Children's Fashion Workshop

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I'm Erin.  Gardening addict, incurable maker, insatiable reader, closet author, chronicler of childhood, wanderer, wonderer.  I'm glad you've come to sit a while with me.

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Offhand comments:

9.y.o.-"It would be awesome if we had a 3-d printer because then we could print anything.  Like...like a tiny little model of Angkor Wat!"

Friday
Mar202015

the wall

The view from the front porch, with the rain-wet road to civilization beckoning. Or warning, depending on how you look at it.

The first time I really recognized the wall as a real thing was at the Cub Scouts' Blue and Gold banquet last week.  I am new in my town and church (again), and having to walk into rooms where I know no one and choose a seat among them is something that comes with that territory.  So I did at the banquet, standing at the door and looking long before selecting a round table with enough chairs left for myself and my crew.

The meeting hadn't begun, so people were chatting, and there it was.  Halfway across the table where we sat, there was an invisible wall.  We didn't know the people on the other side of the table, so we talked to each other, and didn't even look across the table at them.  They, likewise, didn't look at us.  Suddenly I thought how odd it was that we were three feet from someone else, but might as well have been in the next room, or the next city.  

Of course then I sat there contemplating the wall, and realized that I've seen it over and over.  We've been...fortunate? to be able to live in several different places during our adult lives, some of them spacious, some of them less so.  It's interesting to note the differences in the way people act when they have different amounts of space.  

The little pond, with the houses on the other side of it cleverly cropped out.

In the neighborhood we've just left, the houses were very close together.  I would say, self-righteously, that I make no judgement call on that arrangement, but you would call me hypocritical seeing these pictures.  I will say that the people living around us there seemed happy, and it was only I who felt something amiss.  There was a sense of community there that they all love, but I, a chronic misfit, couldn't bear. 

But the wall was clearly evident between each of those little properties.  Where people must live their lives always within the view of others, the wall, it seems to me, must be psychological.  So our neighbors would carry on in their backyards, playing or partying, or even just cutting the lawn, fully in view of our back windows, but with both of our walls firmly between us.  We saw, but did not see them.  They unloaded groceries into garages directly below our bedroom windows and had conversations about the day that we weren't intended to hear, and the wall was intended to protect us both.  We would rake leaves in the front yard at the same time as someone across the street, never interacting and never thinking of doing so, the wall an almost visible divider between us.  

In the apartments where we've lived, the wall is even closer.  When someone else's front door is a foot from your own, when your walls adjoin so that you can hear him catcalling at her through them, The Wall has to be more real than the walls themselves.  

All of this may sound as though I think the wall is bad.  I'm just commenting on its existence, really.  It may be, probably is, a coping technique that we all use to navigate a world where we've got to interact with a lot of other people.  And maybe I only see it now because it's so suddenly been moved back for us, at least at home.  Everywhere else we continue to carry it with us, in the checkout line at the store, in the corner we've staked out among the blocks and books at the library, between our half of the park bench and theirs.  

The Point, where two creeks come together and hold our little piece of woods.

But I think it's when someone musters up the spark of courage that it takes to cross the wall that's beautiful to me.  Sometimes they botch it, to be sure.  It's tough to know what to say when someone at the store asks me if I'm running a day care.  That kind of interaction tends to make my wall a little stronger.  But the other night at the banquet, as I sat wrapped in thought about, and firmly ensconced in, my own wall, I heard these words from the other side of the table, "I don't believe we've met.  I'm..."

And the wall between us came down.

~E~

Wednesday
Mar182015

create the kind of world

Running. Always.

Fifteen.  That was the number of houses we counted as we drove slowly up our new street last Sunday toward our house at the end.  Now, on Monday, that was the number of loaves of bread we were aiming to bake, to take to each of them and introduce ourselves.  

As my daughter and I ground the flour and measured out the ingredients in a dance that's become automatic now, my mind ran the usual round of thoughts.  Why am I doing this?  What's the purpose?  Do I really want to meet all these people?  I'm not particularly fond of people in general, and it's going to be weird to show up like trick-or-treaters on people's front doorsteps.  We'll look so silly, not to mention overwhelming (there are a lot of us, after all.)  Is this really a thing that people do, or am I doing another one of those crazy things and all these people will think we're crazy?  There's no reason I couldn't just move in up here at the end of this road and hunker down and never meet anyone on my street at all.  Actually, that sounds nice.  We'll just eat all this bread ourselves. 

