Thursday, June 27, 2013


This hat reminds me of my childhood. 

We used to do annual ice shows (my sister and I were skaters) that involved us wearing what I realize now were mini showgirl costumes -- high cut leotards with extra long skirts and spray-glitter yarmulkes with feathers sticking out of the top. 

Then, because this didn't technically qualify as abuse yet, they would smear the exact same shade of pancake make-up on all of our faces (maybe 60 of us, all the same orange), outline each of our eyeballs in heavy black eye liner, and put fuschia lipstick on us. 

In between shows we would go out to lunch at an Italian place, all dressed up like teensy magician's assistants, wearing billowy show t-shirts over our nude tights, so it appeared to anyone who didn't know better that we were pants-less and had a very specific, widespread skin disease. (Widespread as in it affected all of us, not widespread as in affecting a large area, because only our legs and faces appeared afflicted.)

You might think that once you factored in the lights my friend Heather's dad operated, and the distance from way up in the bleachers that we appeared normal, but that would be discounting the on-ice seating, which meant strangers were approximately 3 feet away from our pivoting kickline.

We did this one weekend in May every year of our lives for 12 years. 

The hats were the best part.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Favorite Fourth Tradition -- Tie-Dying T-Shirts

My sweet sister reminded me this morning of last year's tie-dye craze that hit our tribe. We tie-dyed twice, but when you have seven kids taking part, and you're making gifts for nephews and pals, and Mom needs a new bag for library books ... well, it turns into a serious amount of tie-dying.

After my sister's call I was immediately on the phone to my friend asking if she wanted to recreate the fantastic madness before Fourth of July this year.

Want to join us this year in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite summer traditions?

Growing up, tie-dying meant the old-school bucket route complete with soda ash. My fellow Brownies and I would take a break from making macrame bracelets and writing letters home detailing our mosquito bites in order to dunk our camp shirt in Rit Dye. Camp was seriously the greatest. We lived for 12 days in little A-frame wooden huts, and cooked our dinners over a fire. Those T-shirts (later signed by our bunkmates) brought back memories for years, which is probably why they gave gangly 9-year-olds extra larges.

Back then, your tie-dye choices were a bullseye or a spiral. If you got fancy, you could off-set your spiral, but that was pretty much it. A little googling will find you lots more options, plus color charts.

At the risk of sounding old and cranky, we were not given color charts. We weren't even given full-strength Kool-Aid.

My mom approach to tie-dying is to keep it simple with a kit. The kids get just as much enjoyment out of it, and I don't lose my mind cooking beets for three hours. I save that for egg dying.

It would be terrible if I didn't tell you about the absolute greatest part of making tie-dye T-shirts for July 4th -- you can use them for your Frozen T-shirt Contest: Wet down the shirt and fold it carefully, then place it inside a freezer. On July 4th, when it is too hot to breathe and everyone is having visions, pull out the t-shirts and have a contest to see who can get theirs unfolded and put on first.

(Everyone is a winner when no one gets heatstroke!)

Those Brownie leaders had it right in a lot of ways. Extra big T-shirts are good, when they are made of memories. Sam the Lavatory Man holds up. And summers are meant for bug bites and s'mores.

I need to start camping to-do list.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Finding a summer rhythm

I feel like we are finally settling into to our summer rhythm here. It took a while.

It always seems to when "school" ends for us. We need a few weeks to figure it out.

Rhythm has played a big part in our days since Owen was tiny. I was searching for a gentle structure to our days that kept one from running into the other, and helped us to enjoy our years at home and get every minute out of them.

And so, I began reading about rhythm -- a Waldorfy idea that kept me sane. When I had Ellery and then we began homeschooling it was my lifeline: Mondays we baked, Tuesdays we painted ... every day had some little purpose. It felt real and important.

As the kids have grown, there have been times when we've needed to do pretty big rhythm overhauls. But we also often find ourselves needing to tweak things as the seasons change.

I see summer as a really good time to focus on "life skills" stuff, like our morning routine, or this summer, teaching the kids how to do laundry. There isn't an expectation that either one of them is about to take the family's weekly laundry pile down to the creek or anything, but some basic familiarity with the process is good for all of us, I think.

