bringing back the smock

 DSC09692DSC09128Nowadays, the idea of dressing a child in a smock all day long is a bit out dated. Before washing machines, clothes were worn several times before washing, so the smock was the perfect solution when it came to caring for children’s clothes. We have a washing machine of course, but thanks to my love of knitting and our three season “woolies,” we also have a lot of garments that have to be hand washed. Enter smock! This is such a handy way to limit washing. In fall and spring the smock can be worn directly over woolies. In winter we add a vest or sweater between the woolies and the smock. In summer the long sleeve smock is a nice light weight, high altitude, sun protecting garment (when made out of lighter colors), and the apron variety makes a nice sun dress.

 DSC09107DSC09697The patterns are from the Children’s Year by Cooper, Fynes-Clinton and Rowling (a great resource for all kinds of projects to do with or for children). The long sleeved one is made to fit 3-4 year olds. It is slightly big, but wearable on my average weight, but on the shorter side 3 year old. It fits my petite almost 5 year old perfectly. The crisscross apron style (great for over a dress) says it fits 18 mos-2 ½ years, but I opted to line it, and ended up with a slightly smaller product. At 16 mos, it functions well as a smock on Opal, but it falls off her shoulders when she wears it over a t-shirt.

 DSC09702DSC09671Both patterns require you to know how to finish seams without much instruction (I just use pinking shears) and transfer scaled drawings to pattern paper. I’ve found that 3 or 4 is a good number to make it from wash day to wash day. (Thankfully, it is socially acceptable for a smock to be a little smudgy here and there!)

DSC09017DSC09095P.S.  Sorry I have been a bit absent here this week.  We are so busy every day processing food from the garden and riding the wave of excitement of school starting that there hasn’t been much time to write!

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a few things for mama

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When I unpacked our summer clothes in June I realized pretty quickly that most of the items belonging to me were maternity clothes. I guess that’s natural when you have been pregnant or nursing a baby for five and a half years. So, when my birthday rolled around I decided it was time for Mama to have some new wardrobe additions. It took about a month to create these, in stolen moments in between life, but I think there is still some good summer wearing in them. The pattern is Ruby Dress and Top, which was just about right for me as a mostly beginning garment sewer. Since I do not have a fabric cutting set (rotary blade, quilter’s ruler and mat) I opted for store bought biased tape, but I am looking forward to making my own biased tape in the future.  

DSC09569It feels good to have taken those stolen moments to create something for myself. Like many in my shoes, I am always putting my hands to work for others.   But, as I pull these new items over my head, I remember how important it is to give ourselves a little TLC from time to time.

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summer supper

DSC09049I love that this time of the year supper starts with whatever is growing in the garden. Add to that a grain and perhaps a bit of cheese or nuts and, 30 minutes later, voila! We’ve really embraced the simple, out-of-the-garden approach this year, partially out of necessity. Like many others who’ve chosen the single income path, we go to the grocery store with a tight, almost unsustainable budget. More than that, however, I’ve been trying to strike a better balance when it comes to meal preparation. It’s a dangerous road out there for the home chef who wants to create beautiful nutritious meals for his or her family. Cooking shows, food magazines, 16-ingredient after school snack recipes with charming presentations on Pinterest (which, once produced, in this house, disappear in under 48 hours), and images of 1940’s moms pulling sheets of cookies out of the oven just as the children arrive home, all result in lots of pressure to produce gourmet food, three meals a day, 365 days a year.DSC09545

Admittedly, I still fall into this trap. But, as the family has grown, I’ve turned to all those cookbooks on the shelf less and less. I still get them out once a week or so, to try something new, learn a new technique, keep the meal rotation from getting stale. And I do love those moments when I have a little extra space to be a foodie, but more often than not I rely upon the basic techniques I’ve picked up along the way to create healthy, beautiful, fresh meals with staple ingredients. Through this, I’ve accepted that it’s okay to eat summer squash and zucchini several times a week. Let’s face it, sometimes several times a day! No one seems to mind, least of all the children who turn their noses up at those fancy cookbook creations anyways, opting instead for pasta, sautéed veggies and parmesan (“noodle”) cheese. As far as they are concerned: simple foods at their best.

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turning three

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Lucien became a three year old yesterday . Although, truth be told he has felt like a three year old for a few months now. As his speech has emerged, his individuality has really begun to shine through. He is a unique combination of wild and tender, alternating between flinging his body about the world and “nuggling” with Papa, Mama, blankie and a rotating door of soft friends. (He is a bit of a serial monogamist when it comes to stuffed animals: every few days, or at most, weeks, he moves on to a new one that he simply cannot live without.)

DSC09356This was the year that he became “bike riding man,” on his little red strider bike. While his older brother has opted for the careful precision of a pedal bike with training wheels, Lucien prefers to zoom throughout the world, legs kicked out to the side, tangle of golden hair following behind him. When he stops for a break he’ll likely have a few jokes to tell, and I confess most of them have to do with the bathroom. I kept thinking this phase would pass, but, having mentioned it to a seasoned kindergarten teacher friend, her response was, “Well, he is a boy, so perhaps in about 20 years.” DSC08076 This was also the year of the siblings in many ways. After three years of petitioning, Lucien has found a place in “Te’s” world. They are often together, building, climbing, dressing up, scheming. When Mattheus shares one of his elaborate stories, Lucien is always sure to have a similar one. (On MY farm….) And, as Mattheus has embraced Lucien, Lucien has slowly made room in his little world for Opal. They were not fast friends. For months and months we heard little more than “No, Umpa!” Perhaps Opal’s hospital stay had something to do with it, or our insistent demands for, and modeling of kindness. But, overall, I think the two of them just had to find their own way into each others’ hearts, when the time was right.

