A few good (picture) books

As a break from the recent posts on “overprotecting” our children, I thought it would be fun to share three of the books we’ve received as gifts recently and enjoy immensely. Gifting books is one of my favorite things to do and it is always hoped that the literature will delight the beneficiaries as much as the givers. If you decide to give these a try, I hope you find the stories and illustrations as enchanting as we do!

 The Night Gardener, written and illustrated by the Fan Brothers, piques my little Petunia’s curiosity about what happens during the night when all others are sleeping. I feel like it displaces the often feared anxiety of nighttime unknowns and replaces it with a calming affection for the surrounding nature and those who secretly do good within our communities. The illustrations are stunning and a bit of a throwback. I also can’t help but love the affinity the illustrator clearly has for stray cats and laced dress shoes!


What Do You Do With an Idea?, written by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom, is perhaps one of the most charming picture books I’ve come across in a long time. For any child (or adult) struggling with confidence or patience, this book subtly follows an idea, in the form of an egg, from first glimmer to glorious fruition with all the hurdles and insecurities in between. This one was gifted to us a few years ago, but I always bring it out when I notice Petunia needs assurance in her endeavors.


 The Branch, written by Mireille Messier and illustrated by Pierre Pratt, thoughtfully explores the heartbreak, and often anger, children often feel when something important to them is lost. Young readers are encouraged to creatively problem solve  and see the potential for something new. I feel the added bonuses in this story are the lead-in to recycling, a gentle nod to hand crafters and the blossoming intergenerational friendship between neighbors.


Are you a book gifter? What are some of your favorites to share with other families? If you have read or decide to read any of the above, what were your impressions?


Save some for the bees

IMG_3391We spent many days last summer sitting on the playhouse porch in the garden — sketching, having tea parties, watching the shaded garden beds slowly slide into sunlight and vice versa. The wind rustled the maple, birch and beech leaves most days and the near constant buzz of the bees often called us into action to check on the progress of the fruits and veggies. Petunia would gather mint and lemon balm for her special teas and snack on tomatoes. She’d clip zinnias and nasturtiums for her mud pies and grab sweet thin baby carrots when I wasn’t looking because that is how she likes them best. All this was done in concert with the bees and butterflies without conflict. She knows to steer clear of the hornets and wasps, but those honey bees and bumble bees are always too busy to notice our presence.

My mother has been in a moving frenzy, partially why I’ve been so removed from the blog recently, and in doing so we have unearthed troves of old boxes and bins of days gone by. Petunia calls these my “time capsules,” as each box tends to be from a certain period of my life. They are filled with old report cards, papers and trinkets of all sorts. I roll my old lucky marble in my hand and cry over letters from old friends. And then there are the books, the piles and piles of books. So many have left for new homes already, but there are so many I want to read again or save for my sweet girl to read one day. I peak inside a few each day, skimming through my old highlighted sections and notes.

Today, while sorting, I came across an old copy of Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education (Nature Literacy Series, Vol. 1) by David Sobel. In it I had highlighted this passage:

What’s important is that children have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it and feel comfortable in it, before being asked to heal its wounds. John Burroughs remarked that ‘Knowledge without love will not stick. But if love comes first, knowledge is sure to follow.’ Our problem is that we are trying to invoke knowledge, and responsibility, before we have allowed a loving relationship to flourish.

IMG_2244So, back to the bees and Petunia. She has expressed on some of the coldest winter days her longing for the dandelions and mayflowers to return. She loves to pick them for potions and bouquets for anyone in her path. We’ve talked about needing to leave some for the bees, as they are the first fresh nectar they’ve had in months, and she enthusiastically agrees. Had I asked her to leave the flowers without memory of those long summer days alongside her buzzing comrades, would she be so inclined to leave them be? So often we expect children to toe the line without even giving them adequate time to arrive at the line. I’m slowly learning, as a mother, that I need to scale back the structured days and let the whims of the bees be our guide more often. How do you encourage and support your child in developing empathy with the natural world? What do some of your best days spent cultivating a sense of connectedness to nature look like?


Refill that heart pouch

I keep in a pocket of my purse a small pouch filled with tiny cardstock heart-shaped punch-outs. Sometimes when running errands, when Petunia is in an especially good mood, I suggest we “spread a little kindness today.” She is given the pouch and, if she comes across someone who engages with her positively or someone who just appears to her like they need a pick-me-up, she offers them one of these hearts. Often times people are taken aback, but most are very receptive to her charms. The hearts get tucked into wallets, change purses and pockets, always with a smile, perhaps to be sent through the washer and dryer with disregard, but just maybe to serve as a reminder later that day, or someday in the future when the wallet is cleaned out, of the innocence and altruism of our children. Today, a day following yet another mass school shooting in America, seemed like a good day to replenish our heart pouch.

IMG_5207Oh, friends, please nurture your children, especially the young boys. Let them know that emotions – all emotions – are legitimate. Let them know they are in a safe space where anger, fear, jealousy and sadness are as important to express as happiness, pride and bravery. Let them know that they are heard and seen. Teach them how to cope with disappointment and failure. As parents, these are our responsibilities and we owe it to our children to fulfill them.