A few weeks back the kids and I created morning lists (Ellery's also has pictures), and I am already feeling like it will make things a bit easier in the fall, when our homeschool group begins again. Those mornings are always really busy, and make me super grateful that I don't have to put people on buses at 7:15 five days a week. We like our slow mornings around here.

We tried to keep the morning chores really simple. They begin after breakfast dishes are cleared:

  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Brush hair
  • Make bed
  • Feed pets
  • Empty dishwasher
  • Check chickens
  • Start a load of laundry
The kids switch off on who feeds the pets and who empties the dishwasher in a very elaborate system which I don't think can be put on paper or otherwise quantified. It might be the most complex thing that happens here before dinner time.

This summer transition means a lot more time outside, but that small change weaves in as naturally as it will weave out again in November. And our big touchstones -- meals, our bedtime routine and "Quiet Time," remain the same.

"Quiet Time" has gone by other names in our family. For a long time it was "Nap Time," but Owen transitioned out of naps at an early age because he despised the very idea of them. We tried "Rest Time," but my oldest saw through that ruse.

At the beginning of summer I again explained my need for quiet time (about an hour when we find our quiet pursuits -- reading, knitting, crochet or beads for Ellery, playing quietly, listening to an audiobook, etc.).

"This is about Mama needing a little downtime," I said. I reminded them of my love of reading after lunch, and everyone was amenable to the idea when they remembered that it was in no way a punishment, but a break and breather.

I think the biggest change has been to our daily rhythm which is still "settling." We like to stick with Wednesdays for our library day, so we can visit our good friends. But Wednesdays are also our favorite farmer's market, and we haven't yet successfully combined the two. Tuesdays are great for meeting up with friends because that is our homeschool co-op day during the traditional school season. There are so many great parks and fun activities during the summer, so Thursdays have been set aside as a travel day, but we also seem to do best with at least one day at home all day. Those days remain our old "baking" day from years ago, and often turns into the day when we tackle some big cooking project. We also do a lot of crafts that day, play more games, and sometimes we'll plan something fun and special, like when we set up our home science lab.

So our weekly rhythm now looks like this (in our best weeks!):
  • Mondays: Home day (cooking, baking, crafts and projects)
  • Tuesdays: Visit with friends
  • Wednesdays: Farmers market and library
  • Thursdays: Travel and special activities
  • Fridays: Errands and shopping (I try to factor in a special treat these days because who really enjoys shopping? You do? Really? Even without chocolate croissant?)
The thing about rhythm, I find, is that it's never really exact. What if friends call on a Friday, or we want to sneak to a dollar matinee on Wednesday? We roll with it.

Our rhythm is really a framework. It's something to go back to when we start to feel a little scattered. It's always there waiting for us, and when we need it, it feels like home.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A very hard goodbye.

I promise that this isn't a whole blog about animal death. Really.

In a perfect world, I would never post about such things, but last night, our sweet little cat died after suffering a stroke. It's rotten, and there's not much to say right now except that we are all going to miss her very much.

I'm not sure as a parent there are many things harder than watching your children hurt -- the pain is so deep, and it wells up again and again.

So we're doing the little things we can, like buying a grave marker, and flowers and writing obituaries to help them understand death a little better.

So many of you have been so very supportive during the past four weeks while Riggs was fighting hard to recover from her accident. It has meant a lot to our whole family. She was such a tough little cat, and as recently as Thursday afternoon, the veterinarian was thrilled with her progress.

It's too soon to try to find meaning here -- we are just dealing with the sadness and the overwhelming feeling that has come with something so tiny leaving such a huge empty space in our home and our hearts. But the care and concern so many have shown for us helps, so again, I want to say thank you.

Here is the obituary we wrote for our girl:

June 22, 2013 -- Rigatoni Flame Anderson
died Friday at home after a brief illness. She was 4 years old.

Rigatoni was adopted by the Anderson Family in September of 2009 when Owen found her. She was a stray and had been living on food from a dumpster. She was hospitalized for three days and then came to live with them full-time.

Rigatoni earned the nickname “Therapy Cat” for her calm and loving demeanor. She could often be found on Owen’s bed. He was her special person.

