Children's Fashion Workshop



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.

Instagram @ewatsonhowe


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. a tiny little model of Angkor Wat!"


{chortles with glee}

5 pound bag of grits.  Not available in Southern California grocery stores.  Which I get, because why would they be, but do you know how long a 1.5 pound box lasts around my house?  5 pounds means business.  5 pounds means we're getting our grits on.



country mouse, city mouse

The Upstate Shakespeare Festival's Antony and Cleopatra. Everybody died.

I grew up in a rural place.  Not on a farm, so much.  By the time I came along my parents had already burned out on growing a garden, even.  But in a rural setting, where the woods for a wide distance around were my playground.  I spent hours alone chasing the creek to its source halfway up the side of a mountain or building a boat out of an avocado shell to float down it.  I played Indians among the trees with my siblings and friends.  We spent autumn afternoons raking leaves off our huge yard and then burning the pile of leaves and sticks in the edge of the woods in the evening.

I knew where the columbines and trilliums grew in the woods, where the poison ivy was, where huckleberries and blackberries flourished.  I knew how to make a flower crown with nothing but flowers and grass, and which vines I could pull down off trees to make little wreaths.  I ran away to the woods when I got fed up with my family.  My Side of the Mountain was like a wish-fulfillment fantasy for me.

I thought that this was the kind of childhood that everyone had.  Further, I thought this was the kind of childhood everyone was supposed to have.  So when I began to have children, and we began to choose places to live, I began to try to recreate what I loved best about my childhood for children of my own. 

And reality, that old bugbear, said not so fast.

What I learned very quickly was that in order to raise your children in a bucolic countryside paradise, you have to have a) a job that lends itself to living rurally, b) a long commute or c) enough money to live on acreage close to the city.  And I married myself a software engineer.  While that doesn't necessarily mean one must work in a city, it seems to be where the jobs are.   

So, during the time we've been raising our family, there's been this tension: city or country?  How far into the country can we get and still see Daddy a reasonable amount of time?  How badly do we need what "the country" can offer us anyway?  What are we willing to give up in order to be closer to work?  These questions cut close to the core of what makes a family work, the time balance, the philosophy on raising children.  

Now we've come to the point where we're having to make this choice again.  I am an incorrigible country mouse, I'm afraid.  When we stand in houses on lots with no land, and I feel a little claustrophobic, I think two things.  First, I think, oh, you greedy woman.  This is simply the way people do things, and you are being high maintenance.  Second, I wonder whether raising my children in a place like I want, where they have all kinds of land to run around on, makes it less possible for them to enjoy living in places like these.  Am I perpetuating this cycle, and is that helpful or handicapping?

Two nights this week we've gone to downtown Greenville and enjoyed events at Falls Park.  We left the van in little alleyway parking lots and walked down Main Street.  We looked in the windows of shops and passed people sitting on restaurant patios enjoying evening in the city.  It was nice to be right there where things were happening, where there was evening entertainment that was educational and fun, and for a moment I wondered whether I could enjoy being a city mouse.  I could walk to everything, have everyone and everything close, choose from a million different options of anything I needed or wanted.

I would love to tie this up and say that I have this one figured out, but I don't.  Fortunately, this time, "country living" isn't as far from work as it has been.  There's not such a devil's choice to be made.  And yet a choice must be made, because we can only live in between for so long.  The strain begins to tell on all of us, and we have to pick a place and begin to grow roots again.  So what would you do?  I hear the siren call of the city, but I know the country's quiet comfort too.  

Are you a country mouse or a city mouse?



a new holiday

The holidays we have are great.  I'd request less sugar and less buying of clutter if I could, but on the whole they're fun, especially for kids.  As I went through my house and all my belongings prior to moving, though, I've decided we could use a new holiday.  Maybe over in August, when there aren't any other holidays.  Yes, that would be perfect. 

The concept for my holiday is simple.  It's a day for everyone in the family to turn in all his or her tired, sad, used socks and underwear and get new ones instead.  Because I've tried buying people new socks and underwear periodically, but somehow the new things get mixed in with the old ones and the monster in everyone's drawer just keeps growing.  It doesn't seem to matter how many holey underthings I send to the compost bin, I never get to the bottom of the well of tired skivvies.  And always, when we're going somewhere and I ask little people to put on decent socks, the reply is, "But I don't have any."  How is it possible?  

So the premise of our new holiday is this:  If you don't leave all your socks and underwear out for her, the Cotton Fairy will know it, and won't reward you with a thing.  I understand what this means about how the children will be dressed for bed on Underthings Day Eve...or shall we just call it All Whites Day...they won't be.  And so the festivities begin.

First, we'll need a centerpiece for our holiday.  Cotton plants begin to look cotton-y around the end of August, and soon there will be a specialty market for cotton plants groomed as Whites Day trees.  Now we'll need a fairy or a saint, who has a history and a motivation.  Hmm...why would anybody on earth want used-up socks and underwear?  For that matter, why would anybody want fallen-out teeth?  Is the Cotton Fairy in it for completely altruistic reasons, or is she making a business out of it on the side?  Are the old clothes taken apart and rewoven into new ones in order to fill the immense need on All Whites Day?  Does Mother Cotton do this all by herself, or is there an army of helpers?  Maybe she began her days as a laundress in a monastery and noticed the perpetually sad state the monks' underclothes.  Maybe her passion for tidy whites led her to roam the whole earth, providing them for everyone she ever meets.  And it made her immortal, of course.