In Praise of Instagram

Out of all social media sites, my needs and desires from a platform most happily align with Instagram. For many years I had a private account, only sharing with friends and family, but within the last year I made a new account in order to network with other homeschooling families, homesteaders and makers. I’m slowly developing and nurturing these connections with people across the country, and even across the globe, and loving every minute of it. I’ve found inspiration for homeschool activities, knitting and sewing, gardening and animal husbandry. Perhaps the most amazing and mutually beneficial aspect of Instagram, however, is connecting with artists in their own space and on their own terms.

Last year I found an artist in Bath, England who made the most delicate flower sketches. I was able to connect with her through a direct message and commission an image I had in mind for a tattoo. Next, I found a tattoo artist who specialized in florals here in my home state of Maine and within no time I had this synergetic Queen Anne’s Lace forever cast upon my skin.

More recently, I was turned onto an artist in Northern Ireland who does illustrated portraits of children and, within a few days after inquiry, my inbox lit up with a sketch of Petunia ready to use for valentines of all shapes and sizes. With intentioned art at hand and a messy dining room table, something simple like valentines have turned into much more meaningful keepsakes.JENSKETCHES_CLAIRE


Sweet valentines for Petunia’s friends, printed at Staples on a glossy card stock.
Framed 5×5’s for Petunia’s grandparents, printed at Staples on a matte card stock.

I suppose this reads like an advertisement for Instagram, and perhaps it is, but I see it more as a “thank you” to makers, growers and caregivers of all sorts who share their work and knowledge through daily pictures and stories, in turn illuminating this common space with value and camaraderie. Whereas bickering and sanctimonious rants seem to fill many of the other social media platforms, I still find Instagram to be a community-oriented, humanizing space where the world truly becomes a bit smaller and meaningful sociability still exists. If you’re there and want to connect, please do!

I am going to link to the artists I spoke of above, so please check them out!

queenanneslaceThe Queen Anne’s Lace illustration was done by Holly Grace Illustration (also found here).

The tattoo was done by Elladecorates at Wicked Good Ink in Portland, Maine.

The illustrated portrait of Petunia was done by Jen Sketches (also found here).


The seamy edges

We live in the woods and the places we need to travel to are a distance. To us, it seems reasonable that the closest gas station is 7 minutes away and the closest grocery store 15 minutes. Visiting friends and family is more often at least an hour away. Ballet class 35 minutes, yoga class 40 minutes, museums, theaters and larger farmer’s markets at least an hour. Needless to say, not unlike many, we spend a lot of time in our car, definitely a lot more than intended. Perhaps some of you can relate? It is on these car rides that some of our best conversations happen, where the serious questions are emptied onto the crumb-filled carpets and examined deeply, as only a confined space can sometimes do. As we honestly explore not only hard topics, but also the emotions that we feel talking about them, I nonchalantly every so often encourage Petunia to look in one direction or another to see something we are passing – often a hawk on a wire, ice covered branches, old barns, a new house being built, etc. Her response is usually that she was just about to point the same thing out to me or agreement of my assessment of its beauty or lack thereof. A few years back, when Petunia was just a few months into her third year of life, we took a trip to Florida to visit my mother and stepfather. In the car, only a few days into our visit she proclaimed, “That’s where we ate pancakes!” We had, indeed, turned the corner from the beach onto the road of the diner where we breakfasted a day before. Imagine that, at only 3 her observations linked the turn away from the beach to a specific building complex and a familiarity of experience.

Yes, we have to spend a lot of time in the car, but there are ways we can at least benefit from that experience. I recently read the following passage from Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, in which he is discussing the addition of backseat entertainment systems made by car manufacturers to all of the latest model vehicles, and was reminded of the gratifying feeling I had that day as a parent who encourages the use of senses, even when most are limited.

Why do so many Americans say they want their children to watch less TV, yet continue to expand the opportunities for them to watch it? More important, why do so many people no longer consider the physical world worth watching? The highway’s edges may not be postcard perfect. But for a century, children’s early understanding of how cities and nature fit together was gained from the backseat: the empty farmhouse at the edge of the subdivision; the variety of architecture, here and there; the woods and fields and water beyond the seamy edges –all that was and still available to the eye. This was the landscape that we watched as children. It was our drive-by movie. – Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

I was discussing this sentiment with my husband and only a day later, as he was a fly on the wall waiting for Petunia to finish a ballet class, he overhead a conversation between parents about their newest luxury SUV and their excitement for the very same television screens and headsets we were regarding with contempt. I suppose I could say “to each their own” and not write about it, and it isn’t about petty judgement, but my worry for this youngest generation is that of disconnect – from each other, from the natural world, from the workings of society. It is because of that worry that I mention this in hopes that someone may see this passage and be reminded of what their children are missing when donning the headset and staring at an animated headrest. There is a whole drive-by movie right outside the window and inspiring conversations to be had. Let’s have them with our children!