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Homestead Happenings: overhaul

January 19, 2011

Oh, winter. I think we’re at the halfway point, right between when the last dandelion bloomed and the next dandelion will bloom, scientifically speaking.

I know better than to wish for a speedy trajectory to spring; time lurches along quick enough as it is. Rosie asked me yesterday, on a freezy neighborhood walk, “but how do babies get alive?” I realized she was asking about conception, so I rambled about eggs and sperm and multiplying cells and tiny beating hearts and “does that answer your question?” “Yes,” she replied. Phew.


We did a Complete Overhaul of our house this weekend, or at least that was the snazzy term we used to get the kids excited about giving away half their possessions in our semi-annual decluttering.

Col and Rose were completely matter-of-fact about the whole thing. By some quadratic equation of shared sentimentality, they wordlessly and collaboratively culled 5 stuffed animals from the heap of fur-bearers. Then Rose took Harold and the Purple Crayon—a book she’s selected as bedtime reading at least 23 times in the past 3 months—and dropped it in the thrift store box without ceremony. Col added Tootle, the train book he begged for at age 3 from the rack of Golden Books at the pharmacy, while we waited for some batch of antibiotics for some lung-blighting infection. “Really? You’re done with Tootle?” I asked, sort of forlorn, as if Col was chucking pieces of his childhood off a cliff and laughing as they crashed to the ground.

It felt like there should be some ritual for clearing out a whole geologic stratum of the kids’ childhood. Like maybe a 563-page scrapbook with snapshots of a pajamed Rosie posing with Harold and the Purple Crayon, and the entire text of Tootle scanned in with Col’s favorite parts highlighted, just so I have something to read in the nursing home.

“Let’s keep this one, in case you ever forget the words,” Col said about the hippie version of the book Hush Little Baby (“If that lightning bug won’t glow, Mama’s gonna play on her old banjo”), which is the lullaby I sing him every night (which you could probably detect in an MRI of my brain, between the pediatrician’s phone number and the bread recipe).

During The Overhaul we found a gnarled piece of elk jerky in Col’s bed; we found a drawer of cloth wipes that hadn’t been used in two years; we found bibs—bibs!—like some ancient relic; the rotary phone of childhood! It reminded me that just as you’re in the thickest waters of babyhood, paddling the mashed banana seas with your disintegrating cloth wipes, the tides will suddenly turn, carrying those stained bibs out to sea. And you’ll miss it, the last distracted velcroing of a bib around your baby’s neck, and then 3 years later those bibs will wash up like precious sea glass, dazzling you with memories.

All in all, we carried out four boxes of kid stuff to go to the thrift store, and another box to re-gift to specific little people. I found there’s certain things I can’t let go of even though I don’t know what we’re saving them for: some preemie onesies, the 2 books we read to Col everyday in the NICU, some handmade baby blankets and the exquisite baby sweaters knitted by my aunt Jan and Joyce H.

Dan’s mom Judy is an expert clutter-clearer, and just as you think she’s swept away everything extraneous, you can mention that you’re going to a mushroom cultivating workshop and she’ll immediately ship out the corduroy, mushroom-print dress she sewed to wear over her Canadian winter snow clothes in 1973 (true story). Twelve years ago, as we were planting our first garden, Judy sent the archives of the typewritten, hand-illustrated quarterly newsletter, Northwinds, written from their Canadian farmstead in the early 1970’s. It contains stories, recipes and homesteading advice and is clearly a pre-electonic blog; if Northwinds were around today, it would totally be on my blogroll.


More happenings on the homestead:

The chickens are making the best of a snowy situation.

It helps when Rose shares her snacks (future park bench pigeon lady).

It’s probably better to be a cat this time of year.

Or a gorgeous boy.

All day our kitchen table is a hodge podge of newspapers, art projects, mail, lists, notebooks, dishes. Then, 3 minutes before dinner, it gets cleared and repurposed as a beautiful family eating space. Then by morning it looks like this again.

It says "house," obviously.

Dan and Col started working on new bows this week.

I made a batch of herbal lung syrup.

(astragalus, licorice root, marshmallow root, mullein leaf, lobelia, rose hips)

I want to wrap up our Complete Overhaul with some clever wisdom about kids growing up, but can you ever wrap anything up neatly in the genre of parenting? Nope. But, if you’re into train books, Tootle is waiting for you at the Methodist Thrift Shop.



