Sometimes it doesn’t take much. Just half an hour away from the house and the caring for unwell little and less little ones. Catching that brief golden swan song before dusk. Stopping to notice the colour that is still very much there, the silhouettes of branches against the sky. Peaceful creatures with their heads bowed and the light glancing off their backs. Ground thick with leaves, heaped in piles that whisper as I move through them. I put the tiredness and the whirling to-dos in my head and the worrying about children to one side for a while and try to remember. To trust. To place my feet on strong earth and my hands on strong roots and my heart in something more than how I feel right now. To somehow keep them there, even as I walk away.
And not only finished, but in a frame! (I bought a cheap one with a silver coloured border and spray painted it green). It’s only taken me forever to get to this point, but I really enjoyed the process. And I am really enjoying being done. It feels so good to have actually finished something, amidst all the works-in-progress around here.
And now comes the fun part: figuring out where to put it up.
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This post is a bit of a reminder to myself to keep calm and breathe! Around here we are officially into the season of extras: extra forms to be filled out, Christmas fair supplies to be donated, rehearsals to be attended, extra grocery shopping to be done, extra food to be prepared. Add to that stomach bugs and growing pains, aching heads and homework, shoes suddenly outgrown and winter clothing to be pulled out and matched to its owner (where do those other gloves go?), and you have the potential for one stressed out mother and one chaotic household.
It can seem that what we really need is extra time. But again and again on this mothering journey of mine I have been reminded that the time is there, it’s just about how we use it. And with Thanksgiving around the corner (which although we live in England we celebrate as a family due to my husband being half American and the USA being home to our children’s grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts), pausing and noticing and taking the time to focus on what we really care about spending our time on seems even more important.
So today I’m trying to do just that, even with all the extras. I’m enjoying rediscovering an old second-hand handbag I haven’t used in a while, re-appreciating its colours. I’m finding inspiration in the words of the incredible Isabella Bird, gaining strength from her courage and resilience. I am trying to notice the amazing things my children say and do. The way that instead of shooing his little brother away, J built little R his own smaller train track in the middle of the one he had made for himself. The way R goes from one sibling to another hugging each in turn, the way he walks around the house chuckling to himself and saying “funny cat”! It can be hard to find the time to notice the simple things. It can be hard to admit that you can’t do it all; that you don’t even need to.
But I’m trying.
I often think that a Saturday spent at home after the busyness of the week will be a time of cosy rest and family harmony, and it almost never is. It took pretty much everything P and I had this past Saturday morning to galvanise our tribe into action and get out the door, but it was so very worth it. As we left the house and the chores behind us the whole day lay ahead. It was full of sunshine and wondrous Autumn colour and hope. Just as every day is, but this time we knew where we were going and we had food for a picnic and our picnic table and chairs. The day had purpose. I needed that.
We hit the Weald and Downland Christmas Market, and this year we knew what to expect. We set up for lunch beside the car as soon as we arrived and made sure everyone was properly full before even thinking about going into the market. We started from the opposite end of the museum this time- the quieter end – and found out how much we had missed last year by not having long enough and not making it that far. We explored the house where the BBC recently filmed ‘Tudor Monastery Farm’; the kids had watched the first episode the night before and were so excited to see the very same beds and pig pens and animals that are on the series. I got an early Christmas present: a little basket made in Ghana, just perfect for carrying knitting in. You can even thread the yarn through a gap at the bottom of the handle so that your ball of wool doesn’t jump onto the floor! It inspired me to cast on for a pair of fingerless gloves for E right there and then. (Literally there and then: the rest of the family were stroking the cows at the time!).
Speaking of which, those gloves are nearly finished and I will be putting a pattern up for anyone who wishes to make them. It’s easy peasy, honestly. More very soon …
Back at home, I discovered that my 22 month old seriously loves threading beads. We’ve had these lovely wooden ones for ages, but the boot lace for threading them was driving him crazy and making him feel like giving up. So I found a thin straight stick, taped it onto the lace with electrical tape and handed it to him, and now he’s a happy little chappy. E pulled out her knitting as well, which is nearly finished. A scarf for her doll. She’d better be quick, because they’re talking about snow around here. And I’d better finish those gloves. And R’s shawl-neck sweater, and J’s jacket (I am NOT loving knitting in black, which is why I’m procrastinating).
