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.-"I have three ant bites.  Can I use this stuff I found in the first aid kit on them?  It's called ant-acid." 

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!"

Saturday
May312008

built-in shelves-a quasi-tutorial

You know that wall in your house that could use a bank of bookshelves?  Or maybe it's a niche next to your fireplace.  I had one big long wall in the schoolroom, and two nasty metal utility shelves that were holding all our books, papers, file boxes, and so on.  Not lovely.

Here's the link to the basic instructions to building bookcases

Here they are in process:

Basically, there's a solid, upright piece of 3/4" plywood on each side of each section, with smaller pieces of plywood glued-and-nailed all the way up, leaving little slots for the shelves.  What you see on the left there, with the clamp on it, is one of the verticals that goes against the wall.  It has one set of shelf supports glued to one side of it.  Make sense so far?

In the middle is one of the shelves that goes between a shallow shelf and a deep shelf.  It's as deep as the deeper ones, and has shallow supports glued to one side, deep supports glued to the other side.  All the supports are flush with the back of the vertical. 

And thus you go along, making the right number of vertical supports for the set of shelves you're making.  Then, take each of the supports that are going against the walls and screw them, down in the shelf grooves, to the wall studs with drywall screws.  Set the vertical that comes next upright and bribe someone to come stand there while you slide in the shelves.  This Old House has better instructions for attaching your shelves to the wall, but by this point we'd moved so far beyond the actual instructions that we were seat-of-pants-ing it. 

Repeat the vertical-holding and shelf-sliding.  A note here.  When I glued down the shelf supports, I made the slots exactly 3/4", and it made for some adventure getting some of the shelves in.  I won't say there was any swearing, but I think Father Bird thought some ugly things.  Heavens.

What's really holding this whole set of shelves together is the tension from the shelves above and below the window.  I measured the space, then built a basic plywood box to fit each space, and whacked those suckers in those holes and screwed them down.  (Use short screws so they don't come twisting out the other side, breaking your heart in the process.)

Then, when the shelves are all in and level and everything (shim under the bottoms of the verticals if they aren't), you just cut strips of 1 1/2" poplar to cover the front edge of each vertical.  Glue-and-nail those, then make edges for each of the shelves.  Cover the edges at the bottom with a little strip of quarter-round molding.  Paint everything.  And paint it again. And another time.  And...yeah, maybe just one more coat...

Perhaps these shelves look complicated.  The truth is, Father Bird went down to Home Depot and had everything cut to the right width, and left town for two weeks.  When he came back, I had the whole thing up, just waiting for him to help me whack in some of those sticky shelves.  Oh, and motivate me to actually finish.

The best part of the whole thing was when I was almost finished. I came to the door with a power drill in my hand, and the air conditioning repairman's mouth fell open as he looked from the drill to the shelves and back.  "You put them shelves up yourself? Really?"

Yep. Really. And you can too.

Good luck!

~Mother Bird~

Saturday
May102008

mother's hands

When I was a little girl, I used to sit in church with my mother and hold one of her hands. I’d trace the faint blue lines of the veins that stood up on their backs like long mole tunnels. I’d wonder at her rough skin, short-clipped nails, and plain gold wedding band. How did her hands get to be so old and ugly?

Like many parts of life, motherhood is a funny thing. Because my mother was always so close to me as I grew up, I never knew how to appreciate her presence. We don’t appreciate the ground. But just try to suddenly be without it. A mother is not a person with whom to have a relationship, she is a utility. I asked my son recently why we have mothers, and after some thought, he replied, “Because if we didn’t, how would we get our food?” Mother is such an important part of life that to appreciate her, we would have to consider the alternative, something from which our minds recoil. She is like underwear. Like air.

Then I moved away, married, and set up my own household. And began, I thought, to appreciate what my mother had been doing for me all those years. The laundry, the meals, the encouragement. All these things had to come from me. Man, I thought, she really WAS doing something!

And then one Mother’s Day I sat in church with her again. I was nine months pregnant with my first son, and they were giving out potted begonias to all the mothers. I wouldn’t take one, because I was NOT yet a mother. Momma poked me in the ribs and hissed, “Yes you are, take one of those plants.”

Just over 24 hours later, I had earned my begonia. After all the sweat and agony and panic of childbirth, they placed our child in my arms. Some moments, some emotions, defy words. There are no words to describe that moment, or they are so sacred that I don’t know them. But I knew then that as blindingly beautiful as that event was for me, I was not the only person who had experienced it. In that instant I joined hands with my mother, and countless millions of mothers before me who had seen that moment and treasured it up forever. In that instant, I at last placed my foot on the very beginning of the road to understanding what my mother had always been for me.

This Mother’s Day will mark seven years since I wouldn’t take the begonia in church. Every day I learn just a little more what my mother was doing, quietly, all the time I was growing up. I wash, and bake, and scrub the house repeatedly, knowing that this is the menial labor she did for years for me. I marvel at my children, who take me so for granted that they hardly seem to see me sometimes, and wince to think that I felt the same way about my own mother. I stifle silent tears as I watch them grow and know that she did this also. I turn my face toward heaven, and resolutely gather my family around me, and realize that she is doing this even now.

And I begin to understand how her hands got to be the way they are, hands that held me, cared for me, shaped me, then opened and let me go.

Recently I was sitting in church again. It’s the only time I get to sit down anymore. I looked down at my hands, and it seemed odd to me to see the veins starting to become prominent, my nails cut short, my skin rough. My engagement ring is in the jewelry box, leaving only my plain gold wedding band. The diamond ring scratches babies and gets bread dough stuck in it. How did my hands come to look like this, I thought.