But then I reminded myself of this:  You've got to create the kind of world where you want to live.  It does no good to say, nobody in my neighborhood ever talks to me, if you're not talking either.  Being at the end of a dead end street, we drive by every single house every time we leave ours.  I didn't want to just wave at people whose faces I recognized by sight but never know their names.  I've lived in silent neighborhoods before, and bemoaned their silence.  Who did I expect to come and save me from it, I wonder now?  

So we squared up our shoulders and went.  We did look like trick-or-treaters, all clustered up at the bottom of each set of steps.  Or like Christmas carolers, maybe.  We rang each doorbell, and got the guarded, what-do-you-want faces of strangers.  We offered our gift of butcher-paper-wrapped bread, with our phone number penciled on top, and explained who we were, and in seconds we got the smiles and relaxed shoulders of friends.  

We met an older couple who have closed their restaurant but still run a catering business.  They explained how working together with their children as they grew made their family strong.  We met another homeschooler.  We met a couple of families who have been here for decades, who explained to us how our area has changed over those years.  

It took us a couple days (fifteen loaves is a lot of bread) to make it to the end of the road.  By the second day, word had spread of what we were doing and the people we approached already knew our names, where we were from, and were waiting for their bread.  We learned that all the properties on our street, now in lots with homes on them, had once been one giant peach orchard.  We learned about the rodeos held at the equestrian center on the next street over.  

At the last house on the street, an old man and woman stepped gingerly down their concrete steps to talk to us in the circle of the porch lights.  We'd declined their offer to come inside.  We're less destructive of trinkets and such if we stay out in the yard.  After talking with us for a few minutes, the man shyly said that he walked the street for exercise every day, and the former owners of our house had said that he could walk up the driveway if he wanted.  He only ever walked halfway up, but it added another 500 feet to his walk before he turned around.  Walk on up it, I said.  We'll wave if we see you. 

The day after our first round of bread, I received a message on my phone.  A lady down the street had heard that there would be a tornado drill in the morning, and she wanted me to be aware, so that "it doesn't frighten all those children."  A text came later, with the caterer's phone number and thanks.  A couple of days after that, the homeschool family dropped by with a bag of cleaning things and chocolate.  

Yesterday, having watched the wind whip across our front yard for days, we got a couple of kites while we were at the store.  The second we got home, the children tumbled out of the car, tore the packages off, and unreeled their ribboned treasures into the sky.  It had been a long morning, so I sat down on a rocking chair on the front porch to watch.  They shrieked and laughed as they launched their kites and crashed them and launched them again.  

While they were out there exulting over their vicarious flight, I saw a little figure with a dog coming up the street.  He reached our driveway and kept coming.  It was our friend from the end of the street, taking his daily walk.  True to his word, he shuffled about halfway down the driveway, then stood with his head back, watching the children's kites, his eyes shielded against the brilliant sunshine.  He stood that way for a long time, then turned, called to his dog, and walked the other way.  And I thought how strange that would have been if I didn't know who he was, if I didn't know his name.  When I waved to him, it wasn't the tight, obligatory wave of strangers.  It was the greeting of a friend.

~E~

Wednesday
Mar042015

home again

The breeze blowing around the corner of the house was soft and full of unshed rain, and just that temperature where you can tell it's gotten tired of being brisk and fierce and is beginning to remember spring.  The spring peepers, down at the creek, woke up just the day after we arrived here, and call for their tiny mates day and night in a chorus like little bells.  

I stood with my four-year-old as she hacked merrily at the overgrown Knockout roses in front of the house. I'd been itching to get my hands (and pruners) on them since I first saw them, and this was the first pause in the madness of inspecting/signing/packing/cleaning/unpacking that I'd been able to take.  It's so good, the marathon of building a nest around an already-growing family, and so, so exhausting.  The hundreds of little decisions-Where would it be best to put the silverware?  Who gets which bedroom?  How can children who need clean bedding in the night find it without humiliation?-live near the heart of this most important work, homemaking.  And so we are, right now, making another home. 

We bought the house from an older couple who had raised their only son through his teenage years here.  There's a certain comforting anonymity to be found when you're dealing with the owners of a house you want to buy through the telephone game of two realtors.  I had hoped to keep that anonymity intact, but we ended up sitting across from them at the closing.  There was only time for them to tell us a few words about the home that was theirs at the beginning of the meeting, ours at the end.  The pond is full of fish, they said.  Our son used to ride his paddleboat there.  The water from the well is so cold you have to be careful watering sensitive plants with it.  You have children? We know you will love it.  We just know you're going to love it.  

I wanted so badly to just be buying a house.  We all tried so hard to be formal and distant, but we knew we were buying someone's home.  

