smokes, let's go
This last week I’ve had three members of the community ask for a private conference for the following: putting homeschooled kids into school, and taking schooled children out of school. I guess now I’ve got enough experience on both. I’m honored to be trusted, and I hope my listening ear, and my shared experience, helped these concerned folk.
The thing is, with any life change a parent has the opportunity to examine the agenda they’ve crafted for their child. And I mean, deeply examine it. If they’re not willing to do that, then little I say makes a difference much.
This of course brings a preternatural calm to all such conferences. It’s easy to be calm. Who is going to see their agendas, let alone set them aside? My children’s own attendance on a daily basis at a little rural school miles (and miles!) away from home life is, I’d like to think, a bit of a referendum on that concept of I just want what’s best for my child. (because: what parent doesn’t?) Their internment in the walls of a brick and mortar school for me means: I trust. The school? I dunno. The kids themselves? Yeah. Yeah, I really do.
Today I spent several hours at this very school, my first volunteer gig of the year.I first directed one class in a small activity – some cooking and crafting – and then watched both my kids in their respective Physical Education classes.
It was a surreal, exhausting experience. I don’t know how kids get through it and have energy left over to play sports. Or as my daughter did – go to soccer practice, come home and do chores, go for a run with her father – and then finish up her homework.
Beat, querulous, confused, tonight I attend the last of my yoga series. Half the class of twelve has dropped out. I open up to the possibility of gratitude – for myself, my practice. Come home and put kids into the shower and put away laundry and take a hot shower.
But I’m unearthed; sands have shifted.
People act like when your kids grow up, you’re sad because you’re this empty husk that has no meaning to life now that you aren’t meeting their needs. But it’s not like that. It’s exactly like realizing every moment is one you’re probably squandering, wishing for things to get better or easier. Then one day they’re easier (in those particular respects) and you realize the groundlessness was your own thing, had nothing to do with circumstance. And the thing you perhaps squandered entirely, was that precious time with those children, which is the best thing life’s going to offer. That potential for perfect intimacy with another human being.
You throw away, that Best Thing.
Why am I willing to live like the walking dead? And so many others, they do the same. So then: the fear. A haunting thought: What will keep me from forgetting again?
Late night: the dryer hums, the dog and kitties and rabbit are settling in. My husband’s movements in the bedroom: small, sedate. Tattered pajamas and a cool, peaceful bedroom.
And then tomorrow. Tomorrow can I live it? Instead of fleeing the moment, running and running to some destination that is less real than the illusion I create it from.Read More
I recently had the honor and privilege of making a friend’s vision come to life: M., who had saved up two large wool blankets for over twenty years, in hopes of one day having them made into a drover’s coat. M. and I exchanged some FB messages, I emailed him a quote, and he delivered me many pounds of heavy wool blanket. With some trepidation I cut into this vintage fabric to begin construction!
Thursday I grabbed a few pictures of the finished product (modeled by husband who is an inch shorter than client in arm and total height):
M. had several visions for the coat: he wanted the end fringe of the blankets to be used as much as possible at hem, sleeve hem, pocket, pocket flap, and cape. Now is the time for me to point out that the two blankets were different – you can really see this at the stripe near the knee. I am super-proud to say that with careful planning I made an entirely balanced coat – in other words the left side utilizes one blanket for the body, and the other blanket for patch, pocket detail, etc. – and vice versa. I also managed to wrap the wool fringe to curve around the cape such that it looks like it was woven there – and to place another stripe at the shoulder on the cape!
M. wanted antler tips for closures. I got to fiddle/figure out how to use those without the typical toggle closure, which M. didn’t care for. My solution was a bound buttonhole – time intensive, but really a solid, rustic choice. The wool was so very thick I chose to use the selvedge/woven edges for the lips of the (pseudo-) bound buttonhole, thus reducing bulk significantly. Finally – I found tips that were cut in half lengthwise so could be worn very flush to the coat front:
The collar and collar tab, sleeve tabs, and cape are all lined in a cotton the same color as the shell wool.
One of my favorite details: the cape and collar. The cape is fabulous: it looks like it is sewn to the coat, and it fits perfectly snugly with underarm straps for security. But the wearer can easily unfasten the cape if they don’t want to wear it:
I can’t express how wonderful it is to work with someone on their design – if their design is cohesive, and M.’s really was. I sew up other people’s designs rarely – because I like to make my own. However in M.’s case he had such a definite sense of what he wanted and I instantly grasped how handsome a garment it would make. Although the coat was a technical challenge – the wool in the blankets had warped, and had several very well-done repairs in thread – I learned a great deal while working on it.
The best part? I hand-delivered him the coat last night and he lit right up. “I am completely satisfied!” – a direct quote! And the garment suited him very well. It gives me great pleasure to make someone something they want – or have wanted, for years!
