Friday, July 15, 2011

And the Award for “Most Fun Box to Unpack” Goes to. . .

I’ve spent far too many hours this week looking through boxes of papers, writings, and drawings, and by far my favorite box I’ve opened since I began to unpack my things is this one:

I have smiled and laughed and gotten teary-eyed over the sweet, and often impressive (to me), creativity of my growing children. It brings back warm thoughts of many sunny, busy days, with everyone reading, writing, drawing, and doing all of the things that we loved to do through the years.

As I look through these creations, I am deeply thankful for the relaxed learning life we led in our home. I doubt that many, if any, of these projects and undertakings would have occurred had I filled the kids’ days with assignments and expectations. Oh, we had expectations and duties, for sure, and we were also involved in various outside endeavors, but the kids enjoyed large spaces of free time at home every day, providing room and a proper habitat for the percolation (and implementation) of creative ideas. I am so glad we valued time, freedom, play, nature—the long, slow days of a good, old-fashioned childhood—for our kids.

I honestly think something is sadly amiss in the busy, over-scheduled, media-saturated lives of today’s children because it takes time and true freedom of mind to develop an individual way of thinking and creating. And this is no small matter because friendships and communities are healthier, richer, more interesting—and way more fun—when they are comprised of true individuals. Plus, God created individuals, and not masses of people all at once, and each one is fearfully and wonderfully made. Allowing that special self to develop in its own, unique way is honoring to God.

As I sift through the items in this box, I smile at the memory of industrious children who loved what they were doing and who worked hard doing it. All of these projects were the kids’ own ideas, which meant they were highly motivated, which meant they were happy, which meant that creativity could flourish, which meant that I should stay completely out of the way, which also meant that I could read and write and bake scones and make tea and go for walks and encourage my kids rather than drive them to “do something productive!”.

So, what’s in the box?

For one thing, the books the girls created for the now defunct “National Written and Illustrated by. . .” writing contest. These books took a huge amount of work to create—writing, rewriting, sketching, drawing, applying color to drawings, constructing the books (with a sewn binding, cardboard cover, book jacket with front and back flaps, etc.). This is the kind of project I loved to see my kids invest themselves in because it demanded creative thinking, hard work, discipline, and perseverance to finish the job. The girls won multiple awards in this contest (thousands upon thousands of books were entered), and while it can be nice to be noticed and honored for your creativity, awards don’t matter to me as I look at these sweet books. 

Go ahead and click on them if you want a good look at the following photos: 

Here are some of the girls' books.
Most of them are humorous stories, but one is serious and touching. 

Also in the box are the calendars Lissy created for me, year after year, from 1997 until 2002. She invested a huge amount of time and heart into these calendars—working on them for hours a day for weeks and even months—and they are super sweet. Most of the calendars feature drawings of Aaron’s and Melissa’s anthropomorphized stuffed animals. See the book Beano the Detective in the above photo? The protagonist is Beano, one of Melissa’s animals, part of S.A.D. (Stuffed Animal Detectives).

These stuffed animals really lived quite an interesting life. Melissa and Aaron constructed amazing, creative, detailed homes for them from cardboard boxes, complete with lights, shingled roofs, dormer windows, their own little cars, mailboxes (and a postal system), and lots more. Aaron and Melissa’s respective animals were on competing sports teams (they’d create a “soccer field” by taping lines on the carpet and use a ping pong ball for the soccer ball; they had a scoreboard and everything). I don’t remember the name of Melissa’s team, but Aaron’s was called “The Pulverizers.”

Here are a several drawings from the final calendar Melissa made for me in 2002:



Also, in the fun box is the family’s “Pickle Papers” newsletter. I laughed til I practically cried reading through this again!

We each had pen names for this newsletter. I was Mrs. Miniver. Aimee was Lucy Pevensie, Michelle was Lilliput, Melissa was Rosie Gamgee, and Aaron was Monkey. We each had little descriptions that went with our photo and pen name. Aaron’s said this: “Monkey live in tree. He enjoys climbing, eating bananas, and kung fu.”

Lilliput had a gossip column called “Lilliput’s Tittle-Tattle.” Here are a few typical entries:

“The pipes froze. We melted snow from the deck on the woodstove to flush the toilets.”