Over the next few days, as I stood amid the wreckage of moving in, the former lady of the house showed up a couple of times.  Was there any mail for us, she asked, and oh, could I take this garden gnome that we forgot?  While here she told me what the window blinds had cost and asked hopefully whether I liked them.  She told me how the moonlight came through one high window and fell across her bed, and asked if, when she moves out of the apartment she's in now, she could come back and divide the pink lilies in the front flowerbed with me since they were her grandmother's.

For a moment I thought about telling her, honey, all those documents and that big check we gave you mean I'm the lady of this house now.  But then I remembered the ache of leaving a home where one's children have played, where one knows all the little quirks of land and house.  The countless hours spent just in the kitchen give a kind of gravity to one's time in a house that ought to stand for something.  I thought of the homes that I've loved and let go, and of the hopes that I would doubtless gush all over their new owners if we had the chance to meet.  Please, I would say.  Love it.  I don't know you, but I know, I hope, you will love it.  I did.  I do still.  I know just where the moonlight will fall in each of those houses tonight.

Come back in the fall, I told her.  We'll divide the lilies together.

I know that those of you who have been with me since Georgia are chuckling now.  Is this, my grandmother and parents wanted to know, the same house we lived in before?  It does look strikingly similar, as we all remarked when we first saw the listing photos, of which the picture above is one.  Well, I asked them, how do you think we knew it was home?

~E~

Thursday
Dec042014

in case you can never get enough

On Thanksgiving, as I stood in my mother's kitchen, my sister took my phone out of my hands and signed me up for Instagram.  Everyone who's anyone, she said, and I was no one but when she was done with me I was someone. So, if you're one of the flattering few who can't get enough of our antics, you're welcome to look over our shoulders over there.  Not, you know, that Instagram can replace the lengthy, moody picking apart of life that we do over here, but it has its own place, I am having to admit. 

Find us there-@ewatsonhowe, or you can click through on the little widget to the left of your screen.  Scroll down a bit if you don't see it.

~E~

Monday
Nov242014

On our coffee table: The Moscow Puzzles

I always wonder about them.  

You know, them, the math people.  I always wonder what the difference is between those of us who learned enough math to demonstrate competence, did so, and then set out to forget all about it, and those who fell in love with math somewhere along the way.  Whenever I discover I’m in the presence of the latter type of soul, I start pumping him or her for information on how this strange thing happened.  Inevitably, they get this funny sort of a glint in their eyes and say, “It’s just…this puzzle.”  

Aha.

A puzzle is a game.  Games are for playing. Everybody loves a game.  

Enter The Moscow Puzzles.  It’s not a textbook.  It doesn’t have a grade or age written on the spine.  It’s a book of “Mathematical Recreations” for people who love the puzzle of it all.  Or, as in our case, people who are learning to love the puzzle.  

It's also important to point out, I think, that neither is this one of those books that promises to "make math fun!".  That math is already fun is an unspoken assumption, and no time is wasted on bringing anybody who doesn't understand this up to speed.  If you didn't have this basic understanding, you wouldn't be bothering to read a book like this.  Which has the effect of making you act as though you think math is thrilling and entertaining even if you don't, really, which is kind of delightful.  You want to be in the in club.  Those making-math-fun books always seem to bear the stink of trickery.  

Remember the wolf, the chicken, and the corn?  That the farmer has to take across the river without them all eating each other up?  That's here, along with a whole range of other puzzles.  Many of them have a distinctly mid-century Soviet flair, as when "Communist boys and girls" are decorating a hydroelectric powerhouse newly built by "Komsomol youth" and need to know how to place the flags at even intervals around the roof.  If you look closely at the diagrams where coins are used as counters, you'll find that they've used kopecks (if, you know, you can read Cyrillic) so you'll need to round up all the kopecks you've got lying around the house if you're going to replicate the coin puzzles.  The trains leave from Moscow and Leningrad, everyone is named Misha and Kostya and Boris.

And, well, we're completely enthralled.  Every day we solve a few puzzles, never knowing whether the ones we get today will be funny and simple-“Three matches are on a table.  Without adding another, make 4 out of 3.  You are not allowed to break the matches,"-or frustratingly difficult.  Once we’ve beaten them, the children wait for Daddy to get home so they can try them out on him.  Groans and rolled eyes always ensue, because he’s one of those funny-glint people and can usually figure out in minutes what took us half an hour of head-shaking and nearly giving up.  "Don't you want to actually move the toothpicks?" they'll ask him incredulously, impressed that he can do it all in his head. "Nope," he says, and smiles, and drives them all crazy.

It is, as Peter Gray says, play in the realm of mathematics.  Who would have thought such a thing was possible?  I mean, besides them.

~E~