In fact, all the kids were so happily occupied with their various projects, I even had a little bit of time in my sewing room. A new quilt is in process. I have teeny tiny florals and peachy pinks and sage green and just the right maple leaf red well and truly on the brain right now. Winter evenings on the sofa; knitting; fairy lights; hot chocolate and marshmallows; our favourite Winter films …. these are things that demand a new quilt, do they not? Exactly.
Yesterday was cray-zee. Plates spinning, plates falling. The power was out at the kids’ school, which we only found out upon arrival after climbing the great mountain that is getting-ready-for-school-in-the-morning. A planned day at home is somehow more manageable than a sprung-on-you one. I don’t quite know why. I think that perhaps none of us are all that good at sudden changes of plans. Whatever being ‘all at sixes and sevens’ looks like (I’ve always wondered. Very strange English expression; one of many ..! ), well, that’s what we looked like. Some of us remained in school uniform since we could get a call any minute to say that the power was back on. Others changed their outfit completely. Still others went halfway and changed their trousers but not their top half (I didn’t quite get the reasoning for this but was in no frame of mind to enter into any kind of a discussion on the subject.)
And yet somehow today I found myself looking at a tidy sitting room with a little one asleep upstairs and a cup of tea in my hand and nothing but stillness to listen to. A moment of calm. And only the ‘V’ left to finish on my Daisychain ABC’s embroidery. A little reward for a day of mamahood in all its colour. I’ll take it. x
The lid has been down on the piano for way too long. It was needed as an emergency shelf one day, and somehow in the busyness of life it just stayed that way. I’ve been sewing and knitting and being a mum, and not thinking of playing so much, and this Saturday I realised how wrong it felt to have the piano lid down. It occurred to me that maybe the very fact that it was all closed up was sending a message I really don’t want to send – to my children or to myself! And as soon as I had a good tidy up in that room and put the lid up, one middle sized young man and his littler brother drifted over and began to play around with the keys. I asked I.A, “d’you want me to teach you to play?” (as casually as I could, trying not to give away how desperately I was hoping he would say “yes” ; I’ve been met with a negative response a few times before.). “Alright”, he replied, as I held my breath. So we had our first lesson. At last. While I tried to remain cool and resist the urge to dance around the room. And I’m pretty sure there’s going to be second lesson any day …
The same son and I also had a go at making melted bead suncatchers. The smell of melting plastic drove my boy outside, but once he ventured in again he was pleased with the results. We didn’t have any Pony beads in the house so we used Hama beads instead. I’m not totally sold, but my boy loves an experiment so he was happy.
And we finally have our Autumn Wreath! That pile of chestnuts, collected with gusto by the children and left sitting in a dish like one big brown guilt trip …. well, I suddenly figured out what to do with them (since nobody actually wanted to eat them!) A few pushed onto a length of wire, some felt leaves which the children cut out, a few buttons, and there you have it. A little reminder on our door of how Autumn is supposed to look.
I must go, because there is a little pile of fabric sitting next to my sewing machine calling me to start turning it into a quilt, and there is still half an hour to go before R and I have to jump in the car …..
more on that soon x
With little R now firmly out of the toddling stage and into purposeful marching and pointing mode, he and I often find ourselves whiling away the post-nap, pre-school-pickup hour with a wander in the woods. R is my fourth child, so I’ve been here before. And yet, this stomping strive for independence that comes as two approaches, the way children lay their claim to each tiny detail that their keen eyes catch sight of never ceases to be new to me, to amaze and delight me afresh. Suddenly the baby is striding ahead. My perspective shifts. I see him as himself, not an extension of me. And yet still so deeply connected to me. Still so vulnerable. I watch him talk to the cat, who always trots along with us (at a slight distance to avoid those chubby little fingers that cannot resist taking a grab for his tail if they get too close), observe how he connects with him in his very own way. I watch how puddles and squelching in mud are new and exciting. And something of that first time wonder rubs off on me too. I cannot help but slow my pace to his, share in the way he views his world. I realise yet again that I move through my life way to fast; that I miss so much. Too much.