“Rosie Gamgee argues that her piano teacher should not be able to tell her what to do since she is the one who is paying him.”

“Monkey thinks “Amy” should be spelled “Eighmi.”

In this special edition of the Pickle Papers, there is a “Feature Photo” of Aimee that must be the most unattractive photo ever taken of her. It’s a way-too-close-up picture of her face, featuring her nose at an odd, distorted, and regrettable angle. Alongside the photo is this caption: “Nothing but deep romantic love could make the human face tolerable at such close quarters.” (from Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther) And that’s how the family teased each other. The newsletter contains book reviews, mock interviews (in this issue, the March sisters of Little Women are interviewed about their own newsletter, The Pickwick Papers), and more.

Also in the box—hand-drawn issues of Melissa and Michelle’s great little S.A.M. newsletter (“The Newsletter with Stickers and More!”). This was a pretty cool undertaking, and by the time the girls decided to end the newsletter, it was making its way to subscribers as far away as Kansas, Texas, Massachusetts, and Maine. This was just another creative project generated in the girls’ heads as they played, drew, and collected stickers. I’m going to make a book of these newsletters, so I’ll write more about them then.

While this box has won the “Overall Fun Box Award” in my unpacking project, I have many, many more boxes of writings (the kids’ and my own) and drawings to sift through that I’m sure will keep me busy for weeks. Again, if there’s one thing that strikes me as I look through all of these papers, projects, and journals, it’s how glad I am that there was plenty of freedom in our home and learning life to pursue whatever intrigued us. As the kids became absorbed in their interests and developed their particular talents and gifts, happy creativity resulted.
(In one journal, I found a fairly detailed narrative of an ordinary day in our lives, dated October 3, 1997. I think I will post that soon.)


  1. mrs. miniver .. love it.

    what a delightful account of all things worthy and wonderful in your home*schooling adventure. hm. makes me want to drag out my own box of memorabilia from those days. :o)


  2. Such creativity!

    I can see why it was such a fun box to go through, the artwork is *amazing*!

  3. back again .. to say
    ... what you said on my blog?
    i feel the same when i visit yours.


  4. for real!?! that is amazing work...the calendar is unbelievably gorgeous...y'all are definitely an artistic, literary family!!!

  5. What wonderful memories, I'm not surprises you were smiling :) As everyone else has said, FANTASTIC artwork!Hope you have as much fun with the rest of the boxes.

  6. how fabulous! I bet, in addition to being the 'most fun' box, it was also the 'take the longest to go through' box :-)
    Oh - I have to tell you ~ I have been looking for an old typewriter for a few years now, so we can do your 'everyone writes' stories that take off in different directions, based on who has control of the typewriter.... I finally found one the other day! I had to pay more than I wanted to for it, but I am so excited to get it. To top it off; it's a lovely green :-)

    I have to ask, having mostly boys - what did Aaron do with the bulk of his free time? writing & drawing seems to be more something girls would be drawn to (pun intended ;-)

  7. What a wonderful treasure trove! You have been blessed with some incredibly talented children. What a delight to go back in time and see all the learning and creating. Job well done Mama!

  8. Wish I had time to respond individually to you all, but I don't want to be online except for a few more minutes.

    I always love to read the comments and very much appreciate your taking the time to say something. My kids really are artistic (all four of them), but they had lots of time to practice! :-

    For "the mommma"--Aaron likes to draw and write, too, but he loved constructing things, and we had lots of building toys for him. He spent hours and hours playing with his legos and other sets, with motors, with tools, with lights and batteries and all sorts of things--and he would blend them all to make up crazy creations! He read more than anything, though. He was a fun combination of athleticism and intellect (brawn and brains) and was one really sweet boy! :-)

    Good memories, for sure. . .

  9. And this is a most fun post to read! We *all* read it. I know I've said this before, and besides, it's obvious, but I love the combination of fun, coziness, and genuinely sophisticated design/engineering sensibility these projects show.

  10. I'm glad you *all* read it, Laura! And your compliments (being the amazing artist that you are) are taken by my kids with sincere appreciation.