DSC08840Lucien will join his big brother in kindergarten at the end of this month. As always, in these moments of big change, I am reminded of the great deception time plays on us when they are this young: the eternal days add up to years that slip by in moments. Best get those nuggles while I can. 

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suburban children

DSC08861Well, sort of. It is true that in some ways my children are suburban kiddos. Last month while we were visiting family in the Great North Woods of northern New Hampshire, Lucien became fixated on seeing a moose. It is a fairly common occurrence on the stretch of road that winds through the bogs of the Androscoggin River between Berlin and Errol. But, I had never perceived Lucien’s limited experience with forest until, later on the same trip, we were riding bikes through a small 100ft area of trees. “Maybe we will see a moose!” Even this small cluster of trees was forest to him—the fact that we could see directly into people’s backyards did not matter in his almost three year old mind. In moments like these, the packed in suburban farm seems so inadequate to meet the small child’s need to be filled up with nature. As a mother, I despair a little, and can’t help but ask myself, “Are we really doing enough to balance their city existence?”DSC08993Still, in a world of concrete and city pools, they can walk out their back door and pick red strawberries, measure how tall the corn is against their own height, picture their Halloween jack-o-lanterns as they tuck pumpkin seeds into the ground, snack on a pea pod on the way to the sandbox, watch a pollen heavy bee visiting the sunflowers, argue whether or not the raspberries are supposed to be red or black (I will never win this argument. If only they knew how juicy sweet they could be!). When we buy eggs from the grocery store they ask, “Why isn’t the yolk orange, Mama?” And, they are beginning to understand that to be able to eat a chicken with good conscience, you have to be able to look that chicken in the eye, with gratitude and sadness and matter-of-factness for the cycles of existence, as you end its life.  These suburban children live the growing, harvesting, passing, resting of the year, and I hope that this understanding, planted within them at a tender young age, will instill in them something of nature’s laws of transformation, and how the human being, too, interweaves through this process.

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Would I prefer they lived in a magical land without stop lights? Yes, part of me would. But, the question that always follows is, “What about the community work?” After all, there are few places on the earth in which abundance of nature does not also equal absence of man. And, when it comes right down to it, we need each other.

Unlike all else in the natural world, there is a part of us that is not bound by its laws. A farm dog will never stop to ponder the morality of eating a woodchuck. But if you ask ten people why they eat the food they eat, you’ll likely get ten different answers. As human beings, we are always asking ourselves, “Am I doing the right thing?” We are awake in our thought lives and free to choose how we strive to transform ourselves, unlike any other being on the face of the earth. More often than not, it is another human being that holds up the mirror, reflecting our shortcomings back to us, nudging us to put our egotism aside and gaze upon the image in the mirror with more objectivity. If we are lucky, the mirror is held up in love, so that the clarity of the reflection is accompanied by the transforming power of warmth.

Of course, the natural world holds up this mirror also, forever showing us how our human flaws have ravaged the earth. But, it never says, “You know, I forgive you this mistake and I love you, so I’ll clean up that river, rectify global warming, bring back the Mountain Gorilla in abundance.” In this way, nature is bound by its own laws, the limitations of cause and effect. It is only the human being that is free to offer the transformative power of love.  

Perhaps this is why the Garden, where we lived in perfect harmony with nature, free from knowledge and questioning, is behind us in our evolution. We are not called upon to return to this paradise. Instead, we are called upon to build the New Jerusalem; a city filled to the brim and overflowing with all the capacities only a human being can carry; “all the spiritual treasures of the peoples and all achievements of soul.” (Revelation 22:26)

These suburban children will have to wait a while for another chance to spot a moose, swim in a lake, count rotten trees in the forest. But, every day in the small part of this city that is our community, they will be called upon to look in the mirror, and they will be offered unconditional love to take up the work of transforming their reflection. I think I can live with that.

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suburban rooster

DSC08793Rodrigo is a Buff Orpington. He joined the flock of 20 laying hens a few weeks ago while the kids and I were still in New England.  I have often gazed out at the barnyard and lamented the lack of a rooster.  I thought maybe a Bantam fellow to keep the ladies company–fertilize eggs.  John has always rightly pointed out that said hypothetical pint sized rooster’s progeny would, after all, lay half sized eggs.   Still, a full sized rooster?  More to the point, a full sized crow?  And it is because of this fact that I am not sure Rodrigo has found his forever home. Don’t get me wrong-he is doing his job. After a few short days of unsureness, he started trolling the barnyard for hens.  As roosters go, he is surprisingly friendly and, as you can see, not camera shy.

DSC08821Alas, with his first timid crows behind him, (“cock-a-doodle-do?”) he kindly and confidently, began announcing the day. At five AM. If he is a mascot for the suburban farmer, he is also a mascot for the biggest challenge we face (aside from lack of space): neighbor relations.

Thankfully, our suburb carries with it a history of agriculture, and attracts a sort of unmanicured lawn type.  Apparently, our neighbors find Rodrigo quite charming.  Or so John reports, having marched himself around the block, seeking each family’s approval. We’ll see how they feel about it when the reality of his sunrise lifestyle sinks in for them. But, for now, we are thankful that they are embracing their part in our adventure in suburban farming.  (Those gifts of superb eggs don’t hurt.)  Perhaps, as city folk, we are all a bit more starved for any small slice of the natural world than we realize.

With my anxieties regarding the neighbors temporarily put to rest, now I must address all those small people questions about why “Rodrigo keeps wrestling with the hens. It doesn’t look like they want him to do that, Mama.”    DSC08831