Wednesday, September 26, 2012

gaining some closure on a closing

just about the same time we were settling into woodland, ca, this darling little children's consignment shop called sweet potato pie, consignment clothing for your lil' spud opened up on main street.

now, after three years, the store is closing its doors.  there is hope that the right buyer will be found and it can reopen once again, but as of this friday, there is a finality to was has been.  what it may be will certainly not be the same.

from the "about us" on their website:

About Us
Pin Cushion Two stay-at-home moms have become two "stay-at-store" moms! 
When we decided to open Sweet Potato Pie we had two criteria:

1.  Provide affordable  quality clothing

We live in a time of realizing our wastefulness and we feel that reducing, reusing and recycling can and should be a "fashionable" option when it comes to finding quality clothes for your child.  Buying and trading clothes on consignment is an easy, affordable, "green" way to outfit your little one without breaking the bank!
2.  Make our store a friendly place to shop where children are always welcome.

Having four children between us, we understand, first hand, how hard it can be to shop with children. 
Sweet Potato Pie was designed with little people in mind.  We have a safe play area, a spot for nursing moms and a bathroom with changing table.  Forgot a diaper?  Ask us, we've got some behind the counter!
Our store is a place that welcomes the whole family, where parents/care-givers feel comfortable bringing their children in while they shop.

alice and barb certainly accomplished their goals and so very, very much more.

sweet potato pie has been our home-away-from-home on main street.  it started out for me just as a clean, friendly, comfortable place to bring my kids' outgrown clothing and toys.

i soon had diana convinced it was *the* place to come to look for stuff.  we've worked hard to bring up the kids with the values of reduce/reuse/recycle.  clothing and toys for them is often not new from the store, but new to them because it came from somewhere else.  they feel good about finding other homes for things they are no longer using.  and diana has loved knowing that she's almost always had enough consignment credit available to get whatever strikes her fancy when she shops.  it's less like buying and more like trading.

and over time, ander has found it to be a place of refuge.  he could play with toys to his content, not frustrated by seeing rows of items on shelves that are packaged and inaccessible.  and i've found so, so many consignment toys that have worked wonders for us over the years and i didn't feel pressure about the price because of the credit we had earned.

there were music mornings.  oh, to have a welcoming space to listen to barb and alice play and sing and amuse us to no end!

and lose ourselves for long periods of time the book garden, nestled into the back of the store, enticing and inviting and full of darling stuffed animals and little chairs and spaces for browsing books.

diana put on her own runway shows, trying on outfits to see what worked on her and what didn't, always receiving complimentary suggestions.

she was encouraged to and supported in her efforts to set up a brownie stand outside of the store during the annual main street sidewalk sales. 

we sat in front of the store for the holiday parades on main street, comfortable knowing that we had a clean bathroom to use and a warm place to stay if the excitement and energy became too much to handle outside.

we learned about fun things to do in and around woodland because of the "things to do" page on the website, updated monthly to reflect community activities and suggesting fun crafts.  we found out about resources like family camp.

we advertised and collected donations for the woodland toy library there.

we looked at apartments close to main street when we sold our house, with one of our goals as the ability to walk to sweet potato pie easily from our home.  we accomplished that goal, even building cartography into our homeschooling activities as diana and ander learned the streets and pathways there and back.

we connected with other families in the area.

we made friends.

it is difficult for me to write this, as i tear up each time i think about it.  i hope i have told alice and barb enough, that i have communicated sufficiently in ways that they can understand, to let them know how much i appreciate them as friends.

as stay-at-store mothers, they have created an atmosphere of care and compassion that is practically palpable each time i walk into the store and see one (or both) of their smiling faces.  they have a genuineness and authenticity that i rarely come upon and am grateful when i do.  they take a personal interest in me and my family.  they freely offer and accept invitations for hugs.  they have patiently  listened to and watched my children to understand what make them tick and to make each experience there a good one.  they refrain from judging me as i work through the occasional difficult parenting situations; they unobtrusively offer space and time and a sympathetic look or gesture when it seems welcome or needed.

and they effectively model how to manage the difficult yet oh-so-very-important issues that come up in regards to taking care of family first.

for all this and more, i salute these women.  i honor and respect their decision to close this chapter in their lives, and i will miss seeing them there so very much.  i wish them and their families all the best that this world has to offer, and i think they will get it.  if the world reflects back what these women project out to it, their cups will surely overflow with love, generosity, and joy.

