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Making Something Beautiful

The best quilt I ever made sits in a cupboard in our family room. I pieced it out of plaids, appliqued pine trees on it and quilted it on my sewing machine. It was a labor of love that I gave to my husband.

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Inside the quilt is a label with my name and the date it was made: 1995. It amazes me that I was able to make a quilt at that time. It’s not that it was hard to make; I’ve been making quilts since I was a teen. It’s that 1995 marks the end of one of the hardest times of my life. When I look at that quilt now, I can’t imagine how I made it at that particular point in time.

In 1995, my kids were 2, 4, 10 and 12. We had spent the previous two years bringing our youngest child through several medical emergencies. Josh started out with heart problems, respiratory issues and severe reflux, and these were just his initial diagnoses. Then there was the fact that he had Down syndrome, and required various therapies and special care. It took him four months to learn to nurse, and then the effort of eating would wear him out. I spent hours coaxing him awake so he would nurse, only to have everything come back up thanks to the reflux.

He was on an apnea monitor those first two years because he sometimes stopped breathing. We learned to cope, but it was stressful. In the meantime, my three older children had needs to be met, and then there was that little thing called homeschooling.

So it was a hectic time, and I was having a hard time dealing with the work level and the stress. That’s when my husband decided to quit his job and start his own business so that he would be home to help me out. What a blessing! My load lightened considerably, and we began to think that life might actually go back to normal before long.

Before Josh was born, I frequented a quilt shop in a beautiful little nearby town called Woodstock. It was one of many little shops arranged around a lovely town square that was the site of the movie “Groundhog Day.” After Josh was stabilized, I occasionally took all four kids (including Josh in his stroller with his apnea monitor tucked in the back) into the shop so I could at least see some quilts, even if I didn’t have time to make any. I secured the kids’ good behavior by telling them I’d buy them each a giant cookie at the bakery on the square when I was through looking.

Like most quilt shops, this one offered classes, and the sample projects hanging on the walls made me very eager to try a class. But I didn’t see how I would find the time. I was already barely hanging on at home; it was crazy to think I could make something that nice at that point in my life.

Then two things happened: my sister sent me $100 and told me to spend it on myself, and my husband told me he thought I should take a class at the quilt shop. And so it was that I left the house early one Saturday morning and drove up to Woodstock, my sewing machine and supplies in the trunk.

All these years later, I still remember how much fun it was to be in that class. I was used to being the teacher; it was fun becoming a student for a little while. The teacher was helpful, my fellow students were great fun, and I was working with beautiful fabrics. I loved everything about it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my husband was in charge of the kids. He never complained, though he did not have an easy task. Each Saturday he took care of everything so that I could go to my class and enjoy myself. During the week, he spent several evenings keeping the little ones occupied so I could do my “homework.” I set up the sewing machine in the living room; I can still picture my youngest hanging over the gate in the doorway, calling out to me.

Once the classes were over, it was time to machine-quilt the top. I knew that if I did not commit myself to the task, I would end up with one more unfinished quilt top (yes, I had several packed away from past efforts). I decided to dedicate the quilt to my husband, and committed to finishing it properly.

I spent quite a few hours, mostly in the evenings, finishing that quilt. There were many times that I wanted to take a break from it, but I knew I couldn’t give in to the temptation. When I finally finished it, I felt like I had accomplished something really big.

It was an exciting day when I made the label, sewed it on and gave the quilt to my husband. He loved it, and I loved him for giving me the time to do something for fun. We’d been through some pretty tough times at that point, and being able to take those classes and make that quilt helped me see that life was slowly getting back to normal again. It was a comforting thought after what we’d been through the previous two years.

I’d like to say that I’ve been making time to quilt ever since, but that would not be true. I’ve made several, most of which I gave away as gifts or to charities, but nothing lately. I found raising older kids to be at least as time consuming as raising little ones, and running Cardamom has made life even busier, so my sewing machine has taken a back seat for a while.

But watching my kids leave home one by one has made me realize that someday there will be plenty of time, maybe more than I want, for quilting. My kids still keep me pretty busy right now, though, and I will always look at my husband’s quilt as the project that gave me hope at a difficult time of my life.

The moral of my story, then, is that even though we’re busy raising and homeschooling our kids, we need to take time for ourselves, especially when we’re having a hard time keeping up with our responsibilities. Making something beautiful can be just the thing for raising our spirits and getting us through a tough time. This isn’t an easy life we’ve chosen, but we can make it easier on ourselves, with the help of those who love us.

Copyright 2008 Barbara Frank / Cardamom Publishers

Barbara Frank is the mother of four homeschooled-from-birth children ages 14-24, a freelance writer/editor, and the author of “Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers, “The Imperfect Homeschooler’s Guide to Homeschooling,”and “Homeschooling Your Teenagers.” To visit her Web site, “The Imperfect Homeschooler,” go to www.cardamompublishers.com.  

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