What My Mother Taught Me

About a year ago, I was given the opportunity at work to talk about someone influential in my life, I chose to talk about my mother, who was far along in her decline from dementia by then. My mom passed away last week, and I can think of no better memorial than to share those words I wrote a year ago.

If you knew my mom and have stories to share, please do so in the comments.


 One of my favorite Onion headlines reads as follows: 97-Year-Old Dies Unaware Of Being Violin Prodigy

 The article goes on to talk about how the woman spent her life completely unaware that she was one of the most talented musicians of the past century and possessed the untapped ability to become a world-class violin virtuoso, had she just picked up a violin once.

I’ve always liked that article, because in it’s typical satirical fashion, the Onion is highlighting that so much comes down to opportunity. This fictional woman could have been an amazing musician, if she was ever given the chance.

My mother was the person who put the violin in my hands, metaphorically speaking. Also literally in the 5th grade, but I didn’t turn out to be a violin virtuoso. I’m hardly a prodigy in anything, but most of the skills that I feel are so integral to my person today are things that she nudged me into.

My mother introduced me to the performing arts. We both took dance classes at our local studio and she fed me a steady diet of old movie musicals, introducing me to Shirley Temple, Gene Kelly, Vera Ellen and Ann Miller.  She got me a waiver out of health class, so I could take choir. She accompanied me to piano and then harp lessons. Because of her, I know the Good Ship Lollipop, Mozart’s Requiem, and the ballets of Tchaikovsky.

At eight years old, my mother put needle and thread in my hands and taught me to cross stitch. She took me to fabric stores and let me flip through the pattern books and glide my fingers across the rows and rows fabric bolts.  She demonstrated the magic of sewing by making me the best Halloween costumes on the block and she taught me that finish matters, even on pajamas. She loaned me her sewing machine and helped get me first job ever, at our town’s fabric store.

As our elementary’s school’s librarian, she gave me a sneak peek of all the new titles as they came in and let me draw new dust jackets to replace the damaged ones. My mother double majored in science at college, but she encouraged me in every creative endeavor I ever pursued. I probably had one of the few parents out there telling me I should take more art classes.

But the greatest thing my mother ever did for me, was not let her fears be mine.

My mother was always anxious. She had social anxiety that meant she hid in her room every time my friends came over to visit, but she let me have friends over as often as I wanted. She asked me to apply to the college closest to home, but didn’t say a word against it when I moved out of state. Once, after I had moved to Chicago to work in the theatre, she told me that she thought I was very brave.

 It struck me as a strange thing to say. Brave? To be brave you had to be up against something scary and there was nothing scary about it.  I only realized later, that for her, to go to someplace where you had no family, knew nobody, and were trying to make it on your own was about as scary as it could get. But never once did she try to talk me out it.  Time and again she tamped down her own fears to let me do it my way, giving me the space to pursue my dreams.

My mother gave me the tools to be the artist I am today, but the biggest influence she had on me can perhaps be summed up in the words of Shirley Temple in the film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, “I'm very self-reliant. My mother taught me to always be that way.”

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Fall Family Fun

While I spent a lot of time in October working hard to get the WOODLAND collection ready for release (and fighting a a few colds), I also made sure to I made time to enjoy my favorite season with my favorite people. So there were leaf piles, and ballet classes (I just die every time I see her in that uniform), pumpkin carving, painting and decorating. 

One of my favorite things to do at Halloween is make themed family costumes (see 20152016  and pre-LMC, 2011), which I will continue to do as long as LMC puts up with it. So about 10 days before Halloween when she decided to be a butterfly instead of an owl, I had to do a little creative thinking, but I think the garden costume I came up with worked out great. Mr. Cleaver was supposed to be a gardener originally, but since I was laid low with a sinus infection on Halloween night, I let him take the better costume out on the town, which he was a great sport about.  

Either way we gave out and received loads of candy and LMC went to bed wishing everyday could be Halloween. All-in-all, a pretty good October.