addendum: sweet potato pie has been sold!  the new owner has some stylish shoes to fill.  we'll welcome her into our community and hope we can continue to find a place for ourselves there in the store.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

fall-ing into place

it worked out this afternoon that the three of us completed an art project - together.

now, this is a pretty significant happening in our household.  diana is my crafty girl, always up for just about anything creative and/or decorative.  ander, on the other hand, would much prefer to stick to LEGO construction than do anything that smacks of "art."  i suppose i could have asked him to build me a forest scene from LEGOs and he could handle that fairly well on his own.

i'm a clever mommy (or so i was told the other day as i was shopping at costco and a grandmotherly-type was impressed at how i involved ander in loading the groceries on the conveyor belt and separating our order from others with the plastic divider-thingies.  i didn't think much of it, but apparently she thought that was a great way to keep him involved and occupied in line), so i leveraged his love for the alphabet to persuade him to participate with us.

this was not my original idea - i found "a sign of thanks" in the familyfun festive fall crafts activity guide - but i applied it in a way that worked for us.

i wrote out the word "autumn."  each child got to select a letter and a sheet of construction paper in black, yellow, or orange.  i drew out the letter "a" for ander, and he placed fall foam stickers to cover the lines.  diana composed her letters freehand, using mostly natural materials she has collected over time and keeps in glass jars.  she's pretty handy with a glue gun.  ander went for the "n" afterwards, and then opted to also make a "v" because, well, he just likes the letter "v."  he let me decorate that one and put it on his alphabet wall.  diana handled the remaining letters, plus an additional word.

these words now grace our dining room/living room wall, where the kids can see when they sit at the table or on the couch.  it really was quite fun, we were all together, and it makes me happyer at home every time it comes into view.

and now some pictures of the items i mentioned in my last post about fall

starchy yarn pumpkin

cheesecloth ghost
watercolor leaf garland.  i think we'll need to take to these again with darker paint colors.
this success makes me want to plan more things...i wonder how creative i can be with my two very different young ones.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


autumnal equinox.  it's finally here. aaaahhhhhhh...

it still feels like summertime here, particularly in the 90 degree afternoons, but the nights are cold and the mornings pleasantly cool.  the kids complain about the chilliness when they eat their breakfast, but it makes my hot chai that much more pleasurable.  night-times with windows open, breezes stirring my perfectly-tuned wind chimes, and snuggly-warm children to cuddle with.  soon i'll start wearing long-sleeves shirts again :)

i'm starting the process of changing over the decor in the house to reflect the seasonal change and mood.  i've located the bin in the garage that contains halloween costumes and the crafts we've made over the past few years: watercolor leaf garlands, cheesecloth ghosts, starched yarn pumpkins.

someone was really excited about saving & earning enough money to purchase a costume this year (we typically make our own).  she's wearing it all the time now and is beyond-words-happy with it.
i spent some time looking at the library's fall holiday/harvest celebrations books.  i discovered volume one of the celebrations library: halloween program sourcebook, edited by sue ellen thompson.  i must get this for our personal library.  the title page describes it as "the story of halloween, including excerpts of stories and legends, strange happenings, poems, plays, activities, and recipes focusing on halloween from the eighteenth century to the present, supplemented with a bibliography and indexes."  diana and i each read "the black cat" by edgar allan poe and were totally creeped out.  reading the story of the two princes in the tower of london in story of the world made the whole concept of murder and stone walls even more disturbing. shudder.

autumn leaves by ken robbins is a beautiful book, with photographs of a variety of fall leaves.  we used it last year as a delightful reference book and fodder for sketching leaves.  diana made a placemat last year with leaves she traced and colored.  she labeled them on the back and we put them between pieces of clear contact paper and she quizzed us all the time to see if we could identify the kind of tree each leaf came from.

in perusing our shelves to find the aforementioned book, i found two little pocket-sized identification guides that a kindly relative provided to us some time ago.  being a pack rat, i tend to not get rid of anything, and it's a re-discovery like this that reinforces my behavior.  tree finder: a manual for the identification of trees by their leaves by may theilgaard watts and fall color finder by c. ritchie bell & anne h. lindsey will now be included on our go-to list for nature journaling and crafting.

i eagerly look forward to checking out websites i frequent to gain new inspiration for seasonal discoveries: the crafty crow and family fun are full of ideas.

this morning's woodland farmer's market had some lovely items to feed our bringing-nature-inside habit.  chinese lantern tree branches, a pumpkin, a squash.  they look lovely with our existing nature collection.  we'll light our beeswax pinecone candle tonight at dinner in recognition of the season.

and another thing that makes me smile - flowers from my darling husband.  we're celebrating the anniversary of when we met, 25 years ago on the campus of the ohio state university.  he is my parenting partner, my best friend, and the person with whom i am happyest at home, wherever our home happens to be.

