One Patch at a Time

Dirt Magazine, Family, Mending

Once upon a time, you would have learned everything you needed to know about mending from a relative or neighbor. You would have learned this as a kid, likely, and now you would already have a system for keeping up with torn knees and unraveling hems. But in this time, our time, mending is on track to become a Lost Art, and you may not have learned anything about darning, patching or stitching. And where are those friends and family now? Can they still teach us how to maintain our clothes? They are getting older and harder to find. But we are lucky to have a neighbor in Katrina Rodabaugh, a Germantown, NY resident and author of the just released Mending Matters: Stitch, Patch, and Repair Your Favorite Denim & More.

Her motto is simple: “Just begin…You’ll improve techniques as you practice. You’ll gain insights and confidence as you navigate forward.” And many folks are eager to begin, to learn mending as a way of slowing the consumption and waste cycle. But those of us with kids look at the mountain of clothes that they wear hard and bring home broken. And we wonder, is it worth it to patch their clothes? Do I have to conquer the whole mountain?

I talked to Rodabaugh, who has two young boys, and she offered her encouragement for the newbie mender. She reminds us to take it “one garment at a time. One patch at a time. One stitch at a time.”

The kids’ clothes are the conundrum, really. They grow out of them so quickly, it’s hard not to wonder if it’s worth it to fix them. Rodabough’s strategy? “I try to mend my older son’s clothes as soon as the tear becomes visible. This way I can preserve his clothes for as long as they fit him and also pass them to my youngest son.”

And her handiwork lives on after her kids outgrow a patched jacket, because she passes clothes on to friends or strangers. “The mending lives on beyond us,” she said. “Most of my children’s wardrobes are secondhand so I like to think their garments are well-loved for years before and years after.”

We teach our kids about recycling and energy conservation, so why not waste reduction? Rodabaugh’s two boys, “view mending as a normal way of caring for clothing. Plus, they love the stitches and patches on their clothes.”

And isn’t that what we want for a family culture of sustainable living? We can reintroduce healing practices as “normal” and let our kids learn from their families, even if it skipped a few generations prior.

Originally published in Dirt Magazine Nov/Dec 2018

Vacations worth the sweat

Dirt Magazine, Family

When we commit a chunk of money to a vacation, we hope that we will come out of it with some good memories and awakened interests and family connection. I mean, it’s a lot of money. And a lot of work to plan, pack and carry out. So we want some return on our investment, right? We want to have fun, dammit!

But how? What’s fun for a grown man and also fun for a four-year-old?

Our vacation strategy was inspired by Dr. Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting. She writes about her experience trying to find out what felt like “play” to everyone in her family — which can involve some detective work. Once Dr. Brown had her info, she drew Venn diagram to find the overlaps.

Taking a page from Brown’s book, we’ve tried to identify what is play for all of us, and where our play lists overlap. It’s not a big cross section. Our kids are fast and reckless in crowded museums, slow and aimless in wide open spaces. The list of group activities that satisfy me, my husband, a 4- and a 7-year-old is short. But that’s okay — helpful, even. We can fix those activities as the center of our vacation planning.

Beach-combing can keep all of us happy for a long while. When the little one loses interest, he can play in the water or dig or run or snack. Being in calm coves helps make it easier to trust him not to get knocked over by a wave, plus we all love finding a secret place out in the wilds. A warm day at the beach is so lovely, but we also spent a wet and cold week at the beach in the temperate rainforests of Washington State. Long underwear and rain gear for all. We spent that week hunting for agates, jasper and other rocks on the beaches, then warming up by the wood stove while we sorted all the treasures. And washed the treasures and polished the treasures and read about the treasures…

I have also realized that I need to separate being out in nature from hiking. Hiking with kids kind of makes me miserable. I feel stuck in the slow lane while I just want to move forward. And something about trails makes kid’s shoes turn to iron weights. Three steps in and they are tired. So, we aim to find a place where we all want to linger — a mountain stream is my favorite. The kids play in the water, and my husband and I are happy to join in for a bit. Then we can read, picnic, whittle, talk or just lie on warm rocks.

Also on our short list of fun-for-all activities is buffets (specifically breakfast or an Indian buffet) since everyone gets exactly what they want and the feel of abundance is a balm to the limits and constant compromise that come with travel. You want to eat a bowl of strawberries for breakfast? Go ahead, kid.

