter and ordered it more or less on a whim. It looked good. Tuesday, all my kids were home for Election Day, so I decided to plan a writing workshop from one of the ideas in the book. I like having all my kids home, and while it’s true that in many ways, my middle child is less distracted when he’s the only one home, many explorations work better in a group. Some alchemy exists when ideas are shared, and who can deny the thrill of immediate positive feedback*?

This book is full of activities written by writing workshop leaders, including published authors, and I don’t remember the last time I browsed a kids’ writing book and wanted to try just about all the prompts. This book is good. Because we enjoy Jon Scieszka’s books, I decided to begin with his “lesson,” which consists of him sharing the inspiration for many of his books and inviting us to write stories in the same way. We own The Stinky Cheese Man, and I brought home a couple more from the library last week and left them around so they’d be fresh in the kids’ minds.

Scieszka books

The Stinky Cheese Man is a book of “fairly stupid tales,” created by changing something in a fairy tale in order to make it, well, stupid. Squids Will Be Squids is a book of fables written, Scieszka says, by taking stories of annoying or gross habits, turning the people involved into animals, and attaching a lesson. And The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is simply a fairy tale written from another character’s point of view.

And so we all got to writing, or dictating, in the case of my 6yo. She chose to tell the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff from the troll’s point of view, that poor tired troll, who was trying to take a nap and got woken up by all that trip-trapping over his head, plus a very bad headache, too. My middle child also visited the troll and billy goats, creating a fairly stupid tale by having the troll yell so loudly at the goats that they fell right off the bridge and died, so he ate them. I took the testimony of the duck, the dog, and the cat, who never showed an interest in gardening and wouldn’t have planted the seed anyway, so why is the Little Red Hen so grumpy over pursuing her own hobbies? And my oldest, my almost-teen, good-naturedly agreed to participate and then wrote this fable, which he said I could share. It made me laugh out loud.

Turtle had a pretty good life. Most of the time, he was able to do what he pleased. But one day, Lion came by. Turtle had a day off from work, so he was looking forward to a day of relaxing. But Lion had other ideas. Her cubs were doing schoolwork, and she thought that turtle should do it too, even though it was his day off. So she had him do work and constantly reminded him of what to do.

Moral: Some people don’t enjoy the same things as others. Think of others’ point of view.

For the record, he laughed out loud reading Squids Will Be Squids, and he contributed really good comments on everybody else’s stories. Maybe I can talk him into sitting in on another writing workshop with us on Veteran’s Day…

*The kids were told before anybody read out loud: We’ll be sharing something we like about each other’s stories. This was a workshop focused on generating ideas and getting words down, not tearing apart and revision.

A Frozen Birthday

My sweet, extroverted girl started school this year, and every day I hear about what she did with the other girls in her class. Within days she knew all their names, and she tells me about their make-believe games during recess and what they talk about and she is obviously enjoying that aspect of school so much. We don’t host “friends” birthday parties for the kids every year, but I wanted G to have a chance to experience that with this set of school friends. She was so, so excited at the idea of having her school friends over to her house. So despite everything else going on–cleaning and clearing and travel and listing the house–we planned a party, inspired by her favorite movie, Frozen.

amyhoodarts.com

I suppose we really ought to remove the streamers before we show the house to anyone, but I kind of don’t want to.

amyhoodarts.com

Table set and awaiting guests to arrive. While we waited for everyone, we had snow globes to make, with pre-glued penguins.

amyhoodarts.com

Goodness but these snow globes gave me fits. We have one that we made five years ago and the penguin is still firmly affixed. I used the same waterproof glue, yet some of these penguins became swimmers, and we had some leakage problems around the lids. Everyone was very nice about it, but it does gall me a bit.

After making snow globes (with glitter, of course), we went on a treasure hunt. The first clue led the girls to love expert trolls, an idea I got from this site.

"love expert" pet rock trolls at amyhoodarts.com

Some had already been scooped up when I snapped this photo. The rest look a little nervous about it, don’t they? I’d like to glue googly eyes onto everything now. These rocks just kill me.