Friday, September 21, 2012

a matter of timing?

ander is not much of a talker.

sometimes i think it's a gender thing, you know, where females, in general, are more talky than males.  i think he'll grow up to be a strong-but-not-so-silent type of man.  he can often be found humming or singing or recalling stories or reciting poetry.  but he's not a big communicator in the way lots of kids his age are.

sometimes i think it has to do with the fact that he spends a great deal of time in a household with a very talky older sister and equally very talky mother.  maybe he doesn't say much, at least in comparison to us, because he really can't find the time or space to get a word or two in edgewise.

or perhaps he's just a much better listener than diana or me or lots of other kids his age.  he watches and waits and looks and listens and observes and absorbs everything, it seems.  i tend to forget that when i am engaged in conversation with diana or another child or another adult.  he's there and he is present, even during the times when i think he is not.

over the past couple of days he has astonished me.  maybe he's been doing these things all along and i only just now slowed and quieted down enough to really see.

or maybe it's just a matter of timing, and the time was right, right then.

he was playing with some duplo trains/tracks we borrowed from the woodland toy library.  he was very pleased with the little station he built and the train he put together.  he had connected an engine to four cars of various kinds and stuck a second engine on the back end.  he proudly counted the six cars, one by one.  then he disconnected the train equally in half and proclaimed, "six minus three is three."  but of course it is!  then he took one of the trains and moved it around the tracks, saying "three minus three equals...ZERO!"  absolutely!  train math, the very best kind of math there is right now.

he asked to listen to tmbg's here comes science cd.  during meet the elements, he asked if we had any elements.  i went to the garage to find the large laminated periodic table and also pulled out, just for grins, the laminated placemat with the uppercase alphabet on one side and the lowercase alphabet on the reverse side.   when he saw that, his eyes widened and he asked for blue sticky stuff and stuck it up on the wall.  he asked for a dry erase marker, and by golly, he traced all the letters.  then he turned it over and did all the others.  and was happy about it!  the last time i saw him do any voluntary writing was tracing the letters into shaving cream on the bathtub wall, and that was many, many months ago.

and then there was the reading.  we'd checked out sally sutton's demolition a few weeks back and he adored it, all of the sounds it described and the illustrations of big machines and the descriptions of such common, everyday, household terms as rotational hydraulic shears.

i checked online to see if the author had written similar books.  she had.  only one, but one was enough to show me just how much he connected with the author's style.

ander's eyes lit up when he saw i had found roadwork at the library.  we snuggled on the couch to read, and, as i usually do, i waited at the first page to give him time to decide and let me know if he wanted to read it aloud or have me do it.  he started in, and immediately he recognized and applied the marvelously-written cadence of the words and phrases just like i had done for him in the previous book.  he pointed out words he recognized from the other book, reveled in being able to quickly identify the rhymes, and dramatically read the onomatopoetic sounds the machines made.  he hesitated only a couple of times on words like hoist and squelch but confidently tried them out and then repeated them correctly when i gently offered my version of how it could sound.

when we were at the park the next day, playing with a friend while diana was in her weaving class, he pulled the book out of the bag and started to read aloud.  linus wandered over to see what ander was doing, then listened and watched intently as ander read with enthusiasm and vigor, pausing now and then to check in with me on proper pronunciation.  linus must have been sufficiently impressed with the clarity of ander's reading, as he reached over and pulled out gail gibbons' trains book and asked ander, "would you read this book to me?"
the times were right for him and i am happyer at home for being able to slow myself down at those times and savor every moment.

small, smaller, smallest

diana loves tiny things.  she collects them, admires them, plays with them, reads about them, creates them.  label something "little" and she loves it.  littlest pet shops.  mention something "mini" and says she might explode.  LEGO minifigs.  name something "nano" and she goes nuts.  nanoblocks.

no wonder she can't be quiet when it comes to quarks - zooming in on them is one of her favorite things to do when looking at the scale of the universe.