She was always a micro-cat; she never grew to full size because of malnutrition as a kitten, but her small size was in opposition to her huge and powerful spirit. Rigatoni fought hard to survive as a baby, and even harder to survive after a May 24 accident when she was struck by a car.  Riggs showed us all that the smallest can have a quiet strength, or as Ellery put it, “Some people think that girls aren’t tough, but they are when they need to be.”

Riggs will be forever immortalized in the work of Owen Anderson, creator of Crazy Cat, a cartoon that features an adventurous and feisty feline named Riggs, who along with her companion Chris and a large cast of other characters, is always making readers laugh.

Rigatoni is survived by her animal siblings, Travis and Joey, and by her human family, Shawn, Kara, Ellery and Owen.

In lieu of flowers, please hug your pets, and drive very safely in residential neighborhoods.

We will love you forever Riggs. May the force be with you.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


When I was pregnant with my son, I got into a weird habit of waking at 4 a.m.

I was working quite a bit then, and although I'm sure the early morning waking could have been attributed to hormones or internal kickboxing, I like to think that it was our special time together before the world woke up.

And so, we would sit on the couch and watch MacGyver on TV Land, and sometimes, because my only pregnancy complaint was heartburn, we'd eat a little ice cream.

Later, when he was external, we continued the same routine for a few months. I ditched the ice cream, but we kept the MacGyver. And I remember one episode when Mac was trying to save the occupants of a hijacked train? from drug lords? terrorists? I think it was a train, and as he emerged to the dawn he said something like, "A whole new day, a whole set of fresh possibilities. I'm a sucker for mornings."

I looked down at my nursing baby and thought, yeah -- me too.

What I really am is a sucker for quotes.
Mornings ... mornings can go either way for me. I think I'm a sucker for slow mornings and quiet mornings. I believe there's nothing wrong with reading before breakfast, taking a little walk in the garden, visiting the chickens ... I think cardigans are a perfectly acceptable substitute for robes, and when paired with yoga pants, you can get away with strolling around your own backyard for a bit.

I like big breakfasts -- I think I got that from my grandpa. I like the ceremony of big breakfasts.

I like two cups of strong black tea.

I like to ease into my days with my children, because with children come a pretty good range of possibilities -- like this morning, when that same little boy who I first got to know during so many 4 o'clocks asked me, "What's for breakfast this morning, Mom? I'm hoping something continental."

Or when a little girl declares after a busy weekend that Monday is a "pajama day."

OK, I think. I can work with that.

And so another new day begins, and with it, a whole fresh new set of possibilities. I'm a sucker for those kinds of mornings.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Summer, a rediscovery.

There have been so many moments this past week that reminded me of summer.
Well, it sort of is pretty much summer, you might be say, and that would be true.
But like most grown-ups, I tuned out seasons for a lot of years. And then I had kids, and when I'd open my windows or step outside, I had feelings -- little things, like a particular kind of melty breeze reminded me of Easter time, or snow stinging my cheeks during sledding reminded me of Christmas Eve.
That was what happened at first.
It keeps getting stronger.
And this week ...

We visited the springs near out house. It's a short drive, but somehow a complete exit from city -- it's close to where I grew up and where my grandparents lived, and my life tied to them -- that's where the memories seem to rest. (Christmas Eve meant their fireplace crackling and Oyster stew on the stove. Easter meant church we all went to church, and when we arrived at their house for dinner, I'd receive a little basket that contained a Fanny May chocolate bunny.)

And summers -- they were packed with the kind of days that seemed like nothing special, really, until the memories started slowly coming back, and I realized they defined a growing-up.

At the springs, it was the smell of grass. Not cut grass, even, but just the green thereness of grass, and it evoked Saturdays spent on a front porch with my sister. (We'd drink Country Time lemonade made from powder and eat Schwann's ice cream bars. We'd ride bikes in the circle drive-way.)

After a dip in the springs we hiked, and when we met the river I told my kids about fishing with my dad and grandpa. We walked past familiar weeds and wildflowers; the white sycamores and the tall grasses brought me back to the backyard woods where a native American chief was supposedly buried (a college group came out once to dig around). I both wanted them to find something, and I wanted them to leave the chief alone. He was ours, whether he was really there or not, because my grandpa believed.