The same way my mother’s did, I realized. And I smiled, because I was glad to see that my hands are slowly becoming like hers. Old, and ugly. And beautiful.

~Mother Bird~

Saturday
May032008

sufficiency

I’ve checked it out from the library so much that they ought to realize what’s going on and just give it to me. I suppose I could just buy it, but it’s a terrible enough temptation to me when I do have it around that it’s good that it’s out of my house some of the time.

I love to open this book up to the pages with the illustrations called “The One-Acre Farm” and “The Five-Acre Farm”. I pore over the labeled layouts of the tidy little farms, noting how they’ve stuck the beehives in right over here, put the hay storage right over there. I drool over the carefully drawn garden beds, with cryptic names like “root break” and “bean break”. The author gives advice on how to rotate your crops, how to maximize planting space on your property, how to slaughter and dress your animals, where to fit in your milk cow, how to make soap, how to grow wheat...

You begin to plumb the depth of the madness here.

The problem is, I believe all of it. I believe in the wisdom of raising your own food, knowing what went into it. I believe in the metaphysics of understanding the life journey of what goes on your plate. I believe in teaching my children the gritty details of what it means to be a consumer, that the toil and the joy of our hands’ work is more important than the ease of bought goods. I believe in the health benefits of it. I believe in the spiritual and mental benefits. I believe....well, see, I believe it all.

I can see my own smallholding laid out in just such a way, with my milk cow out there in the pasture, my garden laid out just so, my beehives, my wheat....

But honestly. I admit that I am a chronic dreamer. I admit to being a habitual more-than-I-could-ever-chew biter. But after reading the whole book through again this time even I began to hyperventilate. Who can do all this? Who on earth really has enough time, energy, and sheer maniacal drive to run “The One-Acre Farm”? Milk the cow, make all your dairy products. Grow the wheat, make all your bread. Grow all the vegetables, make all the clothes, feed all the animals, build all the buildings, BREW ALL THE BEER...

Okay, so that last one isn’t really a problem for us so much. It sounds like a lovely, idyllic sort of life, really, working hard and cutting loose from dependency on “the system”. It just bumps up hard against the brick wall of reality. There are, well, children. They need new clothes now, because the ones you made or bought ten minutes ago are suddenly above their ankles and wrists. They need to go to the library. They need a new box of crayons and more construction paper. They need a hamburger and French fries and the toy that comes with them. They need...they need...

And there is my husband. A good, hardworking man who comes home to a stack of wild, off-the-wall self-sufficiency projects so tall it could make Atlas feel like a lazy bum.

And there is the need for us to sit, at the end of the day, on the front porch steps and watch the lightning bugs come out, and talk about nothing and laugh with our children. At such times, I think wistfully of the cow I’m not running off to milk right now, and wonder what “self-sufficiency” is really worth.

In “The Wealth of Nations” Adam Smith argued that division of labor allows for more efficient use of time and resources by the people engaged in the divided labor. If you do one thing, he said, you can learn to do it smoking well, and spend less time doing it. The whole self-sufficiency bit is at the exact opposite end of that spectrum.

So what’s the answer? Maybe it’s the same answer as with almost every other choice between two extremes. Balance. To make your goal avoidance of ever going to the grocery or department store again would take every ounce of your time and energy for the rest of your life. To specialize so much that you turn one widget all day every day would make you go insane. But somewhere out there in the middle, I think, is where we want to be. We do want our children to learn these things, but we want to be able to spend some quiet time with them, too. We want to have the leisure to answer their questions, to do some dreaming ourselves, to enjoy the things we do choose to take on without rushing to the next thing. To read a book. To write.

So it seems that although we so often curse the pace of “modern life” and wish that we could bring back “the good old days” when everybody lived and worked on a farm, this may be a case of the green on the other side of the fence. I think the modern life gives us a lot that we don’t give it credit for.

In short, I heartily recommend this book to you, with a grain of salt. There are a lot of lovely fascinating things to be found in its pages. Just don’t feel like you have to take it all on. The author’s approach is so very...encouraging...that you feel like you need to do it all. Rotating my garden plantings I can do. Planting wheat is a no-go.

But I do think I have space for those beehives...

Wednesday
Apr092008

our first little harvest

And here's our first little harvest. Just enough to make a delightful salad to go with dinner last night. There's baby lettuce, asparagus, radishes, a spring onion, and turnip greens.

And although I didn't go out there barefoot to pick all this, (there ARE fire ants, after all) it was rather idyllic to take my bowl and go out in the dusk and select my vegetables from the side yard. After a weekend spent with strep throat (note to self, not something to be handled without medical assistance), it was balm to my frazzled soul to go out and bring in the first little harvest.

Oh and, this is planting week, yes? We're all so excited. Let's see...tomatoes, corn, okra, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, herbs, beans, squash, watermelon...

What about you? Planting anything?

Wednesday
Mar122008

I didn't kill him...

My oldest son has wide feet. Too wide for any of the shoes from Payless. So we have to special-order shoes for him at $40+shipping. Last week his little brother got into the primer we had left in a closed room we were painting (oh, idiot parents) and the Sunday shoes got the brunt of it. $40.

So the poor guy wore tennis shoes to church this Sunday, and I ordered more shoes as quickly as possible. About two hours ago they came in the mail. And this is a picture of them filled with honey. $40.

At least I saved the honey-hey, the shoes hadn't ever been worn.