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Summer Idyll

I don't know if it's the 4th of July, or summer in Maine, or a week off with family, but this time of year gets almost ridiculously idyllic this time of year.

I bought Mr. Cleaver a pair of chaise lounges for the backyard as a Father's Day gift, and I'm starting to think that this made have been my best gift given to date. My brother and his family visited for 4th of July week, and we spent a good portion of that time, parents and kids all cuddled up on those chaises. I'm generally not great at relaxing, but give me a chaise, a cool drink, and a good magazine and I'm content for hours. 

My brother had never been to Maine in the summer before, and my adopted home did a great job of showing why Maine is so wonderful. We had sunshine for days and strawberries warm off the vine; we had seafood feasts and fresh strawberry ice cream; we played candlepin and wiffle-ball in the golden hour. We celebrated Steinbeck's gotcha day and Mr. Cleaver's birthday and Independence Day.

It was a warm, wonderful week and it makes me glad to live in Maine.  

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The Big 4, Oh!

As the end of March nears, the weather is generally still cold and crummy, but we are in full celebration mode at the Cleaver household. 

When I was a kid, I was big into birthday parties. As early as nine, I would plan my own birthday party, devise games, and make decorations (usually modeled after a recent issue of American Girl Magazine) and thrill at the thought that I'd get to see all my friends in one place. So it's strange that when it comes to Little Miss Cleaver, I'm all about the simple. And fortunately for me, she seems to be pretty content with that as well.

I took the day off work for her actual birthday, which was a Wednesday. We opened presents and then headed into Portland to visit the dinosaur exhibit at the Portland Science Center. The animatronic dinosaurs were a bit loud, but she enjoyed the exhibit overall, then we had a lovely lunch with a great view at RiRa's. Then it was home for nap and then cake and more presents with Memere in the afternoon. 

On the weekend we headed to Gorham to celebrate our other March tradition, Maine Maple Sunday, with some ice cream, maple cotton candy, and a strangely large amount of cows. We did have a small friend party at the house this most recent Saturday, but even that was limited to our neighbors because of a major April 1st snowstorm. But kudos to LMC, who didn't skip a beat and played party games with her parents anyway. 

And honestly, for as much as I loved big birthday parties as a kid, as a parent, these are moments I love. So while I'm sure we'll follow the lead of the other parents we know with a shindig at some third-party location where the kids can run wild, I will treasure the turning of this year, the big 4, as something oh so special..

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This is Halloween

I love any excuse to dress up, so I've always loved Halloween. These days the challenge is to a) coordinate everyone's costume and b) find time to pull them all together. 

This year was a perfect mix of homemade + purchased items. Little Miss Cleaver wanted to be a dalmatian/firehouse dog and we were lucky to find the hooded vest at the consignment store. The spotted fleece she already had, so I only had to whip up some leggings and "paws". Mr. Cleaver got to be a fireman, and after little luck finding anything that looked like a firefighter coat for cheap, I bought some reflective tape at the fabric store and pinned it to one of his coats. The store-bought hat sells the look. 

As for me? Not being able to find a firefighter outfit for one, I shifted my plan from being a second firefighter to being a burning building. With some cheap felt, a dozen yards of tulle and some quality time with fabric paint and a sharpie, I ended up with the hottest costume in town. (Can't help myself.) 

LMC had a great time trick-or-treating and handing out candy. We have some very generous neighbors, so even though we only did both sides of one street, she is well stocked on sweets. I can't wait to see what she comes up with for next year! 

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Those Last Days of Summer

Those last precious days of summer.

In reality, our schedule doesn't really change all that much between the seasons, but there's something about the marker of Labor Day weekend that kicks us into gear to finally get to our favorite beach soda fountain and make the trip to the Drive-In movies. Because even if our schedule doesn't change, those things pretty much shut down come September. So we got our ice cream cones and popcorn and wore our glow bracelets and sunscreen for one last summer fling. 

And it was fabulous.

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It takes a while for summer to arrive in Maine, but is it ever worth the wait.