I know what will happen.  This will start out as an innocent, straightforward exchange of old clothes for new ones, but in some families the holiday will get out of hand.  At first there will be little boxes of those laundry detergent tabs tucked in between the stacks of new briefs.  Just as an extra surprise, you know.  Then, when those have come to be expected, and the surprise has worn off, there will be personal-sized bottles of bleach, and then those little fancy shapes cut out of cedar, and before you know it, parents will dread All Whites Day as being a behemoth holiday with crushing expectations attached.  Children who wantonly disregard the care of their unmentionables might be threatened with, "If you don't stop wearing your socks out in the yard without shoes, the Cotton Fairy might bring you a darning egg and thread instead of replacing them this Whites Day!"

There will have to be a feast on All Whites' Eve, of course.  And poems read and candles lit, and all kinds of individual family traditions built up to support this very important day.  I believe a sock-puppet theater would be just the thing, with the play having themes relating to the immortality and infinite recyclability of socks' souls.  At the end of the evening, each of us will make an offering: All of the loved and used socks and underwear that the Cotton Fairy brought us last year.  Then it's off to bed to dream those dreams where we show up in public wearing nothing else.  

In the morning, beneath the Cotton Tree, each of us will find a nice stack of bright white socks and underwear, just for us!  Maybe this year the Cotton Fairy will have gone a little wild and brought us socks with stripes, or panties with flowers.  Who knows what she'll do?  She's capricious, that one.

And so we'll start another year, out with the old, in with the new, and it all happens on All Whites Day.  When we go out and bump into our friends, we'll know that that little bit of a smile comes from the nice feeling of thick new socks, or of underwear with springy new elastic.  We'll know because we'll be wearing the same smile.  

All Whites Day.  Practical, fun, and actually helpful to parents.  I could get on board with a holiday like that, couldn't you?



just normal life




We were at the beautiful Falls Park in downtown Greenville, to sit on the lawn, eat dinner, and hear the bluegrass concert.  I had just told the children not to play in the fountain because I didn't want to take them home wet.  

And then the heavens tore open and poured water down on us all anyway. 


All the concert-goers ran into this open-windowed brick pavilion (which, upon researching, I find used to be part of a carriage factory) except my rain-starved children, who ran out. 

In seconds they were soaked to the skin.  So much for my not wanting to take them home wet.  The people inside huddled in the center of the floor, since the wild wind was throwing rain in all the empty windows.  They chatted calmly and sipped their drinks while the drops pounded on the metal roof.  And I stood just inside, grinning like an idiot, the spray washing over me, astonished at my luck.  "I just moved from California," I wanted to shout to all of them.  "Do you know how long it'll be before it rains again there?  Do you know how rarely it ever rains like this??" 

But they wouldn't have understood.  Around here, this is just normal life.



ghost roads

A hotel is a difficult place to keep children.  There's only so much bed-jumping and complimentary-breakfast-eating and elevator riding that can be done before things devolve into catatonic television watching or wild running up and down.  

Sunday morning came, and everyone went to church except me and the child who had inexplicably thrown up in the night.  He was fine, the keeping him away was a precaution, so after numerous games of hide and seek (there are only so many places to hide in a hotel room and the two of us found them all) we went out for a walk.

What we found was far more interesting than another elevator ride.  There's a strip of hotels here, newish, with nice landscaping around them, nice sidewalk running down the whole nice street in front.  But step off the sidewalk and you find a whole network of streets-that-were before the hotels came.  They're roads that don't go anywhere, or that connect to roads that dead end in the ground ten feet from the fancy new road.  The hotels are steadfastly ignoring the streets' existence, their manicured lawns giving way abruptly to the wild overgrowth along the edges of the streets.  A stop sign sprouts from the grass behind one hotel.  It's been carefully trimmed around, but otherwise ignored.

There are wild blackberries growing rampant along the edges of the ghost roads.  We picked a handful, being careful not to wade in too deeply lest we bring home chiggers along with our berries.  I remember chiggers too well to want to deal with them again.  There were concrete foundations with no buildings on top near the edge of one of the roads.  Creeper vines shot across their surfaces, weeds grew from every crack.  We probably wandered for an hour, picking berries and eating them, marveling at each new intersection left silent and crumbling, to be taken back by the aggressive, rain-fueled plant growth.

There was, at least for us, an unanswered question here.  What in the world happened that would cause the abandonment of one set of streets and buildings for another set?  And why hadn't the newcomers bothered to clean up?  Of course we spun stories about everything from aliens to nuclear holocaust, knowing that it was probably simply progress and money and shifting neighborhood needs. 

Back in our hotel room, we pulled up Google Earth and looked at past satellite images of this corner.  The first image, taken in 1994, shows our roads intact and in use.  The next, ten years later, shows that the recreation had already begun.  As we pulled the slider up through the years, we could see where the end of the road that connected to the freeway had been cut off, then a Cracker Barrel had been built where it used to connect.  The other end of the road had served as temporary access to a newer, fancier road, with a pretty median and landscaped roundabouts.  We could tell whether the road was still in use at any given time by the cars that dotted it.  But one more click of the slider, and the cars were gone.  The fancy road had come into use, and the cars were gone from our old road.  Now pulling the slider down showed the roads' steady decay into the ghost roads we saw on Sunday morning.

There's sure to still be a story here.  We can see what is, we can see what the satellites saw (which is a major geek-out for me) but now we need somebody to tell us what happened.  

Good thing I live here now.  Maybe I can find someone who knows.