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But I didn’t miss the local supermarket selling off pumpkins for one penny each. One penny! It took all my restraint to come away with just five. For I am forever making grand plans and then finding that although the spirit is willing, time and energy is just in too short supply. And before you know it a pile of pumpkins, or apples, or chestnuts foraged from along the lane, or the socks that have been so long in the mending basket that they actually no longer fit anyone anyway …. well, those things become heavy burdens on the rather small shoulders of this striving-against-perfectionism mother. So the rest of those pumpkins can go home in someone else’s car, with my blessing and very best wishes.
So what should I do with my five pumpkins, folks?
I am in need of some culinary inspiration, as I do not think five gallons of pumkin soup will make my family particularly delighted (although one gallon would be just fine). Thank you!
Around this time last year I decided to see whether putting Christmas lights up in the house when the clocks went back would help me to embrace the early sunset. It did, so this year I did it again. The only problem was that I was reminded afresh that my handmade curtains, despite being pretty, are sadly not quite wide enough to meet in the middle. I’m sure that when I made them they were. But they appear to have retreated ever further from each other through the summer, and now that we are in late autumn the gap in the middle is a bit of a problem. I was sorely tempted to buy more fabric, but I originally got it on sale and it is not on sale any more, and anyway, there must be something in my cupboard that would do, surely?
Digging around I found an old tablecloth that my grandmother made, the grandmother I never met and who loved to sew as I do. I treasure that we have that in common and think of it as something she gave me without either of us even knowing, and I treasure the pile of ‘linens’ (as my grandfather called them) that I now have from her, thanks to grandpa’s care of them over the many years he spent without her following her tragically early death. The tablecloth is ripped and torn, and I love it all the more for that. I stitched it to a piece of faded and soft-with-handling, strawberry spattered fabric that was once part of a toddler dress, and added a strip of hessian ribbon to the top. I’m enjoying looking at my grandmother’s handwork each day as I open and close the curtains, and I pass through the room and replace cushions on chairs and move things about the way we women do, the way she once did.
The rain stopped for long enough for R and I to take a walk to the village shop. The dahlias outside the house on the corner were still trying valiantly to stand tall and proud, but even they looked bedraggled. Every so often the sun broke through and the light bounced off the wet road and into our eyes. I never stop being amazed at the power of sunlight to renew my flagging energy.
In the shop I found myself picking up ingredients for Apple Parkin. Today seems to call for soft rich muscovado sugar, cinnamon and cloves, the comfort of crumbling together oats and flour and sugar and butter in a ceramic bowl on my lap. My mother always did that. It says home to me.
I always go back to the same recipe (you can tell from the state of it! I really should make a copy). It came from ‘Country Living’ magazine years ago, and I cut it out and stuck it in my notebook. It is unfailingly delicious, and means autumn on a plate to me. For an extra shot of happiness, munch between sips of homemade chai latte and gather your knitting into your lap. If you can find a patch of late afternoon sun, sit in it. Knit a few stitches. Breath deeply. Feel glad.
October meant birthdays and leafy walks and a new sewing machine for me (woo hoo!), and those things were just lovely. But mixed in amongst them were drawn-out doses of chicken pox for two of my littles, another child unwell and home from school feeling miserable, and a lot of rain. The garden is saturated (whoever invented wellies, I salute you) and we’re starting to forget what blue sky looks like around here.
So what’s a girl to do to bring a little warmth into the cold, a little comfort to her weary and worried mind? Knit. (That’s what – as Mrs Rachel Lynde would surely say if she were sitting in the rocker beside me now!). Knit something quick and warming and cosy. I must have spots on the brain, because as I cast on for this hat (using Rowan Alpaca Cotton in ‘Rice’) it just seemed to want to be a bit bumpy, a bit dimpley. And what did I find as I searched about for such a stitch pattern? This lovely pattern for a ‘dimple hat’, care of the wonderful Purl Bee.
Mine came out a bit more ridgey than I expected, but I kind of like it that way. And the Alpaca Cotton is so soft and squishy (I’m dreaming of these to go with it). With my head a little warmer I am for once quite happy to bid farewell to October and usher in November with its chillier but, hopefully, well-er days. And my warmed up brain is full of all the projects I want to get done this month. There’s that Daisy Chain ABC sampler that is only a couple of letters away from being finished (I’ll show you as soon as its done; I am well and truly hooked on embroidery now), and a new sweater for little R now on the needles, and an autumn wreath covered in felt leaves that the children have so carefully cut out …. and Christmas not so very far away. Happy days.