For a midwinter weekend getaway, we have a three-year-and-counting family tradition of going to a suite hotel upstate with an indoor pool, large breakfast buffet, and evening cocktail and snack hour. We eat junk food, watch TV and leave the hotel once a day to take a walk. We indulge and lounge and play and rest. It’s not exotic or expensive (off-season rates!), but it does feel decadent – for everyone.

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, Jan/Feb 2019. Updated May 2019

Geology lesson, up close and personal.

Locavore Munchies

Dirt Magazine, Family, Kitchen
pumpkin custard cups
Pumpkin custard baked in 1/2 cup mason jar. Portable and delicious.

Trying to eat locally and seasonally seems daunting when you are feeding the picky three-year-old or the perpetually famished 13-year-old. Even trying to explain it to them (and why they don’t get cereal for breakfast) seems tough enough, let alone trying to source, shop, prep and cook local meals for your family. I’m not going to lie, it’s way easier to get the same grocery items week after week, and avoid the extra effort and drama that variety brings.

But you and I both know why eating locally is important, both for our community and our family. The question is how you can still keep your children fed and happy, especially when they need an after school snack – five minutes ago. Is there local snack food?

Glad you asked. Here is a list of some of our favorite snacks that we can source locally and/or make at home. I have left out the obvious fresh fruit & vegetables, but you already know you can serve your kids carrot sticks.

  • Apple sauce
  • Baked apples or pears
  • Baked potatoes
  • Berries & whipped cream
  • Cheese & apples (cut apples into flat slices and eat it like a sandwich)
  • Cheese & tomato jam
  • Dried apple rings
  • Edamame (soybeans, steamed & salted)
  • Fruit leather (peach is our favorite)
  • Hard boiled eggs (or deviled eggs if you can manage mayonnaise*)
  • Homemade crackers
  • Kale Chips
  • Mayo (oil, egg yolk, acid and salt. Oil and the acid would require exceptions or thoughtful sourcing)
  • Oven fries
  • Peaches and cream
  • Pickled cauliflower (fermented, takes well to any spice mix – my favorite is curry)
  • Pickled green beans (I ferment them in a salt/water brine, easier than cucumber pickles)
  • Popcorn (use lard or butter, plus salt and dried dill)
  • Popsicles (fruit, yogurt & honey)
  • Pumpkin custard (like the pie, but without a crust)
  • Pumpkin ice cream
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Smoothies
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Yogurt with maple syrup, jam or honey

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, Sept/Oct 2017

Blonde kid reading a book about an African American girl.

Fill Your Bookshelf, Fill Your Mind

Dirt Magazine, Family

Recently, I took a look at the news, and took a look at our bookshelves. One made me feel hopeless, and one filled me with hope. The books that we are reading, especially the read-aloud books, spark so many conversations, and become examples we can point to when a 7-year-old is trying to grasp big concepts, even when we shield him from the specifics of the front page headlines.

I used the Common Sense Media book reviews to gather books that share a wide range of experiences, so many of which overlap with our own lives, goals, struggles and dreams. A Different Pond shows what father-son time looks like for a refugee family trying to make ends meet in America. Harriet Gets Carried Away is the story of a wildy imaginative girl who has unexpected adventures from the grocery story to Antarctica, all while her two dads wait to place their order at the deli counter. El Chupacabras is a bilingual story that has us all shouting “una tortita de cabra” or, “a goat pancake!”

Common Sense Media book reviews go into detail about the occurrences in the book. They measure content categories including: Educational Value, Positive Role Models & Representation, Violence & Scariness, Consumerism, Sexy Stuff, Language, and Drinking & Drugs. Additionally, they seem to seek out books that feature a wide range of characters, including sensitive boys, powerful girls, neurodivergent kids, gay parents, single-parent households, people of color, immigrants and many more. All that to say, the stories are amazing and it works a lot better than just looking at the library bookshelves and grabbing a few with interesting titles. Plus, if you get them on inter-library loan, you can put them on hold at home and then just pick them up at the library desk a couple days later.