39 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2011 6:42 am

    we’re doing this here too.

    my kids both decided that they were done with their dollhouse (beautiful wooden one that was my cousin’s when she was little) and their wooden kitchen (also belonged to same cousin).

    i was like…are you sure? really? totally sure?

    they were.

    and both treasured “entertainment centers” are now back in the attic at my aunt’s house.

    i’m sad to say goodbye to that “era” of play (but truthfully i’m grateful for the floor space!!).



  2. January 19, 2011 7:52 am

    I think the only drawback to ridding ourselves of handmade or homemade or really precious things is the lifelong momentarily crushing reminders that we shouldn’t have… 100 years from now what will the family see of our existence?

    I sewed dozens of little dresses and cute hats and baby blankets (even sheets for the baby bed) for my girls. Yes, someone else used them and hopefully passed them on.

    But I do not have one thing remaining. Nor do I have the clothes I sewed that Robin (31 year-old daughter) chose, that special signature plaid she loved which Sarah (25 year-old daughter) wore later, or the poodle skirt, or the white dress she asked about the other day. It would be fifteen years old at least.

    Oh but I saved boxes of textbooks and drawings and school projects. I saved very little from their small lives.

    Yet I am compelled to save everything I can of my ancestors which they left for me. What will I leave as a signature piece of my own? My mother saved my dolls, thankfully, and my Smokey Bear from 1957, for me. I also have the table and chairs that were mine when I was three.

    I did save my golden books. Robin has them. She has my 1955 Smokey Bear book. Hopefully she will save them for her grandchildren, or maybe return that one to me. And yes, she still has the Tootle book too.

  3. January 19, 2011 8:32 am

    We’re moving in two weeks, and we’ve been going through the overhaul as well… and it’s amazing… not only because of the amount of stuff you accumulate, but what you can pass on. I feel so much lighter after taking a few car loads to the Salvation Army!

  4. January 19, 2011 8:45 am

    Hmm, lung syrup, will have to show this to my wife. I think your chickens are braver than ours.:)

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 19, 2011 10:55 am

      My poor chickens have to traverse big expanses of snow to find tiny patches of thawed grass. I think it’s more hunger for living green food than bravery.

  5. January 19, 2011 9:12 am

    Wow–I am amazed and impressed that you did a Complete Overhaul in a single weekend. It usually takes me about, er, a year to do one, and then it’s time to start the next. But I do hope you snuck Harold and the Purple Crayon back out of the box! That is the best book ever!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 19, 2011 10:58 am

      Really, it was just Saturday morning and we mostly only tackled the kids’ stuff. We had to call it quits when Col and Rose were using the vacuum attachments as electric toothbrushes (with the vacuum on).

      • January 21, 2011 10:44 pm

        I’m sitting here cracking up about this electric toothbrushes comment!

  6. January 19, 2011 9:50 am

    “Complete Overhaul.” I like it.

  7. Ami permalink
    January 19, 2011 10:52 am

    MMMmmmm – I love me a good “overhaul!” I think teaching your kids to let go of “stuff” is one of the best things you can give them! Also, being an “extreme” de-clutterer, and someone who lives in tight cabin quarters, I am nothing short of shocked that you found bibs!? Oh – I can only imagine the roominess in your drawers now… sigh….

  8. Audrey permalink
    January 19, 2011 11:49 am

    Oh, you are so much better than I am! I remember details about everything, it seems, so anything getting decluttered has to go through three filters (Ryan is good at it too — no filter there). We have a Little Golden Book of Sailor Dog that came from that exact same rack at that exact same pharmacy… sniff, sniff. Congratulations!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 19, 2011 12:04 pm

      Audrey, under the unceremonious toss-out-the-old-stuff I’m hopelessly sentimental. This morning at school drop off, a student’s Daddy was playing guitar and singing for the children. He sang a song he and his daughter wrote for his son (while he was still in utero) that went “Welcome to the world, welcome boy or girl, you can sleep in my room, welcome to the world.” I had to leave before my kids saw the tears streaming down my face. Babies!

      • Audrey permalink
        January 19, 2011 12:26 pm

        OMG just reading that I’m tearing up! Must be the nyquil…

        • 6512 and growing permalink*
          January 19, 2011 12:34 pm

          Add a guitar and sweet-voiced Daddy and it’s hopeless.

  9. January 19, 2011 11:56 am

    Inspiring! Want some hand me downs?

  10. January 19, 2011 12:07 pm

    Rose’s “pigeon lady impersonation” reminds me of Julie Andrews singing the lullaby to the kids in Mary Poppins. I don’t know if this is what you meant to have happen. I was a wash with what is really IMPORTANT in life. Hearing that song and the story she tells the children has always brought tears to my eyes. The importance of tuppance. Rose is well on her way to a big life.