G and N both helped with the treasure hunt planning. G decided what treats we should include, and N helped me with hiding places and clues. The girls received Frozen pencils and stickers, sparkly play-dough “snowballs,” and plastic costume jewelry necklaces (fit for a princess, of course). V came along too to help with general herding, and at cake-and-ice-cream time, he poured out lemonade for all the girls. It was a lovely bonus of the party to see my boys helping to make sure their younger sister and her guests enjoyed themselves.

amyhoodarts.com

And enjoy herself she did. She was so sad when it was time for her guests to go home, but she also thanked me for throwing her a party. I’m so glad we did. Lots of big things are happening here, but it’s important to mark the special days, too, and not let them get lost in the shuffle. A party full of little girls (in sparkly costumes!) is a new experience in this family and it was just about the sweetest thing ever. A perfectly perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon in late October.

Strawberry DNA + Cheese

Two separate activities, of course. Homeschooling goes on, amidst everything else, and I’d like to report on what N is doing more frequently but, well, many things have fallen off the list here, replaced with super fun activities like cleaning and clearing all the things. It’s more of a priority to do the activities than blog about them, obviously. But I wanted to share some things from this week and lo! I have managed to.

Firstly, he is working through his chosen science curriculum, REAL Science Odyssey Level 2. It’s a challenge–this is definitely not just a review of things he already knows. Depending on the material, I have us cover a chapter in two weeks instead of one, so we’re just now starting Chapter 7, which introduces DNA. In one of my decluttering sweeps I found instructions for extracting DNA from strawberries, which we picked up years ago at an open house event at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography. You can find lots of instructions online for this if you search. I like URI’s handout because the measurements are scientific and precise–in milliliters and grams–and it explains the why behind each step. The only thing I had to go out and buy was pineapple juice.

N is proudly displaying the test tube containing our results.

DNA extracted from strawberries at amyhoodarts.com

The DNA is that cloudy stuff right at the spot where the clear liquid (cold rubbing alcohol) and the pink liquid (strawberry mixture) meet. Here’s a close-up.

DNA extracted from strawberries at amyhoodarts.com

How cool is that?? So cool. Then we fished it out with a toothpick and looked at it under the microscope. You can’t see the double helix, of course, but it’s still so cool.

Earlier this week, he made cheese. Just about a year ago, he made his first couple of batches, and then…lost interest. He asked to do it again recently, and chose a dessert ricotta. The recipe called for citric acid powder, which we finally tracked down at the local Ace Hardware after striking out in all grocery stores we tried. The cheese was fantastic.

homemade dessert ricotta at amyhoodarts.com

We realized we needed something to eat it with, so we made cake. The next day I made ricotta cookies. We still have about half a pound of ricotta left, so I think I’ll make more ricotta cookies. This is a yummy project.

And one final thing related to homeschooling…the latest issue of Home/School/Life Magazine is out; my column is full of tips to make visiting an art museum with young kids fun for everybody. You can subscribe or buy a single issue of the magazine here, or try to win a copy at Mud Puddles to Meteors.

Working That Serenity

My youngest child turns six today. So of course I made her a new number shirt (using a freezer-paper stencil).

freezer paper birthday shirt at amyhoodarts.com

I used a different textile paint, a matte liquid paint that I suspect is just liquid acrylic, re-bottled and up-priced. She wanted purple, and it’s hard to mix a good pure purple with the textile inks I usually use. I think it came out really well (although I haven’t washed it yet).

I love these shirts.

As for the serenity I’m working? I chose that word as a reminder for 2014, in a nod to the work I’ve done being okay with uncertainty. And oh, 2014 has presented so much uncertainty! For a good chunk of the year, we weren’t sure if my husband would accept a job offer that had come his way, unsought. It was a process, and the decision-making needed the time it needed, and during that time, it was a possibility, but not a given. And now, of course, we’ll be moving. When? Who knows. Where? Not exactly sure. In the remaining days of October, my husband has two business trips, we’re hosting our daughter’s school friends for a birthday party, and we’re putting our house on the market. (That third thing takes place only four days after the party, and my husband won’t even be in town when the sign goes up on the front lawn.) We have all the regular things–school, karate, appointments. Halloween and costume planning and trick-or-treating. It seems like a lot for less than two weeks. I’m just working that serenity.

And the party! She wanted a Frozen theme, and we have some fun things up our sparkly ice-princess sleeves. That’s my main focus this week, along with photographing the various rooms in the house so the photos are ready for the listing date. I have my lists. I have Gilmore Girls to re-watch while my husband is away. I don’t have to conduct frantic pre-party cleaning/hiding stuff because I’ve been cleaning and decluttering for almost two months now. It seems to work best if I just focus on the day I’m in, and maybe a little bit of the next day or two. Things tend to fall into place. What it’s taken me all my life up until this year to really understand is that that’s true whether I twist myself into a nervous wreck about things, or not. So. I figure we’ll sell our house and find a house and maybe it will go seamlessly or maybe we’ll have to rent or stay in a hotel or who knows? I have a party to plan first. Hopefully I’ll post about our treats and trimmings later this week–but maybe it’ll take me until next week. We’ll just have to wait and see!