Strawberries and splash pads and sunshine. Home runs and wading pools and little owl nests. Yes, please, and thank you.

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Small City, Big Future

Summer, at least unofficially, has finally come to Maine. Which in these parts means parade season! The Memorial day parade got cancelled on account of rain, but fortunately in our little town the next weekend is Together Days and another parade.

When the parade features marching bands, Shriners in tiny cars, your next door neighbor, and copious amounts of candy, it's a good parade. :)

At lot of people in the area tend to look down on this little former mill town: it's not as hip as Portland, or as posh as Cape, and our realtor famously said "at least it doesn't smell anymore" when we put the city on our short list. People ask me all the time if we're planning to move.

The town's not perfect (putting a highway through the middle of downtown is pretty poor civic planning), but it's a good town filled with good people. It's not fancy, but it suits me and family just fine.

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Spring Things!

Parent who have kids with birthdays near Christmas, you have my sympathy.

This year, LMC's birthday and Easter were four days apart and that meant a week full of activity, and stuff, and more sugar than Momma would normally allow. Pair that with a bad cold and her cousin's birthday the weekend before,  it means I'm just getting my feet back under me right now.

That said, it was full of joy. LMC is at the age now (3!) where she gets that these are special days and is super excited to meet the Easter Bunny or find eggs, blow out candles, or get to wear her birthday crown. She is cultivating a deep appreciation for Peanuts and Bass/Rankin holiday specials. She also doesn't have huge expectations about it though. When asked what she wanted for her birthday, she merely asked for a pink cake with pink frosting and pink candles. I wanted the cake to be pink tasting and not just pink-colored, so I made cake flavored/colored with raspberry jam (and a few drops of food coloring). It was a little over-sweet with the jam. but was still a big hit with the birthday girl (especially the frosting). 

She got a number of neat gifts from family and friends for her birthday, but the one I'm most proud of is her quilt I made to be just like Curious George's (her favorite character/tv show). I managed to find a Michael Miller fabric that was really close to the print on George's bed and used a tutorial for a Self-Binding Blanket (scaled up and modified to include batting) and then tied it with some multi-colored cotton yarn. I had no idea how tiring the tying process would be for my hands, and the cotton yarn plies separated more than I would like, but for my first completed quilt, the whole thing turned out rather well and is very cozy. I can see how this quilt thing could get addictive. 

We just moved her to the big-girl bed a few weeks ago and while she had chosen to lie on top of, rather than under it, I think she appreciates the quilt (as much as a three-year-old will appreciate a blanket). I also finished my Good Night Sleep Tight embroidery I started forever ago in time to hang it over her new bed. I'm kinda in love with my little french knot sheep and am planning to turn it into a pattern/kit. LMC must like it too, because when I started working on my new embroidery project from cozyblue, she asked if that was for her room too.  

Despite the fact that Winter has seemed to hold off doing all it's wintering until Mach, it was actually warm enough to do our egg hunt outside, which was great fun. That tiny patch of snow is all gone now, my bulbs are starting to bloom and my seeds are sprouting indoors. It's all starting to feel very much like spring, even if we still have to wear our winter coats for a little while longer. 

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If I had to describe December in a word, it'd be full.

Full calendar, full bellies, full hearts. 

Some highlights for me were decorating cookies for Santa and taking LMC to see Portland Ballet's Nutcracker, where she was totally engrossed in Act I and conked out and slept her way through Act II (though not for lack of interest).

In the midst of a hectic baking schedule (2 types of cookies, gingerbread cake and peanut brittle), I managed to make several gifts too, including my bi-annual cross-stitch family portrait (inspired by this year's Halloween costumes), a knit hat for LMC in the hopes of seeing something other than the doggie hat on her head, an ornament for my knitting group's annual swap and  two tutus, because you can never have too much tutu. But the gift that I'm most proud of making is my little Children's book, which I wrote and illustrated for LMC.

As I said, it was a full month, and while I wouldn't call January "empty" I am looking forward to getting back into a quieter rhythm. 

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