The springs visit was proceeded by the discovery of a mulberry tree in our yard this week -- something that took me by surprise in the best way -- something I felt so excited to share with my own kids.
The taste of that first mulberry was like a little bite of skinned knees and long braids, as I remembered stuffing handfuls of berries in my terrycloth pockets.

And then today at lunch with my mom, there was the recollection of the laundry hamper -- and my reading nook in the closet, where I would tuck in after lunch and stay until someone came to get me, or until I finished my daily book.

I still love reading after lunch. I still love little spaces. I don't think there's anything that makes me feel safer than the combination of the two. It feels like home.

And so this week brings with it the overwhelming feeling that summer is near, and that it will be gone soon too -- in a blink the leaves will turn crispy, and with them, a whole other set of memories may come rushing forward.

For now there's this moment, this opportunity for grass and mud and cheap mysteries, bike rides and ice cream bars and dreams -- sweaty, middle-of-the-day, in front of the fan dreams.

I know it can never be again, except when it momentarily is. 

And then, it's oh so fleeting; but all the sweeter when concentrated down to its essence -- everything that mattered, and everything that remains.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Some days, perfect is homemade, homegrown, or handsewn.
It's the soup made from bone broth, or the quiche with eggs fresh from the farm, or the bread kneaded by hand.
It's the wreath woven from vines found on a nature walk, or the table set with mismatched yet perfectly  coordinating serving bowls.
I feel a lot of "perfect" pressure around special occasions. I feel a lot of "perfect" pressure when I see photos online, or read Facebook updates. Is everyone else doing it better? Doesn't anyone else kill the yeast or melt the chick brooder? Doesn't anyone else deal with weather, or technical malfunctions or just run out of money?
Everyone else must have more money, right? That's how they afford the stainless steel popsicle molds, or the $300 handspun yarn or the home that looks like a charming little cabin, but is somehow big enough to accommodate a home music studio and 6 bedrooms, right?
Doesn't anyone else ever find themselves in a mall, four days before Father's Day, so overwhelmed, determined to get the one (perfect) thing they came for so they can boycott the place for six more months?
Did everyone else start their heartfelt father's day gifts months ago? Is that where I went wrong? Is that how I ended up in this hell-pit, trying to explain to my kids that the puppies kept in cribs at a store called "Furry Babies," are very sweet, and that someday we will get a puppy, but that we don't have $600 right now, and well, even if we did ...

I feel like there are moms out there who don't deal with this. They just don't. They don't deal with Barbies in the supermarket or neighbor kids who think their house is boring because there's no cable or gaming system. They have their bubble -- or at least it looks like that from here. They shop at a co-op, and their kids play with pinecones. No one argues in their house and no one questions their parenting.

Do they ever even have a moment of standing in a giant book store and wondering why half of it is filled with stuffed animals?

We don't know. But from a distance, it all seems very perfect -- it seems unattainably perfect.
So some days, what becomes perfect is a giant hot pretzel, split three ways. It's a train ride around the mall, creeping slowly past a Hollister, praying to God that your daughter continues to want to wear her brother's old clothes to the park until she's 32.
It's this quote, from a happy girl: "Mama, thank you for letting us ride the escalators and the elevator and the train."
Or this one: "This pretzel is unbelievable, Mom. We have GOT to learn how to make these."
Sometimes perfect is embracing what is there, drinking that too-sweet lemonade and listening to your kids giggle when a train takes off and a little computerized conductor creaks: "All Aboard!"
I often forget that what brings my kids happiness is really all the perfect we need.
And that seeing the world through their eyes can be a reminder that today, well ... today, I think was at least good enough.

Summer Science

I remember the day I finally graduated.

I pushed my cart to the check out carrying the BIG jug of vinegar and the BIG box of baking soda.

Because I use those two things for everything.

With enough baking soda and vinegar, I can make my counter spray, and face scrub, my carpet freshener (a.k.a. "fairy dust" -- paired with "sweet dreams spray" it's my super secret trick for clean kids rooms).

With an unlimited supply of those two ingredients I can clean laundry and dishes and drains, sinks, my oven ... oh, and you know, cook and stuff.

Until they disappear ... and I find these two making some kind of concoction.

They do always ask first, but when your kids come to you and say, "Mama -- can we do some science?" it's really hard to say no. It's like if they said, "Mama, can we clean out the car?" or "Mama, can we give you this cupcake?"