The Gift Knitting Has Begun

My brain needs some soothing knitting, the kind of thing I barely have to focus on but have to focus on enough to hopefully quiet the hamster that’s running around on his wheel in there. Every time I cross something off my to-do list I think of something to add. Our youngest is turning six this month and since it’s her first year in school, we invited all the girls in her class over for a Frozen-themed birthday party, and then we’ll list the house a few days later. That sounds reasonable, right? Plus there’s Halloween this month and the things We Always Do (corn maze, carving Jack o’Lanterns, costume design). My husband is traveling quite a bit. The boys have a big-deal belt test this weekend. Something’s going to have to give, and hopefully it’s not my sanity.

So, knitting. I like to have a supply of gifts for the village–you know, the ancillary people in our kids’ lives. Our 10yo has a couple of those people working with him right now, and I’m not sure if these will be holiday gifts or good-bye-and-thank-you-so-much gifts, but either way, I want to make sure they’re ready and waiting. First up, Evangeline, a fingerless mitt pattern that I adjusted to suit my own tastes. I can practically knit it in my sleep, I’ve made it so often.

Evangeline knit mitt at amyhoodarts.com

I modeled on my own hand, of course, because it looks so much better on.

One of the recipients seems like a scarf person to me, so I began another Saroyan. This is also a pattern I’ve made more than once, so even though I’m following line by line, it’s not terribly taxing.

Saroyan in progress at amyhoodarts.com

Here, I’ve done one repeat on the straight section.

I’ll probably make more mitts to have on hand, although my youngest’s teacher already has a pair from when my middle child was in her class…but my oldest’s teachers don’t have any of my knitting yet. We’ll see how it goes. There is much left to do in the half of October which remains.

Introducing Art Together Issue Five: Shape + Space

Art Together Issue Five: Shape + Space at amyhoodarts.com

Wow! I am really happy to have this finished! I love researching and creating these magazines (or I wouldn’t do it), and of course I like sitting down and making art with my kids. But I’ve felt so harried with getting our house in shape that finishing this issue was hanging over my head–I wanted it done and out in the world, not reproaching me, not quite complete, from my computer. Here it is. I hope you find it worth the wait.

All the information, and how to purchase, can be found on the Art Together Issue Five: Shape + Space page. You can use the code SHAPE20 for 20% off any Art Together purchase, and speaking of codes, MOVINGSALE is good for 20% off in my Etsy shop until we move. (I’m aiming for less to pack!)

I plan to get back to posting here more regularly. I’m not done with decluttering and such, but I am done with having no balance whatsoever. At some point, all the listing prep will be complete, but I need to not be a frazzled shred by then.

October. October!

Issue Five Cover at amyhoodarts.com

Coming soon–next week, in fact!

I didn’t intend to be quiet here for so long. But since I last posted, my days have consisted of driving, homeschooling, all the other mama things, and cleaning and decluttering. Most of that doesn’t lend itself to terribly interesting blogging, and even when I thought about sharing something (like that workshop I went to on executive functioning), it stayed a thought, because I’ve really been using all the spare time to clean. Let’s just say that while I am very good at keeping up with the daily necessities–cooking, dishes, bathrooms, laundry, snow shoveling, and so on–that the condition of the house is proof that I’d rather create something or get outside than deal with clutter and deep cleaning. And so it is that I’ve not drawn or painted or sewn or created or even written much more than grocery lists for much of the past month, while I deal with the fall-out of all that time spent at the beach or reading on the deck or carving a stamp. And while I don’t regret those past choices, I’m feeling a little prickly at the lack of creative time right now!

However, I am on track to publish the fifth issue of Art Together next week. A printed-out hard copy is coming with me tomorrow because I have some wait time and I like to proofread and copy edit on paper, not a screen. Making use of that time! It’ll be good to have this one out in the world.

And More Transitions

I’m still getting used to the new schedule. Between drop-off and pick-up, N and I are busy all day with his work, and then the next shift begins, with after-school activities and dinner. (Sometimes the former conflicts with preparing the latter.) I haven’t yet identified where I could squeeze in some pockets of time for me in this schedule, so I’m tired, but I know from experience it will shake out eventually.