Here’s a sampling of books we got recently from the library (some coming via the inter-library loan system):

  • Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, age 3+
  • What if… by Samatha Bergner, illustrated by Mike Curato, age 4+
  • Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima, age 4+
  • El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Crash McCreery, age 4+
  • The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds, age 4+
  • Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, age 4+
  • The Princess In Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, age 5+
  • A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui, age 6+
  • Polly Diamond and the Magic Book by Alice Kuipers, age 6 +
  • Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look, age 7+
  • A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold, age 7+

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, Sept/Oct 2018

Artists on the Move

Dirt Magazine, Family
The rocks of Joshua Tree, as interpreted by a 35-year-old and a 4-year-old.

On our family trip this year we ventured out into the desert for a week of hiking amidst giant boulders and jackrabbits. My husband and I backpacked in Joshua Tree National Park almost a dozen years ago, hauling our water, hiking to abandoned mines, enjoying the quiet vastness of the Pinto Basin. So we decided to go back with our 4 and almost-7-year-old.

Yeah, the second trip was nothing like the first.

We’d hike in the morning, hide out at the hotel during the heat of the day, then bring a picnic dinner into the park. There was whining, for sure. My younger kid would wake up at 6 a.m. with loads of energy and volume, but as soon as he set foot on the trail he would beg to be carried.

But we were prepared. We had read stories about desert animals, geology and artists. We had animal and plant ID pamphlets, and a Junior Ranger activity book. And I had a travel painting kit tucked into my pack.

I packed a set of Staedtler Watercolor Crayons, Strathmor Watercolor Postcards, a handful of paint brushes, and two little plastic pans for water (jar lids or bottle caps would easily do the job). I carried them in a small zipper bag and tossed it in our backpack when we went hiking. With watercolor crayons, you can draw out the shapes with the crayons, then go over it with a wet brush to spread the colors and blend them, and you can even try brushing water on the blank page and then drawing with the crayons over that. We don’t paint a lot at home (what can I say, paint plus toddlers is overwhelming) so this was all kind of new, but low pressure.

I wanted to have a quiet activity for when we needed a rest, but an activity that kept us in the moment and outside. My kids are never silent, but at least we could sit together while we talked about the color of the sky or which rock was their favorite.

The most meaningful and satisfying family vacations we have had are ones in which we found a way to stay engaged with the place we were visiting. By learning about the history of a place, learning about unique rocks or animals that we might see, we get to do more than just see a place, but examine it, be immersed in it. I don’t want to pay thousands of dollars just to get out of the car, snap a selfie, and drive on.

I am going to bring my watercolor kit on hikes or outings this fall, and see if the magic will work again. If painting in the desert was fun, with all its many browns, imagine how thrilling it will be to paint all the colors of a Hudson Valley autumn?

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, July/Aug 2018

In Praise of Taking Things Apart

Dirt Magazine, Family

When my husband was a boy, he took apart his mother’s camera. He assumed he could get it back together before anyone noticed what he was doing. Of course, it was hard to remember how all the parts went together. He got in trouble and was forbidden from wielding tiny screw drivers or opening up appliances.

Flash forward 35 years and my husband gathers old electronics and machines like a squirrel gathers nuts. We have a whole box full of them in our basement. Our son is granted permission to take apart any of them. An old digital projector gave us an amazing array of lenses, filters and prisms. Tape decks offer up a wealth of springs and gears, and my son has been harvesting copper and colored wires from almost everything electronic. He uses the wires for “inventing” and jewelry making.

There are a shocking number of “take apart toys” for sale, but you can probably get all the tools you need for about the same price — tiny screwdrivers and pliers with a wire cutters is all you need. The best news is, there is no need to take apart your functioning electronics and machines; there is an overabundance of broken stuff on its way to the dump, or sitting in your in-laws’ basement. Old point-and-shoot cameras, music players, and clocks are fantastic for first-time tinkerers.

If you are still nervous about handing over the screw driver, sit down together. It might bring waves of nostalgia, and it will definitely fascinate you. Did you know that speakers make sound with two magnets, then it’s amplified by a paper cone? Do a little research for information about safety online — including precautions like cutting all electrical cords, removing batteries, and avoiding anything with cathode ray tubes (TVs and computer screens). You’ll have to supply your own dose of common sense, of course.

Need a little more help? Join us at the Kid’s Take-Apart Table hosted by the Repair Cafe on January 20th or March 17th 2018 at the Warwick Senior Center, 132 Kings Highway, Warwick, NY. We provide tools and broken machines or electronics.

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, Jan/Feb 2018