Our summer started in earnest last week, and on Friday, a friend gave use some science books from when her sons were growing up.

Flipping through them, we saw lots of fun experiments, and so over the weekend, we pulled out our old play stand. Since its arrival as a bake shop a few Christmases ago, it's been a bank, a post office, a veterinary clinic, a store, a restaurant and a fruit market.

It's now our Outdoor Science Lab.

(Did you notice the outdoor part? Total Mom-trick to limit mess. I'm lazy like that.)

We also bought/found software:

  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar 
  • Glycerin
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Dishsoap
  • Yeast
  • Agar (Looking for agar? We found ours at a natural foods store. You can substitute gelatin too!)
  • Cornstarch
We collected some hardware too:
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Tongs
  • Vials
  • Empty jars
  • A strainer
  • A funnel
  • Tweezers
  • A magnifying glass
  • Cast-offs from a garage sale science kit we bought a couple of summers ago
  • small notebooks for recording results
With those items collected, the kids set about making cornstarch goo (non-Newtonian fluids! Bartholomew and the Oobleck!), elephant toothpaste, paper bag volcanos, shiny pennies, plastic milk and bubble solution. They also figured out ways to alter the typical baking soda/vinegar explosions by adding other ingredients.

I laid out some lab rules, including that they needed to keep their lab in working order and use ingredients with discretion. Although if they really need more vinegar and baking soda, I totally get it. 

Because that stuff is magic.

** Many thanks to our friend Eileen for her generosity and the inspiration to get us started!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The fire and the rain.

I'm wondering if I can borrow a cup of inner peace.
I seem to be all out.
Symptoms include walking around in a daze, not realizing that you were actually speaking to me just now, and general frustration, irritability and restlessness.
I could blame the animals.
(That's terrible, though, to blame a chick who died or a cat that got hit by a car.)
It might be more fair to just sort of generally blame the two-plus weeks of chaos that landed atop our house -- everything happening in threes and all that.
It was a lot.
And it shook us, all of us.
I can tell every day that we're still just a bit off.
It's the little things that make a life -- it's bedtime stories and snacks, and French toast breakfasts and getting the library books back on time.
And those things aren't happening with the regularity of normal yet.

It's the fire pit.
My family brought home a fire pit for Mother's Day, along with marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars. We planned a Mother's Day cook-out followed by s'mores-making, but then our chick got hurt and died, and we had a funeral instead for a bird we had known just six short weeks. Three of us spent Mother's Day night crying and drinking tea while my husband got stitches from trying to save a baby bird named Cinnamon.
It was sad, and it rocked our whole family, and it seemed to start something, some dark cloud that hung out a little too close to our house for a few weeks. We fought infections and pneumonia and allergic reactions, and then our sweet cat snuck out, just when things felt kind of normal again, and she was hit by a car.
She is doing well -- incredibly well. People say things like, "I feel like I got hit by a car," and let me tell you, getting hit by a car shows, but she was lucky enough to survive, and we are lucky enough to get to care for her, even if that means a little extra time these days.
And so, there's been stuff, and we never did get around to those marshmallows (we cooked some on the stove, but come on -- who you fooling?)
And then finally -- tonight was the night -- the kids helped build a fire as I finished dinner, and just as we sat down to eat the rain started.
Owen's face fell, and I tried, as I've been trying for weeks now to muster the right words to encourage a kid who has been dealing with some junk.
"Well, maybe we can make stove-top s'mores tonight, and we'll save the fire for tomorrow," I said, trying to be reassuring. "It can't rain forever, right?"
And that's when it hit me.
It can't rain forever.
There's just no way. At some point, things always shift. The sun comes out again, and everything dries up and gets green, and you get a break, you know? A breather. Even if the rain starts up again, you get a glimpse of something good and sometimes, that's all it really takes to start rebuilding your spirit; to find some peace again.

The rain stopped tonight for just a few minutes. We made s'mores, and Owen danced, he was so happy.
"We never could have done this at our old house," he said, and suddenly, a day spent doing some hard work came into perspective.
We've taken some big steps in the past year -- in many ways they have been leaps of faith. Maybe we knew all along that the rain had to stop sometime, and that that's when you get to lift your face up to the sky, and remember to be grateful.