    I know what you mean about the books and the clutter clearing. I feel like there should be a ceremony, and, actually, I frequently create one, altar maker that I am. But sometimes i don’t and that’s OK too. Because just like the bibs, the worn pieces of our life wash up on our shores another day just when they are suppose to.

    I talked with author Elizabeth Winthrop about this and she assured me that just when she needs a memory from childhood, one floats to the surface.

    Our lives are for living not storing away.

    On a completely unrelated note someone called me “Rachel” yesterday. It’s the name people have been calling me all my life. I’ve always felt not annoyed exactly, but a little misidentified. I’ve known Rachels that were so unlike who I wanted to be. Yesterday, when it happened, I thought of you. Oh, Rachel. Oh, OK, I thought. I’d like to be known as Rachel.

    thank you for being Rachel, someone I’d want to be confused with.

  11. January 19, 2011 1:40 pm

    Funny. I bought Tootle AT the thrift shop a few years ago, and have seen it there many times since. It’s often and selected and discarded in the same round of bedtime story selection, by the same kid.
    And um, by way of confession, I stole(er, borrowed) the Mary Oliver thing as a blog post theme. Could I/should I (would I?)? link you by way of reference?

  12. Melissa permalink
    January 19, 2011 2:01 pm

    i’m in bib-land with Lilit right now and I still know what you mean–I feel like I’m forever ancticipating the moment when the relics wash up and I get all teary and nostalgic–how is it possible for me to feel incredibly present and nostalgic simultaneously all the time?? It’s hard work to be sensitive (:

    Avi has been asking a lot lately about conception and his birth, Lilit’s birth, and I am also trying to answer without providing too much/too little information.

    What a sweet post.

    I look forward to some good moving-purging really soon . . .

  13. January 19, 2011 2:10 pm

    I still have a copy of my favorite childhood book, “The Large and Growly Bear” about a bear who goes around growling and scaring everyone, only to see his own reflection in a pool of water, growling, and scaring himself. I also have my mother’s teddy bear, complete with home sewn bib overalls. But in general, I’m a purger, not a keeper. I love the feeling of being down to the essentials. Good work mom.

    Rebecca – “Our lives are for living, not storing away”. Perfect!

  14. Chi-An permalink
    January 19, 2011 2:28 pm

    Rachel, your literary acrobatics usually are totally impressive, like watching the sparkly trapeze artist sail through the air and land that quad tumble perfectly. But something about you analogy with paddling the seas and the tide and the green glass coming back really left me gasping with delight. You have such a beautiful gift for expressing your thoughts in a way that totally resonates with me. Thank you so much for your writing!

  15. January 19, 2011 3:02 pm

    Your table and our table sound very similar.
    Laughed out loud at future pigeon feeding lady.

    I’ve never been a keeper of stuff. Used to pride myself that everything I owned fit in to my Subbie. I’d scoop up my cat and the lavender travel blanket I made him and we’d cross the country, just him and I, looking for the next potential heaven on earth to settle down. Alas. Now I save homemade cards, art, onesies, books, blankets. Even the organic cotton carrot that both of my babies loved to gnaw on as they got their first teeth.
    ….can you ever wrap anything up neatly in the genre of parenting?
    I don’t think so.

  16. January 19, 2011 8:04 pm

    Usually I get inspiration after reading your blog..but this time when I looked around my studio, I got plum tuckered out! :o(
    I’m finding that it’s harder to get rid of things now than in my youth..I guess it’s because after I’ve thrown it out , I find use for it…Oh Well, tomorrow is another day

  17. January 19, 2011 11:32 pm

    Thanks, I have a whole new appreciation for our bibs. Love the geological strata metaphor–perfect for childhood…and life, really.

    I’m totally going to get Hush Little Baby, the hippie version. I sing the normal version to Juniper, but only know the first two verses, so it either gets redundant or wildly creative.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 20, 2011 4:00 pm


      I almost replied that I would send you our book, but some of the comments and e-mails I’ve received on this post are making me think about keeping a box of the kids’ special stuff, because how cool would it be if Col and Rose sang their kids the same lullaby someday. But, yes, do get the book. Very sweet.

  18. January 19, 2011 11:54 pm

    Oh I totally agree with you! They are done with their things way too far sooner than I am.