Meanwhile, I can finally share (because it’s now definite) that we’ll be relocating from Rhode Island to the DC area, Maryland side, once we sell our house. So somehow, we need to deal with everything that’s cluttered up since we moved into this house almost 11 years ago and get it ready to go on the market. My husband and I both grew up here so this is a big change–but a very exciting one. I’ll miss this:

transitions 2-beach

Morning coffee at the salt pond behind the barrier beach–one of our favorite places, just 15 minutes from home.

But I won’t miss this:

Sometimes the snow builds up, and sometimes we get almost 2 feet all at once.

Sometimes the snow builds up storm by storm, and sometimes we get almost 2 feet all at once.

We’ve told the kids, and we’re helping them process the news and soliciting their ideas on what sort of house and community we’d like to live in. As the decision-making process was going on, my one request was that we remain together as a family. I didn’t want to end up in a situation where my husband was already in Maryland at his new position while the kids and I were up here, trying to sell the house so we could join him. We have a generous amount of time to relocate, but still, we need to get the house in order and start the process. So this space may be a bit quiet as I try to spend the pockets of time I do carve out to clean and declutter.

A Foot in Two Worlds

G first day of school

This child was very excited on her first day of kindergarten.

In the Venn Diagram of schooling options, the overlap between school and homeschool is probably the most difficult spot to be in. I’m technically part of both groups but not really fully part of either. I am a homeschooling mom, and I also have two kids in school. This is a difficult situation, to have a foot in both worlds. Some of the best benefits of homeschooling—freedom from the school calendar and daily routine—don’t apply here. We can’t take vacations whenever we want; we have to keep the school calendar in mind. We can’t sleep until our bodies say; I need to get all three kids in the car to drive two of them to school, and then N and I get back in the car in the afternoon to pick them up. The school decided everybody would get “depot” stops this year, so I’m either driving them to a bus stop because it’s too far to walk, or driving all the way to school. For now, I’m choosing to forego the new busing, which seems inefficient, with stops in unsafe areas as well.

I’ve seen two homeschool classes that N might enjoy and that would get him some time with other homeschoolers, but both run from 1 to 4 in the afternoon, over the state line in CT, and I can’t have him there and also get my other kids home from school. I’d thought, when our 5yo wanted to try kindergarten, that at least with her seventh-grade brother on the bus, if they beat us home by a few minutes, he was capable of escorting her off the bus and into the house, getting her snack and so on. But now I need to be there to pick them up or meet the bus with the car, so those homeschooling classes are beyond our reach.

Then, there’s school. My heart is in homeschooling. Much about school in general pains me. Yet I need to honor my children’s wishes to go, and so I do my best to provide what I feel school does not. I think they both have good teachers this year, and that helps. But there’s no hiding that I feel out of place at school. I never know how to respond when parents comment that they can’t wait for summer to be over, or what on earth will they do with their kids over school vacation week. I can’t wait for summer, to have all my kids together, to be free of adhering to an external schedule, for them to have the time to pursue interests not handed down by a teacher. I often feel like I don’t speak the right language when I’m at school. Over the years I’ve learned mostly to keep to myself, because I feel I’m always in danger of saying the exact wrong thing. And I obviously don’t think the school is wonderful for everybody, or we wouldn’t have withdrawn our middle child. I think the school is okay for many kids, and really good for some, and really bad for some, too. Writing that, I realize it describes a bell curve, which is probably about right for any school.

It’s hard to be very involved at school, too, because I homeschool. I’ve never regularly volunteered in classrooms. (Even when both boys were in school, I had a baby at home.) I try to attend at least one field trip, which involves my husband taking the day off to hang out with our homeschooled kid. Early on I did try to be more involved, but let’s say that decreased as my middle child’s difficulties there increased, and finally I mostly gave up.

It’s unproductive—but sometimes tempting—to think about what it would be like, all one way or the other. There’s no point in wishing it were different; this is the reality I have, trying to honor each individual child’s wants and needs. I’d probably identify myself as a homeschooling parent first, and I wonder if that’s even legitimate, given two of three children are in school this year. But it’s where my heart is, even as I go through the daily routine of packing school lunches, sitting in the pick-up line, checking folders for notes and following up on homework. It chafes, a constant friction between what feels most right to me versus what I’m actually doing. I know I’m not the only parent negotiating both homeschooling and school, but I don’t see it talked about much. And so I write about it, to perhaps begin a conversation.