so nanoscience is a pretty cool topic to investigate.  check out this treasure chest:

nanozone at the lawrence hall of science

what is nano?

nanodays at explorit

nano activities at how to smile

the nanosphere at dragonflyTV

want a newspaper for little ones?  try the mini page!  diana has them sent to her by her great-grandmother, who gets them in her own newspaper.  it's a wonderful way for them to connect on shared interests.

one of diana's favorite books and blogs is about tiny teeth.  we first saw my milk toof by inhae lee in the gift shop at the crocker art museum.  diana waited and saved and bought her own copy.  then we discovered there is a blog!  the artist lives not too far away in berkeley - i'm trying to figure out how we can get to meet her.

and diana loves to make tiny things for her tiny things.  this week, she's been building things for her littlest pet shop ladybug named dotty.
bedroom in a box.  i love the window shutters, pillow rolls, lamp on the nightstand.  note the mess of books on the shelves.  there's a book on the table, too.  apparently dotty likes to read late into the night and has to be reminded to turn off the light and go to sleep.  hmmm, art imitating life here?

whoops, caught her in the bath.  sorry, dotty!
snug in her towel.  i can't get over the little details and use of things we have around the house: LEGO faucet, bottle cap, thimble, scraps of fabric and paper and tape and recycled containers.
tinkertoy- and lego-based amusement park, complete with littlest pet shop "adults" to make sure the "kids" had fun and stayed safe

ticket booth and play structure
snack stand - cheese, iced tea, and popcorn
giant swing
i am happyer at home because good things do come in small packages.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

piratey things

september 19 is international talk like a pirate day.  we've been celebrating it in our family for a long time, even before the kids came along, i think.  it's fun and silly and ranks up there with any of the hallmark-inspired holidays for us.  fortunately, it's more about connecting in a humorous fashion than gift-giving, which i really appreciate.

thanks to my connections via facebook,  i found this link to a whole unit study on pirates.  not that we are doing it, mind you, but the crossword puzzle looked like fun.

when i reposted that, one of the women i know who is very much familiar with seafaring vocabulary (through personal experience) tactfully directed us to a more accurate glossary of nautical terms.  i was proud of myself for recognizing many of them from conversations with steve about his navy experience.  you can bet that when the kids learn to sail, they'll know the correct words to use!

and then there are the places that devote themselves to debunking and investigating.  the skeptic questioner in me (who turns her head to the side and says, "really?") loves to look at those, though i really do have fun saying "aaaarrrrrrrrrr!" and "ye scurvy dogs!"  i hope i'm not offending anyone by doing so.

the ultimate in historical inaccuracies might just be an online pirate name generator, of which there are many.

and then i remembered we borrowed a book from a friend when ander had his pirate birthday partysee-through pirates by kelly davis was an interesting read.  lots of fascinating facts and definitely not for the faint of heart.  the life of a pirate was not a pretty one.

but for us, the fun is in saluting each other with (our) universal sign of being a pirate - holding one hand over an eye (to represent an eye patch), holding the other hand up in with the asl sign for the letter x (to represent a hook), and yelling "aaarrrrrrrrrrrrr" and laughing hysterically.

i am happyer at home with my own little pirates.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

constitution day...and beyond?

thank goodness for facebook; without it i would have completely forgotten about u.s. constitution day.  ok, not completely forgotten.  our wonderful education specialist sent a reminder with some links the day after.

fortunately, kids discover magazine and brainpop saved me a lot of work finding just the right thing for diana to brush up a bit on this topic.

diana's been getting kids discover magazine for a couple of years now.  the monthly issues cover lots of interesting topics and provide info in little tidbits to spark her curiosity.  i love when she gets one in the mail - she usually drops whatever else she is doing and perches somewhere to read and then announces to me little curiosities.  we are getting to the point now, though, that she has already come across much of the information from other sources.  we'll hold onto them for ander, i suppose.

anyhoo, the magazine offered a special deal - "like" the link on facebook and you could download a special primer on the bill of rights.  diana especially appreciated how each of those ten amendments was originally written and then translated into "plain english" and described how it works in practice.

brainpop, a fun website we came across years ago, had a special video on the u.s. constitution.  diana likes brainpop for the short, funny videos featuring tim and his robot friend, moby.  ander likes brainpop jr. math and reading and writing videos.  i like them both because it sparks the kids' interests and expands their environment by introducing topics when they show interest.  for example, diana learned about digital etiquette (which is timely as she increases her use of email and google searching and blogging) and commented that the video on death and dying introduced ideas she had not thought about in those ways before.  i also like the fact that there are quizzes diana can take after the video, if she chooses, so i have paperwork i can turn in to the charter school for her portfolio.