Second coat: one for my husband. This, part of my thirteenth anniversary gift for him, was constructed without him ever being aware I was making it (total score!). Waxed canvas, and lined with a matching grey liner with a semi-coarse, lovely finish. The effect is that of a rain slicker – except more breathable, and with a beautiful patina and long-lasting wear:
Grey-green shot cotton binding at neckline. Waxed canvas – such a beautiful finish – and, now that I’m used to it, a pleasure to sew (this coat was the first I’d made in this fabric; Nels’ was the second, and things went better there):
Top-stitching: about as near perfect as you can get (using single-needle tailoring):
Cuff tab – a triple-stitch for a heavier stitching line. Antique brass snaps I set myself. Kind of fun, actually!
The coat was constructed using Green Pepper’s Frenchglen (adding length to arm and hem as per Ralph’s usual adjustment); the pattern featured a side pocket embedded in the zippered patch pocket:
And a very special zipper pull tab – in a “bean” shape. I found one tab at Quilt Harbor in Aberdeen and knew I had to have it. But I couldn’t find another – not even online! A few weeks ago I ran across the second tab in Lady Lynn’s for $1.75! I was beyond excited. Because I am a huge nerd.
Ralph, who stands this way – his arms don’t rest at his sides. I discovered this about him a few garments ago and I may or may not call his posture, “Ape Arms”.
Something tells me I am just ramping up the coat and jacket sewing for the fall! Having all that heavy wool in my house during the hottest days of the year was… fun. “Fun”, she says, using “air dick quotes”. Next up: a brief snatch of air sewing an easy flannel car coat for my child – before diving into Halloween sewing, which ramped up so fast I was required to close orders before I could even update my Etsy shop or my website! Good lord.
Meeting someone new.
Being a fully-enrolled schooling family – a word has been going through my head. The word is grueling.
You know what’s funny is for years schooling families often seemed to me to be stretched too thin, working too hard, getting too little rest, complaining about the state of the house and being too busy. Then for a few years I thought, I am just imagining that, I am being unfair. But no. It really is a thing. We’re adjusting. We’ll be okay.
Today one of my mentors told me to stop harming myself, stop one harmful practice, set something aside and leave it. I thought of something in the quietness of my heart, and I committed to it.
I’ve a standing writing assignment to put together an article about transitioning from home-/unschooling to full time school. And yeah, I’m writing it, so that will be happening. For now I’m caring for myself, my partner, and our children – my youngest is being a total Hero about this whole schedule and homework and behaving-in-class thing. He’s hitting it out of the park. Phoenix – well. We got her test scores from last year. Nailed it in reading and math (which are apparently the only two test metrics vis-à-vis whether schools are “working” or “failing”, meaning whether they get money, IDGI). She’s shifted to her new 7th grader schedule brilliantly.
The kids are doing fine. They are. Me? Huh. Well, my house is quiet during the day.
Like they say in all those silly movies I watch – “Too quiet.”
I’m listening.Read More
Today I have a few minutes alone, in the vet, waiting on a diagnosis. Our little Pip is ill – a skin infection at his shoulder blades. The difficultly was discovered yesterday and though his spirits are up, and his appetite is good, I woke up ready to worry. So, today: a vet appointment.
Pip arches about in my arms in an indolent, satisfied way – purring like a little buzz saw and stretching up his head to kiss me. I scritch his neck, his ears. I think to myself, My kids’ first week in school, gradually getting used to being places without them. Other grownups, caring for them. My children, caring for themselves. Out there in the world.
I am overcome. Not sad, or happy – an experience of newness. Coming back to time to myself, a rare quality for thirteen years. It’s like a gently sore back, needing to be worked in a little, a few stretches. I take long, deep breaths. I know I will adjust; tasting the newness. Some vertigo.
Right now what matters is holding this small cat, this wee scrap of life. His beating heart is as sacred as mine – or anyone else’s. Holding him right now, is holding everyone in the world. If I remember that, my life blossoms into something fragrant, vibrant – the senses attuned once again to the colors of the skyscape and the music of the open road.
I hold my little kitty and when the vet returns he talks to me swiftly and concisely. The cat will recover. All is well. Here – medicine. The veterinarian touches me – my hands, my knees, even my shoulder – often. He has brief, gentle hands. “Do you have any questions?” he asks. I do. I ask about antibiotics, about flea control. Pip thrashes in my arms, the picture of feline ecstasy. And now hearing this vet, when I realize my little kitty is going to be okay, tears start up in my eyes and I look ceilingward. I tell him, “I’m so glad to have him seen to. I was starting to freak out. The vet says: “It’s okay to freak out. That’s what we’re here for.” His kindness makes me blink. I remember how I need people, how I need help. I know my kitten needs help and somehow we are helping one another, holding one another.