  19. January 20, 2011 11:28 am

    This is wonderful – With six children and even with not buying new things, simplifying is an ongoing process.
    Love the chickens in the snow – ours will go out too. You have a beautiful family.
    Warm wishes, Tonya

  20. January 20, 2011 12:09 pm

    The de-cluttering of our lives is so important, and this is a wonderful time to do so. I love seeing your chickens out and about in the gorgeous snow, and it looks like the sun was shining brightly that day as well. Enjoy!

  21. January 20, 2011 4:53 pm

    I love how the letters for “House” are, in fact, little houses for the letters. Something about the cold and grey and damp weather has me, too, filling boxes with items we no longer touch, no longer think of.

  22. Jen permalink
    January 21, 2011 12:45 am

    I too sang (and still sing) the hippie version of hush little baby to my widgets. Not sure they actually notice…I get the impression that littlest one thinks something along the lines of “there goes mom again…la la la” when I launch into it. It moved me to tears (along with everything else) when I first heard it. Still like the harvest moon bit.
    Just launched some bibs out the door here. Gah, they were CRUCIAL. Now but a distant memory. Sniff.

  23. Dan permalink
    January 21, 2011 3:31 pm

    Love it honey, just love it! Check out spelling of “Velcro” . You’re crackin’ me up!

  24. January 21, 2011 10:49 pm

    Lung syrup? Oh, I’m having weird images of cooked lungs, tossed in a blender and made into syrup. I’m just glad you explained what it’s made of. :)

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 22, 2011 3:51 pm

      Ooh, lung syrup. That is sort of hilarious and disgusting!

  25. January 23, 2011 12:28 am

    I love decluttering. And that stuff you couldn’t let go of…treasures, personal and special.
    Is lung syrup for cold prevention? (Excuse my ignorance!)

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 23, 2011 11:37 am

      Nicola, Lung syrup is an herbal respiratory tonic/immune system booster, which I give Col if he’s showing signs of respiratory gunk.

  26. La Nai Nahim permalink
    January 23, 2011 11:45 pm

    Rachel, passed your blog on to my mom, and thought you should hear her response:

    Thanks for sending, Neems. Rachel is such a good, nurturing writer. Please tell her I’m thankful one of my babies is sheltered within her nest and I so look forward to meeting her and her family!!


    and that of one of her good friends:

    wow, this girl needs to write a book. She’s the new Joyce Maynard!! Tell this girl she needs to read Domestic Affairs and then just keep on blogging until she has a book complete.

    Joanne Moylan-Aube

    So thanks! :)

  27. January 25, 2011 4:47 pm

    Well said! Those pics of Rose, she looks so serious with her piles of things to get rid of. And Col is looking so tall with that bow in his hand.

    I’m not surprised you found bibs. It takes me a year or two to get rid of things when we’ve passed through phases. LIke I don’t really believe we are through them, or maybe we’ll need it for something else. And I’m so proud of your kids for being able to let go of things.

  28. Molly permalink
    January 28, 2011 2:16 pm

    I take pictures of my girl’s artwork and keep it in a photobook from one of the online photobook services – and toss the originals. Now you have me thinking of taking pictures of her books, as she outgrows them, when I’m still attached to the memories that go with them. As an adult I’ve bought books on Amazon that I recall from childhood, and she might want to do that one day herself, rather than be saddled with boxes of stuff-kept-too-long or left with no vestige. Hmmm.

  29. January 31, 2011 5:47 am

    We overhaul because we outgrow things, but this past weekend I found my littlest was outgrowing ME. (Perish the thought, right?)

    The kids had been gone for a week at “classe de neige” which is this brilliant, bonding excuse for a 5 night slumber party with their school friends: in the Alps, snow-shoeing, skiing, skating, learning about life in the mountains, dancing…The school arranges and oversees (with some wonderful parents along), we share outgrown winter gear, people pay what they can, nearly all the kids go. And yeah, my son’s only five. (Daughter’s ten).

    I was distinctly nauseous waving them off on Monday, but got busy during their absence…and yet. The day they returned, I pulled him onto my lap the better to see into the back of his mouth while I was brushing his teeth, and hey, that suddenly felt darn awkward. I couldn’t accommodate his length anymore! Ack!

    So I take our overhaul in baby steps: I just went through their drawers, and the little tiny socks now sit on top of the dresser, which is a sort of way station between in-your-face clutter and total banishment.

    I understand the relief that comes with de-cluttering–as do my children–but it also means the end of certain rituals, y’know?


  1. Homestead Happenings: relax, everything is okay « 6512 and growing

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