and from our home library, i remembered we had purchased loooong ago at a used book sale, a copy of ...if you were there when they signed the constitution by elizabeth levy.

this has started a spark of enthusiasm for me for studying voting and elections with diana.  she has always come with me when i voted; i liked the fact that, at our polling place, there was a little booth set up, complete with curtain, and mock ballots just for kids could complete and submit and get a sticker saying "i voted" just like the adults.  maybe i should act on that spark and start now on gathering materials together.  november is not that far off, after all.

one book we can start with is vote by eileen christelow.  it was published for election year 2008 and addresses how elections function and explains terminology.  it also asks interesting thought questions to stimulate open discussion.  it's drawn in a cartoon style and is easily accessible to kids.

Friday, September 14, 2012

LEGO history lesson

today's history lesson started with the story of the world chapter on the wars of the roses.

diana loves it when i read aloud to her from these volumes.  i'm glad to so i can learn along with her.  i got myself thoroughy confused, though, with trying to keep track of who was challenging whom to take over the throne of england.

so we turned to LEGOs.  we have plenty of minifig pieces to create the individuals we wanted.  after determining familial relationships and making a throne, diana staged a short video outlining the shift in rule from henry vi to henry tudor.

and we think family relations are tough now - it was murder back then!

edward iv married elizabeth woodville and threw henry vi in prison.
i am happyer at home today because home is all LEGO, all the time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

lessons in noticing

we were invited to participate in a small group activity of nature journaling with some fellow homeschooling friends.  this is right up diana's alley - she loves to draw and observe and be out in nature (though she reasonably takes issue with pesky insects that drop down unexpectedly from trees and buzzing or crawling ones that come to investigate her snacks).

our location du jour was the ucd arboretum.  we've been there plenty of times before, but never in this particular location.  unlike the missouri botanical garden we frequented in st. louis, which had a single main entrance, the garden collections here are spread out along a long curve and are accessible at multiple locations.  we've always parked at one end and wandered through the australian collection, redwood grove, and east asian collection.  this time we went to the white flower garden and gazebo.

on the walk in, we passed by the vet buildings and stopped to look at some horses standing near the fence.  they obligingly stood still as we looked at the structure of their legs and feet.  diana and i have expressed to each other our mutual dissatisfaction in our efforts so far to draw horse legs and feet.  taking a look at the real animals, watching them shift their weight, seeing how their knees bend differently depending on whether they are the forelegs or hind legs, all of this gave us insight and perspective we hadn't noticed before.  diana remembered something she had read about elephant feet and that they actual walk on their toes and that led us to wonder about the structural/anatomic differences in human vs elephant vs horse feet.  (idea for studying foot morphology sometime, perhaps?)

this particular entrance to the arboretum was graced with a gorgeous curved wall of botanical art representing different plants, pollinators, and other insects that could be found here.

the art was continued on the outer walls of the nearby restroom, too:

as we gathered together to begin the journaling, the facilitator/teacher/guide? started off with an activity - an "i spy" game with the restriction that color could not be used in the description.  someone could ask if the "thing" was a specific color, but that information could not be volunteered.

i was tickled by some of diana's choices.  things that were there but not immediately seen; characterized by the absence of something - a hole at the base of a tree.  another was invisible, but not all the time; it depended on your perspective - a spider web.

when brainstorming about what kind of things we can notice in the natural world, she mentioned patterns (daddy would be proud of that answer) and the breaking down of symmetry.

we scattered to "find the things that speak to us" and set about noticing and documenting.

afterwards, we gathered again as a group and shared what noticed.  it was interesting to see how individual perspectives were reflected in what was noticed and how it was recorded.  some curious similarities and differences appeared as we reflected.

diana's drawings:

i had purchased this for diana last year on a whim. i'm glad it is serving her well.

i participated in the activity, too.  my method of capturing what i noticed was through photography; my journal is here in my blog:

the incredible strength of branches that are nearly horizontal
what can this eye see?

a calloused old joint?
the sticky slime trail glittered in the sunlight - it attracted me to an otherwise drab area.  i wish i could have captured the sparkles through my camera lens.
the shadows reminded me of sunprints i've (hoped to have) made

i noticed a lot today.