Home in the heat – exhausted, but breathing deep, full breaths. Another day; the office of caring, and loving, going deeper down into my belly and bringing forth new life from within.Read More
E. and I pull up to where Nels is waiting for us, after his appointment. He’s on the side of the rather busy road, standing upright like a little reed – playing his new (to him) trumpet. The sight of him cheers me immensely. It’s been a hard few days. The kids are in school, and while it’s hardly the free time extravaganza people without children might guess it to be (for instance: in five days I’ve had to drive out to the school three times; I am also literally a soccer mom which is a big time-suck); all the same it is a change.
Later, on the yoga mat: lying prone, sweating into my kerchief, not looking so “pinup-cute” as I get called regularly. Rumpled and tired, my wrists a slight throbbing agony. I patiently wait to return back to flow. I’m so tired I’m pretty good at just being on the mat. In general, my mind doesn’t race like it used to.
Home: sewing a heavy, disagreeable vintage wool fabric. It’s hot. The kittens race around the room and Hutch follows me with his steady brown eyes, wishing with every fiber of his being for me to give him Nels’ lunch chicken bone. Ralph on his way, after getting groceries. Sunlight through the curtains, the sounds of children (not all of them mine) laughing in the living room. Preoccupation. Planning. And then: gently setting aside the plans. I’m here now. I can do now.
Night falls. Ralph and Phee are off on a run. Nels asks, “What is for dinner, mom?” I am longing for hot shower and a bed to fall into. Tomorrow: a meeting, more yoga, soccer. Tomorrow: fabrics in the mail; a new project.
But that – is tomorrow.Read More
Happy anniversary, my love. This below gift is from Ralph; he went with irreverent. I went with sincere – a tailored waxed canvas coat with brass snaps – and thoughtful: a Botch LP.
Thirteen years ago today I woke before dawn and slipped outside for an early-morning walk. I was getting married in a few hours and the import of this was something I wanted to experience in quiet. I don’t remember much about my walk except for the quality of the morning – I could write pages and never express, properly, what our dawn is like in the fall – and the stillness of the unfamiliar Aberdeen streets. Apparently I stayed out a while – enough time for my bridesmaids to wake. When they couldn’t find me they briefly wondered if I’d done a runner!
On my wedding day people asked me if Ralph was nervous. Hell no! I remember getting dressed in the downstairs of the church and while plenty of people were antsy – my mom was out of her mind with stress – I could hear Ralph upstairs happily directing the sound for the service. I don’t remember being nervous, either. I was happy. My dad walked me down the aisle – a wonderful memory of his brief return to health, in between bouts of cancer and treatment. Our service used a unity candle and I spilled hot wax while deploying it – everyone in the small service saw, and gasped. A wedding can feel a lot like a performance but at the same time, I was there for me.
After the ceremony we adjourned to my parents’ house, just a block from the church – a few feet from where I sit now. We drank a toast; we played music. The first song we danced to was Abba’s “Dancing Queen”. My father, my mother, my groom, myself – we were so happy that day.
But newlywed memories are painful for me, and have been for some time. The young woman I remember was vulnerable and lost. The husband was a good choice; carrying the child I was carrying to full term, that was a good choice. I made some good choices even though at the time I wasn’t fully aware of how important those choices would come to be. I took a lot for granted, somehow.
Being married to Ralph is today one of my greatest treasures. Time, and pain, have caused me to value my marriage deeply. The pain was exquisite and unrelenting; a chapter in our marriage that I simply am astonished we carried through; that we didn’t split, that we weren’t unfaithful, that we didn’t cause irreparable damage. We suffered so much but somehow we got through. Maybe that’s why I appreciate him so deeply, and why I find within myself that strength unchanneled on my wedding day, that grit and steel I didn’t know I had. I’ve given up on a lot of things in my life but when it came down to it I wouldn’t give up on this. I wanted him and I don’t know why that became one of the only things left to me, even when the pain seemed insurmountable. I held on even when it didn’t make sense. I am glad I did.
Why did my marriage work out? Why did it survive? Why did my husband become someone I respected, as unfairly exacting as I can be? Why did my husband – who I met, and married, when he was just a boy – develop into the most wonderful father, a quality I value more than anything in a man? Why did we suit each other so well? How did we choose one another so well – when we were so ignorant of what would be required?
Ralph is my companion; we walk alongside the other. He is my fidelity to a higher purpose. He alone can hold my hand, can hold my body. He alone can hear the Me no one here does or will.
This morning I don’t take a walk, as I did the day I was a bride. I write a few words here, then I take myself back to bed, and back to the first of my days without children in the home. I take myself back to myself, and I spend the day in contemplation.
Life gives us great gifts, and we throw them away with both our hands.
Sometimes, we hold on to something.
Ralph is a gift to me, and – sobered, I know this to be true.Read More