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.

All Together in the Kitchen

Dirt Magazine, Family, Kitchen

Right before the beginning of the school year, a friend and I got together to cook up eight gallons of chili. The pot was big enough to fit one, maybe both, of my kids — a holdover from Linda’s years in catering.

Just that morning I was trying to get a few kitchen tasks out of the way, while my kids made each other miserable and the floor a mess. I was trying to do seven things at once, which meant that I left my coffee cup in the laundry room, a pot burning on the stove, and when I ran down to the basement I couldn’t remember what I was there to get. I was caught in a web of negative thoughts and miserable.

So imagine my surprise four hours later when I was singing to Old Crow Medicine Show and chopping 10 pounds of carrots, feeling happy and relaxed in Linda’s kitchen. The to-do lists were out of my mind and I was focused on our task at hand. We got a few other things cooked up while our kids played inside and outside. We were trying to get ahead on our meal planning and we froze quarts of chili for weeknight meals. This has to become a monthly ritual, we agreed (secretly hoping we could do it more frequently).

Then, a week later, another friend came to my house (with two kids in tow) and we made granola and some sauces in preparation for Dirt’s Eat Local Challenge. It was just as much fun — kids playing, mamas chatting while we worked, a satisfying stack of prepared food for the week. While Linda and I were cooking, she remembered the tamales of her childhood — one of her favorite holiday foods and made by a kitchen full of family. In my family, we celebrated Shabbat with a special meal every Friday. But my mother never liked cooking, and while we had a full table, the kitchen was often empty but for my mother.

I have been in a kitchen slump all summer — I expected the fresh fruits and veggies of summer would save me from it, but it was company I needed. Adult company, to be precise. Our time together felt more like a holiday, more like a celebration of food, and I went home with a head start on our meals for the month.

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, Nov/Dec 2017

Relax, and let the kids into the garden

Dirt Magazine, Family, Plants
Two young, blonde-haired kids, sitting in a garden bed.

My children start “helping” in the garden in February. Before I order seeds, I go through my box of seeds from previous years. As soon as they hear the rattle of the seed packs, my kids want to do some planting. So we go to the basement and as I sort, I hand off the seed packs that I deem too old or unlikely to get space in the garden. My two boys enthusiastically plant these castaways in pots and these seedlings get the place of honor in our sunny window. There they grow and die, and then they make way for the ground cherries, broccoli, and tomato starts.

You can imagine their excitement when it comes time to actually play outside, in the soil. They are eager with their shovels and generous with their seed spreading — one seed every four inches becomes four seeds every inch. Heck, last year someone seeded the entire radish pack in one fell swoop. Whoops.

Clearly, they have both earned themselves a garden plot of their own. They can plant what they want, then can tend and decorate it as they please. My 6-year-old always has plans bigger than his plot, but we figure it out. I remind him that there will be another patch of green beans just six feet away, so he is welcome to snack on those, too. Three years ago that same kid planted some eggplant seedlings in our dirt pile (the one he plays in). I planted four of those same seedlings in the garden, which is encircled by a seven-foot fence. Guess whose plants were eaten by aphids?

And my son’s plants? The ones that were six feet from our driveway, open to chickens, deer, groundhogs and rabbits? His plants produced half a dozen gorgeous looking eggplants. And, as kids are wont to do, he picked them when they were only four inches long, wanted me to make them for lunch right away, and then remembered that he didn’t really like eggplant.

But who can complain, it’s his garden plot, his harvest, I ate them up and sent my compliments to the farmer. Boy was he proud.

The kids’ gardens are now in the big garden, right in the raised beds. It’s hard to share space when it never feels like there’s enough of it. But I know that they will want to run out every morning to check on their peas or watermelons, even if it means I have to plant fewer cucumbers or zinnias. As Ben Hewitt, a homestead writer, has said, “Relax. Lower your expectations. You’re not just growing a garden. You’re growing little people. One is just slightly more important that the other.”

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, April/May 2017